Over The Hills And A Great Way Off

Title: Over The Hills And A Great Way Off
Author: Camile_Sinensis
Author’s email: teapot@doramail.com
Website: http://red-shellac.livejournal.com/
Characters: Starring Caeru, Cal, Pellaz, and a noisy and intrusive Original Character. Supporting roles by Tharmifex, Ashmael, Velaxis and other members of the Hegemony, plus An Innkeeper of Kyme and Various Other Hara Of That Town.
Spoilers: The story takes place just after the end of “Shades”, so the gentle reader is assumed to have a working knowledge of all the shit that has gone down up until then.

Over The Hills And A Great Way Off

“I lost somebody once, I know how it is…” – Caeru Meveny, “The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit”

Chapter 1

“I assure you, Tiahaar, the package is on board. I myself saw to its loading, and I have been keeping a close eye on it throughout the journey. A very close eye indeed! It will be found any minute now, I’m sure. There is absolutely no need to worry.”

The Captain forced a weak smile, which was obviously intended to reassure Ashmael, but which had precisely the opposite effect. A long and interesting career in both the Gelaming army and as a member of the Hegemony had led Ashmael to the conviction that any announcement regarding the lack of need for worry was an indication that worry was almost certainly exactly what was called for.

Ashmael gave a dissatisfied grunt, which the Captain took as permission to leave, and he hurried back to his ship, the Despina, which was currently moored at the harbour edge, tight ropes wrapped around stanchions holding her firm against the stone sides, while her white sails were neatly furled and stowed in the masts above. Her crew were currently swarming over and beneath the decks, like so many busy ants, searching for the missing cargo. The Captain shouted some choice insults at them as he approached, with the presumed intention of motivating them to increase their efforts, although Ashmael found himself wondering exactly how casting aspersions upon the dimensions of a har’s male aspect would spur him on to greater things.

The Captain and his crew were, of course, not Gelaming. No Gelaming would resort to such base and unproductive methods. If the Despina and her crew were Gelaming, their best efforts would be assured by their own desire to elevate their personal spirituality and work for the common good of the city of Immanion and the entire Gelaming tribe. It was a wonder, Ashmael occasionally thought, that any of these object examples of selfless virtue ever stooped to anything so coarse as actually being paid.

He realised that there was nothing for it but to wait until the ship’s crew located what he had come for. The ship was a good-sized vessel, but not so large that searching it would take forever. He sighed heavily and sat down upon a capstan, pushing his hair out of his eyes and squinting at the ship, as if staring at it would speed up the process.

It was a beautiful morning, although beautiful mornings were entirely commonplace in Immanion, so this one did not announce itself as being in any way outstanding, rather it stood modestly in line with all its predecessors and contributed to the general air of loveliness in and around the city in a manner that was somehow self-effacing yet inviting of open-mouthed admiration. It was a very Gelaming morning.

The only unusual thing about the morning was its short-lived duration. It had not been morning for any great length of time and the air still carried the coolness bequeathed to it by the recently-departed night, although that would change as the sun rose higher over the hills surrounding the city to the landward side. The city itself had not yet fully awoken from its slumber; shops and stalls and businesses still awaited their proprietors and customers; sleepy hara were still rising from their beds, or not, depending upon temperament and an unusual peace lay over the harbour, normally a busy, bustling area during the daytime, full of comings and goings and noise and activity.
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Sharpened Silk

Title: Sharpened Silk
Author: youcantseeus (youcantseeus12@gmail.com)
Characters: Ponclast, Aleeme, Abrimel, Pellaz
Summary: Thirty years after the horrors that Aleeme experienced at Fulminir, he seeks out Ponclast. Ponclast POV. (Ponclast/Aleeme, Abrimel/Aleeme).
Spoilers: Books 1-6. Also, possibly Paragenesis.
Word Count: 9000
Disclaimer: I do not claim ownership of Wraeththu or any of the characters in this fic.
Warnings: Not a piece of rape fiction by any means, but there is a lot of discussion of pelki/rape. Self-mutilation. Ponclast POV.
Author’s Note: I’ve been working on this piece for a little while — it won’t leave my brain. Darker than some of my other stuff, but with an introspective bent that makes me fairly satisfied with the outcome. Reviews of all types are loved.

Sharpened Silk

Most days, I possess something resembling happiness.

I have so little and what I do own is granted by the grace of the Tigron. Several years ago, he deemed me fit to occupy the earthly realm. This does not mean that I was given my freedom – there are guards at my gates and watchers scouring my every thought for the slightest signs rebellion. But the Tigron gave me a cottage in the woods, far away from other hara, where I could meditate on my wrongs and spend time with my chesnari. I think that Pellaz did it more for Abrimel than for me.

This afternoon is like most and I go to my attic study to work on my memoirs. Writing memoirs preoccupies most first generation hara of importance. I am no longer important, but I was once and the ability to write about my life has not been stripped from me. On days when I feel rage, I find writing easy and my scribblings are full of angry recriminations and bitter regrets. However, my time in another realm imparted some level of calm to my being and on days when this is my dominate mood, I mostly stare out the small attic window. Our cottage sets on top of a hill and I should be able to see the surrounding forest, but the window is positioned so that I only see blue-gray sky unless I climb onto a chair.

I am still in prison.

I am staring out the window at that blue sky when there is a knock at the door. “Enter,” I say.

Abrimel comes in. This surprises me because my chesnari usually spends his afternoons in study. In many ways, the lonely, academic lifestyle suits him more than it does me. I enjoy gaining knowledge, but only as precursor to action. Abrimel loves reading, learning things about different tribes – so different from the typical Gelaming aristocrat who doesn’t want to learn about any tribe but his own.

“Somehar is here,” he says.

I give him a wan smile and he walks behind me to put his arms around my shoulders, a comfortably intimate gesture. There is a rumor going around Immanion that the Tigron comes to me for advice. For this reason, Gelaming aristocrats occasionally pay off my guards so they can get some advice of their own – normally about their inane love lives. The truly depressing fact about all this is that I am glad for the distraction.

“Did you tell him I wasn’t a seer?” I ask. Lately, they’ve gotten it into their heads that I can predict their futures. I am not a seer, though I can occasionally predict what might happen through common sense and a realistic view of harish nature.

“I told him,” Abrimel says. “He’s still there.”
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Briar’s Tale

Author: Persephone 100
Characters: OC’s – mostly Briar, Briar’s POV
Beta: Thevina/Thrihyrne
Rating: NC 17
Spoilers: none
Synopsis: Briar has an experience that has a profound effect on him.
Disclaimer: All the characters, their world and all things Wraeththu belong to Storm Constantine, to whom I am very grateful.

Briar’s Tale

Rain. I’ve never particularly liked it, even though sometimes a rainy day can be relaxing and give one time for retrospection but looking back on my life was something I avoided. Rain also meant I couldn’t drink my coffee on the rooftop garden. I always felt better up there where the air was fresh and I could imagine myself above all that was behind me as well as below me.

As I passively watched the trails of water trickle down the window, I sighed, thinking to myself they looked too much like tears. I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. It was Naemien, my partner. I couldn’t call him my lover because I wasn’t in love with him, or my chesnari because I didn’t feel committed to him. He was my partner, the one I lived with, took aruna with, and the one with whom he shared the bounty of his success. He was the one I’d rooned, clawed and schemed my way up to be with. He was wealthy, powerful and strong, everything I’d thought I’d wanted. And here I was, his consort, with all the glamorous and luxurious trappings that went with that status.

He put his arm around me and kissed my cheek.

“A rainy day,” he said, “always seems to make my beautiful Briar sad and moody.”

He rubbed my back and whispered in my ear. “But no less gorgeous and desirable,” he added, kissing me on the neck.

“Well,” he said, stepping away. “I’ve got a meeting with some hara. I’ll probably be in my office and the conference room all day, but don’t concern yourself. I’ll have the serving hara bring us some sandwiches. See you at dinner, my lovely.”

I gave him a smile as he left, then continued gazing out the window. Part of my being Naemien’s partner involved my planning of all the parties and entertainment that was needed. I actually enjoyed that responsibility. I was also expected to be the perfect decoration for his arm and in his bed. He was kind to me and he was very handsome and a good lover. I enjoyed aruna with him and he never stopped telling me how much he wanted and admired me. I’d been very satisfied with our arrangement for almost seven years now, but…
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The Tattoo

Title: The Tattoo
Author: youcantseeus
Contact info: youcantseeus12@gmail.com
Beta: Oshun
Spoilers: For books 1-4.
Characters: Flick, Seel, Pell, Cal, Orien
Word Count: 22,000
Disclaimer: The following story is a work of fan fiction based on the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine. I am not the original creator of the Wraeththu universe nor do I own most of the characters and locations contained in this story.
Summary: Flick attempts to make a statement with a tattoo. Seel is not pleased.

Chapter 1

Sometimes, I could read Seel like a book.

For example, when Colt and Stringer came over and proudly showed us that they’d gotten rough tattoos of one another’s names across their arms, I knew that Seel was fuming. He may have smiled and made light comments through gritted teeth, but I knew that later that night I’d be the one who would have to listen to him ranting about how foolish it was to have somehar else’s name on your arm forever and how it echoed human possessiveness and human love.

As it turned out, Pell and Cal got to hear him rant as well. Seel barely waited until Colt and Stringer were out the door before he started in.

“Could you believe that?” he asked the room as I started washing the dinner dishes. “I knew that letting that har charge for tattoos was a bad idea. Now we have hara making stupid decisions.”

Cal looked up from where he was sharing breath with Pell. They were always hanging all over one another. I was surprised that it didn’t bother Seel more, given how he felt about Cal, but he seemed determined to show that he was above caring. “What are you going to do, oh mighty Seel?” Cal asked in a playful voice. “Ban tattoos?”

“Of course not,” Seel said, throwing himself into a chair across from Cal. “I just would have thought that Colt and Stringer would have a little more sense. It’s not like they’ve just gone through althaia. They’re old enough to behave seriously.”

“Maybe that’s why they did it,” I said.

Everyhar looked at me. “Well,” I said, quickly, “Colt and Stringer have been together a long time. They seem pretty solid.” I was receiving a patented Seel glare. Seel was very good at glaring. “Maybe they feel secure enough about their – their feelings,” I had almost used to word “love” which would have been a huge mistake, “that they think they’ll last.”

The glare was only getting worse. “It’s sort of sweet in a way,” I babbled on. “I mean, for some people.”

Not for Seel, obviously. “It is not sweet, it’s disturbing,” he said and then he pointed at Pell and Cal. “And I better not catch you two down there getting matching tattoos anytime soon.”

Pell made a face. “No way,” he said. “Did you see those tattoos? They were hideous.”

I rolled my eyes as I dried a plate with a dishtowel. Of course Pell’s main objection would be aesthetic.

“You can get them magically removed, you know,” Cal said to Pell.

“But it leaves a scar,” Seel put in.

Seel continued brooding long after Pell and Cal had gone to bed.

“Matching tattoos,” he muttered. “Can you imagine feeling so sick about somehar that you’d want his name tattooed on your body?”

I finished wiping down the counters. “No,” I said. “I can’t.”

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Spreading My Dreams under Your Feet

Spreading My Dreams under Your Feet
by Heartofoshun
(Heartofoshun@aol.com)

Disclaimer: The characters and all rights belong to Storm Constantine, who is gracious enough to allow us to borrow them.
Pairing: Seel and Swift happily-ever-after, but Seel can’t stop thinking of Cal and Flick.
Words: 8,000; complete here in one part.
Rating: R

Author’s note: I am finally letting this one go. I started this story at the end of last summer (at one of the lowest points for ages and ages in my personal life and dubious writing career). I am sure I will never get around to beating it into any kind of shape that I would be happy with. But I have spent far too much time on it to simply throw it away and I suspect some of you may find some entertaining bits–frankly, it has a couple of scenes that I really love. So, I offer it to you, warts and all, and hope you can enjoy it on some level.

Spreading My Dreams under Your Feet

“I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
–William Butler Yeats, “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”

Summary: Ghosts from Seel’s earliest years as Wraeththu return to haunt him.

Several years ago, it seemed like everyhar was writing his own memoir of the early days of Wraeththu. Many included grand, heroic, and tragic accounts which held great significance for our species. Cal and Pell’s stories, of course, are best known among those and cover the broadest ground. The centrality of their life experiences to our naissance as a people warrant the attention their narrations have received. I’ve read Swift’s book, of course, intimidatingly honest and poignant. It alone could have made me throw down my pen and never pick it up again. Not long ago I came across some notes of my own. By comparison, my scribblings are lacking in generalizations and too embarrassingly personal to be edifying. Perhaps I would share them with my own sons, with Swift, Pell and Cal. Cobweb has already read most of them (no! he did not rifle through my personal papers and find them, I actually offered them to him to read).

It all began when I started having recurrent dreams and I began to jot them down, filling in the sketchy parts with my own memories of those events. One of the later dreams and most persistent takes up the first pages of my journal.

* * * * *

The ground shook under our feet. Chunks of the crumbling ornate stonework on the side of the building just missed hitting us, causing a rain of finer debris to cover our heads and shoulders.

“Get down! Watch your head,” Cal shouted, jerking around, frantic to catch sight of me. His eyes flashed with anxiety, but even then the last glint of afternoon sun catching his hair enhanced his golden boy good looks. He might have sounded gruff and unsympathetic to someone who did not know him as well as I did. I caught the barely perceptible hint of relief in his voice to have found me unharmed.

“What the hell was that?” I managed to choke out. “Maybe we set off a trip wire. A warning that someone found their entrance,” I whined.

“Doesn’t really matter, does it?” he insisted. “I am sure that these are the stairs they use to enter the building.” He pointed to a dank-looking cement staircase, overgrown with weeds, leading down into the basement of the ruined building.

At that exact moment, four tall Wraeththu rose like phantoms out of what resembled an otherworldly mist, actually the settling of the smoky dust at the bottom of the stairwell.

The most striking of the handsome wraiths, a swarthy, light-eyed, self-styled urban gypsy, was clad in a red leather sleeveless waistcoat hanging open and skin tight jeans. A gold medallion on a heavy chain and multiple earrings contrasted with the ammunition belt crossing his naked chest and the heavy gun he carried. He looked me up and down with condescension, before shrugging as though to indicate that, while I did not exactly sweep him off his feet, he had seen far worse. He smirked in an incongruously adolescent manner. “Somehar warned us that two boys were heading into our territory. Either you both are far stupider than you look, or you were actually searching for us.”

“We’re not stupid,” Cal said. He had brass balls in those days. Still does. I was terrified but not entirely witless. I could not resist jerking up my chin to meet the gaze of the cocky mutant. There was no way I would let him see how much they intimidated me.

“Wraxilian has already claimed the blond one,” he told his companions with a lascivious snarl, shooting Cal an approving once over. Everyone always noticed Cal. “Bring the skinny one along too. He looks more interesting than he did from a distance.”

* * * * *

Scooting up closer to the headboard of the bed, I tried to avoid the early morning sun that had moved to shine across my eyes. A sharp jab from a tiny elbow in my ribs brought me to full consciousness, causing me to completely lose the thread of my dream–another of those dreams. Azriel had crawled into bed between Swift and me. His squirming and poking made it impossible for me to sleep. Swift needed to ride into Galhea in a few hours for a series of meetings and inspections. Since Swift’s day promised to be crowded with unavoidable commitments until at least mid-afternoon and my work schedule was far more flexible, I took Azriel down to the kitchen hoping to give Swift another couple of hours of sleep.

Finally fed and dressed, Azriel raced across the expanse of freshly mown grass sloping down from the big house at Forever. All long, thin harling legs, his dark hair streamed out behind him. I lurched and stumbled after him, still hung over and sleep-deprived, admitting sourly to myself that I had drunk too much sheh the night before, again. I had taken to staying up far too late. Coaxing Swift to allow me to lose myself in some of our most intense bouts of aruna was the easiest antidote to insomnia. Even after I finally fell asleep, temporarily solaced and sated, the dreams still might break my rest several times each night. Typically, I would feel guilty the following day that I had used Swift in order to hold the dreaded dreams at bay.

On the lawn in front of Forever, the scents and sounds of high summer assaulted me: honeysuckle and damp grass, the hum of insects and the calls of birds. The heat and humidity threatened to entrap me in its torpor. Neither the fresh rains of springtime, brisk autumn air, nor the short cold days of winter will ever be as uniquely linked to Forever in my consciousness as summer’s annual barrage of the senses. Even the salt-tinged ocean air and more temperate clime of Almagabra, far from the violent shifts of season found in inland Megalithica, seem but a distant memory at times. Despite all of my initial misgivings about living among the Varrs, my dread of being isolated from Immanion, and having to endure Cobweb’s prickliness, Forever had grown to feel more like home than anywhere since Saltrock.

Azriel tripped and righted himself, squealing not in frustration but delight. I sighed and slowed to a walk, spotting Cobweb gliding across the grass to meet us. In the noon sun, clad in a loose bluish-white robe, he appeared as cool and elegant as a moonlit night.

At the sight of his high-hostling, Azriel shrieked with glee and surged forward, hurling himself against Cobweb’s legs.

“Co-web! Co-web!” he yelled, his voice painfully shrill. “Theel and I are going to explore the lakehouth. I mean, house.” He laughed, correcting the last half of his final word completely without shame.

Although exhibiting the preternatural verbal acuity and mastery of vocabulary of all harlings, Azriel retained an un-harish lisp. I never bothered to tell Cobweb or Swift that I also had suffered from a similar speech impediment as a child. I feared Swift would be unduly charmed by the image of me as an stammering awkward toddler, while Cobweb might have sneered that the blood of the Gelaming elite was not as flawless as the Hegemony wanted hara to believe.

Before Thiede’s manipulation of Swift and me, I had never considered hosting, certainly not as a consort, nor in any form remotely resembling the repugnant Varrish context of breeders and warriors. Swift rejected these concepts as thoroughly as I did. However, Swift understood the challenges such lingering prejudices presented us, conceiving of effective means of addressing them that would never have occurred to me. I doubted after delivering Azriel that I had any inherent or acquired talent as a hostling, but I never denied my good fortune at having Swift foisted upon me or my adoration of Azriel. And, confident of Swift’s help, I had determined to do the best I could at nurturing the harling.

Stroking Azriel’s cheek and smoothing his baby-fine hair off his sweaty forehead, Cobweb glanced back and forth from the harling to me and smiled, guileless for once. His expression had not clouded with spitefulness at the sight of me, but manifested only his awareness of our shared devotion to Azriel. To my surprise, I found Cobweb’s transformation as pleasing as our habitual verbal sparring was aggravating. Still I knew that any truce between the two of us would be temporary. We were not likely to sit around chatting about our theories on the raising of harlings any time in the near future. At times, I had to shake off an impulse to howl at how Cobweb invariably brought to mind the worst old jokes of human culture about the stereotypical ghastly mother-in-law.

“You look worn out, Seel,” Cobweb said without rancor. “Let me take him for a while. Go back to house and try to take a nap before Swift returns from Galhea.”

Grateful, yet defensive by reflex, I immediately regretted snapping back. “I can handle this.”

“Of course you can. But you don’t have to do everything yourself. You surely don’t believe that Thiede intended your principal function to be that of a nursemaid when he forced the bond between you and my son.”

“Only Thiede knows exactly what he intended.”

Enigmatic in tone as ever, Cobweb answered, “I think we both know why you are here.”

I could barely restrain a grin. We shared the unspoken understanding that, among other things, Thiede had wanted a spy in the house of Parasiel. While Cobweb doubtless resented me, I often presumed that my chesnari’s hostling realized the degree to which I played my role with divided loyalties. That was the flaw in Thiede’s plan, which he may or may not have recognized from the start. The intensity of my love for Swift and Azriel warred against my commitment to the Gelaming larger purpose.

“You go to bed earlier than you used to and yet you’ve looked exhausted lately,” Cobweb said.

“I have nightmares,” I admitted, biting off the words with reluctance.

Cobweb’s eyebrows shot up in response. He probably had not expected me to concede my weakness.

“Nightmares already? Those are usually the dreams one has when one has been with someone longer, after the rose-colored shades come off.” Cobweb’s sarcasm covered apparent concern.

“Stop it!” I laughed in response to the malicious twinkle in Cobweb’s eyes. “I suppose they are not true nightmares, just bits and pieces of my past that I have not thought of in years. Mostly of Cal and not even the worst parts.”

“Ah, I see,” Cobweb answered, with that bitchy, wizardly, I-know-more-than-you-do tone that sets my teeth on edge. “Cal left a strong mark on Forever. He left parts of himself in its walls. You will find no peace from Cal here unless you face the memories and accept them. Cal can be a great illusionist when it comes to hiding his own motivations from himself, but the spirit he left in the house has no patience with the delusions of others.”

“I have tried to analyze them–the dreams, I mean. I have discussed some of them with Swift.”

I didn’t want to mention to Cobweb that I had not yet told Swift of the increasing frequency of my dreams. I didn’t have the courage to raise the subject again, because I feared Swift’s reaction to the strength of my unresolved emotions over the same tired issues.

“And what did my son say?”

Looking at Cobweb, I thought of how Swift, not unlike Cobweb, occasionally saw portents and hidden meanings in the oddest things. Swift does not approach Cobweb’s level as an adept, or even my own, for that matter, but his psychic powers are solid. They have an elemental, instinctive quality to them, no doubt enhanced by genetics and lifelong exposure to Cobweb and his tutoring. But Swift more often than not takes care to respect my privacy and does not heedlessly exercise his gift with me. Swift has an inherent talent for cultivating intimate relations, promoting trust, without ever seeming to push.

“Sometimes he says that a dream is just a dream. Other times we get into arguments about Cal.”

“He could be right, but if you ever want to talk to me about them, I would be willing to listen,” Cobweb answered. “I think you’d find I’d have less of an emotional investment in what you think of Cal. I don’t really care. But I don’t like to see you suffer, because it is not good for Swift and Azriel.”

Releasing a heavy sigh, I said, in the most courteous tone I could muster, “Thank you very much. I will seriously consider it.” I could not resist adding, with my habitual skepticism with him, “You’re all heart, Cobweb.”

Satisfying me with the scowl I had expected, Cobweb gently untangled Azriel’s vise-like grasp on his legs. “Say ‘good bye’ nicely to your hostling and I will take you to the lakehouse if you like.”

I all but ran back to house to seek out my bed and the longest nap I could steal. Settling onto the soft, cool coverlet, with the overhead fan spinning, I barely managed to shed my boots before losing consciousness.

My dreams often began with scenes set in the days when Cal and I were human boys. I would see Cal as clearly as though I were watching a film. I never visualized the mad self-destructive Cal who returned to Saltrock after Pell had died, but a glorious Cal, more dazzling even than he was during his honeymoon period in Saltrock hopelessly besotted with the newly-incepted Pellaz. I might dream of the blond, gifted youth that I had fallen in love with in my own anxious teens. My dream-Cal glowed with a wistful promise that he had long forsaken and I had almost forgotten.

It’s notorious, that I knew Cal before he became an Unthrist outlaw courting death with rash abandon, before he became a vengeful, blood-drenched Uigenna. Long before any of that, I had loved him blindly, briefly presuming that he returned my love. I never dreamed of the long months of our fear of discovery. Our relationship would have been condemned as an unspeakable aberration in our narrowing world, growing ever more intolerant in its death throes. Nor did I have explicit dreams of our certainty of exposure and possible separation that led us to finally run away from our school together. Least of all, did I dream of the benighted families we had abandoned.

When I first fell in love with Cal, it had been a typical schoolboy crush and I was not alone in my appreciation. He had been a big name amongst our classmates, idolized by the younger students, respected by his peers, and he manifested an unparalleled rapport with our teachers.

After our school, a haven for the sons of the wealthiest and most privileged, had become a bunker defended from the outside world by a hefty security system and the most competent mercenaries money could buy, life inside had gone on much as it had for the boys’ fathers and grandfathers. It existed as an anomaly even among the most elite schools of that part of the world. This one had been modeled on older educational institutions across the sea. Its students were still being groomed, in the event the planet should survive, to step out of the rubble and take their rightful place as the builders and planners of its future.

Despite the school’s backward looking philosophy, the more disaffected among its upper-level students, which did not yet include Cal or me, had begun to grumble in restrooms and after lights-out that it was already too late. Meanwhile, Cal excelled in sports and his class work. Everything came easy to cocky Cal. He was also strikingly attractive, with his bright hair, high cheekbones, and eyes of an unusual violet blue. I, on the other hand, although a bit of a prodigy as a scholar, envied Cal on the playing fields. He was easy to spot among the others with his nimbus of golden hair, long-legged grace, and height achieved early. I remained frustratingly small for my age. My physical growth and my looks had yet to catch up with my mental precocity.

The fall that I turned fourteen, I recall thinking that I had changed for the better in almost every way over that summer. I returned to school to find Cal had gone through a metamorphosis of sorts also. Something sinister had happened to Cal over our holidays. I never learned what it was, but later discovered, although he uncharacteristically guarded the details, that it had something to do with his father.

He no longer could have modeled as the poster boy for the ideal student. His once neatly trimmed blond hair had grown out to cover his collar. It looked as though he had just rolled out of bed and neglected to comb it. Someone less splendid might have simply looked ill groomed, but Cal carried himself with an air of insouciant unkempt glamour. A new veneer of bitterness coated him. He wore his rumpled shirt unbuttoned at the neck, the knot of his required school tie hanging loose and usually askew. With his jacket thrown over his shoulder and his sleeves rolled up, Cal already had begun to resemble the scruffy, iconoclastic har who would charm all who met him, leaving a trail of shattered hearts and lives in his wake.

Once I spotted Cal behind the academy gymnasium, smoking weed with Tucker, one of the school troublemakers, as foul-mouthed and stupid, in my opinion, as he was darkly handsome. Cal who had always been popular, retained an evident authority that final year, but people had begun to draw back from him. He glittered with the sheen of danger, perhaps studied opposition or an air of unavoidable doom.

In my youthful assessment, his new friend Tucker never demonstrated any principled stance against authority, but was simply a crude bore. I wondered if the miasma of menace and ill fate swirling around Cal had resulted from hanging out with the disreputable Tucker. More likely it had happened the other way around and Cal’s nascent rebelliousness had drawn Tucker to him.

That year I finally made the soccer first-team, having shot up over the summer, no longer the smallest in our age group. This meant that I found myself able to scrutinize Tucker and Cal together at close proximity. Their air of co-conspirators puzzled and intrigued me. Looking back, I can see now that my dislike of Tucker and mooning after Cal could not have been well concealed.

My dreamscape shifted to the locker room before a soccer practice. I experienced a particularly vivid visualization of the afternoon I learned that my attraction to Cal might be returned. The scent of human male perspiration and athletic gear that always permeated the building, hit me as sharply as though I were really there. I paused unseen in the doorway and watched them. Cal, with his back to me, had already changed into his uniform shorts and jersey, while Tucker, facing him, seemingly unaware of me, stood shirtless. His tanned, sculpted torso made me feel skinny and underdeveloped.

Tucker’s annoying, braying laugh rang in my ears, followed by Cal’s sardonic drawl.

“Come off it, Tuck. Admit that he’s good-looking.”

“If that’s your type,” sneered Tucker.

Cal responded, “Like you even have a type, you filthy-minded reprobate.”

“You’re my type,” Tucker said, in an almost convincing vaguely affectionate twang.

“In only one way,” Cal answered, his laugh acid-coated. “He, in addition to being painfully beautiful, actually has a brain and I suspect he also prefers . . .”

“Fuck you! Painfully beautiful? Tell me you didn’t just say that. Are you a poet now as well as a great big girl?”

Cal grabbed a towel from the bench in front of him and snapped it across Tucker’s naked chest in retaliation.

“Ow! Fuck!” Tucker swore.

I tried to back out of the room before either boy noticed me, but not quickly enough. I heard Tucker call out against the closing door, “Well, well. Speak of the devil.”

‘This is a dream,’ I told myself with a sense of satisfaction and elation. I looked forward to rushing ahead to the next part—the part where I summoned up the courage to go to Cal’s room later that night, how he let me in and we made love for the first time. Well, in my mind, I called it making love. Ag only knows how Cal thought of it, although he did tell me that it had never been so good for him with anyone else before. I did not realize at the time that I was actually his first also.

That muggy afternoon, I dreamt, as I had many times, of our sense of liberation during the short time while Cal and I clung only to each other. My dream was of the period when Cal, half-rebel, half-cynic, had shone like a magnificent star among the swarms of pretty boys who filled the basement clubs of the dying city. I dreamed of random moments we shared, both inconsequential and dramatic. During that phase of our relationship, I never touched anyone except Cal, not out of principle, but because no one compared to Cal. On the other hand, even then Cal had been Cal. He made it clear that I ranked an undisputed first among many.

Cal stood before me, smirking in the face of my jealous temper, adjusting the zipper on his faded jeans. A relentless bass thumped in time with the pulsating black lights of a darkened club.

“Don’t give me the sad eyes and trembling lower lip treatment. You have to know you’re the only one who matters to me at all,” Cal said, grabbing my upper arm hard enough to leave bruises.

I answered, cheered somewhat by his declaration, “Odd way you have of showing it.”

“I can’t feel sorry for you,” he answered, his face clouding with an unreadable expression. “You could have anyone you want.”

“Whom might I prefer over you out of that crowd of losers?” I asked, sweeping my arm in a gesture that encompassed the dance floor packed with gyrating bodies.

“Good point. Lucky me. Right place. Right time.” Cal laughed before licking his way into my willing mouth.

Later back at the abandoned loft that had served as our temporary shelter, wild-eyed and panting, he lifted himself up over me, his hands on either side of my head, his face a picture of desolate longing. “I had no idea having you would be anything like this. I was only aware of how badly I wanted you, needed you, how beautiful you are.”

We would have scoffed if anyone had tried to tell us that any communion between two bodies, two spirits, could actually make our human sexual encounters pale to near nothingness. Out-of-control adolescent male hormones and a dose of obsession combined in us to create a heady brew, and yet could not begin to rival the incandescence of aruna. Alone together, focused upon each other, we believed that we had achieved magic–metaphorically, of course. We thought we were invincible, that we had discovered together a breathless state of awe that few if any before us could possibly have experienced. In our youthful arrogance, we also both believed that fate had singled us out in some exceptional manner. History would prove that we had been right, but not in any way that we could have ever understood then.

In truth, those few months after ditching school, before inception, were destined to be our best days together. Still fascinated with one another and our discoveries, we marveled at how unique we were from other youngsters of our generation and class. We hovered at the border of understanding how precariously the world as we knew it teetered at the edge of its total destruction.

The streets we prowled emptied day-by-day. Tales abounded of those strange devil-angel street warriors, which we had heard shared our secret vice. For a while, although rumors of them intrigued us, we did not actively try to discover who these creatures were. The majority of people who still ventured out in the center of the city were far less fantastical or romantic, but provided an unwelcome distraction. They appeared to be insane, criminally foolish and vicious, but most of all potentially lethal.

Cal boasted that he could protect us with his newly acquired automatic pistol. I never mentioned that I doubted Cal’s expertise. He would gain those skills much later. Up to that point, Cal had only fired short blasts to warn ghoulish figures lurking in the shadows that he was armed. I also agonized over how long the money Cal had stolen from his father’s safe would last and, when it did run out, how we would buy food or ammunition.

Overheated, I unbuttoned my trousers and peeled my shirt off. Once soundly asleep again, I dreamt of the last significant conversation between Cal and me prior to our inceptions.

We sat on the top of a low-rise building just south of the city center looking into an orange, crimson, and rose sunset. Largely abandoned buildings, which had once housed the offices of legendary international financial concerns of our dying world, were silhouetted in the distance against the brilliant sky. Cal lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and passed it to me. With his lean, long-limbed exquisiteness, his shoulder-length whitish blond hair, and his finely molded lips, nearly too pretty for a boy, he almost could have passed for one of those stunning demons who controlled wider and wider swaths of the city. Cal, aware that he was gorgeous, did nothing to enhance his looks. I, on the other hand, despite his protests to the contrary, still felt like a duckling paired with a swan. I had taken to outlining my eyes in black, my best feature I thought, and plaiting crystal beads and colored string into my hair.

“You’ve felt their call too, haven’t you?” he asked. “Wraeththu, they’ve named themselves.”

I knew that my answer mattered to Cal, that he needed reassurance and trusted my intuitiveness. “Yes,” I said. “We must go to them.”

Cal’s face told me that my response had been the right one. But he couldn’t leave it at that. He needed to speak, as though answering his own last remaining misgivings. “We really have no alternative,” he said, his infuriatingly laid-back drawl, belying his hesitation.

“It’s more than just expedience,” I told him, suddenly confident, wanting to trump Cal’s fatalism with a manifestation of will, to color it with my own insight or prescience. “We’re meant to be part of that future.”

That had been the last time for years that Cal and I would agree upon anything.

After few flickering images of Cal’s handsome human face, smiling, laughing, then finally angry, shocked and hurt when a few weeks later I turned and walked away from him. The dream then totally shifted in time, back to our years as schoolboys.

But when I knocked on the door, it wasn’t Cal’s room. I found myself in Saltrock. Flick lay on a bed. It had been sprinkled with yellow rose petals and he wore a wreath of ivy with a single yellow rose, more compelling than I had imagined he might be in my wildest fantasies, and there had a been more than a few of those over the preceding several days. He was not the first newly incepted har I had initiated into the joys of aruna, but the one who had intrigued me the most. Flick was not a spectacular beauty like Cal or Pell, but there was something unique about his pale, almost translucent, skin and the pixie features of his expressive mobile face. As I stepped into the room, he did not greet me with the expected wide-eyed mixture of hope and dread. He grinned. His newly perfected harish beauty had transformed him into a personification of impish temptation, as though he expected his first aruna would be not only life-altering, but a great deal of fun.

“Oh, yes!” he said, jubilant. “I’m glad it’s you.”

I laughed and jumped on him.

My eyes flew open at that instant. A boyish face hovered above me, intense eyes and flushed cheeks. His dark hair had been shaved close to his scalp on both sides of his head, exactly like the Flick of my dreams.

A winsome grin cracked the illusion of ethereality in the aspect of my striking phantom. The warmth and scent of him—overly warm on such a hot day and reminiscent of the odor of Swift’s favorite horse—left no doubt as to the corporeality and identity of my vision.

“Do you like my new haircut?” he asked. “I had them chop off the back and trim the sides again.”

I scrunched my eyes shut and then opened then again, trying to calm the hammering in my chest. “Agh! Swift! You nearly scared the life out of me. I was sound asleep and dreaming.”

In the aftermath of the apparition came a stab of pain and guilt that I had not revisited for years. I hadn’t allowed the memory of Flick to move me, even when I had finally seen him again the previous winter. My focus had been on Pell and Cal and Orien that festival night. So why would Flick’s image come to haunt me months later, on a humid, verdant summer afternoon? And the face I had seen just moments ago had not been Flick as he is now, but the innocent, playful, sexy Flick of a lost time and place. And how could I have seen Swift in him?

Unlike Flick, Swift is handsomer than he is pretty. Despite his strong resemblance to Cobweb, Swift does not have the delicate elfin facial structure of this har from my past. They did have youth and high spirits in common, as well as a fair complexion, wide-set eyes framed by dark, arched eyebrows, and combined with that blasted haircut . . .

“Sorry! It was all I could do not to race back here. Wanted to show you my hair.” Swift toed his boots off and crawled up onto the bed, planting a kiss on my forehead while taking my face between his hands. He looked down at me with a predatory, seductive keenness that I always find irresistible. I reached up to touch the back of Swift’s head, trying not to show my dismay at the memory of his heavy hair sweeping across my overly-sensitized skin as he bends over me in aruna.

“You’re marvelous and you know it. You were before you butchered your beautiful hair and you still are,” I said. “Yes, the cut is strangely becoming.” I almost believed my words. It is, after all, impossible to make Swift look less than devastating.

“But do you like the haircut?”

“Seriously, Swift,” I complained. “Do you actually believe I would lie to you about a haircut?”

Grabbing my head with a hand on each cheek, Swift brought our lips together, opening his mouth over mine, determined to share breath. The cheeky devil often uses the act of sharing breath to confirm or deny something I might tell him. The thought made me laugh. In a moment of bloody-mindedness, I threw up an easily breachable barrier against his obvious probing.

Never one to play games of power, Swift let the protection stand. “Do you really hate it though?” he asked, crawling further onto me and pinning my hands above my head. “You have to tell me. I can’t tell what you’re thinking, except that you’re holding something back.”

I felt compelled to lick the end of his nose, which crinkled in the most adorable way at the touch of my tongue. “I like everything about you, even the imperfect parts.” At that exact moment I couldn’t think of anything about Swift that wasn’t perfect, except perhaps the haircut. “It suits you. Although, I do recall telling you that I particularly liked your long hair.”

“Ah-ha! Now the truth comes out.” Swift bent and pulled on my lower lip with his teeth. “You are such a lying mendacious liar. I never know when to believe you. Lying is second nature to you. Half the time–more than half the time–you don’t even realize you’re doing it.”

“What do you know about it, precious pure born Varrish prince? You never need to lie. You have no sense of boundaries at all. And less of self-preservation.”

“Don’t even start with things you know nothing about! I can roon that scowl right off your face if I feel like it,” Swift said, aggressive, potent, and smiling like a fool. “Anyway, the longer hair was incidental . . . I never really got used to it.” Turning shy in an instant, Swift’s cheeks pinkened.

It never ceases to fascinate me how Swift can project such a predominantly male outer shell, be so formidable as ouana, and still at the slightest provocation turn into the sweetest, most willing soume. He drew his brows together and stuck out his lower lip in a pout. “I always wore my hair shorter before you met me. This is more Varrish. Doesn’t make me look as much like I am trying to pose as part of the Gelaming elite.”

“But you are. Well, not posing. In fact, Swift-har-Parasiel, you are part of the Gelaming leadership. Don’t you realize that? Or do you still deny it?” I watched Swift’s face curious, looking for any sign of irritation or contradiction. Swift only snorted and shook his head, with no discernable resentment.

“An agent, I suppose?” His question, accompanied by a good-natured shrug, became more of a statement. “I’m just me. Doing what I think is right–my duty to the hara here–as well as I can do it.” Undercutting the seriousness of his tone, Swift ruffled the short hair at the back of his neck with one hand. “Think of the haircut as a costume if you like.” He cocked his chin up, narrowed his eyes, and clenched his jaw, mimicking a haughty warrior prince, so achingly beautiful and desirable that I could not hold back a gasp. He broke into a full out laugh. “When certain hara have grown more used to the idea of me as their leader, of us as a team, I promise I’ll do anything you like with my hair.”

“The remaining Varrs . . .” I began. It was hard enough to speak, when what I really wanted was to touch him, to drown myself in him.

“Parasiel hara,” Swift corrected, sniggering; he never slipped and used the abandoned tribal name.

Frowning at his interruption, I continued, “ . . . who aren’t enthralled with you and your connection to Immanion are not likely to alter their world view because of a haircut.”

“Ouch!” He laughed in that quintessentially Swift way, pulling on his basic optimistic nature as a source of strength. Where Swift got his disposition, as the son of Cobweb and Terzian, is a mystery that I do not think I will ever unravel. The simplest explanation is that all incepted har, like me, have been scarred and twisted by their experiences and it will only be the next generation of pure born hara who will be able grow into their true natures.

“I suppose I picked that up from Cobweb—fashion as a form of manipulation.”

“As long as you don’t come floating down the main staircase of Forever trailing yards of diaphanous green silk with a gardenia tucked behind your ear . . .”

“Lying again. You’d love to see that!” Swift teased. “But it’s not likely now. The haircut would completely spoil the effect.”

The image caused us both to bark with laughter. In our short time together, Swift’s ability to dispel ghosts has rescued me from ruminative, self-destructive tail chasing more times than I can count. It also opens me up to be able to speak of my deepest fears. The impulse too strong to resist to tell Swift what I had seen when he awakened me flooded through me. I had to tell Swift why his appearance disturbed me.

“When I woke up and saw you with your hair newly shaved on the sides, you appeared to me as a ghost from my past. Someone I loved a little once, and, had I been a better har, might have loved a lot more.”

“Then I guess I’m glad you were not. A better har, I mean. I’m happy that you love me now instead. You do finally admit to love then, don’t you? It seems to be getting easier for you to use the word.” No tone of self-congratulation ever shadows Swift’s assertions of that sort.

“Hmm. I suppose it is. I’ve conceded dozens of times that I love you to distraction. A little late for me to be fussy about vocabulary, isn’t it? I am stuck with you now, aren’t I?”

“I know I hope so!” Swift’s owl-eyed expression of inquisitiveness intensified. “I take it that you’re not talking about Cal this time. What was his name?”

“The dreams unfortunately were about Cal again. But when you woke me up, I had been dreaming of Flick. When you were leaning over me, for a moment I thought I saw Flick,” I stammered. “You remember Flick.”

“Of course, I do,” Swift said, riveted. He could have said many things. He had been angrier about how I behaved that night than I think he ever has been before or since. But another of the miracles of Swift is that he does not hold a grudge. Fortunately, being loved by Swift is not contingent upon good behavior, although it does make me want to try harder. His terse response only indicated his level of interest, his reluctance of saying too much, and causing me to reconsider and hold back any details.

Yet after raising the topic–I am not the har that Swift is–I was no longer certain that I wanted to talk about Flick. It may seem from what I have written before that it is easy for Swift to distract and manipulate me, but I also understand how to get around Swift—ever-responsive Swift, my own pure-born golden flame. First, I looked into his eyes and then I exhaled near his mouth, not sharing breath, but close enough to make him whimper. His lips hovered, parted just slightly, so close to mine that I was certain that I could taste their lusciousness before I traced them with my tongue. Predictably Swift shuddered and hissed. His dark lashes fluttered shut against his pale skin.

“You have no idea . . . Oh, Seel . . . So, so hot . . . ” Swift stuttered against my mouth. I could not repress my own shiver when Swift opened his eyes again and I found myself looking into his wide-blown pupils. I thought of how I wasn’t worthy of this, not worthy of him. Swift deserves so much more and doesn’t even realize it. Life truly is unfair and I am the exultant beneficiary of that injustice. ‘Thank you, Thiede,’ I thought, the bittersweet anthem that overtakes me with regularity at the most inappropriate times. ‘Damn your manipulative hide, Thiede. Thank you,’ I projected. ‘Have you heard it enough times yet?’

Then, a high-pitched whoop of infantile joy, sounded at a distance from the house, distracting me from Swift.

Suddenly alert, I tensed and asked, “Did you see Azriel or Cobweb when you came in?” thinking it wouldn’t do for Cobweb to interrupt us, naked, sweaty, reeking of aruna, in the middle of the afternoon. Or, perhaps, Cobweb would find that all too easy to envisage, a thought that disturbed me even more.

“They were in the kitchen. Cobweb told me that he’d keep Az for the rest of the day.” Swift smirked in silent recognition of my routinely expressed crankiness relating to his hostling. Grinding his damp crotch against my hardening ouana-lim, Swift said, “Stop thinking now. I survived him, didn’t I? Azriel will too. Pay attention!” He captured my lower lip and sucked on it.

“Ah, yes. So good. And you’re soume,” I said, groaning with need.

“You better believe I am. For you,” Swift murmured, his rough whisper reaching deep within me. “Do you want me to take a bath first?”

“No. Don’t bother,” I said, and then added as an afterthought, only half-teasing, “I think I am beginning to associate the smell of horse with incredibly amazing things.”

”Uppity, high-caste Gelaming har. If you don’t like it, maybe you can magic it away,” he said, before covering my mouth with his to share breath. All I remained aware of was his spirit as bright and clear as spring sunlight, our shared silver-misted bliss, and not the slightest whiff of horse flesh, although he still wore his clothing, sweat-dampened from riding. And he has the impertinence to taunt me about my abilities.

It is hard to separate Swift’s love of me from his arunic skills. I am not sure there is even any reason I would want to do so. He swaths me with his own light of hope and promise and I emerge from it feeling more myself but less self-absorbed. That afternoon was no exception.

“Seel?” he said, his voice soft and languorous in the aftermath of our release.

“Huh?” I grunted, turning my head to find him looking at me with a lazy satisfied smirk.

“Remember? You wanted to tell me about Flick.” The patience in Swift’s voice both infuriated and thrilled me. It still felt odd to me, who had shielded my heart for so long, that I totally relied upon such a young har.

“Oh, god, Swift! You took me to another world.” Affection for him swept over me. “You are too tolerant. Don’t you ever get tired of hearing my confessions?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m intrigued. And I admire your candor. There are still horrific things about me that I have not told you.”

“You shouldn’t worry. I may seem foolish at times, but I am high enough in caste that, although I may not know the details, I can read the core of you like a book.”

“Hmm,” Swift said, with a gentle smile. “I have not attained your level yet, but I have my own form of insight that has nothing to do with caste.”

“Yes. You do and a heavy dose of Cobweb’s dubious magic as well. Don’t ever think I underestimate you, Swift. Not since before that first night.”

Swift rolled to the side, pulling me into the comforting embrace of his arms, settling my head between his shoulder and his neck. “Now, tell me what horrible atrocities that you think you committed against Flick as a young har that are causing you to feel so guilt-ridden now. Aside from your disappointment that he wasn’t Cal. I can figure out that part for myself.”

“I’ll ignore the mockery in your last remark for the moment and start at the beginning. Orien found Flick and brought him to Saltrock. He believed Flick had some indeterminate, unusual gift, insisting that we needed to uncover what this might be and help him develop it. As soon as I met Flick, I knew Orien was right.

“He was one of those boys, a bit like Pellaz, who even before inception had an allure that was almost harish in its luminosity.

“Many people at Saltrock had thought that Flick and I had been nearly chesnari. Even Flick may have thought so.” I shuddered at how easy it was for me to fall into half-truth. “Actually, he almost certainly thought so, probably assumed it was only a matter of time. I had criminally underestimated how much the relationship with Flick could affect me, had already touched me, and determined instead to view him as, at most, a casual aruna buddy.

“When Orien first arrived at Saltrock with Flick, he reminded me a lot of myself before inception, a privileged only son of parents who had doted on him. Our families had saddled us with expectations of excellence and accomplishment. I retained for decades the remnants of those earliest aspirations. I simply transferred them to complying with Orien’s or Thiede’s hopes or plans. In reaction to the same pressures, Flick chose to withdraw into himself.

“Orien had incepted him and I first took aruna with him. He enchanted me, but I constructed a barricade against the natural evolution of my response to him. Orien, in one of his few errors of judgment, after Flick’s initial training, left his nurturing largely in my hands. I failed Orien’s trust in me. Flick needed the right kind of attention and motivation, as well as education to push him in the right direction. He had been drawn to the Sarocks. Saltrock should have been a haven and a university for him. My unresolved fixation on Cal turned it into a nightmare. I abused Flick’s affection, neglected his training, and, in doing so, betrayed him.”

Swift reached for my hand and brought it to his lips. “You were still recovering from losing Cal. You were afraid you might fall in love with Flick and be hurt again, the way Cal had hurt you. Don’t blame yourself for everything that happened to Flick. He made choices also. He had another path to follow. Do you believe in fate?”

“Don’t give me escape routes,” I said.

“You’ll always be harder on yourself than I will be on you. Give yourself time Seel. This is only the beginning for all of us. Answer my question. Do you believe in fate?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, I do. Maybe I got that from Cobweb. He is rarely wrong. Flick has discovered his own fate, which is separate, although perhaps still linked to yours. But not in a way that you could have ever guessed at Saltrock. And if you had loved Flick, where would that leave me? I like things just the way they are.” Swift smiled and held me tighter.

“That’s a garbled conglomeration of pragmatics and mysticism if I ever heard one,” I said, hoping Swift was right this time.

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