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  2. chris191070

    Reawakened

    Wow what a chapter. That was a complete unexpected twist. Macarius being killed by his son. I hope the others aren’t in any danger from him.
  3. Kohl or Gordon using this poem, I can very well imagine. lol Puer was even in the middle age to the renaissance a word used for an unfree man, a slave or servant. (And therefor a possible sexually available person in this cultural context). So I think, that this interpretation twist could probably have been recognized by his readers. I never have the feeling that it is possible to keep knowledge from you, more the opposite, you draw the knowledge to yourself in great amount. 🙂 🙂 🙂
  4. ObicanDecko

    Reawakened

    “The Great Scourge: The fifth century was a time of great discoveries and explorations in Escaria and beyond. Unfortunately, it was also a time of terrible tragedies, namely the Great Scourge. As explorers headed to far west and crossed the Sinking Sea, they discovered what came to be known as the Cursed Isles. Merely a few days after they set foot on the islands, one by one, the crew men started dying. Those reasonable enough quickly packed their belongings and returned to Escaria. However, they did not return alone. The sailors unwittingly brought back with them Reaper Ants, a tiny venomous species that proved to be the biggest killer of men. After thousands of people died, all with the same symptoms, the scourge was finally traced to these deadly, black insects. Overrun by Reaper Ants, all western port towns were promptly closed and then purged with fire by sorcerers. To this day, the Cursed Isles remain unpopulated by humans and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. -- The night was crystal clear, with not a cloud in the sky. Under the full moon and stars, Sawyer and Castor slowly rode through the desert land. They had taken a nap for a few hours that evening and were now at least somewhat rested. Slowly moving on their camels, the boys were wrapped up in blankets that Sawyer so kindly conjured for them. Still, the chilly night air had them shivering. As he looked into the distance, Sawyer suddenly noticed a structure sticking out from the stand. Like a lone obelisk, it was the only thing that broke the barren scenery of the desert. That must be it, he concluded. His heart suddenly began racing. “Look, we’re here!” the blond boy exclaimed, pointing a finger ahead of them. “This must be it!” Castor looked in the direction his boyfriend pointed at and immediately remembered those words that he had already heard in the vision he had. They had almost reached their goal! Out there in the distance stood the Citadel of Bone, where his brother Cyr was imprisoned. It was a menacing fortress made out of large limestone blocks, with white spikes coming out of its edges. In each corner, there was a tower with barred windows. “I can’t believe it,” Castor whispered. “It’s the Citadel of Bone.” “I know,” Sawyer nodded. “I- I don’t know if we’re ready for this. Cyr is somewhere in there. At least I hope so.” “We’re gonna save him,” the young sorcerer said encouragingly. “Have faith!” Castor nodded. He wanted to believe, but he was too scared. He had seen what was about to happen and knew he needed to prevent it. He had to change the future somehow. “Sawyer,” the shifter spoke and his boyfriend turned to him. “Remember what I told you, about what I saw? That moment is coming. We have to be careful.” “Maybe that was just a dream,” Sawyer countered, but Castor would have none of it. He shook his head. “No, I know what I saw. It was real, I was in the future.” “Alright, I believe you, baby,” the sorcerer said. “We’ll just have to be very careful.” It was nearly half an hour later that the two boys arrived at their final destination. Even in the dead of night, the Citadel of Bone looked magnificent. If it didn’t represent a symbol of evil and fear in their hearts, the boys would probably admire it. Slowly, they dismounted their camels and proceeded toward the massive wooden door with two heavy iron rings on them. They had barely taken two steps forward when suddenly they heard something - a strange noise coming from above. They immediately looked up, knowing what was coming. Even though they had been expecting the gargoyles, they were horrified to see the two hideous stone creatures flying toward them! “Sawyer, watch out!” the shifter called out, sticking close to his boyfriend. The gargoyles were coming down at high speed, ready to snatch the boys. Sawyer swiftly pointed his magic wand up and a green beam shot out from it. Vines wrapped themselves around one of the flying statues, making it unable to move its wings. It dropped to the ground, shattering into pieces. That was when the second gargoyle decided to seize the opportunity and swoop down on Sawyer in an attempt to grab him. Running backwards, the blond boy fell to the ground and Castor knew it was up to him. This was the moment he had to change. “Hey, over here!” he yelled and ran forward, trying to attract the creature’s attention. It worked, as the gargoyle changed directions. Just as it extended its claws, trying to grab the boy, Castor shifted into a snake and quickly burrowed into the sand. This gave Sawyer enough time to recover and aim his wand at the creature, shooting another green beam at it. Just as with the first one, vines quickly sprang out and wrapped themselves around the second gargoyle’s body and wings, leaving him immobile. Castor slithered over to Sawyer and came out of the sand. He shifted back, breathless and shaky. “Are you alright?” he hugged Sawyer, still keeping an eye on the statue lying motionless in the sand. “Yes, my love, thanks to you. And you?” the sorcerer asked, squeezing his boyfriend. “I’m fine. You saved us, you were amazing!” “Yeah?” Sawyer beamed. An involuntary grin appeared on his face. “I have a pretty good aim, don’t I?” “Yes, you do,” Castor had to admit. They both chuckled, relieved to have made it. They still weren’t out of the woods and they knew it, so they couldn’t afford to relax just yet. Picking themselves up from the ground, the two boys went over to the Citadel door and pulled on the iron rings. Holding their breath in fear, they expected all hell to break loose on them if they managed to enter. To their surprise, the door opened easily, making a loud creaking noise. So much for sneaking in unnoticed, Sawyer thought. As the two uninvited guests entered the Citadel of Bone, the dark that surrounded them quickly vanished, giving way to light. They found themselves in a grand, circular hall, almost as barren as the desert outside. There were three sets of stairs - two leading up and one down. The walls, pillars and floor seemed to be made of limestone, just as the outside of the Citadel. The only decorations were sharp, white spikes on the pillars, as well as torches on the walls, illuminating everything in purple light. The boys held hands as they stepped forward. They had no idea what was waiting for them in the darkness of the eerie fortress, but they had no choice but to proceed. However, just as they made a few more steps, they froze with fear. A whirlwind suddenly appeared at the other end of the hall. Seconds later, a tall figure was standing there, dressed in a long, sand-colored robe. Macarius himself. “Welcome, we’ve been expecting you,” the old sorcerer greeted them. Even though his words were polite, he still sounded threatening, which did nothing to calm Castor’s and Sawyer’s nerves. “I apologize about my pets. I forgot to tell them about you, as I did not know when you would be coming.” “Y-you knew we-we were coming?” Castor stuttered. “Of course. You came for your brother,” Macarius replied calmly. At that moment, another, smaller figure stepped out from behind him and into the light. Castor felt Sawyer’s hand squeeze his harder and his eyes went wide with shock. It was Cyr. “Cyr! You’re alive!” Castor whispered, feeling his eyes getting watery. Any second now, tears would come flooding and he wouldn’t be able to stop them. “Cas!” Cyr spoke, his mouth stretching into a bright smile that lit up his entire face. The other twin felt as if his heart would burst with happiness. That was the first time in years his brother seemed genuinely happy to see him. As if pulled by a magnet, two brothers rushed to each other’s arms, crying their eyes out. Sawyer observed the scene misty-eyed. Everything they went through was worth it just for this moment, he thought. “I can’t believe this,” Castor sobbed, squeezing Cyr. “You’re alright!” “I’m ok,” the other twin nodded vigorously. His head was still resting on Castor’s shoulder, as he wanted to hide the tears that were falling freely. “Cas, I’m so sorry... for everything,” Cyr wept. He was overjoyed with having his brother back, but he needed Castor’s forgiveness. He wanted them to start over, without the burden of the past. “Oh, shut it! Do you think I care about any of that after all of this?” Castor pulled back, looking him in the eyes. “Cas, I’m serious. I am so sorry. Can you please forgive me?” Cyr pleaded, wiping his cheeks. “I need you to say it.” Unable to speak for a moment, the shifter just nodded and hugged his brother again. “Of course, brother. It’s all forgiven and forgotten,” Castor cried. From the distance, Macarius observed the brothers’ reunion with just a hint of a smile on his ever serious face. The cruelty of people had caused him to become cold and closed-off, but at a moment such as that, he found his armor starting to crack, just as it had done back at the Lunaros farm. The twins hugged some more and then pulled Sawyer in to join them. They all laughed and cried at the same time, relieved and ecstatic to be together again. All the bad blood that existed between Cyr and Castor seemed to have vanished, washed away by their tears of joy. When Castor finally remembered where he was, he looked up at the old sorcerer observing them. The smile on the boy’s face vanished. He was so happy to have his brother back that he forgot about the main threat. Now that they were all at his mercy, would the sorcerer spare their lives? “Are you…” the shifter started to speak, but then hesitated. He didn’t know what to ask. Sensing the boy’s nervousness, Macarius tried to draw his lips into a reassuring smile - not something he often did. He usually had no reason for it. “You can rest assured I will not hurt you or your brother,” the old sorcerer spoke. “I need your help. I’m sure Cyr will explain everything.” Castor looked at his brother, who just smiled and nodded, squeezing his hand. “I shall give you some time to rest, and then you’ll come to my laboratory so I can finish my work. Are you injured in any way?” Macarius asked, looking at the two new arrivals. They both shook their heads. “Alright then. Follow me to the dining hall. I’m sure you’re starving from your journey,” he said and turned around, taking the stairs up. The three boys followed closely behind him. ~~ By the time Sawyer and the twins washed their hands, the dining table was covered in plates and dishes containing bread, fried fish, meat and baked potatoes. There were also three large bowls with fresh pomegranates, bananas, mangoes, pineapples and oranges. The boys dug in and stuffed themselves with food, especially Castor and Sawyer. The two were incredibly grateful for being welcomed with a feast after nearly getting eviscerated by the two gargoyles. For a moment, Castor wondered what happened to the two stone creatures, but decided he didn’t actually care. As long as they remained outside. Everyone seemed to be in a somewhat better mood except Cassandra, who had just come in carrying pitchers with fresh water. The girl was obviously annoyed she had to serve them dinner in the middle of the night, when they should be sleeping. Even though she didn’t dare express her displeasure, she frowned at the new arrivals while serving them food and drinks. She resented the fact that Macarius had suddenly taken up interest in these strangers. They used to live such a peaceful life, and now their Citadel was suddenly full of people. Hopefully they’ll all be gone once the master cures Xaviel, she thought. Even though they were not hungry, Dymia and Jarin joined them soon after, having heard noise and wondering what was going on. Stepping into the room, they stopped and stared at the twins. Had the two boys not been wearing different clothes, it would have been impossible to tell them apart. “Gods! You two are truly identical,” the scorpion shifter said, drawing curious looks from the three boys at the table. “Jarin, this is my brother Castor!” Cyr stated, proudly presenting his twin. “Castor, this is Jarin, and that’s Dymia. They were also brought here by Macarius.” “And who’s the blond cutie?” Dymia asked, smiling at Sawyer and moving in his direction. “Um, that’s my boyfriend Sawyer,” Castor was quick to point out, possessively placing a hand on the sorcerer’s shoulder. Dymia frowned and sat at the other side of the table, and Jarin broke into laughter upon seeing her crestfallen face. The dinner was just what Castor and Sawyer needed to regain their strength and refresh themselves after a long and arduous trek through the desert. Cyr and Castor were inseparable the entire time, though. The twins shared their accounts of everything they’ve been through since Macarius abducted Cyr, each stunned and amazed at the other’s tale. After Cyr told him about Macarius’ ill son being the reason for everything, Castor finally understood why his brother was mistakenly taken. Meanwhile, Sawyer got to know Jarin and Dymia and learn about their lives. After Sawyer showed him some of his magic, Jarin was happy to shift for him and show off his scorpion form, which was met with admiration and applause from Castor and Sawyer. After plenty of eye-rolling, Dymia finally agreed to do the same, shifting into her Assassin Wasp form. Although not as flashy as a Fireborn Scorpion, the girl didn’t disappoint. She flew around the table in her insect form before returning to her chair and shifting back. Another round of applause followed. “If you’re finished eating, I’d like to borrow Castor for a moment,” Macarius spoke seriously, standing at the door. Everyone turned their heads toward him. Preoccupied with their conversations and laughter, the five ‘guests’ did not even notice when he arrived. “Very well,” Castor nodded, feeling as it was his duty to help the man, despite the fact that he had kidnapped Cyr. “May I come too?” Sawyer asked, not wanting to separate from his boyfriend. “You may,” Macarius stated, gesturing to them to follow him. Without asking, Cyr also stood up and followed. He would not let Castor out of his sight whether Macarius liked it or not. “I’ll see you two later,” the boy said to Jarin and Dymia, leaving them at the table. Once the group entered the laboratory, Macarius was eager to proceed with his mission. Now that he had all of the necessary elements, he was impatient to finish the antidote so he could finally cure his son. Even though it was only a little more than two months since the tragic event, it felt like years to Macarius. He couldn’t wait to see Xaviel up and about once again. Without his son, Macarius’ Citadel, as well as his life, were empty. “I will need you to shift, Castor, and deposit some of your venom here,” the old sorcerer instructed, placing a glass vial on the table in front of the boy. “Then, I will also need to extract some of your blood.” “Alright,” Castor nodded, feeling a little less nervous now that he knew what he had to do. After getting encouraging looks from Cyr and Sawyer, the young shifter closed his eyes and took up his animal form. A beautiful black snake with a scarlet tail appeared in front of them, raising its body and hissing. Its dark scales glimmered in the light of the many candles that illuminated the chamber. Carefully, Macarius took the vial and brought it lower so that the snake could reach it. The deadly reptile then opened its mouth, revealing two large, threatening fangs. As if biting the glass container, the snake ejected its venom through holes in its fangs. Everyone observed the process in complete silence, as if scared that any noise would make all their efforts in vain. Seconds later, the snake retreated and shifted back, becoming Castor once again. Macarius took his eyes away from the precious liquid he held in his hands and turned his attention to the shifter. “Thank you,” he said with gratitude. “This means so much to me. Once I’ve cured my son, I will fulfill my promise and teleport you back to your families.” After taking a sample of Castor’s blood in a different vial, Macarius let the three boys leave so that he could finish his antidote in peace. Before leaving the room, Cyr pulled a book from under his robe and handed it to the sorcerer. “Book of Venoms?” Macarius stated, looking at Cyr questioningly. “I took it the other day, when you left me here to go find Castor,” the boy replied, peering bravely into the man’s eyes. “For someone who is not even a shifter, you have continuously been the biggest annoyance,” Macarius said, raising his voice just slightly. “A shame you’re not a sorcerer. You have so much potential.” “I think I’ve had enough magic for a while,” Cyr replied, unsure whether to be flattered or insulted. “But you can be sure I’ll annoy you even more if you don’t get us home soon.” It was an hour later, still in the wee hours of the night, that Macarius finally left his alchemy chamber, carrying in his hands a bottle of dark green liquid. The most valuable thing he had ever had. The antidote was complete and if the recipe from the Book of Venoms was correct, it would cure his son. As he slowly descended down the stairs, his five guests appeared, coming from the terrarium chamber. They stopped to look at him. Seeing that he was carrying something in his hand, they knew what it meant. Jarin raised an eyebrow, hugging Cyr and Dymia. “He did it!” After everything that happened, the scorpion shifter was excited for Macarius to finish his task so they could finally be free. He had been locked up in that Citadel for too long. “Calm down, we still don’t know if it’ll work,” Dymia replied, somewhat deflating his enthusiasm. “Of course it will,” Cyr insisted. “It has to.” From the other end of the hallway, Cassandra appeared, approaching Macarius and eyeing the tiny bottle in his hand. “Master, is there anything I can do to help?” “Not right now,” the sorcerer shook his head. “See if they need anything. That would be all.” Too tense to say anything else, he crossed the hall and descended the second set of stairs, leading to the room in which Xaviel was located, frozen in time in his magical prison that kept him alive. He went there alone, as the others knew not to follow him. He needed to do this alone. After passing through the dark hallway, Macarius stopped in front of the door of his son’s room. He unlocked it slowly, as if afraid of waking the boy up. Once he entered, he closed the door behind him and lit up the room using his staff. He could feel tears coming out as he laid his eyes on Xaviel, so peaceful in the glass coffin that shone with a magical blue glow. He was lying just the way Macarius had left him all those weeks ago, unaware that his life was hanging by a thread. With a wave of his staff, Macarius dispelled the magic surrounding the coffin. The glow subsided and he opened the cover. He held his breath and silently prayed that the antidote would work and that his son would be cured. If not, he would spend the rest of his life collecting every known venom until he produced the right antidote to save his boy. Removing the cork from the vial, Macarius drew half of its contents out using a syringe. Carefully, he injected the antidote into a vein on Xaviel’s arm. He then sealed the bottle and placed it in his inner pocket. With another wave of his magic staff, he removed the spell that kept his son frozen, allowing the antidote to start coursing through his system. “Please, son. Wake up,” Macarius whispered, his gaze fixed at his son’s face. Merely a moment later, Xaviel’s eyes shot open and Macarius gasped in shock. The boy winced in pain and started coughing, bringing a hand to his throat. “Xaviel! Son, are you alright? Please, it has to work!” the sorcerer pleaded, caressing his son’s hair. “Dad, what- what happened?” the boy managed to utter. After the coughing stopped, he lifted himself and sat up, looking around in wonder. He was lying in a glass coffin, levitating in the middle of the room. “Dad?” “How are you feeling?” “I- I’m feeling fine. Why?” Overjoyed, Macarius let his tears flow freely, and for the first time in ages, he could hear himself laugh. He wrapped his arms around his son - his greatest joy in life. He was shaking with laughter, but he didn’t care. He was happy and he wanted everyone to know. “Let me get you out of there,” the sorcerer finally said, helping Xaviel get out of the coffin. As his son stood before him, Macarius beamed with joy. There he was, his bright and curious son, looking so much like Macarius when he was that age. The sorcerer eyed him for a moment before pulling him into another hug. After everything that had happened, he could not even imagine he would feel such happiness ever again. “Son, I’m so-” Macarius started to say, but then took a sharp gasp, dropping his magic staff to the ground. His eyes went wide as he felt a cold, sharp blade entering his abdomen. Pulling out from the hug, Xaviel looked his father in the eyes, a satisfied smirk on his dark, young face. “Father, always so predictable,” the boy smiled. “Thank you, though. You did exactly as I thought you would.” Xaviel twisted the dagger and pulled it out, the blade dripping with blood. With a thud, Macarius fell to the floor. “Son… But why?”
  5. Rudi and his Secret Service bodyguards disappeared from school in a black SUV immediately following the end of the last period on Friday. Edward and Henry waved him off. Their own transport would arrive on Saturday, the first day of exeat. David came up behind them. ‘So, there goes the king. It was nice of him to put us on the coronation guest list. The rest of the sixth is dead envious. They wish now they’d been as nice to him as we were when he first came here.’ Edward laughed and hugged David round the shoulder. ‘You’ve got a nerve, Bounder boy! You’re lucky Rudi’s the forgiving sort.’ ‘How’re you getting to Strelzen, Davey?’ ‘My ‘rents are coming for the ride. We’re all taking the plane from Heathrow. They’re really impressed. They’ve even forgiven me for the lies about my supposed stay at the rectory at Easter. My sisters have sworn eternal hatred against me – unless, that is, I introduce them to the hunkiest young monarch in the world.’ ‘You gonna look up Anton?’ David shot him a hard look to inform him that he had crossed a line. ‘Sorry,’ Henry mumbled. David relaxed a little and changed the subject. Clothes were on his mind, as they not infrequently were. Henry had begun to notice that David was something else out of uniform. His sense of style was innate; he dressed with imagination and not at all tribally. There was nothing of other boys’ lazy reliance on dominant Indie, Emo or Heavy Metal kit. Even his tee-shirts were exceptionally well-selected. David had spotted a marked-down suit from an on-line house. Together with a loose silk tie, he thought it would make him look like something from a Milan catwalk. ‘You should talk to Matt White while we’re in Rothenia, Davey. He’s just like you when it comes to clothes; he’s got effortless style.’ ‘Wow … like, that god would talk to a lowly fashion acolyte like me?’ ‘He is very like you, Davey. There should be opportunities for you two to get acquainted. He and Andy aren’t what you’d expect.’ ‘I’d guessed. Ed thinks they’re awesome.’ ‘They’ve been unbelievably good to him and me both, that’s a fact.’ *** A tailback of limousines was drawing up along the south side of the cathedral and disgorging all sorts of elegantly dressed people, some wearing decorations and orders. When their turn came, Matt and Andy led Ed and Henry through the south transept door past a line of cavalrymen with drawn swords. The former mounted section of the Presidential Guard had been reconstituted as the revived Royal Rothenian Lifeguard, and their new uniforms were beautiful creations in white and gold, with silver crested helmets. The four slid into seats next to Will Vincent, who was already eagerly scanning the programme for the musical content. They had good seats, just behind the ambassadors and EU commissioners. Rothenia had decided the consecration and coronation of King Rudolf VI would be a fitting occasion to celebrate its rebirth as a nation. More planning had gone into it than for a World Cup, and the excitement had risen exponentially since the Crown of Tassilo and other national relics had been placed on public display in the Radhaus of the Neuvemesten. The enormous queues across the Radhausplaz recalled the pilgrimage devotions of the middle ages. A number of church congregations had indeed processed to the Radhaus behind their banners and crosses. For Henry, it was totally fascinating to sit there soaking in the atmosphere of a great state occasion in a venerable and historic church. Across from them in the north transept he could see the faces of the European royals, prime ministers and presidents who had flown in. He briefly caught the eye of his own queen’s representative, the Prince of Wales, whose well-known face was in the front row opposite, along with what his programme told him were the kings and queens of Spain and Sweden and the crown princes of Denmark and Sweden. Elphberg relations from the houses of Thuringia, Bourbon-Sicily, and Bavaria were in the row behind, along with several Hapsburg-Lorraines. There facing them sat himself, little Henry Atwood from Trewern. He beamed with delight at the incongruity of it all. Noticing the TV cameras set up in the triforium, he resisted the temptation to wave and shout, ‘Hi, mum!’ He knew she and dad would be watching the televised broadcast from Rothenia. A fanfare ripped through the murmuring in the church. First came a great procession of ecclesiastical dignitaries, followed by the princes of Rothenia and Rudi’s family: his grandmother, the princess of Kesarstejne-Vinodol, leading them all. She was walking with a stick on the arm of Rudi’s grandfather, the Duke of Munster and La Coruña, but was upright and proud on that day which saw all her hopes for the Elphberg dynasty fulfilled. Rudi himself came last, flanked by the Gentlemen of the Household in elaborate uniforms of the nineteenth century, bearing their silver halberds. Rudi’s train was carried by ten pages in Elphberg green and silver. A great anthem welled up from the choir, and the service was under way. It was Count Oskar von Tarlenheim zu Modenehem who had the honour of bearing the Crown of Tassilo to the archbishop for the moment of coronation. ‘Would have been better if we could have had a big tub of popcorn – the sweet stuff, not the salty – like in the multiplex in Ipswich,’ was the only complaint that Justin later had to make. ‘Was impressive, and Rudi did a good job. Looked cool in that white uniform and that long robe-type thing. Did well not to trip over it. Liked his chair too.’ He smirked when Henry told him he loved him. Following the mass, in which Terry and Justin, both Catholics, communicated, they picked up their cars again and this time headed down to the royal palace, up the Rodolferplaz and through the gates. Justin and Henry waved enthusiastically at the crowds waving at them. Justin began blowing kisses, until Terry gave him a stern look. ‘Wass happening now, Uncle Terry?’ Justin asked. ‘Buffet in the palace, I’m told, and the first royal levée in nearly a century.’ ‘Wass a levy when iss at home?’ ‘You stand around and make inane conversation with inane people and get your picky taken with His Majesty.’ ‘Aw right. Iss not fun, then?’ ‘No.’ But in fact it was great fun. Henry found himself talking to a boy his own age, foreign but with perfect English. They soon found they had common ground – an interest in strategy games – and swopped tactical hints about several of Henry’s favourite titles. The foreign lad, Henry and Ed each copped a glass of fruit wine from a footman and had a good laugh in the corner. A while later Fritzy came over to join them. ‘Getting on okay with Gustav, are you?’ ‘You bet,’ replied Henry. ‘He’s a real mate, even if he is the Crown Prince of Sweden.’ Rudi had changed into a morning suit and was circulating very regally, accompanied by Mr Pokolosky, the domestic comptroller, and Oskar. After about three quarters of an hour, a trumpeter gave a brief fanfare, and palace servants brought in an unsheathed sword and a kneeler. They placed the kneeler on the lowest step of the dais. Grasping the sword, the king ascended his throne. ‘Royal brothers and sisters, my cousins the peers of Rothenia, my lords, ladies and gentlemen,’ he began. ‘One of the pleasanter duties of monarchy is the reward of those who have done great service to the nation. I hope this assembly will bear with me as I do just that, because there are several people in this room worthy of high honour. When your names are called out, please go to the chamberlain, and he will instruct you as to what to do.’ The former president, Mr Maritz, was called out and smiled as he was cited for his great services to Rothenia in the post-Communist period. Kneeling, he received the grand cordon of the Order of the Rose and was awarded also the title of baron. There was a round of applause, after which several of his former cabinet received lesser honours. Then a loud voice spoke out: ‘Mr Willem Vincent.’ Will looked very grave as he went up to receive the grand cordon of the Order of the Rose, and came back beaming, resplendent in red sash, star and gold chain. Suddenly ‘Mr Terence O’Brien’ was called, and a stunned Terry was pushed forward by a shove from Will. He knelt to receive the Order of the Rose, and the accolade of knighthood. He came back with ribbon and star, moving as if he were in a dream. Several generals and officers received decorations, including Major Antonin, but just when Henry thought it was all over, the voice came again: ‘Mr Henry Atwood.’ His knees went wobbly when he saw a lane open in front of him. He knelt before a grinning Rudi to have the ribbon and medal of the sovereign’s personal Order of Henry the Lion, second class, placed round his neck. ‘Gotcha, you little queer,’ the king whispered to him as he rose. ‘Bastard,’ Henry whispered back. Ed, David, Justin and Nathan got the same award each in turn. ‘My,’ commented Edward as they stared at each other, ‘don’t we all look distinguished.’ *** ‘So, amuse me,’ said the ironic don opposite Henry. ‘Eh?’ Henry replied. He was intimidated. He had spent a lousy night in cruddy student accommodation at St Mark’s College. There had been a sherry reception for candidates in the master’s lodge: ten nervous sixth formers standing around making brittle conversation with the admissions tutor and some of the fellows. Henry had been unable to relate to the group of his peers, who had all been state-school kids. Although Henry had been one of them till he was fifteen, they were plainly intimidated by his name badge with a famous public school on it. And he could not stand sherry, he had decided. Henry shifted in his seat. He did not like the man opposite him. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have a stand-up routine.’ This was not the way his sixth-form tutor had said it would go, with the interviewer supposedly creating a relaxed, chatty environment in which Henry could showcase his enthusiasms. The don’s face shifted from ironic to sardonic. ‘In that case, tell me about your A Level coursework.’ So Henry launched into a description of his personal project – the symbolism of death in East Shropshire graveyards. He went into detail about his methodology, which, his history teacher had told him, would be what they wanted to know about. ‘Hmm. Pleasantly parochial little study,’ was the patronising response. ‘Of course you’ve read Llewellyn and Ariès?’ ‘Er … who?’ ‘They would have given you the broader context that your empirical study seems to need. Ah well. Can’t expect too much. Medwardine your school, is it?’ Henry hated this guy. ‘Yes,’ he confirmed. ‘Bloch still the head of history there?’ ‘Mr Bloch is my teacher, yes.’ ‘You seem to show all the features of his teaching.’ Henry fumed … how much more obnoxious could this man get? This was deliberate intimidation, which he had been assured should not happen in Cambridge interviews. He shut down. Saying something might be worse than silence. He gave short answers to questions between long pauses. The don took up none of the issues he had carefully advertised in his personal statement. He left without shaking a hand that was not in any case offered. On Cambridge Station that afternoon he found himself waiting next to a girl who had also been at St Mark’s. He found her easy to chat with outside the artificial interview environment. She had been in front of the same don as Henry. ‘What a love,’ she enthused. ‘He fell over backwards to be pleasant and helpful. I was surprised he didn’t offer me a sweet.’ Henry was gobsmacked, until it hit him: St Mark’s College had previously got into trouble for failing to recruit any state-school pupils for the tenth consecutive year. This time around, Henry concluded, it was going to be different. His rejection letter arrived promptly at Trewern rectory a week later. No Cambridge for him. Ed, who had received an offer from Trinity, was devastated. All Henry’s other options offered him places without interview. Henry and Ed debated the consequences at his home that weekend. ‘I said it might happen,’ Henry reflected, ‘but you wouldn’t talk about a Plan B in case it did. I suppose you got an offer from Cranwell too?’ ‘Er … yeah. I did.’ ‘Spit it out Ed. I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to take Cambridge as firm offer and Cranwell as your insurance, aren’t you?’ ‘I’ve always wanted to go to one of the big three, Henry.’ ‘And so you must, Ed … no, I mean it. I’d be stupid and selfish if I tried to talk you out of it. But it’ll be different universities for us.’ ‘You could take a year out, Henry, and go for Cambridge again next year.’ ‘That’s advice for the desperate, and I at least would like to graduate in the same year as you, Ed. Ours is destined to be a long-distance university romance, I’m afraid.’ Henry’s light words disguised a deep unease at the developing situation. Ed smiled regretfully. ‘Are you going down to the open day at Cranwell?’ ‘Oh sure, Davey’s coming, you coming too?’ ‘Absolutely, and I’ve got us a lift.’ ‘How did you manage that?’ ‘Terry will be here on Friday to see Rudi about the contract, and he’ll drive us down to Cranwell. His parents will put us all up and we can do the open day thoroughly.’ ‘Uhh … Terry and Davey, good combination?’ ‘Oh, he must be over it by now.’ *** David was by no means over his resentment. The sight of Terry’s elfin, smiling face brought back all the humiliation of his naïve and reckless Strelzen romance. He went quiet, and would hardly say a word. But Terry was a grown-up and talked amusingly and happily most of the way down the M6 and up the M4 to Cranwell. They chatted about Rothenia, about Justin – as mad as ever, Terry said – and about Cranwell, a place Terry still had a great affection for. They heard his teen cruising stories again, and remembered to laugh in all the right places. Of course he had not gone to Cranwell University, so he could not tell them too much about the academic atmosphere, to which he was an outsider. But Andy and Matt certainly could, and Terry urged Henry to take the next opportunity he had to buttonhole them on the subject. Cranwell was an average little city: ring road, perimeter multiplex and regional mall, Victorian housing stock, and all the main High Street outlets. It gave off a sort of familiar friendliness that appealed to Henry, to whom it was of course a big city. Terry drove straight to his parents’ place. ‘Now this, my lads, is the famous Finkle Road,’ he announced as they turned on to a long street lined with late-Victorian terraced houses. ‘Wass famous about it?’ asked a jaundiced David, who had been quietly negative about Cranwell since they arrived there. ‘It’s the student area. This is where Matt and Andy, Will Vincent, and Alex Johnson all lived in their day. Puke Alley, the locals call it … iss carpeted with sick in freshers’ week. Something to look forward to, eh?’ ‘What, vomiting your guts up and sliding round in it?’ ‘Iss what students do, innit?’ Terry turned off Finkle Road and into a modern cul-de-sac with large executive-style houses. He pulled up in the drive of one. A small, well-dressed lady came out as they were unloading, and you could see where Terry had got his looks from. Terry picked up his mother and hugged her. ‘You’re not taking care of yourself,’ she complained after studying her son critically. ‘You’ve lost weight, and the bags under your eyes … ! You look years older.’ ‘Good to see you too, mum,’ Terry said, shaking his head. ‘These are my young friends Edward, Henry and David. They’ve come down from Medwardine for a university open day. Ed is Matt and Andy’s foster kid.’ ‘It’s nice to see you, boys,’ said Mrs O’Brien, giving them the once-over and apparently approving of what she saw. She led them into a well-furnished house – perhaps over-furnished with glass ornaments and Catholic devotional objects. ‘Terry’s dad Harry is at work. He’s a Chief Superintendent and it’s his first week as commander of the city division,’ she announced with perfectly understandable pride. Terry’s dad had risen through the force and had already had one interview as an Assistant Chief Constable, so Terry had told them, with a good deal of pride himself. Henry and Ed were sharing a bedroom as usual, but so too were David and Terry. David’s sour look said he didn’t like it at all. Following an ample dinner provided by Mrs O’Brien, Terry suggested the boys go and check out Cranwell’s nightlife. He said he knew they would be okay. ‘I’d suggest the King’s Cross, which is the only gay pub in town, but Frank, the manager, would never serve you and only give you a load of abuse. Iss a wonder the place survives.’ So the boys explored the High Street and Swindon Road. It was a busy Friday night and the student population was out in force. In a city-centre wine bar they got talking to a table of first-year boys, who gave them the lowdown on what was quite a vibrant nightlife. They were warned about Riversiders, the local chav population. There was a bit of trouble in some pubs where poncy students were loathed. ‘Oh and don’t go near the King’s Cross – it’s the gay pub. The queers’ll have your pants down as soon as look at you.’ Henry rolled his eyes and gave a quirky look at David, who grinned back. Once Terry was out of the way, David became his pleasant self again. As a result, it was a good evening and they arrived back at Terry’s parents’ house in a merry but not drunken state. They were introduced to Mr O’Brien – a more thickset and shorter version of his son – with whom they had a coffee before heading off to bed. Henry and Edward had the guest room. David and Terry were in Terry’s boyhood room, ‘… where I got me first blowjob, handjob and fuck. The Spirit of Libido Past hangs heavy in this place, so watch out, Davey.’ David just gave him a neutral and sidelong look. After spending a chaste night, Ed and Henry were up early – but not as early as David, who was nursing a coffee at the kitchen table, already dressed. Henry looked at him quizzically. ‘Did you have a row with Terry in the night?’ ‘Er … not exactly.’ ‘There’s something odd about you.’ Ed butted in. ‘Stop being nosy, Henry. You’re a typical country boy.’ ‘I’m not being nosy, I’m just concerned. What happened?’ ‘Terry took my cherry.’ ‘You what!’ ‘He fucked me. That huge thing of his played pool with my kidneys.’ Henry’s jaw sagged. ‘Did you want him to?’ ‘Well, yeah … sort of,’ admitted David. ‘He was going to sleep on the sofa in his room, and I just couldn’t hold out under that sort of consideration and niceness, could I? So I pulled back the duvet, and he joined me. We were lying back to back, and he was being very nice, but … have you seen him without clothes?’ ‘Obviously not.’ ‘He’s amazing. Not much hair on his body, and very athletic with beautiful long legs and such small feet. All-over tan too. Even not erect, his dick was causing a bulge in his pants, and his arse is so muscular and tight. So I sort of turned in the night and snuggled up to him and I couldn’t help myself fondling his monster. It was already stiff. It’s not exaggeration, he must be nine inches, and a huge set of balls.’ ‘One of which is a prosthetic, so Justy said.’ ‘Really? You’d never know. So he stirred and turned towards me. I could feel him smiling in the dark, and then he just cuddled me to him and I sort of melted. He’s such a strong and powerful man and I just wanted him. So I began kissing and wanking him gently and he was groaning in my ear, and then he turned me. Now, I’d never been penetrated before, because Anton was such a bottom, and Terry seemed to know this when he began fingering my hole. So he flipped the switch of the bedside light and smiled down on me … he looked so gorgeous and I more or less begged him to do me. He got some old KY still in the bedside drawer and must have spent half an hour opening me. ‘It was sensational, but when he started putting himself in me … God did it take ages. It was like someone had inflated a balloon in my bum, I was so full. And then he began fucking me. I was down on my tummy with a pillow under my cock. He just took it slow, and all he seemed to want to do was give me pleasure, and once the pain had gone away, it was pleasurable. I just wanted him to fuck me forever, and he must have delayed coming for ages. We did it bareback too … d’you think that was wise?’ Henry, stunned, blurted out, ‘Oh, yes I’m sure Terry is clean and he knows you are.’ ‘After that he just held me … and – I don’t know whether I should tell you this – he cried as we began kissing afterwards. So I kissed and licked up his tears and he told me what a beautiful boy I was and how I had brought him back to life after a long winter … that was a lovely thing to say, wasn’t it? And I wouldn’t let him go but held him till the sun came up. I left him asleep. I’m in love, Henry.’ Ed and Henry stared at each other, until Ed said, ‘Well, there’s more mileage in this one than Anton. Young career guy, intelligent, fit, probably already a multi-millionaire, and the most dangerous gay in the western world. God help the homophobe who picks on you, Davey.’ Henry added, ‘Besides, he must have real feelings for you, Davey. He wouldn’t have done it otherwise. He’s such a controlled guy. It’s been a year since Ramon died. I think maybe he’s ready to rebuild his life. But it’s awesome that he’s picked you.’ ‘Awesome … yeah that’s the word. When we went to Rothenia I thought there was something in the way we sat and talked there, and he seemed to like me a lot. It’s just that Anton came along and, y’know …’ Terry appeared at that point, wearing just boxers. He went to the fridge to get orange juice and as he turned he smiled at the boys. David, who was sitting a little timorously at the kitchen table, looked up at him through his long dark lashes. Terry leaned in and gave him a kiss so thorough that Henry was afraid David would spontaneously combust. Terry took his hand and grinned at the other two. ‘I’m guessing Davey told you what we got up to in the night.’ ‘And some,’ agreed Ed. ‘Could you give us a few minutes, cos I think me and Davey have some things to say to each other.’ Ed and Henry smiled and left. Although Henry kept on asking leading questions for the rest of the day, it was a while before he found out what Terry and David had discussed. As the boys left the O’Brien household with their campus maps in hand, all David would reveal was that they both wanted to carry on with it, but were going to go slow and take it step by step. Henry said he thought that was the best idea. They went to register with the tour guides first, then had a good scout round the campus and library. The history department was in an old townhouse next to a city-centre park. Henry went to introduce himself to the tutor and students manning a desk in the foyer there. A swarthy man with a naff moustache had a badge on saying ‘Professor J. Faber: Admissions’. Henry waited for him to deal with a girl and her parents before approaching him. Professor Faber checked his list. ‘Oh yes, Medwardine School. I hope you had a good trip down from Shropshire, Henry. Are you Henry or Harry?’ ‘Henry. Me and some friends came down last night and stayed over. Could you tell me something about bursaries and scholarships? My dad’s a vicar and I’m going to be on a full maintenance grant, so every little counts.’ ‘I can imagine. My eldest boy starts university next year and it’s going to be a nightmare. We offer university scholarships for anyone who gets ABB at A Level, but on top of that the department awards a number of privately funded scholarships for deserving cases who score AAA. They’re called the Marlowe Fellowships, although they were set up by an alumnus of the department called Matthew White. They’re worth £4000 a year and there’s a lot of competition for them.’ ‘Matt White?’ ‘Oh … you know him? He was once a student of mine.’ ‘Know him? He’s my … boyfriend’s foster father. He’s the reason I’m looking at Cranwell. He speaks very highly of the place.’ ‘Ah. I see. Well then. You know all about him. Is it that Justin lad who’s your boyfriend?’ ‘Justy? God no!’ ‘Thank goodness. He is rather strange.’ Henry laughed. He liked Professor Faber. ‘When did you meet Justin, sir?’ ‘Henry, this is university and I’m not a schoolteacher. You call me Prof Faber or, if you are feeling particularly bold, Jeremy. I met young Justin at one of Matt’s house parties early last year. It was for media types and professional historians to mingle and be creative. I think we mostly got drunk. Justin was hanging round the house and decided to have a game involving running ball bearings down the bannisters with the aim of smashing empty bottles he’d lined up in the hall.’ Henry sniggered. ‘That’s Justy, alright! How did it end?’ ‘The housekeeper attacked him with a broom handle, so far as I can recall. Alright, let me check your details. Ah. You’ve decided on History and Theology. That’s a pity. The Marlowe Fellowships are for History, English or English and History, but not that particular joint option.’ Henry’s heart fell and his face with it. He had counted on that extra support. Oh bugger, it looked as though he would be working shifts in the Cranwell McDonald’s. But Cranwell had made a positive impression on him. He interrogated Professor Faber about the course and was gratified by the man’s accessibility and good humour. The tutor in Theology was just as pleasant. They had a quite a bit to chat about, since he and Henry’s dad had been to the same training college. All in all, by the time he met up again with David and Ed, Henry had decided that Cranwell would be his first choice. Ed was quite willing to make it his insurance, although he typically refused to commit himself till he had seen the other institutions on his list. David floated along in an abstracted dream world, although he said Cranwell was very nice. Frankly, Henry was convinced that if he had asked what David thought about the lowest circle of hell, he would also have replied it was very nice. When they got back, Terry was waiting with the car ready. After hugging his mother goodbye, he got them all aboard, with David, not unnaturally, in the front seat. They talked about Cranwell, and David announced he was definitely going to do Economics and Business Studies there. Henry was delighted, but suspicious. He had a feeling that David’s veering away from his stated preferences for Durham and St Andrews was part of a personal agenda of some sort involving Terry. Meanwhile, Terry was beaming from ear to ear and making whispered little jokes with David, who was giggling like a girl a lot of the time. Henry could not but think the problems of a seventeen-year-old schoolboy and a twenty-four-year-old executive carrying on a love affair were not going to be resolved all that easily. When he looked at the happiness in Terry’s face, however, and remembered the sadness that used to be there, he could only pray that Terry would find a way to pull it off. He had come to share Justin’s and Nathan’s adoration for the man.
  6. Buz

    Chapter 13

    At last we know who it specifically is. I thought it was defo the Uncle. So surprised that Gia had nothing to do with it. Can't wait to find out who the 'Insider' is? Really hope it isn't one of Logan's Commanders? Don't think it is anyone in the immediate Security Team?
  7. Thorn Wilde

    Three Things

    Thank you, Marty. You're right. To err is human, as they say.
  8. Today
  9. I am very happy to read again some of my favourites. thanks for a wonderful chapter. congratulations from me to you to the 21jubileum
  10. Daddydavek

    Chapter 45

    Nice, but what was the point of getting dressed?
  11. Dmrman

    Chapter 2

    Okay, Marty, I am hooked...!! Really enjoy the whole format and the balance of your characters...🤔😄😄 if I had to take a guess...? And didn't know better...😁😁 I would strongly suggest that Jock and I are somehow related...😂😂 love the flow indeed keep it up. the humor and Mysteries are by far Fantastic and drawing to the need to read more...😊🤗🤗
  12. Geemeedee

    Chapter 18

    Serendipity, thy name is Desmond. I think I squealed when I saw his name. I love how becoming mated mellows these tough guys out.
  13. happy Wednesday Sir

     

     

    2or4z9.jpg

    1. MacGreg

      MacGreg

      I didn't know Phil dressed you in overalls. ;)

    2. mollyhousemouse

      mollyhousemouse

      :blushing: actually, there may be a pair of shorts like this in a drawer somewhere Sir

  14. hello...

     

    CASDQDtUwAAGm7Q.jpg

    1. dughlas

      dughlas

      Hi miss molly even though I don't see the picture ...

    2. mollyhousemouse

      mollyhousemouse

      hello Dugh...it's a cup of coffee, espresso or a capuccino with a camel in the foam, since it's Wednesday, hump day 😃

    3. dughlas

      dughlas

      I was just thinking it was time for another cuppa.

  15. Dodger

    Afterglow

    Oh dear, Hunter has a lot to learn about relationships. Keegan isn't asking for much but Hunter, it seems, isn't prepared to offer him anything at all. The naivety of both boys is understandable considering their age and lack of experience. Like others, I also doubt if Hunter is actually gay, and maybe he doesn't know yet himself, but whatever team he plays for he will have to learn that it's not all about him. Great story, @Comicality
  16. If i HAD to pick a 'Dustin' for "Untouchable"...I think he would be my first choice. Just saying...
  17. Cynus

    Chapter 2

    I'm grateful for this comment, @jt15136. I know the structure to this story is a bit... abnormal, so I'm glad that it's working for at least a few people, heh. Thank you so much for reading and letting me know what you think! As for the end, there's still one more book after this one.
  18. Cynus

    Chapter 3

    "Did you hear the news, Neredos?" Alazyn said as she burst through the door of Neredos' one room apartment in Thalom proper. She had been living here for over a month now, sleeping on a pile of cushions in the antechamber. She hadn't complained once about the accommodations, much to Neredos' surprise, and treated the place like home. That meant bursting in with excitement whenever she had something to tell him. He didn't mind this behavior so much, unless he was studying for something important. Usually her exuberance thrilled him, made him see a light he so often ignored. He spent so much time in his books, and had for so many years, that he had rarely taken the time to truly appreciate life. Alazyn changed all that just by being around. "Afraid I haven't, Zyn," Neredos said, putting down his pen and shifting in his seat to face her. "You know I have an exam tomorrow, so I haven't exactly been outside much." "Speaking of that," she replied, "have you eaten yet today? You look like you haven't had a meal in weeks." Neredos bit back a retort, knowing that she only meant well by her teasing. Besides, he was skinny. "I haven't eaten yet today, but it's only noon. I ate dinner last night, so I'm not hungry yet." "And did you eat anything other than dinner yesterday?" Alazyn said, crossing her arms over her chest. Neredos sighed and turned away from her. "No, I didn't." "Well then, I'll run out and get you something as soon as I tell you what I found out today," Alazyn said, walking up to his desk and plopping down on the edge of it, nearly knocking over a stack of books. "Well you better get on with it," Neredos replied, glaring at her. "I have a lot more material to get through today." "You're cute when you're surly," Alazyn said, stroking his cheek. "Maybe I should anger you more often." Neredos blushed as much from the anger as from her attention. She had flirted with him from the beginning, though he had never been able to tell if she was serious about it or not. It wasn't so much that he didn't find himself unworthy of her attention, but rather that it seemed like she only meant it half the time. Not that he would know what to do with her attention anyway. He found her beautiful, had even thought about kissing her, or what it would be like to hold her close. The first day he had wondered what she looked like without all those bulky clothes on, but that curiosity had been put to rest the same night. Alazyn had no reservations about nudity, and had stripped down without a care in the world as soon as she had the opportunity to get out of her snow-covered clothes. Neredos had blushed for a week, until he grew to see the behavior as normal. None of that had ever made him want to have sex with her. He found her attractive, certainly, but he never had the thoughts that so many other men his age were said to always have on their mind. To him, Alazyn was a work of art, to be appreciated as an expression of the artist. In the case of a person, the work and the artist were largely the same, though sometimes artists went out of their way to damage or change another's work. Some wore the scars of other artists on their flesh, and some wore it on their soul. But Alazyn did neither. If anyone had ever harmed her flesh, Neredos could not tell by looking at her. Her body was covered in tattoos from the neck down, but Alazyn wore them all with honor. They were a part of her, a representation of who she was inside. She had as many unique designs floating through her mind as she had on her body. She displayed these with equal enthusiasm whenever Neredos took the time to listen and observe. Even the exile from her people no longer seemed to bother her much. It had healed like all fresh wounds do when they receive the proper care and treatment. A minor scar remained for now, but Neredos would be surprised if it remained on her forever. She had already integrated the pain into herself, letting her soul heal it in a natural way. Whenever Neredos had asked, she had spoken about it openly. It was as if the moment he'd gained an ounce of her trust, he got all of it. He loved that about her. He loved everything about her. "Tell me what the news is," Neredos said, sighing dramatically, though he felt nothing but warmth. Being next to Alazyn was like a warm day in winter. He might curse the sun and the way it reflected off the snow, but the longer it stayed, the more it worked its way into his bones and reminded him of how much he needed it. "You have my full attention, Zyn." Alazyn stared at him for a moment, and a rare spot of color tinged her cheeks. "There's something different about you today. Something fresh and vibrant." Neredos raised an eyebrow but couldn't help but smile. "I suppose I'm just getting used to the winter," he said slyly. "It might even be my new favorite season. Though I do miss my Southern summers. I haven't seen one in two years." "You want to go home?" Alazyn asked, her eyes twinkling with curiosity. "I already am," Neredos said. "Even though I do think you can be a little aggravating at times." He wanted to touch her, and his hand twitched, aching to reach out and grab hers. She met his eyes, her eyes flicking down to their hands before returning to his face. She nodded slightly, the color in her cheeks deepening. Needing no further encouragement, Neredos placed his hand over hers and simply rested it gently there. Alazyn turned her hand over so their palms were touching. She then continued speaking as if nothing had happened. "The news I want to tell you; it's big, Neredos." "How big?" Neredos asked. "The war with Ultaka . . ." Alazyn said, her voice becoming almost a whisper as her fingers intertwined with his. "There's a cease-fire. A temporary treaty was signed this morning. The war might be over. We have a chance . . . To live in peace." Neredos breathed a sigh of relief, then stood, cupping the back of Alazyn's head and pressing their lips together. It was quick and urgent, a brief but frantic communication of all the feelings that had slowly built up over the last month. Good news had given him the courage to follow through where he would not have dared before. He pulled back, noticing the look of astonishment in her eyes which soon gave way to a pleased smile. Emboldened further, Neredos said, "Then let us live in peace together. I know you've been looking for another place to stay while I've been studying, but why not stay forever?" "Have you fallen for me, or is this merely some ploy to get inside me?" Alazyn asked teasingly. Neredos recoiled at the idea, surprised that she would think such a thing. "To get inside you?" He echoed with confusion. "Do you think I'm some politician's son who mistakes sex for love? Who learned all his life to manipulate others with words, who learned that a lie is better than the truth as long as it gets you what you want in the moment?" "So, you're saying your intentions are pure?" Alazyn said. Her eyes narrowed suddenly, and she ripped her hand away from his. "I've seen the way you look at me, that adoration . . . I will not be worshiped either. If you want me then you want my bed. That is the way love works. The least you could do is admit it." She hopped off the desk and started towards the door. "Have you ever known me to lie to you?" Neredos asked quietly. Alazyn paused, her hand on the door. She didn't move, but her ears twitched as if she were intently listening. Seeing this, Neredos continued, his voice steady though his body trembled. "You are like magic, dangerous and mysterious, a force that transforms everything it encounters. I studied some magic in pursuit of the sciences, but not much. We humans have a very limited knowledge of it. But you . . . you taught me what the word means. Every single thing you've done since we first spoke has made me see the world differently, has changed me. You think I want your body? You are beautiful, your physical form mesmerizes me. If I thought it proper I would trace every line with my eyes, that I could keep the memory of it forever. But I do not fantasize of what I could do to it." He paused, and she slowly turned toward him. Seeing her eyes, confused and curious, he continued. "I do not worship you, not in the way that you mean. Though I think I'd likely do anything, if you said it would make you happy. I don't mean I'd kill for you or do anything else that would compromise my own morality, but that's because I know you would never ask me to do that. I trust you, because you are you, and that is more important to me than anything. The thought of sex . . . there's nothing wrong with it, but simply being near you is what fills me with joy." Alazyn nodded, finally wiping away the tears that had sprung during Neredos' speech. "So . . . Maybe you are different from the other human men I've met." "Will you stay?" Neredos asked. Alazyn cleared her throat, blushing even more deeply than before. It was starting to happen so often, Neredos wondered if he'd broken her somehow. "I'll stay," Alazyn said, keeping her eyes on the floor, "but, I'm curious . . . you don't want to have sex with me . . . but would you let me share your bed?" Neredos chuckled. "I can never tell if you're flirting with me or teasing me." "It's always been both," Alazyn replied. "Part of me . . . part of me was hoping you did want me like that." "It's not that I'm unwilling," Neredos said, "it's that I don't feel the urge. I never have, toward anyone. I might find them beautiful, handsome, maybe even comfortable sometimes, but I simply never had the urge. I'd be willing to have the experience though, if that's something you ever want to try." His eyes twinkled a bit as he added, "it's not against my morality." "So, what is it you want, then?" Alazyn asked. "If it's not sex that motivates you, then what?" "To be able to feel magic all the time," Neredos said. "And maybe save the world." "I can help you with one of those," Alazyn said. She smiled, and her eyes showed a hint of mischief. "After your exam, meet me at the top of North Hill." "It'll be the middle of the night!" Neredos protested. "It'll be freezing!" "Just meet me there," Alazyn said. "And I'll show you what magic really is." ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The last bell had rung at the Thalom Cathedral nearly an hour before, signifying midnight, but still Neredos trudged through the snow toward the top of North Hill. Despite its rather uninspiring name, North Hill towered over everything nearby, rising above the town of Thalom just behind the University. He grumbled the whole way. Even though he had spent two years in the area, he still wasn't used to the cold. Southern Oligan wasn't nearly as warm as either Ultaka or Lodan, but it still had winters that were more rainy than snowy. It was rare to see snow anywhere other than the mountains during his youth, but in Thalom it carpeted everything. Thankfully the trail to the peak of the hill was well-worn. There had not been a fresh snowstorm in a few days, and many—both local and not—climbed the hill for a good view of the area when they'd had time. No one climbed it at night, however, at least not in winter. He hoped Alazyn had a good reason for bringing him up here. After trudging up a steeper section, he paused briefly to catch his breath. It was a clear night, and the soft electric lights of Thalom below him did little to diminish the impact of the stars above. That was something he preferred about the north; the smaller cities and settlements that made him feel closer to nature. While not much of an outdoorsman, he drew clarity from natural wonders, and wished he had more time to partake of it. The moon was rising, half crested over the distant mountains. There was a slight orange tint to it tonight, but it was full. Soon it would bathe the entire world in its light. He smiled at the thought, started up the trail again, and cursed the snow beneath his feet once more. Alazyn startled him as he crested the final rise. The moon had just cleared the horizon and its light pierced through a break in the tree line to illuminate Alazyn directly in the center of the clearing at the top of the trail. She was naked, though she didn't appear to be suffering any effects of the cold. She turned smoothly as he approached, her bright eyes catching the moonlight and seeming to glow. Neredos stopped abruptly, realizing that her eyes were, in fact, glowing. He had never seen Gor eyes do that before, but he did not know enough about the race to know if glowing eyes were uncommon. "What are you waiting for?" Alazyn asked. "Are you going to come here or not?" Neredos ascended the rest the way to meet her, though he paused a few feet away, noticing six small stones arranged in a circle around her. While snow lay about her in every direction, blocks of ice had formed beneath the rocks, and seemed to be spreading out slowly. "Don't be afraid of coming inside the circle," Alazyn said. "It's quite warm in here. In fact, you might want to remove your coat first." From this close, Neredos could see the sheen of sweat that covered her. Sweating! He stepped within the ring of rocks and immediately understood why. It felt like a sauna inside the circle. He wondered why the snow beneath them wasn't steaming at the intense heat. He immediately removed the scarf and hat protecting him from the cold, finding their presence stifling. "How are you doing that?" Neredos asked. He removed his gloves next, and started unbuttoning his coat, the heat already beginning to make him sweat. "I've never seen magic like this!" "That's because humans rarely practice it," Alazyn replied. "The church in Oligan considers magic heretical, and the Ultakan Fedain would never let their human populace get their hands on powerful magic. That leaves Incaria and Lodan. Some Lodani still remember a few of the ancient arts, but they are passed down through family lines and never taught to outsiders. Incarians know quite a bit of Gor magic, though the southern Gor tribes keep most of that knowledge for themselves. It helps maintain the balance of power, after all." "Yes, but . . ." Neredos said in wonder, "producing that amount of heat without a catalyst of some sort . . . It seems impossible." "The catalyst is all around you," Alazyn replied. "There is energy in so many things, and all you have to do is tap into it. All you have to do is understand. You are a man of science, so that means you know how things work. That can easily become magic if you apply it correctly." Neredos eyed her skeptically. "So, how does this work then?" "Well, where does heat come from?" Alazyn asked. "When energy makes the molecules in matter start moving faster," Neredos replied. "But, as I said before, there doesn't appear to be a catalyst. No heat source." "For the sake of simplicity, consider my body the heat source," Alazyn said. "There's a lot more going on here, but that is the truth in a manner of speaking. Magic is all about energy and matter transference. It is control over the connections that already exist between all things. It is a cornerstone of Gor magic that anything is technically possible, if you simply understand enough about the processes involved to impose your will upon matter and can convert available energy to fuel your endeavors." "What about the symbols I always see the Gor use?" Neredos asked. "I don't see any of those here, except for the ones on your skin." Alazyn chuckled softly. "Everyone always thinks the magic is in the symbols. Unfortunately, that is the simplest way to teach. It helps our minds to be able to focus through something that we believe has power. The symbols form anchors for our will, but it is our will which creates the magic. Once you reach a certain level of understanding, you can do some amazing things without the runes." She paused, clearly amused by the skeptical look on Neredos' face. "But . . . I still have to use focuses, even if I don't use the runes." "Okay, so what's happening here?" Neredos asked. Alazyn bent down and picked up one of the stones. She shivered as if experiencing a sudden chill. "I connected myself with all six of the stones before manipulating the energy. This will probably seem gross to you, but I licked each one before placing it where I wanted it. That put my saliva on each stone, obviously, and with focus, I am able to believe that my saliva and the stone are one, meaning I and the stone are one." Neredos nodded, following her so far. "While I still don't understand the science of how that works, I can see some logic in that explanation. But what I need to know is why you need to connect yourself to the stones in the first place." "If I were a being of pure will, I wouldn't have to," Alazyn replied. "There is only one person like that; Ghayle, the leader of our people." Neredos frowned at that. "I don't believe I've ever heard of her. Is she a priestess? How have I not heard of someone that powerful?" "She is not a priestess," Alazyn said, "but a goddess. She has watched over the world for as long as history has been told among our people. She is the soul of the world, and with her chosen few, she guides the ebb and flow of the tides that shape our world. Only she is capable of acting on pure will." "Great," Neredos muttered, "now we're bringing religion into this. Next you'll tell me that all the folk tales and myths are true, and that there really was a Kribara living in my window who would come alive if I got out of bed." Alazyn's face darkened, and she looked as if she wanted to throw the stone in her hand at Neredos' face. "Ghayle is no myth. She is well documented in our records, and many see her still moving among the trees. She is a force which guides our world, as I said, and is a being of pure will. I brought her up to you to explain, not to preach. She is the perfection of magic, the ultimate ideal. If you wish to see her as nothing more than a symbol, that is fine, but you will respect that she is part of my tradition. I do not have to teach you, and you do not have to learn. Worship her or not, I do not care. But if you insult my beliefs, then we are done." Neredos nodded slowly. "I apologize. I've always had a hard time believing what wasn't right in front of me, and I was quick to judge. I will retain my skepticism, but I won't use it against you." "That is well enough, I suppose," Alazyn said. She sighed and turned the rock over in her hand, collecting her thoughts again. "The reason why I connected myself with the stone, is because it is easier to control whatever we believe to be part of ourselves. It takes significantly less focus, significantly less will. If I were to reach out and try to affect you, it would be very difficult to do with my mind alone. I'd have to touch you, connect you with me, to be effective. While some monks in the Order of the Mountain in Ultaka might train at being able to disarm their opponent with a glance, it requires perfection in technique and understanding. Magic works the same way." "Okay, so you have to connect yourself, and the stronger the connection, the more effective the magic," Neredos summarized, staring thoughtfully at the stones still surrounding them. "So where does the heat come from?" "Since the stones are part of me, I'm able to transfer heat through them the same way I would warm or cool my own body," Alazyn said. She handed the stone to Neredos. "Allow me to demonstrate." As Neredos took the stone, he was surprised at how warm it felt. Despite Alazyn holding it, it had recently come from a chunk of ice. Now it felt like bread that had come recently from the oven, cool enough to handle, but warm enough to make him think he was inside in front of the fire. As he held it, however, it suddenly cooled, becoming as cold as the ice he'd originally expected. He nearly dropped it in his shock. "How did you do that?" "It is simply a matter of telling the stone it needed to absorb your warmth. The stone did not become cold, despite what you may have felt. Instead, it was drawing on the heat from your body, because I told it to, and that made you feel cold as the heat left you," Alazyn explained. Neredos nodded and returned the stone to Alazyn. "Can you teach me how to do that? Being able to transfer heat from a distance . . . That could be really useful in engineering." "I think you have a little too much skepticism for me to teach you this method," Alazyn said, chuckling softly. "But that's why the runes exist, to make up for any faith that we lack. After all, if you can believe that symbols have power, then you don't have to believe as much in yourself." "Like people believing in a God," Neredos said, "following dogmas laid out by others." "I warned you about insulting my beliefs," Alazyn growled. Neredos threw his hands in the air, his face frantic. "I had no intention of insulting your beliefs there, and I apologize. I was merely trying to understand the metaphor. How about I switch it? It's like the way so many people put their faith behind the president. If they let him make decisions for them, let him be the power, it removes some of their responsibility. At least in their own minds. That means all the strength doesn't have to come from them, that their will isn't completely complicit in his crimes." "I suppose it is an accurate metaphor," Alazyn said. "The symbols the Gor use, they have deep spiritual meaning for us. They connect us with the divine, and allow us to draw on some primal strength we don't understand. This is what makes up for our lack of will. For you, I think it might be more appropriate to view them as tools. You might be able to build a house with your own hands, but it would take you a long time, and a great deal of focus. Having a hammer or a saw make the job much easier. The runes are like those as well." "Then teach me," Neredos said. "And I promise I will put all my will behind it. I will be a faithful student, and I will not criticize your methods." Neredos immediately regretted the words, as a mischievous smile crept onto Alazyn's face. But he would stand by them, because he had never lied to her, and he wasn't about to start now. She stepped forward, placing a hand against his chest and pushing him backward, outside the boundary of her little stone circle. As he stepped outside of the field of heat, his outer coat still on the ground inside of it, he immediately felt the chill hit him. Alazyn bent down and scratched a symbol into the snow just beyond the edge of her heated circle. "This is the symbol for 'heat'." She scratched another symbol next to it and said, "This is the symbol for 'transference'." She looked up at him then and added, "Memorize both of them. Do so now and scratch them into the snow." Neredos sighed and crouched down, mimicking the symbols as best as he could. When he was finished, he searched Alazyn's eyes for approval. He found her expression unreadable, her eyes slightly hard. "Very good, your memory has served you well again. Now, to test it once more," she said, kicking out with one foot to crush the symbols into the snow, distorting all four beyond recognition. "Now, draw them again." Neredos nodded and did so without delay. When he looked up again, this time Alazyn was smiling. "Very good," she said. "Now, this is where the magic really begins. While magic may be done through will, it is powered by our emotions. Will is the engine, emotions the fuel." "So, what do I do?" Neredos asked. "Take off your clothes. All of them." Neredos balked at the strange order. "But I'll freeze to death!" He protested. "At least let me back inside circle." "Then you'll never learn anything," Alazyn said. "And didn't you say you would be a faithful student and not criticize my methods?" She added with a grin. "Could you at least explain to me why I'm doing it?" Neredos asked. Alazyn nodded. "Yes, that is an appropriate question. One of the easiest emotions to become pure, is desperation. If I make you cold enough, you'll need heat, and then it's only a matter of using that desperation as fuel for your will to find that heat." She leaned forward, her face inches from his as she whispered, "So strip; let your body bathe in the chill moonlight. Feel the primal grip of death seep into your bones and resist it with every ounce of your being. Only then will you discover magic. Only then will your soul find the freedom it desires." Neredos stripped, stepping naked into a whole new world.
  19. Marty

    Three Things

    We all do stupid things, make the wrong decisions, at times. It's what makes us all human, I reckon. Nicely told, @Thorn Wilde!
  20. Marty

    Chapter 1

    Well, I know what we were probably all thinking Kim was about to do for the first time... Have to admit that, although I was expecting some sort of final twist to the tale, II wasn't expecting that particular one. Nicely told, @TLM280249. And great dialogue.
  21. Parker Owens

    Sweet Summer

    Thank you! I’m glad these three snapshots bring golden summers back to mind.
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