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Cynus

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Cynus last won the day on October 29 2015

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About Cynus

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    Taosexual

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  • Gender
    Male
  • Sexuality
    Bisexual, leaning male
  • Favorite Genres
    Fantasy
  • Location
    In the Matrix
  • Interests
    Unraveling life.
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  1. I have started a Discord server for my readers. If you'd like to come and chat with us, please give me a PM or an email and I'll give you a link. :)

  2. Cynus

    The Dilemma

    I am lost without myself. This is as true for me as you. Not so much the my, but the self is always true. Are you? What self would cheat and lie, look destruction in the eye and spit in face of all creation? Surely not I, nor mine? But I lie, And I cheat, and I spit as I stare into the chaos, swirling chaos in the distance . . . The path of most resistance. Where the cyclone tears asunder, every careful dream and wonder, every hope and madness that I could 'er achieve. All that I believe . . . The path where truth awaits, to welcome and eradicate all of my realities like fleas! The nagging bites where nothing's there, the tiny imperfections in the world. They gnaw, they scratch and chew at you, telling you that you will never be, part of this reality, because part of you is somewhere else, because you are lost without yourself But no one else. With someone else, You're found.
  3. Cynus

    Chapter 13

    I'm sorry it didn't work for you.
  4. Cynus

    Chapter 11

    I was doing something different with this series. This is all about the psychology of one specific character. That's what the entire story has been about since the beginning, really. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but the series is structured to alternate between present and past. Book 3 will return us to where we left off in Book 1, but Book 2 is meant to give understanding and perspective.
  5. I'm working on chapter 17 of book 3 right now, and I just wanted to let y'all know, you guys are in for a crazy ride once we get there.
  6. Cynus

    Chapter 22

    Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you'll check out more of my work while we wait.
  7. Cynus

    Inspirational Quotes

    Glad they helped!
  8. I've been there, unfortunately. I've released ahead of being finished twice, and both times it stressed me out immensely. Not only because I wanted to finish the damn story, but also because I felt I was letting down my readers.
  9. Yeah, unfortunately it will be awhile before book 3 is ready. I'm not finished with it yet, and I don't like to start posting before the book is finished.
  10. Cynus

    Chapter 22

    He is not, but that would be epic, wouldn't it? It was Vinh's mentor in the order, who would've been the Grandmaster before Valkean. If I ever construct a Wiki for this world, I'll be sure to add that little detail. If you have the time, I'd love if you could review the story as well. I appreciate you reading it and offering feedback! I'd love if you would write a review of the story as a whole, if you have the time or inclination. That is a beautiful observation, @Atheugorei. Drawing parallels between Salidar and Grim... Oooh, you've made my day with that one! Grim would probably stare at you for a moment, nod in acceptance, and go on with his life. Salidar would laugh outright and figure out how he could use that knowledge to manipulate Grim. I like your view on the metaphor with Jan/Grim, too. Thank you. I'd love to see your thoughts on a review as well, if you have the time. Vinh is one of the few characters I've written whom I never second-guessed. I always knew exactly what I wanted to say with him, and his parables surprised the hell out of me. I am so happy that you're able to see the youth of Prism and Grim in their adult selves. That was something I knew I had to get right, and if your comment is any indication, it looks like I hit my mark. Janlynd did what she could. I'm not sure where the line is, but Ghayle indicates that the Trial could've been prevented even after it began if the world had started learning its lesson, and that Janlynd helped swing things back in that direction, it just wasn't enough. At least, that's what I TRIED to write, but I might've failed on that one. We do indeed return to Styx and company! But, there will be some other familiar faces as well, and plenty of new. Get ready for it, because it's going to be a good one. If you have an opportunity to review the book as a whole, I'd love to see it. Thank you to all you wonderful people for reading this book! I'll see you at the next one. I'm not sure when it will start posting. It's not finished yet, and I don't want to start posting it here until it's done. If you'd like to start reading it, however, feel free to check out my Patreon!
  11. Cynus

    Chapter 21

    @Nancer has it correct. And I'm so glad you like Kaeral! I adored writing him. He was in the original script for this story back when I first started planning it, so I'm glad he kept his place. Thank you! I love this comment so much. This was a concept I wanted people to think about when comparing Ghayle's perspective against Prism's, not to mention to motivations of all the other characters. The motivations are what I really wanted this book to be centered around. Why did Ghayle do what she did? Was it justifiable? What about Prism and his oaths? Grim and his cultural identity? Veil and hers? Kaeral and his family and friends? These questions all come down to the same thing. Perspective, as @drpaladin mentions here. How does it look from the outside, compared to being inside their heads? What decisions would we make when faced with similar situations? Are we the gods laughing, or the ones being laughed at, or are we both at once?
  12. Cynus

    Chapter 22

    Prism and Grim walked into the training grounds for the first time since Prism's failed execution. Master Vinh had requested their presence at the apple tree before they left the Temple. Despite the dark memories they shared about the location, they'd reluctantly agreed to the Master's terms. When they reached the tree, Master Vinh sat among the branches, leaning against the trunk. He had an apple in his hand, but it remained unbitten as he rolled it between his fingers. When he saw them, he smiled and tucked the apple into the fold of his robes before sliding to the ground. He bowed low in greeting. "Prism, Grim, thank you for seeing me." "Of course, Master Vinh." Both young men returned the gesture. "Though I wish you'd chosen a different location." Master Vinh smirked, turning his back on them and putting his hand against the tree. "The apple tree is the only place I could choose. For both of you." "Why?" Grim asked. Master Vinh looked into the branches as he walked a slow circle around the tree. His feet easily avoided the roots jutting out from the ground, as if he knew exactly where to step. "You know, there are a thousand different parables I could draw from this single tree. Surely more. I've meditated beneath and within this tree more times than I can count over my tenure here." He completed the circuit and rapped his hand against the trunk several times. "There are as many lessons to learn from it as there are leaves on its branches, and they renew every spring." He turned toward to face them. "I understand you're leaving." "That's right," Prism said. "We're going north. Kaeral left this morning. He wanted to stop by Kobinaru first, to convince one of his friends to join us in the North. We intend to meet up with him on the road and travel together. He thinks we could find a home among his people, though it may take some time for them to trust us." "I don't believe that will be your path," Master Vinh said. "At least, not in the end." "Why not?" "There are many different lessons, but I will give you three as a parting gift." He grinned and pointed at Prism. "One is for you." He pointed at Grim with his opposite hand. "One is for you." He opened his hands and extended them out wide. "And one is for both of you." "Please," Prism said, "teach us." Master Vinh chuckled and began another circuit of the tree. This time he skipped and danced over the roots, keeping eye contact with Prism as often as possible. "Prism, you came to me as a boy who wanted order. Your life was chaotic, without structure. You spent your childhood fighting to survive through nefarious means, because you'd been raised that way." He paused abruptly, raised on one leg, assuming a delicate pose of perfect balance. "Here at this tree, you learned there were different paths. But today the lesson is different." He jumped for the branch above him with precision. Despite it being too high for the average person to catch, Master Vinh's hands just reached it, and he pulled himself onto the branch. Both Prism and Grim recognized the branch from their current position. It was the same one the would-be executioners had draped the rope over. "Because of recent events, you view this tree as an enemy, a symbol of the crime committed against you," Master Vinh said, pointing at the roots beneath him. In the dirt next to one of the roots, two deep furrows drew Prism's attention. "But I notice things others do not. You dug in your heels, you caught yourself on the roots and hung on. When you faced death, you found the sturdiest place to cling and made sure to weather through it to the end. The same tree whose branch may have served to end your life, saved you with its roots." Master Vinh tossed the apple from his robe to Prism and hopped down from the tree. "So, too, do the roots of your soul matter, Prism. Do not neglect the spirited boy who brought you here. Do not neglect your roots in chaos to serve the branch of law. Both will keep you safe, if kept in balance." Prism inspected the apple in his hand, noting it was under ripe, and saw it as a metaphor for his own experience. "Thank you, Master Vinh." "You were my favorite student," Master Vinh said with a wide grin. "Do you know the day I felt I'd truly reached you?" "Which day?" "When you faced the Masters and told them of your relationship with Grim." "Because I no longer lived in deceit," Prism said. "Because you no longer lived in deceit," Master Vinh confirmed. "I've always detested liars." Prism bowed to his mentor. "I will always strive to honor that, Master Vinh." Master Vinh turned his attention to Grim. Who shifted uncomfortably under the Master's piercing gaze. "Grim. You can't take your eyes off it, can you?" "No," Grim said, glancing from the Master's eyes to where a streak of red still marred the training grounds beneath him. Vinh stood on the exact spot the black-bearded victim of Grim's murder had stood. "No, I'll keep it with me forever. I'll always see the blood." Master Vinh nodded, gesturing to the tree behind him. "Do you know why this tree is here? It's nearly eighty-years-old, but the Masters have used the story since the tree first sprouted from the ground." He extended his arms again, as if conjuring an image from the past with dramatic flair. "This was once a pen for pigs, before we sourced our meat from the local farmers. A certain lazy initiate would come by here during his free time. He would always steal fruit from the kitchens, not only apples, but those were his favorite. He'd toss the remains to the hogs and let them dispose of the evidence." Master Vinh slowly circled around them, stepping just as surely as he had around the tree. "Eventually the pigs were sold off, and the pen stood empty except for a single pig too old to sell. The once lazy initiate had become a Master by then, but he would still come by the pen every day and give his apple core to the old hog. One day, he left his core behind, but the hog had already died." Master Vinh paused in front of Grim again and reached as if to touch Grim's face, but left his hand hovering a short distance away. He continued with a serious tone. "The core rotted, and the seeds nested in the fertile ground of the pig pen. Eventually, a seed sprouted into the tree, and the Master tended to it in honor of the pig he'd known and loved." "What are you trying to tell me, Master Vinh?" Grim asked. Master Vinh dropped his hand and resumed his circuit. "One of my dearest friends in the world recently died. Master Janlynd killed herself on the steps of the Council Chamber, as I'm sure you recall." He paused as Grim stiffened at the memory. "We discussed the Fedain ability to heal at great length, and I once asked her if she could possibly make those abilities work in reverse. I'm certain that's how she did it. Bodies don't simply explode like that." "No, they do not," Grim replied. Master Vinh continued with a curt nod. "I could look at this in a number of ways, I could blame myself for thinking I'd planted the idea in her mind, and that led her to suicide. I could blame the society she condemned, for giving her reason to do it. Or, I could certainly blame her for choosing to go through with it." He chuckled dryly and added, "Perhaps, I could even blame whatever forces which created us, for giving her the power to do it in the first place." His eyes watered, and his expression turned serious, and for the first time since Prism met him, Master Vinh looked on the verge of losing control of his emotions. "I don't know if you figured it out on your own, or if you learned something from her death, but I can't help but be reminded of her martyrdom by your sacrifice." Grim recoiled from the strange statement. "My sacrifice?" "You sacrificed everything you knew to save another," Master Vinh said. "Like the student giving the apple core to the pig, you've spent your life in tradition. When the reason for that tradition dies, what happens next? Do you curse the pig for dying, do you curse your tradition for attaching you to it? Or do you celebrate what has happened as a result, the predictable consequences of unintended fate? You've discarded the apple core into fertile ground. You're walking a path few Fedain have followed in a thousand years. Don't neglect the tree because you mourn the pig; nurture it, and help it bear fruit." "I'm not sure I understand," Grim said, shaking his head sadly. "You will," Master Vinh replied, and to Grim's surprise, the Master reached out and touched his cheek, stroking it as a father might to a son. "Prism will help you." "And the final lesson?" Prism asked, touched by the Master's gesture. Master Vinh walked back to the tree and beckoned them forward, as soon as the two youths stood beneath the branches, he kicked the tree as hard as he could. Unripe apple after unripe apple fell from the tree. Prism shielded Grim's head with his hands while Grim tried to do the same for Prism. Both failed more than they succeeded and came away with sore spots all over their heads and arms. "Watch out for each other," Master Vinh said, "Have each other's backs, and never forget this: even the simplest pleasures in life can harm you if you let them." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Prism sighed, basking in the memory of his mentor before speaking to Ghayle. "I never saw Master Vinh again. I'm told he died on the Southern lines three years later, pierced through the chest by three Aika quills." Ghayle nodded, placing a comforting hand on Prism's shoulder. "He fought valiantly. Every monk of the Order did. Including you." Prism shook his head. "I only held an honorary title. I swore the first three oaths to Grandmaster Jovun before the battle of Cherrim Pass." "Yes. I witnessed that moment," Ghayle said fondly. "You did?" Prism asked with surprise. "I was invisible to your eyes, but you've always been one of my favorites." Ghayle laughed, the beautiful sound ringing melodically through the garden. "You respectfully told Jovun that you wished to serve the Order but could not in good conscience swear the fourth oath." "He afforded me the honorable rank of Master," Prism replied. "Who would've thought I'd end up leading so many monks? Who would've thought I'd die a Grandmaster?" "You and Grim didn't take to life in the Dorram well. It was inevitable that you'd both rise to greatness." Prism nodded, remembering those first days well. "It bothered him that people were dying, and we weren't doing anything about it. We helped out in the north first, then headed south." "Where you truly made a name for yourself," Ghayle observed. "Among demons and men alike. 'The Dark Monk'." Prism laughed heartily at that. "Sixteen years fighting a battle of attrition against an endless enemy. Did you expect it would take that long?" "A year is little more than a blink in my eyes. It took as long as it needed to, for the races to band together as one and begin to push back." Ghayle sighed deeply and added, "Sixteen years is much shorter than eight centuries." Prism considered that point briefly before responding. "Was it worth it in the end? Do you still stand by your choice?" "To summon the demons?" Ghayle asked. Prism nodded, and she said, "It was necessary." "Everything you showed me, all those memories . . . I'm still convinced there was enough good left in the world to save it," Prism said "As am I," Ghayle replied. Prism knew Ghayle meant she'd loved the world enough to save it through the Trial, but he couldn't agree with her. "I don't think I could ever condone your decision." "I don't need you to," Ghayle said. "My goal was never to seek your agreement, only your understanding." "And what should I understand?" Prism asked. "That to save the world, I believed this was the best course of action. Regardless of your feelings on my choice, I need you to understand why I made the decision." Ghayle gave him time to think about her words before she continued. "When the post keeps moving farther and farther away from you, do you keep jumping, or do you take the only path left to you?" "I understand, Ghayle, but I still would've jumped," Prism said. "My fingers almost caught the edge every time, and I could always jump again." "Eventually, I couldn't," Ghayle said. "Eventually, the world moved the post too far." Prism smiled sadly and replied, "I would've jumped anyway." "And that's why you've been Chosen," Ghayle said, placing her hand against his cheek, caressing it as a mother to her son. "The fate of the world will always rest in the hands of those willing to take action against impossible odds." The End
  13. Cynus

    Chapter 21

    Grim stared at the closed gate of the Temple, longing for his sister beyond the wall. It had taken a day to leave, despite their best efforts to the contrary. Due to the deaths of several men—one killed by Grim and two by Kaeral—the Masters were forced to conduct an investigation. Some had witnessed the final moments of the situation, but in the end, Veil's testimony had freed them from responsibility. The Masters agreed that Grim, Prism, and Kaeral should leave for their own safety, and so Kaeral had gathered his family and their friends to travel north. They had packed their few belongings inside the streetcar they'd stolen from Kobinaru. It would take them some distance before running out of fuel, and they might be able to scavenge some along the way. To the North lay the Dorram, the region of Prism's birth. Reports said the Dorram remained almost untouched by the rebellion, but the Dorramu had never heavily participated in the government to begin with. Effects of the rebellion would hit them soon enough, when failing infrastructure and the lack of trade isolated them from the rest of the world, but for now, it would be at least as safe as anywhere. Grim wasn't convinced it was the best move, however. Fedain lived in the Dorram, too. How could he face his people? How could he look them in the eye without seeing the blood staining his soul? Somehow, they would know, and that would be the end of it. He had no place among his people anymore. "Everyone ready to go?" Kaeral asked. He'd just finished checking the supplies in the storage compartment beneath the streetcar. "I'd like to leave this place behind for good, I think," Prism said, casting a forlorn glance at the temple. "Get a fresh start somewhere else." "As if there are any fresh starts to be had anywhere," Grim muttered. Before anyone could respond, the streetcar violently rocked back and forth, jostling the passengers. Kaeral's son, Villar, started to wail, and his father struggled to maintain his footing in the center aisle. Outside, the trees surrounding the temple complex trembled, and the walls themselves shuddered from the tremors in the ground. "What the hell is . . ." Kaeral started as the tremors ceased. His eyes widened in horror, and whatever he'd been about to ask fled from him as he pointed toward Kobinaru. "Look!" The group turned as one to the city. The skyline disappeared before their eyes, once-towering buildings falling as their supports gave way from the force of the quaking earth. Huge sections of the city wall collapsed both inward and outward, and a gigantic cloud of debris bubbled out from the city. "The city is . . ." Grim gasped. "Was that Oligan's weapon?" "It must have been," Prism said. "It must be . . ." "No one could have survived that," One of Tala's wives said. Prism grimaced. "Captain Tson, Grandmaster Valkean." "Cousin Zaalf . . ." Kaeral whispered. "Sharda . . ." "All my drinkin' buddies," Tala said. Grim felt it all; the despair around him, and the responsibility to any survivors in the city. They were his people and had always been his people. Even after rejecting him, he owed them his help. Regardless of what Veil thought, Grim was a Fedain, and he needed to prove that to himself now more than ever. "All those people," he amended. "We have to go over there." Kaeral blanched. "We what?" "There will be survivors. On the fringe of the blast zone at least. Some buried in rubble, too. Who is going to help them if we don't?" "Let's go," Prism said confidently. "Are you mad?" Kaeral looked between Prism and Grim, laughing in disbelief. "We just escaped from that city!" Grim held his ground. "And now they need us." Kaeral met Grim's eyes, holding an intense battle of wills for several seconds before Kaeral conceded with a resolute nod. He turned to Tala and said, "Tala, please promise me you'll take care of my son?" As Tala nodded, Kaeral continued. "Drop us off at the city and head for the first village on the northeast road. We'll rendezvous with you in a day or two." "Will do, nephew," Tala said. "I'd go with ye, but I've gotta take care of my own." The streetcar inched its way down the hillside, where it became apparent it was not a weapon which had struck the city, but an earthquake. Massive fissures split the ground, and on occasion the streetcar had to maneuver past them by driving away from the road. Several aftershocks struck them as well, leveling Kobinaru further and stalling their progress. Grim found this odd, as Kobinaru did not sit on a major fault line, though an unexpected earthquake of great magnitude could certainly cause the devastation they'd witnessed. Without a history of earthquakes, the massive buildings of Kobinaru had not been built to withstand them. Considering the extent of the damage, however, the quake must have been powerful indeed. Eventually they were within the outskirts of the city and the road became impassable with rubble. Grim left the streetcar first, followed immediately by Prism and then Kaeral, the latter of whom spent just a moment saying goodbye to his son before joining them. They ventured into the city amid first cries of people in pain. Grim sprinted to their aid, putting his full focus into rescuing everyone he could. If he could save their lives, perhaps he could erase some of his guilt: if he could save their lives, perhaps he could save himself. Prism and Kaeral let him take the lead, following him into unstable buildings to rescue stranded citizens and helping him dig through the rubble for those groaning or crying within. Grim inspected each one for injuries and healed them as needed. Hours stretched on, and Grim slowly weakened, losing what energy he had until only adrenaline fueled him. If he pushed himself any harder he'd wind up unconscious, or worse, but he couldn't allow himself to stop. Each person he rescued joined the effort, uniting under his guidance and following his example as they searched through the ruins for their neighbors. Prism and Kaeral split from him, leading other groups on grand rescue missions of their own as he continued to slowly work his way through the outer city. Eventually Prism returned to Grim, catching him as he staggered on to yet another house. One look into Prism's eyes told Grim why he'd come. Prism had sensed the weakness in Grim, how close he was to death. "You need to take a break, Grim," Prism said, catching Grim's arm and keeping him from walking forward. Grim tried to break free of Prism's grip but couldn't and lost his balance in the effort. He fell to his knees but kept his focus forward, breathing heavily. "I can't. I need to heal them." "If you keep going at that rate, you'll kill yourself." Grim coughed and wiped spittle from his mouth. "Better I die than them." Prism knelt in front of him, his hands on Grim's shoulders. Prism's anger hit Grim like a dull ache in his skull. "No!" Prism growled. "Don't you dare talk like that. Whatever happened back at the temple, whatever guilt you're feeling, the weight of the world does not rest on your shoulders. You don't get to die on account of feeling sorry for yourself." "I killed a man, Prism!" Grim spat. "You saved me!" Prism insisted. "It's the same thing I'd do for you." Grim avoided Prism's gaze, his shame returning to the forefront of his thoughts. "I'm a Fedain. The rules are different." "No! They're the same." Prism hugged Grim against him. Grim didn't reciprocate, but he enjoyed the warmth from Prism, though he didn't believe he deserved it. "We're the same, Grim. We're all just trying to survive, we're all just trying to live. All we can do is make the best of the life we've got, and the same goes for you." "Hey, you two, stop yammering and help me!" Kaeral shouted from down the road. "What's the problem?" Prism asked. "There's a little girl trapped beneath the outer wall. It's too heavy for us to lift, but I can hear her crying," Kaeral replied. "I'm going to slither in, but I'm going to need Grim once I get her out. I'm certain she's injured." Grim slipped from Prism's grasp, fueled by necessity. Prism let him go, watching on in worry, and followed silently. Kaeral led them to a collapsed section of city wall, the corpses of several people visible beneath it. But the wall had crashed into a house, obliterating the upper levels but leaving the cellar intact. A child-sized hole allowed access, and a young girl's voice echoed from inside. The crowd of survivors Kaeral had led here stood watching, wanting to help but unsure how. Kaeral wasted no time in activating his snake tattoos. He entered the cavity headfirst, his bones and muscles compressing in unnatural ways as he slipped past the tight access point. Prism and Grim waited at the ready as Kaeral searched through the dark for the victim. "She has a broken leg!" Kaeral shouted after a moment. "I'll hand her up to you in a moment but be careful with her right side!" Prism reached into the hole as soon as the girl's hands come into view. He gently cupped his hands beneath her arms and pulled her from the dark, she cried as her leg scraped against the ground, and Prism rested her in his lap in a way which kept her leg from further harm. "It's okay, you're safe now," he said. "Here, let me see your leg," Grim said. He smiled as he touched her leg, searching with his energy for the break and applying just enough pressure to guide it back into place. He willed the bone to mend and the broken blood vessels nearby to reconnect. Within a matter of seconds, the leg was as good as new. "There, does that feel better?" The little girl wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and nodded. "Yes, thank you, Mister." "You're welcome," Grim said as Kaeral climbed back through the hole and joined them. "Kaeral here is going to take you to the others, and maybe we can find your parents?" The little girl nodded and let Kaeral take her hand to lead her away. They joined the crowd, talking excitedly amongst themselves about where the girl's parents might be. After a moment, someone found her aunt among the crowd, who came to scoop the girl into her arms. Grim stopped paying attention when Prism grasped his hands. "These hands of yours, are a gift. You can and have healed so many with them. Sometimes you used your abilities, and sometimes all it took was throwing paint on the boy who ran into you." Prism lifted Grim's right hand to his face and kissed it softly. "You have the power of life and death in your hands, but you also have the judgment to know when to use them. You know the weight of responsibility, and you have to trust yourself to know what's right." "But what if I don't know?" Grim asked. "What if I harm someone, and they didn't deserve it?" "Then we'll face it together," Prism said. "We never have to be apart again. We can handle every decision with whatever wisdom we have between us. And, when the world quiets down, and we have a chance at peace, we'll find a quiet corner and settle down. We'll live the rest of our lives in pleasant company, helping friends, family, and neighbors for the rest of our days." Grim ached to believe Prism's words, desiring nothing more than to escape the world with him. The idea of someday gave him hope, but he needed more. "Do you promise?" "I promise," Prism said without hesitation. "I'll give my life to making it happen for you. Whatever it takes to save that future for you, I'll do it. Because you deserve to be happy, Grim. You deserve to have peace, after all you've done for those you love, and those you don't even know." He nodded toward the group of survivors, some of which glanced over at them fondly, wearing smiles of hope and gratitude. "Those people," Prism said gently, "prove you're a good person. Forget what Veil said—you're more Fedain than any of them, because you came here without hesitation and saved all these people. They'll continue to save more, and more, all because you insisted we come here and pull them from the rubble. So, you can't die now, because there're more people who need you, especially me." Grim sighed, wanting to cry but too exhausted for tears. He settled for a kiss instead, locking lips with Prism for a few quick pecks before readjusting his position, curling into his lover's lap. "Thank you, Prism. I love you." "And I love you," Prism replied cradling Grim. "What was your name before Grandmaster Valkean gave you a different one?" Grim asked. "I've never thought to ask, because Prism fit you so nicely." "Jurka," Prism said laughing. "It sounds so foreign now." "What does it mean?" "Brown-eyed." Grim snorted. "Valkean was right to give you a different one. 'where light and color meet'. I don't think I could call you anything but Prism now. Ever since that day, all I've wanted is this, and maybe . . . maybe now that I have it, I can be willing to fight for it." He lifted his hand, imagining the blood coating it once again. The memory still stained his thoughts, but he could see past his bloody fingers now, remembering Prism with a noose around his neck. "Maybe, I can look past the guilt and see that sometimes things are worth fighting for." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ "Grim, wake up!" Prism said, nudging Grim gently. The sun rose over Kobinaru, bathing them in a soft, orange glow. Grim stirred as Prism stared into the distant sky, through the broken wall of the ruined house they'd taken shelter in. The stairs had collapsed, but they'd climbed to the second floor for privacy. There'd been no energy left for lovemaking, but they'd found a blanket to share as they slept naked in each other's arms. Prism had longed for this moment for well over a year, and he couldn't be happier with the outcome, no matter their humble surroundings. "What is it?" Grim asked, yawning. Prism pointed at the strange shape in the sky. It appeared to be a giant eagle, flying toward the Temple. It perched atop a tree on a lower hilltop adjacent to the Temple's hill. "What is it?" Grim asked. "That's a huge bird for this region. Giant eagles like that only inhabit the Northern mountains. They say the Gor even ride them." "Indeed!" Prism replied, "isn't it beautiful?" Grim nodded before burying his head in Prism's embrace. They watched the bird in tranquil silence, enjoying the morning. Tranquility swiftly faded to sinking dread when the eagle hopped from the tree, assuming a man's form as it reached the ground. The man was dressed in brown robes with a red sash, the mark of a Grandmaster of the Order of the Mountain. "Valkean . . .?" Prism said. "Khalis . . ." Grim whispered, his fingers gripping Prism's naked thigh as the memory of the demon overwhelmed him. "It can't be . . ." Prism said. "Valkean couldn't have been Khalis all this time?" "No . . ." Grim said. "I don't think so. He's just wearing Valkean's skin." Prism nodded. "And the monks will have no idea. We'll have to get over there. I wonder if this is the first time? When did the switch happen?" "I don't know," Grim said. "Let's find Kaeral and get over there. Who knows how much damage he could do before they find out?" Prism agreed. Though many of the people inside the Temple had desired his blood, most of the current residents were innocent, especially the Masters and Veil. He flipped the blanket away from their bodies and searched for his clothing. All he had were his monk robes. Though putting them on again after a night with Grim in his arms was strange, they would do for this journey at least. Master Jovun had declared Prism a friend of the Order, and Prism could wear the robes one more time in their defense. They carefully made their way down the ruined staircase to the city street. Kaeral had insisted on giving them privacy and slept among the survivors. Several camps had formed on the street, makeshift shelters serving to protect the people where the ruins could not be trusted. By the time they found Kaeral, he was sitting with another Gor, one whom Prism and Grim recognized immediately as Zaalf, the tattooist who'd created their Familiar bond. "It's about time you two woke up," Kaeral said as they approached. "Prism, Grim, I'd like you to meet my cousin, Zaalf Terbrinix. Rescue crews cleaned out his shop late last night." "We've met, actually," Prism said, nodding. Grim smiled and took Zaalf's hand. "Ya two are still together, yeah?" Zaalf said, raising an eyebrow as he looked between them. He nodded back to Kaeral and asked, "And ya'r mixed up with this rascal too? Why am I not surprised?" "The world gets smaller every day." Kaeral shook his head, laughing heartily in disbelief. "How'd you meet Zaalf? Oh . . . he's the one who did your tattoos!" "That's right." Grim nodded. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that with so few Gor living in Kobinaru, you two would be related." "We're actually not. I call him my cousin because we're two of the few Gor in the city." Kaeral snickered at the situation and added, "His daughter Sharda and I used to see each other." Zaalf sucked in his breath, displeased at the mention of his daughter's name. "She had a crazy tryst with a Fedain woman after that. I ain't seen her in a few days, not since the rebels tried to kill everyone, but I bet she's alive." "While I'm glad your cousin is alive," Prism said, "we need to get back to the Temple." Kaeral groaned. "Why do you keep trying to take me dangerous places?" "Grandmaster Valkean might be a demon," Prism said. "What? That doesn't make any sense." "We just saw him shift form," Grim said. "I know how it sounds, but . . ." "No, you don't know how it sounds. Believe me, I'm usually the first person to believe in weird things happening," Kaeral replied, "but Zaalf was just telling me what happened here two days ago." Zaalf cleared his throat and took his cue. "The monks came and talked, and the rebels wouldn't listen. Then the monks tried to free the Fedain prisoners. They fought to the death, yeah? Every last one of 'em. Ol' Valkean went down last, fightin' like a god. Must've shot him at least a dozen times before he finally went down." "And you're sure he died then?" Prism asked. Despite the ridiculousness of the question, he had to be sure. Zaalf snorted. "Ya think? If ya really think there's a question, someone cut out his heart shortly after. No one saw it happen, but the rebels hung his heartless corpse in front of the Council Chambers. I bet he's still there if the buildin's still standin'." Prism stiffened at the image, but forced the excess tension from his body. He didn't have the time to think, any more than when he'd last faced Khalis. "All the more reason to get to the Temple as quickly as possible." "You don't seem phased by Valkean's death." Kaeral said. "I'd have thought it would affect you more." "I don't have the luxury of time. I'll mourn later." Kaeral sighed, but he grinned after a moment. "Let's go then." Prism returned the smile with as much strength as he could manage. He could read the respect in Kaeral's eyes. Reckless loyalty to each other had brought them this far, and they'd done a lot of good along the way. There was no one he'd rather have at his side for this insane adventure. "We need fire," he said. Arson would only intrigue Kaeral more. "I can manage that." Kaeral grinned at Zaalf. "Zaalf. Know where I can get some alcohol?" "Why do ya think I stayed home until I heard ya were leadin' the searches? Got a whole stash of brew in my basement," Zaalf said. "But I thought I taught ya better than that. What ya need is proper fuel. Just fill up at any of the broken fuel stations. Lots of things burn better than brew." "Perfect," Kaeral said. "Next time I want to start a riot, I'll come to you first." Prism, Grim, and Kaeral talked strategy as they salvaged several bottles from the nearby rubble. They found a fuel station and pumped some from the large tanks beneath the ground. Once they'd filled their bottles with fuel and made some ready to use cloth wicks, they tucked them all into their clothes and left for the Temple. Most of the walk passed in silence, though Grim's fear increased through the link with every step as they neared the Temple. After they'd reached the base of the hill, Prism couldn't contain his worry any longer and asked, "Are you going to be okay facing him? If he really is Khalis, I mean?" "With you there, I think I'll be fine." Grim remained silent for another twenty steps before he admitted, "I'm worried though." Kaeral snaked his arm around Grim's shoulder and said, "Don't be. We can handle this." "But . . ." Grim protested. Prism smiled, mouthing thanks to Kaeral. "You won't have to fight, Grim." Grim shook his head. "I'll do it if I have to, though." "You don't—" Prism started, but Grim cut him off with a finger to Prism's mouth. "No. I will," Grim insisted. His feelings came across the link. While the remorse was still there, determination and responsibility now reinforced it. "If you can give yourself to the future, I can too." Prism accepted Grim's declaration as fact and chose to say no more on the subject. Instead, they resumed their march to the Temple, solemn resolve guiding every step until they reached the gates and Prism knocked on the door. The viewing plate opened, and a short monk, Junior Master Isan, peered through, his eyes widening as he identified the visitor. "Ma . . . Prism, you weren't expected to return." "There's a matter of great importance. Is the Grandmaster present?" The gates creaked open, allowing the group inside. Master Isan then answered Prism's question. "Yes, he's just returned from Kobinaru. Unfortunately, the remainder of his group did not. How did you know he'd returned?" "We encountered him on the road," Kaeral lied. "We've learned some important information and must speak to him at once." "Understood," Master Isan said, treating Kaeral's urgency as genuine. "He's called a meeting of all Senior Masters, both on and off the council, but you can probably stay in there if you're quiet and speak to him when they're done." Prism bowed. "Thank you." He led the way into the Temple. Each of them maintained their composure, walking with a purpose to give the impression they belonged there. They made their way to the meeting hall, but stayed in the hall just before entering, allowing them to see Valkean standing in the center of the room but remain out of view of the other Senior Masters. "What you're saying, Grandmaster Valkean, is incredibly difficult to believe," Master Jovun said as Prism motioned for his companions to stay back. Grandmaster Valkean responded in his usual calm and reasoned tone. "I understand that, Master Jovun. But the reports were coming in from all over the country. Natural disasters, including the earthquake here, have happened in at least a dozen locations throughout Ultaka within the last two days." He paused for effect before adding, "There are even rumors of demons attacking villages in the South." "Demons," an unrecognizable voice said. "We've had about enough of demons here." "I don't mean to be superstitious, but the world is certainly changing, and that earthquake was unlike anything I've ever experienced. People are frightened. Mention of the Cataclysm has already begun to spread, and it seems the end of the world may be upon us once again. All I'm counseling is that we need to be vigilant," Grandmaster Valkean said. Prism could sense the lie in his voice. There was something off about him, something that didn't quite sound like Valkean. The discrepancy was so minor that, if he hadn't already suspected Valkean was an imposter, Prism would have written it off as a sign of Valkean having a minor illness. But he knew better—the man who stood before him was not Valkean. He stepped forward, attracting the attention of the Masters. "Don't trust him," he said forcefully. "Prism?" Master Jovun said. "What are you doing here?" "Don't trust him." Prism switched his attention from Jovun to Valkean with an icy stare. "He's not whom he says he is." "This is highly irregular, Prism. You are no longer a member of this Order, and you are interrupting official business," Master Jovun said with annoyance. "Master Vinh," Prism said, switching targets and tactics with equal skill. "Can Grandmaster Valkean juggle peach pits?" Master Vinh smiled at the cryptic question. "Yes." "Then perhaps he should prove it." Grandmaster Valkean stared at Prism with a frown. "You want me to 'juggle'?" "Grandmaster Valkean, do you know why I joined this Order?" Master Vinh asked. "To pursue enlightenment," Grandmaster Valkean replied. Master Vinh raised an eyebrow and shrugged at Prism. "Grandmaster Valkean, who gave me my name?" Prism asked. "Prism?" Grandmaster Valkean asked. He hesitated, his eyes searching Prism's expression for an answer before he said confidently. "I did, of course." "What was happening at the time? What happened when I had you at knifepoint and demanded a ransom for your safety?" Prism asked, purposefully misstating the facts. Grandmaster Valkean paused again, his eyes narrowing at the trap Prism had him in. "You . . . I disarmed you, of course." "He doesn't know," Prism said, addressing the other Masters. "Ask him anything personal he should know about you. Give it a go." "This is madness!" Master Jovun said. "I refuse to let this farce go on any longer. This man is clearly Valkean!" "Grandmaster Valkean," Master Vinh said with a sly smile, "why did you join the Order?" Grandmaster Valkean stared at Master Vinh for a moment, struggling to find an answer. "The same as anyone else's," he said cautiously, stalling for time. It was enough to convince Master Vinh. "Grandmaster Valkean would answer that question without hesitation, and we all know his answer would be 'because I was always a monk'. This is not Valkean." Nearly every Master gasped in unison, realizing the truth as Master Vinh said it. Prism walked to one of the lanterns hanging from the wall, joining Kaeral as they lit the wicks of their makeshift firebombs. Khalis, still wearing Valkean's face, took a step backward, preparing to flee the council room even as he said, "The Trial has begun. The world will be purified." "Shut up, demon," Kaeral said. They tossed their firebombs in tandem, both breaking as they collided with their target. Fiery liquid spread across the demon's skin, which burned with a furiously bright light as he shifted shape, losing the Grandmaster's visage in favor of his Sendar form. Khalis writhed on the floor, trying to put out the flames on his body. He glanced up just in time to see Grim raise his own lit bomb. "Naxthul . . ." Khalis wailed, "my love, I have failed you . . ." Grim let the bomb fly, and it exploded across the back of the already dying demon. The First demon had been slain, but the world would face more within the day. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ "To think . . . he'd been sent to help us against the demons he helped summon," Prism said in disbelief as Ghayle concluded the vision. "Yes," Ghayle replied, "But there was always a risk of detection." Prism tried to wrap his thoughts around an inconsistency in Khalis' actions and voiced his concerns to Ghayle. "How could he act so differently? He seemed personable when he wore Valkean's skin, but when I faced him after he attacked Grim, he fought like a cornered beast." "When he was gathering the Purities, he was acting under compulsion, as if he was hypnotized," Ghayle said. "His purpose was singular, and almost all of his mind was directed to sensing the Purities. When he harvested the Purity of Stillness from Grim, all he could think about was getting it back to me to complete the ritual. As soon as the ritual was complete, however, he regained full control of his mind." "Which means his personality finally came through," Prism said, nodding in understanding. "He was good. He picked up on my name and details about the Masters easily. If I hadn't revealed his true nature . . ." "He might've worn Valkean's face all through the Trial, helping to guide the world until the demons were beaten," Ghayle replied. "How could we have been so wrong?" Prism asked. "Wrong? I don't think that's the case here. You defended your people from a perceived threat. You had every reason to believe he was a danger to you. There was always a risk the Vhor would die before they could organize the resistance. Naxthul understood that, though losing Khalis pained him greatly." "But if we'd listened, maybe the world wouldn't be where it is, clutched in the grasp of an insane, immortal king." "Maybe, but there's still hope." Ghayle smiled warmly. "Naxthul is still alive. For eight hundred years he has tried to free the demons from Neredos to end the trial, but it's not as simple as it seems." "But Grim is hunting him," Prism said. "And if I know anything about determination, Grim will eventually accomplish his task." "Grim will not be freed until the demons are freed, unless someone decides to open only the pillar he's trapped inside," Ghayle pointed out. "Do you think that might happen?" "It's possible." Prism considered it for a moment, trying to absorb everything he'd seen so far. One memory teased at the edge of his consciousness, one he sometimes relived when he needed perspective. He longed to experience it in the pure form Ghayle could show him. "Will you take me to one more day?" "Of course," Ghayle replied. "What would you like to see?" "Master Vinh, of course," Prism said with a chuckle. "And that damned apple tree."
  14. Cynus

    Chapter 20

    I'm glad. There's still a few more books to read, after all. And write, for that matter. *glances at calendar* I better get to work. Exactly. I'm glad you followed that. I never know if I managed to present all the information I wanted in a way that is easily understood, and I'm happy to see that this time it looks like I hit the mark. I'm glad you're excited! Makes me excited to write the rest of the series.
  15. Cynus

    Chapter 19

    It is always interesting to put yourself in their shoes though, isn't it? Even as the author, I can't be 100% certain what was going through Veil's head at the time. Was she acting purely from a standpoint of tradition, or did she treat Grim this way to preserve her people? In a way, by exiling Grim from the Fedain way of life, she believes she is helping her people maintain a pacifistic path. Her logic is flawed, of course, but she believes she is doing the right thing. That, at least, is worth something. An excellent question. One well worth exploring in future parts of this series. Perhaps you'll get an answer in the future? I honestly didn't know how this trial was going to go until I wrote it. I let the characters run free, and this is how they chose to solve their problems. Veil surprised me here, the Masters behaved in the rational manner I always expected them to, but with Veil's help they were able to give Prism the benefit of that rationality. I think you are right about the Duke. Selfaeth had some flaws, but loving his children above all else was an integral part of him. He would've held Grim and cried for him, knowing the Grim must be in immeasurable pain for taking a life. He would've stood by him as Fedain law tore Grim apart, and despite the risk to his position would've continued to support him through everything. If he'd been alive, Veil would've followed his example. But instead, she was a new leader, dealing with the loss of her entire way of life, had seen so much killing and the results of it. Prism didn't mean enough to her that she could justify another death in his name, and certainly not by her brother's hand. She is confused by the nature of love, as @Wesley8890 pointed out, and as you point out here, she's also hiding in tradition. What will happen in the future between them? I think, in the moment, Grim acted on instinct. Instinct told him the surest way to finish this was to make the crowd see what he could do if they didn't release Prism. Good observation at the beginning there. In Shadow Honor, she speaks as if she'd seen Grim recently enough that you know she must have at least somewhat changed her perspective. Kaeral is a smart guy, isn't he? Veil was written to be the exemplar of Fedain culture in this book. Well . . . that's not true, really. Janlynd was, but Veil is trying to live up to her legacy and that of her father's. She doesn't entirely see what that means, however. I don't know how Master Janlynd would've handled Grim in this case, but I'm certain it would've been different. As for the reason behind Fedain rules? You're probably right. Aika, the oldest Fedain in the story, certainly has a different perspective about life in general than the rest of the Fedain do. There's a reason she's bonded with a predatory cat, after all. A brilliant observation indeed. I love how much you wonderful people are getting into this. What an interesting hypothesis! You have said exactly what I needed to hear. You let me know your thoughts, and I appreciate that so much. Thank you!
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