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Cynus

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About Cynus

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    Bisexual, leaning male
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    Fantasy
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    In the Matrix
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  1. Cynus

    Chapter 4

    His ancestor, yes. He's happy to have you with him.
  2. Cynus

    Chapter 5

    Have a drink in her memory sometime.
  3. Cynus

    Chapter 4

    Thankfully for Prism, he's only mentally traveling back a few decades rather than centuries, due to the time he spent in stasis. 🙂 This is one of the other scenes that I had planned since the very beginning of this story, back when I first finished writing Shadow Honor. I always enjoyed the thought of Kaeral Elrhanadan meeting Prism. I haven't thought of that analogy for Ghayle before, but I can definitely see where you're getting it. I'm sure you'll find over the course of the story that Prism's not entirely certain how to feel about it either. I didn't realize until a while after I wrote it that I had included some similarities between the two couples, but once I did I wondered if I should keep it. I ended up deciding to leave it, obviously. I decided the similarities would add a little weight of fate to them. I love this observation. World building in fantasy is one of my favorite things to do, and I had a lot of fun with the Fedain. I had always intended them to be somewhat like this, but the story did take a slightly different route than I intended. Hopefully you will find the surprises as pleasant as I did. I'm a little surprised that no one recognized the name Elrhanadan..
  4. Cynus

    Chapter 5

    "Quick, turn on the newscast," Veil said, bursting into Grim's room without knocking. Grim quickly pulled the covers over his naked body. He wasn't ashamed of his nakedness, but he didn't want her to see the results of the fantasies he'd pursued for the past hour. He'd done the same a dozen times at least since meeting Prism a week before, but some things were inappropriate for even twins to share. "What? Why?" Grim asked, making no move to access the broadcast screen on the opposite side of his room. If he hadn't misplaced his activation rod, he would've turned it on remotely, but climbing out of bed required showing Veil the semen coating his stomach and chest. "There's something happening downtown. Have you heard anything about the protests?" Veil asked. "What protests?" Grim replied dumbly. "Blood, Grim! Don't you pay attention to anything?" Veil said, turning away from him to manually turn on the broadcast screen. "Nope," Grim said. As Veil faced the other way, Grim reached for his discarded shirt, wiped his skin clean, and slid out of bed, searching for some fresh underwear. Veil wasn't even watching him, her attention glued to the large screen and the scene unfolding across it—video footage of a large mob running away from the Council Chambers in downtown Kobinaru. Grim slipped into some underwear and joined her at the screen. The newscaster's voice spoke over the footage as Veil increased the volume.". . . the brawl broke out amongst the protestors of the new Immigration Act which put a temporary freeze on all refugees from Lodan. The Ultakan Military was forced to turn their heat-rifles on the violent protestors in order to drive the mob back from the Council Chambers." Grim grew more uneasy with each passing second of the recording. Human protestors ran for their lives as the Ultakan military police moved after them. Shots rang out in the night as radiation bullets rained down on the crowd. The back lines of the fleeing protestors collapsed to the ground just before the broadcast cut out. "Is Father all right?" Grim asked. "He wasn't there, was he?" Veil shook her head and glanced at Grim. "No, he'd already come home for the day, but several government representatives were injured." Although Grim wanted to sigh in relief, another question demanded an answer first. "How many people died?" "At least thirty-two from the last reports, all of whom were protestors. There were at least a hundred injured by the military's counter-attack, however," Veil replied, grimacing. Grim's face clouded over with anger. "Who gave them the order to fire?" "General Parrow." "What!? Why?" Grim asked. "He's usually willing to resort to non-violent measures first." "Father is trying to figure that out right now," Veil replied. "It seems several healers have already arrived, but I think maybe you and I should go down there, too. With an escort, of course. Grim eyed her skeptically. "Would Father approve of that?" Veil nodded and said, "I already ran it by him. Let's go as soon as you're dressed." Her gaze flicked momentarily downward and she added, "though perhaps you should run through a shower first. You missed a spot." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ They made good time. Veil's forethought in speaking with their father meant an escort had already formed by the time Grim had dressed, and they made it to the hospital within a half an hour of the newscast. Their position and escort ensured them swift access to the emergency reception center, though the Fedain doctor greeting them as they passed through the double doors had not been informed of their coming. His grizzled features creased with a tired and polite smile as he greeted them. "Lady Veil and Lord Grim . . . To what do we owe this unexpected visit?" "We came to lend our energies in healing the injured protestors," Veil said, taking the lead as the heir to the Duchy. Grim shrank some under the gazes of the injured people in the room, many still bleeding from wounds sustained during the protest. "We don't want their help! You're the ones we're protesting!" One of the patients nearest them called out, his face flushed from anger despite the bloody mess on his shoulder where his hand applied pressure. "Yeah! Get out of here, Pale!" Another voice shouted. "Maybe this was a bad idea . . ." Veil said, avoiding their gazes by turning to Grim. "No. No, this is probably the best idea you've ever had, Veil," Grim said, charged by the passion in these people. They were angry, sure, but rightfully so. Despite the nobility's best intentions in protecting their people, they'd failed here, and now they had to make it right somehow. If that meant suffering through some angry shouting, Grim would gladly pay that price. He'd spent significant time among them, walking the streets and getting to know the people as well as his station would allow. He knew them, loved them, and desired to make things better with all his heart. According to Fedain culture, religion, and education, being a Fedain meant sacrificing himself for others, and he'd never fully understood that responsibility until this moment. He addressed the room, projecting his voice over the din. "People of Kobinaru, I know you're hurting, I know you feel you can't trust us, but please allow us to meet you partway. Please let us show you we have good intentions. Allow us to help heal you?" "How come there aren't more of you here? Aren't you Fedain all supposed to protect us?" Another voice replied. It was quieter, more composed than the first two angry responses, but it rang truer than all the others. The first man added to the statement with the same vitriol as before. "Yeah, how come the doctors are the only ones here other than you? Where's the rest of you Pales?" Murmurs of agreement rippled through the room, and Veil took up where Grim left off and said, "Some have forgotten their responsibilities to the people, and we will do our best to correct that problem. But we are here now, let us help you." While not all the murmurs following her statement were positive, some agreed and that was enough for the tension to dissipate. Grim moved to help but stopped when Veil put a hand on his arm. "Have you thought about using the vaccine?" She asked the doctor. "It's still experimental and has only shown success in a small number of cases," the doctor replied, shaking his head. "I don't think it's ready for widespread distribution yet." "Vaccine?" Grim asked. "The research department here at the hospital has been developing something revolutionary," Veil explained. "Father and I have followed it since they first started trials last year. It involves nano-bioengineering. Modified Fedain blood cells are injected into a human to act as aids in natural healing, essentially replicating our own abilities on a minor scale." "But there are problems," a tired voice spoke from the side, and Master Janlynd of the Temple of the Mountain stood from her crouch beside the bed of an injured protestor. She walked toward them and gestured for the doctor to resume his duties, implying with her hands that she'd take charge of the two nobles. As soon as the doctor left, she continued her explanation. "Unfortunately, getting the blood cells to self-replicate in the bloodstream has been the largest issue. Getting them to target every injury has also proven difficult. Convincing them to do both has been . . ." she hesitated as if searching for the right words, and settled on two, "nearly impossible." "Master Jan," Veil said, bowing in respect to her former tutor. "It's good to see you. The Temple responded to the call for healers?" Master Jan bowed a hair lower in response. "Yes, of course." "You look like you've already reached your limit for the evening. Let us take over," Grim suggested, reaching out to touch her but stopping short. As a Master of the Order, Master Janlynd had taken vows against physical contact unconnected to her duties as a monk. Even a comforting touch would go unappreciated. "No, I need to make sure these people are taken care of," Master Jan said, but her body betrayed her, and she swayed on her feet, almost losing her balance until Veil reached out and stabilized her. Having once been Master Jan's pupil, Veil's contact could be considered proper, though even she pushed the limits of propriety, guiding Master Jan back onto an empty hospital bed. "You'll kill yourself if you heal any more tonight," Veil said as Grim joined them. "You've already taken years off your life by giving up so much of your energy. Let us give some of ourselves to these people." "You're too kind, Veil," Master Jan said. She smiled at Grim and went on. "Both of you are. The doctors have given all the energy they can, too. Where are the rest of our brothers and sisters? Are these people correct? Have we Fedain truly forgotten our responsibility to watch out for our neighbors?" "Veil and I have not," Grim said. "Hopefully that will be enough for now." "I'm going to see who needs my help most. Grim, do you want to start on the other side of the room?" Veil asked, letting go of Master Jan's arm as she turned to face him. Grim nodded and moved to follow her but stopped in surprise when Master Jan caught his arm. He turned to face her, and she let go of him. If she felt embarrassed by her actions, she didn't show it. "Before you go, I met a young friend of yours earlier this week. Prism." Grim's eyes lit up immediately. "How is he?" "He's not taking well to the restrictions placed on him, but he's also intrigued by the lessons Highmaster Vinhkroludar is teaching him. I can see he has a thirst to learn his place in the world," Master Jan replied. "His mentor is the Gor master?" Grim asked in surprise. "How'd that happen? I thought Master Vinh didn't take students?" Master Jan chuckled. "I asked him as a personal favor, only to find out Grandmaster Valkean had already asked him." Grim remembered Master Vinh well. Much as Janlynd was the only Fedain monk at the Kobinaru branch of the Order of the Mountain, Vinhkroludar was the only Gor master, though he also bore the distinction of being the only Gor master in the entire order. He'd never fit in with the other masters, as much for the racial hatred which permeated human and Gor societies as Master Vinh's own peculiarities. But from the brief interaction Grim had with Prism, he saw only good possibilities between the rogue and the eccentric master. "I'm sure they'll be a good fit." He smiled and was about to turn away when Master Jan spoke again. "One more thing, Grim. That boy seemed positively smitten by you. I advised him to keep it silent, considering the way human culture in Ultaka treats those who love their same kind, but I thought it adorable and hoped it would make you smile." Grim nearly swooned but managed to show only the slightest blush. "It does. Thank you, Master Jan." Master Jan smiled, but her tired eyes moistened in the bright hospital lights. "All we can do in this world is try and look out for each other. It's the only cause worth living and dying for." Grim felt a need to remain with her for a little while longer, and he rushed to find some excuse to stay. "Master Jan, I've never healed a wound from a heat rifle, could you give me some pointers before I go help?" She nodded, and though the sadness didn't leave her eyes, they glowed a little brighter, if for only a moment. "As you know, 'heat' is more of a misnomer, as it refers to the radioactive particles embedded in the bullets. The idea—as awful as it is—was that by inflicting radiation poisoning on the enemy, they could be debilitated in the long-term and seek Fedain help to be cured more effectively. We call ourselves pacifists yet allow our human military to inflict horrible damage in our name. It almost makes you wonder how we can dare to call ourselves benevolent." Grim agreed, but despite his personal feelings on the matter, the people still needed him, and so he made sure to keep Master Jan on track. "And how do I heal radiation poisoning effectively?" "Sorry, I got a little preachy there, didn't I?" Master Jan said. "The first thing you'll need to do is coax the bullet and radioactive particles from the wound, provided you're skilled enough to convince the blood to move for you. You'll have to use their cells to guide the particles out. If they're too deeply embedded, a surgeon will have to do the work, and you'll have to pay close enough attention to know the difference." As she explained, Grim asked questions where he needed until he had a good enough understanding to feel comfortable. When he left her side, however, the darkness behind her eyes unsettled him more than his uncertainty ever had. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Grim and Veil sat in the hospital break room, Veil laying on top of her brother, her hair a sweaty mess as he stroked her arm. He stared blankly ahead, doing all he could to fight off sleep. At least he had hunger to keep him awake, or he would've slipped into unconsciousness the moment he sat. "Are you as exhausted as I am?" Veil asked, yawning. "Yes," Grim replied. He tried to laugh, but it came out as a wheeze. "I should've eaten more. Though that would've only helped a little." Veil raised her head off his chest but immediately dropped it back down from exhaustion. "You didn't push yourself too far, I hope?" "I don't think so," Grim said, though the opposite could've well been true, if he honestly assessed his physical state. Fedain healed by manipulating the life force inside themselves and transferring it to their patients. A small amount of healing only used the energy gained from food and rest, but any greater healing sapped the energy from a Fedain's own life-force. Benevolent Fedain often died early deaths from giving too much of themselves to others. "It wasn't easy to stop, though. There's still people hurting in there, but I don't think any will die, at least." "Heat-rifles are troublesome, but at least they kill slowly," Veil said, stifling another yawn. "We can come back tomorrow, once we've had some time to rest, and help out with anyone who is still suffering from radiation poisoning." "That's a good idea," Grim replied, blinking back tired tears. "Maybe we can convince some others to come down, too? Maybe even Father can lend a hand." Veil shook her head. "He'll be busy with the fallout from this incident. I don't think he'll have the time." She found the strength to rise from somewhere and slid fully into her own chair. "Still, someone has to look out for them. Fedain may rule in Ultaka, but obviously, of the millions of Fedain, most aren't in the nobility. We have thirty-thousand Fedain residents in Kobinaru. Why aren't they here? That's enough healers to heal the entire mob of protestors without sacrificing more than their breakfast energy, much less tapping into their own lifeforce." Grim sighed and leaned forward. It helped him resist the urge to lay his head back and succumb to exhaustion. "Maybe the problem is as bad as the people say it is? I was out on those streets a week ago. The humans didn't seem happy to see me or Sharis, I can tell you that much." "And you're even popular, as far as nobles go," Veil replied. "Shut up. I am not," Grim scoffed. "The nobility hates me." "I meant you're popular with the general populace," Veil said, ignoring his annoyed tone. "You know that's the reason Father allows you as much freedom as he does, right?" "What do you mean?" Grim asked. "Grim . . ." Veil sighed his name, as if trying to figure out how to explain her thoughts in simple terms. "Father has to balance Fedain policy with doing what's right by his people. I do, too, as the heir. You? You get to focus just on the people. Do you realize how much of a relief that is for him?" She smiled and put her hand on his neck, massaging the skin there. "He's always cared about the common people, whether they be Fedain or Human, but the government ties our hands. Yours are free. You get to do whatever you want." Her body tensed, and she pulled away, folding her hands in her lap. "And you resent that?" Grim asked, trying to decipher the meaning behind her tension. "Only when you play instead of help," Veil muttered. Grim leaned back again, sighing as he turned to her. Their eyes locked as they communicated silently for several seconds before he responded. "Playing is helping. You should've seen the looks on the faces of the Humans I danced with. Before I joined the parade, they looked at me as an alien, but after I started dancing I was one of them. I could feel it." "But you're not one of them," Veil stated. "You have to be better." Their gazes lingered on each other for several seconds before the sound of footsteps drew their attention to the door leading outside. A member of their escort, a young soldier barely older than them, bowed to them before saying, "There's a disturbance outside, you both need to be on your guard." "Another protest?" Veil asked, summoning energy from somewhere to rise to her feet. Grim followed, drawing on as much adrenaline as he could manage. "There is a crowd gathering, yes. It seems to be led by a Fedain monk," the soldier explained. "Master Janlynd?" Grim asked, the dark look in the monk's eyes coming back to him. He shuddered as he remembered their conversation, the cool way in which she'd spoken of Fedain responsibility. It resonated with him now more than ever as he stood facing the possibility of what those thoughts might have led her to do. "Yes," the soldier replied. "She's leading the mob to the Council Chambers." He bowed again and remained in that position as he said, "The Duke would prefer if you remain here for the time being. By your leave, I need to go secure the perimeter with the rest of the escort." Veil waved him away and the soldier took off at a run. Grim wasted no time in walking back into the emergency room. "Where are you going?" Veil asked, following on his heels. "To be better." Grim said, moving past the emergency room and into the doctor's locker room. He checked lockers until he found one with clothing inside, pulled a dark, hooded jacket from the contents, and slipped it on over his clothing. He walked over to the medical supplies table and took a dark surgical mask, slipping it on to obscure the lower part of his face. Veil caught onto his plan and caught his arm just as he was about to leave the room. "Wait for me to find a disguise. We'll go together." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Veil and Grim struggled to stay together as they moved along with the mob toward the Council Chambers, and took to holding hands to prevent separation. The people surrounding them were incensed, and the anger and vitriol flowing through the crowd made both their hearts race. But they remained determined to follow the crowd all the way to witness what was happening. Even though they hadn't spoken about it, both felt the need to witness the public unrest firsthand, instead of through the filter of a newscast. They owed it to their people. "What are we doing following a Pale?" Someone shouted nearby as they neared their destination. Grim inclined his head toward the sound, hoping those nearby wouldn't notice his pale skin, eyes, and hair. "She said she had something to show us," someone answered. "And she helped heal people at the hospital." "And that means we should care?" A third voice asked. All these voices echoed in Grim's ears but were soon drowned out by a soldier standing at the barricaded doors of the Council Chambers using a voice amplifier. "PEOPLE OF KOBINARU, YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO DISPERSE." The soldier lowered the large, cone-shaped device to assess the crowd's response. "This doesn't look good," Grim said, glancing nervously around the crowd. Veil nodded in agreement, her eyes wild as she followed Grim's frantic gaze. "If Father knew we were here, he'd be upset." "Father's up there, look," Grim said, pointing to the balcony on the third floor of the Council Chambers. Duke Selfaeth stood among a contingent of human soldiers and Fedain council members, all looking down at the crowd. Contempt in some of their gazes made him fearful, though his father's concerned expression gave him some hope. "I wonder what's going to happen?" "Calm down. You keep pointing like that and people will see us," Veil said, pushing his arm down. The soldier with the voice amplifier spoke again. "IF YOU DO NOT DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY, WE WILL BE FORCED TO ARREST YOU." "That's what started the last riot. Have they learned nothing?" Grim asked. "Father's saying something to General Parrow. Hopefully they'll be able to sort this out," Veil offered. "Look, Master Jan is asking to address the crowd," Grim said. Master Janlynd was climbing the steps at the front of the Council Chambers, her hands raised in surrender. She gestured for the soldier to lower the voice amplifier. The soldier looked to the General and the Duke for instruction and once he received confirmation, he extended the voice amplifier to Master Jan. "They're giving her the chance." Master Jan declined to take the device, and instead turned toward the mob, raising her hands to silence the crowd. To Grim's surprise, they showed deference to her and quieted, allowing her to speak freely. "My brothers and sisters, my friends and neighbors, I speak to you now not as a monk of the Mountain, nor as a Fedain, but as a citizen of this fine city," Master Jan said, her voice ringing with the power of a voice used to loud chanting. "What's a Pale know about being a citizen?" One voice called out in response. She acknowledged the speaker with a nod but kept speaking to the crowd at large. "I know you're upset about the recent restrictions placed on the people. The government is trying its best to reconcile those restrictions to protect the best interests of the people, and those of the state." Another voice added dissent to the first. "Best interests? What are you talking about?" "But it is not enough," Master Jan said, shaking her head as she lowered her hands. "The Fedain have forgotten their role. They have chosen to ignore our responsibility to ensure the good of the people. We hide in our homes while the sick and injured are left only to overworked medical staff when we could attend them ourselves. It is to every Fedain to heal. We are not allowed to cause harm to our people, and yet by refusing to help, we are harming them." She turned toward the balcony, shouting now to be heard by the crowd as she projected her voice upward to the Duke and the council. "I spent this evening in the company of those wounded in today's incident. I gave all but my last breath to their health, and I would do so again and again in defense of the vows I hold sacred as a Fedain." The Duke remained expressionless, but the council regarded her with nothing but contempt. Master Jan appeared to be addressing Duke Selfaeth as she went on. "But others have grown fat on the labors of the common man and refuse to acknowledge our sacred responsibility." "So," Master Jan continued with a deathly calm. "I will give you one more last breath, and let it echo for eternity from the steps of this council, that we may never forget our responsibility again." Before anyone could even blink, Master Jan ripped open her robes and placed her hands on her naked chest. She activated her own blood, quickening it to a feverish pulse until the life-giving liquid betrayed her, shattering her heart with an explosive force as her chest and veins burst all over her body. Her broken corpse collapsed to the steps of the council, her blood showering the stone and staining it red as the crowd watched in stunned silence. Then the screaming began, a chorus of voices reacting in horror to the scene they'd just witnessed. Grim screamed along with them, only stopping when his voice grew too hoarse to continue. Veil did not, instead she tried to pull away, tried to rush through the crowd to the steps where the soldiers and the mob had already begun to clash. "Oh no . . ." she cried, turning back as she tried to wrest herself from Grim's vice-grip. "Grim!" She shouted in desperation. Grim recovered his senses and pulled Veil back, crushing her to his chest. "We can't get to her in time. Veil, you can't. She's already dead. We can't revive the spark of life, only sustain it," Grim said. When Veil tried to break away again, Grim gripped both her shoulders and screamed in her face to get her to listen. "You know this!" "She . . . can't be dead!" Veil said, her whole body shaking. Grim pulled her to the side. People were pushing everywhere, some trying to move toward the Council Chambers while others attempted to flee. "We have to get out of here. This is about to explode, and Father will go crazy once he learns we ditched our guards." "What about Father?" Veil asked, looking at the balcony as her sense returned to her. "This crowd is only going to get angrier." "Then we'll come back tomorrow," Grim said. "We can't do any more tonight. Come on, let's get home." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Prism ripped himself away from Ghayle's vision, sick to his stomach. He'd witnessed millions of deaths in his lifetime, some near and dear to him, most distant and unfamiliar. He'd grown numb to death, or so he'd thought until he witnessed Master Jan's death. It was even worse through Grim's eyes. Grim, who'd felt the ripples of the coming darkness long before anyone else, sensing it through the eyes of the martyr Janlynd. Grim, whose light died a little on that day. Grim, whom Prism loved more than any other, who proceeded to carry the weight of that moment with him for eight centuries. Prism wept on Ghayle's shoulder. After a moment he wiped his eyes and suppressed his sobs, staring into the beauty of the garden as he gained control of his emotions once again. "I never knew Grim witnessed her death himself. I'd only ever had that conversation with Veil, and it was long after the fact. It affected them both in different ways, I suppose." "You remember it, though?" Ghayle asked. Prism nodded solemnly. "Yes. We didn't get to see the newscast. The Temple didn't have a broadcast screen, but we heard about it almost as soon as it happened. Grandmaster Valkean received word through his representative on the council, and he called an assembly to inform us of her passing. He made no mention of the political impact of her message, however." "It affected you, too," Ghayle said. "Definitely," Prism replied. "It was the first time I ever shed tears out of empathy, and out of losing someone important to me," he explained. "I didn't even know why, other than that she'd been kind to me." "It was a moment of pure sacrifice," Ghayle said. "Her blood was used in the ritual to open the gate. It was the first ingredient Khalis acquired." "What did it represent?" Prism asked. "Destruction." Prism raised an eyebrow. "I would've thought a weapon would've served that purpose better." "Weapons are destructive, yes, but hers was a moment of pure destruction. Obliteration of self runs contrary to creation, and a martyr's blood is the purest destructive force in the universe," Ghayle replied. Prism shook his head, failing to comprehend her logic. "But her sacrifice made things better for a while. Shouldn't it have stalled your need for the demons?" "It did," Ghayle said. "It delayed it for a long time. It was many months before Khalis found the next ingredient." "What was happening to you during that time?" Prism asked. Ghayle raised her hand to Prism's face again and said, "Let me show you."
  5. Cynus

    Chapter 4

    The vision shifted in subtle ways, drawing Prism back into his own memories. He allowed Ghayle to pull him there, comforted by the vision of Grim and his family. Longing for simpler times filled his heart, and as much as he wanted to resist the pain ahead, he also ached to relive the bright moments along the path. Giving himself fully over to Ghayle, the city streets of Kobinaru reformed in his mind. Grandmaster Valkean walked behind him, holding one end of the rope binding Prism's hands. They'd walked in this manner ever since leaving the shadow of the bridge, and Prism didn't bother to hide his annoyance. Darting angry glances back at Valkean's pleasant smile with every other step, he eventually tired of trying to make the monk feel his ire. As soon as he gave up, Valkean returned Prism's efforts in kind, and was far more successful. "Prism, you're from the Dorram, aren't you?" He asked. Prism gritted his teeth and remained silent. Nothing good could come from answering his captor's questions. He'd already done enough talking for the day. Silence did not deter Valkean in the slightest, and his casual prattle resumed as soon as Prism glared at him again. "I'll simply keep asking you until you answer me, so you might as well speak up now." Prism snapped his attention forward again, intending to ignore everything Valkean said from that point on, but the monk continued speaking anyway. "You've the accent of a Dorrami. I spent an entire summer there once," Valkean remarked wistfully. Nostalgia and Dorrami summers didn't fit together in Prism's mind. A Dorrami summer was hot, humid, and drew every insect from the surrounding countryside like commoners to a festival. Valkean's voice remained as pleasant as ever, however, as he went on, "There's a type of fly which usually infests your wild chickens, but sometimes they go after Dorrami, don't they? They're little annoying things, buzzing in your ear all day long. You try and swat them, but they always seem to know your hand is coming. You could learn a lot from the Sikoba fly." Sikooba flies. Prism shuddered at the thought. He'd spent enough nights outside in summer to have a lifetime of experience with the annoying insects. Muscles twitched in his shoulders and back as he instinctively sought to swat at a bead of sweat on his neck. "So, how'd you end up here, anyway? The Dorram wasn't good enough for you, so you decided to visit old Kob and see if it's everything they say it is?" Valkean said. "You's as annoyin' as the Sikooba," Prism said. He spat on the ground in front of him, a common offensive move in Dorrami one made when trying to start a fight. The spitting didn't phase Valkean in the least. "I never could master that long 'o' sound. It's hard to know when to place the emphasis. Maybe you could teach me?" He suggested. Prism snorted. "You's don't want me teachin' nobody. How's about you just look south, yeah?" Valkean chuckled heartily. "I'm not going to let you go, Prism. I made a promise to Captain Tson, and he will be expecting you to be in my charge when the next inspection comes around. If you had committed a less serious crime than attacking a nobleman, he would've been more lenient, I think." "Don't think so," Prism replied. "I embarrassed the Rooba." "Rooba," Valkean said, smiling with amusement. "An old rooster. That's quite a crude word in the Dorram. Captain Tson isn't so bad, as far as soldiers go. There are less honorable men." "Honor? Who's carin'?" Prism asked as they reached a stretch of road filled with cages and people inside them. Huge stakes cemented into the ground held iron rings connected to chains holding men and women alike. They belonged to all different ethnicities, though all appeared human from a cursory glance. Valkean led him to a cage with a single male inside. He wore a hooded jacket and simple pants, but kept his hands concealed in his pockets, and his face in the shadows of his hood. Intense eyes weighed on Prism from those shadows, and he pointedly avoided the prisoner's gaze. "I'm going to let you stand here while I take care of some business. I'll even leave your hands untied, if you promise not to move," Valkean said, reaching for the ropes around Prism's wrists. He waited for Prism to nod in agreement to his terms before removing the bindings. As he stepped back he said, "But, break that promise, and I promise you I won't let it go so easily." "What are you's up to?" Prism asked. "I'm going to make a second pardon today. It's expected of me during each sale season," Valkean replied. "I take two prisoners to work off their debt at the Temple of the Mountain." Prism nodded, not completely understanding what Valkean meant about a pardon. As far as he understood the term, 'pardon' meant forgiveness for a crime, and following the monk to some temple didn't seem like forgiveness. As soon as Valkean left, Prism searched for an opening to slip back into the city, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the monk as possible. Valkean's voice immediately penetrated the surrounding chatter. "I told you not to move, Prism." Prism turned to peer through the crowd of prisoners and found Valkean staring at him only a few yards away, speaking to another human dressed in the blue and silver livery of Duke Selfaeth's court. "Wasn't movin'," Prism said firmly. "Good," Valkean said, turning away. Prism sighed and settled against the wall of the cage behind him. The longer he waited there, the more impatient he became, and once again his eyes wandered to different potential avenues of escape. He took several steps forward, resting against one of the large wooden stakes for cover, thinking Valkean had moved somewhere on the other side. He gasped and moved backward as a knife thudded into the wood next to his head, wobbling left and right as it settled into a crease in the wood. Prism dared to look over his shoulder and found Valkean and the liveried official talking together nearly thirty feet away. "I told you not to move!" Valkean said, projecting his voice over the din without yelling. "The next one will go through your hand." Prism gulped and raised his hands, moving back toward the cage with the hooded figure. Lesson learned, he stayed next to the cage, not wanting to earn Valkean's ire again. "I'd listen to him, human," a voice said from behind him. "Did you see that throw?" Prism peered into the cage and met the eyes of the hooded figure, piercing violet in color and full of burning intensity. In the shadows of the hood, Prism could make out the pointed tips of the young Gor's ears and the faintest hint of the tattoos which adorned them. "You's a Gor!" Prism said with surprise. "Sure as a windy night in the Dobrag," the Gor replied, rolling his eyes as he pushed back his hood, revealing his golden-blonde hair over his tanned skin, and the face of a boy a few years his senior. The tattoos on his ears became much more obvious in full light, twin snakes with the tail at the tip of the ears and the head on the lobe. "You're a sharp one, huh?" The Gor said with a sneer. "Name's Kaeral. Kaeral Elrhanadan." "Gor's kill humans," Prism replied, his eyes narrowing. "Not all of us. Some of us like to live among you," Kaeral replied. "Especially when we're not welcome back home." He finished the statement with a smirk and nodded toward the post with the knife jutting from its side. "Do you think you could hand me that knife?" "If'n I do that, he'll kill me," Prism said, shaking his head. "If'n you help me," Kaeral replied mockingly, "I'll help you escape him. I know magic." "Magic?" Prism echoed. "Them's smoketales. Unless you's talkin' spirits in your inks." "No. Watch," Kaeral said, removing his hands from his pockets and revealing sharp nails on spindly fingers. He scratched a series of symbols in a ring in the wooden bottom of his cage, then placed a hand in the center of the ring, putting the other on one of the bars of the cage. The bar bent slightly, but otherwise remained fixed in place. Prism's eyes widened at the minor display of power. He'd heard the Gor could manipulate the elements, but he'd never seen it happen before. Such tales usually remained confined to a campfire, and never reality. "Ah! Why you's need me then?" Prism asked. "Just because I can make the metal bend a little, doesn't mean I can break it without tools. The knife will help," Kaeral said. "So, fetch it for me." Prism nodded, liking his odds with a magician on his side. He stepped back toward the post, reaching to take the knife from it. "Here. Make it quick—" he started as he gripped the hilt of the blade but screamed as another blade pierced the back of his hand. "Yaaah!" Valkean walked steadily toward him, another knife in his hand and poised to throw as necessary as he met Prism's eyes. "Prism . . . we're going to have to work on your understanding of 'not moving'." He ignored Prism then, turning his attention to Kaeral. "I see you've met our other acquisition. Master Elrhanadan, of the Northern Tribes." Kaeral snorted. "You've come to pardon me, m-onk?" He drew out the syllables in a mocking tone, his fierce violet eyes blazing with hatred. "It seems it's your lucky day," Valkean said, his smile tightening. "No hard labor for you, just hard training." "At your order? You must be joking," Kaeral replied. "Not at all. You've already met your training partner. It seems silly to let that go to waste," Valkean said. "Aren't you's goin' to do somethin'?" Prism cried, staring at the knife in his hand with horror. Screaming wouldn't do him any good, but he didn't want to do anything else. Blood dripped from both sides of the wound, slowly pooling at his feet. Knife-handling had been a major part of his upbringing with Tobrig, and he knew better than to take the knife out without something to staunch the blood flow. Valkean reached into his robes and withdrew a long scarf. He handed it to Prism. "Here. Wrap it up," he said before reaching to take the knife from the post and sliding it inside the other half of his robe. "And then hand me the knife so I can clean it." Prism nodded dumbly but did as he was told. Valkean offered him no option but obedience. "Do you understand honor now, Prism?" "No," Prism said, whimpering in pain as he removed the knife. He grimaced, wrapping the scarf around his hand as tightly as possible. Valkean stopped him and gently took over wrapping the wound, applying proper pressure with careful and practiced hands. "Honor means you keep your promises," he explained. "You dishonored yours by moving and trying to free your new friend after telling me you wouldn't move. I honored mine by putting a knife through your hand. Don't worry, we'll stop and have that healed. Tomorrow." His eyes and amused smile made it difficult for Prism to trust him. "T'morrow?" Prism asked with frantic eyes. Valkean nodded and said, "Be careful with it. Keep applying pressure so you don't bleed out too much. We'll get it healed by a Fedain first thing in the morning." "Bani Sikooba!" Prism cursed in Dorrami. "Now there's the Prism I expect to see," Valkean said, patting Prism's arm gently. "Keep that fire, boy. It'll keep you from becoming a Rooba." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Within the hour, Prism and Kaeral sat in the bed of an old work truck while Valkean and another monk rode in the cab. Laborers from the Prisoners' Market had placed Kaeral's entire cage inside the bed, while Prism remained unbound except for the makeshift bandage on his hand, which he held in a vice-like grip with his other hand. To avoid dwelling on the pain, his thoughts instead drifted to the strange day he'd had. At the beginning of the day, he'd been on his way to Kob, to be sold for three years of labor by Boggi. He'd met, grown attached to, and threatened to kill an attractive young nobleman in the space of an hour, and then had his contract purchased by the most unusual man he'd ever met. Despite the pain he'd endured along the way, this was the greatest adventure he'd ever had, and the intrigue kept him hooked. As much as he wanted to run the other direction, two things stood in the way. One, Valkean would catch him—this was no longer a risk, but a definite fact. Two, he needed healing anyway, and now he wanted to see what happened next. The truck turned north, heading toward the low hills on the outskirts of Kobinaru. A large structure with decorative slanted roofs and a high wall stood prominent on the tallest hill. Great trees adorned the hill, and some sat within the walls themselves. No trees stood close enough to the outside of the wall to allow easy entrance. A pair of heavy doors served as a gate, and their current road took a winding path up the side of the hill and led directly to the gate. This was the Temple of the Mountain, Prism's destination. As much as he'd resisted the idea before, the structure piqued his curiosity. His pride didn't allow him to admit his excitement, however, not even when Kaeral asked him plainly, "Why are you just riding along? You could jump out and run." Prism raised his injured hand. "I need healin'." "Come on . . . you must have a better reason than that," Kaeral said. "Don't tell me that monk got to you." Prism shifted uncomfortably, avoiding Kaeral's gaze as he stared at the passing scenery. They'd just left Kobinaru behind, passing easily through gates identical to the ones which had stalled him and Boggi earlier. Valkean had passed through the gates with barely a wave from the soldiers to delay him. "You know what they make you do here, don't you? Training every day, nothing but simple meals . . . you'll have to shave your head. What are they going to do to my beautiful hair!?" Kaeral bemoaned, running his fingers through his golden locks. Prism regarded him curiously, admitting that Kaeral did, in fact, have beautiful hair, though not as beautiful as Grim's. Grim. He was the third reason to stay, as irrational as it seemed. Grim lived in Kobinaru, and if Prism wanted to be anywhere near the strange youth who'd rescued him from the soldiers—albeit only temporarily—he'd have to play by the rules. "Are you even listening, Prism?" Kaeral asked. "Tryin' not to," Prism admitted, glaring at the Gor. "You really want this life?" Kaeral said with a sneer. Prism shrugged. "Beats runnin'. I guess I'm sick of bein' a wild chicken." "Oh boy . . . you've got it real bad, don't you?" Kaeral said, laughing dryly. "That monk sold you on something. I can tell I'm going to have a hard time breaking you back down." "Breakin' me down?" Prism said, looking back at him. "Yep. You and I run together, I can see it. I'm a thief, you're a thief . . . we always know each other, just by a look. Don't you dare say I'm wrong." Prism confirmed the assertion with a nod. "You's right about that." "Then we've got to help each other survive. Help each other get out, too," Kaeral said. "No." Prism shook his head. "Survive, yes. I can help. Escape? No, I can't help." "Fine. Half an agreement is better than none, I guess," Kaeral said, sighing deeply. He rested against the back of the cage for a minute, then came back to the bars, gripping one in each hand as he insisted. "But I'm still going to try and get out. Women aren't allowed in the Order of the Mountain, you know. I hear the monks don't even have sex! What kind of people don't have sex?" "Are we's supposed to be joinin' the Order?" Prism asked. Following the trail of adventure was one thing but abiding by such strict restrictions was another. He didn't like restrictions, no matter what the reward might be. Kaeral waved his hand dismissively and said, "Nah . . . just training with them. Just rehabilitating ourselves or some nonsense like that. I hear a lot of Valkean's pardons end up becoming monks, though. They stay, out of that sense of honor he was telling you about. Are you going to do that, give up sex and fun for the rest of your life?" Prism shrugged, but eventually shook his head. He didn't want to give up anything, certainly not anything which might make him happy one day. Tobrig always said sex made him happy, though Prism had never had the opportunity to experience it for himself. "I didn't think so," Kaeral said. "The world is rough enough as it is without removing the few things that make it livable." "The world's rough? Seems fair 'nough. You's take advantage of what's given you, yeah?" Prism replied. Kaeral responded with a blank stare at first, following it with a riotous laugh. "Haven't you looked around, Prism? Come on, I'm a street kid, spent all my youth in Kobinaru. This is the second time I've been caught, and the first time was just a year of labor on the docks. If you've been paying attention at all, you'd see what's going on. The soldiers get tenser every day. People try to ignore what's happening as the walls get higher, and more uniforms flood through the streets. Not to mention our benevolent rulers the Fedain never seem to give a damn that there's no food in the South." His eyes narrowed, and his grip tightened around the bars in his grasp. "They don't care that human lives are spent fighting my people to the North, just to keep their status quo. And then there's the war with Oligan! Talk about a mess! There's even people saying the ceasefire might end soon. We could be invaded, or worse! And you want me to give up sex?" "I didn't say nothin' like that," Prism said. "No, but Valkean will. He'll convince you it's your duty to the world to give your all to protect it," Kaeral said with a derisive snort. "That's all they want is your devotion. To be loyal to their creeds and dogmas to the end of your days. If you want to trade this cage for that one, that's on you, but I only have a four-year sentence to live out, and I intend to stop there." The conversation had distracted Prism enough that he'd failed to notice their climb up the hill. As the truck came to a stop before the double gates, Kaeral pointed ahead and said, "Oh, it looks like we've arrived at the Temple. Ready for the fun to begin?" Prism sighed and ignored Kaeral, directing his gaze instead to the view. He expected it to be his last view of the outside world for a long time to come. Kobinaru stretched out before him, a metropolis extending to the ocean in the west and far to the south, covering and disappearing behind the southern hills. Little of the city rested behind the massive walls, and the connected settlements to the south had little protection at all. Though they didn't need it, either. All the prominent buildings aside from the temple resided within the walled section. The Council Chambers stood prominent in the center of the city, and The Duke's Palace sat behind another wall in the noble district, built on a small hill rising above the rest of the city. At least, it had before the modern additions of towering apartment and business buildings filled the skyline. Kobinaru hadn't seemed so massive when Prism had paraded through the streets, though he wished he could've seen it from the back of Boggi's constabulary vehicle when they first arrived. He'd never seen such a vast population center—nothing of this size existed in the Dorram. Creaking alerted him to the opening gates of the temple, and he turned to watch the truck drive slowly through the entrance. As beautiful as the city skyline had been, the temple grounds took his breath away. A beautiful garden filled nearly every corner, except for the small gravel driveway leading to a simple garage. The massive size of the trees became more apparent than ever, spreading wide with spring blossoms adding their subtle mosaic of color as a frame for the boldness of the temple itself. The temple rose five stories in tiered, slanted levels. From Prism's current vantage point, the roof of the fourth level prevented him from seeing most of the topmost level. From its apparent size, he guessed it held no more than a single room. Part of him yearned to reach that pinnacle and look out toward the city again, just to take in the view, but the monks would catch him quickly. He'd have to wait until a proper chance presented itself. The truck came to a stop and the gates creaked close. Grandmaster Valkean stepped out of the cab and came to Prism. Two monks in identical robes walked toward them from the front of the temple. "I hope the ride wasn't too bumpy for you. This isn't much of a mountain, I know, but it is the largest hill in the area. It's certainly nothing compared to the Sacred Mountain in Jurro," Valkean said, smiling as he gestured for Prism to leave the truck bed. Prism complied and switched places with the truck driver, who unlocked Kaeral's cage. "We've kept the road unpaved to deter traffic, though unfortunately many still come here seeking enlightenment as if it's free," Valkean continued as Kaeral crawled out of the cage, stretching cramped muscles. "Come on, both of you. It's time to show you around. Master Delm and Master Porat will give you the grand tour. Don't make trouble for them." He indicated the two monks who'd approached from the temple and then said to Prism, "I'll have Master Janlynd see about your hand." "Come this way, please," Master Delm said, waving Prism and Kaeral forward. His broad shoulders and steady gait spoke of a man built like an ox beneath his robes, though those same robes obscured any other signs of his physique. Master Porat was an older man, whose grizzled face gave the appearance of many years spent frowning. Despite his age, he had a sureness to his step and had the largest hands Prism had ever seen. Neither monk was to be trifled with, though as Master Porat spoke, the weight of experience permeated every syllable. "You may roam freely within the Temple walls, except for the Masters' chambers. You may only visit there upon invitation." He met Kaeral's eyes and then Prism's, pausing long enough for both young men to feel the intensity of his glare. "Regardless of how you spend whatever free time you have available, you must still complete your duties on schedule, including your physical training. A full list of your duties will be delivered to you this evening." "I can't read letters," Prism admitted. "Then your duties will be assigned orally, and you will be expected to commit them to memory," Master Porat replied, without hesitation. "Among them will be lessons in reading and writing, which you will study every day until you master both." Kaeral wrapped his arm around Prism's shoulder, making them both stagger for a moment. "Don't worry, Prism. I'll help you out," he said with a bright grin. "You will not be permitted to socialize during study time, even if one of you is available and the other is not. We are committed to the pursuit of knowledge here above all else," Master Porat said sternly. Kaeral dropped his arm and muttered, "Sounds lovely." "You will be assigned a personal mentor, who will be charged with seeing that you fulfill your duties to the fullest extent of your ability," Master Porat continued as he led them closer to the temple. "If you are caught trying to leave the compound, you will be assigned additional duties by your mentor. If you are caught causing trouble, you will be assigned additional duties by your mentor. If you fail to report to your studies on time, you will be assigned additional duties by your mentor. Is this understood?" "Yes," Prism replied. Kaeral sighed and said, "Sure thing, Master." Master Delm took up where Master Porat left off. "To the north are the prayer gardens. You will not be expected to pray with us unless you decide to convert to the Order. The eastern grounds are for training, and the western grounds are for studying and work." "Where do we's sleep?" Prism asked, hoping to find a place to redress his wound. "That's where we're going next," Master Delm said, and showed the barest hint of a smile. "Right this way, please." The pair of monks led them into the temple proper, down a hallway, to a row of closed doors. Master Delm opened one of the doors for Prism, while Master Porat motioned for Kaeral to follow him to the end of the hall. Inside the room Prism found a simple bedroll and a round pillow, and a wooden chest sat in the corner at the foot of the bedroll. On the other side of the room sat a floor desk below a mirror at waist level, meant to be used by someone kneeling or sitting cross-legged. Opposite the door was a shuttered window, the sill resting at chest level. "I'll leave you to get settled in," Master Delm said. "Fresh clothing is available in the chest." He left Prism unattended, closing the door behind him. Prism immediately checked the door, expecting to find it locked with him inside. Instead, he opened it and peered into the hallway, seeing Kaeral similarly poking his head out in bewilderment. They shared a shrug before returning to inspecting their respective chambers. Prism's immediate focus became the chest in the corner, and he moved to open it, hoping to find medical supplies to take care of his injury. All he found inside were simple tan robes, clean and pressed. He closed the chest in disgust, finding nothing to help him with his current predicament. He turned with a start as the door opened, and a monk stepped into his chamber. It took him a moment to realize this monk was female, and a Fedain female at that. The bulky robes obscured her gender but didn't remove all signs of her ample breasts, and the diminished light subdued the shine of her pale skin. "Who are you?" Prism asked. "Master Jan. Or Janlynd, if you prefer," the monk said, inclining her head humbly. When she raised it again, she wore a kind smile, and her eyes told of a thousand tranquil mysteries. Prism immediately felt at peace under her gaze. "I thought the Order didn't like women," Prism said. "Human women," Master Jan said, calmly reaching toward him. "Let me see your hand." Prism extended his injured hand toward her, and she took it gently in her own. She smiled as soon as she touched him, and he felt a warmth travel through his arm and into his core. She unwrapped the bandage and placed her hands on either side of the cut, which had already stopped bleeding from her initial contact. "You've been touched by a Fedain recently. Interesting." She met Prism's eyes as her own filled with enlightenment. "Oh, that's right, you must be the one who attacked Grimfaeth." "You's know Grim?" Prism asked. "He's the son of Duke Selfaeth and has studied with us in the past," Master Jan explained. "All Fedain are bound by a form cultural pacifism. We are only allowed to study non-lethal techniques, and Grim achieved an early education in all of them." Completely at ease, Prism let the words tumble from his mouth without care. "He's good lookin'." "A strange thing for a human to say," Master Jan said, raising an eyebrow. "I thought in your culture, loving another man invoked a death sentence." She hummed a soft tune, like a lullaby, as she massaged his hand. "I lived in the Dorram. Our way's of livin' are a bit dif'rent from Southlanders," Prism replied. The wound closed entirely, and Master Jan pulled her hands away, resting them against her thighs as she let Prism test out his healed hand. "Still, I suggest you keep those thoughts to yourself from here on out," she said pleasantly. "While a Fedain may accept such a thought without pause, many of the human monks here would have an issue with that. The primary reason human women are not allowed here is because the monks are supposed to be free from temptation. Since Ultakan law forbids human men from mating, such temptations are not even considered here in the Order." Prism blinked, realizing for the first time what he'd said to her. "Thank you's for the warnin' . . . I hadn't thought nothin' of it." "You're a nice boy. How'd you end up with such a hefty sentence?" Master Jan asked, regarding him curiously. "What possessed you to attack a nobleman? Especially one you . . . think is good looking." "I thought I could use him to escape," Prism admitted with a frown. "Escape what?" Master Jan replied. "Justice?" Prism looked away, unable to face the truth in her eyes. "I've had enough about justice." "Ah . . . you're trying to escape consequences for your actions. Those eventually catch up no matter how much you run," Master Jan said, nodding to herself. "The world is filled with people running from consequences, and eventually they run into each other. The collision affects everyone around them." She gestured to the shuttered window in the center of the far wall. "Here, you can face them with honor and discipline, and learn to work through them." Prism didn't have anything to say to her wisdom, and instead asked, "Will you's be my mentor?" "No. I have other students who require my attention, I'm sorry. Though I will ensure you have a mentor who will meet your needs," Master Jan replied. "And with whom you may speak freely." Prism understood the implication in her words and bowed low to her. "Thank you's." "You're welcome, Prism," Master Jan said softly. "I don't know what the future holds for you, or if the world will ever accept you for who you are, but here you can figure out how to move forward. And you can dream of whatever—or whomever—you wish. No one can take your dreams from you. Rest well. I will see you at the morning meal." Prism smiled as she left, and for the first time in his whole life, a small hope formed within his heart. Perhaps he had finally found a place he could call home. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Ghayle sensed that Prism needed a moment to collect his thoughts and dropped her hand to the side. Prism wiped a tear from his cheek, unashamed it fell in the first place. He breathed deeply, as if sucking in the last traces of memory from the air itself. "She remains the kindest woman I've ever met," Prism said solemnly. "She changed your mind about things," Ghayle said, nodding. "If you hadn't met her, what would've happened?" "I'd probably have tried to escape with Kaeral. Once I got sick of the place, anyway," Prism said. "It's hard to say, but it was her words and her presence which made me feel at home." Ghayle smiled. "If you'd left, you both would've ended up dead in a gutter." "Probably," Prism agreed. "I have more to show you," Ghayle said. "I want you to understand it all, from the perspective of the present." "Okay." Prism nodded, but he couldn't stop the edge in his voice as he added, "But when I look at Janlynd, all I see is a world which should've never been destroyed." "I didn't destroy her, Prism, and you know it."
  6. Cynus

    Chapter 3

    My heart goes out to the Duke a lot over the course of the story. Obviously I can't say much more without it being a spoiler, but I ended up putting a lot more of myself into him that I thought I would. I had originally planned to make him a complete asshole, but as soon as I wrote the scene, he took a completely different path. Veil and the Grim were always supposed to be close, however, and we'll have plenty of time to cover what happened between them. The Fedain morality is an interesting study, to be sure. Grim is a cute little firecracker, isn't he? It will be a bit more complex than that, but that had a lot to do with it. I suppose part of the other for writing the story for me was asking the question "if the world was sentient, what would it do to save itself?" Grim is and always will be my favorite character in this series. He is modeled after someone who is very important to me, and I remember our shared youth quite fondly. Writing him as a teenager was a lot of fun. It's a whole political mess, that's for sure. I really enjoyed writing this family scene. It was fun to show these characters in a different light they'd seen before, and to give some background on who they were before they became who they are. Relationships in the story have a huge impact on the path it takes, so I hope you enjoy watching them develop. We're going to see a lot of changes in relationships along the course of the story. Each of these characters will have prominent roles to play, family dynamics have a way of creating drama, after all. Fedain are very good when it comes to love. Very open-minded indeed.
  7. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    He learned from the best! I have had this scene burning in my mind for well over a year, though the naming portion of it came to me only a short time before I wrote it. I'm glad you like it.
  8. Cynus

    Chapter 3

    Prism stepped back from Ghayle's touch, momentarily reeling from the weight of memory. After he recovered and reassessed his condition, he turned a narrow-eyed stare on Ghayle and asked, "What was that supposed to tell me, Ghayle? My life was hardly a good example of the state of the world. I was a poor boy who didn't understand how the world worked, not then, and not when it collapsed." "So that you understand your place in the world," Ghayle replied, nodding in approval. Her hand remained poised in the air as if expecting him to come back to it to resume the experience. "That wasn't all I wished to show you, but you pulled away. You fear what comes next." Prism snorted in annoyance. "Fear? Have you known me to show fear in all the years we've known each other? As a boy, perhaps, but not since I fought my first demon have I felt real fear. No," he shook his head firmly, "I simply have no wish to relive it. Those were the hardest days of my youth, which led to an adulthood spent entirely on the front lines of a battle against hordes of demons. Demons you summoned." Ghayle sighed but did not lower her hand. "It's important, Prism. You must understand the state of things. Perhaps if I showed you someone familiar, you'd be more comfortable? I can access more than your memories, Prism. I'm connected to everyone still living in this world." Prism smirked, immediately inferring the meaning of her words. "So, you'd show me Grim's?" "There were other's I could've picked," Ghayle replied with a slight smile. "Neither Veil nor Neredos is familiar to me anymore. Grim still has the same look in his eyes. He still loves the world, no matter how much pain he has," Prism said confidently. "If you're telling me there are others still alive from those times . . ." he laughed despite the weight of their conversation and added, "I'm surprised enough as it is that there are four of us still alive." "Three," Ghayle corrected. "You're dead." "Right . . ." Prism said, touching his very substantial body before giving Ghayle a knowing look. "Hard to think of it that way now." He shrugged and sat back on the log. "Very well, Ghayle, lead me into the darkness of the past. I suppose I can't pass up the opportunity to touch Grim, now can I?" ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Grim lounged across a chair in his sitting room—the chair easiest to clean. He remained shirtless and covered in paint but too exhausted to clean up. Especially considering his mental state. The human boy from the streets, Prism, wouldn't leave his thoughts. He'd heard about the Fedain curse his whole life. Of course, there was nothing mystical about it, and 'curse' was a misnomer. It was wired into Fedain biology, but right now the 'curse' label seemed appropriate. Fedain had a peculiar sensitivity to pheromones, and every so often would meet someone with the right chemical composition to completely addle their otherwise sane brains. Prism's pheromones had just the right composition to affect Grim in maddening ways, and he couldn't get Prism's scent from his mind. It was cerebral and instinctive at the same time, a longing for both physical and mental intimacy, and impossible to ignore completely. The effects magnified during puberty. Though Grim hadn't finished passing through that horrid period of adolescence. If he'd spent any more time with Prism, he doubted he'd have maintained control, no matter how public his displays of affection would've become. When Prism's knife had rested at Grim's throat and he'd held their naked skin together, death had been the furthest thing from Grim's mind. The longer he relived the memory of their skin to skin contact, the more aroused he became, and he undid the clasp on his belt. His other hand drifted lower, rubbing his erection through the heavy cloth separating him from his carnal pleasure. Before he could get much further in pleasuring himself, the door to his sitting room opened and he hastily redid his belt, standing to see who had interrupted him. Sharis bowed his head in respect to Grim's nobility, giving Grim time to force his erection to subside before his tutor straightened. "Lord Grim, your father will see you now," Sharis said, sliding his spectacles back up his nose as he regarded Grim with a polite but tight smile. "Let's get this over with," Grim sighed, stepping past Sharis and into the hall. He took a few steps before realizing Sharis hadn't moved farther than the doorway. "Aren't you coming, Sharis?" "No. The Duke requested to meet with you alone," Sharis said, shuffling his feet. "Alone? Likely not. I'm sure sister will be with him," Grim said. He nodded and grinned at Sharis, trying to put the troubled old man at ease. "Very well. Will we be resuming our studies this evening?" Sharis' smile gained more strength as he nodded in agreement. "Yes. I'd like to resume your Galagu lessons." "I still don't see the need to learn a second Elrok dialect, but if you insist," Grim replied, shrugging. "Can we resume our archaeology discussions if I get through my lessons quickly this evening?" Sharis' smile brightened even more as he replied, "I guess I can indulge you a little, even if you are a troublemaker." "It's just so much more interesting, Sharis," Grim said, shifting his eyebrows suggestively to say, "Plus, you said yourself that History is your favorite subject, and yet you never get to use it!" Sharis cleared his throat awkwardly, unsure how to take Grim's personal comment without sacrificing his nervous professionalism. "The Duke is waiting, Lord Grim," he said at last. Grim chuckled nasally. Inhaling through his nose reminded him of his current physical state. He grimaced and said, "I suppose I should've showered first, but it's not like my father would see me any differently, anyway." Sharis' smile became a smirk as he bowed his agreement. "Likely not, Lord Grim." Grim laughed more throatily and turned on his heel, making his way through the palace halls to his father's meeting room. Despite his shirtless and dirty state, none of the servants gave him more than a passing glance and nod of deference. They'd long grown used to his eccentricities, though he'd likely be the subject of all the gossip in the servants' quarters and barracks. Two soldiers stood guard at the doors to Duke Selfaeth's meeting room, and neither gave Grim more than a glance as he approached and opened the doors. Of all the palace staff, these two would've expected him and received orders to admit him regardless of his state. He wondered what words his father had used when giving that order, and what expression he'd worn as he spoke of his disappointment of a son. It didn't matter much to Grim. He expected his father would forget about him as soon as this conversation was over, no matter how strong the reprimand. This would be the same as any other meeting, and Grim would leave wondering why his father even bothered to reprimand him at all. He sighed and entered the room. ". . . Caliphar is an odious lout who deserves his fate!" Duke Selfaeth's heated voice echoed through the cavern-like chamber. "Father, haven't you taught me it's more practical to avoid war?" Grim's twin sister, Veil, replied, her voice as composed and pleasant and ever. Compared to their father, Veil always seemed the more reasonable one. Grim approached quietly until he could see them speaking. Instead of sitting at the long council table which dominated one half of the room, they sat at the high-backed chairs near the fireplace, drinking wine and eating cheese. Veil, in all her regal posturing, looked every bit the fine lady of the court, with a silken white dress and her hair done up in myriad braids, even more complex than Grim's. Duke Selfaeth, on the other hand, fit the part of a scoundrel more than a duke, with a high-collared black coat splayed around his neck, his messy mop of blonde hair spilling out over the collar, and long shirt-cuffs revealing his almost skeletal fingers. He wore several jeweled rings on each hand, the most prominent was his sapphire ring with the three silver roses entwined around the setting. It was the signet ring of the Tehir Duchy, and the family's most prized possession; Duke Selfaeth wore it everywhere. "King Hashayne has exhausted all diplomatic options, as I was saying," Duke Selfaeth said, taking a long swig from his wine glass. He placed it down, empty, and filled it again as he continued. "Within the next few months, we'll have no choice but to unleash our full arsenal on him." Veil shook her head, sipping her wine before responding in a concerned tone. "People will die. We'll be killing people, Father. That's against everything the Fedain stand for." Duke Selfaeth groaned in frustration. "We'll come in after the blast and heal as many as we can. As long as a Fedain hand isn't on the trigger, we won't be breaking any vows, will we?" Grim snorted. Loudly. "Ah, the logic of despots. Glad to know your ability to twist your logic is as strong as ever," he said, hastening his approach to stand at Veil's side and address his father, fury in his eyes. Selfaeth's hand tightened around the wine glass, his eyes darting daggers at his son. "Oh, are you going to slap me, Father?" Grim taunted. "Is that no longer beneath you? Or will you simply have one of our human soldiers do it for you?" "Grimfaeth, you test the limits of my patience," his father said through gritted teeth. He pointed in front of his chair and ordered, "Come here and receive your punishment." "No. I have something more important to do first," Grim replied. He turned to Veil and embraced her from the side, sighing at the welcome weight of her in his arms. "Veil, it's good to see you. I wasn't aware you'd returned from Xarin." Veil stood to embrace him more fully, ignoring the paint dripping from him as she smiled warmly. "I came back a day early, at Father's insistence. I heard you had some excitement today. You could have at least showered before coming here, you know." "And miss the chance to aggravate the Duke?" Grim said, pointedly making mention of his father's title; lack of personalization would aggravate him further. "I'm sitting right here, you know," Duke Selfaeth growled. Grim rolled his eyes and said to Veil, "Of course I know." Duke Selfaeth sighed and said, "Grimfaeth, Veilynn, please . . . both of you, sit down." Grim finally turned to his father and said defiantly, "So you can yell at me some more? I can do that standing." Duke Selfaeth closed his eyes, breathing in once before letting out a long exhale. When he opened his eyes again, he spoke calmly. "Grimfaeth . . . Grim. Please?" The shift in his father's demeanor stunned Grim, and he nodded in approval. "A moment of sincerity? Those are rare." He rewarded his father's calm with compliance, and took the seat next to Veil, facing his father with an intent expression, wondering how long it would be until boredom set in. "Grim, this affects you a lot less than Veil, but you are second in line to the Duchy, and with the state of the world I'd rather have you both as informed as possible," Duke Selfaeth said, meeting both their eyes in turn. "This sounds serious," Grim said. Duke Selfaeth nodded. "The ceasefire we've managed to hold with Oligan for the past few years is deteriorating rapidly. A recent incident has triggered a collapse of certain agreements between our two nations. If you've been watching the newscasts . . ." "Not most of them." Grim shrugged. "Most of them are boring." The Duke's eye twitched as he frowned. "Perhaps I should have a word with Sharis." "He's fine, Father. He assigns them, I simply don't pay attention," Grim replied. "Don't blame him. I just prefer studying other subjects. There's a lot you can learn from the history books in our library, you know." Duke Selfaeth sighed. "My youngest son . . . always more concerned with the past than the present. I'm hoping to convince you to break that habit." "So, we're at the brink of war again? That's what I'm supposed to take away from this?" Grim asked, trying to get his father back on track before they resumed their longtime squabble. Duke Selfaeth nodded. "Yes. A defector managed to escape to our side last month. She's a high-ranking officer in the Oligani military and brought news of a weapon being developed. It has the power to tear mountains apart, according to the data she showed us. If it were turned against any of our power facilities, the fallout would be devastating." "Not to mention our weapons stores," Veil offered. "Correct, Veil," Duke Selfaeth replied, nodding in approval. "If they find the locations of our weapons stores, such a device could obliterate us overnight. It would also make those regions uninhabitable for decades, if not centuries, from the radiation." "So, what you were arguing about before I came in was whether Ultaka should invade first and attempt to stop President Caliphar from using the weapon on us," Grim surmised. When he received confirmation from his father and Veil, he added, "I'm afraid I agree with Veil on this one." "Why?" Duke Selfaeth asked, showing genuine confusion as he regarded his children. "How can both of you feel that way? We're talking about the potential end to our civilization if we don't act!" Grim gave the most reasoned response he could think of, doubting his father would appreciate it. "Well, for all we disagree, father, you have to give some credit to history here. In the great wars of the last century, every side had enough firepower to wipe out the enemy, and we didn't, because our destruction was mutually assured. Why should we act any differently now? Perhaps instead of viewing this as a need for destruction, we can view it as an opportunity to come to the table and talk peace." "It won't work, Grim. I understand the King's position, much as I hate the thought of such violence," Veil said. "What Father explained to me before you came in makes a great deal of sense. If Oligan expected to come to the table because they fear our bombs, they would've made mention of their weapon as a show of strength. Instead, they've kept it completely secret." "How can you be so sure?" Grim asked. "There's more evidence, Grimfaeth," Duke Selfaeth replied. "Troop movements along the borders. Testing in the Dobrag, great scars in the world, the crumbling remains of mountains destroyed by the device . . ." he shook his head. "The quake in Gellibran last Autumn was likely the result of that testing." Grim lowered his gaze, finding the news unsettling. "I see." "Still, it's unlikely you will have much to do with it, Grim," Duke Selfaeth said, smiling. "I don't even think Veil will, at least not in the war effort. Perhaps in the aftermath." "If there is an aftermath. You're assuming we'll survive," Grim said pointedly. Duke Selfaeth took another long drink of his wine and said with false confidence, "Our radiation bombs will knock out their power structures in a matter of hours." "Before they can counter-attack?" Veil asked. Duke Selfaeth shook his head and admitted, "I don't know." "Well, shouldn't we find out if this is all true first? What if they aren't planning to attack and we start a war unnecessarily? Grim's point is important, Father," Veil said pointedly. "It's not my decision, Veil. King Hashayne has the final say, I can only advise him," Duke Selfaeth said helplessly. "Of course," Grim said, sighing. "Of course, we're powerless as usual." "So much death . . ." Veil muttered. "Don't look so glum, you two. This has been coming for a while. As members of the nobility, we must be the face of faith and hope for our people. You are sixteenth and seventeenth in line for the throne, need I remind you. We can't have either of you showing your doubts to the public," Duke Selfaeth said, then turned his full attention to Grim. "Or making yourselves easy targets for assassins, either from Oligan or the Gor." Grim shrank under the weight of his father's gaze and said, "I'm sorry, Father. I just wanted a bit of fun." "Yes . . . I heard about your 'fun'. You were held at knifepoint," Duke Selfaeth said as Veil gasped. "I can't treat that lightly. I've a mind to speak with Grandmaster Valkean about the boy in his custody and have him sent much farther away." "He wasn't going to harm me. I could read his emotions. He was just scared," Grim said, meeting his father's eyes. "Please don't do anything to him." "Many scared people have done terrible things from fear alone," Duke Selfaeth retorted. Grim saw an opportunity to make a point and slipped his words in like a dagger between his father's ribs. "Interesting point, considering what King Hashayne is thinking of doing out of fear." He could feel Veil's smile without having to look her way, but her words confirmed it. "Looks like Grim got you, Father. Again." Duke Selfaeth's shocked expression faded, and a wry smile spread across his features instead. "Very well . . . I'll see if I can sway King Hashayne's decision and at least convince him to consider diplomatic options." "It's our way, Father. We are the protectors of our people. Of all people. This is why we rule, is it not?" Veil asked. "Good one, Veil," Grim said. "Thanks, Grim." "You two . . ." Duke Selfaeth said, laughing. It wasn't a common sound for him, and it made both his children smile and blush. "Your mother would be proud of you both. Even with your indiscretions, Grim." His smile took the sting out of his words, but what he said next made Grim want to cry. "Seldorym probably would've given you a medal for your actions." "I miss him," Grim said meekly at the mention of his late elder brother. "Me too," Duke Selfaeth admitted, a single tear rolling down his cheek. He turned to Veil whose eyes were just as heavy with moisture and said, "Veil, could you please excuse us? I need to speak to your brother alone." "Of course, Father," Veil said quietly. Grim gently caught her arm as she passed his chair and said, "Let's meet for a game of Dannu later." Veil smiled. "Deal." Grim sighed as Veil left, meeting his father's eyes and bracing himself for the coming beratement. "So, what is my punishment going to be?" he asked after a moment. "Nothing," Duke Selfaeth said to Grim's surprise. "Oh, I'm still angry that you put yourself in danger, but I suppose you got yourself out of it, too." He chuckled softly and went on. "You're your mother's son, as surely as Seldorym was. Veil is the only one like me, and she's a good mix of both her parents." "Oh, I think I'm more like you than you think. I've certainly got your stubbornness," Grim said with a grin, hoping to make his father smile. "Maybe you do at that," Duke Selfaeth said, returning Grim's smile with full warmth. "But could you at least do me a favor and not be so reckless next time? You ran off with a strange boy without even a thought." "I . . ." Grim started to say, then blushed and looked away, "thought about it." "Uh-oh," Duke Selfaeth said gently. "I know that look. Your blood called to him, huh?" Grim groaned. He'd hoped to avoid having this conversation with anyone, especially his father. "Sometimes I wish I was human. Now more than ever. Falling instantly in love has to be the worst part of being a Fedain." "This is the first time you've ever done it, unless there's someone I don't know about," Duke Selfaeth observed. "No, there's never been anyone else, but this is awful. I fell in love with someone I'll likely never even see again," Grim muttered bitterly. Duke Selfaeth nodded and stood, stepping to the fireplace to warm his hands. "Likely not. And a human, too . . . you wouldn't be the first Fedain to fall in love with a human, of course, but the nobility won't like it." Grim smirked and asked, "Are you forbidding me from feeling that way?" "Would it do any good?" Duke Selfaeth asked, laughing as he regarded his son curiously. "Like I said, you're your mother's son. And your father's too. Your mother was a commoner, and I married her anyway, after all. Maybe most Fedain have multiple lovers throughout their lives, but her spirit was enough for me. I doubt I'll ever find another to match her, though I did have a fling with Baron Chardran once, when I was about your age. We were both studying at Duke Bollindar's court. Now Chardran was a beautiful man." Grim rolled his eyes and buried his face in his hands before replying. "Father, much as I love these talks, I'm not so keen on dwelling on the idea of you having a 'fling' with Baron Chardran." Duke Selfaeth laughed again, and after a moment Grim joined in. Grim stood and joined his father at the fireplace, the prospect of never seeing Prism again came back to his mind, chilling him. Losing Prism was the last thing he wanted, and he would do anything to ensure it wouldn't happen. "So . . . if I pursue a relationship with this young man?" Grim asked. "You'll ruin your reputation, and mine," Duke Selfaeth said simply. The barest hint of a smile crossed his face. Grim asked in surprise, "But you don't care?" In a rare display of affection, Duke Selfaeth wrapped his arm around Grim's shoulders and hugged him tight. "Grim, I've defended you and your antics for the last six years, ever since you pranked Baronness Liflynn with the wine at our Summer festival when you were eight. As much as I love the court and my duties to it, I will always love you and your sister more." "I'm sorry I caused you trouble, Father," Grim said, returning his father's embrace. "Don't worry about it," Duke Selfaeth said as they parted. "Though there is one thing." "What?" Duke Selfaeth grinned and said, "Your sister is right. You need a shower. And I need to call my tailor." He grimaced at his coat, now stained with muddy festival colors. "I'm sorry," Grim said. "Guess there's still some paint on me. I didn't even notice it on Veil's dress, she's going to be furious with me." "Probably," Duke Selfaeth confirmed with a nod. "But did you have fun?" "Yes." "Never stop," Duke Selfaeth said firmly, his eyes growing serious. "Your love for the commoners is your greatest asset as a noble. One day, you're going to charm the whole court with just a smile. The Fedain will love you just for being you." Grim's eyes watered as he fought back his emotion with a smirk. "That doesn't sound like something you'd say." "Maybe, in the face of war, I'm a little more concerned about being a good father before we face losing it all," Duke Selfaeth said, putting his hand on Grim's bare shoulder. Grim's eyes widened in shock as he sensed his father's emotions. "You're scared. I can feel it in you." "I am," the Duke confirmed. "We've been testing new versions of our bombs all winter. As much as I applaud your optimism, I don't think this will be won by diplomacy." "Then I guess I'd better study," Grim said, turning to the fire, as if he could envision it spreading all over the world he knew. "I'll have to look after the survivors, right?" "That's right," Duke Selfaeth said quietly. "Maybe, if you can focus on being a good father, I can focus on being a good son," Grim conceded. The Duke patted Grim's shoulder gently and said, "You already do that." "But I need to do better," Grim insisted. "Sharis has me studying Galagu tonight." "That's good. We may need the Elroks before the end of this," Duke Selfaeth said. "Do you really think they'd side with us?" Grim asked. Duke Selfaeth shrugged and replied, "It's hard to say. Relations with the clans aren't nearly as bad as they used to be." "I've always thought I'd make a good diplomat. Maybe I'll get assigned to them for my apprenticeship?" Grim suggested. The Duke smiled and said. "It's a worthy goal." Grim impulsively reached out and hugged his father again, craving the contact he'd sorely missed over the years. He clung to the world as it was in that moment, knowing it might never be again. "Thank you, Father, for your understanding." "Of course. Thank you for yours," Duke Selfaeth said as a tear escaped his eye. With that, he let his son go.
  9. Cynus

    Chapter 1

    Hopefully you'll enjoy the journey. Those are marvelous questions my friend, and many answers await you in the pages ahead. I think you're right where I want you, reader-wise, and I hope you'll enjoy finding the answers as they arise.
  10. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    Yes, I believe Prism even mentioned he was a lot like Styx once. You're going to see a different side of both our boys here, but hopefully they'll still feel like themselves, and you'll be able to see the future them inside the children they once were. Two thieves in a pod. That was indeed a description of guns. Not necessarily the same type of firearms as we have today, but a similar type of weapon, for sure. We will eventually get into why/how the technology differs between the periods. I'm glad. Prism has a tendency to immediately assess a person/situation. He saw his younger self reflected in Styx. This was inspired by Holi, for sure. Interestingly enough, i'd never been to the festival before writing this, but shortly after finishing this chapter I attended for the first time. I think I might enjoy such a period of structured enlightenment, myself, heh.
  11. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    Nameless grunted in pain as a bump in the road sent his head slamming against the reinforced wall of the vehicle. He growled and glanced at the barred grate separating him from the driver, wishing he could take a shot at Ol' Boggi, the village constable to remind him how to drive. Boggi took the growl as an invitation to comment on Nameless's situation, which only served to aggravate him further. "You know, boy . . . it'll only be for a few years, then you can come back out, if'n that's what you want." "Pfft . . . why would I ever?" Nameless replied, settling back into a more comfortable sitting position in the bed of the truck, becoming all too aware again of the darkness of his cage. He preferred the dark—with his dark hair and ebony skin, he could blend into the shadows with ease, making it easy for him to steal whatever he needed to survive. A tiny sliver of light fed through the window leading to the cab where Boggi sat, spoiling the darkness for Nameless. He spat, trying to reach the window from his current position and failing. "Ain't nothing there for me now, Boggi," he said as the spittle hit the wall a foot below the window. If Boggi heard Nameless spit, he didn't show it. "Sure they is, they's all there for you." "They's? Not we's?" Nameless laughed. "If'n you think I don't know the dif'rence, you don't know nothin', Boggi." He smirked and rested his head against the wall again. "You can't wait to be leavin' me in Kob. I just keep on causin' you trouble. Well, I ain't none yours now, Constabli." "Now, Jurka, there ain't no need for that. You's be welcome, when you's done your time," Boggi replied. "My name ain't Jurka no more, Boggi," Nameless replied. Boggi scoffed. "Who are you, then?" Nameless didn't have an answer, not anymore at least. Jurka had never seemed like much of a name, and it wasn't even the one he'd received at birth. It meant 'brown-eyed', as unoriginal as the people who'd chosen it. Whatever his mother had called him died with her, when he was too young to remember even her face. Tobrig—a man claiming to be his father—had taken care of him for his first fourteen years and called him Jurka, but he later learned Tobrig had kidnapped him as a baby and raised him to do his dirty work. Nameless hadn't minded, as at least Tobrig kept him fed. He'd also taught Nameless everything he knew about thievery and swindling, but Tobrig died a year ago after being caught in bed with another man's wife. Nameless didn't care for the name 'Jurka' after that, preferring to distance himself from Tobrig's memory in the eyes of his neighbors. But that left Nameless without much of an identity, only a great deal of unsavory character, which his neighbors refused to tolerate regardless of any changes he made. Stealing to survive or swindling unsuspecting travelers were the only skills he had, but those skills didn't give him a name. Boggi deserved an answer though, one fitting to the aggravation he caused Nameless. "I'm the nameless wind, and I'm gonna slip right through these bars, and I'm gonna cut you so good, you's be praying for a doctor, ya hear?" "I been nothin' but kind t' you, boy. You stole eggs, that's a crime," Boggi replied in exasperation. "Ain't no crime to feed yourself." Boggi sighed. "You's stole enough eggs to feed yourself twenty times over, then sold 'em t' unsuspecting people 'cause no one else had them's eggs. If it'd been the first time you's had done somethin' the like, I mighta looked down the south road and let you's go north, but it ain't. You's a thief, boy, and it's time you's worked it off." "Keep your backwash justice, Boggi," Nameless said. "I ain't talkin' t' you no more." And he didn't, no matter how many times Boggi tried to start a conversation. In a few hours they'd arrive at Kobinaru, the regional capital of Tehir Province, the largest province in Ultaka. Nameless had never seen the ocean, but if he ended up indentured on the Kobinaru docks he'd get to see it. Tobrig had once said he learned his best tricks on the Kobinaru docks. But Nameless doubted it. Even though he'd never worked a day of farm labor, his village was known for few things other than livestock and farming. He'd be sold on the market as a farm laborer, making a little profit for Ol' Boggi, but any price would appease the neighbors back home. He'd work off his cost for pittance wages until he could buy his freedom and go wherever he wanted. Not that he wanted to go anywhere. He never had much interest in doing anything but surviving and having fun doing it. Riding in the back of a prison truck and getting sold into labor were neither of those things. The world was a mess, everyone knew it, and he saw no reason to participate in the madness. Eventually Boggi turned off the dirt roads of the Dorram countryside and onto the paved main road to Tehir. As the ride smoothed out, Nameless settled back against the wall of the cage to sleep. It would be several hours before they arrived at Kobinaru. A jolt disrupted his troubled dreams some time later, and he crashed against the truck bed, awkwardly catching himself with his handcuffed arms. He growled in annoyance, about to question Boggi's driving skills again when a gruff voice spoke from the cab area. "Papers." The accent marked the male speaker's origin as Southern Ultaka. Nameless crawled across the truck bed as far as the chain around his ankle would allow, and by stretching out his leg he managed to peer out the window, seeing the speaker through the bars. Sure enough, the soldier in his black uniform had the olive skin of a Southerner. He had short, reddish-brown hair, though a peaked cap obscured most of it. In another situation, Nameless might have even found the soldier attractive, though a bit too old. Boggi handed over his permits, and as the soldier read through them Boggi said, "Aye, as you's can see, sir, I'm a constable, out in the Dorram." "The village of Choballa," the soldier said, smiling politely. "You make good wine there." "Uh . . ." Boggi said, shaking his head, "no, sir. We's honey, wheat, and egg farmers. Mead, sir." The soldier nodded. "I knew that, Dorrami. But if you'd not, I would not have let you through the gate. Oligan has been sending their agents through regularly, so we've instituted additional screening measures," he added, gesturing ahead to the large, reinforced gates in the cement wall surrounding Kobinaru proper. "If you'll please follow Lieutenant Skelbran, he'll take your vehicle to be searched." Another soldier stepped briefly into Nameless's view, waving the truck forward as the gates creaked open. "Searched?" Boggi said, shaking his head. "Oh, sir . . . my prisoner, if you let him have a chance at freedom, he'll run." "I'm afraid that is out of my hands," the soldier replied. "You's don't understand—" Boggi started, but the soldier's patience wore thin and his smile disappeared in an instant. He handed the permits back to Boggi and growled menacingly, pointing through the gate. Several armed soldiers brandishing their standard-issue heat-rifles stood waiting for them to arrive. Nameless grinned. The opportunity he'd been waiting for had arrived. Boggi was right to warn the soldiers, though he could tell from their confidence they had no idea what they were up against. He slid his hands along his belt until finding the little fold of cloth in the backing, carefully removing the slightly-bent pin tucked inside. As Boggi drove through the gates to where the soldiers indicated he should stop for inspection, Nameless worked at picking the lock on his handcuffs. The right side clicked and Nameless had nearly finished with the left by the time the truck came to the stop. Another click later and Nameless had his pin tucked back into its hiding spot just as the soldiers ordered Boggi to leave the vehicle. "Step this way, sir." Nameless assumed a mask of apathetic resignation as he waited for the soldiers to take the keys from Boggi and open the back of the truck. He blinked into the sunlight as the doors creaked open and a soldier climbed inside, his heat-rifle leading the way. Another soldier stayed just back from the truck, his heat-rifle trained on Nameless. Without a word, the first soldier unlocked the ankle restraint and motioned for Nameless to disembark the vehicle. He complied, walking on cramped legs, using the excuse to stretch and prepare for his escape. The guard escorted him to where Boggi waited with two soldiers, nervously glancing back at the truck. Nameless took quick stock of his surroundings. At least thirty soldiers stood on this side of the checkpoint, though most resided on the towers above them, watching the outside of the city. Including the two next to him and Boggi, a dozen stood on the ground, half of which were searching the vehicle. The remaining four were split evenly between the right and left sides of the gate, and were watching the streets, rather than the gates. He stood about thirty feet from his closest point of cover—a low wall made reinforced bags of unmixed cement, hastily constructed until a permanent structure could take its place. If he could make it to that, he'd only have to move five feet from cover to cover until he could access the busy city streets. But first, he needed to be spry enough to move quickly. He stretched out his legs some more as he stood next to Boggi. "How's that backwash, Boggi? Tastin' as good goin' back down?" "This is serious, Jurka," Boggi said. "If they find anything wrong at all, we could be detained for a long time." One of the soldiers—the aforementioned Lieutenant Skelbran, Nameless believed—approached Boggi and stuck his hand out expectantly. "Papers." As Boggi handed over his permits for the second time, Nameless took his opportunity. He purposefully overextended his leg on his next stretch, causing him to stumble convincingly in the direction of the makeshift cement barrier. He managed to cover half the distance before one soldier shouted, "Boy, stop where you are. Now! I will not ask twice!" Nameless let himself fall forward, rolling into the dirt to cover another seven feet, leaving him only eight feet away from the barrier. He rolled onto his back and managed to gain another foot of ground in the movement, then stopped and waited for the soldier to come to him. "Sorry, sir, my legs just stopped workin' from bein' caught up in that cage all day. I didn't mean to fall. Could you's help me, sir?" He asked, raising his loosely-cuffed hands toward the soldier with his most-practiced innocent expression. "Watch him. He's gonna run, he's . . ." Boggi warned, sensing the impending escape, but the soldier paid him no heed and bought into Nameless's innocence, reaching down to lift him by the offered chain connecting the two cuffs. Nameless went along with the movement, doing most of the work until the soldier committed his strength to lifting, then Nameless pulled back, letting the loose cuffs slip from his wrists as the soldier staggered back from the reversed momentum. Nameless wasted no time in heading for cover, veering toward the first makeshift wall. He made good enough time to risk heading for the second barricade instead, changing his angle and rolling behind cover just as the first shots angled his way. He was already moving to the next barricade, darting back and forth between cover until he reached the second to last barricade. Ignoring the last barricade, he turned and ran straight for the crowd, betting on the soldiers anticipating the opposite. "Jurka! Stop! They's gonna kill you's!" Boggi cried as the soldiers readjusted their aim, but no shots were fired. By the time they realized Nameless wasn't going for the last barricade, he was already too close to the crowd for them to risk firing after him. He sprinted through the crowds for the first two miles, taking whatever turns afforded him enough room to run while keeping the wall of people thick around him. Most of the roads were paved smooth, though the one he traveled on now was cobbled, an ancient thoroughfare preserved despite modernization. The deeper into the city he ran, the older the city appeared, and the historic sights distracted his footing. He stumbled over a loose stone before he finally slowed and tried to merge into the crowd. Music sounded in the distance, the bright and happy melodies of a festival. People cheered and laughed all around him, and he made his way through their midst. A huge parade was making its way toward his position, musicians carrying instruments from flutes to fiddles to drums as they marched on, all playing the raucous beats of a dance hall. Clouds of paint exploded all around the musicians, as shirtless common folk joined the parade. Newcomers threw bursting bags of color into the air all around them as they danced. Nameless thought the dancers foolish, though not a one of them seemed to care how silly they appeared. He had no time for them; he had to find a place to hide. On the other side of the street he saw an open alleyway next to a truck piled high with the same powdered paints being used by the dancers. As he made his way toward it, shouting erupted behind him, and glanced over his shoulder to see soldiers searching the crowd. Spurred on by their presence, Nameless hastened toward the alleyway as quickly as he could, failing to watch ahead. As he came around the corner of the truck, he crashed straight into someone and ended up in a tangled heap in the mouth of the alleyway. The Fedain's small frame made him seem younger than Nameless, though as soon as Nameless had a chance to consider the Fedain's pale blue eyes, he detected a level of experience to match his own. The intricate braid of his shining, platinum-colored hair befitted royalty, though he dressed simply in a plain white shirt over black pants. With a surprisingly firm grip, the Fedain clutched onto Nameless's arm as he stood, saying, "Whoa, you came out of nowhere! Are you all right?" "Let go of me!" Nameless said, ripping his arm away and stepping backward until his back hit the wall of the alley. "You're running from someone?" the Fedain asked, his eyes darting nervously to the street outside. The parade was just starting to come into view, and he shouted over the music and moved closer to Nameless. "Are you in danger?" "You's can't help me," Nameless said, shaking his head firmly. The Fedain's eyes lit up as he replied, "Of course I can!" He stepped back to the truck and grabbed two bags of powdered paint, tossing them to Nameless. "Here. Cover yourself in these!" "What are you—" Nameless started to ask, but little flecks of paint escaped from the bags, showering him in green and blue. The Fedain tossed another bag of paint at him and Nameless backhanded it against the wall. It exploded and showered him from the side in red. "Stop it! I'll stand out." "Only if you don't dance," the Fedain said, grabbing three more bags from the truck. He set them aside and ripped his shirt, tossing it aside, revealing his lithe yet athletic form beneath. "Come on! It's traditional to go shirtless, and they'll never expect it!" Nameless hesitated for only a second before buying into the crazy plan. Something in the Fedain's eyes reminded him of Tobrig whenever he'd suggest a new scam. It filled him with the confidence unique to rogues, the willingness to risk everything on the chance of a daring escape from the law. The rags of his shirt joined the Fedain's a second later, and he smashed the two bags of paint in the air, coating him in green and blue powder which stuck to his sweat and dripped in dark, colorful rivulets. The Fedain did the same before extending his hand to Nameless. Without a moment's hesitation, Nameless put his hand in the Fedain's, and a warmth unlike anything he'd ever experienced before spread through his body. His fears subsided, and he gave his trust completely to the youth before him. With a giggle and a skip, they rushed out into the street, joining the dancers moving behind the musicians. Nameless danced like he'd never danced before, although he couldn't remember the last time his life had depended on it. The danger of the soldiers seemed far away now. Every few steps the Fedain would brush against him, and the skin contact calmed his nerves in ways he couldn't understand. It was almost supernatural, and Nameless tried to push it from his thoughts, losing himself to the dance instead. Though the dancers seemed foolish before, he enjoyed himself now, loving every step and every beat of the music. The company only made it better, for as strange as it seemed, he found himself growing increasingly infatuated with the Fedain. As the parade continued, drawing them farther and farther down the street, Nameless danced to the best of his ability, but the Fedain's dancing ability mesmerized him. He danced like a true performer on the stage, with grace and skill leading the way at every turn and spin. He lost track of time, working up a sweat as clouds of paint continued to erupt overhead, showering them all in color. By the time he grew too exhausted to dance, his skin was a rainbow mosaic, dripping with color. A large bridge crossing over the road came into view, and the parade funneled into the arch. Nameless and the Fedain stayed with them as they traveled into the dark archway, but their tired faces expressed mutual exhaustion as they came back into the light. The parade continued beyond the bridge, but the pair of boys pulled off into the deepest shadows beneath the arch and then back onto the street, coming to rest on a pair of crates next to a fresh fruit merchant's stall. The merchant eyed the two panting, shirtless boys with suspicion, but resumed hawking his wares after a moment. "That was fun!" the Fedain said. "Thank you. I've always wanted to dance in the Bazarat Festival, but my tutors never let me. My name is Grim, by the way." Nameless nodded and smiled, though he silently tasted the name on his tongue. He wanted to do even more to Grim with his tongue, his lips, and his body, but he repressed the urge to make a move. For all his brash and roguish courage, he'd never been intimate with anyone. "What's your name, if you don't mind me asking?" Grim said, smiling as he stretched his arms and back. Nameless analyzed Grim's lean form in stunned silence, wanting to run his fingers through the rivulets of sweat and color dripping down Grim's back. Before the awkward silence compelled him to speak, another Fedain came running up to them, eyes frantic and breathing heavily. He was older, with thick spectacles hanging on the edge of his nose. Opulent robes of gold and red adorned his shoulders, marking him as a high-ranking official of the Church of the Blood, the religion nearly every Fedain practiced. To Nameless's surprise, the priest dropped to one knee in front of Grim and said, "By the blood! Thank goodness that witness who saw you dancing was correct!" He met Grim's eyes at last and added, "Lord Grim, you ran away from us. You know you shouldn't do that." Lord Grim? Nameless thought, and reality came crashing back in on him. The boy of his dreams was a nobleman, and that made him completely inaccessible. Nameless sighed deeply, already planning his next move. He'd have to find a place to lay low now, somewhere he could forget this ever happened. Grim stood and shook his head, motioning for the priest to stand. "Sharis, I'm not sure why you think you can tell me what to do. You may be my tutor, but you have no authority over my leisure activities." "The Duke would not approve, Lord Grim," Sharis said. The edge in his voice gave Nameless pause and he returned his full attention to the conversation. "My father does not dictate my pleasure activities, either," Grim replied. Nameless found his courage and stepped to Grim's defense. "Is this guy givin' you's trouble?" Several soldiers moved toward their position, though different than the ones he'd seen at the gate, Nameless immediately stiffened at their presence. "You really don't have to do anything," Grim replied. "If you's say so . . . I'll be over here, cleaning up." He inched backward, keeping a wary eye on the soldiers while searching for the perfect escape route to slip back into the city. Four soldiers approached Grim and bowed deeply, staying just behind Sharis. "Lord Grim, there are reports of a dangerous criminal on the loose. We need to get you home as soon as possible, as you may be in danger." Grim scoffed. "That's ridiculous. No one is going to harm me." Nameless moved even farther back, coming up against the fruit merchant's stall when a soldier called out to him. "You, stop there!" Acting on pure impulse, Nameless snatched a small knife from a plate of cut fruit and dashed back to Grim, snaking his arm around him and putting the blade to his throat. "If any you's come closer, I'll kill him," he said, meeting the eyes of Sharis and the soldiers. "Why are you . . ." Grim started to ask as Nameless tugged him backward. "Oh, I understand . . . you're the one they're looking for." Nameless whispered in Grim's ear, "Listen, I appreciate you's help, but I need to get outta here." "Then you should've run when you had the chance. If I could let you go, I would, but by taking me hostage, you've just ensured you'll never get out of this city. It's better to let me go," Grim replied calmly. If he felt threatened at all by Nameless's blade, he didn't show it. "You'd let me go?" "I know you don't want to hurt me. Fedain can sense emotions through physical contact if they're strong enough, and all I sense from you is fear," Grim said. "We're friends now. You know that, right? We danced in the Color Parade together. That's something only friends do." The soldiers were getting anxious, their fingers resting against the triggers of their guns. Sharis was beside himself, not sure if he should attempt to command the soldiers to negotiate with Grim's captor. Several long seconds passed before two more people moved through the gathering crowd. One was a blonde soldier with narrow eyes, dressed in the same black uniform as the others but with several medals on his right breast, and the red and purple captain's colors banded to his left arm. The other was dressed in simple, brown robes held taut against his waist by a red sash. He walked with a warrior's grace, his hands tucked behind his back as he eyed the situation with an expressionless olive-skinned face. "What's all this?" The latter asked, his voice as calm as his expression. "Grandmaster Valkean," Sharis said, sighing in relief. "We have a situation." "Who's that?" Nameless asked. "He's the Keeper of the Temple of the Mountain," Grim replied. "What mountain? There's no mountain near here. It's all flat." "They're an order of monks. The mountain is figurative," Grim explained. "Figlative?" Nameless asked. "What's 'figlative'?" Grim continued as calmly as ever, pressing his body against Nameless's as if resting against him. "Figurative," he repeated. "It means its not real, it just represents something. Like a story, or a myth." Nameless met Grandmaster Valkean's eyes and said, "He's lookin' at me." "That's probably because you're threatening to kill me," Grim said, chuckling. "You's laughin'? Why?" Nameless asked, perplexed at his captor's strange behavior. Grim only laughed harder and said quietly, "Whoever you are, I like you. However this resolves, I hope I'll get to see you again." "Wha—" Nameless started to say, but Grim moved far too quickly to allow him to finish. Grim grabbed Nameless's wrist, pressing it hard against his breastbone. He ducked underneath Nameless's arm, twisting it as he stepped backward, forcing the knife to drop to the pavement. With a calm and fluid flick of his wrist, Grim sent Nameless sprawling forward to land at the feet of Sharis and the four soldiers. "Thank you, everyone!" Grim said grandiosely. "My friend and I were just playing around. We planned it during the festival and thought it would be a nice spectacle. See? He's not my enemy, we're friends." He took a step forward to help Nameless to his feet, but Sharis stepped in his way. "Lord Grim, step away from the commoner at once," Sharis said firmly. "Don't hurt him. That's an order, to all of you," Grim said testily. "He took you hostage!" Sharis insisted. "He did no such thing. Clearly, I was never in any danger," Grim replied. "I'm sure he's not the fugitive you were looking for, it's just a joke gone wrong." The captain stepped up and said, "I'm afraid he is the one we want, Lord Grim. I recognize him from the surveillance at the gates." "Captain Tson. You're saying this is the boy who escaped your guards?" Grandmaster Valkean said. The smile on his face seemed out of place to Nameless. "That's right. And he will be dealt with accordingly. We will send him to Fordus, twenty years labor for this," Captain Tson said. "No." Valkean said. "You do not have the authority to . . ." Captain Tson said but stopped as Valkean lifted his hand to stall him. "I came to the Prisoner's Market today to pardon two Prisoners for my tutelage. I am allowed two pardons per season, provided I take responsibility for them, under Ultakan law. As either Lord Grim or the Esteemed Sharis could verify for you, in case you've forgotten your knowledge of the law you're sworn to uphold," Valkean replied. "But you can't be serious!" Captain Tson protested. "This boy has done nothing but cause trouble since he arrived, and he has proved treasonous intent." "On the contrary, Lord Grim has indicated otherwise. Do you doubt the words of your ruler?" Valkean retorted. "Lord Grim is known for his . . . pranks, Grandmaster," Captain Tson said, pointedly avoiding Grim's heated gaze. "Then you should embrace the marvelous spectacle for what it was," Valkean said, nodding as he regarded Nameless curiously. "I believe the boy's original crime was petty theft? That's what I heard from the soldiers who let him escape, anyway. That's three years. Plus evading arrest. At maximum sentence, that's an additional seven. I'll take him in on a ten year sentence." "You usually take petty criminals," Sharis observed. "Why this one?" Valkean's mouth twitched as if fighting a huge grin. "He seems . . . colorful." "You'll take him on a twenty-year sentence," Captain Tson said. "Shouldn't there be a trial?" Grim asked insistently. "Ultakan law is clear." "We just had one, Lord Grim." Sharis said, raising his hand to stop Grim from speaking further. "And I would recommend you hold your tongue. You've already given the Duke enough grounds to keep you in the palace until you're of age." "I'll take him on twenty years," Valkean agreed at last, regarding Nameless with a polite smile. "Boy, you're now in my charge." "I'll just run away," Nameless said. "I'll just bring you back," Valkean said, chuckling. "What's your name, boy?" "I don't have one." Valkean nodded to himself, considering Nameless for a moment. He then glanced to Grim and nodded again. "Prism. Where light and color meet," he said. "Yes, that is indeed the perfect name for you, and I'll call you nothing different." Keeping his eyes on Grim, he said, "Grim. With your leave, I'll be taking Prism into my custody." "Of course, Grandmaster," Grim said, smiling and bowing to Valkean. "And thank you." "You must come to the Temple and resume your training, Grim. You've grown hesitant," Valkean observed. Grim laughed and said, "Opportunities to practice are rare, Grandmaster." "Of course." Valkean bowed low and added, "We must arrange more for you, then." "Good day to you, Grandmaster," Grim said. "Everyone follow me back to the palace. We'll leave Prism to the Grandmaster's charge." Now that Grim had said the name, Nameless basked in the beauty of it. Prism. It would be an adjustment, but he could learn to use it as his own, and would, in time. "And you, Grim," Valkean said, then turned to Captain Tson. "I suggest you follow Grim's orders, Captain Tson. I can handle the prisoner on my own." As the soldiers moved away, Prism saw an opportunity to escape, rising as he aimed for a nearby alleyway. Before he made it to his feet, Valkean's booted foot collided with his back, sending him sprawling back to the ground. "Lesson one, Prism. Learn to bet only on risks you stand a chance of winning," Valkean said as he approached Prism, placing his foot squarely in the center of his back and driving his heel between two of Prism's vertebrae. "This is your first of many lessons, but I will make sure you learn it before we move forward."
  12. Cynus

    Chapter 1

    I look forward to your future thoughts. I honestly hadn't thought of the Great Flood metaphor before, but that's a great analogy, indeed. Lots of questions in store, even if many questions have just been answered. Hope you'll enjoy the ride! I love that you're already delving into their psyches. Ah... those are good questions indeed. We'll find out a lot more in the chapters to come. Many questions will be answered, many more will arise. We've a long road to travel with many sights to see. I like you picking up on Prism's innate wariness, good job! Indeed. While not trying to draw any direct comparisons per se, I was trying to establish a world in a similar position to ours, but we'll see if I accomplished that as we move along.
  13. Thank you for posting this. I kept meaning to get around to it, but I've been sort of out of commission for the last few days.
  14. Cynus

    Clouded Purity

    This is not a direct scene from the story, but it is inspired by events in the second book, "Clouded Purity". Hope you check it out! Here's a link to the series: https://www.gayauthors.org/stories/browse/series/the-trial/
  15. Cynus

    Cover Art

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