Earthbound

Earthbound
by Kehryal

Story Notes

Title: Earthbound
Series: From Afar
Chapters: 9
Spoilers: First trilogy ending, glimpses of Shades
Date Posted: November 2004

Author: Kehryal
Contact: clefdecristal@yahoo.fr or crystalkey@gmail.com
Web site: http://andreso.free.fr/InnerRealm/yaoi_e.html

Disclaimer: Wraeththu and all characters, etc, associated with it belong to the wonderful Storm Constantine.

Credits: Well, a huge thank you to Storm Constantine for creating the Wraeththu books and for being generous enough to allow her fans to play in her world.

Earthbound

Part 1: The family

Miho liked to walked at dusk almost alone in the streets that were losing their colors to the night. Street lamps were being lit one by one by the guards ; they were still to be repaired, all broken down by the Shaking, like trees flatten by a great blow. That was weeks ago. But this was only the farthest outskirt of the great Immanion, and building up was done little by little. Miho had heard from some gossips that the center was almost back to normal now, back to its usual bustling life, be it day or night. It was like another planet entirely and one he was not so eager to discover.

As he went in view of the guards barracks, he turned to walk back home. He was wary of those hara, whose eyes always seemed to follow his every move each time he passed, boring holes of fire on his back. He still dreaded they’d come after him and try to beat him down or “play with” him… “You’re an adult now,” he chided himself… but memories were hard to let go.

He then decided to take the most direct way : it was later than he had thought and he didn’t want his father to worry. And little Ritsua. He quickened his pace. Ritsua would be crying by now, he was sure, wanting his bedtime tale. He wouldn’t go to bed without being told about the wondrous creatures his big bother would conjure up for him.

As he neared his destination, Miho noticed there were no light at the windows, no sign of life ; old terrors arose, gripping his stomach. He ran inside.

“Father?” he called. “Ritsua?”

He rushed through the courtyard, at the back of the house, and beyond, to his father workshop. Yes! There was light in there. He stopped to catch his breath – it was so easy now, fear has gone back, deep inside. Suddenly, the door opened and a cheerful little hara threw himself in his arms.

“Miho, I knew it was you!”

“It’s late, why are you here? Have you eaten?”

“Yes, Father gave me some cake.”

“Sssh, it’s ‘Solien’ for you, not ‘Father,’ you know that. Do you want the others hearing you and mocking you?”

“But…”

“No buts, we already talked about that. Now come back to the house, I’ll give something else to eat and then I’ll tell you what happened to the Shining Prince after he got lost in the Dark Forest.”

The face of the child lightened up at the last words and he ran across the courtyard to the house. Miho stepped into his father’s place; it was a little untidy, which was unusual. His father was looking at him with an apologizing smile.

“He was watching me. He got hypnotized somewhat.”

“No wonder,” Miho answered, smiling back.

He understood only too well his brother’s fascination, as he himself had spent hours, back then, watching his father molding vases and urns from the raw clay.

“Do you want something to eat too? I believe the cake you gave Ritsua is what I prepared for your lunch.”

“I was stuck with this merchant’s order, I didn’t feel like eating,” his father explained. “So when I was finally done, I had to do something to calm down. Ritsua showed up and … well, you know how it is.”

“You must eat properly.” Miho said, sweeping the scrubs from the table near the window. “What if Leeruan were to lose interest in you? He could take Ritsua from us and have us thrown away from Immanion.”

“You’re too harsh with him. Leeruan is a kind har. He knows Ritsua loves us and he would never inflict the trauma of such a separation to his son. And he’s genuinely fond of me too, it’s not only because of my looks.”

“If you speak so well of him, why don’t you accept his offer then?” Miho asked with anger. “Let’s move to his palace! Throw the past away like all those well-thinking hara.”

His father sighed and looked up at him with pained eyes. Miho turned away. He could not bare to see this sadness unveiled, though he had been the one to trigger it out.

“Is it really what you want? You’ve always been against it. You were the one who actually came up with the best reasons when I couldn’t find any. Leeruan respects you because of that.”

There was a silence. Miho hated it. He wondered why he had to speak about Leeruan.

“Do you really love this har?,” Miho asked finally. “Have you let go of Mother?”

His father’s hand went to the pendant hidden under his shirt. He stood up and smiled.

“Let’s go back to the house. Ritsua must be fretting by now.”

Miho had known it would be his only answer.

***

As if summoned by the previous evening conversation, Leeruan har Yseldis showed up in the morning, loaded with gifts. Ritsua was hiding behind Miho, always so self-conscious in the presence of his father, always yearning to go to him also, Miho knew. Leeruan was a sparkling entity, the typical god-sent angel of the Gelaming. He put down his parcels and took shamelessly Solien in his arms, lips locked in the sharing of breath.

His long pale hair upon Solien dark hair. Heaven and Earth. Embracing.

Miho shook himself. He turned to his brother and said with a loud voice.

“Don’t look, Ritsua, those are ill-mannered adults who can’t remember where they are.”

Leeruan let go and laughed. Solien smiled and stepped back. Then, the Gelaming opened his arms to Ritsua who cried with delight et ran to him. Miho knew he should rejoice Ritsua had such a powerful father, who could protect him, just by being what he was. He knew deep inside he would always be a little envious of his brother. How himself had needed this kind of protection when they had come to Immanion for the first time…

Leeruan had brought wonderful presents, clothes and jewels, but the most important for Solien was the authorization to travel to Megalithica. It was still a hazardous country, despite all the efforts of the Gelaming in sorting it out, and common hara were strongly dissuaded from traveling there. Solien wanted to go and find the special clay he had once found, a long long time ago. Leeruan and he had had heated arguments about it, and Solien had been in lots of places of Almagabra, just to prove his lover there weren’t such a clay on this continent. Leeruan suspected Solien wanted to escape far from the Gelaming. He told so to Miho once : it was before the Shaking, the two “children” had been invited to Selanium, his domain, not far from Phaonica, the imperial palace.

“I know your father only followed us for your sake.” Leeruan had said. “Do you remember? You were too young for your father’s tribe to incept you and too old for the Colurastes.”

“I don’t know of these things,” he had replied with cold anger. “You don’t either, you weren’t there. We left the tribe, we sought the Colurastes, we traveled a lot for us to find the right place.”

“It’s here the right place. You were incepted by the Gelaming, you are Gelaming.”

“I’m not, you all make it clear to me everyday!”

“That’s not true.”

“You only did it to win my father over!”

“And you are feeling guilty about that?” His voice had been so sly, it had sent shivers down his spine.

“You say you love my father. You know he’s not happy here, so why don’t you let him go?”

Leeruan had sighed through his nose, leaning back in the plump couch.

“I know a lot about you, your family, a lot more than Solien would want me to know. But I’m not Nahir-Nuri for nothing, although my mentors would certainly be affronted to know I could say I love somehar without a second thought.”

He had chuckled idiotically. Miho too had wondered how somehar like this could be Nahir-Nuri.

“Anyway, I know Solien is still cherishing the memory of his lost wife, back from his human life. He keeps her alive even in you, it seems.”

“I’m not ashamed of my past,” he had said haughtily, “I love my mother. Two blasphemies for you, Gelaming, love and mother.”

“You know so little, young one,” Leeruan said wistfully, looking up at the ceiling. “The Shining Prince weeps inside too.”

At this time, Miho knew very little indeed and hadn’t been able to understand all the things this simple sentence was referring to.

***

However, Leeruan had finally given up to his lover’s request. Solien was staring at the paper with shining eyes. Too shining?

“I made arrangements for us to travel with Sedim. This way it’ll be faster and safer.”

Solien’s face jerked up with a start. Miho realized Leeruan might have been right about his father’s real intentions.

“And Miho and Ritsua will be living at Selanium for the duration of our travel, my hara will take care of them.”

Miho had gone cold. Deep, deeper in the beast’s den!

“Ritsua will have more harlings to play with and you can’t deny his education will be better. And frankly Miho could make with more friends.”

Solien had a stricken face.

“I thought… I would be traveling with the children… show them the land…”

“Now… I hadn’t thought you wanted it that way.” Leeruan lied, his face rigid, a cold smile on his lips. “Maybe we could discuss that privately.”

He put his arm around his companion’s shoulders and lead him towards his bedroom. When the door closed, Ritsua made a distressed sound and turned to his brother, his eyes shining with unshed tears.

“Is Father sad?” He always had a different way of telling “Father,” be it Solien or Leeruan.

“Solien will be all right.” Miho sighed. “Let’s go buy fruits to make a cake for your Father.”


Part 2 : Among the stars.

Miho was shown into his room and waited for the servant to depart before relaxing. Selanium was like a castle from the old fairy tales, white marble floors and walls, gold-outlined frescoes, high stylized columns, crystal beads hanging from the ceiling lights. If the halls and main corridors were magnificent, the rooms were comfortable nests with canopied bed, couch and various wardrobes and chests for the clothes and things. His bedroom also had a balcony it shared with Ritsua’s room. Solien was with the harling to help him settle. Although he appeared excited to have a room for himself for the first time, Miho feared he would make more difficulties when darkness crept in.

Leeruan and Solien would be leaving in a week for two months.

***

There was a party in the evening of the day before Leeruan and Solien left, in honor of the Yseldis dynasty. High dignitaries would be coming to meet the mysterious har who made such exquisite earthenwares, renowned all over the city, if not all over the world. The har who had captured the heart of one of their own hara.

Miho had been groomed by servants thoroughly, glistening pearls flowing with his raven hair, his eyelids and lips painted, white gold hanging from his earlobes down to his shoulders, his body wrapped in the most costly of garments. A stranger looked him in the eye from the swing mirror.

While they were weaving their subtle magic of transformation on him, his empty mind rewound the movie of the past few days. It seemed as if there just weren’t enough hours in a day to see all there was to see, to meet all those there was to meet. Late at night, he would only fall in his bed and try to sort all he’d experienced in chaotic dreams. The few moments he had had for himself, he had yearned for the peace and routine of the pottery, the streets and alleyways of the borough of Immanion he was used to. He missed the familiar sounds, the hara calling to each other, even yelling at each other, the scents, the good ones and the bad ones, those you’d follow to find the cart of the pastry trolley har, those you’d pass far from as a drunkard was snoring on the side of the passage. The lights and marvels of Selanium were hurting his eyes, blinding him, its music and conversations deafening him. He felt lost and only the sight of Ritsua’s face, Ritsua’s shining eyes anchored him.

But now, as he was making a discreet entrance in the grand salon, among the sparkling Gelaming guests, the young har felt all the more awkward and out of place. None of them spared him a single glance, maybe even mistaking him for a servant. He didn’t recognize anyhar, although he thought he should have. He had arrived early at the party, along with his brother, also disguised as a mundane little harling and had found nohar to help him find his father.

“I’m bored” Ritsua complained as they had walked round the room in search of their father for the third time. “Can I go with Elustres ? He said he’d show me his collection.”

“You’re not supposed to play around tonight.” Miho scolded him. But he softened before the sad little face. “Okay, you can go, I’ll fetch you back when the party’s over.”

Ritsua kissed him goodbye and scurried away. A hand brushing his cheek made him start.

“You have a lovely little brother. Just as lovely as you.”

Miho turned and faced a har around his age, auburn locks framing his charming features.

“My name’s Ebreean.”

“Hello Ebreean. I’m Miho,” he said awkwardly.

“It’s the first time I see you, are you new in town?”

Miho felt like laughing out loud at this fool. “Yes, I’m from another planet that is called reality,” he wanted to say.

“I may sound pretentious, but I know almost all the young hara around here,” the newcomer explained. “My father and hostling would never let me stay at home while they go and put themselves forward to the high society. I guess if you’re new, you could do with some company?”

At those last words, Miho had felt himself warming up to this strange har ; he didn’t seem to belong in here either after all.

“Yes, it’s my first time attending such a party,” he admitted. “And in a way, you could say I’m new in town.”

Ebreean led him to the tables where food had been laid and offered him a flute of sparkling white wine. The bubbles went down his throat and up his nose. His companion laughed gently.

“I’m sorry, I should have known. It may take time to appreciate this kind of luxury.”

He exchanged the flute with another glass filled with a more traditional and soft fruit alcohol. Together, they walked around, Miho being shown from a distance the various stars of Immanion – and Wraeththu – elite. Certain seemed like willowy ethereal creatures but most of them had an aura of power and hardness that felt frightening.

Then, Solien made his grand arrival at Leeruan’s side, appearing at the top of a high flight of stairs. Everyhar looked up in awe. Too short for Gelaming standards, his black hair thinned out down his shoulders, underlining his long white neck ; his slender frame was wrapped in almost transparent dark green silk, one could guess the lines of his body, though veils upon veils lost the invading eyes. A creature of wonder. A creature from another world. Too bright to look upon. So distant. Miho had never seen his father like that. Somehow, it felt wrong and disorienting ; he didn’t know the har standing over there. Then Solien found his face among the crowd and had a smile, a secret smile, a message. Miho smiled back uncertainly. This hadn’t been for him, he felt, but for his mother he knew lived in his eyes.

The starring couple went down the stairs and lost itself among the curious hara below. The crowd closed down on them ; Miho felt he would not see much more of his father for the night.

“Your father is so… no word can truly do him justice. He is the perfect Yseldian consort.” Ebreean murmured, his voice full of admiration. “And no wonder he has such beautiful sons.”

“That’s because of our alien aura,” Miho answered, uneasy with all the compliments, either for his father or himself. He took his new friend’s hand and led him out of the crowd.

The evening went on more smoothly than it had started as alcohol dissolved in his body and his mind. Ebreean stayed by his side, amusing him with witty remarks about the guests, telling him the gossips and rumors. Feeling light-headed, Miho realized he knew where all this was heading. Somewhat he was looking forward to it. It’s been a while since he’s been with somehar.

***

They were sitting on a balcony and the breeze was warm. The ideal atmosphere. They shared breath. Ebreean was warm gold, brown feathers on the swift eagle wings ; he relished in the sun stroking, high in the sky… He gasped and let go of Miho.

“Is everything all right?” Miho asked, worried.

“I’ve never tasted somehar like you,” he said, breathless. “So vibrant…even for a pure born…”

Miho froze. Then stood up abruptly.

“I have to go and find my brother,” he said, staring at the garden beyond the balcony.

“Go?… but we…”

“Sorry, I told him I would walk him back and it’s already this late. Thank you very much for the evening.”

Without a back glance, he ran inside, then out of the main room. Blindly, he followed the hallways, down invisible stairs, a wonder he wouldn’t trip and fall. Fresh air slapped him back to reality. He was in a garden, but not the one he knew. This one was different, as if it was sleeping. He needed this peace, this pocket out of time. He strolled its empty silver-sandy paths and came upon a small pond. Kneeling by its muddy banks, he laid down his hands against the damp earth. He closed his eyes, he let his spirit drift. And was told about Him!

He looked up sharply at the high balcony. Two hara against the light, deep in conversation. Two hara whose faces were in shadows. One face he didn’t need to see. Because it had been etched in his mind like lava shaping the land. The face of the beautiful Shining Prince ; his long black hair, his wondrous features, his golden aura. The Shining Prince whose tears had stopped, he had told Ritsua just last night and now knew it was true. But no happy end yet – of course ; Ritsua would still want tales for some years, so the Shining Prince had still to live great adventures.

The Shining Prince and Leeruan disappeared inside.

Miho sighed and sat, his back to the weeping willow trunk that bent over the pond. He thought about Ebreean. He shouldn’t have left like that. But he couldn’t help it, he didn’t want anyhar to remind him of what he was… or was not.

“Are you all right?”

The voice was so warm… it perfectly fitted Him. Miho would not look at Him.

“I saw you from the balcony, you looked distressed.”

“Everything’s all right,” he answered, his gaze intent on the pond smooth surface. “And if I’d be bold enough, I’d ask if you’re all right too.”

“Why would you ask that?” the Shining Prince asked amused.

“Because you’re the Shining Prince who’s been weeping inside for so many years and it must be hard to get used to not weeping anymore.”

“Not a lot of hara would dare to speak to me like that.” And His voice was still light. “But maybe that’s because you’re… an Earthling?”

Miho paused, pondering in this last sentence with mild surprise.

“That’s a nice word, Earthling,” he said slowly. “Thank you for giving it to me. That means you know my father.”

“I own some of his works. Leeruan knew I wanted to meet him.”

“Miho!” The shout made him start and Ritsua appeared suddenly, running down the path. He jumped into Miho’s arms. “I was worried, it felt as if you were hurt.”

But his big brother held him back at arms length.

“Ritsua! Behave yourself! Look, it’s the Shining Prince.”

The harling looked up and his eyes widened. He stood and bowed hurriedly.

“I’m honored!,” he stammered. Then couldn’t help adding. “Were you afraid in the Dark Forest?”

“Ritsua!”

The Shining Prince laughed and tousled Ritsua’s hair.

“I’m honored to have met two earthlings. Well, three, if I count your father. I hope their travel will proceed smoothly and you’ll feel at ease in Selanium. I’m sure we’ll meet in the future.”

He touched Miho’s cheek and went back. Miho sighed.

“It was really the Shining Prince!” Ritsua said in wonder.

“Yes. I wish he would have told us His adventures himself.” He smiled and enfolded tenderly his brother in his arms, holding him tightly in silence. When he finally spoke, his voice was thoughtful. “But He’s a prince and still has to save the world… I’ll tell you about it next time.”

Part 3 : The Past

Ritsua was distressed for a few days after the departure of his parents.

During the week they’d spent all together in Selanium, he had literally blossomed. His father had spent many hours each day with him, as if to catch up with the time he’s been so absent – not that it had been his fault, Miho thought honestly – and maybe to build nice memories for when they would be apart again. Miho knew Solien had always felt guilty for holding Ritsua apart from his father, but he couldn’t take upon himself to settle in Selanium ; on the counterpart, he had always agreed for his harling to see his father as often as he wanted, but Miho knew that Ritsua felt the fear of his hostling he would never come back from the high place of Gelaming power and thus restrained himself.

So these days when he could have both his parents together with him must have felt like the most blissful of all.

Miho knew he would have been welcome in this little circle, but he always had had a feeling of distance, as if he was looking through a window a world he didn’t belong to.

***

The morning after the party, Miho had been woken up by a gentle shake.

He moaned and tried to bury himself under the covers.

“Hang over, my dear son?,” he heard his father say with a chuckle. “Well, I have something for you that will ease the pain, if you’d be kind enough to sit up and drink.”

It was bitter but his head felt lighter almost immediately. He looked up. His father was back to normal, all disguise from the past night gone. His eyes were so serious and grave, Miho felt dread creep on his back.

“We’ll be going soon. I just wanted to speak with you a little before…” He hesitated. “I’ll be going back home. Ssh, don’t interrupt me. I will certainly come back here, I won’t abandon you two. I want to go to our old house to retrieve something. I’ve spoken with Leeruan, he’s not very eager about it, he thinks I should let go of the past, but I finally got around him. I wanted you to know that… maybe things will change when we return, but I’ll never forget your mother. Never.”

“Maybe Leeruan is right,” Miho replied hesitantly, torn by contradictory feelings. “Maybe you must let go. You don’t have to do that… not for me.”

“I know, but letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. I don’t know what will happen… You see, I’ve been to the pond, where you met the Tigron. I touched the soil there. And I had that feeling things could change to the better if only we’d want them to and… seeing our little Ritsua during this past week… things can be better for him, I’m sure of that, he has a bright future in front of him.”

Miho nodded.

“And I know you adore your brother, but you must think about yourself too, what’s true for Ritsua is true for you as well. I want my sons to be happy.”

“We’ll be happy when you return,” Miho said a bit too forcefully, his throat caught in emotion. “When you fill us with the magic of the Earth under your hands, when you fill our dreams with the tales you paint on your works!”

His father smiled and stood up.

“I won’t forget.” And he left.

***

Thanks to the company of the other harlings living in Selanium, Ritsua recovered rapidly from his gloom and Miho relaxed. Leeruan had appointed Lesath, his second, to take care of them, but Miho and him had an agreement he would always inform him of his whereabouts and then would be free to do what he wanted.

The second week of his father’s absence, Miho went back to their shop and opened it again. He was used to taking care of the customers while his father was in his workshop and it took only half an hour for somehar to enter the shop, in search of a gift for a feybraiha celebration. Hara came and went all day long, but they were fewer than usually and Miho decided to close at mid-afternoon. He had other things in mind. He went back in the house, that felt asleep, with its tidy empty rooms, waiting for hara to come back.

Then he walked to his father workshop. He was surprised by the warmth he felt when he entered ; it was as if he had come back home. Everything was in place for him. Even his apron he hadn’t worn for a long time. He took his precious bundle from his bag and opened it on the worktable : the damp earth that had been soaked in the Shining Prince’s aura. He added it to a chunk of common clay he cut from his father’s stocks and started to mix and knead it thoroughly to ensure the perfect cohesion of the material. He couldn’t be certain that the resulting clay would be tough enough to bare the firing and following steps, but instinctively, he knew that what he was doing was right.

It was as his father had always told him : beyond the basics, there was a world of intuition only a few could reach for and they, of the Fahr family, were among the privileged ones.

He turned to the potter’s wheel and after a deep inspiration threw the ball of clay down to it. It started. It came ; was it from memories, the long habit of watching the interminable dance of the wheel?

Every move had its meaning, it was a language, a conversation.

More water. More pressure on the side.

His hands were sliding smoothly, shaping, following the lines. Miho’s mind was empty, he was looking from outside, a young har in front of a wheel, primal energy coursing from his feet through his body to his hands. There was like a soft hum to his ears.

It was almost dark when the wheel finally stopped. Miho’s arms and shoulders now felt heavier. There was a little urn in front of him, anonymous, clay urn.

“Are you all right?” The voice made him start violently.

“Ebreean? What are you doing here?”

“Lesath told me you went down here and I needed to talk to you. I saw the shop was closed and I found the entrance to the courtyard. I heard a sound and I was drawn here…” He shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know what happened, I saw you and this wheel and I couldn’t take my eyes off of you, I couldn’t think anymore, I don’t know how long I stayed like this.”

Miho tried to stand up but his legs felt weak. Ebreean hurried by his side and helped him up.

“I’ll just cut it off and put it up to dry,” he said with difficulty, his throat so dry.

With feeble hands, he did so and Ebreean went to put it on the shelf.

“You’re exhausted,” his companion said worryingly. “Sit down here. I’ll take care of the rest.”

He sat him on a bench along the wall and went to fetch him a drink. He found a flagon on a shelf, took a sniff of it and then poured him a cup. He took it in his hands and closed his eyes. The rising of energy woke Miho from his slumber. Ebreean helped him drink, it was warm and felt good in his mouth. He took his apron away and cleaned him like a newborn harling.

The room was colder now, as if something had gone, its goal achieved. Ebreean turned the stove on and sat next to Miho, holding him in his arms silently.

“You wanted to tell me something?” Miho asked finally.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry. I’ve thought a lot about what happened and I realized I might have hurt your feelings by mistaking you for a pure born. I’ve been so dumb, I didn’t see it. I wanted to ask Leeruan about you, but he was leaving, I couldn’t disturb him. It took me a week to finally gather enough courage to come to you.”

“I should be the one to apologize,” Miho said. “You couldn’ t know, I’m the same age as you, I could be a pure born. But I’m not, and I have kind of a heavy story.”

“I heard once that great hara are the ones with the heaviest stories. Then I suppose I’m an insignificant one.”

They laughed.

“You know, I think I need to tell someone, I’ve always needed someone to confide to, but I’ve always feared their reaction.”

“I’ve told you some of the things about our great stars, I don’t see how you could have worst things to tell, though I can’t be sure.”

“I don’t want you to be disgusted by me, I want to be close to you.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” They shared breath. Ebreean broke the contact reluctantly. “I want to hear it, tell me.”

***

Miho was born in a little town of Megalithica. His father was a famous potter, whose works were masterpieces sought by rich people from all over the world. His mother was called Erin and was a kind and beautiful woman, with long black hair, the face of an angel illuminated by two wondrous sapphires, his father’s muse. She used to sing softly to lull little Miho to the world of dreams. He could remember her voice very clearly.

The three of them adored each other so much, they were living in another world entirely. They traveled a lot as his father always needed more clays and not ordinary clays and was invited in various countries to display his works and attend famous conventions. He was said to be able to speak with the Earth though his hands.

Then, when Miho had been five, the travels have stopped suddenly. They settled in a little house at the edge of a forest, near a small village, losing themselves in the country. Looking back, Miho knew his father had had hints of what would happen. But what he hadn’t known, or hadn’t wanted to see, was the death of his wife.

The illness had been lurking for years before it struck suddenly. Miho had been eight. His father was locked with her almost all day. She died within six months, fading away, always smiling. When Miho went to see her, his father was still holding her hands, weeping silently. The boy learned later Solien had wanted to go too. Only his presence had made him cling desperately to life. The year that followed was a void in Miho’s memories, he only remembered the darkness and the cold, a one-year long winter.

Then unexpectedly, spring has come back, his father stepping once more in his workshop.

Maybe one week afterwards, they went for a walk in the forest to find more clay. Miho remembered it clearly, he could almost hear the birds singing, the rustle of the trees dancing to the wind. His father knelt and touched the soil. Miho was playing with a stick, drawing invisible figures in the air. His father called him.

“Miho, we must go back and prepare. They will come soon.” He smiled at him, his eyes sad, full of love.

Back home, they ordered all their things, securing them as if they wouldn’t be back for a long time. Miho didn’t understand his father’s determination.

“We will leave mother?,” Miho asked with a trembling voice.

“In a way, Miho, but mother has gone back to the Earth now, she’s with us wherever we go.”

Anyway, they went to put flowers on her grave and say goodbye. And they waited. Only a few hours. Miho was sleepy when his father shook him lightly.

“Listen, they’ve come. Stand still and behave yourself.”

Miho could hear the sound of hooves on the path before the house and other sounds from afar, from the village. He couldn’ t recognize them though. His father opened the door and stepped outside in the morning light.

“Welcome. I live here with my son. I wish to come to you and offer you my skills.”

Five men – at this time, Miho thought they were men, tall, savage men – had come into the house. Miho had cowered behind his father’s legs ; he felt a storm of fury could erupt at any moment.

“You know about us.” Their leader said with a cruel smile. “You know exactly what we are, don’t you?”

“I do. I know you will rule the Earth, I know I can follow you or die. And I want to live, I want my son to live.”

The leader looked all around and spotted some of his father’s works. He laughed.

“I know you as well, Solien Fahr. It would be a shame for Wraeththu to lose your talents.”

Then they’d been led to the tribe temporary headquarters. Thanks to the leader’s fondness for his father, young Miho was spared a lot of things he discovered only later, behind protective walls. The first days, he was taken apart from his father ; he cried and begged, afraid they’d taken him forever – just like his mother – but then his father came back. Miho knew immediately he was not the same. He looked exhausted and hurt, but he was alive and more beautiful than ever. He hold out his hands and Miho flung his arms around his neck, tears of joy flowing down his cheeks.

They traveled for some months with the tribe. Life was not easy because he was a child among adults, a human among hara. When his father wasn’t along, he was mocked and kicked around. He always hid those incidents because he knew his father was doing his best to protect him and he didn’t want him to worry about things he could do nothing against.

Miho finally noticed the rising tension between his father and the leader. One night, he crept to the leader’s quarters and eavesdropped.

“Why can’t you?!,” his father was saying angrily. “I know they do it, if only you would agree to contact them! Miho is a good child, he has the same talents than me, he’d be a great addition to your men!”

“He’s nine, goddammit! Those Colurastes are freaks and perverts!”

“They’re not, you know that! What with that stupid pride of yours?! Colurastes know how to incept children without hurting them!”

“We’ll have no dealings with them, and that’s the end of this, Solien. Don’t bring this subject up, I warn you.”

“And what if I do? You will have me shot?”

“You know I won’t, but I’m getting bored of this argument. If you fall from grace, your son won’t be as protected as he is now, you should realize this and be grateful.”

“Are you threatening us?”

“You came to us willingly, you had what you wanted.”

Miho heard some struggling noises and he stood up to jump to his father’s help. He tripped over a rope, his hand caught something. The canvas. Half-opened.

His father and the leader, the ripped clothes thrown on the floor, the shadows against each other, clawing at each other, muffled cries in the pillows… blood… and the demon smile.

Miho fled. He abandoned his father to the demon clutches. He wept and sobbed, he fell and could not stand up again, he was so stricken. He huddled up and lost himself to grief.

The earth was damp against his face, cold and now warm. Miho felt his tears drying up, calm sipping into his mind. He didn’t understand what was happening to him. He felt filled with an alien strength. A voice that was not a voice whispered in his inner ears. He stood up and walked to his room in a daze. He laid down and waited. Minutes, hours? A shadow finally entered, unsteady, shaking. His father fell to the side of his bed. He put a trembling hand on his face and Miho looked up with inhuman calm.

“We have to go, my Miho. Would you pack your things?”

“Are we fleeing?”

“No, my dear son, no. We wouldn’t be able to. We’ll simply go, it’s okay now. I’ve paid my due. They couldn’t give me what I wanted.”

***

Then, father and son traveled to the mystic Colurastes. They must have been protected by an unknown deity because they went across a company of Colurastes in quest one week later. They were strange and a little frightening, Miho wouldn’t meet their cold and piercing eyes, wouldn’t touch their oiled skin. His father spoke with their shaman one night long. At dawn, they accompanied the company back to Colurastes’ territory. They stayed only a few days. The Colurastes wouldn’t hear about his father’s request. They thought Miho was too old and wouldn’t stand the inception. They had seen strange signs in the ethers around him, they said. They said Miho was not to be Colurastes. Furious, his father stormed out of the chief’s tent one night and went directly to pack their things. They had left at dawn.

But their departure had been too hasty, they hadn’t taken enough supplies and within a week, lost in the wilderness, they were only waiting for death. They were found by a strange group of hara, mounted on white tall horses. They were too feeble to acknowledge their saviors.

It took them several days to recover at the camp of the Gelaming. They were scouts coming from Immanion who had come after them. All this, Miho didn’t learn until much later. Gelaming wanted to gather the most talented hara from around the world in their city of Immanion, beyond the ocean, on the continent of Almagabra. Even as the great city already stood tall and proud for some years, it seemed the search was never over.

His father didn’t want to go, but they offered him to incept his son. Miho didn’t remember clearly the Otherlanes travel, only fear and frost, the piercing pain of cold, then the warm breeze of the air and the bright light of the streets of Gelaming pulsing heart. He remembered the scent of flowers in a small and clean room, the soothing voices, the cold fluid in his mouth, the hands on his naked shoulders. The first days in Immanion were a blurry memory, his clearest memories were of his awakening : he had been lying on a cold altar, wearing only a simple white robe, his feet bare. He had sat then stood, had gone down the short flight of stairs. He had felt light-headed, he had felt like flying.

His father had been waiting for him at the doors of the Nayati. He cried with joy while embracing him. Now Miho could reach with his mind and say “I’m all right now, I’m like you.”

Next to his father was standing a tall blond har, Leeruan. He smiled gently.

They settled in the house at the outskirts of the city. Miho was still a bit euphoric during those days, he hadn’t known all the pulling and thrusting between his father and Leeruan about this location. It was not until much later that the young har learned about the meeting between those two. Leeruan was the one responsible for this foray in such a dangerous area. With his newly acquired Nahir-Nuri powers, he had seen them in a trance, he’d been drawn to them. Heaven and Earth.

Years went by unnoticed, as the two of them built themselves a new life. Solien and Leeruan shared a strange relationship which his father would rarely spoke about.

Miho didn’t know how Leeruan persuaded him to host a pearl for him. He knew only a special kind of aruna could achieve that and that it involved very strong feelings, but seeing how coldly his father behaved with their protector, he had long wondered how they managed in making Ritsua.

It was near the time he’d come of age. His Feybraiha had been carefully planned, because he was not a real pure born. Leeruan took great care in choosing the one for him. It was a skilled and attractive hara from another Nahir-Nuri’s family called Vellean. They spent some delightful weeks together, Miho being too intoxicated by his aura to realize all the anguish his father was going through. When he finally came back from his Feybraiha euphoria, his father was with pearl.

Despite all that he had learned during his few past years as a har and his recent discovery of aruna, it felt very strange to know life was growing inside his father’s body. Solien appeared as serene as ever but he spent many hours outside, his hands on the earth, eyes closed ; Miho knew he wouldn’t show his fears to anyhar. He stayed more and more to his side, helping him at the best of his abilities. During this period, he closed himself to the others except his father, and after, his brother.

Leeruan wanted his companion to move to Selanium to be properly taken care of, but Solien wouldn’t hear about that. He was visited every week by a physician and near his term, every two days. When the time came, Miho was roughly taken outside his father’s room. He waited in anguish while his father writhed in the pain of delivery. After a few hours, he was allowed to enter and discovered his father, exhausted, curled around a dark glistening pearl. Solien turned his eyes to him and held out a hand he took. It was cold and shaking.

“We will give him our warmth, our strength and our love. This little miracle.”

They smiled and wept of joy. After due course, the pearl hatched and Miho fell under the charm of the mewling little thing that extended blindly his arms to him.

***

“It’s been four years now,” Miho said with a sigh. “Ritsua is as wonderful as on that first day and he’ll only grow more beautiful as time goes by.”

“You sound as if you were his hostling yourself.” Ebreean teased. “I wish they’d be feelings so strong between my hostling and me or my father and me,” he added wistfully.

“So it seems you’re not so insignificant!” Miho chided.

He felt so relieved but he didn’t want to admit it to Ebreean. It was as if a great weigh had been lifted from his shoulders.

“You know what?,” Ebreean whispered. “Your story made you even more lovely to my eyes. It may sound stupid, but I think I’m falling in love with you.”

“How human of you!” Miho couldn’t help laughing, to hide his blush. “A pure born Gelaming in love with the poor son of a potter. Sounds like Cinderella to me.”

“Cin… what?”

“Sounds like paradise to me.”

Part 4 : First step on the road.

An insistent knock woke Miho up. He sat up and the cover slipped from his shoulders, baring them to the cold air. Where was he? He felt a warm hand sneak to his waist and heard a muffled groan under the sheets.

“Miho? Are you in here?”

Everything rushed back. The urn, Ebreean, bliss on the wings of an angel – aruna.

“I’m inside! Please could you wait in the house, I’ll come over in a minute!”

He frantically searched for his clothes and shook his companion.

“Ebreean, wake up! It’s Lesath! He must not see us like that!!”

“Like what?” Ebreean answered sleepily, a smile tugging at his lovely lips. “Are you a monk or something?”

“As if you’d know what a monk is! Get up and dress!”

***

They found Lesath and Ritsua in the main room, the harling explaining to his unimpressed guardian the story of a little blue jar. Ritsua ran to him and held him fiercely.

“Don’t go away from me. Don’t ever go away!”

“Don’t be stupid, I told you I was coming here.”

“You didn’t mention you would stay here overnight.” Lesath said coldly. “And with somehar. I’m not that bothered but I don’t think Leeruan or Solien would be pleased to find you in pearl when they come back.”

“Lesath, we’re adults.” Ebreean answered reasonably. “I’m already Pyralisit, I know what I’m doing.”

“Being gifted is no warranty for these kinds of things. You, who know so much about all the gossips around here, should know that, unless you’ve spared our dear Tigron from your scrutiny?”

Ebreean blushed and closed his mouth. Miho knew, from their long conversations of the previous night, that his companion was particularly obsessed by all that touched Pellaz har Aralis, leader of Wraeththu, and was often rebuked because of his almost morbid interest. And lately, he had taken on a special dislike for Calanthe, new Tigron of Immanion. A glamorous upstart, a wicked beauty, he said.

“Did Leeruan or Solien ask you to watch over who I’m with?” Miho asked coldly. “Do I belong to the Gelaming breeding stock now that I’ve stepped into your world?”

Lesath stared at him in silence.

“There’s no breeding stock. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do things you’ll regret later,” he said finally. “Now I think it’s time to go back at Selanium. Ebreean?”

“I’ll go back home too. I’ll see you later, Miho, okay?”

He nodded silently. Ritsua shook his hand, tears in his eyes.

“Don’t be cross at me, please, I just didn’t want you to go away.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

***

Ebreean came almost everyday to Selanium to visit him, but it seemed Lesath had organized a skillful watch and they were never left alone together. One evening, after his friend departure, Miho stormed into Lesath’s office.

“Enough is enough. I won’t tolerate this anymore! Servants who wanted to wash my room all over just today?! That’s ridiculous!”

“Calm down. I’m working.”

“And I’m speaking to you! Listen to me!”

“I’m listening.”

“And all this is unworthy of your comments?”

Lesath sighed and put his papers aside. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.

“Okay, sit down, I have some things to explain to you.”

The sternness of this har was nothing new to him, but there was something more this time, hard, icy.

“Do you really know about Ebreean and his family?”

“Of course!”

“Really?” He sounded somewhat amused.

“Okay, I know he’s the last son of a low caste, low ranking family that built their fortune with a family affair, they sent their three sons to the most brilliant schools of Immanion and Ebreean is the most successful so far.”

“He is truly talented, he was the youngest of his peers to attain Pyralisit level.”

“So?”

“His parents have always yearned for a more elevated status in our society, they worked a lot and were rewarded for that, of course, but it was never enough.”

“What do I have to do with his parents?”

“They’ve always wanted to have ties with the high ranking families of the city. I think they’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.”

“What do you mean?” Miho had gone cold. He could barely speak.

“If Ebreean wants to, given your caste gap, he could put you with pearl. Then you’d be chained to each other.”

Minutes poured down the hourglass of Time. Finally, Miho stood up and walked to the door.

“You’re wrong,” he managed to say. Barely. And went out.

***

Miho couldn’t feel anything. The night has passed like a curtain of shadow and the morning couldn’t light anything in the world of gloom that had closed around his heart. He couldn’t remember what he had done since he learnt about Ebreean, it seemed everything had been fairly normal… Lesath had kept Ritsua apart, because there was no doubt his little brother would have been affected by his strange mood. It was like being prisoner of an ice tower, the cold could numb you to death, and you could see everything around you like a movie, something you had no part in.

As soon as the sun had thrown his first rays beyond the misty horizon, Miho had sent a message to Ebreean house. He barely remembered what he had written, it had been short and polite.

He sat in the little salon waiting Ebreean to come to him. He hadn’t even eaten his breakfast. He could hear hara going about their daily tasks. He wondered briefly if Lesath was already up and watching him through a crystal ball, a grim smile upon his face ; not that it mattered.

Ebreean presented himself at Selanium less than one hour after Miho has sent the summons. His hair were still wet and his eyes were worried. He inquired immediately if something had happened. Miho could see that as soon as his friend saw his face, he had had a hint about what was to come.

Miho told him about his conversation with Lesath. His voice was so distant, he felt as if it were not his own. Ebreean listened in a stunned silence, his face white, his fists clenched.

“Is it true?” Miho asked finally, his voice still even.

Ebreean closed his eyes, then opened them again. There was a distant light inside of them, far away, to be hidden and quashed into darkness.

“I’ve been told things like that.” Ebreean admitted, looking straight at him, his voice clear and steady. “But I was against it. Then I met you at the party before Solien and Leeruan left. I didn’t realize who you were, even after you told me your name… When I finally did, I thought it didn’t matter anymore, because I felt something genuine was building up between us. But I was wrong.”

The coolness in his voice finally breached the glass walls of Miho emotional numbness.

“You should have told me!,” he cried.

“I thought it didn’t matter,” he repeated and stood up. “I regret you doubted me. I should have known. You are a favored har now, before whom others of lesser status must bend and fawn, somehar I’m not worthy of…”

The bitterness that leaked from his tone punched Miho in the stomach.

“What would you have thought in my place?”

“I saw it in your eyes when I entered here, you condemned me before you even heard what I had to say. You should think of that. I will, at any rate, but far from here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been offered a position in Imbrilim to further my training. I thought it was Lesath doing. I see now it’ll do me good to accept it.”

“Are you fleeing from me?” Miho felt the cold creep back in his body.

“Yes, I saw something in you, in us, but it was a delusion. I guess that’s another lesson I have to learn. Some say that I’m a genius but even geniuses can make mistakes.”

***

Miho couldn’t weep, he couldn’t think. Everything was blank. He felt something under his hands, cold and hard, something that was slowly seeping inside of him, filling the void that was him. It opened him up, gently nudged the dam of his emotions to let go. Miho tasted salty tears on his lips. He fell to his side.

Later, Ritsua found him unconscious by the pond.

***

Miho never blamed Lesath for what happened. In fact they rarely spoke of Ebreean afterwards. It appeared that it really was Lesath who had arranged for the young har to be offered this position in Imbrilim. He said that beyond matters concerning Leeruan’s pupil, Ebreean could learn a lot during his travels and his talents would be given a chance to serve a new and bigger purpose. Miho didn’t say anything. He had been given something of a peace by the pond, a balm to his broken heart, a way to deal with the pain. He would have to accept and go on with his life.

Occasionally, Lesath would give him news of his friend – he wasn’t even sure they were still friends – and he would simply nod.

A few days after Ebreean had stepped out of his life, Miho went to Lesath and asked to return to their house in the town to live there until Solien’s return.

“I want to continue my father’s work while he’s abroad. I’ll be safe, the neighbors know me and would check on me regularly, and you can send somehar from time to time.”

“You were supposed to study here.” Lesath objected.

“I’m not a scholar. I’ll never be somehar like Leeruan, I don’t want to. I want to become a potter like my father and I have to start working to attain this goal.”

“What of your brother?” the older har added.

“He can stay here and visit me from time to time. I don’t want to force my view of life on him. I’ll even talk him into staying here if you want.”

Lesath leaned back in his chair, clearly displeased.

“I’m not sure Leeruan would have approved of this idea… you’re still young.” He said pensively.

“Look, we could give it a try and see how it turns out. Check on me everyday and we’ll see how I manage.”

“Oh I have no doubt you’ll manage just as well as your father. That’s not the question.”

“Then what is the question?” Miho asked reasonably. “Leeruan wants Ritsua and me to become new stars of the Gelaming society? I understand his views for his son but I’m not his son and I know Solien would never force me to do something like that. You know that.”

“What I know, what Leeruan knows, is that you have something special in you, just like your father, and Wraeththu need your talents, we need everyhar to give a hand.”

Miho was a little taken aback by the strength of his conviction. He had never suspected he was given so much credit. He shook his head.

“I’m not going to retire in a cavern and meditate for years far from my own people. I’ll definitively develop my talents, but in my way.”

“How can you know it’s the right way?”

Miho smiled more broadly.

“I just know, because I have something special inside me that tells me so.”

***

Ritsua wasn’t easy to persuade. He wept and cried, begged… but Miho remained firm in his decision. His little brother then became sullen and didn’t come to see him for several days after his return to the pottery. Then one day, he poked his head round the door of the workshop and offered him grudgingly a cake he had cooked for him, just like Miho himself used to do for Solien.

Taking up after his father was not as difficult as Miho had envisaged. There were a lot of his works still to be sold and few customers with special requests. Before dealing with these, Miho worked hard to produce various items and submit them to the customers’ judgment. His works could not be mistaken as Solien’s pieces, but as a whole, they received good comments and some of them were even sold.

Ritsua used to visit him, alone or with his friends. The harling made it his duty to try to interest them in pottery. He said to his big brother that he had asked Lesath for a potter’s wheel and was practicing everyday. They became used to talking about their art every time they’d meet. Ritsua criticisms about his earthenware were always interesting and Miho discovered he improved a lot thanks to him. Now the shelves of Solien’s workshop were lined up with Miho’s works, at various stages of finishing. However, there was one piece he hadn’t touched since he’d come back : the little urn he’d produced from the pond clay. When he had tried to take it for the first firing, he had been paralyzed by a flood of emotions, this night with Ebreean vivid in his very flesh ; this urn had been soaked in the aura of the Tigron, then immersed in the energy of aruna ; it was almost like a child of Grissecon and possessed a life of its own. So now it was standing in a corner of the workshop, watching over the birth of fellow creations.

***

One month has passed without Miho realizing it. He was in the process of closing the shop for lunch time one day when Lesath knocked at the door. Leeruan’s aide made it his duty to check on him once a week, often accompanying Ritsua. But he had already come two days ago and now he was alone.

“What’s happening?” Miho asked, his heart thudding in his chest. “Ritsua?”

“He’s all right.” His voice was tight, his face sallow.

“Then who isn’t?”

“We’d better sit.”

“Is it my father?!”

“Sit down, please.”

Numbed, the young har showed him inside the house, in the main room. They sat heavily in the sofa.

“Leeruan was always reporting every two or three days. Everything was normal, as far as we knew…”

“Then what?”

“He hasn’t reported for one week.” It wasn’t even a shock, he had felt it from the moment he had seen Lesath.

“If something had happened, you’d know it, wouldn’t you?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“We’ve asked Listeners to search for him, but they haven’t found anything yet. I didn’t tell anything to your brother, because I thought they’ll show up, but the fact that we couldn’t find any trace of them or their Sedu… Even if they’d had an accident in the Otherlanes, the Sedu here would have known. We have absolutely no clue. I’m sorry.”

“If they had died, your Listeners would have felt it.” Miho insisted. “There’s something else.”

“Patrols have been sent from Imbrilim. Maybe they’ll be able to find them. I thought maybe you would want to come back to Selanium, you’d hear the news as soon as they’d arrive.”

Miho closed his eyes, his head was spinning.

“No, not yet… I might come up, but not now…”

“Do you want me to say it to Ritsua?”

“No, I will. Tomorrow… yes, I’ll come tomorrow. Keep Ritsua busy and… keep him in the highest levels of Selanium.”

“Why?”

“He might learn it by himself.”

Miho went in the workshop. He was thinking about ordering, sorting his things out. His father would be displeased to find his pottery in such a mess. The glazes he had prepared could not be stored, the rest, he would keep in cupboards and pots. Fortunately, he had just delivered the most recent order to one of the customers. He took the clay back to the back room, checked the kiln, closed the windows panels.

What’s happening to me?

As he was making for the door, his eyes fell on the dark corner where the little urn stood. He felt strangely drawn to it and took it. This time, nothing came to him, it was just like any unfinished pottery, crude and cold. But at the same time, he couldn’t let go of it. Sighing, he wrapped it in a piece of tissue and put it in his bag.

***

Ritsua was sitting on the floor, his back to the door. He was humming, his upper body gently swaying to the melody. He had been sent to a tower to meditate. Strangely enough, it was an activity he liked to do, unlike harlings his age. His tutors used to say he was hearing voices no one else could hear.

“Ritsua.”

His brother turned towards the door. He jumped to his feet and ran to him. He hugged him fiercely.

“Are you all right?” Miho asked awkwardly.

“I’m afraid.” He whispered, his mouth in his shirt.

“What are you afraid of?” He asked, his mind numbed.

Ritsua took a step back. His eyes were red and swollen. Miho felt his throat tighten up.

“They’re in danger. You have to go and help them.” The harling said with conviction.

“What are you talking about?,” Miho asked with a strained voice.

“Don’t try to hide me things! I know!” Ritsua cried, tears flowing down his cheeks. “It came during the night, when we slept outside, Kerasos, Munithen and me. I didn’t understand it until now, as I was meditating.”

Miho suddenly realized what Ritsua was doing his meditation : he was deciphering the whispers of the Earth he could hear all day long.

“Let’s sit down, Ritsua. Now tell me everything.”

He took out his handkerchief and cleaned his little bother’s face from tears.

“I can hear voices. They’re always talking to me. They can show me things in my head. I saw Father and … I mean Solien and Father. They have gone to a house, they’ve done things I couldn’t see clearly but I felt Father… Solien was distressed, something happened and everything was normal again… and then Solien wanted to go somewhere, Father wouldn’t let him go, he said it was suicide. But I saw Solien go, all alone, during the night. Father tried to catch up with him, but the Sedu were sleeping, he couldn’t wake them up, and so he had to run… He went to a bad place, the place where Solien wanted to go and then, I couldn’t see more… I tried to, but there was nothing more to see.”

“Sshh, what you saw is enough. You did great.” He took him in his arms, whispering soft words in his ears.

Then Ritsua straightened up.

“You have to go. The voices told me. They said I was too young and it was not my role. They said I was the Eyes and you were the Hands.”

“I’ll speak to Lesath, he’ll help us. Don’t worry, I’ll do anything I can to bring them back.”

***

Lesath threw his papers abruptly on his desk.

“That’s ridiculous.” He said crisply.

“Don’t you believe us?”

“That’s not the question! I won’t risk your life to face a danger none of us knows about.”

“I’m not a child anymore. I have to do what has to be done.”

“That’s not your place. Why won’t you tell me what this is all about? We have hara more trained than you that would be best suited to find your parents.”

“I can’t tell you something I don’t know.” Miho repeated patiently. “Ritsua has been told I had to go. The voices didn’t say I was the best trained or the strongest or anything like that, they simply said it had to be me. I’m not a hero or a champion, if I could let you do the job, I would. But I can’t.”

“You won’t go, that’s the end of it. I’ll call for our best Adepts, they’ll try to communicate with Ritsua’s voices to learn what has to be done to find Solien and Leeruan.”

***

Ritsua resisted Lesath’s idea and his father’s aide had him drugged and taken to the private Nayati of Selanium. Miho was locked up in his room during the whole process. He was furious with Lesath for acting so rashly and sick with worry over his brother. He hoped the Adepts would confirm Ritsua’s words ; despite what he had said, he wanted to go to Megalithica, now that the spell had been cast, it had taken a life of its own and wounded itself around him, wormed his way into his head.

He put down the book he was trying to read on the bed and stood up to pace around. He felt full of energy but couldn’t see any way to vent it. The sun was setting, its rays warming everything of its glorious last lights. One met the metal of a button on Miho’s bag, lending him its radiance for the briefest of moments. He went to open it, his hands searching, knowing. The urn was so plain, Miho wondered if it could really contain the power he saw in it. He took him in his hands, holding it in front of him. The last colors of the day were gliding along its curves toward him, its outline blurred. He could hear a distant whisper, as if many hara were calling for him. He closed his eyes.

He fell inside. Their hands gripped him, their nails dug into his skin.

Tell us. Tell us.
Who are you? What do I have to tell you?
We call upon you, tell us.

Miho struggled for freedom, then recognized the voices. They were not ethereal voices nor disembodied ones. He knew them. He opened his inner eyes and saw the Nayati from above, the seven Adepts sitting in circle around the unconscious body of Ritsua.

They’re calling for the Voices of the Earth, he thought. Why am I here?
You’re here…, he heard in his ear. Bewildered, he looked around but saw nothing.
You’re the Heir…
You’re the Vessel…
Go…
Give yourself…
Open…
Free…

The Voices invaded his mind, his entire being. He took his head in his hands trying to cling to his sanity. He wanted to call for help, but the Voices were like mist diving in his throat, up his nose, through his eyes. He fell, plucked from the air, down towards the floor of the Nayati. He heard panicked screams, shouts all around. All went black.

***

He woke up in his bed, by the dying sun of the next day. Ritsua was sleeping soundly by his side. As he was trying to sat up without disturbing him, he heard a sound in the shadows. He looked sharply around. Somehar was sitting in the chair by the door. He stood up and came forward. Miho had never seen him before. He had long silver hair and an intrigued look on his long perfect face.

“Can you get up?,” he asked softly, extending one hand.

Miho took it and he felt static electricity flash briefly between them. The stranger put a light robe on his shoulders and escorted him to the next room. They sat around a tray of food.

“My name is Arahal, you may have heard of me?”

“Aren’t you the one in charge of Imbrilim?” He asked, startled.

“Indeed. Lesath has called for me, in the name of Leeruan. He already briefed me about the new developments. He asked that I watch over you. But first of all, I am to take you to Megalithica as soon as possible.”

Part 5 : Megalithica

Cold, senseless void, screams of lost souls…

Miho woke up in a start, his heart pounding painfully in his chest, his breath clouding in front of him in the cool air. He closed his eyes, trying to regain his balance ; he shut himself to the reminiscences, his hand gripping fiercely the little amulet Ritsua had made for him and that hung from a rope to his neck. There was no sound in this Megalithican night, not even the whisper of the wind.

He saw a garden and a tall tree in a bright day. Ritsua was waving down at him from the high branches, his face the face of an angel. He was smiling.

Everything will be all right.

Miho exhaled and opened his eyes. He got out of bed and went to the bathroom to wash his face with cold water. He shuddered. Back in his bedroom, he lit candles and sat cross-legged on the floor ; he closed his eyes and willed his breath to slow down, his Inner Eye to open. He had to face his fears of Otherlanes travel ; he couldn’t continue with this paralyzing panic if he really were to help his father.

He could now remember this first time : despite his weakness due to food and water deprivation, he had fought like a mad dog against the hands that were leading him to the white monster creatures ; he could hear the distant call of Solien but couldn’t understand his words. These creatures were not from this Earth, they were invading enemies, they were scorching their world with their very presence. And to be forced to touch them! He would be burn by the contact!

The Gelaming had to drug him senseless to get him on a Sedim. In the fog that was almost his consciousness, the passage from this Earth had been an excruciating experience, as if his inner being had been torn to pieces thrown to the winds of other planes ; he had seen countless nightmares, he had fallen into them, screaming…

That was because I had such a strong link to the Earth, Miho realized with a shudder. And I didn’t even knew it. This travel without preparation… it must have been as if I had been cut away… I was drugged and didn’t even have my will at this moment to try and keep myself whole in the Otherlanes. A miracle I made it with my sanity.

And the traumatism had stayed within himself, buried until recently. Arahal had reacted quickly and healers had worked on him almost immediately after their arrival, when he had collapsed from the Sedim back, writhing as if burning from inside.

He became breathless again, his chest caught in a nod of anxiety. He forced himself to relax, slowly.

He had never cared about training and he had never liked staying motionless in meditation – he had always considered it a waste of time. But now, he was in great need for an inner strength he had yet to develop.

“You must listen to the Voices of the Earth,” Ritsua had said with a comical seriousness on his young face. “Listen and understand. It’s not easy, I always try very hard and it’s as if I can only understand half of it. But if you try, you can understand it all, I’m sure!”

Dear faithful little Ritsua.

Miho put on a night robe and went out of his room, down the stairs to the salon. Lights were subdued but enough to see where you were going. Miho liked the atmosphere of this house, it was not a palace but a den anchored deeply in the earth, you could feel it through its walls and floors. He wondered how Arahal could have settled in there, though he had heard he was not often in residence because of his duties ; it didn’t fit in his ethereal, unworldly outward character and appearance ; on the other hand, such a har, as he was seeing him, could not be the administrator of Imbrilim.

As he was passing by the entrance hall, he noticed a pair of gloves on the table. Visitors at this time of the night? Silently, he walked to Arahal office and leaned to the door. He could hear so clearly, it seemed unnatural.

“… found them. It was really uncanny, I could have sworn they never sleep, and then there they were. Just like normal horses. Even their robes were shining differently. And when we came closer to them, they woke up. You could almost say they were as surprised as us.”

“That’s something for others to ponder about.” Miho heard and he recognized Arahal’s voice. “What did you find about Solien and Leeruan?”

“Nothing of use, unfortunately.”

“Did you find the former house of the Fahr?”

“Yes. We investigated it but again, nothing. I don’t even know if they entered it. The place was dusty and a part of the roof was gone. We only found traces of activity in the pottery behind the house and around the woman’s grave.”

Miho went cold. The woman. His mother.

“It was as if somehar had dug into it or something. Some said it could be black magic. But Falee didn’t detect anything of this kind. He said something had happened but it was too faint, he couldn’t say more. He was also puzzled about that because he said it was recent and he should be able to pick up more.”

“He’s Algomalid and almost ready to step up to Nahir-Nuri. I doubt anyhar could do better than him…” Arahal sighed. “Anyway, I’ll see him tomorrow morning. I’ll expect your full report by the same time.”

“Yes, tiahaar.”

Miho ran back to the salon and hid in the library, waiting for the hara to pass him by. The front door was opened, then closed. Footsteps died away in the side corridor. Miho retraced his way up the stairs, brooding. As he was opening the door to his room, a hand clasped his shoulder, making him start.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Arahal was considering him with his most severe face. “Don’t you know it’s impolite to eavesdrop.”

Miho blushed and thanked silently the night for hiding it in its folds.

“I just happened to hear things you would have told me anyway, am I wrong ?”

“They discovered nothing.”

“No, they discovered something but they didn’t understand it. I have to go and check by myself.”

“Because you’ll be able to say what it is?”

“I know I’m not trained or anything but I have a kind of…special link to this place… this soil… I can hear its voice!”

“I thought it was your brother who could do that.”

“Yes, but I know I can too. Listen. There’s nothing dangerous around there. The area has been secured for quite some time now.”

“It’s secure because the land owns little interest. It’s a doomed area around there. And in that it is far more dangerous than any rogue hara or humans.”

“Doomed area?”

Arahal rubbed his eyes.

“Listen, Miho, it’s late, too late to speak of past events. How about we go to bed and wait a couple of hours before I satisfy your curiosity?”

“But it’s about…”

“A couple of hours won’t make a difference.”

And at that, he opened the door and pushed him inside.

***

Miho should have insisted at that moment, Arahal had been tired, he would have surrendered eventually. But in the morning, he appeared far too busy to be approached. Somehar important arrived and he was away from home to take care of him.

The young har felt frustrated but he could do nothing about it. He considered asking about this “doomed area” to other hara, but he almost didn’t know anyhar here.

Helpless, he went to the garden to try to relax and maybe meditate. The garden seemed the only solace for his foul temper of the moment. However, stepping in another world let him out of his sullenness ; he was surprised by the care behind the delicate sceneries and the harmony of colors and shaping. He thought he’d always prefer raw nature to the pretensions of humans or hara alike to model it, but sometimes he would discover some jewels, where the creators’ intentions had sipped so well into it, it had captured something alive, something that formed a world of its own and had acquired its own conscience through its lines and curves. The sharpness and hardness of stone was equilibrated by the smoothness of moss and flower beds. The vivid vegetation call was answered by the grey tranquility of the fine gravel patterns.

At first, it appeared like a small pond of greenery, dotted with colorful flowers and shrubbery and animated by an undulating line of clear sand that highlighted the path. Then, behind a curtain of trees, it took on a new dimension as a different landscape of stones and moss perfectly combed would accompany the stroller to a little wooden pavilion, consisting of one main room opened to the outside through large round opening in its walls. Between the trees and shrubs surrounding it, there seemed to be little worlds of various sceneries, half-hidden by the wide leaves, meditating in their own peaceful atmosphere.

Miho sat, allowing for a brief instant his wonder to overcome his moroseness. It didn’t last, unfortunately. He thought his father would have liked to have a garden of this kind near his house, to walk and relax after a day of work. It was the kind of place where you could reach far outside… or far inside. Miho tried to relax and meditate, to no avail ; there was just too much on his mind. He sighed.

Then, he heard footsteps crissing on the sand. They were quite near and he was surprised he hadn’t heard them from afar.

“Is there anyhar in there?,” a voice called from outside.

Miho scrambled to his feet and came to the doorstep. He discovered a slim har, his short sun-bleached hair gathered in a loose ponytail, dirty gloves hanging at the belt of his old apron. He appeared genuinely surprised to see him but then, relief washed over his face.

“Well, it’s been a long time since somehar visited this garden. Are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m OK.” Miho said. “Are you one of Arahal staff?” Though he had never seen him before.

“Not exactly. I’m Mahisen, I take care of the gardens of Imbrilim.”

“I’m Miho. I just arrived from Immanion in search of my father.”

“I heard about you. Welcome here. Do you want to come over my place to have a cup of tea?”

The offer took him by surprise but without thinking Miho heard himself accepting. Well, it would pass time. Mahisen led him at the back of the garden, showing him the spots where he could step in the seas of moss and the stones he must absolutely not tread upon. Eventually, they arrived to a low hut where various tools were stocked.

“Sorry, there’s not a lot of place but we can settle over there, the stones form a very convenient table. Can you take the stools on the right?”

He entered the hut and Miho saw there was a little kitchen corner at the back. Some minutes later, the gardener carried a tray with a tea pot and cups and some biscuits to their little picnic spot.

“The accommodations are a little rustic but the tea is excellent and the biscuit are from this morning.” Mahisen said with a wide smile, while filling their cups.

“Do you really take care of all the gardens of the town?” Miho asked distractedly.

“No, that was a sham. I only take care of a few of them,” he hesitated before going on. “Listen, you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, don’t force yourself. Here’s a place of peace. You can just sit and listen to the silence.”

The young har was surprised but nodded in agreement. Mahisen felt like a warm comforting presence. It was as if he was chasing his fears and worries away. They stayed like that for maybe one hour, drinking their tea in little sips. There was no need for words here because even the silence was filled by the unspoken peaceful words of nature ; there seemed to be no place for anything else.

Finally, Mahisen stood up.

“I’m sorry, I have to go back home. You can stay if you want. Do you want me to bring you more tea?”

“Thank you, but it’s all right. I think it’s time for me too to go back. Will you be back tomorrow?”

“No, I must tend to another garden tomorrow. Maybe we could see each other in the afternoon at the Bridge Café? At four?”

“Yes, at four.”

Relief washed over Miho. He felt strangely drawn to this har and it felt there was more to be said between them. As they were saying goodbye, Miho impulsively kissed him on the lips. Mahisen simply smiled and walked away.

***

As he had expected, Arahal sent a message to say he would be away for an unspecified length of time and Miho was to stay at his home until his return. He also gave the name and address of the har responsible for Solien and Leeruan search in case he wanted to inform himself during his absence. Not that it would serve any purpose, he read between the lines. He just discarded the note.

The next day, the young har spent his time meditating before going to his rendezvous. He wasn’t able to contact his brother but didn’t felt uneasy about that. He knew his brother was well taken care of and for the first time in years, he felt free to do whatever he wanted and to behave without thinking of anyhar but himself.

He rummaged in Arahal’s wardrobe for a while to find something suitable, but finally settled for his usual outfit of loose white tee-shirt and blue trousers. He liked to feel at ease and free in his movements. Seduction had never been one of his goals – and he was graceful for that. However, for the briefest of moments, he had wanted to appear at his best to Mahisen ; the gardener felt like somehar he knew.

He was the first to arrive and settled at a table on the terrace. Mahisen wasn’t long and after some time chatting, they went for walk in the rustling streets. Miho was surprised to learn his companion was a pure-born only two years older than him and that his family came from Almagabra.

“Most hara traveled in the other direction at the time,” the gardener admitted with a sad laugh. “But my father decided we should not suffer anymore… you see, my hostling… it was not really a failed inception… I think he has always been… strange… but he was beautiful and the first hara weren’t very selective, not in these terms… those who survived the inceptions were supposed to be the fittest. My hostling was an exception.”

Miho was surprised to be told something so intimate.

“Don’t misunderstand,” Mahisen said hastily. “I love my hostling, he’s an angel, but he’s not really aware of all that goes by around him.”

“I had never heard of hara like that,” the youngest har said awkwardly.

“Neither had I.” He sighed. “Would you like to meet my hostling ? Lawrence loves to meet new hara.”

“Lawrence? That’s a funny name.”

“Indeed!” Mahisen replied with a wider smile. “It’s his human name. Usually newly incepted hara take on new names but he didn’t – I’m not sure he realized fully what had happened to him – and he would never answer to any other name his tribe tried to give him. So he ended up keeping his original name.”

“How did he meet your father?” Miho asked, feeling bolder by the easiness between them.

“My father was from a peaceful tribe of Northern Almagabra, maybe from what’s now Jaddayoth, he came upon one of their companies that was raiding the area. Lawrence was with them, their toy. My father freed him and took care of him. And then I grew out of their relationship.”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked…”

“It’s an old story now,” he answered lightly, but Miho could still see sadness in his eyes. “I hope Lawrence had forgotten about it.”

He appeared to shake himself out of his reverie.

“I heard a lot about you too,” he said more cheerfully.

“You did?”

“Since the search for your parents started… their story sounds like a fairy tale, a prince with a simple potter, no harm meant though.”

“No harm taken,” the young har answered. “But they’re not my parents, I’m not a pure-born, Solien is my father, but I had a human mother.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. She died one year before we were taken to the Wraeththu fold from a disease.”

He told him his story. It felt so much more easy now, since this first time with Ebreean. To remember his… his what? First love? This thought troubled him and he faltered. Mahisen squeezed his hand in reassurance, no doubt misinterpreting his feelings.

“Do you want to come over to my house? I heard you were alone at Arahal’s.”

***

Mahisen lived in a cosy little house at the edge of the town. It felt like a nest and the atmosphere was full of warm feelings. They drank some tea and he showed him his private little garden.

“When I feel sad or worried, I sit here and watch it move with the wind or simply live. It’s as if I can connect with this little world and it contains all of the world… as if I can find my place in it. You should have a haven like this to relax from time to time. You always feel so tense.”

“I have a haven of a sort… or a guardian… Well, it may sound ridiculous…”

Miho spoke of his link to the Earth and the times when it had help him overcome hardships.

“You and I are similar,” Mahisen said pensively. “We are hara bound to the Earth, you through its soil, me through its nature. I’m glad we met.”

“I’m glad too.”

Miho leaned and kissed him. They shared breath and their inner strength. They opened the door, their bodies fell over its threshold. It felt like falling under water but the clear liquid tasted like happiness and bliss. It flowed from the universe down into them, then out of them to merge with this single point that was their planet and finally, in an explosion that seemed to last forever, to its core of pure energy.

***

Miho was contemplating the garden ; its peace had not been even scratched by their passion. It was not indifferent, aruna was just a natural part of it.

“Thank you.” Miho said, looking down at his companion who had his head on his lap.

“I heard your call. It seemed you needed it.”

“I don’t have that many friends, even in Immanion. It’s hard for me to find a partner.”

“I thought somehar like you would be courted every hour of the day,” Mahisen teased him. “I’ve never seen you as an ascetic.”

“I’m not,” Miho laughed. “But there’s no occasion, that’s all. I can’t go to a bar, pick up a beautiful har and then sleep with him for the night, it’s not in me. And I have so many things to do usually, it helps to keep the beast tamed.”

They laughed together.

Part 6 : Going back

Miho met Mahisen regularly during the following week. Due to the gardener schedule, they could see each other only for a few hours each day, but it didn’t matter. They didn’t always take aruna, but their conversations were another kind of balm on Miho’s loneliness. Mahisen introduced him to his friends and he came to know much more hara in Imbrilim than in Immanion. He would go out during the day with one or the other and would be back at home only to fall in his bed in a happily oblivious exhaustion.

Then, at the end of the week, Mahisen asked him to come over to meet somehar he wouldn’t talk about. His eyes were twinkling of suppressed laughter. Miho felt a bit uneasy and it was the first time since they met. He presented himself at the appointed hour, tense and nervous. He was very surprised when an unknown har opened the door of the gardener’s house. He was tall and had very long auburn hair and startling clear blue eyes.

“Hey, you must be Miho. Nice to meet you, I’m Falee.”

Miho entered, his head spinning. Falee? This name, wasn’t it?…

“Miho!” Mahisen appeared from the kitchen, his cheeks flushed. “I see you’ve finally met. This is Falee, my chesnari.”

“Chesnari?,” Miho croaked.

Falee caught his lost gaze, understanding immediately ; he ushered him to the salon and made him sit.

“I’m sorry, it seems Mahisen didn’t have the sense of telling you,” he said worryingly. “Are you all right?”

Miho looked him in the eye. Here was another example of Wraeththu perfection, beautiful and powerful, the har who had been to his old house. Somehow it made sense. A har from Earth and a har from Heaven.

“It’s… it’s a surprise… weren’t you the har who investigated the Fahr house?”

“The Fahr house?” Falee frowned. “How do you?… Wait! You’re Miho Fahr?!”

He shook his head in bewilderment.

“I must go there.” Miho said soberly. The other har considered him, confused.

“You’re really a har!…” He leaned back in the sofa and sighed deeply. Mahisen appeared, carrying trays of food and drinks.

“Did you know Miho was the son of the hara I was investigating?” Falee asked his companion askance.

“Of course! You didn’t?”

“Mahisen! I’ve been back for only a few hours, I haven’t slept in a decent bed for days and I won’t tell you about the other accommodations, so please, spare me your little skirmishes!”

The gardener cocked his head on the side, a wide smile on his lovely lips. Miho saw Falee irritation melt away in seconds. He had to look away.

“Mahisen.” The adept said reasonably. “You should not play with others’ feelings.”

“I do not play. Were we playing, Miho? We were healing.”

The younger har fixed his gaze in his. Healing? Mahisen came to him and knelt in front of him.

“We’re both of the Earth, we have a power you can’t understand, Falee.” And his eyes were piercing Miho’s soul. “We can unite our powers to heal. Imbrilim has been shaken so much by all that happened, it had to catch its breath again, we helped, didn’t we?”

“I… I don’t know.” Miho stammered. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You needed healing too.” Mahisen whispered to him. “But there were so much energy in our unions, why let it go to waste? Imbrilim did need this healing. Even if I’m a mere gardener, son of an idiot.”

“There’s no -mere- hara.”

Miho looked at them, so brilliant, so sure of themselves, and he felt invisible dams breach. He burst in tears.

***

Falee and Mahisen sat by his side until the flood receded. They didn’t try to calm him. Miho knew he needed this and was grateful. Finally, the gardener led him to the bathroom to wash his face. Then, they sat again together and drank herbal tea Falee had prepared during their absence.

Miho saw Mahisen was feeling guilty and himself was feeling ashamed enough for two.

“I’m sorry about all this,” he said, still sniffing. “I’m usually not that emotional.”

“You’re worried, that’s normal.” Falee said, compassionate.

“That’s not all.” And Miho realized his outburst had lifted a seal on his heart. He took a deep breath. “I… I had… something of a relationship with somehar. But it didn’t last…”

“Heartbreak?” Mahisen whispered, round-eyed. “My poor Miho. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I had supposed you were simply worried over your father… I’m… I’m an idiot!”

“No, I should have told you, I believed it really was over for me,” he shrugged. “I’m glad for what you gave me. You’re a lucky har, Falee.”

“I wonder,” he said teasingly.

***

Falee had been in the field to continue the search for Solien and Leeruan during the past week, with little results. The only thing he had find was that the two of them had somehow been separated but their traces had been covered. Only the despair of their separation had been strong enough to linger behind.

“It’s crazy. We know they can’t have been there more than two months ago, but the traces are so faint it could have been years ago. And I’m sure they haven’t covered their traces voluntarily. But somehar, or something, did it for them… and I can’t detect any other presence.”

“The traces you detect are those imprinted in the soil and all around, aren’t they?,” Miho said pensively. “It could have been absorbed so deeply there wouldn’t be much for you in the end.”

“Absorbed?”

“The more I think about it, the more I think there’s more about this whole business than finding clay and paying a visit to a grave. Even if it was my father’s intention at first, it changed along the way. Otherwise, Ritsua wouldn’t have received this call. If I had to come, I would have from the beginning. My father suddenly was entrusted with another mission and something went wrong or something.”

Falee shook his head in disbelief.

“A mission, you sound like you’re agents of… of the Earth?”

“Something like that. Though I don’t see why we could do something She could not do.”

The adept looked unconvinced. Mahisen nodded.

“I believe you, Miho. I know you have something special in you. It allows you to tap in a power I can’t even fathom, that’s why we could summon so much energy during aruna. You can’t know, Falee, you should have been there.”

“And then you think if you go back at your old home, you’ll learn what happened.”

“Ritsua told me I had to go but didn’t specify where. My old home seems to be the obvious start.”

“I can’t take you there,” Falee said stubbornly. “Arahal would have my skin if I do that. I think he intended to keep you in Imbrilim until you’d get fed up of it or until we’d find Solien and Leeruan, or at least learn what happened to them. He doesn’t really believe you.”

“I don’t care, all that matters is, I can do it, and I need you to believe in me.”

Falee contemplated his chesnari pensively.

“You’re not the kind of har to loose your head for a beautiful face, my Mahisen, are you?,” he sighed. “And I guess if I don’t let you, you’ll be going on your own and it’ll be even more dangerous… and I don’t have the authority or even reasons to keep you in custody…”

“When is Arahal due to return?”

“I don’t know, but I wish he’d be here now.”

Miho and Mahisen exchanged a knowing glance and smiled.

***

Miho packed only a few things before running to the stables. He had been used to camping outside with his parents when he was a human child… He held his wistful memories at bay, determined he’d go camping with Solien and Ritsua when all this is be over. Now he had to face what lay right ahead.

Falee was waiting for him in front of the stalls.

“It’ll just be the two of us, we’ll go have a look then we’ll be back before anyhar had noticed something amiss. Roger?”

Miho nodded, his throat already too tight to speak. The adept looked him in the eye suspiciously.

“I heard somehar fainted from a previous travel through the Otherlanes, tell me it wasn’t you.”

Miho could only lower his head, his cheeks aflame.

“By the Aghama! And what are we supposed to do for now on? And I thought you could try to communicate with the Sedu who had transported Solien and Leeruan …”

This remark shook the young har from his muted panic.

“They’ve come back. As they were asleep, they couldn’t help in the search. Here they are.”

He opened one of the stall. Miho could see the white shinning silhouette. His legs feeling like lead, he entered and approached the big head and brilliant intelligent eyes. Tentatively, he extended one hand, thinking the creature would bite it off. But it simply sniffed it.

It recognizes me., he realized with surprise.

“His name is Cordian.”

“Hello Cordian. I’m Miho.”

He caressed the long neck, sensing tension in the powerful muscles.

We’re from different worlds, you and I, he projected, not knowing if the Sedim would hear him. But we don’t need to fear each other, do we? Something happened to you while you were near my old home, something you didn’t understand. It must have been terrifying… Just like me on one of your friends back.

He laughed and it seemed a spark blazed briefly in the white creature’s too.

I’m very very afraid of traveling through the Otherlanes. But it’s necessary if I’m to help Solien and Leeruan. Maybe you could help me?

Cordian neighed softly, his breath near Miho’s face. The har took a step back expecting an animal stench to invade his nostrils but he smelled nothing. Then images flashed through his head, so sudden that they made him reel. He leaned on the Sedim’s flank and the visions slowed down, clearer, brighter.

“Father! Oh, you’re safe! Wait… what are you doing ? This is Mother’s grave!! You can’t do this! Her urn! Don’t touch it!!”

He felt a familiar warmth making its way up his legs. He looked down but there was nothing, just his white strong legs and shining hooves. He felt weak, his conscious vacillating. In a blur, he could see a deep red blot in Solien’s hands, misty black dust flowing from them, back in the hole in the soil.

“I’ve been so selfish,” he heard faintly. “Now I know, I hope you’ll forgive me. Farewell, my love.”

His eyelids were so heavy… He wanted to jump to reject this awful numbness, jump to the liberty of the Otherlanes…

Miho was shaken abruptly from the visions. With a yelp, he struggled against the hands that were gripping him.

“What happened?,” Falee asked bewildered. “I sensed something pass from Cordian to you, but I couldn’t reach you.”

He gently led him outside of the stall. Miho had regained his composure, but still felt a bit light-headed.

“Cordian showed me some of what happened. The power that made them sleep, that’s just what I suspected, it came from the Earth. They were not supposed to witness what had to happen and more than this, they were not to interfere.”

“How’s that possible?”

“I’ll have to confirm it when we’ll get there, but I think when my father searched somewhere to settle, he didn’t choose this location at random. I think it’s a nod of Earthly energy. As our family is bound to the Earth, he must have felt drawn to it.”

“Did you see something else?,” Falee asked.

“Nothing useful,” he answered, rubbing his eyes to hide his face.

The adept frowned but said nothing more.

***

They rode together on Falee’s Sedim, Renura. Cordian must have communicated with him because as soon as he was seated on his back, Miho felt a gentle energy wrap itself around him. It felt secure and comfortable. Entering the Otherlanes, it appeared to him as a radiant globe surrounding him, flying through furious invisible winds. This time, the young har was only too aware of what was happening, the terrible pressure pushing at his protective barrier ; frightened, he added his strength to the Sedim’s, sensing a slight relief of tension in Renura’s being. After what seemed an eternity, they burst back to reality and Miho couldn’t help crying with relief when they made contact with the soil.

“Are you all right?,” Falee asked worriedly.

“Yes.” He smiled widely and projected a thought of gratitude towards the Sedim.

They had landed on a thin track, almost invisible in the tall grass. It snaked on the small hill slope, up to the house. Miho could almost hear the soft chanting of his mother and the hum of his father’s wheel.

No one, nohar had come to this place since their departure, so many years ago. A part of the roof had gone and moss had grown up all the walls, but there were no sign of vandalism. Miho considered opening the front door, stepping inside… then he realized it was a part of his life that was over. Solien and himself had surrendered their human lives to Wraeththu and their home to the land.

He turned to the side of the house, heading for the pottery. Just as Falee had said, it had been used. He could see something had been fired recently and there were traces of fresh glaze on the table.

“So?” the adept asked, following him inside.

“It seems my father made something here, an earthenware, I’d say. But I can’t fathom why he came all this way for that. Apparently he used common clay, but well, he could have added something else. The glaze he used were common recipes of his it seems…”

“Will all these information help us get him back?,” his companion asked impatiently. “What about the important events?”

“Let’s go and see my mother’s grave,” Miho said.

He could sense Falee worries and this only distracted him.If Leeruan had behaved that way with his father, no wonder Solien had fled from him.

He faced the oblong white slab from afar ; it had been cleaned recently to appear so clear. He could see his father kneeling beside it, his hands dirty, holding the urn containing his mother’s ashes. Except the urn had been blue and now it was red. What he hadn’t seen through Cordian’s eyes was that Solien had been weeping.

“Miho?”

“Sorry, I spaced out. We should try to find the spot where Leeruan and Solien set camp.”

“We found it the first time we came,” Falee answered, frowning. “But you wanted to investigate your mother’s grave. We didn’t want to dig before determining what had happened and…”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with their disappearance, we…”

“We’ve come to collect as many clues as we can,” his companion argued. “Do you know something? You have to tell me!”

“Okay, don’t upset yourself!” Miho closed briefly his eyes. “My mother’s body was burnt and the ashes sealed in a little urn that was buried. Solien dug it up and put the ashes back inside the hole without the urn.”

Falee considered him silently for a while, no doubt considering if that was the truth.

“Why did he do that? And what of the urn?”

“The urn?” Miho hadn’t thought about it. “I don’t know, he must have thrown it away,” he said unconvinced.

“I doubt it. And we found no urn in the bags they left behind. Solien must have taken it with him, wherever he went.”

Miho stared at his companion.

“You think my father took the urn because he needed it for a specific purpose, don’t you?”

***

Leeruan and Solien had set camp in a nearby clearing. Their things had been taken to Imbrilim for further investigation but there were still traces of the two hara’s presence on the ground.

“You should sit down and try to pick up hints. Do you want me to assist you?”

“No, thanks, it’s okay.” Though he had no doubt the adept would watch out and try to spy on what he’d gather.

As soon as the other har had disappeared, the glade closed up around Miho. The trees’ foliage rustled, whispering in his ears. Something was building up and it felt a bit frightening.

Speak to me., Miho called, his eyes closed. I’ve come to you and now I’m waiting for you.

He didn’t have to wait for long. The earth suddenly shook, sending him abruptly to the ground ; it opened under him and he fell in the black void of unconsciousness.

***

The first things Miho perceived when he came back to consciousness was angry voices coming from afar. All was in darkness, but he recognized the smells of his room in Imbrilim. It took him only a few minutes to become fully alert. He couldn’t remember much of what had happened, but it seemed his body should hurt him terribly, which was not the case.

He strained to hear what was being said ; he had already identified Falee.

“… Cordian and Renura! I’m at least confident in them!”

“That’s off-topic.” With a shudder, he recognized Arahal’s cold voice.

“What would it take to convince you?! If we want to find them, we need him.”

“We’ll continue to search the area, but I think, soon, all we’ll be able to do is wait and hope. It’s too dangerous over there. We have yet to assess how the emanations have evolved and how they can touch the Sedu and us.”

“Oh please, that’s you who are off-topic!”

There was a silence and Miho held his breath.

“You know, I wonder if you really want to find them. I know what you think of Leeruan, you only granted Lesath his request about Miho because Leeruan is a friend of the Tigron!”

“That’s enough! I’ll consider you’re tired and stressed about Miho’s condition. Now go back home and cool your head. I didn’t think somehar almost Nahir-nuri could loose his temper and behave so inanely.”

And there were more than a threat in his frozen tone. The door opened, while Falee’s footsteps disappeared quickly – and angrily – away. Miho had closed his eyes in hurry, hoping his breath would not betray him.

“I don’t need to be Nahir-nuri to sense your attention,” Arahal said, switching on the light.

Miho opened his eyes and sat, determined to do all he could to be treated as equal by this proud har.

“I can show you what I saw, if it can persuade you that I’m not a useless brat,” he said as calmly as possible.

“No thanks, despite what Falee believes, I’m not stupid enough to ignore a source of power like yours, even if it’s somewhat dampened.”

“So… you believe me?” Miho was stunned.

“At a certain degree.”

“Then, what Falee said is true… you don’t want to save my father.”

“You’re jumping too hastily to conclusions.” Arahal answered with a frosty voice. “Whatever my defaults, my first priority is the safety of the hara of Imbrilim. The place you were living in is very near a doomed area, I can’t send my hara to get exposed to that potential danger to save a high-ranking har unable to keep his feelings under rein.”

“You think Leeruan was blinded by his love for my father? And you think they’ve fallen to that “doomed area,” like you say?”

Miho felt anger redden his face. Though he had always disapproved of Solien relationship with Leeruan, he couldn’t help defending him, in the name of everything that made him human, har, in his eyes.

“What I think is not relevant. The facts are there. And I can’t let you expose yourself to any danger either. If the worst has happened, you’re to be your brother’s tutor, have you thought about that? Your brother is the heir of his father’s domain and family, he’s har Yseldis.”

Miho couldn’t speak a word. No, he had never thought about that before. Hara had such extended lifespan – extended and yet to be determined! – how could it matter?

“I heard Leeruan was foolish enough to let his son live in the outskirts of Immanion, with no tuition whatsoever. Maybe he never thought about what could happen to himself, just like you. But Ritsua is not to be the son of a potter. I guess Lesath had already taken things in charge. He’s a clever har and skillful administrator.”

“Go out of this room.” Miho said with a low voice.

“It’s my home, you’re only my guest for as long as I’m willing to stand your impertinence,” Arahal retorted with more irritation than he had ever displayed before.

“This land won’t stop calling for me,” the young har growled, his face lowered toward the bed sheet, hidden by dark strands of hair. “Chase me back to Immanion if you want, but think about what kind of calls the Earth may turn to if her initial invitation is turned down.”

Miho slowly raised his head, his mind blanked by the violence of emotions he had no more control over. He paused, letting the idea sink into his host’s brain.

“The coming of our second Tigron to Immanion will seem like nothing in front of that!”

Arahal took a step back ; there was a reflection in his wide eyes, the reflection of something frightfully primal, hideous in its dark radiance. Miho had never felt like that before, he was filled with an anger that threatened to engulf him and, at the same time, the sensations flooded him in waves of insanely exhilarating rapture.

“You… you need to rest. We’ll speak later.” Arahal stammered.

He almost ran from the room. Miho felt like laughing, his lips curled up in a smirk.

Then, he caught sight of himself in the mirror to the side of the bed. An evil smile. The face of a dark beautiful demon. He cried out of fear and the demon disappeared. At least from the mirror.

Part 7 : What’s inside

Miho felt terribly tired. He managed a little smile and took a sip of his wine, hoping it’ll wake him up. It was only two in the afternoon and this day of late summer should have lifted his spirits. His friends had bullied him in visiting a distant settlement but he had barely seen anything at all ; just keeping his eyes open required all of his will.

“Was it Mahisen who exhausted you that much?,” one of his companions chided.

“I wish it were,” Miho replied without thinking. He blushed violently when he realized what he had just admitted.

“Come on,” another one said with a big laugh. “There are just too many hara willing to appease you, you’re mean to play with us!” And they laughed together.

Miho almost slumped on the table. No, he couldn’t take it anymore. He straightened back and bid them goodbye. He desperately needed some sleep but he feared it. His dreams were plagued with strange visions of fractals and waves of colors that made him sick or of scenes that scared him so much he retained no memories of them in the morning. The worst of it all was that he could confide in nohar. Arahal was out of question, he was busy all day, be it in his office or out in the field and even if he hadn’t, Miho would not speak with him about it. They kept a wary distance between them.

As for Falee, he had been sent far from Imbrilim in a long mission. The young har feared it was a punishment for their trip to his old home. His absence distressed Mahisen because they’ve never been apart for so long. Furthermore, the gardener had been assigned to gardens at the other side of the city and he was kept so busy they almost couldn’t see each other ; anyway, Miho felt responsible for Falee departure and was somehow grateful not to have to face his friend.

So he was left alone to cope with his fears. He tried to contact his brother but every time he would close his eyes and dive deep inside, he would see his own face, distorted with evil glee. His dark self would whisper at him, mesmerizing him with words that were not words, extending long fingers to caress his face. Last time, he even leaned close to him, as if to share breath. Miho had jerked in terror out of trance.

What was that being inside of him? What did it want? Destruction, terror. A being of hatred. Was it the reason why he had been called here? To take into himself this hatred. And then? He had no control over it. He could not sleep, he was so tired, it was only a matter of days now, the creature would be unleashed and then…

Miho strolled aimlessly in Arahal’s garden. He couldn’t even feel the earth under his feet, he was cut from Her, it was almost painful. He came to the hut and the picnic spot, all peaceful, all silent. The stools had been taken away. He lay on the cold stone slab that had been their table, at this first meeting. Dear Mahisen. Beautiful Mahisen. He yearned to touch him, to invade him, to reach inside, down to his core and pour into him all of himself, to make him burn and writhe with pleasure… Miho gasped and sat abruptly. His body was in terrible need, but that desire was more than aruna deprivation. It was tainted. Trembling, he went inside the house. He bumped into somehar.

“Watch out!” Miho vaguely recognized the cook’s voice. His mind was in a blur.

He knew he somehow managed to make it to his room because it enclosed him in its warm and familiar fold. Without undressing, he lay on his bed, still shuddering. He could do nothing but surrender. He had no force left to fight.

A knock at his door made him jump.

“Miho, it’s Arahal, can I enter?”

“It’s open,” he croaked.

The har didn’t seem afraid, as he had been at their last encounter. Nor did he appear as the cold statue he was used to being. In fact, he looked concerned.

“I saw you in the hallway from the stairs. You look terrible, what’s happening to you?”

Miho could barely speak.

“Don’t… don’t you fear me anymore? You should, now more than… before.”

Arahal closed the door and went to sit on the side of the bed.

“There’s something in you, isn’t it? I had a glimpse of it the other day. I thought it was an illusion, but it’s not. I have called our healer, he’ll be here soon.”

“He can do nothing for me. Maybe an exorcist?,” he laughed bitterly. “Why are you so nice with me all of a sudden?”

“I said it, you really scared me shitless the other day,” he said.

He took a cigarette from an glinting silver flat box and lit it. He took a deep draw and exhaled.

“I asked hara to watch you, and adepts to monitor you discretely. And I couldn’t help but see for myself when you were here. You are fighting it and it’s evident how hard that is… I can’t help but admire your strength of character.”

“Thank you for helping me,” Miho replied distractedly. He should be angry, but nothing mattered now.

“I could do nothing, my adepts were still investigating, they didn’t manage in identifying the entity that possesses you.”

“It’s too late now.” Miho sighed. “I can’t fight anymore. It’ll soon come out. Maybe I should kill myself? I thought about it but until recently, I thought it would only free the monster. Now I don’t know anymore.”

“The healer said you should remain conscious until his arrival. As long as you’re conscious, it’ll keep this creature at bay.”

He took his hand and squeezed it. Surprisingly, it felt warm and reassuring.

“Maybe I should say I’m sorry, but it’ll be meaningless. I did what I thought was best for our hara.”

“Arahal… tell me about the “doomed area”.”

The silver-haired har stubbed out his half-finished cigarette pensively.

“We’ve always thought it was all humans’ fault… They had developed terrible weapons. Originally, it was to defend themselves from one another… the truce of fear. Then Wraeththu appeared and it was against us they turned their weapons. But even though we’re were so young and inexperienced, we were protected by the First of our kind…”

“Thiede?” Fascination was keeping monsters away.

“Yes, and his first adepts. They kept us from harm, hid us. The humans were going crazy, they were considering us like rats, scums, they couldn’t understand how we could survive to their attacks. Then, they tried to set us up, they lured us in one place and unleashed their worst weapon on us.”

Miho’s breath was caught in his chest. Arahal made a move to take another cigarette, but stopped himself. He sighed.

“We should have been wiped out, utterly destroyed. But Thiede was with us. Just by himself, he extended a dome of protection around us… but even with his powers, he couldn’t have managed such an effort, he drew from the Earth, and the Earth gave him Her strength. That saved us. However… the effects of the bomb was projected all around the dome. It destroyed everything in a large perimeter and contaminated even more land around. The adepts led us from what we then called “the doomed area” and we warned our kind to stay away from it. There were more to it than simple physical destruction. There was also evil in there.”

“Why did Thiede do nothing about it? He’s the Aghama.”

“You can’t imagine what we went through. Even as the Aghama, Thiede was a har of flesh at the time. It took him some time to recover, more so than he had been prepared, the trap was very very skillfully prepared. Furthermore, we had no expert in this domain, common knowledge was that we could only wait for the land to heal itself. And despite the contamination, at the edge of the doomed area, humans and hara were still fighting, different tribes had split from the main group and had become savage… Thiede had already his mind in Immanion construction, Gelaming were to start over beyond the ocean. Maybe, Thiede thought he could come back after some years and deal with it, it wasn’t going to run away or spread after all. But what happened… all the rest is history.”

Miho pondered silently. He had finally learned about the doomed area. There were no words to describe his horror. He had almost felt in his body when the weapon tore in the Earth’s flesh. The wound had been deep and far from healing, it had become infected. What had kept it from spreading had been… guardians ?

Miho uttered a cry of surprise. But Arahal hadn’t heard him. He went to the door to respond to the healer’s knocks.

“This is Miho, you’ve been told of his condition, haven’t you?” He said to the newcomer.

“Wait, Arahal! My father, he was one of the…” the young har tried to say.

“Ssh…” the healer said applying a cold liquid on his arm. “You’ll soon feel better.” Cool fingers touched his brow like the caress of a feather.

“Arahal!”

“Don’t worry, we’ll have time to speak later, I promise.”

“Ara…” A curtain of darkness fell in front of his eyes.

“He’ll be able to rest,” he heard in the distance. “His body is exhausted. His energy centers are completely depleted. It’s as if he’s been cut from his source. If we can’t replenish his reserves, he won’t survive for long.”

Part 8 : The doomed area

Mist was all around, shrouding the buildings of Imbrilim. For a moment, Miho wondered if his blurred eyesight was a side effect of his condition or if it was just reality. It’s been a long while since he’s last been awake so early in the morning. It has rained during the night, maybe that was the reason. He rapped at the door. He wondered briefly whose it was, it was difficult to say with such a poor visibility. After some long minutes, the curtain of the side window was lifted and he could hear a curse from inside. The door opened.

“Miho! What are you doing here at this hour? Come in, it’s freezing !”

“Barely.” He heard himself reply with a cool voice. He was ushered inside.

“By the Aghama! It’s not even five. Has something happened?” He took his cloak and hung it by the door. “I haven’t seen you for a long time. Sit down. Now that I’m awake, I might as well make us some tea. Or do you prefer coffee?”

“I don’t care.”

Mahisen was gathering his hair at the back of his head. He stopped himself and considered his unexpected guest.

“You look strange. Are you sure everything’s all right?”

“I don’t know if I can say that,” he said with a smile.

His friend appeared perplexed and more than a bit concerned. He went to sit beside him on the sofa.

“Are you ill? Your eyes look feverish. You shouldn’t be outside. Was it this idiot of…”

He extended his hand to feel his forehead. The younger har caught his wrist.

“Miho? You’re hurting me.”

“I’m sorry.” He let go and leaned close to him.

Mahisen moved slightly away, searching something on his face, in his fixed gaze.

“I may be a bit feverish, I’m… hungry. My body needs you.”

“What? Miho, get a grip!”

The gardener tried to escape but he was swiftly pinned down to the sofa, his arms above his head. Panic washed over him.

“Miho! Let go of me! Miho!” He kicked and tried to break free but Miho’s grip was too strong. He put a firm hand on his mouth.

“Ssh, calm down. We’re friends, aren’t we. You said it, we’re the same, children of this Earth. We have to lend a hand. Something’s hurting Her. Don’t you want to help me? To give me your strength?”

Mahisen tried to scream.

***

To ensure the Sedim cooperation wasn’t as easy as Mahisen’s. The stall of the one he had chosen had been isolated so that the white creature could not contact his awful companions.

“Hello, Cordian. I’m sure you remember me.”

The Sedim neighed in defiance.

“You and I are enemies. And you’re my prisoner. You’re on my territory. You can’t use your powers here. I guess even if you could, you wouldn’t, you’re here to be “horses,” whatever you might be in other planes, aren’t you?”

The Sedim tried to kick at him, but the stall was too low to rear up. He laughed softly and extending suddenly his hand, he sent him violently against the back wall.

“I don’t want to hurt you, my ugly non-friend. I’d like you to transport us. And don’t think you can loose us in the Otherlanes. Your mind has been touched by this Earth, it’s wide open for me.”

He reached inside the alien spirit. There was an screech but nohar in Imbrilim heard it.

***

Miho was terrified. He could only watch from outside – from inside? He could not access the consciousness of the demon though he tried with all his strength. He was locked inside himself.

It was still the middle of the night near his old home, near the doomed area. Mahisen was still limp against his chest. His wrists had been secured to the saddle and he’s been gagged. They passed the dark silhouette of the hill where he’d lived and continued deeper in the land. There was no notion of time, just high grasses all around. Nothing else had grown back. It became more and more arid, the rare trees bare, like skeletons extending their hands desperately for help. The murmurs of nocturnal animals had been supplanted by an empty silence for quite some time now. Miho had expected a crater of some kind, but couldn’t see any, just a land that laid its dry flesh to the sky.

Mahisen regained consciousness as the darkness of the night was starting to give way to light. He tensed and tried to twist his neck to look at his face.

“Don’t try anything foolish, my sweetheart. It’s up to you, you can have a good view of this area or go back to unconsciousness, make your choice.”

Mahisen straightened but stayed still.

“That’s a good decision. Look, you’re one of the first hara to tread upon this forlorn domain for a long time. Do you know the story of this land ?”

His prisoner nodded grimly.

“Good. Everyhar believed it had been doomed by the weapons that had been unleashed here, but there was also “intention”. I wonder if the humans used a kind of sorcery… it had been eclipsed for a long time by technology but there had always been groups that kept the practices and believes alive. Anyway, a curse has been cast. I am its essence.”

Mahisen hissed and tried to break his ties. Miho took him by his unbound hair and pulled viciously. He leaned and kissed his exposed neck. The gardener squeezed his eyes shut, panting through his gag.

“There will be time for games later, but we have to reach the inner borders first. Then, you’ll help me free this Earth of the scum that scurries on Her back.”

***

Miho could see a soft light ahead. At first, he believed it was the sun raising, but as they neared it, it became obvious it wasn’t a natural phenomenon. Radiance seemed to glow from the very soil. They dismounted some distance away. He freed Cordian’s will and put him immediately to sleep. Then they started to walk towards the center of the area, Mahisen half-walking, half-limping, his hands bound in his back.

The real Miho, though trapped, had been feeling strange ever since they had entered the doomed area ; although he had no more control over his body, he was still receiving information from it : his flesh was tingling all over, as if there was something in the air. Was it an evidence of the contamination ?

Now facing this strange light, he could sense something familiar. They were now just at the limit of the inner core of the zone. It was as if a circle had been traced with a stick in the dirt; outside, the earth was black and scorched, inside, it was clean and shining. The air itself shimmered and it was difficult to see much through this veil.

They took one step forward. A sense of outrage shook the ethers around them. The demon that had Miho’s body smirked but, inside, Miho could see his dark energy faltering. He moved on more quickly, almost dragging his unwilling companion behind.

“That should be enough,” he said and threw Mahisen on his knees. He started to undress roughly his struggling prisoner.

“Can you see them?,” he asked while forcing him to look on the side. “Those two fools. They’re caught in the web. They believed themselves strong enough to channel the Earth energy to heal Her. And they only hurt Her more! I shall remove them from this plane forever!”

Because the powers flying all around them was gnawing at his alter ego’s forces, Miho managed somehow to breach his prison and extended his consciousness. His heart was thumping in his oniric chest. Floating to the very center of the doomed area, he could discern something. A sculpture? He dived down toward it. No, two hara in trance… the trance of Grissecon!

Miho cried as his spirit was snatched back into his body. Breathless, he saw the demon had finished undressing both Mahisen and himself. Their clothes were lying in shreds all around. He had mentally forced his shuddering prisoner to soume.

You can’t do that! Don’t touch him!!

Suddenly Miho faced him ; the dark creature.

You want to fight me? How reckless, as if you could stand a chance. But as I’ll be busy, I guess I should deal with you now.

Miho was scared. He had never fought before. He’d never had reasons to do so before. He could not hesitate. He lunged at his enemy, his hands aiming for its throat. The demon caught his wrists and they grappled one against the other, matching their strengths.

I won’t let you hurt the ones I love! I won’t let you soil this Earth anymore!

His opponent smiled. He threw him violently backward and jumped on him. Miho rolled away and scrambled to his feet, reeling.

That’s enough, our dear Mahisen is waiting for me.

The curse’s child launched a blast of energy at him. In the blink of the eye, Miho saw himself exploding, the very molecules of his being flying about in the ethers. Then a barrier blocked the attack.

Who is it?!, the demon roared. Show yourself!

A shining silhouette appeared next to Miho. Then the light faded.

Ebreean?!

This is a lucky day! Their enemy exulted. The energy of Earth and Heaven, both at the same time. After I’m done with your Miho, I’ll find you and I’ll feast on you as I’ll feast on Mahisen.

Ebreean ignored him and turned to Miho. He had changed since the last time they’d met. He felt harder. He beamed his thoughts at him, at a level so intimate even the dark creature couldn’t hear it.

We don’t have much time. We have to unite our powers, as Leeruan and Solien had done. If we can add our combined strength to theirs and manage to finally clear the area, this monster will disappear!

Miho nodded and took his hand. There was no time for rituals, no place for doubts. Miho opened himself. All exploded.

Part 9 : Hara’s hearts

There was a soft chanting. It felt so warm, there was no more worries, no pain. Only this melody.

“You’ve been here for long enough, don’t you think?” an amused voice said.

Miho opened his eyes. He was floating in a world of infinite radiance. He turned to see who had spoken.

“Father!” He held him fiercely in his arms. “I thought I would never see you again!”

“Aren’t we a bit melodramatic there?” Solien chided. “Anyway, you did great, I’m proud of you.”

Memories rushed back. Miho blushed.

“If it hadn’t been for Ebreean, we would all have perished.”

“You should speak to him. He knows better.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’ll tell you, if you’d be kind enough to come back to reality.”

“I…”

“There’s no reason for you to be afraid.”

“You’re alive, aren’t you? You’re not a ghost that came to say ‘It’s not your time yet’ or something like that, are you?”

Solien laughed.

“Come back and see for yourself.”

***

It was also warm in reality. That was because a small harling was sleeping next to him.

“Ritsua?!”

“Hmm, don’t shout!,” his brother protested, rubbing his eyes. And held him in his arms.

You almost went away, you liar! You promised!

“I’m sorry,” Miho replied, caressing his soft hair. “It was not intentional. A bad guy came and almost took us all away. But what are you doing here?”

“Cordian came to bring me here. He’s really gentle, I was afraid at first, but he spoke to me. If he hadn’t come, I couldn’t have make it. I tried to sneak out of Selanium but Lesath caught me and closed me up in my room!”

He sounded pretty indignant! Miho laughed and tousled his hair.

“Hey, stop it! Father!! Miho is!…”

“Would you please behave yourselves?”

Solien stepped in from the next room. He looked thinner than before and his eyes were still shadowed, but he was smiling and seemed to stand taller.

“Leeruan and Ebreean are resting next door. Don’t be too noisy, or should I send for Arahal?”

Ritsua stuck his tongue out.

“You! You’re not afraid of Arahal, are you?!” Miho exclaimed with glee. “Aha!”

“I like him just as much as you like him, ah!,” the harling retorted with a face.

“That’ll do, you two. Arahal is our host. Now if you’re fine enough to speak bad of hara, get out of bed and go to the kitchen, you must be starving. There’s a cake for you downstairs.”

Ritsua squeaked with delight and rolled from the bed. Miho and Solien exchanged a knowing glance.

***

It was the middle of the morning. They sat in the garden in the wooden pavilion. Ritsua has stayed indoors.

“Tell me what happened, Father. Have we managed in curing the land?”

Solien nodded slowly.

“It’s still a long way from complete healing but it has finally started. It’s our role to watch over it because we’re just as responsible for this wound as the humans.”

“Does it mean we’ll go back to our old home?,” Miho asked. He felt an unexpected pang in his chest.

“Do you want to?”

“I… I suppose I should say ‘yes’… but I don’t feel like it anymore. It’s strange.”

“You don’t belong there anymore, don’t feel bad about it. Furthermore, I should say ‘we’ don’t belong there anymore.”

“Father?” Miho stared at him, astounded. He had never seen such an expression on his father’s face.

“I love Leeruan, Miho. With all my heart. I want to live by his side.” He turned to face his son. “I’ll be going back to Immanion with him, I’ll move to Selanium with Ritsua. But you don’t have to follow us, you’re a grown har now, even if sometimes, when I look at you, it seems as if I’ve woken up and you took my little Miho away.”

Miho was shaken by these confessions.

After a long silence, he finally said : “I know you love Leeruan. I think I knew for a long time. Ritsua is such a marvel, he couldn’t have been born from mixed feelings.”

Solien smiled a bit ruefully.

“I guess I tried to hide my feelings, even to myself, because I believed I was betraying Erin. But now I know I’m not. She may even be somewhere near us, living as a pure-born. I perfectly see her as a har, don’t you?”

“I do!” He laughed then took his father’s hand.

“If you want my blessing, and we both know you don’t really need it, I’ll grant it to you with pleasure. Just as you want Ritsua and me to be happy, I want you to be happy too.”

***

Arahal came back home for the lunch. He appeared shaken and even slightly distraught. Leeruan had just came around. The silver-haired har went directly to his room, finding him surrounded by his extended family.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said, clearly uncomfortable. He gave a little cough before going on. “Maybe we should speak in private about the recent events?”

“We’re all involved in the recent events in here,” Leeruan answered lightly. “It would save time if you speak to all of us at the same time.”

Arahal looked him in the eye, then surrendered and pulled a chair for him to sit.

“Leeruan is still weak, we should make it short,” Solien said tartly. It seemed he had sensed the distrust of the Imbrilim commander towards his beloved.

“How’s Mahisen?,” Miho asked. “I haven’t even thought about him…”

“He’s still shocked. Falee brought him back to their home. Apart from scratches and a twisted wrist, his body’s fine.”

“I’ll have to go and see him,” the young har said softly, looking at his hands on his lap.

“If you want. Now let’s talk about your disappearance, Leeruan.”

The Gelaming and his beloved exchanged a quick glance and then, it was Solien who lifted his chin and started to speak.

***

When Solien came back from his wife’s grave, his hands and shirt dirtied by earth, Leeruan immediately understood.

“What have you done?!” More of an exclamation than a question.

“I freed her.” His eyes were still wet, his face desperate. “I put her ashes in this urn, I kept her inside, I wouldn’t let her go. But… I’ve been so selfish… I had to let her go… return her body to the Earth…”

He fell to his knees, his face buried in his hands, stricken by a grief that had not lost its intensity over the years. Leeruan knelt by him and took him in his arms. When the tears subsided somewhat, he took his face in his hands and kissed his cheeks.

“I’m here for you. If you need me, I’m here.”

“I need you.”

Their kiss was a human kiss, lips against lips, feelings kept inside.

“You’re not human anymore,” Leeruan said softly.

“No, and I’m glad to be har because then, I can be with you.”

Aruna had never felt so intense, pleasure so mind-shattering. The power to drown suns and to create universes. To reach for the core and to fly to the zenith. The power to unite two souls in one. The power to free a har’s heart.

Leeruan woke up the next morning, his companion gone, the Sedu asleep. At first he tried to wake them up, but their spirits were unreachable. Searching the ethers for Solien, he detected his presence heading for the doomed area. Taking as much as he could carry on his back, he ran to catch up with his beloved who would not answer his mental calls. He managed to reach him at the borders.

“What are you doing?! Do you want to die?!!”

Solien’s eyes were glazed and unfocused.

“I didn’t understand Her calls. But sleeping against Her, I saw it, Her terrible injury. She did all She could to protect us, She gave a lot of Her power. Then, She was terribly weakened and couldn’t heal Herself. Poison sipped into Her. It took so many years for Her to realize and send a call. How She must be suffering…”

“What are you saying?! You’re delirious! You’ve been contaminated, we have to go back!!”

“I can’t, She’s been calling me for years!”

Before Leeruan could react, Solien threw himself at him, catching his lips, sharing breath, showing him. The adept gasped and backed away.

“How… how can that be?”

“Hatred. Selfishness. They all condensed on that spot. They soaked in that soil.”

“What do you want to do? You’re alone, you’re not even trained!”

“Look.” He took out the little urn. “This urn used to be blue. Now it’s red. It has been fired by my love for Erin, basked in the Earth energy… in our love.”

“You… I can’t let you do that alone! Remember last night! We conjured a power… it was so strong!”

“I don’t want to involve you any further. Please!” Then, Solien’s eyes had focused again. “I don’t want you to die!”

“And I don’t want you to die either.” Leeruan retorted. “We’re one, you’ve seen it. We’ll make it through together.”

Then unexpectedly, he grinned and winked.

“Remember, I’m of the Gelaming, the kings of the world!”

He managed to get a smile out of Solien.

“So what’s next?”

***

When the first hara left the doomed area, the dome of protection remained behind. At its center, Solien and Leeruan performed Grissecon, channeling the Earth energy through their bodies from the deepest part of the planet and unleashing it in powerful waves all around. But they hadn’t expected to encounter resistance. The bomb had been thrown with a curse that had survived and had gorged itself on all the fighting and wars waged between hara and humans, then hara and hara. It had stayed around like a slumbering fog but the attempt to clean the area, and so, in destroying it, had woke it abruptly and it had fought with all the accumulated strength, taking Leeruan and Solien by surprise. Even though they had been protected by the dome, they had been weakened enough to loose their focus and with the ritual out of hand, they’ve been caught in the energy beam. Sustained by it, their consciousness suspended in the ethers, they could have remained there for eternity.

Solien stared at Arahal. It was the Gelaming who finally turned his eyes away.

***

So Miho had been called. He could release them from their trap and save them. But the curse had been waiting for him. It needed energy to strike at the dome and had planned on taking Miho’s life from the beginning. His link with another har of the earth had been an unexpected gift. The demon had always believed his host’s will to have been broken, it hadn’t expected resistance.

When Miho had seen the blast thrown at him, he had unconsciously reached out for help.

***

Ebreean was working in Imbrilim. When he learnt of Solien and Leeruan’s disappearance, he enrolled in the search parties. And when he learnt Miho would be coming to Imbrilim, he chose to stay as far from him as possible. He was investigating the eastern border of the doomed area when he heard the call.

Driven by his instincts, he was preparing himself to enter a trance when he’d literally been swept from reality. He saw the blast coming at him, felt its searing heat, heard Miho’s gasp. He threw himself in front of his beloved. He should have been burnt away, he should have been utterly annihilated. His powers could possibly not have withstood the attack. But he felt an extraordinary strength coursing his astral body, more than simply his, his and Miho’s. Regaining his harish form, he faced the other half of his being. His training had served its purpose. He knew at once what to do, where to strike.

***

The moment the curse’s child entered Miho’s body, Ritsua had known it. He asked to go to his brother, but obviously, Lesath wouldn’t listen to him. He tried to sneak away, but his guardian had foreseen this attempt and caught him. He was locked up and no amount of crying or begging would release him.

Then, the following night, all the hara of Selanium started to be plagued by nightmares. It took several more days to figure out they emanated from Ritsua’s room. Lesath decided to put him in forced stasis until an adept could deal with him. Only Cordian’s arrival saved him.

***

Arahal was woken up in the middle of the night by cries at his window. Hara of the staff came to inform him somehar was in front of the house, apparently out of his mind.

Arahal had had occasions of meeting Lawrence because he had been intrigued by that strange har. He always appeared like a dreamy-eyed har, his long pale hair like a shawl around him. He was living in another world.

But he had never seen him like that, demented, pulling at his hair, his lips red with blood, lips that he had bitten in his frenzy.

“My son! My son! My Mahisen!”

It had taken three hara to control him. During the search that ensued, the patrols found evidences of struggle in the deserted house of the gardener. Miho and Cordian’s disappearances were discovered not long afterwards. The adepts could detect nothing, but Lawrence, in his drugged comatose state, managed to indicate them the doomed area.

All searching parties seemed unreachable for unknown reasons and Arahal was forced to send more hara there, led by Falee. The adept had turned out suddenly, having deserted his position to answer a mental call from Lawrence. They arrived in time to witness the explosion, so strong it leaked in reality. Desperate, Falee had braved the dangers ahead, followed by his hara, to assist Leeruan and his companions.

***

Arahal left them to report to Eyra Fiumara, the head of Immanion’s Listeners. Even across the ocean, the explosion had been felt by those tunned to the ethers. Miho wondered if the Gelaming would try to cover things up. After all, there were several other “doomed area” all over the world, though theirs had been the largest. And hopefully, all of them wouldn’t be cursed.

His eyes wandered back to the bed of Ebreean and fell on an empty bed.

***

“You shouldn’t be up,” Miho said from the entrance of the balcony. “Solien said that we of the Earth can replenish ourselves from Her, but you of the Heaven can’t do so and you require more rest.”

Ebreean answered, his back still turned to him : “I wanted to leave you all together. Your family needed to be together again.”

“And I need you to be with me.”

At those words, Ebreean faced him. His face was surprisingly serene.

“I feel the same. ” He came closer. “But I have this assignment. It’s important to me. We’re doing important things. We have to know about the scattered tribes, those who need help. I’m useful here.”

“Is it me or?…”

They smiled at each other.

“Okay, it may be plagiarism, but I can understand now how He feels. I had always despised Him because I thought Pellaz was so much more of a Tigron than Him. But now I know better. I want to serve His purpose even as the lowest of His hara.”

“You’re the lowest of nothing, you idiot.” Miho kissed him lightly. “I’m seriously considering storming at you, screeching like a bitch. What do you think ?”

“I think maybe I can persuade you there are better ways to spend time until my departure,” he countered with a suggestive smile.

***

Leeruan har Yseldis and Solien Fahr blood-bonded by a clear evening, witnessed by almost all the high society of Immanion. Though an air of celebration lasted for almost one week in Selanium, the most perceptive of hara had already sensed Fate lurking behind from the far Megalithica.

Miho and Solien were sitting at the back of the pottery that was now Miho’s, sipping hot wines, appreciating the last lights of the day.

“I’m sure, Lesath did not approve,” Miho replied with a grin. “He would think it’s not Leeruan’s place.”

“Indeed! I think deep inside, he still holds very traditional human prejudices.”

They exchanged a knowing look.

“We should be glad pregnancy in hara is so much shorter than women’s used to be.”

“Well, for one, I don’t imagine Leeruan suffering with a swollen belly for so many months!”

“Miho!” They laughed. Then their voices subsided.

“You know,” Solien whispered. “Sometimes, I fear it’s his reaction to what’s approaching. He’s linked to me, after all, more deeply than any ceremony would make him so. He can feel what I feel. It’s as if he feared we would be separated and he wanted to leave someone in place of himself.”

“Don’t be so gloomy. He just wants Ritsua to have a little brother. After all, I can’t keep him company as much as before.”

Miho tried to sound light but it was difficult for him. Himself had wanted to keep Ebreean from going back to Megalithica some days ago. It was from there that everything would start. The Shining Prince new adventure.

Miho squeezed his father’s hand.

“Now tell me of Ritsua. I heard he learned how to grow plants since last time Mahisen came visiting us and he started cultivating carnivorous ones?”

Solien’s face illuminated with a mischievous smile.

“You’d never guess! This little demon grew them and …”

“No?! And how did Lesath … ”

Fate might have been at their doorstep, it didn’t matter. Whatever It would do to them was of little importance, all things considered. The Earth would always be there under their feet. Always present, despite hurts and hatred, still enfolding them in Her loving arms, still lending them Her strength. All hara. Her beloved. Her adopted Children.

The End

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