The Entrapments of Passion and Pride

The Entrapments of Passion and Pride
by Tessa

Story Notes

Editor\'s PickAuthor contact: Tessa Rae tessa_5000@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: All characters, the universe and concepts belong exclusively to Storm Constantine. I receive no profit and no gain from this amateur story. No harm is intended in any way.

Rating: NC17 – For adult themes and m/m content. Profanity. Violence. Please be warned. If you are under age in your area, or this subject matter offends you, please press the ‘delete’ key now.

Note – this story was written before ‘Seducements of Chaos andOrder’ – and is more light-hearted, and silly Sap alert -huge SAP alert, so please be warned.

Warmest thanks to Storm Constantine for creating these wonderful novels and characters.

Please Enjoy.

Additional Note from Web Site Editor:
Despite the “sap alert” given by the author, this story contains some very disturbing content, including violence and torture.

CHAPTER ONE

There’s an orchestra of voices trapped inside of me,
With a storm approaching both of us spilling out blinding voltages of memory,
And I am reaching out, hunting out and digging up every skeleton in front of me.

BCO.

Calanthe woke as the cool breeze caressed all the way down his barely covered side. The large, high ceilinged room was airy and touched with a faint chill as Cal blinked sleepily up at the muslin canopy of the sumptuous four poster bed.

The large glass doors had been opened, probably by the over attentive Attica or Cleis, the identical twins who serviced the Tigron’s rooms. Cal could never keep their identities separate when they fussed around his dark counterpart.

The cool breeze feathered across his chilling skin a second time as the silk curtains moved sluggishly in the westerly wind. The doors faced the sea and the only disadvantage Cal could find with these rooms had been that the morning sun never touched them. Just another flaw in the greatly overrated Phaonica.

Flexing his spine and wriggling his toes, Cal stretched his chin up as he contemplated the dark muslin. Lying with his arms over his head in his customary position, he suppressed the exhaled sigh of regret and growing frustration as he thought about last night. They could – no should – have so much, yet in some ways now they were further apart emotionally than what they had been six months ago.

Thinking about it, he scowled. The last six months had moved so fast and he had learned so much. His confrontation with Thiede had resulted in him becoming Tigron with the illustrious Pellaz, and Thiede becoming the Aghama he had always subconsciously craved. His coronation had followed immediately and the Gelaming had accepted him wholeheartedly, pushing Pellaz at him as if on a plate.

Theoretically it was perfect, and the Wraeththu, as a young nation would ultimately benefit from their union, but intimately and emotionally. Cal pulled a face at the thought, shunning it.

As a unit they worked as one, hand in glove, perfecting their spiritual communions until he had mastered the channels of power so now they flowed as easily as breathing. Even Caeru, Pellaz’s headstrong Tigrina, had succumbed to his charms, accepting his place next to Pell and bending to the Aghama’s will.

The problem lay in their personal lives, and Cal tried to view the trouble through unbiased eyes. Pellaz was his soul mate, as he was Pell’s. They both knew it, yet when he looked at Pellaz he still sometimes saw a Har he didn’t know and worse, didn’t want to know. It was as if a monster inhabited the mind and body of the Har he loved and desired. It was confusing and he didn’t miss the hurt that washed through the large, dark eyes as he turned away again and again, unable to cope with the suffocating surge of power Pellaz aimed at him. It disorientated and scared him. Scared him shitless if he was honest, so that he ran, choosing to lose himself in another’s arms. Hoping to avoid the painful memories and images of what they had – could still have – if only they lowered their barriers to each other. Barriers that had become like forged steel.

If Pellaz was possibly having the same trouble with him, Cal was unaware of it. Yet his counterpart seemed to go out of his way to make life for them both difficult at best, or an unbearable hell at worst. They argued over little inconsequential things, and Pellaz would always go on the defensive as soon as he appeared. It was unnerving and always guarantied to infuriate him and their verbal arguments would escalate. Then the backlash of mental anger would cripple him. What it did to Pell he didn’t know, but the amount of damage they could do to each other was phenomenal as they were permanently locked soul to soul. Desired – and hated.

Lying in bed as he was, Cal shuddered at the thought. Last night had been a perfect example of the potential danger. What the bickering had originally started over he didn’t know, except Caeru had walked out on them both in disgust. Pell had then retreated to his bedrooms, sulking and studiously ignoring him and that had angered Cal further.

He had then brooded for the next couple of hours, allowing the anger to eat at him until he couldn’t have stopped his actions if he had tried. The air between them, as he entered Pellaz’s bed chamber, had been electrically charged and both house Hara had vanished. Pell had been sprawled on the bed, sensually appealing and half drunk, hiding behind a facade of indifference. Cal’s control had snapped. They were killing each other emotionally, and it hurt. Hurt painfully.

Cal sat up in bed abruptly, fists clenching at his side as he banked down on the deep seated pain. They needed each other. It was as simple as that. His body itched to touch and meet Pellaz’s and the physical ache built each time they saw each other. Why Pellaz denied the need, he couldn’t guess.

At the twisting knife-like pain in his center, Cal screwed his eyes shut and bent his legs up, taking large gulps of breath. Did Pellaz feel like this? He wondered. Or was it only him? Did Pellaz even care that they were destroying each other slowly?

Shaking his blonde head, he looked at the bed next to him. The silk sheets were cold now, but last night they had embraced them both. Pleasure and pain. And the nightmares returned.

Having been unable to hold back the driving need any longer, he had entered Pellaz’s bed chamber knowing his dark haired lover was awake. Not saying anything, he had slid beneath the sheets, blocking the mental waves of anger that had hit him from his silent bed mate. They’d embraced, and if there had been anything else coming from Pellaz he had ignored it, as their coupling had become urgent and brutal.

It was not what he wanted from Pellaz, not what he needed or desired. But the mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion, was bone deep and Cal’s instincts had taken over, knowing and finding what he needed and taking it.

That Pellaz was nowhere to be seen this morning was mute testimony to the fact that they were still poles apart in understanding.

“Would you like to dress before breakfast or after my Lord?”

The quiet hushed voice startled Cal and his head snapped up. One of Pellaz’s house Hara stood nervously at the side of the bed. He had to suppress a grim smile as the little, blonde Gelaming took an instinctive step back. If it was Attica or Cleis he couldn’t tell, didn’t care really as he took a deep breath. He wondered absently if he looked as haggard and drained as he felt. “I’ll dress first.”

“Yes my Lord. Would you require assistance?” The voice faltered a little and Cal toyed with the idea of accepting the offer.

“Where’s Pellaz?” he asked instead.

“I do not know my Lord. He was not here when I woke this morning.”

Cal grimaced and swung his legs over the side of the bed feeling all the muscles pull. He didn’t need to look at the house Har to see the disapproval, he could hear it and it annoyed him. So he ignored the servant and wiggled his toes.

Where had it all gone so terribly wrong, he wondered. Aruna should not be a battle, not like rape, or as the Gelaming would call it, pelki and chaitra. Aruna was about making love. Oh that forbidden word! Cal chastised himself mockingly. The Gelaming had a lot to learn and he didn’t care what anyone tried to tell him, love still existed in this world. He had felt it, tasted it, embraced it wholeheartedly once, and he would not let anyone convince him it no longer existed. It was what he and Pellaz had once felt, still felt, and he knew that aruna should be about desire and love. Last night had been far from that. He wondered how Pellaz felt this morning after their embrace had turned into a struggle of wills with him winning and forcing his tormentor’s submission. The memory of it sickened him, reminding him too much of Fallsend, and his stomach soured.

Standing abruptly, he looked up remembering the silent house Har and saw the servant hovering uncertainly. “You may go.”

Pellaz’s attendant still looked hesitant.

“Just go,” he said tiredly as he rubbed the back of his neck, not surprised to feel bruises there.

Alone again, he stiffly made his way into the bathroom and stepped down the stone steps into the large, round hot tub. He pushed the floating lilies out of the way and sighed as he submerged into the welcoming water’s warmth. It eased his stiff muscles and went a long way to improving his temper. Looking around, he admitted he adored this room, liking the way the sun warmed the alcove through the oval window, and the plants climbing the lattice. Like its owner, Pellaz, the room was exotic. His own bathing room was no way near as nice and if he and Pellaz could only work out their problems, then they could share these chambers. He sighed at the thought. If only Pellaz would be reasonable, it was a wistful thought and brought a sleepy expression to his face.

If only.

The impossible dream. At their present state of affairs, he could see them circling each other in hell. Somehow he had to break the self-righteous, pompous attitude Pellaz hid behind in his perfect Gelaming persona. It was a false front and it irritated him almost as much as Pellaz’s devious manipulations of people and circumstances. The Gelamings’ egotistical smugness had never impressed him, they were still existing as extensions of Thiede’s ideals of perfection. The entire government needed to be remodeled. And now with Thiede gone from the physical form to a spiritual one, all their careful concepts needed to be rethought. Cal knew instinctively, nothing could be perfect, not even Thiede had been that.

That was a minor problem, and would be all sorted out with time. What did worry him was Pellaz. Pell had tried to accept all the changes his untimely arrival had caused, going as far as making overtures of apologies to Caeru, his Tigrina. Pellaz seemed – felt – so willing to embrace the change Cal represented. Yet…

Groaning, Cal closed his eyes as the warm water swirled around his chin. It had worked to some extent. Pellaz had welcomed many changes to the governmental structure, supporting him in the Hegalion, and telling the stuffy necked Hegemony Council to implement the ideas. So that had worked. In fact, he sometimes got the impression that Pellaz had been locked in as a prisoner behind Thiede’s willpower and was now experiencing freedom for the first time in thirty years. A figure trapped in chains and ice… It was an interesting discovery and one he would like to learn more about. But like a lot of things, Pellaz refused to talk about what the last thirty years had been like. It was a taboo subject and a mystery, but he would eventually unravel it. He was determined to make a future for them both, if only Pellaz would let him.

Another seemingly hopeless dream.

“Are you planning to stay there all morning?”

Cal’s eyes snapped open at the slightly sarcastic words and met sky blue ones. Ashmael’s clear gaze disconcerted him for a moment as the golden headed strategist crouched down and trailed his fingers in the tepid water. Taking a breath, Cal didn’t bother to answer as he lifted a hand and studied the pruning effect on his fingers. Pushing himself up, he was glad his muscles had loosened and stiffness gone as he existed the pool. Never one to be self conscious of his nakedness, he nevertheless jumped as gentle fingers touched his damp back.

Swinging around, instinctively on the defensive, he held the large white towel defiantly between them, letting his expression become cool as he regarded Ashmael levelly.

“What happened to you last night?” The query lacked the usual mocking sarcasm and Ashmael’s eyes held only worry. He wasn’t blind to the problems between the two Tigrons. “You look like hell.”

“Why thank you Tiahaar!” Cal said with false lightness, sidestepping the fingers easily.

“Cal?”

“What!” he demanded, not liking the look Ashmael continued to give him. It made him uncomfortable.

“I’m not blind you know!” Ashmael fired back, never one to take a rebuff easily. “I know the problems you’re having. Did Pell do that?”

“It’s none of your business.”

“No?” Ashmael challenged, glaring at the bruised skin and waiting for Calanthe to look at him again, before he tapped his own marked cheek lightly with one finger. “How do you think I got this last night?”

“One too many glasses of wine?” Cal remarked, uninterested as his violet eyes flicked through his lashes.

“Very funny.” Ashmael pulled a face. “No. As a matter of fact I got it last night while trying to restrain Phylax who was trapped in a psychic dream. Yours and Pell’s nightmare to be exact!” he added pointedly.

Cal stopped drying himself and his eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.

“Phylax is an adept, remember?” Ashmael went on undeterred. “Just as strong as Chrysm and Seel for that matter.” He slowed his words when he realized he’d captured Calanthe’s full attention. “After I managed to wake Phylax, he told me about the dreams. About you and Pell. Also, that it wasn’t the first time.”

“It’s still none of your business.” Cal interrupted, stalking into the bedroom and looking around, realizing too late that the drawers only held Pell’s clothing. He had moved all his own clothing out of these rooms over four months ago. Resigned, he snatched Pell’s emerald green dressing gown from the inside door of the wardrobe and struggled into it.

“Cal, this can’t go on.” Ashmael’s voice tore into him.

“What would you know about it!” he snapped, annoyed. “You know nothing of the situation! Know nothing of how I feel!”

“You think not?” Ashmael touched his shoulder lightly and Cal moved instinctively out of reach. “You think I don’t know what it feels like to find yourself face to face with a ghost from the past? You don’t think I know the tearing pain when you’re forced to relive his death each time you look at him?”

Glancing over his shoulder, Cal felt his face drain of color as he watched Ashmael’s flush with anger. The long flaxen mane only emphasized the Har’s agitation.

“I went through all that Cal! So I know. And believe me, fighting the changes in Pell is not going to bring back the old Pellaz. Oh no, Thiede made sure that could never happen. I should know, because he did the same to me!” He stabbed a finger ferociously at his chest. “He destroyed Vaysh, and I…” he hesitated.

“Do you still love him?” Cal asked carefully.

“Love?” Ashmael blinked, thrown.

“Yes. You know, that forbidden state that no-one is game to talk about.” He gestured sarcastically to the place around them.

“I…Vaysh was mine. We-” Ashmael started to frown, puzzled by Cal’s attitude. “We were chesna.”

“Yet you make no effort to touch him now.” Cal turned away and picked up one of Pellaz’s hairbrushes, absently picking the long, dark hair from its teeth.

“He’s blocked me out. Ignores me and refuses to talk with me still. He’s changed, Thiede changed him. Thiede destroyed the Har I knew.” He shrugged, still unsure of Calanthe’s point. “It doesn’t mean I don’t want him, just that-”

“That you don’t try to reach him any more.” Cal finished for him as he pinned Ashmael with a knowing smile in the large mirror.

“I-” Ashmael closed his mouth abruptly and scowled at Calanthe as he raised a suspicious brow. “Vaysh and I are not the problem here. You and Pell are. And if Phylax’s psychic nightmare was anything close to reality, then I’d hate to see Pell’s bruises this morning.”

Cal restrained the rush of emotion those words produced, seeing his lover’s face as Pell had gripped him, struggling, fighting the need and denying them both the comfort.

“You both need to talk, and I mean really talk. Not argue like you have been doing for the last couple of months. In fact, it has now got to the point where even the paranoid Hegemony members are worried out of their tiny minds by the way you and Pell are reacting to each other.”

“Leave it Ash, please!” Cal’s voice didn’t sound like his own as he pushed past the startled Har, heading for the doors. Not stopping until he was safe in his own rooms again, Cal only then allowed himself to relax. Hiccuping on a breath, he tried to ignore Ashmael’s words as they replayed repeatedly through his brain. Their echo driving him insane until he collapsed gracefully on the bed and succumbed to the headache which developed. He closed his eyes and turned his face into the soft feather pillows as he sank into the image of sadness and loneliness in the shape of large, beautiful, dark eyes.

***

Pellaz tried to ignore Vaysh’s direct stare as he lay on his side and buried deeper into the warm pillows. He was tired, almost deathly so, and he just wanted to be left alone.

That simple request was proving more and more difficult since Calanthe’s arrival in Immanion and Thiede’s departure from the physical to the spiritual. Thiede, for all his many faults and devious, manipulative nature, had still been the closest thing to a father Pell had ever had. Despite what everyone thought, he missed the powerful Har.

It was true, Thiede had kept him trapped, had limited his independence, but after thirty years of confinement, he now felt more threatened by his freedom. Especially around Calanthe, because he was so vulnerable to the headstrong, outrageous and contradictory Har. He had been isolated within his own little universe, showing the world what a perfect Wraeththu was like, as he stayed safe and protected in Immanion. But now he had wings again, to leave the cage and to explore the world he had watched go by through Thiede’s eyes, and he was terrified of failing.

So much depended on him now – on him and Calanthe – that he couldn’t afford to falter. Inwardly he was crumbling under the strain. If only he could confide in Calanthe, but they both had changed so much. He could see the horror in Cal’s eyes still as the blonde Tigron looked at him, and it hurt. He couldn’t go back and be the Har Calanthe wanted, nor could he undo all the damage Thiede had done to them both. It was impossible.

Yet the magic between them was still there, as he had felt it briefly. A delicious spark of recognition when Cal had first woken him from the nightmare that had proved to be reality. But from there his world had fallen into disillusionment as Cal had shown him how much all his carefully set ideals and life was a lie to the true Wraeththu.

The seductive and sensual Calanthe had also rekindled the elemental emotions deep within his soul that he had thought destroyed, or at least unobtainable for the last thirty years. His silent, obsessive worship of the Calanthe he had loved and traveled with had kept him sane and strong in Thiede’s world. Now the reality of all his dreams was breaking his heart. A heart that he had thought to be devoid of all responsive emotions now sat treacherously in his chest, pounding as he thought of his desires.

If only they could recapture the love or at least the feelings and trust they had shared so briefly, then his problems would be halved. Those intense emotions had to be there still. Didn’t they? Did Cal still feel the same way? In his own rebellious heart he knew his love had not altered one bit for Calanthe, his protector, lover, destructor and beloved companion. And watching his blonde counterpart every day, his own inner resentment grew, as he was unable to breach the widening gap between them. And he had tried….

But the pain and frustration just built as the violet eyes clouded and became haunted, until he turned away helpless to watch. It terrified him, and as usual he reacted by hitting out at the one thing he wanted the most. Calanthe.

But in the past, it had always been like that for them. Calanthe could make him feel vulnerable and defensive, and he would snap. Then Cal would turn stubborn and ignore him, until the painful silences broke them both and they would embrace, say stupid little things until everything was alright again. But not now. They had lost their way somehow and the silences just grew. And the hitting out was no longer done just verbally, but also mentally, creating a backlash of psychic power. This neither appeased the anger of the argument nor the hunger of their need for intimacy. Then a situation like last night would occur.

He had known Calanthe was coming, had felt his hot, burning aura when he’d entered the room. And he couldn’t have stopped his soul mate if he’d tried because his own body craved the remembered touches. But the brief taste of the other’s essences was like sacred wine, quickly lost in the tide of despair as their combined mental dissatisfaction took over. The love turned to terror at the images they shared and the pain crept in to taint the mingling of mind and body.

Shivering because he ached with regret, Pell jumped when a warm hand touched his shoulder.

“Pell?” Vaysh studied the shuttered face a moment longer, before he touched the icy skin of his Tigron a second time.

“Vaysh, don’t!” Pell moved away marginally. “I just want to sleep.”

“You can’t run from it in slumber, it will follow you into nightmares,” Vaysh stated matter-of-factly as he sat up and viewed his early morning bed companion. Pell’s arrival at around 3 a.m. didn’t really surprise him any longer, and he threw back the covers to view the bruises which covered the temperamental Tigron from shoulders to thigh.

Pell did react to that, turning over to drag the sheet back up as he glared at the patiently waiting Har.

“Well I must say you’ve really out done yourself this time,” Vaysh remarked with a jaundiced eye as he peered closer at the vivid finger marks across Pell’s ribs. “What does Calanthe look like this morning?”

“Shut up Vaysh!”

The beautiful, boyish face assumed a cold innocence at the harsh words, watching as the dark head drove into the pillows, turning away to hide the expressive face. “How much longer are you going to hide from yourself Pellaz?” Vaysh went on undeterred by the bad temper directed towards him. “Until you and Calanthe talk properly – without screaming at each other – this will continue.”

“Keep the psychological lessons for those who need it!” Even to his own ears Pell knew that sounded unjust.

“Yes, I know.” Vaysh sighed heavily, his words sarcastic. “You have the situation perfectly under control. The fact that you go weak at the knees whenever Calanthe walks into the room is just a case of bad circulation.” Vaysh thumped the pillow behind the dark head theatrically for emphasis. “We are all fools as the great wise-beyond-his-years Pellaz knows everything!”

Pell rolled over and glared at him angrily as he took in the cold, aloof expression on Vaysh’s face. “And I suppose I should follow your example in this,” he snapped. Then instantly the moment the words left his mouth, he dropped his forehead down into Vaysh’s lap. “Oh by the Aghama, Vaysh I’m sorry! I didn’t mean that!”

He sounded truly apologetic and Vaysh bit the inside of his cheek as he regarded the bent white shoulders and shining black hair. Tentatively, he touched the thick, soft strands until his fingers found Pell’s neck and he soothed him gently. “Don’t mourn for me, as Thiede left me empty,” he stated quietly. “He left me with nothing for Ashmael to recognize.”

Pell lifted his face, staring up at the pale skin and round eyes encased in long red hair. To him Vaysh was whole and unearthly beautiful. “Your…”

“No!” Vaysh’s fingers covered his lips. “No my Pell. To you I’m complete, yet,” he shook his head, a small, sad smile gracing his lips. “No. But you are whole,” he stressed firmly. “Thiede took nothing from you.”

“Except Cal.” Pell broke in.

“He only complimented your strengths.”

“He took my strength away.”

“Pell! To Calanthe you will become real, but you need to talk with him. Not shout at him all the time. He wants to know you, to feel you. I know because I see his face when you turn away.”

“Vaysh.”

“No, listen to me. Let him into your mind. Let him in here.” Vaysh tapped his chest. “Only then can you both start to heal and grow.”

“But he’s a reckless destructor!”

“He’s your soul mate.”

“He’s changed!”

“So have you.”

They stared at each other silently for a long moment.

“Why does it hurt so much?”

“Everything worth fighting for causes pain Pell.”

Somehow Pell found little comfort in the words.

***

By lunchtime, Pellaz felt up to facing himself and the rest of the Phaonica. That everyone seemed to hold their breath around him, he ignored, as he allowed Attica and Cleis to braid his long, thigh length hair with white satin ribbons.

The massive, immaculate dining room was already busy as he walked in, and he immediately saw Calanthe’s blonde head at the far end of the table. He was engaged in conversation with Cedony and Eyra, two of Immanion’s elite Hegemony members. None of them looked up at him and Pell tore his gaze away from Calanthe, forcing himself to ignore the compelling presence as he sat at the opposite end of the table next to his Tigrina.

Caeru gave Pellaz a penetrating look then flicked a glance up at Calanthe, noticing the way he avoided lifting his eyes. Compressing his pale lips slightly, Caeru suppressed a knowing smile as he turned his full attention on the dark haired Har next to him. His blood bonded life mate. Abrimel, his and Pellaz’s only son, sat next to him, and Caeru hoped he would hold his tongue as his wide eyes cast uneasy glances towards his father.

“I hear Ashmael wants to do another tour of Megalithica,” Caeru stated softly, breaking into Pellaz’s thoughts.

“Sorry?” Pell looked up and met the seductive blue eyes for the first time. Caeru’s beautiful, blonde hair was elegantly styled over one shoulder, and Pell blinked at him as he took in the black silk shoulderless top.

“Is Ashmael going to do another tour of Megalithica?” he repeated gently watching Pellaz very closely. Just the whole concept of having Pellaz all to himself and talking to him, looking at him like this in an open and unguarded way, was doing dangerous things to his composure. He wanted nothing more than to recapture the Pellaz he had first fallen in love with over thirty years ago in Ferelithia. And he intended to go on making the most of Pellaz’s attempts at truce between them. Would give him anything…

“Probably.” Pell shrugged and absently reached forward to catch the hair comb that was half falling out of Rue’s shining, thick hair. “You look stunning,” he said with a small, yet sincere smile and was startled when he felt the warmth of Caeru’s pleasure wash over him. It felt good and he temporarily shelved his problems with Calanthe as he let his smile grow taking Caeru’s cool hand and kissing the fingertips gently.

Caeru clamped down on the rush of elation and emotion as he curled his fingers around Pellaz’s, not wanting to let go of him. He knew his cheeks were flushed, as the warm, tingling sensations washed down his body, and he purposely allowed Pell to see and feel the pleasure he was feeling.

Pell blinked, amazed as he saw what the simple gesture of affection had done to Caeru, and he wished he could give him more. He deserved more. Yet, even knowing now all the mistakes he had made toward his beautiful Tigrina, he doubted he would have acted any differently had Calanthe been taken from him forever.

“Will you be accompanying the tour party?” Caeru found it was becoming an effort to talk normally.

“With Ash? No, I doubt it. His idea of a good time is to spend a month in Forever and that has never been my definition of enjoyment.”

“Mmm.” Caeru nodded, then sighed as Pell released his hand. “So who will be going with him?” He hoped, prayed it was Calanthe.

“Why? Do you wish to go?” Pell looked up, a little suspicious.

“No.” Caeru shook his head marginally, not wanting to disturb his carefully styled hair. “I thought maybe Ashmael would be taking Calanthe, to show him around and all that.” He kept his expression veiled.

Pellaz didn’t say anything, but his eyes darkened. “Ashmael might not get his own way yet.” Pellaz pushed the barely touched plate of food away. “Besides, with all the reports of unrest in the southern lands, I don’t believe it is wise to weaken our defenses with an unnecessary tour.”

“Father, do you think the unrest is a possible regrouping of man?” Abrimel intruded for the first time.

“I don’t know. But it wouldn’t surprise me. We will have to wait and see, as Arahal has sent scouts out into the troubled areas. He should be able to give us a report in the Hegalion later.”

“But what if it is man?”

“Abrimel, don’t worry. The Wraeththu as a nation are more than capable of dealing with the humans.” He gave his son a tight smile, looking back at Caeru as he felt light fingers on his wrist.

“You don’t look well,” Caeru said quietly, changing the subject and trying to recapture Pell’s full attention again. But it was too late, as Pellaz’s mind was elsewhere, his large, dark eyes curiously blank as Calanthe walked past them, leaving the room. After he had gone everyone around them seemed to breathe easier. Pellaz stared off into space, idly played with the moisture on the stem of his wine glass.

Caeru looked down at his plate, no longer hungry as he contemplated the problem facing him. Pellaz – the perfect embodiment of beauty sat before him, approachable yet so distant, hot yet icy. The ultimate tease to his poor, battered heart and shattered defenses. His own barriers were not as hard as they appeared, and crumpled all too easily when shown the simplest of kindness’, or faced with a Pellaz like this. The Hegemony members thought him hard and callous, but he needed that appearance to protect himself from the cruelties and verbal barbs of their scorn. After thirty years it was hard to believe he was finally accepted as part of the Tigron’s necessary government. And Calanthe had been the instigator of that, with Pellaz agreeing reluctantly. It had hurt, but things were slowly starting to change.

Regardless of how hostile Pell had been to him in the past, Caeru still wanted to love the Har that was sitting in front of him now. And he wanted that love to be physical as well as spiritual. He wanted to host Pellaz another Harling, and prove to everyone once and for all of his rightful place beside Pellaz-har-Aralis. Most of all, he wanted to show Pell that they were life mates.

But to do all that he needed to get Pellaz alone and away from Calanthe. It should prove easy since the two Tigrons were presently having difficulties. This pleased him, but not because he disliked Calanthe, he had a lot to thank the blonde Tigron for, and he was very grateful. But he was pleased they were having personal problems because he knew Calanthe would not approve of his designs on Pellaz. Calanthe was nothing if not possessive of Pell, and he was under no illusion concerning Calanthe’s reaction to his planned hosting. So he worked on Pellaz privately, bending him to his way and using the guilt Pell felt, to win over his willingness and friendship. So far it seemed to be working.

“Will you be sitting in on the Hegemony today?”

Pellaz’s words broke into his thoughts. “Should I?”

“Yes.” The dark head nodded.

“Alright.” He smiled charmingly and tilted his head slightly to one side, seeing Pell watching him closely.

“We should take spiritual communion today as well I suppose.” Pellaz was speaking almost to himself, and his tone lacked enthusiasm.

“It has been four days,” Caeru agreed.

“You’re right.” Pell sighed deeply and looked up, his dark eyes beseeching and disarming all at once. “Will you walk with me to the Hegalion?”

“I’d be delighted.” Caeru couldn’t suppress his smile.

“I’ll walk across with you both as well.” Abrimel put in as he pushed away from the table.

Caeru would have glared at him if Pellaz wasn’t watching, the last thing he needed was their son to interfere.

“Shall we then?” Pellaz stood up, finishing his wine before waiting for Caeru.

When they left the main area of the Palace to walk across to the Hegalion, four other Hegemony members had joined them and locked Pellaz in conversation. Flexing his fingers angrily, Caeru held down his displeasure and treated Vaysh’s amused smile with contempt as they entered the large audience hall.

Most of the members of the Hegemony were already present when Pellaz entered the great hall. The public galleries were half full, and he noted, mainly silent.

Calanthe was already seated in the left hand chair he favored, sprawling elegantly in its soft, firm depths. The Tigron’s chairs were side by side on the raised dais, joined by the wide middle armrest making them equal in status and signifying their combined ruling power as Tigrons. Behind the large stone chairs, the wall was decorated by a single massive wall hanging of a double headed axe, the scarab and two serpents entwined around a sword. It represented the Gelaming rule.

Pellaz stepped up onto the dais without looking at Calanthe and settled heavily into his seat, deliberately crossing his legs as he impatiently strummed his nails on the stone arm rest. Glaring out at the other Hara from beneath thick dark lashes, he assumed an expression of boredom.

Ashmael cleared his throat, eyeing Pellaz suspiciously before indicating for silence around them. Satisfied with the result, he glanced briefly at Calanthe before gesturing for Arahal to take the floor.

“My Lords.” The silver haired Captain of the Gelaming forces nodded briefly to the duel rulers in respect before turning his comments to the other members of the Council. “My patrols have just returned from the south lands, and there are definite indications of an uprising of some kind.”

“Human?” Cedony asked, his tone full of distaste.

“I am not positive at this stage. The Wraeththu we encountered said that men had been seen, and were known to be regrouping across the wastelands. There were also reports of small raiding parties, destroying the desert tribes. But again, none of my scouts found any evidence to prove the reports.”

“I suppose it is possible.” Tharmifex sounded irritated by the news.

“It was a situation Thiede always cautioned us about. He predicted that if man was allowed to regroup they could prove dangerous,” Pellaz broke in darkly. “He also predicted that man would first appear again in the south.”

“So what do you suggest we do?” Dree placed his hands palm down on the polished table top.

“Did your guards speak with the Kakkahar,” Pellaz asked instead.

“Yes. Lianvis himself met my guard. He was most accommodating.” Arahal nodded as he glanced between the two Tigrons. “His people are still hunting the humans.”

“Then I suggest all we can do is wait and watch,” Calanthe decided as he looked briefly to Pellaz who nodded. “Will Lianvis notify us when he captures some humans?”

“Maybe.” Pellaz shrugged.

“Can Lianvis be trusted?” He captured Pellaz’s gaze and held it. “I mean really trusted?” He watched as Pellaz screwed up his nose at the frank question. What are you truly thinking..?

“Thiede trusted and respected him,” he answered, meeting Calanthe’s eyes from beneath his heavy black fringe.

“Pell, can we trust him?” Calanthe emphasized the words, worried about the possibility of betrayal from the Kakkahar leader. He had never liked Lianvis, and could not see the Har changing his ways so completely as everyone suggested he had.

“I don’t see why not.”

Calanthe still didn’t feel completely convinced, and it was eventually decided to investigate the rumors of humans a second time, and to look in again on the Kakkahar. Arahal nodded his agreement, and left the meeting to implement the arrangements.

The rest of the meeting was routine Immanion business, and the decisions on the new trade laws between the Natawni and Maudrah tribes through the Gelaming custom posts in an effort to stop the killing and raiding between the two tribes. Calanthe could only hide his smile as he listened to the final arrangements, picturing Ariaric’s comments on the subject. They would not be complimentary.

At the end of the Council session they left to go to the temple to join in spiritual communion so as to converse mentally with Thiede, the Aghama.

Calanthe unthinkingly took hold of Pellaz’s hand in the simple gesture of leaving. Pell froze automatically, the good feeling of the meeting vanishing instantly as he felt the tingle of desire shoot up his arm. Calanthe’s warm touch left a fleeting trail of kisses on his raw nerve endings.

Cal realized far too late what he had done and dropped the cool hand he held as if it had burnt him. It was so natural a response for him to just touch Pellaz, that he did it instinctively. But the immediate tension he had felt radiating out of the smaller Har had killed his enjoyment of the afternoon. It seemed Pellaz could no longer tolerate his touch after the previous night, and he mourned his loss. It hurt to admit that he had finally driven Pellaz completely away, and he hastily raised his shield against the backlash of anger he knew would be directed at him.

Pell took a step backwards as he felt Calanthe’s shield go into place, instinctively throwing up his own, scared to be hurt again by the backlash of resentment he received from Calanthe. The reason for it confused him, and he turned away so he didn’t have to see the rejection in the violet eyes.

Chrysm just sat back down heavily and groaned as he dropped his face into his hands. He could feel the overload of charged emotions spinning between the two Tigrons, and it made his sensitive mind ache. Why they couldn’t talk the problems through he didn’t know. All the other Hegemony members just stopped and stared, unsure what should be done. It was not a situation any of them had been forced to cope with before, they all knew unstable Tigrons were potentially dangerous.

Standing awkwardly, Pellaz was the first to recover, though the incident had only taken a matter of seconds. He straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. “I will meet you in the Sanctum in half an hour.” He left the room without looking back.

Caeru was also standing now, studying his hands with a clouded expression, and he felt Calanthe’s gaze shift to him. He fought the urge to look up just in case the blonde Tigron saw the spark of elation in his eyes. The last thing he wanted was Calanthe’s temper aimed at him.

“Please!!!” Chrysm’s voice rose pleadingly from his down bent head. “Please, stop this! My brain is already bruised – I cannot take much more of this!”

Neither can I, Calanthe angrily thought to himself. Ashmael had been right when he said they needed to talk, because they did. He would go to the Sanctum and would wait there for his dearest and darkest phantom. After their spiritual communion they would talk. He would make sure they did.

The vow was both a curse and a promise and his nerve endings tightened a notch further.

***

Pellaz steeled himself to act normally as he met both Caeru and Calanthe in the Sanctum. Nothing was said between them as they linked hands, tuning into each other and raising their faces to reach up to the deep blue light spiraling down to them. It embraced and linked them soul to soul, accessing the power channels deep within each one. As always Thiede gleaned the information he needed, touching them with reassurances and advice, liberating their spirits so that when they were released, they all shared the euphoric elation and pleasure of the communion. They grinned at each other happily, feeling so alive and strong in themselves, charged with unlimited powers and energy. It became hard to remember the bad things of the past.

The elation lasted until the two Tigrons locked eyes, both wanting to say something but clamping down on the words. The smiles died and Pellaz dropped his gaze.

“I’m glad that was successful. I’ll tell Arahal to extend the scouting parties to the western borders of Florinada,” he said soberly.

Calanthe frowned at him, not missing the exhausted expression around the large eyes. “Pell,” he started then stopped, not knowing how to say what needed to be said.

“I’ll also instruct Arahal to inform Galhea of the possibility of raiding parties to the south of their borders.”

“Yes.” Calanthe sighed, giving up as he realized Pellaz had walled him off again. “I’ll notify Swift if you like, I need to have a word with him anyway.”

Pellaz raised a curious brow as Caeru turned and walked away from them both. Looking after his straight back, Pellaz made to follow him.

“Wait!” Calanthe called, reaching for Pellaz’s arm, but not touching him. “Wait Pell,” he started again and stopped unable to get the words past his lips. He stared helplessly into Pellaz’s wary face, seeing the shutters falling into place, and knew his chance was gone. “Never mind,” he muttered softly.

Pellaz gave him a thin, almost cruel smile that never reached his eyes. Then he too turned and walked away.

Left alone, Calanthe studied the tall, shiny black arched ceilings of Thiede’s Sanctum. It was the heart of Phaonica. The heart of Immanion. He wondered if Pellaz’s heart was as black.

***

Walking back to his own rooms after seeing Forama in the transference room, Calanthe stopped suddenly outside Pellaz’s suite, deciding abruptly to act on Ashmael’s words. They needed to talk badly and now seemed like as good a time as any. It couldn’t do either of them any harm to try, they couldn’t get any further apart.

Pushing into the dim reception room, he stopped, glancing around quickly until he could pick up Pellaz’s presence in the adjoining room. Smiling evilly to himself as he knew Pellaz refused to use the link of awareness they shared by their soul bonding, he had no such hang-up and would use whatever needed to trap his lover. Stepping quietly through the open doorway, he was held in a web of burning appreciation as his eyes fell on the seated figure in the center of the room. Pellaz had his head down, book in lap as he thumbed through the pages slowly.

Watching him, Calanthe’s fingers curled as he studied the black braided hair that caressed the body he wanted, imagining its feel as long lengths fell loose to wrap them both in its embrace.

Refocusing his gaze, he saw Pellaz look up, his face instantly alert as he identified who watched him. No matter their differences or problems, to Calanthe, Pellaz was still the most beautiful Har he had ever seen. Exquisite… in every sense.

“What do you want!” Pellaz was immediately on the defensive, raising his protective mental shields.

“Want? Well just to talk my dear.” Calanthe sauntered in and went to the drinks cabinet for a mug of spicy wine. He gave a mischievous grin to hide his own confusion, and went to half sit on the polished table opposite his partner, only now noticing a servant watching him anxiously. He was so narrowly focused on Pellaz, that the Gelaming servant startled him.

“Talk?” Pellaz raised a pointed brow, accepting a glass of wine from the nervously hovering Attica. The house Har edged away from them both.

“Yes.” Without meaning to, Calanthe found himself gritting his teeth.

“Well this should be a novel experience!”

“Pell,” he started in half warning.

“Go right ahead. I’m all yours after all.”

The words had an echo of the past and it hurt, especially as he could see the mocking expression on his soul mate’s face. “Really?” Calanthe cut back, hating the tone even as he spoke it.

Pellaz flushed slightly and closed the book he was holding with a snap before he stood up and paced towards the windows. “What do you want to discuss?” His tone was neutral now.

“Us.” Calanthe shrugged, watching Pell’s sun outlined form and saw him shiver. “About last night.”

“Oh yes, that!” Pellaz’s voice was cold and Calanthe longed to see his face. He could feel nothing from Pellaz now except a faint touch of resentment. “Well I’m afraid you’ll have to forgive me there, you see I have never had tuition in the arts of pelki or chaitra like you have. But I’m sure what I don’t know you’ll make up for,” he ended tartly.

Cal dropped his gaze into the depths of his mug and bit down on his instinctive reply. It was so stupid to go on, when so much separated them. It was stupid to even try to talk to Pell in this mood, yet if they didn’t start to communicate properly soon he knew one of them would snap. He didn’t want to be the one to break, but neither did he want Pellaz to break down. As much as he wanted to hate the creature now standing in front of him, he realized it was useless. Hate was only a thinly disguised veil for love. Cobweb had taught him that, and watching Pellaz turn around to face him with a slight frown between his eyes only emphasized the fact. “Last night was a mistake, on both our parts.”

“Wonderful hindsight you possess.”

Calanthe’s violet eyes regarded him hard and levelly, refusing to let Pellaz drop his gaze. “Pell, why are you so frigid? What happened to you?”

Pellaz instantly tensed at the words, fighting to disguise the panic they caused. He remained perfectly still as he felt Calanthe probe his mental barriers. “Well not all of us can be as free with our favors as you are.”

“Pell-”

“Just because everyone you touch falls head over heels in lust with the seductive Calanthe doesn’t mean-”

“Shut up!” Calanthe yelled at him as he stood up and paced toward Pellaz’s rigidly held frame.

Behind them Attica bolted for the door, praying he could find help before Calanthe hurt his Lord again.

“Just shut up for one God damn moment! You don’t have the faintest idea of what it’s been like for me over the last thirty years!”

“You think not!” Pell snapped back bad-temperedly as color rose to his cheeks. “I’ve had to put up with everybody talking about you. You are a legend, a legend all the Wraeththu have come to love! Everybody wants you and everybody you’ve touched becomes obsessed with you. Thiede used to try and keep the reports about you subdued here in Immanion, but still I heard them. I was constantly asked why you weren’t here in Immanion. What could I tell them!”

Pellaz spun away from Calanthe’s immobile figure. “What could I tell them? That their darling Calanthe refuses to come to Immanion?” He glared at Calanthe side on from under his fringe, banking down on the pain those words caused in his soul. “You are a rule to yourself. You capture people’s hearts and spirits to the point where a lot of Wraeththu believe you should be ruling as Tigron solely.” He turned slightly, not daring to look up. “Well you have succeeded. Congratulations! I’m just sorry I no longer live up to your expectations. Maybe you should have kept that little Ferike cat rather than have him sent away with your precious Zackala.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about!” Calanthe hissed on a tightly controlled breath. How Pellaz could have such a warped view of things he didn’t understand.

“Of course not! After all I’m only a stupid peasant, no match for the incomparable Cal!”

Calanthe gritted his teeth and reached for Pellaz, wanting to shake some sense into him. “And you are an egotistical, little bastard at the moment. Nothing like the pious angel I fell in love with back in Saltrock!”

Pellaz lifted his chin and tore his arms out of Calanthe’s grip, rubbing them absently where the long fingers had bruised his flesh. “Things are different in the world of reality. And besides there is no such thing as ‘love’ as you term it.” He wanted to hurt as he was hurting, even if it meant speaking painful lies.

“Oh really? And I suppose that is Pellaz the perfect Gelaming’s opinion of things?” he inquired sarcastically.

“It is the truth! Face it Cal.” Pellaz hardened his eyes, as he calculated his next words carefully. “Besides, this so called ‘love’ you claim, didn’t stop you from running straight back into Terzian’s arms the minute I vanished. Did it?”

Calanthe released a slow breath of agony, picturing the scene too vividly, seeing Pell’s broken body. The blood and inner despair… “That almost killed me,” he whispered painfully.

“But it didn’t, did it.” Pellaz found himself saying blindly. “It killed Orien instead.” Even as he uttered the words he felt his own insides tear with anguish, mirroring Calanthe’s inner pain.

Cal moved instinctively at that, pinning Pellaz up against the bookcase, as he shuddered in violent reaction. “He helped Thiede take you from me!” he panted the words, his breath ragged, eyes glazed as he remembered that time of blood. Pell’s blood. It had covered everything… How such a slender frame could hold so much warm blood. The white, beautiful skin becoming lifeless…colorless. “Why can’t you understand! Oh Gods Pell please-”

Pellaz’s head hit the wood paneling hard as he braced himself against the hot contact of Cal’s body, seeing insanity lurking behind the violet eyes. Insanity? The exotically sensual face was close to his, the gushing breath warm and tantalizing. Why couldn’t they just try to love again? His mind screamed the question. Even as he opened his mouth to cry those exact words at his dearest love, hands were tearing them apart.

Ashmael’s face swam into view briefly before Pellaz crumpled to the floor, too exhausted and bruised emotionally to care any longer as he wept inside for them both. Tears of blood.

It wasn’t until insistent hands gathered him to his feet that Pellaz dragged his attention back to his immediate surroundings. Vaysh and Tharmifex were holding him firmly and of Calanthe there was no sign. The anger returned and he clamped his teeth firmly shut as he pulled out of their hold. NO…noooo. It was a silent scream for understanding and help. A scream for Calanthe.

“I’m alright!” Pellaz snapped irritably. “Where is Cal?”

Tharmifex sent him a disbelieving look as Vaysh sighed and glanced at the ceiling, wishing for patience.

“Pell be reasonable.” Tharmifex sounded tired, having suggested this many times before to the scowling Tigron.

“I wish you all would just leave me – us – alone!” Pellaz’s mood if anything was worsening. He pushed past them all in angry strides. It was all in ruins, and in his tired and confused mind he could picture no solution to the problem or the pain. Like wet ink, his life was running away to nothing.

Only emptiness beckoned.

CHAPTER TWO

If it’s hurting you like it’s hurting me,
If it’s breaking you like it’s breaking me,
If you’re loving me like I’m loving you,
Then talk about it,
Don’t walk around me.

BCO

Caeru sat before the large mirror and regarded his reflection seriously. His hair was down and brushed, and he wore only a simple black bath gown. His face was unpainted and skin unperfumed except by the bath water’s scent. He was planning to go to Pellaz tonight. It was something he hadn’t dare try before, therefore his appearance and composure had to be perfect.

He knew Pellaz would never seek him out, as he rarely sought anyone out unless he had an ulterior motive, and that had been Thiede’s fault. He had taken Pellaz and raised him. Brainwashing and remolding him into a Tigron, teaching him the arts of manipulation associated with aruna. Now, Caeru wondered if Pellaz ever received pleasure from the act any more. Hara needed to touch, needed to share as it was as much a part of them as breathing, and he was hoping that by going to Pellaz, he would catch the dark Tigron off guard long enough to resurrect the Har he loved.

He also wanted Pellaz’s seed. He desired a Harling, Pellaz’s Harling and was determined to get it. He had been waiting thirty years for a chance like this and he wasn’t going to let Pell walk away a second time.

So, he deliberately made himself as natural as possible, wanting to stimulate Pellaz’s memories of Ferelithia, to force him to think back. He knew himself to be beautiful, knew he didn’t need facial paints or clothing to enhance his charm, and believed that if he played his cards right he could make Pellaz forget everything for one night. His confidence was supreme.

Looking at the time, he took another sip of wine, straightening his shoulders as a faint knock on the door intruded on his thoughts.

“Yes?” he responded, annoyed. His personal house Har entered immediately followed by the last person he wanted to see tonight.

“Thank you. Leave us please.” Calanthe’s mouth smiled slightly at the bemused Har.

Caeru turned away, fumbling with his hairbrush as he tried to hide his irritation at Calanthe’s late night visit. There was only one thing the blonde Tigron was here for, and he was in no mood to oblige him.

“You’re looking…” Calanthe trailed off as he placed both hands on Caeru’s stiff shoulders. “Wild tonight,” he finished, studying Caeru’s reflection a moment longer and a grim smile formed in his eyes. “You were expecting someone else, weren’t you?”

“Does it matter!” Caeru snapped, standing up and pacing away.

“Well yes, it does. I’d hate to have someone disturb us later when we are… busy,” he ended with light mockery.

“Oh very droll Cal!” Caeru angrily clicked on the overhead lights.

“Well are you?” he persisted, watching the tantalizing, lithe form prowl the room.

“Am I what?” Caeru demanded, scowling at Calanthe from a safe distance on the other side of the room.

“Expecting someone else.” Calanthe tried hard not to laugh as Caeru turned away, pouring himself a large glass of wine.

Calanthe moved up behind him and took the glass from his hand, tasting the drink himself. “Well?” He pinned the blue eyes expertly.

“No,” Caeru answered tightly after taking a deep breath.

“So why the cold reception?” Calanthe refilled the glass and handed it back to his scowling Tigrina.

Caeru’s frown intensified if anything, as he accepted the glass and turned away again.

Calanthe watched curiously, not blind or stupid to his willful Tigrina’s whims. He also had a pretty good idea as to who Caeru was hoping to see. “Pell won’t come here you know. In fact his Lordship Pellaz won’t do anything he doesn’t want to unless dragged kicking and screaming,” he stated easily. He didn’t miss the flinch, ignoring it as he made himself comfortable on the large bed.

Caeru just glared at him for one horrified moment, before swinging away from the shrewd violet eyes. Calanthe must never find out his desire to seduce a pearl from Pell. He would never allow it at their present state of affairs. “I know that!” he snapped back, annoyed with himself for almost betraying his plans to his counterpart.

“Of course you do,” Calanthe soothed. “Oh come on Rue, don’t you think you are being just a little bit too unfriendly towards your Tigron?”

“Maybe I just want some peace and quiet tonight.”

“Bullshit!” Calanthe said without hesitation.

Looking back at the sprawled figure on the bed, Caeru contemplated his choices. Calanthe appeared completely relaxed, his face open even as the penetrating gaze assessed him knowingly. The short blonde mane halloed his tanned face and his long limbed elegance promised burning pleasures. Realizing how futile his temper was against Calanthe’s infuriating, endless patience in matters like this, he reassessed his chances of getting rid of his unwanted visitor tonight. Those chances were very slim, in fact non existent.

Releasing an annoyed breath, he tried to relax and pin on a calculating smile as Caeru sauntered over to the bed and sat at Calanthe’s hip. “You’re right, I don’t want peace and quiet.”

Calanthe studied him a moment longer, speculating, then let his own smile slowly grow across his mouth. It never touched his eyes. Reaching forward, he took Caeru’s chin in his hand and half pulled him forward to claim the soft, pale lips. “That is good, because I want you,” he stated.

“I can see that,” Caeru mocked gently. “But why me tonight? What is wrong with Pell?” He tried to sound innocent, having heard the rumors of the previous night.

“What isn’t wrong!” His smile didn’t falter, but his eyes narrowed, not trusting the Tigrina. He pushed the silky gown from Caeru’s shoulders, appreciating the white, unblemished skin and the strength beneath the deceptively soft muscles. Like everyone else in Phaonica, Caeru was a perfect example of Gelaming deception.

Giving in because a Calanthe in this mood was useless to deny, Caeru fell back onto the bed and slid his hands under the white cotton shirt his partner wore. “I suppose you are right.” He sighed looking up at the tanned face from beneath his lashes. “Pell doesn’t look well now that you mention it.”

“Mmmm.” Calanthe didn’t comment, but his frown returned.

“And I guess the fact that he’s not eating again, only drinking wine by the skinfull isn’t helping matters,” he went on conversationally in a light tone as his hands skimmed up the smooth back. “Rayhala mentioned that he’d given Pell something to help him sleep as well the other day and-”

“Are you sure?” Calanthe interrupted, peering down into the pale, oval face, studying Caeru carefully for the truth.

“Positive.” Caeru blinked at him, amazed as he saw the genuine concern cross Calanthe’s features.

Releasing the warm body, Calanthe rolled back onto the mattress and let his arms rest over his head as he pondered Caeru’s words, weighing them up.

“What is happening between the two of you Cal?” Caeru asked quietly, as he raised himself up onto an elbow.

Calanthe flicked him a brief look and tried to shrug. “I don’t know any more. He’s blocking me out, fighting me most of the time. And he has some very weird ideas about certain events and things.”

“That would be Thiede’s doing I imagine.”

“He won’t even try to listen!” Calanthe stated, some of his earlier anger returning. “He won’t even give me – us – a chance to talk!” He glanced up at Caeru’s set face expecting to hear a stream of insults or advice, like everyone had been giving him. Instead, he saw no judgement.

Caeru pursed his lips as if thinking, then shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said eventually, not wanting to involve himself in the Tigron’s problems. He had enough of his own.

Calanthe’s brows drew down. “Did Pell,” he started, then stopped hesitating, “did Pell have many lovers before I arrived here?” He was not sure he wanted to hear the answer. Jealousy?

“Lovers, no.” Caeru grinned. “Acquaintances, yes. Cal you must try to remember that Pellaz had to try and embody all the Wraeththu ideals. And because of that, Thiede gave him no privacy and never encouraged any indiscretions. So after a while I think he learned to do without.”

“Fuck the Gelaming!” Calanthe muttered with feeling.

Caeru raised a brow at him.

“Thanks to Thiede, the Gelaming in Immanion have a very warped view of life as it really is. They all need re-education.”

“What? Everyone?” Caeru tried hard not to laugh.

“Well maybe not, but most of the residents of Phaonica certainly do, especially Pellaz. He’s so screwed up that I sometimes think I’ll never reach him again.”

“And do you try?” Caeru held his breath, scared of the answer.

Calanthe heard the echo of those words in his mind. It was exactly the same thing he had asked Ashmael about Vaysh. He shuddered mentally in reaction. “I used to,” he admitted with full honesty, horrified at his own admission.

Caeru digested the information, no longer smiling as he lightly traced a finger over Calanthe’s shoulder. The Tigron’s face was a picture, and he wondered if Pellaz was truly aware of how deeply Calanthe still felt about him.

“It is all falling apart Rue, and I’m scared I won’t be strong enough to hold it all together for much longer,” he confessed suddenly as he imagined their bleak future. “It terrifies me, the thought of losing. Yet I feel completely helpless to stop it this time. Just as I failed to stop it last time.”

“Losing?” Caeru questioned, confused by the words. “Losing what?”

Calanthe’s eyes were almost completely black now as the pupils dilated further. “I lost him once. I can’t…can’t lose him again.” The words seemed to tear from his chest. “What can I do to stop it?” It was a plea.

“I don’t know.” Unsure how to respond, Caeru embraced the shivering form, offering comfort to a Har he hadn’t believed needed any.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Cal half cried, his eyes misty, yet the tears refused to fall. “Why? Why do I love him so?”

Caeru could say nothing, closing his own eyes, trapped by his own secret and now holding Calanthe’s against his heart as well.

***

It took another two weeks before Arahal and his guards returned to Immanion and their news offered no further enlightenment. They still found no concrete evidence of mankind reforming in the southern wastelands and only had the reports of the Kakkahar tribe to go on. Then, as if on cue, a small envoy of the Kakkahar tribe arrived a week later in Immanion and sought an audience with the Tigrons in the name of their ruler, Autarch Lianvis.

Calanthe’s face was guarded as he watched the four tall, long haired Kakkahar enter the audience hall. Beside him, Pellaz’s expression was open and curious and it worried him. The whole idea that Immanion was on friendly terms with Lianvis was ludicrous and made him feel ill, especially as he remembered only to clearly the evil enveloping the Har. And he couldn’t see that evil diminishing over the years, even with close association with Thiede. And Thiede had been far from unblemished and honest. More than likely, Thiede had used that knowledge about Lianvis to control the desert leader’s more exuberant indulgences.

But now that Thiede had gone, Calanthe doubted Lianvis would obey Immanion’s rule unless it benefited his own purpose. It worried him that they could now be playing into Lianvis’s hand. Unfortunately no amount of voicing his suspicions to Pellaz in one of their civil moods, could change his co-ruler’s unshakable trust in Thiede’s judgement. Pellaz maintained that Lianvis would continue to abide by Thiede’s discretions no matter that Thiede was no longer existing in the physical form. Besides, Pellaz pointed out, the Kakkahar over the years had assisted the Gelaming immensely. One example was the fall of the Varrs and the capture of Terzian.

At this point in their discussions, Calanthe had just gritted his teeth when he saw the hard edge touch Pellaz’s eyes, and he had dropped the subject before they had another full scale argument. They couldn’t afford to let arguments happen, because if they did the Hegemony Council could decide that they should not be allowed time together unobserved. He could understand their reasoning, as they could seriously injure each other if tempers got out of hand. Also the Hegemony was loyal to the Wraeththu as a nation, and if keeping the two Tigrons apart advanced their race’s development, then the Council would do it at all cost.

But it didn’t mean he had to like it, or agree with the unspoken arrangements. Yet the idea of Hara running around franticly trying to find them, had Calanthe sniggering whenever he looked at any of the Hegemony members.

Sitting completely still, he watched the four Kakkahar approach. He noted their dark silk clothing, long cloaks, and elaborately braided hair with tanned skins. The dark eyes were permanently outlined by black tattooing under the lashes.

They were a graceful, beautiful and startling tribe, and gratingly polite so that Calanthe’s suspicions grew, his warning sixth sense screaming at him. Beside him, Pellaz was smiling and responding openly as if they were old friends, and it angered him.

The Kakkahar presented gifts of silks, herbs and honey. The best their tribe had, and it was an honorable gesture. Still Calanthe couldn’t shake off the unease. Pellaz did the speaking, laughing gently as he welcomed them to Phaonica, inviting them to stay.

In Pellaz’s attitude, Calanthe had to admit his soul mate hadn’t changed. Pellaz read only surface emotions, saw only what he was presented with and accepted what he was told, until experience proved otherwise. It just meant darling Pellaz was lousy at characterization.

Thinking about it, Cal’s mouth twitched up. That shortcoming in Pell must have driven Thiede crazy to realize his ‘chosen heir’ lacked basic survival sense in so simple an area. Then another thought finally fell neatly into place. It would explain why Thiede never encouraged or allowed Pellaz to leave Immanion. Pellaz was intelligent – very – he acknowledged easily, and resourceful. But it was nice to know Pellaz still had the same flaw in his personality that he’d had when Calanthe had first met him. That flaw was something he had no trouble accepting in his beloved. It was the deviousness and underhanded manipulation that he didn’t like, but even that was starting to make better sense now. It was a defensive habit Pell had fallen into, while trapped in Thiede’s world.

“Cal?” Pellaz’s insistent voice held displeasure and Calanthe looked up to meet the dark, slightly irritated eyes. He didn’t answer but turned instead towards the two leading Kakkahar, vaguely recognizing them. Another memory from the past?

“Calanthe-har-Aralis.” The one called Aihah inclined his head slightly. “We meet again. Full circle would you not say?”

“Possibly,” Calanthe said slowly, his gaze not returning the smile.

“Ah. You do not remember me, so allow me to refresh your memory. We met in Galhea, under Terzian’s rule. I helped Swift with his feybraiha, and you were-”

“Yes. I remember.” Calanthe cut him off sharply, even as Pellaz raised a curious brow.

“I am glad you finally found yourself.” The second one, named Shune, spoke. His eyes were deceptive.

“What do you want here in Immanion?” Even as the words left his mouth, Calanthe realized how blunt it sounded, but none of the Kakkahar seemed to take offence at his tone.

“Some advice. To talk with your Hegemony and to tell you what is happening in the deep south. Our Lord Lianvis feels that only with the aid of the Gelaming can we stop the inevitable advance of war hungry man.”

“Yet our scouts have found no evidence of human life anywhere.” Pellaz put in.

“Your Captain Arahal, as thorough as he was, missed the raiding parties. Some of our villages have been completely destroyed. We showed him some of these areas.”

“Yes, he told us.”

Calanthe clamped down on his own suspicions, as Pellaz’s tone became sympathetic.

“But please we will discuss this later. I am sure you would like to wash and relax, so I will have you shown to your rooms.”

“We thank the Tigrons.” Aihah bowed and backed away slightly, before turning and following the guards out.

After the great door had closed, Calanthe walked down the dais to the baskets of fine silks and other gifts and kicked the side of the basket in frustration. “They are up to something Pell. I don’t trust them!” he stated as Pellaz shrugged and approached, peering into the baskets.

“But Cal, you don’t trust anyone,” he said conversationally. He tilted his head to one side and gave his blonde tormentor a half smile before picking up one of the silk cloaks, studying it with appreciation. Its feel and texture was exquisite, and he wondered if the deep, burnt red coloring would compliment his looks. He was so engrossed in his appraisal of the material that he missed Calanthe’s next words entirely. It took him a full minute to realize he was being glared at before he looked up to find a very angry Calanthe.

“Oh, what’s the fuckin’ use! Talking to you is like talking to one of these over polished walls!” Cal threw his hands up in disgust. “You know what your problem is Pell? You’re spoilt. A spoilt little effeminate brat!” Spinning on his heels before the situation could degenerate any further, he left a startled Pellaz amongst the many gifts.

Feeling extremely frustrated and shitty, he went for a long walk, in an attempt to smother his hard learnt experience. For now, all he could do was watch and wait, praying that he was proved wrong in his suspicions. Though a small part of him would like to see the Kakkahar try something just so he could prove a point to his skeptical lover.

Only time would tell.

***

Pellaz scratched the ears of the large, white fluffy cat that was purring away contentedly on his chest. He was sitting out on the wide, open aired balcony, which overlooked the sea. It was early spring and the morning sun was relaxing. Soothing.

“Good morning. I am amazed so many are up this early.”

Pellaz looked up and smiled at Chrysm. “It seems too nice to waste. Why who else is here?” he asked, curious as it was only after 6 a.m.

“I just ran into Cal, Thar and Ash down by the stables. They said they were going riding or something equally as draft. Can you believe that? It seemed like a waste of energy to me so I declined. I crave more sedate forms of relaxation. May I?” He pointed towards the decanter of sweet wine and smiled easily, pushing his hair back.

“Help yourself,” Pellaz said automatically, digesting Chrysm’s words about Calanthe and the other Hegemony members. “I wonder where they were going?” he asked absently.

“I wouldn’t have the faintest idea, and to be honest I don’t really care.” He took a sip of wine and stretched a little. “But remember Ash has a tendency to disappear to Forever at frequent intervals. He is still besotted with that mystic creature, whats-his-name?”

“Cobweb,” Pellaz supplied without thinking.

“Yes that’s him. Vile creature. Mind you, you’d think Ash would realize by now that Terzian’s ex was only toying with him. But his pride won’t let him admit defeat.”

“You sound bitter.” Pellaz blinked up at the Hegemony member in astonishment, temporarily forgetting about Calanthe and his ties with the Forever household. Refusing to think about them…

“Am I? Sorry my dear Pell.” Chrysm sat down heavily and sighed.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m tired, that’s all.” Chrysm looked up. The sun caught his hair and face and Pellaz was reminded vividly of a much freer and younger Seel from Saltrock.

“You were alright last night,” he pointed out gently. He liked Chrysm, because out of all the Hegemony members he was the most down-to-earth honest Har he had ever met.

“Mmmm. That was last night.”

“If I remember rightly, wasn’t Shune chasing you around the library?” he queried, trying to remember. He was shocked to realize how vague his memory was becoming. If it didn’t involve Calanthe, he found whole chunks of his previous days dissolving. Could it be a sign of the mental stress Vaysh was warning him about?

“He did yes.”

“Sorry?” Pell shook his head, clearing his mind.

“Are you alright? You’ve gone a little pale.”

“I’m fine,” Pellaz dismissed the question. “You were telling me about Shune.”

“Yes.”

“And?

“And what?”

“Chrysm!”

The flaxen haired Har went on the defensive, then relented as he saw Pellaz’s face close slightly to the rebuff. He didn’t want to isolate his friend. “He is a seductive bastard – and,” he stressed the word, “he has no tact!”

“Why?”

“This morning he opened his big mouth, accidentally I might add, to Arahal, who is a vindictive bastard, and supremely annoying at the best of times!” The adept sighed dramatically. “Then Arahal coldly announced, that he was leaving to check on the Natawni borders,” he ended in a disgusted tone.

Pellaz grinned, looking down to hide his amusement. Chrysm’s and Arahal’s on-off affair was as notorious as Ashmael’s pursuit of Forever’s Cobweb.

“But I suppose he’s right you know,” Chrysm went on, ignoring Pellaz’s grin.

“Who? Shune or Arahal?”

“Arahal.”

“About what?”

“That I’m a stupid romantic beast.”

“Romantic, yes, but not a beast. You know he doesn’t really mean it.” Pellaz shook his head, the early morning breeze ruffling his fringe.

Chrysm eyed him seriously for a moment, seeing past the barriers Pellaz displayed to the world, into a young, vulnerable and confused mind. For all his twenty-four odd years as being Tigron, Chrysm still believed Pellaz had not fully recovered from the shock of being so cruelly yanked from his first existence as a Wraeththu. He wished he could help Pellaz in some way, but the small Har was very self contained, making it impossible for anyone to get in and give him comfort. And with the amount of headaches he had been experiencing lately, he wondered for how much longer Pellaz could maintain his air of indifference. Every adept in Immanion was feeling his and Calanthe’s mental struggles, and short of tying them both up together and placing them in a padded room to work out the problems, Chrysm didn’t know what else to do. Of course all his suggestions on the subject had not been taken seriously.

“Talking of Shune,” Pellaz asked. “What do you think of the Kakkahar tribe in general?”

“They’re gorgeous.” Chrysm gave an impish smile and collapsed back against the chair with a heartfelt sigh.

“Apart from that.” Pellaz grinned in amusement.

“You know Tahalha, the healer of the group?”

“Yes.” Pellaz nodded, picturing the tall Kakkahar.

“Well he fancies you.” Chrysm raised a brow at him. “It could be fun.”

Pellaz shrugged and got two sets of paw marks in his chest at the movement. He soothed the cat absently.

“But as a tribe, well they are intriguing. Their ability with telepathy is remarkable and we could still learn a lot from them.”

“Mmmm.” Pellaz found this only confirmed his own thoughts.

“Is this a private party, or can anyone join in?”

Both Pellaz and Chrysm turned at the voice and saw Glave leaning against the door frame.

“We were just discussing the Kakkahar,” Chrysm informed him.

“Gorgeous creatures.”

“Not you too!” Pellaz laughed out loud.

Glave hooked a chair closer with his foot. “But I don’t trust them.”

“Why?” Pellaz asked immediately.

“I don’t know. It is nothing in particular that I can put my finger on, just a feeling.”

“That is what Cal says,” Pellaz admitted.

“I thought you two weren’t talking,” Glave put in.

“Tactless!” Chrysm shook his head.

“We can’t avoid it on certain occasions,” Pell answered with ill disguised sarcasm.

“I suppose not. But with the Kakkahar, I suggest we just wait,” Glave ended seriously.

“Yet if they are right about the threat of humans, I’d hate to find out too late we made a mistake,” Chrysm cautioned.

“My thoughts exactly.” Pellaz nodded.

“Leave it to Arahal, my dear Pell. If there is anything to find out, he’ll find it,” Chrysm advised.

“It’s nice to know you’re not just a pretty face.” Glave gave him an outrageous wink.

“Shut up,” Chrysm replied automatically.

“So where is Ash this morning? I need to go over the land reports with him before Council sits. I did call into his place on the way here but Phylax said Ash had left an hour or so ago,” Glave asked.

“He’s out riding,” Chrysm told him with heavy meaning.

“Not Forever again!” Glave groaned.

“I don’t know, but he had Cal and Tharmifex with him.”

“Curious.” Glave whistled through his teeth. “I wonder what those three are up to. Mind you, I can’t see Thar agreeing to go to Forever.”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Pellaz said heavily.

Chrysm flicked Glave a warning look.

Glave ignored him. “Talking of Ash, is it true he is taking Cal on a short tour next month?”

“It depends, doesn’t it? We’ll have to wait and see what the Council decides,” Pell stated woodenly, not looking at either Har as he stood up. He placed the cat carefully on the vacant chair and brushed the fur off his sleeveless top. “I’ll see you both later.” He walked away not waiting for a comment.

Silence reigned until Pellaz was well out of hearing, then Chrysm turned his anger on Glave.

“You stupid idiot!” he accused.

“By the Aghama! We can’t tiptoe around the subject of Calanthe forever you know! He is old enough to face reality!” Glave protested loudly. “And the sooner Pellaz gets off the pedestal Thiede put him on, the easier it will be for all of us!”

“It is not as simple as that!” Chrysm hissed back. “Oh what’s the use, you’re as bad as Cedony and Eyra!” he ended in resignation, throwing up his hands.

“Cal is good for the Wraeththu, Chrysm, and the sooner Pell accepts that, the better it will be.”

“That is not the problem, and never has been the problem.” Chrysm glared back at him.

“Then, what in the name of the Aghama, is the problem!”

“Accepting the changes in each other, and not just on Pell’s side. Cal is as stubborn as Pell. What they really need is to be marooned on a small desert island no larger than ten foot by ten!”

Glave stared at him open mouthed. “Are you serious?”

“I have never been more so,” Chrysm said precisely. “Look, none of you can see this from my point of view. Only an adept can tap into the mental energy those two are throwing around recklessly, and it’s crippling us. It terrifies me to think of the end result if nothing is done.”

Glave still looked unconvinced.

“Look, imagine this.” Chrysm sat forward and gestured with his hands. “Pell is contained, he is holding all the energy building up inside his mind tightly behind emotional barriers. Whereas Cal is pure, raw, unchanneled and untamed energy, and rather than hold in his turmoil, he is discharging it recklessly, and usually in Pell’s direction. It is an unconscious action, but one that will eventually backfire on them both. And as their confusion and frustration increases, so too does the level of their physic energies. Which leaves every sensitive adapt within miles of them suffering from trauma headaches.

“They are that strong?”

“They are untried. That is my point Glave. With that much untried energy and power between them, they could be deadly. On the other hand, when they eventually join, and they must, then their control and power will be devastating.”

“No wonder Ash is so insistent at keeping the two of them apart,” Glave muttered awed.

“But that is only the short term answer,” Chrysm warned, sending a chill of apprehension through them both. Above them, the sun disappeared behind the building storm clouds.

***

Pellaz spied Vaysh’s reflection in the mirror behind him and smiled. The slender redhead suppressed his own response, yet his eyes were gentle as he walked around to lean against the mirror and watch Pellaz fasten his gold hooped earrings in the pierced ears.

Vaysh folded his arms and deliberately looked the dark haired Har up and down. Pellaz was dressed in emerald and black, a potent combination and his hair fell unbound down his back.

“My, my, and where are you going tonight?” Vaysh raised a single brow of inquiry.

“Rue’s invited me for dinner.”

“Are you sure you aren’t the dinner?”

“Vaysh!” But he had to laugh.

“Still it is no reason to dress up,” Vaysh went on. “As he will only rip the clothing off you again.”

“Very crude.”

“Very true,” Vaysh corrected.

“Besides, I feel like dressing up.”

“A lamb to the slaughter. My poor Pell. Maybe I should go along as well to supervise,” he offered, his eyes lighting up mischievously.

“Now that is not a bad idea.” Pell laughed. “It might improve the conversation.

“Now who is being cruel?”

“Yes, I know. Cal accuses me of it all the time as well.” His mouth twisted into a grimace.

“Cal’s bright, and not often wrong, just like me. But you are not cruel Pell, so don’t ever believe that.” He moved away from his shoulder rest and went to stand in front of Pellaz, subconsciously straightening the black collar.

Pellaz watched his absorbed face and frowned. “Cal is suspicious of the Kakkahar’s true motives of being in Immanion,” he started quietly.

“Mmmm.” Vaysh’s light blue eyes flicked up briefly to meet the darker ones of the Tigron.

“What do you think Vaysh?”

“I don’t trust the Kakkahar, if that is what you are asking. Mind you, they haven’t done anybody any harm, but I would still be cautious of them.”

“Yet Thiede always trusted them,” he protested softly.

Vaysh caressed his smooth cheek with the back of his fingers. “Thiede knew Lianvis. Knew him very well, Pell. Because of that, he was able to control him. He allowed Lianvis to continue as leader of the Kakkahar, but only under Thiede’s guidelines.” He lent forward and kissed him gently. “Don’t ever under estimate Lianvis, Pell, for I imagine he will try to test you and Calanthe in some way. So be strong and be watchful.”

“What would I do without you?” Pellaz asked in a whisper, his eyes softening as he regarded his adviser, friend and lover.

“Survive, but not as well without me.” Vaysh grinned impishly.

“I sometimes think you would have been better as Tigron,” Pellaz admitted as his hands caught hold of Vaysh’s shoulder pulling him close.

“No. You were meant to be Tigron my Pell. And really, it is only starting for you now.”

“You mean with Cal?”

“It will work out, you’ll see.”

“Will it?” He sounded doubtful. “I don’t think Cal really cares if I exist or not any more.”

“He cares, as do you,” Vaysh reassured. “Come on Pell, lighten up. If you don’t, Caeru might decide not to feed you first.”

“Now that is disgusting!” He forced a smile.

“Go on, and don’t get indigestion.” Vaysh pushed him away. Pellaz turned and captured his face in his hands placing a gentle kiss on his mouth.

“I’ll see you later.”

“Maybe.” Vaysh smiled and watched him walk away.

***

Walking out through his suite, Pellaz decided to exit his quarters via the dreaming pool alcove and gardens. He wanted to avoid anyone in the main corridors of Phaonica, in particular Calanthe.

The courtyard outside the scrying pool was overgrown with ferns and he passed under the archway that led to his private garden. Plants and greenery greeted him, birds flying out of his way as he walked amongst the shrubs. The scented flowers tantalizing his nose. He loved this place, as he could come here to escape everyone and be alone to think. It also gave him the illusion of freedom. Nothing to fear, or hide from…

Looking at some of the spring blooms, it took him a moment longer to realize he was not alone. He blinked a number of times at the figure half in shadow before he accepted the fact that the image was real flesh and blood, and not a fantasy tempting his desires.

Seated at the end of the enclosed garden on a small stone bench was Tahalha, a member of the Kakkahar envoy. He was perfectly still, face up but eyes closed and Pellaz moved quietly towards him, thinking the Har was asleep. It wasn’t until he was a few feet away that the Kakkahar’s head moved and the lashes lifted. They revealed huge, luminous dark orbs. The long hair was weaved and styled around the long face, falling to his naked shoulders. Lips curved into a seductive smile, compelling and powerful, and Pellaz found himself seated beside the desert Har before he could think.

“Tahalha, isn’t it?” his voice was hesitant.

“You remembered.” Tahalha’s smile if anything, became even more inviting and Pellaz found his eyes locked on the soft, full and tempting lips. “I have been unable to take my eyes off you and I had hoped you’d see me.” His voice was like a breath of warmth and Pell unconsciously leaned in closer. Sluggishly, his mind protested.

“How could I not notice. Your people are all so magnificent.”

“But not as enchanting as you are Pellaz.” Tahalha’s voice almost chanted the words as his thumbs gently caressed the underneath of Pell’s chin. He licked his lips slowly, capturing the darker eyes of the Tigron and weaving a spell of desire between them. “I want to taste you Pellaz. Will you let me?”

The burning whisper barely reached his ears, as his mind was lost in the web Tahalha was creating in his mind. His eyes closed slowly as his mouth was captured in a bewitching embrace of hot pleasure. Tahalha’s breath and taste was dry, spicy, burning in Pell’s lungs as it crept into his mind and fed off his energy. Silky fingers of seduction caressed his soul and touched his essence. How long it lasted, Pellaz could never remember as time stopped, suspending all thought except for the pleasure of Tahalha’s embrace and hot mouth.

When they broke apart, Pellaz felt dazed, disorientated and drained as he blinked owlishly up at his companion. Tahalha hummed a eerie tune as he kissed each of Pell’s eyes, before touching his lips once more in parting.

“Your taste is addictive, and I would dearly like to share body with you.”

Pellaz shook his head, slowly refocusing on Tahalha’s face as he tried to remember if he had said something or not. His memory was sketchy. A warning voice in his mind was shouting, but his lost the threads of apprehension again. A soundless caress touching his thoughts.

“Pellaz, are you alright?” The seductive voice no longer sang to him.

“I don’t know. For a moment there I could have sworn I’d been…” he trailed off as the lingering sensation of unease passed. He glanced up and saw no sinister monster, just concerned eyes. “It’s nothing.” He pushed away from the warm body as he took a deep breath, and glanced around them. It was dark now. He could have sworn the sun hadn’t set when he had walked into the room. He shook his head again.

“My Lord?”

There was definite worry in the Kakkahar’s tone now and Pellaz tried to find a small smile for him. “Only a headache, nothing to worry about. Look, I have to go.” He stood up, feeling uncomfortable now and not knowing why.

“Will I see you again?” Tahalha’s voice held promise, and Pellaz shivered.

“Maybe.” Pellaz avoided looking back at the Har, unable to meet the exotic eyes. “Excuse me. Goodnight.”

He didn’t look back, couldn’t explain why, and by the time he left the garden, the memory of the encounter blurred in his mind and he lost the remembrance of the kiss.

***

Entering the dinning hall, Calanthe was surprised to see Chrysm still seated alone at the long polished table. He had gone into the room with the intention of relieving the drinks cabinet of another bottle of shrake, a Gelaming potent alcohol, and had not expected to find anyone at this hour in the hall to catch him.

“Chrysm! What are you still doing here?” he asked by way of greeting.

“Oh, hello Cal. Nothing much, just sitting here waiting.” He sounded non committal and a little depressed.

“Waiting? For who? Arahal? If anything he would be home in his own quarters by now.” Calanthe looked briefly at the timepiece and grinned at the face Chrysm pulled.

“No. The good, over-zealous Captain has left to check on the Natawni custom points.”

“What, tonight?”

Chrysm threw his hands up in answer.

“I see.” Calanthe studied the Hegemony member a moment longer thinking, and slowly let his grin widen knowingly. “So tonight you are waiting for Shune. Naughty, naughty Chrysm. What will Arahal say to this I wonder?”

“Nothing. Except he will probably volunteer to go out to Megalithica again on patrol.”

“You are crazy.” Calanthe laughed. “Frankly I can’t see what you want from a Kakkahar that Arahal isn’t already offering you.”

“Thrill, excitement, I don’t know. A bit of honesty.” He shrugged, not looking up as he took another sip of his drink.

“Be careful Chrysm as-”

“I know you don’t trust them,” he cut in. “Pell told me.”

Calanthe blinked. “Pell said that?” He sounded amazed.

“Yes. We talked about it this morning.” Chrysm nodded.

“Mmmm.” Calanthe couldn’t hide the small, pleased smile that touched his eyes. “And did Pell say anything else?”

“About the Kakkahar, no. But I surprised him, by telling him that Tahalha was after his cute, little body.” Chrysm’s grin faded as he placed his glass down on the table and rubbed his temples. “By the Aghama, I’m getting one of those headaches again.”

“What did Pell say?” Calanthe demanded, the hard edge returning to his tone and expression at the simple thought of the Kakkahar with Pellaz.

“About what?” Chrysm looked up and tensed instantly as he felt the angry energy build in the scowling Tigron.

“About Tahalha?” His voice deadly.

“Nothing, he wasn’t interested,” Chrysm snapped as the blatant build up of power increased his throbbing headache. “Use your brains Cal please! Pell is only interested in one thing in Immanion, and that idiot is standing no more than five feet away from me!”

“Oh.” Calanthe released a breath and slowly relaxed his tensing muscles as the comment sank in. His mood lightened a little. “I just wish it were that simple,” he told Chrysm quietly.

***

Pellaz pushed his plate away and eyed Caeru speculatively across the round candlelit table.

“You haven’t told me yet why Abrimel couldn’t make dinner tonight.”

“He decided to visit the City instead with Shannon. You know what he is like,” Caeru answered vaguely.

“Mmmm.” Pellaz hid his grin, knowing his Tigrina’s motives even better.

“Why? Did you want to see him?” He sent Pell a smoldering look.

“No.” Pellaz shook his head and leaned back in his chair, stretching arms overhead. “This is nice.”

“Yes. We rarely get any time alone these days.”

Pellaz gave a half snort of amusement. “We have never missed the time alone before.”

“You might not have, but I do.” Caeru corrected stonily.

“Rue,” Pellaz sighed and reached forward for his Tigrina’s pale slender hand.

“What! Do you still find it so hard to accept the fact that I might enjoy your company?” he demanded.

“No. It’s just…I don’t think at times,” he apologized softly.

Caeru didn’t meet the large, dark eyes, knowing that if he did, he’d be lost in the inky depths forever. Instead, he studied the hand holding his own. “Pell, why do you continuously try to cut me out? Do you dislike me so much still? I thought we were trying to start again. And I haven’t interfered in your life with Calanthe.”

“I know. Look Rue, it’s just me. Hell, you should know by now what a heartless cold bastard I am,” he stated abruptly, feeling angry and guilty all at once.

“But you never used to be. Remember Ferelithia? Can’t you let go enough to be yourself again?” Caeru turned his hand over and trapped Pellaz’s fingers with his own. “Pell-”

“I don’t dare.”

“Why? Thiede can’t touch you any more.”

“Because if I let go I might lose myself completely. It scares me.” He glanced up, brutally honest for once and found his own fears mirrored in the wide, blue eyes of his Tigrina.

“I won’t let that happen.”

Pellaz wasn’t sure if Caeru had spoken the words or not, but their meaning echoed in his mind. As one they stood, caught in a spell and Caeru moved around the table to place arms around his neck. The blue eyes were soft now, the pale lips open and slightly hesitant.

“Please Pell.” The whisper was on a slow breath, before he lightly brushed their lips together. It was comfortable and seductive all at once, both reaching forward to deepen the contact. Their heights were evenly matched, their embrace strong, and the sharing exquisite as it led a tangled web back to their past and linked it firmly in the present.

***

Calanthe put his glass down at the light tap on his door.

“Yes?”

His personal house Har, Terral, entered cautiously and stood, indicating he had a visitor. His heart quickened as he pictured Pellaz briefly.

“My Lord, Tahalha of the Kakkahar tribe wishes to speak with you.”

Calanthe raised an inquisitive brow at the name, remembering Chrysm’s comments on the Har. Rolling up the maps of Megalithica he had been studying, he quickly placed them on the small back table along with the other reference books he had liberated from Pellaz’s private library.

“Show him in.”

“Thank you.” Tahalha smiled at Terrall as he was shown in, before he bowed his head respectfully towards Calanthe. “Thank you for seeing me.”

“What can I possibly do for you, Tahalha?” Calanthe sat in one of his many cushioned chairs and hooked a leg over the arm rest, watching the Kakkahar with thinly disguised amusement.

The tall, slender Kakkahar’s expression didn’t change as he returned the Tigron’s look measure for measure. “I only seek your advice.”

“My advice?” Calanthe swung his leg, distracting the Kakkahar’s attention momentarily. “Why Tahalha, I’m honored!” he exclaimed.

“Please Calanthe.” Tahalha’s tone chilled a little and Calanthe eyed him curiously, looking for clinks in the Kakkahar’s mental armor. As if sensing his slip, Tahalha sucked in a breath and his smile returned his gaze wary. “I see you have been studying maps of my homeland, and our neighboring brothers.” He indicated the rolled up sheets and books.

Calanthe’s eyes narrowed, and he wondered how the Kakkahar knew that, as it was a private study of the area he was making. “Briefly.” He sounded non committal.

“I could help you,” Tahalha offered as he moved over to the books.

“No. Thank you all the same,” Calanthe stated, getting up and taking the book out of his visitor’s hand. “What are you really here for Tahalha. And don’t give me any more bullshit about help.”

“Just as I said.”

“The fuck you are.” Calanthe gave him a hard twisted smile. “The Kakkahar don’t take advice from anyone – I know. I have meet your-” he deliberately paused, “revered leader. Remember?”

“He has changed from the Har you first met.” Tahalha’s tones softened.

“Really? Just like I’ve changed and suddenly sprouted wings I suppose,” Calanthe countered sarcastically.

The Kakkahar’s eyes hardened dangerously, before the thick lashes swept down to cover the expression.

Seeing the look, Calanthe turned away disgustedly. He was about to order the Har to leave, when strong hands gripped his arms and turned him back. The shock of strength followed by the black hypnotic eyes pinning him, had Calanthe stunned and blinking.

Tahalha moved closer, pure seduction in his flowing movements now. “I want to taste you Calanthe. And you will let me.” The voice was a caress, and Calanthe found himself sinking into the pools of Tahalha’s remarkable eyes. He wanted to fight it, but felt powerless to lift a finger. It wasn’t until their lips brushed and he tasted the scent on the Kakkahar’s breath that Calanthe found the strength to wrench himself free. Gasping for breath, he turned back towards the shocked Har.

“You manipulative little bitch!” he spat the words as he grabbed Tahalha, dragging him over to the chair and pushing him roughly into it. He could feel the defensive shields rise around the Kakkahar and he automatically smothered the darker Har with his own mental powers. It effectively crippled Tahalha.

He regarded his captive nastily as the now closed face turned away, and he realized what had broken the Kakkahar’s spell over him. It had been Pellaz. Or rather he had tasted Pell on the Kakkahar’s breath, and it had been enough to shatter Tahalha’s hold on him. His anger tightened a notch further.

“Where’s Pell?” Calanthe demanded. “And what have you done to him!”

“Pellaz?” Tahalha sounded bemused and shaken as he shrank back further into the chair, away from the Tigron’s raised fists.

“Yes!” Calanthe half yelled. “I can sense him on you!”

Tahalha’s entire composure fell apart as he digested this piece of information. It was a sobering thought, and one he needed to remember.

“If you have harmed just one hair on his head, I’d kill the lot of you!” Calanthe promised viciously as he leaned in closer. “Don’t misunderstand me. Remember, I am Uigenna not Gelaming.”

Tahalha paled noticeably, but didn’t comment.

Roughly pulling the Kakkahar from the chair, Calanthe manhandled him out the door. The Kakkahar almost fell in his eagerness to hurry away and Calanthe let him go as he shut the door, leaning back against it for support. Closing his eyes, he started to shake violently.

It took him several minutes to gather his control, and think out what had to be done. Firstly, he needed to check on Pellaz, to reassure himself that his stubborn, idiot beloved was all right.

Hurrying from the room, he headed for the Tigron’s suites.

***

Caeru sank down on the bed naked, his long, loose clothing having slithered to the floor at his feet moments before. His hair was spread out beneath him, Pellaz’s black locks falling down to cover them both as the Tigron leaned forward to recapture his mouth.

He let his fingers slide across Pell’s tantalizing, warm flesh, their caresses only extensions of his mind, their thoughts merging, as they tasted the intimate sexual desires of each other’s soul. Lightheaded and flying on the taste, Caeru pulled Pellaz closer towards him, trying to engulf his entire essence into himself as the spiraling colors between them lit up his mind and body. He moaned, entwining their lower limbs, wanting, begging Pellaz for the deeper, inner caress he craved as he whispered his lover’s name softly.

They were remembering, reliving and renewing the feel of each other, and Pellaz prolonged the anticipation by tormenting Caeru with his gentle, teasing caresses.

“Hush.” He bit the moist earlobe that was devoid of ornament, as he found the entrance to his lover’s hot body.

“Pell…please. Now-” Caeru’s fingers laced into the dark, silky hair, recapturing his mouth, demanding mentally what he wanted and crying out as Pellaz finally slid into him. All his dreams and desires were about to be fulfilled as he embraced the love of his heart.

***

“You can’t go in there, my Lord!” One of Caeru’s personal house Har protested loudly from outside the bedroom as Calanthe pushed the door open and stared angrily into the room.

“Please my Lord, you must leave.” The house Har was sounding more distressed as he saw the two entwined lovers on the bed shrouded in black hair. His Tigrina had left very specific instructions, that he was not to be disturbed under any circumstances.

Calanthe took the room in at a glance and released a tense breath at the sight of Pellaz’s long elegant back. “Shut up!” he snapped at the young house Har, not really looking at him as he walked over to the bed.

Pellaz had raised his head at the first sound of Calanthe’s voice, and had released Caeru, sitting up as he saw his partner’s uncompromising grim expression.

Caeru was beyond words. He was furious, his hair almost twitching in uncontrollable anger as he grabbed up the sheet to cover his nakedness. Pellaz sat beside him, but seemed oblivious to his own state of undress as his black hair covered him effectively.

“Get out of here!” Caeru hissed at Calanthe, his face flushed in outrage.

Calanthe gave him only a fleeting look as he turned his attention to his co-ruler. “What the fuck do you think you are playing at Pellaz by getting involved with that Kakkahar whore!” he demanded as he stood braced at the end of the bed.

“What whore?” Pellaz straightened, unsure as he could feel Caeru shake beside him. He looked quickly at his Tigrina and squeezed a slender hand in apology before he climbed off the bed. He avoided Calanthe’s angry violet eyes as he sauntered over to one of Caeru’s wardrobes.

Calanthe narrowed his eyes as he studied the back presented to him. The slender hips and legs were seductive, then the luscious swing of hair hid them from view before a white dressing gown covered the small Har completely.

“You have a bloody nerve, to come in here now!” Caeru hissed at him, and Calanthe turned away from watching the body he craved to regard the Tigrina coldly.

“This has nothing to do with you, so shut up.”

“Why you callous bastard!”

“I try.” Calanthe gave him a calculated snarl, before turning back to Pellaz, who stopped a few feet away. His expression was unreadable. “Tahalha,” he said peevishly, as if the name explained everything.

“So? What about him.” Pellaz folded his arms, looking bored.

“What have you been doing with him?”

“My activities are none of your concern.” Pellaz paced away to get a drink, and Calanthe followed on his heels.

“Oh yes they are, my clever little peasant,” he corrected quietly, forcing Pellaz to turn around and look at him. “Tahalha is playing a deceitful game of deception. He is trying to discover Immanion’s weaknesses and the strengths of its Tigrons.”

“Don’t be absurd!”

“For Gods sakes Pell, for once just listen to me!” Calanthe exploded. “I’m not concerned about your – our – personal problems here, I am worried scared for Immanion! The Kakkahar are seeking information as to our strengths – are you listening to me!?! Pell, they get information through mind assessment! That could be through aruna or even just a sharing of breath! Open your eyes Pell please!”

“The Kakkahar are our allies, and so far they have done nothing, and I mean nothing Cal, to go against any Gelaming rulings!”

“Lianvis is devious, manipulative. Think back, remember what we saw!” Calanthe tried to persuade, genuinely frustrated that Pellaz refused to see the danger and underestimated the situation.

“He has changed,” Pellaz insisted, though he frowned now as he watched Calanthe’s face contort in further annoyance. Why Cal had it in for the Kakkahar, he couldn’t understand. Besides, he’d only seen the Kakkahar healer, Tahalha, once in the Throne room. So why was Calanthe so anxious?

“Lianvis is incapable of changing! He was too involved in the black arts and the occult to truly be able to turn back. Pell, Thiede would have known that and would have been able to control Lianvis because of that.”

Pellaz tightened his mouth, resenting the comments that implied he was only Thiede’s puppet. It hurt no matter how close to the truth it was.

“Pell, Lianvis is like Ponclast, or Terzian for that matter. He will never change, as they could never change. Only Lianvis is more intelligent than what they were.”

“And I suppose you would know all about that having been Terzian’s consort for all those years. What’s wrong Cal, don’t tell me Lianvis is turning you on like Terzian did.”

“You filthy, little bastard!” Calanthe accused, stunned by the implication of Pellaz’s words. “Why does everything turn into a personal vendetta to you? Why do you always have to drag up the past and throw it in my face?”

“Maybe because you resent the present so much!”

“Oh no, that won’t work! I’ve learnt how to accept the past now, it’s you that can’t accept it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

Calanthe took a step towards him, catching hold of slender wrists. “What are you so scared of Pell?”

“Nothing!” Pellaz stated defiantly as he tried to twist free. He threw up his protective shields, blocking Calanthe’s advantage.

Calanthe staggered back a step, then shielded himself, as a gleam grew in his eye and he watched Pellaz speculatively. “But I think you are scared. Terrified in fact.”

Pellaz tried to move back further. “Shut up!”

“You’re afraid to face inside yourself, aren’t you? Afraid of what you might find. Afraid that your precious Thiede left you a hollow shell.” Calanthe saw the black pupils dilate further and he pressed his advantage.

“Shut up! Damn you to hell!” Pellaz felt his barriers crumbling and fought back the tears as he flew at Calanthe, attacking the taller Har with his fists and nails. “Damn you, damn you!”

Calanthe only just avoided the nails and they stumbled to the floor, a tangle of uncoordinated limbs as he tried to restrain Pellaz long enough to complete the breakdown of his barriers. He hoped with Pellaz’s resistance gone, that he could finally free the Har he loved so that they could start to live again.

“By the Aghama!” Chrysm exclaimed as he was ushered into the bedchamber by Tharmifex and Vaysh.

Caeru was already trying to separate the two Tigrons, thumping Calanthe repeatedly as he tried to free Pellaz.

“Out of the way!” Vaysh pushed the Tigrina roughly aside as he and Tharmifex tore the two Tigrons apart. He knelt down and cupped Pellaz’s face, seeing only blind terror in the depths of the unfocused eyes.

“Let me go!” Calanthe fought Tharmifex’s hands off as he marched back towards Pellaz, grim determination stamped on his face. His lower lip was cut and bleeding, his chin and neck scratched.

“Cal, no. Stay back!” Vaysh warned, as Tharmifex grabbed the Tigron from behind a second time.

“We need to finish it. Please, let me,” he half pleaded as he turned to Tharmifex, his frustration resurfacing. “Thar, please-”

“Later Cal, after you both have calmed down. Come with me and we’ll talk.” He placed strong hands around the trembling shoulders, forcing Calanthe to move towards the door.

“Just let them finish it, will you,” Chrysm said quietly as he leaned against the wall rubbing his temples. “It is the only way.”

Vaysh waited a moment longer, watching as Tharmifex steered Calanthe out of the room before turning back to Pellaz. “Pell?” he called his name softly as the wide, staring eyes remained unblinking. “Pell? It’s over love, come on.”

“Why?” The voice was weak.

“Pell?”

“Why did you stop us? Why?” The voice grew a little stronger with each word as sanity returned to the dark eyes.

“Pell, relax,” Vaysh soothed as he saw the lashes go down and felt the body he held tense. He could sense the barriers going back up and sighed. “Pell?”

“Thank you.” The word was whispered.

Standing and helping Pellaz into a chair, Vaysh filled a glass with strong sheh, a Megalithican wine, and handed it to him, then turned to face the Tigrina who was still in the middle of the room wrapped solely in a satin sheet.

“Why don’t you get dressed,” Vaysh suggested.

“And why don’t you just get lost,” Caeru snapped back.

“I will go in a minute, but I will take Pell with me, so get your little claws in,” he went on pleasantly and was delighted to see the anger return to the pale face. “Chrysm are you okay?” Vaysh went over to the other Har that was still leaning against the wall. Behind them, a house Har tentatively entered the room.

“I will be, as soon as I get a drink,” Chrysm mumbled. “You know you should have left them.” He glanced up at Vaysh and saw the redhead curl his lip at the comment. Shrugging, he took the glass offered to him.

“Pell?” Vaysh waited for the dark head to lift.

“I’ll be fine.”

Vaysh wasn’t convinced, and wouldn’t be happy until he got Pellaz back to his rooms. “I imagine the Tigrina is anxious to get rid of us all now.” He even sounded sincere.

“You yes!” Caeru hissed, disliking the Tigron’s assistant very much at that moment.

“Come on Pell,” Chrysm encouraged as the younger Har looked in danger of falling asleep where he sat. He helped Vaysh, and they got Pellaz standing.

“Pell?” Caeru’s uncertain question had Vaysh grinding his teeth as Pellaz blinked over at the Tigrina.

“Rue? Oh Rue, I’m sorry, forgive me please.” He licked his lips remembering what they had been doing, and looked down at himself. “Later I promise, but not now. Not after-” He cut himself off and just reached over to caress a smooth, white cheek. “I’m sorry.”

Finding himself alone in the room, Caeru stared briefly at the ceiling before uttering a cry of pure frustration, resurrecting every known curse he could think of to rain down on Calanthe’s blonde head.

But not even that made him feel any better.

***

Calanthe nursed the glass against his chest, his mind brooding. His thoughts at this time of night always centered on Pellaz. He closed his eyes, let his mind reach out to feel Pell’s restless slumber, could picture him lying there in the huge, white bed washed in silver moonlight. He would be lying on his stomach as usual, one leg bent slightly with a small frown between his beautiful eyes.

Calanthe jumped and snapped his eyes open to disperse the image, ignoring his own body’s natural responses to his beloved’s sensual promise.

They had argued again and this time in Caeru’s chambers. The only gratification he could get out of the encounter was the fact that Caeru had ended up as frustrated as he felt now. Thinking about it, Pellaz’s attitude still worried him. His soul mate was walking around blind to the undercurrents of political manipulation and nothing he tried seemed to alter Pellaz’s convictions and his steadfast loyalty to Thiede’s propaganda. He needed to bash some sense into that stubborn head, and to do that they had to be alone. Alone and with no hint of interruption. He cursed Vaysh, Tharmifex and the rest of the Hegemony for running interference for them all the time as it was now hindering their natural development. Maybe he should just take one of Chrysm’s wild suggestions and make it reality. Kidnap Pellaz for a week of peaceful, if argumentative bliss and hide out in one of the many cabins north west of Immanion.

It was fun to entertain the thought, but he knew they no longer had a week to arrange it as insanity was lurking too close for comfort. His own nerves were jumpy, he was tense, hot, shivery and terminally lonely. He desperately needed Pellaz to complete the ache in his soul.

Without even making a conscious decision, he was outside his rooms and walking towards the Tigron’s quarters, mind locked in on Pellaz’s restless, hot aura. He silently navigated the guards and entered the dark rooms to find the master chamber. Their bedchamber.

Locking the doors deliberately so that no-one could interfere or interrupt, he approached the bed and let his garments fall unnoticed to the floor. Pellaz was stretched out before him as he had pictured, and he drank in the sight. Sliding between the sheets, he pushed the satin cloth down as the room was pleasantly warm. Resting on an elbow at his beloved’s side, he studied the turned away face, enjoying the rare opportunity to watch his dark seducer sleep. Reaching across, he traced light fingers over a white shoulder, waiting for Pellaz to wake as he knew he would eventually.

***

Surfacing from a dreamless sleep, Pellaz became aware of the odd sensation across his back. Letting the touch sink in, it was a moment before he identified the Har at his side, then he tensed, waiting, praying and too damn scared to turn over. The knowledge that this vicious game of cat and mouse was all they were ever going to share was cruel and bitter and he resented the loss of their closeness. His anger and heartache bubbled up in his mind because he could easily picture what it should be like. With the intense understanding and inner knowledge of each other that they shared, they were so tantalizingly close, yet only hurt anger greeted him. Like a curved knife, it wrenched out his heart to leave a smoldering, charred stump of unappeased fury and frustration.

Yet when he did risk himself to reach out to Calanthe, all he felt was confusion equaling his own, tainted with disillusionment. Like now.

Unable to take it any longer, his body taunt with physical need, Pellaz shivered, terrified of his reception as he slowly turned over. Mentally he reached out to Calanthe as his soul mate’s face remained cold and unreadable and he was hit squarely with hot disappointment. He shut his eyes and buried his face in the pillows.

Calanthe raised a hand to touch him, wanting it so much, yet very aware of the mistake he was making. Pellaz had isolated himself, was in a world of his own and he had no hope of touching him there. What fears and horrors his beloved saw there, Calanthe could never guess and a sadness swamped him. His mind was numb from the mental battering his senses were getting and he couldn’t control his response as he gripped Pellaz’s hair covered shoulder.

“No.” Pushing Calanthe away only increased the pain and he rolled closer, touching their bodies from chest to thigh. His mind now functioning independently of his limbs.

“Pellaz.” Calanthe’s voice was tormented as he reached forward, attempting to capture the soft mouth. Pellaz twisted his face away so that his teeth fell on a white exposed neck, biting deep, drawing blood because he was denied the sweeter contact.

The physical struggle was nothing compared to the mental battle and emotional rage that exploded between them as they swept away restraint and devoured each other. The room vibrated around them in unchanneled energy as their fierce coupling unleashed the natural powers of aruna and they bent the atmosphere to their wills.

Pellaz’s mental shrieking drowned out Calanthe’s demands for understanding as he fought to hold the dark haired Tigron close. Tears glistened on their cheeks, mingling with their blood as they relived the hopelessness of their situation. Locked in a struggle neither could win, their pain and anguish backlashed throughout Immanion.

***

Chrysm stumbled along the wide corridor, clutching his head and would have fallen if one of the patrolling guards hadn’t caught him.

“Lord Chrysm are you unwell?”

“Yes! No!” he half gasped. “Arcon?” He tried to see the Har. “Arcon, please contact Ashmael. He’s in Forever, get him back here fast!”

“My Lord, let me help you lie down.” The young Har sounded mystified.

“No! Listen please. Tell him the Tigron are tearing Immanion to pieces!” he cried, half pulling his hair out as the guard just watched him in concern. No doubt he thought he was drunk.

“But my Lord,” the guard started licking his lips.

“Just do it! Gods!” He sagged again. “They’re killing themselves, can’t you feel it?”

“My Lord, I-”

“Arcon, please! Get Vaysh then, or rather help me get to the Tigron’s rooms.” He swore again as he saw the guard hesitate, and he broke out of the light hold, stumbling down the corridor. Reaching the top floor he found all the lights on and he discovered Vaysh was already awake and yelling through the Tigron’s closed door. With him were a couple of the Palace security guards. Breathing a sigh of relief, he heard Arcon mutter a curse as the tall Gelaming guard ran over towards Vaysh.

“Get this door open!” Vaysh was almost hoarse.

Attica and Cleis were standing huddled together, crying as other house Hara stood around stunned.

“Sergeant!” Vaysh rasped out. “Contact Forever and get Ashmael back here immediately!” Arcon nodded once and was gone. “By the Aghama!” Vaysh spun around, looking wild as he spotted Chrysm. “Arahal, where is he?”

“Patrol. Megalithica,” Chrysm answered as he lowered himself tiredly into a chair. The mental powers whirlwinding in the atmosphere were draining him of energy.

Vaysh swore fluently as he paced back towards the door and the two security Hara who were trying to mentally force the lock. A crash sounded from inside the room and he tensed, listening before he rushed back to Chrysm and grabbed his shoulders, shaking him hard.

“Chrysm! Chrysm, what do you sense? What in the name of the Aghama is happening in there?” he asked urgently, scared white.

“Calanthe bolted the door.” He tried to muster the energy to concentrate on Vaysh’s pinched face. “I warned you all this would happen.”

“Chrysm, just tell me what’s happening in there now!”

“Pain – confusion. They could kill each other if…” he trailed off as he refocused with difficulty on panicked eyes.

Releasing the adept as if burnt, Vaysh returned to the door and pounded on it with his fists. “No! No!” he repeated over and over. More guards arrived, having been alerted by Arcon and they took over, knitting their mental powers to force the door.

Breaking away, the lead elite guard stumbled and looked over at the Tigron’s personal assistant. “My Lord, the build up of powers inside the room is too great for even fifty of us to counter. Nothing short of an explosion is going to release that door.”

His warning was cut off as Chrysm suddenly screamed behind them. The adept’s face went utterly blank and deathly white, before he slumped and slid from the chair to floor, unconscious.

Vaysh spared him only a moments attention, seeing house Hara rush to the lax form as he turned back to the massive wooden doors. A bubble of insane frustration welled up inside him as he imagined the senseless loss of not only one but both Tigrons. Throwing his hands up, he was caught unprepared as the double doors exploded outwards, knocking them all flying from the force of the release of energy and rocking the Palace to its foundations.

Ignoring his own scratches, he limped to the destroyed chamber entrance and shuddered as he saw only darkness. The air around him crackled with power and the room smelt of magic as he pushed drapes out of the way to find the bed.

Tangled wood and stone had melted, littering the floor with debris and it took a number of attempts to get through the mess. Finding the bed, he was stopped short by shock as the entire wall facing him was blown away. Where thick stone had once stood, now was just a burnt, charred hole that looked straight out to the sea. He shivered in the icy breeze as his gaze fell down on a silvery object and he froze, identifying it as Pellaz.

Pellaz lay face down, unmoving, across the demolished four poster bed, covered in glass and torn fabric. Vaysh hurried to his side, pushing the still smoldering material away as he roughly searched for a pulse with shaky fingers. It was faint, yet detectable.

“Over here!” Another voice called, and Vaysh turned to see one of the guards leaning over Calanthe’s crumpled figure. “He’s alive.”

“My Aghama!” Glave exclaimed as he pushed past the mess to find Vaysh cradling Pellaz’s head. “What in the seven hells happened?” He was half dressed and behind him were two of the Kakkahar envoy.

“Can we help?” Shune asked softly as he knelt down next to Vaysh and lightly touched Pellaz.

“No!” Vaysh said immediately, an eerie feeling creeping over his bones. “No. But thank you. Please return to your rooms, as we are quite used to dealing with this.” He tried to steady his tone. Shune just raised a brow at him in open disbelief, but complied, leaving the room. After he had gone, only then did Vaysh breath.

“What the hell was that all about Vaysh? What happened here?” Glave gestured to the destroyed suite.

“Disaster. Look Glave just get Rayhala, and call the Hegemony as I think it is about time we acted instead of just watching and waiting.”

The other Hegemony member just nodded, holding his tongue for now as he went to find the Palace’s physician. Outside, chaos greeted him.

Vaysh looked down at the head he still cradled and fought back the persistent tears. “By the Gods, Thiede, what have you done now?” he whispered.

By the time Ashmael hurriedly arrived back, one hour had past. He pushed into the Tigron’s rooms with a smaller Har at his side, and went determinedly towards Vaysh. The smaller blonde Har mirrored Ashmael’s worried concern on his round, expressive face.

“What in the blazes happened!” Ashmael asked as he went over to eye the blackened bed chamber.

“No-one really knows for certain, as every adept in Immanion blacked out before the explosion, which in turn probably saved their lives.” Vaysh rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Both Pell and Calanthe are still unconscious.”

“Will they be alright?” Ashmael swung back to him.

“That is hard to say. Rayhala has examined them both and says they are extremely traumatized, with massive nerve ending burns. As yet, neither Chrysm or Phylax has come round to tell us more.”

“They just have to be alright.” The small Har whispered as he bit his bottom lip.

Vaysh only gave him a brief glance. “The amount of power they harnessed in that room was,” he shook his head. “It shook Immanion, Ash. I doubt even Thiede would have been strong enough to contain them both.”

Ashmael paled at the words, looking back into the charred room. “Come on Swift,” he eventually said. “Let’s go and see Rayhala.”

“Ash,” Vaysh called him. The word almost a caress off his tongue and the strategist straightened and turned slowly, a weird expression in his eyes.

“Yes?” He held his breath.

“Both Pell and Calanthe will need some breathing space when they wake. Do you think you could take Cal to Forever with you for a few days until we sort Pell out?”

“Is that what the Hegemony advises?”

“Yes.” Vaysh nodded.

“Fine.” He gave Vaysh one final look before he glanced back at Swift. “Would either Seel or Cobweb object?”

“Cobweb, no, but let me warn Seel first as he hates surprises,” Swift answered. “Especially a surprise like Calanthe.” —

CHAPTER THREE

Sometimes I wonder if this fight is worthwhile,
The precious moments are all lost in the tide,
They’re swept away,
Nothing is what it seems,
Yet I know there is something in the wake of our dreams.

Roxette

Calanthe stared out of the wide open doors into the garden below, his eyes centering on the pond surrounded by rocks. Beyond it were flower gardens and trees. So long ago.

It had been a long time since he had last looked upon the lawns of Forever, that for one scary moment, he imagined himself stepping back in time, to the years before sanity.

But so much had changed. There were holes in the bushland where trees had once stood, and new saplings stood where there had only been grass. The garden house had gone, its vision no longer haunting him as he looked for the rocks where he had first tasted Swift’s breath. It had all vanished, as everything eventually does.

Even around him, the large house felt different. Less shadowed, less majestic and less powerful. The top floor had been converted from dusty attics to new rooms, and the carpet in the main hallway had been changed. Nothing stayed still it seemed, and he wondered how Cobweb had taken all the alterations to his home at Seel’s arrival.

Seel.

Calanthe frowned as he looked curiously back over his shoulder at the hallway outside the drawing room. He had been in Forever two days now and still Seel had not visited him. Not that he could really remember the first day, as images blurred around him. His last lucid memory had been of Pell’s anguished cry for help before their world had exploded, unleashing a blinding, consuming pain in his mind. Then Ashmael had woken him, insistently shaking and forcing him to move numb limbs. Other Hara had been present, but he lost the sight of their faces as his senses had desperately sought only one reality. Pellaz.

Like a shining star, his soul mate lay tantalizingly out of reach of his battered and fatigued senses and he had stumbled away, clutching at uncertain consciousness, relying on Ashmael to keep him safe. Riding the magical lanes, pinioned in front of the strategist, had been an experience he never wanted to repeat, except maybe with Pell. The conscious effort of relaxing his defenses enough to allow Ashmael in to safeguard his mind throughout the journey was only possible because of his low mental energy. When he had finally arrived in Forever, all he had wanted to do was sleep.

He had been allowed to recoup for two days, but now he wanted some answers. He felt vaguely alive again, even if his eyes continued to close with irregular frequency.

Looking out into the sun streaked lawns, he considered the last few weeks in Phaonica. He could see all the mistakes they had both made. His body and mind already knowing subconsciously what they had to do, his only mistake had been trying to incorporate aruna in their encounters. It was the fatal ingredient, and he should have known better than to mix the magical powers of sex in an already volatile relationship. But he had wanted, needed the physical closeness so much, and knew Pell felt the same way regardless of what his mouth said. He needed to get Pellaz to now acknowledge the solution, to break down the barriers he had constructed to protect himself, and then, only then, could they both start to live as normal Hara.

The knowledge in itself was a vital step towards the healing process, and he itched to get back to Immanion to try out his theory on Pellaz.

“You’re looking much more alive today.”

Calanthe looked around at the amused comment and had to smile himself as Swift came and sat on the table top opposite him. The blonde Megalithican ruler looked a little apprehensive and Calanthe just lifted a pointed brow at him.

“I see you haven’t changed. Still as disarming as ever,” Swift muttered.

“Why did you bring me here?” Calanthe asked quietly.

For a horrible second Swift was caught in a childhood memory of Cal saying those exact words to his father. He shook his head to clear it and watched Calanthe turn away as if he had read the thoughts, and had not liked the picture either.

“Cal, what’s happened to you? I know I haven’t seen you since you arrived in Immanion, but I thought you would be happy now. Settled, you know. Not this same tormented mind that…” he trailed off. “What happened?”

“A new era, a new life, a new existence, but the same old players. I don’t know Swift, you tell me.” He cast a disquieting look at the pure born.

Swift hesitated, his brows drawing down.

“Oh Swift, don’t look so serious.”

“Someone has to be,” he said archly.

“Things will work out.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

Swift didn’t return the reassuring smile. “Okay, so what do you plan to do?” he asked instead.

“Do?” Calanthe scratched his chin as if pretending to contemplate the question. “Tie him up, fuck him senseless then rebuild Immanion and resurrect Thiede. Take your pick.” He shrugged nonchalantly, containing his own laughter at the sight of Swift’s bloodless face.

It took Swift a moment to realize Calanthe was laughing at him and he hardened his eyes, glaring at the seated Tigron. “You’re impossible!”

“It helps, believe me,” Calanthe advised him in a quieter voice.

“Maybe,” Swift said just as seriously. “But it would help if you really knew what you wanted first.”

Calanthe arched a brow at him not commenting.

“I’m serious Cal. Don’t forget, I know you.”

“Swift, I don’t need a lecture on-”

“As long as I’ve known you, you have always chased Pellaz. Why?” he went on, ignoring the anger that flashed in the violet eyes. “Why Cal?”

“I…I love him,” he managed to get the words out.

“Do you?” Swift pushed. “Or do you only want him because he is the only Har that has never fallen down at your feet confessing undying devotion, like everyone else does?”

Calanthe’s fists balled in his lap as he glanced down, taking a steadying breath. “Swift-”

“If you think about it, you’ll know it’s true. Everyone who meets you ends up loving you. Now I’m not saying it is entirely your fault, I’m just asking if that could be a reason why you are so irrational where Pellaz is concerned.”

“You don’t understand,” he said through clenched teeth. “It is not like that, never has been.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Then how is it? How will it all end? With the two of you eventually killing each other?”

“Leave it Swift, please.”

“Cal-”

“Leave it.” Calanthe turned piercing eyes on him.

“Alright, but just think on what I said. You are special Cal, and we all need you. The Wraeththu need you.”

Calanthe dropped his head back and looked at the high ceiling, not saying anything to that.

“And if ever it becomes too much for you again, and you need a quiet place to relax, you will always be welcome here. In fact, Cobweb is uncharacteristically delighted to have you here,” Swift ended on a lighter note.

“Just like Ashmael?”

“No. Ashmael is a glutton for punishment,” Swift said automatically. “All I am saying, is that you have friends here. Family here.”

“Does that include Seel?”

Swift pulled a face, knowing his lover’s contrary reactions at times. “Seel understands better now.” Was all he was willing to admit to.

“Does he?” Calanthe persisted.

“Yes. Look, why don’t you join the family for lunch and see for yourself. That way you can also meet all our sons,” Swift invited, praying Seel would subdue his basic instincts for all their sakes. Cobweb and his bond mate had often argued over the years about Calanthe, and he didn’t want to resurrect the old feelings today.

“Sons?” Calanthe looked at him, his disbelief turning to pleasure.

“Yes, Seel and I have three sons. Azriel is the oldest and the biggest problem. You see Az was Thiede’s idea, and well Seel and I have been on edge for the last twenty years or so because we always expected that Thiede would eventually take him from us. But now that threat is over, and well it’s hard re-adjusting. Then there is Garis, he’s our middle son. We wish Az could be like him.” Swift rolled his eyes and Calanthe had to laugh.

It was a good sound and Swift relaxed further. “He’s chesna with a Har from the Gimrah tribe. We couldn’t ask for a more temperate son-in-law. They have two Harling at present, but Cobweb’s certain they want to start a new tribe all of their own.” He grinned. “And then there is Briahaar. He is our youngest at six years of age. He should be going through his feybraiha in the next two months or so. He is currently driving Seel and Garis crazy because he has decided he wants Charicia for his feybraiha.” Swift sighed and looked at Calanthe who was frowning slightly.

“Charicia?” he questioned, lost in the family history.

“Oh, he’s Garis’ bond mate.”

“I see,” Calanthe said after a moment and frowned as Swift started to giggle.

“You should see your face, it’s a picture.”

“And you want me to eat with this lot?”

“It’s not that bad.”

“No?”

“No. Besides they are your family, as you are Cobweb’s and my family.” He stood up. “Come on, besides Ty will be there and you should see him.”

“Tyson?” Calanthe licked suddenly dry lips and hesitated in standing.

“Your son.”

“Yes, I know,” he said, more to himself. Following Swift down the stairs, he wondered if he was strong enough to cope with this now. Was he strong enough to lay two ghosts to rest, or would their memory consume him?

***

Calanthe sat between Ashmael and Garis at the long well spread luncheon table. The dinning room was the same as it had been years ago, only having been repainted a lighter color, but the ceiling to floor curtains were unchanged. Swift sat at the end of the table, with Seel and Cobweb on either side of him. At the opposite end Azriel lounged, his long, blonde hair clipped short around forehead and ears. He studied Calanthe in open curiosity.

Calanthe broke the eye contact as he looked at the vacant chair on Azriel’s left. It was easier than looking at Tyson who sat on his right. Glancing up, he noticed Tyson was ignoring him, and his hackles rose as the neatly tied back hair reminded him of Terzian, and he tore his attention from his son.

Across from him Leef sat. That was another memory, but one he felt he could handle, so he smiled at the scowling Har. Leef looked to be the head of Forever’s security, and he ignored the open speculation in the dark eyes as he studied the intriguing redhead on Leef’s right. He was busy with a very young Harling and paid him no heed, Calanthe assumed he was the chesna bonded mate of Garis he had been told about. An older Harling of maybe two years, sat proudly watching him and pulling faces.

It was disconcerting, and he was glad when Garis reprimanded the mischievous child. Next to the two year old was an older Harling, and Calanthe assumed it was Briahaar. He looked uncannily like Swift, his eyes wide and startling as he looked across in open curiosity. He was almost an adult, with only a hint of innocence that marked the child remaining. He sat tall, dwarfing Cobweb who was on his right.

Across from Cobweb was Seel, and Calanthe was glad he couldn’t see the fair haired Har clearly, his emotions still unsettled where Seel was concerned. Thinking about it, he pushed the food around his plate, not really hungry, and spied the amused yet shrewd look from Cobweb. Ithiel sat between Seel and Ashmael, his expression just as worried as Cal remembered from years past, as the quiet Har stared into his wine. Moswell was reclining back in his chair across from him, as he and Swithe exchanged words. It was nice to see that both Hara had decided to stay and educate Swift’s Harling, rather than return to their own tribes. Watching them both, he saw neither had changed much, and he wondered if Swithe was still carrying a torch for Cobweb. Or even if the two were still exchanging intimacies. It was a thought to conjure with, and he glanced sideways at Ashmael, wondering if he tolerated or even knew about the on-off love affair.

Suitably impressed by the size of the family, Calanthe’s mind swam as Garis occasionally leaned close and pointed out small details, or offered family background. So much had changed, and not only in Forever. Draining his glass of sheh, he tried to refocus on the conversation around him.

“…the upper borders are dead,” Ithiel was finishing tiredly, and across from Calanthe, Leef shook his head negatively.

“Don’t forget the Uigenna.” Leef put in.

“What is left of that tribe is either warring between themselves, or has gone to join the Garridan.” Ithiel sounded bored, or fed up as if he had had this same discussion many times before.

“Ashmael, what do you say?” Leef asked for a new opinion, his dark hair kept just as short now as it had been years ago.

“The Uigenna are not the threat we once thought they could be. No, something else has stirred up the unrest in the south.”

“The Kakkahar control all the southern regions.” Azriel’s deceptively quiet voice broke in.

“Yes.” Ashmael nodded, glancing up at the striking blonde. The pure born had Seel’s eyes and Swift’s expressive mouth, which was now pouting prettily at the Gelaming strategist.

Ashmael ignored him, turning back to Swift who frowned disgruntled. “Have your scouts heard anything new?”

Calanthe blinked in amazement at the by-play, missing Swift’s comments as he curiously glanced back to Azriel. The Har appeared engrossed in the conversation, not seeing him, and Cal banked down on his grin. There was more going on than obviously met the eye. Feeling his interest revived by the intriguing mystery, his gaze was captured by strong, compelling eyes. He suppressed a shiver as the look reminded him strongly of Terzian, and it took a moment for him to school his thoughts and regard the face that resembled his own eerily.

Tyson was as tall as himself, his blonde hair longer, his eyes a deep blue, but the facial structure and lean, sensual body matched his own perfectly. It was a bone shaking shock, as this was the first time he had looked in his son’s eyes in twenty-five years. Constructing a tentative smile to cover his unease, he witnessed a sickly familiar eye brow rise and regard him coldly, with no welcoming light in the clear gaze.

Turning away, he looked down in his glass, and mentally felt a gentle caress of reassurance. It was a balm to his raw nerves and he looked up, meeting Cobweb’s dark, mystic smile. It helped, but not much and he was glad when lunch ended.

Charicia was the first to leave, rising gracefully, his pretty heart shaped face surrounded by long ringlets of red curls. He was laughing at something Leef said as he picked up the small Harling and excused himself from the table. He was petite, his movements flowing and turning into a visual delight. Calanthe found himself following the bare back and shapely legs until Leef kicked him under the table. Meeting Leef’s disproving scowl, Cal saw him flick a pointed glance towards Garis. Knowing what the other Har implied, it still didn’t stop him sending an innocent blink of his lashes towards Leef.

Everyone started to move then, as if a sign had been flashed, and Calanthe was transfixed as Ashmael moved, revealing Seel.

“I just want to go down and check with Atol,” Swift was saying persuasively as he gently massaged Seel’s shoulders.

“He said he would be in Galacian this afternoon.” Seel looked up, his long, fair hair unbound.

“I know, but he may have the information Ash needs.” Swift kissed the top of his head in small apology for something he wasn’t verbalizing.

“We’ll go with you,” Tyson offered as he stood by the window. Azriel nodded, edging closer to Ashmael.

“Traitors!” Seel accused softly, as he glared between his lover and son.

“Have you been to Galacian, Ash?” Azriel asked sweetly, ignoring his Hostling.

Curious as he was, Calanthe didn’t hear the reply as Swift and Seel’s youngest Harling tapped him on the shoulder.

The child was a little hesitant and Calanthe softened his expression.

“Are you a Tigron?”

“Yes.” He tried to inject the right amount of solemnity into his voice.

“My father mentioned it the other night.”

“I see.”

“What is a Tigron?” The serious little voice went on, the large blue eyed stare beseeching.

Calanthe closed his eyes and looked down, as Moswell snickered across from him. When he looked back up, the young Harling was still watching him with unquenchable curiosity. “What is your name?” He tried to change the subject.

“Briahaar.” The full lips smiled easily. “I am almost seven.”

“Almost?”

“Wellll,” Briahaar drew the word out. “Six and a bit. My father says you are very clever, but are visiting us because you are sick.”

“Does he now.” Calanthe cringed inwardly, noting Moswell and Swithe abandoning the table with huge grins on their faces. “Well your father is just as clever, and I am better now.”

“Oh.” Briahaar peered closer at him and Cal felt like disappearing under the table at the scrutiny. “You don’t look healthy. Will you be staying here long, and if you do, could you tell me all about Immanion?”

“I think you would be better off asking your parents those questions.”

Briahaar sighed very heavily. “No-one wants to tell me anything!” he complained. He glanced down, hopelessly young and bewitching in his growing body, then looked up at Calanthe through his lashes.

Not missing the attempt at seduction, Calanthe had to smile, certain the Harling was not fully aware of what he was asking. “I am sure they will tell you everything when the time is right.” He felt a little out of his depth, as he had never handled Harling very well. His own son, Tyson, was a good example of that fact.

“I suppose.” Briahaar sounded mournful and Cal winced as he awkwardly patted a narrow shoulder in sympathy.

Seeing that he wasn’t going to find this stranger an easy target for all his growing questions, he sighed again and walked off. He was starting to feel definite changes inside himself and all Swithe’s explanations only left him confused.

Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, Calanthe turned back to the table for his glass of sheh and found everyone gone. Everyone that was, except for Seel. Seel sat four seats away with chin in hand as he studied Calanthe through unreadable, almond eyes.

Calanthe glanced down, hesitant now that the moment had arrived. The silence was painfully strained as he searched for something to say.

An explosive sigh startled Calanthe and his head shot up in time to see Seel walking towards the closed doors.

“Seel?” He stood, calling to his once childhood friend and lover, both tensed then relaxed as Seel stopped. Nothing moved in the room, not even the air as Seel refused to turn and Calanthe found himself locked in position staring at the slender back.

“You never came,” Calanthe found himself saying stupidly.

Seel turned slowly at those words, his eyes outraged as he faced Calanthe and deliberately moved back to stand directly in front of him. Only the narrow dining table separated them. He vividly remembered the tent city of Imbrilim also.

“You betrayed me,” Seel whispered back, eyes deadly, his fists resting on the polished wood as he leaned forward.

“I betrayed myself,” Cal corrected softly.

“I suppose that is meant to explain everything!” Seel demanded quietly, as his level gaze never flickered.

Calanthe kept expecting an outburst and was vaguely disappointed when Seel didn’t oblige him. Anger he could cope with. “No.” He shook his head. “So much had happened, I was-” he groped for the words, “it tore me apart Seel. I wasn’t rational.”

“You murdered Orien!” Seel said bluntly, not impressed by the words.

“I have murdered many people,” Calanthe replied callously as Seel’s tone and words hit a raw nerve.

Seel started to snarl a response, then instead turned away to pull out a chair roughly and sit down. “Just tell me why!” he snapped without looking back at the tall Tigron.

“I can’t…I didn’t know why then, and I don’t know why now.” Calanthe shrugged, his muscles untensing a little as he released the death grip he had on the chair. “All I knew, was that Orien had helped Thiede kill Pell.”

“He was trying to help you!” Seel reminded him, haunted by the memory, and Cal just looked at him helplessly, saddened as the exquisite, almond eyes still refused to meet his.

“I’m sorry Seel.”

Seel did look up at that. The accusation in the wide eyes stabbing into Calanthe’s shuttered face. “Sorry?” he sneered in disbelief. “Sorry!!”

Calanthe closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.

“Do you know how much pain and suffering you have caused, by this so called ‘insanity’ of yours!” Seel hissed, beyond anger as he viewed Calanthe’s closed and compacted figure standing rigidly in the patch of sunlight. So angelic. “Do you have any idea of the agony and heartache you have left behind you like a trail!!”

“Seel-” Calanthe barely spoke the name before Seel stood, irritated, and watched him pace away towards the low wall buffet. Seel opened a drawer and took out a packet of cigarettes, lighting one and dragging the smoke into his lungs forcefully. “Gods!” he hissed, peeved as he eyed the cigarette’s burning end with distaste.

Calanthe slumped in a chair. “He knew.” He emphasized the words quietly, speaking almost to himself. “He fuckin’ well knew what Thiede would do.”

Seel gave a snort of mock sympathy and avoided looking at Calanthe, trying to calm his own anger.

“By the Gods Seel, I was in love with Pell…and you damn well knew that!” he shouted, exasperated by the cold, ruthless silence.

Seel looked over his shoulder at Cal and gave him a icy, heartless stare. “That’s something else I was foolish enough to believe as well.”

Calanthe sagged, stunned breathless by that.

“Just admit it Cal, you have never cared for anything or anyone. And yes, I do know what happened with Zackala,” Seel reminded him cruelly.

He could do nothing but shake his head helplessly. “I have never lied about Pell. I couldn’t.”

Seel gave another mock laugh and Calanthe pushed himself to his feet, approaching his vile tormentor.

“You weren’t there when I told Pell about Orien. You never saw his face,” Seel attacked verbally as Calanthe paced towards him and he was pleased to see the tall blonde falter.

“You were the one who told Pell?”

“Yes.” Seel nodded, unimpressed by Calanthe’s pallor. “He had a right to know. But you know, even after I told him, he still blamed himself, he could never blame you. He never stopped asking about you either, until Thiede finally showed him you wrapped in Terzian’s arms. Wrapped in his arms and hosting his seed.” Seel took another savage drag on his cigarette. “You know, I think that hurt him more than anything else. More than even your flaunted love for Cobweb.” Seel regarded Calanthe coldly, and saw the sick expression deepen in the violet eyes. “Oh yes, we’ve heard all about it in graphic detail,” he confirmed. “Then after Thiede showed Pell you walking away from the Castle, denying his existence in your life, I think Pell just stopped feeling. Stopped living altogether. And that was when he became Thiede’s puppet completely.”

Calanthe leaned against the wall, all the warmth in the room leaching out of him as he buried his face in his hands. “It wasn’t like that!” His voice was a pleading whisper, as he lifted haunted eyes to Seel, needing reassurance. Needing understanding and not finding any. “Pell has never spoken, has never said what Thiede told him.” He wrapped bloodless arms around his aching chest. He was shaking, unable to stop as he dropped his head back against the cold wall. Even the high ceilings looked desolate.

Seel looked away, picking up the packet of cigarettes again and handing one to Calanthe. He watched the trembling hands as they tried to light the end and sighed exasperatedly, pushing the icy fingers away as he lit it for him.

Calanthe stared at him desperately. “Please – Seel.”

Seel turned away as his own hard anger dissolved a little into confusion. The look on Calanthe’s face spoke of true anguish as the trembling Har battled to hold the cigarette to his lips. Yet after so many years of resentment and anger, he was loathe to trust again so easily. Besides, he had been with Pellaz, had seen the pain and had held the young Har as he had cried in his sleep.

“I never walked away from him,” Calanthe started speaking more to himself than his accuser. He coughed on a breath, his wits utterly dazed. “Thiede told me about Caeru, told me about the blood bonding and how I was too corrupt, unclean to be anywhere near Pell. I was torn, confused, bruised and it hurt. So I let Thiede lead me where he wanted. I didn’t care any more about me. I didn’t want to think. But I never stopped caring about him. Never Seel,” he emphasized the words strongly as he turned half towards the other Har. “I wished we had talked in Imbrilim,” he whispered.

“It might have saved a lot of heartache,” Seel agreed after a long agonized moment. He reluctantly met the violet eyes. “Swift always said we should have talked.”

“He was right then.” Calanthe released a shaky breath as he tried for a half smile. It failed as Seel didn’t return it. He took another long drag on the cigarette, disturbed by the revelations Seel was showing him, but more importantly, starting to see a pattern in Thiede’s careful manipulations. “I just wish he would talk to me.”

“Who? Pellaz or Swift?” Seel half sat on the low buffet facing Calanthe.

“Pell,” he whispered. “If he would only open up a little, then I might be able to-” he glanced up. “I want to make it work, but he’s fighting me.”

“He can be stubborn,” Seel offered slowly, studying his toes idly as he tried to work out how Calanthe had managed to defuse his anger so completely.

“What else hasn’t he told me?” Calanthe asked, feeling a little more confident in himself as Seel seemed to relax. “What else did Thiede do and say that I should know about?”

“You mean you really don’t know?” Seel asked carefully, a bit amazed.

“No!” Calanthe stressed. “I know very little about Pell’s life after…after Thiede took him.” He paused, dispelling the image of blood and bone. “Shit!”

“I wouldn’t know. I was only with Pell a little over two years. Thiede arranged for me to meet Swift and well… we drifted apart. He rarely spoke of personal issues. But if what you say about Thiede is correct, then I imagine Ashmael would be the one to ask.”

“Of course it’s correct!” Calanthe exclaimed, exasperated. “God Seel, don’t you believe anything I’ve just said?”

Seel shrugged, then relented as he realized how cruel that was when Calanthe flinched. “So much has changed.”

“Meaning me?”

“Yes,” Seel admitted bluntly. “You are no longer so hard. I don’t know.” He shrugged again. “You have changed.”

“So have you.” Calanthe tried the smile again.

“Sometimes I wonder.” Seel looked down at the butt of the cigarette he held. “Swift is going to kill me,” he muttered.

Calanthe just sent him a look of mild query as he reached for the packet again, handing one to Seel and grinned. “So tell me about Forever?”

***

Calanthe didn’t see Ashmael until the following day. Seel had relaxed slowly in his company, as their conversation turned to less personal topics. He had talked about the changes to Forever, about the division of the land and tribes and about his three sons. It was a subject he enjoyed and filled Cal in on all the gossip, including Ashmael and Cobweb’s rocky romance. They both laughed for the first time together in years, and the atmosphere between them lightened further.

Seeing Ashmael looking fragile and bruised early next morning, Calanthe had to subdue his smirk as he could to easily imagine the scene. Cobweb could be difficult when annoyed.

“Ahh, Ashmael. When are we returning to Immanion?” Calanthe asked as he came into the drawing room, collapsing into one of the overstuffed armchairs and eyeing the haggard looking Har.

“Why?” Ashmael countered, not trusting a Calanthe in this sort of mood. He was worse then Pellaz.

“Because I am Tigron, and I need to know,” he said sharply and was pleased when Ashmael blinked at him and straightened a little. He had the authority to use and it was not a bad idea to remind the Hegemony member occasionally.

“In a few more days. I promised Vaysh a week.”

Calanthe’s eyes narrowed. That was another thing he disapproved of. He hated the way their – Pellaz’s – assistant ran their lives. It would all change on his return. “No.” He shook his head.

“I beg your pardon?” Ashmael stared at him.

“No. I need to return, but it can wait until tomorrow if that would suit you better, as you look a little ‘delicate’.” He smiled knowingly.

Ashmael just studied him uncertainly.

“Meanwhile, I need you to tell me all about Immanion. I have to know that city backwards,” he asked, as he settled further into his chair. “I also want to know about Thiede and Pellaz. Or to be precise, I must know what Thiede told Pell concerning me.”

Ashmael restrained his initial start of amazement when he clearly saw how serious Calanthe was. In fact, he wasn’t really surprised by the request, except he had expected it months earlier. Next to Tharmifex and Dree, he had been the closest to Thiede’s plans, and regardless of his views on some of Thiede’s decisions, he understood the powerful Har’s mind. He’d also been there from the beginning.

“Alright.” Ashmael nodded as he went and poured himself a coffee before sitting in a similar chair to Calanthe’s. “Are you sure you are ready for this?”

“Yes.”

“What do you want to know first?”

“Everything,” Calanthe breathed the word.

Suppressing a shiver, Ashmael licked his lips. “It started with a bullet.”

***

After talking with Ashmael, Calanthe spent the rest of the afternoon in his room. He had even refused lunch, needing the time alone to sort out the mess in his brain. Ashmael had held nothing back, giving him the information he desired, leaving him dazed and burning with anger as he realized how stupidly both he and Pell had played into Thiede’s hands. If only he had known, he kept repeating to himself. But it was an impotent rage, leaving him empty.

So he paced the room and smoked as his thoughts whirled in circles and his impatience to return to Immanion increased. At dusk, sounds of horses approaching had him standing at the window, holding his breath as he peered out into the half light. Arahal’s shining mane of hair was instantly recognizable, and he automatically searched for a dark head. There was none and he kicked himself for the false hope. Pellaz would never leave the safety of Immanion unless it was vital he do so. Even so, it was news from Immanion, and he rushed down the stairs, straightening his clothing as he went.

Ashmael and Swift were already talking with Arahal as he entered the room, and the silver haired Captain cast him a surprised glance. Pondering that over, he fleetingly prayed Pellaz was okay, stitching on a charming smile.

“It is good news I trust?” His words made Arahal stand taller.

“Yes. Sort of.”

“Well that is very informative so far.” Calanthe went and sat in a broad leather chair, crossing his legs elegantly as he focused his attention on the stunned Captain. “Well?”

The silence was broken as Swift snickered and Seel glared at him.

“Two of the Kakkahar envoy have had to return home suddenly.” Arahal started. “Some trouble or other in the tribes.”

“Which two?” Calanthe asked suspiciously.

“Raith and Tahalha,” Arahal replied promptly.

“Damn!” Calanthe thumped the arm of the chair with feeling. “I don’t suppose it is possible to get rid of the other two as well?” Calanthe looked to Ashmael who scratched his chin in consideration.

“Not at the moment. Not unless we work out a very good reason,” he warned.

“Pity.” Calanthe sounded peeved. “But I want them watched and carefully. I would also prefer it if they didn’t go near Pellaz at present.” He glanced up at Ashmael again. “I trust you can take care of that and make sure my over-emotional beloved doesn’t become aware of the actions?”

Ashmael gave him a mildly insulted look. “Of course he won’t know! But I trust you have a good explanation for the action?”

“Naturally. I caught Tahalha reading Pellaz. What he learned I don’t know and to make it worse, Pell has no memory of the incident.”

“Aghama! When was this?” Arahal demanded.

“Earlier in the evening before we-” He let the sentence hang.

“Are you sure it was Tahalha?”

“Oh yes.” Calanthe gave a wicked smile.

“Well consider the Kakkahar watched,” Ashmael promised.

“Doubly so,” Arahal agreed.

“Good.” Calanthe looked back up at Arahal. “Any other news?”

“Only that the lanes are deteriorating again.” Arahal gave a pained grimace as he glanced at Ashmael.

“Deteriorating?” Calanthe frowned.

“Magic when used in vast quantities can distort the lanes. It happens occasionally and all we can do is wait until it disperses naturally,” Ashmael explained.

“But how does it distort the lanes?” Calanthe asked bemused.

“No-one really knows. Thiede used to say it was probably associated with occult magics and the types of spells invoked. But he never seemed overly concerned by the effects. You see, it only affects a certain area, and never was strong enough to disrupt the lanes around Immanion.” He returned his gaze to the Captain. “I take it the disturbance is only around Galhea?”

“Yes.” Arahal nodded.

“So, in another words we are trapped here until it clears?” Calanthe swung his eyes between the two Gelaming.

“Yes.” Arahal nodded again. “I’ve already lost three Hara last month to the lanes and I don’t want to lose more.”

“Damn.” Was all Calanthe could think of to say.

***

After dinner that evening, Calanthe found himself alone in the empty living room. The fire behind the grate was burning low, the curtains all drawn, the room intimately inviting, yet remote. He looked around a little uneasily, wondering where everybody was.

Over dinner in the main hall, he had only seen Azriel and Tyson. The silence had been strained, even though Azriel had tried to make conversation. The young Megalithican was very much like Seel in his temperament, and Calanthe found himself responding almost reluctantly to his outlandish behavior. He was wild, and it touched Calanthe’s being. Tyson on the other hand had refused to acknowledge him and had left without finishing the first course. Azriel had watched him go with an exasperated sigh, before turning back to him and firing questions about Immanion at him. The young, pure born was alive with curiosity, and the spiky hair only emphasized the bright eyes and high cheekbones.

Calanthe learned of Forever through Azriel’s eyes, seeing a different city to the one Seel painted. At the end of the meal, Calanthe found himself inviting Azriel back to Immanion with him, as the Har had never seen the Gelaming City.

Azriel was delighted to say the least, and asked if the invitation extended to Tyson. His feelings had been mixed about that, but he didn’t want his son to hate him any more than he already did, so he agreed. Azriel had then gone on about the Ball in Phaonica, asking if he could attend. Not certain what he was talking about, but not wanting to disappoint the bubbly Har, he had agreed and Azriel had taken off, missing dessert in his excitement. A little awed, he had sat alone for half an hour until the house Hara had made it clear that they would like to clear away. He had wandered the lower rooms, finding no-one and ending up in the old living room. It had always been his favorite in the house.

The fire made the only sound as it crackled quietly behind the protective grid. His own thoughts were lost in the flames.

“Still brooding?”

Cobweb was suddenly before him, like a breath of fresh air and he looked up at the smiling face, drinking in the elegant pose. The soft, fine hair was unbound and the simple garments he wore only emphasized his unique, tantalizing beauty.

“I never brood.” Calanthe watched him suspiciously as Cobweb turned away and traced a finger gently along the back of a leather chair.

“I have been waiting for your return. I knew you would eventually come back here to Forever.” He looked over his shoulder at Calanthe through his veil of hair. “The memories are as much yours as they are mine.”

“Those memories will always be here, whether I returned or not,” Calanthe said carefully as his eyes followed the slender figures glide around the room.

“But this time I willed you back here, Calanthe.” Cobweb’s voice was low, and held a secret promise that touched Cal’s nerves.

“Willed me?” He sat up a little straighter, trying to hide the shiver as he fought to dismiss the effect Cobweb was having on him.

“Oh yes.” Cobweb stopped in front of him, slowly sinking to his knees on the thick, furred skins in front of the fire. His long fingered hand gently reached forward to caress the inside of Calanthe’s knee.

“Why?” Cal couldn’t move, bewitched by the sensual spell Cobweb was folding him in. Amazingly, he found he didn’t want to fight the pleasurable sensations.

“I want something from you, Calanthe.”

“From me? What?” He could only blink at him, enjoying the practiced touches all the more because he wanted to let go and be touched by another in pure, lustful desire. It had seemed so long since he had truly relaxed….

“I want your seed.”

“What!” His smile of disbelief died on his lips as Cobweb pinned him with a dark, liquid stare.

“I want to host your son. MY son. But under certain conditions. My conditions.” His hands moved up to grip Calanthe’s thighs.

“Conditions?” He gave a snort of amazement.

“Yes.” Cobweb’s nails bit into his inner thighs.

“You’re crazy.” His voice was strangled as he gripped the wrists, removing the hands and trying to stand. He was hampered by practiced fingers and rather than escaping, found himself on his knees on the furs. “Cobweb, if its sons you want, I am sure Ashmael would be more than willing to oblige you.”

“I know.” Cobweb gave him a cynical smile. “But I don’t want his Harling – well at least not yet. I want yours.”

“What is going on in that convoluted mind of yours now?” Calanthe asked suspiciously, as he sat back and avoided the searching hands. He got no answer, just a mysterious smile from the dark Har. He shook his head. “Alright, what are the conditions?” he asked eventually. “I’m curious.”

“That the Harling be mine,” Cobweb stated immediately. “You relinquish all responsibility completely to me. I don’t want you recalling him to Immanion when he is of age.” His voice was a strong purr, a crafty, knowing smile touching his mouth, his body relaxing as if he could taste Calanthe’s eventual surrender.

Calanthe stared at him in startlement. “Is that all?” He watched the lovely face for hidden traps. There were none. Or at least none he consciously recognized.

“Isn’t that enough?”

“I don’t understand you,” he admitted, lost in the craziness of the request as he reached for the tempting mouth.

“You don’t have to. Just love me.” Cobweb moved closer, his hands pushing against Calanthe’s shoulders. “You know I won’t hurt the Harling.” *Trust me.* The final whisper, echoed through Calanthe’s heavy thoughts and he lay back, drawing Cobweb with him, tasting his hot breath. The essence of sweet wildflowers…and Calanthe willingly drank from him, relearning his mind and the whispery, sensual touch of his mystic seduction.

They embraced for a long moment, recapturing the lost feel of the other, rekindling the secrets between them. Separating only to strip before Calanthe took control.

“You are sure this is what you want?” He licked into an ear, kissing the long, white neck as his hands tangled in the fine, black hair, extending the long neck further.

*Oh yes.* Again it was a caress to his mind.

Cobweb felt Calanthe chuckle softly into his moist skin even as his eagerness pulsated in warm, burning colors of green and gold between them. Skin, slick and over-sensitive. He reached up to mentally touch the surge of power Calanthe hid so expertly, accessing its edges and sinking into the intense pleasure that power created. He molded himself to the blonde Tigron and moaned as that deep internal caress liberated his soul and they shared the images of honey light and immaculate brightness. Meshing their minds, and viewing Calanthe as few saw the Har, experiencing his shimmering brightness and tantalizing warmth in the mane of softness. Boneless with pleasure, he relaxed all his defenses, reaching forward to embrace the blazing intruder, wanting it, demanding it and screaming his acceptance as they touched. The slight discomfort was minute to the immense, shattering climax Calanthe triggered. They lay entwined, unable to let the other go, stretching in unison, until Calanthe lifted away to rest on his elbows.

He stared down into Cobweb’s remarkable face. “You’re amazing. Sometimes I wish I had never left Forever that second time.”

“You had to go. It was your destiny. Just like it is your destiny to leave again.”

Calanthe sat back, turning Cobweb towards him and settling them both on the furs comfortably. “I wish I had your confidence.” He kissed a white shoulder.

“You are strong Cal, so strong.” Cobweb turned his face to study him. “I felt it in you. The power is there.” He freed a hand and cupped the tanned face. “You hold inside you a vast uncontainable brightness, tempered by an understanding which encases it.”

Calanthe frowned, looking down into the dark, inky pools and seeing shadows flicker across the perceptive sight. “What do you see?” He asked, seeing the dark pupils contract further in the firelight. “What images do you perceive?” He gripped the slender shoulder.

“There is a darkness.” Cobweb’s face contorted into a frown as he stared through Calanthe.

“Cobweb, please,” Calanthe pressed. “Tell me.” He remembered only too well Cobweb’s talents at seeing distant events. His visions and whispered pronouncements….

“No. I-” He shuddered in Calanthe’s hold, pressing his face hard against a tanned shoulder as he took steadying breaths.

“What is it?” Calanthe soothed, anxious for the news and anxious for Cobweb’s wellbeing.

Nothing was said for a long moment until Cobweb sighed heavily, pulling back to roll away and stare up at the high ceiling.

“Are you and Pellaz back together?” he asked quietly, not looking at Calanthe as he spoke.

Calanthe frowned, gently reaching over and running his fingertips over a cool arm. “We are Tigron,” he admitted evasively.

Cobweb spiked him with a penetrating glance and Calanthe sighed, looking down and kissing his smooth chest in apology. They needed honesty.

“I love him Cobweb,” he whispered into the cooling flesh. “And I think I have loved him from the moment I met him.”

“Then guard him well,” Cobweb said darkly, his hand coming up to massage the back of Calanthe’s neck.

“What do you mean?” He sat up straighter. “What did you see?”

“Images. Only vague images.” Cobweb blinked at him. “A darkness. But I can not explain it. Just guard him well or you will lose something very precious.”

“This darkness, when? How?” Calanthe demanded as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and a feeling of fear entered his soul.

“I do not know,” he whispered. “Soon maybe.”

Calanthe tried to stand, but Cobweb entwined their limbs, trapping him and sending tendrils of calm into his mind. “No!” he breathed seductively into Calanthe’s mouth.

“But I must get back to Immanion. I must see him.” He faltered a little, as Cobweb’s breath assaulted him again, persuasive in its warmth.

“Not tonight.” He smiled up and shook his head, his hair falling between them. “Stay with me tonight.”

“I-” Calanthe found himself smothered with a burning desire and he moaned. “Be ouana for me?” He gave in, running his hands down the smooth hair-draped back.

Cobweb hid his smile as he pushed the compliant Tigron flat to the furs and made him forget Pellaz…made him forget everything for a second time.

***

Calanthe awoke cramped, and blinked at the early morning sun half blinding him with its glaring whiteness. Beside him, Cobweb was still curled up, fast asleep. The fire was cold and they were both covered in a thick woven blanket. Wondering who had covered them, Calanthe looked up as a noise distracted him from behind. Seel was sitting in the chair he had occupied the previous night, and the almond eyes had a definite, amused twinkle in them.

“Morning,” he said pointedly as he lifted his cup and took a sip.

Calanthe pulled a face and groped for his discarded clothing as strong coffee fumes reached him. He struggled into his cream denims, careful not to wake the sleeper.

“Any chance of getting some of that stuff?” he asked, indicating the cup Seel held. Following the elegantly pointed finger to the buffet, he went and poured himself a cupful. Walking back, he sat on the arm of Seel’s chair, and picked up the packet of cigarettes absently, offering one to the silent Har. “Do you want one, or have you given up again?”

“What the hell, just don’t tell Swift.”

“I won’t if you won’t,” he agreed easily. “Just do the same for me and don’t mention this to Ashmael.”

“Why? You’re Tigron. You can do whatever you like,” Seel reminded him, somewhat amused.

“Yeah maybe, but the title is overrated. Anyway, I need Ash on my side, not holding out because he’s pissed off.” He let out a smoke-filled breath, running his fingers through knotted hair and grimacing.

“Wish I could help you there, but I’m afraid it’s already too late.”

“Why?” Calanthe asked with a sinking feeling.

“Who do you think it was that found you two last night?” He bit the inside of his lip, trying not to grin and failed miserably.

Calanthe let his eyes fall shut. “Fuckin’ hell!” he said heavily. “That’s all I need.”

“Ignore him, we all do,” Seel advised flamboyantly. “Well,” he moved abruptly, standing, “now that you are up, I’ll leave you to wake his Highness down there.”

“Where are you going?” Calanthe caught his arm.

“Into Galhea, and no, it is best you stay here. You are Tigron, Cal, and unofficially visiting. So just relax and make the most of your free time.” He grinned again as he nodded briefly in Cobweb’s direction.

Calanthe groaned, but let Seel go, imagining all the indirect jibs he would be getting from everyone in the household. He just prayed that it was true, and Ashmael didn’t hold a grudge for too long.

***

It took six days for Arahal to declare the lanes safe for travel, and Calanthe was more than anxious to return to Immanion. The inactivity of Forever was starting to spoil his long treasured memories of its peaceful tranquillity. Also certain close proximities within the household were putting his teeth on edge. Ashmael said nothing, but his lack of comment spoke louder than any words, and Calanthe felt compromised as Cobweb announced to the entire house his hosting. The silent, yet obvious hurt anger in Ashmael’s eyes, killed his embarrassment and sobered his thoughts.

Cobweb didn’t improve matters, and Calanthe felt disinclined to broach the subject with him, staying in his room. It didn’t help either as the entire household held its breath as if waiting for something else to happen, something dramatic. So when the news about the lanes came in, he jumped at it, wanting to escape the confines of a home he had always cherished.

Only one good thing had come out about his impromptu visit, and that was Tyson. Calanthe hadn’t had much time to talk with his son to explain his motives, and was pleased when Swift told him Tyson would be going back to Immanion with him. He knew Tyson was not doing it to be near him, but rather to see the City everyone talked of and to attend a Ball that Azriel had been raving about.

Azriel, of course, had been the culprit that had convinced Tyson to accompany him to the crystal Palace. It was a small comfort, but one he was not too proud to accept as it brought his son closer. Maybe having Ty in Phaonica with him would break the icy silence between them. Things certainly couldn’t get any worse.

The morning they left Forever, the lawns were frosty and the air chilly as they stood by the stables. Cobweb stood at the second floor windows, tall, remote but lovely. Ashmael was already on his horse, absently stroking the stallion’s neck as he spoke to Swift.

Seel quietly approached Calanthe and eyed him, a little concerned. “Are you alright?” he asked quietly.

Calanthe didn’t look up. “Seel, what happened with Cobweb, was not my idea. I didn’t mean to embarrass you and Swift like that,” he said, needing to get the words out.

“I know. Cobweb and Swift have argued it out. What about Pell? Are you going to tell him?”

“I don’t know.” He glanced over at Ashmael briefly. “Seel, it’s Cobweb’s life, he doesn’t want me in it. And I don’t want to be in it. You know, I think it took coming back here for me to lay that ghost to rest.”

“I just hope you know what you are doing,” Seel muttered.

Calanthe watched him walk away, his thoughts troubled. His vision was blocked by a horse and he looked up, meeting cool, blue eyes. Tyson was so much like him, yet held Terzian’s strengths and he both frightened and drew Calanthe.

Swinging up onto the horse Swift lent him, Cal gave his son a slight smile. “I am glad you are coming to Immanion, as I’d like to show you a little of my world, if you’ll let me.”

“Why?” The tone was cold.

“Because there is so much you don’t understand about me, and you shouldn’t judge, until you at least hear my side of the story.”

“Don’t you think it is just a little too late for this?”

“Maybe.” Calanthe sighed and reined his horse in to stop him moving. “It’s up to you Tyson, I won’t force you, no-one will do that.” He left it at that, turning the intelligent Faraldienne horse to find Arahal.

The Captain was talking with Azriel and Ithiel and it took Calanthe a moment to pinpoint what was different about the silver haired Har. His normal skimpy outfit of leather and silks was gone, replaced with something that looked distinctly like Azriel’s outfit. He had wondered where Arahal had vanished to the previous evening… Raising a brow in consideration, Calanthe wondered how Chrysm would take the new arrival. A rival?… competition even… Not very well if he knew Chrysm’s chancy temper.

“You ready?”

Ashmael’s quiet tones startled Calanthe and he snapped back to the present.

“Yes.” He nodded

“Good. Swift and Seel will travel with us as they wish to attend the festivals. Cobweb will travel by aircar since he is hosting.”

Calanthe compressed his scowl, ignoring the comment as he latched onto the first part of the news. “What festivals?”

“The annual celebrations. Surely you know about them?”

“No.”

“Every year Phaonica puts on a ball and banquet. Thiede started the tradition and it has become a festival. Preparations for it were started months ago.”

Closing his eyes, Calanthe wondered how that piece of information had slipped past him. It seemed he was always the last to know. With Phaonica full of guests and activities, he doubted he would get a chance to talk with Pellaz alone. Dismissing the disappointing news, he glanced back up at the window Cobweb stood silhouetted in, and imagined all the problems his arrival in Immanion would trigger. He was positive Pellaz would not understand.

Contemplating his choices, he wondered what the weather was like in Jaddayoth this time of year.

CHAPTER FOUR

You picked me up when I was down with nothing,
Gave me something, I can face the world with that.
You showed me just enough to fuel my fire,
My desire, So I never want to live without.

Barnes/Nowels.

They were met down at the stables by Phaonica’s guards and Chrysm, who was looking apprehensive.

Calanthe watched him as the Har pushed his flaxen hair back repeatedly, battling the cool westerly breeze. Arahal didn’t even give him a passing glance and Chrysm looked annoyed before he turned to the approaching guests, forcing a smile.

“Returning to source or just visiting?” Chrysm’s light voice addressed Seel.

“I’m surprised to see you down here Chrysm, usually you won’t venture far from the polished walls of Phaonica.” Seel gave him a mock glare. “What’s happened?”

“Just trying to broaden my mind with a bit of culture from you peasants.”

“You are trying to do something, that’s for sure!” Seel countered knowingly, looking pointedly in Arahal’s direction.

“Gods! Am I that transparent!” Chrysm threw his hands up in mock despair.

“No, just naively romantic.”

“You can talk.” Chrysm sniffed, trying to appear offended as he glanced towards Swift. “You surpass us all!”

“Yes.” Seel grinned unashamedly. “Wonderful isn’t it?”

Chrysm snorted, turning away and biting down on his bottom lip. “I suppose you’ll stay for the festivals and will want your usual rooms?”

“It would be nice.” Seel linked arms with Swift as the Megalithican ruler stood next to him.

“Heavens! Who’s that?” Chrysm frowned suddenly as he caught sight of a new face.

“Azriel. And the Har with him is Tyson.”

“Not ‘the Tyson’, as in Calanthe’s son?” His eyes widened, mouth twitching up into a delighted smile.

“The one and the same,” Swift said easily. He called the tall Har over. “Ty, this is Chrysm.”

Tyson nodded once politely, before looking around.

“This is going to be an interesting festival,” Chrysm predicted with growing enthusiasm.

“Oh, but it gets better,” Seel teased.

“Seel-” Swift started.

“Oh do tell!” Chrysm cut Swift off.

“Cobweb is coming,” Seel said with all seriousness.

“Cobweb?” Chrysm whistled through his teeth, running fingers into his fringe. “Does Pell know?”

“Are you all planning to stay out here the entire morning?” Ashmael’s easy tone was absent as he broke in.

“No,” Swift decided for them all. “Where is Cal?” He glanced around, wanting to speak with the blonde Tigron.

“Who can tell the mind of our enlightened Tigron?” Ashmael asked sarcastically. Chrysm just blinked at him while Swift raised a pointed brow.

Ashmael ignored them as he turned a slightly accusing stare on Seel. “He has more than likely gone to find Pellaz. I don’t know, you know him better than I do.”

“I think I have missed something vital here,” Chrysm announced, openly curious.

“More than you think,” Ashmael said stonily. He didn’t elaborate but looked deliberately towards Arahal and Azriel. The two Hara were organizing the equipment brought from Forever.

Chrysm’s smile faltered, his eyes narrowing.

“You have become a real bastard,” Seel accused. The strategist just shrugged unconcerned, moving away.

“Come on.” Seel gave Chrysm a small push in the direction of the Palace. “Ignore Ash. He is just peeved because Calanthe out maneuvered him where Cobweb is concerned.”

Still unsure, Chrysm led them into the lower levels of Phaonica, walking past Arahal and not giving him a backward glance as he started to question Seel.

***

Calanthe navigated the wide, plush corridors automatically, inwardly pleased to be back, though he would never openly admit that to anyone. A number of servants and important looking Hara he passed seemed surprised to see him, and his frown deepened as he ignored them all, subconsciously searching for Pellaz. He needed to talk to him now before Cobweb arrived in Immanion.

He stopped at the top of the stairs that led down into the huge ceremony room. The enormous, white marble doors were pushed open and he stared in amazement at the mayhem below. The Tigrina was standing in the middle of the magnificent, spacious room as Phaonica servants and guards ran around his gracious form obeying every instruction and command. Decorations were in the process of being hung as the tables and chairs were set up. The highly polished floors gleamed in the sunlight and the long, stately windows were opened wide. Shaking his head, Calanthe could almost picture the elegance’s Caeru was creating.

“Frightening isn’t it?”

Turning at the slightly sarcastic tone, Calanthe saw Vaysh at his side.

“Yet Caeru, for all his lack of culture, seems to possess a certain talent for turning utter chaos into spectacular madness,” Vaysh went on as he viewed the mess below with a jaundiced eye.

“It looks very promising,” Calanthe judged, well used to Vaysh’s attitude towards the Tigrina.

“And it will dazzle on the night, no doubt,” Vaysh ended in an icy half smile.

“Why wasn’t I told of the planned festivals?” Calanthe asked as he looked away from the scene below to study Vaysh’s boyish face, alert for deception.

“Probably because it is not the Tigron’s concern. We all learnt early on, that Pell has no head for organizing massive functions. In fact, he is hopeless at organizing a tea party. So control was given to the Tigrina, who as you can see, relishes the idea. Mind you, Caeru tends to be a little flamboyant at times and over creative, but at least he knows what he is doing. And Dree usually keeps an eye on him.”

That was the bottom line. “I see.” Calanthe glanced back at Caeru one final time, liking the idea of Caeru causing bedlam. It would at least keep the Hegemony off his back for a while. He tried to picture Pellaz doing that and hid his grimace. It would be disaster. “So where is Pell now?”

“Out.” Vaysh considered not saying anything more, but relented as he spied Calanthe’s predatory look. “He and Tharmifex have gone to visit the human settlements in the north of Almagabra, by the south mountains.”

“Human? What humans?” Calanthe demanded, this was the first time he had heard of it.

“Pell hasn’t told you?” Vaysh frowned. “Obviously not.” He answered his own question at Calanthe’s hostile expression. “The people of this island retreated to the mountains decades ago. Once a year, Thiede decreed that a council be held with them. They live under Gelaming rule, under Immanion’s laws, and have never caused us any trouble. Unfortunately all their women are barren, so they are dying out and have never been of much concern to us. I think Thiede originally suggested the formality to Pell to get him out of Phaonica once a year. He used to feel stifled here in the Palace. Now I think he enjoys the outing.” Vaysh shrugged as Calanthe looked away over his shoulder.

“I trust they didn’t go alone, regardless of the lack of threat.”

“Of course not. Pellaz is always fully guarded, Ashmael makes sure of that, despite Pell’s endless protests on the matter.”

“So when will they be back?” He nodded pleased.

“Two days time I imagine. Lunchtime probably. Pell never rushes back here.”

“Hmmm.” Calanthe considered the information. “Good. Vaysh, you know all those gifts the Kakkahar presented us with on their arrival?”

“Yes,” he said, bemused at the change of subject.

“Where are they now?”

“Mostly in the storage rooms. Why?”

“I want them all burned.”

“What!!” Vaysh stared up, shocked.

Calanthe gave him an unrelenting smile. “Even the ones Pell has taken. All of them burned. I want it done before he gets back here.”

“But why?” Vaysh didn’t move.

“Let’s just say, I don’t trust the bullshit their envoy fed us and I don’t want any little nasty surprises later. I would rather we didn’t house any of their so called gifts.”

“All right,” Vaysh said slowly. “But you explain it to Pell.”

“Oh I will.” He paused and smiled coldly. “Eventually.”

Vaysh shivered and turned away.

***

Next morning Calanthe found to his astonishment and growing horror, a pile of documents stacked neatly on his desk in his and Pellaz’s combined office.

“What’s this?” he demanded as soon as Vaysh graced him with his presence after breakfast.

“Official invitations and reminders mostly. Pell cleared the immediate business concerns before he left and decided to leave these for you.”

“But I thought you said Caeru was handling the festivals?” Calanthe picked up the top document and scanned its contents. It was addressed to the Lexy of Camphadal.

“The festivals, yes.” He folded himself neatly into a soft chair. “These are for the yearly meeting of the Councils of Tribes which usually falls five to six weeks after the festivals.” Vaysh gave him an innocent, sleepy grin. “That is yours and Pell’s responsibility, to warn all the tribal leaders, and issue the official invitations.”

Calanthe just stared at him in horror.

“Cal, the Tribal meeting is always held here in Phaonica, it is a Gelaming tradition.”

“Why the fuck wasn’t I told of this months ago!” he shouted disgruntled. “Or do you all like to see me fall flat on my face!”

“Oh Calanthe, it’s nothing personal. Don’t react so,” he soothed, not bothering to move from his comfortable position as he absently raked fingers through his hair. “We have all been so busy lately and Pell hasn’t been himself, it is probably only an oversight that you weren’t informed.”

Calanthe thought about it a minute and grunted, his hard, violet eyes not letting Vaysh’s gaze drop as he studied the Tigron’s assistant. First the festival, then the humans and now the meeting of Tribes. He wondered what other little surprises were in store for him that everyone had conveniently forgotten about. Vaysh was helpful, but only to a certain extent, and the other members of the Hegemony still treated him warily. And Pellaz was just plain obnoxious.

“Alright.” He dropped the document on top of the table. “You had better show me what has to be done.”

The day only got progressively worse.

***

Entering his rooms before breakfast the following morning, Calanthe suppressed his contented smile. He had chosen to spend the previous night with Caeru, and had for once, enjoyed the evening immensely. They had sat around and talked and he had learned a lot about the Hegemony from the Tigrina’s eyes. For all their Gelaming ways, they were bastards just like all the other imperfect Hara he had meet in his travels throughout the lands and he was now able to put them into clearer categories. Stretching his sleepy muscles, he found his two house Hara waiting nervously.

They silently helped him into the huge bath. Whyala automatically began to wash his hair and Calanthe had to stop the young Har.

“Lea, what’s wrong?” He held the nervous Har’s soapy fingers and the blonde cast down his eyes, looking sideways at Terral, who licked his lips in hesitation.

Frowning at them, his ease vanished as he sensed trouble. These two Hara were usually chatterboxes, and he had learned very early how to capture their complete trust and loyalty. Because of that, he now heard all the gossip around Phaonica.

“Elly?” Calanthe looked at the other Har. “Tell me what’s wrong?” he asked very gently.

“He was here last night,” Terral whispered slowly, glancing at Whyala, before meeting his Lord’s puzzled eyes.

“Who was here?” Calanthe’s nerves startled to tingle.

“HE was.” Terral emphasized the word. Whyala just nodded enthusiastically.

“Pellaz?” Calanthe half spoke the name, not believing it possible. Pell was away, not due back for hours yet and besides his beloved wouldn’t seek him out. Would he?

Both young Hara nodded madly.

“Pell was here!” His excitement was irrational, but he couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. “When? What did he say? What did he want?” he asked urgently. Maybe there was hope for him yet.

“Nothing,” Terral muttered, not wanting to destroy the hope on his Lord’s face.

“We told him you were with the Tigrina,” Whyala offered quietly.

“And he wasn’t pleased,” Terral elaborated.

“He stormed out in a swirl of silks-” Whyala babbled, unable to stop the words now they had started to tell their Lord.

“So we went and talked with Attica afterwards.”

“Yes, and he said Lord Pellaz-har-Aralis was covered in scratches and bruises, like he had fallen from a horse…”

“And he was bad tempered after leaving here,” Terral added helpfully.

“But his Lordship Ashmael took audience with him after that.”

“And Attica wouldn’t say any more.” Whyala shook his head regretfully.

“I see.” Calanthe interrupted them both, eyeing the soap he held. “I wonder what Pell wanted?” he asked softly to himself, his mind still treacherously imagining what he’d like to believe. But then he thought of Ashmael and the news he would reluctantly tell Pellaz and his fantasy dissolved. He could almost hear Ashmael’s words, as he twisted Pellaz around his finger and told him about Cobweb.

“Damn him!” Calanthe punched the water in frustration.

The two house Hara moved back a pace, as they uncertainly eyed their Lord. Calanthe rinsed off quickly and stood up, reaching for a towel, not seeing his worried little Hara, as he imagined the worst. His good mood of the morning gone, evaporating as quickly as the baths steam. It wasn’t until insistent hands tugged at his sleeve that Calanthe remembered the two servants. He stilled and tried to give them a reassuring smile.

“Ignore me,” he said in apology. “And thank you for telling me. I am grateful.” Taking a deep breath, he wondered if Pellaz would be in a receptive mood this morning.

Somehow he doubted it.

Attica stared numbly at Calanthe, reluctant to offer information as to his Lord’s whereabouts, and Cleis curiously disappeared from the room, so Cal was unable to locate Pellaz. Even the link he stubbornly clutched at was silent. He went in search of Vaysh. If anything, he would know what was on Pellaz’s mind this morning.

He found Tyson instead.

His son was in the large library on the first floor, and Calanthe couldn’t just walk away without saying something. This was his home and he shouldn’t feel so defensive when confronted with his mistakes.

“So this is your world.” Tyson opened the electric silence.

“It wasn’t always.”

“No.” The word was clipped. “You had shady beginnings like all the other incepted Hara.”

“Ty, I-”

“Don’t make excuses.” Tyson turned away and Calanthe was reminded strongly of Terzian again.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said gently.

“If you didn’t want me, why did you have me? Was it only to capture my father? Why?” The hurt in the blue eyes was undisguised.

Calanthe turned away and released a heavy breath. “Things were so complicated then,” he said very softly. “And I loved you enough to give you to Cobweb so that you would have a good home.”

“And is that supposed to be an answer!”

“Ty, you don’t understand the circumstances.”

“I don’t know the circumstances. I don’t even know you,” he accused.

Calanthe winced, but met the blue eyes. “I was running from the past, from the future. I had ghosts on my tail, and I was following fate. I couldn’t stay in Forever no matter how much I wanted to. I had to go and I couldn’t take you with me. Cobweb wanted you, he made an excellent Hostling for you.”

“And that is supposed to make me feel better!” Tyson demanded.

“No.” Calanthe shook his head, remembering that time too well. It was both bitter and sweet.

“What of my father, did you ever love him?”

“Terzian? Yes, I loved the strength in him.” He sighed and looked down. “And he adored you.”

Tyson swung abruptly away, walking to the door and stopping on its threshold. “I needed to know you when I was growing up. No-one would talk about you. And when you never came back, it hurt. Hurt so much.”

Calanthe watched his back, not knowing how to help. He was left torn as Tyson waked away.

***

The next twenty-four hours was very hectic and he found himself tied up with paperwork most of the time. All of Phaonica was in an uproar as the festivals had started and official visitors were already moving in for the next two days. He didn’t get a chance to see Pellaz, let alone talk to him, nor did he get a chance to talk with Tyson again. Of Seel and Swift he saw very little, and avoided Cobweb when he arrived the morning of the festive ball.

The whole city was alive with excitement and the actual ceremony room on the ground floor looked so magnificent that you could smell the grandeur of the place. It was an infectious atmosphere.

Feeling very mellow after lunch, Calanthe headed for his own rooms, detouring slightly to see if Pellaz was around anywhere. His co-partner had been curiously absent since his return and he wanted to clear the air between them before the festivals. He was also getting a little impatient with Pell’s stubborn behavior. Pushing the door open to Pellaz’s rooms, he saw a wide eyed Cleis stop hesitantly.

“Where’s Pellaz?” He tried for an authoritative tone, slowly getting the hang of how to get what he wanted. The house Har paled and glanced nervously at the closed door at the far end of the reception room. It was all Calanthe needed to know. He dismissed the young Har and marched to the closed door, pushing it open. Pellaz was sitting on a long sun bench with his back to the door, talking with Seel, and the two were laughing. Seel stopped mid-sentence and Pellaz turned around, annoyed at the intrusion.

Calanthe’s gut tightened, as Cobweb’s words fluttered through his mind. Guard him well…or you will loose something precious.

“Calanthe?” Pellaz gave his blonde soul mate a tentative smile as he slowly stood.

“So this is where you have been hiding.” Calanthe walked in, nodding briefly at Seel, before capturing the large, dark eyes. “I’ve been looking for you for the last two days.” It was a half truth.

Seel’s assessing gaze traveled between the two of them, before he put his glass down and stood up. “I think I’ll go and check on Swift,” he announced over loudly.

“Good idea.” Calanthe didn’t take his eyes off Pellaz.

“See you both later.” He stopped inside the door and touched Calanthe’s shoulder gently. “Just remember what you said in Forever,” he whispered softly, his words for Calanthe only.

Calanthe didn’t acknowledge him, but waited for the door to close behind Seel. “So, tell me how was the council meeting with the humans?” It wasn’t what he wanted to say, but it was a start.

“Routine.” Pellaz shrugged and relaxed a little as he walked away to sit on the window’s ledge. “How was Forever?” His eyes were suddenly direct and Calanthe didn’t even consider evading the question.

“Informative.” He turned a chair around and straddled it to face Pellaz. “No doubt everyone has already told you the edited highlights.”

“Why?” Pellaz demanded instantly, then held up a hand and shook his head. “No, don’t answer that, it is none of my business.”

“Pell, it’s not how it seems.”

“Spare me please.” Pellaz’s words hit Calanthe like a heavy blow. “It’s your life, your own to do with as you please. I just hope you realize that neither Tyson, or this child will be recognized by the Hegemony Council.”

Calanthe’s jaw locked at that. It had never been his intention to let either be subjected to the Gelaming hypocrisy. Besides, Cobweb had his own ideas.

“Only Harling you produce by the Tigrina qualify. Thiede made that ruling very clear a long time ago,” Pellaz ended clinically, showing that he wanted no part in the affairs.

“Or Harling I have with you,” Calanthe cut back, watching Pellaz closely and not missing the sudden flush to the high cheeks.

“No.” Pellaz shook his head, not meeting the penetrating, violet eyes.

“Pell-”

“No!” he said stronger.

“Listen!” Calanthe hissed, not wanting to argue. “We can-”

“Just forget it Calanthe!” Pellaz cut him off a second time. “That part of our lives is over. Why resurrect it as we will only hurt each other again. We are Tigron now, I never asked for it, and I don’t think you did either. And Cal, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life arguing with you, so let’s just leave all the memories behind.” He didn’t meet Calanthe’s eyes once through his little speech as he stood and walked over to the open windows. The room was suddenly stiflingly hot and he fought for breath.

“If you believe or even accept that bullshit for one moment then you are more of an idiot than I imagined.” Calanthe swung around to glare at the straight back.

“Cal, please!” Pellaz stressed, not turning as his hands painfully tightened on the window frame .

“No!” Calanthe shot back forcefully, getting up and walking over to where Pellaz stood. He gripped the narrow shoulder, forcing him to turn. “We can’t ignore what’s between us. We are bonded for Gods sake! I know it and so do you!” he reminded him pointedly. His hands slid down the cool material of Pellaz’s shirt, and he moved closer. “Don’t you feel it?”

Pellaz closed his eyes, cutting the compelling, violet eyes out. “And what is there to feel?” he whispered. “What is there left to feel between us?”

“Fuck-”

“Nothing that’s what!” Pellaz spat the word at him, trying to pull away. “Nothing!”

“Everything!” Calanthe tightened his hold, refusing to release him.

“If I am so important to you then why are you parading…” He cut himself off abruptly, even as the words were half out. He took a calming breath, roughly pushing Calanthe away, reminding himself that he was Gelaming. He shouldn’t react like this. He was Gelaming… Yet Calanthe so easily resurrected all the forbidden feelings in him.

Calanthe frowned, not blind to the abrupt change in Pellaz. “Pell, I still lo-”

“Don’t!” Pellaz swung around and cut him off. Denying the words, as his hands flew to Calanthe’s mouth physically stopping the damning knowledge. He was not ready for it… not capable of handling the emotions involved. “Don’t!” he repeated softer. “We are Tigron. That is all. Accept it!” Then he was gone from the room like a slippery sliver of silk and Calanthe closed his eyes, leaning against the wall as he wondered what else could possibly go wrong for them.

***

After sundown that evening all the Hara in Phaonica started to gather in the huge ceremonies hall. Vast tables of food were spread out along the walls and a band played across from the shinning dance floor. Seating was dotted around the room in forms of velvet padded low couches, furs and cushions. Only three slightly raised, large, stone chairs stood at the far end of the hall, and Calanthe eyed them with contempt.

He was dressed in fine, soft, white silks, an outfit his two house Hara had picked. And he had to admit the feel of the material was wonderful against his bare skin. But he had refused the make-up laid out, preferring to leave his face untouched with heavy powder as it brought back too many old memories.

Terral styled his hair and he knew he looked good as he entered the festival’s hall. Eyes followed him around the room, and he straightened his shoulders further, looking for familiar faces. He pinned on a charming, seductive smile and headed for the food table.

Pellaz was late, fashionably so, making his entrance well after dark and seeing the place already packed with mingling Hara. The chandelier’s light cast a fairytale glow over the entire room. Caeru always produced impressive festivals and he hoped he would enjoy this one more than he had done the last twenty-four he’d attended. This time Thiede was gone, and Calanthe returned to him. It was a bitter sweet pill and he was having difficulty living with his heart’s dream.

So much was wrong between them still, and he was at a loss to try and fix the situation. Their discussion earlier, had only confirmed how unpredictable Calanthe was, a fact he should have remembered. It had been a quality he had lov… He blocked the thought savagely even as his eyes sought his tormenting soul mate and found Calanthe’s long limbed, sensual grace down by the dance floor. He was talking with Cobweb. A very obviously radiant Cobweb, a hosting Cobweb, and Pellaz’s fists clenched at his sides as resentment flared through him and he unsuccessfully battled with his Gelaming conditioning.

Calanthe drank in the magnificent creature before him. Cobweb radiated energy and beauty, and he reached out to touch a satin covered shoulder without thinking. He massaged the warm skin gently.

“You look…” he trailed off, shaking his head.

“Of course I do!” Cobweb raised his chin higher, the long, black hair reaching his waist.

“Where is Ash?” He tore his eyes away and looked around.

“Getting me a drink I hope.”

“Do you remember a festival we had years ago when I dragged your reluctant body around the living room floor in a mock dance?”

“Yes.” Cobweb raised inquisitive eyes.

“Well, would you object to a second attempt around this floor here?”

Cobweb considered the idea and looked up over Calanthe’s shoulder at the floor in question. His gaze fell on Caeru, the Immanion Tigrina, and his expression hardened. He looked back at Calanthe and let his mouth twitch into a smile. “My pleasure.”

They danced slowly and Calanthe kept his gaze on the face close to his, and asked a question he knew he shouldn’t. “Are you alright?”

Cobweb just glanced at him, his thoughts masked.

“I mean, do you have any discomfort?” Calanthe tried again.

“Calanthe, this Harling is mine. Not yours or anyone else’s. Do not concern yourself with it, as I do not want you in his life.”

Calanthe looked down, biting his lip and nodding. He should have known better than to ask, yet he was curious. A morbid curiosity? he wondered. Yet, he didn’t want the responsibility of Cobweb’s hosting, he admitted honestly to himself.

They danced in silence after that, returning Cobweb to a waiting Ashmael who cast him an annoyed scowl. Cobweb leaned against the taller Har and Ashmael’s expression lightened. Excusing himself, he turned and was stopped by a dignitary from Kalamah, who tried to engage him in conversation.

Politely listening to the Har, Calanthe let his eyes glance around, finding Pellaz as if drawn. Pellaz was standing near the top of the entrance stairs, talking to someone Cal didn’t recognize and he drank in the sight of him. His beloved’s long hair was loosely bound with mauve feathers and pearls, and it shone in the soft lighting. Pell was dressed in deep purple, reminding him of the crocus he had once given Pellaz on his young lover’s inception night, and his insides churned. The memory of it quickened his pulse and he licked his lips, lost in the memories of Pellaz, seeing and feeling the hot bedroom and the lumpy mattress.

“My Lord?” The official shook him slightly, and Calanthe snapped back to the present.

“Sorry, what were you saying?” He tried to get his breath back.

“I was just curious about the Gelaming’s views on extending the Jaddayoth borders further.”

Calanthe blinked at him, trying desperately to get his thoughts back in some order.

Pellaz was frowning into his drink as he made his way along the outskirts of the hall. He was trying to reach the dais where he could sit undisturbed by everyone and could politely decline invitations to mingle. He most definitely wasn’t in the mood for company. His brooding thoughts were broken as he bumped into a stationary Har.

“I’m sorry.”

The voice was gentle and Pellaz blinked up at the Har, just managing to close his mouth in time.

“Tigron Pellaz.”

The words were a caress to his ears and he shivered, even as he ignored the disrespectful lack of address. He pulled himself together forcefully, as he recognized the Har as Calanthe’s son, Terzian’s brat.

“Tyson, isn’t it?” He tried to sound disinterested. The clear, blue eyes gave him a calculating look, their shrewdness piercing into him and he just stopped himself from taking a step backwards.

“You dislike me, don’t you?” The tone was direct, yet not accusing.

“I don’t know you,” Pellaz corrected immediately.

“Exactly. So don’t judge me by my Hostling’s behavior.”

Pellaz sought for something to say, finding his mind blank. The fact that Tyson looked uncannily like Cal had nothing to do with the event he was trembling or with his uncharacteristic faltering. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry if I gave that impression. Excuse me.” He sidestepped the taller Har.

“Wait!” Tyson reached out, daring to touch a velveteen covered shoulder, halting the intriguing Har. “You know you are exquisite. I don’t think I have seen anyone as breathtakingly beautiful as you.”

Pellaz froze. No-one talked to him like that, he was Tigron! It was unspeakable, yet when he opened his mouth to deliver a cutting remark, he hesitated. He turned slightly and found the familiar face smiling down at him. “Excuse me please,” he hastily said instead, moving away quickly this time and not daring to look back.

Calanthe watched Pellaz’s progress through the crowd and his lips compressed into a hard, cynical smile. He had not missed the practiced ease with which Tyson had intercepted Pellaz, nor was he blind to his beloved’s initial panic and hesitation. Pellaz had almost run from his son and he was determined to find out why. What could Tyson have possibly said to unsettle Pellaz? Finding the dark head again, Calanthe knew he was heading for the dais and he pushed through the dancers, blocking Pell’s headlong charge to safety.

“Cal!” Pellaz almost jumped out of his skin as he ran into the last person he wanted to see at that moment.

“Why so jumpy, my love?” Calanthe raised a brow at him.

Pellaz ignored the mocking words as he quickly regained his composure. “Excuse me.”

“Oh no.” Calanthe caught his arm and smirked as Pellaz tensed predictably. “I want to dance.”

“Then go find Cobweb or Caeru!” Pellaz snapped. “Or anybody else you fancy, just let go of me!”

Calanthe restrained his laugh as he heard the temper behind the whispered words. Pellaz would not cause a scene, he was too well trained by the Hegemony for that, and he just let his grin widen. “I fancy you my dear,” he whispered back persuasively.

Pellaz flushed and banked down on his instant anger. “Cal, don’t. Not here-”

“Not here what?” He asked mischievously. “Argue? Hell no. I want to dance. Besides it is expected of us.” He dragged his reluctant partner into his arms and held him as they entered into the throng of dancers. A space was made for them and he smiled at the Hara around them as Pellaz swore under his breath.

Pellaz was rigid in his arms, fighting him and not even trying to relax and he lent forward, brush touching Pellaz’s forehead with his lips. “Relax,” he whispered into a partially covered ear and consciously breathed in the addictive, silky scent of Pellaz.

“Stop it!” Pellaz snapped under his breath, as he tried to push away a little from the enveloping closeness.

“Why?” Calanthe rubbed his nose against the soft, warm hair, half kissing the hair covered forehead in the process.

“Cal!”

Pellaz struggled a little and Calanthe felt the traces of panic start in the smaller body he held. The firm muscles were bunched under his hands and he automatically tried to sooth the agitation. “Relax.” He kissed the side of Pellaz’s head again, feeling a fine tremor begin in the tense frame. His hands drifted down the slender back to the shapely backside, caressing very gently.

“Let go!” Pellaz pushed them apart, needing air, needing to get away before he gave in to the tempting caress. He put some more distance between them, not looking up to meet Calanthe’s knowing eyes.

“Why?” Calanthe didn’t let him go completely.

“Because this is stupid!” Pellaz glared up through his fringe, challenging.

Calanthe found the dark eyes and held them. They were magnificently outlined with kohl, and he couldn’t have released Pellaz if he tried. He searched the flushed face, no longer seeing only anger, but a fear that echoed in his own soul. “Pell, I-” he stopped himself suddenly from completing the sentence as he felt Pellaz sag and start to reach out, attuning to him unconsciously. A rush of excitement burned through his nerves and he wanted to shout his relief, his acceptance, yet he couldn’t, not here on the crowded dance floor.

They were ready, finally. He acknowledged the fact with a sigh of relief and felt Pellaz mirror his movements. Pellaz was open and responsive, and they could now speak the words that would tie them irrefutably. He had somehow broken the last defense and his fingers tightened on the slim arms he held.

Opening his mouth, he hesitated. They were still on the dance floor, surrounded by three hundred other Hara, and he wanted privacy for what he was about to do to Pellaz’s fine senses. He didn’t want Pellaz to walk away in embarrassment the minute he opened the link wide between them, so he closed his mouth and looked around. Sounds were muted as he refocused on his reluctant lover. “You are right.” It was difficult to talk normally. “We shouldn’t do this, not here.” He released him, his fingers tingling from the contact as he forced himself to step back. Pellaz swayed towards him, staring numbly.

“Pell,” he whispered the word, reaching out to caress a cheek. “Not here. Anywhere, but not here.” He took another step back. “We have to talk tonight, now. By the glass doors. Please.” He moved away, turning, his mind crowded with images, as he pushed through the Hara. He needed air and just prayed Pellaz followed quickly. It was the hardest thing he had ever done, walking away like that, and he wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to hang tradition and just drag Pellaz out with him.

Pellaz stared after Calanthe’s back, his nerves and mind so strung out that he couldn’t believe his soul mate was just walking away from him. He had felt the bond vibrate between them so clearly, that Calanthe’s rejection stabbed into his heart. His chest ached, his mind turning numb as he just stood there slowly returning to life and trying to control his trembling muscles. Never more so, had he wanted to scream and cry.

He had wanted to reach out to Calanthe desperately, yet something had held him back and he could do nothing but raise a hand and touch his forehead. His fingers shook as they felt where Calanthe had kissed him, a blinding sweetness in the mists of his pain, and he wondered if it all hadn’t been just a dream.

Closing down on the raw channels that joined them as soul mates, he crumpled inside, accepting the fact that he would be alone forever. Thiede had warned him.

“You look half asleep on your feet.”

The gentle voice had him turning instantly, hoping, praying it was Calanthe returned. He gripped the hand that touched him, both frightened by the knowledge that his lover would mentally strip him and complete him in a single breath.

“Well my gorgeous Tigron, will you give me the pleasure of a dance?”

“No!” Pellaz got the word out just as he realized his mistake, searching around for Calanthe. But he was gone. He hardened his heart, stepping back.

“Why not?” Tyson followed him, embracing him expertly, and drawing him closer. He has seen his Hostling walk away, and decided to try his own hand with the flighty Har.

“No,” Pellaz just repeated, finally finding Calanthe as he stood off the dance floor by the pillars. He looked angry and Pellaz closed his eyes, cutting him out and turning blindly into the arms that held him.

Calanthe couldn’t believe his eyes as Tyson appeared. Pellaz had stood in the middle of the dance floor stunned and he had started to go back for him when his son had swooped down like a vulture. He had believed Pellaz would turn him down, but his beloved had accepted the offer and now danced with the wrong Har.

Angry and frustrated beyond belief, he marched to the dais infuriated, biding his time as he watched them on the polished floor. Pellaz could no longer deny the link as he had opened the line between them. Reminding himself of that gave him little comfort as Caeru pounced on him.

“I have been watching you.” Caeru gave a gracious smile. “It is a dangerous game you play with Pellaz. He has never taken rejection well.”

“I didn’t reject him.”

“No?” Caeru raised a hand theatrically and tilted his magnificently styled head of hair. His face was flawless and Calanthe gave him a cool smile. “Whatever,” he dismissed the subject, sighing. “What I would really like to know is what possessed you to invite that creature!” He sent a long fingered nail in the direction of Cobweb and Ashmael. “He is positively vile!”

“Get your claws in Tigrina, or I’ll have you clipped,” Calanthe growled as he looked at Cobweb briefly.

“You shouldn’t have invited him. Pell wouldn’t have.”

“I didn’t invite him, Ashmael did,” he corrected absently as he turned his attention back to Pellaz and Tyson. His son seemed to be enjoying himself far too much.

“What!!!” Caeru was outraged, the fire in his eyes making him even more attractive in the black lace and satin.

“You heard me.”

“But that is not allowed!” he insisted. “Only the Tigron or Tigrina are allowed to invite Hara for this festival!”

“Oh shut up,” Calanthe said tiredly. “He’s not going to knock you off your little throne, so just ignore him if his presence annoys you so much.”

Caeru sniffed, offended.

“I need a drink.” Calanthe didn’t feel up to the verbal slinging match, knowing the Tigrina would only moan and harp on about Cobweb if he stayed. Besides, Pellaz and Tyson had left the dance floor and he wanted to find them.

Cal pushed through the crowd, stopping only when forced to as he searched the smoke hazed atmosphere for the familiar head. Pellaz was smaller than the normal Gelaming, so should not be difficult to find in a room this size and filled with mostly blondes and brunettes. He picked up a glass of wine from a passing tray and continued his aimless wanderings. He wasn’t looking for conversation, or tantalizing offers, and only returned vague smiles. He spotted Vaysh leaning up against a pillar looking particularly lovely in soft greens, and had to grin as his expression spoke of boredom. He was presently trying to deter an overly friendly admirer so Calanthe avoided him, not needing a dose of his icy humor. At the end of the food tables he caught sight of Swift and Seel, their heads close together, talking. Approaching them for some light company, he was just about to step forward when he saw Tyson coming. Calanthe stepped back not ready to face his son yet and chastised himself for his cowardice. He didn’t need to hide in shadows any longer, no-one was chasing him, only his conscience.

Stepping forward again on silent feet, he banished his feelings and moved up behind the three Hara. They were talking and he stood there a moment to listen. “…smells wonderful,” Tyson finished with a small laugh. “Just like freshly washed silks. You know spun gold and-”

“Yeah we get the picture,” Swift said amused as he eyed his half brother.

“You’re playing with fire Ty,” Seel warned, his voice colder.

“What harm can it do?” Tyson exclaimed. “He’s beautiful! I wonder what he tastes like?”

“Don’t even think about it!” Seel shook his head. “You do not have any idea of what you will be getting yourself into.”

“Don’t I just wish.” Tyson laughed.

“Ty, Seel’s right. Leave it.” Swift lay a hand on his shoulder.

“Swift.” He drew the name out.

“Ty, Pellaz is Tigron,” Seel said exasperated, knowing how the young pure born could be stubborn if he got an idea he thought worthy of his attention.

“I know that!” Tyson protested.

“He is not for you,” Seel persisted.

“That’s his decision don’t you think.”

“No. Seel is right in this Ty. Choose someone else, you have a couple of hundred Hara here. Pellaz is not in your league.” Swift gave him an apologetic smile. “Besides he belongs to Calanthe.”

“It all comes down to that, doesn’t it!” Tyson sounded disgusted. “It’s not because I’m not good enough for him, but because I’m not to step on my precious Hostling’s toes!!”

“Ty!” Swift called him back, but it was too late. He turned to Seel. “I don’t know what we are-”

Calanthe backed away, his annoyance resurfacing and he ran into sure, caressing hands that traveled over his backside suggestively.

“Caeru!” He turned, facing his Tigrina.

“Eavesdropping Cal? That’s not nice, as you never hear anything good.” He moved closer and licked his lips. “Come dance with me.”

“Later.”

“Cal don’t be so boring.” He pouted. “Besides I need a partner.”

Watching the mischievous face, he relented. “Alright, but only one dance, then you can pick someone else.”

Caeru wrapped arms around his neck as they reached the dance floor and again a space was cleared for them. Caeru was a very well practiced dancer and Cal found the steps both exhilarating and seductive.

“What’s all this exhibition in aid of?” Calanthe asked pointedly as the music died down.

“Oh nothing.” Caeru was evasive.

“Don’t give me that bullshit Rue, as I know a deliberate performance when I see one.”

“Oh all right, you’ve twisted my arm.” He pouted again. “I was getting sick and tired of watching that little peacock prance around!”

Calanthe laughed.

“Not to mention the perfect Gelaming strategist! He is just as bad, that you could be forgiven for thinking he was the Queen of Sheba!” Caeru sounded peeved.

Calanthe just kissed him lightly on the lips, still laughing. Moving back again, the crowd parted briefly and he got a clear view of Pellaz sitting on a padded couch glaring at him. He started to mouth something to him but the gap closed again. Contorting his neck, he saw Tyson lean in behind Pellaz.

“Will I see you tonight?”

“Sorry Rue, what was that?” Calanthe was already moving toward the seats.

“Will I see you tonight?” he repeated.

“No.” Calanthe shook his head, releasing Caeru’s hand. “I plan to be with Pell tonight.”

“And pigs will fly,” Caeru muttered under his breath, glaring after the Tigron’s back.

Calanthe didn’t get very far as he was intercepted by Tharmifex who wanted to introduce him to the representative of Emunda. He stitched on a smile and tried to sound polite.

***

Pellaz leaned back in his chair, ignoring all the openly admiring stares he was getting as he waited for another break in the crowd. He had finally worked out what Calanthe had done to him and how stupidly he had played into the other Har’s hands and he was pissed off. Glaring at Calanthe through the dancing Hara was amusing and the only entertainment he’d had all evening. Vaysh was sitting next to him now, but his friend and adviser was arguing politics with an official from Maudrah.

His vision blurred suddenly and he refocused on a long stemmed glass full of sparkling wine. Accepting it, the hand of the owner moved into view and Pellaz was no longer surprised to see Tyson’s smiling face. He had the same easy lopsided grin Calanthe graced the world with and it unnerved him.

“You looked,” Tyson paused for emphasis, “lonely.”

“Did I?” Pellaz raised a brow at that, but sipped the wine.

Tyson’s smile didn’t falter. “I was thinking of retiring-”

“How nice.” Pell cut him off.

“I want you to come with me,” he ended, undeterred.

Pellaz looked at him with amusement. “I am Tigron, not one of your casual fancies,” he reminded him pointedly.

“I know that, and don’t hold it against you as I still want to have aruna with you.”

“No,” Pellaz stated, covering his amazement at the pure born’s frankness. He was too much like Calanthe.

“Why?” Tyson asked gently as he reached over and smoothed back some of Pellaz’s long hair. “You are a Har, just like the rest of us, and simple, lustful pleasure is not forbidden to you.”

“I know that!” Pellaz tried to sound offended.

“Then why?” Tyson pushed. “You’re not scared of me, are you?”

“Of course not.” He gave a harsh laugh. “Why should I be?”

“Then there is no reason why you can’t come with me. I know you want to.” Tyson settled a hand on Pellaz’s slender thigh and squeezed.

Pellaz pursed his lips and studied Tyson a moment longer, thinking about Calanthe. He remembered Cobweb and Caeru and doubted the much sought after Calanthe would even pay him a passing thought, let alone actually miss him. Deciding quickly, before he could change his mind, he nodded. “Alright,” he said slowly.

“Good!” Tyson smiled that lopsided grin again. “I promise this will be a night you won’t forget.” Taking Pellaz’s hands in his own, Tyson led them back towards the main doors.

Pellaz just shook his head, wondering if this was truly a wise decision.

***

Pushing through the standing Hara, Calanthe stopped as he saw Vaysh sitting alone on the padded couch. The seat Pellaz had occupied was vacant and all that remained was two glasses of unfinished wine and a single mauve feather. Falling onto the couch himself, he picked up the feather and considered his options moodily.

***

Pellaz looked around the darkened wide hallway frowning as Phaonica seemed awfully quiet and empty with everyone attending the festivals. Having now left there himself, he was starting to have second thoughts about spending an hour or two in the young pure born’s company. There was no doubt, Tyson resembled his parent in more ways than just looks and Pellaz felt nervy and tense at getting too involved with the young Har. It had been years since such indecision had plagued him.

“Tyson,” he slowed his pace and stopped, looking around. He felt like a thief in his own home.

“What?” The taller Har was instantly back at his side.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. Look I’m sorry, but I’m returning to the festivals,” he decided.

“Nonsense.” The voice was light as Tyson moved in closer and reached for his shoulder.

“Don’t!” Pellaz tried to feel annoyed but couldn’t and he started to grin at the young Har’s comical expression.

“You should smile more often,” he said. “Look I saw this room today that smelt magical. I’ll take us there.”

“There is no magic in Phaonica, and I should know I live here!” Pellaz objected, still refusing to move, but feeling less caged. He was in control…would always be in control. So why then did he feel so anchorless?

“Oh yes there is, and it is standing in front of me.” Tyson leaned in and pressed the smaller Har up against the cold stone wall. “Sharing breath is a strong magic in itself, will you deny me the taste of it?”

Pellaz’s eyes were only focused on the seductive mouth, and he licked his own dry lips, shaking his head slightly.

Reaching forward, Tyson captured the soft lips, sinking into the pleasure, pushing past the flimsy barriers Pellaz tried to construct as he tasted the sweetness of gold. Pellaz’s mouth eventually opened further to him. Images of silky, white feathered wings touching the sun filled his mind and he crushed the willing body in his arms harder.

Pellaz clutched at Tyson’s back, his fingers biting into the flesh and long muscles as he sought to prolong the kiss. Very few Hara had ever filled his senses with such a strong visualization and the intimate brightness of Tyson’s being dazzled and drew him. A pure blood, a forbidden fruit.

Breaking apart, they stared at each other in amazement, filling their starved lungs with oxygen. Tyson’s long fingered hands cupped the pale face of the Tigron and lightly mingled their breaths a second time.

“I want you.” His breath was urgent.

Pellaz closed his eyes and felt the answering response deep inside his own body. Already his skin was alive, sensitive, receptive, and his mind blank of objections. “My rooms are this way.”

“No!” Tyson grabbed him from behind. “Not there,” he whispered into the thick hair at Pellaz’s neck. He bit an ear through the long, dark lengths and smiled as Pellaz shivered in his embrace. “I know a place, come with me.” Keeping an arm around the warm, narrow waist, he led them down the deserted corridor.

***

Calanthe prowled around the large hall disgruntled. He was now certain that neither Pellaz or Tyson were still at the festivals. He was hesitant in reaching out for Pellaz mentally via their tentative mind bond, half afraid of what he might feel through the fragile link. He wasn’t stupid and knew Tyson wasn’t either and had read his Harling’s intentions easily. He shouldn’t have been surprised, from remembered experience everyone wanted Pellaz for some reason. He wanted Pellaz himself, but he wanted to bind him with unbreakable bonds. And he’d had his chance on the dance floor, his mistake was in walking away. Fuck them all! He should have dragged Pellaz with him into the shadows, regardless of the scene it would have caused. If only…if only, then Pell would be in his bed and not his son’s.

No longer caring for the festival, he existed the room drawing astute and nervous glances as he went to Tyson’s room. He would break them apart if necessary and force Pellaz to talk with him, even if it took all night. If they weren’t in Tyson’s room, then he would go to Pellaz’s. Either way, he wanted an end to the cat and mouse game they were playing with each other. This torture.

They were Tigron and they needed to be strong.

***

Pellaz looked around the room Tyson led him to. It was the royal storage area for gifts presented to the Tigron, on the second level of Phaonica, and Tyson was right, no-one would disturb them here. No-one ever came here, except the house Hara or kitchen staff, occasionally.

“By the Aghama Pellaz, but some of these items are horrible!” Tyson exclaimed as he peered into a partially opened trunk.

“Why do you think they are in here?” Pellaz asked with heavy meaning.

Tyson pulled another of those comical faces as he leaned around a vile looking statue and touched Pellaz’s mouth with his own. “Over here,” he whispered, leading his half dazed companion to a bed of furs and silks, falling back onto them and pulling Pellaz down with him.

Untangling himself slightly from the hot limbs, Pellaz tried to kill his amusement, trying to think of all the Gelaming reasons as to why this shouldn’t happen. All Thiede’s insistent rules and regulations filled his head. But he felt like a newly incepted Har…wild and nervous.

“This is lovely but has to come off.”

Tyson’s words brought him back to the present and Pellaz found Tyson undressing them both. Taking a deep breath, he mentally accepted what was going to happen and relaxed a little. Besides Tyson was right, he rationalized, it was only natural to share aruna, only natural and normal.

“What are you thinking?” Tyson licked a white shoulder gently as he slid the purple shirt off his partner.

“Very little,” Pellaz lied, then to cover his words, he reached forward and pushed Tyson backwards, holding him down by the shoulders as he initiated a deeper sharing. He delved into the warm embrace of Tyson’s mouth, visualizing a high wall bathed in moonlight, towering and strong, and he let himself sink into the seductive promise.

“Aghama!” Tyson breathed heavily, clutching Pellaz’s arms as he turned them over. “You’re intoxicating. So…” his voice trailed off as he buried his face in Pellaz’s warm, hair covered neck, pushing the clinging silks further down the lean body. Pellaz moaned as the hot mouth lit a trail of pure desire through him and his hands raised to tangle in the blonde’s short cropped hair.

Tyson’s hands were insistent as he stripped them both and Pellaz let him, studying the elegant body before him with its golden jade colors pulsating and moving to center on the proud ouana-lim.

“Be soume for me,” Tyson whispered seductively, his fingers trailing across Pellaz’s smooth abdomen as he moved up, covering the hot body with his own and sharing breath, coaxing a willing response.

Wanting to banish all Thiede’s strong, dogmatic words, Pellaz abandoned his fear, giving in and relaxing further. He let his mind sink into the splendor Tyson was weaving around them, enjoying the desire and the touch, waiting for the pressure and gasping out as all that strength seared into him. It was erotic, filling his head with dream images, and he saw Tyson’s mind, playing through his memories and finding Calanthe pictured there. Calanthe? Calanthe!

The game suddenly became reality and Pell reached out towards Cal, clutching at the flimsy images as he traveled back to a time of peace, greenery and visions of halloed beauty. A time when they had traveled together unconcerned about appearances. He saw the violet eyes shine at him softly and he cried out, needing to grasp the image, wanting Calanthe with all his soul as the deep inner nerves inside him echoed his need and embraced the pleasure of Tyson’s ouana-lim. He shuddered, twisting closer, entwining their limbs harder as the images of Calanthe faded, disintegrating into a redness of blood and he opened further.

He had to help his lover find him, just had to help him. The secret doors inside him whispering, silently sliding apart under his turmoil and he screamed Calanthe’s name. Feverish and desperate for his torment to end, Pellaz called his lover’s name again, igniting into flames as insidious pleasure heralded the snake like movements inside of him and sent him spiraling into release.

***

Caeru glided up to Ashmael with perfect grace, interrupting his conversation deliberately. “I need to have a word with you.” He paused and let his eyes briefly touch the immaculate face of Cobweb. “Alone,” he ended icily.

“Excuse me.” Ashmael smiled briefly at the Hara he was talking with and took the Tigrina’s arm, leading him away. “Can’t it wait! Till after the festival perhaps?” he suggested tartly, just managing to keep his annoyance hidden.

“No it can’t!” Caeru snapped, pulling free of the grip. “I realize your attention is on unrelated matters,” he emphasized the word, casting a cold look at the mystic creature approaching. “But a small problem has just arisen.”

“And what small problem could that be?” Ashmael scowled, looking at Cobweb briefly.

“The Tigrons.” Caeru gave him a cold glare. “It is a good thing one of us is concerned, wouldn’t you say?”

Ashmael’s face lost some of its contempt, as he glanced around quickly, imagining a scene like last time.

“Pellaz left with Tyson and well Calanthe is-” Caeru shrugged and threw up his hands. “He is not pleased, to put it mildly.”

“I warned Calanthe something like this would happen,” Cobweb told Ashmael, not even bothering to consider the Tigrina.

“Well I’d better find them. Thank you Tigrina.” Ashmael gave him a mock bow and walked away with Cobweb.

Caeru just stood there infuriated, as he glared after the two. No-one treated him like that and got away with it. Swiping a glass from the drinks tray, he glided around the room working his anger out.

***

“Gods! Where do we start?” Ashmael spoke mostly to himself and was reminded of Cobweb’s presence as the Har brushed his lips gently with cool fingertips.

“I do not think you need worry. Calanthe knows what has to be done now and he will not make the same mistake twice.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Cobweb smiled. “Come on enjoy the festival. It is for lovers you know.”

***

Tyson stared down into Pellaz’s sleepy face and gently rubbed his thumb over a high cheekbone. Their lower limbs were still entwined and he felt pleasantly exhausted. The tingling in his nerves only re-enforcing the deep satisfaction of aruna.

Only it had progressed further than he could ever have hoped to imagine. For Pellaz had reached out to him, screaming Calanthe’s name and all his inner muscle’s resistance had melted away and he had been shown a little more of the true Pellaz. It had dazzled him and he had climaxed uncontrollably, searing deeply into the welcoming body. Creating life.

Now as he looked into the face of his relaxed lover, he wondered if Pellaz had any idea of what had happened between them. He wasn’t even sure himself. He lightly traced his fingers over the slightly parted lips and felt the supple body beneath his stretch contentedly. If he was right, it would change everything and he was both delighted and terrified, both loathing and desiring the idea of becoming a father.

Lightly kissing the partly open mouth, he snuggled into the warm body, searching for sleep. He would think about it in the morning. Would talk to Pellaz then. After all, he could be mistaken.

Only time would tell.

CHAPTER FIVE

A finger points to show a scene,
Another’s face where mine should be,
And as footsteps haunt an empty hall,
The dead of night echoes my lonely call.

Ultravox

Calanthe awoke from a dreamless slumber with a jolt and sat up abruptly to glance around. No sound could be heard from any of the other connecting rooms and he frowned at the time. He was lying crossways on Pellaz’s large double bed, and with a single look it was obvious Pellaz had not returned last night. With anger rising anew, he reached out to mentally trace the fragile bond they shared and could only feel a distant echo. No doubt Pell and Tyson had spent the night energetically and had only fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning. He could picture the scene all too easily as both he and Pellaz had done the same on many occasions in Saltrock.

The thought didn’t improve his temper or mood and he dragged himself off the soft bed. His clothing felt sticky from being slept in and the wide, elaborate belt was cutting into his ribs. Running fingers through his hair, he walked over to the low dressing table and long wall mirror.

Regarding his reflection seriously, he straightened his clothing. Even rumpled, he looked good and he tiredly wondered what else he had to do to capture Pellaz’s attention and hold it. It had never been this difficult to seduce a Har before, but then Pell was no ordinary Har, and wasn’t too bright in the subtle arts of seduction. He had always fallen prey to the obvious, blatant displays of desire, and Cal had often despaired of him in the past. It should be him with Pell, not Tyson. Fuck!

Sighing heavily, he idly picked up a piece of fruit from the cane basket on the dresser. About to bite into it, he noticed the powdery, white dust littering the bottom of the basket. He put the apple down carefully and lifted the basket, seeing the same white substance covering the table under it. Intrigued, he removed all the pieces of fruit and found a small plastic packet half filled with the powder, lying spilt open on the bottom of the basket. Not recognizing it, and not daring to experiment with the unknown substance, he carefully wrapped the remains of the packet in one of Pellaz’s handkerchiefs. He would get it investigated, as he had seen enough poison assassinations in his time to view everything like this as suspicious. But who would want to kill Pell…or more accurately, who had his obstinate lover offended this time?

He dropped the basket and all fruit into the bin and cleaned off the table top with another of Pellaz’s handkerchiefs. It would do until he could get someone to clean the surface properly.

Knowing Pell probably wouldn’t return here for a while, he decided to go and change and alert the house Hara to dispose of the fruit. He also wanted to see Rayhala, the Phaonica’s physician, and get him to test the substance.

Striding out of the bedchamber, he stopped as Attica and Cleis jumped, visibly shocked to see him. They stood hastily and bowed.

“The fruit in the bin by Pell’s dressing table needs to be disposed of carefully. I suggest burning it down in the incinerators, under no circumstances touch the fruit. On second thoughts, burn the entire bin. Also get one of the cleaners to wash the dresser before Pellaz returns. Again it must be done carefully. Understood?” He regarded them both levelly.

“Yes my Lord.” Attica nodded, wide eyed. Cleis just stared at him, frightened.

He left them with that, sure Pellaz would get to hear about the incident, and smiled. If anything, it should get his annoying, little lover thinking and Pellaz might even come to him. It was a sweet thought.

***

Tyson led Pellaz down the almost deserted corridors, holding his hand firmly, as he wasn’t sure Pellaz would follow him otherwise. His companion was in a daze and not yet fully awake, so Tyson took full advantage of the situation, deciding the best thing to do was talk with Swift. If anything, his brother would know what to do.

He had woken earlier than normal, with Pellaz still curled at his side and he had studied the relaxed face, unsure. The dark Tigron was almost childlike in sleep, his expression innocent of deceit, his body trustful, and Tyson had been torn between waking him and just leaving him there to wake naturally.

Eventually his conscience had forced him to wake the Har, as his knowledge of what they might have done last night plagued him. Pellaz had jumped as he shook him, and had treated him with a sweet, dazzling smile as he remembered the night. His expression so disarming, that Tyson had been lost. And his fear grew as Pellaz also seemed to have no inkling of what might have occurred last night, as the dark eyes just blinked up at him in puzzlement, then disbelief and horror at his words. That had decided Tyson on the necessity of involving Swift.

He pushed into his brother’s bedroom and past the astonished servants who gasped and hastily bowed, backing away from the frowning Tigron.

“Tyson.”

Pellaz was starting to pull against his grip, so he stopped and dragged him forward, placing an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s just talk to Swift, he’ll know what to do,” he whispered persuasively, even as he ushered them both into his sibling’s room.

Swift looked up at the abrupt entrance. He was already awake and dressed, sitting on the side of the bed pulling on his boots. At his back, Seel was still stretched out in comfortable slumber.

“Ty? What are-” Swift faltered. “Pellaz.” He nodded unsmiling towards the Tigron as he saw the rumpled clothing the two wore and his muscles tensed. Especially as Pellaz looked about ready to pass out, he was that pale.

“Aghama! I’m glad you are awake. Pell and I need to talk with you urgently.” Tyson stopped in front of his brother and bit his bottom lip before he glanced at Pellaz. The smaller Har was looking everywhere but at him. He lightly squeezed the shoulder he held and kissed the side of his head in reassurance. Pellaz still didn’t look at him and Tyson turned back to Swift.

“Ty, what’s going on?” Swift asked with a sick feeling starting in the pit of his stomach. He had known Tyson had disappeared last night, but then so had Pellaz and Cal, and he had automatically assumed the two Tigrons were together. Most of the party had assumed that. Now it seems he was wrong, and he reached behind him to shake Seel awake.

Tyson looked again at Pellaz, releasing his shoulders as he went to sit next to his brother. “Last night we…” he broke off and started to stand as Pellaz walked away from them. “Pell?” he called unsure.

“I’m sorry Tyson.” Pellaz’s voice was husky. “But I just don’t remember.”

“I know,” Tyson said gently as he watched him.

“Ty?” Swift’s voice brought him back to the issue and he sat back down, still watching Pellaz as he walked around the bed to sit next to Seel’s disgruntled woken form.

“Swift, last night we took aruna,” he started again in a very low voice.

Swift closed his eyes and massaged his temples. He had half guessed Tyson was going to say something like that.

“And it was everything I thought it would be, except,” he hesitated.

“Except what!” Swift demanded, already his head full of angry confrontations between Calanthe and Pellaz.

“We went too far,” he ended lamely.

“Huh?” Swift blinked at him, not following.

“Or at least I think we did. Pell can’t remember, but I am almost certain we did.”

“Ty, what in the name of the Aghama are you babbling about?”

“Swift, Pell confused me with Calanthe last night.” He licked his lips. “And I think I got him hosting.”

“You think!” Swift spluttered, then dropped his head back. “Shit!”

“You what!” Behind them, Seel’s explosion was louder and Pellaz just stared at his angry friend’s face levelly.

“I don’t remember,” he kept repeating over and over.

Tyson stood and walked around the bed to sit behind Pellaz and embrace him gently, offering silent support. Pellaz didn’t throw him off as he had half expected and he tightened his arms a little more.

“You idiots!!” Seel hissed outraged, not missing Tyson’s instinctive defense of the Tigron and scowled harder. “Do you have any idea what trouble this will cause!”

“It wasn’t intentional Seel,” Tyson protested.

“I warned you last night Ty, to stay away from Pellaz!” Seel targeted him with his anger, thumping the bed in exasperation as Tyson refused to relent. “Aaahhh!”

Swift reached across and lightly massaged his lover’s neck as he contended himself with just glaring at the two Hara sitting tense and contained on the bed. He already dreaded the consequences.

Shifting his gaze, Seel started again, looking this time at Pellaz. “I thought at least YOU would have more sense! You should know that until you and Calanthe sort out your differences, that taking aruna with anyone else is just plain stupid! He’s your soul mate for Gods sakes!”

“Cal and I are finished. That affair is over,” Pellaz informed him quietly but firmly.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Seel snapped. “If you were going to host to anyone then it should have been to Cal! Any fool could tell you that!”

Pellaz shivered and turned away from Seel’s anger. He didn’t want to even consider that. The idea was so…so…appealing. “That’s insane,” he whispered and felt Tyson tighten his arms again. He was grateful for the strength, for without it, he wasn’t sure he would hold together.

“Seel,” Tyson put in quietly. “Pell did confuse me last night with my Hostling, but that doesn’t mean he is-” He hesitated, glancing at Pellaz’s side profile. “Besides, we don’t even know for certain if I’m right.”

“By the Gods, I hope you are wrong!” Seel muttered, still far from calm.

“For the moment, there is nothing we can do,” Swift cut in evenly, deflecting his life mate’s anger. Shouting would get them nowhere. “I suggest we have breakfast in here, get dressed and then go down and see Rayhala in the medical unit.”

Seel nodded without saying anything, but he kept his glare on the two in front of him.

“Either way,” Pellaz stated slowly, “I don’t ever want Cal to find out. Please?”

“Agreed,” Swift said.

“Pell, if you are hosting, Calanthe will find out eventually,” Seel told him unkindly. “Not even you could hide that from him. He loves you, and therefore watches you very closely.”

“Don’t Seel, not-” Pellaz tried to cut him off.

“No!” Seel bit back sharply. “No, it is about time you faced reality Pellaz! I don’t know what went wrong between you and Cal six months ago, but I’m willing to say it was your fault.”

“Seel,” Swift started.

“You’ve been hiding in Thiede’s little world too long! We all have, if the truth be known,” he went on softer as he felt Swift’s fingers grip his shoulder. Pellaz’s dark eyes focused on him reluctantly, his face paling. “Pell,” he pleaded for sense, remembering Calanthe’s face in Forever only a week ago. “Calanthe is your destiny, he always has been and I know you love him, so don’t ever try to deny it.”

“You’ve changed your tune suddenly!” Pellaz accused, lashing back defensively. “Last time I spoke to you, you wouldn’t even speak his name!”

“Well maybe I have finally learned a little more of the truth of what really happened back then.” Seel didn’t flinch. “And as I see it now, you are the problem in this relationship. You are the one rejecting your soul mate. Why Pell?”

“I am not!” Pellaz stood abruptly, pushing Tyson away.

“Grow up Pellaz, life is no longer a fantasy!” Seel continued, not surprised as the dark haired Tigron made for the door. He was running away from the truth as he had been doing for weeks, months, maybe even years. What had Thiede done to him to make the truth so painful?

“Ty, go after him. Make sure he stays in the suite.” Swift pushed his dazed brother from the bed, urging him to follow the disappearing Tigron. “Seel, we need Pellaz calm, not guilt ridden!” he said exasperated. “Look, I know what you said was right, but can’t you wait with the lecture until after we at least know if he is hosting or not?”

“He’s hosting, I can feel it.” Seel looked sideways at his lover. “Cal is going to kill them both.”

“Let’s just get positive proof before we panic,” Swift advised, but he too glanced away worriedly.

***

Calanthe sauntered into the breakfast hall, surprised when he saw the large table deserted and only a small number of servants sitting around half asleep. They snapped to attention, obviously amazed to see anyone, let alone one of the Tigrons, and hurriedly pulled back a chair.

Feeling even more out of touch with events, Calanthe studied the plate of food placed in front of him, pushing it away and indicating to the decanter of wine instead. Lighting a cigarette, he assumed that no-one surfaced until lunch time in the Phaonica after the festival, but was relieved when Vaysh stumbled in.

The redhead looked half asleep still and Calanthe had come to learn very early that mornings weren’t a good time for Vaysh.

So he deliberately stuck on a false cheer. “Morning Vaysh.”

The assistant pulled a face and would only accept strong, black coffee, so Calanthe shrugged and returned to his wine. They made a very sorry pair. “You’re up early,” Vaysh broke into the silence after his second cup of coffee, resting his chin in his hands as he studied the blonde Tigron.

“Maybe I had trouble sleeping.” Calanthe shrugged again, non committal.

Vaysh’s direct stare didn’t falter. “You disappeared early last night. The Tigrina was most annoyed.” The last few words were accompanied by a vague smile.

“Caeru will survive,” Calanthe judged harshly.

Vaysh turned back to his coffee. “Don’t we all,” he muttered.

Calanthe frowned at him, considering for a moment, before he brought out Pellaz’s handkerchief and opened it carefully. “Vaysh, do you recognize this substance?”

The astute, blue eyes ran over the contents of the handkerchief expertly, not getting too close or touching the powder. He looked up and met Calanthe’s expression with an inquiry of his own.

“I found it in Pell’s bedroom this morning,” he answered the silent question. “It covered all his fruit.”

“You were with Pell?” Vaysh couldn’t quite keep the delight out of his voice as he sat a little straighter and smiled at Calanthe. He hadn’t been disturbed last night, so that must have meant the two had finally talked. All that worry about Tyson must have been just Caeru’s overworked imagination. Thinking about it, his smile grew.

Calanthe looked at him in astonishment, a bit amazed by the change in the boyish face as Vaysh graced him with a warmth usually only Pellaz received. The sudden idea that Vaysh should be so pleased that he and Pell were together killed his suspicions that the adviser was keeping Pellaz away from him. In fact, it sounded like the opposite now, that Vaysh was actively encouraging Pell to see him, which only left his stubborn lover as the one fighting him. It improved his perspective a lot. But it also left him with a sense of loss as he shook his head and regarded Vaysh sadly.

“No, I slept there alone last night.”

The light in the blue eyes vanished and the redhead looked down. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it was probably my own fault last night. Besides I did indirectly invite Tyson to Immanion.”

“Pell is a contrary idiot at times, but he will come round eventually,” Vaysh stated. “So don’t worry. By then he will probably be so sorry for what he’s done that you’ll wish he’d just shut up.”

“Yeah,” Calanthe said absently, trying to smile, and not succeeding. “But getting back to this,” he tapped the handkerchief again, “I think we should have Pell’s, Caeru’s and my rooms searched as well as some of the other dignitary suites, just in case. If any more of this substance is found, then the entire Phaonica should be searched.”

Vaysh nodded agreement.

“Drag Arahal out of his nice, warm bed and get him to detail some Hara for the task.”

“He’s already up,” Vaysh supplied. “I saw him heading towards the stables on my way here.”

Calanthe lifted a brow in question.

“I believe he and Chrysm had words last night, and it ended with Chrysm leaving with Shune.”

“He’s a stupid, headstrong fool,” Calanthe said without heat. “That’s another thing Vaysh, I don’t want the Kakkahars to become aware of this.” He touched the handkerchief again. “Nor do I want their rooms searched, unless it becomes necessary.”

“Nor do you want Pell informed, yes I know,” Vaysh reminded him. “I’ll let you know later today if Arahal’s Hara find anything.”

“Thanks.” Calanthe gave a twisted smile. “I’ll take this down to Rayhala. What is he like?”

“Extremely talented, as Thiede tutored him personally. He should be able to break the substance down into all its components and calculate which tribe it originated from.”

“Good.” Calanthe couldn’t keep the note of satisfaction out of his voice.

“You think it is from the Kakkahar don’t you?”

“It has crossed my mind,” Calanthe admitted with sick sweetness.

“But why would they use such a crude method as that to kill a Tigron? It doesn’t make sense,” Vaysh asked, bemused. “Surely Pellaz would have seen the powder and investigated himself.”

“I almost didn’t see it,” Calanthe told him. “So why should Pell?” he asked. “Besides, they are the only ones who know his strengths remember, as he was stupid enough to let Tahalha read him.”

“He what!” Vaysh paled.

“You mean Pell hasn’t told you?”

“He says very little to me these days about anything,” Vaysh admitted on a tight breath of annoyance.

Pushing himself to his feet, Calanthe carefully rewrapped the substance in the handkerchief, his eyes all the time on Vaysh’s unhappy face. “Just watch him for me please Vaysh, and get Arahal to organize the searches.”

Vaysh gave the Tigron’s departing figure a brief glance as he tried to think what he could do about Pellaz. His friend was distancing himself from everyone, and he now felt helpless in reaching Pell in his isolated world. And it hurt, as Pell was the closest thing to a Harling he was ever likely to have. He was the only family Vaysh had left.

***

Pellaz stared at his fingers as they refused to stop shaking, willing himself to calm as he did up the ties and buttons on his clothing.

“Here, let me.”

Tyson’s soft, patient voice didn’t help, even as the pure born pushed away his numb hands and straightened his outfit. They were behind the screens in the medical center and the physician, Rayhala, had left him to re-dress as the doctor programmed the small device that would tell them if he was hosting or not.

Outside in the waiting area, Swift and Seel paced and Pell was reluctant to leave the safety of the enclosure. Reluctant and scared to find out the true results. Tyson made the decision for both of them, pushing the screen aside and he stared at his companion nervously.

“Come on,” Tyson encouraged, excited and petrified.

“I’ve never done this before.”

“It’s alright. Whatever the result, I’ll be here with you,” he coaxed gently. Pellaz just shook his head, whether in denial or acceptance Tyson wasn’t sure, before the black haired Har walked quickly from the cubical. He glanced after him worriedly, wondering what was going on in the Tigron’s brain.

“Pellaz, please sit down, you look awfully pale.” Rayhala patted him on the shoulder. “The tests will be ready in a minute or two, but please try and relax.”

Pellaz sat poised, in the middle of the long, padded bench and ignored everyone. Tyson hovered uncertainly as he looked up at Swift and Seel in open appeal for help. Pellaz was too contained, too remote and he was scared the Tigron would do something silly.

Seel glanced at the ceiling as Swift’s hand settled on his backside, soothing him gently. Shelving all the anger he felt regarding this senseless situation, he sighed and looked at his life mate. Swift was worried, so he moved to sit next to Pellaz, knowing the younger Har was distressed, and tried to offer a bit of council. “Pell just try to relax.” He placed an arm around the stiff shoulders, his fingers finding tense, knotted muscles and he gently massaged them.

“The whole idea of hosting terrifies me,” Pellaz whispered softly as he glanced sideways at Seel. “Thiede always said that hostings’ should be left to Caeru.”

A hundred different comments flew to Seel’s tongue, most of them uncomplimentary, and he bit back on the words, only because Pellaz’s panic was genuine. “I’ve gone through this three times,” he said instead. “And it is very simple really. I know the first time feels the worst, but only because you don’t know what to expect. But if you relax, you will feel hardly anything until the actual birthing. Trust me Pell,” he stressed softly.

Rayhala came back and pulled up a chair in front of them, studying both faces before he turned to Pellaz. “It’s positive.” He nodded, absently pushing a curl behind an ear.

Tyson tried to hide his smile but had difficulty, and Swift sent him a warning look. Ty ignored it, hastily sitting down on Pellaz’s other side and taking his hand, squeezing it.

“Now, I want you to come and visit me weekly, just so I can check you are both okay. I also want you to start eating properly, three regular meals and cut down on the amount of wine you drink until after the delivery. As we are not too certain what affects the unbirthed pearl yet, but I believe you cannot be too careful.”

“Thank you, but I won’t be having it. Can’t you give me something to get rid of it?” Pellaz had to ask. Horrified by the knowledge.

“Pellaz, you are hosting, nothing, and I mean nothing, can stop it now, except death, and I have no intention of letting you die for a very long time!” he said forcefully.

“I won’t be having it here then.” He didn’t relent, ignoring Tyson’s muffled curses.

“And why not!” Rayhala demanded, having a very good idea but not letting the Tigron get away with much.

“Because I have no intention of letting Calanthe find out about this!” Pellaz snapped, then closed his eyes and dropped his head down tiredly. “It would hurt him.”

“I will not allow you to leave Phaonica, I warn you now. This is not only the first Harling born in the palace but also the first one born to the royal house. And I will not let anyone else touch you. Anyway, I have been waiting thirty years for such an event,” the doctor ended on a serious note.

“Rayhala,” Pellaz’s voice raised a note, his concern for Cal uppermost in his mind. “You don’t understand!”

“I understand more than you think,” he said gently. “Look, if you truly do not wish the Tigron Calanthe-har-Aralis to find out about this child then simply arrange for Lord Ashmael to take him on tour. I believe Lord Ashmael has been wanting to do just that for the last six months.”

“Of course!” Pellaz sat up a little straighter and looked at Seel. “Ash has been mumbling about the fact.”

“Pell, is this wise?” Swift stepped forward. “Why not simply tell him the truth?”

“No, it would hurt him too deeply I think.” Pellaz glanced back to Seel for confirmation.

“Yes. Unfortunately I have to agree with that,” Seel answered. “But I still don’t like it.”

“Don’t like what?”

The new voice startled them, and they all turned to see Calanthe leaning against the door jam. He returned their looks, locking eyes with Pellaz and frowning as this soul mate wouldn’t meet his gaze. Sweeping his eyes around the room he saw the testing equipment, recognizing it instantly, and disquiet ate into him.

“What’s going on here?” he asked in growing suspicion as he moved further into the room, letting his gaze swing back to Pellaz. “Pell?” he let the question hang.

Tyson stood up slowly tensing automatically and Calanthe only gave him a brief consideration as Seel stared at the floor and Swift started to fidget. Rayhala cleared his throat a number of times as if trying to think of something to say, causing Calanthe’s mind to jump to conclusions, and his blood slowly started to pound in this veins.

Someone was hosting, he just knew it, and he took another step closer to Pellaz, praying he was wrong and being unable to suppress the pain that idea caused. But still Pellaz refused to meet his eyes, and he probed his beloved finding only mental barriers. Please, no.

“I’m hosting.” Seel’s voice announced quite suddenly into the tense room. Next to him, Swift almost fell over as he swung around to look at his lover in disbelief.

Calanthe blinked bemused, eyeing Seel and feeling the energy in the room dissipate. “Congratulations,” he acknowledged as a numbness slowly spread through him. “I suppose you will be staying on in Phaonica?” he went on absently, needing something to say.

“Well, yes,” Seel ended awkwardly, only now considering the statement he had made. It had been an instinctive decision as he had witnessed the pain that flooded across Calanthe’s beautiful, tanned face, reminding him of the dead expression he had seen thirty years ago in Saltrock. Then Calanthe had been put through hell and he did not want to see his friend suffer the same fate a second time. Calanthe deserved better from Pellaz, and he just wished he could give it to him.

Nodding, Calanthe took a deep breath. “Pell…I have to talk with you,” he said softly, his violet eyes beseeching and holding a promise of tenderness. “Please?”

Seel bit his inside lip, not wanting to hear this, as he knew Pellaz would reject Calanthe again. He looked over at Swift who also appeared uncomfortable.

The large, dark gaze that eventually meet Calanthe’s eyes held a tinge of guilt and a sorrow Calanthe couldn’t understand. “Pell?” If it was guilt over having slept with Tyson, then he would forgive him, would forgive him anything as long as he could talk with him, and not have Pellaz walk off. “Last night on the dance floor…I was wrong.” He moved closer, very aware off the others, but needing them to keep Pellaz there.

“Cal don’t, please. Not now.” Pellaz held up both hands, shaking his head, denying the words. They would strip him.

“Why?” Confused, Calanthe grabbed the cool fingers, feeling an inner sigh touch all his nerves, bringing in life with just the simple contact. “Why?” he whispered.

But Pellaz was standing, stepping around him and out of reach before anyone could comment.

“Pell!” Calanthe was immediately on his heels to follow, but was stopped by Swift. “Get out of my way!”

“Give him time Cal,” Swift advised as he held onto the taller Har’s wrist.

“Time for what? To keep running?” Calanthe couldn’t even find the energy to feel annoyed as he saw Tyson disappear from the room.

Swift shook his head, not knowing what to say.

“You and Seel are so lucky,” Calanthe told him with feeling.

Seel stood up abruptly and paced away, unable to hide his anger, and not wanting Calanthe to see it. He went to stand in the doorway with his back to the room.

“I’m sorry Cal, I wish I could help-” Swift searched for something worthwhile to reassure him with. Fate wasn’t kind to you in the past, nor it seems it will be kind in the future.

“Excuse me, but is there anything particular I can do for you or do you mind if I head into the inner city?” Rayhala broke in, saving Swift and drawing Calanthe’s attention.

“Umm, yes.” Calanthe felt flustered. He dug the substance out of his pocket. “I was hoping you could identify this.”

Seel dragged Swift out of there before he gave in and told the Tigron the painful truth. They made it halfway back to their rooms before Seel started to swear fluently and in genuine anger.

“You were the one who volunteered the hosting,” Swift said eventually. “Cal would have found out otherwise.”

“I know.” Seel swore again. “It was his face. Did you see it?” He turned to Swift, stopping him. “It was just like the time he returned to Saltrock after Thiede took Pellaz, and Cal thought Pell was dead.” He marched off down the corridor again. “Gods! Pellaz makes me so angry at times! If Cal had found out, it would be over between them, as I don’t know if Cal could forgive him that.” His pace increased. “Or for the fact, that we lied deliberately as well!”

“Well we won’t let it be a lie then.” Swift wrapped an arm around his waist and squeezed.

Seel just gave him a jaundiced look. “It is your turn! You promised!”

“You volunteered,” Swift put in immediately. “Besides I think it would be better for Pellaz if you stayed here and kept him on track. I don’t know him as well as you do.”

“That is a very poor excuse Swift.”

“I promise to have the next one.”

“You will have the next four!” Seel corrected pointedly.

“Okay, the next four.” Swift held up his hands in agreement. “Anyway, I wouldn’t be able to help him and you must admit, putting prejudices aside, it is going to be hard on him here in Phaonica. I hadn’t realized that no Harling had been birthed here yet.”

“I know,” Seel said thoughtfully. “I wonder why? But you are right, for a Tigron he has led a very sheltered existence, but that was Thiede’s way. That is all the more reason why this shouldn’t be happening now!”

“Agreed.” Swift nodded. “But there is nothing we can do about it now. What I want to know is what is he going to do with the Harling after it is birthed? He can’t keep Calanthe out of Immanion forever.”

“Not our problem,” Seel judged.

Swift hid a smile, knowing Seel was already privately working on the problem. “Anyway, he is very good with Harling.”

Seel gave him a questioning look.

“Well, I have very fond memories of Pellaz in Forever, when I was growing up,” Swift defended.

“You’re showing your age again.” Was all Seel said.

***

There was a lot of cleaning up in the aftermath of the festival, and Calanthe found himself holding audience with Pellaz as all the visiting dignitaries took their leave. But that wasn’t what occupied his thoughts.

Rather, it was Pellaz and his odd behavior. His partner was no longer holding him in cool contempt as he had the last few months, in fact he was being very civil, offering friendship, but keeping a firm distance between them still. It was off-putting because he received the distinct impression something was wrong. He wasn’t given a chance to find out what it could be as the real work behind the closed door of Phaonica started. Vaysh gave neither of them time to think, as he detailed all the arrangements they needed to make before the annual Meeting of the Tribes. With Thiede gone, many tribal leaders were treating the combined Tigrons as a curiosity, testing them and for this first meeting they needed to be very strong. To everyone’s amazement, they slipped easily into a malleable working relationship, taking communion together and spending the evening with their Tigrina.

Pellaz left early from the after dinner conversation, which had left Calanthe in Caeru’s company alone. It wasn’t long before he realized the Tigrina was as pissed off with Pell’s behavior as he was. Sighing, he had relaxed back into the soft cushions and listened to Caeru, watching the agitation and reading shrewdly behind it.

***

Swift watched Seel fiddle with his hairbrush as he sat on the side of the huge bed. Their bed chamber was magnificent to look at, in creams and deep greens, the atmosphere changeable depending on the time of day and the light from the floor to ceiling glass doors. At the moment, it was seductive and intimately dark, and Swift reached across the space between them and dragged Seel into his arms.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered into the wondrous hair that covered his face.

“Oh Swift,” Seel sighed heavily, “are we doing the right thing?”

“We agreed that it was the best for both of them,” Swift reminded him gently. “You know all hell will break loose if Cal finds out Pellaz is hosting.”

“But it is such an impossible task. What if Pell reacts badly? It is possible you know.”

“What over react? Like you do.” Swift smiled into the white skin of his chesna’s shoulder.

“I’m not that bad!” Seel protested mildly.

“Adorable.” Swift bit his shoulder gently. Seel sighed again and relaxed.

Folding them both onto the bed, Swift leaned over his lover and softly caressed his face. “We are doing the only thing possible.” He lent down and mingled their breaths, delighting in the familiar cherished images they shared. “I shall never grow tired of the taste of you,” he whispered.

“Or I you.” Then Seel giggled. “I’ve just realized, of all the Hara we have considered in this, we have forgotten someone.”

“Who?”

“Cobweb. Your darling Hostling isn’t going to be amused when he finds out.”

“No. He won’t, will he.” Swift gave a half smile. “And we can’t tell him as he has already left for Forever.”

“You’ll just have to tell him later.” Seel let his smile grow in size.

They shared breath again, lingering over the tastes of each other. Swift licked down his lover’s neck and chest, raising goosebumps as he went on enjoying his mate’s squirming. He bit the soft flesh over Seel’s abdomen, before kissing the skin better. Leaning up, he smiled into the wide, almond eyes watching him. Leaving his hand on a smooth thigh, he caressed the flesh absently.

“You know, I’ve just had another interesting thought.”

“You’re a torment,” Seel muttered, sitting up slightly to push Swift over so he could kiss him in return.

“I’m serious,” Swift breathed as Seel’s mouth found his nipple. “With our child, Cobweb’s Harling and now Ty and Pellaz’s child, it should be an interesting time watching them all grow up.”

“Our child won’t be in the running if you don’t hurry up.” Seel nipped at his chest. “Unless of course you want me to do it?”

There was a tease in his voice and Swift rolled them both over, easily slipping into the warmth of his lover’s body naturally. Sinking down deeply, he felt Seel shiver under him in pleasure. Mouth against the quick pulse of Seel’s neck, Swift controlled his movements, making him cry out in ecstasy. The colors in their joining showed up in the depths of their eyes as Swift very gently nudged his bond mate’s inner muscles, caressing the star of Seel’s being and creating new life.

Entwined and lying still as their bodies floated with a deep satisfaction, Swift continued to mouth Seel’s neck in gentle comfort. “Next time it will me I promise,” he breathed.

Seel just sighed and wiggled impossibly closer. “I only hope we have done the right thing.”

***

Calanthe tried to refocus on the book in front of him. It was late and he had left Caeru not long ago, being unable to stay with the Tigrina. His mind was taken up with too many other problems. Closing his eyes for a moment, he automatically followed the tentative link he had with Pellaz. His soul mate was restless, he could feel him tossing and turning in the large empty bed. He was so tempted to go to him, but he banked down on the desire, as he didn’t want to confuse his need for aruna with Pell, with his need for them to talk. Swallowing hard, he snapped the book shut and went for a soothing bath.

Hopefully by tomorrow, Swift and Tyson would return home to Galhea. Seel would be staying and arrangements had already been made for his extended visit. He could live with that. He only wanted Tyson out of their lives, well at least until he and Pell had sorted out the mess. After that, he would challenge anyone to split them up a third time.

The hot bath relaxed his body, but not his mind and he ushered Terral and Whyala to bed as he sat down to think.

Pellaz was still restless, unconsciously tugging on their fragile link and he gave up any ideas of sleep as he paced the room. After another ten minutes he gave in and calling himself seven different kinds of fools, he left his bedroom. He religiously promised himself they would talk first.

He found Pell’s room in darkness and he hesitated, pushing open the heavy curtains to let the moonlight in. Going to the bed, he knew it was empty even before the silver light touched it. He sat on its edge and ran his fingers under the rumpled silk sheets. The bed was still warm, Pell’s essence still lingering in the sheets and he clenched his teeth against the building animal-like pain in his chest. He should have come earlier…he should have…

Moving very fast, he ran back to his room, hoping, praying he would find what he wanted. But the bed was cold and its cushions uninviting. Collapsing against the wall, Calanthe cried out his pain as he knew instinctively where Pellaz had gone.

He welcomed the hurt and agony, allowing it to slowly consume him.

***

Tyson sat bolt upright in bed as the door to his room opened. The figure passed in front of his open windows and was silhouetted against the glow outside. Beside his bed, the Har dropped his gown to the floor, the silver light highlighting the length of hair, narrow shoulders and shapely naked legs. Pellaz.

They stared at each other for a long moment, before Tyson lifted the covers aside in silent invitation. The long haired Har slithered across the sheet to clutch at his chest, pressing them incredibly close. Closing the embrace around the shivery shoulders, he kissed the top of the head on his chest. “Pell?”

“I lie there and think and it terrifies me.”

“Shhh.”

“How can we bear life inside ourselves? What is it doing inside me? Why can’t I feel it? Is it real, or is this another nightmare?”

“Shhh.” It was the words of a scared child, endearing and vulnerable, and Tyson smiled. He gently turned them over onto their sides and lifted Pellaz’s face up, tracing the tear tracks. “We are Wraeththu, we are perfect, you know that. Therefore the pearl you carry will be perfect also.”

“I want to believe that.”

“You can.”

“Hold me?”

Pellaz’s voice seemed awfully small to Tyson and he tenderly kissed the wide open eyes, before taking the moist lips to share breath. Massaging the smooth back lightly, he was glad when the smaller Har relaxed and he was able to cuddled Pellaz close and watch him fall asleep. How could a Har not love the creature now curled in his arms? How could he not love him?

Lying awake for a long time after that, Tyson considered their future. It was obvious Pellaz needed someone, and he hated to think what would happen if he returned to Forever now. Regardless of what Swift said, he knew he had to stay. He had never hosted, had never been so intimately involved with a linking of minds and bodies before, but had seen plenty of Hara do it in Forever, so felt qualified to help Pellaz. And if the truth be known, he was not regretful of one moment he had spent with the Tigron. Pellaz was powerful, yes, he could feel it vibrate in his bones. But he was also beautiful, temperamental, flighty and moody. So alive with burning energy, yet so childishly naive that he was trapped in his desire of the older Har.

For the moment he wanted Pellaz, wanted the Harling his lover carried, and wanted to watch over them both. For all their obvious difference in age and upbringing, he felt the gap was inconsequential.

Sending a mental apology to his Hostling, Calanthe, as he didn’t really want to cause him embarrassment, he decided to stay in Phaonica, and if possible talk Pellaz into letting him share the Tigron’s suites. That way, he could keep a firm eye on his reluctant lover.

CHAPTER SIX

Let me show you a face in disguise,
Misty covers, grey dust in our eyes,
Sad insinuation,
Using words that are unwise,
Lost in the tide of our passion and pride.

Clannard/Ultravox

Calanthe sat up a little straighter in the enormous stone chair and stared out across the long table in front of him. Ashmael, as usual, was putting everyone from the public galleries to the Hegemony members asleep with his detailed programming of the coming three days.

The annual meeting of the Wraeththu tribes. So much had happened in the last four and a half weeks since the ball, that Calanthe found it difficult to imagine that he was about to meet all the Wraeththu leaders officially as Tigron. Some of their reactions to him would prove very interesting.

Most of the official groups would be arriving after lunch to attend the banquet that night, with only three envoys choosing to arrive in the morning before the talks began. The original excitement to the event had soured now for him and he looked forward to the end of the three long days when things would return to a more normal pace and he could concentrate on other stressful matters. Personal matters.

One of which was currently sighing and moving restlessly beside him.

Pellaz had changed over the last month. He had shocked everyone speechless when he had first invited Tyson to stay in Immanion, then to move into the Tigron’s quarters, and finally enlisting Tyson into Arahal’s elite defense force. Other Hegemony members had looked to Calanthe for answers, but while they were working better as a unit, he could not begin to guess his co-ruler’s mind on the matter. The fact that the two were having an affair was blatantly obvious, but if it was anything deeper, like the start of chesna bonding, he refused to think about it. Seel had been his only cold voice of comfort, insisting that it was just a passing fancy and to ignore them both. But as time dragged on, Calanthe was finding that advice harder and harder to accept. Why were they doing this to him?…

Pellaz disregarded his pointed comments on the subject, refusing to be led into an argument, and that baffled Calanthe even more. Bidding his time, he dismissed the rumors, just watching and worried by his mate’s increasing paranoia and restlessness.

Something was going on, even Vaysh said the same thing, bemused by Pellaz’s actions as well. Calanthe hadn’t yet decided if he was physically sick or mentally ill, and in an effort to escape the lonely nights, he would seek out Caeru or one of the other Hegemony members.

“Excuse me.” Arahal’s voice broke into Ashmael’s dreary tones and everyone unconsciously sat up a little. “But an urgent message has just arrived via the thought transference unit.”

Ashmael glared at him as Arahal approached the dais, and he continued to shuffle his notes, refusing to sit down.

Arahal held the slip of paper out between both Tigrons favoring neither and when Pellaz showed no interest in it, Calanthe sent him an irritated look, relieving the Captain of the message.

“Well!” Pellaz’s tone was impatient, and Calanthe felt a twist of amusement, handing the paper over.

“Tiahaars, it seems our Kakkahar brothers are unable to attend the annual talks due to raiders on their borders,” Calanthe announced, not at all unhappy about the news. It was one less problem.

“That will make three that disregarded the law!” Chrysm sounded disgusted.

“Thiede would never have allowed it.” Tharmifex shook his head, the long pink and black dyed braids falling over his shoulders.

“I see there is little we can do about it for the present. It is their own choice to ignore the Council, so it is their loss.” Calanthe’s voice broke above the general noise in the Hegalion.

“Maybe we should withdraw the Gelamings’ protection?” Glave suggested.

Calanthe rubbed his lips in thought.

“Maybe we should just disregard the whole bloody Council,” Pellaz muttered half to himself.

Calanthe swung wide eyes on him and Arahal raised a startled brow.

“Sorry,” he muttered, and fidgeted.

“Pell, that is not the answer,” Calanthe said softly, glad the comment had not traveled further than the dais.

“I know.” Pellaz sighed, uncrossing his legs, not looking up. “These chairs are so damn uncomfortable.”

“Pell-”

“No, no, no! The entire plan will have to be revised!” Seel’s raised voice cut across all conversation and had Calanthe turning back to the meeting.

Caeru was tapping his nails rhythmically on the polished table top, shaking his head negatively. “The seating arrangements will remain as stated.”

“Stick to the banquet Tigrina, and let me worry about the Hegemony business!” Seel snapped.

Calanthe closed his eyes and Pellaz started to giggle.

“Tiahaars please!” Ashmael leaned across the table. “It is not a major problem. What is, is the contents of this report.”

“And what do you know of it!” Caeru demanded, outraged.

“It is important that neither member of the Council feel inferior to the other, and the seating arrangements can therefore decide the delicate issues you are so fond of talking about!” Seel ended where Caeru started.

Ashmael glared at them both.

“We could have it outside on the grass,” Chrysm put in lightly, finding the argument amusing.

“And with luck it will rain,” Pellaz added innocently.

“This is getting us nowhere!” Calanthe stated loudly, giving them all a moment to settle. “Seel, do what you can with the seating, Caeru the entertainment’s are all yours. Now what I really would like to know, is the real reason why the Tribes are pulling out. Particularly the Kakkahar.”

“We know they are having trouble with the humans,” Chrysm reminded them all. Arahal stiffened and glared at his back.

“That is only their report. We have had no other sightings of man in the southern deserts,” Ashmael told him.

“But why should they lie?” Chrysm asked.

“Why indeed?” Calanthe glanced at the silver haired Gelaming Captain who was muttering under his breath. “Arahal?”

“No matter how many scouts I have sent into the south lands, we have found no evidence of human movements.” Calanthe raised a hand and appealed to the members of the Hegemony.

“Maybe when you and Ashmael go on tour after the tribal talks, you can visit Lianvis and ask him yourself?” Pellaz suggested.

Calanthe clenched his teeth and turned to him. “The tour hasn’t been confirmed yet!” he stated, sick of hearing about the subject. “Besides it might be beneficial if we did a tour together,” he challenged.

“You can take the Tigrina if you want a bed warmer,” Pellaz snapped.

Calanthe scowled at him, watching the uninformative profile as Pellaz strummed his long nails on the stone arm rest.

Ashmael cleared his throat, calling for silence. “As I was reporting…” he started back into his notes on the program, as Arahal left the room and Calanthe reached across to touch Pellaz’s arm.

The dark eyes looked at him in sadness, before the thick lashes masked the expression.

“Pell, are you okay?” Calanthe asked gently, not disturbing Ashmael’s monotonous tones.

“Fine.” Pellaz freed his arm and moved to lean on the opposite arm of the chair. He ignored Calanthe’s impatient breath and tried to block out the unhappiness he could see in the enchanting, violet eyes. He was trapped in a circle of events and he didn’t know how to escape, or how to rectify matters between them.

At the end of the meeting, Calanthe watched Pellaz exit quickly and he frowned. He appeared healthy enough, in fact he had put on a little weight and it looked good, it was just his moods and the insistent paranoia that had him confused. Calanthe turned to leave, trying to disentangle himself from Tharmifex’s probing questions about Pell’s health.

***

“Hey, wait a moment!” Tyson caught Pellaz’s shoulders and turned him around slowly. They were in the long corridor that led to the Phaonica via the sanctum and it was deserted this time of day. “Are you alright? You sore?” he asked gently as his hands automatically traveled down the silk covered back to massage tense muscles.

“I’m always sore after one of those meetings.” Pellaz sighed and leaned in closer.

“Yeah, I know.” Tyson kissed the side of his lover’s head and smiled. “Come and lie down and I’ll draw you a story,” he teased.

Pellaz couldn’t help but relax around Tyson. He was gentle and soothing company most of the time and only got edgy if he himself was in a particularly bad mood. Like today.

“I’m sorry,” Pellaz apologized as he pressed his face into Tyson’s shoulder. “But at times I just can’t stop myself. The words are said before I even finish thinking.”

“It’s a normal reaction.” Tyson moved and started Pellaz walking as well. “Look at Seel!” He laughed gently. “I bet you Swift is having nightmares in Forever, wondering what private wars Seel’s starting with that mouth of his.”

Pellaz gave a small laugh also. “Swift should be here today.”

“Yes. Azriel was going to come as well, but Briahaar is going through his feybraiha at present, and with Cobweb only about ten days from birthing, Swift thought it best if Azriel supervised Forever.”

“Mmmm. Who’s been chosen for Briahaar? That’s Seel’s youngest, isn’t it?”

“I keep forgetting you haven’t been out to Forever.” Tyson smiled as the entered the lower levels of Phaonica. “Yes Briahaar is their youngest and he has chosen Charicia, who is Garis’ chesna bonded lover. They have two Harling of their own already. Also Garis is Briahaar’s older brother, so you can imagine the in-family turmoil.”

Pellaz shuddered. “I’m glad I didn’t have to go through all that.”

“Oh, I don’t know, being incepted can’t have been that pleasant either.”

“It had its moments.” Pellaz sighed, remembering. “So who was it they chose for you with both your parents absent?” Pellaz asked as they climbed the spacious, curved stairs to the third level of the palace. Tyson’s face broke out into a smile, and at that moment he looked so much like Calanthe it was scary.

“I chose.” Tyson gave him a lop-sided smile. “I chose Seel.”

“Uhhh.” Pellaz raised a curious brow. “But he and Swift are blood bonded.”

“I know, but my body knew who it wanted,” Tyson said seriously. “And you can’t hide that fact, or at least I couldn’t,” he admitted. “Is it the same for incepted Hara? Do you choose for your althaia?”

“No.” Pellaz shook his head. “They choose for you.”

“Ohh.” Tyson frowned, trying to imagine that as he ushered Pellaz inside their bed chamber. The two house Hara disappeared as if by magic.

Stretching out on the bed under Tyson’s insistent hands, Pellaz slowly relaxed as the pure born drew teasing patterns over his back and wove a tale around the designs. The pain and discomfort of his hosting vanished and he sighed in pleasure.

“Do you think Calanthe will go on tour?” Tyson broke in quietly.

“Yes. Ashmael is eager to take him. Anyway, most of the arrangements are already made, regardless of what HE says.”

“And they will leave after the Talks and be gone, how long?”

“Six to eight weeks I hope!” Pellaz wriggled over to lie on his back, taking Tyson’s hands and placing them palm down on his chest.

Smiling into the relaxed, flushed face, Tyson gently obliged him.

“If I birth the pearl here,” Pellaz started slowly.

“Rayhala won’t let you leave you know.” Tyson kissed his nose.

“-how are we going to stop everyone finding out about it?” Pellaz finished.

“You won’t need anyone but Rayhala and me for the birthing,” Tyson promised. “Then afterwards I’ll incubate the pearl.”

“What?” Pell’s eyes flew open.

“Pell, you will be too busy with Immanion business to be able to hide in bed for the next week or so with the pearl. I, on the other hand, can,” he said reasonably. “Besides, it will also make everyone think I hosted.”

“But I wanted to…” Pellaz trailed off, knowing Tyson was right.

“I know you do. At night you can.” He stretched out next to Pell on the bed, his fingers gently probing his lover’s abdomen and feeling the hard growth within. “If we do it this way, then no-one has to leave, and no-one will get hurt. Please Pell.” He kissed his chin, reaching across to turn the pale face towards him so they could share breath. “I don’t want this Harling growing up not knowing his parents. Even though Cobweb was fantastic in raising me, I still knew instinctively he was not my Hostling. Our child will be the same and I want him to have both of us.”

“Yes.” Pellaz nodded, turning over to snuggle into Tyson’s familiar, yet different warmth. Closing his eyes, he could believe for a while that he was in Calanthe’s arms.

“Pell?”

Tyson’s soft voice broke into his fantasy and he wriggled closer, not answering properly. “Mmmm.”

“Who was it they chose to incept you for aruna?”

“Why?” Pellaz pulled away slowly to study Tyson’s face. The eyes were bluer than Cal’s and the hair a little coarser.

“I’m just curious,” Tyson soothed.

“Cal.” He breathed the name. “Calanthe initiated me.”

***

The evening banquet progressed well with over half the dignitaries and their envoys present. The other guests either stayed to dine in their rooms or had not yet arrived. Calanthe found he wasn’t really interested.

Caeru was in his element, looking magnificent as he entertained and laughed with different groups. Even Pellaz was charming, obviously on his best behavior and Calanthe eyed him distrustfully.

The room was full to capacity with all Hara trying to be polite and only the Gelaming perfecting that task and attitude. Arahal and his guards were dotted throughout the room, dressed in their finest as they watched over certain groups ensuring no heated arguments disrupted the peace of Phaonica. It was a joke and Calanthe turned away.

“Cal! What did I tell you!”

Calanthe whirled around and saw Ariaric smile at him wolfishly. The blonde mane of hair was pinned and contained as Maudrah’s ruler firmly embraced him. “Or should I now address you as Calanthe-har-Aralis?”

“Probably,” Calanthe said heavily as he pulled away. “But I will overlook it this time.”

“So much has changed.” Ariaric shook his head. “What did I tell you, you would change the events of history. My faith in you was justified, and now I see you have finally achieved what you always desired.” The Archon’s eyes flicked briefly to Pellaz who was standing a short distance away.

“In a manner of speaking,” Calanthe said dryly, not missing the sparkle in his old friend’s eye.

“He is magnificent. I remember telling you about him.”

“An informative description comprising of the single fact that he had black hair. Yes I remember.”

“Cal, please!” Ariaric raised a hand in appeal.

“So how is Sykernesse? I see you didn’t bring Elisyin with you.”

“No he prefers not to travel, dislikes using the lanes and hates aircars. I don’t blame him, but this year should prove very interesting.” Ariaric grinned.

“Perhaps.”

“So, when are you coming to visit us as Tigron. We have only

ever entertained the Tigrina there, as Pellaz rarely leaves Immanion.”

“Hopefully that will all change,” Calanthe said with feeling.

“Good.” Ariaric nodded pleased. “You broke a lot of hearts in Sykernesse, Cal.”

“Really? How interesting.” Pellaz’s smooth tones broke in from behind and Calanthe steeled his nerves.

“Good evening Lord Tigron.” Ariaric inclined his head respectfully, glancing at Calanthe and seeing his expression.

“Ariaric,” Pellaz replied similarly. “Tell me about Sykernesse, it sounds fascinating.”

“Only my son, Zobinek.” Ariaric looked at Calanthe as he spoke. “He was very sorry to see you leave so suddenly, as he felt responsible and all that. He was hoping in fact to come this week and see you. You left him heartbroken.”

“Doesn’t he always?” Pellaz asked pleasantly.

“I should introduce Tyson to him then,” Calanthe said just as sweetly, ignoring Pellaz’s sudden glare.

“Tyson?” Ariaric looked between the two Tigrons, not missing the tension and deciding to play along with Calanthe. Pellaz was still a relatively unknown quantity to him.

“My son. I’m sure they will get on very well.” He glanced at Pellaz briefly and gave him a pointed smile.

“You have a son?” Ariaric stared at him.

“Yes. I was consort to Terzian for a while, remember we talked about it before I went to Roseland?” he said needlessly, wanting to make Pellaz squirm and succeeding. It was a small victory, but made him feel good nevertheless.

“Of course,” Ariaric said immediately, not understanding but agreeing. Something was going on and he was determined to find out what. “An alliance between our houses maybe?”

“Don’t you think you should ask Ty first?” Pellaz asked pointedly.

“An alliance sounds good.” Calanthe ignored Pellaz.

“I am looking for a consort at present for him, so you might point your son out to me and then we can talk.”

“Of course, this way. Excuse us Pellaz.” Calanthe bowed exaggeratedly polite. He took hold of Ariaric’s arm and led him away. The Archon didn’t stop until they were a good distance away.

“Now Cal, do you mind telling me what the rest of the conversation was?” Ariaric asked. “I got the distinct impression you were scoring points off each other.”

“Oh Aric.” Calanthe grinned and released a breathy laugh. “Tyson and Pell have got this thing going and I’d just like to split them up for a while.”

“I don’t know if Zobinek can compete with your radiant partner,” he warned.

“Oh, he will do just fine,” Calanthe judged.

Pellaz stared after Calanthe’s back in annoyance. He knew Cal didn’t approve of his liaison with Tyson, but so far had never commented publicly about it before. And it raked. If only he had not let his obstinate soul mate walk away from him on the dance floor, none of this would be happening now! He could admit to himself finally, that he wanted Calanthe, but was tied by events to act. And now Cal was being difficult and as much as he wished to scream and shout at the blonde Tigron, he couldn’t in all truth blame him for his words and actions. Sometimes he prayed they could just return to Saltrock and ignore the entire Wraeththu world. He sighed, watching Calanthe’s back and was brought back to the present by a voice beside him.

The three Tirthas of Gimrah bowed their heads respectfully. “We would like to speak with you privately Pellaz-har-Aralis,” the tall, lean Tirtha of Kapre asked.

“If it is official, can it not wait until the commencement of the talks?” Pellaz queried.

“My Lord, it is concerning the white Faraldienne horses, and we did not think you wished to have their numbers mentioned in front of the other tribal leaders,” Gasteau Hafener of Lemarath pointed out gently.

Pellaz’s eyes narrowed. “Continue.”

“The interest in their trade has increased triple fold, and over the last season the breed was excellent.”

“We should have at least a hundred new head for the use of Immanion, or for elsewhere if you specify it. Other tribal leaders have shown a strong interest in their sale,” the Tirtha of Ardith elaborated.

“Tiahaars, just because Thiede no longer sits in the flesh at the Hegemony Council, does not mean we will be changing our policies about the sale and trade of the Faraldiennes,” Pellaz stated firmly, not liking the direction the Tirthas were taking.

“How unfortunate.” One of them shook his head.

“As for the distribution of the beast, you had better wait until Lord Arahal has completed his reports,” Pellaz ended.

“We understand.”

Do you! Pellaz felt like screaming at them, but held his tongue. He licked his lips instead and tried to smile. “I knew you would,” he said pleasantly. “Excuse me.”

All three bowed their dark heads again, and Pellaz turned away. He had not missed the looks that had flicked between them, and he banked down on the suspicion to investigate. It was stupid to feel this way as the Tirthas had served Immanion faithfully for the last twenty years. Yet his unease grew, and he looked around seeing sinister shadows. What was wrong with him? Was he finally going crazy?

Cal left Ariaric talking with Tyson. His son had eyed him distrustfully, but listened silently to the Archon. It was a start, and he was convinced it would do his son good to broaden his outlook and interests. And Sykernesse would certainly do that. Standing back, he eyed the room.

Lexy, the Governor of Hadassah was elegantly clad in bright colors as he stood talking with Caeru. His oval face was painted in exotic designs, distinctive of his tribe, his face flushed as he studied the Tigrina with hungry eyes. Caeru was flirting as usual and Calanthe turned his attention to the Natawni. The Hara reminded him very much of Kruin in appearance. They were dressed in dark colors and stayed in a small group, with backs to the Maudrah representatives of Ariaric’s envoy. Calanthe watched curious as both tribal members pointedly ignored the other and he caught Arahal’s guards standing nonchalantly a short distance away. No doubt, ready for any trouble.

Contemplating the complexity of the border wars, Calanthe froze, his wine glass half way to his mouth as he stared unashamedly at the gorgeous, dark haired creature walking up to Pellaz. The Har was tall, and exotically beautiful, which drew attention to himself. He towered over Pellaz and the two shook hands sedately until they both smiled and embraced lightly. Intrigued, he was tempted to approach.

“I see you’ve finally seen Lehonhar.” Glave gave Calanthe an amused look. “Don’t worry, we all reacted similarly when we first saw him. Magnificent eh?”

“Which tribe?” Though Calanthe could guess.

“Kalamah. From Zaltama. He represents the government there. Thiede first brought him to the Council ten years ago.”

“It figures,” Calanthe said, not surprised.

“He spent a couple of weeks here, mostly with Thiede and Pellaz. As I said, a very interesting specimen, but I don’t advise you get too close. His claws do more than scratch.”

“Experienced them have you?”

“No!” Glave sounded indignant. “But I believe your Tigrina once showed an interest. Now he refuses to acknowledge the Kalamah.”

Calanthe snorted. “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Is there anyone our illustrious Tigrina hasn’t tried to bed?”

Glave just blinked at the question, unprepared for it.

“Excuse me.”

A light voice behind them intruded and both Hara turned.

“Tigron Calanthe-har-Aralis?”

“Yes.” Calanthe smiled at the tall, golden blonde, admiring the perfect bone structure of the heart shaped face. The light, oval eyes held intelligence, and his smile grew. “Can I help you?”

“I am Raxiwithe, the Castlethane of Saphrax, and Ferminfex, Castlethane of Jael asked me to pass on his apologies for not attending the Council. He said you would understand.”

“Please tell me more,” Calanthe asked immediately. “I hope nothing is wrong in Jael.”

“No, nothing serious. Their basement flooded and the repairs are fundamental to the trade agreement of Ferike, so he asked me to attend in his stead.”

“I see.” Calanthe indicated the seats, sitting himself. “I was not aware that Ferike recognized Gelaming rule,” Calanthe started, hoping to get some answers to questions the Hegemony avoided.

Glave rolled his eyes heavenward, sitting also and hoping he didn’t have to divert too many delicate questions. Calanthe’s inquisitiveness was worse then Pellaz’s moods.

Pellaz folded gracefully into the chair beside Vaysh. “It looks promising,” he stated absently as he sipped his glass of wine. He would have preferred something stronger, but Rayhala forbid it.

Vaysh gave him a sideways look. “Tomorrow will tell as tonight is only the testing ground.”

“Oh lighten up!” Pellaz exclaimed. “Not everyone is so cold blooded or ruthless as you.”

“No?” Vaysh lifted a brow unimpressed by the dig at his caution. “Well I would say he is!” he hissed, pointing unobtrusively towards the back of the room. Pellaz followed his gaze and saw Chrysm leaning seductively up against the soft, plush, crushed velvet curtains. Beside him, Shune was running fingers gently up his arm as they talked.

“I wonder if Arahal is aware of this?” Pellaz murmured low in his throat.

“He has seen it, but apart from glaring at Chrysm he’s lost the right to do anything else.”

“What do you mean?” Pellaz turned questioning eyes on his friend.

“Shune is looking for a consort, and he’s singled Chrysm out. He owns land and is high up in the Kakkahar’s royal court, so has a lot to offer.”

“Chrysm will never leave Immanion!” Pellaz scoffed.

“I would not be too sure of that. Shune is very persuasive,” Vaysh said darkly. “Their mental powers are not to be under estimated Pell.”

“I know that!” Pellaz snapped, then relented. “Chrysm is not stupid, he’ll think carefully about it before he decides. Anyway, he is a member of the Hegemony, he won’t leave.”

“You’re as blind to the dangers as he is,” Vaysh said horrified as he reached across and grabbed Pellaz’s hand. “Cal is right,” he whispered.

“About what!” Pellaz suddenly felt uncomfortable.

“Pell, please don’t go near the Kakkahar again. Trust me in this.”

“Vaysh?” He squirmed.

“Cal told me about Tahalha.”

“Tahalha!” Pellaz exhaled sharply. “Lies! It was all in his imagination!” he went on forcibly, ignoring Vaysh’s concern. “A fabricated lie he uses against me!” He stood up and roughly smoothed out the creases in his outfit. “Gods!” he muttered again. “I sometimes think he will hate me forever!”

“Pell?” Vaysh called but the dark haired Tigron refused to turn back, marching off angrily. At a loss, he shook his head worriedly. If Pellaz had no memory of Tahalha, then they were probably in worse trouble than Calanthe had guessed. Searching around the room, he went to find the blonde Tigron.

“Fuck the Kakkahar!” Calanthe muttered with feeling as he listened to Vaysh’s distressed words.

“He’s paranoid.” He shook his head.

“He’s a fuckin’ little lunatic!” Calanthe corrected harshly.

“At the moment I tend to agree with you.” Vaysh sighed, looking up to meet the vibrant, violet eyes. “I have never seen him so-” he searched for the words, “so undiplomatic before.”

“He’s worse than Seel,” Calanthe said absently as he watched the fair haired Har in question. Seel was currently leaning contentedly against Swift and Calanthe suppressed the twinge of desire that sight always caused. His eyes hardened, and he glanced back at Vaysh’s white face. “What is going on inside his head Vaysh?”

“I honestly don’t know any more.”

***

It was the second day of the Tribal Council and the talks were progressing slowly, but on time to Ashmael’s tight schedule. The large gathering of Hara were seated in the spacious council chamber on the second level of Phaonica and Ashmael held the floor, speaking clearly.

Listening to him, Calanthe could honesty start to see and appreciate what Thiede was attempting to do with the Wraeththu nation. All open hostilities were gone as they worked together, creating a strong force. The real problems were being addressed and solved, as well as many probing questions delivered towards the duel Tigrons.

Calanthe sighed as he observed Ashmael’s tall figure in the sunlit room. His hair was a mass of gold, tied back securely with a black ribbon that matched his striking outfit. Truly a gem of the Gelaming and Calanthe could understand why most Hara looked to him for rulership before Thiede introduced Pellaz. It would have been an interesting few months of adjustment and he glanced sideways at Pellaz.

His co-ruler was reclining back with his chin in palm, his eyes extremely dark today, all his attention centered on the discussion. In front of him Caeru sat, his head turned so that Calanthe could only see the side of his head. It wasn’t very informative.

Off to one side, Swift was talking in an undertone to Seel, who appeared to be sick, and Calanthe frowned. Swift’s arm was around his lover’s shoulders as the blonde Megalithican pushed the soft hair back, stroking the white face. Seel had his eyes closed and seemed to be rocking in pain and Swift glanced around worriedly. Ashmael’s speech stopped as he looked across also.

“I’m sorry,” Swift apologized as all heads turned towards him. “Can someone please call Rayhala?” Tyson and Chrysm were already moving towards him.

“He can’t be going into labor. It’s too early,” Caeru was saying, even as Pellaz started to stand.

The doors to the chamber burst open and a tall Har ran towards the dais, his face tense, hair flowing behind him like a banner.

“My Lords!” He was breathless as he fell to his knees on the dais steps.

“Forama, what is it?” Pellaz walked down the steps, holding out a hand to get the young technician to stand.

“It’s Galhea!” he stressed, his eyes wide.

“Tell it precisely,” Calanthe ordered as the rest of the room broke into murmurs.

“I just received an urgent call from Karon in Galhea. The transference transmission was very short and staticy, but Karon said Galhea was under attack.”

“Attack!” Swift exclaimed. “When!?”

“Only this moment my Lord, as I ran here as fast as I could. Ritahn is trying to re-establish transmission even now.”

“Seel sensed distress,” Swift told them as he left his lover in his brother’s care. “I have got to get back there!”

“Of course.” Pellaz’s tone was calming and Calanthe blinked at him. “The Gelaming forces will go with you. Arahal!” he called, even as the Captain was striding forward.

“My troops are mobile already and sitting just inside the Maudrah borders,” Ariaric offered to Calanthe.

“No, that will not be necessary, but thank you.” Pellaz walked over to Ashmael, who was calling for the maps.

“Thank you Aric,” Calanthe said. “It might be wise if you return home though,” he stressed, then turned to look at all the other anxious faces. “It would be advisable if you all returned home immediately and check your defenses. Let Immanion know if there are any problems. In fact, send out scouts and report back here within twenty-four hours.”

“What of Megalithica?” The question echoed.

“Immanion will go to Megalithica’s aid,” Pellaz answered from behind Calanthe, and Cal turned to see his partner walk up the steps of the dais and hold out his hands for silence. “You will all be resummoned here at a later date and I trust you will honor your agreement with the Gelaming and attend. Meanwhile, I suggest you do as Tigron Calanthe-har-Aralis advises.”

There was a muttering around the room, but all complied and Calanthe watched as the tables were cleared and maps laid. It was all moving too quickly for him, and he went over to Swift and Ashmael who were plotting the best approach to Galhea. Pellaz was issuing orders and he didn’t want to interfere as Pell still knew the Gelaming best.

“-that will bring us within two leagues of the gates,” Swift was saying.

“It should be enough.”

“But how long?” Swift turned and looked at Calanthe.

“As soon as Arahal can assemble the forces,” Pellaz answered again from Calanthe’s side.

Calanthe looked at him and Pellaz gave him a half apologetic smile. “Arahal should be able to draw at least three hundred Gelaming on horseback within twenty minutes,” he explained softly to Calanthe. “All our other forces are on patrol and will take longer to contact.”

“It’s a start.” Ashmael nodded. “We’ll enter here.” He pointed to the map. “It has good coverage and overlooks most of the city. From there we will be able to estimate our actions.”

“That sounds workable.” Calanthe nodded.

“I just need to check on some other things.” Pellaz touched Cal’s arm lightly. “I’ll meet you in the courtyards.”

Calanthe watched him walk away. Ashmael was rolling up the maps and Swift went to tell Seel the plans.

“You realize don’t you, that depending on what we find we may need to perform a Grissecon?” Ashmael eyed Calanthe pointedly.

“Between Pell and myself?” Calanthe asked warily.

“Yes. You are our strongest pair. Swift and Seel are talented, but as you know Seel is hosting.”

“Which leaves only us, I suppose,” Calanthe finished.

“Can you do it? That is what I’m really asking.” Ashmael continued bluntly.

“Oh, I imagine we could,” he said tartly.

“Good.” Ashmael nodded. “We had better move then. Swift!” he called.

The small Har looked up. Seel’s face was still colorless and his hands clutched at Swift’s tunic. Swift nodded once at Ashmael then leaned down to kiss his mate gently. Calanthe turned away, giving them both the illusion of privacy.

The courtyard was frantic with activity. The beautiful, white, magical Faraldiennes chaffed under the restriction and excitement as Arahal ordered Hara around. The main body of the army was gathering outside the gates of Immanion awaiting passage through the lanes. They would all depart as soon as the group from Phaonica arrived.

Calanthe sat astride his personal stallion, Omar, and stroked the sleek neck. He’d buckled on a sword, uncertain like everyone else what sort of reception they would meet. Ashmael came up beside him, an oblong, antiquated box strapped to his saddle.

“For the Grissecon,” he answered the unasked question. Calanthe nodded.

“Don’t be so ridiculous!” Arahal’s voice was loud as he blocked Chrysm’s path with his horse.

The small Har’s face was set as he stood, hands on hips, a long sword strapped to his thigh. “I have just as much right to go as you do!” He sounded peeved.

“I won’t have the time to watch out for you as well as organize everything else. Be reasonable Chrysm!”

“Since when have you ever cared for my welfare!” Chrysm exploded. “Besides I’m more than capable, so get out of my way!”

Arahal muttered something under his breath, turning his horse as Chrysm pushed past. He slid off the animal’s back with practiced ease and caught the Hegemony member’s shoulder, spinning him around. He seemed oddly stuck for words, as the other Har tried to shrug him off. Then Arahal smothered his protests with an open mouthed kiss.

Calanthe bit down on his smile, shaking his head as Ashmael grinned from ear to ear.

“Hopeless lot.” Was all the strategist said. “Come on Arahal!” he yelled after a moment. “We haven’t got all afternoon as I would like to get there before dark!”

Pellaz led his horse over to Calanthe and glanced back at the two. “Did I miss something?”

“It’s an on-going argument, I believe.” Calanthe smiled down at his mate, feeling a sense of easiness begin to flow naturally between them. That in itself kept the smile on his face.

“Pell? What are you doing?” Tyson pushed in between their horses and Calanthe steadied his mount, glaring at his son.

“Ty,” Pellaz sighed, half in exasperation.

Calanthe turned back to the two and debated stepping in, but stopped as he saw Pell’s face. Maybe his soul mate was starting to get sick of Tyson. It was a hope and his smile returned.

“You can’t go.” The level words reached Calanthe’s ears easily and he saw Ashmael turn as well.

“Ty-” Again Pellaz was cut off.

“Pell think! You can’t use the lanes!” Tyson shook his shoulders gently.

Pellaz’s fingers froze on the bridle he was tightening as he stared up at Tyson’s serious face. The gentle thumbs caressed his cheeks.

“I’m sorry Pell but you can’t go. I won’t let you,” he whispered, now that he had his lover’s full attention.

“Tyson, what are you going on about?” Calanthe demanded, not enjoying watching the intimate tenderness between the two.

“Oh, by the Aghama!” Pellaz turned his face into the horse’s neck as Tyson massaged his shoulders and looked up at his Hostling, meeting the reproving, violet eyes squarely. “I’m sorry.” Was all he said.

Calanthe shuddered abruptly, an icy breeze touching his skin and he swung his leg to slip down over his mount’s neck. “Pell?” The pale face turned and Calanthe saw real fear in the dark eyes.

“I’m hosting,” Pellaz whispered the words.

“Your what!” Calanthe said loudly, then started to laugh, shocked. It was a cold, empty sound and died quickly as he saw the moisture beginning to cloud Pell’s eyes. “What?” He grabbed the slender shoulders and shook him hard. All the burning anger ate into him as the puzzles of the last few weeks fell into place.

“Calanthe don’t!” Tyson tried to push him away. “I won’t let you.” He stopped and gasped as Calanthe lifted him, burning him with his anger and thrust him aside.

“How long!” Calanthe snarled the words as he stared fiercely into Pellaz’s face. He ignored his son, who lay clutching his chest in pain ten feet away. Ashmael called his name but he ignored it.

“Five weeks.” The words were soft and small as Pellaz tried to hold onto Calanthe’s wrists.

“Why!” His fingers dug into the hot skin of Pellaz’s arms, bruising him further, an intense resentment overwhelming his rational thought. A resentment mixed dangerously with a possessiveness that vibrated deeply in his chest.

“Calanthe, this is not the answer. Don’t waste your strength. Galhea needs it.” Ashmael’s urgent whisper encroached on the Tigron’s mind, and he released Pellaz briefly to turn around.

“Fuck Galhea!” Calanthe spat, the power in him visible and Ashmael took a step back. “Fuck the entire world!”

Pellaz sagged back against his horse, Peridot. “It wasn’t intentional Cal, you must believe that,” he whispered, begging Calanthe to listen and believe.

“You manipulating, little whore!” Calanthe hissed as he slapped the white face savagely in retaliation, wanting him to hurt like he was hurting.

Pellaz closed his eyes and turned his head away. His cheek stung, but that was nothing as tears rolled down his face.

Calanthe glared at him, seeing the black spiked lashes and moved away before he lashed out again. Pulling on the reins, he swung up onto Omar, angrily sending the animal into a quick, nervous gallop. Anything to escape the enveloping madness behind him.

Ashmael caught up with him first and eyed him worriedly.

Calanthe ignored him and everyone else as his mind furiously thought back to five weeks ago. The ball, Rayhala’s medical center and Seel’s sudden admission. It was all starting to add up in his mind and he didn’t like the picture he was getting.

Outside Immanion they were met by the vast forces of the Gelaming army. Ashmael and Arahal addressed them as Swift stopped his horse next to Calanthe’s. He looked a lot like Terzian at that moment, Calanthe decided unkindly. Ruthless and treacherous. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he snapped.

“It was Pell’s decision.”

Calanthe turned away.

“It was an accident Cal,” Swift pushed. “He would never hurt you intentionally.”

“Spare me the excuses!” he sneered sarcastically. Nothing further was said as they all joined minds briefly and entered the magical lanes.

***

Overlooking Galhea from the grassed plateau, the city below was deathly quiet. Nothing moved. Structural damage could be seen throughout, but there was no sign of attackers.

“Magic!” Ashmael muttered in disgust as he sniffed the air. It was heavy with a burnt, sharp smell.

Swift was already reaching out with his mind. “Azriel’s in the main part of the city,” he said vaguely as he concentrated.

“And Cobweb?” Ashmael asked tightly.

“I don’t know. I can’t reach him.” Swift shook his head.

They cautiously entered the city, splitting up into smaller groups, searching the rubble for survivors. Many Hara came out clutching loved ones and crying over the loss of family and friends.

“The danger is past,” Ashmael guessed as he rode between Swift and Calanthe.

“But will it return?” Swift asked.

“Only if it is a trap.” Ashmael shrugged. “Otherwise I’d say no.”

“But why?” Swift’s voice echoed the many others that asked the same question.

Azriel meet them in the city center, he was covered in blood and Swift embraced him lightly.

“What happened?” he asked, glad his son was alive.

“We had no warning.” The tall blond looked haggard. “It hit our defenses fast and from what I could work out, it was only interested in destroying the city.” Around them a number of bodies were being laid out. “It made no sense,” Azriel went on. “Those outside were torn to pieces, while those inside were crushed.” He rubbed his eyes. “And then just as abruptly, it ended.”

“But why?” Calanthe asked no-one in particular as Ashmael went over to investigate the dead.

“Father, Garis was outside. I tried to-” he stopped and licked his lips. “I couldn’t help him.” Tears glistened in his eyes.

Swift locked his jaw, gripping his son’s arm. “It’s alright,” he comforted, banking down on his own grief as he tried to concentrate on the matters at hand. He would grieve later.

“And what of those at Forever?” Calanthe asked quietly.

“I don’t know as I haven’t been able to contact them,” Azriel whispered.

Entering through the ruined gates of the massive estate, they were meet by a number of servants who ran towards them.

“My Lord.” One young Har called urgently. His companions were crying. “Around the back quickly.”

With no second urging they were gone, their horses picking through the stone and wood. Again a line of bodies greeted them and they found Moswell standing. He rushed over to them. Swithe was holding a hysterical Charicia as he cradled a dead Harling. Briahaar looked up, anxiously running to his father and Swift embraced him before he moved to Cobweb who was sitting on the grass. He was bloodied but whole.

“Are you injured?” He knelt down. Around them the Gelaming guards helped the survivors.

“A madness from the sky finally touched this cursed land,” he whispered.

“Cobweb?” Swift touched his icy cheek as Ashmael arrived and also knelt down.

“See to Charicia as he has lost a Harling.” Cobweb glanced up, his eyes sightless and dark.

“He has also lost Garis,” Swift said in a low tone.

Cobweb just shut his eyes tiredly and sagged against Ashmael. “See to him, I will be fine.”

Swift turned away as Ashmael ran fingers over his Hostling’s face.

“Where are you hurt? Tell me?” Ashmael sounded injured himself as he stroked the soft, flyaway hair. “I will get you to Immanion safely before the birthing, I promise.”

***

Calanthe tried to help co-ordinate the clean up, but gave up after Arahal suggested he relax. A messenger arrived via the lanes from Immanion and Calanthe called him over. The news was good, but the messenger did warn the lanes were getting treacherous. It was expected and Arahal just shrugged, leaving the young Har to Calanthe.

“Tigron Pellaz-har-Aralis has sent all the air hovercars with medical assistance and food. He also says that the lower levels of Phaonica will be prepared to accept survivors until more suitable accommodation can be found.”

“Good.” Calanthe nodded, trying hard not to think about Pellaz. “Has that components list been completed yet for the thought transference machine?” He turned to one of the guards Arahal had thoughtfully left him.

“Yes my Lord.” The tall guard dressed in leathers handed Calanthe the list.

“Thank you.” He looked back up at the young messenger. “Report to your commander,” he instructed. “Harnedel?” He looked back over his shoulder at the Gelaming again.

“Yes my Lord?”

“See to it another messenger is sent immediately with this list. He must have a fresh horse and return immediately before the lanes close.”

“At once.”

Calanthe sat back and tapped his bottom lip. Command was easy, but boring he decided. Standing up, he went out to find Arahal, and annoy the Captain. It was the only way he could stop his mind from dwelling on Immanion and Pellaz. And the pain.

***

Pellaz handed the list of components to Vaysh and regarded the young messenger again. “Calanthe said he wanted this immediately?”

“Yes my Lord Tigron.” The Har didn’t lift his eyes above the Tigron’s boot clad feet.

“So tell me what’s happening out there?” Pellaz asked exasperatedly as he hated having to wait. He changed position, switching his weight to the other hip.

Vaysh just sighed, sending a servant off to get the equipment required as he walked over to Pellaz.

Chrysm cringed and studied the ceiling. None of them had ever seen the Tigron so agitated before. It had to be more than just the fact he was hosting. Didn’t it? That in itself was a shock, Chrysm reasoned. And if he was going to be this temperamental, he hoped this was the first and last time Pellaz consented to host. They could all do without the added strain. Not to mention an enraged Calanthe.

“The city is being searched for survivors my Lord.” The messenger hesitated.

“What of the attackers?” Pellaz demanded.

“Pell,” Vaysh broke in, gently touching his arm.

Pellaz ignored him. “Well!” he pushed.

“There were none when we arrived my Lord.” The messenger fidgeted, still not looking up. “Lord Ashmael believes it was a magic attack.”

“I see.” Pellaz paced away restlessly, absently rubbing his side. “Are they expecting more of the same?”

“I really couldn’t say my Lord.”

Pellaz hissed in a sharp breath and Vaysh went over to him.

“Pell, what are you trying to do?” he asked, watching the pupils in the dark eyes dilate further. “Pell?”

“Calanthe might not want my help, but he’s going to get it! He’s too pigheaded to admit that there might be danger. If it’s a magic attack then Ashmael will want a Grissecon.”

“Pell?” Vaysh took hold of his hands, drawing his attention. “Both Ash and Cal know what they are doing, so just…”

“Are any of the dignitaries still here?” Pellaz cut him off.

“No,” Vaysh said sharply. “Everyone has gone, only the palace staff remain. Pell listen to me.”

“Do you despise me as well?” Pellaz asked, all eyes.

“You know better than to ask stupid questions like that!” he snapped, then relented. “Look, just tell me what you want to do, maybe I can help.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Pell!” Vaysh gripped his hands and shook them.

“I know.” Pellaz glanced at him, unsure. “Cal doesn’t any more. Look I want to talk to Caeru, can you delay the messenger fifteen minutes or so?”

“Why?” Vaysh didn’t move.

“If Ashmael needs a Grissecon then Caeru should be there.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose and smiled tiredly. “It’s the only alternative.”

“Alright,” Vaysh said slowly and released his hands. He watched Pellaz walk away and meet Chrysm’s questioning look with uncertainty. Taking a steadying breath of his own, he turned back to the messenger.

Pellaz was cataloguing everything he wanted to say to Caeru as he entered his Tigrina’s suites. He glanced around briefly for all the house Hara that normally lounged around, but saw no-one. Busy planning his arguments, he walked through the doors that led to the massive bedchamber. He went in without knocking, and froze as he saw his bond mate pressed up against a stone wall, a knife at his throat. Not given adequate time to react, he hit an invisible wall of woven power, loosing consciousness briefly as he was hit on the back of the head.

“Pellaz!” Aihah breathed the name as he smiled sarcastically at Caeru, not taking his eyes off the slippery Tigrina. “I thought he was in Galhea.”

“Obviously not!” Caeru snapped back, fighting against the mental restraints the two Kakkahar held him in.

“Shune?” Aihah asked.

“You know Lianvis might like this one,” the other Kakkahar said conversationally. He prodded the Tigron in the side with his foot. “But why is he here and not in Galhea?”

“But he never said anything about the Tigrons,” Aihah reminded him.

“But Pellaz is more valuable. I say we take him and kill the bitch,” Shune smiled wickedly.

Caeru started to raise a hand, his face white with fury. “You’ll never get away with this!” he spat.

“Shut up witch!” Aihah snarled. “And say a prayer!” With a quick movement he twisted the blade, aiming for the Tigrina’s heart.

Lifting his head groggily, Pellaz saw Caeru jerk sideways, screaming, and he mentally reached out towards the murderous blade, hitting it with his will and dissolving it into a parallel plane as Aihah thrust the knife home. The blade shimmered, passing completely through the Tigrina’s body, wounding him only superficially. Aihah swore.

“No!” Shune brought his sword hilt down hard on the Tigron’s skull, knocking him unconscious instantly as Aihah grabbed the Tigrina’s arm, throwing him against the wall. Caeru stumbled and hit the cold stone solidly, striking his head against a low brass light fitting. He collapsed to the floor in a sprawled heap.

“What now?” Aihah asked as he breathed heavily, walking over to the Tigrina’s unconscious body. Blood covered the white flesh and he smiled, satisfied.

“Is he dead?” Shune asked as he quickly cast a spell over Pellaz, binding him mentally before the Har could awake again.

“No. But the poison will finish him off.” Aihah grinned.

“Well, we had better move fast as Pellaz’s mental projection probably alerted half the palace.”

“It almost deafened me. I thought you had him bound.”

“I do now, so come on!” Shune ordered, effortlessly picking the small Tigron up and exiting the rooms via the balcony.

Aihah chuckled as he followed. “Lianvis should love this.”

“Shut up and move it!” Shune hissed.

On the ground level they killed another guard before retrieving their horses and riding into the night. Outside Immanion they slipped easily into the lanes.

“Pellaz!” Vaysh whirled, crying the name as he felt the strong mental shock waves. Chrysm had crumpled to the floor and was battling to stand again.

“It-it came from…upstairs,” Chrysm panted the words.

“Caeru’s room,” Vaysh supplied and took off at a run, calling guards to follow him. Behind him, Chrysm ordered a guard to help him.

Caeru’s suite was deathly quiet, no sound could be heard and there was no sign of house Hara. Bracing himself for what he might find, Vaysh motioned guards inside as Chrysm arrived, half carried by an obliging officer. They found six Hara dead behind a couch and cursed as more young Gelaming were uncovered.

“In here!” Chrysm called urgently and Vaysh rushed in expecting the worst and saw the fair haired, Hegemony member leaning over Caeru’s body. The Tigrina’s appearance was chalky and blood covered his chest and side.

“Poison!” Chrysm hissed and one of the guards ran out to get Rayhala before Vaysh could issue the order.

“But where’s Pell?” Vaysh looked around the room, a creeping fear threatening to engulf him as he walked out onto the small balcony. It was pitch dark.

“He was here,” Chrysm stated quietly. He held up a jeweled hair comb for Vaysh to see. Under his fingers some blood was drying on the carpet. Chrysm touched it hesitantly, and looked up to meet Vaysh’s haunted expression. “Pell’s,” he confirmed.

Vaysh wrapped his arms around himself, rocking as Rayhala arrived and went instantly to Caeru. His face was stark as he rested his hands over the wound, muttering under his breath. He closed his eyes concentrating hard, but Caeru didn’t twitch. “Maybe,” he said to himself, standing up and turning to the guard hovering patiently. “Quickly, get him to my unit! But be careful. Keep his head up! And don’t let…” The words trailed off as they exited the room. Vaysh stared around, anchorless.

Chrysm was already ordering a search of the outer grounds and the City, as all the outdoor function lights were turned on, but no sign of attackers or Pellaz was found.

“I can’t even feel him,” Chrysm complained, turning back to Vaysh’s silent form, his hair flying wildly. “Usually I can at least trace his mental pattern. Now there’s nothing, just a void.”

“He can’t be dead,” Vaysh said in a flat tone.

“Vaysh, what about Calanthe?” Chrysm approached the assistant’s immobile figure. “We have to tell him.”

Nodding, he shivered, an icy numbness engulfing him. “Send the messenger back.” Was all he said.

***

Calanthe watched the sun go down behind the mountains. It was a beautiful sight and he tried to work out why it left him feeling cold. Arahal had set up a good camp, and all survivors were cared for and their wounds tended. The Gelaming guard comforted mourners as they continued to search the city for others still trapped.

Not far from him, Cobweb lay curled, fast asleep on Ashmael’s bed roll and the Har returned regularly to check on him. Tyson and Azriel helped Swift organize the beginning of the clean up work and rescued documents and valuable manuscripts from the business center. Charicia was still crying softly, unaware of anything around him as he held his youngest son, his wide, brown eyes expressionless as Swithe tried to comfort him. The only flighty one was Briahaar, who paced the campsite nervously, casting frequent glances back at Charicia. All in all it was a desolate atmosphere, and Calanthe stood up, stretching his legs as he tried to get his own thoughts in line. They were confused and angry as an impotent rage vibrated deep within his bones. All his convictions were now in tatters and he wondered where the new situation would leave him. Had he now really lost Pellaz? He wanted to lash out, to release the clenched fury of his will.

“Cal!”

Ashmael’s call had him turning and he saw the strategist run towards him, his face blanched white.

“What’s wrong?” He tensed.

“Problems,” Ashmael stated and dragged the messenger forward. “Tell him what you told me,” he ordered.

“Ash?” Calanthe frowned.

“My Lord Tigron, Immanion is under attack. My Lord Vaysh asks for your immediate return.” The messenger trembled.

“Attack! Oh my God!” Calanthe swung around as a finger of fear brushed him a second time and he now realized what it meant. He grabbed his sword and made for Omar.

“Cal, the lanes are closing!” Ashmael warned as he ran to keep up with the Tigron.

“Then stay here,” Calanthe growled as he swung up onto the stallion’s back.

Ashmael gritted his teeth, but called a dozen guard and hastily followed the determined Tigron. With the components for the repair of the thought transference unit safely in Arahal’s hands, they should have communications open with Immanion within a few hours. He urged his own mount forward and plunged into the lanes behind Calanthe.

***

Arriving in Immanion with grim, determine faces, as the jump through the lanes had not been pleasant, Calanthe slid off his white stallion in a fluid motion before the animal stopped. He ran straight into the Palace, not slowing until he found Vaysh.

“Calanthe.” Vaysh took a deep breath, his eyes wide and a little wild still as he rung his hands together.

“What happened?”

“We don’t know for certain – yet,” he said in a rush of words.

“Where’s Pell?” Calanthe scowled, turning around as he continued to walk into the reception hall. Ashmael was behind him.

“Caeru’s been knifed-” Vaysh started and balked as Calanthe swung back towards him, the violet eyes dangerous, “and poisoned. Pell is missing.”

“Missing!” Calanthe grabbed his wrist.

“There was some sort of fight Cal, we don’t know much as no-one witnessed it except Caeru, and he’s unconscious. But we found Pell’s blood on the carpet.” His tongue was suddenly liberated and he gushed the words.

Calanthe felt the color drain from his face and a single nerve twitched in his jaw.

“Have you searched the grounds?” Ashmael homed in on Vaysh.

“Of course.” He pulled free of Calanthe’s slack grip. “Chrysm’s tried to touch him mentally as well to get a location, but he says there is just a void.” He watched Calanthe.

Calanthe turned away and closed his eyes concentrating, picturing the link he shared with Pellaz and following it. He hit a wall of blackness and he jerked mentally back from it, as a pit of nothingness swirled up to engulf him. He jumped physically, gasping out Pellaz’s name as he escaped the mental whirlpool.

“Cal?” Ashmael held him as he stumbled.

“Vaysh!” Chrysm came flying around the corner and stopped. “Calanthe.” He stared a moment then shook himself. “Rayhala says Caeru is coming around.”

“Good,” Ashmael stated and kept his arm around Calanthe’s waist, leading him from the room.

“It was that white powder you gave me weeks ago,” Rayhala explained as he gently placed his hands on the Tigrina’s forehead. “I couldn’t break it down into natural substances and it intrigued me. So I asked Leionan from Sykernesse and he suggested it was a manufactured substance from Garridan. Now as you know, getting any information from the Garridan’s is hopeless, so I experimented a little,” Rayhala continued in a soft monotone, slowly relaxing all the Hara standing around the bed. “It proved to be a chemically created poison, and therefore impossible to culture, but Leionan and I persisted and found a weakness in its structure. Luckily for the Tigrina all our efforts proved beneficial. Without the anti-toxins he would be dead.”

“But can you wake him?” Calanthe asked as he stood on the Tigrina’s other side.

“I’m working on it, but he experienced a large amount of mental trauma, so don’t expect lucid answers,” Rayhala warned. “There that should do it.” He sighed tiredly as he released the blonde head.

Caeru took a moment longer before he surfaced, and blinked up dazed at the faces leaning over him. “Pell?” he mouthed the name, no sound escaping his lips.

“Rue,” Calanthe caressed his cheek softly. “Tell me what happened?”

“Cal-Calanthe.” The word was hoarsely whispered and the Tigrina’s eyes filled with tears.

“Rue, please.” Calanthe moved closer, trying to speak softly. “Isn’t there something you can give him?” He looked up at Rayhala, but the physician just shook his head negatively.

“Pell’s…gone,” Caeru hiccuped the words, closing his eyes.

“Rue, come on, I need to know.” Calanthe gripped his icy hands, and the fair head turned slowly towards him, the eyes unfocussed. “Tell me Rue.”

Caeru licked his dry lips, his vision blurring. “They wanted to…Cal is that you? They were going to…they told me everything.”

Calanthe looked up in frustration at Rayhala, and Ashmael moved closer.

“Do you want me to try?” Ashmael asked gently.

Calanthe shook his head and glanced down at the Tigrina. Caeru was in a world of his own, tears glistening in his eyes. “Rue, where is Pell?” Calanthe tried again.

“They…it will destroy the Gelaming…Cal?”

“I’m here,” he pushed desperately.

“He…saved me-” Caeru’s voice broke. “Pell…gave his life for…me.”

“Who!!” Calanthe demanded.

“Aihah…and-”

“Shune!” Ashmael cursed the name as Calanthe straightened.

“Kakkahar.” Calanthe growled the word as he turned to Ashmael. “It was a trap. Galhea was a diversion, right from the beginning! A fuckin’ trap!” he snarled, outraged. “I want them traced!”

“They would have used the lanes,” Ashmael said calmly, his mind working furiously. “And with the magical deterioration it will be impossible to trace them now until it clears.” He looked over at Vaysh who was chewing his hair nervously.

“Oh by the Aghama, no!” Chrysm suddenly grabbed Ashmael’s arm as he had another thought. “The lanes will kill him,” he stated.

Ashmael looked at him as if he was mad.

“He’s hosting, remember!” he stressed, seeing Calanthe’s blank expression. “Pellaz is Hosting!”

Ashmael turned back to the Tigron and tightened his hold on the unsteady Har, afraid he was going to collapse. They needed him whole and sane if that was possible now. “Cal?” he called gently.

Chrysm shook his head and walked away.

“I shall wipe the Kakkahar’s blood off the face of the earth,” Calanthe said evenly and calmly in a low voice.

Ashmael held his breath as all the hairs on the back of his neck rose and he shivered, feeling the power vibrate through Calanthe. The fanatical look in the violet eyes deepened as the blonde Tigron turned towards him.

“That is a promise Ashmael.”

The silence was broken only by Caeru as he started to cry in his sleep.

CHAPTER SEVEN

‘Time deserts me before my eyes,
but this time there’ll be no compromise.
You’re near and yet so far,
and turn and turn by silence bound,
what I say won’t let you down.’

Nightmares turned into reality as Pellaz slowly regained consciousness. At first he wasn’t aware of anything except the returning feeling in his fingers and toes. The numbness transformed into pins and needles until acute, burning agony stabbed through his nerves.

His mind felt just as abused as his body, and he tried to summon his strength and control as a heavy lethargy ate away at his fragile hold on consciousness. His mind was fuzzy and he seemed to struggle an eternity with returning awareness before sounds around him slowly penetrated the fog in his mind. Voices nearby sounded muffled and unclear, and he battled his muscles in an attempt to move and found himself frozen in position.

Terrified, he discovered the bonds were not mental or physical but rather a deep seated exhaustion. It was all too confusing and he was having difficulty remembering anything as his automatic mental barriers buckled slightly. He focussed on them instinctively, pushing energy their way, not sure why his barriers were in place, but accepting it. Until he could catch the illusive memory that drifted out of reach, he would hold the barriers. There had to be a reason why they were in force. Again distant voices intruded on his senses and he pushed his focus forward and over extended himself, falling back into a black nothingness.

“You should have killed him and completed your assigned task!” Lianvis sat on a pile of lush cushions, his hard eyes watching his Hara. Beside him and at his feet sat his consort, Ulaume, who was flicking his nails in an annoyingly slow fashion.

“But surely he is more valuable.” Aihah’s tone was slightly unsure as he cast a meaningful look at the captive.

“He is deadly. He is Thiede’s puppet!” Lianvis scowled at his two right hand ambassadors. “He is power Aihah, pure power. With the Tigrina I could have used his mind to access the Tigrons and destroy them, by weakening them. I would have forced them to witness the Tigrina’s destruction, but now…” He stood up and walked around the pallet where the semi-conscious Tigron lay. “We are strong enough now to take the Gelaming, but we have to weaken the Hegemony first.” He gazed down at the pale face speculatively, his long, molten gold hair looped and braided down to his gold adorned ankles.

“So just kill him. That will hurt Calanthe,” Aihah stated.

“Let me.” Shune drew his sword.

“No.” Lianvis held up a hand. “Since I do not have the Tigrina I must try to use him instead. We can always kill him if he becomes a problem. At the moment he is shielding, so I can’t feel his life pulse. What is he planning I wonder? Our pretty little Tigron,” Lianvis ran a long, pointed nail down Pellaz’s cheek.

“Tahalha scanned him briefly,” Shune offered as he resheathed his sword.

“Yes. Send for him.” He flicked a finger at a servant. “Meanwhile, I want you both to supervise the patrols. I want to move from here as soon as possible.”

Both Shune and Aihah bowed and backed out of the room as Lianvis continued to study the Tigron’s face.

“He’s waking again.” Ulaume’s voice was a caress as he stood in a fluid motion. His body was barely covered by strips of silk and gold jewelry. Three small plaits fell either side of his narrow face, emphasizing his brilliantly, painted eyes. The rest of his hair hung freely, encasing him in power as it curled around his thighs.

“What do you sense?” Lianvis still studied the pale face.

“Weakness, confusion.” Ulaume glided to his Lord’s side.

“He is not weak!” Lianvis half barked, his eyes hooded as he regarded his beautiful Colurastian consort. “He is hoping to trap me more likely! If I could, I would neutralize his mind and powers, but he has always been too strong.”

“This is different. I’m not sure why, yet I sense no danger from him.”

Lianvis raised a brow and stood. He reached forward and cupped the smooth, perfumed cheek of his consort. The dark, outlined eyes met his without blinking and a slow, evil smile started on his own lips. “I’ll give him to you then my dear, as I know how much you’ve wanted to eat into his brightness. Probe his strengths for me and find a weakness. Just-” he tapped his lover’s nose gently, “just don’t kill him as we may need him later to break Calanthe.”

Ulaume tried to suppress his delight, as his eyes fell down hungrily in pleasure on Pellaz, his clawed fingers flexing. His lips twitched into a small smile of excitement and Lianvis laughed throatily, watching him.

Turning away, Lianvis left the curtained alcove. He would not be far away as he observed Ulaume work. He always watched him, appreciating his consort’s resourcefulness and willfulness. It was a trait he both loved and feared. Lying back on his own bed of comfort, he closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, ready for any attempt Pellaz might make for escape or revenge.

***

Ulaume softly started to hum a tune, his hands settling firmly around Pellaz’s skull. His fingers pushed the black hair aside as smoldering, grey eyes bored into the pale face. Under him Pellaz twitched, his movements sluggish until he moaned deep in his throat, his face contorting with pain as Ulaume forced his body and mind to consciousness. The heavy, black lashes parted, even as Pellaz cried out again, this time in horror as he felt the snake like tendrils of fire burn into his undefended body. His hands raised uselessly as Ulaume’s tuneless song snipped at his barriers and the heavy serpent’s mouth silenced his cries.

A suffocating void of blackness assaulted him as the Colurastian’s breath plunged into him, curling around his defenses, strangling his energy. His body was invaded as brutally as his mouth and Pellaz tried to block the images he was forced to witness as he hid behind the protective barriers of his mind. A deep, twisting pain inside him reminded him sharply of the unborn child he carried and he screamed in panic as Ulaume deliberately scraped his raw nerves a second time. Laughter echoed, vibrating into his brain as the now monotonous song faltered slightly.

He clutched at the body consuming him, terrified for the defenseless Harling as he writhed away from Ulaume’s deadly heat. But the coarse, grey hair caught him, both caressing and cutting his flesh across flanks, arms and legs.

*So I have your secret.* Ulaume hissed the words in his mind and Pellaz tried to deny the thought as he twisted away from the consuming mouth. It was useless. Then, just as swiftly as his senses and body had been raped, he was abandoned, and he curled into a ball, naked limbs shaking in reaction as he cried mentally in horror.

Ulaume’s smoky gaze touched Pellaz in manipulative pleasure as he absently wiped the blood from his body.

“Well!” Lianvis demanded as he stood arms folded by the curtained doorway.

“He is weak. He has no energy left to even fight me. Everything he has is protecting his mind. Even those barriers will crumple as his exhaustion grows.”

“Grows?” Lianvis caressed his consort’s beautiful face. “Are you sure of this?”

“Oh yes,” Ulaume purred. “You see, he is hosting.”

“Ahhh,” Lianvis couldn’t keep the pleasure out of his evil smile as he walked over to Pellaz’s curled form. “This changes things,” he said as he folded down onto a luxurious couch. “Not only do I have a Tigron, but a hosting Tigron!” He threw his head back and laughed. “Calanthe must be going insane. I would give anything to see his face at this moment!”

Ulaume didn’t move, except to crouch down next to Pellaz and gently brush the long, black hair off a white shoulder and hip.

“If he is weak, then I should be able to break his mind and take the power from him, increasing my army. That will make me invincible!” Lianvis carried on, lost in his dreams of conquest and ignoring Ulaume’s silent actions. “I can break Calanthe easily!”

“What if his pearl still lives?” Ulaume asked as he looked up through lashes and plaits.

“What?” Lianvis frowned at him. “Impossible! The lanes would have killed it.”

“But he is strong, stronger than most. Maybe it survived.”

“Why my pretty one?” Lianvis narrowed his eyes dangerously. “What are you thinking in that devious, little mind of yours?”

“If it still lives, I can take it from him. Raise it as our own,” Ulaume whispered persuasively. “He will still be weak and you can do with him as you please.”

“I have never noticed this maternal streak in you before Ulaume,” Lianvis said slowly. “But it is an interesting thought. The Harling of the Tigron’s could be immensely powerful, and if molded early, extremely useful.”

Ulaume looked away as Pellaz started to regain consciousness and moan. Long, nailed hands fluttered under the black hair, forcing the Tigron’s chin up and twisting him onto his back. “Let me test the pearl,” he asked, not taking his eyes off his victim.

Two Kakkahar guards appeared at the door and Lianvis went to meet them. “Do as you wish Ulaume, have your fun, but just remember I want him alive.” He stressed the last word before he turned away. “Tahalha.” He smiled benevolently at the tall Kakkahar and ushered him into another chamber.

Ulaume didn’t reply as he stared down into his captive’s shuttered features. “Pellaz,” he called softly. “I know you can hear me.”

The dark eyes opened to slits, hatred burning in their depths.

“I am going to take your Harling.”

“No!” The denial was barely a whisper as Pellaz tried to roll away, raising his legs in the only defense he had left.

Ulaume’s laughter mocked him, and he clapped hands over his ears, blocking the sound out, but it lingered, echoing in his mind insidiously. Two tall Hara, with pure white hair entered and he was roughly picked up and carried to the curtained division.

“Clean him and prepare him,” Ulaume ordered in a purr.

***

Pellaz drifted in a world of hazed redness as he was clinically cleaned in total silence. His half asked questions ignored as the two white haired Hara dried him impersonally. Their eyes were startlingly outlined by tattoos and Pellaz had difficulty identifying which tribes they originated from. They placed him on a hard table, refusing to acknowledge him as a living entity, leaving him there to shiver in cold as they stood by the curtained doorway.

He tried to look around, but his focus kept going and he even began to loose track of time and surroundings. He was forced to drink some water, the faint drugs hitting his battered system hard. Why? His mind kept screaming silently. None of this made sense. Why were the Kakkahar doing this? Hadn’t Thiede and the Hegemony Council given them freedom years ago? The questions swam around his mind endlessly like a whirlpool of chaotic images and he only barely noticed the new Hara in the room. He became painfully aware of their intentions far too late as a cold, long probe violated him a second time.

This time he screamed verbally.

***

Ulaume’s soft, snake-like voice intruded into his mind, lashing at his shields constantly as Pellaz returned to consciousness. Each time he woke he felt worse, more lethargic and inwardly exhausted. He knew it was only a matter of time now before his strength dissolved completely and then he would be wide open to Lianvis’ devious, evil mind. Also the pearl he carried sapped his energy, as his body naturally tried to protect the child he carried. The flight through the magical lanes hadn’t helped, eating into his reserves and beyond, leaving him with no hope of recuperation. Resigned to the hopelessness of his situation, he blinked open heavy eyes and found the Kakkahar’s legendary beauty smiling sinisterly down at him.

“Your Harling is dying slowly Pellaz,” Ulaume whispered in a seductive voice. “Nothing you can do will save it. As your power diminishes, you will feel your child grasp at life, until it plunges into eternal darkness.”

“Nooo!” Pellaz tried to stand, to get away from the voice as he pushed uselessly at Ulaume. He couldn’t let the child die, not now. Not after he had carried it for so long. He wanted it and Ulaume’s whispery words touched him painfully. His hands flew to his abdomen protectively as his vision narrowed and his legs buckled, dizziness swamping him. Crying out, he hit the floor hard, his face pressed to the furs and he closed hie eyes, denying the hot sting of tears. No, he could not loose his Harling now…

Two guards lifted him effortlessly, dragging him back to the cushions and he looked up hesitantly through the veil of his hair into Lianvis’ amused eyes.

“There is nowhere to run any more Pellaz. And Calanthe, your cautious lover, is not here to protect you a second time.”

“Why?” Pellaz croaked the word as he pushed his hair back with shaking hands. “Thiede trusted and respected you.”

Lianvis snorted. “He blackmailed me! I had no choice, but now I do. I’ve been waiting patiently for an opportunity like this.” He picked up an apple and bit into it, teeth flashing very white in the tanned face. “Terzian and Ponclast were only students in the black arts. They were also both careless fools. I knew that and so did Thiede.”

“You’re a fool as well if you believe you can succeed like this.” Pellaz shook his head sadly. “This way will only kill the Wraeththu nation, and we need to progress forwards not back into the dark past of man.”

“Thiede’s brainwashed you,” Lianvis scoffed.

“No.” Pellaz fought to catch his breath as the ache in his abdomen increased. “It doesn’t take intelligence to see how misguided you are.”

Lianvis’ eyes sparkled with anger as he stood and paced towards Pellaz, his gold hair shining in the muted light. “You are blind to the powers of the dark arts. But then you always were. I tried to teach you once a long time ago, but you refused.” He gripped Pellaz’s chin, forcing his head up. The Tigron’s dark eyes met his levelly. “Now my pretty Tigron, you shall learn the hard way. Unfortunately for you, it won’t be a lesson you’ll survive.”

“You’re insane,” Pellaz whispered, only just controlling his trembling, telling himself it was from exhaustion and weakness, not fear.

Lianvis gave him a slow, cruel smile. “Not as insane as your Calanthe will be after I show him your remains.”

“You can’t touch him,” Pellaz muttered, more in defiance than truth. “He is aware of you and will fight you.”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Not if I use you to bring him to me,” Lianvis whispered wickedly.

“No. I won’t help you.”

“You won’t have a choice.” Lianvis laughed. “A sacrificial lamb at Calanthe’s slaughter.”

“No!” Pellaz hit out at the Har, trying to throw his power automatically and crumpled as the demands of his summons weakened his body further. He clutched his chest and abdomen in pain as cramps convulsed him and he fell at Lianvis’ feet, blacking out.

“Well?” Lianvis eyed the small, unconscious Tigron with mild curiosity.

“His barriers are still intact.” Tahalha stepped from behind a curtain and squatted down at Pellaz’s side. “He’s breaking slowly.”

“I just hope it is fast enough.” Lianvis turned away and motioned for some liquor. “I’ll leave him to you Tahalha. Make sure he eats something as I don’t want him dropping dead before we reach our destination.”

Tahalha nodded as he gently caressed Pellaz’s face, running light fingers down his neck to check the rapid pulse. He stood as two Hara picked the light body up and followed as they carried him from the alcove.

“And it’s no use pouting at me Ulaume,” Lianvis scowled, then sighed. “Forget the pearl, as we cannot allow him to regain strength, and if you took it from him now, there is that possibility. Anyway, it is probably damaged from the flight through the lanes.” He continued to study his silent consort. “If you want a Harling, I’m sure we can arrange something,” he finished gently.

Ulaume just glided over to a scattering of black satin cushions and folded neatly onto them. He didn’t answer or say a word as he absently plucked every petal from the desert roses within reach.

Lianvis groaned and turned away.

***

Waking briefly, Pellaz lost all sense of time as insistent hands played across his body. He tried to move away from their touch, but they seemed everywhere. A deep, throaty laugh echoed in his ear and he forced his eyes open and found Tahalha leaning over him.

“I told you once before I wanted to share bodies.” He tried to capture the Tigron’s mouth, but Pellaz turned his head away. “Don’t fight me Pellaz,” he warned. “For I will have what I desire. I just wish I could keep you, but Lianvis already has plans. It is a pity, for you would have made excellent hosting stock, just like Chrysm.” He smiled as Pellaz stared at him in horror. “You do know that Shune’s decided to bind your Hegemony companion to his householdings, didn’t you? He will make a perfect concubine – eventually.”

Pellaz could do nothing but shake his head in fragile desperation.

His bouts of unconsciousness increased and Pellaz sensed the day, the hour, his pearl died, grieving for the loss of a child he would never know. A child he would never now see. Noooo! The hollowness in his abdomen tore into his soul, killing his small spring of hope. He cried silent tears, mourning the senselessness and anguish. So much was blurred, and the illusion of continual movement unbalanced him. He waited for death.

Surprisingly, it didn’t terrify him, only the knowledge that he was leaving Calanthe behind forever this time, hurt. He owed his soul mate, lover and friend more than the emptiness of a broken bond. And he silently vowed that as long as his mind was still his own, he would fight Lianvis whenever he could.

But the shields protecting him were weakening and he realized it was only a matter of time now before Lianvis shattered his barriers. He could see the Kakkahar leader looming in his mind’s peripheral vision, like a fat, black spider just waiting to pounce.

He shivered and turned his head slowly to look around the room. There was no-one with him. He tentatively raised a hand, watching his fingers tremble in the effort it took to move, and he bit back the despair.

A sudden noise outside alerted him and he hastily closed his eyes. Two voices came into range, their conversation easy and light. He carefully opened his eyes enough to see them through his lashes and noted that both Hara were small and overly painted with makeup. Their hair was light and long and they obviously weren’t of Kakkahar origins. They ignored him completely and he listened to their bickering, praying to information to use against Lianvis, and a possible way out.

“…I can’t wait till we stop moving!” The taller of the two complained as he hit a few pillows and absently arranged them to his satisfaction. “This constant travelling is playing havoc with my sleeping arrangements.”

“Not to mention everything else.” The other agreed peeved, as he tidied up books and papers.

“Besides-” The first stopped and placed a hand on his hip. “I didn’t think our responsibilities extended outside HIS room.”

“It doesn’t.” The other sighed. “And I am not going near Ulaume again. He almost strangled me this morning!”

“So if he only wanted servants on this tour, then why did he insist we accompany him?”

“Maybe when we reach Darkmere, we’ll find out…”

Pellaz’s mind raced at that, and he tried to remember where he had heard the name before. It was a vague distant memory, a tantalizing, illusive image that he couldn’t grab hold of. Frustrated, he tried to slow his thinking, to take it rationally and slowly. If Lianvis was heading there, then the Gelaming would need to know so they could stop him. Also he needed to prevent Calanthe from facing Lianvis on the Kakkahar’s terms. It was a trap the desert leader was planning, of that he was positive, and he could not allow the desert Har to destroy everything they had all worked so hard to create. He could not allow Lianvis to drag the Wraeththu backward in development.

Even as he decided what he must attempt to do, Pellaz realized it would leave his mind unprotected to Lianvis. He would succumb to the evil Har’s will and lose himself in the creeping void that beckoned him even now. Clenching his teeth against the fear of what Lianvis could do inside his head, Pellaz slowly felt for the fragile link that joined him eternally to Calanthe. Besides, he reminded himself painfully, he had nothing more to loose except his life. His Harling was dead and he could not allow Lianvis to kill his dearest lover as well. If he could just warn Cal, then the Wraeththu at least stood a chance of survival. He had to deny his own survival, and think of the Wraeththu nation as a whole. If Lianvis succeeded, everything he had sacrificed which was dear to him on becoming Tigron would be lost. Calanthe would be lost – and he could not allow that.

Blocking his mind of all other thought, he caressed the link lovingly, getting its feel and picturing his lover’s face. He studied the image his mind produced with regret, before pushing it away to gather all his remaining strength. Taking a deep breath, he tensed himself, throwing the energy sustaining his shield into the link and propelling his thoughts at his soul mate.

*Darkmere. Trap!*

He got no further as a crushing pain descended into his brain, disintegrating all awareness and he convulsed, screaming silently as he was engulfed by an evil spectra in a molten gold crown.

***

Calanthe collapsed to his knees in the middle of the room, clutching his head, as his eerie scream echoed around the walls of Phaonica.

“Cal?” Tharmifex and Cedony were at his side instantly. They supported his weight, half carrying him towards the long window seat.

“Calanthe? Can you hear me?” Tharmifex kept his urgent words gentle as Cedony motioned for servants to find the physician.

“Pell,” Calanthe mouthed the name, a plea in his tone as he rubbed his temples. “P-Pell-”

Both Cedony and Tharmifex eyed each other worriedly. They had been waiting for something like this to happen, as the Tigron’s cold, business like attitude had shocked them all. He was hiding from himself, and Rayhala had predicted an emotional breakdown within weeks.

“I-I…felt him.”

“Cal, just take a few deep breaths,” Cedony told him awkwardly. “Have you got another headache?”

“No.” Calanthe shook his head and looked between the two Hegemony members. “Look, I felt his pain,” he tried to explain. “Pell just tried touch me, but…but someone shattered the link.” He blinked as his shock passed, grabbing Cedony’s loose tunic and laughing. “God! He’s alive. Alive!” He hugged the Har in delight, smothering Cedony’s protest.

“Calanthe, please, stop it!” Cedony said urgently as he felt the prickle of power leak from the Tigron’s touch. It’s seductive touch making him nervy.

Vaysh rushed in white faced, with Ashmael and Rayhala behind him.

“Cal!” Cedony pushed the Har away and breathed a sigh of relief.

“What happened?” Rayhala asked as he ran a practiced hand over the Tigron’s damp forehead.

“He collapsed, screamed and started talking about,” Cedony hesitated saying the name, “well you know who.”

“Pellaz!” Calanthe shouted, not enjoying being talked over. He thrust Rayhala’s hands away. “And he is not dead!”

“Cal,” Ashmael started diplomatically as he licked his lips and frowned. He knew it was a delicate matter and had been worried since Pellaz’s disappearance four days ago.

“He’s not dead!” Calanthe closed his eyes. “He used our link, I felt his mind briefly before someone or something destroyed the contact.”

“You sure?” Ashmael’s frown deepened.

“Of course I’m damn well sure!” he shouted again, sick of all the sideways looks around him. “Look, I know you all think I’m going crazy and I probably will if Pell dies. But at this moment he is not dead!” he stressed. “I would know.”

“Could you sense where he is?” Vaysh pushed Rayhala and Cedony aside as he sat next to Calanthe.

“No. The contact wasn’t long enough,” Calanthe admitted, taking Vaysh’s hand, squeezing it. At least someone believed him, even if Vaysh’s concern was entirely personal. “I got only images. I sensed a trap and a darkness. No, it was more than that. A place. Darkmere I think was the word Pell used.”

“Darkmere!” Ashmael straightened. “That is an old, ghost city of humans. It has been abandoned for over thirty-five years. All Wraeththu avoid it because of its evil taint.”

“Where?” Calanthe breathed the question. A brief hope flaring within him.

“In the far south east. Near the borders where the remains of the Uigenna tribe hide.”

“I don’t remember the name.” Calanthe frowned as he knew the area well. Too well in some places.

“Everything has changed up there since the early days,” Ashmael said absently.

“And Pellaz is there?” Vaysh reminded them of the problem.

“It was the image I received.”

“Darkmere.”

“And a trap,” Calanthe said darkly.

“Not if we can surprise them first,” Tharmifex offered, glancing up. “Ashmael how long before we can recall Arahal and his guards from Forever?”

“I’ll do it at once. I doubt Galhea is any longer under threat.” Ashmael nodded as he rubbed his chin in thought. “But if Lianvis is using magic, he will probably feel our arrival via the lanes.”

“Not if we travel to a point a distance away and creep up on him,” Cedony pointed out as he handed Calanthe a glass of water.

“And hopefully we will find a trap that is not ready to be sprung yet.” Ashmael sounded mysterious, a smile growing in his light eyes. “I must study the maps.”

“I’ll contact Arahal my dear,” Tharmifex offered as he stood also.

“Good. Tell him to…” his voice trailed off as the two Hegemony members moved quickly from the room.

“Don’t worry Cal, if Pell’s still alive, we’ll find him,” Cedony said into the awkward silence that fell.

“Oh, he’s alive.” Calanthe’s voice was full of emotion. “As he wouldn’t dare die on me a second time.”

Cedony tried to smile.

It failed.

***

“What happened?” Tahalha was breathless as he pushed into the darkened room. Pellaz was curled in a ball, moaning softly, face deathly pale. Lianvis stood over him, triumphant.

“He reached out.” The Kakkahar leader stated, only mildly interested.

“But how? I thought he was bound.”

“No, those shields were relaxed a day or so ago. I had considered him too weak to project.”

“Foolish,” Tahalha muttered.

Lianvis regarded him with a pointedly raised brow, his eyes cold, and Tahalha flushed, looking down. “Well?” Lianvis swung back to his consort.

Ulaume strummed his nails on a glass. “I don’t know what he attempted, or if he even achieved his goal. You crushed his thoughts completely when you took control of his mind.”

“He knows nothing of our plans,” Tahalha offered. “I would guess all he attempted to do was broadcast a distress call, project his position like a beacon.”

“Mmmm.” Lianvis considered the words, unconvinced. “I think it would be wise if we moved immediately, in case he contacted Calanthe, as I don’t want him found just yet. Now that I have access to his mind, I suggest we travel directly to Darkmere. Assemble all the raiders Tahalha!”

“At once my Lord.” Tahalha left the large pavilion in a whirl of movement.

“This should be a ceremony to remember.” Lianvis gave a travesty of a smile as his eyes roamed the naked body.

“Tonight?” Ulaume asked with a spark of interest.

“No. Tomorrow.” Lianvis was smug.

***

White, shimmering forms passed into the darkness of the desert night, the flaring breaths of the Faraldiennes dotting the frosty air.

“It will be about a two hour ride south.” Ashmael clutched his cloak tighter against the cold desert temperatures.

“As long as we hit them before dawn,” Calanthe stressed flatly, not feeling the cold as he urged his stallion forward. There was purpose in his actions, an invisible force propelling him, and he no longer questioned his fate.

“Oh we will, don’t worry.” Ashmael grinned, his teeth catching the moonlight, making him look demonic. “And with luck they won’t know what hit them.”

It was a cold comfort in the massive expanse of desert.

***

The early morning glow of the sun tinted the horizon as the Gelaming lay watching the dead city below. Its eerie stillness unsettling, as not a breath of air disturbed its rest. On the west outer border, a vast encampment of tents and pavilions glistened in the night’s dew, the colorful banners of the Kakkahar displayed on the largest pavilion.

The Gelaming lay there not daring to move, all too aware of the Kakkahar’s talents in mental telepathy. They had surprise on their side and now needed to keep that advantage. Lianvis’ forces were massive, yet if the Gelaming intercepted them correctly, they would not be an unbeatable force. And the Gelaming had powers of their own, which were just as strong, only in different ways.

“I want to get into the camp before we engage their forces,” Calanthe stressed, hissing the words. He was restless and making no effort to hide his impatience.

“Mmmm.” Ashmael frowned, not taking his eyes off the Kakkahar encampment below. On his other side, Chrysm and Cedony peered with equal interest as Arahal nodded agreement, his long, silver mane pinned down.

“We should neutralize Lianvis first. It will save unnecessary bloodshed,” Arahal said seriously. “The Kakkahar as a people are basically nomadic, and have little desire to fight openly.”

“Cowards!” Abrimel hissed from behind the group, looking over the sand embankment.

“Lianvis is mine.” Calanthe stated flatly.

“Cal,” Ashmael turned to him, “we don’t want him dead. He may still be useful to us as his control over the raiders and knowledge of the desert is valuable.”

“We’ll argue this later,” Calanthe snapped. “Right now I want to get down there.”

“We’re with you,” Swift vowed and Calanthe turned to see the two Megalithican brothers’ side by side, their expressions grim.

Abrimel moved to stand next to Tyson. “Count me in as well, as I want revenge for my hostling.”

Calanthe’s smile was twisted as he looked back at Ashmael. The strategist was chewing his bottom lip in thought.

Arahal was squinting towards the sun. “We have an hour at most, after that our position will be vulnerable to their scouts,” he judged.

“Ash?” Calanthe pressed.

“All right.” The Har breathed heavily. “But only a small band. We should be able to slip past the north defense markers there.” He pointed to the area a few hundred meters away. “We can get behind the main pavilion that way. Just remember, concentrate on projecting a non interest aura and no-one should challenge us if seen,” he said seriously, then glanced up at Abrimel.

“Unless we run into a Har of Algoma level,” Arahal muttered.

“These are mostly raiders, no higher than Acantha. Only Lianvis’ Generals would be allowed to elevate in caste progression,” Ashmael stated.

“Well there is only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Calanthe smirked as he took one last look at the camp before scrambling back behind the dune. The others followed.

Their weapons were ordinary, short swords as nothing else would be practical if their simple plan failed. Following Ashmael’s cunning figure, Calanthe looked back at the others. Glave and Cedony remained behind to supervise the watches and launch aid if needed. Arahal was behind Calanthe with two of his elite guards, while Chrysm, Tyson, Abrimel and Swift ran on silent feet in the rear.

The camp was quiet and the guards lax, obviously not expecting trouble, which gave Calanthe, hope as they avoided all touch of mental contact. It took over fifteen minutes to get past the Kakkahar guards and slip around the smaller tents to face Lianvis’ large, dominating pavilion.

“So far so good,” Calanthe muttered under his breath. The ease of his moments returning instinctively after so many years of running and hiding.

“Just remember what I said!” Ashmael’s voice hissed. “Don’t expect too much.”

Calanthe ignored him as he peered around the canvas corner. Nothing could be seen and he hesitated, not trusting the lack of sound. His senses were warning him and he shook his head at Arahal.

Swift was on his knees, trying to hear movement from inside the pavilion. “Nothing,” he mouthed. Chrysm was also shaking his head negatively.

“We’ll try the other side.” Tyson was already haring off and Ashmael swore as the two tall guards went after him. The young Megalithican would get them all killed. Everyone followed, rounding the corner to find Tyson and the guards cautiously moving towards an open flap.

Inside was quiet.

Not happy with standing outside, they all filed in, swords drawn ready as they scanned the silks, furs and adorned curtains.

“Incense!” Swift pulled a disgusted face as he covered his nose.

Arahal moved past him to the shimmering silks, looking carefully around the sectioned off area. Nothing appeared to move.

Calanthe’s nerves prickled with dread as sweat ran down his back. He wanted to reach out and probe with his thoughts. It was a powerful urge to touch the magic he could taste in the air. Yet he could not. He dare not alert Lianvis to his presence. Not yet…not yet…his mind whispered seductively.

Behind them, soft footsteps gave them a few seconds warning before a dark haired figure entered from the outside. He was carrying some ceremony bowls and stopped dead in shock at the sight of the intruders. Eight swords encircled him and the Kakkahar tensed.

“Aihah,” Calanthe breathed the name and his eyes darkened dangerously. The Har coiled ready to spring, his sudden scream cut off as Abrimel covered his mouth with his hand. The Kakkahar’s face showed disbelief before his eyes rolled back and he collapsed in a heap on the furs. Abrimel pulled his sword free of the body and wiped the blade on the har’s silks. “For my Hostling!” he spat, eyes hard and cold-blooded as he met Ashmael’s directly. No-one commented.

They dragged the body out of sight, covering it with furs before entering the partitioned corridor. Walls of moving cloth disconcerted them at first and they felt their way gingerly, listening for any faint sounds. Swift and Arahal guarded the rear. Laughter in the distance alerted them and they turned right at a junction, consciously heading inward. Towards the heart of evil. The walls widened out and a intricately decorated pattern covered the entrance to a larger alcove.

“Ahhh.” A wicked smugness touched Calanthe’s tone as he resheathed his sword. He knew Lianvis was there. Could smell him and a tingle started in his chest, burning outwards towards his fingers. Steadying himself, he thrust the curtains aside, slipping quickly into the spacious room, even as Ashmael tried to grab him. Nothing could stop him now. Nothing.

Lianvis spun around, his hair fanning out in golden glory, decorating his gold adorned figure and his face assumed an expressionless mask. The penetrating gaze ate into Calanthe and he sidestepped forward, mocking the Kakkahar gently.

There was now a trace of fear in the Kakkahar’s eyes and Calanthe saw it flash briefly before it was hidden expertly, but it gave him hope and strength. Gave him the advantage.

“You are too late,” the seductive voice said as Lianvis raised a hand and laughed. It was an empty, mirthless sound.

“You are a fool.” Calanthe felt himself almost glow with vibrant energy, both hands raising in protection and attack as Lianvis whirled and struck out at him mentally. Viciously.

Calanthe held his position, knowing he had caught the Kakkahar leader unprepared. He absorbed the mental power, skimming it briefly and seeing Lianvis’ mind revealed to him. A repulsive creature whose powers were divided, whose strength was unchanneled and Calanthe just threw back all the outpourings of energy, mirroring Lianvis back at himself, refining it and forcing the Kakkahar to absorb his own savagery.

Lianvis threw up his hands in panic, his eyes locking in startlement with the Tigron’s, tasting the anger before it targeted his vulnerable mind. His last intelligent sound was a scream of frustration, before the light flickered out in his mind and he fell to his knees at Calanthe’s feet, a gibbering, mindless creature.

Calanthe released a tight breath as he looked down his nose at the stupid wreak that pawed at him, saliva running down the lax lips.

“By the Aghama!” a voice exclaimed from behind, but Calanthe felt no pleasure in the act, only a sense of sour justice.

“NOOO!”

An image of claws and slithering limbs flew at him, suffocating and scratching, sharp nails biting deeply into his skin, and Calanthe only had time to twist sideways, drawing his sword to cut the Colurastian’s power.

“Ahhh!” It was a shriek of pain as the nailed talons left Calanthe’s skin to embrace his own head. Ulaume stood, horror in his eyes, as he saw the hair Calanthe had cut from his head.

Calanthe dropped the smoky colored hair carelessly, mocking the consort. “Game set and match Ulaume.” He turned to the Gelaming guards. “Shave it, before you lock it up.”

The Gelaming nodded and took the motionless consort, dragging him out as Calanthe looked around and saw Ashmael watching him curiously.

“That should throw the Kakkahar raiders into a panic.” Abrimel predicted, delighted as he walked around.

“Arahal, I think you should contact Glave and Cedony and round up the Generals,” Calanthe suggested, eyeing Abrimel with amusement and seeing vague touches of Pellaz in the young Har.

“It will be my pleasure.”

“Happy?” Calanthe asked the silent Ashmael. “I didn’t kill him.” Chrysm’s exclamation stopped what else he was going to say and he rushed over to where the adept knelt. Pushing the clinging drapes aside, he saw Pellaz lying curled on his side, on a bed of furs. His naked skin gleamed with ceremony oils as Chrysm gently rubbed it from the slack face.

“He’s so weak.” Chrysm turned him over, pushing the black hair aside as he cupped the white face. “He needs strength, he needs to be fed energy.”

Calanthe collapsed to his knees, his hands suddenly trembling as

he traced his fingers over Pellaz’s body. His palms lightly settled on a damp forehead and he mentally reached out and felt his soul mate’s mind now free of Lianvis, but his awareness was too dim to sense thoughts.

“How? Tell me how?” he asked urgently, losing all his strength. His mouth was dry, voice a croak as he barely found any signs of life.

“Here. You just-” Chrysm began, but was pushed aside by the strategist.

“Let us.” Ashmael gripped Pellaz’s skull with surprisingly gentle hands, his fingers pressing softly against the base of the Tigron’s ears. His face clouded in concentration and his eyes fell closed.

“Ash, be careful,” Chrysm whispered, concerned.

Ashmael broke away after a long minute. “He is like a deep, dry well,” he muttered. “Tyson.” He turned and beckoned the scowling, blonde forward. “Don’t let him take too fast or he’ll drain you.” Ashmael moved away while Tyson took up position.

Calanthe technically knew what they were doing, but he had never witnessed it before. “I can give him more,” he argued.

“Yes. But we will need your strength. He is alive and we will feed him. You go, take Chrysm and meet Swift and Arahal, as they will need your help now.” The practiced tones were a little heavier than usual.

Calanthe knew Ashmael was right, but still he hesitated, reluctant to leave. He touched Pellaz’s hand briefly and felt no response in the lax fingers.

“Leave it Cal.” Chrysm’s voice was gentle, and he took Calanthe’s arm and pulled him upright. There was still so much work to be done.

***

Confusion and loss of direction were the major components in the Kakkahar’s downfall and defeat. Arahal’s guards rounded up all the raiders, most of whom were simple, nomadic Wraeththu who had been forced into Lianvis’ service. There was a strong, dark intelligence shinning out from beneath satin hair and beautifully, tattooed faces.

“They need a new leader.” Chrysm sighed.

“And proper guidance,” Swift agreed as he surveyed the groups of Hara before them.

“They are not at fault, it was Lianvis and his Generals that need to be punished.”

“Isn’t that usually the way my dear?” Glave asked, having seen too many wars already.

“They are still a very beautiful tribe, and they have so much potential if allowed to grow.” Chrysm dismounted with another sigh.

“Where are you going?” Swift frowned.

“To see how they are doing with Pellaz.” Chrysm looked up briefly.

“We don’t know if all of Lianvis’ Generals have been captured yet, Chrysm,” Glave warned. “I would wait until Arahal gives the clear signal.”

“I’ll be fine,” he argued. “Besides there’s someone I want to find.”

Swift watched the slender Har for a moment longer then lifted a brow at Glave who was scratching his chin thoughtfully. “We should get back ourselves.”

Glave grabbed the reins of Chrysm’s horse and shrugged, following Swift.

***

Arahal’s face tightened as Glave told him about Chrysm. He glanced around annoyed, his shrewd eyes picking out numerous small details. “Watch them!” He indicated with a nod the tightly tied group of prisoners. “They have been mentally bound already.”

“Arahal!” Glave called infuriated, but the Captain was already gone.

***

A strong arm snaked out around his waist and Chrysm spun, going into a defensive stance. “Shune!” He breathed a sigh of relief as he met Shune’s incredibly dark gaze. “I thought Lianvis might have killed you. I was worried.”

“Don’t be, my little pet.” Shune’s smile sent a shiver through Chrysm’s body as a long finger caressed his cheek briefly. “Lianvis is gone and the Kakkahar will need a new leader.”

“Shune?” Chrysm swallowed, unable to relax as something felt wrong.

“And with you at my side, how can I possibly fail?” he whispered persuasively. He leaned in closer, pressing the Gelaming up against the canvassed wall as he touched his mouth lightly to hesitant lips. “You will be my bond mate Chrysm. My consort. You can’t fight it as I feel your body’s response craving my deeper caress.”

“I-I,” Chrysm closed his eyes and licked his lips. Shune was his destiny, his soul told him that, yet a growing, restless confusion stopped him. He looked back up at the Kakkahar.

Shune traced a thumb along the Gelaming’s lips. “Open to me,” he whispered, his dark eyes trapping Chrysm’s as the hot mouth descended on the softer one.

Chrysm felt his mouth besieged, his senses numbed as he stared helplessly into Shune’s darker eyes. Too late he realized the other har’s intentions and his mind was defenseless against the bonds Shune wrapped around his mental abilities. “No!” he moaned low in his throat, his fists weakly hitting the Kakkahar, but his struggles were useless. His mind was now an isolated, cold prison from which he couldn’t break free, and he gave up struggling as he was held firmly against Shune’s chest.

“Yes, my love, you will host the Kakkahar’s next generation.” Shune let a smile spread across his face as he stroked his captive’s pale cheek. “Recognition is impossible to deny.”

“Release him.” A cold knife point pricked Shune’s back and the Kakkahar let Chrysm go as he turned slowly to face his attacker. Behind him, Chrysm slid helplessly down the canvassed wall.

Arahal didn’t take his eyes off the Kakkahar ambassador. “Now step back,” he ordered. The Kakkahar obliged him, smiling mockingly.

“Unbind his mind.” Arahal didn’t lighten his grip on the long knife, his eyes narrowed, alert for any deception.

“And if I refuse?” Shune asked mildly.

“I’ll kill you,” Arahal promised.

“But you are Gelaming!” Shune stated, in no way phased by the threat.

“At the moment, I am nothing but Arahal and this is between you and me, no-one else.” The Captain’s voice was low and full of uncharacteristic viciousness.

Shune studied him a moment, as if assessing his words before he spun and kicked the knife from Arahal’s grip. The Captain fell backwards, rolling in time to deflect the death blow from those incredible hands, feeling for the hilt of the knife with his fingertips. Clutching it, he swung his arm up, the blade sinking deep into Shune’s chest and Arahal twisted the hilt, angling the knife down until the Kakkahar slumped in death. Gasping for breath, Arahal struggled to sit up, his eyes falling on Chrysm, who was battling to stand, his mind free again, but his legs weak.

“Arahal!” Chrysm’s voice was tight and constricted as he gave up the idea of standing and crawled on hands and knees to the bloodied Captain. “Are you alright? What an idiotic thing to do! Shune could have killed you!” Chrysm’s voice picked up pace as he reassured himself the Captain was not in any danger of dying. “Ashmael must have finally bashed all common sense out of your small brain for you to even attempt to do something so stupid. You must be deranged and-”

“Shut up Chrysm.” Arahal laughed as he dragged the blonde Har to him, not missing the over bright eyes. He kissed the parted lips gently, sliding his fingers up into the warm hair.

“I can’t believe I was so stupid to trust him,” Chrysm admitted slowly.

“Oh, I can,” Arahal assured him, pulling them both up.

Chrysm glared at him a moment, not quite sure what to say as he saw the warmth in the Captain’s eyes increase.

“We have a lot to sort out between us,” Arahal offered.

“Maybe.” Seeing that the Captain was whole, Chrysm wasn’t going to willingly concede the point.

“Definitely!” Arahal stressed as he palmed the blonde’s backside, getting him moving.

Chrysm tried to squirm away as Arahal maneuvered them out into the open, but the warm fingers persisted.

“Where’ve you two been!” Glave demanded. “Ashmael’s going crazy, been looking for you both for the last twenty minutes!”

“Settling a matter,” Arahal said simply as he looked towards the Gelaming encampment.

Glave raised a brow suspiciously as he saw the blood and glanced down between the tents. “Shune?” he queried.

“It was suicide,” Chrysm offered before Arahal could open his mouth.

Glave looked between the two and muttered. “Interesting method.”

Arahal ignored him.

“You’re getting as bad as Calanthe, Arahal,” Glave accused with a smile.

***

A temporary camp was set up in the dunes overlooking the deserted Kakkahar pavilions.

Calanthe sat in the shade of an open-air tent, studying Pellaz’s face as his soul mate still slept. Tyson had said Pellaz had woken briefly but hadn’t spoken and Calanthe wished he had been there to see it. For now, Pell looked so pale and lifeless. He still carried the dead pearl and Chrysm guessed that it might be the cause of his poor improvement.

Whatever the cause, Tyson, Abrimel and Chrysm were returning Pellaz to Immanion between them via the lanes. So much here needed to be done and he was forced to stay. Reaching across, he lightly touched Pell’s face. It wasn’t enough.

Standing, he crouched down by the soft mattress and pushed the lifeless, black hair back from his lover’s face and neck. Its usual vibrant luster was gone, its weight heavy. He traced a finger down a single cheekbone and tried to remember all the reasons why he should be still so furious with his temperamental soul mate, but the anger refused to surface. All their arguments were futile and meaningless now as he gently caressed the skin under his fingertips. Pellaz, so fragile a creature, yet so strong and stubborn and devastatingly enchanting that Calanthe no longer questioned his own attraction and responses. He deliberately settled his fingers over the pulse point, then moved them up to the cool dip in the skin at the base of Pellaz’s ear. Offering his strength, he felt Pell’s mental sigh as his body greedily accepted the warm, seductive gift. Leaning over him, Calanthe tenderly kissed the side of his head, before removing his warm, tingling finger. At least now he knew Pellaz would recover, had felt the reassurance in the brief mind touch.

“The horses are…Cal?” Chrysm sank down next to him, an edge in his voice.

“When do you leave,” he asked, standing and not looking at the adept.

Chrysm’s eyes followed him knowingly. “Ten minutes,” he answered. “Cal, he’ll be fine. I promise.”

“Are you ready?” Arahal’s voice intruded and Chrysm just nodded.

“Good. Rayhala will be waiting for you in Immanion, I believe.”

Pellaz was wrapped carefully and guards carried him out to the waiting horses. Tyson accepted the burden in his lap as the other two Hara moved in close beside him, lending strength and energy. They walked the horses, slipping into the lanes a distance away. It was the safest way of getting Pellaz the help he needed and Calanthe stared after them for a long moment.

“Come on Calanthe.” Ashmael settled an arm around his shoulders. “The fate of Lianvis and his trusted Generals is yet to be decided.”

***

“Who will govern the raiders?” Swift asked. “As I don’t think it would be wise for them to fall under Uigenna or Unneah rule.”

“Definitely not!” Ashmael protested good naturedly. “They are mostly nomadic, living in small groups.”

“So they’ll be under Gelaming rule,” Arahal stated as he went to sit down with the others. “Wine?” He held up a decanter.

“Arahal’s patrols will keep an eye on them until a new leader can be groomed,” Ashmael explained, accepting a glass.

“Until the Hegemony can groom a new puppet you mean,” Calanthe corrected, reading behind Ashmael’s words easily.

“Just remember you are part of the Hegemony yourself now,” Ashmael replied, unfazed.

“So what of Lianvis and his followers?” Swift reminded them.

“I think Ulaume should be returned to his own people, the Colurastes,” Calanthe stated. “I understand they have a very unique justice system which is extremely successful.”

“Good idea.” Ashmael raised his glass to the blonde Tigron. “You’ll make a great Gelaming,” he mocked gently. “And the others?”

“How about Gebaddon?” Glave suggested.

Calanthe frowned, not knowing the name.

“Where Thiede banished the Varrs?” Arahal raised a brow.

“Gebaddon?” Calanthe questioned.

“Thiede’s little hell.” Ashmael smirked. “The forest of enchantments in Megalithica.”

“Thiede put the Varrs in there!” Calanthe sounded aghast, remembering the place well.

“Yes, twenty odd years ago.” Ashmael observed Calanthe’s paling face with curiosity.

“But that is barbaric!” Calanthe spluttered. “Hypercritical!”

“Cal, it’s necessary.”

“Necessary! To be trapped in a mirrored hell, endlessly going around and around!” he demanded outraged. “Necessary! That!”

“Cal.”

“You call that justice!” Calanthe stared around at them all in horror. Swift frowned and looked down, while Arahal dropped his head back, exasperated.

“Cal, the Gelaming won’t kill,” Ashmael said seriously.

“No?” he questioned snidely. “Well then, I’d say your cruel forest of tortures is worse then death. Isn’t it?”

In the end it was only the Kakkahar that refused to return to Gelaming rule that were condemned to the fate of the forest of Gebaddon. Seventeen Hara and the now mindless Lianvis. But still it was with a sick feeling of distaste that Calanthe watched the sentenced Kakkahar file into the forest of madness.

Somewhere in there, Ponclast still roamed, probably just as insane as Lianvis now, forced to relive all the ghosts of their wickedness for the rest of their lives. Only one Kakkahar beside Lianvis did Calanthe have no remorse over seeing sentenced to the forest, was Tahalha, and he watched the Har pushed past the barrier with a certain pleasure. Wondering at that, he hoped he wasn’t becoming as warped in attitude as the Gelaming.

Leaving the remainder of the clean-up to Arahal and his guards, Calanthe returned to Immanion with the rest of the Hegemony, as the city needed aid with all the refuges from Megalithica as well as a few Kakkahar Hara flooding in. Galhea had to be rebuilt and work was already underway with a temporary camp set up in the middle of the ruined city. All the Parasiel survivors worked with the Gelaming to clear the rubble.

Back in Phaonica, Cobweb had birthed his pearl early, but no-one was overly worried, considering the stress he had been under. He was currently curled around the developing child, content and oddly silent. Ashmael had disappeared the moment they arrived back in the palace and Calanthe had been left to find Rayhala on his own. All the other problems of the city could wait until he talked with the doctor. He found the Har re-gathering his wits in the breakfast hall on the second level, hiding from all the other visiting physicians. Due to the enormous influx of injured, it had been necessary to ask for aid and all the wealthy Wraeththu houses had been more than willing to supply staff and medical personnel.

Rayhala fidgeted a little, delighted to see Calanthe and eager for news of the Kakkahar. Calanthe filled him in on the latest reports and asked about the situation in Immanion. He knew that the doctor would give him an honest, simple answer. It seemed the injured that survived the trip to Immanion lived and the only wounds they had not been able to heal were the mental ones. Hara who had lost family and Harlings lacked the will to live and often died.

Others who were now recovered, were anxious to explore the legendary city of perfection and Immanion was overrun with tourists. The Gelaming were tolerant, but only to a point. It was a problem Calanthe didn’t want to think about so he changed the subject. He asked about Pellaz.

Rayhala fidgeted again, pushing loose curls back. It was a nervous habit. “We had to induce him. The pearl was dead as you know, I estimated three days dead at least.” He looked up and met the Tigron’s direct gaze. “It was hard for him because I needed him conscious to accomplish the procedure. He didn’t say much, in fact he hasn’t said anything about the incident since. It’s as if it never happened and I don’t just mean the inducement. I think he has blocked the entire affair out, starting with Tyson and the hosting through to the delivery of his dead child. I don’t know.” Rayhala shook his head and pushed his hair back again. “Tyson’s been with him, but it’s different now. Pellaz is holding him at a distance.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“I don’t honestly know. He has to come to terms with whatever happened to him in the hands of the Kakkahar. Do you know what they did to him?” the doctor asked hopefully.

“No,” Calanthe answered worriedly. “Won’t he talk to you?”

“No.” Rayhala sighed, disappointed. “He flinches from any physical contact. It’s uncharacteristic.”

“Will it affect his judgements, his-”

“Will it prevent him from operating as Tigron you mean,” Rayhala asked shrewdly. A number of Hegemony members had already asked him that. “No. He is responding normally to everyday Immanion business. Yesterday he even held audience with the visitors from Kalamah, directing them to the clean-up of Galhea. His mind is unaffected, as long as you don’t try to force him to remember the events in the Kakkahar’s hands.”

“That’s not healthy for a Tigron,” Calanthe said slowly.

“No, you don’t have to tell me. But maybe you can get him to release all those memories. I am still waiting for him to show some sort of grief over the death of his Harling.”

Calanthe frowned.

“And Tyson is finding it hard. It might actually be best if you get your son to leave Phaonica for a while. Best for both Pellaz and Tyson.”

“And best for me, don’t you mean. I wasn’t so blind that I didn’t know what was happening here a few months ago.”

“It was an accident. Pellaz even asked if I could prevent it…remove it.”

Calanthe didn’t comment, his mind numb. “I’ll see what I can do,” he ended eventually.

“Vaysh is with him at present, so I would not worry too much. Maybe time is all that he needs to heal.”

Somehow Calanthe doubted that.

CHAPTER EIGHT

‘Just can’t stand up for falling apart,
Can’t see through this spell across my heart.
I’m going crazy, I’m losing sleep,
I’m in too far, I’m in too deep.
You were my first and you’ll be my last…..

Cheap Trick

Two weeks later, Seel birthed his pearl. He had been confined to his rooms for the last four days before delivery, due to his mood swings and unpredictable temper. His nerves were frayed because of the disaster and he had not been coping well under the strain. So Phlaar, Forever’s private physician, had sedated him, and everyone had breathed a sigh of relief.

The reorganizing of Galhea was progressing slowly, and Swift had been forced to leave the detailing of work to Azriel and Ithiel when he returned to Immanion. Arahal had gone to Forever after that so as to supervise the Kalamah’s arrival, as Swift wanted the main center of Galhea rebuilt first so that the Megalithican government could return to the city and take over the re-organization. That achievement itself would take a large weight off his shoulders.

He also wasn’t blind to Calanthe’s dislike of some of the Megalithican officials, especially Velaxis. Why, he didn’t know, and at present didn’t have time to find out as he had enough problems of his own. In fact, he hadn’t seen Calanthe since the desert war, and knew the Tigrons were inundated with work, reassuring all the smaller tribes of Gelaming protection and subduing any unrest before it developed. The relationship between the two Hara hadn’t improved and Swift had only talked to his brother briefly about Pellaz. Tyson was worried and hurt, as the dark haired Har continued to push him away and lock him out. As much as Swift wanted to help him, he couldn’t, as other family matters came first. Like Seel’s delivery, Charicia’s grief, Cobweb’s health and Briahaar’s delayed Feybraiha.

Rushing up the stairs now, he found Seel looking rumpled and half asleep, curled contentedly around the pearl of their fourth son. He had wanted to be here for his lover’s birthing but had been unable to. He sat on the bed behind Seel and kissed his chesna mate gently. Seel moved drowsily, then opened his eyes, glaring in accusation at his lover.

“Seel?” Swift shifted closer to his lover and smiled, kissing him again on the hair.

“When do you need to return to Megalithica?” The words were sleepy.

Swift’s smile faded and stretched out a little more, studying his mate’s profile. “Too soon.” He sighed. “I wanted to be here.”

“I know.” Seel let a smile grow.

Swift kissed him again lightly as he watched the tired eyes close. He enjoyed lying awake next to his lover, as it was the only time he could freely indulge in his fascination of watching Seel unhindered. But work matters intruded and pressed in on his mind. Sighing again, he climbed off the bed and left the quiet room.

Cobweb was waiting for him in the central living area. He was seated elegantly in a white, thick leather chair with his young Harling chattering away contentedly on his knee. This was the first time Swift had seen the child and he felt strange, knowing it to be another half brother. Going over to his Hostling, he lent down and kissed him on the forehead in greeting.

“I have to leave again soon.” He sounded disheartened.

“You do not have to do anything you don’t want to,” Cobweb stated quietly, his hands absently soothing the small, smoky haired Harling. The child was all eyes and they were centered fixedly on Cobweb’s face, his little hands holding the end of his Hostling’s black braid.

“I am needed in Galhea,” Swift stated.

“You are needed here,” Cobweb corrected. “Your family needs you Swift.”

“I know.” Swift rubbed his eyes and collapsed in the chair next to his Hostling. The young Harling looked around at the sound, its large eyes startlingly like Cobweb except for color. They were violet and Swift was reminded very strongly of Calanthe for a second before Cobweb gently turned the child’s face away with a finger under the chin.

“Swift, Seel needs you here, especially now. I can’t help him as I’m already watching Charicia’s Harling, Tantraa. And speaking of that, Charicia needs healing! He is not facing reality and if it wasn’t for Swithe you would no longer have a son-in-law!”

“Cobweb don’t.”

“No, you must listen! Swithe is going out of his mind with worry and I don’t blame him. You can’t expect Seel to deal with it as he won’t be awake enough for the next few days, and by then it might be too late!”

“Cobweb, I know.”

“And then there is Briahaar! He is three weeks past his Feybraiha, and driving everyone crazy with his erratic behavior!”

“I know!” Swift cut in. “I know. But I can’t do anything about it at present. In case you haven’t realized, we’ve just been through a war!”

“Of course I realize that!” Cobweb said tartly as he lifted the Harling off his knee and placed him on the floor. “But you need to make time for your own. We all need to rethink our values.” He stood up and glanced back at his first born son. “Remember the mistakes your father, Terzian, made and don’t repeat them.”

“Oh Cobweb!” Swift leapt to his feet and embraced the cool figure of his Hostling, holding him tightly as he buried his face in the smooth neck. Cobweb smelt vaguely of fresh moss and Swift inhaled deeply, loving his parent very much. “What am I going to do?” he asked.

“What you must. What is right.” Cobweb’s hands soothed him gently, the fingertips touching him in all his sore spots so that he relaxed. “You are Master of Galhea, use that authority.”

Swift sighed, holding onto his Hostling for a moment longer. He nodded. “Alright, I’ll speak to Cal.”

***

Calanthe eyed the four, tall, magnificent looking guards with exasperation as they shadowed him around the Phaonica. Ever since the security of the palace had been breached, all the Hegemony members were insisting on tighter security measures, particularly with all the influx of refugees to Immanion. This meant he had to put up with an armed escort wherever he went, and as much as he hated the inconvenience of it, he had to admit it was essential. Especially where Pellaz and Caeru were concerned.

Entering the spacious, official office he shared with Pellaz, he looked around hoping to see his dark haired companion, instead Caeru greeted him coldly. The Tigrina sat tensely yet elegantly, in a chair by the open balcony. Two of Caeru’s guards were stationed inside the door and Calanthe dismissed them.

“Caeru.” Calanthe didn’t even try for a smile as he went to sit on the table opposite his Tigrina. Caeru was still unnaturally pale, and he fidgeted restlessly with his bracelets.

“I want to know what is going on,” he demanded in an icy tone. “I dislike being kept deliberately in the dark in my own home, and I dislike all these unnecessary precautions Arahal is forcing on us!”

“You were knifed three weeks ago in your own bedroom Caeru,” Calanthe started reasonably. “That has just proved how lax certain angles of security are around here in Phaonica. So until a permanent solution can be found, you’ll have to put up with these little inconveniences.” He lifted a hand. “Hell Rue, you almost died!”

“It’s just irritating, that’s all,” Caeru said with impatience. “Not to mention the fact that I wasn’t informed about Pellaz’s hosting. I thought someone would have at least had the decency to tell me!”

Calanthe closed his eyes and turned away.

“Or was I supposed to guess and make a fool of myself in front of everyone?” Caeru continued, hurting himself. “Why didn’t you tell me about Pell and Tyson?”

“Because I bloody well didn’t know either!” Calanthe exploded.

“What?” Caeru blinked at him.

“You weren’t the only one kept in the dark! Do you think I liked it any better than you, to find out Pellaz was hosting to my own son in front of the entire Gelaming forces! Shit no!” Calanthe stood up and walked away to get a cigarette, lighting it before he turned back, calmer. He regarded the Tigrina levelly. “What do you really want with me Rue? If it is to just bitch and moan then find one of those pathetic attendants of yours because I am too busy to just sit around and entertain you.”

Caeru rose regally, a slow flush staining his pale cheeks, his face pinched. He walked past Calanthe to the door, turning back at the last minute. “You’re a bastard Calanthe!” he hissed. “You’re as cold, callous and pig headed as Pellaz! And I hope you both rot in hell!”

Calanthe shut him out and was glad when the door slammed shut. He could understand Caeru’s frustration and bitterness, but the Tigrina’s pain could no longer touch him. A knock at the door had him grimacing as he immediately imagined Caeru returning for a second stab at his bruised spirit and mind.

“Yes?”

The door opened and his son, Tyson, looked at him levelly out of eyes remarkably like Terzian’s in the morning sunlight.

“May I speak with you?”

“Of course.” Calanthe gestured as he went to sit behind his solid cedar desk. Why, he wasn’t sure. Maybe for protection. But from what?

“The Tigrina just ran me over, accusing me of political manipulation,” Tyson muttered as he approached the large desk.

Calanthe just grinned, but kept silent.

“I received an invitation to Sykernesse,” Tyson started on an inhaled breath. He held out the folded card.

Accepting it, Calanthe scanned the invitation, noting the gold trim and Elisyin’s spiral handwriting. “Are you going?” he asked directly, meeting eyes darker than his own.

“You would like me too, wouldn’t you?” Tyson challenged bluntly.

“Yes, for Pell’s sake.”

“For your sake you mean,” Tyson accused.

Calanthe shrugged nonchalantly, refusing to react to the words. “We both know your relationship was doomed to fail, so why prolong the inevitable?”

“I can’t leave him. I won’t!” Tyson leaned heavily against the desk.

“Oh sit down and shut up a moment.” Calanthe waved towards the chair. “Frankly, if I thought, no believed, you could help Pellaz in some way now, then I wouldn’t let you leave,” he admitted. “But you can’t Tyson, and I want you out before you both get hurt again.”

“Bullshit!” Tyson spat the word. “You just want him for yourself!”

“Yes I do,” Cal said honestly.

Tyson looked down, the anger dissolving as he felt his Hostling’s words filter into his brain.

“He’s my soul mate, and it’s about time you accepted that fact.” Calanthe didn’t try to hide his emotions.

Tyson blinked and sat down in the chair slowly, taking a deep breath before speaking. “I’ve always know that,” he whispered. “Haven’t you ever wondered why Pell ended up hosting my pearl?”

It was Calanthe’s turn to squirm and he mentally backed away from the question. It had been something he’d tried to ignore, pretend had never happened. “Affinity?” He threw the idea up mockingly, not able to meet the clear eyes.

“Maybe?” Tyson shrugged. “If you gave us more time together, then yes it probably would be. But not that night.” Tyson shook his head and Calanthe found himself holding his breath. “He believed I was you. He was reaching out for you, calling your name, pleading for you, and I-I,” Tyson hesitated, remembering, “I just got lost in his sweetness.”

“Oh my God!” Calanthe dropped his face in his hands, wanting to scream his frustration and pain. He felt sickened and weak as he could picture the scene too easily and lose himself in its images. For a long moment, he sat motionless.

When he looked up, Tyson had gone.

***

After lunch Swift rescued Calanthe from an in-depth discussion from Arahal on further increasing Phaonica’s security. The weary Captain had just arrived back from Galhea and was half sitting on the polished, drink’s table. One long leg swung back and forth as he read from a list of suggestions. Calanthe appeared half asleep in his big, comfortable chair while Ashmael silently paced the room. Of Pellaz there was no sign.

“Swift, how’s Seel?” Calanthe sat up a little straighter.

“Sleeping. The pearl is healthy.”

“That is all anyone can ask.” Ashmael smiled.

“Cal, I’d like to have a word with you,” Swift asked, not missing Ashmael’s raised brow.

Calanthe groaned and dropped his head back. “If it’s got anything to do with security, Tyson, Pellaz or my illustrious Tigrina’s demands, then I don’t want to hear about it.”

“Ignore him.” Ashmael grinned, walking behind Calanthe to pour some wine.

“Cal, security is-” Arahal injected, serious.

“I know.” Calanthe pushed to his feet and silenced the protesting Captain with a hand. “And I understand your concerns. I just wish you would explain it to Caeru.”

“Being difficult again, is he?” Arahal couldn’t quite keep the amusement out of his tone.

“Obnoxious is the word I would use,” Calanthe corrected with feeling.

“No, it is nothing to do with any of that,” Swift said softly. “It’s about…” he searched for a place to start. “Well, one problem is Briahaar.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Ashmael asked as he handed Swift a glass of sparkling wine.

“It’s his Feybraiha, and I need to choose someone suitable for him.”

“When is he due?” Arahal asked, not looking up from his notes. Ashmael started to frown.

“Three weeks ago,” Swift admitted, looking helplessly at Calanthe.

“Three weeks!” Ashmael sat down abruptly.

“With the confusion in Forever, Cobweb and Seel’s birthings and the Kakkahar, well no-one has really had time to consider the other problems.”

“But surely someone was chosen for him long before this?” Arahal glanced to Ashmael for affirmation.

“Yes. Charicia, my son-in-law. But he is no longer in a fit mental state to cope with Briahaar’s Feybraiha.”

“Has he shown an interest in anyone else since then?” Calanthe asked.

“I don’t know, I haven’t been here long enough to watch him.” Swift put his untouched drink down.

“Well I suggest you ask him,” Calanthe advised practically. “He’ll know his own desires.”

Swift nodded, his face still worried. “Plus, there is a number of other problems I need to sort out with my household. I also want to be here for Seel when the pearl hatches.”

“And Galhea?” Arahal asked.

“Azriel is old enough to manage for a while by himself I think. Anyway, you saw the Kalamahs arrive safely, didn’t you?”

Ashmael’s smile widened as Arahal nodded. “When did they decide to help?”

“It seems Lehonhar offered Seel his aid weeks ago during the talks. And a Kalamah is always true to his word,” Swift answered.

“In that case, it will take months, even years to rebuild Forever.” Calanthe laughed. “You may get your wish yet Ash, of Cobweb living here indefinitely.”

***

Pellaz glanced up at Vaysh from behind his stack of notes. “Can’t Cal deal with half this lot?”

“He’s already snowed under with all the arrangements of reallocating the Parasiel and Kakkahar refugees. Since Lianvis’ defeat, all our neutral allies are flocking to show support of the Gelaming, and in particular, support of Calanthe himself.” Vaysh walked up behind Pellaz and gently massaged the tense shoulders. “It seems Cal has made quite a name for himself among the Wraeththu already.”

Pellaz sighed and dropped his head back to look up at Vaysh’s face. It didn’t really bother him that Calanthe was inspiring fear into everyone, he was used to that with living around Thiede. What did worry him, was that they might now grow further apart due to the increased workload. “Everybody wants him, I’m not surprised,” he whispered. “I want him too, Vaysh.”

The fingers stopped their gentle soothing as Vaysh lent down and kissed his forehead. “I know.”

Pellaz closed his eyes and pulled away from the understanding touch. The last thing he needed now was to become a nervous, sobbing wreck, he reminded himself acidly. He already was a pathetic fool that Calanthe obviously despised, for he couldn’t even bring himself to face his blonde co-ruler. In fact, he ignored everyone, relying on Vaysh as he had done all those years ago to keep him sane and safe. He picked up the report in front of him, focusing with difficulty on the words. “So all this is just Immanion’s business?” he asked, trying to control the tremor in his voice.

“Yes.” Vaysh watched Pellaz knowingly, hearing the tremor and trying to see past the barriers that protected a bruised mind. What did the Kakkahar do to him? What mental damage has he suffered that he is now denying? “Immanion’s routine affairs. You know this city better than Calanthe, so he thought it was wise if you dealt with these matters.”

“Did he now.” Pellaz dropped the report and stood up.

“Pell?” Vaysh tensed, still unsure as he worriedly knotted fingers in his loose red hair. He stopped himself from reaching forward to touch the Tigron.

“I’ll look at them later then.” He walked away from the desk. “I need to check on something else first, I’ll be back later.” He didn’t look at Vaysh as he left the small, private office, he didn’t want to see the worry on his friend’s face. Two guards fell automatically in step with him and he clamped down on his anger. He hated being followed, especially in his own suite. Stopping, he spun around and glared at the two Hara. They snapped to instant attention. “I’m not planning on leaving these rooms, now or in the immediate future. So therefore, I do not NEED you.”

“But my Lord-”

“Silence!” Pellaz snapped and the guard flushed. “I am now ordering you both to remain here. Is that understood?”

“Yes my Lord.”

“Good.” Not giving them time to argue further, he left both bemused Hara and walked quickly through a number of his rooms to reach his small, enclosed garden. He let out a breath of relief as he closed the doors and locked it behind him, leaning his hot forehead against the cool glass paneling. He just wanted some peace and quiet, some time alone to think.

Walking through the shrubbery, he fondled a couple of leaves, checking over the condition of his plants as he inhaled the relaxing scent of his enclosed fernery. The tranquillity seeped into him and soothed his fragile nerves. He didn’t want to think about the past few months, but he had to. Knowing that he was treating Tyson appallingly, didn’t stop him from doing it, as he was scared to let the pure born too close a second time. Besides it wasn’t fair on Ty, as he was only using him for a substitute of what he really wanted.

Calanthe.

Thinking about this tall, walking, blonde tormentor of his mind, heart, soul and body, he could still picture his lover’s face the day he had found out about the hosting. The pain, anger and disappointment in the violet eyes had cut through him like a knife. The wounds in his heart felt as if they still bled sluggishly. Then Ulaume and his perversions, the loss of the child, Tahalha and Lianvis, all haunted his dreams, leaving him empty and dead as the whispery snake-like song lingered in his mind. His lack of strength had caused all that, and now it would be his lack of strength and courage that destroyed everything he wanted with Calanthe. It was a bitter thought, and he cursed his original stubbornness.

His pride, resentment and jealousy over Calanthe’s observations of his mistakes and life, when the blonde had first entered his world after Thiede’s death, had upset him so much that he had subconsciously closed Calanthe out. Adding also the fact of Cal’s wild adventures and flaunted love affairs had infuriated him to the point of principled stubbornness. But now being this close and not being able to touch Calanthe, to relieve the need, tore at his control. And it wasn’t just the physical aruna he wanted, but the deep mental assurances as well.

Celibacy helped to some extent, as he was used to that role after living under Thiede’s rule for so long, but still the dreams plagued him. And the harder he tried to banish the memories, the colder he felt inside. Breathing deeply, he eyed the crushed leaves in his hand absently, feeling as undesirable and worthless as they looked. Scared and abused…repulsive and alien even to himself, that he knew with a certainty that Calanthe would never look at him again. Could never find him desirable again.

He dropped the leaves to his feet and turned away.

Weaving through the greenery, he no longer saw the splendor of blooms as his mind sank further into a blackness of despair. So much so, that he almost missed seeing the quiet, fair haired figure seated motionless on the ground surrounded by ferns, in a patch of sunlight.

For a single breath, his treacherous little heart and rebellious spirit pictured Calanthe’s head of glory, but as he stared he could pick out the vast differences easily. The Har’s hair was redder and longer than Cal’s, and not as exotically styled. Clearing his throat, he started to get annoyed as he imagined his solitude disturbed. The Har’s head rose and he was treated to a wide eyed look of desperation and pain, and his annoyance vanished quickly as he moved closer and knelt down beside the silent figure.

“Are you alright?” he asked tentatively, his hands briefly touching a hand before it was snatched away. Peering closer, he saw the large eyes press shut and the Har shudder and moisture stained the thick lashes. He moved closer again, his own problems forgotten as he read the obvious distress and he hesitated in touching the Har a second time.

“Please let me help,” Pellaz whispered, as he glanced over the slender, long limbs and saw the red scratch marks and torn skin. The Har turned his head away and drew his knees up protectively.

“You can’t help!” The voice was tight and cracked a little as Pellaz gently and non-threateningly placed a hand on the trembling arm.

“I can try.” Pellaz smiled softly. “What is your name?”

“Briahaar.” The Har’s teeth were very white as he clamped them together in some sort of pain. The eyes were large and dark, and Pellaz suddenly knew who they reminded him of.

“You’re Swift’s son,” he stated.

“Yes!” The reply was almost snapped as Briahaar moved away, almost knocking a fern over.

“Don’t.” Pellaz tried to stop him. “You’ll hurt yourself more. Come on, tell me what’s wrong,” he gently coaxed.

“You can’t help.” The voice almost wailed and Pellaz winced.

“I won’t know that until you tell me, will I?” Pellaz went on reasonably, and he turned the Har around to face him. He was desperately trying to remember everything Tyson had told him about the Forever household. He placed a hand on Briahaar’s forehead and his eyes snapped open as he read the pain. “Oh my,” he muttered.

“Leave me alone!” Briahaar pushed the hands away, fighting to hold back the tears.

“Why hasn’t Swift chosen for you?” Pellaz asked more of himself than the child. “How long have you been like this?”

“Last f-f-f-fe-e-ew-w w-we-eks-s.” Briahaar sobbed as he gave in to the urge to cry at the offered gentleness from the Har. “But it’s getting worse, and I-I…I don’t know…w-what to do. I…can’t sleep…b-b-because of…the cramps…and the headaches are driving…me insane!”

“Shhh.” Pellaz embraced the sobbing child, soothing him as his mind worked. “Has anyone been chosen?”

“C-Charicia’s…h-he’s…b-beaut-tiful…but…I-” Briahaar clutched at this Har’s chest as he let the tears pour out. “H-he is chesna…w-with my brother Gar…G-Garis-s-s…but G-Gar…h-he died in Galhea a-and now-”

“I see,” Pellaz breathed, stopping the painful words, seeing too easily the picture. “You need to chose again,” he went on gently as he rocked the child. He wondered how either Swift or Seel could let their Harling get to this point of disillusionment.

“B-b-but I…I-I don’t know anyone!” Briahaar complained as fresh tears started. “M-my…my Hostling’s dis-s…d-distracted and…a-all my…m-my…Az is in Galhea with father. G-Gar…is dead. G-Garis-”

“Shh.” Pellaz felt the wet patch on his tunic grow under the words and he sighed softly, smoothing the damp hair back as he tried to think what to do. The young Harling needed aruna that much was painfully obvious, but only his parents would know who was suitable. Pellaz ran through a list of Har he would recommend for the task. Hara who would protect the child’s vulnerabilities, but without Swift’s or Seel’s approval, he couldn’t do anything more. There had to be another way, and he chased more ideas around his mind.

Briahaar lifted his head and stared up at the Har that held him protectively, his eyes finding the full, red lips and he bit his own bottom lip in response. The Har was dark, darker than Cobweb and with such pale skin it was dazzling, and he tightened his fingers in the silk tunic he held. The mouth looked inviting and his body tensed, hot, tight, sensitive and needing to be touched. He flexed his fingers, feeling the tingling sensation grow pleasurably. Without being able to stop himself, he reached up a shaky hand and touched the soft, red lips, tracing their fullness.

Pellaz looked down, frowning as he felt the gentle touch. “Briahaar?”

“W-what is it like to…to know another? T-to be touched?” he whispered, half frightened as his hands shook. But even with that, he pressed a little closer to the warmth of his new dark haired friend. Seducer.

He felt blinded by a beauty he hadn’t know existed, as it shone out of the Har in front of him. An inward beauty that was so bright it was being reflected in the large, round eyes watching him, and his body shifted again, craving its overpowering promise. He moistened his lips and let his breathing pattern fall automatically in with this dark angel.

“It’s – Briahaar?” Pellaz’s frown deepened as he cupped the oval face, seeing the child flush in pleasure. He could feel the hot tremors running through the body plastered against his, and wondered how to defuse the dangerous situation. The child needed comfort and aruna, but he was not the one suited to complete the task and unlock the potential inside the pure born. One mistake and – Briahaar moaned and Pellaz worriedly glanced down again.

Briahaar clawed at the silk tunic, pulling his captive friend closer and brushed his lips against the softer ones. The pleasure was exquisite and his lips burned, a wave of fire rolling down into his loins. He stretched up unconsciously a second time and tried to touch the mouth again, but warm fingers across his lips halted him and he bit down on an anguished cry.

Pellaz held the mouth away with his fingers as he smelt the hot breath of the Harling. He felt like a cruel rebuker when he saw the blue eyes mist and his resolve crumpled again. “Briahaar, I’m not the-” He watched as a tear ran down a pale cheek and he bit down on the words. If he left the child now, he didn’t know what Briahaar would do, and he was scared for the child’s sanity. So he slid his fingers off the trembling mouth and reached forward, brushing the hot skin and deepening the kiss.

Mentally screaming his delight, Briahaar parted his lips and felt his senses plundered. His mind soared, as images raced across his brain, fantasy dreams of faces and towers gleaming in the sun’s brightness and then the bands around his mind were finally shattered. He embraced the Har painfully hard as their mouths parted and he buried his face in a hair covered neck.

Closing his eyes, Pellaz felt the desperate hands hold him and prayed he was making the right decision. “Briahaar?” he whispered the name and was glad when the young Harling lifted his face. The excitement of discovery as the child learned his new limitations shone in the wide eyes and Pellaz smiled, knowing now that he would take the child the entire journey. Anything less would be cold-bloodedly cruel. Letting his smile grow, he slowly reached for the hot mouth again, deliberately inviting and coaxing the child to explore him. He wasn’t disappointed, as he was held by bruising fingers and hot breath. He gently rubbed the tense back, pulling the cotton shirt free of its band so that his fingers could touch the burning flesh. Briahaar moaned and wriggled closer, knocking them both to the ground with his urgency.

“Relax.” Pellaz laughed gently, lying back as he threaded fingers up into thick, blonde hair. Briahaar frowned, disgruntled as he tried to share breath again. “Slowly,” Pellaz whispered as he caressed a flushed, damp cheek.

“B-but…I-” Briahaar started, and hesitated. “Please?”

“Shhh.” Pellaz turned them over, holding the young Harling flat. “I will show you,” he answered reassuringly.

“Now?” The tone was urgent and Pellaz lent down to kiss his swollen mouth in answer.

“I am probably not the right choice.” Pellaz sighed as he sat up and pushed his hair back. “But, I think we shall work something out, don’t you?”

“You-u…rrr…p-p-perf-f-fect,” Briahaar stuttered, not believing this Har wouldn’t just leave like everyone else had.

Pellaz laughed again as he undid the laces on his shirt, drawing the silk tunic over his head, pushing his hair back again. “You might not think so after I’m finished with you.”

Briahaar hastily sat up, his muscles unable to stay still as the older Har stood and slowly undressed.

“Well don’t just sit there,” Pellaz coaxed with amusement as he reached forward and attempted to drag the shirt off.

With his spirits improving, Briahaar grinned and eagerly stood, tearing his clothing off and then standing nervously as he waited for his friend to finish undressing. His fingers itched to help, and he knotted them at his side.

“By the Aghama!” Pellaz shook his head amazed and amused. “You’re taller than me!” He reached for a hesitant hand and led the Harling away from the ferns.

“Where are we going?” Briahaar tried to swallow his nervousness as his eyes roamed over the back presented to him. The swing of thick hair was distracting him from seeing the seductive, white glimpses of flawless skin and he reached out to finger the black lengths. Narrow hips and thighs almost hypnotizing him.

“Here.” Pellaz stopped and turned to his half dazed companion and wondered if all changing Hara during Feybraiha were this lost. He sat down easily on the edge of the wide, padded garden lounge and grinned up wolfishly. When Briahaar didn’t say anything or move, he slid back to lie flat on his back and wriggle suggestively. He hid his smile as the Harling started to shake. “Come on.” He held out a hand in open invitation.

Briahaar felt his heart pound into his mouth, his skin was damp and his control non-existent as he scampered after the magnificent creature presented to him. He fell on the smooth, white chest and pressed his lips to the open mouth, drinking in the calming pleasure and mingling the shared breath. “Show me,” he mouthed close to a heavily jeweled ear.

“Just touch me,” Pellaz encouraged. “Explore me.” He took the hesitant hands and placed them on his chest, his own fingertips caressing the inside of Briahaar’s arms before playing down his quivering flanks and abdomen.

Briahaar took the offer eagerly, openly, as he followed his body’s subconscious urgings. He basked in the slow release of tensions as his mysterious, little angel eventually tumbled him over and caressed him, filling him to his center and bringing the star of his being to life. It pulsated deep inside him, vibrant in color, like a delicate orchid and he cried out as an insidious lick of pleasure surged through him. His mind flew on wings of strength, lust and power until the rapid snake-like movements inside him ignited his desires and his senses exploded in gratification.

Lying in the arms of his dark lover, Briahaar felt awed and he leaned up, staring down into drowsy, amused features. His body pulsed with energy, and the incessant buzzing in his ears had vanished. His mind was clear and rational for what seemed like the first time in his life. He was now Har, and he flexed his mind, feeling the promise of strength and power vibrate in his bones. His skin still tingled and he reached forward to touch the Har beside him, no longer frightened of the contact. The dark lashes lifted as he skimmed the warm flesh and he was enveloped in a warm, knowing smile.

“How do you feel now?” Pellaz asked curiously as the gentle fingers teased his chest.

“Like heaven.” Briahaar’s eyes were alight and he bent down to share breath with this fascinating siren.

“Ah! But that is only half the pleasure,” Pellaz teased, as he bit Briahaar gently.

“What could possibly be better?” Briahaar captured the slender hands and studied the amused face.

“I was ouana, you were soume. Now you must be ouana and-” Pellaz pulled the Har down as he whispered the words seductively. His hand trailed down the Har’s body, fingers deliberately teasing and gently arousing Briahaar’s lengthening ouana-lim. “And I must be-”

“Soume.” Briahaar finished for him, his body throbbing in time to his breathing as the spiraling sensations centered on his proud ouana-lim. He took the waiting mouth, the desire to possess suddenly driving him down, even as he knew his lover was creating the mood purposely. He pleasured the body given to him and groaned as he slipped into a well of blinding power and brightness, tasting his companion’s soul briefly as he looked up into eyes of dark, unparalleled beauty.

Shivering. “You’re,” he whispered, even as the thick lashes closed, blocking the sight and the insistent hands clamped over his back muscles. He sank deeper, his hunger unquenchable and he reached for the open mouth. He was bitten and bruised as he felt his secret, magical ouana-lim reach out and blossom within the beast he possessed, releasing them both into a shared climax of aruna fire.

Shattered, but undeniably happy, Briahaar stretched, grinning as he leaned down to lightly kiss the curled warmth at his side. He felt damp and sticky but whole, and he was trying to decide the best way to thank the Har. He kissed him again, watching the sluggish movements as his dark angel awoke.

Pellaz gave Briahaar’s disgustingly, happy face a mock glare, before his own mouth twitched up into a smile. It had felt wonderful to help someone else, to touch the freedom inside them all. And if he was honest with himself, Briahaar had helped heal his injured mind and body.

“Were do we go from here?” Briahaar ran his fingers suggestively up his companion’s thigh. Loving the look and feel of this Har.

“I’ll be going for a bath, and you, my young tease, should go back to your rooms before someone catches you here.”

“Why? Will it make trouble for you? I could explain to your Lord, I could…”

“Briahaar.” Pellaz felt his heart melt at the sincere tones. “I was thinking of you. Don’t worry about me,” he said gently. He sat up and captured the young face. “You should not be on the third level without permission.”

“I know.” Briahaar covered the hands with his own. “But I saw this balcony from the gardens outside and just wanted to come here.”

“And now you should go.” Pellaz kissed him on the nose.

“Can you-”

“I have to go as well.” Pellaz cut him off, seeing the hopeful expression.

“But-”

“We can’t stay here my little, young lover. I probably shouldn’t even be here.” He released the Har and slid off the garden couch.

“But,” Briahaar scrambled after him, catching the smaller Har around the waist near their discarded clothing. He embraced him hard. “But-”

“Briahaar.” Pellaz’s voice was soft and gentle, caressing the younger Har’s ears. Pellaz turned in the embrace and ran a finger along a smooth cheek. Briahaar towered over him by a good six inches. “A whole new world is now open to you, go out and explore it. Follow your desires and learn.” He reached up on tiptoes and kissed the soft lips fleetingly in farewell.

Briahaar hugged him, prolonging the sharing, refusing to release the seductive taste. “But I need-”

“No. You don’t need me,” Pellaz said as he broke out of the embrace. “You are whole.”

Released from the spell of the voice and eyes, Briahaar could do nothing but watch the Har dress. He could think of nothing to say and all his protests died unvoiced. “But-” He lifted a hand in appeal.

“You are Wraeththu, you are strong. Grab your life with both hands and build it into something firm,” Pellaz advised as he saw the confusion in the blue eyes. He knew that Harling initiated by a Har usually spent the next month or so finding their feet in a new world. Unfortunately, as much as he wanted to stay, he knew he couldn’t afford to get involved with Briahaar. It would be detrimental to the Har’s health. “Briahaar, go to your…” he hesitated, thinking. “Go and see Cobweb, talk to him.”

“But-”

“I must go.”

“Wait!” Briahaar grabbed a slender hand and pulled the dark haired Har back. “I will see you again, won’t I?” It was desperate that he know the answer.

“Maybe.” Pellaz smiled as he slipped his hand free.

“Don’t I even get a name?” Briahaar just couldn’t let him go. “There is so much I want to ask you. I want to share with you, I want-”

“Ask Cobweb.” Pellaz stepped back. “He will answer you better than I could.”

“But-” Briahaar shook his head, dazed and confused as he looked down at his nakedness. When he looked up again his captivating, dark lover had vanished and he was left alone in the surrounding greenery.

Pellaz’s heart raced and he couldn’t quiet suppress the bubbly laugh as he thought back to the last few hours. Against his initial judgements, he had enjoyed the experience, and would like to meet Briahaar again at a later time. And he admitted, he was probably attracted to the young Har because Briahaar treated him like a normal Har, not like a Tigron. It was refreshing, and he slipped past the guards quickly, discarding his clothing and diving into the large, heated pool off his bedroom. Vaysh’s disproving scowl was waiting for him when he surfaced and he grinned at him wickedly. Behind Vaysh were the six elite guards.

“And where in the name of Aghama have you been for the last three hours!” Vaysh demanded.

“Relaxing.” Pellaz sighed, delighted when Vaysh blinked. He ducked under the water again and came up pushing excess water from his hair. Stepping out of the pool, Attica and Cleis rushed to him and wrapped him in a towel. They were nervous and upset still because he had lost a pearl and he caressed Attica’s cheek in comfort. “Shh.”

“Pell, are you alright?” Vaysh was regarding him worriedly and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was this hysteria? he wondered. He walked into the bedchamber and was met by Tyson who was sitting on the bed. That did kill the smile on his face, and he stopped, wrapping the towel around himself a little firmer.

“Tyson!” Vaysh snapped outraged as he saw the blonde Har. “I told you Pellaz was receiving no visitors today!”

“I heard you the first time Vaysh.” Tyson cut him off and looked at Pellaz. “I’m here to see Pell, not you.”

Pellaz sighed.

“Get out now or I will have the guards escort you out!” Vaysh threatened, eyes deadly.

“Vaysh, it’s okay,” Pellaz said quietly as he found his equilibrium and walked over to his wardrobes. Attica and Cleis were still with him and he shook his head negatively over their fussing. “I’m fine,” he whispered to them. “Please go. I’ll call you if I need you, I promise.” They left, upset, and he turned away grabbing a velvet dressing gown and holding it up. He eyed the guards pointedly. “I would appreciate some privacy Vaysh, so please get rid of the audience!” he snapped.

Vaysh glared at him a moment, his stare hard and calculating, before he turned and preceded the guards out.

Dropping the towel, Pellaz quickly pulled on the gown, using the towel to dry his hair. He looked back at the bed and found Tyson regarding him seriously.

“Why are you doing this?” Tyson asked.

“Doing what?” Pellaz raised a brow, then looked down, knowing exactly what the other Har meant. “It is for the best, believe me.”

“What! Turning me off just like that!” Tyson snapped his fingers. It was loud in the heavy silence. “Does what we shared mean nothing to you?” he demanded.

“Of course it did!” Pellaz walked around the bed. “I just believe it would be best if we ended it now.”

“Pell,” Tyson stood up and reached for his lover. “Nothing has to end.”

“Oh yes it does.” Pellaz met his eyes levelly in the mirror as he spoke. “It was a mistake in the first place, I..,” he glanced down at the towel he held, “I can’t afford to make any more mistakes.”

“You’re talking about Calanthe, aren’t you?”

“I’m talking about everything Ty.” Pellaz studied him sadly. “It would never have worked, so let us just leave it at that. We had some very good times, don’t destroy their memory now.”

Tyson absently fingered a length of Pellaz’s wet, black hair and his eyes darkened in a deeper emotion. “I think it might be best then if I left Phaonica.”

“If you want to.”

“You leave me little choice!”

“Maybe you are right.” Pellaz took a deep breath. “Where will you go?”

“Why?” Tyson asked suspicious.

“Just curious.” He turned in his chair and saw Tyson’s tortured expression. “I’ve been invited to Sykernesse.” Tyson shrugged.

Pellaz looked down to veil his thoughts. So Calanthe had won that argument. “I see,” he said after a moment.

“Pell-”

“No.” He hardened his heart as Tyson’s eyes drank him in. His face was wistful, resembling his Hostling eerily.

Sighing heavily, Tyson lightly caressed Pellaz’s shoulder before he turned away and walked to the large doors.

Pellaz watched him, the stiff back speaking louder than any words as Tyson walked out. He frowned and was still looking at the door ten minutes later when Vaysh found him.

***

Swift eyed Briahaar across the dining table. His son appeared distracted, and he wondered if any harm had been down to the child because of his delayed Feybraiha. He wanted to talk to him, as he had approached a Har to initiate his son and now needed to know if Briahaar was interested. Somehow he couldn’t imagine his son refusing. Next to him, Karnias started to cry and Cobweb took his Harling and excused himself from the table. He was left alone with Briahaar and Tantraa, Charicia’s Harling. Of his son-in-law, there was no word on his improvement.

After the plates were cleared, Swift asked Briahaar to talk with him in the study. “I’d like to have a word with you.” The round eyes focused on him.

“Sure.” Briahaar shrugged, his thoughts elsewhere.

“In here.” Swift sat in a large chair and Tantraa climbed onto his knee. “It’s about your Feybraiha. I know you probably think that Seel and I have been ignoring you, but we haven’t. Well, at least not intentionally. I’m sorry if it has appeared that way.” Swift eyed his son’s bent head and noted how much he had grown in the last six months. He was already as tall as Azriel, towering over Seel and himself. How their children managed to inherit height, he’d never know. “Now you realize Charicia is no longer capable of being your partner, for that I am sorry, and I need you to either let me choose you a new partner or you must tell me if you desire another.” Swift paused as the blonde head did not rise. “Briahaar?” He wondered if his son had fallen asleep.

“I’m…sorry father,” Briahaar muttered and glanced up with apologetic eyes. “But it’s too late.”

“Too late.” Swift frowned.

“Yes, as I’ve already taken aruna.”

“You’ve what!” Swift half shouted, upsetting Tantraa. He held up a hand quickly to prevent his son’s defensive reaction. “Just explain. Who? When? How did it happen?” he asked, calmer as he hugged the young Harling.

“This morning, early.” Briahaar faced his father. He had never seen his father so angry before and it scared him a little. “It wasn’t planned, it just happened.”

“You stupid, little fool! Don’t you know how dangerous that could be?” Swift emphasized. “What if he had hurt you, or if-”

“But I wasn’t hurt father,” Briahaar interrupted before Swift could deliver a lecture on the subject. “He was wonderful and careful. Mind you, he must have thought I was a complete idiot.”

“Did you tell him you…you hadn’t-” Swift hesitated as he studied his son worriedly, hoping the child hadn’t been mistaken for an adult. “Oh Briahaar, you could have been raped, or injured!” Swift put Tantraa down on the floor and reached for his son, embracing him.

“He knew father. I don’t know how, but he guessed and he showed me myself,” Briahaar replied as he felt his father’s hands squeeze him. “I wasn’t injured.”

Swift released a tense breath and moved back. “What was his name?” he asked, as he would still have to talk with the Har involved.

“I don’t know.”

“What?”

“He never told me his name, and it really didn’t seem important at the time. But it was on the top level of the palace.”

Swift stared at him, not believing this. “You must point him out to me.”

“Okay.” Briahaar shrugged. “If it’s that important I will. But I don’t want you making trouble for him,” he warned.

Swift blinked at the tone and uncompromising expression and let a small smile grow. It seemed his son was finally of age. He nodded solemnly and Briahaar relaxed. “You are now Kaimana level Ara, a Har. And I will speak to Swithe about your caste progression in the morning.”

Briahaar just smiled.

Later in bed that night curled around Seel’s warmth, Swift told him about Briahaar.

“He’s strong.” Swift kissed the back of his lover’s smooth neck.

“Stubborn,” Seel added.

“Must take after you then.” Swift grinned into the warm flesh as he felt Seel’s answering sigh before his love snuggled down further, protecting the pearl he incubated. Swift’s hand strayed to touch the warm, brittle shell briefly as he cuddled his mate closer.

“So what do we do about it?” Seel’s question broke the silence.

“I thought you were asleep,” Swift said.

“I will be in a minute.” Seel yawned. “Well?”

“Briahaar promised to point the Har out to me. He was very insistent that I didn’t challenge the Har, so it must be someone important to him.”

“Are you suggesting he’s covering for the Har?”

“What, that he knows the Har’s name?” Swift asked, thinking. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” Seel offered.

“Yes.” Swift rubbed his nose gently against the soft hair. “Ty is leaving too, you know.”

“I’m not surprised.” Seel yawned again.

“End of the week. He’s going to Sykernesse. He told me he talked it over with Pellaz.”

“Interesting.” Seel shifted a little.

“You comfortable?” Swift asked.

“Mmmm.”

Swift leaned up to look at his lover’s side profile in warm affection. “Go to sleep,” he whispered and knew the exact moment his blood bonded mate relaxed into slumber.

***

A week later the brittle, opaque shell cracked and a crying, pawing bundle of thick, blonde curls entered the world.

Seel sat on the bed holding the newly hatched Harling in front of him as the dark eyes followed his every move.

“He’s perfect.” Swift grinned, delighted.

“He’s going to be tall,” Cobweb predicted as he sat on Seel’s other side. Karnias was crawling around on the floor at his feet, picking at the buckles on his Hostling’s shoes. Tantraa was asleep on the window seat.

“How can you tell?” Swift asked as he reached forward to take his son off Seel. The Harling started to cry, its little fists swinging back towards Seel.

“His hands.” Cobweb caught the Harling’s searching fingers. “His fingers are long, just like Az, Gar and Briahaar’s were. And like them, he will be tall.”

Seel took a breath and gripped Swift’s thigh. “Garis.” Was all he said.

“He has returned to the Gods,” Cobweb whispered in a low voice.

Swift handed the Harling to a house Har, and placed an arm around his chesna’s shoulders.

“I know,” Seel admitted. “But it still hurts, regardless of what Ashmael says.”

Swift kissed him lightly on the hair, while Cobweb reached across and touched his hand in comfort.

CHAPTER NINE

‘I’ll lay you down, and when all else fails,
I’ll drive you like a hammer, on a bed of nails.’

Alice Cooper

Calanthe looked out over the city before him, holding a glass of spicy wine cradled to his chest. It was late afternoon and the sky was darkening to its characteristic mauves and oranges. A month since Tyson had left, and still nothing had changed.

“You do realize, that both you and Pellaz and possibly the Tigrina will need to do some sort of tour to confirm all the new alliances with the tribes. This has to be done before the re-scheduled Tribal talks in nineteen weeks.” Ashmael leaned against the banister next to the silent Tigron.

“It had crossed my mind,” Calanthe muttered cynically.

Ashmael gave him a speaking look before unfolding a piece of paper. “I’ve drawn up a tentative tour plan. Of course, one of you will have to remain in Immanion at all times in case of emergencies. So I’ve listed the tribes I felt would most benefit from your appearance.”

“Why Ashmael, do I finally detect a note of approval from you? A few months ago you only wanted me to go on tour with you so you could test me.”

“Cal please.” Ashmael frowned. “This is serious. Since you single-handedly drove Lianvis insane with a brief mind touch, we all feel it would be beneficial if you were seen visiting the tribes.”

“Enforcing Gelaming order you mean!” Calanthe’s voice didn’t lighten as he turned his cold stare on the tall Har. “What about Pell?”

“You tell me?” Ashmael met his eyes squarely. “He’s your soul mate.”

Calanthe clamped his teeth closed and looked away across the city again. The silence was stony until a golden haired attendant intruded into his thoughts.

“Excuse me my Lord Tigron, but there is an envoy from Ferike wishing to speak with you.”

“Then inform Tigron Pellaz or Vaysh!” Calanthe snapped, still annoyed and not really paying attention to the messenger.

“But they are asking for you by name my Lord.” He bowed, not looking up at the Tigron as he waited to be dismissed.

“Who are they?” Calanthe turned and studied the bowed head. He knew he was acting ungraciously and ignored Ashmael’s groan.

“The Castlethane Jael, my Lord.”

“Jael? Why didn’t you say so earlier.”

“Cal.” Ashmael growled in warning.

“Sorry my Lord.” The attendant stated, eyes down.

“Ferminfex Jael is here!” Calanthe was already walking towards the door, placing his glass down as he went.

Ashmael dismissed the messenger and followed the striding figure, watching Calanthe curiously.

Calanthe left the open courtyard and strode through the long, red carpeted hallways into a vast visitors’ reception hall. The bright room was lit from hanging chandeliers and the carved doors resembled the Tigron’s symbols. The white marbled floor imitated the splendor of the tapestries on the walls.

“Thea?” Calanthe flew down the polished steps and swept the darkly dressed visitor off his feet.

Panthera Jael groaned, but a smile twitched on his face as he awkwardly returned the exuberant embrace. “Cal,” he muttered. “I don’t think you should do this.”

“Nonsense.” Calanthe held him at arm’s length and grinned mischievously. “You couldn’t imagine how much your presence has improved this dull and distasteful place.”

“Cal!” But Panthera had to grin, pleased and delighted by the words.

“Calanthe.”

Cal looked over his shoulder and saw Ferminfex and his grin widened. “It is wonderful to see you both.”

“I’m glad you remember us.” The Castlethane held out his hand in greeting and Calanthe was reminded of another time.

“How could I forget, your entire family is very dear to me.” He glanced around them and saw the hovering guards and servants with the luggage. Ashmael was standing off to one side with a disapproving expression on his handsome face. “Ferminfex, this is Ashmael, the Phaonica’s strategist.” He indicated with a broad sweeping gesture, sure to irritate the Gelaming Har. “Thea, I think you will remember him.”

“Yes.” Panthera nodded politely, then cast Calanthe an aside look. “You are evil at times!”

“Yes I know,” Calanthe agreed cheerfully.

“We have met before.” Ferminfex smiled.

“What brings you to Immanion, Castlethane?” Ashmael inquired, very business-like.

“Ferike’s Castlethanes wish to form a working alliance with the Gelaming.”

“Interesting.” Ashmael raised a brow.

“Politics can wait until daylight.” Calanthe declared. “Right now I want to hear all your news about the family and such.” He glanced at Panthera again. “I would like both of you to stay in the guest quarters attached to my rooms. Your bags will be transferred.” Calanthe gestured to the hovering servants. “I’ll take you there personally.”

“Calanthe, what about the tour arrangements?” Ashmael interrupted tersely.

“It will keep until morning, I’m sure.” Calanthe dismissed it carelessly and led his two old friends away.

“Should you have done that?” Ferminfex questioned as they left the silently fuming Har in the audience hall.

“It will do his perfect Gelaming soul good to wait a while.” Calanthe waved a hand unconcerned and grinned at Ferminfex.

“You’re a beast!” Panthera smiled nevertheless. “And I’m glad to see you haven’t changed too much. So what is it like being the center of attention as Tigron? Are you finally happy?”

“Being Tigron is boring on occasions.” Calanthe shrugged, ignoring the penetrating eyes as he led them up the curved, stylized staircase to his own rooms.

“You still don’t take anything seriously, do you?” Panthera accused as house Hara melted away and Calanthe ushered them into a dark, richly furnished parlor.

“Of course I do!” But his grin contradicted his words. “Sit down, make yourselves at home and I’ll order some refreshments.”

The Jaels’ sat on the plush seats, eyeing the elegantly clad Tigron as he spoke to a servant. He returned and collapsed opposite them in artful splendor.

“So tell me all your news? I hear the publishing trade is very lucrative.” Ferminfex smiled, relaxed. “There’s not much to tell really. After Panthera’s return to Jael, Lahela and I listened for news on your progress here in Immanion. We’d already tentatively decided to ally with the Gelaming as Ferike is only a small tribe, but respected. Our borders touch the tribes of Florinada, who as you know, traded openly with the Kakkahar. Your appointment, for want of a better word, to Tigron with Pellaz-har-Arilis only confirmed our decisions among the Castlethanes. I had wanted to have this announced at the Talks, and the Castlethane from Saphrax was going to commence the opening trade agreements, but it was prevented by fate. And so much has happened since then.”

Calanthe frowned and offered them both a cigarette as servants placed sparkling wine and food on the tables in front of them. “I’d love your support,” Calanthe started, “but I’m afraid I can’t make that decision alone.”

“I fully understand.” Ferminfex nodded, helping himself to the food. Panthera was already eating.

“I trust your family suffered no ill effects from the fall of the Kakkahars?”

“No. Our trade did fall off a little, but we now hope to expand into Megalithica.” Ferminfex smiled ruefully. “Thea’s friend, Zackala, has many enterprising ideas on the subject.”

“Really?” Calanthe didn’t bother hiding his amusement. Panthera ignored him, his dark, luminous eyes returning the unspoken challenge.

“I have brought you something,” he said instead, and Ferminfex just grinned as he lit a long, black cigarette, relaxing back to watch.

Walking over to where Panthera was moving his belongings, Calanthe let his gaze study his friend. The black hair was still as thick, tied up on top of Thea’s head like living silk. His exquisite features captivating, as he stood tall in his dark greens.

“Here, these are for you.” Panthera stood expectantly, a little nervous and awkward as he watched Calanthe carefully unwrap the first of two paintings he had brought for him.

A green explosion of life hit Calanthe’s senses and he stepped back to admire the feel and beauty of the forest, captured and tamed, on the large canvas. It was surrounded by an ornate, gold frame.

“Thea…it is beautiful,” Calanthe muttered in awe as he stared, a slow smile lighting his face. It reminded him so strongly of the forests around Ferike that he could almost smell the wood’s freshness.

Panthera tried to suppress his delight at the praise, but a sparkle shone in his eyes and he shrugged nonchalantly.

“You’re a fraud.” Calanthe hugged him. “God, I’ve missed you terribly.”

“The other one.” Panthera pushed him away towards the second painting and Calanthe approached it with apprehension.

The shock of seeing his own face smile back at him, held Calanthe speechless and spellbound for long minutes as he looked wide eyed at a face he knew so well, yet was alien to him. Love shone out of every brushstroke, and he felt his soul exposed, his thoughts transparent as the portrait’s eyes captured all his secrets and more.

“Thea?” He looked up from where he squatted, his eyes round and searching, as he sought his friend’s flushed face.

“It’s what I see – saw. It’s you Cal. The Calanthe I fell in love with,” he whispered.

“Thea don’t!” Calanthe went to him, and held him tightly. “Don’t hurt for me, because I’m not worth it. I was never really worthy of you.” He crushed him a moment. “My Pantherine.” Calanthe pulled back gently, not missing the fleeting glimpse of pain that flashed in the perfectly lashed eyes. It caused his own chest to ache and he looked over his shoulder to Ferminfex for help. But the Castlethane had turned away, standing by an open window at the far side of the room.

“Are you happy with him?” Panthera had to ask, had to know, and saw Calanthe frown uncomfortably. “Cal?” His voice picked up a little, hope behind his words, fingers brushing a tanned cheek.

“I think it is about time you meet him.” Calanthe glanced away from the searching gaze.

“Cal?”

Panthera’s voice still held a question and Calanthe grimaced inwardly as he saw the tiny flicker of hope sparkle in the expressive eyes. “Nothing has changed Thea. Nothing.”

Panthera looked down and away.

“Come on.” Calanthe put an arm around his shoulders and led him back to the chairs. “Your paintings are magnificent!” He left Panthera there as he went to instruct one of the servants to get Pellaz.

Collapsing into a chair again, he met Ferminfex’s clouded expression. The silence was filled with inconsequential gossip but Panthera’s eyes bored into him accusingly so that Calanthe was far from relaxed when Pellaz eventually turned up. His co-ruler was annoyed but curious, and as always he had Vaysh by his side. It seemed he rarely went anywhere these days without the willowy, cold figure. Calanthe’s frown deepened as he saw how pale Pellaz still looked. He noted the weight loss and wondered if Rayhala was making any progress with his stubborn partner.

“Pell,” he tried for cheerfulness to warm the room’s sudden chill, which mostly radiated from Panthera. “This is Ferminfex Jael, Castlethane of Jael, and his son Panthera.” If Calanthe had thought the chill in the air was bad before, it just solidified as Pellaz turned the room to ice. The dark eyes blackened as they centered on the rigid Har in the plush chair.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” Ferminfex was standing, politely ignoring the lack of greeting from the Tigron as he offered his hand.

Pellaz recovered slowly and accepted the hand. Calanthe was always trying new ways to unsettle him and as always, he succeeded. “Likewise Castlethane. Are you planning to stay long in Immanion?” He stitched on a receptive smile. Beside him Vaysh sniffed the air.

“As long as is convenient and beneficial for both our tribes,” Ferminfex answered.

“I see.” Pellaz turned cold eyes to his tormentor. “What is this about Calanthe?” His tone was brittle.

Calanthe hardened his heart and grinned ruefully at his mate. “Castlethane Jael is representing the tribe of Ferike, and they wish to form a working alliance with the Gelaming.” Calanthe’s fingers bit into Pellaz’s arm as he forced him to move further into the room. If Pellaz tried to pull away, it would cause a scene and he was counting on his ex-lover’s Gelaming training in avoiding such a display.

Taking a seat on the long vacant couch, Pellaz pinned on an interested smile and almost lost it an instant later as Calanthe sat next to him and placed an arm along the back of the seat behind him. Gentle, annoying fingers touched his shoulder and he tensed.

“Surely an agreement between our two tribes can be addressed at the next Hegemony meeting,” Pellaz protested slightly, trying to stand and prevented by Calanthe’s other hand on his arm.

“I doubt we will have the time. Ashmael is already planning schedules for tours. Besides, the next Council meeting is not until the end of the month as you know, and I figured since the Castlethane’s time is valuable, we could discuss it now. Then at the Hegemony, it will only be a procedure.”

“It’s irregular.”

“It’s practical,” Calanthe stressed and saw his beloved’s face crease into a frown as his mind obviously worked over the problem.

“If you insist.” Pellaz said with only a trace of annoyance. He glanced up at Vaysh before turning back to the Castlethane.

Panthera said little as he watched the two Tigrons with brooding silence. Their body language was all wrong. The attraction was tangible, yet their eyes spoke of denial and uncertainty. Calanthe’s fingers occasionally traced circles on Pellaz’s stiff shoulders, and a slight flush would stain the pale cheeks of the dark haired ruler. It was desire and torture mixed, and Panthera’s resentment grew as Pellaz purposely ignored him. The dark eyes occasionally turned his way, slicing into him in obvious disapproval and irritation. The second slender Har with the long, red hair mirrored Pellaz’s attitude of icy friendship as he sat, a picture of glacial loveliness, in the battlefield of words. He studied the silent Har, at first discontented, then intrigued, and finally in budding fascination.

The terms were decided over a number of glasses of wine, and surprisingly it was Pellaz that drank the most. Desperation drove him as Calanthe’s gentle, yet continuous probing of his barriers, crushed his resistance. He became restless.

“I would also like to invite you both to Jael for the official signing of the alliance between our tribes. As Calanthe can testify-” Ferminfex looked directly at Pellaz, “we can put on a very good ceremony. And of course, members of your Hegemony would be invited as well.”

Calanthe’s eyes smiled as he took the Castlethane’s hand. “Thank you. We would be honored.”

“Yes.” Pellaz nodded and stood up before Calanthe could prevent him again. “Well if that is all, you must excuse me. I still have a number of matters to attend to this evening. I trust I will see you before you leave?”

“Yes.” Ferminfex stood also, and bowed his head slightly as Pellaz walked away. Calanthe stared after his partner, his fingers curling in the empty air where Pellaz had sat. It was not enough. “Excuse me a moment,” he said and stood up, avoiding Panthera’s accusing eyes as he went after Pellaz.

He stopped his dark menace at the double doors, quickly reaching around Pellaz’s figure to hold the handle. “Goodnight Vaysh,” he said pointedly.

Vaysh let his gaze swing between the two Hara, tempted to stay and watch the explosions, but he shrugged instead and walked away. It was not his problem after all.

“Cal, I don’t know what you’re trying to do now, but whatever it is-”

“We need to talk Pell.” Calanthe cut him off. “Come back and sit down. Please?”

Pellaz’s dark, piercing eyes flashed up to Calanthe’s briefly, and the blonde Tigron held his breath. They were standing close, very close and Calanthe could feel the hot breath vibrate between them. He watched the silk covered chest rise and fall in uneven patterns and he leaned nearer still. “Pell?” He reached forward and fingered the collar of his companion’s shirt. It was warm and soft.

“I…know.” Pellaz licked dry lips a second time, the roar in his ears from his pulse beat deafening as he reacted to Calanthe’s close proximity. He wanted nothing more than to just reach up into the beckoning wildfire that was his lover and taste the seductive mouth. He swayed and moved his hand, fingertips burning as they brushed the hot material covering his soul mate’s hip.

“Gods!” Calanthe gasped, drunk on the promise of Pellaz’s scent and his fingers caressed the white neck. “Pell?”

Pellaz turned his face up at the whisper, his eyes impossibly wide, like a kitten’s, as he stared, frightened by the emotion coursing through him. He blinked them shut and swallowed, trying to slow his mind as he glanced over at the room behind Calanthe. The two Hara were silent, and he looked past them, his eyes catching the large portrait of Calanthe and his blood froze. Shocked by the captured love in the picture, he recoiled from the knowledge of who had painted it. Knowing how important the Ferike Har was in Calanthe’s life, he turned away. Alien emotions of jealousy and pain hitting him.

Calanthe’s blood was racing, his hands sweaty as he felt Pellaz turn away. He grabbed the shoulders of his beloved and turned to see what had broken the spell between them. Panthera was rocking silently in a chair as Ferminfex paced the room quietly. Nothing was out of place, and he caught Pell’s chin, forcing him to look up as he shook his head negatively. “Pell?”

“Your…guests need entertaining.” His eyes were flint as he pushed Calanthe’s hands away.

“Pell?” Total bewilderment.

“Don’t!” Pellaz snapped. “Just…don’t,” he said softer as he backed away and opened the door, stumbling to get out of the room.

Calanthe could only watch him, all his strength draining out of his muscles.

“Calanthe? Are you alright?” Ferminfex’s face swam into view and he pulled his wits together with difficulty.

“Sorry? Did you say something.”

“No.” Ferminfex sighed and patted him on the shoulder. “I take it your Pellaz does not approve of the portrait Thea gave you.”

“What?” Calanthe frowned and looked to where the piece lay and groaned. “You saw?”

“Yes.” Ferminfex nodded. “Jealousy and desire are a two edged sword Calanthe. Both shadow the other. Remember that.”

“Yes,” Calanthe said a little distracted as he licked his lips. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, thank Thea. As it was his gift to you.” Ferminfex smiled. “Now your house Hara have been kind enough to offer me a bath, so I will see you in the morning. Yes?”

Nodding at the Castlethane, Calanthe looked back at Panthera as an idea started to form in his mind. He went back to sit next to his friend.

“Thea?”

“Is he always like that?” Pure annoyance.

“Who?”

“Your precious lover!” Panthera scowled.

“No.” Calanthe grinned. “He’s usually worse.”

“Then why do you put up with him?”

“I need him.” Calanthe shrugged. “Thea, I want to ask you a favor.”

“What?” He went immediately on the defensive, not trusting the look in the blonde Har’s eye. He had seen it before. Usually preceding trouble.

“I would like you to paint Pell for me.” He went on quickly as he saw Panthera glare at him. “Just like this one you did of me.”

“Why?” he croaked, the idea was abhorrent.

“Because you can capture the true Pellaz for me, and I want that. I want to hang it where I can look at it.”

“You’re…that’s insane!”

Panthera’s face contorted even more and Calanthe smiled sweetly at him. “Will you? Please?”

“I don’t know if I can!” He shook his head. “And I don’t know him.” And I don’t want to! Was left unsaid but implied.

“Do some preliminary sketches while you’re here. You are staying for a while, aren’t you?” Calanthe asked persuasively, smiling.

Panthera groaned and covered his eyes with his hands, not wanting to look at the compelling, violet eyes.

“See what happens Thea, then if in the end you really can’t paint him, so be it.”

“Cal, you know I don’t paint Hara!”

“You painted me.”

“That was different!”

“So is this. You’ll see.”

“And you are a manipulative bastard!”

Calanthe grinned. “Does that mean you’ll do it?”

“Maybe,” Panthera muttered with poor grace as he slumped back further into his chair. He knew he’d give in, especially as Calanthe continued to smile at him blindingly. Closing his eyes on the sight, he cursed his weakness.

***

Pellaz marched into Vaysh’s bed chamber and threw himself down on the bed. “Damn him! Damn him! Damn him!”

“Pell?” Vaysh leaned up on his elbows and viewed the back of the angry head.

“Damn him!”

“Pell?”

“He bloody well does it on purpose!” Pellaz shouted into the undefended pillows. “He enjoys watching me react! I bet he’s laughing his stupid face off now with his precious friends!”

Vaysh sighed and rolled onto his side, facing Pellaz.

“I wish he would just leave me alone!”

“Now you know that isn’t true,” Vaysh stated quietly.

“He can go back and rot in Jaddayoth for all I care!”

Vaysh sighed again and gently reached over to rub the back of his lover’s neck, resigned to another long night.

***

It was decided the next day, that Panthera would stay on in Immanion until a few days before the ceremonies in Ferike. Ferminfex would leave the following morning, accompanied by Gelaming guards to ensure his safe journey. He would then send word when arrangements were finalized for the ceremonies in Jael. It would take two months at least. Calanthe was pleased by the arrangements and all the documents were witnessed by that evening, so he invited the Jaels’ to dine with him and a few other Hara.

The dining room was magnificent, the food being served, plentiful and rich. Swift and Seel attended as did Caeru and Pellaz. The latter, so perfectly cool and aloof, that Calanthe set out to see if he could rattle his beloved a bit more. Force his attention.

Pellaz sat at the opposite end of the table, contained and polite, eating hardly a mouthful, but drinking steadily. Caeru was by his side, exotic and moody, and Pellaz happily ignored him. Seel looked exhausted as he sat next to Swift who was talking continuously with Ferminfex. The two hit it off brilliantly, discussing the printing business most of the evening. It bored Pellaz, but he didn’t show it. The subject of the tours and the Kakkahaar was studiously avoided by all.

Caeru was gracious, eyes watching Panthera with curiosity, and he didn’t miss the by-play between the two Tigrons.

Panthera sat silently fuming as Calanthe poured him more wine.

“Who’s offended your obnoxious little soul this time?” Calanthe asked mildly as he smiled.

Panthera sniffed, affronted. “You have, if you must know!”

“What have I done this time?”

“Your stupid request,” he snapped bad-temperedly, just keeping his voice above a whisper. “It’s just so impossible!”

Calanthe’s brow arched in amusement.

“I won’t do it!” he decided.

“Whatever, suit yourself.” Calanthe shrugged disinterestedly.

“Oh!” Panthera threw his serviette down on the table. “You’re impossible!” he continued to hiss furiously.

Calanthe just winked at him, letting his smile grow, before he looked up and let it encase Pellaz as well.

Panthera cursed under his breath, as Pellaz paled and looked away, stung.

Calanthe wasn’t fooled by his beloved’s reactions and feigned disinterest, and he just turned back to Panthera.

“It is going to backfire on you,” the Ferike warned.

Calanthe just shrugged again and glanced up as Caeru excused himself from the table. His amusement thinly hidden as Pellaz’s scowl increased.

“Your Tigrina is magnificent,” Ferminfex said in compliment.

“Yes he is unique, wouldn’t you say Pell?” Calanthe asked mildly.

“Yes.” Pellaz nodded as he accepted another glass of wine.

“Are you both blood bonded to the Tigrina?” Ferminfex asked, curious.

“No.” Calanthe spoke before Pellaz could and their eyes met briefly.

Seel cleared his throat as if trying to think of a new topic of conversation.

“He and Pellaz are blood bonded, they have been for years. Isn’t that right, my love?” Cal asked lightly.

Pellaz’s lashes swept down, masking the spark of anger, before he gave the Castlethane a mirthless smile. “Yes, we are blood bonded. It was Thiede’s idea.”

“I see.” Ferminfex frowned, swinging to glance at Calanthe. “I take it then, that you still need to find your own consort?”

“That is one line of thought,” Calanthe agreed.

Seel paled and gave the blonde Tigron a hard speaking look.

“I see.” Was all Ferminfex said again, but his eyes embraced Panthera seated next to Calanthe.

Panthera’s cheeks flushed, and he smiled frostily at his father. He disliked his life being arranged by his father, or being used as a political tool.

Calanthe just bent his head, hiding his amused smile.

“Well-” Swift said a little too loudly as he raised his glass. “Here’s to a peaceful alliance between our tribes.”

Ferminfex responded and conversation evened out, returning to the intricacies of the Ferike artist trade.

Feeling very isolated at his end of the table, Pellaz stared into the bottom of his glass, absently listening to Ferminfex explain the mechanics of his tribe’s devotion to Swift. Seel stood up, excusing himself from the table as a servant came and spoke in his ear, and Pellaz started to wish he had arranged for Vaysh to come and rescue him. It was not that he had anything personal against the Castlethane, quite the opposite in fact, it was just that the Har seemed to understand Calanthe so much better than he did. Was part of Cal’s previous life… What he did strongly disapprove of, was the sculptured creature sitting next to his co-ruler. He had thought – believed – that the infamous Panthera Jael that Cal still mentioned occasionally, had been completely out of his partner’s life. Now to have him turn up again, larger than life and twice as enticing in his feline beauty, repulsed him, and he hated the feeling. Hated the forbidden bite of jealousy.

His fingers closed brutally around the crystal glass he was holding as he glanced at the two, seeing Cal lean towards the Ferike and light his cigarette. It made him feel spiteful, an alien emotion and he ignored the servants hovering at his side as he thought of Ferminfex’s words. So, Calanthe was considering taking the Ferike cat as a consort. His manicured nails whitened further on the glass, as a small part of his mind reminded him repeatedly of his Gelaming training. But the

mental proddings no longer helped, or comforted him and suddenly the delicate crystal glass shattered, stunning him as shards of glass cut into his hand. Wine, glass and blood stained the lace cloth as he took a deep breath, biting the inside of his cheek against the sharp pain. He shook his hand gently, his fingers tingling and he blinked up dazed as Swift’s voice reached him first.

“It’s nothing,” he dismissed the concern, even as the Megalithican reached for his hand.

“Pell?”

Calanthe was moving towards him and he stood up, roughly pushing the chair back, trying to escape the warm hands that touched him. He felt too exposed, too vulnerable. Too tempted to submit and that most of all terrified him. “It’s nothing,” he repeated, ignoring the blood as he avoided Calanthe’s long fingers expertly. “Forgive me.” He turned briefly to the Castlethane and nodded politely. “I trust you will have a safe journey in the morning. Take our combined regards to the other Ferike Castlethanes.”

“Thank you.” Ferminfex was standing also, concerned but the dark haired Tigron was turned away, walking to the door.

Calanthe frowned and bit his bottom lip. He kicked himself mentally for continually forgetting his beloved wasn’t fully recovered from the Kakkahar’s treatment, and wouldn’t be until he admitted it had happened and talked about it. He desperately wanted Pell to reach out, to hit back, to just show some genuine emotion, rather than this distant contempt. To react to him positively.

“Do you want to go after him?” Panthera’s voice was unsympathetic.

“No!” Swift cut in. “I’ll go.” He gave Calanthe a tight smile of reproof and held out his hand to the Castlethane. “I hope we can talk again.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Ferminfex replied.

Swift inclined his head and left the room, hurrying to catch up with Pellaz.

“Well I hope you’re satisfied,” Panthera snapped, annoyed. “You are a stupid fool.”

“What, still seeing right through me!” he asked in mild sarcasm as tiredness swamped him.

Ferminfex cleared his throat and touched Calanthe’s shoulder. “Calanthe, I think you need some clear space to regain your inner mind.”

“Maybe,” Calanthe mumbled to himself and looked back at the Castlethane. “Then, just maybe I know exactly what I am doing.”

Panthera threw his hands up in exasperation and left the room.

Swift caught up with Pellaz in one of the outer rooms, and breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Seel had already intercepted the small Har. Behind his lover was Ashmael, Azriel and Briahaar, all three having just returned from Galhea.

“Ash, Az!” Swift smiled delighted and got a cocky grin from his oldest son as Ashmael helped Seel pick the glass out of Pellaz’s hand.

“…stupid thing to do,” Seel was muttering disgustedly as Briahaar moved around him and stared open mouthed at the slender Har.

Pellaz didn’t look up at him, not wanting to meet the round, piercing eyes just yet. “Don’t fuss Seel.” He sighed.

“Swift. You and the Megalithican government can start reorganizing the Parasiel movements back into Galhea, as now it is just a matter of repairs,” Ashmael informed him, not taking his eyes off the bloodied hand. Azriel nodded his agreement.

“Look, do you mind if I sit down or something?” Pellaz asked, feeling put out. “Or better still, if we just get out of here.”

“Shut up Pell,” Seel said indifferently.

“He’s right.” Ashmael relented. “But this needs to be cleaned properly before it starts healing.”

“Fine!” Pellaz tried to withdraw his hand. A servant handed Seel a damp cloth and he groaned.

“Back to our rooms,” Seel instructed. “Phlaar’s there, he can look at it for you.”

“Seel, is this really necessary?” Pellaz protested.

“Shut up and walk.” Seel gave him an uncompromising look. “Anyway, I want a word with you.”

“About what?” he demanded ungraciously.

“About Calanthe!” Seel gave him a small push. “Now move.”

Swift smothered his grin and dropped back with Ashmael and his oldest son.

“What’s that all about?” Ashmael questioned as he looked pointedly at Pellaz.

Seel kept a gentle hand on Pellaz’s arm as he saw the other Hara drop back. On the Tigron’s other side, Briahaar reached over and touched the black hair hesitantly.

“Pell, as in – The Pellaz?” Briahaar’s voice rose uncontrollably. “Tigron Pellaz?!”

“Oh, Briahaar.” Pellaz turned and smiled at him sadly. He touched the hesitant fingers on his shoulder with his good hand. “I’m sorry. I never meant for you to find out like this. I wanted to tell you, but…I’m sorry.”

Seel looked around Pellaz at his son, frowning. “Briahaar? Pell?”

“But why? Why hide? It could never make a difference to me who you were.” He gripped the fingers covering his. “I lie awake and think about it still. I wanted to know you, but it’s like a dream. A beautiful, potent dream.”

“I know.” Pellaz breathed the word, looking inward at his own memories of the first time he had been shown the delights of aruna. A taste of soda burning his throat.

“Pell?” Seel’s insistent voice broke in. “What in the name of the Aghama is going on here?”

“I-” He licked his lips and stood a little straighter as he felt Briahaar press against his side. “I’m sorry, but I don’t regret a moment of it. And I swear I never hurt him.”

Seel’s eyes widened incredibly, sightless for a horrible moment before he swung them around to challenge Briahaar. His son clutched at the Tigron’s arm, defiance in his clear gaze.

“Seel, everything is alright, no harm was done,” Pellaz said gently.

“No harm! You could have burned him! Killed him!” Seel erupted, horror stamped across his face.

“I don’t lack that much common sense.”

“Pell, it’s not that, it’s just,” he glanced around helplessly, “you’re just not well. You haven’t been well for months.”

“Why!” Pellaz backed away from him, appalled by the words. “Why does everyone keep saying that! I’m fine. Fine Seel.”

Seel just shook his head, opening his mouth, but not finding the words. Briahaar was holding Pellaz, scared now.

Biting back his own inner panic, Pellaz pushed Briahaar’s hands away and strode off in long, agitated strides. He needed to think.

Seel’s hand shot out and prevented Briahaar from following the Tigron. “Don’t. Leave him.”

“Why did you have to say that?” Briahaar demanded, confused by what had transpired. “Why did you hurt him?”

“Seel?” Swift’s face was anxious as he hurried forward.

“Let go of me.” Briahaar twisted his wrist free. “Just let me go!” He stumbled and turned, following the corridor Pellaz had taken.

“Seel?” Swift asked worriedly. He had not heard the argument as he had been too far back talking with Ash and Azriel.

Seel winced and glanced at his lover. “It was Pell who initiated Briahaar. He took him through his Feybraiha.”

Swift’s chin dropped as Ashmael whistled through his teeth, his blue eyes speculative.

***

Sinking below the surface of the warm water, Panthera contemplated the last few days and the problem between the two Tigrons. As much as it was good to see Calanthe again, if he was brutally honest with himself, he had to admit that Cal was still nothing more than his trusted friend. Sure Calanthe enjoyed his company, even seeking him out, and if they weren’t in Immanion then they probably would share aruna, but still something would be missing. It had always been missing, and Panthera unhappily knew what it was. As long as he’d known the mysterious Har, Cal had always been obsessed with only one thing. One being. And he was still obsessed no matter how much he tried to deny the fact.

The more Panthera studied the supposedly fantastic Pellaz, he couldn’t see what Cal saw in the Tigron. The Har was sulky, bad tempered, short and skinny, he catalogued unkindly. All his preliminary sketches he had made of the Tigron were nothing more than unflattering, black smudges on paper. Calanthe had dismissed them all, saying that he was letting his prejudice of the Har color his judgements.

Now, that had really annoyed him and they’d had their first argument, with him stamping to the library, throwing books around the shelves as Calanthe had slunk in behind him like a guilty dog, contrite and apologetic.

It had cleared the air marginally, but his sketches were still just as dark.

“So here you are my little cat.”

The voice was mischievous, and Panthera opened cautious eyes, seeing Calanthe and not trusting him. He was still up to his neck in bubbling water, his hair fanning out around him and he was too comfortable to move. Calanthe sat down on the stone steps and pulled off his boots to rest his feet in the water as an exceptionally, good looking blonde Har standing near Calanthe eyed him with a smile.

“Thea, this is Chrysm and he’s been dying to meet you!” Calanthe exaggerated the words.

“Well Cal has told us all so much about you,” Chrysm said cheerfully as he shifted his weight onto his other hip. With the sunlight behind him, he resembled a waking dream.

“Scandalous lies no less.” Panthera blinked up at the Har innocently and Chrysm sucked in a breath.

Calanthe poked the Hegemony member in the thigh pointedly. “Remember Arahal!”

“He doesn’t give a damn about me! Too busy off playing games with that Azriel!” He sounded bitter.

“That’s only because you ignore him.” Calanthe pointed out mildly.

Chrysm just assumed a haughty expression and looked down his nose at Calanthe.

“Aaaanyway,” Calanthe drew the word out as he turned back to Panthera. “My Tigrina is holding an impromptu party tonight, and…”

“And I’d like to invite you.”

“Chrysm!” Cal’s voice was admonishing and then he laughed.

“What’s the party for?” Panthera glanced between the two.

“God knows!” Calanthe exclaimed dramatically.

“A whim.” Chrysm shrugged elegantly.

“Caeru just enjoys these sort of things. Gives him something to exercise his brain on.”

“You’re an animal Cal,” Chrysm said grinning. “Will you come?”

“Am I invited?”

“Of course you’re invited! It will be refreshing to have intelligent company for once.” Chrysm gestured wildly.

“All right,” Panthera said slowly.

“Good. I’ll inform his Lordship.” He winked at Calanthe and spun away in a cloud of silky splendor.

Panthera stepped from the water and accepted the towel Calanthe held out for him. “He’s amazing!”

Calanthe laughed, delighted. “They’re all eccentric.”

“Beautiful.”

“Oh no! My poor little Pantherine’s fallen under the spell of the Gelaming!” Calanthe mocked him gently as he followed the stiff back into the guest quarters.

Panthera ignored him for five whole minutes before he had to ask the question that had plagued his mind since his arrival in Phaonica. “What is that redhead’s name?”

“Which one?” Amusement tinged his tone still.

“The one with your precious Pellaz!” Panthera snapped.

“Oh you mean Vaysh.” Calanthe smiled at him in an annoying fashion.

Panthera spiked him a glare. “Will he be at the party?”

“Probably. Why?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t tell me you’re interested in that impenetrable iceberg?” Calanthe flopped down on Panthera’s bed, his laugh wicked.

“He’s beautiful,” Panthera said defensively.

“He’s also Pell’s.” Calanthe looked over at him pointedly. “He won’t grace anyone else’s bed but Pellaz’s.”

“You mean he refused you!” Panthera accused, a hard edge in his voice as he turned to glare at Calanthe.

“I’ve never tried.” Cal shrugged, not offended. “I’ve never been interested enough.”

“Oh, I see!” Panthera didn’t believe a word of it.

“It’s true. Besides Vaysh will freeze you out, you don’t stand a chance,” Calanthe said seriously and saw Panthera’s challenging look. “Oh Gods!” He sat up suddenly and let a mischievous grin form. “This is going to be fun to watch!”

“Shut up!” Panthera snapped and swung away from the Har on the bed. “Sometimes Calanthe you can be a painful bore!”

Calanthe fell back on the bed and grinned at the canopy overhead. A blonde house Har appeared and bowed, before addressing the Tigron.

“Excuse me my Lord, but Lord Ashmael wishes to have a word with you.”

“I wonder how he tracked me,” Calanthe muttered as he looked over at Panthera. “Thea?”

“Go ahead.” Panthera shrugged.

“Show him in here.” Calanthe decided.

“Ah…Cal, it’s about the-” Ashmael stopped and eyed the half naked Ferike sitting at the mirror. Panthera just sat straighter on the chair.

“About what?” Calanthe reminded him patiently, from his sprawl on the bed. He knew how it looked and he didn’t care.

“About Thaine. Fighting has broken out due to the influx of refugees from Megalithica and Arahal is suggesting we send in patrols.”

“By all means,” Calanthe stressed, levering himself off the bed.

“I’ve also made a tentative date to visit Thaine in a few weeks after the trouble has settled. Arahal will mention it to the leaders there when he accompanies the guards.”

Calanthe sighed and glared at the strategist. “You’re a pain in the arse at times Ashmael, but I suppose you are already aware of that fact.”

Ashmael spared him only a brief glance as he brushed off a speck of dust on his sleeve. “Florinade needs to be subdued as well. The black arts are openly practiced there and it would be beneficial to stamp out the cult before another Lianvis is found.”

“Sounds boring to me,” Panthera muttered as he stepped around Ashmael’s immaculate form to reach his wardrobe. He started sorting clothing.

“Thea’s right,” Calanthe decided. “The Hegemony sits in three days, we’ll discuss it all then. Tonight is for pleasure.” He grinned and looked at Panthera. The dark haired Ferike ignored him. “I trust you’ll be going to this thing Caeru had organized?”

“Of course!” Ashmael stated. “Everyone in Phaonica should be there.”

“Which reminds me,” Calanthe said, “has Swift or Seel chosen for Briahaar yet? As I heard Seel was planning a Feybraiha party for the Harling in a month or so. Can Briahaar wait that long?”

“Well,” Ashmael glanced down and bit his lip, “not in the way you mean.”

“In what way then?” Calanthe frowned.

“Well,” Ashmael debated the words. “I see no reason why you shouldn’t be told.”

“Told what!” Calanthe felt his nerves tense.

“Briahaar chose without telling anyone weeks ago. He chose Pell, and well Pellaz obliged him.”

Calanthe grabbed the bed post winded, as he stared unblinkingly at Ashmael for a moment. “He did what!?!” he demanded, an irrational fury sweeping through him.

“Cal, no harm was done,” Ashmael said gently as he watched the Tigron worriedly.

“How the fuck do you know?!” he barked, spinning around and half staggering towards the door. “Pell should have been ruled out for the same simple reason Charicia was! Goddamn this place! Why can’t anyone use their fuckin’ brains for once! It’s just basic common sense!” he ended hoarsely.

“Cal, where are you going?” Ashmael moved with him, not daring to touch the Tigron as he felt the vibrating power surge up in the strong Har.

“I’m going to knock some long overdue sense into…”

“Calm down first,” Ashmael spoke slowly, infusing calm into the air around them. He continued to speak in the same tone, as Calanthe started to take slower breaths. “It’s over. A past event. Look only to the future now, ignore the past as it cannot touch you.” He raised a hand and brushed the Tigron’s forehead gently. “Release the anger Cal, free yourself from the chains of guilt.”

Calanthe released the door jam he was holding, his hand still curling into a loose fist as he absorbed the words and feelings. He was prickly with sweat, edgy and tense. He rubbed his face on his sleeve and took another deep, shuddering breath.

Panthera exchanged looks with Ashmael, not moving or saying a thing as they both waited for Calanthe to calm.

“I can’t take much more of this,” Calanthe whispered, his breath still shaky and uneven.

Ashmael steeled himself not to move as he experienced a ghost wind, his hair standing on end from the invisible, icy caress as Calanthe poured his gathered energy back into the ground. Its seductive promise both deadly and sweet. So much untamed power… “Go take a bath,” he suggested gently and was glad when the Tigron blinked at him owlishly before walking away obediently.

Calanthe only stopped long enough to remove his clothing before he sank below the bubbling water.

***

Caeru’s lavish affair was held on the huge, open courtyard that looked out across the sea. The high ceilinged room was colored in the richest browns and golds, creating warmth, luxury and splendor, as thick, blood-red velveteen curtains pooled artistically on the virgin white tiles. The breeze from the sea was refreshing to the fifty or so Hara that had gathered to eat, mingle, gossip and tantalize.

Calanthe eyed the full plate of delicacies Panthera pushed in front of him, and placed the plate untouched on the broad window’s ledge. “Sorry Thea, but I’m just not hungry.” His tone mirrored the emptiness he felt inside.

Panthera exhaled heavily and viciously forked a piece of chicken, wishing it was Pellaz’s royal flesh he was stabbing.

“There’s your aloof iceberg.” Calanthe gestured snidely to Vaysh who was looking around disinterestedly, a glass of wine untouched in his hand.

“Shut up Cal! You’re revolting you know!” Panthera snapped. “Just because you want to feel miserable doesn’t mean I have too. He’s not the ‘be all and end all’ of the universe you know!” He stood up abruptly and strode off, his long mane twitching in angry frustration.

Calanthe raised a brow in disdain, pretending to ignore his friend’s outburst as he stretched out his long legs and wiggled his toes. Panthera was right though, he acknowledged after a painfully honest moment with himself, as he spied the Ferike trying to engage the floating iceberg in conversation. Vaysh turned away and Panthera followed, not one to give up easily, and Cal had to smile as he saw the redhead try to back away a second time. He wondered idly if fiery claws and icy talons could mix.

Standing up to get himself another drink, he saw Pellaz and all the air rushed out of his lungs. His beloved had his back to him, the long, black hair neatly tied up off his white neck, dressed all in black satins and silks, as he stood next to a taller blonde Har. It was Swift and Seel’s son, Briahaar, and they were sharing a joke and Calanthe’s smoldering sense of injustice returned full measure.

He forgot his drink and slid up behind the two. “I want to talk to you,” he growled, ignoring Briahaar completely as he cut in.

Pellaz turned and eyed the deep, violet eyes with mistrust, immediately going on the defensive. “What a novel idea.”

“Fuck the small talk Pellaz! What I want to know, is what possessed you to decide to take lover boy here through his paces!” Calanthe demanded, not bothering to lower his voice as he stabbed a vicious finger at the younger Har. Heads turned around them and Briahaar took a breath as a blush stained his cheeks.

“It’s none of your damn business. I haven’t interfered with you and the she cat, so leave me alone!” Pellaz hissed.

“Thea is just a friend,” Calanthe corrected acidly.

“Oh, and you have so many friends, don’t you Cal?” Snide venom.

“Jealousy Pell? Come on sweetheart, surely you can do better than that!” Calanthe snarled as a cruel smile twisted his mouth.

Pellaz pulled his shoulders back and sent a withering glare at Calanthe, all too aware of the silence around them. “Excuse me Briahaar,” he said politely, attempting to gather his calmness around him before pivoting and heading out of the room.

“Oh no you don’t!” Calanthe snapped going after him.

Pellaz roughly pushed Cal’s hands off as he opened a hallway door, going inside the darkened room and snapping the lights on with an angry click of fingers.

Calanthe shut the door behind them, vaguely seeing a sea of faces staring, before the door killed the image and he turned the key, locking them in. “For God sakes Pell, what the fuck is wrong with you!!” Calanthe half shouted in frustration as he glared at the uncommunicative back.

“Me!” Pellaz spun around, his face outraged. “You’re Mister Wonderful around here! God’s gift to the Wraeththu I believe is the term everyone is using. And all you need now is a perfect consort to match the perfect image. So you dragged the Ferike bitch back here! Fitting, Cal, very fitting and so predictable.” He sneered the last word.

“You’re speaking nonsense as usual!” Calanthe angrily thrust books out of his road as he sat on the edge of a table facing Pellaz. Papers, charts and manuals hit the floor unnoticed. “What I want to know is what were you trying to prove when you deflowered Briahaar?! You could have killed him, burned him out. Your mind is all screwed up.”

“My mind!” Pellaz yelled in outrage. “Let me remind you oh perfect one, that I’m not the one who flies off the rails here when under a little pressure! You’re the one who burns innocent minds, who kills without regard, who deludes himself of a conscience,” he hissed, deadly quiet. “Oh yes Thiede showed me, when I begged him to find you.”

Calanthe turned away from the huge, accusing eyes as a million retorts flew to his lips and he discarded them all as Ashmael’s word of the afternoon feathered down to him. The strategist had purged his mind, his soul of guilt, of fear, and now suddenly those memories no longer hurt. They were like fillets of history that had happened to someone else, and he could look down on them in a detached manner. Pellaz was still shouting at him, hurting, he could see that now and he looked away, his gaze falling on Arahal and Chrysm. They were frozen in place, like a picture of love, faces white as their bodies entwined on a long couch in the shadows. He envied them, even as they stared back afraid and unsure. In front of him Pellaz had turned away, his voice husky now from emotion as he hugged his chest and rocked on his heels.

“Why Cal, why? I don’t understand this or anything any more. It’s a…nightmare. A contorted dream… and in it I’m still screaming. You save me only to throw me back for more and…and I realize I never really knew you. Never really understood you…and maybe never even touched you.”

Cal watched his side profile and felt numb, dead as those words sliced into him. Pellaz looked so small and lost in the reflective shards of light from the chandelier, crystals of moisture sparkling on his lashes. Calanthe licked his lips, trying to voice his feelings, but his throat felt strangled and he could only stare paralyzed.

“Do you really want to live in Ferike, in a Castle with…with-” Pell hesitated, his whisper weak as he spied a look at his silent friend. The blonde hair was halloed, the expressive eyes dead and clouded with pain, the sensual limbs hanging loosely and Pellaz turned his head away, biting his bottom lip. His stomach churned as he accepted the bitter truth. “I-” He started, closing his eyes. “I doubt the Hegemony will…will let you leave, but-” He took another breath. It had never been so hard to talk before. He had never felt so desolate. “But Thiede always maintained you should choose your own consort.”

Calanthe dropped his head back, unable to listen any more as his blood pounded and the emptiness inside him screamed to be filled. Moving was difficult, but he forced his limbs, reaching for Pellaz from behind and wrapping desperate arms around him. The smaller Har automatically tensed as if expecting pain and he tightened his hold on the shivery body.

“When you died…I died.” The words were coarse, and he rubbed his face on Pellaz’s partially covered neck, absorbing his unique scent and drawing strength to speak, suddenly realizing what had to be said. “Madness is sweet when faced with reality. I…I stumbled blindly, my mind torn apart, that I would have killed anyone who had admitted to knowing Thiede’s mind or plan. I…was consumed from within, treacherous even to myself, searching Pell, oh God did I search! Yet for what I didn’t know. My soul was hungry, yet dead until they told me. They told me-” He half bit, half kissed the tender flesh under his mouth as he felt the body in his arms begin to shake uncontrollably. He tightened his hold. “Pell? You were alive and I was knifed again. He kept me in limbo for over twenty years! Twenty years Pell…playing with me…playing with us both. Manipulating our minds, our thinking.” He sucked in a breath, his mind raw. “Yet all through those times I never stopped loving you. Never stopped caring, wanting, no matter what he said. Nothing else mattered.” He pressed his face close, shaking his head. “Shit Pell, can’t you feel it too? Can’t you sense the need? Or is it only me?”

“Y-y-yes-s.” Pellaz’s fingers were frozen as they clutched at Calanthe’s banding arms. “Yes,” he said clearer, nodding slowly, swallowing hard. He felt abused, drained, powerless and hungry. His body trembled, and he dug his fingers harder into Cal’s arms. “Cal-”

Calanthe didn’t deny his own tears as Pellaz’s defenses shattered, and he absorbed the pain behind his lover’s shields. He wanted the barriers open, he wanted them destroyed and he grabbed the tense Har, turning him and cupping the wild face. Silver trails of moisture marked the beautiful cheeks as the black eyes stared up at him desperately, urgently. He opened his mouth to speak and lost the words as Pellaz clutched at him.

“I-I,” Pellaz tried to verbalize the thought, but the sound died as he shook his head. He drank in the confusion on Calanthe’s features and moved closer, not willing to release the Har he now held. “Cal?”

Refocusing on the mouth so close to his, Calanthe lifted the face he cupped and touched the dry lips with his own. It was hesitant, unreal as their breath mingled, reaching down slowly, deeply into the other’s lungs. Like starved infants they were suddenly crushing the other, tasting hot desire as they plundered the knowledge and need shared. Their minds spiraled forward to explore the link and strengthen the fragile promise.

Ghosts no longer haunted the mind as memories of blood and death vanished under the onslaught of desire. Twisted images ceased to be of importance as they shared thoughts like kisses, mingling their breaths and caressing the raw wounds.

Calanthe sucked on the swollen lips, his hands in the thick, black hair, destroying the pinned up elegance as he strove to consume the body in his arms. So long. So long had he been waiting for the remembered taste that he wanted it all instantly. Pellaz moaned against him, leaning heavily into his hot chest as the strong fingers and manicured nails dug into his back muscles, ripping the shirt from his trousers and wriggling them impossibly closer.

*I want you!* The urgent demand hit Calanthe’s mind like hot ash and he groaned.

“Likewise my precious,” he mumbled out loud against Pellaz’s open mouth, sending images of his own desires deep into his beloved’s brain.

Pellaz shuddered and bit him on the chin, his teeth working down Calanthe’s neck as his fingers skimmed the cool back muscles. Calanthe threw his head back, thriving under his lover’s touch, that he just caught the smaller Har in time before Pellaz slid them both to the floor.

“Not here,” Cal breathed.

Pellaz wriggled suggestively, face flushed and wet still. Cal…I…we-”

“Not here,” Calanthe repeated hotly. “I want a bed under us this time.”

“Aghama!” Pellaz groaned and closed his eyes, his fingers teasing down the trousers seam over Calanthe’s tightly clenched backside.

Calanthe lent down and reclaimed the open mouth in a bruising caress, mixing their strengths and tasting honey.

“Gold,” Pellaz whispered, focusing only on the seductive mouth that twitched up into a smile.

“Bed!” Cal said firmly, pushing them apart with an effort. A chilling breeze hit their burning sensitive skins and he held Pell out at arm’s length and half pushed him towards the door. He tried to tuck his shirt back in and found it torn. Pellaz was battling to push his hair back into some order. They stopped and laughed suddenly, releasing tensions with the first genuine pleasure in months. Embracing lightly they shared breath again. Hugging Pellaz in sheer delight, Cal looked up and met Arahal’s and Chrysm’s nervous eyes. They were both sitting up, half dressed, looking embarrassed and bewildered and he gave them a secret smile as he kissed Pell’s hair. He unlocked the door and turned off the lights, ushering his lover out of the room, leaving it in silence and darkness. Only an echo of their presence remained.

A number of Hegemony members hovered uncertainly in the spacious hallway. The room beyond was subdued, the lights low and the music soft. Pellaz automatically pulled away from Cal’s embrace, dropping his hands as reality intruded. Calanthe’s smile turned to a scowl as he moved his fingers, tangling them in Pell’s hair.

“Excuse us!” he snapped with exaggerated politeness, dragging Pellaz closer and refusing to let him distance them again. Pellaz looked up at him briefly, his expression clouded before he turned back to Tharmifex and Glave.

“Cal…we’re-” Pellaz started.

“Leaving!” Calanthe stressed, able to read the transparent mind easily now. His fingers tightened on the white neck and Pellaz sighed, giving in and accepting the arm around his shoulders. He snaked his own hand along Cal’s waist and smiled as the simplicity of the action felt so natural. He took a step and felt Calanthe relax as they left the immediate area.

***

Behind them Tharmifex bit his inside lip and looked around. “Where’s Vaysh?”

“God knows!” Glave exclaimed, raising a hand and pointing vaguely in the direction the Tigrons went. “Do you think they’ll kill each other this time?”

“Don’t be such a morbid idiot!” Cedony snapped, agitated himself.

“Let’s just find Vaysh and Chrysm,” Tharmifex advised. “Glave you follow them and let us know where they go.”

“Me!” he protested. “I saw what happened last time, remember?”

“Shut up.” Tharmifex frowned. “I’ll get Ash as well.”

“Useless,” Cedony mumbled as he watched the Har walk quickly away, the pink and black plait bobbing nervously. “They are probably headed for the Tigron’s suite. Hell, there’s never an adept around when you need one!” he cursed.

They both stopped and looked at each other in realization. “Seel!” They spoke in unison and went in search of the Har.

***

Calanthe didn’t stop until they were inside the Tigron’s rooms, where Attica and Cleis appeared apprehensive and alarmed.

“It’s alright.” Pellaz soothed them as he released his companion.

Cal looked between the twin Hara, their expressions perfectly matched and he was at a loss to tell them apart.

“We don’t want to be disturbed for a while,” Pellaz instructed them gently.

“Not for any reason,” Calanthe injected. “I don’t care if Immanion is falling down around our ears, no-one is to disturb us!”

“Cal.” Pellaz sounded exasperated when the two house Hara jumped.

“For no reason, Pell,” Calanthe told him seriously, leaving him to organize his servants as he walked into the airy room. He stood in the middle of the chamber and breathed deeply. It was their room again. ‘At last’, his soul seemed to whisper to him and he went and pulled the curtains shut, blocking out the night chill.

Following a moment later, Pellaz closed the doors and lent against them, studying Calanthe’s back. “Are we doing the right thing?” he whispered.

“Can you still ask that after all that’s happened?” Calanthe pulled his shirt off over his head and dropped it carelessly on the floor. In the dim bedside glow from the lamp, his body looked bronzed, magnificent, his skin smooth and velvety as he walked slowly towards Pellaz.

“Yes. I have to.” Pell’s voice just reached across the distance between them and Calanthe raised a hand, his long fingers lightly brushing the white face before him.

“Then come here and feel how right it is,” he commanded, grabbing the front of Pellaz’s shirt and pressing him against a naked chest. He reached down tentatively at first before claiming the more than willing lips, flying under the shared images and visions of silk and gold. Strength and weakness. Power and need.

They somehow found the bed, tumbling onto the wide expanse of welcoming softness, pushing the constricting clothing aside as they relearned the basic enjoyment of touch. Hands and mouths searching out the tender areas as their lips continually sought to drink from the other’s soul.

Pellaz stretched against Cal’s hot length, pushing his lover flat and basking in the glow of Calanthe’s love-tinted mind. He delved in, tasting the sweetness of sun warmed breath, the vastness of rumpled fur, molten and shimmering in sensual desire, encasing him and caressing him. Savoring the heat, he melted against the cherished body, wanting to experience the fire as Cal’s hands traveled up to his scalp and massaged him gently. The strong fingers soothed him wondrously, opening him, making him receptive until he wanted it fiercely.

“Pell? I want-”

The hurried demand was a half whisper and Pellaz moaned, his control vanishing. *I’m all yours.*

It was a mind touch, delicate yet piercing and Calanthe gasped, rolling them urgently and slipping past the barriers to touch his lover’s soul. Perfect and craved.

Pell’s cry was muffled, his response wild as Cal’s ouana-lim speared him, the vibrant gold and jade colors erupting behind his eyes, igniting his hungry nerves. His hands clutched at the rippling back muscles as his mind soared.

Their spirits entwined, their power unparalleled as they shone, dazzling the dark places and Pellaz submitted, embracing the knowledge. Welcoming it. Pure elemental female, wanton and shameless, the goddess which existed in them all breaking through.

His nails bit into Calanthe’s shoulders as his lover ravaged his neck, devouring and consuming as the pulsating shaft of pleasure inside him jerked forward, shooting out its potent essence along his screaming senses. His eyes snapped open mirroring the vibrating colors of shimmering opal as he was filled, completed and owned.

They lay like that for a long while, Calanthe’s mouth open and pressed to Pellaz’s neck, as gentle fingertips now feathered across the blonde’s back muscles in light, comfortable pleasure. They didn’t speak, their minds still subconsciously caressing the other as they lay on the dark mat of living silk. Pellaz’s hair.

Calanthe lifted his head and slowly kissed down the white, damp neck to shoulder and chest, not being able to get enough of the craved taste as his body slipped from the captured heat.

“I used to dream about you.” Pellaz’s whisper broke the silence, his eyes still closed as he ran his fingers along Calanthe’s face. “Thiede accused me of being obsessed.”

“I was obsessed. Am obsessed.” Cal licked a dark nipple lovingly.

“Cal-” he hesitated. “I don’t want us to separate again.”

“Of course not!” Cal bit the hot flesh in gentle reproof. “I never wanted us to separate in the first place.”

“I know. It was my fault, but you scared me so much,” Pellaz admitted, leaning up and looking at him honestly.

“Me! Gods Pell, you scare the living shit out of me!” he stated without heat, grinning, teeth very white in the tanned face.

Pellaz didn’t comment, just let one of his fingers smooth Calanthe’s eyebrows, their darkness matching the smoldering eyes and long lashes, surrounded by contrasting blonde glory. “Can we really make this work?”

“Shut up and don’t be such an ass.” Calanthe rolled onto his back and dragged Pellaz with him, settling them comfortably.

Pell wriggled down to rest his head on Cal’s chest, listening to his strong, slow heartbeat, palms absently kneading the smooth chest muscles. “What about your Panthera?” He didn’t look up.

Calanthe glanced down his nose at the unreadable face and his arm curled tighter around Pell’s shoulders. “Thea’s a friend, a good friend. I’ve told you that before, and before you say it, I haven’t taken aruna with him since before I came to Immanion the first time.”

“Ohh.” Pellaz frowned.

Calanthe captured the kneading fingers to still them. “While we’re on the subject, do you mind explaining about Tyson and Briahaar?”

Pellaz shrugged and Cal closed his eyes, determined not to get infuriated. “Pellll-” He drew the name out.

“Nothing to tell.” Pellaz shrugged again, still not looking up. “Tyson reminded me of you. I could lose myself in his strength and innocence and pretend I was in another time, free of this place with you.” He took a contrite breath and kissed the moist skin under him in unspoken apology. “And Briahaar… well he just needed healing, needed help. I found him one afternoon in my garden and I couldn’t help it as he reached out.” He lifted his head and placed his chin on Cal’s chest, looking into the worried eyes. “I was careful Cal, I didn’t hurt him in any way.”

“You were lucky,” Calanthe corrected as he watched the dark lashes sweep down. “Your mind is still bruised. I can feel it even now. You need healing yourself Pell, you can’t go on ignoring the Kakkahar like nothing ever happened. They took-”

“Don’t!” Pellaz interrupted, turning his face away. “Don’t Cal please. Not now…I can’t talk about it. Not yet.”

“Pell, you’re going to have to sooner or later,” he advised gently, but didn’t push it, just squeezed the cool fingers in silent support. When Pell needed to talk, he would be there, waiting.

“What about Cobweb?” Pellaz asked instead, changing the conversation drastically.

It was Calanthe’s turn to squirm.

“Do you still think about him and the ivy?”

Calanthe tensed at that and tried to see Pell’s face. He leaned up and pushed them apart, turning on the second bedside lamp, needing to increase the room’s brightness.

Pellaz sat up and idly removed one of his remaining hair clips. “Swift told me once about your fantasies.” He didn’t look up at Cal, studying his hair through his fingers.

“He had no right to do that!” Calanthe snapped, then relented as he saw Pell’s eyes narrow and flash up to him briefly. “I had believed you dead and he was so tragic, so beautiful, so-”

“Irresistible,” Pellaz offered innocently.

“Yes!” Calanthe cut back strongly, disliking the reference and getting annoyed. “Pure loveliness, nothing like I had ever seen before, nothing like…”

“Why thank you very much!” Pellaz thumped the bed with his fist.

“Fuck. Pell you know what I mean!” Calanthe insisted and grabbed him, snuggling up to him and pushing him back to lie on the bed, leaning over him. “You’re wild, untamed, a wilderness of natural beauty. With Cobweb… I admired him, respected him, desired him and yes, loved him, but not in the way I love you. Nothing could replace that.” He sighed deeply and was relieved to see a small smile touch Pellaz’s dark eyes. He lent down closer and kissed his lover’s nose. “And what about you Pell? Do you still believe in love or has all the Gelaming’s fine teachings knocked that belief out of you?” He deliberately caught the dark gaze and held it with his own. “Well?”

“I need you,” Pellaz admitted on a shaky breath.

“Need Pell?” Cal raised a cynical brow and captured the wrists as Pellaz tried to push him away. “Surely that is not the only emotion I felt at your hot little center?”

“Cal, please!”

“No, I want to hear it,” he pushed as Pellaz struggled to sit up and escape his enveloping embrace. He hampered him easily, not allowing his lover to escape, knowing already what Pellaz felt but wanting to hear the verbal admission.

Pellaz tried to turn over, but Calanthe wouldn’t let him, and he found himself suddenly pinned. It scared him and he stared up, terrified to say it. Terrified that he would lose everything again if he admitted and gave in to his heart’s desires. Wanting it and denying it, hearing Thiede’s words pound through his brain, he fought his irrational fear.

“You can say it, say it all!” Calanthe persisted as he kissed an ear, biting the lobe gently where one of Pell’s earrings had fallen off.

“I-I,” Pellaz shuddered. “I…can’t!” His emotions were making him weak and defenseless against Calanthe’s confidence.

“Nothing can touch us now Pell. Nothing!” Calanthe whispered seductively as he saw silent tears leak from the closed eyes. What nightmares Pellaz was seeing he could only guess. “Pell, trust me. Please.”

“I…Stop please, stop.”

“Say it!”

“Alright! Just stop-”

“Say it! NOW!”

“I…I-” Pellaz faltered, terrified. “I…love you. I really do love muph-”

Calanthe smothered him, kissing his mouth and halting the flow of words. He sat them both up, rocking Pellaz gently, wiping the tears away. “We no longer need to hide or deny ourselves Pell.”

Like a dam burst, Pellaz whispered the words again, the chains around his tongue and brain no longer binding. He stared up at Calanthe with grateful eyes. “I love you.”

“Then show me how much,” Calanthe breathed, tumbling backwards and drawing Pellaz down with him. “Cover me with your wondrous hair and body. Fill me with your spirit.”

“Gods!” Pellaz moaned, but moved to comply, sucking the breath from his lover’s lungs, spinning the air between them into a tangible force. He didn’t hesitate as he took the heat beneath him, falling into a valley of burnt ripeness and incredible wonder, spiraling out and touching the violet flame of Calanthe’s blazing essence. He blossomed deep inside the demanding body, engulfing the pulsating nerves and dragging a scream from Calanthe as he climaxed in release.

***

They stayed in bed for two days, ignoring the outside world completely as they relearned each other and talked of the past and the future, putting everything into a clearer prospective. The physical closeness helped to heal all the other problems as well as fill the empty spaces inside their minds and souls.

It wasn’t until the morning of the third day that Calanthe realized their solitude wouldn’t be allowed to continue. Attica and Cleis had been around, leaving food and wine on the low tables, not that they had felt the need to eat, but the thought had been greatly appreciated.

The heavy curtains were pushed open, as Terral tidied up the room, placing black coffee beside the bed. Calanthe raised his arm that rested across his eyes, his body sleek and glowing with inner satisfaction as he eyed Terral’s figure beside the bed. He was lying on his back as usual and Pell was curled against his side. His lover’s wide, dark gaze was centered fixedly on Terral’s hesitant form.

Calanthe reached across and tapped Pell’s nose gently to break his concentration, and saw Terral breath a sigh of relief.

“Would my Lords like coffee before your bath or after?” He looked directly at Calanthe, his pale eyes still a little nervous. Whyala was hovering at the end of the large, four poster bed.

“So much for peace and quiet,” Pellaz muttered disgruntled.

“I suppose we have to get up sooner or later.” Calanthe sat up as Pell rolled away. “Well, don’t look now my love, but I think I’ve been moved in.” Calanthe observed glancing around the room. It felt damn good.

“Course I don’t mind.” Pellaz poked him in the thigh with a hard finger. “I want you here, especially here.” His fingers traveled under the covers emphasizing the words.

“Pellaz!” Calanthe spluttered, grabbing the wrist as his lover giggled, burrowing further under the sheets. The sound was refreshing and he was very tempted to go after him, but realized they probably wouldn’t be given the time to enjoy it.

“Is there anyone waiting in the outer rooms for us?” He sighed eyeing the raised backside under the covers with regret.

“My Lords Vaysh, Ashmael, Tharmifex and Captain Arahal. They have been waiting for the last two days. They are most annoyed with Attica and Cleis.”

“I see,” Calanthe said heavily as Pellaz groaned in the vicinity of his thigh. “Well my precious, time to get up. I think we can both do with a bath first though.” Calanthe threw the covers back and hauled Pellaz upright, ignoring his protests as his lover stated he liked them the way they were. He half threw Pellaz into the large, hot pool, and dived in after him, his lover came up spluttering and promising revenge.

Terral and Whyala were still nervous around Pellaz, and Calanthe idly wondered how the four house Hara would eventually get on, as Attica and Cleis ruled these quarters with iron determination.

Waiting flushed and clean, Calanthe brushed out Pellaz’s wet hair as his lover did up his shirt’s laces, enjoying the feel of its long lengths. Especially how it covered them in bed.

“Would you like me to braid it for you?” Cal asked and received a stunning smile via the mirror’s reflection. So he did, not noticing Terral’s hovering offer of assistance as the two Tigrons remained totally engrossed in each other.

Standing, they kissed briefly without even thinking and went to face the many questions awaiting them outside their bedroom door.

Of everyone, Caeru was the most displeased.

CHAPTER TEN

‘And when I think of you and all the love that’s due,
I’ll make no promises. I’ll make no stand.
‘Cos I see in your big dark eyes,
That this comes as no surprise,
As we’ve finally got the whole wide world in our hands.

Tears For Fears

“They’re besotted!”

“It’s unnatural.”

“It’s romantic.” Chrysm smiled at Dree and Cedony from across the long, polished Hegalion table. It was after lunch and they were waiting for the two Tigrons so the Hegemony meeting could commence. A month had passed since both Hara had dissolved the unease, yet still a large number of council members were unsure the truce between both Tigrons would last. Chrysm found it all amusing. “Caeru is livid.”

“Has he ever been anything else?” Glave broke in as he sat heavily down in a tall, padded chair.

“You have a warped, twisted mind,” Dree declared as he glanced at the immobile figure of the Tigrina at the far end of the table.

“Well, whatever, at least they are working better now.” Tharmifex rubbed his chin as he flicked through the report in front of him.

“Romantic efficiency.”

“Shut up Chrysm!”

“Well, not everyone is as aloof as you my dear.” He half glared at Glave.

“Or as fickle as you,” he cut back.

“Tut tut.” Chrysm blinked his lashes suggestively and Glave ignored him.

“I see here, that Ash wants Calanthe to go to Thaine again,” Tharmifex said absently, studying his report and not really listening to the conversation around him. “I wonder why?”

“I thought the trouble with the Sheml tribe was resolved?” Eyra asked.

“So did I,” Tharmifex admitted pointedly. “I’m more worried about these rumors of Wreaththu moving out past the borders of Garridan, into the wastelands. Only war will come of that.”

“What the Uigenna again?” Eyra asked, having heard similar rumors.

“No, one of Arahal’s spies heard the name Sorrandite being whispered up in the East.” Chrysm offhandedly offered.

“Interesting.” Tharmifex’s eyes narrowed.

“Well, whatever, we’ll soon find out.”

“By the Aghama, I just hope touring doesn’t produce more fireworks.” Cedony groaned, lifting a hand to his temples.

“I must admit they are rather engrossed in each other,” Eyra commented. “You don’t think they will produce a Harling do you?” Dree lent forward and half whispered the question.

“Heaven forbid!” Chrysm exclaimed.

“Don’t be insufferable Dree!” Glave snapped. “Why the hell would they want to do that?”

“Some find it pleasurable,” Dree replied with dignity.

“Pellaz would be intolerable.” Chrysm decided. “Remember the last time?” He looked archly at the others around him.

“Worse than Seel,” Tharmifex agreed mildly, still not looking up.

“Besides that was the whole reason why Thiede insisted Caeru stay here,” Chrysm went on.

Everyone looked at him and glared in disbelief.

“Positively vile,” Eyra muttered and glanced around.

“I don’t know what Arahal sees in you at times,” Glave accused as Dree stared to laugh.

“He’s right you know,” Dree admitted.

“My intelligence, wit and charm.” Chrysm smiled showing his teeth at Glave.

“I wonder where Vaysh is?” Tharmifex asked as the table fell quiet with the arrival of the two Tigrons.

“His royal iciness is probably hiding out again.” Chrysm nodded at Thar knowingly.

“What on earth for?”

“Not because of Cal, surely?”

“No. It’s Panthera, the Ferike,” Chrysm said wisely, smiling at them all.

“It’s a lost cause then,” Glave muttered. “Just because our little ice maiden froze you out, doesn’t mean Thea will get the same fate.”

“Shut up Chrysm!”

“You lot are disgusting.” Ashmael’s quiet, piercing tones had them all looking around as he walked past and took his chair further up the table. The gossip of the Hegemony had never ceased to amaze him as he stood up and gestured for silence. Today he hoped to finalize all the arrangements for the tours with the duel Tigrons. They may not like his schedules, but they were necessary as the Tribal talks were only a matter of three months away now. Clearing his throat, he addressed the members.

Final plans were made, and as much as Calanthe disliked the idea of himself and Pellaz doing separate tours, he could see no other way around it. Ashmael, as usual, was exact and precise, writing his schedules efficiently and making them politically advantageous for the Gelaming. And his and Pell’s spiritual communion in the sanctum with Caeru after the meeting only confirmed the necessity to reinforce the Gelaming rule as Thiede’s spirit engulfed them.

Afterwards, Caeru walked part of the way back to Phaonica with them. He was regal and icy.

“Azriel will be returning here this evening, with a Kalamah’s envoy from Zaltana.”

“Yes I heard that,” Pellaz remarked, frowning briefly at Caeru.

“He has now become chesna with one of the Kalamahs, and it is hoped they will blood bond, and-”

“And cement the alliance between the two households.” Calanthe finished for him. “I take it, that means this Kalamah is of the ruling house?”

“Of course.” Caeru drew himself up taller. “And since Azriel’s conception was instigated by Thiede, we felt it would be advisable to acknowledge the chesna bonding publicly.”

“Who’s idea was that? Ashmael’s or Arahal’s?” Calanthe asked pointedly.

“The families concerned,” Caeru said with mild reproof.

“When was all this decided?” Pellaz broke in, standing between his lover and their Tigrina.

“A few weeks ago.”

“What does Swift and Seel say?”

“It was Azriel’s choice.” Caeru smoothed out his sleeve as he stopped at the bottom of a wide, intricate staircase. He regarded the Tigrons through painted eyes. “Swift is happy and Seel is resigned. Anyway, the Kalamah, Layandria, is an asset to their family.” He smiled faintly. “I believe Seel was organizing a belated Feybraiha for Briahaar this evening as well.”

“Of course.” Pellaz turned to Cal. “Remember, he mentioned it a week or so ago.”

“I don’t recall it specifically, no.” Calanthe didn’t sound very interested.

“He invited us, since I-”

“Deflowered him. I know,” Calanthe supplied, snidely.

“Cal!”

“Sorry.” He kissed the side of Pellaz’s head in apology. “But it still annoys me.”

“I know.”

“So, I can take it you will both be at the dinner party tonight?” Caeru cut in sharply, his lovely face cold.

“We will certainly try.” Calanthe smiled ruefully.

“Good.” He pivoted, his long, shiny, black nails catching the sunlight.

Pellaz sighed as he watched Caeru walk away. “He’s so remote at times.”

“Mmmm.”

“You do realize don’t you, that I at least, have to attend Seel’s function tonight.”

“We both will,” Calanthe promised, his eyes hardening as he looked over his lover’s head. From what he had seen of the young Har, Briahaar, he didn’t trust him completely where Pell was concerned.

***

Azriel enjoyed the attention as he stood at the end of the table, his face alight, blonde hair spiked. His lover was beside him, pure, exotic, feline beauty, almond eyes striking in their paleness, surrounded by thick, black, styled hair. The lush, full mouth smiled up at him as Ashmael completed the ritual vows that made their bonding official between their families.

Looking at them both from the safety of his chair, Calanthe could see what had first captivated Azriel’s attention, and it was just as obvious now who was held captive. The Kalamah as a race, are fierce, vindictive and possessive and he could well understand Swift’s fears as Azriel had never maintained his fidelity in past relationships. He was naturally impulsive and it would be interesting to see if Layandria could calm him down.

With the ceremonies over, everyone congregated inside to the receptive warmth of the banquet halls on the first floor. They were spacious and yet intimate, letting Hara eat and relax. It progressed smoothly, demonstrating Caeru’s talents further in the organization of splendid entertainment’s. The Tigrina turned numerous heads as he mingled, inevitably homing in on Pellaz.

Calanthe watched the practiced display with amusement as he sat beside Pellaz, studying the Hara around them. All the Hegemony members were present as predicted, with even some of the Lords of Immanion attending from the city. Plus the visiting governmental officials from Galhea, who were still waiting to return to their home following the clean up work. Azriel and Layandria had suspiciously disappeared and his mouth twisted in a smile, wishing he and Pellaz could do the same. It had been a long and tiring few weeks and with the tours now looming over them, they were very unlikely to get much free time alone together for a number of months.

Wondering if he could persuade Pell to leave and forget about Seel’s party, Cal glanced up at a noise beside him, his blood running cold as his eyes fell upon Velaxis. Velaxis with the platinum hair and whispery voice that sang him into oblivion….

He had known the Har was around and had pointedly ignored him, wanting the past to die utterly as he concentrated on the future. But seeing the Har now, in the same room and so close, he found it difficult to hide his revulsion.

“Cal? Calanthe!”

Pellaz was shaking him hard, the slender fingers and nails biting into his skin painfully.

“Cal!”

He shook himself mentally and physically as he meet the wide, frightened eyes of his lover’s, their expression enhanced by the black kohl outlining them.

“What is it? What happened! Are you alright? I thought you were going to pass out.”

Calanthe took a deep breath and tried to smile in reassurance. It failed miserably.

“Tell me!” The eyes were beseeching and commanding all at once.

“Velaxis,” he breathed the name, it was an effort as his pulse slowed to a more regular pace.

“Velaxis?” Pellaz frowned, glancing around and spotting the magnificent Har in question.

“He…we’ve met before.”

Pellaz’s gaze narrowed suspiciously as a spark of realization shot through him. “Where?” he asked carefully, not knowing if he really wanted to know.

“Pell don’t.” Calanthe covered the hands holding him.

“Where Cal?”

“Pell-”

“Why won’t you tell me?” he asked, blinking up, hurt. “God there is so much still I don’t know and then when you react like this, I don’t know what to think!” He half pouted, knowing how susceptible Cal was to that.

Calanthe closed his eyes and released a breath, giving in. “I met him in Thiede’s tower. The tower where Thiede held me in limbo for all those years. That creature was…was my-” he hesitated. “He was my companion, my jailer.” He captured Pell’s eyes as he said the last few words.

Pellaz hissed out a breath, his expression hardening as he spied the tall Har. He uncurled his fingers from Calanthe’s arm and went to stand up.

“Pell?” It was Calanthe’s turn to stop him.

“I’ll get him out of here for you,” he said evenly. “I’ve never been completely comfortable in his company anyway.”

“No.” Calanthe moved, effectively boxing Pell into the corner of the lounge they shared. “Leave it. He can’t touch me now, none of them can.”

Pellaz still looked unconvinced as his eyes followed the tall, platinum haired Har around the room.

Calanthe sighed, and swallowed his smile. “Pell, lover, please.” He felt warmed by the concern, the bad memories of moments ago washing away under Pellaz’s instinctive concern. “Don’t brood over it.”

“I’m not!” Pellaz protested.

“Besides, there is something else I want to discuss with you.” Calanthe carried on in an easy tone, changing the subject completely and distracting his mate. Pellaz blinked at him. “With all these tours Ash is planning for us, I doubt we’ll get a chance to talk about this again for a number of months.”

“Cal, what are you prating on about now?”

“Us.” He grinned wolfishly. “Pell, I’d like us to blood bond.”

Pellaz froze stunned as the inviting mouth smiled at him. Calanthe’s high cheekbones were slightly flushed as the eyes waited, apprehensive and clear. Even the unruly, blonde hair was perfectly still and Pellaz felt breathless.

“Pell?” Worry now colored his normally confident tones.

Unable to find the words, or the wit to use his brain, Pellaz just leaned forward, his fingers tangling in the silky, short mane as he touched the irresistible mouth. *Yes.*

The word was a moan in Calanthe’s mind and he relaxed instantly, folding Pellaz in his arms to deepen the sweet sharing.

“I wish you two would stop that, as it’s giving Thar ulcers and Caeru’s shredding all the curtains!”

Calanthe broke them apart, fingers still buried in the slightly, damp hair at Pell’s neck as he regarded Glave’s bored expression with displeasure. “I’m mortified.”

“He’s right Cal.” Pellaz pulled away. “We should mingle.”

“But we were my precious!”

“Swift’s been looking for you both as well.” Glave made himself comfortable on the arm of the couch, ignoring Calanthe’s challenging stare. “It seems young Briahaar is being difficult and Seel’s level headedness and rational behavior has flown out the window.”

“So what else is new?” Calanthe muttered caustically.

“Cal, don’t be like that,” Glave admonished. “He’s had a hard time of it lately, and Caeru’s not helping matters by throwing impromptu parties like this.”

“I think I’ll go and-”

“No you won’t!” Calanthe jerked Pellaz back onto the seat. “Wait a while. Let Seel sort out his own. He’s an independent, little sod and besides he has Cobweb, Ash and Swift with him.”

“I meant, I was going to talk with Briahaar. I know he’s feeling isolated here in Phaonica and could probably do with a friendly ear. Someone other than his family,” Pellaz explained reasonably.

“I don’t think Seel would appreciate that.” Glave shook his head. “He always was a bit snobbish in these sort of matters.”

“Leave Briahaar Pell, as you’ll only confuse him more.”

Pellaz frowned, suspicious of his lover’s motives.

“Anyway, the problem might be incidental by now as Chrysm has just taken a couple of the visiting Kalamahs up to meet young Briahaar.” Glave all but snickered into his glass.

Pellaz groaned and looked through the wisps of his fringe at Calanthe’s cold beauty.

***

Chrysm led the three Kalamah up the wide staircase to the second level, where Seel’s small dinner was progressing for Briahaar. His hands skimmed the cool banister as his mind spun erratically, images of Arahal dominating his problems. The Captain was annoyed with him again, which was nothing new to him. Arahal always seemed to be permanently disapproving of his behavior, accusing him of being haughty, stubborn and unreasonable. Which had only put his back up further, and Arahal had stormed out after this latest argument, disappearing to Galhea – again.

That had been two nights ago.

Since then the Captain had not bothered to contact him and he was sick of sitting around waiting, being made to feel guilty because he didn’t measure up to the incomparable Gelaming noble. Plus the memory of Shune still stood between them.

He wasn’t blind to Arahal’s thoughts on the Kakkahar, and no matter how he tried he couldn’t get Arahal to understand how completely the dominating Kakkahar had mesmerized him. It had been instant lust, a need he had never experienced before and he admitted he would have gone willingly with the Kakkahar, if Shune had only asked. The knowledge both terrified and excited him, and Arahal had seen it all.

They promised to talk, but like all things that moment had been lost, and now they only argued. And he’d had enough of it! So when the acclaimed Captain eventually decided to return he would tell the tall, towering form of incandescent brightness, to go to hell!

It was over! Finished! Dead, he decided bleakly as he was confronted with the spilling light from Seel and Swift’s rooms. The room was alive with laughter, wine and music, and he pinned on a smile, vowing to enjoy himself.

The mood around him was in definite contrast to the affair Caeru hosted downstairs, and he hoped to lose himself in a little uncomplicated pleasure. The Kalamah next to him muttered in appreciation as they eyed the room’s occupants.

“Make yourself at home,” he said flamboyantly. “That’s young Briahaar over there looking miserable. I think you all know Swift.” He gestured to the Megalithican ruler. “Oh and there’s Seel. I advise you to avoid him if I were you,” he said in an aside voice.

One of the Kalamahs raised a curious brow as Chrysm liberated a glass from a passing tray. He swung away calling over his shoulder with a half smile. “Enjoy yourselves.”

The three Kalamahs exchanged knowing glances before the taller of the group followed Chrysm’s slender form. His gaze speculative.

Seel tried to suppress his agitation as he watched the influx of uninvited Hara. He was sitting by the open veranda door, Tyler was on his knee, nattering away to himself, happy in his own little world as Karnias dismantled one of Swift’s belts on the cushion next to him. Cobweb was off with Ash somewhere and he was left alone, battling the building rage inside him. He knew this was going to happen, but even the knowledge did nothing to calm his nerves, and he glanced around for Swift, hoping he would return soon.

Cobweb glided behind the low drinks table, picking up a glass and raising it to his mouth as he felt Ashmael’s arms snake around his waist.

“Alright. I’ll admit it, I’m bewitched.” Ashmael sighed, kissing the back of a naked shoulder gently. “Now, will you please consider moving to Immanion and living with me?”

“Ash,” Cobweb breathed the name, turning in the light embrace to look at the tall Gelaming.

“We could be together every night this way, instead of me trailing back and forward whenever possible.”

“Forever is my home. I don’t want to live here.” Cobweb’s voice was a caressing whisper.

“I can’t live in Megalithica, I’m needed here.”

“My poor Ash.” Cobweb’s slender fingers cupped his cheeks.

“Don’t do this. Don’t tease me,” he warned seriously.

“All I know is in Forever. It is my family.”

“I want to be your family,” Ashmael stressed as he drew the body closer, holding the bare shoulders. “I want a family of our own.”

“Ashmael don’t.” Cobweb pulled back and glanced around them. No-one was paying them any attention. “We’ve discussed this before.”

“I know.” Ashmael gently rubbed a bony hip in apology, the warm silk enticing and he slid his hand around to caress the firm backside. He took the glass from his lover’s hand, placing it on the table as he stepped closer. “Dance with me?” Was all he said, his eyes asking a different question.

Cobweb lowered his lashes, blocking his thoughts.

Vaysh shifted his weight to the other hip, bored with the gaiety around him as he studied the room’s occupants. He was alone in the shadow, feeling uneasy and sad. He hated parties, he had never been able to recapture the rapture of festive moods since…since…

He shook that thought off even as his eyes cut to Ashmael’s figure dancing with the Parasiel’s legendary beauty, Cobweb. He envied them. Envied them the closeness and basic pleasure of touch. He had once known those hands that caressed Cobweb’s bare back and if he closed his eyes he could even picture Ash’s face after aruna. Had reveled in the desires and love… could feel the heat, hunger and taste of the Har’s body, and it hurt. He buried the memory deep, hating it. Hating parties.

He normally wouldn’t attend such functions, except now he didn’t dare stay alone in his room. Not since Calanthe had unwittingly unleashed a dark haired devil into his world. Into his dreams. Panthera.

He closed his eyes and imagined the Har. He didn’t like him – refused to like him as the tall, calculating and determined pure born pursued him out of some perverse torment. It was beginning to terrify him as everywhere he looked, he found those dark, luminous eyes staring back. Pinning him, assessing him and trapping him.

And with the eyes came the hands. They were hot, alive, electrifying. This persistent Ferike cat also refused to take no for an answer, ignoring his protests as he smiled seductively, sucking the air out of his lungs.

He shivered in remembrance, and took another step back into the shadows. He prayed Pellaz would turn up soon, at least that way he could relax, only having to cope with Calanthe’s caustic humor.

Briahaar was staring wide eyed at all the tall, gorgeous, seductive Hara around him. He was finding it difficult to associate the Hara here with the same ones that inhabited the perfect, orderly corridors of Phaonica. Normally no-one paid him the slightest bit of attention, but tonight he was swamped with questions and secretive caresses as startling Hara passed him. It was inebriating and if he hadn’t already consumed so much wine, he would have said he was drunk on air.

When Seel had first suggested celebrating his belated Feybraiha, he had protested, not wanting to be thought of as a child, but now… He was still unsure about his body, and ashamed to admit to his parents that he had not taken aruna since that wonderful afternoon with his dark angel. He could think of nothing else. Pellaz. Tigron Pellaz-har-Arilis. Chesna to Calanthe.

The latter was the biggest stumbling block. He knew the blonde Tigron didn’t approve of him. It was nothing definite, just an awareness, and he didn’t feel up to challenging that much burning power. It shone out of the Tigron, blatantly at times. Not that Pellaz was any less powerful, only he was refined, deceptive.

Feeling a caressing hand across his backside, he turned and accepted the arms that invited him to dance. Resting his chin on the Har’s shoulder, he wished taking aruna was as easy as drinking sheh. Hands traveled his back and he wondered at the Har’s name. It seemed to be his destiny to accept invitations without asking identities first. It was a habit he knew his Hostling would not approve.

Blinking owlishly, he spotted Vaysh’s cool loveliness and he searched around, looking for Pellaz. Where Vaysh was, usually Pellaz could be found also. But the dark Har was nowhere to be seen, and his heart dropped further down in his chest. Vaysh was alone except for a Har that stood perfectly still in the shadows behind him. By the looks of it, the silent Har had been there a long while, leaning easily back against the stone wall. What he was doing Briahaar didn’t know and he frowned as Vaysh caught his eye. He looked to the shadows again, then closed his eyes trying to lose himself in the dance.

Vaysh stiffened as Briahaar’s eyes passed over his shoulder and he carefully turned around. Blood drained from his face as Panthera pushed away from the wall behind him and advanced slowly.

“No!” He shook his head hard, snapping around as he looked nervously towards the exit.

Panthera caught his wrists and held him. “Why are you so frightened?” he whispered. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Then release me!” Vaysh hissed in desperate panic. His mind had never been in such turmoil since…since his time before Thiede. Since his time with a young, wild and romantically free Ashmael.

“I don’t believe you are as cold as you make out.”

“Believe what you like! I don’t care.”

“Oh yes you do, or you wouldn’t be running from me now.” Panthera smiled wickedly.

“Let go!” Vaysh twisted his wrists, face white as he felt a stone pillar at his back.

“Never.” Panthera released a hand and brushed an icy cheek gently.

Vaysh thrust the hand aside as if burnt and stepped sideways, escaping into the room behind him. He left Seel’s gathering, heading for Caeru’s in the hope of finding Pellaz.

He was hot, cold, terrified yet tingling and his mind was at a loss to understand it.

Panthera watched Vaysh disappear from the room. He wasn’t worried as he knew there was very few places his intriguing, little beauty could run to any more. He was more than certain that behind the cold, aloof facade Vaysh presented to the world was a Har crying out for help. And he was determined to break the icy barriers and reach the soul of the Har underneath. He wanted to touch the desire. It just took time and patience, and he had plenty of that.

Caeru found Pellaz deep in thought, alone on the terrace balcony looking out to sea. Other Hara shared the evening air, but none dared disturb the Tigron’s solitude. Caeru lifted a glass gently and pressed it to the full lips and smiled as Pellaz jumped, his eyes bright in the moonlight as they swung around to encase him.

Accepting the glass, Pellaz drank, holding his Tigrina’s eyes as he studied the flawless beauty before him. He felt mesmerized and lifted fingers to cover the icy ones of his consort. “Rue,” he whispered the name. The air tingled, like something special was going to happen tonight, and he floated with the feeling.

“I’ve been looking for you.” A seductive thread of sound.

“Well now you’ve found me.” He raised his hand and pushed hair from the attractive face, trailing his fingers down the soft skin to a naked shoulder.

“But can I hold you?” Caeru pressed his fingertips to Pellaz’s chest, leaning in close as he bit his lover’s bottom lip gently.

Feeling incredibly lightheaded suddenly, Pellaz shut his eyes and tasted the lazy breath of his Tigrina.

Calanthe rested against the white door jam, watching Caeru in action as he closed in on Pell. The practiced artful display was fascinating to observe, and he wondered what the manipulative Tigrina wanted now from Pellaz. It was a ploy he’d used many times, Cal imagined, in order to get what he wanted, and he sighed.

Pellaz was blinking helplessly, and Cal smiled, amused, not overly worried, as he knew his lover’s mind. Besides with the amount of alcohol Pell had already consumed tonight, he was sure their illustrious Tigrina would soon give up the chase. Pellaz was in a mellow mood, and unfortunately for the Tigrina, not very co-operative in Hegemony matters at present.

Calanthe snickered again, lighting another cigarette as he pushed away from the door jam to sit down. The Hara in the room around him had thinned out and he hoped he and Pell could disappear in the next half hour or so. With luck, his lover would be cheerfully drunk and not remember Seel’s party, so they could both just retire to their own room.

Taking another drag on his cigarette, he saw Vaysh in the doorway looking agitated. His cheeks were flushed, pinker than normal, his nonchalant air gone. One hand was curled nervously in his loose hair as he searched the room, looking around for someone, and obviously not finding them, before he turned around to leave again and froze.

Calanthe lifted a perplexed brow as Tharmifex came and stood beside him, shaking his head.

“I can’t help but feel sorry for Vaysh.”

Calanthe didn’t comment, having heard bits and pieces of the story about Vaysh’s life with Thiede from Pell. Behind the willowy figure stood Panthera, and Calanthe smothered his smile. His friend looked non-threatening as he walked into the doorway’s light. Vaysh spun from him, heading across the carpeted floor to the drinks table. He didn’t touch a thing as he purposely mingled, keeping a distance between himself and Panthera.

“Your companion, Panthera, has Immanion’s renowned, unobtainable ice maiden running scared,” Tharmifex commented dryly as he toasted Calanthe.

“Mmmm.” Calanthe didn’t say anything as he meet Panthera’s eyes for a moment. His friend did not back away, meeting his gaze squarely and delivering a challenging look of his own.

He remembered telling Thea about Vaysh a month or so ago, but had never taken his friend’s interest as serious, until now. He knew Thea was drawing Vaysh, had seen some of the pictures in amongst the ones he was doing of Pellaz, and had been curious about them. But Thea had said nothing, and the pictures had haunted his mind. Vaysh’s face or eyes, half finished and obscured by thick smoke or clouds. An odd collection.

Panthera turned away from the stripping violet eyes, feeling too exposed under them. He could do without Calanthe’s sick, twisted jokes or pointed sarcasm tonight as he followed his desire. He left his position by the door and moved around the room, accepting a glass of wine as he kept a careful eye on the enchanting redhead.

Calanthe delivered a ruthless smile Tharmifex’s way, before sidestepping around the suspicious Hegemony member. He found Vaysh easily and noted how the pale blue eyes danced nervously. “Life’s hell.” Cal grinned mischievously.

Vaysh looked away.

“Why don’t you just call his bluff.” Calanthe went on meeting Panthera’s eyes again over Vaysh’s head. He ignored the promised threat in the dark gaze as he concentrated on Vaysh. He took out a cigarette, offering Vaysh one and shrugging as the surly assistant turned away.

“Keep your wit for those who need it!” Vaysh snapped.

“Well its obvious you’re not getting very far this way,” Cal said unoffended.

“Shut up Cal. I would not judge so much if I were you.”

“I’m not.” Cal shrugged again. “You might learn something if you let yourself go for a while. You might even enjoy yourself.”

“I wouldn’t be too concerned about my welfare if I were you. I would be asking myself where Pellaz was.”

“Oh very droll,” Cal mocked.

“Caeru is on the prowl.”

Calanthe rolled his eyes taking another draw on his cigarette.

“He is after another Harling.”

Calanthe’s gaze flickered down briefly.

“You broke the hostile circle between them,” Vaysh warned. “Do I need to spell it out to you as well?!”

“I know I broke the hostilities. It needed breaking,” Calanthe defended. “They were both existing in a vacuum.”

“Maybe it was necessary,” Vaysh said flatly. “But your Tigrina has now decided another Harling is the way to prove his importance in Pell’s life. It’s his way to penetrate the final barriers between them.”

“He wouldn’t try it.”

“Have you watched him closely recently?” Vaysh inquired, as his own calm slowly returned.

Calanthe glanced towards the open balcony doors.

“I might be wrong, but are you willing to take that risk?”

Calanthe stabbed the cigarette out and headed for the balcony. He couldn’t be sure if Vaysh was right, or if it was only the redhead’s brand of sick humor, but whichever way, he couldn’t take the chance. Pellaz was still hiding subconsciously from the Kakkahar’s treatment and he didn’t want his lover faced with Caeru’s Harling. Didn’t want to subject Pellaz to that sort of emotional turmoil just yet…

He stopped at the glass doors, his eyes taking a moment to adjust to the dim light before he saw them. They were entwined like contented familiar snakes, both the same height as their mouths fed off each other, and Calanthe’s stomach turned. He rapidly approached Caeru and placed his hands over the Tigrina’s bare shoulders, fingers biting deep into the white flesh and breaking the hungry sharing.

Caeru tried to twist free of the vice like grip, but was held fast as he was turned to face Calanthe’s cruel eyes. “Calanthe?”

“You’re ignoring your guests, Tigrina.”

Calanthe’s voice was as dead as his expression and Caeru shivered involuntarily.

“Cal?” Pell’s face was flushed as he blinked up, and Calanthe’s anger intensified, recognizing the dazed look well.

“Calanthe don’t,” Caeru hissed. “We have the right to-”

“I don’t give a fuck about your so called rights!”

“Cal?” Pellaz rubbed his eyes frowning.

Reaching across, Calanthe grabbed Pell’s arm and dragged him forward, bruising the skin under his grip.

“Calanthe, I won’t let you deny me. I won’t allow you to-”

“Protest all you like sweetheart!” he sneered sweetly. “We’re leaving now.” He said the last word directly at Pellaz, stepping forwards as Pellaz stumbled.

“Cal, wait a moment.” Pellaz asserted himself, not understanding the anger he felt radiating out of his lover’s body. “What’s wrong? Has something happened?”

Calanthe exerted slight pressure on the arm he held and was relieved when Pellaz didn’t resist. He felt and smelt Pell’s breath as it hit his shoulder and neck. “You’re drunk,” he said softer into the dark hair.

“I’m not!” The reply was indignant and slightly slurred.

“Thanks for the dinner Caeru, but we’ll let ourselves out.” He gave the white faced Tigrina a mirthless, cold smile and ushered Pellaz back into the warm room. “You’re hopeless,” he accused his lover as they both blinked in the brighter light.

“Cal, do you mind explaining that little farce?”

“Maybe later, when you’re sober.”

Pellaz sighed and looked mildly exasperated. “You said yourself that Rue and I needed to communicate better.” He looked up into the unreadable face.

“So I lied.” Calanthe shrugged and kissed Pell’s nose swiftly, before steering him towards the door.

“Cal?”

“Shut up and walk.”

“Where are we going?” He sounded so hopeful, that Calanthe had to smile.

“Are you two going to Seel’s party?” Glave asked from behind them and Calanthe groaned and glared at the Hegemony member.

“Seel! I almost forgot.” Pellaz turned in Calanthe’s light hold and looked up at Glave. “Is that where you are headed?”

Glave nodded, wondering what had upset the blonde Tigron so much as Pellaz grabbed another glass of wine.

Lydon stood back against the cold wall and watched the blonde Tigrina get his temper under control after the two Tigrons had left. He had been standing unobtrusively there for a long time, admiring the magnificent grace of the Tigrina all evening. The rumors he had been told about the seductive traps the Gelaming Tigrina set, only made him more curious of this seemingly delicate creature. Of course the beautiful Har hadn’t even noticed him, as he had been single-mindedly pursuing the small, dark Tigron, Pellaz-har-Arilis.

That had been until Calanthe-har-Arilis had stepped in. If half the stories were true about that ruler, then no-one in their right mind would argue with the blonde angel-cum-demon.

He watched as the Tigrina turned and prepared to re-enter the room and he pushed himself away from the wall, intercepting the smaller Har gently. The wild blue eyes flashed up to him, an electric shock tantalizing his nerves.

“Let me escort you inside.” His voice was a purr. A caress.

Caeru narrowed his eyes in mistrust for a moment, before considering the words and gesture. The Har was a Kalamah, and he was without an escort, so he held out his hand and accepted the invitation.

Calanthe reluctantly followed Pellaz’s less than steady form to the second floor gathering. Why he allowed Pell to control his evening he didn’t know, and he glared again at the two Hegemony members that accompanied them. If they had been alone, he would have been tempted to distract his lover’s wandering attention, knowing it wouldn’t be hard considering the amount of wine Pell was consuming. Why he drank so much Cal couldn’t guess, and he lit another cigarette to quell his displeasure.

Seel and Swift’s rooms were awash with color and lights and Calanthe’s spirits improved a little. He spotted Ash sitting looking forlorn beside an urn of peacock feathers and glanced towards Pellaz briefly. His lover was engrossed in conversation with Cedony, so he stitched on a smile and sauntered over to the strategist.

Seel felt less than amused still as he glared at Chrysm who was currently leaning up against a carved door flirting outrageously with one of the Kalamahs. And Briahaar was staring unashamedly fascinated by the display as Pellaz walked into the room. That was all he needed and Seel wanted to scream – but it went against his nature. He was level headed, rational, calm and above all Gelaming. He would not give in to this primal emotion, even as he felt the bubble of exasperated rage rise in his throat. So much had happened to him over the last six months, that his system hadn’t caught up and his coping factors were pushed to overload. All the atrocities were building up until other sensible Hara wondered why he wanted to create mayhem of his own.

The sooner they left Phaonica the better. At least in his own home he could relax, and begin to sort out his family. Only Swift seemed to be holding up well to all the pressure and he wondered for how much longer that would last. His life mate was not as strong or cold-blooded as he made out.

“Here drink this.”

Swift’s soft familiar tones caressed Seel’s tight, strung out nerves and he took a much needed breath. “What is it?”

“It will help you relax. Trust me.” Swift kissed Seel’s forehead gently as he took their youngest Harling off his lover’s lap. Tyler automatically reached back for its Hostling and Swift glanced up at the timepiece on the wall and saw it was only after evening time. Hopefully the house Hara would soon take the three Harling to bed as Karnis looked asleep and Tantraa was yawning beside Seel.

Seel sipped the drink and saw Swift’s amused glance so he downed it all in one mouthful. It tasted vile and he snuggled a little closer to his lover, pleased when Swift settled an arm around his shoulders. “I’m not that bad am I?” he asked into the stretched silence.

“A little rough around the edges still, but loveable,” Swift joked gently. Seel found a smile for him.

“How’s Briahaar?” Seel sighed as he felt the relaxant work. “And where the hell has Azriel gone.”

“I don’t know, but I reckon fireworks are about to start soon.” Swift predicted with a casual air.

“What do you mean?”

“Pellaz and Cal have just arrived, and Pellaz has gone after Velaxis.”

“Why?” Seel asked, mystified.

“Don’t know.” Swift shrugged. “But it probably has something to do with Cal.”

“Doesn’t it always?” Seel muttered disgustedly.

Pellaz glared up at the immensely lovely Gelaming Har and assessed him coldly. His eyes swept the thigh length hair, deciding the color was dull grey and beaded with black stones. He was barely decent either, Pell noted uncharitably, the image of Calanthe’s anger and words destroying his normally compassionate sense. This Har had helped to keep them apart, had slept with Cal, had held him prisoner for years in a limbo world of disillusionment, and this Har knew Cal more intimately than even he did. The knowledge seared into him acidly.

“You’re Thiede’s whore aren’t you?” he asked pleasantly, clutching his glass to his chest with both hands. Was it for courage or control?

Velaxis stiffened and looked down, not game to challenge the Tigron. “If you like.” His voice was stilted, not its normal inviting whisper.

Pellaz pursed his lips, eyes narrowing, intensifying his glare as he studied the sculptured face through his carefully styled fringe.

“Pell!” Calanthe’s angry face intruded between them. “Why are you so bloody perverse!” he exploded in a furious whisper.

Velaxis glanced between the two, tense and uneasy as he took a half step back. “Fuck off!” Calanthe speared Velaxis with a brief look and the tall Har disappeared without a second urging, not wanting to invite the Tigron’s anger further.

“We were just talking,” Pellaz protested mildly, sounding very reasonable.

“Talking?! By the Gods Pell!” Calanthe turned away taking a deep breath before swinging back to face his lover and meeting dark eyes of an appealing succubus. “I didn’t want to tell you for this exact reason.”

Pellaz blinked up at him, contrite. “I know, it’s just-” He searched for the words. “I just couldn’t help myself.”

“Shit!” Calanthe exhaled, torn between crushing Pellaz to him and taking his mouth, or rattling what little brains his lover was currently displaying. In the end he just walked away.

Briahaar moved up to where Pellaz stood after Calanthe-har-Arilis walked away. He licked his lips nervously as he eyed the down bent thoughtful face of his dark angel. The long, shining hair was loose, like it had been the first time he’d seen this walking enchantment. “Pellaz?”

Pell looked up. “Oh Briahaar.” He gave an absent smile.

“I was hoping you would come tonight.”

“I wouldn’t miss this.” Pellaz tried to shelve his heavy mood. He would sort it all out with Cal later.

“Let me get you a drink.”

“No.” Pellaz put out a hand to stop him. “I should be doing that for you, after all, it is your party.”

Briahaar pulled a face. “I’d rather not think about that.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Will you dance with me?”

Pellaz glanced around for Cal, but couldn’t see him. “Alright,” he agreed, hoping he was doing the right thing by Briahaar.

The young Har sighed and closed his arms around Pellaz in a hot embrace, squeezing gently.

“Briahaar,” Pellaz said amused and pushed them apart a little. “What’s wrong? Come on, tell me.” He held the wide shoulders, gently soothing the bunched muscles.

“What isn’t?” Briahaar shot back cynically.

“Tell me,” he encouraged.

Briahaar was silent for a tense moment, considering his emotions before he looked Pellaz firmly in the eye. The dark haired Har was compassion and he needed comfort as tears prickled behind his eyes. He hugged Pellaz hard again. “I want to have aruna with you,” he whispered.

Pellaz closed his eyes. “Briahaar you know that…”

“I know. I know you won’t, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it.” He sounded rejected.

Pellaz’s mind whirled as he tried to think of something to lighten the mood. “So-” He took a deep breath. “Tell me who have you been seeing.”

“No-one.”

“No-one?” Pellaz pried Briahaar loose from the embrace and studied the unhappy face. “Are you telling me that you have not taken aruna since I touched you?” Pellaz asked, shocked. “Why?”

Briahaar looked up at the ceiling, trying to hold back his tears. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I haven’t met anyone, haven’t the confidence I suppose.” He looked helplessly at Pellaz.

Not knowing what to say, Pell just drew the young pure born into a warm, reassuring embrace, offering comfort as his slightly befuddled mind raced. He looked around over Briahaar’s shoulder, meeting Seel’s warning eyes and Calanthe’s unreadable expression and wondered why everything was getting so complicated again.

Briahaar snuggled closer, feeling the warm body mould to his so naturally that he didn’t want to let Pellaz go. He could talk to him, without reservation, and he knew his friend would not laugh.

“Briahaar?” Pellaz broke the embrace, two different emotions clashing within him. On one hand he had Calanthe and the other hand he had Briahaar. He needed to talk to them both. He glanced away from Calanthe and found his son, Abrimel, watching him curiously and motioned his son over, making the decision. “Abrimel take Briahaar for me please,” he asked gently. “He needs a cuddle and a friendly ear.”

“No!” Briahaar looked down beseechingly as he clung to Pellaz’s hands. “Pell, please.”

“Listen, this is Abrimel.”

“But-”

Pellaz smiled at the word. “Trust me.” He cupped the young face. “Stay with him, please?” he asked his son, and left Abrimel holding up a distraught Briahaar.

He wanted to find Calanthe, but when he looked to where his lover had been, he found only emptiness.

Chrysm fluttered his lashes, then laughed softly as Lessrin’s groan vibrated down his neck, as he bit and licked the tender flesh. Wriggling and raising a leg, Chrysm rubbed himself gently against the hot center of the Kalamah. The pleasure was exquisite and he desperately wanted to be touched, wanted to taste the promised delight Lessrin’s breath hinted at.

They were on Seel and Swift’s morning verandah, and Chrysm shivered in desire as a cold invisible wind touched all the way down his burning skin. He moaned deep in his throat, wanting to lie down, but lacking the strength to move. He decided they would slide to the floor soon enough. He dropped his head back, savoring the delicious sensations, licking his lips as he peered through his lashes, his face burning as an image of a tall, feathered and formidable strength formed behind Lessrin’s head.

He stared for a moment, blinking then frowning until his eyes focused properly on the Har in front of him. Arahal stood with his back to the moonlight, his expression hidden, his silver mane glistening in the pale light.

Chrysm froze. “Arahal?” The name was hardly audible as he pushed against Lessrin’s blanketing form.

“You deceitful, little whore.”

Lessrin had raised his head, dazed. Holding onto Chrysm, he looked back at the Gelaming Captain. He knew Arahal, had a lot of respect for him, and he turned back to the fair beauty he held, his eyes asking a question. “Chrysm?” The almond shaped eyes were haughty now and he released his hold.

“You can talk, Arahal!” Chrysm ignored Lessrin as he threw the words back at his sometime lover. “Your charms not only spread across Almagabra, but Megalithica as well now.”

“I think I should leave.” Lessrin stepped back.

“Why?” Chrysm demanded turning to look at the Kalamah. “Stay by all means! Besides, you probably know the Captain better than I do.” He knew it was unjust, but he couldn’t stop the words. Spinning on his toes, he roughly pushed past Lessrin and strode back into the darkened room.

Arahal was on the blonde Har in four strides, jerking him around to face his own anger.

“Arahal, leave me alone!” Chrysm thrust the taller Har aside. “You don’t own me, so stop trying to make me feel guilty all the time! It won’t work!”

Arahal shut his escape off by leaning against the bedroom door, his only way of preventing Chrysm from leaving the room like this. “Damn it Chrysm! I came back from Galhea because of you!” he spat, breathing heavily.

“Well you can just go back there again!” Chrysm snapped defensively. “Go find another little war somewhere, I’m sure you can. You’re always running off to the other lands, so please don’t stop now for my benefit!” He gestured wildly around him.

“You make me so angry at times.”

“Likewise!” Chrysm snapped, seeing the light now falling on Arahal’s face, it showed confusion only.

“Don’t!” Arahal breathed the word. “I don’t want to fight.”

Chrysm turned his face away, trying to ignore the clear gaze. “What do you want?” he asked ungraciously.

“I came back to be with you,” Arahal said simply.

“It won’t work.” Chrysm shook his head.

“If we are honest with each other, it should.” Arahal moved away from the door and tentatively touched a bony shoulder.

“Honest!?” Chrysm half laughed. “You honest? You’ve got to be joking!”

“Shut up.” Arahal brushed their lips lightly, relaxing as Chrysm’s hands came up to his chest. He deepened the sharing of breath, glad when he was allowed entrance into the warm haven of Chrysm’s mouth. He tasted of honey light and polished swords. It was a cherished and remembered flavor and Arahal drank deeply, absorbing everything that embodied his lover.

Chrysm tried to deny the responses Arahal’s experienced caresses were doing to him, but he was lost as soon as the gentle massaging hands centered on his backside.

Smelling the sweet submission under his mouth and fingers, Arahal crushed the smaller Har to him, pouring his own desire into the open body.

Behind them, the door softly closed behind Lessrin.

Pellaz gave up looking for Calanthe and collapsed inelegantly on the couch next to Seel and Swift.

“Well?!” Seel demanded.

“Well what?” He decided to be obtuse.

“Pell, don’t be any more annoying then you already are,” Seel muttered and Swift’s hands rubbed his neck gently.

“I’m not!” Pellaz sniffed the air and raised a hand. “I’m depressed.”

“You’re drunk,” Swift corrected, leaning around Seel to observe the Tigron.

Pellaz ignored the slur on his character as he captured the Harling’s little, waving fingers instead.

“What did you say to Briahaar?” Seel reworded his question.

“Nothing,” Pell mumbled as he smiled at the young child. Tyler was cute and looked a lot like Seel.

“Pell!” Seel was getting exasperated again.

“Look I gave him to Abrimel. Hopefully once they get to know each other all your problems will be solved.” He tried to scowl, but it turned into a laugh as he saw Seel’s horrified expression. “Do you mind if I hold Tyler for a moment. He’s so adorable.”

Seel let the Harling go as it was already chattering away to Pellaz. “Just don’t expect to be invited to his Feybraiha,” Swift said lightly and got poked in the ribs from his lover. Pellaz just ignored him.

Holding the Harling on his knee, he studied the intent, little face as he chatted back to the child, imitating the sounds Tyler used. It pleased the little Harling.

“Must have had a deprived childhood.” But even Seel’s tone had lost its edge as he watched the young Tigron with his son. There was no denying the fact that Pellaz was fascinated with the child and Seel felt a heavy pang of regret that Pell had lost the Harling he carried. The child would now be the same age as Tyler, and he glanced at the Tigron’s face trying to read his thoughts. But they were blocked, and if Pellaz was thinking of anything in particular, it was hidden as he cuddled the child.

“This is pure innocence,” Pellaz said smiling, looking up briefly at Seel. “It is such a shame they have to grow up.”

“Oh Pell,” Seel reached across and touched his shoulder, wishing he could shed the tears for them both.

Calanthe stubbed out his cigarette as he watched Pellaz with the Megalithicans. His lover’s expression was wistful and he mourned the lost child, praying the mental wounds would heal and Pellaz could learn to accept the past. Seeing him like this tore at his heart and he looked to Seel and saw his feelings mirrored on the other Har’s face.

A house Har went up to the group and spoke to Swift who nodded and the Harlings were taken away. Probably to bed he imagined, looking at the timepiece. It was getting late, and he wanted to go to bed as well, he was exhausted and craved sleep. Looking again at Pellaz, he rubbed his eyes and decided to go and get his mate. They needed to sort out the argument over Velaxis tonight before his lover could go all broody over the subject. And Pellaz was an expert at brooding and sulking, that fact hadn’t changed in thirty years. The thought made him grin. He also didn’t want Pellaz going around like an avenging little angel, as much as the idea appealed to him, it would only cause trouble. He sauntered over to Seel and Swift and found Pell gone. “Where’s Pell?” he asked without greeting.

Swift sighed as Seel glared up. “He didn’t say.”

“But he headed out towards the verandahs,” Swift offered.

“Mmmm.” Calanthe went in that direction and to his amazement found Pellaz standing at an open door watching the house Hara put the Harlings to bed. A sliver of sadness touched his heart again and he slid his arms around Pellaz’s narrow waist. “What are you thinking?”

Pellaz straightened and covered Calanthe’s hands with his own, sighing. “I was just watching, thinking back. Remembering Forever. Nothing special.” He shrugged to banish the feeling and turned in the light embrace, kissing Cal’s chin. “I’m sorry about Velaxis. I promise I won’t interfere again.”

“It’s not that,” Calanthe told him. “I just want to forget the past and I want you to do the same. It’s over Pell.”

“I know. I was just sooo-” He buried his face in Cal’s warm shoulder. “..so angry for you.”

“It’s over,” Cal repeated, starting them walking away from the party lights and noise. “Forget it.”

They went out onto a silent verandah, gazing out to sea as Pellaz slowly reached for Cal’s mouth in the diffuse moonlight. They shared breath lingeringly, Pellaz searching out his lover’s taste, finding the familiar images and sinking into them.

“Sweeter than any wine.” Pellaz bit Cal’s neck in a thoughtful caress.

“And twice as addictive,” Calanthe answered.

The hunger was old, the desire exciting as Calanthe lightly massaged the soft skin behind Pellaz’s ears, feeling his strength and wanting his soul. Large double doors were open along the balcony and he propelled his dark haired beloved into the darkness of the room. A bed was washed in pale silver light and he fell backwards onto its softness as he smiled up at Pellaz. “Ahhhh….”

Pell stared down at him, spellbound by the sprawled invitation to plunder as he whispered into the silence. “This is Swift and Seel’s room.”

“So? They won’t mind us borrowing it for an hour or two, will they?” Calanthe sat up and pulled his white linen shirt off over his head.

Calanthe’s tanned skin was the color of warm, sun ripened corn, covering rippling muscles and Pellaz’s legs felt like they would give out at the sight. The sensual display hitting a cord deep inside him.

Glancing up, Cal saw the effect he had on Pell and laughed gently as he hauled his unresisting lover down on the bed.

“Cal?”

“Shhhh.”

With their clothing discarded, fingers skimmed burning flesh, electrifying, sending insidious pleasure curling down into their loins. Calanthe rolled them over ending the foreplay. He wanted a deeper touch and pushed against Pell’s soume-lim, sinking into the hot body and consuming the hissed moan from his lover’s lips with his own mouth. Gentle feathered wings beat against his mind, their touch like talons of exciting delight as Pellaz arched under him and he sank deeper still. He felt Pell’s fingers tangle in his hair, the open mouth, searching, ravenous and he wanted to lose himself forever in the intoxication of Pellaz. Lose himself in the velveteen strength. Long legs entwined with his, locking them together, as he sought to embrace him spiritually and physically. Calanthe tasted the refreshing pool of his spirit, drinking thirstily with every gasping breath, as he caressed the captive mind and body, their thoughts overlapping as his desire to possess this moment forever pushed him deeper into the cherished body, and Pellaz cried out under him softly. Hidden muscles he had barely whispered across before embraced him, and he spiraled down in ecstasy, sucking on the swollen lips to comfort his dearest love. He was engulfed in breathtaking radiance, feeling Pell’s surrender, as his lover whimpered once, unsure before his dark eyes snapped open and they were both released in the fire of aruna.

Entwined and breathless, Calanthe laughed gently into his beloved’s damp neck. His mind was still soaring with the images of a blinding white love, a love so great that the memory of it left him boneless. He gently kissed the open mouth under his, feeling Pell’s echo of contentment and satisfaction. They loved so completely now that he refused to accept life without the other in it. Feeling Pellaz stretch under him, Cal reluctantly moved, allowing his smaller mate the freedom to turn. He gathered a feather doona up from the bottom of the bed and curled around his lover. They kissed, settling for sleep. His existence complete, Cal slept with his mouth pressed to a black, silky covered forehead.

Caeru slid down gracefully on the padded couch in the small guest parlor. Beside him, Lydon’s clever fingers teased his shivery flesh, the touches like wildfire and he dropped his head back, exposing his long, white neck in subtle invitation.

Lydon grinned and bit him ever so gently, feeling the rapid pulse and deep responding tremors in the pale body increase. “What do you want Tigrina?” he whispered.

“I-” Caeru opened his lashes with difficulty, licking dry lips as he fought to focus on the Har before him.

“Tell me,” he encouraged. Long, elegant fingers adorned with rings reached out towards his face. Lydon captured the hand and kissed the palm, working down the lemon scented wrist.

Caeru just blinked, confused and lost, as the Har laughed softly, moving towards him in a blur of orange light and touched his lips with need. He opened his mouth, wanting the fire and willingly sharing breath with this exciting being. Like a single divine rose, Caeru’s image rose in Lydon’s mind, and he tightened his hold on this compelling Gelaming captive.

“You want Pellaz,” he whispered into a perfect ear, pushing the black precious stones aside as he nipped the lobe teasingly.

“Yes.” The word was a moan.

“Then I will be him. Let me love you my beautiful Tigrina.”

Caeru almost sobbed, wanting the idea so much that he lost himself in the promise of those words, accepting the hot mouth a second time. His hands tangled in the black hair, completing the illusion as he opened his mind and body to the Har he craved.

In the mists of their communion, Lydon held enough control to pull back from the gift Caeru offered, knowing his seed was not destined to create the pearl in the Tigrina’s loins.

Vaysh looked around the room and a frown formed on his boyish features. He’d just come from Caeru’s formal dinner a second time, and still he couldn’t find Pellaz anywhere. And now Calanthe had disappeared as well. There was also no sign of his tormentor, and for that he breathed a sigh of relief. He could almost picture the Ferike’s cat-like features, the round exquisite face and he snapped his eyes open to banish the images. It shook him to think about the Har and he glanced around nervously again as a finger of fear brushed him. Deciding without thought, he headed towards the Tigron’s room. If Pellaz and Calanthe weren’t there, at least he knew where Pell’s well-stocked cupboard of wine was. He could get cheerfully drunk alone.

Vaysh entered the dark Tigron’s bedchamber by the adjoining verandah doors to his own suite. And it only took him a single glance to know neither Har was present. He collapsed heavily on the side of their large bed staring at his hands. Suddenly his head rose as he felt cold, ice-like fingers touching his spine and he wrapped his arms tightly around his chest, shivering from the mental stimuli.

A shadow from behind him stalked across his vision and he spun around, no longer surprised as he saw Panthera standing in the open verandah doorway. As always, his tormentor remained silent, not speaking or moving until he made the first challenge. It was extremely unnerving and he stood up facing the black eyes that studied him so minutely.

He took a half step back, and as if his movement triggered an action, his seducer walked slowly across the thick pile carpets towards him on silent cat feet. His nearest exit was the bathroom and he ran in without thinking, half stumbling into the spacious room as he tried to put the round pool between him and the Ferike.

Watching the entrance way, Vaysh saw Panthera appear like a black shadow, the outrageous hair falling down back and shoulder and he raised a shaky hand to his mouth, hiccuping silently.

*Vaysh.*

The word was not a question or command, but an expression of sound vibrating in his head painfully, tricking his mind into relaxation and he fought it. “Why… why are you doing this? Why are you here?” Vaysh half pleaded, wanting anger and not finding it as the ice in his soul thawed a little more.

*I want to talk to you. I want to touch you.*

Again the sound was only in his mind, compelling and clear, like fine crystal. “Stay out of my mind!” He found the strength to scream the words and he turned and ran blind, trying to escape the enveloping presence.

Panthera was fast, deadly so, and he caught the fleeing figure with ease, tumbling them both to the soft grass on the edge of the walkway around the lily covered pool.

Vaysh’s nails came up to claw the face, catching a cheek before Panthera subdued him, amazed at the strength and agility in the smaller Har. He used his greater experience at fighting to pin the Har securely beneath him, and then smiled down slowly. The white, angry face scowled at him, the expression one of cold dislike as the oval windows above them spilled pale light into the bathing room. But still he could see nothing but beauty and he was awed by it. “I won’t hurt you,” he said gently as he felt hot moisture run down his cheek.

“I’m going to destroy you for this!”

“Then you will be destroying yourself,” Panthera corrected in a cutting tone.

Vaysh turned his face away and muttered something under his breath.

“What was that?” Panthera was reluctant to release his hold on the hot body.

“I said, that if it’s aruna you want then you’re out of luck!” he snapped louder, striving to appear disinterested.

Panthera took a slow breath and tried to smile, releasing his grip on the tense body and allowing Vaysh to sit up.

Vaysh scrambled backwards until he hit the damp wall, trying to regain his composure as he hid behind a cold, haughty expression.

“Don’t please.” Panthera crawled after him, his hands finding the slender thighs and travelling up them.

Vaysh attempted to push the hot contact away, but it was impossible as Panthera leaned in close, touching his face with a coaxing mouth. “I don’t want this!” he protested.

“Oh, but I think you do.” Panthera endured the fist that hit him, clamping his hands around a furiously, pale face and locking onto the mouth with determination. Vaysh could have stopped him if he tried, as his mental powers were strong. But when Panthera felt nothing hitting his mind, he smiled and continued his assault.

A maelstrom of panic and disturbing desire rushed through him and Vaysh felt himself drowning in the hot pleasures, helpless to hinder the swamping heat as he opened to the demanding mouth.

“You can run but you cannot escape it forever,” Panthera whispered as he felt Vaysh’s fingers come up to touch his hair.

“No.” It was a weak denial.

“Yes.” Panthera’s tone was husky as he brushed the lips again and was given entrance.

“Panthera.” The name was a question from his own lips and Vaysh frowned confused at the Har blanketing him. He tasted the velvety strength and knew he wanted more as a smoldering desire swept into his loins and he sagged defenseless in the persistent hands.

Panthera pounced on him, feeling the relaxation in the long muscles, capturing the moist mouth as he drew the enticing heat closer. *You’re scared.* He touched Vaysh’s mind gently with words. *I can almost taste your fear, but it’s not a fear of me. Rather I think it is a fear of-*

“Don’t!” Vaysh broke away and panted the words. “Don’t say it!” He held his hands to Panthera’s mouth, physically denying it.

“You’re scared of yourself.” Panthera stared down into the wide open eyes, holding his captive easily now as Vaysh lay passive under him. “Why? Who has done this to you?”

“It’s none of your business.” Vaysh sounded weary and defeated now and Panthera gathered him into a comforting embrace.

Slowly Panthera began to soothe the trembling body, kissing and nibbling down the smooth neck, his hands caressing and strong as he carefully manipulated the seduction of Vaysh’s mind. The open mouth was his now to plunder a second time and he took full advantage, wanting to fill this soume Har with his essence, rejoicing in his capture of this illusive beauty. His fingers stripped them both, noticing Vaysh kept his eyes closed the entire time and he lightly tapped a cool cheek to get his lover’s attention.

“Vaysh, look at me.” He held the chin and grinned as the pale eyes glanced up, unsure. Trapped in imagined inadequacies. “Let me show you the pleasure. Let me show you yourself,”

Vaysh swallowed, tensing, resigned to the inevitable, hoping, praying that this dominating creature would leave him alone after he had satisfied his curiosity. The skin against his was soft and supple, and the muscles rippled, exciting his reluctant control and he moved away. But he only found more hot skin to lose himself in.

*You’re so desirable.* Panthera smothered his responses, tasting and seeing perfect crystal castles against a sunset.

“I’m not.” But Vaysh’s protest lacked conviction as he reached up, unconsciously initiating a sharing of his own, as he stretched.

Panthera smiled, and laughed softly against the hot mouth, pushing his advantage and teasing the lithe form until Vaysh accepted him willingly, even eagerly, and he sank into the much dreamed about embrace.

Closing the doors on their last party enthusiasts, Swift kissed his tired lover tenderly as he steered him towards the bedroom. Bed… he thought longingly, and a bit of gentle loving to relax Seel and resurrect his balance was all that was needed. He turned the lights off behind them, leaving Briahaar asleep in Abrimel’s arms by the long couch. Seel, grumblingly had threw a blanket over the two, but even he was happier with Briahaar’s choice of Abrimel than he had been with his sons desires of Pellaz. It was a start.

“Bed.” Swift massaged down Seel’s firm thighs.

“Mmmm.” Seel wriggled suggestively. “Best thing I’ve heard all night.”

Swift snickered into the wondrous hair, still feeling the same intense delight he had felt the first time he’d seen Seel. Half chasing his lover into their darkened room, Seel grabbed his hand stopping him from activating the lights as they caught sight of the entwined figures on their bed.

Groaning, Seel thumped his fist into Swift’s chest in frustration. Upon their bed the moonlight highlighted Calanthe’s face perfectly as he lay on his back, his arm cradling a smaller figure and they didn’t need to move closer to identify who it was.

“I don’t believe it!” Seel hissed, infuriated.

Swift just looked to the ceiling for inspiration.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

‘Gone are the days of complacency,
Gone are the nights with no partner.
Gone is the way we used to be,
Now the corner is turned,
Heaven knows we’ve learned.’

BCO

Pellaz tried to stretch and felt a heavy warmth restricting him. Climbing up from the pleasant haze of sleep, he eventually identified the weight as Calanthe’s arm. He could smell and feel his lover’s distinctive presence and immediately relaxed under the binding restraint.

He lay there for a few minutes longer, surfacing properly before he marshaled the energy to push up on his elbows. Beneath him, Calanthe’s face was lost in slumber still, young and breathtakingly innocent, dark lashes resting on high cheekbones. The mouth was slightly open and the breaths even, slow and deep. Smiling down, he studied him for a moment longer, as he loved this time in the mornings. He loved being able to watch his soul mate unhindered, without Calanthe’s disdainful expression or comments. Very gently he traced a finger down the smooth, tanned chest.

“Morning.”

The voice made him jump and Pellaz looked up in startlement, his eyes darting up to meet Swift’s amused face. He blushed suddenly as he glanced around the room to confirm a hazy memory of the night before and heard Swift chuckle.

“I thought you two must have died last night from all the response we got out of you both,” Swift whispered across the distance between them. “You didn’t even wake when Seel launched himself into bed.”

“I’m sorry about this – that,” Pellaz corrected gently, looking into the clear, round eyes. Between them, Calanthe and Seel were still asleep.

“Forget it.” Swift dismissed the event, bending down and lightly kissing Seel on the cheek. “I like this time of day.”

Pellaz’s smile grew. “Unhindered pleasures?” he asked innocently as he settled a hand on Cal’s chest, careful not to disturb him.

“Bliss. And silent at that.” Swift grinned back.

They shared a companionable silence before Swift sighed and climbed out of bed. “Well, I suppose I should get up, as I need to sort out a number of things before Seel wakes.”

“Mmmm.” Pell absently eyed the Megalithican as he left the bed. The short, layered hair sat lightly on tanned shoulders, shimmering in the morning sunlight. He glanced back down at Calanthe, kissing him softly.

Swift wandered into the bathroom, ushering the house Hara out of the bedroom and leaving instructions that Seel and Tigron Calanthe were not to be disturbed. After diving into the warm pool of water, he looked up and saw Pellaz pinning his hair up as he gingerly stepped into the bath. He couldn’t help but eye the slender body up and down, noticing a number of differences between his lover’s body and that of the Tigron’s. He and Pellaz had shared a number of lovers over the years, yet they had never touched. He somehow doubted they ever would either. Smiling at Pellaz’s still slightly dreamy features, he handed over the soap.

“Thanks,” Pellaz mumbled absently, sinking into the relaxing warmth up to his shoulders and sighing. His eyes fell shut. “This is truly nice. I feel sore everywhere like I’ve been run over or something.”

“I imagine Caeru’s functions can do that to you sometimes.”

“Pardon?” Pellaz lifted his lashes and frowned.

“You and Cal were both pretty out to it last night.” Swift went on, explaining his words. “Exhausted.”

“Stress.” Pellaz gave the blonde Har a tight smile and submerged further into the water. “This place has been so hellishly frantic and serious lately that we are all stressed out with exhaustion.”

Swift blinked at him a moment, seeing the downsweep of lashes and bit his own bottom lip in thought.

“Sorry Swift, but Cal and I really haven’t had a moment to ourselves over the last month, and now with these damn tours starting in a day or so, we’ll be yanked around again like puppets!”

Swift was silent, not sure how to reply. If it was Cal he was talking to it would be easy, but Pellaz was a different customer all together.

“Sorry.” Pellaz apologized again, standing up and leaving the pool. “I shouldn’t take my bad temper out on you so early in the morning.”

Swift contemplated his words carefully, as he stepped from the bath. “Have breakfast here with us and I’ll personally help you beat Ash to a pulp with the bacon and eggs.” He gave a conspiratorial wink and was pleased when he saw the amusement return to twinkle in the dark eyes of the Tigron.

They dried and dressed quickly, Pellaz borrowing one of Swift’s white shirts. He walked over to the bed and looked down at Calanthe. His lover never stirred and he stilled his fingers, tempted to wake him.

“They won’t wake for ages yet.” Swift rolled his eyes.

“Maddening isn’t it?” Pell agreed, following him from the room.

The large breakfast suite was bathed in golden sunlight, with Swithe and Charicia sitting at the far end of the table. An energetic Harling was currently annoying the Megalithican teacher as Charicia sat with chin in hand watching the two. He looked the most relaxed he had been in months, and his rumpled grace matched Swithe’s own ease.

Servants rushed forward to pull out chairs, offering black coffee and buttered toast, but Pellaz pushed his plate away spooning sugar into his coffee. Ashmael sat across from him with Cobweb, both still looking drowsy. The two youngest Harling in the room played on the floor. It was a quiet and subdued atmosphere, one Pell felt he could get used to very easily, and he glanced up as Tyler walked over to him with a cute smile.

Calanthe turned his face away from the sunlight, wriggling his toes and enjoying the feel of the warm, soft bed, as he tried to slip back into sleep. A hot body rolled over next to him, touching down his side comfortably close and he automatically slid an arm around the narrow shoulders. He stretched again and wondered if Pell would let him go back to sleep or whether he’d start annoying him pleasurably to wake him fully. The warmth moved closer still, the moist mouth absently kissing and tasting his chest and Cal let his fingers sink into the fine, silky hair. His mind drifted on for a moment longer thinking about the previous night and Pell’s surrender when his hand froze in the tangled hair. A prickle of unease shot through him, then blazed to life and his eyes snapped open even as his bed companion pushed away and sat up.

They stared at each other horrified and disorientated, before they both searched around.

“I’m going to kill them.” Seel’s nails sank into Swift’s pillow.

Calanthe just sat up and rubbed his eyes, wondering why Pell had left him with Seel.

“They did this on purpose!” Seel’s almond shaped eyes narrowed dangerously.

“Seel, it’s not as if this is the first time we’ve slept together in a bed,” Cal commented mildly, and saw an evil, mischievous glint form in the other’s eyes. “Seel, no.” He shook his head, hair flying under the action.

“Why?” Seel dropped his head to one side, considering Calanthe.

“Because no harm’s been done. There is probably a logical explanation for it as well, like letting us sleep in.” He emphasized the last few words. “Take your ire out on Swift by all means, but leave Pell alone. Alright?”

Seel pursed his lips, watching Calanthe a moment longer. “You’ve lost your adventurous streak,” he muttered in amazement.

“No. I’ve just learnt some common sense.”

Seel sighed and threw the covers back, marching over to the wardrobe. “Besides I wasn’t thinking of anything drastic, only I thought we could…”

Entering the dining hall together, Calanthe felt a little exposed as Cobweb sent him an amused smile. Pellaz didn’t look up as he had Tyler on his knee and was busy relating some outlandish twaddle to the child. Charicia and Swithe were laughing at what he was saying as the three Harlings stared up at Pell mesmerized.

Watching him, Cal let a smile form as another image of Pell’s face last night during aruna played across his mind. He remembered snaking deep inside his lover to touch fire and…he stopped suddenly, his mouth falling open as he tried to sort reality from fantasy.

Did he, or didn’t he? He couldn’t remember clearly. Was Pell hosting? Would Pellaz even know? Or was it just another unobtainable dream? He had to talk to him, ask him, and he got his feet moving numbly towards the chairs.

Seel was already seated beside Swift, leaning over his lover and nipping an exposed ear, making the blonde Megalithican squirm then blush furiously as he whispered into an undefended ear. Swift’s mouth tugged up into a reluctant smile, and he glanced down to hide his excitement as he settled a hand heavily on Seel’s upper thigh. Seel just peered down his nose sternly, before he covered Swift’s hand with his own.

Calanthe looked away from them, ignoring the chair the servants pulled out for him as he hooked another one closer to Pell’s. He settled his arm along the back of Pellaz’s chair and contented himself for now by tracing patterns on his lover’s shoulder. Pell just glanced up at him, briefly smiling.

Calanthe found himself to be ravenous and breakfast passed quickly.

Walking back to their rooms, Calanthe tried to think of a way to broach the subject. Looking sideways at Pellaz’s contained expression, more doubts plagued him. “Pell, about last night,” he started.

“Ashmael’s an immoral bastard.”

Cal’s mouth curved up. “More than likely, but I was thinking about something else.”

“What? Not more problems with the tours I hope.”

“No, it’s about last night.” Calanthe reached out a hand and cupped Pell’s neck under the heavy hair, stopping him and turning his lover to face him.

“What about it?” Pellaz started to worry again picturing Velaxis and Briahaar. He had thought those problems solved.

“When we took aruna, I think I-” He stared hard at Pell for a moment. “Don’t you remember?”

“Course I remember!” Pellaz frowned, getting confused. “It was wonderful. But if we let Ash get his way completely, you and I won’t get to see each other for months, let alone be able to take aruna. Well at least not until the Tribal talks are complete.”

“Pell,” Calanthe lifted his other hand to Pellaz’s neck.

“Do you know he even wants one of us to tour Garridan!?” Pell stressed. “It’s outrageous! Every envoy the Hegemony has sent into Garridan uninvited has either disappeared completely or been assassinated!”

“Pell I think you’re hosting!” he said in a rush.

Pellaz opened his mouth, then shut it, speechless for a moment. “What!?”

“Last night, I think I got carried away and took aruna to its fullest point with you.”

“But surely I would know.” Pellaz took a deep breath, his hands raising to touch Cal as he frowned up.

“Not necessarily.” Calanthe gathered him into a quick embrace, then let him go, and cupped the paling face. “I want you to go see Rayhala before the tours start. Get it checked.”

“Cal, I’d know, I’m sure of it,” Pellaz protested as he stepped back shaking his head. “I would know,” he repeated.

“Why? How would you know?”

“I…just-” Pellaz looked up, not believing they were having this sort of conversation in the corridor. The elite guards behind them were standing extremely still. “I just would. Okay!” he snapped, turning and walking away.

“No, it’s not okay!” Calanthe caught his arm and held him back.

“Cal,” it was a warning.

“Why are you so perverse?”

“I’m not!”

“You are,” Calanthe insisted. “You were eager enough to have Tyson’s son a few months ago.”

“That was an accident!” Pellaz snapped, stung. He pulled his arm free and glared at Calanthe. “I’ve told you more than once already, that it was an accident! Hell Cal!” He took an exasperated breath, running fingers through his fringe. “I would never have even known I was hosting if Ty hadn’t told-” He stopped abruptly as his own words sunk in and he glared up at Cal’s face.

Calanthe raised a triumphant brow. “Exactly.”

Gritting his teeth, as he couldn’t think of a suitably cutting reply, he spun on his toes and marched off.

Calanthe just watched him, slowly following and determined to win this argument at all cost. Two lives could depend on it.

“Pell, Cal!” Tharmifex called out as he stood waiting inside their private reception room. Both Tigrons stopped and looked at him in annoyance and Tharmifex cringed inwardly.

“Yes.” Pellaz stitched on a false pleasantness for the other Hegemony member.

“The Garondol from Oride is still requesting assurances of Gelaming protection. It is the fourth time he has contacted us in the last two days,” Tharmifex said pointedly.

“Wasn’t Ashmael dealing with that.” Calanthe walked over to the older Har.

“Yes, but it seems the Garondol isn’t satisfied with only that, as the Kakkahar unrest has shaken all the tribes up and a number of his smaller villages have been raided.”

“Send in a patrol,” Pellaz decided. “What’s Arahal doing?”

“He’s supervising the transfer of Faraldiennes, and Pell, the situation will only get worse in Oride and other tribes until after the talks in three months,” Tharmifex warned bluntly.

Pellaz pulled a face and closed his eyes. “Alright.” He sighed and glanced up at Tharmifex. “As you know I’ll be visiting the Natawni council in a day or so, so I could call in to see the Garondol in Oriol on my way through. Will that please the Hegemony?”

“Pell,” Tharmifex regarded him concerned.

“I know Thar, it’s not your fault. I’m just tired. In fact, why don’t I make a sweep of all the Garondols in Emunah before I return here. It should only alter Ash’s schedule by a week at the most,” he offered as he thought about it logically.

“Sounds good, and I’ll get it past Ash for you my dear, so don’t worry.” Tharmifex smiled.

“No.” Calanthe settled firm hands on Pellaz’s shoulders and turned him slightly. “No Pell, I’ll go.”

“Cal,” Pellaz groaned, not really in the mood to argue.

“I’ve told you, I don’t want you touring and using the lanes until after you’ve seen Rayhala,” he whispered reasonably.

Pell dropped his head forward, and sought patience under his lover’s mulish attitude. “Cal, this is important. I have to go to Natawni, they’re expecting me for God sakes! And anyway, I know all the Garondols in Emunah, and can clear up this mess quickly.”

“What I ask is also important.”

Pell turned and looked briefly at Tharmifex’s clouded expression. “You’re wrong about this,” he muttered forcefully.

“If I am, then the tour goes on as planned.” Calanthe’s fingers traveled down Pell’s arms, coaxing him gently. He wondered if Tyson had had this much trouble.

“And what if you’re right?” The words were hesitant, and he didn’t look up.

“Then we revise the schedule. Simple.”

“But-”

“No but’s Pell. If I’m right, and I believe I am, then we play it safe.” He watched the black lashes fall to mask Pell’s thoughts and responses. “It will work out, you’ll see.” He lent forward and kissed his lover’s fringed forehead. “This will be our first love child,” he whispered seductively into the warm hair.

Pellaz looked up at that and shook his head, feeling both hot and cold. “I still think this is a waste of valuable time.”

“Humor me.”

“If you insist.”

“In this I do.”

“Alright.”

“Good.” Calanthe released him and turned back to Tharmifex who was staring at Pellaz suspiciously. “I’ll be going to Emunah this afternoon. Clear the problem up fast. Tell Ash I’ll want a full compliment of guards and an adept. I don’t like nasty surprises.”

Tharmifex just nodded, confused, his frown growing as Pellaz stormed from the room. “Is everything alright between you both?” he asked the blonde Tigron.

“Fine,” Calanthe said tightly. “What could possibly be wrong?”

Inside their bedchamber, Calanthe watched as Pell bad-temperedly ripped Swift’s white linen shirt off and threw it on the floor. All four house Hara stood perfectly still, not daring to move, and he took a deep breath, knowing Pellaz was going to be difficult again. Why couldn’t anything be simple? he wondered as he went up behind his furious mate and held him tightly even when Pellaz predictably tried to shrug him off.

“You know I’m right, so just admit it.” Calanthe bit an ear harder than normal in gentle reproof.

“Maybe.” Was all Pell said.

“Pell-”

“So, you can’t wait to get out of here can you! When will you be back, or is that too much to ask!” He sounded sulky now.

“Shouldn’t be longer than two days.”

“If you’re lucky!”

“Three at the most.” Cal held his temper. “Look, I’ll contact you, let you know. I promise.”

Pellaz released a hot breath and let his head fall back against Calanthe’s shoulder. “I still think you are wrong.”

Calanthe kissed his neck, biting the moist skin in annoyance, as he thought about the night before again. He knew he was right, and Pell’s denial of even the possibility angered him. “It’s standard safety procedure for any Har. Pell, why can’t you just accept that!”

“Because I think the real reason why you don’t want me to tour, is because you think I’m mentally unfit. That I’ve been scared or something by the Kakkahars! That you don’t believe Thiede left me enough common sense and I won’t survive without the damned Hegemony to crutch me up!”

“Bullshit!” Calanthe swung him around.

“Is it?” Pellaz asked, desperate to know.

“Of course it is and you fuckin’ well know it!” Calanthe snapped. He turned and walked away before he hit out at the stupid, little idiot, knocking more than sense into the pretty head. He struggled out of his top, his mind flying in angry circles.

Pellaz hurried after him, and grabbed his arm as they entered the bathroom. “Cal, talk to me. Please!”

“What is there to say! You already know it all, don’t you!”

Pellaz wanted to scream ‘NO’ but the word wouldn’t come out as he searched the changing eyes, which mirrored his own emotions. He shook his head, bewildered. Calanthe hissed out a curse, relaxing his tense muscles and dragging Pellaz into an embrace. His lover’s hands clutched him painfully and he gently soothed the naked back.

“Just don’t stay away too long, alright?” Was all Pell said and Calanthe buried his face in the thick, soft hair, smelling a sun warmed freshness.

“I couldn’t,” he admitted in a whisper.

Behind them a dull noise intruded and Cal lifted his head, his mouth opening in astonishment as he spotted Panthera’s naked back and Vaysh’s bare legs. The Ferike was awake as he slowly sat up and gave him a warning, challenging glare. Calanthe’s face broke into a grin, his eyes sparkling with speculative mischief as he got Pell to turn around.

“Vaysh!?” Pellaz could hardly get the name out as he half laughed, smothering it as his friend sat up and gathered his clothing with uncharacteristic nervousness.

Panthera wrapped a protective arm around the shivery shoulders and glared harder at both Tigrons. “Don’t say anything. Don’t.” His whisper carried a deadly warning and Pellaz bit his lip, stopping the smile.

Calanthe let the words ride as he smirked broadly. “What’s wrong Thea? Ashamed because you forgot to arrange a more suitable-”

Pellaz pushed his lover into the bath, clothing, boots and all. It was the only way to stop his mouth and sick humor.

***

Three days later Pellaz was still treated with Vaysh’s cold, heartless anger and disapproval over the bathroom incident. He buried his annoyance and rubbed his temples tiredly as he sat in his private study, looking over reports from Jaddayoth.

“When Arahal gets back, I want him to draw up a definite estimate on the number of Faraldiennes he wants this year for Immanion so I can consider Ariaric’s request.”

“I believe he has been working on that for the last few weeks,” Chrysm said before Eyra could comment.

“Good.” Pellaz gave him a curious look, wondering if the two had finally solved their differences. Some how he doubted it knowing Chrysm. “What of Megalithica?” He turned to Tharmifex.

“The majority of governmental officials in Galhea left yesterday, with Swift and his immediate household returning this afternoon. I detailed the supplies and have left your original order stand about aircar support.” Tharmifex thumbed through his notes.

“Fine.” Pellaz frowned a little. “With the government operating out of Galhea again within the week, we should be able to cut half the work load, and monitor trouble more effectively in the south.”

“It will also reassure the smaller tribes,” Dree added.

“I’m also hoping it will calm Jaddayoth’s internal conflicts down just a bit,” Pellaz stated.

“That would be nice, but we still have to be realistic,” Chrysm said without thinking.

“Why thank you Chrysm!” Pellaz gave him a halfhearted glare.

“No doubt the talks will ultimately calm the continent down considerably,” Tharmifex cut in, patting Pellaz on the shoulder lightly. “You look tired my dear,” he observed.

“I’m fine.” Pellaz didn’t bother to look up.

“Mmmm.” Tharmifex didn’t sound convinced.

“Well, it’s getting late,” Dree said unnecessarily, breaking the sudden heaviness in the air as he stood. “Come on you deceitful hussy.” He thumped Chrysm on the shoulder. “I need to check over some re-educational programs and I want your evaluation on the Kakkahar.”

Chrysm sent him an irritated look but still followed him to the door. “Thar?” He did his Seel impersonation by glaring down his nose from the open door at the other Hegemony member.

Tharmifex grinned and waved him away as he looked down at Pellaz again. The young Har was awfully quiet. Too quiet. “Cal will be back tomorrow, won’t he?” he asked.

“You know as much as I do,” Pell said flatly.

Tharmifex opened his mouth wanting to say more, but Eyra touched his arm and shook his head negatively.

Once he was alone, Pellaz swept his eyes up to Vaysh. His friend and assistant was gathering papers.

“Still freezing me out Vaysh?”

Vaysh ignored him, heading for the door.

“You know it wasn’t my fault Panthera had to return to Jael!” he called, irritated by the silence.

“Why should I care.” Vaysh didn’t turn as he stood on the threshold.

“Vaysh…” Pellaz groaned as he watched the tall loveliness turn and glare at him. The coldness was tangible.

“Shut up Pell. Just shut up.”

Pellaz sighed, and closed his eyes.

Dismissing his over attentive house Hara, Pellaz closed his bedchamber door on the four worried little faces and leaned against the cold wood paneling. Caeru’s presence greeted him and he mustered a tired smile as he took in the artistically sprawled elegance across his bed. Food and wine waited on the low bedside table.

“Since you are too busy these days to visit me, I thought I’d come to you instead.”

The soft, husky voice was appealing and Pellaz killed his automatic smile. He wandered over to the bed and sat heavily on its edge as he removed tight boots. Caeru’s arms went round him, undoing his shirt and sliding it off his shoulders.

“Rue, I’m tired. Practically asleep,” he protested slightly, even as he relaxed under the persuasive hands and stroking fingers.

Caeru gave a secretive smile and drew Pellaz back into his warmth.

Smelling the intoxicating perfume his Tigrina wore, Pellaz gave in and stretched out on the bed under Caeru’s persistent hands. He blinked up sleepily into the blue eyes. Long, white-blonde hair tickled his face and chest, its silkiness falling over creamy shoulders like folds of gold. He reached up a hand and touched the side of Caeru’s face.

“Would you like some wine?” Caeru whispered, his eyes alight as he saw how easily Pellaz relaxed under his touch. It was nice to know he could still affect his lover like this, and he let the desire smolder in his eyes, running teasing fingertips down a smooth, unblemished chest. He stopped at the leather pants and wriggled the ties loose.

Pellaz moved his hand to cup Caeru’s neck and pull his seducer down to a deep, inviting sharing of breath. He touched sensual waves of laziness and sweet rose blossoms, and slowly gave himself over to the pleasure Caeru was creating.

Caeru’s heart leapt into his mouth, his pulse racing erratically as he smothered the body spread out to him. He drank from Pell’s soul, treasuring the images. He lifted his lips and brushed the swollen ones under his, their breaths mingling deliciously.

“Will you take me on tour with you Pell?” His hands tangled in the damp hair as he watched the dark eyes.

“Depends.” Pellaz nipped Caeru’s chin lovingly.

“On what?”

“Oh, on where I go.” He smiled sweetly. “I won’t let you go into a potentially hostile environment.”

“You shouldn’t go either then.” Caeru pulled back a little. “Send Ashmael or Calanthe in first so they can subdue the natives.”

Pellaz actually laughed. “Oh Rue.”

“Huh. I’ve brought you some dinner.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Oh?” Caeru raised an interested brow, and slid his fingers gently under the leather waistband again.

“Well, maybe not for food,” Pellaz corrected, rolling over and resting on his elbows, facing his desirable consort. He reached across and drew Caeru towards him, capturing the slim body and molding them together, taking the hot mouth.

The room was pleasantly warm and softly lit as they finished undressing each other. Skin hot and glowing, Pellaz rolled onto his back, holding the tempting Har to him as they pleasured each other teasingly. He felt subdued, delicate, lazy, cherished and soume, as his arms folded around the heat burning down on him. Wriggling intimately, he invited Caeru’s touch as he lay willingly passive.

Caeru looked down into the flushed face, his own body responding all too easily to the sprawled offer. It was impossible to resist the mouth and to not take the body and he slid into the unfamiliar heat, his muscles rippling from the forbidden delight. Never before had Pellaz submitted as soume for him. Never before had he tasted his lover’s essence and the realization of the event sent an erotic thrill through his system and he thrust down harder. He had originally planned to coax Pell into giving him another Harling, but this was even better, and he fell spellbound into the alluring labyrinth of sweet, burning pleasure. His groan merged with Pell’s hissed intake of breath and a knife of ice-blue fire ignited behind the Tigron’s eyes and he viewed his lover’s inner essence and perfume. Pellaz’s shimmering life force was strong and blinding and it took Caeru a moment to discern what he was being shown. The information was crippling, and sweat slid them together as he climaxed, hearing and feeling Pell cry out as they both tumbled into release.

Shocked and trapped in his own web of passion, Caeru stared wide eyed into the dark, unfocussed gaze of Pellaz’s. The thick lashes blinked cutting off his view of the other’s soul, and he rolled free, both delighted and scared as Pellaz followed him and cuddled up close. His internal abdomen muscles quivered and he hesitantly tangled his fingers in the damp black hair, his lips caressing Pell’s forehead.

He had touched life, felt its protective awareness, and Caeru closed his eyes as his mind screamed in frustration. He should have known, should have seen the clues, and he cursed Calanthe’s existence as he stroked the face of his now sleeping lover. No wonder Pellaz had been so wonderfully passive. But also while he was like this, Caeru knew he would not get the Harling he desired.

***

Calanthe walked purposely through the darkened rooms. It had been a last minute decision to return a night early to Immanion, and contrary to what he’d originally imagined, he’d missed the Phaonica. He grinned, knowing more precisely he’d missed his unpredictable, wild, maddening little lover.

The Gorondols of Emunah had eventually conceded his point and judgements after Ashmael had reminded them all of Lianvis. He’d grimaced inwardly at the words, but he’d managed to smile wickedly at the Hara watching and now everyone had agreed to attend the Tribal talks. It had worked also with the Natawni council, and Ashmael felt they were on a hat trick, wanting to continue the tours, but he had insisted on returning to Immanion. He wanted to see and talk to Pell.

Opening their closed bedroom doors, Cal had hoped his lover might still be awake despite the late hour, but the room was in complete darkness. Even the heavy curtains were closed and he had to feel his way to his side of the bed and turn on the lamp before he sat down gently. A figure immediately sat up in bed and blinked at him, scowling and Cal meet Caeru’s blue eyes. He took in the Tigrina’s naked chest with long, black hair clinging to the pale skin and he curled his lip. Pellaz was sleep between them.

“Well, well, what a pleasant surprise.” His smile was cruel. “Didn’t take you long to move in, I see.”

“What are you doing here!” Caeru looked around, trying to see the time.

“Nice that,” Calanthe said with false pleasantness. He started to undress, dropping his clothing carelessly on the floor.

“Don’t wake him,” Caeru stressed as the bed shook and he glared at the blonde’s back. “What are you doing here?”

“What the fuck does it look like!” Calanthe snapped, not bothering to keep his voice down. “This is my room, my bed in case you’ve forgotten. And at the moment I’m exhausted, so if you don’t mind shut up or I’ll throw you out of here!”

“Cal?” A sleepy voice behind him had him turning as the dark head rose, eyes blinking at him owlishly in the light. “Cal? When did you get back?” Pellaz was trying to sit up as he rubbed his face.

“Half an hour ago. Go back to sleep, we’ll talk in the morning.” His voice was gentler as he reached out and touched Pellaz’s rumpled hair, smoothing it out around his face.

“You should have told me, I would have waited up.”

The protest was mild and Calanthe had to smile, until he met Caeru’s clear, assessing gaze. He stood up and stripped off his trousers, stretching as he picked up a half full glass of wine and sipped the tepid liquid.

“Rue?”

Pellaz’s voice was muffled behind him, and Cal waited.

“I…what? Oh shit.” Pell fell back on the mattress and placed a hand over his eyes.

Calanthe gave him a hopeless glance as he slid into his side of the enormous bed, stretching his sore, stressed out spine muscles. He settled on his back for sleep raising his arms over his head, as he turned off the light, closing his eyes. He tried to relax, but knew it was a doomed exercise as he sensed two sets of eyes homing in on him. One in mute displeasure, the other in guilt and bewilderment. He groaned, too tired to even want to think about it, wondering if he should have stayed in Oriol as Ash had suggested.

“Cal?”

Pellaz’s voice was a whisper and Calanthe clamped his eyes tightly shut.

“Cal?”

“What!” he snapped, fighting against annoyance. There was a potent, strained silence for a long moment.

“Oh…nothing! Forget it!”

Pellaz sounded put out now, grumpy, and Calanthe felt the bed shake as his irritating lover turned over, presenting him with his displeased back. He counted to fifty silently as whispery voices reached him across the cold space between them and gave up the pretence of sleep as his control snapped. He sat up and grabbed for Pellaz, finding an arm and roughly forcing him around and across the bed. He caught a bony elbow in his ribs, and hissed in a painful breath, grunting as a knee bruised him before he could manhandle his lover around. He pinned Pellaz securely against his chest, trapping the dangerous limbs between his skin and the mattress. “You’re an irritating, little shit at times!” he stated, peeved.

“Me!”

The voice rose an octave in outrage and an elbow managed to wriggle free and jab him again.

“You’re the original infuriating, pig headed, stuck up…muph-”

Calanthe silenced the words with a hard kiss, winning entrance as his fingers tightened around narrow wrists. The brutal sharing changed slowly as they each reached out tentatively at first, then with consuming passion until they devoured the other’s essence hungrily.

“God Pell! Why do you always do this to me? Why do you always make me so angry?” Calanthe asked as he kissed around Pellaz’s chin and down his neck.

“I don’t mean to.” It was a breathy moan.

A heavy sigh behind them reminded them of Caeru, and they turned and switched on the bedside lamp again.

“Think I’ll go to my own room,” Caeru stated as he saw the closely entwined couple illuminated.

“Rue no.” It was Pellaz’s voice, but Calanthe’s hand that reached out towards the Tigrina. “Come back, please?”

Caeru studied them again, calculating his options before he gave in and slid over the silky sheets towards his duel Tigrons. “I will probably regret this,” he muttered as Pellaz turned in Calanthe’s embrace and drew him closer to the warmth.

“Never.” Calanthe grinned into the darkness as he hit the light switch mentally again, cuddling Pellaz back to him, and inhaling his lover’s scent.

“You’re both insane,” Caeru muttered again, still disgusted with himself as he accepted Pell’s gentle hands. “And you both could have at least had the decency to tell me that Pellaz was hosting again! I hate being kept in the dark and finding out the hard way!”

“Shhh,” Pellaz swallowed, not wanting to hear as he shushed Caeru, closing his eyes, and emptying his mind of conflicting thoughts.

Calanthe just snuggled closer to his lover, burying his smile in the soft hair as he rubbed down across Pell’s abdomen with his fingers. To him the news was a welcome relief and pleasure, and he planned to talk with Pellaz about it in the morning. They would now have to revise the tour schedule for sure and he looked forward to seeing Ashmael’s displeased face when he told him. It would give the strategist nightmares, he was gleefully certain. Kissing the back of his beloved’s head again, he drifted off into sleep.

***

The morning found the three of them still entwined as Attica threw open the heavy curtains and Whyala wheeled in steaming coffee. The room was washed in refreshing brightness and air, waking them all.

Calanthe didn’t get his morning cuddle as he’d been looking forward to, instead following both Pellaz and Caeru into the bathroom at a slower pace. He eventually caught up with them, both in their private breakfast quarters. His mood got progressively worse as he saw Tharmifex and Glave sitting at the small, round table drinking coffee. Pellaz smiled up at him as Caeru buttered a piece of lightly toasted bread.

“Good news about Emunah.” Tharmifex grinned at Calanthe. “I was just telling Pell what Ash told me last night. If all the tribal leaders respond as well as this, then we should have no problems with the Council.”

“I can’t picture any major setbacks.” Glave stirred more sugar into his drink. “What’s next on the schedule? Mojag or Gimrah?”

“I’d recommend Gimrah as we need to start distribution of the Faraldiennes as soon as possible,” Pellaz stated quietly.

“Agreed.” Tharmifex nodded. “It shouldn’t take more than a few days to finalize the inventory.”

“Well, then it can wait a few days also,” Calanthe cut in, not liking the way the conversation was going this early in the morning. “As I need to study the information on Gimrah first and go over the reports with Pell.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that as you’ll get plenty of time to read the files before the Talks,” Tharmifex dismissed. “What I would rather you concentrate on was Mojag. Their new Princelord has new ideas that doesn’t correspond with our laws.”

“No doubt Dree will have everything you need information wise laid out for you in the central library.” Glave glanced at his watch. “Where is Dree anyway?”

“But what about the Faraldiennes then, I thought they were priority?” Calanthe persisted, feeling he was missing something important here.

“Don’t worry about that, as Pell can deal with it. He knows the three Tirthas there.” Tharmifex’s frowned a little impatiently.

Calanthe leveled his eyes on his lover accusingly. Caeru sucked in a breath and straightened in his chair as those violet eyes made him feel naked and exposed. “You didn’t go and see Rayhala, did you?!” Cal accused, ignoring the two Hegemony members completely. “What were you planning to do Pell? What would you have done if I’d gone on to Hadassah before coming back here? Would you have gone to Gimrah, regardless of my wishes, endangering not only your own life, but our son’s as well?!” he demanded venomously.

“Of course not!” Pellaz wriggled in his chair uncomfortably, pushing it back and standing. He walked to the open window, away from the table and ran a hand through his fringe, feeling trapped and angry. It was something he couldn’t explain, and couldn’t hope to make Cal understand.

“Pell’s hosting?” Glave’s voice sounded loud and shocked.

“Cal, don’t!” Worried tones from Caeru and Pellaz tensed, waiting for the arguments he knew would come.

“Shut up all of you!” Calanthe drowned out the questions as he walked over to where Pellaz stood by the windows. He didn’t touch him. “Why?!” he hissed the demand.

Pell shrugged, knowing it was inadequate and would also infuriate Cal, and he felt his lover turn away. “I don’t know,” he said in an urgent rush.

Cal let out a slow breath looking back to study Pell’s side profile. He didn’t say anything, waiting for Pellaz to be honest with them both for once.

Pell fought the fear inside his mind, knowing his silent lover would wait. Knowing how infuriating persistent Calanthe could be, and he closed his eyes. “The whole idea of…of-” He hesitated and licked dry lips. “It scares me. Terrifies me, and I…” He shook his head, feeling some of the weight lift from his mind as Cal’s hands found his shoulders and he turned blindly to clutch at his soul mate.

“Why the fuck didn’t you say something sooner?” Cal whispered ferociously into the black hair. “Shit Pell, I can’t read emotions you block from me!”

Pell just shook his head, rubbing his nose into Cal’s shoulder and absorbing his reassuring scent, deliberately letting his soul mate experience some of his inner turmoil.

Looking back at the table, Calanthe noticed how curiously quiet the other two Hara had become. Unsurprisingly Caeru had vanished, and he suppressed an evil thought knowing now how their Tigrina had discovered Pellaz was hosting. He shepherded Pellaz back to the chair and made him sit down. His lover was still a little dazed and shaky and he massaged the tense shoulders lightly as he addressed the two Hegemony members. “The schedule is to be rearranged Tiahaars.” He felt cheered as both Tharmifex and Glave stared up at him numbly for a moment longer. Attica and Terral were hovering and Attica’s face was white with fear, so he smiled gently at the house Har, his fingers never leaving Pell’s shoulders. “Attica can you please ask the physician, Rayhala, to join Pellaz and myself up here as soon as is convenient?”

“Yes my Lord.” Attica nodded, his eyes on Pellaz before he rushed away and Pell released a hot sigh.

“Cal, we don’t need this. Please?”

“Hush.” He kissed the top of his lover’s head and smiled sweetly back at the two bewildered Hegemony Hara.

“Well, I suppose I’ll contact Gimrah and tell them there will be a slight delay, and relay new information.” Tharmifex was still flustered.

“I suggest we all have a formal meeting to discuss the changes, say over lunch?” Calanthe asked.

“Very good.” Tharmifex nodded as he and Glave stood, casting apprehensive glances at a silent Pellaz.

Calanthe waited until both Hara had gone before sitting in a vacant chair facing Pell. “We’ll cut down the tours, work something out.”

Pellaz rolled his eyes and tried to smile. “This is lousy timing, you know.”

“Perfect affinity.” Calanthe leaned forward to touch his lips. “It will work out. Destiny. You’ll see.”

Pellaz gave him a very pale smile, wishing he could believe that.

***

Rayhala arrived face flushed, within the half-hour. “I’ve just been told.” He beamed at Calanthe then subdued his response as he saw Pellaz’s grey face. “How long?”

“Four, five days,” Calanthe replied lightly.

“You should have come to me days ago.” But he didn’t push the point as Pellaz raised his arms to hug his chest. Calanthe started to frown watching him. “I need to examine you Pellaz, just like I did the last time. Remember?” He saw no response in the dark eyes. “It is only a precaution, as we still know so little about the pearl’s formation.”

Pell nodded once, never looking up.

“Here or down in the unit?” Rayhala glanced at the Calanthe as he picked up on Pellaz’s unease. “It will make no difference where.”

“Here.” The word was stilted. Calanthe went to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, touching his face with the back of his fingers and encountering icy, clammy skin.

“Hey, come on Pell, relax,” he coaxed, steering his lover into the bedroom, as Rayhala and the house Hara followed. He sat Pell on the mattress and looked towards the doctor, seeing his worried expression mirrored there.

Rayhala shrugged and shook his head. “Lie him down,” he instructed. “I won’t need him stripped completely for this, as I think I’ll do a full examination later. Right now I just need to check on the pearl.”

Calanthe nodded tightly and bit his lip, unsure. “Pell?”

“This isn’t necessary. Please?” Pellaz’s breathing was accelerated, and he closed his eyes tightly.

“It won’t hurt, I’ll be here.” Calanthe gently loosened his clothing as he lay his lover down, feeling the narrow hands grip his arms, fingers biting in painfully. “Pell, what’s wrong? Why are you so scared?” He leaned over him, pinning the tense shoulders and searching the white face as he started to guess some of the problems. The black eyes were sightless. “Pell? Pellaz! Come on lover, talk to me!” He got no answer or response and he glanced over his shoulder at Rayhala. “This isn’t normal,” he stated, worried.

“No.” Rayhala shook his head. “It isn’t.”

“Should we go on, or leave it? I don’t want him hurt.”

“Are you absolutely positive he is hosting?” the doctor asked. “And you have to be very sure Calanthe, because if you’re wrong, and something else is causing this, then I need to know.”

Calanthe frowned and looked back to study Pell’s face, the wide eyes still staring up into nothing. “No. I’m not sure,” he admitted.

“I promise, this won’t hurt him.” Was all Rayhala answered.

Calanthe bent down and tried to seduce the dry mouth, trying to distract his mate from the doctor’s actions. Beneath him Pell gasped, then arched, crying out in horror, his dark eyes dull as he saw things only he knew.

“No!” Calanthe smothered the mental blow his lover threw against the doctor, hastily summoning his shields, feeling the raw desperate release of Pell’s power vibrate around his mind. It was terror, pure and simple. But of what? Behind him Rayhala flew backwards, landing awkwardly against a wall. He was helped to his feet by anxious house Hara. He was dazed, lucky to be alive and amazingly still held his probe aloft, protecting his precious specimen.

“No! Don’t… no. Please no,” Pellaz was sobbing uncontrollably and Calanthe had to battle to hold him as the smaller Har fought against his strength. “I-I won’t let you. No…not again…No!” With the power of the mental assault still stunning him, Cal just managed to blanket the building energy levels a second time, knocking Pell hard and embracing his shuddering body. “Please…stay out of my mind! Don’t touch…no…Please, Ulaume…no-”

“Pell, it’s me, Cal. Calanthe. Listen to me.” He gripped the curled limbs preventing his lover from turning away, appalled by what Pellaz’s disjointed words were telling him. He rocked him gently, mustering a mental dart of reassurance. *Pellaz, come on sweetheart, it’s me Calanthe. You can relax. You are safe. It’s Calanthe.*

Chrysm came stumbling into the room, holding his head as Arahal and Vaysh pushed him aside to get to the bed. “My god Calanthe! What in the name of the Aghama are you doing now?!” Chrysm exclaimed.

“Memories.” Calanthe felt moisture run down his cheeks as he watched his distraught lover. His tears ran hot.

“Cal?” Arahal was beside him.

“Memories,” he repeated. “See to Rayhala as he was the target.”

Arahal nodded and went to the doctor. The Har was shaken but unharmed and he hurried into the other room to test what little of the specimen he had left. Other Hegemony members turned up and Arahal filled them in as Chrysm and Vaysh went to sit on the bed next to Calanthe. Pellaz had calmed a little as Cal kept up the silent and gentle mental reassurances, but Pell still jumped badly whenever another Har approached, and Cal hissed at them all to stay away.

Rayhala returned within minutes and offered the blonde Tigron a glass of milky fluid.

“What’s this?” Calanthe glanced up briefly, his eyes bright with tears as he cradled Pell’s head to his chest. Vaysh was sitting painfully still next to him with his fingers knotted in his lap.

“It is a relaxant and it will help him sleep. It is also very sweet so make sure he has a good mouthful of it.”

Calanthe took the glass and eventually got Pellaz to swallow the required mouthful, glad when he felt the muscles under his hands relax. He lay him down gently and smoothed out his wet fringe as hiccups disturbed the drug-induced rest.

“What happened?” Tharmifex’s face was white.

“He went wild, unleashing mental bolts,” Chrysm offered and sagged inelegantly against Arahal.

“It’s more than that,” Rayhala cut in, shaking his head as he pushed a curl behind his ear. “My examination triggered a memory of some sort. Something the Kakkahar did to him more than likely.”

Cal nodded and looked up at the circle of faces. “Yes. He’s never talked about it. He’s had nightmares occasionally, but has never wanted to discuss them.”

“This is going to be a difficult few months for you both,” Rayhala predicted. “He is definitely hosting, and if anything it should release those memories he’s hiding from.” He heard Chrysm groan behind him and ignored it as he watched Calanthe. “I suggest you watch him very closely, and inform me of any mental stress or weird behavior.”

“Don’t worry, I will.” Calanthe vowed, his own system still in turmoil as he gently rubbed a finger along Pellaz’s icy cheek. “I’ve always watched him closely.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

‘I’ve got to know I belong to you.
I’ll do anything you want me too.
All I need is your whispered hello,
And a love that wont melt like this winter’s snow.’

Marriot/Lane.

Calanthe frowned as he read over the report on the Faraldiennes, the information was clear and concise and he knew there would be no problem in his brief visit to Gimrah. Besides, he was already acquainted with the Tirtha of Lemarath, having meet the Hafener clan on his earlier travels before Immanion. It would take two days at the most Ashmael promised, and he really didn’t want to be away for longer, not with Pellaz the way he was. He glanced across at his lover who was completing the formal paperwork for his visit, and he bit his lower lip.

Pell was fine now, and with no memory of the incident, and that worried him and everyone else in the Phaonica. He was certain it wasn’t a conscious denial either, because Pell opened mentally to him without thought and he felt no sinister darkness anywhere in his mate’s mind. So therefore it had to be buried deep in his subconscious, and that both scared and terrified Cal as he didn’t know how to treat it. What if he wasn’t here when Pell’s memory triggered? What if no one was capable of smothering him in time? They could kill themselves and irreversibly hurt Pellaz, for the powers his lover used were not the normal refined channels of energy needed for communion or mental commands, but that raw power available only to a Hostling who needed to protect his pearl.

Shivering as he imagined it, he turned and glanced again at his dark haired soul mate. Pellaz was quieter, everyone commented on that. He was also disturbingly passive and submissive in a feline sort of way that excited him, and if it hadn’t been for the undercurrent of fear he would have sat back and enjoyed the change.

Gentle arms slid around his neck from behind and broke his train of thought and he dropped his head back to smile up at the bewitching face. Pellaz leaned down touching his lips and kissing him lingeringly, mingling their breath until he got happily lost inside his lover’s mind. A mind that reflected him as the brightest star in the universe.

*Lunch?* Pellaz smiled down sweetly.

“Yes. Then I suppose I’d better chase up Ash and Cedony as I’d like to get to Gimrah before evening if possible.”

“Just be careful.” Was Pellaz’s only comment, but his arms tightened around Calanthe’s chest and shoulders.

***

It was early morning the following day when Pellaz walked out onto the courtyard of his garden balcony. As usual, he was having trouble sleeping in the huge empty bed, so used to Cal’s presence again after only a couple of months. Now it was just big and lonely. It also didn’t help that he was worrying about his lover touring with Ashmael. He knew he could seek out Caeru, but it wasn’t fair to his Tigrina and Vaysh was still smarting over Panthera’s absence that he wasn’t game to intrude. He felt sorry for his friend and sometime lover, wishing for Vaysh’s sake that the smart arsed, over confident, pompous brat returned from Ferike soon.

Behind him a noise scared his aviary of birds and they flew around, making him turn from studying the sea and he caught sight of the six elite guards Arahal left for his protection. It was ridiculous, but useless to argue with the Gelaming Captain about the precautions. With most of the refugees gone, Immanion was safe and it was Calanthe who needed protection out in the lands of Jaddayoth.

There was unrest amongst the tribes, as something was stirring up disquiet in the eastern lands. Rumors seeped through, whispering of war… whispering of planned conspiracies against the Throne of Immanion. By the Aghama! And Calanthe was out there alone. He shivered at the idea of Calanthe undefended in Gimrah as he thought about the three Tirthas, and another memory swam into place. A different threat, but still a relevant threat. Of course!

He turned back to the view of the sea again, his mind racing as he remembered Calanthe telling him about the Hafeners, and in particular a beautiful Har, named Jubilee. How stupid of him to forget! A small voice in the back of his mind, coldly called for rational thinking, but he ignored it. Rather, he thought of beautiful Jubilee

Jubilee Hafener would be just as captivating now as he was a year or so ago and a sliver of unease ate into him. He acted on impulse, his logical mind stalling as he beckoned one of the elite guard’s closer. He just had to know. Had to assure himself Calanthe cared and was well guarded. This insecurity was unjust but compelling and he pinned the tall Gelaming Har with a determined scowl. “What’s your name?”

“Faresalin my Lord.”

“Faresalin, I have an important errand for you and your partner.” NO! his mind screamed… but he felt irrational, and just graced both tall elite with a narrow smile. He indicated the second guard standing silently next to the first. Both were trying hard not to frown. “I need you to go to Lemarath. Come into the office and I’ll show you what I want.”

Bemused, but given little choice, they complied.

***

An hour later and still in his office, Pellaz continued to feel guilty and uneasy about his shifting, unreasonable emotions, as well as guilty about leaving Calanthe to deal with all the touring alone and he looked over the proposed schedule again. There just had to be something he could do to help, and minimize Cal’s hectic schedules. If only he wasn’t, he shied away from the thought, ignoring it completely.

He knew Ashmael better than Cal did, and knew the strategist would try to convince his lover to go on to the next destination before returning to Immanion. In fact, there was no reason why Cal should return to Immanion, except to see him, between the tours. The next tribe he needed to visit was Hadassah followed by the Elhmen and the Lyris of Sahale. Again Calanthe knew the rulers from his travelling days, having mentioned that the Lyris and Elhmen Hara had raised his caste level through aruna. He glared at the white offending tour schedule and tried to temper his responses to the knowledge. But there was so much he still didn’t know about his lovers past acquaintances and friends that a niggling, suspicious grain of doubt remained.

Calling himself a fool, didn’t help as his pulse refused to slow as he looked down to the next proposed tribal visit. It was Ferike and the Castlethane of Jael, and he angrily crumpled the sheet of paper throwing it at the far wall. Worried, resentful, nervy and impulsively irrational he called in the four remaining elite guards. He had to check. Just had to be sure. And he falsely convinced himself that it was for Calanthe’s benefit and safety, that he did this. He smiled up at the four elite guards and steepled his fingers on the desk.

“I have a little errand for you”

***

A bit more satisfied a few hours later with the arrangement for the new conference hall, Pellaz looked around as a servant removed his luncheon tray. He had not been hungry and had refused to eat, drinking a glass of sparkling wine instead with Dree and Eyra. They had brought news from Gimrah, that the talks progressed very well and the Faraldiennes would be transported to Immanion within two months. It had been what he had expected.

Now he was alone again in the large office, and he was bored and restless. Anxious He had worked in here alone often for the last thirty years, with only Thiede popping in and making drastic changes in his plans occasionally. Vaysh had a study of his own, and Caeru rarely visited him. And never once in the thirty years had he toured. Thiede had not permitted it, always saying he was more valuable in Immanion. But even in this large spacious, perfect city, he had never truly toured its outskirts, had never visited the produce farms as Tigron. He consulted the large map behind his desk, noting the farms that supplied the Gelaming with fresh food and materials. There was only eight and since he had no pressing matters to complete today, he decided to go for a ride out to the western farms and visit the working Hara. Caeru would probably enjoy the outing as well. The sky outside was overcast, but clear of rain, and he tidied his desk and left to find his Tigrina.

***

Caeru glared spitefully at Pellaz’s back as he was led to the stables. The Tigron had already ordered their horses and there was little he could do to stop Pellaz’s erratic logic, and he blamed Calanthe squarely for the mess he was getting them into. A hosting Tigron should not be trusted or left alone he decided as he glanced around and thankfully caught sight of Arahal hurrying towards them with a frown on his impeccable features.

“Pellaz.” Arahal sounded out of breath, not his normal unruffled appearance.

“Good.” Pell regarded him levelly. “My Tigrina and I wish to do a small inspection of the large produce farms in the west of Immanion.”

Arahal raised a disbelieving brow and glanced at Caeru, seeing the exasperated glare. “But Pell, is this wise?” He looked around for the six guards he had placed around the Tigron that morning, but only saw Caeru’s guards.

“Of course it’s wise!” Pellaz said offended as the stable hand brought his horse forward. “I’m not asking for your permission Captain, merely telling you what our plans are.”

“Pellaz, all I-”

“I am Tigron still,” Pellaz said, stung. He was sick of being made to feel inadequate. Not even with Thiede had he been made to feel so inconsequential. “Just because I don’t have short, blonde hair doesn’t mean I am incapable of making decisions! I wish everyone would remember that.”

Arahal bowed his head slightly, not used to seeing Pellaz in this sort of mood. Normally he was so composed and diplomatic. Level headed and rational. “My Lord, I am only concerned about your welfare. You are hosting, remember.”

“That seems to be the excuse on everyone’s lips these days to prevent me from doing anything!” Pellaz turned away and swung up onto his stallion, Peridot. “I assure you Captain, I don’t intend to endanger my life or the Tigrina’s. Neither do I plan to use the lanes, all I want is a bit of gentle exercise to relieve the boredom of this place!”

Arahal gritted his teeth as Pellaz walked Peridot away. He eyed Caeru’s guards and clicked his fingers to summon more as he accepted the stallion the stable Hara brought him. Pellaz was infuriating, and he could either let the Tigron go out without an protective escort or go with him. Even within the gates of Immanion there were dangers, and he ordered his guard accordingly around Pellaz and Caeru.

“And where to first, My Lord?” he asked politely as he drew level with Peridot. Pellaz handed him a map and pointed out the farms.

“You want to visit all eight this afternoon?” Arahal’s heart sank further as he studied the map.

“It would be advisable. All these Hara work hard for the Gelaming of Immanion, it is only courteous to show our appreciation,” Pellaz explained, relaxing as the fresh air invigorated him. He didn’t know why he stayed inside the Palace so often.

Arahal closed his eyes briefly and prayed Calanthe and Ashmael returned soon. Tharmifex had said Pell was uptight and in a strange mood, but he had not imagined he would want to tour the City. Glancing up at the sky, he just hoped it didn’t rain.

It poured about three hours later.

***

Shepherding the small inspection tour back safely, Arahal felt drained and mentally exhausted. Pellaz was oblivious to his concerns, the small Tigron blossoming under the afternoons activities, his mood light and bubbly and it had taken several reminders on Arahal’s behalf before Pellaz had consented to return to Phaonica. As it was, the sky had darkened to early evening, and they were all damp and chilled from the rain. Their personal shield had prevented them from getting wet, but their legs were still liberally stained and splashed.

Caeru was predictably in a foul temper, and he received the blunt edge of the Tigrina’s displeasure as they returned to the stable yards of the Phaonica. Then to compound matters more, Calanthe’s brooding, tall frame was waiting for them at the top of the outside stairs. Beside him was Rayhala and Tharmifex. Dismounting, Arahal just groaned.

Pellaz handed his reins over to the stable Har and grinned up, delighted as he saw Calanthe. It was a surprise, as he really hadn’t expected to see his lover for another week at least. He patted Peridot absently and hurried up the white stone stairs, throwing his arms around Calanthe in an outrageous display, and hid his grin as he saw his lover’s firm mouth twitch into reluctant smile. “When did you get back? I wasn’t expecting to see you for a while. Everything went well I hope?” Pell asked, his questions soft yet serious.

Calanthe placed his fingers over his lover’s mouth to stop the words as he studied the flushed face, finding it difficult to stay angry with this perverse creature. “Pell, what are you doing touring the rain soaked countryside this time of night?”

Pell gave a impish grin. “I missed you.”

Cal felt his insides respond, and he tried to ignore the reaction. “Pell,” he let the warning hang, disarmed a second time as Pell leaned up and kissed his chin. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

Pellaz let his fingers work up into Cal’s hair, as he continued to smile. Next to them Tharmifex and the doctor were talking to Arahal. “Nothing to say, except I’m glad you’re here.”

The tone melted what little resistance he could muster and he crushed the smaller Har to him. “You’re cold to the bone,” he whispered before he looked up and saw Caeru’s accusing expression. The graceful Tigrina looked tired and wet, and he sympathized as he absorbed Pell’s icy body, warming him slowly. He pushed Pellaz away and regarded him hopelessly. “A bath, then food.” Rayhala was nodding next to him, looking extremely annoyed. “Then I want to know what’s going on in this little brain of yours.”

A bath was the first order of business, and Calanthe sat on the side of the warm pool telling Pell all about Gimrah as he watched his lover wash his hair. Attica was laying out perfumed hot towels and gowns as he eyed both Tigrons with disapproval, he no doubt blaming Cal for Pell’s behavior like everyone else was.

It seemed like a closed conspiracy to him, both amusing and annoying, and he infuriated the house Har more by ignoring him. Pellaz swam to the edge of the pool and ran wet fingers up his cloth-covered thighs, distracting him further.

“Come on in,” Pell tempted as he dropped his head back in the water, exposing his white neck.

Cal swallowed as Pell smiled back at him wet, sleek, desirable and teasing. The full lips opened and reached for him. He didn’t need a second invitation and stripped off his damp trousers, sliding into the warm pool. Pellaz laughed softly as he wriggled into Cal’s arms, wanting to share breath, deliberately arousing his lover with gentle caresses, pressing them close, feeling the velvety skin against him ripple in pleasure.

They entwined, slippery from water and soap, devouring each other’s mouth, and Pell moved to embrace the tanned body with his own, wrapping himself around Calanthe’s burning heat. Cal ran his hands down the smooth wet flanks, gripping the narrow hips as he bit the exposed neck.

“Cal- here you are. I was wondering if you were aware of-”

The voice trailed off and Cal opened his eyes to slits, seeing Ashmael’s resigned expression as the tall Gelaming stood with arms folded watching them. All the house Hara had left the warm room.

“Piss off Ash!” Cal hissed, his mouth falling back to the hot skin of his lover’s shoulder as Pellaz moved slowly, manipulating his body, making him soar in pleasure as the delicate internal muscles gripped him, ripping climax from his defenseless body and he cried out biting his lover’s flesh. He fought to keep them above water, and heard Pell’s gentle laughter in his mind.

“You two finished yet?”

Ashmael’s smile was knowing and Cal glared at him halfheartedly, too comfortable to really care as Pell’s legs held him tighter. The dark head moved on his shoulder as Pell looked up at the strategist.

“Good,” Ashmael went on as he saw them both turn to him. “Do you recall the promise you made to the Castlethane of Jael?”

“Ash, this will surely keep until the morning!” Cal protested as he felt Pell wriggle against him again. It sent tingles through his loins and he caressed the slippery back.

“Ashmael, get lost,” Pell said without inflection, before he turned his full attention back to his captive. He bit a hair-covered earlobe gently, moving sensually and had to smile as Calanthe’s body betrayed his uncontrollable need. Still buried hotly in the persuasive body, Cal let his lover extend the erotic, tantalizing caresses, losing himself in the sweet addiction willingly as Pell did all the work, pleasuring him in a way he couldn’t believe.

“Are you both listening to me?” The voice was exasperated.

“Get lost Ash,” Pell repeated softly as he concentrated solely on Calanthe.

“Pell this concerns both of you.”

“At the moment I don’t really care.” Pellaz pulled back, distracted now by Ashmael’s persistence and he moved to glare up at the Har.

“Oh no you don’t.” Calanthe breathed the words, drawing his lover back to him. He wanted the seductive little tease, and sought the cool lips to reinforce his intentions. He relaxed as Pell melted against him again.

*Cal?*

*Don’t move.*

“Mmmmm,” Pellaz closed his eyes, sinking into the desire and was unprepared when his lover stood up, lifting them out of the water. He moved, trying to take his weight, and was prevented as Calanthe refused to release him.

*No! Don’t move Pell.* He tongued an exposed ear, coaxing gently. Ashmael swore under his breath, exasperated.

Cal slowly and carefully walked up the marble steps, not even seeing Ashmael as all his mind was concentrated on Pellaz. He felt the hot body tense and respond, the deep contractions exciting him as Pell arched, burying his flushed face in Cal’s neck. He grinned, breathless as he walked them into their bedroom.

*Attica will kill us.* Pell’s voice was a soft sigh in his mind. *We’re dripping wet.*

“Fuck the bed. It’s ours anyway.” Calanthe laughed, high on pleasure as he caught sight of Attica’s outraged face before the feather doonas were hastily stripped from the bed. He ignored him as he lowered Pellaz down onto the soft mattress, just wanting to lose himself in the promising release. Plundering the mouth and being plundered in return, he cried out his climax, biting and marking his lover’s white skin.

Around them the room was finally silent.

***

“I take it you two have finally finished indulging yourselves?” Ashmael asked pointedly as he entered the Tigron’s private breakfast room the following morning. He picked up a piece of fruit and bit into it.

“You could always have gone and visited Cobweb last night,” Calanthe commented straight-faced as Pellaz snickered into his glass.

Ashmael didn’t dignify that with an answer as he sat in one of the padded chairs unamused. “Do either of you remember this by any chance?” he asked instead, pushing a white invitation card across the polished table.

“Naturally.” Calanthe glanced at it, handing the card to Pell.

“Why?” Pellaz frowned as he traced the raised gold lettering with his finger.

“According to our most recent correspondence with Ferike, the treaty ceremonies are taking place in Jael in two days time and half of the affiliated tribes are attending. You both are apparently the guests of honor.”

“God, no.” Calanthe sighed and dropped his face into a hand as he thought the situation over. “I have to go, as I promised.”

“We both promised,” Pell reminded him.

“Thea will disembowel me if I let him down. And Ferminfex will… I must go,” he ended, resigned.

“Cal?” Pellaz glared at him, well aware they would never make it to Ferike via the air cars in time for the ceremonies.

“A day at the most,” Calanthe went on, not really listening to Pellaz. “What is the time difference for Ferike, Ash? Is it the same as Gimrah?”

“Roughly two hours ten behind,” Ashmael said precisely, as he held out his cup for more coffee. House Hara hurried to obey.

“We could leave the morning of the celebration and stay over one night, I suppose.”

“Cal, I don’t know if I can re-schedule.” Ashmael raised his little sheet of paper and waved it under the Tigron’s nose, reminding him.

“I’ll disembowel you both in a minute if you don’t shut up!” Pellaz cut in loudly. “Cal-”

“Ash I’ve told you, I’m not doing that complete tour. It is not necessary! All the invitations to the re-scheduled Tribal talks went out over a month ago, so only a fool would be stupid enough to disregard the council!”

“That is not the only exercise of the tours,” Ashmael protested, sick of having to argue the point.

Pellaz’s glass clattered sharply onto the table, as he glared white faced at Calanthe. He was sick and tired of being ignored and talked around. “Are you seriously considering going to Jael without me? Without even bothering to talk it over first?” he demanded, furious.

“Pell,” Calanthe looked at his angry expression and decided against his original words. “I promised Ferminfex. I have to keep that promise. The Jaels are counting on me, and besides they are like my family-”

“I see!”

“Not like that you little fool.” Calanthe reached for his hand, but Pell snatched it away, hurt. “Pell, the Jaels would be disappointed and embarrassed if I refused now. And it would not be a politically sound move to make, as other tribe leaders will be represented. Surely you understand that!”

“Yes. I understand.” Pellaz stood up and threw his serviette down. “Well maybe you should take Vaysh along in my stead. He would make a perfect companion for you, as you are both besotted with the Jael’s lineage!”

“Damn!” Calanthe said more to himself as Pell stalked off stiff backed.

“I had noticed that he and Panthera hadn’t exactly hit it off,” Ashmael offered.

“Both of them are stubborn hair-brained idiots.”

“But I take it you still plan to go to Ferike tomorrow regardless of Pellaz’s displeasure?” he asked, starting to enjoy himself.

“You’re getting a morbid pleasure out of this, aren’t you?” Calanthe raised an expressive brow.

“Professional curiosity,” Ashmael answered with a twinkle.

“Yes, I plan to go, and I think I’ll take the Tigrina to accompany me.”

Ashmael’s smile broadened. “Wicked.” Was all he said.

***

Arahal eyed the six elite guards up and down with exasperation. “Why couldn’t one of you have come and told me?!” he demanded, outraged. He took a deep breath as the six white faces looked pained. “Megalithica of all places!”

“He is hosting remember,” Chrysm said softly, sitting down in a large armchair, his body at ease as he sprawled gracefully, smiling up at Arahal invitingly. “And no Har my dear, is completely rational in that outlandish state.”

“Did he ask for reports?” Arahal questioned his guard.

“Yes Sir.” The first guard nodded. “We spoke with him this morning.”

“He’s going to drive me insane,” Arahal muttered, avoiding looking at Chrysm’s amused face. “Next time, report to me before you go anywhere! Is that clear?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Good. Dismissed.”

Chrysm stood and walked to where Arahal stood in the center of the now empty room. “It is only for two months,” he soothed, resting his chin on the silver haired Captain’s shoulder.

“Two months too long,” Arahal said with feeling. “Now I hear Calanthe is disappearing to Ferike with Ash again.”

“Pell just doesn’t enjoy being left behind. I can understand that.”

“Can you?”

“Mmm.” Chrysm nodded.

“Okay, next time I go on patrol, I’ll take you with me. Keep you out of trouble and make an honest Har of you.”

“No way!” Chrysm objected immediately. “I’d die out there without my creature comforts.”

“So true.” Arahal grinned and Chrysm poked him sharply in the ribs.

“So when is Cal disappearing to Ferike?”

“Tomorrow morning.” Arahal sighed deeply as he accepted Chrysm’s arms around his waist.

“Well, it is only for one day,” Chrysm reasoned logically. “What could Pell possibly do in one day?”

***

“For Gods sakes be reasonable Pell!” Calanthe admonished as his lover avoided his eye and he threw his hands in the air. There was something wild and exciting about his soul mate these days and Cal put the change down to the fact his lover was hosting. At the moment Pellaz was pacing restlessly away from him and he let his hot gaze travel the hair covered back. He had wanted to share aruna that morning, enjoyed sharing aruna with Pellaz, but his lover had shrugged him off, rolling away and complaining of soreness. Cal had immediately tried to massage the tense back muscles, but Pell had pushed his hands away and left the bed. And Pellaz was still disgruntled now, and he knew why.

“I won’t be gone for long. Back tomorrow morning, I promise.” He strove to sound reasonable a second time. “Pell, this is not like you to be so narrow minded and petty.”

“Lately it’s apparently not like me to be anything!” Pellaz exploded again. Calanthe collapsed into a low chair and sighed, looking away as he steepled his fingers against his lips.

“Oh, what is the use talking to you! You’ll bloody well do what you please regardless of what I think or feel!” Pellaz turned on him. “Go! Go, and play with your Ferike cat, see if I care.”

Calanthe closed his eyes and wasn’t surprised to find himself alone in the room when he re-opened them.

***

Pellaz remained stubbornly absent as Calanthe collected a few items, preparing to leave. He knew he could have easily traced their insoluble link if he’d tried, but he was still angry himself with Pellaz’s pompous attitude. Caeru entered the room looking enticingly stunning and Cal couldn’t suppress a smile. His arrival was like a breath of fresh air.

“Ready I see.”

“Absolutely.” Caeru looked through his lashes at the immaculately dressed Tigron. “I will be glad to get away from here, even if it only for a day.”

“Both ready? Good.” Ashmael grinned from the doorway. His elegant scruffiness contained, controlled. “We should leave if you want to be there before lunch.”

“Where’s Pell?” Caeru glided from the room, following Ashmael. “Isn’t he seeing you off or something?” he teased ever so gently.

Calanthe just growled, pushing out of the room.

Caeru blinked after him. “My, my,” he muttered. “This will be fun.”

***

Disgruntled and genuinely unhappy, because he knew deep down that it was his fault for the argument they’d had, Pellaz walked into the silent bedroom and collapsed on the bed. He hated himself. Hated life at the moment, as everything he tried to do or say always came out wrong. And Calanthe didn’t help matters. He had wanted to go on tour, had wanted to prove to all the other tribal leaders that he wasn’t just Thiede’s puppet. He needed to show them why Thiede had wanted him as Tigron, but as usual nothing went as planned when he was with Calanthe. He was condemned to stay in Phaonica for the next two months at least, and he had never felt more restricted in all his life. The looks, the restriction and the unnecessary precautions were driving him insane and he felt smothered.

“Would my Lord like a massage?”

The quiet voice interrupted his thoughts and Pellaz opened his eyes to see Attica watching him worriedly.

“No thank you. I would just like a whole new body. A new life, a chance to start again somewhere totally new. Be free.” He stared up at the muslin canopy as he vocalized an illusive fantasy. “You don’t know how lucky you are Attica. You can say and do what you please, go where you like and live how you please. Not me. I haven’t been able to do that for over thirty years. I have to always try and be a perfect Gelaming.”

“But you are my Lord,” Attica assured him, as he sat slowly on the side of the bed at the Tigron’s head. He let his fingers sink into the thick, warm hair and gently massaged his Lord’s scalp. “You are a very good Tigron,” he said, mentally calling his twin.

“Am I?” Pell laughed at himself. “I want to break tradition Attica,” he whispered.

“How my Lord?” Attica asked as Cleis came into the room and looked askance at his twin.

“I don’t know.” Pellaz shook his head. “I want to make a change. I want to get out of this place… to run and be free. I want,” he sighed sadly. “I don’t really know. Maybe I should cut my hair?”

“No!”

“or change the style, or-”

“My Lord no!” Attica stressed. “Let us wash it for you, color it for you, but please my Lord do not cut it.”

Pell moved his head and smiled at the anxious face. “You have wanted to color it for years haven’t you?”

“It would be most appealing.” Attica nodded.

“Alright.” Pellaz sat up abruptly, deciding instantly. “Color it and trim it for me please.”

Attica grinned and nodded again.

***

Very little was needed to be done in regards to the upcoming Council talks, so Pellaz left Tharmifex to it as he gave himself over to Attica and Cleis’ pampering. Both Hara loved to fuss, and he let them, feeling better in himself as he relaxed and soaked up the gentle pleasures. By evening time he was thoroughly rested, his mind easy and floating as his hair was brushed and brushed, the slight reddish tinge giving his hair fire as he watched it swing around his naked thighs with delight. He felt untamed, alive, wild and fantastic for the first time that day, and he celebrated by dressing himself up with make-up, high boots and soft, rust colored velvet.

“Thank you, both of you.” He beamed at the twins as they watched him in awe. “I think I will go and distract Vaysh,” he announced. He exited via the balcony doors, not wanting to meet his six persistent guards and looked through Vaysh’s open doors. Outside the sky was already dark and he tried not to think about the pleasure Calanthe and Caeru was having. Vaysh was lying stomach down on his bed and he looked lost in thought as he studied pencil sketches given to him by the Ferike.

“Pellaz!” Vaysh jumped as a shadow fell across him and he stared up at the Har standing over him. Pellaz’s face was beautifully made up, his dark eyes outlined strongly. “What are you doing? What’s all this?” He indicated the outfit.

Pell swayed over to Vaysh’s long mirror and posed deliberately. “I want to go out somewhere. See a show. Have a drink, listen to some music.”

Vaysh pulled a face. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not!” Pell swung around and looked at him.

“You are and you know it!” Vaysh reprimanded coldly. “So go and take that tartish outfit off. It’s not befitting for a Tigron.”

“Screw you Vaysh!” Pell snapped, hurt and offended.

“Pell,” Vaysh pushed himself off the bed as the angry Tigron left the room. “Pellaz, don’t be so stupid!” He glared at the empty doorway and reluctantly decided to follow. Pellaz was shoving money into his tight back pocket when he arrived in the Tigron’s bedchamber. He opened his mouth to deliver another cutting remark when he saw the highlighted hair in the lamplight. “What on earth have you done to your hair!”

“Crawl back to your own private hell Vaysh, just leave me alone.” Pellaz ignored him, moving back out onto the verandah and disappearing down the disused stone stairwell to the gardens below.

“Pell where are you going?” Vaysh chased after him, both angry and worried as he looked around for a guard. None were in sight.

“What do you care!” Pellaz mumbled as he pushed the iron door open, absently reminding himself to get it oiled. The garden area was deserted this time of night and he moved through the trees and shrubs quickly.

“Will you stop a moment and talk to me!” Vaysh snapped, exasperated. “Pellaz!” He got no answer and he caught hold of the Tigron’s arm by the large bricked fence and archways. The pathway led to the front of Phaonica. “Pellaz, this is stupid. For goodness sakes stop and think!”

“I have been,” he told him seriously. “I have been Vaysh, and right now I want to get out of here for an hour or so and do something I haven’t been able to do for over thirty years. Everyone else can do what they want, even Rue and Cal have freedom, so why can’t I? Why wont everyone just leave me alone for just one night!”

“And do what?”

“Live a little.” Pellaz pulled his arm free.

“You’re Tigron!” Vaysh pressed.

“No. Not tonight. I just want to be Pellaz tonight. Do you remember him Vaysh? He used to be happy until you and Thiede played games in his head.”

“What! Self pity?” Vaysh mocked.

Pellaz hardened his eyes, his mouth firmly pressed into a line as he pivoted and walked through the archway, heading for the numerous transports waiting in the reception area of Phaonica.

“You are nothing more than a stupid fool if you go through with this,” Vaysh warned as he kept pace with Pellaz.

Stepping into a carriage, Pellaz ignored Vaysh as the driver looked at him briefly, not appearing to recognize him. It increased his spirits.

“Where to Sir?” the Har asked.

“Somewhere lively. A night club,” Pell instructed.

“Sure, I know just the place.”

Pellaz smiled as Vaysh sat next to him like a disproving thundercloud.

***

‘Love and Roses’ was a large, noisy club with black felt on the walls and skimpily dressed attendants. Pellaz paid the driver and grinned at Vaysh with amused pleasure.

“You can always leave,” he teased. “You don’t have to go inside Vaysh.”

“Someone has to keep an eye on you.” Vaysh scowled at him. “Pell, it’s not too late to return home. Please.”

“No way!” Pellaz inhaled deeply.

Inside was packed with noisy, relaxed and cheerfully drunk Hara. The air was hazed with smoke, the band too loud and the dance floor too small as couples spilled over onto the carpeted areas. Pellaz glanced around, lost at first. It had been so long since he had stepped into a place remotely like this, that he was awed and unsure until he saw Vaysh’s knowing smile. That decided him and he pushed through to the bar and ordered the first drink on the list. No one looked twice at him, no one recognized him and he breathed a sigh of relief, starting to relax. The cocktail was exotic, expensive and unpronounceable, so he enjoyed it all the more, letting the alcohol numb his nerves. Vaysh’s disapproval was evident and it cheered him further as his companion cradled the glass refusing to drink.

After a while, the music’s beat was addictive and he found himself moving to it unconsciously as he sipped his second cocktail. Vaysh still had not spoken to him and glared at anyone who looked at them twice. It was amusing and he grinned down at the serious face surrounded by red hair. “Relax Vaysh. Let yourself go. Who knows, you might even find someone here like that pompous cat of yours.” He giggled at the cold glare he received. A firm finger skimmed over his backside and he turned slightly, looking up at a very tall blonde. Almost white hair curled outrageously around a square face that was oddly pleasing.

“Dance?”

The smile was genuine, so Pellaz nodded, finishing his drink in one mouthful, smiling up engagingly. He closed his eyes and let the music fill him, thinking about nothing and letting himself go. He felt light-headed, boneless and exceedingly happy.

Vaysh swore as he watched the sensual display. Pellaz had always been a good dancer when he relaxed enough, but this was bordering on exotic and he knew there would be trouble if he didn’t get help. He glanced around for an electronic communicator, reluctant to take his eyes off the bewitching Tigron in the blue light as other dancers cleared a small space around him to watch also. He swore again and pushed his way through the crowd and dialed Aralah’s personal pager.

Pellaz felt intoxicated by the beat of the music, its seductive beat echoing deep into his bones. His light-headedness had turned to tiredness and he blinked up owlishly at his partner and didn’t protest as the Har swept him into an embrace and claimed his mouth. Mixed with the alcohol it all seemed right. That something was missing, he couldn’t remember, as he tasted a spicy laziness and steel crystals. It was a potent combination.

“By the Aghama!” the tall Gelaming exclaimed. “You taste of refined power. Strong, sweet, pure… who are you?”

Pellaz shook his head dazed and hastily raised his shield. “A fool,” Pellaz whispered and the Har laughed down at him, as he hungrily reclaimed the swollen lips. “Share with me-”

***

“He’s what!?”

Vaysh could hear Arahal’s angry voice clearly over the noise around him and he winced. “Just get down here Captain!” he snapped. “And don’t make it obvious who you are as we don’t need a scandal!” He cancelled the line and pushed back into the body of the room. Pellaz was still on the dance floor, and currently being held up by the overly familiar Har. Vaysh frowned, glad Calanthe was never going to see this as he was certain the assertive, blonde Tigron would not stand back and just watch. Plus Vaysh knew that regardless of what Pellaz thought, Calanthe was fiercely protective and possessive of him. He just wished they would stop arguing long enough with each other to settle down.

Pellaz was going to drive him insane. He had read his friend’s mood wrong earlier, but was having difficulties evaluating this erratic Har with the level headed tease he was used to living with. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, thinking about Pellaz and getting Panthera’s image in his mind. A surge of pure lust swept through him and he battled to banish it, but it refused to go. It left him on a knife’s edge of desire and torture, as he waited for the Ferike to return and smash his illusions like everything always shattered. He shook himself hard, glaring at the Hara around him as he rejected the disturbing images. He elbowed his way past a group of inebriated Hara and spotted Pellaz standing unsteadily beside the white haired, hungry animal.

***

“Alright, where is he?”

A snarl at his shoulder had Vaysh turning, not recognizing the tall Captain at first glance. The silver hair was hidden, his clothing unfamiliar. He stood impatiently with two disguised elite guards behind him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Vaysh acknowledged. “I doubt you will get any resistance from Pellaz, as he’s about ready to collapse.”

Arahal’s scowl darkened, his eyes scanning the room.

Vaysh led the way to the back tables, seeing Pellaz lying bonelessly in the Gelaming’s arms, colors shimmering off his tinted hair. He heard Arahal swear under his breath as he stopped at the table and cupped the Tigron’s cool face. The pupils were extremely dilated as Pell attempted to smile up at him engagingly. It was obvious he had taken something.

“Excuse me Tiahaars but this is a-”

“We are taking him home,” Vaysh icily cut the blonde off. “No, don’t bother protesting,” he said cruelly, letting his eyes look the bleached Har over in disgust.

“We’re family.” Arahal’s smile was sinister and the shadows behind him oddly highlighted his face.

“I don’t understand.” The Gelaming shook his head as he glanced around the unsmiling group.

“They never do,” Arahal silenced him, reaching for Pellaz and lifting him to his feet. The black outlined eyes blinked at him.

“Arahal?”

The Captain shook his head and handed the Tigron over to his guards. “Get him out of here.” Vaysh followed them as Arahal lent over the bemused Gelaming still seated. “I am sorry about this. But you really don’t want to get to know him any better. It is detrimental to your existing health. Good night.” Leaving the Har gaping, he caught up with the others outside the club and helped them get Pellaz into the waiting coach.

“Calanthe’s going to kill him,” he stated flatly.

“Only if you tell him,” Vaysh pointed out. Pellaz was snuggled up against him, fast asleep already, or passed out, he couldn’t tell which. “We are the only ones who know, Captain.”

“Are you sure no-one recognized him in the club?”

“Positive.” Vaysh stroked the newly dyed hair.

“And what’s this?” Arahal lifted a strand of hair.

Vaysh just shrugged as best he could under Pell’s weight.

“You do realize that he can’t be seen publicly like this or any one Hara from that club could guess who he was?”

“Don’t point out the obvious Arahal!” Vaysh snapped, then relented. “I’ll talk to him in the morning. It might not be a permanent color, just a rinse.”

“You hope.”

“Yes.” Vaysh looked away out the window into the dark streets.

“We could just have it cut out.”

“We’ll see. Now shut up, I’m trying to think!”

Arahal mumbled under his breath again, but kept silent for the remainder of the journey back to Phaonica.

They took the stone stairs that wound up the back to the top level of Phaonica with Arahal carrying most of Pellaz’s weight.

“Should he be this exhausted?” one of the guards asked as he held the heavy door open to the Tigron’s balcony. Arahal didn’t answer as he carried Pell into the bedroom and placed him on the bed. Chrysm, the four house Hara and the other four elite guards were waiting for them.

“So much for secrecy,” Vaysh muttered glaring at the Captain.

Arahal didn’t bother to comment. Chrysm sat down beside Pell and placed fingers to his temples.

“Natural exhaustion, nothing to worry about,” he pronounced after a silent moment. “What’s this?” He frowned, fingering some of the dyed hair. Vaysh pretended not to hear as he started to remove Pell’s heavy jewelry and boots. Arahal had left the room, placing his guards, and ordering the disused stone stairwell locked.

Chrysm helped Vaysh loosen the tight clothing. “No, leave him,” he advised. “We’ll only wake him unnecessarily if we strip him. He’s had a rough week.”

“Haven’t we all.” But Vaysh took the advice, dismissing the four house Hara with a wave of his hand. “You don’t believe Rayhala should be informed?”

“No.” Chrysm frowned, studying Pellaz’s relaxed face. He covered him gently with a doona. “He’ll be fine, not like my poor Arahal. Do you know he’s thinking of migrating to Galhea for a while?”

“I suppose that means you’ll be leaving as well?” Vaysh asked hopefully.

“Cruel Vaysh. Very cruel.”

***

“Damn!” Chrysm cursed as he rushed into Arahal’s office the following morning, thrusting the Immanion Enquirer under his lover’s nose.

“What?”

“Look at page five – top right hand corner!” Chrysm demanded, agitated.

“Well that does it.” Arahal folded the paper slowly. “We’d better talk to Dree, see if he can convince his contact in the Enquirer’s office to stop the issue.”

“You’re clutching at straws Arahal.”

“Shut up and come on.”

***

They found some of the other Hegemony members already in the breakfast cum meeting hall as he entered the second level of Phaonica.

“Arahal, what in the name of the Aghama happened last night!” Tharmifex asked as the Captain walked in. “Your guards were supposed to be protecting and watching him!”

“Pellaz disappeared down the stone access stairs from his private balcony, and my guard are unable to enter the Tigron’s bed chamber unless authorized. You know that!”

“I thought Thiede had those stairs closed years ago.” Tharmifex frowned as he sat down.

“No, Pell fought him on that decision, and Thiede conceded the point eventually.” Dree shook his head as he stared at the open paper. “Now I agree, Thiede was right, the stairs are a weakness, a danger to the Tigron’s and they should be closed permanently.”

“I imagine Pellaz will still argue the point,” Eyra said as he poured more coffee.

“Then we close it without his knowledge.” Dree shrugged. “This could be politically damaging to the Tigron.” He stabbed a finger at the picture.

“You know if Thar hadn’t recognized it as Pellaz, I would never have even noticed the picture. Nothing is mentioned about it in the society pages and his face is obscured completely,” Glave pointed out.

The photograph was a poor quality black and white snapshot of two Hara sharing breath on the packed dance floor of ‘Love and Roses’. All that could be seen of Pellaz was his luxurious hair and slender flank and thigh.

“I still believe it should be stopped.” Tharmifex frowned around the group.

“Of course!” Cedony agreed readily. “If only to stop Calanthe from seeing it, as you can be certain he will recognize who it is immediately!”

Dree groaned and rubbed his eyes imagining the scene.

“Recognize who?”

The group turned and winced as they saw Calanthe, Ashmael and Panthera standing in the doorway of the room. All were still dressed in their fineries and Calanthe walked slowly into the room.

“You’re back early.” Chrysm covered the silence. “How was the ceremonies?

“Educational,” Calanthe answered cynically as he sauntered towards the table, his eyes suspicious. “Bit early in the day for a Hegemony meeting, isn’t it?” He saw the newspaper as Eyra folded it shut quietly.

“Communal breakfasts and all that. Good for our deprived, little souls.” Chrysm grinned up at him, then eyed the Ferike. “Does our resident little iceberg know you’re back?”

“Shut up Chrysm,” Ashmael said good-naturedly as he helped himself to coffee. House Hara were laying out hot toast and prepared foods.

“Well.” Eyra stood up and placed the paper under his arm. “I must check on the communications room. I’ll see you all later.”

“Eyra?” Calanthe let the question hang as he held out his hand for the paper. The Hegemony councilor glanced briefly at Tharmifex before he sighed and gave Calanthe the Enquirer.

“It is not what it seems.” Glave put in sincerely as he watched Calanthe thumb through the paper slowly.

Ashmael was standing at his shoulder. “You lot are transparent!” he muttered in disgust.

Calanthe’s eyes found the picture instantly and he straightened, his gaze cold as he regarded each Har before pinning Arahal. “What happened!” His voice was deceptively calm, while his insides churned. He didn’t dare glance at the picture a second time in case he betrayed himself and screamed his frustration and pain. All this because of a stupid argument!

“Cal,” Tharmifex started. “Pell’s been very erratic lately, I’m

sure you’ve noticed.”

“Not to mention slightly paranoid,” Chrysm added pointedly.

“And he does impulsive things before any of us can stop him.” Tharmifex ignored Chrysm with practiced ease. “We try, but it’s hard to be with him constantly when he doesn’t trust our motives.”

“Definitely worse than Seel.” Chrysm shook his head, flaxen hair spilling over shoulders.

“But I thought,” Calanthe looked around them. “I thought he was guarded? Arahal?”

“He is.” Arahal rubbed his temple. “But he sends his guards away, and I don’t just mean back to the lower levels of Phaonica. He sends them on errands to Jaddayoth and Megalithica.”

“He what?” Calanthe couldn’t believe it.

“He thinks – believes – I don’t know, that you might be-”

“Seeing old lovers,” Chrysm injected.

“be in danger of some sort while on tour,” Arahal said louder as he glared briefly at Chrysm’s innocent face.

Calanthe felt dazed. “How, how long?” He imagined all the months he’d been in Phaonica.

“Last two weeks,” Arahal stated.

“Since he’s been hosting,” Chrysm clarified.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me!?” Calanthe thumped the paper as his worries came to a head. “Gods! By the look of this he got mauled last night! Shit, where was this!?” He turned to look at Tharmifex as a thought suddenly hit him. “Where is he now?”

“Asleep,” Tharmifex said gently and Calanthe closed his eyes briefly.

“Alone in his own bed,” Chrysm elaborated, then winced as Arahal stepped on his foot in warning.

Calanthe strode from the room, turning back at the large doors to look directly at Ashmael. The strategist was studying the open paper with interest. “Ash, I don’t care for your arguments any longer. We’ll be blood bonding today with or without the Hegemony’s approval.” Then he was gone and the room sighed behind him.

Panthera hurried after him, rushing to keep up with the long legged paces. “Cal? Cal, what are you going to do?”

“Wring his fuckin’ neck! I don’t know,” Calanthe snarled. “Use your head Thea.”

“Cal-”

“At the moment I just want to see him, talk to him. I’ll kill him later, when the shock wears off and I stop shaking.”

“Cal-”

“Leave it!” He stopped suddenly and glared at Panthera. “Look, don’t you think Vaysh might like to see you? It would be more fun than shadowing me.”

“I just want you to think a moment. To stop before you do anything stupid,” Panthera said seriously. “Remember the portrait,” he stressed. “He loves you, so just take it slowly.”

Calanthe let out a tense breath and nodded.

Panthera bit his inside cheek as he watched Calanthe walk away, hoping he had said enough to calm his friend’s explosive temper.

***

Calanthe stared down at the figure asleep amongst the cream sheets and blinked in confusion at the deep reddish halo around Pellaz’s face in the morning light. He lifted back the covers and Pell moved, still dressed in the soft velvet outfit he had worn the previous night. An image flashed behind his eyes of the white haired Gelaming in the photograph and he bit down on the returning anger. A noise behind him, made him turn and see Cleis, the house Har stopping, then backing out of the room hurriedly. Ignoring him, Cal sat on the bed as the bedroom door whispered shut and he stared at Pellaz, willing him to wake. The sleeper moved slowly, restlessly, and he admitted it was unusual for Pellaz to sleep in this late.

Woken from a dreamless world by a sudden draft on his curled limbs, Pellaz slowly surfaced. He uncurled and felt the restriction of clothing and he peered down at himself before his head fell back on the pillows again. A brief glimpse of a golden mane of hair had him blinking open his eyes and squinting up at Calanthe. His lover was sitting cross-legged on the bed scowling at him and he wondered if it was a dream or real.

“Cal?” He levered himself up onto his elbows and glanced around the room, identifying it as morning as he tried to see the time. “What time is it?” he asked a little disorientated and confused as his lover never moved. He blinked again trying to clear his vision. “Cal? What are you doing here?”

A growl exploded from Calanthe’s mouth and Pellaz had only a moment to stare bemused before he was roughly pinned to the mattress and a furious face was inches from his own.

“Why’d you do it?! Was it just pure spit to get back at me, or what?! Or did you really fancy that bleached baboon!”

“Cal- I.. Cal?” Pellaz frowned, dazed.

“Last night!” Calanthe snapped as he shook Pell slightly. “Don’t play dumb with me Pell, because it won’t work!”

“Last night? I-” Pellaz trailed off as he remembered vague details and his face paled. “Oh that.”

“Yes that!!” Calanthe almost screamed the words as his fingers bruised the white skin.

“Get off me, you’re hurting!” Pellaz protested, not remembering much about the evening himself, but not wanting to admit that to his lover.

“For fuck’s sake Pell, you will answer me!”

“I only went for a dance.”

“And I suppose that is a new and novel word for aruna these days!”

“Aruna?” Pellaz blinked at him. “Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous.” He pushed at the constricting weight. “Cal?”

“Gods! I feel like locking you up at times. Chaining you to the bed or something for the next six weeks!”

“Chaining me to-” Pell stopped struggling and glared at the intense face, getting genuinely annoyed himself now. “You can speak! I’m not the one who possesses lovers dotted all over Megalithica and Jaddayoth!”

“Ahh, yes. That.” Calanthe smirked nastily down at him. “The guards. I’ve been informed about that.”

Pellaz sucked in a breath. “Get off me!”

“No.” Calanthe fought to hold the slippery warmth.

Pellaz raised his leg, trying to push Calanthe away as he felt embarrassment wash through him. His innermost fears were exposed and mocked by the one Har he loved, and he hated the callous words, struggling to get away. He twisted, getting a hand free, then a sharp knee caught him in the stomach and he cried out, winded, tears springing to his eyes.

“Pell? Pellaz? Pell!” Calanthe’s hands released him immediately as he felt his lover’s pain, attempting to turn him gently, but Pell refused. His lover rolled onto his side, drawing his knees up, coughing as he gasped in a breath. With a shaking hand, Cal followed him over, touching him hesitantly as he panicked, thinking the worst. “Pell? My god…did I? Pell? Shit!” He tried to roll his lover to face him again. “Pell, please-”

Pellaz shook his head, denying Calanthe’s guilt and words as he felt the cool fingers work under his twisted clothing to massage his back, then feather down across his abdomen. It was a reassuring touch. “It’s alright,” he croaked, blinking the annoying tears away. “I just ache.”

“Show me,” Calanthe persisted and Pellaz gave him a tight smile as he took another breath, slowing his heart rate.

“I’m sorry about last night.” Pell rolled a little more onto his back and into Calanthe’s warmth. “But I just wanted to live a little… and I was still angry at you.” The cool, searching fingers slid further under his clothing, soothing his nerves gently, Calanthe’s unblinking violet eyes staring down at him in horror.

“Show me where you ache,” he repeated. “Please Pell. Gods if I’ve hurt you or our…Pell?”

“Cal you haven’t!” Pellaz reached up to touch the engrossed pale face. “I was only winded. I’ll be fine. Promise.” He was wrapped in a secure embrace. He tried to sit up and capture his lover’s grey lips in apology and love.

“Careful!” Cal admonished, pressing Pell down.

“I’m fine, honest.” He tried not to sound mournful as a pout touched his mouth.

“You look tired. I want you to sleep, God’s I shouldn’t have woken you.”

“Cal-”

“I need you fresh and awake for this afternoon. Do you need to see Rayhala?”

“Why?” Pellaz frowned up, distracted easily.

“Because I-”

“No.” Pellaz shook his head. “What’s happening this afternoon?”

“A blood bonding ceremony.” Calanthe rubbed the velvet-covered chest softly, relaxing a little as he saw he’d captured Pellaz’s complete attention.

“Who’s,” he breathed the word, frightened, hot and suddenly nervous.

“Two stubborn fools.” Calanthe grinned down, seeing the flush stain Pell’s cheeks. He sobered quickly. “Seriously Pell, if you don’t want to any more, say so now before I..”

“Idiot! Of course I want to! I’ve always wanted that!” Pell tried to sit up again, but was hindered by massaging fingers on his chest. “Calllll-”

“Shut up!” He leaned down and kissed the tip of his lover’s nose, ignoring the mouth and hands that reached for him. “Those oaths are life binding Pell.”

“I know that!”

“And I fully expect you to treat our bonding with more respect than you do the one you share with Caeru.”

“Cal!” Pell glared up in exasperation and amusement.

“Shut up,” Calanthe snapped without heat. “I also hope it will curtail this new habit of yours of sending Arahal’s guards all over the continent! I have no desires to take aruna with anyone else but you. Hell Pellaz, we have thirty years to catch up on!”

“Oh Cal I didn’t mean-”

“Shut up, I haven’t finished!” he broke in loudly. “Also you must understand about the Jaels. They are very important to me, as Ferminfex was the first one who tried to sort out my jumbled mind. The whole family helped me find myself, they really cared, and of course it all ultimately led me back to you. That includes Panthera, Pell.”

Pellaz looked down at his chest not meeting the direct, piercing gaze. “But you are my family. I told you that years ago, so don’t ever confuse the two again!”

“Cal, I know, it’s just-”

“Shut up!” But he grinned this time at Pellaz’s contrite expression. “Lastly I just want to say I love you. Even though you drive me insane then wild with both desire and anger so I am left falling defensively on my stupid face. You’ve always had that effect on me, but I still love you.”

“Cal, don’t.” Pellaz cupped his face not wanting to do this to his lover. “Cal I-”

“And I’ve brought you something special back from Jael,” Cal cut him off again. “Something that’s for both of us. In fact, I had a very hard time getting it as Thea’s as pig headed as you are.”

“I am nowhere near as pompous or arrogant as that…that…as him!” Pellaz declared immediately and Calanthe laughed.

“No, you’re worse at times.”

“Calanthe!” Pell shrieked, outraged.

Cal bent down, this time touching the open mouth, tasting the moist lips and stopping the words. Pellaz clutched at him, devouring his breath and he broke away, breathless and pleased. “Which reminds me,” Cal started conversationally as he watched Pell trying to kiss him again. “What the hell have you done to your hair?”

“I- I wanted a change. Come here.”

“Is it permanent?” He stared at the reddish tips.

“Color or cut it, what is the difference. Cal?” He knotted his fingers in the skin warmed silk shirt, loving the feel of it on his lover.

“Cut it!? Shit, now I do know you’re sick!” Cal stated. “Don’t you dare do anything more to it without consulting me first.”

“It’s my hair.” Pellaz sighed as he watched the pale lips swim closer. “Cal?”

“But it’s my fantasy.” Calanthe buried his face in the lush blackness by Pellaz’s neck. “And the color is permanent?”

“Sort of.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“I’m hosting,” Pellaz corrected mildly. “And that is all your fault.”

“Are you implying that everything associated to that fact is my fault also?”

“Naturally.” Pellaz grinned smugly.

“Why you little,” he broke off laughing as they shared breath a second time. “Also while I’m at it, I don’t like this outfit.” He thumbed the velveteen vest Pell wore. “And I fully intend to rip it off you.”

“You wouldn’t?” But Pellaz’s whispery smile vanished as Calanthe proved he would and could.

***

Dropping the torn shreds of what was left of Pellaz’s outfit on Ashmael’s desk, Calanthe gave the Har an unreadable look.

“What’s this?” Ashmael fingered the material.

“What’s left of Pell’s outfit,” Cal said blandly. “He was still wearing it this morning, so I ripped it off him.”

“You what!” Ashmael sounded aghast.

“Don’t worry, you won’t find any bloodstains as I washed those out first.” Cal tried hard not to laugh as Ashmael stared at him unsure. “But I left enough blood in him for our bonding.” He leaned forward on the desk and gave a twisted smile. “Well Ash? Does the Hegemony sanction it or do I do it myself?”

“I believe you should wait till after the Tribal talks, make a celebration out of it. Hara always love a celebration.”

“Well I don’t want to wait,” Cal snapped and stood straighter. “I need to do this, and I think Pell does also.”

“Why? Because he’s hosting?”

“That’s some of it probably, but there are many other reasons. Reasons I refuse to explain for your ghoulish delight.”

“Are you determined to go through with this then?”

“Absolutely.”

Ashmael sighed and plucked at the destroyed garment. “So be it.” He met the violet gaze squarely. “Sunset in the sanctum. Cedony and Dree are already preparing the rituals.”

“You’re a manipulative bastard,” Calanthe accused but had to smile.

“Oh, one last thing Cal,” Ashmael called after him.

“Yes?” Cal turned, poised.

“I’m leaving it up to you and Pell to inform Caeru.”

Cal pulled a sour face but nodded.

***

Walking into their bedchamber later, Calanthe found Pellaz stomach down on the big bed with chin in hand, staring off into space. He was dressed in flimsy silks, with his long hair damp from their playful bath. Sitting down gently next to him, Cal pushed some of the long hair back behind his lover’s ear. Pell blinked and looked up at him.

“Sorry. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I noticed. What were you thinking?”

“Just remembering back.” Pellaz turned away from the absorbing violet eyes. “Thinking about a time when…thinking about when we first left Forever together,” he finished lamely in a whisper as he pushed himself to his knees to cover the unease.

“Pell, that was-”

“I know.” Pell sighed, cutting off the words as his soul mate turned further towards him. “It still scares me sometimes to think, to remember how close I came to losing…well you know.” He shrugged.

“What are you trying to say Pell?” Cal had a shrewd idea but wanted to hear it from his beloved’s lips.

“Just that,” he trailed off again. “Well I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier and about our blood bonding, that’s all.” He glanced up through his lashes and bit his bottom lip.

“God, you’re a fraud!” Cal accused smiling. He held out his hand to Pellaz. “It won’t hurt you to say it out loud you know!”

Pell sighed heavily and wriggled uncomfortably, but still accepted the outstretched hand.

Cal stood up, shaking his head and tugged a little on the joined fingers. “Come on.”

“Huh?”

“There’s something I want to show you in the other room.”

“What?”

“Come and look.” He refused to elaborate as he waited for Pell to crawl off the bed. He led him into their spacious living room. It had glass windows all on one side and thick, emerald drapes pooled beautifully on the white tiled floors that led to a shaded balcony.

“Well?” Cal demanded gently as Pell looked around. He still held his lover’s hand and could feel Pell caressing his wrist with feathery fingertips.

“It’s our living room,” Pellaz stated as he looked up at Cal, bemused. Both Vaysh and Panthera were standing by one bookcase. He ignored them. Calanthe rolled his eyes and looked at the ceiling.

“Huh hummm.” Vaysh cleared his throat loudly and Pell looked towards him and saw his assistant gesture delicately with his head to the wall above. The Ferike just glared at him and Pell glanced past him with practiced ease to the cream wall. A spotlight highlighted the oil painting he had originally seen of his lover months ago and he felt his jaw go slack. It looked beautiful in the dark carved frame and his breath caught as he sensed the love in the perfectly captured violet eyes. It radiated out of each brushstroke and stabbed into his heart as he remembered who’d drawn it. It was a painful reminder of how important Panthera was in Cal’s life and it grated on him, no matter what Cal said.

“I see.” His voice was deceptively pleasant as he pulled his hand free of Cal’s and folded his arms, marching over to stand directly in front of the framed canvas. It was magnificent, and as always seeing Cal like this made his legs tremble and he braced them. Leaning all his weight on one hip, he tapped his foot lightly, impatiently and annoyingly. “Nice.” He smiled tightly at the Ferike, his eyes dark and cold as Vaysh groaned and reached over to touch Panthera’s tensing shoulders.

“Pell,” Calanthe went up behind Pell and slid both arms around his lover’s waist, refusing to release him as Pellaz started to shrug him off. “You stupid little fool,” he murmured affectionately into a partially covered ear.

“Cal-” Pell clamped his teeth as he felt the beginnings of tears prickle behind his eyes and knew he was still recovering from the morning. The last thing he wanted to do was cry, especially in front of the infuriatingly, arrogant Ferike Har.

Cal kissed him gently under an ear. “Thea’s given it to us as a present.”

“Naturally.” Pellaz couldn’t stop the words if he tried, and he glared at the Har in question.

Panthera’s clear eyes narrowed dangerously, but he held his tongue as Vaysh gripped his shoulder.

“Pell,” Cal half laughed, not believing his beloved’s reaction. It sent a tingle of warmth through him and he tightened his arms. “Lover, Thea’s done us two. They are a set. Look!”

“Two. How nice,” Pellaz said sarcastically.

Calanthe couldn’t kill the broad grin on his face as Panthera’s nostrils flared and his fists clenched. Biting Pell’s ear, he firmly turned his lover around and made him face the opposite wall, ignoring Pell’s awkwardness, pointing up at the second portrait. It was in a gold carved frame above the urns of peacock feathers and Pellaz froze in his arms. Cal smiled, kissing his hair gently as he looked up, adoring the gift. Pellaz’s face smiled down at them, dark eyes warm and sparkling, thick, shiny hair falling over one partially covered shoulder. The full mouth was slightly open, as if its owner was expecting a kiss, or had just been kissed, the full lips pouting seductively. Calanthe closed his eyes imagining it.

Pell’s vision went first as tears pooled in his eyes and his cheeks started to burn. His mind was in turmoil as he stared into his own eyes and realized the implications of Panthera’s gift. Embarrassed, shocked, angry and terrified he broke out of Calanthe’s embrace and walked hastily from the room before he made a bigger fool of himself. He hoped it was a dignified exit.

“Pell?” Calanthe called as he followed, stopping by the large doors to look back at his friend. “Thea, thanks. It is beautiful. They both are, and I am very grateful.”

“Your temperamental dictator obviously doesn’t approve.”

“Thea!” Vaysh half laughed in reproof.

Cal let out an exasperated breath as he smiled at the exquisite face. “He’ll adore them, believe me.”

Panthera just sniffed the air.

“Look I’ll talk with you later.” Cal turned and briefly glanced back at Vaysh. “Oh, don’t forget the blood bonding, and Vaysh can you tell Caeru for me please. Thanks!” Then he was gone.

“Calanthe!” Vaysh took a few steps, stopping as he glared at the empty doorway. “Why do I always have to be the one who deals with the Tigrina,” he muttered distastefully

“I don’t believe he could be as bad as those two,” Panthera scoffed before he wrapped an apologetic arm around Vaysh’s shoulder. He still could not believe this intriguing little Har was slowly relaxing and letting him in. “I’ll go with you,” he offered with a warm smile.

Vaysh sagged against Panthera, unable to refuse that smile even if he tried.

***

Calanthe tracked Pellaz down in their private bathroom as his chesna lover washed his face. The sunlight was muted by the glazed windows above and numerous plants and he approached softly from behind.

“Pell,” Cal reached out and dragged him into a demanding embrace. “You contrary, stupid little-” he broke off and sighed, “adorable fool,” he ended as he felt the muscles tremble under his hands. “Hey, don’t cry.”

“I’m not!” Pell snapped, stung.

“Of course you’re not,” Cal agreed mildly, leaning back to cup the damp face. He smiled, watching the red eyes that defied him to comment and gently kissed the hair covered forehead. “Do you dislike the portraits?”

“No,” Pellaz said on a short breath as he battled to control the quiver in his voice and the persistent tears. He felt wreaked. “That one of you…is…is-” He shrugged. “It’s just every time I look at it, it reminds me of HIM.”

“Pell, I was lying on a river bank in Ferike when Panthera first sketched that. I was lying there, full of thoughts about you, wanting to see you, wanting to…touch you. Pell that was you I saw,” he whispered simply.

Pellaz looked helplessly at Cal, his vision blurring as he swallowed the bubble in his throat and buried his face in Cal’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said between harsh breaths. “So sorry.”

Calanthe held him, cuddling him, it was an action he could never get used to.

“I do…love you. I really do Cal,” Pellaz admitted into his lover’s moist skin, fingers clutching the long back muscles.

“I know,” Calanthe confirmed, working his hand up to Pell’s neck.

“And I don’t know why I am crying!” Pell sounded indignant again, as he slowly regained his lost equilibrium.

Calanthe’s reply was silent as he grinned into the black hair, one hand skimming down to lightly touch his beloved’s tightening abdomen muscles. He knew why, even if Pell chose to ignore the truth, and his smile just grew.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

‘I’ll reach out and end the storm,
that tears your world apart.
I’ll reach in and break the chains,
of pain around your heart.
Because I know how it feels to be lost and found.’

Gramm/Turgon.

The blood bonding took place in the heart of the sanctum, the walls reflecting the dim firelights as Pellaz and Calanthe stood on the raised dais before Ashmael and Dree. The two Hegemony Hara were cloaked in ceremonial gowns with runes and inscriptions drawn on their arms, matching the runes on the floor under the Tigron’s feet. This was the first such ceremony performed in Thiede’s inner sacred temple. Pellaz’s and Caeru’s bonding had been held in the public square, celebrated by all, where this was attended by only a few. Most of the Hegemony witnessed the vows, while the Tigrina stood alone and contained, leaving before the ritual was finished and drawing curious knowing glances.

On the hexagonal dais cloaked in black, Ashmael held aloft the bloodied knife as Pellaz and Calanthe linked finger and palms, cementing the bond as their blood mingled. They raised their joined hands, looking to the air above, calling Thiede from the tall arches of the Sanctum as warm blood trailed down their flesh. Above them, a blue spiraling aura spilled down, engulfing them both as it traveled down through the entwined fingers, tasting the blood and filling the Hara offering the vows. They both cried out silently in a mixture of ecstasy and pain. Ashmael stepped back, watching Thiede’s blue flame entrap and dominate his chosen children. The Tigrons merged briefly, mingling hot breath as Thiede’s brilliant flame shot out of their raised hands, lighting the entire Sanctum before disappearing into the blackness above. Calanthe was the first to move back, opening his eyes and looking down at his cut wrist. His wound was healed, only a white silvery scar remaining. Pellaz’s fingers gently touched his cheek.

“This joining is insoluble.” Ashmael continued solemnly. “You have been bathed in fire and blessed in spirit. It is a sacred union.”

Calanthe took a long, shuddering breath as he held Pell’s fingers to his cheek and breathed his own silent vows and promises.

It was complete. Now nothing could undo it.

***

Afterwards, a small drink celebration was held in the Tigron’s private rooms.

“You know, as amazing as it might sound, but Thiede was the biggest hypocrite out,” Calanthe said seriously as he sat next to Pell on a long, padded couch. He sipped his wine, feeling Ashmael’s eyes settle on him with amusement.

“Surely you’re not serious?” Glave snorted into his drink.

“What do you mean?” Tharmifex asked quietly as he sat back watching the Tigrons.

“Just that down in the Sanctum today, he blessed us.” He glanced at Pell briefly. “Yet a year or so ago he was doing everything he could to keep us apart.”

“It’s over.” Pellaz ran a soothing hand down Cal’s thigh. “Forget it.”

“But he must have known I would eventually be driven to Immanion by my need to claim Pell.”

“Claim me?” Pellaz looked at him incredulously. “Cal?”

“Or be claimed by you, it doesn’t really matter.” Calanthe shrugged as he wrapped an arm around his lover’s shoulders. “I used to dream about you and this immaculate city. I would destroy the perfect whiteness and tall building, pulling you from the rubble, safe and unharmed.”

“Thank goodness you eventually came to your senses then!” Chrysm pronounced.

“I don’t know. Cal did shake the city of Immanion fairly strongly when he confronted Thiede,” Cedony pointed out. “The reconstruction work took three months!”

“Thiede was holding Pell mentally chained in ice, trapped by,” Cal said softly as he thought back, “and it took me ages to understand, and see what I had to do to break the bonds.” He shook himself and looked around the absorbed faces. Tharmifex obviously wanted to hear more. “But that’s over,” he ended on a final note. He felt Pell’s fingers grip his own and squeeze. *You’re beautiful.* The mind dart was gentle and warming and Cal sighed.

“Which reminds me,” Ashmael’s voice cut into the speculation. “I believe Pellaz’s delivery should take place in the Sanctum as well.”

“What? On that cold, polished black stone?” Chrysm half laughed. “Be reasonable Ash.”

“Up until now, it hasn’t been necessary to discuss this, but we have to think about the most suitable sight for the pearl’s delivery.”

The strategist was extremely serious and Calanthe blinked at him, his smile fading. “I’m not having it turn into a public spectacle,” Cal warned softly.

“I agree,” Ashmael said easily. “But Pellaz has to be anointed and blessed. After all, this will be the first royal Harling birthed in Immanion. None of you can know what it will be capable of, so he must be brought into this world correctly.”

“Ash, can’t this wait another week or so?” Tharmifex asked as he watched Pellaz’s face pale.

“No. We have waited too long already, the preliminary entreaties must be commenced. You know that Thar, we discussed it the other day.”

“I have no intention of doing anything!” Pellaz broke in firmly, hoping to end the matter.

“You do not have a choice in this I’m afraid,” Tharmifex admitted as he acknowledged Ashmael’s words.

“Now hold on a minute,” Calanthe objected.

“Ash is essentially right.” Cedony spoke first. “Thiede laid down the ritual guidelines for such an occurrence years ago.”

“They were meant for Caeru!” Pellaz looked to Tharmifex for support.

“I’m sorry Pell, but they were meant for either the Tigron or Tigrina.” Tharmifex exhaled strongly. “As much as I would like to spare you this now I can’t, as certain procedures and ceremonies must be honored.”

“What actually are these ritual guidelines?” Calanthe broke in.

“Oh, I keep forgetting you wouldn’t be aware of them,” Tharmifex apologized as he looked to Dree. “Dree?”

“You really don’t want to get him going on this, or we’ll be here all night,” Chrysm said cynically as Dree’s light eyes flicked to him in warning.

“It’s quite simply, a harnessing and liberating of the natural powers around us to form a blessing for the child. A charm if you like. It ensures the protection of the pearl and refines the transfer of energy from Hostling to Harling,” Dree listed off briefly.

“It is also an essential part of the Gelaming’s religion of the Aghama.” Cedony added.

“It won’t harm either Hostling or pearl,” Ashmael reassured as Calanthe studied the group slowly.

“That’s only what you say,” Pellaz said, unconvinced. He had been dreading this.

“Pell this is necessary.” Ashmael refused to relent. “You know it is.”

“It sounds barbaric.” Calanthe couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his voice.

“We’ll start the preliminary rituals nightly, and I’ll set up the dais prepared with the pentacle.”

“Ash-” Pell muttered the word, a fear building in him.

“Thiede’s powers are strongest in the Sanctum, so it will benefit the Harling in years to come.”

“I’ll organize it,” Arahal offered quietly.

“Now wait just a moment-” Calanthe said over the noise as he felt Pell’s distress via the link.

“Neither of you will be able to stop it,” Chrysm told him gently. “This is important, but I’ll make sure Pell is comfortable, so don’t worry.” He turned and gave Arahal a sweet smile. “Skins and cushions I believe will be in order here.”

“Don’t interfere Chrysm,” Ashmael warned.

“Someone has to make sure you remember your manners!” Chrysm snapped.

“Don’t worry.” Dree leaned forward and patted Cal’s knee as the others continued to argue. “The rituals and incense will actually make the birthing easier. You’ll see.”

“Maybe,” Cal muttered as he felt Pell shiver next to him.

***

Because of the nightly rituals and Pellaz’s erratic and nervous behavior, Calanthe was able to curtail most of Ashmael’s annoying scheduled tours. He stayed with Pell, watching him and worrying as his restlessness increased.

Rayhala said most of it was from nerves, and only a little from the pearl’s actual presence, so Cal tried to distract his lover with gentle foreplay or a soothing bath and warm company. But as the weeks progressed so did Pell’s soreness. The worse days were the Hegemony council sessions and Pell’s unpredictable comments, those not even he could prevent. But through it all Cal found that Dree’s words had proved the truest. The ritual relaxation exercises Pellaz was taught did help him to regain a balance, freeing his consciousness and controlling his erratic mood swings.

At night they religiously gathered in the Sanctum with Pellaz kneeling inside the drawn pentacle, naked except for his loose hair and blessed with sacred oil. Ashmael would then invoke the seventy spirits in a flat tone. At first Cal had laughed, and if they all hadn’t been so serious he would have taken Pell out of there. But the ceremonies were addictive, and he found himself responding as he listened and watched his beautiful lover calm and bloom under the exotic ritual spells. Then afterwards, at night in bed, he would listen as Pellaz talked about whispered fears and dreams as his lover pressed close, trying to almost bury under his skin. He would say nothing, offering his mouth in comfort as he cocooned Pell in warmth and luxuriated in his lover’s open mind, cherishing the images he saw there. As the pearl grew, he could feel its hardness when he massaged Pell’s abdomen, causing his lover to squirm in unease but endure it until they both relaxed.

Immanion held its breath, awaiting the event, neither of them giving public interviews and inspiring gossip as the Hegemony dealt with the Immanion Enquirer. Caeru was oddly absent, having been approached by certain Council members about the possibilities of raising the Tigron’s Harling. What he had said, Cal didn’t know, because Pellaz had exploded in a temper when he found out, denying the Tigrina and the Hegemony the right to chose. Calanthe didn’t mind either way, but Pellaz had definite ideas about the Harling’s future. If Pell wanted to be difficult, he certainly could.

None of the arguments had been settled when the problems in Mojag arose then escalated and Calanthe was forced to concede Ashmael’s point. They needed to visit the Wursm Princelord of Mojag in Shuppurak and a tour was arranged. In the past, the Gelaming had held an unwritten alliance with Mojag, the Princelord supplying Immanion with Mojagian mercenary guards in exchange for Gelaming technology. It had worked while Thiede enforced the law, but now relations with Mojag had dwindled and Ashmael predicted trouble. Minor skirmishes between the borders with Garridan had broken out and Kalamah was asking for Gelaming aid.

***

“Arahal has agreed to stay in Immanion, to supervise the security of Phaonica, but has detailed two dozen of his best guard to accompany us to Shuppurak. Also Cedony and Glave are preparing to join the envoy as they have both dealt with Wursm in the past.” Ashmael ended as he ticked off items on his list absently.

“I just don’t want to stay away for too long,” Calanthe reminded him. “Pell has less than two weeks, and it won’t be fair on him if I’m in Mojag when he births.”

“Cal, I have every intention of being here myself for that!” Ashmael grinned and shook his head, no longer sure which of the Tigrons was more temperamental. “Three days Cal, five at the very most. And I wouldn’t be doing this now if it wasn’t important.”

“I know. I like the situation on the borders less than you do. I believe Ariaric has offered us some of his Niz police.”

“Yes.” Ashmael sighed. “In return, he requests we attend his son’s bonding celebrations.”

“I thought it might have a catch like that.” Calanthe stood up and went to look out the open window into the gardens.

“Cal?” Ashmael turned to study his uninformative back. “Don’t you think you should go regardless of Aric’s bribe? Tyson would be offended if you deliberately ignored his official bonding into the Sykernesse court, not to mention Elisyin’s reaction. He can be worse than Caeru.”

“I just don’t know how to deal with Tyson.”

“Try not to think of him as a child, or as a son. Think of him as a Har. Treat him the way you treat Abrimel. You get on very well with Abrimel.”

“He’s like Pell, contrary.”

Ash hid his amusement. “And Ty is like you, stubborn.”

“Yes.”

“I’d advise you go. Besides, it will give us a legitimate excuse to leave Shuppurak within four days to attend the bonding. It will also be good to see Swift about those Council changes before the Tribal talks.”

“Ahhh.” Calanthe turned around and gave a mischievous smile. “Cobweb will be there I take it.”

“More than likely.” Ashmael was non-committal.

“You’re as imperfect as the rest of us,” Calanthe accused and saw Ashmael glance down, carefully covering his thoughts. It was a small victory.

***

The following morning Calanthe prepared to leave. “Now Pell, please don’t do anything unnecessary.”

Pellaz pulled an exasperated expression. “I’m not a child, I have had experience in looking after Immanion in the past without your help.”

“Gods Pell, it’s not that and you know it.” He picked up his coat and walked over to his lover. “I’ll be back in five days at the most.”

“I take it that means you’ve decided to go to Ty’s bonding in Sykernesse? What changed your mind, Ash or Aric?” Pell asked pointedly as he held Cal’s hips.

“I’ll go only if I have time,” Cal stated. “But Tyson is my son and… well I’ll see.”

“Have you told Rue, as he’d be delighted to accompany you. I’ll get him to contact Elisyin and-”

“Pell don’t.”

“-you’ll have to give my regards to everyone since I am barred from going again…”

“Pell please.” Calanthe held up his hands in appeal. “Don’t let’s argue now. Okay?”

“I’m not. I’m just stating facts.”

Calanthe closed his eyes. “You’re so bloody infuriating,” he said with feeling. “You know damn well I wouldn’t be going anywhere at all regardless of who’s getting bonded if I didn’t have to settle the unrest in Mojag!”

Pell glanced down and let out a breath. “I know,” he admitted and smiled slowly, breaking the tension.

“I’ll be back. Promise.” They embraced, and Cal gently slid his palm over his lover’s hot, hard abdomen, kissing Pell’s nose. “Just be careful and good.”

“You don’t leave me much choice,” Pellaz whispered after Calanthe left. He stood in the middle of the large room alone and sighed. Thinking about it didn’t help, so he picked up the reports from Megalithica and went to find Tharmifex.

***

Their arrival in Sykernesse four days later was a welcomed relief to Calanthe. The last few days had been sheer hell, as they talked in circles with Wursm, drawing a reluctant agreement out of the Princelord to reconsider his attendance in the Tribal council. If he didn’t attend, it would be taken by all the tribes as his refusal to follow the law, and war could follow. Calanthe prayed it wouldn’t. The only exhilarating pleasure they enjoyed had been the ride through the magical lanes to enter the huge palace of Sykernesse the morning of the celebrations. The air was fresh and clean as they were met by the Archon of Maudrah.

“Calanthe, my Lord Tigron.” Ariaric grinned at him, as he welcomed them all. His servants were ushering the Gelaming Har inside, providing refreshments and quiet rooms. “I trust all went well in Mojag?”

“Tolerably.” Cal sighed tightly.

“Still, I am glad to see that you eventually decided to visit us. Tyson would have been disappointed had you refused to attend.” Ariaric told him seriously.

“Circumstances Aric, surely you can relate to that,” Cal asked pointedly.

“But of course!” Ariaric mocked gently, then laughed. “Ashmael, it is good to see you again.” He led the group into a airy, open room. “I believe you are well acquainted with the household of Forever?”

Ashmael didn’t even blink. “As well you know.”

“They are already here and staying on the second level. Elisyin has organized all the formal arrangements. So I will have someone show you to your rooms to freshen up, but first Cal I need to have a word with you.”

“If it’s business, can’t it wait a while?” Calanthe rubbed his eyes tiredly as Cedony gratefully accepted a glass of wine from a servant.

“I wish it was business,” Ariaric told him. “But it’s not. It’s personal.”

“Oh?” Calanthe glanced up and saw his friend’s eyes travel briefly to the other three Hegemony members.

“Well in that case,” Ashmael said catching the look, and giving the Archon an intimidating smile. “We would like to be shown our rooms.”

“Of course.” Ariaric clicked his fingers and servants appeared. “Please escort these Lords to the second level. Tonight Tiahaars.” He bowed his head slightly to the Gelaming.

Calanthe chuckled as he collapsed onto a pile of cushions and sank into their softness. “You’re evil Aric,” he accused lightly. “So I take it Cobweb’s here?”

“So is Swift and Seel. It is amazing to think Ashmael is still fascinated by the Megalithican Cobweb, when he could have his choice of Hara.”

“Cobweb is unique.”

“We are all unique my dear Calanthe. Surely you must realize that by now.”

“Maybe.” Calanthe sighed and accepted an offered cigarette. “So what is this personal business?”

“It’s about Tigron Pellaz,” Ariaric looked at him directly and trailed off as his friend paled and sat up straighter.

“Pell? You’ve had news from Immanion? What’s happened? Is he alright? He hasn’t gone into-”

“Cal calm yourself, it is nothing like that.” Ariaric placed hands on his shoulders. “He is well as far as I know, but he must not be far off delivery.”

“A week,” Calanthe said absently, still seeing problems, as he devoured the cigarette.

Ariaric studied him a moment, debating his next words carefully. “That is what I thought.”

“What do you have to tell me?”

“It’s just that we received word from Phaonica this morning stating that he was coming here to meet you.”

“He’s what!” Cal spluttered.

“Yes I figured you had no knowledge of the arrangement.” Ariaric looked at his friend with sympathy. He handed him another drink. “When Elisyin hosted, I sometimes wanted to chain him to the bed, yet he hosted me three healthy sons. He was unbearable and I didn’t dare take my eyes off him for too long.”

“I’m going to kill him,” Calanthe decided, standing up and straightening his shirt. “When does he arrive, and for that matter how is he travelling here?”

“Sit down and relax,” Ariaric said with a smile. “There is nothing you can do to prevent it now, so take a deep breath and have another drink. He’s coming via hova-car. It is safe enough, and he should be here by early evening. I will even have my private physician standing by if it makes you happier.”

“Don’t mock me!”

“I’m not Cal.”

“He’s going to drive me insane.” Calanthe collapsed again and lit another cigarette. “He’s fine while I’m there, but as soon as I go somewhere it’s as if he’s…he’s-”

“I know. I’ve heard the stories. Apparently even a guard showed up here in Sykernesse. They must have gotten an awful shock at seeing Ty because he looks like you.” Ariaric grinned.

“Shit.” Calanthe pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Forget it.” Ariaric dismissed it easily. “It sent the court into a flutter and amused our guests. In fact, it was a welcome relief,” he ended, watching his friend drop his head back and stare at the high ceiling, exhaling smoke from his nostrils. “In fact Cal, I would say that by the look of you, it’s a good bet Pellaz is in better shape. You are a nervous wreck!”

“Aric, has Tyson ever told you what happened with the Kakkahar?” he asked, not moving as he continued to stare up.

“No,” Ariaric said slowly. “He was reluctant to talk, and we only received the news that was circulated by the Phaonica. I must say it gave you a very formidable reputation.”

Calanthe lifted his head and looked at the blonde Archon with cold, tired eyes. “Pell was hosting. Six weeks or thereabouts. He aborted. Now do you start to see why I’m so paranoid!”

Ariaric’s expression sobered. “I had no idea.” It seemed inadequate.

“No-one did.”

***

The hova-car arrived at three in the afternoon, and Calanthe watched a haggard looking Arahal emerge from the driver’s seat. Pellaz in contrast to the Gelaming Captain, looked strong, alert and healthy. It was a relief and his worry settled, being replaced by anger. The Archon greeted Pell personally and led him inside as Pellaz glanced around, never having been to Sykernesse before. Calanthe moved away from the window overlooking the arrival area and went into the main room, waiting for Pellaz in the guest quarters. His lover arrived fifteen minutes later with Ariaric and Elisyin, and smiled warmly.

“The banquet begins at six, so please relax.” Ariaric gave Cal a conspiratorial wink behind Pellaz. “I have placed a number of Hara at your service, so please ask for anything.”

“Thank you.” Pellaz smiled charmingly as he looked around the decorated room. Flowers and food lay spread out on low tables, and he could smell spicy, hot wine.

Ariaric and Elisyin left and Hara closed the door, pulling down the bed covers and pouring refreshments into long stemmed crystal glasses.

“This is nice,” Pellaz said as the silence continued. He eyed his lover and saw Cal settle comfortably in an overstuffed, large armchair. The soft leather was big enough to embrace two – just. Calanthe looked out the wide windows and Pell easily recognized that characteristic scowl of disdain on the tanned face. He sighed and sipped his drink, wandering around the spacious room, studying the enormous four poster bed, the flowers, the tapestries, the paintings, even the light fittings as he tried to think of a way to break the silence. He knew Cal wouldn’t break it until he explained why he had decided to travel to Sykernesse.

He could feel his lover’s anger through the bond, and understood it to a certain extent, but just wished everyone would stop treating him like an invalid. He wasn’t sick, and it was getting on his nerves as Calanthe was the worst offender. He glared at the back of his lover’s head, and let his eyes narrow. He was a Tigron for crying out loud! And he had been a Tigron for far longer than his blonde co-ruler, and knew exactly what he was capable of. He should not have to answer to everyone, let alone his lover in such a trivial matter as this. Anyway, he had been invited to Sykernesse by the Archon and had as much right to be here as anyone else. More even, he reasoned, his brow drawing down in thought. He knew Tyson better than Cal could ever know him. And he wanted to he here for the pure born.

He poured himself another glass of wine and dismissed the over eager attendants with a shake of his head. He walked through to their adjoining room and found it enclosed entirely in glass. It was a magnificent view of the city and country and he stood mesmerized for a long moment. Jaddayoth was a beautiful, growing land. A new world they were all shaping for generations to come, and he felt proud to be part of it. Proud to be Wraeththu.

He felt good in himself, a little tired, but not too bad. Not like he had been feeling the last two days. In fact, he was even looking forward to the party after the formalities as he wanted to dance. To listen to good music and break the strict regime he’d been living under in Immanion for the last five odd weeks. Tharmifex said it was necessary, but he believed the real reason for the non-flexible schedules was to keep him in line, and it annoyed him. All the Hegemony annoyed him at present, which was another reason why he’d decided to fly to Sykernesse so suddenly, because it unsettled the precious balance of Phaonica. So tonight he would enjoy himself, and he had no intention of telling Calanthe what he planned, for his lover would no doubt argue. He looked to the ceiling. Not even Tyson had tried to restrict him this much. The sudden thought hurt and he dismissed it, turning to look back into the scented room.

Calanthe was still sitting, motionless in the over large chair and Pell hardened his heart, draining his second glass of wine.

He drifted back into the room, poured a new glass of warm, spicy wine and wondered what the news was from Mojag. Not that he was going to ask Cal if it killed him. He’d interrogate Cedony or Glave. Walking to the bed, he sorted through his clothing, pulling out an outfit and calling one of the servants with a smile.

“Could you please have this pressed for me?”

“Yes my Lord!” The Har blushed and backed away, hurrying to do his task.

Pellaz watched him go, then glanced back at Calanthe’s wild blonde head of hair. Still his lover remained silent, and his eyes narrowed calculatingly. He sipped his wine and gestured another servant over. The Har was wide eyed with obedience and Pell winced inwardly, wishing Attica and Cleis had accompanied him now. Those two were more family than attendants.

“Is Lord Ashmael’s room close by?” Pell asked gently.

“Yes My Lord Tigron.” The attendant bowed his head, not looking up.

“Good. Please show me the way.”

The attendant glanced up, a frown on his heart shaped face, but he nodded slowly. “Yes my Lord Tigron.”

Pell continued to smile as he placed his glass down and walked to the door.

“Don’t even try it Pellaz!”

It was a hissed warning behind him and Pell smothered his smile, not turning around as the attendant hesitated and looked at him. He purposely kept walking, reaching for the gold door handle.

“Oh fuck it!!”

Pell pivoted at the door and saw Calanthe standing facing him angrily, the violet eyes piercing and direct. Pell hid his amusement completely, knowing how infuriatingly obstinate Calanthe could be if he thought he was being played with. But this was the only way he had learnt to get a response from Cal without pouring out his own heart. So he struck a pose and pouted. Calanthe’s glare intensified if anything and Pell lowered his lashes as he bit his inside cheek to stop the bubble of laughter. Or was it hysteria? He didn’t know as he dismissed the nervous attendant to cover his amusement.

“I take it you’ve decided to talk to me again?” Pellaz asked mildly as the narrow eyes assessed him coldly. His lover still said nothing and Pell sighed theatrically, shrugging in the most irritating way he could, before picking up his glass of wine again.

“Callll-”

“Don’t whine!” Calanthe snapped and Pell revised what he had been about to say, closing his mouth fast and lifting his chin defiantly.

“I don’t whine,” he said slowly and concisely.

“You don’t stop to think either!” Calanthe countered.

Pellaz ignored that as he walked back into the main body of the room. He refused to look at the tall figure. “So tell me about Mojag. Have you subdued it single-handedly again?”

Calanthe studied Pell through his lashes, reading tiredness and annoyance in the smaller Har. “Why do you always fight me?” he asked instead.

Pellaz sniffed the air pointedly, taking another sip of his wine.

A knock on the door made the house Hara jump as it broke the labored silence a second time. A small attendant entered and bowed, not looking up at either Tigron. “My Lords, the Megalithican rulers, Lord Swift and Lord Seel wish an audience with you.”

Calanthe glared at the Har, then looked at Pell. “Show them in,” he decided as Pellaz shrugged irritatingly again.

“Thank the Aghama! Some rational company at last,” Seel said by way of greeting as he and Swift were shown into the spacious room. “Pell? What on earth are you doing here?”

“And why shouldn’t I be here!” Pell’s tone was icy. “I am not sick or an invalid!”

“But-” Seel frowned confused by the emotions he felt circling in the room.

“Ignore him,” Calanthe advised as Swift’s shrewd gaze found his. “Who else from Forever is here?”

“Just Cobweb. He and Ashmael are having an in depth discussion.” Swift sighed and sat on the long couch near Calanthe as he looked up at Seel.

“Again!” Seel intoned, then smiled as he helped himself to the food tray. He handed Swift a glass of wine. “I’m starving, but I’ve been told Elisyin is putting on a traditional Ferike banquet, whatever that means.”

“Traditional?” Cal asked, half distracted, still standing.

“Yes, I ask you, who’s had time to develop traditions! Hell it’s laughable but entertaining,” Seel continued, sitting down beside his lover and eyeing the Tigrons in the same manner Swift was.

Pell let out a slow breath, not up to an intellectual slinging contest, and he turned, starting to walk away. Calanthe moved suddenly and Pell found his wrist caught in a vice like grip.

*Don’t even think about trying it Pell.*

The mental dart was immediate, and Pell felt gentle yet persistent pressure on his wrist and he gave in graciously, smiling at Swift and Seel as he studiously avoided Calanthe’s eyes. If he had to sit down he would, but under his own steam, and in the chair of his choosing as he walked towards the second large leather armchair.

Cal watched him, sitting back down himself and hooking a couple of fingers in Pellaz’s belt, pulling his lover down into his chair and moving to make room for him. If they were going to argue, he wanted to do it in comfort.

*Bastard!* Pellaz shot back as he could do nothing but comply with Calanthe’s tactics, and he squirmed, slightly indignant.

Seel dropped his head to one side and watched the antics. “You are probably going to tell me to shut up, but Pell, what on earth have you done to your hair!”

“I thought that would have been obvious,” Pell muttered as he felt Cal’s fingers dig into his arm.

“Stop being such an argumentative little shit,” Calanthe said as he pushed the thick hair out of his face. He got a mouthful a second time as Pellaz turned to glare at him. “And sit still for God sakes!”

“This is impossible!” Pell decided, trying to lever himself up.

“You’re the one who’s impossible. Shit! Sit still!” Calanthe grabbed a sharp elbow and roughly pulled Pellaz back down. “Can’t possibly think why I love you at times!”

Pellaz stilled instantly and closed his eyes before he shook his head. “Cal-”

“Yeah I know, shut up and sit down.” He softened his hold and rubbed a bruised arm gently.

“I just wanted to be here, to see you. Is that a crime too now? Hell, it’s been almost five days!”

“I know.” He moved so Pellaz could settle next to him.

“Would you both rather we left?” Swift asked as he placed his glass on the tabletop. Seel was still watching them both with amusement.

“No.” Calanthe shook his head as he picked up Pell’s hand and squeezed the cold fingers. “Tell us all your news. How is Azriel and Layandria, I heard they went to Zaltana for a week or so.”

*I’m sorry, forgive me please?*

Cal let his smile grow as he looked briefly at his lover and squeezed the cold fingers a second time. He relaxed himself as Pellaz sagged against him.

“A week! More like a month!” Seel groaned and rolled his eyes.

“Sore point,” Swift intoned and raised a meaningful brow.

“When they returned, they brought half Layandria’s family back as well! It gets so bad some days that even Cobweb is seriously considering moving to Immanion with Ash!”

“Why?” Calanthe asked as Pell leaned heavier against him.

“The Kalamahs are a very sensually orientated tribe.” Was all Swift said, seeing the light of understanding flood the violet eyes.

“Oh. I see.” Cal hid his grin.

“None of us are safe!” Seel complained with feeling. “It’s like living in a sauna with your back permanently pressed to the wall!”

Calanthe could only laugh.

***

The night unfolded smoothly, and it wasn’t until after the formal banquet and celebrations that Calanthe got to see Tyson and Zobinek socializing at the gathering. His son looked older, but that was impossible. He stood strikingly tall beside the shorter, dark haired son of Ariaric and Elisyin. The bonding sealed the political and family ties between Phaonica, Sykernesse and Forever as the three houses united and benefited. And Calanthe was pleased for Zobinek as the Har seemed to have matured since their last meeting. The last disastrous evening party.

He would never forget it, and it seemed Zobinek couldn’t either as the Har approached him later in the evening.

“My Hostling tore into me after that. I’m sorry Cal, extremely sorry, as I could have ruined everything for you.”

“Nonsense,” Calanthe scoffed. “It’s old news anyway, so forget it. Just remember the few laughs we had.”

“It was a good evening,” Zobinek agreed as he thought back.

“And so is this. Tell me, have you visited Galhea yet with Tyson?” Cal changed the subject as he saw his son look at him over Zobinek’s shoulder. Tyson then turned and walked towards where Pellaz was seated.

“No, we haven’t.” Zobinek pulled a sour face. “Ty wants to wait for a few months. I don’t know why, but he’s adamant. He’s very determined and strong willed.” Zobinek gave a pleased grin. “Exciting in a way.”

Cal gave a guarded look, knowing who would run the relationship, and wondered what Ariaric thought of the idea. No doubt, that was one of the reasons why he wanted Tyson in his household. He excused himself after a few more minutes, glancing over at Pellaz and Tyson. The two Hara were sitting and talking, Pell shaking his head as Tyson reached to touch him. He wanted to intrude, but stopped himself, giving them both time and space as he sat brooding.

*Cal, you don’t have to stay away. That is over. Ty is only sad as he remembers, and lets the past go. Please come and sit with me. Sit with us both?*

The gentle words were a balm to Calanthe’s mind, and he got up and approached the two, sitting next to Pellaz and considering Tyson through new eyes. It was no longer an uncomfortable silence, but Tyson was the one to leave and Pell turned to Cal and kissed him softly on the side of his mouth.

*Thank you.* Pellaz smiled warmly.

They danced once, being cornered more often than necessary to talk with visiting officials until Pellaz started to tire visibly. They retired early by Sykernesse standards, both just wanting to sink into the soft feather mattresses and sleep, as the exhaustion of the last few days caught up with them.

***

Activity in Phaonica started to pick up after their arrival back from Sykernesse as preparations for the Tribal talks were set in motion. Caeru had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the organization of the seating facilities and the entertainments. It was as if he needed to stay busy, and he shocked the Hegemony into giving him control and backing. Calanthe only smiled as he watched the Tigrina, giving most of his attention to the discussion schedules, and Pellaz’s increased tiredness. His lover could fall asleep almost where he stood as he approached the delivery day, and the Hegemony inner circle had taken to being with him in roster-type shifts if Calanthe was unavoidably called away. Rayhala kept assuring him that Pell was fine, that it was a natural tiredness, restlessness and low energy and that he shouldn’t worry. But it was hard. And Pellaz would just chastised him when his lover discovered he was fretting.

Ashmael had the Sanctum permanently set up, and he checked Pellaz daily, driving Rayahla crazy with his so-called expertise. Cal ignored them both, counting the days down. He would be glad when it was all over, when the Talks were finished and when they could both just relax together again.

When the day finally arrived for Pellaz to birth his pearl, Calanthe was down assessing the newly arrived Faraldiennes with Arahal as Pell read over proposed plans for Thaine. He was already two days overdue by Cal’s calculations, but he didn’t care as he sat in the sun, warm and comfortable. Tharmifex and Dree were with him, reading the files as he happily drifted in half sleep. A dull heaviness disturbed him and he opened his eyes. The room was still warm and Dree was still reading aloud. The heaviness increased and he placed his glass down with precision, feeling his arms moving in slow motion as he stood.

“Pell? Are you alright?” Dree stopped mid sentence and looked up at him. “You look a little pale.”

“Fine.” He was relieved to hear his voice so even. “I’ll be back in a moment.” He made it to the door, only knowing he had to get out of there, as he desperately wanted to lie down.

“Do you want one of us to go with you?” Tharmifex asked as he shared a suspicious glance with Dree. None of them, apart from Ashmael, Chrysm and Arahal had ever seen a birthing first hand. None of them knew what to expect.

“No.” Pellaz gripped the door. “I won’t be long.” He left and walked along the wide hallway into his private study, not really seeing anyone as the feeling of oddness in his abdomen spread. It wasn’t a pain, but it made him short of breath as the weirdness increased. He headed for his small garden, pushing through the double doors, not hearing the voices calling him as he licked dry lips and smelt the flowers’ scent. That was all he remembered as the sudden sharp contractions started and he doubled over. The shock was enough to wind him, and he crumpled to his knees, not expecting the agony that throbbed deep inside him. He cried out in muscle wrenching sobs, as he clutched at his waist, the room spinning and blurring into redness.

Hands touched him, cold hands, turning him and forcing him to stand, and Pell opened his eyes, seeing unfamiliar faces and his mind jumped back to another time of similar pain. The Palace blurred around him, voices faded out and he suddenly started to picture Ulaume and Lianvis. Desert heat scorched him, as the child he carried was threatened.

“No!” he growled through clenched teeth, throwing up his shields and pushing out with mental hands against his captors, sagging as the cold hands fell away releasing him. He collapsed to his knees again. His insides felt ripped apart by a burning hot pain, tearing a scream from him as another voice intruded. He couldn’t see the face as he fought to protect his doomed Harling, mustering his wavering strength a second time. It was him or them…him or them…

***

Calanthe dropped everything as he felt the first vague beginnings of distress tug at his link. He knew what it was, having prepared himself for it days ago, and he turned, running up the wide stairs to the first level of Phaonica. Pellaz would be on the third. Arahal and Chrysm called him briefly, then they too followed. Cal was excited and pleased until the link between them severed abruptly and he felt Pell throw up his shields, then he panicked. His face drained of blood as he imagined the worst.

On the top level he stopped, considering, then pushed through the study and library, seeing Ashmael as the Har hurried towards the western rooms and he realized where Pell had gone. His lover’s favorite room and the one he would instinctively run to if he was in danger. But from what?

The garden was crowded as he saw Pellaz lying on his side on the cold floor, his limbs flexing and contracting as he whimpered in pain.

“My God!” He thrust a guard aside as Ashmael knelt beside his lover calling his name softly. Pell was unable to hear or respond as he pulled at his bound hair, freeing it from its braid in agitation. Ashmael’s voice was a weird tone, droning, his powers vibrating around him, smothering Pellaz’s wild, uncontrolled energy.

“Cal! Do something before he kills himself!” Dree demanded as he grabbed the Tigron’s arm and dragged him forward.

“Chrysm, can you reach him?” Arahal asked as they entered the room.

“Not with his shield up like this, no.”

*Pellaz.* Calanthe projected the name strongly at his lover, using the force of his mind to breach the white wall between them. *Pell you are safe. It is Calanthe.*

“Cal?” The word was a whimper, barely heard as Pellaz blinked up at the shadows around him. “No…please no…”

Calanthe knelt down grabbing his lover’s shoulder, calling his name and darting the reassurances into the confused mind. With Dree’s help he forced Pell to sit up, catching his weight as Pell fought them and the contractions echoing through his body.

“He’ll hurt himself like this.” Dree grunted as he tried to hold the fighting Tigron.

“Cal? It’s a…trap! A trap.” Pell’s voice was distant as he lifted his head, hair falling into his face. He struggled against everything.

“Shh, it’s alright. I need you to stand Pell. Can you hear me? Come on lover stand up.” Calanthe battled to hold him still, pushing the hair back and seeing only confusion and distress in the dark eyes. “Shit!” he swore under his breath as he looked around for Ashmael.

“Don’t Cal…it…they…don’t be here, please-”

“Get him into the bedroom,” Ashmael ordered, as Arahal cleared the room, ordering the doors opened for a clear passage to the bedroom.

“-he’ll kill you…Cal?…he wants-”

“Don’t you want to take him to the Sanctum?” Chrysm asked.

“-he wants you…he’ll kill…you…please-”

“No, the bedroom is closer. We’ll never get him to the Sanctum now. Arahal have you got the equipment?” Ashmael roughly pushed the bedroom door open.

“-Lianvis…he…he wants your soul…Cal-”

“Yes. Arcon is getting it now.” Arahal stripped the bed and drew the pentacle on the mattress, much to the house Hara’s disgust.

“-please…I can’t stop him…I’ve tried…please no…too tired…don’t let him-”

“Pell, shhh. It’s alright. You’re safe.” Calanthe ignored the others as he listened to the disjointed words.

“He can’t hear you Cal,” Dree said gently.

“-I’ll resist him…for you…always for you-”

“Pellaz look at me!” Calanthe cupped the flushed face, forcing the chin up, his thumbs caressing the damp skin as his own fear grew. “Pell please, you are safe. They can no longer touch you. Please Pell.”

“Put him on the bed!” Ashmael ordered, as he pushed Rayhala out of the road and took control of the situation.

“NO!” Pellaz started to fight again. “I…won’t let you…I-”

“Hell!” Dree gripped an arm stronger.

“Memories,” Rayhala stated. “I was afraid of something like this.”

Tharmifex and two guards helped get Pellaz on the bed, Calanthe cradling his head as he pushed hair from the wet face. His reassurances useless, but he kept them up for his own benefit as Arahal quickly set up the ritual tripod and incense.

“Strip him,” Ashmael ordered as he pulled on a long coat and closed his eyes.

“-please don’t touch my-” The dark head tossed.

“Sit him up,” Arahal said.

“Shut up all of you! Just shut up!” Calanthe yelled, as he only saw unfeeling vultures. His fingers tried to soothe the pain lines around his lover’s eyes. Pellaz moaned, his long nailed fingers knotting in the mattress below.

“Tharmifex sit him up,” Arahal ordered, ignoring Calanthe. “And get that clothing off him quickly.”

“Come on Cal, it is for the best,” Tharmifex said as he helped Dree undress the struggling Tigron. “He is unaware of what he is doing, and Arahal is right, we need to hurry.”

“Pell?” Calanthe just rubbed his lover’s face softly, pushing his hair out of the road as the others stripped Pellaz. He leaned over him as Pell arched in pain, kissing his face as his lover fought to expel the pearl he carried.

“Calanthe please don’t hinder him,” Arahal instructed as he lit the incense bowls. The room filled with a thick white smoke, its smell choking. “And sit him up.”

“Shut up!” Calanthe glared at the Captain, just barely holding his temper.

“Come on, Cal.”

A gentle voice at his side had Calanthe looking into sympathetic eyes.

“Sitting him up will make it easier for him. Easier and quicker.” Panthera smiled, and helped to sit Pellaz up. He tried to turn over, but they stopped him, and he moaned, clutching at the mattress and his stomach as contractions wracked his naked damp body. The incense made them all cough as Ashmael turned and started invoking the spirits, calling for blessings and strength.

“Concentrate Pellaz,” Arahal said gently as he steadied his tripods, adding his powers to Ashmael’s.

Panthera rolled his eyes at Calanthe, trying to relax his friend as Pellaz panted for breath, his face white and eyes closed.

“Lahal, Chaniel, Malchiel, Ygal-” Ashmael’s voice filled the room and Calanthe gritted his teeth as Pell’s sweaty body slid further down the bed, his legs drawing up. His male parts had withdrawn, as his body naturally prepared itself for the birthing, only his mind fighting the procedure as he gathered his mental powers and flung them at Arahal.

“Cal…block him,” Arahal ordered as he righted the tripods, hastily lighting more incense.

Calanthe tried to untangle Pell’s fingers from his long, black hair as his lover pulled on it, removing handfuls. It was no use, as Pell rolled suddenly, and he had to battle the slippery limbs with Panthera, to sit Pellaz half way up again.

“I can’t-” Calanthe started.

“Cal, block him!” Chrysm warned as he sensed another mental bolt.

“I’m trying!” he snapped, as he forced his way into his lover’s chaotic mind, not finding the source and slapping him physically hard in the end to prevent Pellaz from hitting out. “God I’m sorry, so sorry…”

“You had to do that,” Panthera told him, as Pellaz slumped down, staring up blindly at the ceiling, his eyes bewildered before he struggled to sit up.

It took another hour before the pearl was delivered, entering the world as its Hostling screamed and Calanthe embraced his exhausted lover.

Ashmael and Rayhala picked the pearl up, blessing it with oil before Rayhala cleaned it, taking it away to check its healthiness.

“No..NO!” Pellaz was struggling again, pushing Calanthe out of the road as he crawled to the end of the bed.

Calanthe and Panthera went after him, stopping him as Pellaz begged them not to take his pearl. He went wild, clawing as everyone ignored him, still not responding to his surroundings, screaming out hoarse demands. Ashmael tried to cup his face, but frowned as he saw the black eyes look through him.

Chrysm stopped Rayhala at the door with a hand. “Take it back to him. Let him see it, feel it.”

“But I need to test it.”

“And he needs to see it,” Chrysm insisted, taking the pearl off the doctor and carrying it back to the bed.

Pellaz accepted the slippery, cooling pearl with a sob of relief, quickly curling himself around it and blocking everyone out.

Calanthe leaned over his lover’s body, wrapping arms around him as he settled his face in the back of Pell’s neck. His lover never moved, nor did his weeping tears stop and Cal succumbed to his own tears of stress and exhaustion, not even noticing when Panthera placed a doona over them both.

***

The developing pearl grew quickly and by the evening of its delivery, Rayhala was convinced of its healthiness as he sat beside the bed carefully observing both Tigrons. Pellaz had awaken from his distressed induced sleep, exhausted and with very little memory of the delivery as he blinked up dazed at the doctor. Ashmael had spoken quietly and Pell had asked after Calanthe before curling contentedly around his precious charge.

On the other hand, Calanthe was a nervous wreck, chain-smoking and pacing the room as Pellaz slipped into a more normal sleep, monitored by the doctor. His hands still shook and his mind spun with the images Pellaz’s words had caused, and he cursed Lianvis to hell again.

“Here, drink this.” Rayhala was holding a glass out to him. “You need it.”

Calanthe just stared at it then at the doctor.

“It will help you relax, and you need to sleep as much as Pellaz does.”

“Will he be alright?” He rubbed his eyes, not reaching for the glass.

“If he is allowed to rest, yes.”

“But the memories,” Calanthe took a tight breath as his anger rose again. “The fuckin’ Kakkahar!”

“Talk with him in the morning,” Rayhala suggested, touching the Tigron’s arm gently. “As I think you’ll find he will talk now, if you are still willing to listen.”

“Of course I am!”

“I know, now drink this, or you won’t be any help to him.” Rayhala held the glass out again.

Calanthe stubbed out the cigarette and looked at the doctor another long moment before accepting the drink. He swallowed it in a few mouthfuls, wiping his lips. He climbed onto the bed and slid in behind Pellaz. He took a deep breath and inhaled his lover’s scent, burying his nose in the damp hair at his lover’s neck.

“Cal?” The voice was a sleepy murmur, and Calanthe pushed an arm around Pellaz’s waist, feeling Pell entwine their fingers.

“I’m here. Go to sleep, will talk later.” *Sleep my love.* He sent the words deep into Pellaz’s mind and felt his lover relax back against him. He didn’t open his eyes again as Rayhala left the room, letting his mind drift along their link, wanting Pell’s mental warmth and sinking into it.

In the silent room around the two Tigrons, the four house Hara stood watch, nervous and excited as they guarded their Lords.

***

It took a whole day before Pellaz felt up to talking about the Kakkahar, even then it was hard, and Calanthe felt he only touched on the details. The images he had were dark, nightmarish, reflecting Lianvis’ twisted mind, and Pellaz shunned away from the memories. But at least he was admitting it had happened, and he could heal now, and they spent the first day just holding each other and talking in whispers. The pearl had grown and Pellaz was more than happy to just sleep, not entrusting the care of his forming Harling to anyone as he still protectively guarded the child.

It also amazed Calanthe to find out that their house Hara guarded the both of them ruthlessly from visitors, denying access to Pellaz completely and only allowing Hegemony members to see him if he was out of the bedchamber. It amused and delighted him and he thanked the four house Hara gratefully.

At the end of seven days Pellaz appeared livelier and Calanthe took to working in their room so as to keep his lover company. Like the delivery, the hatching was late, and Calanthe came running in from the bath, dripping wet at Pellaz’s mental call.

The dark opaque shell had become brittle the night before and Pellaz had hardly slept as he watched, both anxious and intrigued.

Calanthe heard the high pitched cry as he wrapped a towel hurriedly around his waist and climbed across the bed to his lover’s side. Pellaz was smiling at him delighted as he held the mewing Harling up, the child pawing the air erratically.

“Look, Cal.”

“Beautiful.” Calanthe embraced him tightly, watching their son squeal and cry as it reached towards Pellaz’s face with insistent hands.

“Like you.” Pellaz cuddled the Harling, which shut it up effectively, and he turned a little more towards his wet lover. He lent across and kissed a tanned chin.

The house Hara hovered excitedly as one of them had already rushed to find Rayhala.

“I can’t believe this is real,” Pellaz said in awe. “I can’t believe this is ours. Do you remember when we first-”

“Yes.” Calanthe tangled a hand in his hair. “We were scared thirty years ago. I’m still scared of this, but we will learn.”

Pellaz leaned forward and offered his lips again in a soft caress. He smiled at Calanthe, his eyes very dark, as the Harling touched his face. The child’s eyes matched his father’s in color, yet like is Hostling, its hair was thick, and black.

“He’s,” Cal shrugged, lost for words as his hand covered Pell’s bare thigh.

Pellaz deliberately handed the Harling over to him, and Calanthe took it reluctantly. “Pell?”

“Just hold him.”

Calanthe did, but not completely comfortable holding a body so small as the little hands touched him and grabbed his hair. Pellaz smiled.

Rayhala came rushing in, and examined the Harling under Pellaz’s direct stare, giving the young Harling back to him to soothe after the basic test.

“Well!” Calanthe demanded.

“Perfect,” Rayhala stated, pushing a curl back. “I never believed it would be anything less.”

“Of course he’s perfect.” Calanthe covered his mixed feelings as he looked at his son’s white flawless skin. It was so much like Pell’s, as he watched his lover nurse the chattering child.

The room started to fill slowly, and he glared around, realizing he was only covered by a towel, still damp, as Pellaz sat next to him clad only in his long hair. It hung around him like a living shield.

Even Caeru turned up and sat beside Pellaz, accepting the child and holding him with a sad smile. “I remember feeling as you do now, a long time ago,” he whispered quietly. “I was so happy then.”

Pell lay a reassuring hand on his arm.

“Do you have a name for him yet?”

Pell just turned to Calanthe. “Cal?”

Calanthe smiled mischievously around the listening group, sitting side on and drawing Pellaz back to wrap arms around his slender nakedness. He placed his chin on Pell’s shoulder.

“Jaden,” he announced as Pellaz grinned, reaching out to capture his son’s kicking little foot.

“Nice name,” Chrysm agreed. “He’s going to be tall.”

“Like Calanthe,” Caeru muttered.

*Tall and beautiful.* Pellaz dropped his head back and grinned up, touching the underside of Calanthe’s chin with his nose in affection. Never before had he ever felt so free.

Caeru sighed again, as he handed the squirming Harling back to its parents.

***

Life returned to normal during the next few days as all concentrations were now focused on the rapidly approaching Council talks. They were two weeks away.

Pellaz refused to relent on his first, original decision, and he kept Jaden with him. The Harling did not cause too many upsets as Pellaz attended the Hegalion with the child, setting new formalities, the staid thinking of the older Hara being persuaded by the young Royal. Like its parents, Jaden charmed all those around him, only giving Arahal nightmares as he tried to arrange a workable security net around Pellaz and child. It amused most, as the child became the darling of Phaonica, bringing back life to the palace as the city of Immanion celebrated. It was the first in thirty years, and it cemented the Tigron’s relationship and their popularity.

The only complaint Calanthe had, was the fact that he was now second best in Pellaz’s life and he found it hard to accept. To him, Pellaz spent too much time with Jaden, that they no longer had quiet, intimate evenings alone together, and he was also being denied something he needed. Since the birthing, they had not taken aruna due to a number of events and exhaustion, mostly on Pell’s part. But now Jaden was over a week hatched, and he wanted an end to the pattern before Pellaz got any more involved.

Deciding, he went into their bedroom and found his love sitting in a comfortable chair reading over a report from Natawni as he held Jaden. The Harling was asleep on Pell’s shoulder, clutching a strand of its Hostling’s hair, and Pellaz glanced up briefly.

“Pell?” Calanthe leaned on the table in front of him.

“Mmmmm.” Pell didn’t look up again. “Do you know the Roselands have been invited to the Tribal talks?”

“Pell, forget the damn talks for tonight. And please give Jae to Attica,” he asked on a calm and reasonable breath. Attica and Cleis hovered close by.

“Why?” Pell frowned up.

“So they can put him to bed!” Calanthe stressed, then took another breath, and forced a smile.

“But I can do that,” Pellaz said gently, as he glanced down at the dark head on his shoulder.

“No!” Calanthe straightened abruptly.

“Cal?”

“Pell, just do as I ask for once without arguing.”

Pellaz’s frown deepened, and he looked at Attica, who regarded him beseechingly. “Cal I don’t understand.”

Calanthe groaned and threw his hands up in the air, his eyes a little wild. Maybe it was just him? he wondered. “It has been almost a month Pell!” he stated as if it explained everything.

“Oh.” It did and Pellaz blushed. He stood up slowly and hesitated in handing Jaden over until he looked back at his lover’s expression. Their son woke, not liking to be disturbed or separated from its warmth and Pellaz almost relented as Calanthe’s hands closed on him from behind.

“I’ve tried to be patient.” Calanthe breathed heavily into Pellaz’s neck. “But it’s starting to hurt.”

“God, Cal you should have told me!” Pellaz turned and touched his mate’s face softly. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m telling you now!” Calanthe growled and bit at the full mouth. Their breaths mingled hotly and Cal’s need burnt deeply into his lover’s lungs. Contrite, Pellaz dragged Cal back towards the bed, where they fell entwining easily as their hands and mouths sought each other’s essences.

“I’m sorry, I’ve been so preoccupied that I just didn’t think,” Pell whispered as his fingers tangled in the short blonde hair and he sucked on the wild pulse beat in his lover’s neck.

“Well, that’s obvious,” Calanthe breathed, enjoying the touch.

Pellaz grunted and bit him hard in retaliation.

“It’s a good thing I don’t love you only for your body, isn’t it?” Calanthe asked on a teasing breath, as he felt his life mate nip around to his ear.

They joined, celebrating their freedom to indulge in each other’s intoxicating energies, swimming through a labyrinth of pleasure to find release and an intense satisfying climax.

Lying replete, Calanthe stretched, his body still hungry as Pell drew patterns on his chest with long manicured nails. He let his fingers play through the long warm hair as he pulled Pellaz closer, kissing him lingeringly.

“Is it wrong to want aruna so often?” he whispered into his lover’s half open mouth.

“Of course not!” Pellaz leaned up and ran hands teasingly down his chest to groin. “It’s necessary,” he gentled persuasively in a breathy caress. *Love you.*

“Mmmmmm,” Calanthe grinned into the dimness, liking the sound of those words.

“Do you think Swift and Seel will get here a few days before the talks?” Pellaz snuggled down, mouthing his damp flesh.

“Mmmmmm,” Calanthe really wasn’t interested as he absorbed the hot caresses.

“Maybe they have heard more about this new tribe out north of Jaddayoth.”

“Mmmmmm,” Cal just grinned and stretched.

“Sorrandite, or something like that.” Pellaz frowned into the warm skin he was mouthing.

“Mmmmmm,” Cal lifted a leg, giving his lover greater access.

“I wonder if they are affiliated with the Garridans” Pell sighed.

“Mmmmmm,” he didn’t want to think as Pell’s breath sent a wave of pleasure up in abdomen.

“And the Roselands.” Pellaz lifted his mouth and frowned at Calanthe’s sleepy expression. “I believe your friend Zackala is bringing someone with him. It’s a weird name, not common.”

“Mmmmmm.”

“Tel-an-kaa, I think the communication said-”

“What!” Calanthe suddenly snapped awake and tried to sit up. His pleasant state of arousal abruptly vanishing.

“Yes, that name is familiar. But from where?” Pellaz admitted as he held his lover.

“Are you sure?” Cal demanded. He managed to sit up and drag all the coverings with him.

“Positive.” Pellaz sat up also, clicking on the bedside lamp, throwing the room into shadows. He shivered. “Cal?”

“Fuck!”

“Cal?”

“Fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck!”

“Cal?” Pell reached for him worriedly. “Tell me!”

“That’s all we need. The Tribes aren’t ready for it Pell. It could ruin the Council and shatter the fragile peace we’re delicately holding between the tribes!”

“Cal!” Pellaz’s grip tightened on his lover’s arm.

“Tel-an-kaa is Kamagrian Pell!” he stated on a barely controlled breath. “Kamagrian!”

Pell’s arms fell from his shoulders as his face paled also. “By the Aghama!” he whispered into the silence as he pictured all the problems too easily. “I’d forgotten about them.”

The End

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