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Disjecta Membra

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  1. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Four The Reversal As they neared the castle's main entrance, Kep was starting to get nervous. He was finally going to see Birten again, after all this time, but he wasn't sure what to expect. He knew there was a chance that Birten wouldn't remember him. Based on what he'd heard about the squire's condition, there was a lot of things that Birten was struggling with inside his head. Considering their interactions had been minimal, Kep feared that Birten might look at him as if he was any other passerby. On their way to the castle, he'd gained a small amount of insight from his mother. Once he'd stated that he'd leave the kingdom with her if she cooperated, she was a little bit more open with him. She'd asked how he'd come to the conclusion that she was an Oneiromancer. After all, she'd reminded him, she never displayed her powers in front of him or Sal. He was well aware of that fact. During his conversation with Phërion, it was one of the things that made the pill harder to swallow. There had been nothing in his recollections of the short time he'd spent with his mother to suggest that she was anything other than a regular citizen, a typical innkeeper's wife. She'd helped out in the dining room, she helped keep logs of their sales and room rentals. Never once had Kep imagined that she could have been capable of more. Not because he thought she was weak; on the contrary, he'd always seen his mother as a strong individual. Most of the time, before she disappeared, he felt like she was what kept the family and the business running smoothly. His concerns were more because she never seemed to put on a front – she always appeared to be exactly who she was. So he only bent the truth slightly in his response. He told her that he was wondering lately if he was a wielder of the same sort of powers. He told her about the dreams he'd had, though not in detail, and how things he'd dreamt were happening in real life. It was nothing major, he admitted, but it made him question if it was just the beginning of something bigger. That concept seemed to fascinate her. He sensed that it might actually be one of the reasons she was so concerned with getting Sal and him out of there. That she was hopeful that one of her offspring was capable of the same talents she possessed. That maybe if she could hone and develop their skills, she could mentor them to be more like herself. Then again, maybe he was getting ahead of himself. He was still feeling so much resentment toward her, he could just be jumping to conclusions to continue making her into something worse than she was. But the more she asked him – how often are you having the dreams? – how real do they feel? – how does your mind feel when you wake after having them? – the more he felt that he was barking up the right tree. She seemed far more focused on his potential mancy than everything else that was going on. It might have seemed like a normal reaction in any other situation. Why wouldn't a mother be excited to find out that her son was taking after her? Of course she'd want to know every last detail. But his mother wasn't like most people's mothers. She'd brainwashed the man he was more or less infatuated with. No, she hadn't directly admitted it. But she clearly wouldn't have agreed (albeit hesitantly) to go to the castle had she not been the perpetrator. She was not only aware of the attack on the kingdom, but was also directly involved. He couldn't help but feel that any interest she displayed regarding Kep's developing abilities was anything more than selfish. But he still needed her. She was the only one that could fix Birten. Eventually, after she'd bombarded him with a dozen or so questions, to most of which he gave one or two words answers in return, she finally turned the conversation to something much more relevant. "So why is Birten so important to you?" He considered sugar-coating his response, but he knew it wouldn't make a difference. In actuality, being honest with her might even help his cause. If there was any sincerity in her wanting to ensure his safety, maybe explaining how much he cared for Birten would spark something in her conscience. So he admitted his feelings. "I've been lost for a long time. I've been slowly coming into my own over the past few years, finding who I really am. Who I'm supposed to be. And when I met Birten, I just knew… I knew that I'd found someone I want to be myself with. I found someone I want to get to know the real me. Who I'm capable of becoming." They didn't say anything for a while after that. The silence was somewhat of an awkward one. Still, it was welcomed. Kep hadn't admitted those feelings out loud to anyone, and he'd barely admitted them to himself. It felt good for it to be out in the open. When they were almost to the castle entrance though, just as Kep was trying to shake his nerves, his mother stopped him. She grabbed him by the arms and made him look her in the eye. "I'll do this for you, Kep. There's no sense in leaving that poor boy in that state, and especially not since it's so intensely clear that he is someone very dear to you. But you must promise me that we'll depart as soon as it's undone." He watched her face as she spoke, and a part of him felt guilty for the distrust he had in her. But it didn't negate the fact that she was no longer the woman he remembered from so many years ago. She might be his mother by blood, but she hadn't been a matriarch to his family for a long time. It was true that he needed her, but he had far from forgiven her. But she didn't need to know that. Not yet. "I promise." His response must have been satisfactory enough, for she let go of his arms with a deep breath, straightened her dress, and resumed walking toward the castle. He followed suit, falling in stride beside her. Upon arriving at the door, one of the guards stationed there spoke up. "Hello, Kep. Elan's left the castle." Kep cleared his throat. "Yes, yes I'm aware. We're actually here to see Birten." The guard's eyes narrowed. "The prisoner? I'm not sure I'm authorized to allow that visit." He didn't look suspicious, necessarily, but more surprised. Kep had to admit to himself that it did seem a little odd. The guards would have no idea that he had anything to do with Birten, let alone would the woman he was with. "We've come to fix the state he's in," Kep explained. "My… colleague, here, is able to undo what's happened to him." He didn't look at his mother as he spoke, not caring to see the reaction she'd have at the way he referred to her. "That's still not a call I'm able to—" Kep hated how short he'd been lately, but he didn't have time to debate it. There was a battle beginning that could potentially lead to far worse, and arguing over his ability to enter the castle was wasting his time. "Harmon's aware of the issue at hand, if you could just—" And just as he'd cut off the guard, the guard returned the favor. "I'm afraid we're unable to call the prince to the door. It's security protocol, you see. Especially if the caller is subordinate enough to refer to a member of the royal family in such a familiar way." Kep realized his mistake instantly, and knew that he wasn't going to get very far being brusque. He regained his composure and threw on a more polite tone. "My sincerest apologies. Prince Harmon, he's at the forefront of getting Birten back to where he should be. I understand that he can't be brought to the door, but if it would be possible for someone to alert him of our arrival, it would be greatly appreciated. I'm certain he would be fond to hear what we have to say." The guards seemed to weigh what Kep had to say. For a moment he feared that he'd ruined his chances, but finally they shared a nod and the one who hadn't spoken vanished into the castle. After several minutes, the second guard returned and gave a simple nod. The first turned back toward Kep and his mother. "Very well. The prince will see you." He stepped aside to allow them entrance, and the other guard led them into the castle and to the hallway that bore the staircase down to the dungeons. Harmon was waiting there for them. There had only been a handful of interactions between Kep and Harmon over the past few weeks, and most of them had been insanely brief. They certainly hadn't spoken at all. And although Kep had thrown himself headfirst into this dragon situation, he was still nervous to speak directly to the prince. But it was essential. "She can undo it," he said, tilting his head in his mother's direction. Harmon studied the woman beside Kep, a firmness in his jaw. He didn't acknowledge her otherwise, speaking only to Kep. "So she's the one that caused it. Are you certain?" "Absolutely certain," Kep confirmed. "Very well. To the dungeons, then," he said. He led them through the doorway and past the guard stationed there, down the darkened staircase. He grabbed a torch from the wall as he descended. It was narrow, and Kep felt suddenly claustrophobic. He noticed a shortness in his breath, and he tried to keep his breathing steady. He couldn't believe he was seconds away from being reunited with Birten. However, there was still something he had to do. With as much deftness as he could, he slunk a few steps down further than his mother without being obvious. He leaned forward carefully, whispering into Harmon's ear. He hoped the torchlight casted enough shadows that his mother couldn't see exactly what he was doing. He was also hopeful that the stone walls didn't echo enough that she heard what he was saying. When they emerged from the staircase into the dungeons, he glanced at her. She seemed uncomfortable being there, and that appeared to be the only thought on her mind. He was convinced she hadn't noticed his sidebar, which was a good thing. "Where is he?" she asked, breaking the silence that had befallen her since they'd arrived. Harmon led them to Birten's cell, where they found him sitting against the bricks. He was facing the opposing wall, staring straight ahead. He didn't appear to have noticed that they'd arrived. Kep looked at him, almost unrecognizable. He looked the same, sure. But there was something about him that was off. He didn't like it. Whatever it was, it was his mother's doing. Too nervous to say anything, Kep was glad when Harmon broke the silence. "Birten?" The squire turned his head slowly, looking first at Harmon, then at Kep's mother, then at Kep. He looked sullen, but he spoke. "Kep… what's she doing here?" A whole whirlwind of emotions went through Kep. Birten recognized him. He remembered him. He called him by name. There was still something there within him that hadn't been lost. But Birten also recognized Kep's mother. He didn't quite know what to do with that. But once again, Harmon stepped in at the right time. "Birten, do you recognize this woman?" "Of course I do. She's from Tarragonia. Oestra. I've known her for a long time… or at least… I think I have," he said. Kep could feel the defeat that radiated from Birten. It saddened him. To think that his mother had done something so awful to him that he didn't know up from down. "You haven't," Kep said softly. "You didn't meet her until very recently." Birten locked eyes with him, and they shared a look for several seconds. Kep felt goosebumps forming on his arms. He tried to rub them away discreetly, not that anyone would have noticed in the dim lighting anyway. "Are you sure?" Birten asked. "Yes," Kep answered. The squire looked back to Kep's mother, but spoke to Kep. "Okay. I believe you. But there are still these thoughts in my mind that I can't make sense of. I don't know how to fix it." "That's what she's here for," Harmon added. "She can undo it." Kep was fully aware that both he and Harmon were pussyfooting around the fact that she had caused everything in the first place. There was no point in angering him, not while he was in such a fragile state. Plus, Birten was a smart man. Once he was back to himself, he would figure everything out. "Does he need to be asleep for this?" Kep asked. "And how long does it take?" Harmon chimed in. She fidgeted with her locket and shook her head. "The reversal is fast. Less than a half minute. Sleep isn't necessary either. To apply the mancy, sleep is required because it's a manipulation of the dreams themselves. But those manipulations weave into the person's memories during their waking hours. To undo it, those memories must simply be restored to their original state." "What do I need to do?" Birten asked immediately, barely giving Kep time to register what his mother had said. None of this seemed simple, despite the fact that she claimed it was. "Come closer," she said. He did as he was told, getting as close to the bars of his cell without pressing himself completely against them. She also stepped closer to him, and lifted her hands to his temples. "Close your eyes." Once again, he obeyed, and she followed suit. She mumbled a few words under her breath. Kep wasn't sure if it was another language or if he just wasn't able to make them out clearly, but he had no idea what she was saying. He watched them as Birten stood there, fully allowing her to take control. And then it was over. She let her arms fall back down to her sides and stepped back toward the other two men. There was no flashy reaction or mystical ambiance. It was far blander than Kep would have expected. And it was as quick as she had promised. If it worked. "Was that it?" Kep asked tentatively. "Yes," she responded. All three of them looked toward Birten, each with a varied expression upon their face. Kep himself was nervous, while Harmon seemed wary, and his mother was clearly in a hurry to get out of there. At first, Birten didn't really respond. He blinked his eyes a few times, looking at all of them. He appeared to be a little weak on his feet, and lowered himself into a sitting position on the floor. Once he seemed to regain his composure a little, he looked up at Rea. "How could you do that to me? You tried to turn me against my own people. No, not tried. You did. And for what? To help Elsior destroy this kingdom?" Kep and Harmon remained silent, and joined Birten in looking at Rea. She didn't acknowledge the question. She didn't respond to Birten at all, in fact. She spoke instead to Kep. "I've done what you've asked. Now it's time for us to go." "I'm not leaving," Kep said firmly. His mother's eyes narrowed at him, and her voice got stern. "You made this agreement with me. You cannot back out of it now. Who knows how much time we have before it's too late to get out of here?" Kep nodded at Harmon. It was his way of letting the prince know to get the guard. As they'd descended the staircase, when he'd whispered to him, he'd told him to alert the guard and have his mother imprisoned. It probably would have been the first thing on Harmon's mind anyway, but there was no sense in not ensuring that it was done. He kept his mother distracted while Harmon snuck past her and headed back up the stairs. "I don't want to be part of whatever this is, whatever lifestyle you've chosen. You're doing things that are absolutely against who I am. You've hurt someone who's extremely dear to me. You are not the mother I remember. You're a stranger. And you're not a good person." She glared at him. But he wasn't done speaking. Not only did he need to give Harmon a little bit more time to get the guard down there with them, he had a lot more on his mind. "You abandoned your children. Your husband. Your home. You still haven't told me what it is about this disgusting plan of Elsior's that has you on board. You've given me no justification to why you'd want this place destroyed." Though at this point it was unsurprising that she still didn't give him any answers, it didn't make it any less annoying. He couldn't believe this was the woman who'd given him life. They stared at one another in silence for a while longer. Kep couldn't imagine what was running through Birten's head during all of this, and he couldn't bring himself to look over at him. But it didn't matter. Harmon had returned with the guard. And the king. "Rea. How am I not surprised?" the king said, monotone. She turned toward him. "Alright, Kep. You want answers? Here's one. This poor excuse for a man, this is why I agree with Elsior's plan. This so-called king of yours. He's the reason I vanished all those years ago." "And the reason you're going to be here for a very long time," the king said. Without hesitation, the guard grabbed Rea by the arm and escorted her into the cell adjacent to Birten's. After locking it, he moved to the door of Birten's and did the opposite. As he swung the door open, Birten stepped forth. Kep couldn't help but smile. Though he had a burning desire to know what happened between the king and his mother to turn her into whatever she was now, he knew it wasn't the right time. Not in front of the king. And it didn't really matter right then. Because Birten was free and Birten was himself again. Without even thinking, Kep threw his arms around the squire and enveloped him into a hug. He realized that it might be too soon, after everything that he'd been through. But Birten squeezed him just as tightly.
  2. Broadswords Chapter Forty-Three The Reunion Working the bar just didn't feel right to Kep considering everything that was going on. But they still had a business to run. As long as the kingdom wasn't destroyed, that was. And he couldn't keep letting Sal handle everything on his own. His brother had only just been getting involved in helping out running the inn, and the experience at the cave had put a damper on that. So as much as he didn't feel up to it, Kep was back to pouring drinks for their patrons. Phërion and Roark had offered to help, but Kep declined. It was true that neither he nor Sal were running the place as they normally would, both of them less upbeat and focused. But they didn't need the help. Well, it was true that it would have been pleasant to have less to worry about. At the same time, Kep still hadn't shaken what Phërion had suggested the night before. He wasn't quite sure why the concept bothered him so much. If it were true, would it really be that bad? In a way, it might. Mancies had developed a strong reputation in Jhirdyr, and it wasn't a positive one. Then again, Kep wasn't closed-minded to things such as that. It was more likely that he was perplexed because everything was just happening so fast. A month and a half ago, he'd been a simple innkeep trying to keep the family business afloat with his brother. And since that time, he'd been thrown into a whole new world. Dragons, weapons, magic… it was as if he'd traded places with someone else. And suddenly the idea that he might actually have some kind of connection to that world, it was just too much to deal with all at once. Based on everything, he knew that he had also rejected Phërion's assistance because he was shutting the man out. It was something the old Kep would do, not the man that he had become over the years in changing his outlook on life. He hated himself for it, but he didn't know what else to do. As a customer entered the room, the rest of the guests let out various gasps of surprise as a dove flew into the open door. It startled Kep as well when it flew up to him and landed on the bar. He stared at it for a moment until it pecked at his hand. "Ouch," he said reflexively, pulling his arm away from it. Then he realized that it had a piece of parchment attached to it. It was a messenger dove. He had never gotten one before. Carefully, he removed the paper from the bird. It flew back toward the door and fluttered around for a bit until someone opened the door back up to let it out. He held the parchment for a moment before Sal came up to his side. "Are you going to open it?" Swallowing, Kep looked at his brother. "I'm pretty sure I know what it says." He knew there was only one reason he'd be getting a message via messenger dove, and he wasn't ready to open it. But he knew that he had to. He broke the small wax seal and unrolled the scroll. There was just one word. Now. He suddenly felt dizzy, and was thankful that his brother had enough sense to notice and pull up a chair. He sat down in it, letting his shoulders slump. Though he thought he would be ready when the time came, it was different now that it was happening. He didn't know what to do. "Well?" Sal asked. "Is it… is it what we think it is?" Kep glanced up at his brother, not saying a word. He could tell that Sal knew what the look meant. They both remained silent for a while. Eventually, Kep slipped the note into the trash. He surveyed the room, watching the guests as they went about their days. Eating a meal, having a drink, being part of a regular, run-of-the-mill conversation. None of them knew what he knew. They were all oblivious to the fact that their city could be destroyed that very day. "I need to go," Kep said, abruptly standing up. He didn't know what he was doing to do, but it dawned on him that he couldn't keep sitting there doing nothing. He made to move past Sal, but his brother stopped him. "What are you going to do, Kep? You can't fight! You can't kill a dragon! If you try to go out there you're sure to wind up dead! I know our relationship has been strained over the years, but you're my brother and I love you. And I love how much closer we've gotten over the past several weeks. I don't want you to go and do something stupid." He knew Sal was right. He knew there was nothing he could do to actually help on the frontlines of battle. But he also knew he couldn't sit there and let his imagination run wild. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I've just got to get out of here." Pushing past his brother, he walked around the bar and through the door. He didn't like the thought of how much anxiety and upset he was causing to Sal at that moment, but he would go insane if he didn't get out of the dining room. He'd only made it a few paces out of the inn and into the street when someone stopped in front of him. His head was hung, so he didn't take notice right away. "Oh, excuse me," he said absentmindedly, and went to bypass them. But they stepped in the same direction as him, blocking his path. "Kep?" It was a woman's voice, slightly breathy and nervous. As he lifted his head, he looked at the woman. She was about the same height as he, with dark hair and eyes that looked like his. She had the same complexion as he did, too, and there was something about her facial structure that was familiar. Watching the way she bit her lip in hesitation, the realization fully formed. "M-mother?" he stammered. At that she smiled, a sparkle playing at her eyes. She reached toward him, as if wanting a hug. But he took a step back, and both the smile and the sparkle disappeared. She let her arms fall back down to her sides. "What… what are you doing here? What happened to you? Where have you been?" The questions spewed from his mouth like lava. He was barely aware of what he was saying. Everything that had run through his mind for years was now becoming verbalized as if by no control of his own. "Kep, there's so much to explain. I know that. But there's not time, not right now. I can tell you everything you want to know, once we're safe." He watched as she fiddled with something at her chest beneath her dress. He knew what it was. He remembered it, from before she disappeared. It was a small, poorly made locket. His father had made it for her when Kep and Sal were both young. He'd inscribed it with Kep and Sal's names. He was no metalworker, that was certain, so it was a crude necklace. But it had been the sentiment of it that made their mother wear it. And the fact that she still had it was a slap in the face. "You're damn right there's a lot to explain," he said. He was incredulous that she had the nerve to show up out of the blue after all this time and not give him the decency of some answers. There was something in the back of his mind, though, that told him he shouldn't be all that surprised that he was in her company now. After all, the dreams he'd had included her. Phërion's suggestion was swirling around in his brain, and that was another question he had for her. But there were far more pressing ones he had first. "And I promise you'll hear it all, but I need to get you and Sal out of this kingdom," she responded. The same breathless nervousness was back at her voice. "Jhirdyr is in great danger right now." "I know that," he said, accusation forming on his face. "But how do you know that?" "Kep, please." She did seem mildly frantic, he'd give her that. But the way she was acting also told him that she was well aware of the exact danger the kingdom was in. She knew about the dragons. And that thought frightened him more than anything. He wasn't going anywhere with her until he knew what she knew. "If you expect me or Sal to trust you in the slightest, you have to tell me what it is that you know. You've been gone for thirteen years. No goodbye, no contact. For all we knew, you were dead. And you show up now knowing that something is about to happen and you want me to just trust you?" She sighed, and he could tell that she was about to give in. After all, what other choice did she have? He was aware that this conversation being held in the middle of the street might not be the best place for it, but he did not want to go back into the inn until he knew what was going on. The last thing he needed to was for Sal to see her. "A man named Elsior has launched an attack on the kingdom. He's got a slew of infant dragons in a cave to the north that are about to do his bidding and destroy the entire city. You and Sal were supposed to be spared, but he double-crossed me and didn't hold up that end of the bargain. I had to find my own means to get here and get the two of you away before it begins." It wasn't that she knew who Elsior was that threw him off. It wasn't that she knew about the dragons, or the cave, or the plan. It wasn't even that she found a way into the kingdom so quickly after the dragons had emerged from wherever she had been. It was that she was somehow involved in the whole thing. "Double-crossed you? That end of the bargain? Are you telling me that you've been part of this?" he asked. He didn't like the tone he was using. He didn't know he was capable of it. And whether it was the wild range of emotions he'd had over the past few days, the disgust he was feeling toward his own mother, or the general fear of what was coming, he was beginning to feel sick to his stomach. "Helping him was the only way I could ensure your safety—" she began, but he cut her off. "No! You could have ensured our safety by warning us what he was doing! Not by helping him. That makes absolutely no sense." However, as he said it, he realized that there was one logical explanation for why she would help Elsior. His eyes narrowed. "Unless you're not against the plan." It was then that a defensiveness began underlying her tone. The whole back and forth of the moods and energies between the two of them throughout the whole conversation was as if they'd been stirred up in a pot of stew. It seemed exaggerated. Then again, he hadn't seen his mother in over a decade. He had no clue which of these was her normal persona. She didn't acknowledge what he'd said, but he could tell that he was onto something based on her response. "Kep, please. I've told you what you wanted to know, now we must go. I shouldn't be seen here." "Why not, mother? What happened thirteen years ago? What happened that caused you to help someone hatch a plan to destroy an entire kingdom? A kingdom in which you don't want to risk being seen?" He didn't like the way he was speaking to her, the woman that had birthed him, but he also didn't like the fact that she seemed like a complete stranger to him. He continued to stare at her, but she was no longer giving in. Realizing she would continue to be stubborn, he finally came to grips that it was a losing battle. He believed that she would give him answers. But he knew that it wouldn't happen now. Not yet. Not until she'd gotten her way. "Okay," he said. "Okay, I'll go with you. But there's one thing that I do need an answer on before I'll go." She looked at him but said nothing, the expression on her face a clear go-ahead. However, she didn't seem amused. Then again, he was far from amused himself. "Are you an Oneiromancer?" he asked. Her reaction changed, but just barely. The stubbornness was joined by suspicion, and her eyes squinted ever-so-slightly. Still, she didn't utter a word. But to Kep, it was enough to confirm the answer to the question. His mind was reeling with what exactly that meant for him, if it meant Phërion was right. But even more so, he wondered if her powers were what caused whatever happened to Birten. While he didn't know all the ins and outs of it, he'd picked up on enough of the talk that had gone through the castle to have somewhat of an idea. And based on everything else that had happened, and the few clues he was gathering from her now, it didn't seem all that farfetched. "Are you familiar with a man named Birten?" Her eyes narrowed further, and then he was sure that she was the cause of his brainwashing. It made him sick. But from what he'd learned from Daegon, who'd been brought up to speed by Harmon, the type of magic that had befallen Birten could only be undone by the person who'd induced it in the first place. So he needed her. "Birten is very important to me," he said. "I need you to come with me to the castle. I need you to fix him. If you do that, I'll go with you."
  3. Disjecta Membra

    The Dove

    The Sanguistis could prove useful, certainly. Especially considering how its powers work, it would give them a potential leg up against a breed of dragons that they don’t know much about. However, I think it’s also safe to say Elan won’t touch the thing again, and most of the other slayers don’t know anything about it. That’s not to say, of course, that it won’t come back into play. You haven’t seen the last of the Sanguistis, that’s for sure. Von was ranked third, after Elan and Tayrick.
  4. Disjecta Membra

    The Dove

    Double posting (Deleted)
  5. Disjecta Membra

    The Dove

    Broadswords Chapter Forty-Two The Dove "Sir, this arrived for you via messenger dove." Elan looked up at the guard, who'd entered without knocking. He had told the castle's kingsmen to enter the room immediately should a letter arrive for him and not worry about etiquette. Which meant something was already happening at the cave. He snatched the small scroll from the guard and unrolled it quickly, letting his eyes scan over the few words written there. He didn't need to, of course. He knew what it said. But the words still sent a shudder down his spine. It has begun. In truth, he hadn't expected it to happen so soon. His initial estimates of the timeframe were based on breeds he'd encountered in the past. While he knew that this new breed would be unusual, he hadn't fully considered that they'd also develop faster. Not by as much as an entire week, at least. At the same time, he wasn't stupid. He had prepared his own letters as soon as Daegon and Lana had departed. Not that there was much to them. Each consisted of one simple word: Now. The other slayers would be well aware of what it meant. He dropped the eight pre-rolled messages into the guard's outstretched hand. Everything was already arranged; the guard knew what he was to do at that point. Elan had debated on sending all eight. Seven, of course, for each of the other slayers aside from himself and Daegon. But the eighth… it was going to Kep. He didn't want Kep to try to intervene or make his way to the cave. The man had so much heart and involvement in the plan, Elan worried that he'd do something stupid. But at the same time, he knew that he had to let him know. It wouldn't be right for him to keep Kep in the dark on everything. After all, none of them would likely even be aware of what was going on at all had it not been for Kep. He watched as the guard left the room with the haste expected from a Jhirdyrian kingsman. Considering the fact that all of the slayers were within the kingdom walls, the doves would get to them very quickly. Still, there was no time to waste. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and stood, gathering the few items he had in the room and stuffing them into his pockets. He'd been recuperating rather quickly over the past couple weeks. Recently, he'd been getting up and pacing around to ensure his leg strength remained intact. Had he not, he expected he wouldn't be much use in battle. The bigger issue though was whether or not the royal apothecary would discharge him from his stay. He felt as ready to go as ever, but he knew that the apothecary had a tendency to be cautious. If he wouldn't allow Elan to leave, he might have to go against the doctor's orders and take off anyway. There was no way he could allow the other slayers to deal with everything without him there. As if on cue, the old man entered the room. "You're certainly spritely this afternoon," he said, walking up to where Elan stood. "I'm glad to see your motor functions have been regenerating quite nicely." "It's time," Elan said. He looked at the man with hesitation. He'd grown fond of him over his time in the castle, and didn't want to offend him. But there was no choice in the matter. He needed to leave. "I have to go. I'm ready to get back in action." "Not so fast," the apothecary said, holding up a hand. "Sit down, I need to check out your vitals. If you're in fighting shape, I daresay I'll be willing to concur. But I can't allow you to leave if I don't see that you've healed enough." Elan did as he was told. He wasn't about to knock the man out in order to get what he wanted. In any event, he was sure that he'd be where the apothecary hoped he was, health-wise. He sat on the edge of the bed and allowed the man to putter about, checking what he needed to. Elan hated feeling like a child, but unfortunately he'd gotten somewhat accustomed to it during his stay. The old man put his hand to Elan's forehead, checked his pulse, looked into his eyes. There were several "hmm" and "huh" utterances as he did so, appearing to mentally weigh the results. He jotted a few things down on a piece of parchment, scratching his chin. "Well, Elan. Things are looking pretty good. As I've said before, you're recuperating quicker than I think I've ever seen anyone in similar situations. Not that yours has been all that normal. But I can safely say that you're cleared of any further need for observation. You, sir, are good to go." "Thank you," Elan said. But there was no time for further pleasantries. He had to get to the cave before it was too late. He darted out of the room before the apothecary had a chance to change his mind. It was a good thing that Elan's house was so close to the castle. He was able to make it there in short time, which allowed him to gather the belongings he'd need for the battle. In any normal situation, Lana would have been there to get his bag together. But he'd needed her to get to the cave immediately, so he hadn't tasked her with the standard preparations. Thankfully, he always had the basics ready to go. He snatched his bag up from the floor in his weapons room. Always wearing the same armor, that part didn't take much time. He lifted a chainmail vest from its stand and slipped it over his tunic. It was all he needed. Wearing anything else would just slow him down. Except for weaponry, of course. That he still needed. He eyeballed a few of his most prized swords, but there was no telling which would be right for a slay like this. He chose his reinforced sword, the one that held his very first weapon at its core. It was always his go-to, and was his favorite. He also selected a couple heavy dirks which could be handy in close combat, as well as a trusted longsword. He tended to favor broadswords, but if there was a chance of finishing these beasts off, an array of weaponry wouldn't hurt. He slung his bag over his shoulder to complete his ensemble. Feeling decently weighted, he decided that he'd gathered enough. It would do him no good to keep going. If he was too heavy going into battle, it would be to his detriment. He slapped his hand on the ranking list on the wall before leaving, for good measure. It was something he did for good luck before each slay. His trek to the stables seemed to take longer than it did in reality. With everything going on in his head, and knowing that Daegon and Lana were currently alone with whatever was starting to happen, he felt like time was moving at a snail's pace. When he finally arrived, he was almost surprised to see Lana's grey steed in the stall next to his own horse. But then he remembered that Daegon and Lana had chosen to head to the cave on foot, as they didn't know how long they'd be out there and didn't want their horses to get restless. Evidently, it wouldn't have mattered much. But it was probably still for the best. Too many horses around that many dragons would only cause more chaos, more distractions. And horses were very instinctual around dragons. During a battle that would be as epic as this one, horses would get too spooked and get themselves killed, only adding insult to injury. Despite the relatively short distance, Elan didn't have the luxury of leaving his horse behind. He had to get to the cave as quickly as possible, regardless of if the inclusion of his mare would complicate things. If he didn't get there before it was too late, it wouldn't matter. By the time he'd arrived at the edge of the wood, there were already two horses there. Two of the other slayers had arrived before him. He was thankful for this. He had given them a general idea of how to get to the cave; the route over the plains was easy enough to explain, but he had only hoped that they'd decipher how to navigate through the trees and hills based on the landmarks he'd referenced. He fastened the reins of his horse to a tree branch a short distance from where the other two were stationed. He gave himself a handful of seconds to steel himself, but nothing more. This was it. He weaved through the woods as quickly as he could. Though he was feeling much better, the Sanguistis had done a number on him. There was still a tenderness to his muscles and a stiffness to his joints. He hadn't noticed it much until now, but he had to push through it. It wasn't long before he heard the roar of a dragon permeate through the trees. It almost caught him off guard, but he didn't let himself react to it. That part was normal. And he was close. He forged on, feeling the heat increase as he did so. And the heat was followed by the fire. He was maybe halfway to the cave when he saw the flames. There in the distance, right around where the cave was, he could see the reds and oranges flickering through the tree trunks. That was a lot of fire. It wasn't good for battle, but it would be a beacon toward where everything was happening. The remaining slayers would certainly have no trouble finding the place. If there was anything left to find by the time they arrived. Feeling beads of sweat forming on his forehead, he continued to close the distance between himself and the battlegrounds. He'd been involved in a lot of slays, even a few that had taken place in wooded areas such as this. But this was different. The fire seemed hotter. Some of the trees were so tight-knit in the area that the whole woods could be destroyed in a very quick span of time. Either this new breed held more firepower than any others he'd encountered in the past, which was plausible, or else more than one had already emerged. Finally, he broke through to the clearing that stood before the cave. The entire area was surrounded by burning trees. A large dragon rested near the edge, clearly dead. Blood was still seeping out of wounds in its leg and throat. Two more were stamping around, their necks and tails waving about haphazardly. He had to look around frantically before he saw any of his allies. But there, facing off against the further of the two beasts, he saw Daegon and Lana holding their ground. He let out a quick sigh of relief. He saw another figure running around the closer dragon. It was Tayrick, the second-ranked. It wasn't surprising that he was one of the first to arrive. Who did the other horse belong to, though? He continued to survey the area. He could just make out two men in the distance, past all of the chaos. One of them was the peddler that had talked his way into selling the Sanguistis to him. The other, he assumed, was Elsior. Bastards. Dropping his bag to the ground, he unloaded his weapons alongside it and decided to start with his reinforced sword. He held it as firmly and steadfastly as ever. One thing that always felt right to him was a weapon in his hand. It wasn't until he ran out amidst the battle that he saw the owner of the other horse. It was Von. There on the ground, midway between the two monsters, was the body of the third-ranked slayer. The top half of his body was scorched. He was dead. Elan didn't take time to mourn the loss. It wasn't the first time he'd been involved in a slay which had resulted in a death, and it would likely not be the last. Any casualty was a tragedy, of course. Regardless, there was not time to think about it. That was exactly the kind of mistake that would cause additional deaths. But it did mean that these dragons were no joke. If they'd already defeated one of the kingdom's best slayers, they were going to put up a hell of a fight. Which Elan had anticipated. The fact that one of the dragons was also dead, though, meant they had a fighting chance. Since Daegon and Lana seemed to be doing alright with their dragon, Elan chose to join Tayrick at his. Ignoring the tenseness in his muscles, he leapt into the battle with the deftness he always displayed. Though he was fighting alongside the best of the best, he couldn't rely on them. He had to be the number one slayer he was, and he wasn't going to let this thing be the end of his kingdom.
  6. 730 is getting my gears turning. I think I’m going to try to turn that one into something.
  7. Disjecta Membra

    The Escape

    No changes to the story, most of that was just corrections to typos I noticed while rereading through everything! Nothing that would have made an impact to what you’ve read so far, though.
  8. Disjecta Membra

    Solace

    They both definitely got hurt, but in very different ways. It certainly could have been avoided if Danny had been honest from the get-go, but there is still the question of how Jason would have reacted in that situation. He may not have taken it as hard as he did in the story, but at the same time, it's possible that he would still drift away from Danny as a result.
  9. Disjecta Membra

    The Escape

    Broadswords Chapter Thirty-Four The Escape Breaking out of his restraints wasn't as hard as he'd expected it to be. Thanks to Deke's consistent desire to show Birten all of the artifacts he'd gathered on his travels, it was just a matter of sneaking the right item off the stone slab and into the waistband of his pants. On that given occasion, Deke had a countless number of items displayed before them. He went over each one with pride, explaining where he'd gotten it, what he had to do to take possession of it, and what it did. Birten's ears perked up when Deke explained that the slender, metallic object was like a skeleton key of lockpicks. He'd acquired it when he was on Elau Island in the continent of Lodessia. He'd bartered with an old thief who wasn't initially willing to give it up. However, Deke used his sweet talk to convince the thief that a bag of mermaid scales was far more valuable. In reality, Deke admitted to Birten, the scales were almost useless based on the amount of time it had been since they'd been removed from their host. What mermaid scales could be used for, Birten didn't know. And he didn't care. He'd begun to tune Deke out once he'd learned that the lockpick was almost guaranteed to open any lock, regardless of how complicated it was or how novice the user. As Deke droned on about the rest of his treasures, Birten waited for the right moment to snag the lockpick. And when Deke bent over to pick up an item he'd accidentally knocked over, Birten had his chance. He swiftly stuck the item into his trousers and Deke was none the wiser. Thankfully, due to the number of things on the slab, Deke didn't seem to realize that anything was missing. Birten was nervous, considering how attached Deke was to everything he possessed. But as luck would have it, he got away with it. Eventually Deke left, as he always did. He strapped Birten back into his cuffs before he exited the room. Now Birten just had to wait for Rea's arrival. She usually spent a few hours with him. He wasn't sure, but he felt like she remained there for a while after he drifted to sleep. His mind had been foggy for most of his time in Oestra, and he couldn't help but feel that she might have something to do with it. On this visit, Rea spoke to him in Tarragonian. He surprised himself by responding in the tongue. He didn't realize he'd known how to speak it. Wait, no. Of course he did. He was bilingual. He had lived on Tarragonia his entire life. She spoke to him about a kingdom on a different continent in which an enemy prince was plotting an upheaval of the reigning king. The words flowed from his lips effortlessly as he asked why it was any concern to them, being from Tarragonia. She explained that Jhirdyr, as the kingdom was called, was one of the strongest across all the continents. It would just be a matter of time before the evil prince begun attacking the other kingdoms, she had said. And considering that Tarragonia had three kingdoms, second only to Centralis where Jhirdyr lie, the continent might easily be one of the prince's first targets. They discussed the matter for a little longer, and Birten felt like it was his duty to try to assist in ensuring his native land was protected against the plot in place from Jhirdyr's prince. He was glad he'd gotten hold of the lockpick. Initially he had planned on using it simply to escape, but it was evident that his escape was more important as a means of finding his way to Jhirdyr. He kept that fact from Rea, of course. And as always, their discussion ended with Rea talking him into falling asleep. It had become easier over the past few days to fall asleep while restrained. It was mere seconds before he blinked himself out of awareness. He didn't know how long he'd been asleep, but he was awoken by the sharp click that emitted from the latch of the door closing. He remained silent in the darkness, giving it time to ensure that nobody was nearby. He waited for a few hours, for good measure. Finally, he felt that enough time had passed to begin launching his escape. It was very complicated, but he managed to shift his body enough to feel the end of the lockpick with his fingers. He fidgeted until he was able to firmly grip it in his hand and slide it out of his pants. More complicated still was maneuvering his wrist to get the pick to a point of finding the keyhole. That's when it became easy. Deke hadn't been exaggerating; the cuff fell open with not much effort at all. Once the first one was off, the rest was simpler yet. When he was free from the table, he stuck the lockpick into his pocket. It would undoubtedly come in handy later. He tiptoed to the door and placed his ear against it for several moments to make sure there was no sounds coming from the other side. Once satisfied, he removed the lockpick once more and placed it into the hole beneath the door handle. The mechanism inside clicked almost immediately. He pulled the door open slowly, careful not to cause any unwelcomed creaking. He stopped again to listen now that he had a clearer exposure to whatever sounds could be coming from outside. Satisfied, he slunk out the door and closed it quietly behind him. If anyone did happen to come by, he didn't want the open door to alert them to his escape any earlier than need be. Now was the complicated part. He had no idea where he was. From the hallway, it appeared to be a cellar or other underground structure. It could be underneath anything: a home, a castle, or even just underneath the ground in general. He had to be careful. He navigated the corridor with hesitation and as much deftness as he could. Before long, he located a staircase with a door at the top. He climbed up carefully, and as he had done with the door in his cell, listened intently before feeling confident enough to pick the lock. The staircase emerged into an ornate dining room. Based on his surroundings, he surmised that it was indeed a home. No candles were lit, so he felt safe entering the room. Thankfully, the adjacent room was a foyer with a large door that clearly was the exit. He was able to get through and out of the house without issue. And finally, he was free. It wasn't hard for Birten to locate the main road out of Oestra. Most of the roads were gravel, but there was one that had actually been paved. Not only did it point Birten in the right direction, but it also granted him a more inconspicuous departure. The last thing he needed was the crunch of the rocks beneath his feet to alert someone to his whereabouts. Once he was about an hour outside of the city, he began to let his guard down. He was still cautious, but he allowed himself to move with more speed. After another hour or so, he came to a fork in the road. A rundown sign advised of his options. To the left, the kingdom of Jaffe. To the right, the kingdom of Amullym. And directly forward was Winter's Desert. The pavement continued on either side of him, the directions toward each of the nearby kingdoms. The way forward had no path whatsoever; the road simply ceased. He weighed each option. It would be easier travel to go toward either kingdom, though he wasn't sure which one was closer. He vaguely remembered Deke referencing Oestra's proximity to Jaffe, but he couldn't be sure how accurate that information was. There would be food and water at either, and depending on the size of the kingdom, a chance to blend into the crowd if someone did decide to come after him. As for the desert, there was no telling what could be in store for him there. At the same time, the choice of the desert route would be just as illogical in the minds of any pursuers. Thus, he made the potentially problematic choice to trek across the unknown. Indeed, it was a strenuous journey. The sand, which was stark white and surely the origin of the desert's titling, was soft. It took much effort to walk through it, and several times Birten found the muscles in his calves and thighs begging for reprieve. The nighttime temperature also dropped quite rapidly, which could have had another part in the naming of the place. Regardless, he pushed himself through. He had someplace to be. The plantlife was sparse. When he did stumble across it, however, he felt as he was being spared. The cool nights created enough moisture in the air to allow small traces of water to accumulate in the thick, fibrous flowers that randomly peppered the twiggy trees. It wasn't much, but it was somehow enough to keep him relatively hydrated. He attempted to eat one of the flowers as well, but it didn't prove as fruitful. Upon first bite, he immediately felt a stinging sensation upon his tongue which soon turned into numbness. He surmised that the flowers were poisonous, or at the very least an irritant. He scrubbed his tongue the best he could against the linen of his tunic, hoping it wouldn't prove fatal. And as time wore on, it was evident that the flower simply caused an unfortunate amount of discomfort. It wasn't until a few days in that he finally stumbled upon a valid source of nourishment. A slow-moving lizard, about the size of his foot. He couldn't be sure why, but he knew what it was. It was called a dracolizard. It was so named because though not actually a dragon, it bore several resemblances. Predominantly the fact that it breathed fire. The amount of flame a dracolizard produced wouldn't have been enough to even catch anything ablaze. However, it was enough to scorch the tongue and throat of the creature. While the rest of the lizard could induce sickness if eaten raw, the tongue and throat were edible without cooking. It was another miracle in Birten's eyes. A way to keep him going strong for a little longer. As a result of its sluggish movements, Birten was able to spear it with the lockpick after only a few tries. It writhed around the pick for a few moments, much to Birten's chagrin. But eventually it stopped moving. And with much effort, he managed to decapitate the creature. The edible parts were far from completely sating him, but it was enough to keep him moving. Over the next fifteen days, he was lucky enough to come across the floral cups of water and dracolizards a reasonable amount of times. The further he got, the more numerous the spoils became. Often the water was only enough to remove the dryness in his mouth, but it was something. The trees were at least becoming close enough to one another that he was able to down a few flowers' worth of water. He wondered if the increased plantlife and the more populous lizards meant he was nearing the edge of the desert. Before long, he saw something in the distance. Initially, he thought it was his eyes playing tricks on him. He assumed being in a desert for an excess of two weeks could to that to a person. His already slender frame had become gaunt, and the solitude was affecting his mental state. Between those factors and whatever other physical conditions he had going against him, he wouldn't have been surprised if it was indeed a mirage. However, as he got closer, he realized that he wasn't losing it after all. There was a small, white-brick structure amidst the sea of sand. When he finally reached it, he located the solitary door that it housed. He considered using the lockpick, if it were even locked, but thought better of it. In the off chance that it was occupied, his unauthorized entry could put an end to him faster than the effects of the desert. With an immense amount of uncertainty, he knocked. Upon hearing shuffling around from within, he realized that he'd made the right decision. Soon, the door opened. Before him stood a short figure, clad in layers of rust-colored fabric from head to toe. He was humanesque, but Birten could clearly see that the man was of a different race. The stubbiness of the ears that protruded from the fabric around his head, the smallness of his eyes, and the overall stature of the figure were all evident to Birten. It was a Tetrad. Tetrads were notorious for being standoffish and it was a rarity that they interacted with humans as a general rule. Birten hoped such would not be the case with the stranger before him. Considering that the Tetrad was not located within the depths of the Tetrad Desert, Birten felt a glimmer of a chance. Most Tetrads did not stray from their native land, and the ones that did typically had a slightly different demeanor than their brethren. With hesitancy, the Tetrad stood back and allowed Birten entrance. The inside of the structure, like the man's own height, was stunted. Birten didn't have to duck, but he did feel cramped. Regardless, he would not complain. The Tetrad offered him a glass of water, which Birten drank thirstily. He breathed heavily afterward, the sufficient amount of water almost shocking his body. He placed the empty glass onto a nearby surface, the Tetrad watching him throughout. Birten knew better than to ask the Tetrad about why he lived on a different continent from his homeland, what had brought him here. As part of their distant character, the race did not discuss things of a personal nature with outsiders. But from what he'd learned from Deke's stories of his travels, Tetrads could be persuaded to bargain for trade. It might be a longshot, but if this Tetrad happened to have a piece of Tetradite, it could be exactly what Birten needed to get to Jhirdyr and to the prince. "Trade?" Birten asked in Tarragonian. The Tetrad's eyes narrowed, somehow, given their already minute appearance. He didn't understand Tarragonian. "Trade?" Birten repeated, this time in the common language. The Tetrad seemed to understand that time. "For?" he asked with a heavy accent. "Do you have… Tetradite?" Birten asked tentatively. The Tetrad laughed suddenly, a low, unsettling sound emerging from his narrow lips. "Rare, Tetradite. Hard trade. Few options will grant trade for Tetradite." Though he hated to part with the lockpick, it was literally his only option. Besides the clothes he was wearing, he had nothing else on his person. With hesitancy, he removed it from his pocket and held it out to the Tetrad. With another unpleasant laugh, the Tetrad motioned to a nearby jar that contained several lockpicks. But Birten could tell that they were standard, run-of-the-mill tools. "This one is more than a regular lockpick. It's got the ability to open even the most complicated lock with ease." "Tetradite can transport anywhere, no need for magic lockpick," the man said, holding his hand up in passiveness. He shook his head slowly. "Any lock!" Birten said desperately. "Tetradite can transport you, but it can't get you out of chains. It can't get you inside of treasure chests." Though he wasn't sure if Tetradite could actually work if the wielder was chained, he saw a noticeable difference in the man at the reference to treasure. The Tetrad moved some things around on a shelf behind him until he emerged with a small, uninteresting box. He plucked one of the lockpicks from his jar and as soon as he stuck it into the lock, it broke. "Had box for many years, no key or lockpick can open. Prove yours works." He handed the box to Birten. "Do you have Tetradite to trade, or not?" Birten asked. He wasn't about to help him if he wasn't going to get anything in return. With an air of annoyance, the Tetrad went back to the shelf and rifled around again. It took longer to find than the box had, but he eventually located a small glass vial which he showed to Birten. "Small sliver. Once broken from gemstone, powers fade. Limited use, maybe only one." Although in the grand scheme of things the lockpick would be much more useful, at that point in time even a one-way trip using the Tetradite was exactly what Birten needed. He sighed, but stuck the pick into the lock. The lid opened easily. The Tetrad's eyes lit up quite noticeably, and he dove forward to see what the contents of the box were. It was clear he'd been waiting a long time for this. Before he managed to snatch it away, though, Birten slammed the lid shut again. "Not until I get the Tetradite. Give me the vial, and I'll give you the pick." The Tetrad was obviously not thrilled about it, but shoved the sliver toward Birten. Adhering to his end of the agreement, Birten handed the box and lockpick to the Tetrad. As the man greedily repeated Birten's action of opening the box, hungry to see what it held, Birten didn't pay any attention. He couldn't have cared less. He had what he needed. He pulled the stopper out of the bottle and slid the dull orange stone bit into his hand. He wondered how exactly it worked, if all he needed to do was think about where he wanted to go. And before he even had time to think about it, he realized his surroundings had vastly changed. He was in a large bedroom. An oversized bed took up the middle of one wall, predominately red bedding covering its surface. Two more of the walls were adorned with various paintings and a smattering of furniture. The final wall was inlaid with a large window and an ornate desk. And in the chair was a handsome man, with blond hair and exquisite blue eyes that were full of surprise. "Birten?" Birten smirked. He'd found the prince.
  10. Disjecta Membra

    Solace

    It absolutely could have been avoided, had both of them taken the time to really talk things out. Danny let Jason drive most of the conversation and took the backseat. Although it was Jason's story to tell, if they had perhaps taken more of a back-and-forth approach to the conversation they might have prevented the end they had.
  11. Disjecta Membra

    Solace

    I think you're absolutely correct; they both hold some of the blame. Between Jason's gung-ho jump into the situation without allowing himself to ease into it, and Danny's passiveness to avoid causing bigger problems, they both acted on more of an emotional level than a logical one. Indeed, Danny did try to patch things up whereas Jason wouldn't even try. There is a lot that can be said about the way each of them adapted (or didn't adapt) to the situation.
  12. Disjecta Membra

    Solace

    Solace “Danny?” “Yeah?” I responded, not taking my eyes off the TV. It had been a long day and all I wanted to do was relax on the couch and put in a few hours of nonsensical reality show time. “You busy?” I shrugged, even though I didn’t know if he was actually looking at me. “Not especially. Just unwinding from work,” I said without much effort. “Why, what’s up?” “Can we maybe talk for a little bit?” Finally, I looked away from the TV. It wasn’t the kind of thing I was used to Jason saying. He wasn’t a very emotional guy, but the way he worded the question sounded like he had something serious to talk about. I eyed him from across the room, where he was standing in the doorway with a beer in each hand. “Sure, man, what’s up?” He walked into the room, seeming tense. He handed me one of the bottles and sat on the opposite end of the couch. “I just have a lot on my mind lately, and I feel like I need to get it off my chest.” He stared down at his beer, turning it in his hands. I realized he hadn’t looked at me once since entering the room. “Is everything okay?” I asked, clicking the power button on the remote. If it was as serious as it seemed, I wanted to give him my full attention. We’d been roommates for three years, and by that point we were best friends. We met in senior year of college and had been basically inseparable since. If he needed to have a deep conversation, I wanted to be there for him. He nodded. “Yeah, it’s nothing like that. Everything is okay, I’m just… I don’t know, man. I’m just really confused, I guess. I’ve had some stuff going on in my head for a while and I just think I need to talk to somebody about it before it gets the best of me.” I didn’t really know what to say. I wasn’t sure how to respond to it. He didn’t speak up again though, and I knew I needed to be supportive, so I said, “so… what’s going on?” It felt a little brash, but it was the only thing I could think of to keep him talking. “I just realize I’ve been unhappy for a while. I feel lost,” he said, the slightest hint of a quiver playing at his voice. It made me a little nervous. I had no clue what he was talking about. “Um, in what way? Like with work? Is there something going on with your family?” I took a drink of my beer. The cool rush of the alcohol down my throat helped ease me a little. Shaking his head, he slowly looked up and looked me in the eye. Never before had I ever seen him look so sheepish. “How did you know you were gay?” Fuck me. Was he coming out to me? Was this really happening? Or was he just confused? Maybe living with a gay guy for three years had thrown some cogs out of whack in his brain. “I, uh… I don’t know, man. I just knew. How does someone know they’re straight? It’s just something you feel within yourself, I guess.” I finished my beer. He cleared his throat. “I mean, I guess it’s something we’ve never really talked about in depth, but like… did you struggle with the thoughts, ever?” His beer was still full, and I assumed he was using it more as a distraction technique than actually wanting the drink. “Yeah, a little. It’s weird knowing that you’re different from most people. I was worried for a while that there was something wrong with me, but once I finally realized that there wasn’t, I came to grips with it and I’ve always been happy.” I studied him, the downtrodden look on his face. “Are you… do you think you might be… Jace, what’s going on in your head right now?” “Yeah,” he said simply, and I took it to be an affirmative response to my unasked question. “Are you sure?” He let out a small, slightly sarcastic chuckle. “Of course I’m not sure, that’s why I’ve got so much stuff going on in my head. I wanted to talk to you about it so maybe you could help me figure it all out.” “You don’t think it’s just from spending so much time with me, do you?” That sounded lame. But Jason had never struck me as gay, in any sense. And as soon as I thought it, I realized how ignorant that thought was. As a gay man, I should know better than to pigeonhole someone’s sexuality. I hated being stereotyped. So Jason was a jock, manly by the cliché sense of the word. He didn’t groom himself all that well, and he certainly had no fashion sense. But that didn’t mean that I should be so doubtful of what he was telling me. I had come into this conversation trying to be supportive, and instead I was starting to act like a jerk. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to take it that way. He was probably still so in his head about it that he didn’t notice. “I don’t think that at all. To be honest, I’ve had these feelings and thoughts for a long time. Before I knew you, even. I think that’s why a part of me bonded so well with you when we first met; you were this openly gay man that was so sure of himself, and confident. I think I saw it as a way to finally start figuring myself out.” Between our meeting senior year and living together since, we’d known each other for a total of four years. And I had never had any idea that he was going through this. “So, uh… why haven’t you brought this up sooner?” His shoulders fell. I could tell he was still not completely comfortable having the conversation. But it was also clear that he needed to get it out. “I don’t know. There have been times I’ve almost said something. I always just doubted myself. I think it finally just got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore.” In truth, I had noticed that he had become more sullen over the past couple months. I truly had just assumed he had been having a rough time at work, and since we weren’t ones for overly-deep talks, I never said anything. “So, have you… experimented at all?” I asked. It felt weird talking about this with him. We of course had talked about our personal hookups to one another, but I never thought I’d be asking him about fooling around with other guys. “No,” he said. I couldn’t fathom, at 25, and feeling like you might be gay, not having ever even kissed another man before. “Obviously I’ve thought about it. A lot. But I’ve never found myself in a situation in which I’ve been comfortable enough to do so. I wouldn’t want it to be with a random guy, you know? It’s a big deal for me, so I would want there to be some kind of meaning behind it.” I nodded. That made sense, of course. My first few sexual encounters hadn’t been meaningful at all. I didn’t necessarily regret it, but there was a part of me that wished the firsts had been more special. It felt like a romance novel, having thoughts like that, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t true. We sat there in silence for a little while, me unsure of what else to say. I was sure he felt the same way too. Eventually, I stood up. “I’m gonna grab another beer,” I said. Jason, at that point, seemed to realize his drink was still full. He chugged it swiftly, and it was clear that he felt a weight lifted off his shoulders just by laying everything on the table. I grabbed his empty and tossed both in the trash on the way to the fridge. As I fetched two more, I hesitated. With him opening up to me and revealing that he wanted his first experience with a guy to be meaningful… was he hinting something? Was he into me? The thought panicked me, because I certainly wasn’t into Jason. I loved the guy, sure. And he was very attractive. But I had never thought of him in that way. Regardless of if I had thought he was straight or not, I’d never looked at him as someone I wanted to sleep with. I steeled myself as I reentered the living room. He hadn’t moved. He was fidgeting with his hands and eagerly took the fresh beer, likely glad to have that distraction again. As I settled back down, he spoke up again. “So… what do you think?” I glanced at him. “What do I think? I mean… it caught me by surprise, that’s for sure. I wasn’t expecting it. But I think if it’s something you’re feeling, you should absolutely try to sort out your feelings. I’m glad you came to talk to me. I want you to be happy, Jace. Whatever I can do to help, you know I’m here for you.” He smiled, finally, but just barely. He looked me in the eye. “Thanks, Danny.” Before I knew what was happening, he took his free hand and placed it over mine. Shit. “You mean a lot to me, you know. I’m glad I have you.” I let out a fake cough and muttered, “me too.” Maybe I was being presumptuous. Maybe the touch was just out of friendship and not because he wanted something more. But he didn’t pull it away. He was still looking at me. He put his bottle on the floor and scooted closer to me. No, no, no. Don’t do this, Jason. But it was happening. He began to lean in, slowly, and before I knew it my best friend was kissing me. I wanted to stop him, to tell him that I didn’t feel that way about him. But he had just unloaded a deep-rooted secret on me and I was afraid rejecting the advance would cause a downward spiral. The last thing I wanted to do was to throw him back into that depression. So I let him kiss me. Everything was happening so fast. Less than an hour ago, I had arrived home from work and settled down on the couch to watch TV like any other evening. And now, my formerly closeted best friend and roommate had his lips pressed to mine. At first I didn’t kiss back, but I didn’t want him to realize that anything was wrong. So I opened my mouth to his, and we found a rhythm. I had to admit that he was good at it. It felt good, physically, but mentally I was still not there. Thankfully it wasn’t an extended kiss, and he pulled back before long. His smile broadened. “That was… yeah. That felt right.” I smiled back, though inside I was far from happy. I didn’t want to be doing this, but again, I didn’t know how to prevent it from happening without making him feel like an absolute fool. I knew what it was like to make advances on someone who didn’t return the feeling, and it wasn’t pleasant. I could only imagine it would be intensified in someone who had just revealed a secret that they hadn’t shared with anyone before. The kiss seemed to open up the floodgates, however, in a positive way. He began talking with more ease, revealing all of the thoughts he’d had over the years. He seemed much more comfortable as he talked about everything he had been too afraid to in the past. Throughout his monologue, I only had to interject here or there with a “wow” or “right” to show that I was paying attention. He went on for hours, and between the two of us we finished a case of beer. It’s amazing how much you can drink when you’re just listening to someone talk. And honestly, I was glad he was able to unload it all. Clearly it was several years’ worth of repression that had just been waiting to see the light. But of course, eventually the conversation began to dwindle. As the beers sank in and the night wore on, we both began to feel a little sluggish. “We should probably head to bed,” I mumbled, checking the time on my phone. He nodded, and we both stood up. He grabbed my hand again. “Can I sleep in your room tonight?” he asked, a hint of coyness returning to his tone. Though more confident than he had been at the beginning of our conversation, his shyness was still evident in the question. And once again I was at a loss. I didn’t want him to sleep in my room. But I didn’t know how to say that to such a forward question. Plus we were drunk, so my decision-making skills were worse now than they had been a few hours ago. “Sure,” was all I could muster. Damn it, Danny. As he turned off all the lights and made a trip to the bathroom, I slunk into my bedroom. Normally I slept in my underwear, but I felt a little odd about it tonight. I shed my jeans and pulled on a pair of basketball shorts, and left my t-shirt on. I crawled into bed and waited for Jason to join me. A sentence I never thought would cross my mind. And he did, soon thereafter. Once he neared the edge of the bed, he took his shirt and pants off and dropped them on the floor. Wearing nothing but boxer briefs, he settled into my bed next to me. We were silent for a while, as had happened several times that night. I stared at the ceiling, hoping this meant we would just go to sleep. I was sure I could reason things out a bit better in the morning when the booze had worn off. However, I eventually felt Jason turn onto his side, facing me, and his hand found its way under my shirt and up to my chest. His fingers softly grazed the skin there, running my sparse chest hair through his fingers. For being new to this, some of the things he was doing were done with ease. “Thanks for listening to me tonight,” he said quietly. “It means a lot to me.” “Of course,” I said, my tone equally as hushed. He removed his hand from under my shirt and up to my chin, at which point he gently pulled my face toward his. We kissed again, though it was a little sloppier considering the amount of alcohol we had consumed. It also intensified faster, and I felt him moving his hand once again. This time he slid it down to my waistband. I swallowed. And sure enough, he hesitantly slid his fingers underneath both layers and to my crotch. I immediately began to get hard. I am still a man after all, and another man’s hand on my dick is going to cause a reaction regardless. He moaned into my mouth. He caressed me for a while, which resulted in a full-fledged erection. At that point, he slid my shorts and underwear down my legs. Where the meek Jason had gone, I didn’t know, but he was lowering himself under the covers and his mouth soon found my shaft. It wasn’t long at all before I felt that long-forgotten pain of teeth grazing the skin. Fuck. It had been a while since I’d had an inexperienced blowjob. “Jace, Jace, I think this is something you want to try for the first time when you’re sober,” I said. I didn’t know how else to word it, and it for sure could have been more blunt. So I was happy with the way it came out. It didn’t seem to upset him; if it did, it didn’t quell his appetite. He sidled back up next to me and whispered, “Are you a top or bottom?” Of all the things that had occurred that night, for some reason that question caught me by the most surprise. “What?” “Top or bottom?” he repeated awkwardly. I didn’t know what else to do but answer honestly. “Vers,” I said. And upon realizing that he didn’t seem sure what that term meant, I added: “Both.” I knew exactly what he was getting at. “Are you sure you want to do this? Don’t you think this is all happening a little fast? You just really came to grips with all of this today.” “I’m sure,” he said, and once again it didn’t seem like he had taken any offense to what I’d said. “I’m not a virgin, the sex part isn’t intimidating. It’s exciting. Yeah, I just opened up about everything today. But I’ve felt this way for a long time. And I want my first time with a guy to be with someone who means a lot to me.” Well, shit. “Okay,” was all I could think to say. He kissed me again, a brief yet lingering contact that I felt his passion in. He really felt something for me. “Do you have condoms?” he asked as he discarded his own underwear. “Drawer,” I said simply, and he rifled around in my nightstand until he found one. He tore open the package and applied it with ease. He slid his legs between mine and steadied himself. “Whoa,” I said, putting my hand to his chest to stop him. “Gay sex requires lube. There’s some in the drawer.” He fished that out as well, but hesitated. “Do I just put it on me, or you? Or both?” Had he not watched any gay porn in his years of closetedness? I took the tube from him and applied some to myself before moving to him. Damn, he was big. I added a little more for good measure. I clicked the tube closed and dropped it back in the drawer. “Ready?” he asked. “Are you?” I asked back. I could just make out a smirk on his face in the darkness as he centered himself. I couldn’t help but groan as he pushed into me. Though he was well-equipped, it wasn’t so big that it hurt. It felt good. Really good. Although he had never been with another guy before, it was still obvious that he knew what he was doing. He found a just-off-rhythm pace in his thrusts that kept the pleasure racing through me. There were a couple times that he did go a little too deep, in which cases I winced, but otherwise I had to admit that it was probably some of the best sex I’d ever had. It was clear that it was a good experience for him too, as it wasn’t long before he came. “Fuck, Danny,” he said through gritted teeth as I felt his body tense. After he regained his composure, he pulled out of me and rolled over onto his back. “That was… amazing. Next time, I want to try it the other way.” I didn’t respond, and he didn’t add any more. I heard soft snores from his side of the bed before long, and I once again found myself staring at the ceiling. It was good sex, there was no doubt about that. And I cared for Jason. More than almost anybody. But my feelings hadn’t changed. As I finally drifted off to sleep myself, I hoped the morning would bring more clarity. A sliver of light broke through the blinds on my bedroom window and across my face, which prompted me to wake up. I had the slightest of headaches, which could have been worse considering the amount of beer I drank and skipped dinner. Part of me was surprised that Jason wasn’t still in my bed. I had half-expected him to be laying there watching me as I woke. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and realized I was still naked from the waist down. I located my shorts from somewhere within the tangle of sheets and pulled them on. As I made my way into the living room, I saw Jason pouring two cups of coffee in the kitchen. “Perfect timing!” he said as he brought them to our small table and sat down. I joined him and immediately sipped at the mug. As I replaced it on the table, he leaned over and gave me a quick peck. “Last night was so important to me. Thank you.” Even after a night’s rest to think on the events that had transpired, I still felt the same way. It was going to be hard to tell him how I really felt, but I knew I had to. “About that…” I said softly. He sat back in his chair and frowned. “Did I do something wrong?” “It’s not that. Not at all. The sex was… well, it felt great. You’re good at it. And you’ve got a great dick,” I said, and it was all true. “So what’s up?” he asked. He stared at me, his coffee untouched. I didn’t really know how to tell him how I felt. After everything we’d been through over the past several hours, especially. I was sure at the very least I’d hurt his feelings. “So last night was… it was good. And you mean so much to me, Jace. You really are my best friend. But I just don’t think I feel the same way as you. I love you, but I don’t have romantic feelings toward you.” I was nervous to make eye contact with him, but I forced myself to look him in the face. He didn’t look sad, he didn’t look angry… he didn’t really look anything, in fact. His face was stony. “So why would you let me kiss you? Why would you sleep with me?” I was really sticking my foot in my mouth. I didn’t exactly know how to tell him why I’d allowed everything to happen the night before considering I didn’t share his feelings. But I had to. “It’s not that it wasn’t meaningful. It meant something, it really did. I know how much you wanted your first experience to be with someone important to you and I could tell how much you wanted it to be me. And I am so glad I could give that to you.” It was then that the anger did start to bubble up within him. “Give that to me? You didn’t give me anything if you don’t share those feelings. If you don’t feel that way about me, I could have slept with just about anyone and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I opened up to you, I shared all of these things that I’ve struggled with for so long. You shouldn’t have even let me kiss you, you should have stopped it before it went that far if that’s really how you feel. It wasn’t supposed to be a favor, Danny, it was supposed to be something that meant something to both of us. I feel like a damn idiot!” He stood, and without looking at me again made his way to his own bedroom and slammed the door. That felt about right. I really fucked this one up. I barely saw Jason over the next week. He wouldn’t respond to me when I tried to talk to him, wouldn’t respond to my texts or answer my calls. He locked himself in his room whenever he was home, which was rare. And then one day, when I came home, I went to knock on his door as I had every day since our fight. I didn’t really expect a response, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. But when I knocked, I realized the door was ajar. So hesitantly, I pushed it open. The room was empty. His bed, his clothes, everything was gone. He’d moved out. There was no note, no sign that he planned on coming back whatsoever. He blocked me on all of his social media platforms and continued to decline my calls and ignore my texts. I don’t know where he moved to, if he was still in town or if he decided to go somewhere else. I never heard from him again, in fact. It still haunts me to this day that I lost my best friend because I wasn’t just honest with him from the start. He unloaded so much on me and revealed so much of his own truth that I was too scared to be honest with him for fear of hurting his feelings. And in doing so, I accomplished exactly what I didn’t want to. I had blurred the line between support and humiliation. One poor choice destroyed my relationship with Jason. I guess telling someone what they want to hear isn’t always the best decision to make, and I’ll never forget that. End
  13. Disjecta Membra

    Igneous

    I’m intrigued! Hagan’s kind of a dick, but it fits the character. I am curious to see how Gil will interact with this new world, so I hope you decide to pursue additional stories!
  14. Anybody else purchase this and been playing obsessively since yesterday?
  15. Disjecta Membra

    Chapter 1

    That was super cute, with a nice little positive twist on the end. You did the character justice; it’s always heartwarming to see a prickly character show that they have a heart.
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