A/N: Please read the author note at the end!


I must have fallen asleep again, because the sound of people shouting woke me up. Loud, angry yelling, somewhere nearby. Pretty close to right outside my little prison tent, actually. Of course I couldn't get up to see what was going on—although, just waking up I forgot this at first, and did a really spastic tumbling over maneuver when I tried to. Fucking handcuffs.

If I lay down on my side and kept my arms stretched behind me and wriggled as far as I could towards the tent door, I could almost get my head out of it. I could at least see a little bit under the canvas flap, giving me a sideways view of the row outside of the tent, which was all lit up by big glowing lanterns on tall poles in between each tent. I could see the boots of the two guys who had been set to guard me, a couple of steps away from the door. They were probably watching what was going on out here, and not me.

It was Keyd and his charming fucking grandfather Eldronrhet, facing off with each other just outside the tent that was across the row from mine. Unlike the last time I'd seen them interacting, Keyd was not keeping quiet and letting Eldronrhet lecture him. Actually, Keyd was the one doing the yelling. And every time Eldronrhet tried to get a word in, Keyd rolled right over him like he hadn't even spoken. Keyd was wearing that same all-black outfit from before, and he was taller than Eldronrhet, and he just looked like a force no one would want to tangle with, ever.

Keyd's yelling was all out of frequency, so I couldn't understand, but both of them kept pointing to my little prison tent. Keyd was angrier and more animated than I could ever remember seeing him, making big abrupt gestures with his hands and still yelling. Keyd never yelled. Even though he wasn't letting Eldronrhet get even the start of a word in, the other man didn't look like he was impressed much.

Eldronrhet turned from Keyd suddenly and started stalking away, right towards my tent. I was about to roll back away from the door when Keyd grabbed him by the arm, yanking him to a stop. Eldronrhet whirled on him, pulling his arm out of Keyd's grip and taking an agressive step back closer to him. Maybe that was supposed to intimidate Keyd or something, but it didn't seem to work. I was starting to think this was some sort of macho showdown.

There was a silence where neither of them did or said anything. Just glared at each other, a silent standoff. Then Keyd said a single, and very soft-spoken word. I had the feeling it had been a request or order to leave, because after another tension filled moment, Eldrorhet whirled around and headed off down the tent row. Keyd closed his eyes, briefly, exhaled, and turned around himself, to go in the opposite direction.

He didn't get far. Eldronrhet suddenly about-faced, and I felt a deep surge of energy coming from his direction. He sliced his arm upwards at Keyd, and I felt what seemed like the world's biggest static shock snap through the air, surging off the ends of his fingertips in twisting, nearly invisible black filaments of energy. The crackle of energy hit Keyd in the back. Which was just plain fucking cheating. Keyd stumbled, badly, lost his footing and went down hard, that dry energy twisting and snapping all over his body. I could feel it, through the bond, and it did really feel like really sadistic static cling.

Then there was a deep strum of new, different energy, and a cloud of black-purple smoke erupted around Keyd's body. The huge, lithe shape of a jet-black dog burst out of it, leaping into a crouched position over him, head lowered and teeth bared silently up at Eldronrhet. Keyd's beji was back to being full grown, and also scary as all hell. Beneath the dog's miniature-pony-sized body, Keyd was moving, rolling over fast and pushing himself up to his elbows.

It seemed pretty damn ballsy, to outright attack Keyd now that he was the agistar, but Eldronrhet was Worthy Fucking Supreme, so maybe he got to do that. Keyd stumbled back to his feet, looking a little dizzy, but no less determined. His beji was still crouched and tensed and snarling at his side, and he put his hand on the dog's shoulder. It looked like half an attempt to calm the thing down, and half to balance himself. His energy was ramped up so hard that even if the bond had been shut between us—and it wasn't—I probably still could have felt it hammering around in my body like it was trying to break all my bones.

Eldronrhet said something to Keyd, something that was almost near to a snarl, but he was just a little too self-controlled for that. Keyd was breathing so hard it looked like he was either about to be sick or punch Eldronrhet in the face—the latter of which I would have fucking loved to see. But then Keyd set his shoulders back, drew in one long, slow breath, and lifted his chin up. He didn't say anything, didn't do anything. The shadowy dog at his side collapsed into a huge curl of black-purple smoke, and sucked back into his chest. And after another long tension-packed moment, Eldronrhet turned around again, and just walked away. Keyd watched him leave this time, until he was completely out of sight down a different row. Then Keyd left in the opposite direction.

I had no idea what the hell that had all been about, but I was fairly sure I was somehow involved, and that it didn't look good. I wondered what would have happened if Eldronrhet would have actually come in here. What would he have done? Lectured me? Dragged me out for a public traitor's execution? Something in between? And why had Keyd stopped him? Did he want to carry out my punishment himself? Did he just want to draw out the fucking tension a little more? Ugh, Christ, my head hurt with all of this.

I rested my forehead back on my knees, and stopped trying to think at all.


Some time later—not even a guess at how much—I heard a brief murmured conversation outside, and then the tent flap pushed open. Kir ducked inside, and I felt a little better at even just seeing him. At least I knew he was cool with me and I didn't have to worry about my life or sanity when he was around.

"Hey," I said, sitting up a little. Kir crossed two fingers into an x in front of his mouth, and then slung a small bag down off his shoulder and set it on the canvas floor of the tent. He pulled open the drawstring and started taking out a couple of little wooden bowls with fitted lids. By the way steam puffed out of them and they way they started smelling, it was pretty obvious what it all was.

"Kir, you're amazing," I said. "Seriously."

"I wasn't sure if anyone would know that you eat more often than we do," Kir said. "It probably isn't my place to do this, but—"

"I won't tell if you don't," I said, and he smiled at me.

Kir took the shackles off again so I could eat, and he sat off in the corner of the tent and let me alone while I did. It was the same stuff I'd had around here before—those tortilla things that were sort of like thin pita bread, a mysterious meat and cooked vegetables. I'd had it all before, and it was good, but I wondered if this was all these guys ever ate.

It didn't matter now, because I was so starved that I would have eaten just about anything. I hadn't even realized how hungry I really was until I was halfway through eating and wondering if the rest of what was left would even fill me up. It was sort of good to know that combined heartbreak and trauma weren't killing my appetite. When I was done, Kir put all the little containers back into the shoulder bag. He nudged it over to the side of the tent door, out of the way, then turned to me.

"How are you doing?" he said, and I lifted a shoulder.

"You know," I said, "about the same."

Kir looked like he'd expected that. "I wish I could tell you what is being decided about you," he said. "But I'm not highly enough ranked to be included in those kinds of meetings. I don't even know if they are discussing it at all."

"It's fine," I said. "You're doing way more than you need to for me, anyway. And I bet Rysa can tell me."

"It will be very difficult for her to come to see you right now," Kir said. "With her position, and the way you are being considered right now—if she or Keyd is seen with you more than strictly necessary, they might be considered traitors themselves. Especially given the history between you three."

"Oh," I said. "Right."

"I'm sure Rysa would come to see you if she could," Kir said, pointedly.

"Yeah, I know that," I said. I wasn't really worried about Rysa—I knew how I stood with her and that she didn't hate me and I could understand that her not coming to see me was probably political. But Keyd could do whatever the hell he wanted. It wasn't like he hadn't defied every single person of important standing here before. Just, this time, he didn't want to. I wasn't worth enough to him anymore.

And suddenly, I was having a little bit of a hard time breathing. It was hitting me, really hitting me, what all this meant. The realization that Keyd wouldn't be stupidly compulsive and brave and revolutionary because of me was almost the worst thing that was coming out of this. It was like he'd been waiting all his life to do the things he had done, defying almost every restriction and behavior that had ever been expected from him, but only when he had someone with him and helping him and supporting him. But now he was just going along with everything, doing exactly what was expected, falling back into that role he'd been strictly raised for. And he was good at it—really too fucking good at it. He was back to being the person I'd first met, months ago; a perfect emotionless product of his upbringing, completely oppressed by the demands of his society and his status and refusing to admit it. It was like the biggest fucking step back I'd ever seen.

I really was having trouble taking full breaths at this point, and I'd practically forgotten Kir was even in the tent with me anymore. I felt so fucking helpless and lost, because there was absolutely nothing I could do to help or change any of it. Nothing. Then, without a word, Kir sat down beside me and took my hand. Just held it, firmly, with a reassuring feeling in the way he did it. I wouldn't have thought in a thousand years that it would help, but suddenly it felt like the only thing that actually would. That peaceful sense that I usually got from him was even stronger this way; it spread through me like a slow coolness, letting my muscles loosen up and my breathing even out. I didn't feel like I was having a panic attack anymore.

"Thanks, man," I said to Kir. My voice wobbled a little, embarrassingly. "Thanks."

Kir just gave me a slow nod. I had a feeling he knew how much he was helping. Maybe he was even somehow doing it, because recently I'd always felt calm when he came around.

"How do you always know how to—how are you doing that?" I said, and Kir smiled a little.

"This," he said, and touched the oen mark that spiked down the side of his face and across his cheekbone. "It isn't a mark of offense or defense, but it allows me some mental influences and intuitions. I can't force someone to feel something, but I can offer it to them, and how much they accept it is their own choice."

"You've been doing that to me a lot, haven't you?"

"Yes," Kir said. "Has it helped?"

"Actually, yeah," I admitted. "You feel really…slow. And peaceful. I can't even make that make sense, but it's nice."

Kir dipped his head a little. "I'm glad," he said.

"You're a good friend," I said, a little out of nowhere, but he almost felt like my only one right now, and I just had to let him know I appreciated it.

Kir looked startled. "Thank you," he said. "I—thank you for thinking of me as one."

"Well, yeah," I said. "What else would I think? How much have you already done for me? I wouldn't know what to call you, if not a friend."

Kir ducked his head again. I got the feeling he was a little embarrassed, but I wasn't sure why. Maybe he didn't have many friends, or something. He obviously didn't know how to take a compliment very well.

"Hey," I said. "Can you stay for a little? I'm about to go crazy in here by myself—I don't even know how long I've been here."

"I have some time," Kir said, nodding. "I can stay."

We talked for a while after that—or more like Kir talked at me. I think he was trying to distract me and take my mind off everything. Which I definitely needed after my seriously embarrassing near panic attack about Keyd. I felt like I was slowly working up to a complete meltdown, and I didn't want to even think about what I'd do when I actually hit it. So Kir talking at me about random things worked a lot to sidetrack me, and most of the things he told me were actually really interesting.

I found out a little more about Kir's religion, which was actually really interesting and depressing at the same time. It was called bautan, which meant 'peace' in some old language no one really spoke anymore, and was a very serene and inward-looking type of faith, where anything slightly violent or aggressive was completely unacceptable. So the fact that Kir had joined the army was just about the biggest of all blasphemies he could have committed while practicing it. His family, also following the religion, hadn't spoken to him since he'd joined, and now he considered Darban his only real family.

And, speaking of Darban, Kir told me that he and Keyd were actually cousins. Distant ones, but they were actually related via Maedajon's side. Apparently it wasn't uncommon to be related by blood or marriage when you got up into the high-blooded families, since they'd been marrying for social ties and political interests for generations.

"Most of the old families are intermarried now," Kir said. "I'm even related to Darban and Keydestas myself, although through marriages, not blood. Even though my family is a Keeper line, our family name is old and respected, and we've intermarried the same as all the other old families."

"How do you even know all this stuff?" I said. "Did you just memorize a genealogical tree or something?"

"I grew up surrounded by the history of our people," Kir said. "Including knowing family lines. My family, the caste that I was born into, are holders of information and history like this. Even though I left that situation, I was still raised to be best prepared to do the same."

"Why did you leave? If it was that big a problem for your family…"

Kir glanced down, drawing in a little breath. It had to be a touchy subject, since it had totally estranged him, so I let him have as long as he needed.

"Because I—" Kir took another breath. "I felt that I needed to do more active good. That I needed to prove my worth in a way that was noticeable, that had useful results and could be recognized by others. I needed to show that I had something worthwhile about me." Kir looked at me, a little pointedly. "Because of the way I was."

Because he was gay, I think he was saying. That tended to seriously fuck up people's lives around here, because to admit it meant alienation and probably even death. It really wouldn't have surprised me if Kir had completely thrown his life in a new direction to try and make up for what was seen as, basically, an unforgivable sickness.

"And did you—did you find all that?" I asked.

"It found me," Kir said, glancing down again. "I was running from myself and everything else, running without knowing or planning how to stop, and—Darban saved me. He accepted everything about me, even the parts I never meant to show him. I don't know what would have happened to me if he hadn't, I think I would have fallen apart long ago."

"You two are really cool," I said. "Really. Are you—I mean, you're not still 'disagreeing' with him, are you?"

"Well. A little," Kir said. "He doesn't like that I keep coming to see you."

"Christ, you don't have to do it, if it's fucking things up between you two—"

"Darban and I allow each other to do what we feel we need to do," Kir said, with a little smile. "Even if we don't necessarily like it. As long as we still understand and respect each other, it won't become a problem. Alan, don't worry about us. We know how to survive, much worse than a political disagreement."

"I know," I said. "I mean, obviously you do. I just—" I just had this really weird need to see them stay together. It was almost like, as long as they could pull through, absolutely anything was possible. Maybe even Keyd and I had a shot. But I was starting to see that Kir and Darban were just eons more mature than either Keyd or me. And that was really humbling. We had so far to go, even if we did get that less and less likely second chance.

"And," Kir said, "you need someone right now. I don't care about the politics or the ethics—it's irrelevant to why I'm here. I very much understand what it feels like to be alone and unsupported. Even one person can help. Darban may dislike it, but he knows why I'm doing it, and I do know what I'm doing."

"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure you do."


Kir had to take off not long after. He was still an active part of the army, after all, so he couldn't really just sit around with me all the time. A couple of hours later, around a time I assumed might be near "night time", a guy who wasn't Kir brought me food again. It was one of the guys who had arrested me at the start, the one with the Celtic looking mark on his face. Apparently they were planning to feed me, just not as much as I needed. But Kir was most likely right—they probably didn't know how much I did need.

This guy brought me stuff on a tray, a little wood bowl of that stuff that was pretty much like brown rice, mixed in with some little chunks of greenish stuff. And a cup of water. And that was it. Awesome prisoner food. I was so damn glad Kir had smuggled me in real food earlier. Still, eating this stuff too couldn't hurt anything. Celtic knot face guy let one—just one—of my hands out of the shackles so I could eat. Real generous, this guy. Well, he was probably just following procedure. And then he stood in the doorway and watched me eat. That wasn't unnerving at all.

"Hey, uh—what's your name?" I asked him, since thinking of him as Celtic knot face guy was getting old.

He glanced at me. "Amaso Damaojuhn," he said.

Well, I was never going to remember any of that. Already I was pretty sure I couldn't repeat it back to him.

"Got anything easier I could call you?" Since I did know now that it was more polite to be invited to call these guys by their shorter names.

He hesitated for a second. "Damao," he said.

"Damao. I can remember that," I said. "And hey—look. I don't know exactly what you think about me, but…"

"I know that akiotar Rysanys has a good opinion of you," Damao said, and suddenly he was avoiding my eyes. Akiotar—that was a new word. No idea what it meant. "And I trust that opinion. She is very intelligent."

"Oh," I said. "Well. That's good. I'm glad you trust her."

"Yes. She is a….unique woman," Damao said, and he really wasn't looking at me now. What the hell, did he have like a giant crush on Rysa or something? That would almost be funny, if it wasn't so awkwardly endearing. I couldn't even imagine what Rysa would do to a guy who liked her.

"Thanks for this, anyway," I said, gesturing at the plate of food to change the subject. Damao seemed pretty relieved about that.

After I was done, Damao took the other shackle off me and took me outside and around the back of the tent. At first I was terrified as hell over what the purpose of it was, and then I figured out that it wasn't going to be some guerilla execution, and what he wanted me to do was relieve myself. Great, that wasn't awkward at all with him just standing there, although I guess I appreciated that he'd even thought of it at all. I was started to realize how goddamn humiliating being a prisoner really was. I hadn't been one for long enough last time to really get it.

Damao was the last visitor I got for a long, long time. It was pretty much impossible to tell how time was passing here, in a place where the light never changed, and in the periods of time where nothing happened it felt like hours or minutes could have gone by. I had nothing to do except sit and think, or try to not think, because thinking always brought me around to Keyd. And then I'd start to feel like panicking again. It was better to zone out and stare at the walls and just be empty for a while.

At my best guess, it was at least a full day before anyone came around again. I slept on and off, maybe for hours or maybe for minutes, impossible to tell. When I wasn't asleep I had nothing to do. Once in a while I could hear people passing by the tent, talking in voices I couldn't make out. It didn't feel like this was a very busy part of the camp, since that only happened rarely. At one point, I watched under the flap as new pairs of feet took the places of the old pairs of feet who had been standing outside of my tent. Changing of the guard. Occasionally I heard them talking, always out of frequency. I heard Keyd's name being said a couple of times, but that was all I could understand.

Kir came back at a point where I was so bored and restless that I was trying to count the weaves in the canvas floor of the tent.

"Thank god," I said, when he ducked through the door. My voice sounded a little rough from not talking for a while, and I cleared it a couple times. "What's going out, out there?"

Kir shook his head. "Nothing I can say with any certainty, still," he said. "Darban had told me that Keyd…doesn't want to talk about you at all, especially in councils."

"Oh," I said. That felt like a punch to the stomach. "Yeah, I guess I—I meant, what's going on with the war."

"I don't know much of the inner workings," Kir said. "But the clarbach may know that we've come back here, but they still have to find us. And we've already made a certain amount of progress here."

"Making progress doing…what?"

Kir looked at me for a moment. "Did Keydestas ever tell you about the way the energy works—the balance between us and the clarbach?" he asked.

"Sort of," I said. "He kind of tried to explain once, but—" he's shit at explaining things, I didn't finish saying.

"I think it would benefit you if you knew more," Kir said, and I agreed with that. Knowing more always helped, but not a lot of people around here were always willing to tell me things.

"Okay," I said. "I'm listening."

"There is truly no such thing as darkness," Kir said. I knew that—I was an art student, of course I knew that. I'd just never thought regular rules actually applied here, what with magic and stuff in the mix. "Only an absence of light. The clarbach attract and absorb light energy, and it creates that absence, which is perceived and labeled as being 'dark'. What we do is not the same as the clarbach—we can't absorb darkness the way they absorb light, because there is no such thing."

"Then what do you do?" I said. This was where Keyd had stopped his explanation before—when he had basically said it was too complicated for him to try and explain. But Kir already seemed pretty good at making things make sense. If I could understand it from anyone, it'd be him, or possibly Rysa.

"In the easiest term to explain—reflect," Kir said. "The entities in us take light and echo it, replicate it. Because no matter how dark it appears to get, there is always some light remaining. And we use that—our energy uses that."

Holy shit, it actually did make sense. And it hadn't even been that complicated. Even if it still seemed a little backwards—black usually absorbed, white reflected—but whatever, there was magic and other weird stuff involved with this, and Kir obviously knew what he was talking about. And I thought about what I'd seen inside the ruins of the city, the dark crystal-glass flowers that had reflective surfaces.

"So, those crystal things," I said. "That's what they're for, they're reflecting the light here. Bringing it back."

Kir nodded. "Yes," he said. "The entities in our bodies would do it naturally, but it's possible to do it on a larger and faster scale. The same way that the clarbach absorb massive amounts of light through planting bach energy like seeds, we can reflect—and increase—light by using those formations of pure oen. You've seen that we've already started here—I suppose it's being assumed we will win the fight here, this time."

"You just set those things up and—it just goes on its own? That's it?"

"There is an amount of—involvement and maintenance and effort, but yes, essentially. The entities are a force of their own, even if they need us as hosts, they know how to perpetuate themselves. I know you also must have seen the way the clarbach absorb light—gathering it all to single condensed areas. Usually around some kind of natural energy source—power from nature, any natural force, makes ours stronger. Plant growth, water current, energy from the earth.

"They were doing it in a graveyard," I said. "Where's the natural energy from that?"

"In decomposition," Kir said. It took me a second, and then—

"Oh, man, that's gross."

"Decay and corrosion is just as powerful of a force as creation," Kir said. "It is what we are using here, in Abyah. Deterioration of the ruins, overtaken by new growth."

"Okay," I said. "It's still gross."

Kir almost smiled, and seemed about to say something when I felt a strong increase in the antshil bond and suddenly the tent door flapped open. And Rysa came in, full-force and serious business. Kir had made it pretty clear that she wouldn't come in here unless there was a really good reason. The fact that I could feel her heartbeat, faster than normal, through the bond, and that she looked a little frazzled, was freaking me out a little. I almost got to my feet before I realized I couldn't.

"Okay, what the hell is going on," I said to her, and she shook her head back a little and looked at me.

"Well," she said. "They've found us—they're here."


Here did not mean actually here, and they did not mean the clarbach forces. At first I had assumed that the whole army was right here in the ruins of this ancient city and already launching an all-out attack. Rysa assured me pretty fast that it wasn't anything like that. In fact, there were only half a dozen of them, and they had come to the edge of the camp to have some sort of very proper and protocol-filled meeting, and then gone off again. Rysa had been there.

"When and where?" Kir asked her, quietly, when she'd finished dealing with my panic.

"In the valley," Rysa said. "Tomorrow—hetko adaju danya. Alan, I thought you should know what's happening," she added, glancing at me.

"You agree on where to meet up and have a battle?" I said, and both she and Kir looked at me oddly.

"What else would we do?" Rysa said.

"Uh, I guess—I don't know," I muttered. "It just seems really—" old fashioned Colonial America or something— "polite."

Kir snorted a little. "It is anything but," he said. "It is impossible to make war polite. There is nothing redeeming to honorable about any part of it, even the formalities like this that we lay over the top of it."

That was surprising, from a guy who'd quit a peace-based religion to join the army. "Then why are you a soldier?"

"To make it end," Kir said, and beside him, Rysa was nodding.

"All right then," I said, still a little startled. "So, uh, this thing tomorrow, are both of you going to be part of it?"

"I will be," Kir said.

"I will fight if Keyd does," Rysa said. "And I'm very sure that he will." She looked closer at me then, like she was trying to figure out why I'd asked. "This is beginning another part of the war, Alan," she said. "You have only seen us in preparation and intervals of wartime—never in real battle. It will be different now, much different from what you are used to."

"I don't doubt that," I said. It just wasn't likely I'd be here to see it. Someone would have to make a decision about me soon, and then I'd either be executed or probably packed off home. And it wouldn't matter what the clar were like in a full-blown state of war. Unless I was so far down on a list of priorities that they'd just let me sit here for—who knew how long.

"Do you have any idea what they're going to do with me?" I asked her, as a last ditch effort. They weren't real eager to share stuff, these people, and even Rysa and Keyd had held huge secrets from me before. But I had to ask.

Rysa shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "This time, Alan, I truly don't. Keyd won't speak of you, and the Worthies are more concerned with Keyd's competency and rationale than anything else. And now they'll care more about the war. For all I know, they plan to simply forget about you."

I couldn't even be surprised at that. "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, okay. Thanks for telling me that much, anyway. And look, I—good luck, tomorrow. I really hope you guys do okay. You know I never really wanted to bring this all here on you. I guess it would have happened somewhere else, if not here, but I still feel really fucking bad about it. And I really am sorry, and I just—yeah. Maybe one of you could tell Keyd that I'm sorry. I don't think I did, before, and I don't think I'll get to."

Rysa looked she wanted to say something to that, but Kir took hold of her elbow and said something to her that I couldn't hear. Then she pressed her lips together and just nodded at me.

"All right," she said, and turned and left the tent. I blinked after her, and Kir exhaled a little.

"It doesn't seem that there was anything she could have said that you haven't already heard," he said. "Or thought of. I don't feel that you need to talk through it all again."

"Yeah, I really don't," I said. Kir took a step towards the tent flaps, like he was going to head out after Rysa.

"Kir—I meant it, man," I said, before he could. "Good luck tomorrow. Watch yourself."

He nodded his head once. "Thank you, Alan," he said, and was gone through the door.


When I woke up from a flimsy sleep I already knew the battle had started. I could feel it. It was a far away sense of it, like watching a volcano erupt from miles away. I knew it was happening, but it wasn't affecting me very much. And that was good, because the lame little shield I'd taught myself how to make probably wouldn't have held up under the full thing, and it probably would have felt like being beaten up during an electrical storm.

I didn't know how far away from the camp it was taking place, but even as muted and distant as it was, it felt strong. I just felt the energy—both kinds, light and dark, now both equally familiar after all the time I'd spent in Uillad—like some huge welling forces pushing against each other. There was a sense of complete aversion to each other, but also a feeling of balance that was being ignored. Like the way magnets would repel each other if they were faced together, but turning one around would them stick again. It felt like that—like if something just changed, there could be a chance.

And, if the two energies were supposed to be in balance, I guess that made sense. But the two races were just completely out of whack right now with their war and hatred and everything else. Kir had said he had become a soldier to make it end—but who knew if that was even possible. And even before the war, it hadn't sounded like they liked each other very much.

I felt so disconnected from all of this. There were people out there, people I knew and cared about, fighting in a fucking battle and I was trapped in some dumb goddamn tent and so far out of the picture that I was the next best thing to irrelevant. I couldn't do anything at all. Even if I hadn't been arrested and ostracized I wouldn't have been able to do anything. I wasn't a soldier, I was a graphic art student. It was crazy for me to even be here, in a fucking war zone. But I was here. And I hated that I had to keep so far back that people I knew could be hurt or even killed today, and I wouldn't even know it.

After what felt like a long, long time, the peripheral pressure and sense of all that distance energy faded even more. Not gradually, but in jerks and spikes and last desperate flickers, like a wood fire sputtering out. And then, it was gone entirely. The camp was incredibly silent, wind flapping through canvas and the rustling of grass. There weren't even any guards outside the tent, I realized suddenly, when I looked for the familiar shadows of boots and saw none.

Silence was worse than the feeling of the battle. Silence made me feel like I was the only person alive in the world. The creepiest and loneliest thing I could ever remember feeling—the same way I'd felt when Keyd and I had been in Lojt alone together.

It felt like about six hundred days had crawled torturously by before I heard footsteps outside, and Kir came in the tent door. He was in armor and looked exhausted. And for the first time that I'd ever seen, his braid was completely messed up and strands of it were falling out all over the place.

"What happened?" I said, sitting up as much as the stupid goddamn shackles would let me. "I mean, what—" I had no idea what to ask about specifically, because I had no idea what a fight between a lot of magically-empowered armored warriors would really be like. I could imagine the hell out of it, but I was usually wrong when I came to guessing anything about these guys.

Kir waved his hand and shook his head, like he was dismissing the whole of the battle as irrelevant.

"I thought you should be told," he said, very evenly. "Keydestas was hurt."

"What?" A rush of cold dropped through my entire body, followed by a huge kick of adrenaline. Everything else stopped mattering, because Keyd, fuck Keyd was hurt he was hurt. "Fuck, how bad? Is he okay?"

"I don't know, Alan," Kir said. His voice was still very calm, trying to be soothing, but it wasn't helping like before. Not at all. "I have no reason to be in the hisuul or to be informed of his condition—I only heard that he was injured."

Raw fear, and an absolute clear determination clashed around together in my chest, mixing with the wild uncomfortable adrenaline. I was so on edge that I was getting afraid my heart would explode. "Let me out of this," I said, yanking my wrists up and clattering the chain around. "Kir. I know you can. You have to—I need to go."

Kir took a little step back. "Alan, I can't—"

"Kir, please, goddammit! How would you feel if Darban was hurt and you couldn't go to him?" Kir flinched at that. "If you get in trouble I'll take all the blame, I won't even say it was you, just—let me out of here, please!"

Kir still looked shaken and unsure, but he came across the tent to me, and knelt down at my back. A brief flare of energy, and the shackles fell apart from around my wrists. I yanked my arms forward, already halfway up to my feet as Kir sat back, still looking uncertain.

"Thank you," I said to him, and before I really knew what I was doing, I grabbed his shoulders and kissed him on the mouth. And then I was up, out of the tent and just running, tents and those lights on sticks flashing past on either side of me. I had no idea where I was going, and—I had no idea where Keyd even was

Christ, how was I going to find him? I thought about the bond, but—no. Still shut between us on his side, when I felt along it a little bit. But, another part of it was open; my connection to Rysa. And wherever Keyd was, she'd probably be there too. I clamped down on the sensation I was getting from her, focusing and trying to pin down the direction it was coming from. And I felt it, slowly, like a flicker of intuition, a weird mental GPS, and I knew where I had to head.

By luck or chance or something else, I'd already been running the right direction. So I just kept on, dashing through the dim camp, adrenaline still charging through my body like a shot of pure caffeine. I felt like I could have fucking flown if it would have gotten me to Keyd faster. When I rounded a corner and saw a huge tan tent in front of me, way bigger than the ones around it, I knew it was the right one. I had a stabbing cramp in my side and was totally out of breath and had lost my track on Rysa, but none of it mattered. I stumbled inside.

Unlike the last time I'd been in one of the medical tents around here, nothing was partitioned into a million little sections. It was just all open, like one of the medic tents you see in war movies, with rows and rows of injured men in cots and nurses or whatever running around between them. But there were no cots here, except three or four in a far corner. Instead there were people on the floor, on thin little pads, all arranged into three by three squares with wider rows between. Men and women, all of them with their hands and arms completely covered in oen marks, moved quietly around among the wounded soldiers. And there were a lot of them. Estimation and me are not friends, but a lot was really a lot.

I had expected it to sound like a slaughterhouse in here—again, going from war films. Injured people and maybe even people close to dying couldn't sound pretty. But it was almost creepily quiet. There were really no sounds—not from any of the injured soldiers. Some of them I couldn't even tell how they were injured, since not all of them seemed to have actual physical wounds. Some did—some definitely did—and I didn't want to look at those guys for very long. I was fine with blood, usually, but huge gashes in skin and muscle not so much. But none of them, even the really really really injured looking ones, were making any sounds. Maybe it was some sort of pride or masculine thing—although a good number of them were women. Other than the jangling buzzy hum of all the different feelings of energy mixing around in there, there wasn't much to hear.

I definitely wasn't supposed to be in here, but I couldn't stop myself from moving forward, in almost a daze. I wandered through the lines of mats, trying to look at faces and not injured bodies. Most of the healers brushed right past me, didn't even give me a second glance. They had more important things to worry about, definitely. One man did catch my eye for a second, and I thought I might have seen him before, maybe he'd been around when Maedajon had been dying. But he didn't talk to me, or stop me.

And finally, I saw Keyd. He wasn't on a mat—he was on one of the cots in the corner, and he had about three healer guys swarming around him. Rysa was also standing next to him, looking disheveled and tired but unhurt, holding his hand. The healer guys didn't seem to like the fact that Keyd was sitting up and talking—which he was doing pretty loudly. There was a raw red burn across his chest and right shoulder, down his arm to nearly his elbow. Despite it being big and ugly, it didn't look nearly as bad as most of the other injuries in here. And he didn't look hurt anywhere else.

That seemed to be what was annoying Keyd in the first place. He kept swatting the healers away whenever they tried to get near him, and gesturing to the other soldiers in the tent. The healers were kind of ignoring whatever he was saying, and one of them finally tried to reach forward to his arm with some sort of salve-paste stuff. Keyd nearly threw the man across the room for it—he grabbed the guy by his shirtfront and pushed him, pretty hard, away from him. Rysa yanked on Keyd's uninjured arm and pulled him closer, curving one arm around his head and practically cradling him against her. And he let her, turning his face into her arm and catching at her waist with his hand.

And seeing that was…a huge sudden mixture of jealously and guilt and longing and loneliness and it was horrible. It was shattering, what I felt, because I knew exactly what it was and how much I couldn't afford to feel it. I'd totally forgotten that—what had happened last time we'd seen each other, exactly how fucked up that had been, and how nothing had changed since. We weren't even—we weren't even friends anymore, let alone boyfriends or what the hell ever we'd been. I had no legitimate reason to even be here, so what the fuck was I doing?

Someone came up to me while I was busy panicking, a healer or something, and touched my shoulder. Asked me something, out of frequency, so it was just a babble of consonants and long vowels and hard j sounds.

"I can't," I said, kind of stupidly, in response to whatever he'd said. "No—don't fucking touch me, I can't—"

I had to get out of here, was what I had to do. I had to get before Keyd saw me, sensed me, before he realized how somehow stupidly in love with him I still was. Because—I was. Somehow, I was. But there was no way he wanted that anymore. Why the fuck had I rushed over here in the first place? Keyd was a soldier, he was goddamn warrior king, and he'd been in battle before and probably been injured before—what the hell did I think he needed me for? To hold his hand? And Rysa was right there with him, his sister and his partner and someone who fought beside him and understood him, far better than I did.

I was starting to feel a little sick at myself. I could barely breathe, and I had to get out. But I wasn't moving, for some reason I was still just standing there, staring across the tent at him with my chest burning and my head swimming. And the healer guy at my shoulder was still talking at me, now gripping me by the arm and trying to pull me somewhere. And then—and then, fuck—Keyd looked up from Rysa's arms. He looked across the tent, and saw me. Stared right fucking at me.

Oh, Christ, no, no, no. I couldn't deal with this right now, I couldn't handle him coming to talk with me, I couldn't even deal with him looking at me. But already Keyd was disentangling himself from Rysa, getting up off the cot, ignoring the way the healers were falling all over themselves to try and get him back down. Behind him, Rysa caught my eyes, and stayed back. She must have thought it would be better, with just us two, but I wasn't sure it was going to be. Every step closer Keyd got to me, I felt hotter and more panicked and more trapped, sweating and fighting the desire to just turn and run.

But I forced myself to stand still. Just stand still and act cool and not let him see any of what was going on right inside me. I could hide this. If I ran it would just be worse, later. And it wasn't like Keyd was any good at reading emotions or people or anything at all. He got across the tent to me, two of the healers still tagging along anxiously at his side, and stopped. The burn on his shoulder looked worse from close up, a raw field of blisters on shiny red scalded skin. The edges of it almost touched the dark oen mark in the middle of his chest. It had to hurt like hell, but Keyd didn't even seem to be aware of it.

"What are you doing here?" He asked the question evenly, completely calmly. I couldn't even stand it. I wished he would yell and get furious and tell me to get the hell out; that would be easier. This almost felt like nothing was wrong.

"I wanted to see if you were all right," I said, equally as calm, but still panicking wildly on the inside. It felt like all my organs were running laps against each other in there. I felt hot and trapped in my own skin and about to shake apart. I couldn't keep this composure for long. "Apparently, you are. So I'm gonna fucking leave."

I turned, needing to get away from all of this more than anything I had ever needed before. I couldn't feel like this. I really couldn't. Keyd hated me, for completely acceptable reasons. And I couldn't—I just had to leave. I'd just go back to my little prison tent and sit, and wait, just like I'd been doing. Keyd was fine, and he didn't need me. He didn't need me barging in here and throwing my stupid feelings at him that he didn't want or need. This was just embarrassing, for both of us.

"Wait," I heard Keyd say from behind me, and every organ in me rolled up and cringed. I heard loud noises of protestation from the healers, and suddenly there was a tall, solid figure at my side, bumping into my shoulder. Keyd, leaning slightly into me, a thin, unbuttoned shirt now thrown over his shoulders, over the burn.

"I'll leave with you," he said. I couldn't say anything against it, not here. I could only leave the tent, with Keyd as a warm, hovering presence over my shoulder. He fell into step beside me as we walked out into the blue dimness of the world, the ruins of the city rising up ahead of us, with the dark crystal flowers glimmering from the gaps in the stones.

I didn't know where I was heading, only that I was walking, and I had to keep walking because if I stopped I might have to like—talk to Keyd or look at him or acknowledge that he was walking along right beside me, even bumping up against me sometimes. I walked in as straight a line as I could, heading through the ruins and further than where Kir and Darban had brought me through to this place. The ground started sloping downwards, changing from grass to rock, and then from rock to rough sand. The sound of water got louder, the air thicker, and at the bottom of the slope I saw a spreading black darkness that stretched out indefinitely into the dull horizon. The ocean. I could hear waves crashing somewhere offshore, and the heavy breeze pushed at my back as went down the slope and across the beach.

I went as far down the sand as I could without just walking right into the water, and turned left. Keyd kept right on at my side, close and silent. I still couldn't look at him. I couldn't talk to him. We walked in completely dead, oppressive quiet up the beach, winding through dark pitted rocks that poked out of the sand. I didn't know why he had come with me and why he was even still next to me. There was nothing left of whatever had been between us—nothing salvageable. We'd both gone too far, done too many things that were unforgivable. Both of us knew it.

"Can I say something?" Keyd asked, after another oppressive minute of slow slogging silence. He wasn't looking at me.

"I can't really stop you," I said, and winced at how it sounded. I hadn't meant to sound so indifferent. I was just upset, and freaking out a little, and trying so hard not to let him know.

"What I did to you wasn't fair," he said, his voice quiet under the sound of the wind and waves. "My choice was a desperate one, but the timing was right—I had to."

"I didn't make a great choice either," I muttered. "Mine was worse."

"But I understand why you did it. You were forced to. I forced you to. So I understand, even if—it hurt me."

"You hurt me too," I said, with a casualness that I didn't feel. I couldn't let Keyd see what I did feel. I couldn't believe that I could walk beside this man, after weeks of not seeing him, after hating everything he was doing—and still feel this. This man owned a part of me, and he always would. Whether we were together or not.

Keyd drew in a little breath. When I risked a glance at him, his head was lowered, face turned away from me. I wondered where all the incredible fury from before had gone. He didn't seem even slightly angry with me anymore. More like overly understanding and calm, and sad. And that worried me.

"I expected you to understand how important this was—but there was no reason you would have," he said. "I didn't think, and I made bad decisions about what to tell you and when. When you left, I…I was upset. More than that. I can't describe how I—it felt like everything had just come unraveled. You and Rysa were the only things holding me together and when you were gone, I could barely—"

He fell quiet again, in a sort of flustered embarrassment. He stopped walking, and I stopped beside him. He took a step backwards against an outcropping of dark, pitted rock, out of the wind. Just so I could hear him better, I moved closer to him. Not close enough to touch, but our clothing fluttered together.

"I—I shouldn't have done what I did either," I said. "I didn't know what else to do. I thought—it really looked like it was the only choice. It still does. I was so angry at you I just couldn't think."

"I should have told you what was happening. It was only an idea of my father's, one of many, but I choose to realize it," Keyd said. "I should have—I was furious with him for even the suggestion, at first. I wanted to tell you then. But it became that…it was the best choice. And I thought you would hate me for that."

"I might have," I said, because lying was useless. "I might have, but—I might have forgiven you, too. If you had just talked to me."

"I know," Keyd said, and there was such heavy self-loathing in his tone that I couldn't say anything else. He reached out then and touched my wrist, lightly, where there were still faint red marks from the shackles rubbing constantly on my skin. "I shouldn't have let them arrest you," he said, miserably.

"I—thought that was by your order," I said, and Keyd gave me such a wretched look that I felt absolutely shitty for even thinking that.

"No," he said. "It wasn't my order. But I didn't stop it, either. And I could have."

I didn't have to think hard about who would have given that order. I would have bet huge on it being Eldronrhet. I was going to punch that fucker right in the goddamn face someday, seriously.

"It's—all right," I said, because I just couldn't stand to see him looking like this. "Look, I know—everything's been a giant fucking mess. It doesn't matter who gave the order or who could have stopped it. It just matters that—you're sorry."

"And I am." Keyd reached forward, cupped my face in his hands. I shouldn't have let him, but—I didn't want him to let go. "I am, more than anything. Alan, I—" He closed off then, glancing away.

"Are we done with the 'what we should have done's'?" I said, and Keyd smiled weakly.

"I think so," he said. His hands lifted up and his fingers brushed along the edges of my temples. "I—want to talk about us, now."

There isn't an us, anymore, I wanted to say. But both of us knew that.

"What do you want to say?" I said, because I definitely didn't have anything. Nothing that would really mean anything. Sorry didn't measure up, I love you was cheap and irrelevant, and please forgive me was too much to hope for.

Keyd didn't answer right away. Instead, he let go of me, stepped out of the shelter of the rock and started walking again. I fell into automatic step with him. We kept slogging along our slow and determined pace along the murky beach, our feet sinking deep into the gritty sand with each step. The wind pushed at our backs and every so often, faint spray from the crashing waves flecked over my face and arms. It took Keyd a while to speak, and when he did his voice so quiet I had to really strain to hear him.

"When you left, I wanted to go after you, to bring you back," he said. "I didn't think I could do anything, any of this, without you. I felt so lost, and I—Rysa, she kept me together. She told me I could, and—she was right. I can do this on my own. I was raised to be able to. But, that's not the way I want to do it."

From the corner of my eye, I saw him look at me, waiting. I couldn't even make myself look fully back at him, because now I had to confess to the second, more personal betrayal that I'd also committed.

"You don't really want me back," I said, my chest getting heavy. I'd almost forgotten about this part.

Keyd looked startled. "Yes, I d—why not?"

"Besides the whole, you know, betrayal thing, I kinda—I slept with someone else," I said, miserably. "I kind of had a thing, with this guy I know. He was there, in Uillad, and it just—fuck, I was lonely," I said, and winced. I hadn't meant to admit that last part. "And stupid. Really fucking stupid."

"Oh," Keyd said. And nothing else. We kept walking, in the same depressing silence.

"Do you," Keyd said, after another minute of it, sounding like he was having a really hard time getting the words out, "do you love him?"

I started. "No," I said, almost laughing at the idea. "Not really—not at all. No fucking way. Christ, Keyd, it was because I missed you."

I don't think Keyd knew what to make of that, so I sobered up pretty quickly. "Be angry at me for it," I said. "I know—I deserve it. I pretty much deserve anything you want to say to me, at this point."

Keyd was quiet for a long moment, but not the same kind of strained, tense silence that had haunted most of this conversation. It was more thoughtful, and calm.

"I don't feel mad," he said, at last, and I realized that pause had been him sorting through what he was feeling, trying to figure it out. "Sad, mostly. And jealous. But I've been angry enough, and I don't want to feel that way any more. Not at you."

"You can sleep with someone else, if you want," I said. I was having a hard time keeping all my emotion wedged down my throat. This was horrible. Every goddamn second of this. Especially because I still couldn't tell if we were breaking up or making up. "To make it even. I wouldn't—well, I would mind, but it would be fair."

"There's only one person I want to sleep with," Keyd said softly. He wasn't looking at me, but I couldn't look at him either. If I did I thought I might do something ridiculous and embarrassing, like break down. I was already too close to it for comfort.

"Don't be such a damn sap," I said, trying to joke. But my voice broke a little.

Keyd's response was to put his uninjured arm, carefully but firmly, around my shoulders. I almost did cry, then. We stopped walking, and I rolled my face into his shoulder so that if I did, he wouldn't see. Keyd's other arm came around me and he gripped me hard. I almost couldn't breathe, for other reasons than just his tight hold on me.

We stayed there, probably for several minutes. I just stood in his arms with my forehead against his shoulder, breathing hard and trying to keep all my stupid messy emotions wedged inside me. I wasn't going to cry, fuck, I wasn't going to cry. I just couldn't do that, not again. It was embarrassing and stupid, and—I didn't even know if we were okay yet. I hoped we were. I hoped we could be. I would have given anything.

I finally peeled my face away from his shoulder, having controlled myself for the moment. But when I looked up at him, Keyd was the one crying. There was a little glistening streak running down his left cheek. I reached up and smudged it away, and Keyd made sort of an embarrassed, gulping chuckle and turned his head away.

"Hey," I said, helplessly. Seeing him do this always scared the hell out of me. "Hey, don't do that. It's all right. It's all right, it's—it's all right."

"I want it to be all right," Keyd said, sliding his hand to my face and drawing his thumb over my cheek. "I can forgive you anything, Alan, if—if you can forgive me." He drew in a soft, catching breath, his hand stilling on my face. "We both made choices that we can't change, and the only thing to do now is to deal with what will come of them. And I want to do that with you. I'm stronger with you, and I feel like I know who I am, what I truly am capable of. I'm competent on my own, but I'm better with you. In every way, you make me better."

That did it. I lost it. My vision blurred up and twinkled into a thousand embarrassing blurry facets, and I felt hot, stupid tears slide down my face.

"Dammit," I muttered, reaching up to scrub them away. But it wasn't like I could hide it. Keyd caught my hand anyway, and in doing so the shirt he was wearing slipped off one shoulder, showing the wide raw burn that stretched over it to almost the middle of his chest. The fact that he'd gotten hurt in the battle even felt like my fault. I touched just the edge of where his skin had turned raw and red, and he hissed in a breath between his teeth.

"I'm sorry," I said, thickly, yanking my hand away. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry—"

And then suddenly I was crying, really crying, just standing there with stupid fucking tears running down my face, and it was all very humiliating and pathetic. Keyd put his arms around me, pressing his face to the top of my head

"See," I said, soggily. "See, now you're seeing me cry. God dammit, I hate this."

"I don't," Keyd said into my hair. His arms tightened on me, nearly squeezing the breath out me again. "I missed it."

"Missed me being a stupid emotional mess?"

Keyd chuckled, and I felt him nod against the top of my head. "Yes."

"Stupid," I said. "Fucking, so—stupid. I—why?"

"You know why," Keyd said quietly. And shit, yes I did. And it was the same reason I missed his stoic mask with all the deep, complicated things he had hidden under it. Because that was Keyd, that was the person he was and who I still, completely and illogically, was in love with. And who apparently was still in love with me, despite every reason not to be.

I didn't have anything as meaningful and eloquent to tell him as what he had just told me. I didn't know if he made me a better person or not. I didn't know if I was more sure of myself or more capable with him. But I did know that I wanted to be a better person for him. I wanted to be a person who was strong enough and good enough to be with him, someone he would really be proud to be with. I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to tell him things I'd never told anyone else, I wanted to hear him say things to me that he'd never said aloud before. I wanted to have with him what Kir and Darban had together—that perfect trust, reliance and understanding and still independence, the way they communicated just by knowing each other so well. I didn't know if we could ever have anything even close to that, but dammit, I wanted to try.

"I forgive you," I said. "Keyd, I—goddammit, of course I fucking forgive you. If you could ever possibly forgive me—"

"I do," Keyd said, before I'd even finished the sentence. "I forgave you a long time ago."

Yeah, that made a lot of fucking sense. "Then, what was all that shit in the tent, when you—"

"Cowardice," Keyd said. "I couldn't stand up to the Worthies, couldn't refuse what they told me to do. Everything I said then—it was what they wanted me to say, not truly what I felt. I had to do it to save both of us, to keep them from condemning me as a traitor, but I know what it must have looked like to you. And I can never apologize enough for it. And I might never be fully able to stand up to them, even as long as I'm the agistar."

"I think I can help you there," I said. I had no problem telling those dicks off. Keyd might actually have to pull me back a little from it, if I ever really got going. I barely cared about any of it right now. The fact that he hadn't meant any of what he'd said to me then was good enough. He hadn't arrested me, he hadn't meant any of that horrible fucking conversation…and he forgave me. For everything—Jesus, the betrayal, cheating on him—I didn't deserve it, but hell if I wasn't going to take it.

"I was hoping for it," Keyd said. He was close to smiling, even with wet patches still smeared under his eyes. The real smile, the good smile, and that was really all I needed to see.

"Come here," I said. My voice cracked and I ignored it, because Keyd stepped back into my arms, and I gripped onto him hard. He rested his forehead against the top of my head and moved his hands up between us, resting one on the side of my neck, the other in my hair. His fingers touched the cord around my neck, incidentally at first, and then with a slower sense of purpose. He moved his hand down to my collarbone, and I heard a little jingle of the metal disc that rested there. He pulled back then, and looked at me.

"You still—" Keyd said, and swallowed.

"Yeah," I said. That was it. I didn't need to explain how I had broken it, almost thrown it away, carried it around in my pocket for two months, and might have even just let that go on forever until some unknown person who was probably Rysa had fixed it and put it back on me. I was wearing it now, and now was what mattered. I put my hand over his, flatting our fingers around against my chest. I think I'll wear it forever, I wanted to say, but I wasn't sure if that was okay yet.

Keyd closed his eyes and leant forward a little, but the movement wasn't affectionate. He actually swayed and staggered, forward and towards my left, grabbing suddenly at me for stability. I wasn't quite sure what or why, since we hadn't moved anywhere. But he totally lost his balance and his knees sort of gave way, and he pulled me down with him. We fell into the damp sand and Keyd made a little sound and leant forward, touching the palm of his hand to his forehead.

"Sorry," he said. "Sorry—I'm a little dizzy."

"Your whole goddamn shoulder's burned up, no wonder," I said. "Maybe we should go back and you can actually let them look at it, this time."

"No—" Keyd caught my wrist, even though I hadn't even started to get up. "Stay with me."

Right now, anything. I didn't know how good we were yet, but…if he wanted me, at all, that was good enough. Being careful of his shoulder, I put my arm around his back, closed my fingers in his shirt. The damp, salty breeze pulled at our hair and clothes, the open flaps of Keyd's shirt fluttering madly around his chest and neck. He leant his head against my shoulder and slid his hand over my knee and gripped. His hair flapped into my face and I pushed one hand up into it, twisting it up and out of the way. Keyd made a sound like a laugh against my neck, and I was just glad he could laugh at all.

We were really just two awkward, lost young men who really had no idea what we were doing, where we were going or how we were getting there. But I thought that, maybe, we still wanted to go as far as we could together. Even if we didn't end up in the same place, I wanted make as much of the journey as I could with him by my side.

"Hey," I said, after some time. "You know, the sky looks lighter."

Keyd turned to look where I was, over the murky sea towards the dim horizon. In the very distance, there was a gradient of pale colorless grey, like a large monochrome sun was rising behind the water. But I was almost sure the sky had always been a complete dull grey-blue before, everywhere, unchanging and flat, including over the horizon.

Beside me, Keyd took a breath and slid his fingers into mine, gritty sand rasping against our skin. He wasn't looking at the sky anymore, only at me.

"It does," he said.

So that's the end…of this one. But this isn't the last novel.

Because yeah, there is a fourth, and final, novel in this series. Coming soon to this account. That one should be showing up in…well, I'll be out of the country for a little bit, but hopefully within three weeks.

Also, if you started reading this series when I started posting it and still are—it's been almost exactly a year to the day (Halloween) since I posted the first chapter of Tenebrism. So, uh, thanks for reading along so far? I'm still fairly amazed this actually got minutely popular. :)