The Claws of Wraeththu

Collaborative Wraeththu Story
The Claws of Wraeththu

Notes

First Posted 2001

In those days, there was a village, bathed in sunset light, near the edge of the desert where no-one went by choice. Those who lived there were remnants of human civilisation; they scratched an existence from the seared earth. The world belonged to Wraeththu now. Their tribes had swelled and they had raised cities. They had brought back to the world the ancient knowledge, wherein lay the invocation of the fires of wisdom and sorcery. The Wraeththu were hermaphrodite; either a new form for human life or a reversion to a very old one. They were able to breed among themselves, but had originally derived from human stock. Occasionally, they might still seek to Call the youths of human settlements to join them.

In the village at the edge of the desert were young men who had not heeded the Call, and older men to whom the Call never came. There were women and children too, although not many. Sometimes, the young men heard whispers in the night that whistled out from the desert. This was the Call. In the morning, one of them might have disappeared and tracks, like those of big cats, would mark the dirt around the meagre dwellings. But, despite this, the community survived. They lived uneasily near to Shrouded Caracanti, a city of the Wraeththu tribe of Gelaming. The people of the village feared the Gelaming, who were revered among Wraeththu. Gifts would be left at the desert’s lip, which were often taken. Sometimes, the city could be seen rising tall and splendid in the distance, winking like quartz in the pale sun, but another day it might seem as if it wasn’t there at all. Sorcerous fogs would eclipse it from view, and then, in the vibrating night air, voices might be heard, raised in strange ululations. The sensual scent of incense might creep in tendrils down the rough village streets. Caracanti’s perfumed breath seemed ever in the peoples’ throats, and to them it promised venom.

The village had a leader, a man named Jacob, who had two sons: Ahtau and Attjan. They were long-limbed and hardy youths, and faithful to their people. Wraeththu would never steal them away. Each night, they burned certain herbs before their doors to repel the Whisperers in the Dark. They had been raised in absolute purity, and Jacob believed he had shaped their inner morals to repel all subtle forms of attack or seduction. They had been taught special words, which Jacob told them made a person immune to the taint of Gelaming. If Caracanti had ever sought to woo them, it had long since given up trying.

Then Ahtau fell ill. The villagers had never encountered a sickness like it. The boy had simply fallen in his tracks as he’d walked in the long, dusty fields behind the cluster of dwellings. Very soon, all colour left his flesh and the temperature of his body fell to an unnatural cold. The people carried him to his bed, wary of his iciness: it was a chill that spoke of death, but still Ahtau breathed laboriously.

For thirty days, Ahtau lay and wasted before his family’s eyes. It seemed impossible he could still live. His flesh had fallen from his bones; his ribs were a hideous, visible cage, and his closed eyes had sunk into deep pits above the blades of his cheekbones. He could not eat, and the only fluid his distraught mother, Mara, could force inside him was what she was able to dribble into his dry mouth with a sponge. Anything more than that made him choke and splutter. The wise woman of the village sought to retrieve the boy with herbs and poultices; a healer man laid his hands on Ahtau’s gaunt frame and sought to restore him with faith; while yet another invoked Ahtau’s totemic animal spirit. Nothing seemed to help. Nobody could tell Jacob or Mara what ailed their son. But some had their suspicions.

One evening, a healer came to the village, a travelling woman. She wrapped Ahtau in damp cloths and burned some herbs in a dish. Then she knelt upon the floor beside his bed and fell silent for some time. Jacob, Mara and their other son, Attjan, stood by the door. Presently, the healer sighed and placed one of the damp cloths over her burning herbs to extinguish them.

‘What have you learned?’ Jacob asked.

The woman would not look at him. She shrugged. ‘It is no ordinary sickness, but this you already know. I am tempted to say it is not a sickness at all, but something else.’

‘An enchantment,’ said Mara.

‘Evil from beyond us,’ Jacob murmured softly. His eyes seemed to glaze over.

Mara and Attjan watched helplessly as Jacob walked out of their dwelling and went to stand in the merciless sunlight. Quietly, they followed him, and saw that the other villagers, seemingly attracted by his distress, had all come out of their dwellings and in from the fields, to stand around him. His nostrils quivered as if the stink of Wraeththu filled his head. All was silent. Then Jacob uttered a terrible, hoarse cry and banged his bunched hands against his eyes. The villagers flinched at the unexpected outburst: Jacob was normally a calm and measured man.

To Attjan, his father’s cry was the most hideous sound he’d ever heard; it was the quintessence of despair and grief.

At seventeen, Attjan was Ahtau’s junior by nearly two years. Like his brother, he was a striking youth; tall, with long black hair, which he wore tied back at the nape of his neck. For some days, he’d been unable to face visiting his brother, despite the urging of his mother, who felt that Attjan’s voice might somehow soothe Ahtau’s troubled soul. But the emaciated creature who hisked and trembled beneath the blankets hardly even looked like Ahtau any more, and Attjan found it repellent. He wanted to remember his brother as the vibrant and humorous person, who from the day of his birth had always been there for Attjan. They had been inseparable. Together they had trembled beneath their blankets in the dark of moonless nights while eerie sounds had whispered in to them from outside. Ahtau would speak in a low, sombre voice. ‘The Tigron walks tonight.’ And Attjan, shuddering beside him, had felt the forbidden prickles that were half fear, half excitement, score his spine. Then they would laugh together, fearing nothing in the warm darkness of their beds.

How could this happen now? Were the Wraeththu really breathing a spirit breath from Caracanti to ensorcel his brother? Was the Tigron, Wraeththu’s leader, sending them a message? ‘You mocked my powers once – now do so!’

Attjan knew it was forbidden even to think of the Wraeththu and perhaps he and Ahtau had provoked this situation by doing so. They had felt so secure and strong, sneering at the folklore that spoke of how a simple thought of the Gelaming gave them power over you.

The healer came out of Jacob’s dwelling and Attjan was moved to speak to her. His voice sounded absurdly loud. ‘Is there nothing you can do?’

The woman looked at him in silence, tying a cord around her ritual cloths.

This unsatisfactory reaction brought Attjan’s helpless anger to the surface and he spoke without thinking. ‘It is Wraeththu work, then! Why not admit it? When do we cut his throat before they come for him?’

He was unaware of a swift movement behind him, and only realised his father was there when he’d been swung around. For a second, he looked into the mindless face of rage, then Jacob’s fist slammed into his jaw. Attjan was knocked backwards against the cottage wall. After a few moments, he picked himself up and ran away to the desert’s lip, his eyes streaming silent tears. Here, he flopped onto his stomach in the shining sand. His jaw throbbed with pain and his vision was occluded by boiling spots of light. He thought he could see eternal Caracanti coruscating out to him in mockery, and he cursed its towers aloud until his abuse was drained.

The evening meal in Jacob’s dwelling was consumed in uneasy silence. Several other village elders were present, and it was clear that everyone expected an announcement of some kind from their leader. Attjan had come creeping home at sundown, and now sat in a corner of the room, being ignored by his father. His mother had given him a plate of food, which he picked at without appetite. Jacob sat at the table, eating slowly and carefully, a thoughtful expression on his face. When he had finished, he drank deeply from a cup of ale set beside his plate. Six pairs of eyes glittered at him fearfully.

Jacob drew in his breath. ‘There is no hope for Ahtau,’ he said.

At once, the tension in the room was broken. Mara uttered a choked, sobbing sound, her fingers pressed to her lips. The three elders mumbled in response without words.

Jacob raised his hand for silence. ‘I have decided that Something From the Desert is responsible for my son’s condition,’ he said, careful to avoid uttering any forbidden words. ‘However, I might be wrong.’

There was a stifled murmuring around him. It appeared that no-one felt capable of agreeing or disagreeing with his conclusions.

‘Even if I am wrong,’ Jacob continued, ‘it seems to me there is only one way to save Ahtau’s life. We do not have the knowledge ourselves, but Those Beyond Us do.’

Mara uttered a shocked sound. She was the only one who dared to speak. ‘What are you suggesting?

Jacob stared above the heads of all present. ‘Tonight, I will go to the desert and beg Them for aid.’

There was a moment’s silence and then – pandemonium. The elders were outraged by his suggestion, Mara horrified. Attjan’s mouth hung open in mute shock. Jacob seemed to lean away from the onslaught of words, then smashed his fists against the table-top for silence. ‘I know you think I should go to Ahtau now and end his misery with a knife. I cannot!’

‘But Jacob, are you really suggesting we surrender your first-born to the hands of evil?’ one of the elders enquired, in the most reasonable voice he could muster. ‘It is unthinkable.’

‘Our community has survived,’ another said, ‘as many have not. This act would be seen as submission by our people, Jacob. You cannot do it. It will crush their spirit.’

Jacob shook his head. ‘No! We will still survive. I love my boy more than life itself, and I would rather he lived with Them, than died, than suffered. Surely, you understand this?’

Mara put a hand upon his arm. ‘My husband, I too love Ahtau, but I cannot bear to think of what might happen to him with Them. Death would be preferable. You don’t know what you are saying. It is grief. It is..’

One of the elders interrupted her. ‘Jacob, the boy might suffer more with them than he does now. You know nothing. You are clutching at nothing!’

‘It is our way,’ another said. ‘Death rather than corruption. Jacob, see sense. We understand you might not be able to do the act yourself, but one of us would perform this sacrifice, with honour and humility.’

Jacob stood up. ‘No. It is my son, and my decision. I promise you that no ill will befall any of you, or our people. If further sacrifice is to be made, I shall make it, not you.’

The silence was broken only by the sounds of village fires from outside. Then one of the elders shook his head, waved his hand at their leader. ‘Jacob, you are insane. We should bind you with cords to prevent this thing, but a voice speaks to me in my head. It says that we have been lucky and that sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Perhaps, in this instance, the sacrifice is something other than the death of a beloved son. I have trusted you for many years, and if your heart speaks to you now, I know it speaks in truth. Do what you have to do.’

The other two elders considered this for a while, then grudgingly nodded their heads.

Mara curled a hand around her husband’s clenched fists. ‘They will probably kill you,’ she said.

Jacob shook his head and looked down at her. ‘They never kill us,’ he said. ‘We know that. I shall simply ask for their aid. They might comply, they might not. They might take Ahtau, they might not. It is a risk we shall have to take.’ Mara and Jacob held each other’s eyes for a long time.

Attjan sat in his corner, amazed at his father. He had been brought up to believe that the Gelaming were the ultimate evil and terror, to be shunned at all costs. Now Jacob was going against all he had taught his sons.

When Jacob rose to leave the dwelling, Attjan followed him. ‘Father, wait.’ His voice was low but carried easily on the still night air.

Jacob turned. He held out an arm and drew his son towards him as if in apology for what had happened earlier. They walked for a while in silence.

Jacob squeezed his son’s shoulder. ‘When your grandfather was young, people made the world like this. Our thoughtlessness and cruelty made the Wraeththu happen. Who are we to call them evil?’ He expelled a hard, humourless laugh.

‘Let me come with you tonight,’ Attjan said. ‘I can throw a spear. I’ll protect you.’

Jacob laughed softly and patted the boy’s shoulder. ‘Throw a spear, eh? The Gelaming throw spears with their eyes, spears of fire. You must remember, son, that the Wraeththu covet the sons of man. I can’t risk losing you as well. No matter what happens, you will be the next leader of our people.’

Attjan went cold inside. ‘It sounds as if you don’t think they will be able to help Ahtau. If so, why bother going to them?’

Jacob rubbed his eyes wearily with one hand. ‘Even if Ahtau survives, in a way we will lose him. I am sure that if he is cured, Caracanti will have him. This was not said at the table back there, but let me trust you with these words, Attjan. Those Beyond Us will ask a price, and the price will be Ahtau himself – soul and body.’

‘Then why…?’

‘Hush now. Humanity’s day is done, my son. I am not saying we should surrender ourselves to Them, but through Them, Ahtau might still have a life. My sentiments might seem strange to you. They are strange to me. Yet I cannot let him die.’

Attjan winced, but did not follow his father out into the night.

In the morning, Jacob came back to the village. His face was set in a stony expression, his steps sure. The people gathered outside his dwelling, eager and anxious to hear what had transpired in the cold desert night. Before entering his house, Jacob paused. He said, ‘They will come.’ And went inside.

All that day the people waited, fearful and whispering, hiding in their huts. Attajan could not bear to stand at the window as his father did, waiting for the devils to appear out of the long grass and bear his brother away. The noonday wind came up, blowing dust devils about the houses which whipped in through the open window, leaving gritty residue everywhere and stinging the eyes and throat, but still father did not move. Mara sat her chair by the dead fire, rocking slowly, her eyes vacant and oblivious to the particles swirling in the air, rising only to tend to Ahtau as needed. The day slowly died and still they waited. Attajan felt a soul scream begin to grow in his throat as the tension sought an outlet. Just as he felt he could no longer hold it in, that he must move, speak, do something to bring about an end to this torture, his father moved. “They have come.” He said, his voice like stone.

Attajan shuddered when he heard Jacob’s words and stared fearfully out of the window. The night was dark and eerie. He couldn’t see any movement, perhaps his father had been wrong. Then he heard a groan coming from Ahtau, and Attajan watched his brother flailing about on the bed, muttering something unintelligible. They all ran to his bedside, Jacob praying out loud to their God, his mother weeping and trying to soothe her son. Suddenly the door to their house swung open and a young man stood there, his hair flowing about his handsome face, a wry smile making him appear friendly. “You asked for our help?”

Attajan inhaled sharpley through his nose. The stranger’s scent was carried to him on undulating waves of the night air. It was a smell (and indeed taste, even) of delicate spice and something else, something timeless and formless. Attajan was both repulsed and entraced. Flickering torchlight was captured in the visitor’s dark eyes and danced. The man spoke again.

“You asked for our help. I have come at your request. Where is the one I am to heal?” he asked in a quiet voice of honey and raw silk. No one moved or even breathed. All eyes turned to Jacob, then back to the outlandish sight in the doorway. The man was tall and slender, his arms elegantly crossed as he leaned against the wall. In the darkness, as Attajan looked harder, the stranger’s maleness was evaporating. It seeped out of him until there was an entity that was neither male nor female, but a terrifyingly exquisite combination of both. A spire of fear twisted a nerve deep inside Attajan and he let it escape into the night on a gasp. Suddenly, he heard his own voice sing out. It spoke words that were old, words based on timeless memories and dreams never had. His voice painted murals of past lives, past sufferings, past joys, past regrets, past hopes, past struggles. As the whole town looked on, Attajan confronted the stranger of whom they were so terrified. His own voice summed up Wraeththu in three simple words.

“You are Har,” he said quietly.

As the words left his lips, Attajan wished he could call them back, confused by their appearance and uncomprehending of their meaning. The stranger, however, merely looked at him, slate grey eyes wide and interested. Before he could speak, Jacob stepped between them, his arms folded in defensive posture, saying, “My son is in here.” The Wraeththu shrugged, amused and followed Jacob and Mara into the corner room, but not without turning his head as he passed, saying in a low voice, “We can speak after, if you should wish to.” Attajan hesitated, then followed the tiny procession, not entering behind them, but standing in the doorway. The Wraeththu was crouched beside his brother’s bed, one hand resting easily on his knee. With the other he pulled back the thin sheet and moved his hand to a position hovering above Ahtau’s head. The thin hand with its long, elegant fingers swept down Ahtau’s body, never touching, hovering here and there as if establishing some fact, before coming to rest once more inches above Ahtau’s fevered brow.

“Bring me a kife,” the Wraeththu commanded. Jacob inhaled sharpley, his eyes narrowing in concern.

“And what would my son require of you that invoves a blade?” he asked acidly. The stranger’s head shot up, accepting the challenge.

“Your son will die if you do not do as I say. Is that what you want?” he looked down at Ahtau, then back up at Jacob. His patience was wearing thin. “This boy is being destroyed from the inside. To save him, I must cleanse him and you are simply not letting me do that. Now, will you kindly bring me a knife?” His gray eyes flashed angrily. Jacob had not moved a muscle from his aggressive stance. “Don’t, and I will have no choice left but to leave. Without my blood there is no hope. You will have the privilage of seeing your son decay. It is your choice.”

Jacob continued to stare at the grey eyed stranger in disbelief. His hands were shaking, and he looked across the bed at his wife. She was weeping silently. Suddenly in a blur of movement he saw his other son Attajan, hand the stranger a knife. Please, help my brother.

Jacob tried to reach out to grab the knife from him, but the stranger was too quick. He smiled at Attajan, “thank you, your brother will now be made well.” They all watched in horror as the stranger began to slice into Ahtau’s chest, the dark red blood oozing down his sides and seeping into the covering on the bed. Then in a flourish the stranger lifted up his own arm and neatly sliced his wrist. His eyes were gleaming as he held it over Ahtau’s trembling body. Attajan watched as their blood blended together, it appeared as though it was disappearing back into his brother’s body Ahtau’s body began to convulse and Jacob screamed and cursed at the stranger. “What have you done to my son?”

“Our son,” the stranger replied cooly. “I have done what is needed to save him. Did you expect less when you asked for our aid?” He smiled at the suddenly silent Jacob and then cast an appraising glance at Attjan. “So full of hate for me, who saved your brother? I wonder if you will hate him as much, when he is one of us.”

The stranger turned to address Mara. “You must care for him over the next few days. The change is never easy and our son’s will be harder than most. Keep him cool and clean and away from light.” With a knife still glistening with their mingled blood, he cut a strip from the bedclothes and wound it around his arm. “Whatever you may think, we are not responsible for his illness. That which infected him was created by your kind, not ours. I will return when he is ready.”

“Wh–?” started Jacob, who had been listening with only half an ear as he strugled to calm his thrashing son. But as he looked up to ask any of a thousand questions, he realized that the stranger was already gone.

Attajan raced outside, eager to speak with the stranger. A whole flurry of questions swam in his head, for never before had he seen such sorcery.

Outside was pitch dark and more unusually so, as if the stranger intended to retreat on a cloak of darkness. Attajan stopped just outside the door and peered intently into the distance and after a heartbeat or two he saw a faint movement in the distance, like the bellowing of a cape in the wind. He teared towards the movement and as he did so, Mara emerged from the house and called anxiously for him to return but Attajan will pay no heed to that call. Not tonight. He kept running and began to see the outline of the stranger ahead of him. How did he get thus far so quickly, wondered the boy. He called out, hardly able to recognise his own voice for want of breath. The stranger kept going. The boy called again, his voice sounding raw and hoarse. This time he know that the stranger heard him but still, he didn’t turn back.

By now they were both some distance from the village and this began to register to Attajan. No matter how great his wish to speak with the stranger, he knew he had to turn back now. But the excitement had found root in his heart and he felt strangely compelled to converse with this person, if truely that was what he was. Attajan was now only thirty or so paces behind the stranger and it began to dawn on him that no matter how fast he ran, the stranger was always the same distance ahead eventhough it seemed he was just walking at a leisurely pace. To Attajan, it even looked as if the stranger was slightly levitated off the arid ground.

Suddenly the stranger stopped and whirled round to face Attajan. The movement was so smooth and swift yet so frightening that the boy flinched and almost stumbled. He recollected his wits, took a step backward and stopped. Both regarded each other silently, Attajan with his heart dancing on his tongue and his chest heaving; the stranger absolutely still and unmoving with an amused stance in his counternance. A gust of wind heavily impregnated with sand swept between them and Attajan involuntarily shut his eyes tight. He had heard countless stories of how the night desert winds were capable of blinding a man if he was careless in protecting his eyes. He opened his eyes a second later and was truely terrified to see the stranger less than three feet from him. His words stuck in his throat and he was literally paralysed by fear. How did he do it? He had heard no sound other than that of the passing wind and yet here he was, right in front of his face.

Now that his face was nearer, Attajan could see his features quite clearly even though the full moon casted shadows over his eyes. The face he was staring into was perfect, almost effeminate even. The stranger had well-sculptured cheek-bones and lean, coiled muscles ran along his cheeks and jaw-line to create a delicate yet appealing effect. The strangest thing on his face were the eyes; capivating, dark eyes that were actually a dark grey and conveyed a message of having seen more than words cared to phantom. They were sinister eyes and they had long, slightly thick eye-brows to compliment them, all to create a beautiful yet icy effect.

“You are Har” Attajan croaked

The stranger raised a hand and gently stroked Attajan’s cheek with the back of his fingers, all the while watching him lazily with hooded eyes. Then he dropped his hand.

“Perhaps I am. But that is irrelevant and not for you to know. You are too crude and naive to comprehend it all.”

“That thing you did to my brother, that was sorcery was it not?”

The stranger was silent for a moment. “Perhaps” he replied.

His cool, nonchalant attitude was beginning to fray Attajan’s nerves. His concern for what had tranpired between his brother and this demon finally transcended his fear and he found himself screaming in rage “What have you done to my brother? I fear that you have changed him forever! Now I see reason behind my people’s weariness towards your kind and your fancy city! Could you not have healed him without poisoning him with your foul blood?” Attajan knew he was going too far but right now he didn’t care.

The stranger only raised an eyebrow and looked amused. “Perhaps”

“Suffice to say, I know your race cannot be trusted but my father’s son was at risk and he had nowhere to turn but to you people. I thought you wouldn’t come but you did and I am glad for it, but now you have made Ahtau one of you. Is that the price for asking your help? Is that how terrible your people can be?”

Attajan felt tears sting his eyes but he refused to give them a chance to manifest. He must not show weakness in the presence of this monster.

The stranger gave him a condensating stare but the amused look remained. For a few moments he was remained silent then slowly smiled. “I think you know the answer to that already”

“Perhaps” muttered Attajan in a mocking tone.

He began to chuckle and Attajan suddenly felt incensed.

He felt color flood his cheeks. The stranger noticed and raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“One of the things I find endearing about you simple-minded humans is the way you love to fret over the most trivial of things. Come now Attajan, you did not pursue me rentlessly to only rage about your brother’s welfare. In actual fact I think Ahtau will be very pleased at the new…shall we say…gift, that I have given him so quit hiding behind that excuse so that we may parlay. There is much to discuss and there is much that you wish to learn from me, is it not? And of course, we are ‘family’ now so we must accquaint with one another.”

Attajan could only gaze back in stunned silence. How is it that he knew his name? Could his father have told them the night before when he went to request their help? He didn’t think so. This, he did not expect. Then what did you expect, a tiny voice said to him. You saw how he healed your brother, did you not?

The stranger smiled once more. “We are telepathic”

“What is your name?” asked Attajan to fill the uncomfortable silence following the Har’s revelation.

“My people call me many things, but you may call me Tyson,” the Wraeththu answered simply. “And yet we both know that is not really what you want to speak to me about.” Attajan inhaled.

“I want to come with you,” he said softly, bewildered at his request. A shining tear escaped his control and slid slowly down his cheek. He hadn’t meant to say that–surely he was delirious. But when he looked at Tyson, he was moved. The icy gaze met his own. A gentle hand wiped away the tear and came to rest against Attajan’s cheek. The boy shook his head, wishing desperately to take back the words that still hung in the air.

His hands were soft but firm and warm and Attjan gripped them. “Come, you will see…” Tyson turned away from him. Bright lightshone from where he had stood and there before Attjan’s eyes, were the gates of Caracanti, open and shining with life and light. Attjan threw himself to the ground in horror. How had he travelled? How could he have got this far? The gates were many days walk through the shifting sands and yet only moments ago he was stood at the very edge of his village. He turned back but could see only sand, whispering to him. A noise startled him from his prone position on the hot ground. He sprang to his feet, only to find himself surrounded by Har’s. At this point Attjan could stand no longer as thoughts of sacrifice, burning and cutting swam before his eyes. He fell to the earth with a thud. When he awoke, Attjan found several things about himself that were, in his opinion, quite amazing. Firstly, he was still alive, and seemed to be intact. Secondly, that he was confortable, lying as he was on a very sumptuous bed of fur and linen. A person from the other side of the room seemed to be trying to get his attention. “Good, you are awake at last. Ready to face the knife then?” Tyson was sat upon a large leather seat although sprawled may be a better description. He carelessly threw down the papers he was reading and smiled fiendishly at Attjan. His grey eyes shining with hunger. Attjan had gone so pale that Tyson thought he may pass out again, so he hurriedly got up from his chair and raising his hands exclaimed, “Come on, come on, its okay I am only joking. We are not monsters here. Come, lets get some breakfast, I am absolutly starving!” and with that hauled Attjan out of bed and, chatting about what food they would enjoy in the dining room, brushed him down, led him out into the brightly lit hallway and putting his are around Attjans shoulders practically dragged him down the corridor still laughing and joking.

Attajan was trying desperately to be brave, and Tyson’s incessant joking was helping just a little, until he came to the doorway and saw all the others sitting at tables, standing about and laughing. All eyes turned to them as they entered and Attajan could feel himself turning bright red. Tyson grabbed his hand. “They won’t bite, Attajan. You’re new, that’s all, and still human.” Still human! Attajan thoughts were going a mile a minute. Still human…did that mean that shortly he wouldn’t be? Tyson whispered into his ear. “We will not force you, young one. Just give it time. Get to know us. ” Attajan’s frightened and confused eyes looked into Tyson’s grey and friendly ones. “I’m serious, Attajan. Come talk to my friends. I’d like you to meet, Tian and Rowen.” The two young hars held out their hand to Attajan and smiled. Attajan’s hand was shaking as he tried to act friendly. “You’ve got a nervous one there, Ty.” Tian said to him, in a very feminine voice. In fact Tian looked more feminine than male, with golden curls creeping around his soft features and deep brown eyes. Attajan was mesmerised by the creature standing in front of him. Tian seemed to appreciate the attention and winked at him. Attajan coughed and turned away. “See, Attajan. We are really very friendly.” Tyson reitterated.

Tian seemed to enjoy Attajan’s discomfort and purposely linked his arm around Tyson’s to embarass the boy further. Tyson winced in pain.

Tian was instantly alarmed and glanced down to see Tyson’s whole lower arm swathed in bandages. “No wonder you closed up your mind to me when I tried to telepathically communicate with you last night! The wound isn’t healing properly is it?”. Tian looked liked a reprimanding mother, his beautiful face hardened in a frown.

“It is nothing. Just a scratch. Hardly worth anything compared to the new human I have initiated into our ranks”. Tian smiled crookedly at Attajan and tyson sighed with an exasperated sound. He indicated his head towards Attajan. “Not him. His brother.”

“You shouldn’t have gone in the first place. Those humans are flawed and not worthy enough of our attention.” said a smooth voice. Attajan turned abruptly to see who had spoken.

Tyson sighed again and turned to face the new-comer. “I thought we’ve been through this discussion earlier”. He turned back to the boy. “Attajan, meet Deinathe. He has high hopes for us even though we have attained all we aspired to and more”

Deinathe completely ignored Attajan and glared at Tyson. “So when do you intend to take the trouble to go back and see if the transformation on the human is complete?” Tyson glared back and for a moment the room fell silent. Attajan looked on in awe at Deinathe. While Tian had a feminine beauty and Tyson had a certain maleness about him, Deinathe looked regally imposing. Like the others, he was very beautiful in that effeminate way, with white blond hair that fell almost to his waist and slightly darker tanned skin as if he spent most of his time in the desert. With a jolt, he realised that Deinathe and Tyson looked very much alike. “Are you brothers?” he whispered to Tyson.

Tyson chuckled, Tian laughed outright and Deinathe simply looked bored. “No, my friend. If we were I’d have killed myself.

Attajan looked puzzled and stared at them. “But you both resemble each other a great deal. Surely, you two must be some kind of kin.”

Deinathe, for the first time, looked directly at the boy. “For one who is unsure about his new surroundings, you are much too inquisitive”. A slow cold smile, boardering on a sneer crossed his lips. “Would you like to know what befell the last human who had the effrontery to ask too many inquisitive questions?” he asked conversationally, but his eyes were hard and looked almost inhuman. Attajan felt goose bumps break out at the nape of his neck and down his spine. “So you do ahve a bit of fear inside of you. I was beginning to think differently.”

“Let the boy be, Deinathe” snapped Tyson. “You’ve had your fun”

Deinathe didn’t immediately take his eyes off Attajan. When he finally did, he lazily turned to Tian, purposfully ignoring Tyson. “Talk to him to see sense, will you? At least he should listen to you.”

“Still smarting from my rejection?” leered Tian.

Deinathe actually smiled genuinely and Attajan could not believe how ethereally beautiful he looked when he smiled. It was like the sun bursting through. The only strange thing was that the eyes didn’t change in their hardness. They remained like two glinting emerald stones.

“Ahhh, sweet, frivolous Tian. It still breaks my heart that you forsook me” he murmured. “But I have secured a…for want of a better word..consolation prize. Tyson here”, he looked up to face Tyson squarely, “will not take it kindly if I fornicated with you now will he?” he finished smoothly. He paused and smile left his face. “Get rid of this impertinent little creature. I warn you now. We already have the brother and that will suffice for now. Two new additions will seriously threaten to taint our pure strain and blood.”

Tian waved his hand dismissively. “Ohh, quit your reprimanding! You and your grand designs for a ‘better advancement’ for all our kind is ludricrous! Considering that you are the most decadent out of our clique, you are hardly in the position to dictate to anyone”

Deinathe eyed him with a mixture of amusement and weariness. Next thing, Attajan suddenly screamed, doubled up and fell to the lush carpet, holding his adbomen in agony.

“Leave him alone” shouted Tian in alarm and began rushing towards Deinathe but the boy kept writhering below them. The Har had Attajan in in vice-like grip of pain even though he was several feet away.

“Let the boy be” grated Tyson. Deinathe didn’t answer. “I’d hate to repeat myself” Tyson said in a soft voice. Only then did Deinathe look up and eyed Tyson with pure, undisguised hatred. Then he let the boy go. Attajan wiped the sweat from his forehead, panting heavily but otherwise alright. The pain had been intense, like a knife twisting in his stomach.

“It was a knife” grinned Deinathe. He ran his hand through his hair, the rings on his thumb and fingers catching the morning light coming through the window as he did so. Then he faced Tyson once more. “You never tire to challege my actions.” he began wearily, “Be careful. My patience wears thin. I have warned you”. He started towards the door. To Attajan it seemed liked he glided. “I have said my piece, take the boy back.” And with that, he was gone. The others in the room continued on as if nothing had happened. Tian bent down to help the boy up.

“You’ll be fine” Tian said consolingly. “Pay no attention to him. He loves attention and is one for great drama and show. Don’t worry about him. You can stay as long as you like.”

Attajan had witnessed the altercation between Tyson and Deinathe; and knew that there was plenty to worry about. “Why is he so…so…”

“…Affectionate?” finished Tian with a giggle. “He’s just filled with some mad schemes to evolve our species to a next higher level….whatever that is! We’re very fine as it is”.

“He’s just misdirected. take plenty notice of him because he actually and truely detests your kind. Beware” said Tyson. “You will not understand it should I explain further, so let us dismiss the subject and move on to lighter things. Would you like to take a look around?”

“He is scared of you” Attajan suddenly said to Tyson. “The Har Deinathe…he really is scared of you! That is why he let me go!” He looked from Tyson to Tian with excitement glinting in his eye. Tyson and Tian looked at each other and became grave. “What is it?” Attajan asked anxiously.

After a moment of uneasy silence, Tyson said “You have missed the whole point”. He paused. “Deinathe fears absolutely nothing.”

The tension in the room increased and Attajan feld suddenly afraid again. This Deinathe seemed to have some kind of hold over Tyson and Tian. All Attajan wanted to do now was to turn tale and run. He wished he had never followed Tyson. In fact for the first time in the last few hours he was actually thinking about his brother. He was worried about him and wondered how he was faring. Tyson took his hand in his. “He will be fine, your brother will make a fine Har and so will you one day.” Attajan looked at him in surprise. “But I thought…well I mean…from what Deinathe said…” Tian interrupted them. “You don’t have to take any notice of what he said. Deinathe doesn’t control what happens around here. It will be a unanimous vote. If we want to make you into one of us, then we will.” Attajan stared into Tian’s dark brown eyes and melted. Tian smiled, licked his luscious lips and kissed a surprised and trembling Attajan on the mouth.

Attjan could hear snickering behind him as Tian continued kissing him. The Har’s lips were soft and his tongue kept flicking inside for a taste of him. Attjan’s legs were shaking and he found himself clinging to Tian to stop from falling. When Tian finally pulled away he had a dreamy look on his face. “Very nice. One day we will perform aruna together.” “Aruna?” Tian laughed and whispered in his ear. “Sex, in your language, human. But if I have my way you won’t be human for much longer.” Attjan felt himself flushing bright red and bowed his head in embarassment. Tyson took his hand and pulled him away from Tian, who looked slightly annoyed. “Come, Attjan. There will be plenty of time for aruna later. I bought you here to eat. Now what would you like?” Attjan’s eyes continued to seek out Tian’s as he almost forced down the bread and salads on the table in front of him. Tian kept winking at him. He looked back at Tyson. “Who will make me a Har, Tyson?” “I think you already know that, Attjan,” he said, looking across the table at Tian.

Tian rolled his perfect eyes, but smiled all the same. Attjan felt his breath catch in his throat. He was beginning to feel very strange. Jacob had always preached, especially to Ahtau and Attjan himself, that desiring other males was a horrible sin. A tiny voice inside Attjan continually reminded him of his father’s words. Was he betraying his family, consuming their honor with his actions? His hands were shaking and he felt cold. It didn’t help when Tian noticed and came over, his liquid eyes radiating concern and warmth.

“What’s the matter, love?” he asked in Attjan’s ear, his lips brushing the boy’s skin gently.

Attjan could not answer. He dared not, for fear that the shaking in his whole being would betray him. He continued to stare down at his shaking hands. The plate of food in front of him suddenly looked repulsive and his appetite was now none existent. Tian’s close proximity to him had completely paralysed his senses. His lips lightly brushing against his ear had sent prickles crawling all over his skin and what scared him the most was that he found it pleasing to his senses. But his father’s voice nudged at the fringes of his mind once more, demanding that he maintained all the morals and virtue of an upstanding righteous man. If wanting to be Wreaththu was so right to his soul, then why did he have these conflicting thoughts? Was it guilt at having a fabulous time here with these exquisite creatures while his brother lay in a coma, fighting for his life, not knowing who or what he might become? Or the fact that he suddenly realized how much he didn’t know about his sexuality?

Tian leaned forward and clasped one of Attjan’s hands. “Your hand is so cold!” he exclaimed, but still the boy refused to look up. He then used his other hand to cup Attjan’s chin. The boy glanced away. Tian glanced at Tyson and they gave themselves a knowing look.

Tyson grabbed Tian’s arm and pulled him away from Attjan. “I think you should leave him be, Tian. He’s confused and is worried about his brother.”

Tian glared at Tyson. “So you are his keeper now, is that it?”

“No, Tian. I don’t think I am his keeper, I am worried about him. He’s confused about his feelings for you and you are not making it easy for him.”

Tian nodded. “You’re right my friend. I was coming on a little strong. So what do you intend to do with him?”

“I’m going to take him home as soon as he has finished eating. I need to check up on his brother Ahtau, make sure that he is OK. Attjan can stay home with his father Jacob for a while. It would be unfair of me to take both of his son’s without leaving an heir in their place.”

“What about me?” Tian complained. “Forget about yourself for a while, Tian. Besides when I bring his brother back you may find yourself attracted to him and by that time he will be Har.”

“Tyson, sometimes I think you are too kind for your own good,” and he turned and left, with a shrug to his shoulders.

Tyson came back to Attjan’s side and tried to encourage him to eat some more. “Where’s Tian going?” he questioned wistfully.

“Tian has business to attend to, and you my young friend are going home.” Attjan looked at Tyson in surprise, then at Tian’s retreating figure. He wanted to go home to his family, but at the same time he couldn’t understand why he also wanted to follow Tian. He was so confused.

“Is he offended with me?” mumbled Attjan, looking up at Tyson with much curiousity.

“Who? Tian? Of course not.” He smiled ruefully. “More offended with me more likely, but don’t worry about it. He has his moments of tantrums but thankfully, this time he understands what must be done.”

Attjan was silent for a while. Then, “I cannot not do this….I mean….being with Tian that is. I am not too sure what I feel for him yet somehow it feels right. It’s just that….this is all too much to take in just yet and I still do not know why I followed you in to the desert in the first place.” He fell silent again, expecting Tyson to say something. Anything.

Beside him, Tyson remained still, watching the boy with shrewd, calculating eyes. He said nothing.

Attjan felt uncomfortable and continued. “If I say I still do not know why I followed you, I lie to myself and yet still speak the truth.” He fiddled with his fork, keeping his eyes averted from Tyson’s face. “The thing is, I have been having these unexplainable visions and dreams. What they are, I cannot say, but like a misty picture, they remain just out of reach of my understanding. I just know that many times when I awake, my spirit feels like many things of awesome desciption have been revealed to me. What they are, I cannot tell but I just know they are there” he paused, clearly trying to find the words to go on. “And then Ahtau fell sick. At first, I thought it was just one of those illnesses we used to occasionally have in childhood”

He laughed nervously.

“How wrong I was. Within days, he was in a virtual coma, only capable of delirious rantings. The rest of course, you already know. But the things that bothered me were the fact that I began to feel irritable at seeing my brother in such a gaunt and deathly state, and this very quickly became more than just repellant. I felt guilty that I couldn’t stand the sight of my brother. We were so close! And that was when I started experiencing even stranger things in my sleep. I would dream of my soul travelling to places beyond my imagining. The first time this happened, I was filled with apprehension because it was so real and so dreadful. I couldn’t tell anybody bacause there weren’t enough words to describe it. I saw hara, in peace and at war, I saw a different race, so much like the Wreaththu and yet so disimilar….I cannot explain it. i saw so many beautiful things which constantly became hideous if I stared hard at it for too long. But the part I remember most is seeing this woman with chestnut hair that was long so long it must have been twice her height” His eyes had taken on a dreamy look and Tyson continued to watch him without the slightest reaction. Only his eyes remained keenly shrewd and piercing.

Attjan looked at Tyson and his eyes became anxious. “You think I speak of foolish madness don’t you?” Tyson maintained his now customary silence.

“Whatever you might think, I know I saw her and she kept saying words to me. All I could see was her lips moving but I could hear no sound. I know she was trying to tell me something but I could not hear her neither could I comprehend any of their meanings. She was so beautiful and I know she must be an angel. I cannot describe her perfectly enough but I know she connected with me in some way. Then she stroked my brow and next thing she was gone. I snapped awake immediately and my whole body felt tingly. It must have been dawn or some such and I remember how my heart felt heavy and sad because I wished I could see her once again.” He stopped playing with the fork and his hands sook out a napkin with he then proceeded to twist around on his fingers. All of this did not go unnoticed by Tyson. For a human, his hands are quite mobile, thought Tyson.

“That day, I avoided going to see my brother and spent the day wandering the fields. For some strange reason, I felt at piece and at one with nature. My father had taught Athau and I many things but none could explain how I felt. I was brought up to believe that the hara of your city could never touch either of my father’s sons and I had been content to maintain that belief. How wrong I was! How naive I was to think that the Wreaththu could not invade your dreams if you were ‘upstanding’ enough? And then you came. I needed to find out answers to so many things. I could not speak of these thing to anyone, but when you came, I knew I had to speak with you. I had to! It was like an curable itch! Not only did I need to establish that the welfare of my brother was in safe hands, but to also pour my fears out. So there, now you have it” He looked up then at Tyson. The Har’s face gave nothing away and stared back at Attjan measuredly.

An uncortable silence ensued and Tyson finally spoke.

“Is there anything else you would like to add, to…..cure this incurable itch of needing to talk?” Tyson asked dryly.

“I had the feeling you would mock me” grumbled Attjan and awkwardly tried to stand up. “But of course, I’m nothing but a petty human so how dare I speak of dreaming Wreaththu dreams?” His voice broke and Tyson could actually feel his bitterness. He grabbed the boy’s arm.

“Sit”. Attajan remained standing, comically trying to prise Tyson’s fingers off him. “That was uncalled for and I apologize. Now sit. Please. Besides….I doubt if you could find your own way back home.” He gave the boy a lopsided grin. Attjan looked at him for a moment, clearly trying to judge if Tyson was about to mock him again, nodded and sat back down.

Tyson reverted back to silence again but this time Attjan could see he was deeply in thought. He had no idea that the real reason Tyson had mocked him was to be sure that the boy was not fabricating his story. This was serious news. Opalexian appearing to a human in a dream? Now? Why?

“Chestnut coloured hair you said?” Tyson asked lightly.

Attjan regarded him wearily, trying to see where this was going and nodded. “Yes. Rich, chestnut hair that seemed to go on forever. Tall too” he added in between mouthfuls of food.

It was too much of a coincidence for it not to be Opalexian. The similarities were too great for that. Just as things were beginning to become clear and straight forward, it now seemed they had just become more muddled than ever. How unfortunate it was that the boy was not proficient in analysing dreams! He questioned the boy further, calmly keeping the boy at ease, throwing in a few jokes and humour inbetween the questioning but all the while keenly listening to every word the boy said, looking for clues…….disguised signs……anything.

Finally satisfied that he had gleaned all he needed to know from the boy, he called for servants to prepare a bath for Attjan who had now finished his meal and was gazing raptiously at the paintings and ohter works of art in the room.

“Beautiful” breathed Attjan, who was clearly stunned senseless.

“Yes, I know. Even I never tire to admire them myself” supplied Tyson. “Most of them were made by the Ferike tribe”

“The Ferike? Who are they? Wreaththu like you or human?” inquired Attjan.

Tyson steered him towards the doors, not answering immediately. Then he said “They are a Wreaththu tribe of great intelligence. Their added strong points is that they are incredible artists in every single branch of the arts; music, poetry, paintings, literature, folklore…….everything to do with arts. Their works are in very high demand in the world but greater in demand is their intelligence and feminine beauty. Come, let me show you something” and briskly led them down a huge hallway with high celings. Attjan had recognised the magnificent classical style of interior all the rooms he had entered so far as gothic and was thankful for his past study in types of buildings. He idly wondered what this building must look like from outside. Breathtaking, no doubt.

They arrived at a huge pair of highly polished double doors and the servants standing at both sides of the enterance swung them open. The first thing to hit Attjan was the sound and melody of the most fantastic music he had ever heard. It was a soothing, yet invigorating kind of music that pierced his heart, mind and soul like a hot knife through butter. He was instantly enthalled and stood drinking in the heavenly sounds. There were six Hara playing together in perfect harmony using all different sorts of wonderous instruments and they played with so much feeling that tears stood at the corners of his eyes.

“He is happiest when he plays” murmured Tyson. “Right now, he is not sure if he is happy or saddened and it shows in the choice of music he has chosen to play”

“Who are you talking……” began Attjan and that was when he saw that one of the hara was Tian. He stood transfixed, watching Tian play with inconcievable skill on an instrument that closely resembled a violin but much more elaborate. None of the musicians had noticed their entry and continued to play. Attjan felt Tyson touch his shoulder and he looked round reluctantly not wanting to take his eyes off Tian for a single second. Tyson put his fore finger to his lips. “He must not know we are here until he finishes” he said with a conspiratory glint in his eye. Attjan nodded , smiled and faced Tian once more to marvel at his beauty. Tian looked so serene and beautiful that it looked unreal.

At last the band finished the piece with a climax and then Tian looked up and saw them. He frowned and Attjan became unsure of what to do next. He had thought Tian would be pleased. “Don’t worry. He’s only doing that because he had wanted you to find out as a suprise later on” laughed Tyson.

“Stop pretending and come here” smiled Tyson. “Look who is here as a repentance present. Am I forgiven now?”

Tian sauntered over to them and gave Tyson an ugly look which was obvious to everyone that it was just for show. Then he smiled and hugged Attjan. He looked back at Tyson. “You old rogue you! How could I have remained angry with you for long when you keep seducing my forgiveness with such nice gestures!” He laughed and turned to face Attjan. “I really am glad that he brought you here. I thought you would have left for home by now.” he said.

“You play so well!” exclaimed Attjan. “Never heard such beautiful music in my life! Now I almost don’t feel like leaving anymore”

They began to walk towards the other hara in the room. “Come, let me introduce you. This is Raael” indicating a tall Har with dark hair. “And these are Giddein, Fersey and Nie” None of them moved to shake the boy neither did they show any hostility towards him. “And of course, Iontre” finished Tian with gusto, and Attjan fell on a Har who greatly resembled Tian. After the fiasco with Deinathe earlier on, he felt reluctant to come to rash conclusions. “Yes, you guessed right, he’s my younger brother” said Tian, clearly reading his thoughts.

They began to stroll out the room. Tian put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and gave a brief apology for leaving earlier. Attjan felt so comfortable being next to him and kept silent as they walked down the hallway, Tyson flanking him on the other side. Then he said, “I want to be one of you but I need to know how my brother fares”

Tyson looked down at him and stopped walking.

“You have passed your first test as a potential would-be Har” said Tyson gravely. Attjan looked at him curiously and Tyson continued. “Had it been that you had wanted to become har simply because of your infatuation with Tian or because you intend to harness the kind of power I used to cure your brother, I would have killed you myself. But even after I tempted you with Tian for a second tome, you remembered your obligations to your family, to yourself and to your soul. To become Wreaththu, you must come willingly and not because of circumstances. You remembered your brother and that shows sellessness. In addition, you have a gift for dreams which shows that you have an elevated state of consiousness within you. You want to become Har not because you think it is for you, but because you know it is for you. Well done. Now let’s get you a bath”

Attjan was too shocked to utter anything and Tian hugged his sholders tighter, smiling reassuringly.

They entered a huge, opulent set of suites decked in the finest luxuries Attjan had seen. It was different to the room he had slept in. “Very nice” he mangaed softly.

“Glad you like it.” said Tian. “It’s mine”

In an adjoining room, a huge tub and two servants waited. “Well then…….what are you waiting for? Get undressed and jump in!” said Tian. Attjan looked slightly uncomfortable and had gone still. “Ahhhh, shy are we? That’s okay. I wasn’t going to look in anyway. I wouldn’t have been able to help myself” he laughed.

Attjan got undressed and immersed himself in the warm, scented water. He found himself relaxing and the knots in his shoulders began to melt away. The perfumed water was beginning to make him feel heady and he liked the feeling.

After his bath, he found a set of clean simple yet well made clothes laid out for him. There was a crisp, white shirt of pure cotton and thick, black trousers with a pair of well-polished knee length boots beside. He picked up the shirt and buried his face in it. His head was filled with a heady scent of fresh fields. As he dressed, Tian re-entered the room and offered to comb his hair out which was still in wet tangles. He obliged and as his hair was combed, he ruefully wished Tian could have taken the bath with him but deep down, he knew it was right.

Afterwards, Tyson returned and stated that it was time they left. They went down numerous corridors and finally emerged in a huge courtyard filled with an outstanding stock of sleek horses. A servant held the bridle to two of the magnificent beasts. Tian stopped in his tracks and gazed soulfully at Attjan with his huge liquid eyes. “Come back soon” was all Tian said and gave Attjan fierce but brief hug ,a kiss on the lips and retreated back into the palace. Attjan continued to stare back at him hoping that Tian would turn around one more time but he didn’t and then he was gone.

“You don’t look back when you say farewells like that. Not good. Bad luck. I thought you people were superstitious!” said Tyson. He took the reins of one of the horses. “You can ride, I hope?”

“Yes” replied the boy sullenly and saddled up.

Tyson looked at him and said nothing. “I thought we would ride some of the way back so that you could have a quick look at our city on our way out and know that we are not all the demons you percieve us to be. Besides, transporting you here from the desert the way I did took quite some energy out of me…….especially after healing Athau” he said, fingering the bandages on his arm once again. Attjan looked at him and as he watched, Tyson idly removed the bandages. The wound was still there but now looked half healed. Vaguely, Attjan wondered why the wound hadn’t healed up yet, afterall, the Wreaththu were capable of anything. He had seen them do incredible things during his short stay with them, and he knew they could do a lot. Plenty even. He had guessed that much.

Attjan could not get Tian out of his mind, so to dull the pain, found his tougue and asked Tyson why his wound was taking so much longer to heal.

Tyson sighed. “As I told your parents earlier, Ahtau’s illness was the work of the occult and it was done to him by one of your own. The only way I could save him was to give him my own blood because our blood is highly resistant to any toxins known to man, and indeed to us.” he paused and Attjan saw that he was lightly stroking the wound with his thumb. As he watched, the wound seemed to gradually disappear with each passing stroke. Perplexed, he reined in his horse nearer to get a better look. He then glanced up to see Tyson staring at him intently from his own horse with a small smile on his face. “Magical, isn’t it” he said slowly. “Take a look behind you and have a proper look at the palace. You’ll love it.”

Attjan spun round on his saddle to take a look and his breath caught in his throat. The palace was huge beyond imagining, bulit in cream stone and massive pillars. The surrounding buildings were all built in the same awesome design with huge towers, spires and monuments standing proudly around the palace complex.

He swung forward to extoll it’s beauty to his escort and the first thing he saw was that there was no longer any wound on Tyson’s forearm. Not even a scar. Quizzically ha looked up at Tyson’s face, his own face asking a thousand questions all at one. Tyson smiled wryly “What a shame. You missed the best part. They always fall the ‘what-is-that-over-there’ trick’…….and please…..no questions”

They rode in silence. By now they were approaching the outskirts of the city and the sun had began to set. Attjan felt it necessary to ask Tyson about who might have done black magic on his brother.

Tyson didn’t answer immediately and Attjan expected that. By now, he was used to the way Tyson thoughtfully kept quiet before speaking.

“I cannot tell you that. It is not my place to tell you and frankly, it isn’t your major concern. Certain things happen in this world that cannot be stopped. This is fate. It is done and in less than three days, your brother will be Wreaththu. The reason I couldn’t heal immediately is because dark forces were so much in evidence in Athau’s blood. When I opened my wrists to give him blood, I also opened a conduit for the dark forces in his blood to tap into mine. Something like electricity, which can flow in both directions. I felt it the moment my blood touched his. Because my body is adept at healing itself, I simply left the wound open for the pungent element to flee my body in stages. When it was all gone, I simply sealed my skin up. There is more to it than just that, but for now this explaination will suffice.”

“Can all Wreaththu do that?” asked Attjan.

“Of course” replied Tyson

“Even Tian?”

“Yes”

“And Deinathe” said Attjan, more like a question than a statement.

“And Deinathe” finished Tyson.

Silence. Tyson waited patiently, watching the boy out of the corner of his eye as Attjan fought with his courage to ask more questions.

Finally, “Who is Deinathe, Tyson” Why is he so…..arrogant?

“Amoungst many fine attributes” Tyson dryly added. “Deinathe is one of the firsts of a new type of Wreaththu. Normally, I shouldn’t be telling you this but I know your inside now and you will soon be one of us. Besides, my instincts tell me you should know now.”

He paused.

“Deinathe is Azriel’s son. You mentioned that we looked alike in a way an that is because Terzian is my hostling and is also Deinathe’s great-grandfather.” Attjan looked puzzled.

“How is that so? You both look the same age!” exclaimed the boy.

Tyson chuckled. “There is much that you need to learn, but all in due course. Deinathe is in his early twenties while I….” he smiled “Let’s just say I’m getting on and would call your father my peer-group. You see, our body cells do not degenrate for almost two centuries….if you’re very lucky but closer to about a hundred and sixty or so. Until then, we look as we have always looked since our prime.” He glanced up at the sky to admire the first of the stars coming out.

Terzian had a son named Swift with Cobweb. After many events and tides, Terzian and Calanthe had a son together. Me. Swift eventually had his own son Azriel, with Seel”

“Azriel was a special Har because Thiede….you won’t know him……had instructed that Azriel be concieved on a special plane, where one may find the golden pyramids of Shekh. Azriel turned out wonderfully. Many things happened to change the way Wreaththu kind now live and a new sister race to compliment the Wreaththu was born. They are the Kamagrian.”

“Who are they?” asked Attjan.

“Shut up and listen.” Tyson gathered his thoughts. It was plain that he wanted to choose his words carefully so as not to confuse the boy. “Just like how humans have females and males, so have we too found out that our kind also have two different polarities.” He grinned. “It wasn’t an easy pill for many Wreaththu to follow but we gradually grew to understand how it may work for us all in the end. The Kamagrians are more or less……for want of a better word…..our female components”

“But I thought Wreaththu had no females or males! Or are you one of those”

“We are both……..and neither. But the polarities I speak of are not the concept of male and female as you know it. It is more to do with the spirit and the polarity difference in our souls. This is a lot for you to comprehend here, so I will shelve this part away for some future time. My point is, the Trinity at Immannion, of which one of them is my father, decided to close ranks with our new ‘sisters’ and both sides agreed to let a few Wreaththu and Kamagrian hara to perform aruna together and see what kind of Har will evolve. We were not disappointed. Azriel found chesna with a Kamagrian. ‘Her’ name was Kana and together they produced two sons and a daughter in rapid succession. First was Quinathe, the second Deinathe and the third was a Kamagrian….or should I say…daughter named Sione. Quinathe is at Immanion with the Trinity under their direct tutilage. He is powerful. That’s all I will say on the subject. Deinathe meanwhile is a psychopath and was sent to me to foster because the Tigron’s patience was spent and they had to get him out of their sight to avoid killing him in a fit of rage” Tyson chuckled “That really does sound like my father!”

“Deinathe had turned out to be everything his brother and sister weren’t. Since I am the Governor of Caracanti…” Attjan gasped “…..oh, it’s nothing” said Tyson, making an annoyed sound. “Cal gave it to me to rule after I had served some time in the Hegemony. I found the Hegalion not to my liking so he gave me Caracanti to relieve my wandering soul, since it is a little isolated in the wilderness.” In reality, he’s just trying to buy my affections, thought Tyson to himself.

“You never said you ruled Caracanti!” shrieked Attjan. “I had this thought that it was the Tigron that ruled there…..you know…..some wise old man and such like”

“You are naive but you will learn, my little friend. Anyway, Deinathe is with me here and as expected, he sets out at every oppurtunity to make a nuisance of himself. The troubling thing is, he is powerful in many areas. He has a mad dream of elevating ‘his own’ kind of breed into some kind of……higher Wreaththu made up purely of the off-spring of Kamagrian and Gelaming Wreaththu. In reality, he’s just bent on grabbing power. I tolerate his rubbish because I have a duty to the Trinity to keep him in check…….without losing my temper and killing him of course……and a duty to Swift, Seel, Azriel and Kana all of who are really good hara. How Deinathe sprung from their loins, is utterly baffling.”

Atttjan stayed quiet for some time as his brain tried to absorb his friend’s story, and the bloodlines involved. He couldn’t quite remember who was involved with whom, and half of them he thought he would probably never meet anyway. But one thing was bothering him.

“Tyson, where does Tian fit in? Is he related to anyone?”

“Well he’s almost a cousin. His father is Rowan, the Har I first introduced you to. Rowan is Cobweb’s son. Cobweb was my father’s consort, but when Terzian died, and Calanthe left, he was alone for many years. Loneliness got the better of him and he took in someone else. A Har called Diamonde. They had Tian and Iontre.”

“But you said Rowan was Tian’s father?” Attjan looked at him confused.

“Wha…what…oh yes, I’m sorry, Attjan, my mind is wandering. You are right, Cobweb and Diamonde had Rowan, who in turn had Tian and Iontre with his consort, the beautiful Mandrake. My mind was elsewhere for a few seconds, I think that is your home up ahead.”

“It can’t be. We have only been travelling for an hour or so and our farm is many many miles from Caracanti.”

“Well it certainly looks like your home Attjan, and I swear that is your father Jacob out the front. I guess I never explained to you how special these horses of ours are, young one. Shall we move a little more slowly for the last mile or so. I think you should gather your thoughts before you see your family again.”

“I think it is you who should gather your thoughts, Tyson.” Attjan said with a cheeky grin. “And by the way, you never told me what Tian and Iontre are doing in Caracanti. Where did they live and why did they leave?”

“Why are you so inquisitive all of a sudden?”

“Well, I…well it’s just that…um.”

Tyson was almost enjoying Attjan’s discomfort. He didn’t answer for a little while, watching as Attjan blushed and became extremely flustered. Eventually he put him out of his misery. “I’m sorry,” he said with amusement in his voice. “I’m being mean. I know how much Tian affected you and its understandable to want to know a little more about him. I can tell you that he is quite a bit younger than me, as for his true age, you will have to ask him that. He and his brother lived with their Hostling Cobweb, in Forever, for many years. But like many of our kind, the wunderlust took over. I believe they were just passing through at first, but they have found their calling here. Both of them are wonderful musicians and Tian can paint as well.”

“Will I see him again?”

Tyson smiled and touched Attjan’s cheek affectionately.

“Only if you want to, which I do believe you do,” he said with an amused lilt in his voice. Suddenly, Attjan felt a stab of sickly terror deep in his being.

“Tyson!” he squeaked. “What is my family going to do to me? They will never forgive for leaving with you! My father will have my head, please don’t leave me alone!” the boy cried, hysteria shattering his voice.

The horse beneath Attjan began to frisk and prance about. The boy’s raised voices had slightly alarmed it and the animal could sense Attjan’s nervousness and distresss. “Listen” snapped Tyson, pulling up closer to Attjan and catching the his reins. “Hush”, he said in a softer voice, talking to both beast and human. “Hush, Verjah….easy now. Good boy” Tyson spoke directly to the to the animal this time, still holding the reins but now with a bit of slack in his grip. He motioned for stroke the horse’s neck and Attjan, visibly calmer, complied with shaking hands.

“Listen”, he began again, pulling them both to a stop. “Your father will be too glad to see you to bother about loping off your head. Besides, he’ll be too exhausted to lift a sword after spending the last full day looking for you”. He smiled, encouraging the boy to do the same and handed the reins back to the boy. “Did you know……you’re such a lousy horseman!” The boy finally laughed, nervously, but enough to make him relax and feel better. Tyson looked at him for a moment. “I know that you still feel very nervous about seeing your father after …..eloping….. with me. So, I’ve decided to escort you directly to you doorstep and ensure that your much feared father will not give you a flogging.” At that he saw that Attjan’s eyes flashed with a hint of fear once again, but he smiled bravely to conceal this.

Attjan looked up ahead and saw hundreds of lanterns flickering in the distance like a tiny collection of stars nestled beside the shallow and muddy river. His village.

That sickening feeling of dread and uneasiness still lingered and he began to doubt his decision about coming home. Why did he have to be responsible to his family? He was not the eldest son, so why should he have to stay behind to sire a heir? Why did Athau have to get sick? If he didn’t have to come back, he would have been with Tian.

“Ahhhh, but you lie to yourself Attjan” murmured Tyson. “Athau’s illness is the very thing that started the chain reaction to us meeting, or have you forgotten? That is your self-doubt taking root in you. Don’t let it fester and start clouding your insight in things.”

AttJan sighed tiredly. “I know, I know.” he grumbled. “It’s just that there is so much I must face now that I am back home. So much has happened in so short a time but the reality of all I have to do has hit me now that I can see my home right in front of me. I want to see Tian again, be with him, listen to his music forever and relish in the glory that I have become Har. But to do that, I must take a wife and sire a son before I can be free. Will Tian wait for me that long? I’m only a Chief’s son, in an insignificant little human village!” He faced Tyson and whispered, “What hope do I have? He is surrounded by beautiful looking Har, left, right and center. Surely, he will forget me within the space of a few days not to mention a year……or two if I do not have a child quickly. And what sort of father will that make me? Running off to become a Har and abandoning the child even before it opens it’s eyes!” He expelled a sorrowful sound. “Why me?”

“And you still have your father to deal with” added Tyson.

Attjan scowled at him. “Don’t you dare start!” he said, while Tyson grinned.

“But really, why do you fear him so much?”

Attjan looked thoughtful for a moment and shrugged his shoulders. “It is not fair to say he is a wicked father, but he is strict. I have come to accept his strictness because he has tried so hard for us in making us men. Good men. Sometimes he can go overboard but he is generally a good father. I have come to accept his beatings when I have wronged him…..even though most of the time sometimes a very unpleasant experience” he smiled wryly. “But this is the frist time in my life that I have ran away from home……and with a Har for that matter! He must be in a fit of rage of some sort. I am sure of it!”

A cold breeze blew past and Attjan shivered. He was wearing only a baggy shirt and now that it was twilight, the temperature was dropping relatively fast. Tyson took off his huge cloak and tossed it to him. The boy gratefully caught it and huddled inside it’s warmness. Tyson could see that it wasn’t just the cold that was affecting him. More than not, it was the apprehension of facing all that was yet to come.

“Tian asked me to give this to you” Tyson said, removing a silvery object from a little pouch in his belt. Attjan squinted in the growing darkness to see what it was.

“What is it” the boy inquired, reaching forward to take the glittery thing from his friend.

As Tyson gave it to him, he clasped the boy’s hands in both his own. The hands felt dry and warm and his and in that moment, he saw a flash, a vision, something. He had a glimpse of Tian smiling sadly at him, looking achingly beautiful as ever. “Come back soon” he said softly. And next thing, the vision was gone.

“Wha….? Where is he?…..How…..?” the boy stammered.

Tyson removed his hands and grinned as Attjan looked into his own hand. Settled there was a silver chain-bracklet of highly intricate design. There were tiny, articulately drawn runes, symbols and writings, masterfully etched all over it. The components of the chain were of three different shades of silver interlocking with each other in a swirling yet defined way to create a mesmerizing effect. The boy was stunned and it showed. He looked at Tyson, speechless.

“The little vision was a little trick of mine. Remind me to show you how it’s done sometime. The bracelet however, is a small token from Tian to underline his feelings for you. He made it himself years ago as a fashion accessory and only wore it at special occasions.” He paused. “He wanted you to have it to remember him always and return to him someday”

‘When did he give it to you?” managed Attjan, his throat constricting. He was still staring at the marvellous piece.

“While you had your bath. Tian is very frivolous and many tend to think that is how he always behaves. But underneath, he is very emotional and feels deeply. He will search for you to the end of the earth if you waste too much time in going back to him. Now does that reassure you that he will wait for you?”

Tears stood in Attjan’s eyes. He had experienced a rollercoaster of emotions in the last day but this was the climax. He couldn’t speak beause his heart was in his mouth. He managed an almost imperceptable nod.

“Good!” said Tyson cheerfully. “Now dry those eyes and let’s get you home. They might think I have been torturing you. Hmmm…..In a way I think I have! Oh, and there is a little something in your saddle bags but do not open until I leave, understood?”

They set off again, Attjan fiercely using Tyson’s cloak around his shoulders to wipe his eyes while he tried to get the bracelet on and Tyson gazing keenly ahead at the village, his face an unreadable mask.

As they approached the first few dwellings on the outskirts of the village, they saw a desert search party preparing to set out once more into the desert. The air was filled with distant shouts and torches swung about like fireflies. Attjan could see the the first of the night desert mists just creeping in, fanning the bonfires and blending with the thick smoke. Horses and camels snorting and prancing about, raising dust to further obscure visibility. The stench of animal dung and sweat of both beast and man mixed with hard, caked leather assailed the two travellers. They could hear the shouts and bellowings more clearly now. To the far left, a few scouts huddled together around one of the fires drinking the locally produced rum to warm up their blood. Nearer to the center of the make shift camp sat more men on their haunches, most likely the ones who just returned, ravenously eating smoked meat and speaking in tired, angry tones. Attjan was surprised that they hadn’t noticed their approach yet and said as much to Tyson who just grunted and kept moving along.

Then there was a shout, quickly joined by more yellings. They had been seen.

For a moment, pandomonium broke out and many of them rushed forward instantly in excitment and it was only when they were just a few feet from the two riders did they remember their fear of the Wraeththu. They stopped short and regarded both of them wearily, most of them looking anxiously at Attjan for signs of change, wondering if he was still human. He cautiously waved to a few of them, people that he knew, but they just stared back at him, unsure how to deal with this. Most had expected to find him wandering dust-encaked in the desert, dirty and thirsty, but alive. This, they did not expect; seeing him in clean clothes, a fresh horse that even his father couldn’t own and with a Har in tow.

Tyson on the other hand kept riding as if they didn’t exist and proceeded on to the Chief’s house. The villagers parted in a wide berth and quietly followed from a distance.

Attjan knew that a few of them would have run ahead by now, using the small alleys and back passages to get to his father’s house before they did and warn his parents of their arrival. It all felt a little bit unreal, as if he had been gone for a year instead of a day.

“Remember this day, my young friend. Nothing will ever be the same henceforth” Tyson abruptly broke into his thoughts. In months to come Attjan would see how painfully right Tyson had been. His life changed beyond imagining.

He could see his father’s house now and that dread returned. Strangely, he wanted to face the dread. If his father was going to rage at him and beat him, he wanted to face it now. The suspense of waiting was too much to bear and he would gladly face his executioner now. They reached the house and dismounted. As the boy made to hurry in, Tyson grabbed his arm shook his head, indicating that he should go in after himself. They entered. In the front room sat Jacob with his head in his hands. He didn’t immediately look up at them when they entered. Attjan rushed from behing Tyson and went to put his hand on his father’s shoulder. That was when Jacob looked up. He looked haggered, unkept and dazed. He had clearly not slept a wink since Attjan had left home.

“Father” was all Attjan could manage.

“My son” and swept the boy in a fierce bear-hug. Tyson meanwhile strolled into the back rooms where the corner room was to check on Athau. In the front room, father and son remained in their embrace. After a while, both disengaged and stared quietly at each other.

Attjan could not stand the silence anymore. “I am whole Papa, they didn’t do anything to me. I’m…….” he blurted out and Jacob waved him to be silent.

“I know.”

“What do you mean father! I tell you the truth, they……..” gushed Attjan.

“I said, I know they didn’t touch you. The fact that you are here now in front of me proves that. If you had any sex with them you would have been dead and your body would have been returned to me with your insides destroyed. If your body wasn’t found, then I would have known that they made you one of them. I will have preferred the latter, at least that way, I would know that somewhere, my son still lives.”

Attjan felt a tiny pang of guilt. If only his father knew how close he had come to staying with those wonderful creatures! How will he tell his father that he only wished to stay for a short while (a year perhaps?) before he fled again. He would cross that bridge when he came to it. For now, he would be the dutiful son.

Jacob noticed the eye-catching bracelet on his son’s wrist. “How did you come by that?” he asked carefully.

Attjan avoided his eyes and guardedly answered that it was a gift. Jacob said nothing. To the boy, that had more effect than his father screaming obscenities at him.

Attjan felt a sudden need to get away and mumbled to his father that he wanted to see his mother and brother. He gave Jacob another brief hug and hurried off to the corner rooms.

The first thing he noticed was the odour stemming from the room. Then he wondered why four burly looking men were standing just outside the door. This was what he associated with madness. Rarely, a villager went mad, sometimes possessed by the evil ones as they said, and hefty men had to be called in to pin the patient down while the medicine woman administered potions and herbs.

In alarm, he brushed past them and they made no attempt to stop him. He burst into the room and saw Tyson sitting on the side of the bed trying to hold down something on the bed furiously trashing about. That something, or someone was hideous to behold. He felt a chill in his heart and as if in a dream state, staggered forward. What he saw there could not possibly be his brother.

Athau was covered in weeping sores and rashes. The skin struggling to cover his body was a sickly, pale, greyish-green. His gaunt features and lank hair falling off in different places made him look like something from the underworld. One side of his skull was distended and his whole torso was bloated. His fingers were like claws and every now and then, he made to itch his loins, tearing skin in the process and having bits of skin underneath his nails. It was his loins that Tyson was trying to protect from being totally ripped out.

Attjan was sick to the pits of his stomach and instantly felt nauseous. He turned away and in the corner saw Mara sitting and hugging herself, weeping silently. She was slowly rocking back and forth and gazing sorrowfully at her son as if willing the pain to enter her instead. He felt like gagging and tasted bile at the back of his throat. Ahtau had laid faeces of all kinds around the vicinity of the bed. He went to his mother and wordlessly put his arms around her. After a few minutes, Ahtau seemed to relax and Tyson gestured for Attjan to assist him. He reluctantly shuffled to the bedside and helped Tyson tie his brother’s wrists to the bedposts. That was when he realized how terrible Athau’s fever was. He was scorching hot and kept convulsing. After they finished tying him up, Tyson could see that Attjan was struggling not to retch and so sent him outside to get a pouch from his saddle and he gratefully obliged.

Attjan dashed through the rooms of his small house. As soon as he crossed the thresh hold of the door, he fell to his knees with a thud and vomited, violently. His body shook and nausea eroded at his innards. He had never seen anything so vile in all his life. Ahtau was past all recognition. The reek of his hideously malformed body reached Attjan and he wretched again and again. Tears streamed down his face. He did not want to be there. Why had he come back? What good could he possibly do? Though he had never actually seen an person change to Wraeththu, Attjan was certain it was not supposed to happen like it was.

He missed Tian so much he could barely even see straight. Attjan sniffled softly and took the shimmering bracelet off his wrist. He held it against his lips and closed his eyes. Never had he felt like that about anyone. He had certainly had crushes before, but Tian was different. If he thought about it hard enough, Attjan could feel Tian’s warm, strong arms around him, his breath in his ear. Attjan opened his dark eyes and stared at the bracelet, wishing with all his heart that Tian could be there. Suddenly, the bracelet grew warmer. It increased in temperature until his skin burned. Attjan cursed at it softly, and dropped the thing in the tan dust. It landed without a sound and seemed to grow, expanding outward. A light the color of new leaves (and Tian’s eyes) filled the space. When the light cleared, it seemed that Attjan was looking into someone’s room, a bed by a large window, sumptuous furnishings strewn about the place. It was Tian’s room in Caracanti. Without warning, a head popped into view. Tian. Attjan was so startled he could say nothing. Tian smiled warmly.

When Attjan finally found his voice, he cried out Tian’s name, but it came out more as a croak than a proper sound. Tian’s smile broadened and he began to laugh. “Attjan, so you have been thinking about me, then?”

Attjan was so surprised and embarrassed at being confronted by Tian that he began to back away from the vision. It scared but intrigued him at the same time. “Tian, how is it that I can see you like this? What kind of magic is it?”

“Ah, my lovely young human. It’s not magic so much as desire. You desired to see me, and here I am.” Tian was holding out his arms now, in a beckoning gesture. “I am so glad you accepted my bracelet. I want you to wear it at all times. Whenever you want to see me, or if you need me for any reason, I will be here for you.”

“Tian, I need you now. Not as a vision, but for real. My brother…he’s very sick. Tyson is with him, but I don’t think it’s working. I am very afraid that he is dying.” Attjan wiped away the tears that were streaming down his face, and turned away. “Will you come, Tian? Perhaps two of you might be able to bring my brother through this.”

“But of course I will, my darling. Anything to stop those tears in your eyes” said Tian softly. “I’ve just touched with Tyson’s mind and the way he tried to shut himself off from me indicates things are not well”

His apparition moved nearer and his fingers touched Attjan’s tears. In that benevolent touch that felt like the softest of feathers whispering on his skin, the boy was consumed by a need to cry fresh tears. Not tears of despair as before but tears of longing. He could not believe it possible to love another so much. His eyes closed of their own accord and he felt Tian so near that it seemed like their souls had touched.

“Hush, pretty one. I come soon”. To Attjan, the voice seemed to be coming from afar, with chasing echoes pulsing it across vast distances. His eyes opened in a haze and Tian’s soft light bathed him. “I come soon” he said again and suddenly faded.

For a while, Attjan just sat there, gazing sullenly at the bracelet in the dust. How long he stayed in that position, he didn’t know and didn’t care. When he did eventually stand up, his lower liombs ached and tingled from lack of blood flow. He picked up the bracelet ,fastened it back around his wrists, kicked dust over his vomittings and began walking to the stables. Across the stables, he saw many of the villagers watching him from a quiet and safe distance obviously weary of the har in the household. He wondered how much of his conversation with Tian they had seen. He smiled bitterly to himself, sniffing and wiping his face. That would definately give them more fodder for gossip but he realised that he didn’t care. Let them think whatever they wanted to. Tyson must be wondering why he was taking so long, he thought as he entered the stables. He most likely knew anyway.

Outside, the villagers murmured to themselves. All they had seen was Attjan kneeling in the sand, mouthing words to some point in the air above him. He is praying to God to save his brother, they said in lowered voices and nodded to themselves in agreement.

Inside the stables, Attjan spent a moment petting Tyson’s incredibly handsome horse and then searched inside the saddle bags for the potion he was asked to bring. As he did so, he idly wondered at his new found talent of being able to burst into tears at a moment’s notice. Jacob had trained his sons to be hard men and these new emotions that kept assailing him were worrying. It was highly unbecoming of him and he made a mental note to himself to quit the practice though he did not trust himself well enough to keep such a promise. In exasperation, he realized he had forgotten which medicine Tyson required and just picked the whole bag to carry back to Tyson.

Tyson looked up as Attjan entered and raised his right eyebrow. “I was going to ask what took you so long, but I see you have been in touch with Tian.”

Attjan dropped the bag on the table beside Ahtau’s bed and stared slack-jawed at Tyson. “How…how did you know?”

“Tian tends to have that affect on people.”

“What are you talking about?” Attjan questioned, trying desperately to avert his eyes from the, thankfully, now still body of his brother.

“A far-away look to your eyes, a flush to your skin, a bluge in your pants.” Tyson let a a small smile spread momentarily across his face as he saw Attjan’s embarrassment.

Attjan looked down at himself then clenched his fists. No one had ever had this affect on him before. He tried to relax, slithered his baggy trousers about to try and hide the evidence of his lust and stared at the floor. “I’ve brought the medicine, Tyson. Can you help Ahtau, or not?”

“Well I have managed to calm him down a bit. He’s sleeping a the moment. The potions in this bag I will make into a poltice for his chest..” Tyson stopped suddenly and looked upwards as though he were trying to locate the spiders in the web in the corner. He grabbed his head as if in pain, and his body shuddered. Attjan touched him on the arm and he flinched away. After a few moments Tyson relaxed, and looked at Attjan. “That was Tian, young one. He’s on his way. He’ll be here in a few hours. Did you have so little faith in me that you had to call him?”

“I…..it wasn’t like that….he just…..” Attjan fell silent. He hadn’t expected Tyson’s acid remarks.

“It’s not your fault” sighed Tyson and put his face in his hands. After a while he said “I knew his althaia would be difficult because the Forale wasn’t performed and the sickness in his body was at an advanced stage” and looked up at Attjan who just stared at him uncomprehendingly. He sighed again and smiled dryly. “You will understand when your turn comes. Or has his state scared you off already?” Attjan just kept looking at him mutely.

“It’s a good thing Tian is on his way. What we are about to perform requires at least two hara”

Attjan glanced at his mother, now dozing fitfully in the corner. He moved nearer to Tyson. “Why didn’t you warn me that the changling would be this terrible?” he whispered fiercely. “What did you think, that I won’t know what I was getting myself into? ‘Let him find out for himself'” he mimicked, his face contorted in anger. Tyson just looked at him blankly.

He stood up from the bed and began going through the bag, removing all sorts of different coloured strange potions, powders and herbs. Attjan came round to his side. “Why didn’t you say something on the way back, some form of warning or something? Why?”. Tyson continued going through his bag, his customary silence engaged. He finally selected a small bottle and gently poured some through Athau’s quivering lips.

Just then, Jacob entered. He didn’t say a word but just gazed at his sleeping son with tired eyes. “Will he live?” he asked without turning to look at Tyson.

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps” repeated Jacob emotionlessly.

The sight of his father standing there, shoulders slumped, haggard and defeated was stabbing at Attjan’s heart and he rushed over to put his arm around his shoulders. “He will live father! Athau will fight and come through, I kwow he will!” he said forcibly, trying to believe the words himself. “Come, you must rest. It is late. I will stand vigil over him while you and mother take a rest” Jacob resisted feebly. “Please father….”. Jacob gave in let himself be led out of the room. Attjan came back moments later with the four huge men at the door whom he ordered to start cleaning the room once he saw that Tyson had finished putting poltice on his chest wounds. He then led his mother out to go get some rest.

When Attjan returned, Tyson was standing in the doorway to the room, instructing two of the men on how to clean up the fragile form of Athau, while the others sanitized the place. He faced Attjan. “Come with me” he said and strolled outside the house.

They stood in front of the house, Tyson looking at the clear night sky and the countless winking stars. Attjan looked across the dusty street to the far left and saw that most of the villagers had gone home after waiting as spectators for a while. A cool breeze lifted a small haze of dust in front of them. Tyson said suddenly “I did not tell you of Athau’s condition because I wanted you to see for yourself and judge if what I did for him was right or not. The althaia is a sacred metamorphorsis and is normally not to be witnessed by humans, not least for the fact that a few actually die from the process but also for the grotesque conditon of the person while the changling occurs. I have already explained to you why his is difficult although it is highly likely that you did not understand all I said concerning the subject.” He sat down on the steps and continued “The Harhune tests the will-power and ingrained sense of hope in Man. You seeing it for yourself and your decision to still proceed with it will make you draw strength from your love for Tian and a desire to grasp your destiny. Seeing the horrors of the changling and still going ahead with it will heighten your mind, body and spirit for what is to come and after you become har.” He snorted softly and smiled “You might even thank me for it someday.”

Attjan sat down by him and thought for a while. “I just felt that at least some form of warning should have been given. He’s in a terrible state! Is he really going to make it?”

“We shall see. I’ll have to wait for Tian to arrive” and began regalling the boy with tales of Tian’s exploits. Attjan sat enchanted and Tyson noticed that the only time his attention broke off was to look up the road from time to time.

After a while, Tyson stood up. “They must have finish cleaning up by now. I’d better get back and check on him.” Attjan made to stand but Tyson put a hand on his shoulder and told him to sit. “Don’t worry, wait here for Tian. I can see that you barely heard a tenth of what I said in your eagerness to see him, looking up the road every five seconds.” Attjan blushed and laughed. “You like embarrasing me don’t you?” Tyson smiled “I live for the relish of it” and left.

The sound of pounding hooves woke Attjan from his lull. He did not remember dropping off to sleep on the front porch. The sky was now streaked with lavender and azure. Dawn was encroaching quickly. With a pang of guilt, he recalled his promise to his parents to keep virgil over his brother. The sounds were nearer now and he scrambled up from where he sat and his keen eyes fell on a single rider coming towards the house at a gallop. Tian. Must be.

Tian was in tan coloured riding leathers, his golden curls pulled back from his face by the wind and waving wildly. The hair went on forever and almost looked like a second cape. Only the huge cloak and thick lengthy scarf that obscured half his face were black. His horse, as magnificent as Tyson’s horses in the stables was bay coloured with black fore-legs. In years to come, this view would always be Attjan’s fondest memory of Tian on horseback.

He pulled up beside the boy, smiling mischieviously with arms spread open, the horse a mass of coiled muscle that rippled beneath the sleek coat, still excited after it’s charging run. Attjan just stared.

“Well? Don’t I at least get a thank-you-for-coming-as-soonest-notice greeting?” he laughed, dismounting and hugging Attjan tightly to himself. The boy felt hot all over, not believing that he held Tian in his arms, breathing in his smell to be sure.

Tian drew back after a while, holding Attjan’s shoulders and gazing at his face. He used one hand to brush Attjan’s hair away from his face and lodged it behind his ears. He cupped his face and gently caressed Attjan’s cheeks with his thumbs. “I wish I could take you with me this very moment” he said softly. Attjan gazed into his face, loving the way his hair fell over his lovely brown eyes in locks that reached past his nose. Tian suddenly broke away as if scorched. “So where is that old rogue? Can’t do a damn thing right without my help!” he said cheerfully. “Is there a parking spot for this beast?”

Attjan just remained docile. He still hadn’t found his voice or his nerve to say a single word and he clinched his jaw again and again. Tian’s presence was still struggling to sink in. All night, he had waited for him to show up and now that he did, it felt unreal. He wanted to kiss those perfect lips but Tian had broken away so suddenly, his arms had felt cold instantly. Then it dawned on him; the villagers. Being spectators again. They had heard him arriving and had roused from their slumber to have a look at the new visitor. Tian had refrained from kissing him to save his dignity and Attjan was glad for his thoughtfulness.

“You came” he finally managed.

Tian put on a comical mock frown “Yes, that’s already been established. Now tell me something I don’t know…..like where the stables are situated!” He gave a dazzling smile and took Attjan’s arm. “Come on, snap out of it” and the boy began leading the way in a daze towards the stables, still looking at Tian with incredulous eyes.

Inside, Attjan tied up the horse next to the others, still mute and tense at Tian’s presence. Suddenly, Tian grabbed him, twirled him round and engulfed him in a kiss. It was pure passion, both of them running hands in each other’s hair, tasting, touching, feeling. Thoughts whorled with speed in Attjan’s head; it’s right. It’s not right. It cannot be. It is. It’s real. It’s a dream. I love him. He’s here. With me. It’s not real. It’s happening. It’s real. It’s right. It’s right. It’s so right.

When they eventually parted, Attjan was flushed and breathless. Tian beamed. “That kiss was worth every inch of my journey here! Anymore and I will not stop myself. Can’t we make you a har today?” He licked and smacked his lips. “Best thing I’ve had all morning” he declared, still smiling with a twinkle in his eye. “And put that away till later” he giggled, glancing down at Attjan’s aroused loins.

Attjan looked down and laughed. “Fuck off” he said, still laughing.

“Ahh, a highly tempting prospect, I can tell you” replied Tian, raising his eyebrows and cocking his head to one side. “But today is your unlucky day because I will pass on that until some future time…….not too distant future I hope” he added wearily. “We better get inside and see to your brother” he said, and began walking towards the stable doors.

“Tian……” started Attjan, holding the har’s forearm. “I haven’t thanked you for the bracelet. It’s the most beautiful thing anyone ever gave me. I didn’t know it had so much magical powers and I am so happy I have a way to link with you”. He looked away from Tian’s face. When he looked back, his eyes were strange yet calm. “I love you, Tian” he said simply.

“I know” the har replied quietly.

That wasn’t the reply Attjan was expecting. He thought Tian would declare the same words out loud, not just a simple “I know”. He felt hurt and scratched the back of his neck nervously, averting his eyes from Tian’s presence. Was it one of his frivolous jokes again?

“Tian…..are you……are you and Tyson…..?” he stammered, dreading the answer.

“Are Tyson and I what?” he asked with a genuine frown on his face. Attjan didn’t notice the amusing glint in his eye because he couldn’t bring himself to look at them.

“Oh, quit playing with me! You know exactly what I mean!” Attjan couldn’t stand it anymore. His heart was racing and he could hear the blood ponding in his ears.

Tian wrapped him in an embrace and kissed his forehead. “You poor darling! I took a tease too far and you fell for it too easily!” He cupped Attjan’s face and his voice became grave. “I love you more than you will ever know. We Wraeththu have a different concept of the word. That’s why I juggled you around for a bit. Someday, I will show you just how much of my heart you have possessed. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!” Attjan visibly sagged in relief. “And no, Tyson and I are not anything. We are close. Very close. But our ways are so refreshingly different from Man’s” He smiled again. “Now let’s get inside before they realise we were having a stolen kiss in the hay!”

Attjan laughed, truely happy. As they emerged from the stables, Tian gave him an exagerated wide space and looked prim. “They mustn’t know what we’ve been up to” The boy couldn’t help bursting into fresh laughter. He was so infectious! He mentally recalled what Tyson had said about Tian having that effect on people and shook his head in amazement.

The skies were now lighting up and Attjan kept admirering Tian’s perfect profile and glorious mane of hair. Then he saw a glimmer form around Tian’s hair, not unlike the heatwaves he would see in the desert on a hot day, and right before his very eyes, the hair began to plait itself into a single, long plait that fell to below the back of the har’s knees. It was over within seconds and the boy was stunned. Tian turned to him grinning. “It’s just a little trick. Remind me to show you how it is done sometime.”

“Now where have I heard that before?” said Attjan wistfully as they entered the house.

When they entered, Attjan’s parents were already awake and sat in the corner, speaking in hushed tones. They looked up as Tian and their son arrived; Mara with a look of despairing hope, Jacob with a mixture of resignment and suspicion. Tyson was rubbing some strange herbal cream on Athau’s chest that gave off a balmy yet spicey scent. He looked up.

“You definately took your time”

“I had faith in your talents to keep him alive till I arrived” replied Tian, smiling at his own play on words. “Things to attend to. Shall we begin?”

Jacob stood up and came towards them, giving Tian a hard glance before speaking. “You wish to perform more sorcery upon him.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“No, father! They just want….” Attjan began. Jacob turned his icy stare on his son and the boy fell silent. He faced the two hara again. “Do what you must. But let him live. He is yours now but he will always be my son.” He gazed at his still sleeping form of his son. “For all that it is worth, I thank you” he said thickly.

Tyson nodded. There was a certain respect he felt for the man. “You and your wife may stay to watch if you wish it but I ask that you maintain complete silence for Athau’s sake. And nothing that you see now should ever be spoken amoungst anybody outside this family, is this clear?” He didn’t wait for an answer and told them to sit as far away from the bed as possible. Attjan had already asked the men to leave and Tian was pulling the bed away from the walls.

With the bed now in the center of the room, Tyson began sprinkling a powder around the bed. It looked liked thoroughly crushed amenthyst crystals. He and Tian began murmuring in perfect sync. It sounded like hummings and yet so beautifully distinct. The only words that Attjan could catch was “protection”. Next, they began removing crystals from their belt pouches in perfect harmony, the same type of crystal emerging in each hand every time they dipped their fingers within. It was like a slow dance that held the eye unflinchingly. All sorts of wonderfully coloured gems kept appearing; hermalite, jade, lapis, aventurine, rhodonite, jasper, quartz….in all, Attjan counted twelve different types. The crystals were being placed on Athau’s body in couplets at strategic spots; the forehead, his solar plexus, his abdomen, the loins and his limbs. The rest were placed in each of Athau’s limp hands. Only the quartz now remained in each har’s possession.

Without halting in their chantings they moved to opposite sides of the bed, and held out their gem in both palms. A blazing turquoise light suddenly seared forth from both stones and joined over Athau’s body. Tiny sparks of turquoise beams flew and landed on all the gems on Athau’s body, igniting each of them with a pulsating glow. Then it all dimmed. It was over in less than a minute. Mara made an almost inaudible sound that sounded like a whimper and Jacob roughly shook her shoulder to hush up. All the stones now had a soft light and the two quartz now hovered over the boy’s chest still illuminated by the now dimmed turquoise glow. The only sounds were Tyson’s and Tian’s voices still softly chanting. Then it started. Sparks like minature comets sprang from the stones and began streaking all around the boy’s body, looking like a thousand fire-flies of countless colours. How long this went on, none of the human’s could tell. Then with the same suddenness it started, it stopped. Athau’s appalling state was no more. Though he still looked guant, his skin now had a healthy tone to it. The sores and rashes seemed to have shrivelled up, his torso was now in proportion and his head had returned to it’s normal size. His hair which had been falling out in patches all looked regrown though it still fell in lank locks. Tyson placed a hand inches from the boy’s chest and in slow, repeated motions, waved his hands to the throat. Athau’s then shuddered and he let out a long sigh, expelling a stream of what looked like steamy air and then was quiet. Never had Attjan ever seen Athau looking so peaceful. For a moment everything was silent and Attjan dreaded that his brother was dead. He strained his eyes from where he sat to watch for the rise and fall of Athau’s chest and with relief saw that his brother was still breathing. Very softly, as if in a blissful sleep.

“He will live.” Tyson said softly. Both he and Tian looked exhausted but had an almost unnoticable look of accomplishment about them. Tian set about removing the stones from Athau’s body and packing the bags while Tyson went to where the family sat in quiet awe.

“He will still be weak for a few days yet but he will be fine. In twelve hours, he will wake. When he does, take him to the lavatory to ease himself. It will be best that you get some of your men to start digging a pit specially for him to pass his faeces in, because it will be an unbearable sight……and stench. When he is done, burn all of it thoroughly and cover the pit. Give him plenty of liquids and this,” he handed Jacob a bottle containing a dark, swirling liquid. “Nothing else.” He paused and watched Jacob’s face expressionlessly for a moment. “I will come for him the day after tomorrow” he said and strolled from the room. Mara started weeping into her skirt, her sounds muffled by the cloth.

Tian, now done with the packing, gave Attjan a curt smile although his eyes looked grim and followed Tyson. Attjan followed. As he did so, he could feel his father’s eyes burning into his back.

Attjan followed them both out into the yard where one of the young stable boys had already brought their horses. Attjan, didn’t even seem surprised at the fact they were already waiting. Nothing would surprise him any more. Tyson and Tian were packing their saddle bags in silence. Attjan walked up to them slowly. “Are you leaving straight away?” Tyson nodded quickly, but Tian turned to Attjan with a sad expression on his face.

“I’m sorry, Attjan. There is unrest at home. My father, Rowan, has sent us an urgent communique. I think it has something to do with Deinathe.” Attjan felt completely devastated. Tian had only been there for a short while. Tian understood how he felt, and put his arms around Attjan and hugged him.

Tian let his lips caress the side of Attjan’s face for a few seconds, then kissed his ear. “Ahtau will be fine. All the darkness has left his body and he will sleep for a day or two. When he arises he will be a healthy and beautiful Har, just like you will be one day. We will be back by then. This business of ours will only take a short while. It’s important that we go. Your mother and father will be happy to spend some time with you, I’m sure.” Attjan smiled and tried desperately to stop any tears from falling. He watched as Tyson and Tian mounted their steeds, then stayed in the yard until they had disappeared beyond the horizon. He felt numb inside, cold and completely bereft. Mara was standing at the door when he finally turned around to go inside. She hugged him to her bosom and wept into his hair. He fell into an exhausted sleep that evening, not even managing a dream about his beloved. The next morning he awoke to the delicious aroma of breakfast cooking. Jacob and Mara were so happy that he was home again, they never even questioned him about his adventures or about the mysterious Har he had arrived with. Attjan realised they were simply so overwhelmed at having their two sons back, they didn’t want to tempt fate, or even ponder what might happen to them in the future.

For two days Attjan worked in the field with his cousins. The hard work in the hot sun, helping him to forget about Tian. Ahtau, continued to sleep peacefully during this time, and Attjan sat with him in the evenings, reading to him. On the third evening, Ahtau, opened his eyes and smiled at his brother. “I hate that story.” Attjan shouted out for Jacob and Mara to come into the room, to see the transformation for themselves. Ahtau, was full of questions, but they didn’t want to tire him out. Attjan wanted so badly to tell him about Tian and to explain to his brother the changes that had taken place within his body. Athau, didn’t look that different from before. He was certainly thinner, but there was something within his eyes that made Attjan jealous. Ahtau seemed to be at peace within himself , and there was an aura of strength about him. Attjan was also dying to take a peek under the blankets at the change that he beleived would have taken place in his loins. Ahtau, looked at him questioningly. “There’s something you are not telling me, isn’t there baby brother.”

Suddenly Athau seemed uncomfortable and made to get out of the bed. Attjan remember what Tyson and Tian had said about him emptying out his bowels. So as not to alarm Ahtau too much, Attjan made light of his discomfort, just telling him that it was normal after a long illness. He helped his brother outside, almost retching at the odour that came from him. He hoped it would not last long, for both their sakes. On the third visit outside that evening, Attjan could hear the animals making a racket in the field alongside the house so he helped Athau back to bed then went to investigate. The night was very dark, but he could see a light in the distance. He waited silently behind a large tree until the light came closer and closer. A rider on a horse appeared just a few feet away from Attjan. His breath caught in his throat. It was Deinathe.

Deinathe was on an almost impossibly huge horse, completely white without a single blemish. The animal stood over eighteen hands in height and had long, silky, flowing hair around it’s hooves and legs like a shire horse. It looked very much like a unicorn without it’s spiralling horn. Both beast and rider were clad entirely in dazzling white, the only colour out of place a thick leather belt encrusted with large emeralds around the har’s waist which seemed to glitter with the same sinister green light of his eyes.

He looked exactly like a terrible angel of destruction, his ethereal beauty ironically underlining that fact. Attjan felt terror race down his spine in one icy wave. What was he doing here?!!

“I don’t play hide and seek with wretches” he drawled as his horse cantered slowly to where the boy hid. “But you could do me a small favour and fetch your brother for me and I’ll let you live as a token of my gratitude. What do you say……..wretch?”

In shock, Attjan just stood there until a second later the sound of more horses snapped him out of his stupour. In the distance not far behind were half a dozen or so more horses, all black. Attjan saw that one of the black horses was riderless. That was when he began to function again.

“Never!!!” he screamed as he scambled from his hiding place and began sprinting towards the house. His heart thumped wildly as he dashed through the short hallway leading to Athau’s room, roughly pushing his mother out of the way in his mad haste. Athau was leaning in the door way, holding on to the door frame for support. “Attjan! I heard you scream. What……”

Attjan cannoned into his brother, using his arm to grab Athau at the waist as he did so. He heard his brother’s pained, winded sound but he couldn’t stop now. By some incredible miracle, both boys didn’t topple over. He could hear his mother screaming in the hallway but to Attjan, it sounded as if it came from far away. He system was now working on pure adrenalin and he had only one goal in life. Save Athau. He dragged his brother to the window and flung it open. The ground was right beneath the window. Athau was protesting veheminently and Attjan grabbed his shoulders and shouted in his face. “Listen! We must flee now. There is no time to waste. I will tell you what I can when we’re…..” There came the sound of crashings from the front of the house. Attjan looked back and through the hallway, could see Deinathe tossing Jacob around the front room like a rag doll. He just stood there without moving and using some strange sorcery to smash up their father. He looked at Attjan and quirked his lips in an evil smile. He turned back to his brother, urgency in his voice. “Athau, jump! Now!” Athau obeyed and Attjan followed.

They landed on the patchy back garden and Attjan was up in one fluid movement. He quickly helped Athau stand and heard him wince. He didn’t have the time to ask him if he was okay and just supported him under one shoulder, already moving towards the undergrowth at the end of the termite-infested picket fence. When they reached it, he pushed them both to the ground and began fumbling with the Tian’s bracelet, desperately struggling to remove it with his shaking hand, cursing colourfully. After a few seconds of fruitless results, his teeth came into play. Sweat flowed into one of his eyes and he fiercely wiped it away with his sleeve. Still, he couldn’t get the bracelet off. He had to get help. Attjan knew they couldn’t run far on their own horses against the Wraeththu-bred animals. He shouted Tian’s name at the bracelet. Nothing happened. Again and again he shouted that name at the bracelet, hoping against hope that the light would appear and bear him and his brother away from this chaos. Deinathe appeared in front of them. He hadn’t made a single sound.

“Boo!” he said quietly. “Something in your eyes tell me this is not quite the vision you expected.” He continued lazily, “Your pretty Har will not hear because I have placed a ward on his silly excuse for a gift. I assume you were bringing me Athau as promised? Only now, I’m not too keen anymore of keeping my end of the bargain.” Athau looked at Attjan curiously and Deinathe chuckled softly. “Ahhh….I see that you have not been made aware of your new heritage. Let me have the pleasure of enlightening you. You are now Har and your brother is in love with one of us. He’s just too embarassed to tell you at the moment. Much has happened while you took a nap!”

“You monster! I will die before you take him!” raged Attjan and launched himself at Deinathe. “Die then” drawled the Har. The next thing Attjan knew was that he was crashing backwards into the wooden fence behind him. Deinathe hadn’t moved. He then watched as Deinathe grabbed his brother’s hair and lifted him roughly. He pulled the boy’s hair downward, drawing Athau’s head back and kissed him with venom. Athau beat feebly against the Har’s chest and Deinathe suddenly released him. Athau panted wheezenly and Deinathe rolled his tongue in his mouth for a moment, as if savouring vintage wine and then curled his lip in distaste.

“You still taste of those two fools but I’ll fix that when we have aruna together” he smiled coldly.

Attjan saw five other figures arrive, all wearing perfectly fitting black attires. They looked like soldiers and they were definately hara but from where, he had no idea. Deinathe dropped Athau and watched him tumble to the ground. He spoke to the new arrivals without turning. “Put him on the spare horse and let us take our leave.”

Attjan stared at him, paralysed in shock. “What manner of being are you? What do you want with him? Leave him alone!” He made to stand up and a crushing weight, invisible to the eye, pinned him down.

“Ahh, the wretch. Being as inquisitive as ever. Still refuses to heel. I’m feeling talkative this evening, lucky you, so I’ll answer your questions. What manner of being am I?…..My father is an angel, so what does that make me?. Question two, what do I want with your brother?…..He is an integral part of a grand design. He has useful qualities. In answer to the last statement, no, I will not leave him.” He crotched down beside Attjan who was grunting breathlessly in pain. “Satisfied, whelp? Now, can you die quietly so I can get on with my work? There is much to be done”

What saved Attjan’s life was one of the hara, calling Deinathe’s attention to Athau’s strugglings. They were clearly considering knocking Athau senseless but Deinathe had specifically requested that he shouldn’t be touched in any way. Deinathe left Attjan’s side and as he did so, the weight on his chest eased. He turned over and crawled over the broken wooden pieces of fence around him into the bushes beyond. His whole back was on fire and warm blood flowed from his scalp, running down the side of his face. He had to flee. He glanced back at the scene behind him and saw Deinathe drugging his brother. “I’m sorry Athau. I will find you, I swear it” he whispered and snuck away.

One of the hara noticed that Attjan had fled. “I know, Raael. I let him go because I got bored. I just wanted him for sport but it seems I’m going soft. Let the young whelp run, our work here is finished.” He looked at Athau’s semi-unconsious form. The boy was strapped over one of the steeds and he was mumbling inaudibly, eyes rolling and in derilium. Deinathe skimmed the boy over with his hard eyes. “Still looks beautiful even in this state” he murmured to himself. He turned back to Raael “Let’s be off. I still have an aruna and a binding to perform. There is no rest for the wicked” he smiled wryly and mounted his horse.

Attjan lay under the bush, the pain in his body like a fire that was slowly consuming him. He had given up trying to summon Tian, Deinathe had blocked all his attempts. With a deep shuddering breath he peered out into the darkness. All was silent. He had to make for the house and check on his mother and father. Crawling slowly, he inched his way across the yard, crying out when his bruised and battered body scraped along a rock. Every now and then he had to stop to gather his strength, collapsing face first on the ground. With his mouth full of dirt and blood streaming down his face, he contined, his cries echoing through the stillness. He wondered where the rest of the villagers were. They must have heard the comotion. No one appeared even now, to help him. He cursed Deinathe, asuming he must have thrown some kind of spell over the entire village. Eventually he reached their house, and called out frantically. There was no answer. He called again, then heard a soft whimper coming from the bedroom. It was his mother.

His mother was cradling his father’s bloodied body, and she was weeping. Attjan crawled across the floor to them and collapsed at her feet. She let out a wail when she saw him. He reached out his hand towards her. “Mother.” She shook her head…”No…he can’t be dead. Oh no, Tian where are you?”

“Don’t call those demons. They caused this…” she wailed again, rocking backwards and forwards. “Tian and Tyson aren’t the cause of this. They have only tried to help.” Attjan fossicked in his pocket and pulled forth Tian’s bracelet. He rubbed it vigorously, “please Tian, please. Come help up…” he couched down, wiping the blood from his face and began to scream at the bracelet. His mother shut her eyes and clutched even harder onto Jacob.

At first Attjan didn’t hear the plaintive cry that seem to come from now-where. He thought it was just his mother’s crying. Then he stopped his screaming and looked down at the bracelet. It was shimmering, and jumping about on the floor. Attjan picked it up. “Tian, is that you?”

The bracelet continued to shimmer in his hands and flared sightly, sending little glimmers of soft light dancing along his dirt-encrusted fingers. For a moment Attjan thought that Tian would appear, hope stopping his breath in anticipation.

Then the light dimmed and died away. Attjan stared at it in disbelief. He called Tian’s name again. And again. And again, until he was virtually shrieking but the bracelet remained dead in his fingers, looking more lifeless than ever. A piece of metal cleverly wrought. Nothing more. His eyes stayed focused on it as if in a nightmare.

“Tian” he whispered one last time but still nothing happened. The bracelet stared back, mocking him.

An uncontrollable anger seized him. “Damn you Tian!!! Damn you all!!!” he screamed and flung the bracelet to the farthest reaches of the room. He slumped against the wall, gasping suddenly as the angry wounds on his back made contact with the cool stone. He was too numb inside to care. What did it matter? What did anything matter? His father lay dying or almost dead. Athau was gone. And Tian……

He leaned his head backwards to rest on the wall, closing his eyes, feeling the beginnings of tears ticking his eyelids. All his life, his father had instilled the doctrine of the Wraeththu being terrible demons into them. They had listened. They had believed. Men would leave in the dead of night to answer the Call. They would leave in the brightest of daylight to answer the Call. But still, Jacob’s sons had remained untouched. Unaffected. Immune to the hypnotising weave that the demons enfolded the village with. Then Athau had become ill and the demons came at his father’s bidding. And like a fool, he had let them work their magicking upon him, taking him to see their cities, their society, their life. Who was he kidding? He had been completely and utterly taken in. Who wouldn’t? He had found love. Or at least he thought he had. His father’s teachings echoed in his head, in his mind, in his heart. Did he listen to it then? Why should he? He was obssessed with the glamour that was Tian. He was obsessed with the glamour of being har. Just a few weeks ago, if his father had asked him to ride at his side to go wage war with them, he would have been the first to dorn a sword in his waist, fire brimming in his eyes, and join the cause even if it meant certain death. Five days earlier, if that request had been asked, he would have still done the same. Now, he didn’t know what to believe in. He had put too much faith in Tian and he had failed him. He had put too much trust in Them, thinking like a love-sick idiot, telling himself that love will conquer all. He sniffed and laughed bitterly. Welcome to the real world Attjan, he murmured to himself. Athau is gone, his father might be dead, the house was wrecked and no help came, even from those bastards in the village. His father was right, no matter what forms they took, they were still evil. Each and every one of them. Deinathe’s comments when he was at their fancy city should have warned him then but he had been to carried away to care. Now they had shown their hand. Did they even go to all this trouble just to take his brother? Why was he that important to them? Why couldn’t they be left alone? Maybe the mysterious Tyson and Deinathe were even in league. He didn’t know who or what to believe any more. A nagging thought in his heart protested against this but he didn’t want to listen to it. He is confused. No he isn’t. His anger is engulfing his sense of reasoning. No it isn’t. He was tired, in pain and Athau was gone. That was the reality.

He put his face in his hands. And wept.

He wept, cried bitterly and bawled. He cried until his whole face was wet and his throat was sore. He felt as if his soul was being wrentched apart but he embraced the sorrow of it. His nose ran and became blocked. His eyes puffed up and became itchy. His head ached and his wounds ached with it. But still he wallowed in his sorrow. And when he finished, he felt exhausted yet replete, empty yet calm. His face was still hot and clammy but he found it comforting. He remained by the wall, his mind blank, staring into space, finding it strangely tranquil and safe amist the dust and chaotic debris about him. How long he sat there in his numbed state, he did not know. He sat there until the throbbing of his head ache ebbed away and his face dried, the soft breeze a luxury on his skin. He felt safe and removed from the world.

His mother’s sobs and whimpers drew him back from his dream state. He turned to look at his mother and for a few seconds, could not comprehend the scene before him. Then it all came back. He had had his time for grief. Now was the time to be strong. For all of them.

He raised himself from his position, wincing in pain as he did so, and walked to where his parents were. They were splattered in blood, most of it Jacob’s. His father’s head still remained in his mother’s lap, his skin gray and sickly. Attjan felt calm and in control, his senses working in sequence now. He reached for Jacob’s jugular vein and a sigh involuntarily escaped his lips as he found pulse there. It was weak and irregular, but there nonetheless. He was alive.

“Mother,” he said, placing a hand over her arm gently, “What happened?” She looked at him with despair in her eyes.

“They did this!” she shrieked. “Those monsters you brought into this house! They just…he…” She faltered, moving a shaking hand to wipe away a tear. “One came in here, laughing,” Mara sniffled softly. “He just…that bastard just…he came at us. Went straight for Jacob he did! While I cowered in the corner that goddamned thing…” She looked straight at her son. “He forced himself upon your father, Attjan.”

Attjan narrowed his eyes at his mother, a slow sort of dread descending on him. “What do you mean, mother?” he asked carefully.

“What do you think I mean?!! He made to rape your father!” she screeched. “Obviously, he was more intrested in taking my son so he changed his mind and smashed him up instead. Look what they have done to him………” her voice broke as she glanced down on her husband once more. “I warned him. I warned you all! Now look!” She turned fierce eyes on her son. “They said they would come for Athau but why did they have to do this to a good man? Why? Must they destroy all that is in their path? Treating us like animals even after taking my eldest child from me? Why?” Her voice was rising again, nearing hysteria. Jacob’s head lulled in her lap as her body quivered in anger. Attjan embraced her and had a flash back to when it was she comforting him like that as a child, wrapping him up in her bossom when he was in fear or distress. Those days were over now, perhaps gone forever.

“Hush, dear mother, hush.” He crooned to her. “Hush now. I am still here. Come, we must take my father to his room and see to his wounds. Pull yourself together. Please. For my father’s sake.” For a while, Mara didn’t move and he feared that she wouldn’t respond. Then she nodded, sniffed, wiped her face in her skirts and gingerly lifted her husband’s head from her laps. She stood up and Attjan stood up with her, holding her arms. “I will go to fetch out both servants from their hiding places and prepare some hot water to bathe the wounds”, she said woodenly. Attjan kissed her cheek, tasting the salty tears and smiled wanly. “Thank you, mother” he replied with much feeling.

The two boy-servants eventually arrived looking sheepish, cobwebs in their hair and dust on their faces. Their eyes darted nervously and they were visibly shaken. Attjan had to slap one of them to snap him out of his stupour and that was enough to get them going. Attjan could already see that one of Jacob’s arms lay twisted in an unusual angle with the shoulder above it an ugly, dark mass of black blood. Broken. His legs were covered in nasty cuts and gashes and a large splinter of wood protruded from one of his thighs. Attjan hoped that Jacob’s neck wasn’t broken as well. Together, the three of them carefully lifted the Chief to his bedroom, where Mara waited with towels, basins ladden with steaming water and all kind of medicines cluttered between her feet.

As Mara set about cleaning up Jacob, Attjan tried to send the boys to go and fetch the village healer. He would have prefered that the woman healer who attended Athau come to their aid but she had already left the village over a week before. The boys had looked at each other and remained still. No way were they going outside the perimeters of the house in the dead of night after the events that had just occured and Attjan knew that no amount of yelling would get them to obey. They rather suffer any punishment.

Attjan sighed wearily and ordered them to start clearing what they could of the debris in the front room instead, while he went to wash as much of the blood off his face and set out to go look for help by himself. The village was quiet as if everybody had suddenly emigrated. The town seemed dead and dark windows stared back at him ominously. Small gusts of winds blew sand off the dusty main road, making soft eerie noises as they rushed towards him. Tiny stones and sands peppered his ankles as the winds carried them past his legs. His sandals squeshed as he walked, the sound of dried blood mixed with mud making contact with the soles of his feet. It sounded like a silly song to him and he found it weirdly relaxing. He looked up at the clear, velvet sky. There was a full moon. He felt no fear. In fact, he felt uncanningly bold. Perhaps he was too numb to feel frightened. He reached the healers house and banged loudly on the door for several minutes. No answer. He stood in the middle of the road and shouted for anyboby to come out and give him help. Only his echoes answered him back. “Fucking Cowards!” he screamed at nobody in particular but he hoped they could all hear him. He kissed his teeth and made back for the house. As he strolled back home, he decided that he would call a village meeting in the morning and idly wondered if any of them would turn up. He was his father’s son and had the right be his father’s voice until he had fully recuperated. Strangely, he didn’t feel angry or bitter at them for “deserting” him and his family like this. It felt……expected. Most will be smugly smiling to themselves, saying “We told you so!”. Attjan laughed and his voice carried far, ringing disjointedly. They must now think I am mad. Maybe I am.

As he approached the house, he heard one of the horses wicker from inside the stables. Then he remembered. Tyson had left a whole bag of stuff for him to open only after he and Tian had left. Some secracy. Did it save his father or Athau? But he still went to the stables to retrieve the bag anyway. Why not? What did he have to lose?

He lit one of the large lanterns and searched for the bag. The two hara had taken all three of their magnificent beasts with them and he was beginning to wonder if they remembered to leave this gracious gift of their’s behind. What he was really hoping for was that he could find some sort of remedy that could help his father within the bag’s contents. He was suprised that he hadn’t remembered earlier. He had been so engrossed in taking care of Athau that nothing else had mattered.

He found the bag, strung up amoungst the saddle benches. It was more like a set of bags. Apparently, the servants hadn’t deemed it important enough to be brought inside. He retrieved it and fought an impulse to tear it open right then and there. His patience won over but not before he tried to gauge the weight of the bag, idly wondering what sort of things it held to make it so heavy. If there was anything within it that would help his father get better, he would use it without conpulsion. It did not change the way he now felt about them, using their science. Now, he just had to do what he knew must do. Afterall, his father had done the same in trying to save Athau.

As he carried his load back to the house, he could feel a few of his wounds splitting open again and grunted in pain. Halfway through on his little journey that seemed to stretch for miles in his eyes, he had to stop and rest, panting. He felt like calling one of the boys to help him out but though better of it. They had enough to do as it was. He tried lifting the saddle bag once more and found that his strength was now virtually sapped. He would have to drag it, he thought tiredly to himself and proceeded to do just that, putting both hands on the object and started dragging it to the house; looking like a furiously waddling penguin and raising a lot of dust in the process.

He got to his destination, just barely making it to his father’s room and breathing heavily fell to a heap on the floor. He was in agony and his arms and back ached. His heart was beating quickly and his wounds throbbed in sync with the blood flow. His mother swiftly got up and rushed to where he lay, slightly splayed like a drunkard and fussed over him, using the ends of her skirt to wipe his face and muttering chiding words. He gently pushed her away, assuring her that he would live and managed to sit up straight, brushing off a little of the dust on his arms and legs. Shifting himself gingerly, he positioned himself so that the bag now between his legs, the whole effect looking childishly comical and opened the side pouch nearest to his hands.

Bottles of all sorts of strangely coloured concotions stared back at him, arranged in perfect order like toy soldiers and he carefully began extracting them from their nestling place. His mother’s voice finally reached him and he glanced up sharply.

“Wha…..” he began, with a tiny trace of annoyance in his voice and suddenly felt guilty for not telling her what happened immediately he returned.

“I said, what happened? Nobody came back with you? Didn’t you find any help?” she repeated, her voice with a slight edge to it and darting a pointed look at the bag but not saying anything concerning it.

Attjan sighed and looked away. “Nobody answered me, Mama. They don’t want to help. Why should they? They think we brought this all on ourselves.” He fingered one the flaps on the bag, idly admiring the quality leather and the cleverly sown stitches. “I found this is the stables”, he added without looking up.

There was nothing more to say. Both knew what that meant. Silence. “Do what you must, my son” Mara finally said. Attjan looked up then. Mother and son regarded each other with a quiet understanding. “Thank you, mother” he replied with warmth, and delged into the bag once more.

Most of the bottles were the same curious shape and each was protected with a white, thick yet soft cotton flannel wrapped tightly around them. Attjan counted twenty four bottles before the pouch was empty. Mara, now sitting again at her husband’s side just watched her son calmly. She hadn’t asked how it was that those beasts left their luggage neither was he telling. She wished he would say something to her but hasn’t. Not yet. So until then, she has decided to keep mute. He would tell her in his own time, she was sure of it. If these mysterious potions would help Jacob, so be it.

There was one problem, though, and that was that none of the bottles were labelled. Attjan had no idea what was in any of them. They could kill his father or cure him. Also, even if he did choose the right bottle, what did he do with the potion? Did he make his father drink it, make it into a poultice like Tyson had done before. He stared at them on the floor, frustrated beyond belief. Then suddenly his hand moved towards a bottle filled with a bright pink mixture; he picked it up. He could see his mother looking at him.

“Son, you can’t. You don’t know what that potion could do to your father.”

Attjan stared at his mother, then back at the bottle in his hand. He was trembling. Something strange was happening to him. He just knew this was the right medicine for his father, and some how he also knew what he had to do with it. “Is that you Tian?” he whispered into thin air. Of course he received no answer. His mother tried to grab the bottle out of his hand. “No, you can’t Attjan. You don’t know – it could kill Jacob.”

Attjan held onto the bottle firmly. “No, I know it’s the right one. Don’t ask me how. Boil some water, mother, I need to make an infusion. And get some towels as well.” Mara stared at Attjan. He seemed so in control, even though he was bloodied, dirty and shaking, he seemed powerful. She knew at that moment she had lost him. With a guttural groan she rushed off to boil the water. Attjan poured the bright pink liquid into the boiling water, then the two of them lifted Jacob to a sitting position, and placed the towels over his head, so he could breath in the fumes. Attjan could feel his father coming around. He sighed with relief. “Thank you Tian.” he whispered softly.

“You welcome, Attjan,” a soft voice came from behind him. Attjan spun around to see Tyson and Tian standing at the door. As Attjan rushed into his arms, he heard his mother let out a terrible wail.

Tyson and Tian were hard to recognise as the easygoing har that he had first met. Once he told them of the abduction and of Deinathe’s words, their faces hardened, a predatory gleam in their marvellous eyes. Tian spoke to his mother, ignoring her wails when she refused to lift her head from her apron. “Care for your man, mother. He will recover well. We take the boy with us. This is his vengeance to extract.” She merely sobbed all the harder for hearing these words and shook her head, perhaps in negation of the news she had just been given. Attjan went with them, the words spoken on this terrible night had effected him deeply. Without speaking they saddled the horse they had brought for him and rode off into the night, the village still and quiet behind them. Attjan wondered if he would ever see it again and realised he no longer cared. Tian was his future. Wraeththu was his future. And vengeance against Deinathe his utmost wish.

Attjan found himself flung onto the horse behind Tian, then clinging onto it with all his strength as they took to the sky. He was so afraid but also exhillerated and he could feel Tian’s heart beating rapidly beneath the leather of his jacket. At some stage he thought he must have passed out, for when he managed to open his eyes again, they were on the ground. He was wrapped up in quilts and laying in a deep, comfortable bed. He sat up quickly and looked about. “About time you woke up, young human, your time of inception has come.”

“What…today, you mean?” Attjan was suddenly terrified of what this simple word “inception” entailed. “Now is as good a time as any,” Tian replied, with a slight grin on his handsome face. “If you want to come with us while we rescue you brother, you need to be Har.”

Tian went through the process carefully with Attjan, making him aware of the dangers, but very carefully side-stepping any mention of the pain. No one, he was sure, would become Har voluntarily if they had any idea of the suffering. “Now, you must fast for 24 hours. I will also send someone in to clean you up.”

“Are you going to do it, Tian?” Attjan questioned, with hope in his eyes. “No young one, it won’t be me, but it will be me who will visit you afterwards.” Tian’s grin was broadening as he thought of this. “Afterwards, Tian? What happens afterwards?”

“It will be a very special surprise, that I have been waiting to give you since I met you.” Tian smirked. Attjan blushed profusely, bowed his head and just said “Oh!” Tian laughed out loud.

Tian left Attjan alone to dwell on his promises. He was bathed, annointed in pefumed oils, then left to fret away the long night alone. In the morning Tyson came to him. There was no pain at the transfer of blood and Attjan was just beginning to think Tian had been having him on. But after a few hours he began to wish he was dead. “I have to be dying”, he growled to himself, as he writhed on the bed. Cool hands mopped his brow and soothed him, cool hands washed his fevered body and tucked him up afterwards. The only thing that got him through was the thought of Tian’s promise…

Attjan was not aware how many hours or days passed, but his vision gradually cleared, his body eventually felt normal again. He found himself imersed, yet again, in a warm soapy bath, hands scrubbing his tender body. The *thing* between his legs held him completely fascinated the whole time. He kept touching himself to make sure it was real. “It’s real all right, Attjan, and very beautiful it is too.” He turned his head to see Tian standing behind him, a sponge in his hand. “How long have you been there?”

Attjan felt Tian lifting him out of the bath, towelling him dry and carrying him to the bed. He didn’t protest, or wriggle about and Tian’s eyes stayed on him the whole time. By the time Tian had disrobed and crawled in beside him, Attjan was trembling so hard his teeth were clicking together. Tian ran his hands through Attjan’s freshly washed hair, then down his back. Attjan sighed and laid his head back. This was the most delicious and decadent feeling…he wanted more. “Oh there will be a lot more, Attjan, if I can just stop you from shaking.” Tian crooned into his ear, then let his tongue slip in for a little lick. Attjan then felt Tian’s hands moving down to between his legs and he let out a little sqawk. Tian laughed softly and bent his head to Attjan’s mouth. Their lips touched. Attjan felt a rush of warmth seeping into him, then all the colours of the rainbow seemed to course through his mind. Gasping and moaning, Attjan let himself be taken over completely by his lover. “That my darling, was called sharing breath.” Tian continued his crooning. “Now, we will share aruna.” Attjan felt himself being moved gently beneath Tian, then something altogether strange began to occur between his legs. He cried out loud. “What…what’s going on?”

“You are becoming soume, Attjan, that’s all. Everything will become clear when I…” Attjan groaned as Tian slowly entered his shaking body, then he cried out as the magic that is aruna, began to control him. Tian was gentle at first, coaxing Attjan, soothing him, but after a while, Tian realised that Attjan wanted more. He let him take over, and he rose perfectly to the ocassion. Tian was surprised at Attjan’s tenacity and diversity. With eyes open wide, it was Tian’s turn to cry out.

He felt that most secret part of him snake out, into Attjan, deeper into anyone else’s heart and body than he had ever been. The tendril made contact with what Tian knew to be Attjan’s second heart, his soul. In that one, beautiful moment, they were joined perfectly, one creature. Attjan inhaled deeply and shrieked at the top of his lungs in what seemed to be pure agony, but Tian knew better. He felt yet another noise bubbling up in his throat to match Attjan’s, and then let it free, like a bird onto the wind that was Attjan’s breath. Then it was over, in another second, another plane, and Tian was draped across Attjan’s heaving chest, laboring to catch his breath. Never before had he felt such sensations, not even with another pure-born. He mused to himself what it would be like when Attjan decided to take a turn at being ouana, and smiled.

[Story Ends Here]

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