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  2. Nahrung


    Nice chapter... honestly, I was expecting Brad to eventually break down. I have Veteran friends and family. I think the VA is very sensitive and aware of potential addiction problems. I'm guessing that 'the call' that CJ is going to make is to his 'jarhead' dad and maybe even someone he knows at the VA. Who knows... CJ seems to know everyone!
  3. Jace lay with his head propped up on one arm as he lightly caressed his boyfriend's bare chest. He couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful body resting peacefully beside him. Brody's olive skin glowed with verve and vitality. He had a handsomely sculpted chest covered with well-trimmed black hair. His dark erect nipples were the size of quarters. Though broad of chest and shoulders, he didn't look too big or too square, just perfectly proportioned. His abs were hairless and defined without looking like a laundry tool, taught and sexy rather than ripped and artificial. A trimmed happy trail started at his navel and slowly widened until it met his equally trimmed pubes. With slim waist and hips, the hair and the V created by his obliques merely added to the impression that his entire body was built to draw eyes downward. Brody's forearms and legs sported a healthy but not excessive amount of black hair, as did his face, which he never shaved entirely but instead always left with the right amount of scruff. His head was covered with wavy, thick, lustrous black hair that he kept short and wore in a messy, just-out-of-bed style. He'd inherited most of his features from his father's Italian heritage, though his crystal blue eyes came out of nowhere considering his mother's were hazel and his father's were brown; Jace couldn't complain, though, since those eyes added a certain exotic mystique to Brody's overall appearance. He loved watching his boyfriend sleep. It often overwhelmed him with the sensuous impression of peaceful strength and sublime beauty. Not to mention he couldn't seem to get his fill of Brody, the visual, the touch, the ardor, all of it. Seeing him this way, eyes closed, lips slightly parted, breath deep and regular, made Jace shake his head time and again, pondering just what he'd done to deserve a man of such inner and outer perfection. Finally accepting he needed to wake Brody, somebody who slept like a rock—they joked constantly about his ability to sleep through the end of the world with nary a problem—Jace leaned down and gently kissed his boyfriend's chest, dropping light pecks atop the two hickeys with which he'd marked Brody the night before. I have to stop doing that, he admonished himself, because he can never take his shirt off with all the love bites I leave on him. But Jace knew he wouldn't stop, couldn't stop. He liked marking his territory. More than that, he liked putting his lips to Brody's skin and watching him writhe and listening to him moan, especially when he drew blood to the surface in those places that drove Brody nuts with erotic energy. His kisses continued up his boyfriend's chest to his neck, then his jaw, then his cheek, and finally his lips. His hand, meanwhile, kneaded and caressed Brody's chest, working closer to his nipple—Brody's nipples were one of his most sensitive spots. With their lips against each other, Jace finally pinched Brody's nipple and twisted it, not hard enough to hurt but definitely hard enough to send a jolt of electricity through his body. When Brody gasped, Jace slid his tongue into his mouth and deepened the kiss. "Mmmm..." Brody moaned as his arms came up to encircle Jace, pulling him down atop the larger boy and holding him close. Unfortunately, though he wished otherwise, Jace drew back before he'd had his fill. It was already later than they'd intended and Brody'd told him the night before that he absolutely couldn't be late for work. Not again anyway. Or at least not so soon after the last time he'd been late. "Hey..." Brody whined. "Work." "Don't wanna." "Want to." "Alright, Helene, thank you for the English lesson." "I can't help it if my mother's a staunch supporter of proper language use." Brody chuckled, shaking his head. Helene was a warm and generous and caring woman, but calling her a stickler for proper language use seemed a massive understatement. Thought not a grammar Nazi, the woman certainly didn't mind correcting lazy or improper English. "What time is it?" Brody asked as he stretched, a satisfied groan rumbling in his chest, making Jace smile. He loved the sound of his boyfriend's voice, deep and resonant, but he liked it even better when he heard and felt it through Brody's chest. The rumble was comforting, familiar, wanted. "Almost seven." "Too early." "You have to be there at eight." "Don't wanna." "Want to." "How about you do something more satisfying with that mouth?" "What did you have in mind?" "Another kiss. I can't get enough of those." Jace smirked and shook his head. "Why not?" "Morning breath." "You just had your tongue in my mouth trying to suck my soul out of me, and now you're complaining about morning breath?" "Not yours, silly. Mine. By some strange quirk of the universe, you never have morning breath. I, on the other hand, am not so lucky." "I wasn't complaining." "You never do." Jace dropped a chaste kiss on Brody's lips before slipping from beneath the covers. As he headed toward the bathroom, Brody never let his eyes wander away from the breathtaking naked man who'd just left his bed. A little taller than Brody's five ten, Jace stood maybe six feet and weighed ten pounds less. He was slim but not skinny, his muscles defined but not pronounced. Brody often thought of his boyfriend as having something a little smoother than a runner's build. Not sinewy at all, Jace was just... perfect. He had alabaster skin, so light and free of blemish that it appeared almost translucent. He was virtually hairless except for his head, his face, his pubes, his armpits, and his lower legs. Every bit of that hair was light brown with natural highlights, straight as a ruler, and felt like satin. But his eyes captivated Brody more than anything else: forest green flecked with gold, soulful, expressive, deep and mirthful and telling. Brody could get lost in those eyes. Hell, he often did. Even with his back to the open bathroom door and without a glance, Jace chuckled before calling over his shoulder, "It's not polite to stare." "Can't help it. I have the hottest boyfriend on the planet." "Please," Jace groaned as he flushed the toilet. As he grabbed his toothbrush and the toothpaste, preparing to dispatch the morning breath that he always thought was worse than it really was, he sneaked a peek through the doorway and found Brody with his arms behind his head, his eyes locked on Jace's every movement. "The truth is," he said, "I have the hottest boyfriend on the planet." And that was precisely how he felt. Brody was so unbelievably sexy. Jace couldn't understand how the hot exotic jock could ever find a lean bookish nerd attractive, but he didn't question it because he knew it was true. Brody proved it every day with both words and deeds. After rinsing, Jace returned to the bed and slipped under the covers, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend as he pulled him in for a passionate kiss. "Mmmm..." Brody moaned into his mouth. Jace accepted the offering with glee. When they parted, lips swollen and wet, pupils dilated, Jace smacked Brody on the chest and told him, "Time for you to get ready for work." "Don't wanna." Before Jace could correct him he added, "Don't want to." After a quick kiss, one less erotic than the last, Jace admitted, "I don't want you to go. So on that we're in agreement. But you said—" "I have to go. I know. That's what I said. Doesn't mean I want to go, only that I have to go." "Is Trish working today?" Brody frowned but still answered, "Yeah." "Then at least you'll have some fun." "Not as much fun as I could have with you," Brody announced before grabbing Jace and rolling over on top of him, settling his full weight on his boyfriend, claiming his mouth with a searing kiss. Then he leaped off the bed and walked to the bathroom. "It's not polite to stare," he called over his shoulder with as much mischief in his voice as he could muster. Which was quite a bit. Jace shrugged. He'd stare if he wanted to. Besides, who wouldn't want to stare at a hot naked jock ambling across the room, his ass bouncing just so, his broad shoulders tapering to a slim waist resting atop thick legs. Every muscle danced under taught skin, causing Jace's blood to flow south. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and began thinking about other things, like his plans for the day and Brody working with Trish and... Well, Brody working with Trish. That always killed his sexual excitement. "Stop thinking about it," Brody called from the shower. Jace could only chuckle. They knew each other so well. And Brody understood that Jace felt some measure of jealousy when it came to Trish. She'd been Brody's first girlfriend and his first kiss. Sure the big oaf of a jock liked boys and girls, but he liked boys better, which pleased Jace. But that didn't make it any less bothersome that Brody had been Trish's boyfriend for two years before Brody finally admitted how he felt about Jace. If I'd said something sooner, Jace thought. Maybe if I'd said something before he did, Trish wouldn't be an issue. He listened to Brody in the shower, humming amidst the spray of hot water, realizing he needn't worry so much about Trish because Brody loved him, he loved Brody, and by golly they were planning a future together. No matter what came before, he had Brody now, in this moment and, assuming everything went according to plan, he'd have him forevermore. And that suited Jace just fine. "It's silly to be jealous," Brody said as he stepped out of the shower and began toweling himself dry, his eyes never leaving Jace's intense gaze. "I'm not jealous." "It's something you're prone to." "Did you end that declarative with a preposition?" "Stop being Helene long enough to hear what I say rather than how I say it." Jace dropped his gaze for just a moment, long enough to shake his head at his own silliness. "You're right, you know. And I'm being daft for feeling threatened." "You don't feel threatened," Brody declared as he marched across the garage apartment, towel over his shoulder. "Then what do I feel?" Leaning over the love of his life, Brody let his lips rest against Jace's as he whispered, "You feel regret that you weren't my first kiss, regret that you weren't my first date, regret that you weren't the one I held and touched." "And?" "But you were, Jace." "No I wasn't," he responded with a bit too much venom. "Yes you were." Brody sat on the edge of the bed, his face still millimeters from Jace's. "I loved you before I settled for Trish. She was the next best option, Jace. I didn't think there was hope for me and you, so I settled. Now that I have what I wanted all along, you need to stop worrying about it. You're all I need and all I want and all I'll ever hope for." He dropped a passionate kiss on his boyfriend's lips before admitting, "And that was another prepositional ending, by the way." "Asshole." Jace couldn't keep the smile off his face or out of his voice. He felt more than silly for doubting Brody. Nothing could feel this perfect and destined without being real and meant. "By the way, you need to stop with the linguistic crap. That's your mom's thing, not yours." Brody stood and walked to the dresser. "She made it my thing. I can't help it." "You're such a nerd." He didn't turn to look at Jace as he put on a pair of boxer briefs. "I'm not a nerd." "Yes you are. You're a hot bookish nerd who turns me on all the time, the sexiest little bookish nerd in the world." Jace watched Brody as he opened the closet door and began browsing for something to wear. "If I'm a nerd then you're a jock." "I'm okay with being called a jock. But I'm not a dumb jock." "No, definitely not a dumb jock." Pulling on a pair of jeans without looking back Brody said, "Besides, I'm not just any jock. I'm your jock." "And if I were a nerd, I'd be your nerd." "You are a nerd. You're my nerd. And I love you without reservation." "I love you, too." Brody slipped a tee shirt over his head before turning around. The moment his eyes settled on Jace he smiled, ducked his head, shrugged, asked, "Whoda thunk it?" "Who would've thought it, you mean," Jace corrected without thought. "Right." Watching Brody approach the bed, Jace couldn't help but think he was the luckiest man alive to have such a fantastic man in love with him. "Who would have thought what?" Leaning down, Brody placed an affectionate kiss on Jace's lips before standing, his eyes locked on his boyfriend's. "Who would've thought it would be you and me?" "Forever." "Forever and ever." Jace shrugged, looking sheepish, then said, "You looked like you needed a friend." After placing another kiss on his boyfriend's lips, Brody walked to the door, pulled it open, paused, looked at Jace, admitted, "I did need a friend. I just didn't think he'd be the man of my dreams. But he's that and a whole lot more." Before Jace could respond, Brody said, "Gotta go to work. I'll see you later. I love you." And with that, he pulled the door closed, leaving Jace to his own thoughts, thoughts of meeting, thoughts of destiny, thoughts of loving a man so much it hurt. "You looked like you needed a friend," he muttered. "Who knew you'd be so much more than that?" * * * * * Thirteen Years Prior "Mom..." Jace whined. "Do I hafta?" "Have to," Helene Langstrom corrected her son. "It's 'do I have to,' and the answer is yes, young man." "But Mom..." "Do you want some cheese with your whine this morning?" she asked with half a grin and raised eyebrows. "Huh?" "Nothing, sweetheart. Just a silly joke." "I don't get it." "Of course you don't. Understanding comes with age." "What?" "I'm sorry, Jace, but what were we talking about?" "Uh..." "That's what I thought," she mumbled, biting back a chuckle. Helene made a sport of using confusion to redirect her son's sometimes prosaic grizzling. He wasn't a complainer by any stretch of the imagination, but like every other five-year-old on the planet, he sure knew the right tone of voice to use so everyone inside of five blocks could hear his displeasure. "Why don't you go on in and find a seat, honey?" "What if they don't like me, Mom? What if nobody likes me?" Jace whimpered, unshed tears welling in his beautiful green eyes. And there was the other problem with her son. Helene couldn't understand why he never felt sure of himself, why he always assumed no one would like him. For such a gregarious child, his lack of self-confidence sometimes worried her. Sometimes. "Don't be silly, Jace." Turning him toward the classroom and waving a hand around the half-full room, she continued, "See all those kids? They're in the same boat you're in right now. It's their first day, too. They've never been to school before. They probably don't know very many of their classmates." "Really?" he asked, his voice carrying a hint of awe and a hint of comfort. "Pardon me," a woman apologetically said as she sidled through the door while attempting not to bump the kneeling mother and her adorable son. "Of course," Helene responded automatically, gently pulling Jace out of the way as the other woman slipped by, her own son pulling her along in his wake. Oh that poor boy, she pondered as she watched them weave through the tables and chairs toward the spot by the windows the boy motioned toward, he looks positively frail. I wonder what's wrong with him. * * * * * Jayne Anne Windham allowed her son to pull her into the classroom. "Pardon me," she offered shyly as she and Brody attempted to get through the door without knocking over the woman kneeling there cajoling her son, clearly trying to get the cute youngster to boldly face his first day of kindergarten. Thankfully I don't have to face that, she thought. With all he's been through, Brody's so well socialized and so uncaring of his appearance. To him, the first day of school is just one more thing he has to face. Compared to everything that came before, he doesn't seem to think this will be a problem at all. But, as mother's are wont to do, Jayne Anne had to temper the approval she felt for her son's seeming lack of fear in the face of even the most daunting circumstances. Three years, most of which he spent in the hospital undergoing all manner of tests and treatments, years of overwhelming pain and anguish and suffering both from the leukemia and its cure, had left Brody a quiet, introspective, strong-willed boy with confidence to endure most anything, which was all well and good in his mother's mind. But the other side of the coin was that he seemed to shrink in on himself most of the time, spending more than a healthy share of his days inside his own head. In addition to and despite his lack of nervousness around people he didn't know—he'd spent most of his life dealing with an unending parade of people he didn't know in environments unfamiliar and frightening—he appeared for all intents and purposes to be a rather shy boy. Ben was right. He needs kindergarten so he's around other kids, has a chance to learn social interactions with his peers, realizes he's not alone regardless of what he's been through. Brody drew his mother forward, his stride sure and his path clear, expertly guiding her amongst the other children and through the maze of chairs and tables. He'd never been in a classroom before, but by golly he knew where he wanted to sit if he absolutely had to be there. As soon as he arrived at the seats adjacent to the wall of windows facing the beautiful courtyard with its trees and fountain and benches and flowers and ample sunshine, he spun on his heels and leaned toward his mother. "Do you think it's alright if I sit here, Mom?" he asked, his voice hushed and respectful. Yet more evidence of his ordeal, she knew, the quiet surety, the graciousness, the veneration for the feelings of others, the innate deference to proper social deportment. She hoped the genteel, well-behaved child leukemia had created indicated the young man he would someday become. "I'm sure it's fine, Brody," Jayne Anne replied. "And if the teacher has assigned seating in mind, he'll let you know when class gets started." "I hope he lets me sit here," he remarked in the staid manner she'd come to expect. No five-year-old should be so well-mannered, she thought, but he was basically raised by a bunch of doctors and nurses. He never had time to learn about being a child. All the children he grew up with were in the same position he was in—sick, fighting for life, living day in and day out with a bunch of medical personnel who, irrespective of their intentions, never stopped being learned adults no matter what the children needed. "Would you like me to ask him if you can stay in this seat?" After he settled into the chair, quietly pulling it forward so he settled comfortably against the table, he turned to her and whispered, "Would you please?" "Of course, honey. I'll do that on my way out, if that's alright." "Yes." "Did you bring all your supplies?" Brody hefted his backpack onto the tabletop and pulled it to him with an arm slung over its bulky form. "Yes. Right here." "Are you feeling okay?" Brody didn't quite understand what he'd been through, but he very much understood he'd been sick for a long time, for as long as he could remember in fact. He also knew he wasn't completely recovered yet, but his parents said every single day that he was getting better, growing into a strong boy. So when one of them asked if he was feeling okay, he gave it serious consideration, basically performing a full inventory of his body and mind, checking to see if anything felt worse than the day before. Finding nothing amiss save uncertainty about the whole kindergarten thing, he told her, "Yes, Mom. I'm fine." "Good." Jayne Anne squatted beside the tiny chair her son sat in, resting one arm atop the table, and quietly explained, "The school knows you've only been out of treatment for a few months. They've promised to be mindful of how you look and feel. But don't you dare hesitate to let them know if you don't feel good, you hear me, Mr. Man?" "Yes, Mom," he giggled. That nickname made him feel silly, always did, and he loved her for it. She hated that nickname. It popped into her head one day when she realized her child was more an adult than anyone his age, due entirely to his health and the time spent around adults who tried to be childlike yet failed miserably in the attempt, turning her little boy into a little person too formal and too intelligent and too out of touch with his age. But she used the moniker anyway; it always brought a smile to Brody's face. For whatever reason, it brightened his mood. She just couldn't find fault with anything that did that. "The nurse is supposed to meet you before lunch to help you take your medicine." "Oh Mom..." he whined. Or tried to. It always sounded forced to her ears, like an adult playing at being a child. She appreciated the effort, though, as if her son were gifting her with a taste of what they'd both missed during his first five years of life. With a silly scowl she scolded through a chuckle, "Don't you give me sass, Mr. Man." Again he snickered, blushing. God he looks so much better when he blushes. I'll be happy when his olive skin darkens back to its original tone. Jayne Anne leaned forward and dropped a kiss on his forehead before giving him a quick hug. "You be good, you hear me?" "Yes, Mom." "I'll be right outside the class when school is out. Don't wander." "I'll be okay." "I know you will. But I worry about you anyway." Brody ducked his head and turned away, suddenly feeling quite shy, maybe even embarrassed. He might not understand everything that'd happened to him in the past, but he fully understood it'd been pretty bad. He suspected he'd understand even more as he got older. He watched his mom stand. Just before she turned and walked away, she ruffled his black wavy hair. With a grin she realized she was terribly happy his hair had grown in before school started. She'd been so worried he'd go to school bald on top of still looking sickly and being thin enough to appear unhealthy. "Bye, kiddo." "Bye, Mom." * * * * * Helene had watched the other woman with her son, still wondering what might be wrong with him. He seemed normal, if not a bit subdued, and she knew the administrators wouldn't let a kid into class who had something contagious. "I guess I'll go," Jace lamented with melodramatic flair as he shuffled noisily into the classroom, eyes downcast, hands jammed into his pockets as his backpack wiggled from his jerky movements. She stood and stepped aside as other parents came and went. For reasons she couldn't quite fathom, she paused rather than leaving. Her unprovoked delay became all too comprehensible when, after a brief chat with the teacher, the mother of that poor sickly child scooted sideways into the hall as another set of parents wandered in with their precious daughter between them. "Excuse me," Helene said, placing a gentle hand on the woman's arm. Jayne Anne turned, setting an inquisitive gaze on the woman who'd stopped her. "Can I help you?" she asked, more out of curiosity than anything else. "I was... I was just wondering if your son is alright," Helene remarked, not so much asking a question as hesitantly fishing for answers. "Yes he is, thank you," Jayne Anne declared, straining to keep her face from scrunching up in a sour expression of disapproval. She'd tolerated far too much nosiness and furtive looks of worry and innuendos implying Brody might be dangerous to other children. At least in the hospital he'd been surrounded by others dealing with the same or similar health problems, but away from that safe environment she was discovering that too many adults who should know better spent far too much time digging into her family's personal business, as though hoping for a tasty tidbit of gossip. She started to turn away, fighting to keep from lashing out at yet one more idiot who used her son's illness as cause for stupidity. Thus she was pleasantly surprised when the woman asked quite gently and with a not inconsiderable amount of genuine concern in her voice, "And are you? Are you alright?" Looking back to the woman, Jayne Anne wondered only for a moment if a lie would be better than the truth. Then she told her, "As well as can be. When your son's been fighting leukemia for three years and he's still struggling to be a normal kid with a normal life, I suppose being alright is a subjective thing." She had no clue where that level of candor came from. Talk about too much information. Yet the woman again surprised her. "I can't imagine what you've been through and I can't imagine what your son has endured. I only asked because you look so stressed and tired—" "He looks worse." "Oh," Helene gasped, then giggled when Jayne Anne chuckled behind her hand. "Well, now that you've said it, I can agree, but I'm guessing he looks better than he did." "You have no idea." Finding an interesting level of courage and concern bubbling up inside her, Helene held her hand out and offered, "My name's Helene. Helene Langstrom." "Jayne Anne." She took the hand and shook it with friendly warmth. "Jayne Anne Windham." "That's Jace, my son," Helene admitted as she gestured into the classroom, "with the end-of-the-world posture." Both women snickered as they watched Jace walk right over to Brody. Well, maybe not walk so much as scoot and meander and shuffle. Brody's gaze had already been locked on Jace as he approached, and the women observed the two boys chat quietly before Jace dropped into the chair at the same table, never turning away from Brody as the boys talked and nodded and smiled. "My son's Brody. It looks like our boys are getting to know each other," Jayne Anne remarked. "Seems like a good idea. You look like you could use a break, maybe even a friend. Would you let me buy you a cup of coffee?" "That sounds wonderful, Helene. Thank you." The look of relief on Jayne Anne's face told Helene she'd been right all along. Though not as much as her son, obviously, this woman had still been through her own level of torment for years. "I'm parked right out front. Let me drive. I can bring you back to your car later." "That would be nice." * * * * * "Hi," Brody greeted as the other boy stopped and stared. After a moment of silence he added, "I'm Brody." "I'm Jace." The boys continued looking at each other as more silence spread between them. "Are you sick?" Jace suddenly blurted out, his cheeks immediately flushing. Brody let his head drop in disappointment. He'd been worried he might attract attention because of how he looked. He'd really been hoping to find a new friend or two. Well, to find a friend period since he didn't have any. He'd made lots of friends in the hospital, but Dallas was just too big for any them to live near enough to go to the same school. When this pale-skinned, brown-haired, green-eyed boy reached the table, Brody thought for a moment that maybe he was going to make a new friend after all. But then he'd asked about being sick. Of course he'd ask that. Most everybody did. Meeting the boy's gaze again Brody admitted, "I was. For a long time. I'm not now, but I'm not completely better." "Takes time, huh?" the kid asked. "A long time." He hadn't meant to let so much sadness leak into his voice, but there it was anyway. Oh well. "Can I sit here?" A momentary flash of hope exploded across Brody's features before he slipped back to his stoic demeanor. "Sure." Jace pulled the chair out and dropped into it like a sack of potatoes, not even removing his backpack first. When it hit the back of the chair, though, he remembered it, slid it from his shoulders, and pushed it onto the tabletop without too much care. "So what'd you have?" "When?" "When you were sick, silly. What'd do you have?" "Leukemia." "Luke who?" "Not Luke anybody. I had leukemia." "Leukemia..." Jace repeated, letting the word slowly move through his mouth as he tried out its flavor. "It's a kind of cancer," Brody offered, hoping that would clarify matters. At least as much as a child of five could clarify and another child of five could understand such matters. "What's cancer?" Brody shrugged. "Something bad." He didn't fully understand what it was, but he knew enough to know that much. "Huh..." Jace glanced over his shoulder, having thought he needed to wave to his mom to let her know he might actually survive his first day of kindergarten, but he turned his attention back to Brody the moment he realized his mother was yammering with some other lady out in the hall. "Is that your mom?" Brody asked. "Who?" "In the hall. Wearing the pretty flower dress." After another quick glance over his shoulder, Jace nodded. "Yeah." "She's talking to my mother." "Oh. That's neat." Jace turned in his seat and began rummaging in his backpack. Like he'd suddenly thought of something important, he swung back toward Brody and asked, "Maybe they'll be friends. So you and me can be friends. If you wanna be my friend. Do you? Wanna be my friend?" Brody almost giggled at the boy's nervous behavior. But he didn't. Because he wanted a friend. Needed one. Even if only one. "Yes, Jace, I'd like to be you friend and I'd like you to be my friend." "Okay." With that, Jace turned back to rummage in his backpack. * * * * * At two years old, Jenny, was a healthy, vivacious, rambunctious child. And a messy eater. Jayne Anne wiped a bit of dribble and a lot of food of her daughter's face before coaxing her to take another small spoonful, most of which would squeeze out of puckered lips. As a mother, rearing a child came naturally to her, yet Jayne Anne constantly felt pangs of guilt for wishing Brody had been a healthy child. She'd missed so much. And sometimes, though she'd never admit it, she wondered if having their daughter while Brody suffered was a selfish move by her and Ben. It had been an accident, sure, getting pregnant the furthest thing from both their minds. Yet it had happened, which left her sometimes wondering if they'd inadvertently been planning for the worst by having another child. She shook her head to dislodge and discard the errant thoughts. Then Jayne Anne glanced at Brody as he slowly devoured a bowl of sugary cereal. She preferred he eat healthy meals, but the doctors had made it clear he should be allowed to eat whatever he could and would eat, at least for several more months. It would help him add weight and it would help his stomach acclimate to a steady supply of solid foods. His diet during treatment had been horrific. Everything cooked, nothing raw like fruits or vegetables, plenty of starch, no citrus or spice, as little dairy as possible, and on the restrictions went. Mind you, that diet lasted a short while before he started having difficulty keeping anything down. Then came intravenous feeding coupled with whatever foods he consumed that didn't come back up. Bananas. Strangely enough, Dr. O'Neill had told them bananas would be Brody's best friend despite being uncooked. When asked why, he informed them in an embarrassed tone that bananas were the only food that tasted the same coming back up as they did when they went down. Now, of course, Brody hated bananas. Nobody could blame him. Aware of his mother's gaze but not meeting it, he asked, "Can Jace spend the night tonight?" Ben winked at his wife before turning to his son and asking, "Who's Jace?" He'd heard all week about Jace, so he damn well knew who the kid was. "I told you. He's my friend." "From where?" "I told you. He's my friend from school." "And you want him to spend the night?" "Yes." "After only one week?" "Yes." "Isn't that too soon?" "Is it?" "That's what I was asking." "I don't know. Is it?" "Maybe not. Is it safe?" "Is what safe?" "Jace spending the night." "Why wouldn't it be?" "Maybe he's dangerous." "Jace?" "Isn't that who we're talking about?" "But he's not dangerous." "How do you?" Finally looking up from his cereal and glaring at his father as though the man had suddenly turned senile, Brody sighed in a dramatically exasperated fashion before explaining, "He's just a kid, Dad, like me. He's not dangerous." "Are you sure?" That's when he caught the mischief in his father's eyes. "Come on, Dad..." he moaned. It sounded alien from his lips since Brody never complained. When he caught his wife's gaze, Ben realized she was smiling with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. "And what do you know about this?" he inquired, a smile blossoming on his face. "Remember the woman I told you about, Helene, the one I met the first day of kindergarten?" "Of course. It's only been five days, baby doll. I might not be a youngster anymore, but I'm not senile." "Yet," she jibed through a giggle. "We're the same age, woman!" he laughed. "Technically you're older." "By a few months. That hardly counts." "Excuse me." Both parents turned immediately toward Brody. He'd watched them engage in their silly antics time and again. And though he loved the levity and joy his parents often displayed with each other, their lighthearted banter and childish joking often bringing a smile to his face, he really wanted an answer to his question. "What is it, honey?" Jayne Anne asked. "Can Jace spend the night tonight?" Ben and Jayne Anne shared a look before both fell into fits of laughter. "You're so serious sometimes, kiddo," Ben told his son once he'd caught his breath. "I'm sorry. I thought you'd forgotten my question. I'll wait." "Of course we hadn't forgotten, sweetie," Jayne Anne assured him, ruffling his hair. She'd have to get out of that habit soon, but she was still enjoying the fact that it was growing back, so thick and black and lustrous. Getting her fingers into it was a personal joy she couldn't quite deny herself. At least not yet. "Are you sure?" "Sure of what, Brody?" Not sure what happened to the conversation, his son's unflinching seriousness had Ben worried. Just a little. Which came easily and naturally, all things considered. "That you hadn't forgotten." "Of course we're sure." "Sure of what?" "What?" "That's what I was asking." "I think your mother and I might have missed something." "What did you miss, Dad?" "Well... "I thought so." Dumbfounded, both parents stared at their son, attempting to figure out what just happened. Brody stared back, his expression blank. Until that mischievous sparkle showed up in his eyes. Just before the corners of his mouth started to twitch up into a grin. * * * * * Ben gave his wife a sidelong look, curiosity defining the thoughtful scowl on his face. "What?" she asked. He jerked his head over his shoulder, indicating the hall and the rooms beyond. Mostly indicating their son's room. "Have you ever heard him laugh like that?" Jayne Anne cocked her head, eyes slowly meandering about the room but seeing nothing. She had all her attention focused on the giddy chuckles and snickers and occasional uproarious laughter sneaking out beneath the closed bedroom door. Even as her eyes widened and she turned back to her husband, Ben nodded and admitted, "Me, either." Then he smiled. Sure, they'd heard Brody laugh, sometimes loudly and sometimes softly, but neither of them had ever heard the kind of wholesome, heartfelt, carefree laughter they heard that night as Brody and Jace hid away playing all manner of games and whispering and wrestling and... well, being kids. She snuggled against Ben, resting her cheek on his shoulder. "It's beautiful," she whispered. "Yeah," he breathed, "it sure as hell is."
  4. Thanks, man. I'm really fine with feedback that helps me actually improve. I get that a lot, and I take the good, internalize it, and it makes me better. It sounds like you didn't get much in the way of actionable feedback, and it puts us in the same place. Maybe I'm bassackwards, but this situation makes me want to finish Silverwolf even more. Fuck em. Ugh, I'm still pissed. lol Jeez.
  5. The angry react, is because this pissed me off for you. I've had a similar experience, but I walked into it. I took a story I was writing to a workshop of other authors. I described the story, they read the published chapters and some of the unpublished stuff, and then proceeded to trash every word of it. I walked out of the workshop, thinking I will never write another word of that story. I haven't yet. Readers need to understand that what they say to us, can make us want to continue, or to tell someone to go screw themselves. I feel bad that this happened to you Wayne. Don't get discouraged, and don't mind the haters.
  6. Thanks, Chris. I'll finish both, no doubt. But I'm going silent on that other site for a while.
  7. drpaladin

    Chapter 20

    Styx resisted Veil's will and since Neredos is in a moment of clarity, he knew what Veil had sent Styx to do. Thank goodness Neredos chose to divide his attention rather than kill Styx. Krythe turned out to be an opportunistic bastard. I doubt he anticipated Max having all this help. I'm betting on the side with the golem and Elroks. As we've seen, Madame Godani is no slouch in a battle either. The only one still out of place is Styx. If the Everbright City is supported by anti-gravity units, why would it crash into Pentalus when the demon pillars are gone? The only reason would be if Neredos is going to destroy the system keeping the city afloat. He's the only one who knows how it works.
  8. Thanks, tim. I want to write different things. I've written a lot of HEA, and I will write more. But, right now I want to stretch and write my slutty werewolf with his swinging boyfriend, as they tear up the northern coast of California in and outside the bedroom.
  9. Carlos Hazday


    Just for that, I'm posting more Brad scenes. Get the tissue box now.
  10. So Sorry to hear you getting shitty emails about Silverwolf. Yes it’s different to your normal fare but it is an excellent piece of writing that deserves to be finished. I look forward to the conclusion of both Bluegrass Symphony and Silverwolf.
  11. 💖 that's for you. i am sorry people have been doing this. You are a great storyteller .. and from someone who tries to never write the same story twice i am glad to see the different types of work from you. Give me all of it.. the ugly, beautiful, charming, and mean. HEA.. and not so much. Give me the story and world you are writing.. me and a lot of others will read it. Hang in there... write what feels right to you. When you are good and ready. xo tim
  12. Truly enjoying some of the best writing out there, eagerly awaiting new material. 😁
  13. I'm pissed. Maybe I shouldn't be. Perhaps I should expect less; I don't know. I post work on multiple sites. Well, on a different site I've built a reputation as a sort of HEA, feel-good, everybody wins writer. I guess I should have known to post my aggressive, erotic story Silverwolf there would throw people (even though I put a warning on the first chapter to explain it was very different from my usual offering). I am utterly fine getting emails to say that "Hey, this isn't my thing, but I'll wait for Bluegrass Symphony." I got a few of those, and they were cool. I replied to thank them and moved on to do my thing. Then the shit started. About a dozen people emailed explicitly to try and get me to stop writing Silverwolf because it's "awful." Nothing constructive. No actual critique I could use to improve my work. These were designed, specifically to discourage me from writing Silverwolf and to focus only on Bluegrass Symphony. You know what? I'm finishing Silverwolf. I'm up to chapter ten on Bluegrass Symphony, and that's where it'll stay for a while. They can choose to read or not, but I'm now convinced it's time to howl at the moon. P.S. No, I'm not thinly veiling that the readership of GA has been problematic. Y'all ain't the problem and have been great every step of the way. I also don't want to give the impression that I don't want constructive feedback. I DO. What I'm describing is something else - something unhelpful, and intended to be discouraging.
  14. Today
  15. Palantir

    Chapter 20

    This dog person regards this comment with appropriate bewilderment. (lol while happily accepting the exuberant hyperbole!) Hmm - no Macavity - but somewhere or other a cat called Cheshire gets a reference.
  16. Cynus

    Chapter 20

    Styx had never seen such a strange place. The chamber Neredos led him to was lined with an unfamiliar, light-blue metal. Etched runes covered nearly every inch of the paneling, and they glowed in a soft yellow light. In the center of the room was a large black sphere, its surface polished and reflective. It hovered in the air, suspended over a pedestal. Glowing veins of blue ran off from the pedestal in six directions toward the wall. "Don't touch anything," Neredos warned as he approached the sphere. He glanced back at Styx once, eyes narrowing. "I mean it. If you touch anything in here without knowing what you're doing, it could kill us all." Styx raised his hands, doing his best to look innocent. "Don't worry about me. As I said before, I'm here for your protection. What is this place, anyway?" "It's the control room for the Everbright City. From here I can move the platform the city rests on and fly it away from Pentalus," Neredos replied, as he placed his hand above the sphere. He seemed to hesitate, then glanced back at Styx. "I need to move it before I start killing the demons." Styx's eyes widened in shock. He wondered if Veil knew that Neredos planned to kill the demons. Would that have affected her decision to kill the King? It didn't matter, Styx supposed, since he'd come to kill Neredos regardless. Veil had asked him to do so, and he would do anything to please her. However, something in him resisted the idea. He told himself that the right opportunity simply hadn't presented itself yet. Sure, Neredos had turned his back on Styx multiple times, but even when Styx reached for his dagger he couldn't bring himself to draw it. Neredos must die, but not yet. Not . . . "Why do you need to move the city?" Styx asked, his hand twitching away from the dagger. This wasn't the time, this wasn't right. He would kill Neredos, but not yet, not until he knew what was happening. "And what do you mean by 'platform'? I thought the city floated on the clouds." "Those clouds are part of the enchantment keeping the city obscured and nothing more," Neredos said. "I could dispel them from here if I really wanted, though I don't see any reason to. They've been there since the city first came into being, when I was not much older than you." Styx realized he was clutching the hilt of the dagger again and relaxed his grip. He didn't understand this urge to kill Neredos. Why had he agreed to do Veil's bidding? Neredos seemed so human . . . standing over the orb with a look of wistful resignation, Styx couldn't see anything evil about this man. Could he kill a man who wasn't evil? Yes. Yes, he could, because Veil wished it, and that was all that mattered. Veil had asked him, and she had saved his life, and that was all the reason he needed. The dagger slid an inch from its sheath and paused there, Styx's knuckles turning white from the tension in his grip. "You haven't told me why you're moving it," Styx said, struggling to delay the inevitable. A war waged inside him between two desires, one to kill and one against killing. He was not a murderer, he would never be a murderer, no matter his upbringing or the promises he had made. How could he stab a man in the back? Neredos sighed, his eyes growing distant. His shoulders drooped as he rested his hands on the edge of the pedestal beneath the orb. "I thought I was saving the world, but I believe I've only made matters worse. The world I was born into was violent, full of people who believed they had all the answers. I always tried to look beyond the answers I was given, to explore and create things that had never been explored or created. I succeeded, time and time again, and then . . ." he laughed. It was a bitter sound, full of misery and malcontent, a laugh at the state of the universe. "Then I became one of them. The people wanted me to be their leader, to fix the world, and I so I kept the demons contained and fed from their essence. I stagnated progress, I stopped all development of technologies that could lead to the destruction of the world I loved. Exploration and creation, my dearest ideals, became my greatest threats, and I could not allow them to persist." He straightened then, and turned to face Styx, a wry smile on his lips. "The truth is, I have denied the state of the world as surely as the nations of my youth did. I could blame the madness I suffer from, but that would be nothing more than a crutch to rely on. I have had moments of lucidity, like now, during which I could have decided to end this, to finish what I'd started . . ." he laughed again, the same complex emotions ringing through the room. "But I couldn't accept that I was wrong. I didn't want to see that the world I created was just as lost as before. And now armies perch at my doorstep, as demons threaten my people once again. The world is no longer content with my stagnation and has demanded action against me." He turned back to the orb and placed his hand against it. The orb shimmered, and then the floor seemed to disappear as Pentalus appeared below them. Styx jumped back in alarm, activating his hawk tattoo and preparing to fall to safety. Neredos' laughter took on a more mirthful tone as he watched Styx scramble to the wall. "Don't worry, the floor is still there," Neredos said with a grin. "But you see all the pillars? The Everbright City has rested atop them for support all these centuries. I can kill the demons inside by focusing on each one, but if I did it before I moved the city, the Everbright City would crash into Pentalus and likely kill everyone. It might even break through and destroy The Shade as well." Styx nodded as his breathing slowly returned to normal. He took a shaky step forward. He'd spent enough time in the air to not be completely discomforted by walking through the sky, but it was difficult to not think he would fall at any moment. He chose to focus on Neredos instead, as he crossed the floor to stand beside him at the orb. From up close, he could see that the orb was etched in small runes as well, the grooves polished just as much as the rest of it. He wanted to reach out and trace the lines from sheer curiosity, wondering how this obviously magic stone felt to the touch. Before he could even try to lift his hand toward the orb, he found it clutching the dagger and refusing to leave the hilt. Neredos stared at Styx's hand and frowned. He nodded, his gaze narrowing. "Veil sent you to kill me, didn't she?" Styx's mouth twitched, his hand itching to pull the dagger from its sheath and ram it into Neredos' chest, but he managed to keep it contained. Nothing Veil had said compelled him to remain silent, however, so he met Neredos' gaze and replied, "Yes. She thinks you shouldn't be allowed to rule." "Within the hour, I won't be ruling," Neredos replied dryly. "That should be soon enough, don't you think?" Styx nodded, but was unable to release his grip on the dagger. "I promised her I would kill you." "You poor, unfortunate one. I don't know how you've resisted this long. I can't have you hovering over my shoulder in this state however," Neredos said, and raised his gauntleted hand. He sketched several runes in the air with his finger, light trailing and remaining visible in a small ring. Once the circle was complete, Neredos uttered a single, unrecognizable syllable. A field of blinding white fog surrounded Styx, dragging him backward through the air. He fought to move through it but could find no end to it. Everywhere he turned was nothing but whiteness. He clutched at the knife again, sure now that Neredos was the evil man he had come to kill. It leapt into his fingers, and Styx slashed out wildly at where he thought Neredos should be. The slashes caught nothing but fog, and Styx stumbled forward, oblivious to the boundaries of his prison. He had to kill Neredos. He could not be allowed to continue in his madness. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ "Do you think the Knights are going to try to kill us?" Gobrak asked, eyeing the eagles above them with a wary eye. He had an arrow against his bow but not nocked, ready to take aim at the Knights at any moment, should they swoop in for an attack. Maxthane patted the leg of the golem beside them. "I don't think they know what to make of our friend here." "He's not the only one," Kirra said, looking askance at Maxthane and the golem both. "But since the golem hasn't done anything yet, we might get a chance to explain ourselves first. Well, I suppose it has done something. That hole in the ground isn't exactly promising for our case." "Why don't you just call up to them?" Gobrak asked. "Are you not one of them?" Kirra sighed and nodded. "They don't seem to want us to go any farther, so I guess we don't have any other option if we want to avoid conflict. What do you think will—" he cut off his question as the Knights suddenly shifted formation and dove toward the golem, swords leading. "Take cover!" he shouted. Gobrak nocked his arrow and took aim, but Maxthane quickly tackled him, disrupting his fire. The arrow sailed wide but earned them the attention of the Knights. "What are you doing, Fletcher Gobrak?" Maxthane shouted. "We don't want to start a fight!" As he spoke, the golem raised its arms to protect its eye. The Knights dove past, swords scraping noisily against the metal casing covering the arms. The maneuver did far more damage to the blades than the golem, one sword snapping as it collided with the sturdier material. Kirra cursed in alarm as the sword tip dropped next to him, clattering to the cobblestones. Sensing he was out of time, he stepped forward, calling up to the Knights with his sword sheathed and arms open wide. "Stop the attack! In the name of the Firmament stop your attack!" "Kirra Elrhanadan!" one of the Knights shouted. "It's Alsha's boy!" "Didn't he go missing during the attack on Pentalus?" another said. A third joined in. "And he came back with a demon!" Kirra raised his hands in surrender, gritting his teeth as he thought of what to say next. This wasn't going the way he'd expected things to go, but he was now the best chance they had of diffusing the situation. He stepped forward and shouted at the Knights. "I wish to speak to your commander!" The Knights regrouped but were disinclined to attack again. Upon seeing that the golem had no intention of doing anything other than protect itself, their commander turned her attention to Kirra. She broke away from the others, landing at the edge of the plaza. Dismounting, she waved Kirra forward. He nodded his appreciation and moved toward the plaza, keeping his hands visible. As he approached, he studied the commander's face. While he didn't know her personally, he had seen her many times throughout his tenure with the Knights. She raised her hand to stop him when he came within ten paces of her. He stopped short and said, "Commander Belthin, thank you for calling off your Knights." "I've had no end of strange occurrences today, and I'm not in the mood for more, Elrhanadan," Belthin replied with a fierce scowl. "Look behind me, in the plaza. Do you see the demon's body and the Elroks? I just dealt with that, and there are armies surrounding Pentalus. Last I heard, you were missing. Are you part of the problem, or the solution? You arrive with a . . ." her eyes darted from Kirra's face to the golem as an involuntary shudder struck her. "You arrive with a metal demon, the Prince of The Shade, and another Elrok, who just shot at my Knights, I might add. What do you have to say?" Kirra wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all. He could see the Elroks in the distance, even recognize Bradeth among them. They were approaching slowly, led by the Fletcher and a naked Fedain—one of the most beautiful men Kirra had ever seen. He didn't know what he could say to explain what had happened, the strange road that had brought him to this precise moment, but he had to try. "We came to rescue the Fedain, Grim," Kirra explained slowly. "But that has already been done. King Maxthane is an ally, and we reached Pentalus by means of the golem, er, the metal giant behind us. We didn't know we would arrive in the middle of the city. You are not under attack, and we will be happy to leave as soon as we rendezvous with our allies." "What is going on!?" Belthin said, scoffing. "Has the whole world gone mad? First, Neredos evacuates the Everbright City, then the Elroks show up to rescue their Fedain chief, then a renegade Knight shows up with the Underking? And all that while the city is under attack!" She shook her head in disbelief, meeting Kirra's eyes. "What's next, the sky will start falling?" "Commander!" shouted a voice from above them. Kirra and Belthin looked up to see a grizzled old Knight hovering nearby. When he saw that he had their attention, he continued. "Commander, there are Shades in the city! A whole army of them!" "What!?" Belthin asked, turning to Kirra. "Are you in league with them?" Kirra shook his head, keeping his hands raised in surrender. "No. There was a coup below, and Maxthane is in exile. Perhaps they came looking for him, or maybe the Elroks?" "This is insanity!" Belthin cried. A loud creaking erupted from the clouds overhead. It rippled like thunder through the city, and every living being looked up as one. The clouds above them were shifting, lifting away from the pillars of fog spread throughout the city. "What is happening?" Belthin asked. Kirra stared at the sky in disbelief, as the clouds drifted westward. "Maybe the sky is falling after all?" ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Neredos kept the sphere of white fog in his periphery. He hoped Styx would understand the need to place him in stasis. Unlike the spell used to contain the demons, this one kept the prisoner conscious, yet just as imprisoned. The sphere felt like fog despite being impassable to either caster or prisoner. It would also dissipate as soon as Neredos died, or simply willed it to stop. But for now, it would keep the threat to his life away from him. He considered killing Styx to spare some of his mental focus, but it took little effort to divide his mind into three parts. One would maintain control of the sphere holding Styx, another would pilot the city, and the third would begin his most important task. In Pentalus, a demon dissolved, fed to the mists that contained it, destroyed by Neredos' will. The pillar disappeared as well, though with all the other chaos happening below Neredos doubted anyone would notice. He wondered how many he would have to destroy before the people noticed. He couldn't destroy them as quickly as he preferred with his focus divided as it was. Moving the Everbright City was the most urgent task, and his hand remained in constant contact with the orb. Through the orb he could connect with the six reactors, which powered the anti-gravity generators. Sparing a moment to peer through the floor, he watched the army slowly surrounding his city. If he'd installed weapons in this city as the President of Oligan had suggested, he could have wiped out that army within seconds. He had regretted the decision not to arm the city, over the course of the Demon War, but now he was glad he no longer had the option. The world had suffered enough from his poor decisions. There was no need to add more now. He concentrated on another demon, killing it inside the pillar. By the time the sun finished setting, he would have killed them all, removing the last thing keeping the world from moving on. Glancing once more at the sphere holding Styx captive, Neredos decided he would leave the demon generals for last and continue to feed from them. If any more assassins lurked in the shadows, he would have to survive long enough to finish what he had just started. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ "What news have you from the front?" Veil asked, keeping pace with Alsha on their way out of the Enclave. They approached the edge of the city where Alsha and her company had left their eagles. They could see Knights engaged in combat with other eagle riders in the distance. The Knights were holding their own, but they'd made little progress in repelling the invaders. "The most recent report has us stretched thin on the outskirts of the city," Alsha said, without looking at Veil. She kept her attention fully on the combat ahead of them, aching to join her companions in defending the city. "Apparently, the military has been breeding eagles for many years, biding their time for this moment." "Why now?" Veil asked. "Of all times to come, this is grossly inconvenient." "We were unable to give a full accurate accounting to the High Inquisitors, but we had rumors that it's because of King Neredos' madness," Alsha replied. "We left Port Salmus as soon as we learned the military was planning on coming here. High Inquisitor Isean didn't want to hear us out. He said the evacuation was more important than anything else." "Of course he did . . ." Veil replied with a sour expression. "Neredos brought doom down on us. And the typical lack of initiative by the Inquisition's leadership failed to assess the threat the military posed to them." Alsha nodded as they reached the eagles. She didn't have much to say about the leadership of the Knights. She'd often felt unimpressed with their decisions—as Veil seemed to be—and doubted any well-reasoned person would feel differently. Considering what she'd learned recently about High Inquisitor Grembal, she wondered if maybe the whole system was corrupt, and only she and a few others held true to the Order's ideals. But that was a matter to think about at another time, when there weren't people trying to kill them and their charges. Waving Fenri over to her, she pointed at the two eagles saddled and waiting for them. "We might have to fight to get you to safety. I'm going to let you ride with Fenri, and Clasean will ride with me." Veil glanced back at Clasean and nodded once, before returning her attention to Alsha. "Very well, if you insist. But we will stick together. I don't want to be separated from him if I can help it." Alsha nodded once to her and once to Fenri before meeting Clasean's eyes and gesturing toward her eagle. She mounted, then let him climb in behind her. As soon as the rest of the riders were saddled, along with Veil's coterie of servants, she urged her eagle to take off. As they neared the outer ring of the city, Alsha drew her sword. A chorus of drawn steel followed her, and she could feel the tension in the air. Knowing the mettle of her soldiers, she called out one final order to her troops, "The Oracle's safety is more important than killing the rebels! Don't fight unless you have to, just focus on breaking through!" "Yes sir!" came the united reply. "Let's fly!" Alsha shouted, then spurred her mount to as much speed as it could manage with its present burden. This was a new eagle to her, one she'd only ridden once, but whoever trained it had done their duty well. The eagle was strong and eager, and it took to the skies with a determined screech. It showed no fear of the dangers ahead, the clash of steel ringing through open air. But Alsha had no intention of brining the eagle anywhere near the battle. She led her company through the lines of her allies and then aimed her eagle into a dive right at the edge of the clouds, hugging tight to the edge like a waterfall. Her company followed her maneuver exactly, forming a cascade of eagles diving toward Pentalus. Pentalus . . . instead of the open land beyond the city that should have been there. Alsha nearly pulled up short at the unexpected sight before her. This particular edge of the Everbright City should've hung over the Eastern hills, rolling up from the Plains of Kalle. But she didn't have time to question her location. Angry and surprised shouts followed them, and several enemy fliers pursued them. Alsha knew they wouldn't keep up the chase, however, and continued the dive. With the city fast approaching, she pulled up at the last moment, banking into a graceful forward arc. Their pursuers broke away, returning to the battle at the edge of the Everbright City as the rest of the Knights regrouped around Alsha. But they were far from out of danger. More eagle riders rose up from the ranks of the armies surrounding Pentalus. They would not be as easy to evade as the first group had been, for they could see Alsha's company coming from a great distance and intercept without any issue. Burdened as Alsha's eagles were, they wouldn't stand a chance at breaking through. "We should have made it outside of Pentalus when we left the edge of the city. I don't understand," Alsha said after a moment, still perplexed by their surroundings. "The city has moved," Clasean observed, glancing back toward the Everbright City. Alsha spared the city a glance as well, and it took her only a second to realize that the city was moving westward, toward the ocean. "So, it has . . ." she said, then turned her focus to solving their current problem. "We will land to assess the situation." Flat roofs were common in Pentalus and finding a set of rooftops close enough for the company to land together wasn't difficult. As soon as they landed, the Knights helped their charges dismount and Alsha's officers and Veil moved to join her. Just before they arrived, Clasean leaned toward Alsha and said, "Thank you. I'm glad it was you who came. Lady Veil is fond of you." "I'm honored," Alsha replied with a polite smile. "Now we have to figure out how to get you past the army. As Veil arrived with Fenri, the latter saluted and said, "Lady Alsha, Commander Belthin is in the middle of Ibrix Plaza next to what appears to be a demon . . . or . . . something like a demon, I guess. I spied her company on the way down." "What in the Firmament . . .?" Alsha asked. She went to her saddlebags and pulled out her spyglass, then aimed it in the direction of Ibrix Plaza. At first the dead form of the demon drew her attention, and she wondered if what she'd told Kirra and Bradeth had led to this strange gathering. She saw the Knights, City Watch, Elroks, and the golem in the middle of it all. It didn't appear to be a battle, but she didn't know what to make of it. Regardless, it had little to do with her. "We should probably stay away, as I'm sure they have their orders. Our focus should be on getting the Oracle out of the city." Even as Fenri saluted, Veil shook her head and stepped forward. "Where is safety?" "I'm sorry?" Alsha asked with surprise. "How do you know that anyone outside of the city will give us sanctuary? Do you simply intend to regroup with the rest of the refugees and find some place to lay low?" Veil asked. As Alsha stared at her openmouthed, Veil continued with a firm voice. "No . . . we should stay here, and help. My servants can find shelter in Pentalus as civilians, but we are under attack. Clasean and I will fight for this city." "But my orders—" Alsha began. Veil raised a hand, commanding silence with her gaze. "Are superseded by one who can see the future. We will meet with Commander Belthin and lend her the strength of your company and our expertise. It is better that we attempt to save the city than flee it unnecessarily. If the time comes that we have no chance of victory, then we will leave." Alsha studied Veil for a moment and saw the resolve in her eyes. Eventually Alsha found herself nodding as she said, "Let's get the civilians to safety first, and then I will take you there." "Wise choice," Veil replied confidently, but the uncertainty in her eyes unnerved Alsha to her core. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ "King Maxthane thulu'Khant and Fletcher Gobrak, this is Commander Belthin of the Knights of the Firmament," Kirra said, indicating all three with a look as he made the introductions. "Well met, though I think we should focus on the news that a Shade army is here," Belthin said, glancing back into the plaza as if expecting to see a horde of enemies descend on her flank. Upon seeing that Bradeth and Grim had nearly reached them with the remaining Elroks right behind, Belthin turned slightly, keeping both the newcomers and the golem in her sights. "May we join your parlay?" Bradeth asked. "Fletcher Bradeth—" Kirra began, intending to begin a new round of introductions. Grim cut him off quickly and addressed Belthin. "May I present Bradeth, Chief of Lions, Chief of all Clans." "But didn't you say you were the chief?" Belthin asked with a look of strained surprise. "I was, until moments ago. I've abdicated," Grim said, making sure to include Gobrak in his look. The old Elrok nodded even as Grim continued. "Will someone find me some clothing? I hope that's not too much to ask." Kirra noticed the distrust on Belthin's face and hastened to intercede on Grim's behalf. "I know this isn't easy for you, Commander Belthin, but these people really are here to help." Belthin spared him a glance before she sighed and nodded. "Folrak! Go find this man some clothing and be quick about it. Raid one of the buildings if you must," she called out, and one of her Knights immediately rushed down the street. She didn't bother to watch him go and turned her attention fully to Maxthane. "Now, King Maxthane, you have brought an army into Pentalus? And what is this being behind you?" "The Shade army appears to have arrived," Gobrak observed, pointing past Belthin. The group turned as one to see a group of roughly one hundred moving across the plaza from the alleyways. A familiar regal figure walked at the front of the group. "Those aren't just any Shades. They're allies," Kirra said, smiling at Madame Godani. "Not much of an army, is it?" Bradeth said with a snort. "A hundred at best?" "If I'm not mistaken, it's the entire Inkblades guild," Maxthane added. "For Madame Godani to leave The Shade herself, and to abandon her guildhall entirely . . . something cataclysmic must have happened." "Can this day get any stranger?" Belthin said with a sigh. "The Everbright City is moving," Grim offered, looking upward. "That is something I certainly didn't expect to see." "Is that what that noise was?" Kirra asked, glancing up at the sky. He remembered something he'd felt outside of Pentalus the day before, a feeling he'd suppressed since venturing into The Shade to find Maxthane. It came flooding back to him, magic nearly overwhelming his senses as he stared at the underside of The Everbright City. Something powerful resonated from within that place, unlike anything he'd ever felt before. "I think so," Grim said after a moment. "I imagine it would have to be." Belthin eyed him nervously. "Should we be worried about it falling?" "No . . ." Grim said, lips pursed thoughtfully. "No, it won't do that. Neredos is moving it for a different reason." "What different reason?" Belthin asked, eyes narrowing. "And what do you know?" Kirra snapped out of his trance and said, "He's a lot older than he looks. You're looking at the same Grim who is recorded in the history of the Demon War. He fought alongside Neredos and Veil." Belthin gasped and Grim was quick to hold up his hand to fend off her surprise. "I will answer any questions about that at some other time. But if you look in the distance . . ." he pointed to some distant point and added, "There was a pillar there. One of the demons has either been set free or killed. I'm sure we'll know which in a moment." "Oh great . . . more demons set loose on my city!" Belthin said, throwing up her hands in frustration. "If there are, we will help you defeat them," Maxthane said. "They will, too." He pointed at the advancing Shades. The bulk of the group had stopped fifty paces back in the plaza, but Madame Godani approached on her own, her double-bowed crossbow loaded and in her hands. "King Maxthane, are you well?" she asked as she crossed the remaining distance. She spared barely a glance for the Knights as she focused on the familiar faces in the group. Her eyes widened a bit as she looked the naked Grim up and down approvingly. "I am. What possessed you to bring your guild into the city?" Maxthane asked, giving Madame Godani a knowing smile. "Krythe is on the move," Madame Godani explained simply. "With your escape and the Elroks moving toward the exit, he has reasoned that you are here. He has found the best assassins your family's money can buy and has sent them here to kill you. I decided it was in my best interest to ensure you stayed alive, considering my fate and that of my guild's is now tied to your survival after my open opposition to Krythe." "I see," Maxthane said. "So, you're working with them too?" Belthin asked Madame Godani. "She is," Maxthane interjected. "And we will defend your city together if you wish." As he spoke the words, Madame Godani nodded, though her lips curled into a slight snarl. "Against the armies as well?" Belthin asked. "Or just the possible demon threat?" Before they could respond, Kirra stepped forward and cupped his hand to his mouth shouting, "Alsha!" Alsha's eagle landed next to Belthin's and she and Clasean dismounted swiftly. Fenri arrived a moment later with Veil, and the four moved toward the gathering without delay. All Alsha's attention homed in on her former Knight. "Kirra!? What is going on here?" "Oracle!" Belthin said as she noticed Veil. Veil fixed her with a long look, then took in the others with a sweeping glance. "I am putting Lady Alsha in charge of your combined forces, Commander Belthin. If the rest of you are willing to fight on our side, you must also agree to serve under her command. We've come to help for all our sakes. Virtue demands it of us." Almost all eyes turned to her, their heads nodding in agreement to her air of command. Only Madame Godani and Grim seemed completely unimpressed. The former remained silent, but the latter scoffed and said derisively, "Virtue?" "Hello, brother . . ." Veil said, turning toward him with a slight smile. "Let's have a little chat and leave the mortals to draw up battle plans, shall we?"
  17. I watched a video of Robbie Williams covering Bohemian Rhapsody live. He cheated by including most of the Queen harmony section as a video. But he doesn't seem to have the range to sing many of the high parts of the song. I'd have to judge his attempt as a huge fail! You'd think he would have used backup singers to replicate the harmonies that are such a big part of the song. I always thought he was theatrical (in a good way), but in the video he comes off as amateurish when he waves ‘goodbye’ in the middle of the song. I'm sure there were other Queen songs he could have chosen that would have made a much better tribute to Freddie Mercury. (He could have used images of his own exposed ‘bum’ to accompany Fat Bottom Girls, for example.) ;–)
  18. Excellent chapter com.
  19. Geemeedee


    Tom’s an interesting one. We don’t know what he’s thinking. I’m glad Charlie clarified they’d be going on a date, because I wasn’t quite sure he got it, either.
  20. Geemeedee


    Both are versatile. We already knew Wren was before he came back. And Caleb’s gonna want to try everything eventually. I’m wondering how it’ll affect business when it comes out about them. Because it will, sooner than they're ready for. Someone commented earlier that Caleb is using Wren, and I think that’s true to an extent. Wren’s gonna get hurt, poor guy. Caleb has a lot of growing to do — Mr. I’m Not Going to Wash Your Plate.
  21. Jesus! I just popped into this topic, and after less than 2 pages, can I say if I never ever see or hear the name Oscar Stembridge again it will be a total blessing.
  22. dughlas


    Hey! You're getting pretty good at that bloody author stuff.
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