A/N: And so we start on "book three" of the Light and Shadow series. This one is specifically very plot heavy, and relationship stuff is…different. As I mentioned before, this one will have a very slow updating schedule compared to the first two, as it's hardly got any of it written (fully plotted out, however). Whenever I do update I'll stick to doing it on Fridays so at least there's some semblance of consistency. That's it for starting notes, so…
Author: Alyn Drasil
Rating: overall R
Disclaimer: still mine
Warnings: swearing, m/m stuff. And still UNBETA-ED.
The agistar Raen Maedajon of the oenclar was dead, and his only son Keydestas, my boyfriend, was now their leader.
It had happened so fucking fast that trying to process it all was practically a joke. In fact, for the first couple of hours afterwards, I thought it had just been just a really intense, godawful dream. Waking up in a tent the middle of the night to watch a man die in a choking pool of black tar that was coming out of his own body was definitely the stuff of nightmares. And once I realized it hadn't really been a dream, I figured it probably would become one, maybe for years after this. I didn't think the images would ever leave me.
I wasn't quite sure what happened in the immediate time that followed Maedajon's death. It was all a surreal, confused blur, most of which took place in a language I didn't understand and customs I understood even less. I remember Rysa taking me out of the healer's tent, her hands clutching hard into my arm. It was still dark, but the camp was alive with movement and talk, edging on panic and confusion. I remembered being handed off to Darban and Kir. I remember protesting against it, telling them all loudly that I needed to stay with Rysa, that I needed to find Keyd, because I had to make sure Keyd was all right. When none of them listened to me, I think I tried to take a swing at one of them. I know that it was Kir who had to hold me down, because at one point in the ensuing struggle I got a handful of braid.
I sort of came to my senses later on, lying on my side in a dark, quiet tent. In the distance I could still hear a commotion of voices and movement from the center of the camp. I thought I was alone, until I started to move and a quiet voice said, "stay calm, Alan."
"I am calm," I said. My voice felt rough and scratchy. I cleared my throat, blinking through the dimness at the person who was sitting crosslegged across the tent. "Where's Keyd? I need to—"
"You need to not distract him, right now," the man said. I was pretty sure it was still Kir, although I wasn't that familiar with his voice. "What's just happened is—something you can't help him with."
His father is dead! What else am I good for, if not to help him with that? I wanted to say, but I bit down on it.
"Kir," I said instead. "What's is going to happen? What's happening right now?"
"When something like this—" Kir took a little breath in, and I had the feeling that he was pretty damn shaken by this too, but hiding it well. 'Hiding it well' was like the motto of the oenclar. "When leadership isn't passed on willfully, such as because of death, the current named successor is automatically recognized. Despite what the Worthies were trying to do, Keydestas was still named."
"He's really the agistar, then," I said. I was still trying to lock on to the fact that Maedajon was dead. "Just like that."
"Just…like that," Kir said, with a slight nod.
"Shit," I said. I dragged my hands up over my face, into my hair. "I mean—Christ." Maedajon was really…he had really just died. And Keyd, god, Keyd. All I wanted to do was go to him. But Kir was definitely capable of physically keeping me in here, if that was really what everyone wanted me to be doing. If they all thought I was really going to distract Keyd right now.
Speaking of distractions, I needed one. I needed one so that I didn't think about how I had just seen a man die in front of me, and how I could still see it every time I shut my eyes.
"What's Keyd doing right now," I asked Kir. "I mean, what would I distract him from?"
"Even though he won't have an official coronation, not now—he still needs to arrange a lot of things. He has to name a new gheret, as Maedajon's now only has authority in stasis. He is with the ghereen, now."
I had a vague idea that the ghereen was the whole group of people that had been in that one council. I wasn't sure on it, but I had heard the word before.
"He had to do this all at two in the morning?" I said, although I didn't have any idea what time it was. Late, that was all I knew.
"Yes," Kir said. "This is when it happened, this is when it needs to be done."
"Is that where Darban is?" I asked, because I'd never seen Kir apart from him before. Kir nodded. "And Rysa?" Another nod.
I drew my knees up to my chest and rested my chin on them. I'd never felt more simultaneously keyed up and exhausted in my life. Kir seemed to understand my need for continued distractions, because he kept talking.
"The gheret is always trusted people and family to the agistar," he said. "Rysa will be on it, undoubtedly."
I wondered if Keyd would try and put me on it. I didn't want him to. That would be too much—just way too much. Kir seemed to guess what I was thinking about.
"He can't place you on it," he said.
"Oh, all right. Good," I said, exhaling. "Because I'm—a foreigner, right?"
"And because you're engaged to him," Kir said. "A bond like antshil is allowed within the gheret, but aifot is not." He hesitated before he continued, and seemed like he wasn't really too pleased to tell me this next part. "The agistar's wife has very little to do with any of the politics and the ruling."
"I'm not Keyd's wife," I said. "Dude, I don't even think we're going to get married at all."
"But that's the role you're filling, ignoring your gender. You might be—excluded from things, just because of the traditions of the roles."
"Oh," I said. I had already been excluded. Excluded a lot. Was this why? As much as Keyd wasn't a stickler for the rules in a lot of ways—he was definitely a traditionalist in others. But, Christ, this wasn't the time to start getting paranoid about our relationship. His father was dead, and his life had obviously just changed forever.
I felt a sudden increase of presence through the antshil bond, and a few moments later the flap of the tent pushed open, and Rysa came though.
"Rysa," I said, already halfway on my feet.
"Who are they," Kir said at exactly the same time. Rysa looked to him, first.
"Myself," she said. "Jerhaldan, Oredaiken, Orealdan. And—Darbanyon."
"Darban?" Kir said, looking completely startled. "Darban, he—choose Darban?"
Rysa just looked at him. After a moment, Kir sort of checked himself and rolled up into a kneel, his arms crossed over his chest and his head lowered.
"Don't do that," Rysa said, a little sharply, so apparently a bow was not what she had been waiting for. Kir dropped his arms at once, looking back up at her uncertainly. "I don't need that now."
I hadn't ever seen anyone bow to Rysa before. Whatever Keyd had picked her for in the gheret, maybe that raised her status too.
"Rysa," I said. "Rysa, hey, what's happening? Can I—"
"Come with me," Rysa said. "I can't take you to Keyd, but you can at least stay in his tent."
Christ, all right, at least that was a start. I got up, and followed her out.
When Kir and Rysa had said that I needed not to distract Keyd now, they had seriously meant it. I was not quite, but almost, ordered to stay in Keyd's tent and not look for him at all. I didn't know if this was because they really didn't want me distracting him, or if it was just a way to maybe make the Worthies—and every other oenclar in the camp—forget their new leader was gay by keeping us physically separate. Maybe it was both. I couldn't be really happy about it, but I also didn't need to fuck things up for Keyd.
So I stayed in the tent like Rysa had told me to—but since it was Keyd's tent, it put me right in the middle of the camp and near everything going on. Keyd wasn't in there at all anyway, so it really didn't make any difference. Keyd was too goddamn busy to do anything close to worrying about me.
But it meant that if I watched out the door, I could sometimes see things going on outside it, Keyd and other people, if they happened to be in the wide aisle that had all the important-people tents in it. Like Kir had said, there was nothing like a coronation, no ceremony. It was just as though all marks of leadership had been instantaneously transferred to Keyd, like Maedajon had never existed. The clarjja who came up to address Keyd all dropped into deep bows before doing so—something I had only seen them do to Keyd's father.
And it was honestly surprising. After all the drama that had exploded over Keyd's sexuality reveal, the Worthies actually imprisoning him (and me) for it, and what a big damn deal it all was in general, I wouldn't have expected everyone in the entire camp to start naturally defer to him. Maybe Keyd's new status just superceded all of it. I did see Keyd talking to Eldronrhet at a point—or more like getting a lecture from him, since Keyd wasn't putting a single word into the conversation.
Actually, he wasn't speaking to anyone at all. Not that I could see, from my limited vantage point. It looked like he had completely stopped talking. To everyone, even Rysa. I hadn't heard him utter a single sound since being in the healer's tent. When clarjja came to talk with him, Rysa—always at his side—answered for him, without any spoken instruction from him. And this seemed to be completely acceptable; no one questioned it. Finally, Rysa told me what the hell was going on.
"This is expected," she explained, after I had flagged her down and voiced my opinion that Keyd was having some sort of a breakdown. "Respect for the dead—Keyd won't speak again until his father's funeral."
"Oh," I said. "Is that—is that going to be a while from now?" Thinking about this whole war thing, and how that was kind of the big deal around here at the moment. Although this was their fucking leader who had just died. But who knew what priority these people put things in.
"Usually, it would be three days from now," Rysa said. "But, because of…circumstances, tradition has to be flexible. It's happening tomorrow. I can speak for Keyd a little, but we can't afford three days of a silent agistar right now."
Agistar. Christ, that was really what Keyd was now—it was having a hard time hitting me. He was their goddamn king, or whatever the hell the equivalent was. That right there probably meant this relationship was off, entirely. Keyd definitely couldn't afford most of his people being bigoted against their leader, not when they were in the middle of a war. And they'd always be in the middle of a war.
But I was trying to not to be so pessimistic about this anymore. I wouldn't assume anything unless Keyd came right up and told me it was done. But Keyd had a lot more to worry about then me right now. His father was dead.
I could barely believe that. I'd actually—I'd really liked the man, and even though he and Keyd had never gotten along well…I couldn't imagine what it was like for him. I had no damn idea. Or Rysa, for that matter, who had basically had a surrogate father in him.
"You were like his daughter, right," I said to her. "Do you—you're not going to stop talking too, are you?"
Rysa smiled, and shook her head. "There are different rituals for me," she said. "You'll see them."
"Are you—doing all right?" I asked her carefully. "With—just, are you okay?"
"I'm managing," was all she said. She wouldn't say anything else. Even with antshil, sharing emotions was not something she was eager to do. And emotions didn't come through the bond.
It was still a little strange to think that she was my antshil now. So was Keyd, but Keyd was—somehow apart from both of us, right now. Physically as well—with distance, the sense of the bond faded dramatically. I could always tell when one of them was close or far away. Too far away, and I stopped feeling them completely. They both popped in and out of my senses like a goddamn Whac-A-Mole.
Rysa left then, and the day went on, with me trying to watch as much as I could from my place at the tent door. Keyd was so busy he probably wouldn't have been able to take any time to talk even if he could—whenever I saw him, which was infrequent, he was in the middle of doing about a million things at once. Rysa still gave all the orders, but even then they seemed to obviously be coming from Keyd.
And Keyd—Keyd, who had admitted to me only a day before his father's death that he wasn't even sure if he wanted to be the agistar at all. He probably had no choice, now, unless the Worthies did something about it.
I went to sleep again that night alone for the second time. It was almost harder, being by myself in Keyd's bed. I held onto a pillow and tried to pretend I wasn't so goddamn pathetically lonely.
It started before dawn. I was woken up by someone making a very pointed throat-clearing noise outside the tent door, and then a whispered voice hissing, "Alan."
I crawled to the tent flap, still half asleep. Outside the sky was dim and blue, but just slightly lighter towards the horizon. Maybe near dawn, then. It was the strange combination of Kir and Hahd who were outside of my tent, standing side by side and both looking somber.
"What?" I mumbled, sleepily. "What—what is it?"
"We have to go," Hahd urged me.
Oh, Christ, the funeral, right. I rolled back into the tent, groped around for my glasses and fumbled them onto my face. Then I staggered to my feet and halfheartedly brushed out my shirt as I followed Kir and Hahd through the quiet and still camp. We didn't pass any other people. There was absolutely no one around—like the whole place had been deserted.
We were headed towards the white cliffs on the far side of the camp. Before we even got out of the tents I saw a faint bluish glow rising above them, a soft haze of light. And when we reached the edge of the tents, I saw that it was coming from a sea of individual floating blue-purple lights. It looked like one of those spiritual concerts where everyone gets out a lighter and starts waving it around. Only, these lights were each cupped in the hands of a person, burning right from the palms of their hands, most of them held at chest-level. It looked like every single person in the entire camp was out here in the field, hundreds and hundreds of them, all holding a tiny light in the hands.
Kir and Hahd and I moved into the crowd, somewhere near the middle. Blending in with people was not something I was used to doing here. From the second I'd stepped into this world I'd been singled out and spotlighted, and not in a positive way. But now, I was just one among a couple hundred men and women, standing beside Kir and Hahd and nobody giving one fuck about me. Seriously nice, for once.
A wooden platform had been moved up in front of them all, elevated several feet off the ground with a little set up steps going up to it. A body-shaped thing, wrapped up in white, was lying still on the top of it. An involuntary shudder shot through me, and I had to look away for a second. I didn't much want to think about what was under that.
There were seven people behind the platform, standing in a little semi-circle. Keyd and Rysa, I saw right away. They were in the middle, and dressed similarly—in high-collared and long-sleeved shirts of deep blue, silver embroidery at the wrists and neck. Rysa's was longer, more like a dress, and Keyd's only went to mid-thigh over black pants. And Rysa's hair looked different. She usually tied it back, but I knew it had been at least shoulder length when it was down. Now it was hacked off to just below her jaw. Keyd's hair was as wild as always, falling into his eyes and masking even more of his already lowered face. He was wearing the same circlet I'd seen him wear once or twice before.
The other people behind the platform were mostly ones I recognized. Jerhaldan, Maedajon's brother, stood at Keyd's left. Oredaiken, Maedajon's antshil, was to Rysa's right, with two women standing very close to him. One was the woman I had seen with him in the healer's tent, the other looked younger. Maybe a daughter. And the last person was Eldronrhet, standing to Jerhaldan's left.
We stood quietly, in the middle of the blue and bitter cold morning air, for at least a minute. Everyone was silent, still, patient. Kir and Hahd had fired up their own little lights, cupped in the palms of their hands, and I wasn't really sure how to do that. I was good at controlling shields, and that was about it. If someone had told me about this earlier maybe I could have practiced. I kept my hands to myself, jammed deep into my pockets.
Up by the platform, Eldronrhet was the first to move, suddenly walking forwards. I couldn't push my anger and near-disgust at seeing him climb the steps to the platform, and going to one knee besides Maedajon's body. He held one hand out over him, briefly lowered his head, and then stood up and went back down the stairs, moving back to his place in the semi-circle. It had all seemed very perfunctory and sterile, and I really wondered—not that I hadn't before—how this jerkass had managed to keep himself in the ranks of Maedajon's close trusted friends.
Oredaiken moved next, still looking pale and kind of sick—and I didn't blame him, for having to go through feeling some of Maedajon's death as the antshil bond had been breaking between them. He was helped up to the platform by the two women standing with him. Together they tugged him up to the edge of the platform, but then both pulled away, stepping back. Oredaiken climbed up the little set of stairs by himself, and went down to one knee beside Maedajon's body. He put one hand on the center of his chest, and the other he rested over Maedajon's chest.
He might have said something then—his mouth looked like it was moving—but it was too quiet to make out. He stayed kneeling at Maedajon's side for a few long moments, and then climbed unsteadily back down the wooden steps. His wife and his daughter moved up again, catching him each by an arm and steering him back to his place in the semi-circle.
Jerhaldan moved up next, climbing up the little stairs and also kneeling. But he didn't touch Maedajon at all—he lowered his head and held still, staying that way for at least a minute. This was Maedajon's younger brother, I had to remember, this had to be as hard on him as it was Keyd.
I thought Keyd and Rysa might go up then, once Jerhaldan left the platform, but they didn't move at all. No one in the semi-circle did. Or anyone around me. It was like the entire valley was holding its breath, with everything still and frozen in a single, waiting moment. I heard a sound from somewhere, low at first, like a soft, drawn out hum. It didn't seem to be coming from anywhere specific, and at first I thought it was some sort of weird birdcall, or even the sound of the river.
It took me a few good moments to realize what it actually was. It was Keyd, singing. A low, a-melodic sound that warbled strangely low in his throat and sounded nothing at all like his voice. It wasn't very loud at first, but the valley was so quiet and the noise carried on the wind and bounced off the chalk-white cliffs around us, making them clear and sharp. The words might have been his own language, but easily could not have been—the arrhythmic tonality made it impossible to tell.
But it sounded haunting and dismal. Besides his voice, the only noise in the valley was the harsh hollow wind whistling through grass in the murky blue of the early morning. His voice slowly got louder, rising slowly and steadily, echoing back from the cliffs.
Rysa's voice suddenly joined into his, rising in the same harsh pitch, falling into the spaces and pauses for breath Keyd took so that their voices mingled and slid together. It didn't sound like any kind of song I'd ever heard, and I didn't know what they were saying, but the chilling sound was getting to me, making something go cold and edgy in my chest.
Some of the lights glowing from the clar started to wink out, fading away slowly from single pairs of hands, and then faster and in bigger groups. Keyd turned to Rysa and she put something into his hand, and then he walked forward to the platform. He didn't go up the stairs, and the platform came up to the lower-middle of his chest.
He lifted his arm up, holding the thing he'd picked up high over Maedajon's body. It looked something like a little silver ball, about the size of a Christmas tree ornament. He was still singing, but quieter now, both his and Rysa's voices slowing and fading away. Behind him, beyond the tents and over the rocky hill and forestline on the other side of the valley, the sky was getting lighter and lighter, bleeding pale blue into white.
Keyd and Rysa's song stopped, together on one last throaty note, dying away into silence. Keyd was still paused, with his hand gripping the silver thing held in the air. The very moment the first watery yellow light of the sun came up over the white cliffs, Keyd dropped it to the platform.
The wooden platform—and Maedajon's body—went up in an instant blaze of fire. I actually jumped back in surprise, and Kir grabbed my shoulder and stilled me. No one else had moved. Dark gold-red light flickered over all the faces of the gathered oenclar, none of them moving or speaking or doing anything at all. Crackling wood and the roaring of flames was now the only sound in the valley. Through the wavering wall of fire I couldn't see any of the people standing on the other side.
All around me, the oenclar were starting to lower their heads, some of them pressing their fists hands to their chests or to their mouths. Beside me, Kir and Hahd were doing the same thing. I lowered my own head, staring down at the trampled grass around my feet. This was really it. Maedajon was dead, gone, and—Keyd was the agistar.
The burial pyre was left to blaze out and dwindle itself down, but we didn't seem to be done out here. Keyd and Rysa and the rest of the little half circle moved in front of the burning platform instead, and I saw a man I didn't recognize and Darban come out from the front of the crowd, moving up to join them and taking Eldronrhet's place. I guess that was why he wasn't with Kir right now, now that he was part of this super-special gheret. Eldronrhet moved back into the crowd, looking slightly displeased that he had to. He wasn't on the gheret anymore, that was for sure.
Keyd stepped out into the middle of them, and I sensed all of the attention in the crowd going straight to him. Hundreds and hundreds of his people all laser-pointed right at him. Talk about fucking stage fright. He didn't look nervous or unsure, but it was so hard to tell with him. He had such a perfected neutral face, and he was wearing it now.
The first thing he did was say a long sentence in his own language, in a very strong and clear voice. It had to be the loudest I'd ever heard him speak, and the surrounding crowd was dead quiet. His voice echoed back to us from the cliffs, giving whatever he was saying a little reverberating echo, which added to the force of it.
And then, he lifted the silver circlet off his head and threw it down to the ground. I practically bit right through my lip—was this him refusing the position? Or was it how he accepted it? Or something else? I knew so little about how any of this worked.
The gathered crowd had absolutely no reaction to it. Keyd paused, moving his eyes slowly over all of them, as if waiting for one.
"Maedajon did the same thing, when he became agistar," Kir said to me, very quietly. He probably wasn't supposed to be speaking at all, but he probably also knew I couldn't understand a word of this. "And he said something also similar to what his father did then—that a leader is a poor one if he carries too many marks of being above his people."
Since when does Keyd do things exactly like his father? I thought, but I kept silent on that. And I realized that Kir was right about Maedajon—he had always dressed pretty much exactly the same as all the other men around him. I had never even seen him wear a circlet, like Keyd had once or twice. He'd had the larger tent, and that was really it.
"I wish he was using frequency—he's being much more eloquent about it than I am at translating it," Kir said, sounding a little frustrated.
Why isn't he using frequency, I thought, at the same time I wondered when eloquent had become a word that described Keyd. In the last two days he had practically become a different person, one I didn't know and hadn't yet interacted with. I was starting to be afraid of how much his father's death might have changed him. I wished everyone hadn't kept me away from him.
Keyd kept talking, and he kept talking out of frequency. He gave a whole damn speech out of it. I wondered if he was just making it up, or if he'd written something and memorized it, because he barely hesitated and rarely stumbled over anything. He took pauses occasionally, lulls in his speech where I started expecting reactions from the crowd. But none ever came. Everyone was just completely stone quiet.
"What the hell is he saying?" I muttered to Kir at one point, who shook his head.
"About the war," is all he would say. That entirely un-fucking-fair. Now everyone got to hear about what was happening, except for me? And when Keyd was done saying whatever he wanted to say, he did the same thing again—looking around the gathered crowd as if waiting for a reaction. But again, there wasn't one. Everything was intensely quiet as Keyd moved back to the half-circle of his gheret.
"They aren't—doing anything," I said to Kir, feeling like I might vomit my heart right out of my mouth.
"That's good," Kir said.
"What would you want them to do?" Kir said, turning a somewhat bemused look on me.
"I—don't know," I said. "When people like what someone's said in my world, they usually jump around and yell and clap and stuff." Okay, thinking about that, I couldn't imagine this audience of mostly hardcore warriors starting to applaud and whistle.
"Silence means respect," Kir said simply, and that was the end of that.
Because Keyd's first speech as agistar had apparently been very well received, I felt a little more relieved, although no less burningly curious about what he had said. The crowd mostly dispersed after Keyd's speech was over, although a good many of them were congregating up near Keyd and his new gheret. I wanted to go up there, it was the only thing I wanted to do, but Kir caught me by my shoulder and gently but firmly steered me back towards the tents. Apparently, I was still a distraction, and not allowed to see him.
I spent most of the rest of the day alone in Keyd's tent. Bored and anxious and going out of my fucking mind. I was so tired of this—tired of being left in the dark, of being pushed aside and not even being allowed to talk to my own goddamn fiancée. I just wanted to know if he was all right. He was so damn good at looking fully composed and unruffled that there was no way to tell how he was really handling this from a distance. I had to talk to him.
It was almost sundown again when anything happened. I was slouching against the bed and kind of zoning out due to lack of stimulation and simultaneous overthinking, when I heard a soft little scratching at the door.
I jerked up, startled, whirling around. Keyd was at the tent door. Holding the flap open and ducking down to peer in, but not taking a step inside. For the newly instated agistar, it seemed like an overly cautious stance, especially at his own damn tent. And he even looked worried.
"Hey," I said, my heart in my mouth suddenly. Maybe normally I would have gotten up, but I hadn't spoken to him in nearly two days and I had no idea why he was suddenly here. I almost couldn't think this was anything good, especially if I was still being called a distraction.
"Hello," he said softly. He sounded really, really worried, and that was definitely unnerving me. "I haven't seen you, in a while."
I just nodded. It was true; I couldn't disagree. Keyd fiddled with the edge of the tent flap, sliding his fingers along it one at a time.
"I thought," I told him, carefully, "that I shouldn't get in the way. You obviously have a lot to deal with right now, and Kir and Rysa told me—some stuff that got me thinking I should just keep out of the way here for a while."
Keyd's eyes flicked to me, and hardened a little. "Told you what?" he said. "That you're in the traditional female role right now and not allowed to be involved?"
"Uh," I said, startled. "Yeah. Pretty much exactly that."
Keyd took a step into the tent, and let the flap fall closed behind him. He came to me and knelt down in front of me, our knees touching. He was back in more normal clothes, at least normal for him—not the ones from the funeral this morning.
"I want you to get in the way," he said. "I want you involved with whatever you want to be involved with. We aren't a traditional pair in any way, but my people are going to need to accept it. Some do now, even more don't. Some never will. But even many of those don't still accept me as the agistar, as a leader. And I don't want you hidden, out of the way and doing what an aifot would be. You're not one, because you aren't a woman, and you shouldn't be put to the usual expectations. I—want you by my side, and if you want to be there also—then, you should be."
Everything he said kind of washed over me at first, and it took me a moment to really grab onto what he meant. Then I had a brief panic attack, and then, finally, I managed to answer.
"You're really trying to change all of this, aren't you?" I said, and Keyd smiled a little.
"It's only right I continue what my father started," he said. That sobered me a little—it was still hard to conceive that Maedajon was dead. I could see it, every time I shut my eyes, but it was still hard to equate that blurred nightmare with reality.
"Of course I want to be with you in this," I said, after taking a slow breath. "Mostly I just feel like I don't know enough about your people to be rightfully involved. And that they might feel the same way."
"It could be true," Keyd said. "I suppose we both have to prove ourselves. My father was a great leader—I don't know how much my people can trust in me, or if they ever look up to me the way they did to my father. I can only try." Keyd reached out for me. "I want to show you something."
I let Keyd take my wrist, and we rose together. He pulled me out of the tent flap, into the late afternoon sun. All the shadows were stretching long and blue, and the chalk-white rocks had gone dusky and orange between waves of golden grass. This valley really was beautiful, and I wasn't really looking forward to going back to the grit and smog and heat of my own city when I finally returned. Whenever that was going to be. If I kept tangling myself further with Keyd, and his people, and all of this—where was the ending point? I'd already said I wanted to be involved with this, be by his side. And I did. But this place, these people, and Keyd—they weren't my entire life. I still had a family, responsibilities, friends, on Earth.
Keyd was leading me by the wrist down the tent rows, moving away from the middle of the camp. We went all the way to the end of the row, where there was a singular small black tent flying a white banner. We pushed through the door flaps together. I knew there had to be something in here, because Keyd had said he wanted to show something to me, but it wasn't what I was expecting.
There was a rift in here. I felt it before I saw it, but I saw it pretty fast, because it was the only thing inside the tent. Just that strange thin and stretched section of air in the middle of the room, sending off thick pulses of energy.
"You're sending me back," I said, every organ in my body sinking a few inches. Christ, we hadn't even talked about this.
Keyd's hand seized into my wrist. "No," he said. "No, that's not—" he turned me, suddenly, his other hand going to my waist. "I wouldn't do that."
I had this goddamn problem with trusting him, and being paranoid about our relationship. There were already enough outside factors against us to worry about, I had to remember that Keyd was really on our side. He wouldn't just end this, and even if he did, he wouldn't do it like this.
"Shit, I'm sorry," I said. "I'm—stupid, just—you hadn't talked to me and I didn't know what was going on…"
"I'm sorry I haven't been with you," Keyd said, which made me feel like some sort of spoiled little kid who needed constant attention. "I—"
"You had a lot of things to worry about," I interrupted. "I know. I understand. I just get—nervous, okay? It's really just me."
Keyd looked at me like he didn't know what to make of that. I wasn't really very fond of this conversation and how I was spilling my neuroses and egotism all over Keyd, so I looked away from him and towards the rift.
"So, what did you really want to show me?" I said. Keyd moved a step forward, and didn't let go of my wrist, so he pulled me up next to him.
"Go through," he said quietly. "I'll follow you."
I could have asked where it lead, and I wanted to, but I felt like I needed to show Keyd that I did actually trust him, especially now. So I didn't say anything at all. I nodded, drew my hand out of his, and stepped through.
It wasn't as bad, going through one of these for the second time. I got a brief feeling of overwhelming vertigo and disorientation, and then I was completely fine again, my balance caught and my equilibrium steady.
Keyd and I had stepped through onto a dim beach. I heard the roar of the ocean almost before I saw it, a deeply blue-black mass frothing up along dark grey sand. My feet sunk into the soft ground, and a cold wave washed up over them a second later. The water looked dark and inky, and felt like ice. A sharp wind pushed at my back, a thick salt breeze that was heavy and bitter. The entire sky was a grayish murky blue—not completely dark, but like a perpetual late dusk. But I didn't get the feeling that it was nighttime at all.
I felt Keyd nudge up against my side, and his fingers found mine and held.
"Where—" I started, but Keyd squeezed my hand and I stopped. He started moving forward, walking at an incline up the shoreline, and I followed him. There were craggy, grey-black rocks rising up out of the sand a few dozen feet from the shore, completely blocking any view of anything behind them. Wind pushed and whistled through little cracks and hollows in the rocks. Beside me, Keyd was a dim shadow, his skin turned grayish and his hair black and shineless.
We walked up the beach in silence. My boots felt a little damp from the surprise wave, and the sand was gritty and loose and both Keyd and I sunk far in with each step. There were rocks too, under the sand, that I had to peer for in the dimness of this murky beach to avoid getting tripped up over. So I was staring at the ground when Keyd finally stopped walking, and I nearly bumped into him. His grip on my hand tightened to be near-numbing, and I looked up.
The line of blacks rocks had ended, and there was a city in front of us. It sat as a dark grey near-silhouette against a paler grey sky—a huge, looming spread of towers and arches, darkened and silent and empty. From what I could see, it was mostly stone, of intricate architecture, most of the buildings circular and towering. Part of it was built into the huge black rock face that continued growing up from the beachhead and moved inland, and made a sort of wall that enclosed an entire side of the city.
"This is Lojt," Keyd said, quietly. "This is the city where I was born."
So here we go, third time around. :) I seriously have to thank everyone again for continuing to follow this, and all the favorites and alerts and reviews. I didn't ever expect this would be very popular.
So a friend of mine sprung some surprise art on me yesterday, it's a little NSFW so I'm not going to link it on my profile here, but you can see it if you drop by my livejournal (teromain .livejournal. com, sans the spaces). I'd recommend it.