"I can see why she had that effect on you. She was a remarkable woman. I'd not realized you were the one who put her into that sword," Prism said. "Kirra doesn't have the faintest clue what treasure he possesses."
"I promised to protect her children to the end. Unfortunately, their family has a tendency to die young," Ghayle said, sighing. "Despite my best efforts, their line is far too reckless."
"Reckless and pious blood mixed together. Zealots of their own natures," Prism said, chuckling at recent memories. "It's amazing how I can see Kirra's ancient ancestors in him now. Styx is a lucky man."
"It's interesting, isn't it?" Ghayle asked. "How people can still be considered lucky when demons walk the world. How love can still rule in the face of total destruction?"
"Yes. It's interesting, but not surprising," Prism replied. "There was always good in the world. There are always people worth saving, and people who can rise up and change things. Even against overwhelming odds."
Ghayle smiled. "Exactly."
Prism shook his head. "You and I speak of two different things. I'm saying the world could've been saved. You tried to destroy it."
"I had to, to remind the world of its greatness," Ghayle said.
"Had to . . ." Prism mused. "Because it's all a cycle? Because you're compelled by history?"
"No. Because history eventually repeats itself," Ghayle said, "if you wait long enough."
Prism smirked. "I never cared much for history."
Ghayle laughed, her eyes dancing as she reached back into Prism's memories. "That's not entirely true, is it?"
Prism and Grim walked into Grim's rooms and collapsed on opposite ends of a short couch. Shirtless and sweaty, they kept only a foot of distance between them as they collected themselves after their long spar.
"That was a good session," Grim said between gasps for air. Sparring had relieved him in many ways, especially the last quarter, which Prism was quick to point out.
"Yes, you made it most of the way through our allotted time before you ran away to take care of your . . ." Prism glanced at Grim's crotch and grinned, "problem."
Grim grunted and stuck out his tongue at Prism before responding to the teasing. "Hey, just because you're able to resist so easily, you stonehearted bastard."
Prism laughed. "I like it when you get mean," he said, his voice low and sultry, "It's so un-Fedain."
Despite the flirtatious nature of the teasing, this remark hit home more than Grim liked, and he replied before he thought through his response, "Yeah, but my biology isn't. You know the reason I have a hard time is because you're essentially a drug to my system, right?"
Prism sighed and nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have teased you."
"I know," Grim said leaning his head back and letting out a long exhalation to vent his frustration. "We keep getting at each other, don't we?"
"It's probably just something we started in the hopes it would make it easier to resist," Prism said.
"Has it been working for you?" Grim asked, snickering at the unlikely thought.
"No. It's actually having the opposite effect," Prism admitted, joining in on Grim's laughter, "but the longer we're together, the better I'm getting at resisting you overall."
"I know what you mean," Grim said. "Maybe when the rest of your sentence is up, I won't even want to have sex with you anymore."
Prism snorted. "That's absurd, and you know it."
"You're right, we're going to make love every day. Probably multiple times," Grim replied. Both laughed heartily at that. There was no use resisting reality, and they'd learned to be positive about their situation.
Of course, in Grim's mind, that only meant Prism smiled more often, which meant he had more fuel for his fantasies, both during their training sessions and long after. Now, at least, he was too tired for either.
"I'm glad we can laugh about it now," Prism said. "It's been tense for a while."
"You're telling me!" Grim exclaimed. "During some of those early nights I considered moving my furniture in front of the door between our rooms, so even if tempted, I wouldn't visit you at night."
"Did you ever?" Prism asked, grinning. "I did."
Grim laughed and stood, walking toward the cupboard and cooling cabinet in the corner. "Would you like something refreshing to drink?"
"Only water, please," Prism replied, standing as well and walking to an open spot. Stretching now in his customary post-workout routine, he waited for Grim to return with a glass bottle before speaking again. "You should be joining me, you know."
Grim looked Prism up and down, his eyes flashing as he set the bottle on a nearby table. "Can't I just watch?"
Prism chuckled and continued stretching. Grim watched shamelessly for a minute, but as soon as his body reacted, his mistake became apparent. Embarrassed, he took a place next to Prism and mimicked the stretches, hoping it would take his mind off running somewhere private to address his arousal.
To his surprise, it did, and Grim couldn't be happier. For all the jokes they made, Grim wanted to match Prism's dedication. Not because he saw anything wrong with masturbation, but because it was unfair to Prism that only one of them could release their sexual tension. Grim appreciated Prism's sacrifice and wanted to repay it to the best of his ability.
After ten minutes, Prism stopped stretching. Grim continued without him, finishing the routine with the stretches Prism had started with, and Prism nodded in approval before walking away. He didn't watch him and fantasize, as Grim had at the beginning. Initially, Grim felt cheated, but he silenced this quickly. There was nothing Prism wanted more than to watch—nothing but the opportunity to remain with Grim, anyway.
Prism explored Grim's room instead. He'd done so many times, always finding something new to ask Grim about. It endeared Prism to Grim even more and was one of many reasons they'd managed to transcend their physical attraction over the past two months.
"What's this?" Prism asked when Grim had finished his stretches. He walked toward the low table beside the large doors leading out to the balcony, joining Prism. It was a dark-grey mask made of a thin and flexible material, meant to cover the entire head with small holes for the mouth and eyes. Two large, black horns extended from the back of the mask, curling back slightly like the horns of an ibex. On closer inspection, the mask had detailed scales painted in black ink across its entire surface.
"Oh! My father sent that to me a few days ago. He sent gifts to both Veil and me for Bright Days," Grim said. He smiled sadly and added, "It's a shame he couldn't come home."
"You're missing him a lot right now," Prism observed, matching Grim's smile with empathetic eyes. "You don't get to spend any time with Veil, either."
"No, my family is more distant than ever, though at least I still have them," Grim replied, taking the mask from Prism. He raised it to his face but didn't slip it over his head. "And at least I know they're thinking about me."
"So, what is it?" Prism asked.
Grim lowered the mask and handed it back to Prism. "It's a ritual mask—a replica, actually—belonging to the Sendar people. Have you ever heard of them?"
"No," Prism said, setting the mask back on the table. "Tell me about them."
Grim nodded back toward the couch and Prism followed him. They gathered the bottles of water along the way, and both resumed their previous lounging positions. Once they'd settled, Grim spoke. "They're distant genetic cousins of the Fedain, actually, though they had several distinct differences. They retained a great deal of their avian heritage, long after their ancestors became primates. Large feathered wings allowed them to fly, and they were likely the inspiration behind the angels of Oligan's dominant religion, Siphali."
"Could they manipulate lifeforce like Fedain do?" Prism asked.
"We don't know. Since they went extinct several thousand years ago, it's difficult to know from the few biological samples we have. Most are skeletons, and only one natural mummy has ever been discovered," Grim replied. "Even that wasn't able to offer conclusive evidence either way."
"What's with the horns?" Prism asked. He yawned and rested his head against the couch. "Those aren't very birdlike."
"The Sendar people worshipped a god known as Naxthul, whom the mask represents. It's believed he belonged to another ancient race discovered in the fossil record, here in Ultaka. Like the Sendar, they had wings and could theoretically fly, though their wings were most likely tough and leathery, and they had large horns extending from the back of their skulls. From the fossils we believe they were reptilian, though a rare warm-blooded species, and . . ." Grim paused as Prism yawned again. "I'm boring you, aren't I?"
"No," Prism said. "No, I'm sorry if it came across that way. I admit that I'm falling asleep, but it's more because your voice puts me at ease, and I love listening to you talk so much that I just want to curl up and let your words inspire my dreams."
"That's a lovely thought," Grim said, smiling fondly. "Well, if it's dreams you're after, I'll take a different approach. See, even though we don't know a lot about their biology, we know quite a bit about their culture, or think we do, anyway."
"What does that mean?" Prism asked.
"Most of it comes to us from the Elroks, whose oral tradition has preserved not only the myths of their own people for thousands of years, but also the myths of those around them. They had territorial disputes with the Sendar long ago, but also had a great deal of trade with them," Grim explained. "Some of it seems fantastical, but I'm sure even with your disinterest in history, you at least know of the Cataclysm?"
"When massive earthquakes shook the entire world, volcanoes erupted constantly, tidal waves swept over the land, demons walked the surface, killing everything in sight, unleashed from the pit of hell itself . . ." Prism said with a grin, "that Cataclysm?"
"Yeah, that's the one," Grim replied, laughing. "Even though it's mentioned as fact in the history of several societies as recently as a thousand years ago, most people don't believe it happened."
Prism raised an eyebrow and said, "But you do?"
Grim shook his head and replied, "I have no idea, but I believe something must have happened to make the different peoples of the world record the event. The Elroks definitely believe it happened." He wet his mouth before continuing. "They accuse the Sendar of triggering the Cataclysm. Apparently, the Sendar created massive beings out of metal and energy and attempted to subject the entire world under their rule. The Cataclysm then followed, as if the world itself protested the damage the Sendar's golems caused."
"Golems. I've heard that word before," Prism said. "Not connected to myth though."
"There's a company trying to develop robotics which uses that name," Grim replied, nodding. "Their robots are entirely harmless and not particularly useful yet, but their development is promising." He smiled slyly and added, "The Sendar's golems were different. They used magic like the Gor do."
"Like the Gor do?" Prism guffawed. Grim regarded him strangely and Prism said, "What about the Fedain?"
Grim stared at Prism in confusion. "What about us?"
"The Fedain use magic, too, if you call what the Gor do 'magic'," Prism replied.
Grim shook his head in bewilderment. "What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember my friend Kaeral?" Prism asked. "You only met him briefly, that night we . . ." he waited for the words to trigger Grim's memory. To go further would risk arousal.
"Yes, I remember him. He's a bit hazy with all the other details, of course," Grim replied, suppressing a giggle.
"Of course," Prism said, grinning at Grim's contained laughter. "Kaeral uses Gor magic. He's not an expert or powerful magus in any way, but he gave me a brief course on it—not enough for me to actually use it, but enough to understand how it works."
"Enlighten me," Grim said, leaning forward to show his interest.
"You mean you don't know?" Prism asked, his eyes dancing. "I finally know something you don't? Maybe I should hold onto it because I doubt that will ever happen again."
Grim growled in annoyance. "Come on, tell me!"
"Okay," Prism sighed dramatically, pausing long enough to get another growl from Grim before he said, "Fedain are able to use their own lifeforce to encourage the lifeforce in others, correct? That's my understanding of things."
"Right. It's energy transference," Grim said. "All we really do is encourage the natural healing process to speed up or reinforce it. We replicate our bodies' natural healing abilities in others. In fact, we're currently trying to develop a way to use our cells to give those healing properties to others—I even donated some of my blood for development once I learned about it."
"Well, when the Gor manipulate elements, they use their own body as a medium to transfer energy from one place to another," Prism explained. "Kaeral once transferred heat from the ocean to warm our bodies, using his body to connect from the water to the buoy we rested on."
"What's with the runes then?" Grim asked. "Why draw them if it's not mystical."
"They're not actually important, supposedly, they just help the Gor focus. I'm told it takes a particularly strong mind for a human to accomplish it even with the added focus of the runes, though. The 'right kind of mind' is how Kaeral put it," Prism replied. "But most Gor grow up learning the process through drawing the runes, so they can't do it otherwise because it doesn't feel right and disrupts their will."
"That's so fascinating," Grim said, pulling back and resting against the couch to absorb the information. He nodded as he dissected it all, as he said, "Transferring energy through a third party . . . I never would've thought about it that way. I wonder if that's how spirit tattoos and familiars work, too?"
"I know something about spirit tattoos," Prism offered. Grim smiled, which was all the encouragement Prism needed to continue. "Some people use them in the Dorram, though it's falling out of style as people embrace modern ways of thinking. Killing animals and using their lifeforce to alter your own physical state is something most people think is . . . improper."
"As a Fedain, I do too," Grim said. But he hastened to add, "Though as someone who likes to study other cultures, I still find it morbidly fascinating. Kaeral had spirit tattoos on his ears, didn't he, as I recall?"
"Yeah, and he uses them to sneak out of the Temple," Prism replied. "His allow him to collapse his body somewhat, and he can fit through spaces most people wouldn't be able to."
Grim paled as much as his already light skin allowed. "That's just creepy."
"Speaking as a thief, I think it's useful," Prism said.
"Former thief," Grim amended.
Prism chuckled and replied, "I don't know about that. Seems I'm still sneaking into places I shouldn't. I mean, I'm living in a palace and I'm a poor boy from the country!"
"Oh, you belong here," Grim said. "This is home for you."
"You're amazing," Prism said, "I love you."
"I love you, too," Grim said, sighing in contentment.
They stared at each other for several seconds, basking in the warm words exchanged between them. Contentment gave way to lust, however, and Grim turned away, blushing at how close he'd come to jumping across the couch and compromising Prism's oaths.
"So . . ." Prism said, coughing awkwardly as he straightened his posture, conscious now of imaginary eyes watching his every move, "what's a familiar? I don't know that term."
Grim, glad of an opportunity to avoid talking about what just happened, eagerly answered the question. "It doesn't really happen anymore here in Ultaka, since it is actually a Fedain tradition, and the Blood Church put a stop to it centuries ago. But I know the Gor still practice it, regularly even, and some Fedain still do it in secret."
"Why is it forbidden?" Prism asked.
"Technically there is a small bit of harm involved, so the church feels it is anti-pacifistic," Grim replied. "Usually it occurs when someone wants to bond with their animals—pets, that sort of thing. They tattoo themselves in a specific way with the animal's blood, after it has passed through an ancient ritual supposedly passed down from ancient Gor sorcerers. Though now I wonder how important the ritual actually is if the Gor runes don't really matter."
"Who knows? Maybe I'll ask Kaeral if I get a chance to see him again," Prism suggested, shrugging. "What's the result of the ritual?"
"The bonded pair shares lifeforce and some senses, depending on the strength of the ritual," Grim explained. "The animal also receives greater intelligence, unless it's an already particularly intelligent animal which participates. Since the ritual can be done between two Fedain, two humans, two Gor, two Elroks, or any combination of them, intelligence isn't always a factor."
"Fascinating," Prism said. "Does that mean they can feel each other, from a distance?"
"That's right," Grim said. "If both participants get the tattoo, it's even stronger."
"Feeling each other from a distance . . ." Prism mused. He stood, his lips pursed as he paced in front of the couch. "Using a third party as a medium . . ." he muttered and smiled slyly at Grim. "I'm just not allowed to touch you or engage in carnal pleasures. Is love carnal?"
Grim shrugged. "It can be."
"Is it inherently?" Prism asked. "Is our love carnal?"
"Sometimes," Grim said. "Some moments, it's nothing but."
"Is this moment carnal?" Prism asked.
"No. I don't think so," Grim said after a moment, "If anything, I'm daydreaming about long nights spent in conversation with you, not about sex right now."
"Then if I kissed you right now, it would only be breaking my oath not to touch you, right?" Prism confirmed. "It wouldn't break my oath to avoid carnal pleasures."
"I suppose, but that doesn't fix the problem," Grim said.
Prism left him in the dark for a few seconds more, darting over to the table by the balcony and retrieving the mask of Naxthul. He returned with it and handed it to Grim. "It's not much, but at least you can feel me through it." Grim held the mask, staring at Prism with bewildered smile. "Put it on!" Prism insisted.
Grim shrugged and slipped the mask over his head, staring at Prism through the eye slits as he waited for something to happen. To his surprise, Prism leaned in and kissed the cheek of the mask, pressing in firmly so Grim could feel the pressure, could sense him just out of reach.
Tenderly, Prism cupped the cheeks of the mask, lifting Grim's face so he could kiss Grim's forehead next. Once again, Grim felt the pressure, the intense connection of the moment through the nearly insubstantial cloth.
Lust fled from him, and only the desire for tactile connection remained, the desire to feel Prism and let Prism feel him. It differed from the physical contact they had during training, because no pretense existed here. Only them, and the thin wall separating them, a physical representation of the vows keeping them apart.
Grim slipped the mask from his head and put it over Prism's, then proceeded to kiss both his lover's cheeks through the mask. He followed up the cheeks with the forehead, and pulled away, staring into Prism's eyes as he wore Naxthul's face.
Prism removed the mask, resuming his connection with Grim's gaze as he laid it gently on the couch. Only love existed between them then. Whether nine or nineteen years they'd have to wait, nothing could keep them apart. Only air separated them, and they could feel each other no matter the distance.
"Kaeral was wrong," Grim whispered. The moment was too sacred to speak loudly.
"About what?" Prism asked.
Grim smiled, reaching as if to touch Prism, but keeping his hand poised in the air, an inch away from his skin. "You do have the right mind for magic," he said.
Prism mirrored the gesture, and they held the pose as they communicated silently, their eyes dancing when their bodies could not. Neither knew the time when they parted, but Prism eventually pulled away, placing the mask back in its place before turning back to his lover.
"Good night, Grim," he said, his eyes every bit as loving as before. "I'll see you in the morning."
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