|Blood on the Tongue
Author: Alex Whitehall PM
Sent from the temple under the guise of "broadening his experience," Karhn wanders into the lands of the Hunter, who kills any who enters his woods. But the man he meets there is not the monster of history. SlashRated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Spiritual - Words: 11,270 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 32 - Follows: 6 - Published: 03-19-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2787057
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The hardest part of becoming a Taku was the marking. They held out your tongue for an endless amount of time, patting it with cloths until it was suitably dry, and then they tattooed your word into it. It burned like nothing else, both from the tattoo and from the magic that bloomed out of it. It was what kept most people from becoming full-fledged Taku. Most stayed semTaku with much of the same honors but none of the powers.
Karhn was the youngest semTaku to join the ranks of Taku. This was not because he was especially talented or favored, but because he started young, having no other talents to focus on, and because he had no friends, he had little else to do but study the ancient texts.
He hadn't yet left the Hirashu where he'd been marked, and had shown no interest in leaving--some never did--so it was with surprise that he was summoned to the main hall where the Takun sat in his fancy robes that told the tales of where he'd travel.
"Yes, Takun?" Karhn bowed deeply, knees pressed to the floor, before standing again, looking up to the wizen man with his wide blue eyes.
"Karhn, you have been here three years since your Gifting. You're eighteen."
"We think it's time you go out and explore the world."
"Yes," the Takun nodded, glad the boy got his point. "We'll provide you with what you need and you'll leave tomorrow."
Karhn walked out, his feet numb. He was being sent away. It wasn't because he'd been there three years, but because they didn't want him there. He ambled back to his room, where the three men he shared it with were conspicuously absent. He gathered what things he owned and put them in a sack, then hung the sack on his bedpost for the next day.
The day passed as any other. If anyone knew he was going, they didn't say anything, and he made no mention of it to them. After breakfast the next morning he was giving a bedroll and some foods and sent off into the world. Or at least away from the Hirashu. At the old stone gates he bit his cheek to draw the blood into his mouth and across his tongue where it evoked his symbol and awoke the gifts inside him. "Open."
The stone wall, which had no door, rearranged itself so he could pass through, then promptly became a solid wall once again. He turned his back to it, staring at the one path that led from the Hirashu and the vast wild lands that stretched out on either side. The road was the obvious path to travel. It was not the one he would take.
He did not hesitate when he stepped into the greenery, and he seemed to be welcomed into its fold, absorbed into its color and stillness. Or perhaps that was what it wanted him to think as he got progressively more lost among its non-existent trails and walls of bark. It did not matter. He could wander around the woods for a thousand years, and then return to the Hirashu and they would not know where he had gone.
He would not live a thousand years; he did not know if he would survive the night. It didn't matter. When darkness fell he found a fallen tree that was not yet covered with the moistness of the ground and summoned a fire to his hand and built one up at one end of the trunk while he rested on the other end. He didn't mean to, but he slept.
Twelve days passed like this, wandering through the woods during the day, sleeping through the night. The plants offered up food for him, which he accepted, but there were no animals in sight or sound. On the thirteenth he was wandering aimlessly when he felt eyes on him, only a moment before a knife was pressed to his throat, angled to kill. His heart had never beat so heavily in his chest and his breath was trapped between his shoulders.
"You are a Taku from Hirashu." Karhn had not expected the deadly hunter's voice to sound so soft, like the moss that covered the trees. It had an accent he couldn't place, and he'd been exposed to many. He shuddered, not even trying to draw blood in his mouth to defend himself.
"You are the great Hunter who kills all that enters these woods," his voice only trembled a little.
"Great hunter?" the voice asked. The blade skimmed across his neck, drawing blood but nothing deadly. "I am a great hunter. One that leaves nothing alive. So why would you wander through my woods for twelve days?"
"I was told to leave the Hirashu," he gave as way of explanation.
"And the road was not challenging enough? You wished to get lost in my lands and die?"
"I did not walk the road." He could not say why he'd headed into the forbidden lands where the deadly hunter lived. It was not that he wanted to die; his heart was pounding in his chest, begging for his life, even if his lips did not.
The knife drew away slowly but Karhn did not move until the Hunter said, "Turn around."
He did as he was told, surprised to see a boy younger than him standing there in the skin-tight clothing that let him move with silent ease through the forest. The Hunter's skin was golden brown from his years under the sun, but his hair was soft yellow, almost white like a daffodil, and its length was tied back. It was his green eyes, made of grass and leaves, that made Karhn blush and avert his gaze, "You're young."
"No younger than you," he snorted like a wild boar.
"I mean--" and he hesitated as his heart leapt into his mouth and he had to stop to swallow it back down into his chest, "hasn't the Hunter lived here for fifty years?"
The head nodded, the eyes not leaving their target, that much Karhn was aware of. "My father lived here before me. I am not the original Hunter."
"Oh." He stayed very still.
"Do you want to leave the woods? I can show you the way." The offer was spoken casually, as if he wasn't giving a gift of life.
"Aren't you going to kill me?"
"Do you want to die?"
Karhn shook his head, his eyes finally lifting back to the Hunter's face, "Do you always let people go?"
The Hunter shrugged and began walking off. Karhn had to rush to catch up. "You're the first to come here in the ten years since my father died."
"Oh." He had to concentrate on where he was stepping. The Hunter moved with unnatural grace along the ground, never making a sound, while Karhn was breathing heavy, cursing often when his clothes tangled in limbs, and tripping even more often.
"You're clothes aren't helping," the Hunter said as he suddenly stopped. "You are no longer in the Hirashu, you shouldn't wear your robes."
"I...didn't have any other clothing to wear."
The Hunter stared at him a moment, then stepped forward, hand reaching out, then stopping, head turned, "Your heart is pounding."
Karhn had not jumped backward, only because he hadn't time to. "I didn't...you were...I..." and stumbled to an end there.
"I was going to fix your clothing. May I?"
He nodded, if only to appease the young Hunter, and soon those deft hands were touching him. They folded the clothing in on itself, wrapping and tucking until his arms and legs were pressed with cloth. He frowned, not used to clothing being so tight against him. And yet it still shifted with his movement when he stretched, trying to adjust.
"Better?" the Hunter asked, eyes scanning over his handy work.
"Yes, thank you."
The Hunter shrugged and started off again, still moving with his relentless pace. It was easier to follow him now, since he could imitate the motions the leading boy did and not trip over every tiny root or catch his sleeve on the pricker bushes.
The silence they walked in wasn't bad. Karhn was used to silence. But he was curious, "You live here alone?"
"Aren't you lonely?"
"No more than you."
"Hey! I'm not--" he was going to deny it, but fell silent, still trailing behind the Hunter.
"Your eyes have my feeling in them."
Karhn didn't question this. The Hunter lived alone in the woods all these years. The Taku lived alone surrounded by others these past years. "Is that why you didn't kill me?"
"I've never killed anything. I've never tasted meat. Everything was dead when I was born, and nothing will come near here now." He did not emphasize any of his words, something Karhn noticed every time he spoke. It was like nothing mattered more than anything else.
"You say that a lot."
He didn't respond, because it probably would have been another "oh" and that would have been stupid.
They reached the edge of the wood and the Hunter stopped, motioned Karhn forward with his hand. The Taku stepped from the shadows of the woods and into the blazing sun. His feet were now on the road. The other boy did not leave the woods.
Karhn turned back, watching the boy not much different from himself and scuffed his foot against the stone road. "Do you want to come with me?"
The Hunter glanced over his shoulder, to the vast forest that has always been his home.
"Oh." He fingered the edge of his robe where it was wrapped around his wrist. The Hunter looked back to him.
Karhn waited, but the boy didn't move. "Um?"
"You have to release me from the woods," he stated. "My father was cursed to these woods by the Taku, because he was a king's favored soldier and was very dangerous. It was his revenge to kill everything that touched these woods, except for me. He couldn't kill me, a tiny child of his blood."
Karhn did not consider that the boy could be lying. He reopened the cut in his mouth and the blood spilt on his tongue, awaking his gift. He meant to say something that would free the Hunter from the woods, but the gift moved in him, calling to something older than he was, "You are free of these woods Hunter, you belong with me."
The blood tasted sweet in his mouth as the gift worked, which was strange, and he swallowed, sealing a pact he didn't know he made.
The Hunter stepped forward, smiled and stepped forward again, out into the sun's direct rays, his hair shimmering in the light like a halo framing his dark skin. "You bound me to you?" He didn't sound upset, but he was frowning now.
"I didn't mean to."
"Then undo it."
"I...shouldn't," almost saying can't. He could undo it, that was easy, but his gift had summoned those words to him, surely there was a reason.
"I understand." Karhn wasn't sure how he understood, nor was he going to question the passivity. "Where are we going then?"
"Down the road, and wherever our feet lead us, I guess?" he said, looking down the path away from the Hirashu.
They started walking and Karhn undid the complicated work that the Hunter had done on his clothing, so it unfurled and flapped lightly in the breeze. "Do you have a name?"
"Oh," Karhn fiddled with the hem of his sleeve when the other boy didn't answer any further. "My name is Karhn," he added, hoping the Hunter would take the hint.
"That is a very lonely name," he said, glancing over to Karhn. "Why would they name you that?"
"It's my Taku name. My parents named me Feyn." Not that it was much better. Feyn. Feign.
"I suppose Karhn will do for now." The Hunter walked a bit longer then added, "My name was Hunter."
"My father's name was Hunter. But I am no longer Hunter. I have not realized my new name, though."
"Yes. What to be called. Do you think names should always be given by others who do not know you? Look at the names you have been given."
Karhn balled the end of his shirt in one hand; the other adjusted the straps on his shoulders. "Hunter is what you were, not a name."
"Names all have meanings. Feyn means 'betrayer' in standard Shrite. Karhn means 'last standing' in Dirkshin. Hunter means I was the hunter of the woods."
"Then," and his mind scrambled over the languages he'd studied. He wasn't very good at them and few came to mind. "Then you should be..." he stalled for time, "Wynryn." He nodded.
"You mean 'Weynryn,' meaning 'false hope' in--"
"No!" Karhn blushed, shaking his head, "No, I meant the word for wanderer."
"I know." His tongue paused, "Then you should be Weynryn."
"Because I thought you were different from the stories my father told me."
False hope. Karhn looked to the opposite side of the road, where the woods stretched out. "I didn't mean to bind you to me. But I can't undo it, my gift...my gift inspired the words on my lips."
The frown on Hunter's face flickered away, just slightly. "Really?"
"Yes, I just wanted company on the road, I didn't mean...you know."
"Then," and he nodded satisfactorily to himself, "Your name is 'Piyan.'"
"What does that mean?"
Hunter smiled, "I'll tell you one day. It means nothing offensive, I promise."
"Piyan," he tried it, "I guess."
"Better than Last Standing," Hunter said.
"Then you need a new name, too."
"What should it be?" he asked.
"I don't know as many languages as you do," he muttered, still thinking.
"You could tell me a phrase or word, and I'll tell you some possibilities," he offered.
They walked and Karhn, well, Piyan now, tried to think of something non-offensive but not bland either. "How about 'woodland prince'?"
"Can't you even tell me some possibilities of what it'd be? I don't even know what my name means!"
"Less concrete. The meaning should be less concrete."
"Oh, well that helps," he fumed.
"Why not let your inspiring gift help?"
"It's not like I can just--" but then Hunter's thumb was in his mouth, pressing against his tongue. The metallic taste of blood was immediate and his body hummed. Self blood worked and was consistent and easy to access. Another's blood was good for stronger works. Another's blood freely given was a high like nothing else.
Hunter pulled his thumb out, staring at the frozen Piyan expectantly. For his part, Piyan was buzzing, almost unaware of what was happening. From his reading, he knew this was normal for the first time of experiencing someone else's blood and the underlying desires in their hearts, but he didn't realize it would be so stimulating.
"You want to be named 'Whyru.'" It wasn't a spell or a binding, it was just words, the ones that were deep inside Hunter's heart that the gift could read. Piyan blinked, the buzz fading as it accomplished what it needed, "What's that mean?"
Hunter looked guarded, "You don't know?"
He shook his head, "No...tell me?"
"It means 'faithful one' in Shrite and 'untouched' in Dirkshin."
"Do you mind that name?" Piyan asked as they stood there, still.
"No," and the answer was soft and whispery, unlike every other monotonous word. "Whyru." He started walking again.
They walked most of the day, talking when they wanted, but most of the trip was quiet--not silent, but quiet. Peaceful. They broke for several small meals, never resting long, and Whyru carried the pack after midday. By nightfall Piyan was exhausted; Whyru kept a stronger pace and barely seemed winded by the end. The Taku collapsed on the ground and curled in on himself
Whyru set the baggage by their heads, undoing the bedroll and laying it out, toeing Piyan until he moved onto it and then lying down beside him on the small blanket. Piyan could feel the warmth of the other press against his back, their spines touching.
"Have you ever mated before?"
Piyan stiffened, aware that Whyru would be able to feel his pounding heart against his back, "Um, no."
"I suppose there are not many women in the Hirashu."
"The...the men join together, sometimes."
"Men? Together? Why?"
His face darkened and was probably warm enough the other boy could feel it, "For the pleasure. To show their feelings. I don't know, I've never...done that."
"Is it pleasurable?" he asked, rolling over, so now Piyan could feel his breath on his neck. He inched closer to the edge of the blanket.
"Y..yes, so they say. Haven't you've ever touched yourself?"
"How do you mean?" and Whyru sounded confused.
"Touched your," and his face could griddle cakes now, "sex parts." He hoped he wouldn't have to explain that.
"Well yes, when I urinate," he still sounded confused.
"No," he turned over, frustrated with talking into the dark, as if seeing his face will clear the confusion. He was instantly captured by the curious gleam in Whyru's eyes. "I...I mean..." his breath was stuck again and it hitched when he finally inhaled, "I mean for pleasure."
"No," Whyru smiled, his hands dropping down, "How do I do it?"
Piyan jumped back, "No!"
The smile faltered and his hand reached out, pulling Piyan closer before he stumbled onto the grass. "Careful, you'll get wet." His hand was hot on his shoulder and Piyan shivered, closing his eyes.
"You shouldn't ask so casually."
"But it's not wrong is it? It's natural?"
"It is, but..." he tucked his chin to his chest.
"Am I not allowed to have this pleasure? Is this only for Taku?"
"No, anyone can...I just don't like to talk about it."
"Do you do it?"
"Well, yes," he admitted, the warmth not leaving his cheeks.
"Then just show me, if you don't want to explain."
Piyan's head snapped up as his jaw stayed down.
"Okay." Whyru still looked a little confused, but he rolled onto his back and then to his other side, and let the matter drop.
Piyan rolled over too, trying to ignore the arousal that wanted to be used as an example.
- - -
"Ah-ah-ah," Whyru's quiet noises woke Piyan.
Immediately he tensed, his back still pressed against Whyru's back, as he realized what the other boy was doing. The hunter stopped moving, although he was still breathing heavily, "I didn't mean to wake you."
Piyan muffled a noise in his throat and rolled over, pressing his chest to Whyru's back as he reached around, his palm orienting himself on the hip before his soft fingers wrapped around Whyru. The hunter made a pleasant whine in the back of his throat and Piyan began stroking slowly, burrowing his face against the shoulder in front of him, closing his eyes.
"Piy..Piy..." Whyru gasped as he climaxed, soiling his hand, "Piyan!" He was still making squeaking noises when the Taku rolled back over, wiping his hand clean in the grass, and tried to go back to sleep. Whyru's voice was filled with awe and excitement, "That was amazing."
"Go to sleep."
"Does it always feel that good?"
"Can I return the--" Whyru was reaching, touching, before Piyan realized what he was doing, before he could screech and roll away, jumping to his feet and stumbling back until he tripped and landed in the grass. He was panting, face red and terror in his eyes. Whyru sat up, "What's wrong?"
"Nu..nothing," Piyan choked, pulling his knees to his chest and trying to mellow his rapid breathing. "I don't like being touched."
"Because you're a woman?" The question was innocent and confused, but Piyan still shrieked.
"I'm not a woman! I'm a man! A man!" He hid his face against his knees, hating that the stupid hunter was bringing this up. Clenching his eyes closed, he didn't hear Whyru approach, just felt the warm hand touch his shoulder.
"You're getting your clothes wet."
"Go to sleep," he mumbled against his legs.
Whyru tugged on the sleeve of his robe, and when Piyan looked up, the hunter was crouched in front of him. He looked both dangerous and tender--the caring was too intense on his face. "You need to come back to the bed roll."
"I don't know. You're getting your clothes wet."
Piyan shrugged and was about to tuck back into his fold when the strong arms tugged him out, wrapping around his chest and holding him tightly. He didn't struggle, he didn't scream. He just started sobbing. Whyru patted his back awkwardly, until the Taku jerked away, wiping his face with the edge of his sleeve and standing. He could see the hunter's confusion, faced with all these emotions he'd never seen before in another person.
"There was an incident when I was born," he admitted, shame rising in his face. "I was left...with very little. It is not your fault, I just don't like to be touched."
"Does it hurt?" he asked, a whisper on the wind.
"Sometimes," Piyan looked down, knowing the pain was probably more in his head or heart than body. It didn't make the pain any less real.
"I am sorry I hurt you then. I will promise not to touch it again." Whyru saying this hurt more than Piyan wanted, but he nodded and walked back stiffly to the bedroll, lying down and burrowing his head into the material.
The hunter followed, lying down beside him, pressing his back purposefully against Piyan's, so the warmth was shared between them. There was silence, and Whyru's breathing steadied; Piyan thought he was asleep until he said, "I may be bound with you, but I would be here still, otherwise."
Piyan shuddered, rolling over and wrapping his arms around Whyru's chest, burrowing his face against his back and just holding him tightly, until they both fell asleep.
- - -
In the morning they woke, repacked and walked on until midday, when they came upon a tree that was barren of fruit and half dead. It was the only fruit tree they'd come across so far, at least one that wasn't on a carefully tended farm, and Piyan had refused to steal. This tree looked infested, and Whyru looked upon it longingly.
"You want its fruit?" Piyan asked, walking to the tree.
"It's dead," he snorted.
Piyan ignored him, pressing his hands upon the tree and biting his cheek harder than necessary to draw blood into his mouth. He spread it liberally across his tongue. "May this tree be blessed with life and fruit, so it may be a gift to travelers who take this road and find themselves hungry."
Whyru gasped as the tree shook with life and color fed into its darkened trunk. The transformation spread outward, reaching its limbs and leaves, which budded and blossomed within a blink, and then beautiful round fruits formed and the changes stopped. Piyan swayed as he stepped away from the tree, and if the hunter had been any slower, he would have dropped to the ground instead of leaning against his shoulder.
"You...you healed the tree."
"It wasn't quite dead," Piyan explained, his mouth caked with the dust of blood. "Now it will always offer its gift to weary travelers."
"And it took your energy?"
He shrugged, gently pushing away from Whyru to sit at the base of the trunk, "It was very ill."
The hunter pulled two fruits from the tree, handing one to Piyan who bit in eagerly, needing his energy replenished by the very thing that drained him. "Couldn't you heal yourself then?"
Piyan studied the fruit intensely at the casual way Whyru brought up the subject from the night before, like it didn't matter. Perhaps to him it didn't, since he wasn't the one denied satisfaction, he wasn't the one denied lovers, he wasn't the broken one. Piyan took a vicious bite from the fruit, chewing thoroughly. "The tree still retained life. My flesh is dead, or mostly dead. The scars are already formed. If my parents had cared, they could have taken me to be healed when the wound was fresh."
"What if you reopened the--" Whyru stopped as Piyan paled. "Sorry."
"No," he rested the hand holding the fruit against his leg, no longer hungry. "I already spoke to the Takun about it. He said it would not work most likely."
"I would have to find someone willing to do the healing, since I can't really do it on myself. And it would take a lot of energy. And it could still go wrong, it could be numb or useless or...any number of things."
"So you're not willing to risk it?"
Piyan looked up, sadness deep in his eyes and heart, "I would risk my life, I think, to be normal, that I could...but no one is going to be willing to do that type of work and possibly take backlash for a...for me."
Whyru pulled another fruit from the tree and sat down beside him, their shoulders touching lightly with every other breath. "Perhaps you will find someone who would risk their life for you. And then you will find you do not need the change after all."
"Don't talk like that," he hissed, but couldn't get too angry--the hunter wouldn't know how his words hurt. He continued to eat the fruit, until there were only seeds left, which he tucked into a pocket of his sack with the other seeds he'd gathered there. They sat there a little longer, resting and eating, before they saw a man walking along the road, opposite direction of them.
With a shared glance, they gathered their things again, Whyru carrying the pack, and walked along the road, sharing a few words as they kept their eyes on the stranger. It wasn't in his nature to be suspicious, but Piyan was not at his emotional best. The man wore normal peasant clothes and well-worn boots. His travel pack was large and looked heavy--perhaps he was a traveling merchant. But why would he head to the Hirashu? Perhaps he was visiting the farms they'd passed? There was nothing else in this direction.
As they neared, Piyan could see the man was staring at Whyru's strange clothing, and then glancing to the Taku beside him. They each tipped their heads as they neared in greeting and the man smiled and said, "Greetings!" in the Common Language.
They stopped when he stopped and he switched tongues, "Do you speak Coast Common?" They both nodded, which surprised Piyan, because it was not very common, and while he'd been raised there, Whyru most definitely had not.
"What great luck! Greetings Taku!" He bowed, dropping to his knees, not encumbered by his large pack, and gracefully stood again.
"Greetings fellow traveler." Piyan smiled, although he was wary of the stranger. He glanced to Whyru whose face was a mask.
The man began pouring on compliments and such, and just as Piyan was about to be rude and point out he had some traveling to do, the man said, "I was wondering if you could bless my bag to never be empty of food."
Piyan almost snorted, but felt that would be entering Whyru's territory. "I can, but I will not. It is the struggle of life to earn what we receive."
"But please? I haven't eaten in so long!"
"I'm afraid I will not. But there is a tree ahead that will bless your bag with many fruits." Piyan was aware that Whyru shifted beside him, but neither man looked at him.
"I don't want fruit, I want food, and I know you can do it!" the man lunged, or was about to lunge, and Piyan was about to jump away, but Whyru was between them before either really moved, a long blade pressed against the man's throat.
"The tree will sate your hunger, it is not wise to anger this Taku, for I am the Hunter and his loyal wolf and I will send my pack after you to lick your bones white," Whyru growled until the man stumbled back, and then bolted away from them, down the road.
Piyan was motionless while this happened, and then Whyru relaxed, the blade no longer in his hand, glancing over his shoulder at Piyan; the Taku blinked, "Where did that come from?"
"He was going to attack you, I couldn't let him harm you. Would you have been able to defend yourself?" Whyru asked, obviously unsure of a Taku was given those sorts of skills.
"From a merchant? Yes, I'm not useless," he turned and started walking again, more annoyed than he should have been to the man who just protected him.
"I did not mean to say that you were," he kept stride. "But I thought it would be best to intercede and then ask about future situations than the alternative. "
"Fine, but that wasn't really my question to begin with," he made his hands vanish into his sleeves. "Where did that sword come from?"
"Oh, it's the gift of my bloodline, that's what my father said."
Piyan stopped and stared until Whyru turned, blinking, "What's wrong?"
"Then your father wasn't the King's soldier, he was the king's assassin. All of your kin were."
"Yes, the killings began to get out of control, the kings could barely restrain the assassins. The Taku were brought in to scatter the murderers and trap them. We cannot kill, so the assassins were left alive, the bloodlines trapped. I hadn't thought you were…" he stopped, looking over Whyru's face. "I am glad I did not know this earlier, I would not have freed you."
"You do not regret it?"
"No, I don't think you are a killer."
- - -
They stopped at the river before entering the town and the Whyru shed his clothing without hesitation, dipping into the river and washing away the grime that had accumulated over their journey. Piyan watched openly, unable to pull his eyes from the body that cut through the water so easily. He didn't even fluster when Whyru caught him, their eyes lingering.
"Are you not bathing, Piyan?"
He looked away from Whyru's perfect body and knelt by the water's edge, splashing water on his face.
"No one can see us," his companion swam closer, to the edge, peering up. "It will feel better to be washed completely. Plus we can clean your clothing too."
"Then my clothes will be wet and I will have nothing to wear."
Whyru half pulled himself from the river to grab his own clothing and pull it to be washed too. But for that one moment his body was arched, water glistening off his golden skin, the skin pale over his buttocks and legs. Piyan looked down into the water, away from that beautiful body.
"We can wrap in the bed roll until our clothes dry enough to put them on." Whyru's hands reached up, grabbing Piyan's waist and pulling him into the river fully dressed while he yelped, then gulped the water. His head was under only a moment before Whyru pulled him up again, holding him securely against his chest. "You can swim, can't you?"
For the moment he couldn't. Whyru was holding him flush against him and he could feel him, feel what he had. It stirred in him something both pleasant and unpleasant until Piyan finally struggled free, gasping in air as he awkwardly struggled from the clothing that was logging him down and making his movements clumsy. "I'm fine."
He scrubbed the clothing as best he could, laying it out on the nearest rock, keeping his back to Whyru so that his front could not be seen. He also pulled out the hidden clasps in his hair, unfurling the long straight locks until a curtain of black rested across his back. There was a gasp behind him.
"You have so much hair."
"The cutting of hair is frowned upon in the temple. Do you think I should remove it?" he turned as he dipped back into the water. Now Whyru was staring unabashedly, watching the black float around the pale Taku like a shadow.
"Not unless you want to. It is beautiful."
"It is just hair," he slid under the water's surface, closing his eyes against the burn in his eyes. Beautiful. His fingers dug over his body, scraping at the mud and filth that had crusted on his skin. His hair was beautiful. But not him. No, he was not beautiful. His hands ran painfully over his malformed skin. No, he was not beautiful.
He stayed under water until his lungs burned.
- - -
"Why did you leave the Hirashu?"
"I was told to."
"Why not tell them no?" Whyru shifted, his one arm tightening around Piyan as the softer man shivered. A fire was blazing, but he wasn't used to cold air and wet hair. Whyru, on the other hand, seemed to radiate more heat as the temperatures dropped.
"I couldn't tell the Takun 'No.' Plus, I did not really have reason to stay. What did it matter if I were there or on the road?"
"You have no purpose for your journey then?"
"No," he admitted, wondering if the hunter regretted joining in this foolish trek. "Taku often wander, going where they feel they are needed, pulled by their gifts."
"And pulling in others while they go?"
Piyan shrugged, hunching his shoulders against the cold until Whyru slid his other arm under the Taku's head, spreading heat around his neck and chest. "Taku sometimes travel together, sometimes they'll travel with other groups. There is no right or wrong way to find your path."
"How will you know it's yours?" Whyru asked. Piyan was certain he was just asking to continue the conversation, so Piyan would not think about the chill until it was completely pushed out by the hunter's warmth.
"All paths are ours, ours is the path," he sighed, closing his eyes against the smoke from their fire. "The road we travel is our path, but we are always searching for the one that helps us fully realize our gift."
"Ah, I see."
The warmth coursed through him, and finally he could breathe the cold air without shivering. He felt so helpless. "Where do you want to go?"
"You know I am bound to follow you," Whyru reminded, only sounding a little annoyed by this.
"What if you weren't? What if..." he acted without thinking too much, afraid of hesitation as the blood welled up in his mouth and over his tongue, "I free you from your requirements to me."
The blood turned sickeningly sweet in his mouth and he swallowed it, feeling a ripple of energy pass through them both. Whyru sighed, his arms relaxing in their hold, but by no means pulling away, "Thank you."
"So where will you go?"
Whyru chuckled, his hips shifting so one leg curled around Piyan's spreading his heat there too, leaving Piyan achingly aware of their nudity. "Where you go."
"Then why did you say..."
"Because, I want to be here because I choose, not because I am bound." And then his soft lips were pressed against Piyan's ear in what could only be a kiss. The Taku froze.
"I want to be near you, Piyan," he whispered, his hold tightening, but not suffocating. "Is this bad? I can give you warmth. I require nothing of you, just let me be near you."
He didn't struggle and Whyru didn't move, "But why?"
"Do you remember when you explained that your gift had bound me to you? That I named you Piyan?"
"Piyan means 'inspired gift.' Your gift freed me, knowing what I was because it knew my gift bound me to you by greater magic than that of tongues. That I would do anything to protect you and obey your any command. But you didn't want that, you wanted a friend, so I became a friend.
"And now you've freed me from any bond to you," his embrace squeezed and heat rushed through Piyan as if an ember were put where his heart was. "But I want nothing more than to be with you. Is this what friends feel?" His last words were so desperate that Piyan nearly wept.
"I don't know, I've never had friends. But I..." he reveled in the heat, "I will never ask you to go from me."
Whyru sighed in relief and the burning mellowed to subtle warmth.
- - -
It did feel better to have bathed and washed their clothes, Piyan admitted. He was back in his robes, his hair neatly tucked up and pinned, a task that Whyru had watched in awe and amusement. The hunter was walking beside him now, eyes curious as they entered the town; he was alert and absorbing everything that happened. Piyan had not considered that this was Whyru's first time in a village. He also had not considered the reaction of the villagers.
Of course a Taku entering the village with the skin-tight clad companion was eye-catching; the visit of a Taku was always of interest. Immediately greetings came to them, welcoming them to the village and offering gifts and advice. The worashu of the village was run by a single semTaku, an old woman who invited them to stay in her small home for the evening. They gladly accepted, both earnestly denying taking her bed from her when she offered. They also headed to the local eatery, the only one really, for dinner, where everyone gathered in interest of seeing visitors.
While they were waiting for their food, blessings were given to any who asked, and although many cast curious glances to Whyru, no one asked who the Taku's strange companion was. In all honesty, no one had even bothered asking Piyan's name, except the semTaku. Whyru had seemed irritated that he'd given his temple name, but that irritation was gone as they sat without a moment's peace. He'd just finished giving blessing to a young woman of courting age, who'd asked to be fruitful with her future husband.
"And who is your companion, Taku?"
Piyan looked to Whyru, who looked at the girl, as if seeing her for the first time. She was rather pretty, not as common as Piyan remembered the girls of his village being. Her hair was curls of blonde with hints of red that matched the cherry in her cheeks. Her skin was fine, but freckled from her hours in the sun. "I was a huntsman before I joined in his journey. Now I am his protector."
"Perhaps you'd like to join us," she motioned to her giggling friends, "for dinner? Both of you, of course." It was obvious her interest was only in Whyru, who she could possibly sway into a forever bed. Taku did not marry, although sex was freely permitted.
When his friend glanced to him for permission, Piyan nodded, against his own desires. Whyru was obviously interested, and it would be selfish if he denied the boy who'd lived alone so long to only find companionship with him. They followed to the table where they were seated apart, Whyru next to the blonde girl and her two other friends, while Piyan was seated beside the girl's younger sister who was in training to be a semTaku. She was intelligent and quiet and good enough company, he supposed. She spoke mostly of her work in the worashu and asked Piyan for his own experiences. At least she did not seem interested in seducing him.
The dinner wore on. Piyan was exhausted, but continued struggling to stay attentive. Whyru seemed enthralled with the women and perfectly content talking with them and flirting. He tried not to be jealous that his friend was being stolen from him, but it was useless. He quietly excused himself from the young woman and slipped from the restaurant, unseen by all but one.
Outside the night was cool, but the burning in his chest kept him warm. Swallowing thickly, he walked silently through the night toward the semTaku's home, throwing constant glances over his shoulder, hoping that Whyru would follow him out.
He arrived at the small house alone and entered, avoiding the greetings and friendliness of the old woman by wrapping himself in his bedroll.
- - -
Piyan woke alone. He packed everything, ate a quiet breakfast with the semTaku, whose name he couldn't remember, and pulled the bag on his back to continue. Outside he dealt with more people asking for final blessings as he struggled to leave the village and keep his composure. Eventually he reached the outer ring of buildings that broke into farming land and he was free of the interruptions. He didn't look back as he started walking. He refused to cry. He wasn't crying. He wiped his face and struggled to make his lips straight and calm.
"Piya-an!" Whyru's voice broke over the world like a summer storm. Piyan froze, waiting, and then a familiar hand was touching his shoulder. "You were leaving without me?" Then, "Are you weeping?"
"No," he hoarsely replied, wiping his face. "No to both. I thought you would prefer to stay here with people than wandering aimlessly with me."
"But you are my friend Piyan," he tugged on the pack until it was handed over, the heavy weight settling easily on the hunter's strong shoulders. "You would leave without goodbye?"
"You did not return last night." He had not meant for it to come out as an accusation as they started walking, but it did.
"It was the drink; I passed out at the table. The owner let me sleep in a spare room. He woke me when he heard you were leaving."
"Just don't leave me again."
"Good." It appeased Whyru and he was smiling as they walked and it was infectious. Piyan smiled, believing for the moment that he really did want to stay.
- - -
The farther from the Hirashu that they travelled, the more villages and towns they came upon. Piyan chose roads at random when they came to splits, letting some instinct guide him. Sometimes he would bleed his tongue to let the gift pull him in the direction of a town that needed a Taku's blessing more than others.
Which was why they had already been in the one village for five days. The village was having a rash of horrible incidents that started after the worashu burnt down and the semTaku residing there had died with it. A new semTaku was on his way and a new worashu was being built, but in the mean time animals and humans alike were suffering strange accidents that resulted in infirmity or death. Piyan was healing them, but too much healing drained him and he needed night's rest to continue his work.
When he woke on the sixth day, he was stiff and his heart was fluttering unevenly. But he forced himself to stand and eat breakfast with the family he was staying with. Whyru watched him with narrowed eyes over the porridge. During the day, the hunter helped the villagers find wildlife to supplement their food supply and fix structures that had been destroyed. During the night he was swarmed by the women. Piyan only saw him in the mornings—he went to bed as soon as he was done healing each day, sleeping for most the hours.
After the table was cleared, Piyan went to head off to the family that had requested his assistance that day, but Whyru caught his elbow just outside the door. "You do not look well P'yan."
P'yan meant "beloved" in the local dialect and the entire village had taken to calling him that, including Whyru. "I'm just tired from the work, I'll be fine." He gently pulled away and headed off to the farmer's house.
The family was a husband and wife with two daughters who were stout from the farm's labor. The girls blushed and fussed over him, but did not interfere with the work he came to tend to. Their father had gotten trapped beneath a plow and his legs were mangled beyond a physician's care. Everything was fresh enough that he could still fix it, he hoped.
Laying his hands on the father, he felt the blood course over his tongue. It was bitter and weak, exhausted from so many summons. He spoke words of healing, letting the Gift overwhelm him. As the first words left his mouth, he realized he should not have started this.
The blood turned to ash, but the wound kept pouring fresh offerings into his mouth, until he was choking on the words that he couldn't stop. The infection in the man's body was hungry for new life and it clasped onto Piyan's energy like a fisherman's hook, yanking it from him. All he was aware of was pain and his body slowly dying.
- - -
"Heal P'yan," Whyru's voice growled in desperation and demand. Sweet blood was in his mouth, along with the taste of dirt and grass. It had to of been Whyru's thumb.
Piyan gurgled on the blood.
- - -
He instantly regretted opening his eyes. The world flashed in brightness like lightning and he closed them again. Slowly, slowly was the way to go. He was aware he was breathing, cold air of night, along with Whyru's familiar musk and the scents of a home.
He was on a bed, too soft a bed, and there was an arm cradling him that felt warm even to his fevered body. When he shivered the arm pulled him closer, so his side was pressed against Whyru's heating system.
The breathing beside him was the only sound aside from the calls of night creatures. It was slow, but not sleeping. And then a rumble so soft he didn't think it could possibly be Whyru, "What do you need?"
"Water," he croaked, the blood crackling in his throat and mouth. His voice was loud in the darkness. Whyru shifted, sitting them both up slightly, Piyan resting against Whyru's chest. A rim touched his lips followed by warm water. He drank eagerly until the last drops slipped away.
"Do you want more?"
"That's good for now," he managed to be quieter this time. There was a clink of glass on wood and then nimble fingers brushed his temple. Creaking one eye open, it didn't seem so bad now and the second followed until he was staring out into the dark room. Blinking was exhausting.
The hand on his cheek paused. "That was stupid of you."
Piyan was amazed he knew what Whyru was talking about. "Did it help the man?"
"You could have died."
"But I didn't. Did it help him?"
The fingers resumed stroking his temple, soothing the strain already starting there. "Yes. His legs look fine and he broke fever two days ago."
"You have been out awhile," Whyru murmured, and the fact that he didn't say how long told Piyan how very long it had been.
"I'm awake now."
Whyru didn't answer, just continued stroking his temple, and then his head. Long fingers stroked through the long black strands, drawing Piyan's eyes closed. "The semTaku arrived yesterday and said it was a very foolish thing you did."
"Well, he doesn't know the weight of the Gift."
The only answer was his hair tickling his neck as Whyru's fingers stroked a strand down along Piyan's chest.
"You will be okay now?"
"I think so." It still hurt to move, but he was awake. Backlash was never pleasant. "You offered me your blood to save my life."
"I couldn't do nothing."
"Nor could I."
Whyru sighed, his arms wrapping warmth around Piyan. They stayed like that in the darkness until Piyan fell back to sleep.
- - -
It was daylight the next time he opened his eyes, though daylight of which day he didn't know. Whyru wasn't there, but a glass of water was within reach and he was able to drink it after propping himself up on some pillows. He was sore, but not painfully so, and he could sit up on his own, mostly. Still blinking awake, he took store of his body.
He was weaker, probably from no food over several days, but he didn't seem too terribly skinnier. His long hair was braided and resting over his shoulder and his body was bathed, which terrified and angered him. He wanted to know who had seen him naked, and yet he had no desire to know if it was Whyru. The clothing he wore was a simple dressing gown, his own robes hung by the window, catching the fresh air.
The door opened and a middle-aged man stepped in, smiling upon seeing Piyan awake. Whyru was right behind him, bolting past when he saw his friend was up. But he didn't touch him, just smiled and looked eagerly to him. Piyan looked away, keeping a pained frown off his face. Whyru must have been the one to bathe him and now he was disgusted by Piyan's body.
The other man was the semTaku, his robes neat and fitted, his gestures easy and calming. "How are you feeling Master?"
"Much better now that I have rested. How long has it been?"
"Seven days." He cleared his throat. "I do not wish to speak out of turn Master, and I know you only meant good, but if you push yourself too hard, it does no one any good. A dead Taku cannot bring his Gift to the world."
"I know," he sighed, swinging his legs to the edge of the bed and Whyru swayed between stepping forward to help and stepping back. He chose the latter. Piyan forced his gaze to his knees. When he didn't stand, Whyru spoke.
"Do you need me to help you up?"
He shook his head, not trusting his voice.
"You do not need to rush your recovery, Master. Please, do not push yourself so hard, you were very ill."
"I know my limits," he growled, grateful to push his emotions onto the semTaku. Standing was harder than he'd thought it would be, but he didn't collapse, and though the world spun, he kept his feet. He wanted to drop back to the bed like a sack of rocks but instead did so slowly, like it was his choice and not necessity.
"Do you need anything of me, Master?"
"No." He was hoping the semTaku would take Whyru with him, but the hunter loyally stayed.
"They're preparing some food for you, I'm sure you're hungry."
"Yes." His eyes focused on the task of pulling the blankets back over his legs. "You bathed me."
"You were sweating so much from the fever and it helped cool you."
"Of course. Please leave, I would like some peace."
He did not see Whyru's eyes widen, nor the pained expression that matched his own. He was staring at the sheets and only when the door clicked closed did he collapse into the bed with a gut-wrenching sob.
- - -
It was two days until Whyru finally touched him again. They'd been walking to regain Piyan's strength, but they'd pushed too far and he'd nearly dropped from exhaustion before they reached the house they were staying at. Whyru had an arm around his chest, holding him up before he hit the ground. The grasp was light, as if terrified of touching too long.
They barely spoke, except for necessities, and Piyan avoided Whyru as often as possible, too often unable to keep the pain off his face when his once-friend was near. Whyru was helping around the village more often than not, and it was what he was doing when Piyan packed his bags. He would not be able to walk as fast as before, but he felt confident he was strong enough to return to the road. Plus if he left he wouldn't have to face Whyru and the knowledge that stood between them.
He was not stupid enough to leave without saying goodbye. So with his bag strapped on, he headed to the farm where Whyru was helping construct a barn that had been damaged in recent rains. "Whyru."
The hunter turned from his perch on the roof, his naked torso glistening with sweat in the sun. Emotions too far away to see clearly flickered over his face and then he jumped the distance as if it were nothing more than a step. "Piyan, are you leaving?"
"Yes. I am healthy enough. I figured you would want to stay here."
"Do you not want me to join you?" Whyru didn't drop his gaze like most would, letting his hurt show freely.
"I do," Piyan looked away. "But I do not want to make you uncomfortable, after having…seen me."
"That's what this is about?" Whyru asked excitedly, stepping closer, trying to draw Piyan's eye but not succeeding.
" Weren't you disgusted after having seen me?"
"Of course not. It wasn't the first time. I saw you when we bathed."
"But not…" he made a subtle gesture.
"Of course, hunters have great eyesight," he boasted.
Piyan blanched. "Then why wouldn't you come near me?"
"I thought you were angry at me." Embarrassment tinged his cheeks. "When you woke the second time you were distant. I thought I had done something wrong. I did not want to upset you."
"I thought you did not want to touch me because I disgusted you."
Whyru laughed, and it was not the laughter that Piyan was used to hearing at his expense. "Disgust? Piyan, you are too beautiful to be disgusting." He pulled the Taku into a tight hug, laugher still bubbling in his chest. "So you're not mad at me?"
"No," he muffled against his chest.
"Then I will get my shirt and join you!" He darted off, waving quick goodbyes to the men he'd been working with as he pulled on his shirt. His huntsman clothing was in their traveling sack now and Whyru almost looked like a normal villager in his britches and plain shirt. Almost. He was too handsome to be a commoner—more like a prince trying to pass as one.
They left the village without much fanfare, trying to avoid attention where possible. Piyan had already said farewell to the semTaku, and the road was welcoming as they joined it.
"I have decided where we will go."
"Oh?" Whyru glanced over like a dog eager for a stick.
"Chaethul, my hometown on the coast."
- - -
One would think after four months of traveling together that Piyan would have been used to women flirting with Whyru, but he wasn't. He knew his friend wasn't going to leave him for them, but there was always the chance that he would fall in love with one and then he wouldn't want to leave. But for the most part the flirting did not bother him and when it did, he could glare at Whyru and they would leave whatever location they were at to enjoy the peace of each other's solitude.
So it was no surprise when they arrived in Chaethul that the girls all cooed over Whyru and flirted with him. It was with slightly more surprise that they gave longing looks to Piyan as well. He'd been given similar glances at other villages, although no one had advanced on him, but this was his home, where he'd been ridiculed and mocked. But they didn't seem to recognize him.
Honestly he didn't recognize most of the girls either, although at least some of them had to be the girls he'd known growing up. He sighed and gripped the edge of his sleeves, keeping his temper. "We would like to enter the town, ladies, if you please," he stressed the last word, eyes narrowing as he swept them over the gathered women.
They tittered and stepped back, blush rising to their cheeks at being scolded by a Taku. The pair continued on, Whyru doing his best not to laugh at the situation, although he understood at least a bit of the struggle that Piyan was going through. The girls flocked around behind them, giggling and chattering as they followed.
His first order of business was heading to the worashu where the semTaku lived that had sent him off to the Hirashu. The semTaku had been abusive and mean, just as cruel as Piyan's peers had been about his circumstances. Piyan planned on using his seniority to have him removed from the post and possibly thrown in the sea. Not to kill him, just to shame him.
But when he reached the worashu, a woman only slightly older than him was there sweeping. She had a slight limp in her gait, but she was built strong and rather attractively. She smiled upon seeing them and bowed her head. "Master, I welcome you to our village."
"Thank you. Are you the semTaku of this worashu?"
"Yes," her smile was warm and kind. "Although only two years since the previous one passed."
He could reap no revenge on a dead man, and it would do no good to hold anger toward one who'd already be earning his reward.
"Are you passing through, or will you be staying with us?"
He liked her business-like manner and grinned, "I will see what the road says, but I think staying a night or two will be in order, it's a long trek from the nearest town."
"Well you and your companion are free to stay with me, but one of our families has a spare bed I'm sure you could…use…" her words teetered off as she saw the pale tension flood the Taku. He knew exactly what spare bed it would be. "Are you okay Master?"
Whyru's warm hand touched his shoulder and Piyan breathed. "Yes, my apologies, I must be tired from the journey."
"Of course—" before she could continue, the worashu door smacked open and a chillingly familiar woman's voice whined.
"Shimkay, all the girls are hawking outside—Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't not realize a Taku was here."
He turned to face his mother. Her hair had more gray than it should have, and the lines on her face made a perpetual scowl. She was perhaps a little more dumpy than he remembered her, but she was not much changed.
"Welcome Taku," she greeted him warmly and he felt sick. "I apologize for the girls, we do not normally get such handsome visitors."
"I know," he said, amazed his voice did not tremble. "I used to live here."
Her head snapped up, her blue eyes, the ones that matched his own, widening as she realized who he must be. "F…Feyn?"
"My name is Karhn," he had already discussed this with Whyru. He had taken up his new name everywhere else they traveled, but here he did not want them to know that name, as if they would dirty it.
"Of…of course," she stuttered, still staring. "Welcome back?"
He didn't answer, he just turned his back to her. "Is she the one who has the spare bed?" he asked the semTaku who was watching all of this in wonder.
"I would rather share a room with rats."
"I will ready a place in my residence then. Not that I have rats," she blushed and he offered her a calming smile. "Follow me."
His mother was gone when he turned around again, and she must have spread word that this Taku was indeed the son she'd sent off so long ago, because when they re-emerged from the worashu, the girls didn't press to them, but stared. They didn't follow as Shimkay led them to her home, the same one the previous semTaku had lived in.
Once inside, she showed them a place where they could set their things, then made tea for them.
"You once lived here?"
"Yes. That woman is my mother."
Shimkay gasped, but did not falter while she poured the drink, returning the pot to the counter. "I have heard many rumors about you as a child."
"I'll expect you have," he sighed, glancing to Whyru, who was sipping his tea peacefully, avoiding being drawn into the conversation. Piyan was actually wishing for once that Whyru was again the center of attention.
"I imagine they are surprised to see you have done so well of yourself, and become quite an attractive man."
"May I ask why you would come back here? I cannot imagine you wish to leave a blessing for anyone, for how they treated you. Unless you've come to rub their noses in it?" Amazingly she didn't seem to judge him either way on his actions. He felt kindly toward her.
"The road called me here, I do not know its purpose."
"Well you are welcome to stay as long as you like, Master. Though I will not be offended if you leave this second either."
He grimaced. "We shall see."
- - -
It was late enough in the day that he was able to avoid people, and when he and Whyru finally went out at night, they passed through shadows to reach a point on the cliff where they sat beneath a tree, breathing in the fresh air. Piyan loved this spot, where he could see the sun set the ocean on fire and the stars reached forever. This was perhaps the only thing he missed from his home.
The ocean's breeze rolled over him and he shivered. Whyru pulled him into his arms, heat curling through his veins and making him smile. "I do not think you have smiled since we stepped into this town."
"I have very little to smile about here."
A hand lifted, unclasping Piyan's hair, black tendrils catching on the wind and waving like a pirate flag. Whyru rested his chin on the other side of Piyan's head, opposite the wild hair. "I am here."
"But you're everywhere I am, that isn't special to here."
"Then we should make something special to here." Whyru said, a finger tilting Piyan until their lips could meet in a soft kiss. It didn't last long, blown away in the wind.
Piyan blinked slowly, recalling the feel and taste. He licked his lips. "Does that mean you will only kiss me here?"
"No," the lips dropped down again, "But you can always think of here as your first kiss from me."
He sighed into the kisses, leaning back into the strong chest behind him and the arms that held him.
- - -
Most the villagers ignored him. Some, those who felt his rank as a Taku undid anything from childhood, offered him gifts and asked for blessings. A few, like the four men who stood before them, seemed to think being a Taku did not undo anything from the past and did not require any special treatment.
"Heya Feyn," one man smirked. Piyan was sure if he wanted he could remember their names. He didn't really feel the need though.
"You must be confusing the Taku for someone else," Whyru purred. "That is not his name."
"Shut up boy, we know who we are talking to. Miss Feyn here is quite infamous in these parts."
"Are you trying to get him to fight?" Whyru answered again. "It doesn't seem wise to anger someone with a Gift."
"Taku can't kill," the third man snorted. "And Miss Feyn wouldn't hurt us, would you?" His fingers stroked Piyan's chin like a lover would and Whyru growled menacingly.
"Remove your hand from the Taku."
"Or what?" he mocked, leaving his fingers touching Piyan's chin.
Piyan didn't move. He wasn't scared in the slightest, in fact, this exchange seemed endlessly funny. He laughed, his hand playfully batting away the touch on him. "You are quite foolish if you are encouraging a hunter to attack you. You are also quite rude to speak to a Taku like this." Blood rolled across his tongue seamlessly. "You will be rooted like trees until you learn manners." He spat the blood to the earth, sealing the vow and the boys' eyes widened as they tried to move their feet and couldn't.
Whyru stepped back and Piyan followed, their hands slipping together. "You never let me have any fun."
"I promise that if anyone else bothers us here, you can threaten them with your growls."
He snorted. "Like anyone is going to cause trouble for a Taku."
"You never know," he grinned, turning his face into the wind so his hair streamed freely behind him. "Some people just might be foolish enough."
A/N: My original plan was to work more of Piyan's past into the story, but I felt like it just made it clunky, so it remained out. For anyone curious, Piyan's particular circumstances are because his mother wanted a daughter, and upon seeing her son, attempted to make him a girl. Of course it was roughly cut and he's lucky more damage wasn't done. She put him in dresses until he was old enough to fight her off. He became a semTaku because no one else would respect him in his town and even his teacher was not pleasant. He was glad to leave for the Hirashu, although his troubles didn't stop then, but no one's troubles ever do!