000

All Vast Oceans
Chapter 6

It was cold outside the walls.

Arren chewed his lip as they picked their way through the darkness. Both he and Kerris held small magelights in the palms of their hands, and Kerris walked just behind Monxa, holding the light up over her head so that she could see the path in front of her.

They had left Imtau through the small back exit of the wall; Monxa had mentioned how it was used for reaching the sapphire mines, and for evacuating the town during emergencies. A steep stone path led them straight to the entrance to the mines, but Monxa led them to a path that ran back into the forest.

"Why are we going so far, Monxa?" Arren said finally, after nearly an hour of walking. "This seems unnecessary."

Monxa barely spared him a glance. "Less likely to be interrupted, darling," Monxa said. "We're headed towards a small house I keep outside of the city."

"Oh," Arren said, realization washing over him. "That's where you-…"

"Yes," Monxa said tightly.

Arren closed his mouth quickly. She was leading them to where she performed her rituals. Demon summonings. Any of her soul work.

How difficult does she think breaking this collar will be? he thought, glancing back at Geth.

Geth, ever clueless, said, "What is the house for, Lady Monxa?"

Monxa touched her fan to her lips. "Oh… this and that."

Geth tensed, and said nothing else. Arren glanced at Monxa, a twinge of irritation shooting through him. Why didn't she just tell him? He was about to find out anyway.

He looked back at Geth, and felt a sudden urge to put an arm around Geth's shoulder, to draw him close and protect him. He looked so small and fragile, holding on to Arren's scarf and staring down at the ground with his brow knit.

Arren scratched at the back of his neck, suddenly very uncomfortable.

"Here we are!" Monxa sang out. Arren looked up.

It was almost as though the house appeared out of nowhere. It was very small, and tucked back among the trees. Arren would not have noticed it if she had not pointed directly towards it.

"Illusion spell," he murmured.

"Of course," Monxa said, stepping off the path and into the grass. "Well, come along. We haven't got all night."

Kerris, Arren and Geth followed after her. The door and the roof of the house were both made of wood, but the rest of the house was made from the same grey stone as everything else in Imtau. Monxa paused at the door.

She held her hand up to her right, then drew it in a swift horizontal line in front of her. Arren heard a click, and the door slowly swung inward.

"Kerris," Monxa said. She was silent for a moment.

Kerris inclined his head, and stepped back. Monxa motioned for Arren and Geth to enter the house, and once they did, she stepped inside and shut the door behind her, leaving Kerris outside.

Bright magelights illuminated as they walked down a short hallway to the only room in the house. It was large, with long tables pushed up against the walls. They were covered with papers, bowls of dirt, sapphires, plants, and other things that Arren couldn't see in the dim light.

The only other thing in the room was a waist-high stone slab in the very center. Arren heard Geth gasp when he saw it, a short, soft intake of breath. Arren glanced back at him.

(he knows what it is nashi what do you think that means)

"Geth, I need you to get on up here," Monxa said, tapping the slab with her fan. Geth nodded, and removed his cloak. He looked around for a moment, then hesitantly laid it on the nearest table. Arren did the same, and gave him a comforting smile.

"It's all right," he said. Geth looked down at the floor, and shook his head.

"It's not going to work, Arren. It's-…"

"Hush, now!" Monxa said. "Don't underestimate our abilities, Geth." Then she smiled. "Trust me. I know what I'm doing. You do believe that, don't you?"

Geth glanced at Arren, then nodded slowly.

Monxa's face brightened. "Good." She turned to face one of the tables, and began to rummage through her supplies. "Remove your scarf and your tunic, and lie down on your back."

Geth nodded, and unwrapped the scarf from around his neck with shaking hands. He folded it delicately on top of his cloak, then undid the clasps on his tunic.

Arren watched as one pale shoulder was revealed from under the dark fabric, and then the other. Geth's slender, scarred back. The gentle start of his narrow hips.

Geth wrapped his arms around himself as goose bumps began to appear on his body. His soft, pink nipples hardened in the chilly room, and Arren was too transfixed to turn away when Geth lied down on his back on the table. Shivering.

Arren felt a pulse of heat shoot through him.

Gods above. What was wrong with him?

(just want to take him in my arms and kiss every part of him until he is warm again)

Arren shook himself. Now was not the time to be losing focus. He took a deep breath and held it for as long as he could.

Monxa stepped over to the stone slab, holding a thick stylus and a small vial of her magic-infused ink. She set the vial down, and began to scratch large symbols onto the stone.

"Why ink? Why not chalk?" Arren asked. Chalk was the tool usually used when writing runes.

"For our purposes," Monxa said, dipping the stylus. "Ink holds magic for neutralizing spells better than chalk."

Arren nodded. That was good to know. "And what are you writing?" he asked, walking up to see her work.

Monxa glanced at him. "I draw the runes that are opposite of the ones on the collar." She gestured to the small squares, horizontal lines with a vertical line shooting through them, and an upside down triangle. "They will cancel out the power of these ones..." She pointed to Geth's collar. "And make them worthless. After that, it will be a simple matter of splitting metal. Geth," said, and touched his shoulder. "This is going to make you very tired. There's a chance that all of your energy will be sucked out, and you may come very close to death."

Geth closed his eyes slowly. "O-Oh."

"I want you to focus on nothing but your breathing. All right?" Monxa said.

Geth had gone even paler. "Y… Yes, ma'am."

Arren blinked.

"Wait. Wait." Close to death? Arren squeezed his hands into fists. "Monxa, why is it so important that we remove his collar? I… If it's so dangerous that it might kill him, why-…"

"I didn't say it might kill him, I said that it might almost kill him," Monxa cut him off. "There's a difference, you know. Besides," she said, and straightened. "What if it's more than just a collar, Arren? What if it's a… oh… I don't know…" She shrugged. "A tracking device?"

"A… a what?" Geth said, turning so that he could see them. "A tra… a…" His hands clenched into fists. "You don't think…?"

"I don't know, darling," Monxa said quickly, touching his shaking hand. "But isn't it better to be safe than sorry?"

Geth looked up at the low ceiling, and closed his eyes. "Yes," he whispered, and was quiet.

Monxa looked at Arren, and held up the stylus. "Finish these for me."

"A… All right," he said, and took it. He began to mimic her movements, keeping the runes in line with hers. He was very aware of her hovering over his shoulder, her eyes on his hands as he wrote.

After a moment, she said, "Your runes have improved a great deal, Arren. Have you drawn many?"

Arren nodded. "A… A fair few, yes."

"It shows," Monxa said. Arren felt a twinge of pride at the compliment. He drew faster, and more confidently. Monxa nodded. "Yes… spread them out a bit more so that it is more of a funnel. Good. Now the other side."

"Right."

Arren moved to the other side of the slab, very aware of Geth's wide eyes on him. He finished the runes quickly.

"Before we begin," Monxa said. "I need to remind you; once we start this spell, we won't be able to stop."

Arren swallowed, and nodded. "Yes. I know."

"If you try to stop, I don't know exactly what will happen," Monxa said. "But I know that it will be bad."

"I know, Monxa!" Arren said, irritation burning in his stomach. "I'm not some novice!"

Monxa nodded. "I know that." She studied him for a moment. "Can you create the seal on your own?" she said, taking back the stylus. Arren nodded stiffly.

"Yes, I can."

"Well then," Monxa said, gesturing to the ink. "Infuse your magic into the runes and create the seal. It will take both of us to actually break the collar, but you should be able to do this on your own."

She unfolded her fan, and created a gentle breeze that brushed the loose strands of hair off her face. It was already beginning to get very warm.

"Yes," Arren said, resting his hands over the writing. He summoned his magic, letting it run down through his arms and fingertips like hot sparks. The runes began to glow.

"Oh, come, now! Push harder, Arren," Monxa said. "It's only a class three, but that doesn't mean you can slack off!"

Arren bit back a nasty retort. He focused his anger into his magic, and watched as the ink began to glow brighter, and brighter, until it looked like it would sear into the stone table. The air began to grow hot, and the tremors of magic in the air were kicking up a breeze that blew Arren's hair out of his eyes, and unsettled the papers on the tables.

"Good," Monxa said. "Very good."

She took her place on the other side of the slab, and rested her hands over the other set of runes. Arren felt the magic in the air shift as Monxa began to strengthen the seal.

Geth's breathing began to grow heavy.

"Are you all right?" Arren said. "Geth!"

Geth glanced over toward Arren, and nodded a short, curt nod.

"Are you ready, Arren?" Monxa said.

Arren looked over at her. Her face was set in a hard expression. Of course, she was testing him. He swallowed.

"Yes!" he said.

"Follow my motions. And remember, don't actually touch it!" she said firmly. Arren watched her carefully as she rested her hand over Geth's collar, getting her fingertips as close to it as she could without actually touching it. He mirrored her, jealous of the fact that her hands were not shaking. "We are going to shift the seal directly into the collar. Can you feel the edge of the runes?"

Arren tentatively flexed out with his magic until he felt the block of the runes on Geth's collar.

"Y-Yeah. Yeah, I can," he said. "Oh… wow."

"On my mark, we touch the runes and neutralize them all. All right?" Monxa said. A bead of sweat ran down the side of her face.

Arren glanced down at Geth. His face was completely pale except for two bright red stains on his cheeks, and his hands were tight fists against the stone. The skin on his knuckles still bore the small wounds from when he had beaten Eiro's dead body to a pulp. Arren felt something tugging in his throat, and he swallowed past it.

Geth saw Arren looking, and he nodded quickly, keeping his breathing even.

"I'm ready," Arren said. He looked to Monxa.

"All right," she said, and took a deep breath. "Steady your magic."

Steady as it'll ever be, Arren thought.

"Three…" Monxa said. "Two…" Arren swallowed, and wished he could cover Geth's shaking hands with his own. "One… Now!"

Arren felt the runes scorch into his palm like tiny coals as he slapped his hand down on the table.

Geth's body jerked. Arren felt the resistance of the collar immediately. For ten long minutes, he and Monxa focused on neutralizing the runes around Geth's collar. The heat and wind in the air rose incredibly, until Arren was certain the house would be blown over.

"Why… is this… t-taking so long?" Arren said through gritted teeth. It had grown so hot in the room that he was sweating through his shirt.

"I don't know," Monxa said, blinking sweat from her eyes. "It shouldn't be. Can you do more?"

Arren paused, then nodded. Monxa grimaced.

"Then do! Now!"

"Ah!" Geth cried, his body going rigid. "Ah… A-Arren…!" His voice was tight and choked. "It's… b… burning me…!"

Arren felt a line of panic shoot through him. "Monxa!" he said. Monxa shook her head firmly.

"Don't stop, Arren! Don't you dare!" she ordered.

"But…" Arren looked back down to Geth, who was writhing on the table.

"Arren…" Monxa warned. "Arren, no!"

It only took one moment of hesitation for Arren's hold on the magic to weaken. The seal tilted in Monxa's direction almost immediately, and before Arren could fix himself, a blast of black magic shot out of the collar and consumed Monxa's arm.

The magic shot Monxa back against the table. She cried out, a hard, short cry, before she dropped to the ground. Geth sucked in a shrieking breath, his body trembling.

"Monxa! Oh, no, no, no," Arren said. "Monxa!"

"I… I'm all right…" Monxa said. She sat up, clutching her hand to her chest. "Oh… shit… Arren, you hold that spell!"

"I… what… do I…" Arren stammered.

"Arren… it's… k… killing… me…" Geth choked out.

"Geth," Arren said. He felt his connection to the magic waver.

"Hold the spell, Nashima Galowin! Hold it!" Monxa snarled, her voice thick.

"I am! I am!" Arren screamed, and sent every last bit of magic he had into the spell.

Geth made a horrible choking sound, and then everything was still.

000

Monxa sat panting on the floor, clutching her blackened hand to her heaving chest.

"Geth…? Geth?" Arren cried. Geth remained motionless. "H-He's not breathing!"

"T-Try to take the collar off him," Monxa said. "Quickly!"

Arren nodded, and placed his shaking hands on the collar. He tugged.

The collar sprang apart, two parts breaking off into Arren's hands, and Geth's eyes opened.

Geth sucked in a screaming breath, and his body went rigid as his energy rushed through him. Every part of his body exploded in pins and needles. His fingertips felt like they had been dipped in hot oil.

"Oh… oh, Goddess…"he hissed, his back hunching forward as he bowed up off the table.

And then, suddenly, the sensation quieted, and he collapsed back on the stone slab, panting.

"Is…" Arren balked. "Are you…? Geth?"

"I'm… all right…" Geth panted. Slowly, he sat up. He looked down at the destroyed collar. It had cracked into three pieces; the two in Arren's hands, and the one behind his neck.

He stared down at his hands, and slowly, clenched them into fists.

He was better than all right. He was amazing. For the first time in years, his full power flowed through him. He took a long, deep breath in.

"I can… breathe…" he said, then reached up to touch his throat. His… skin…

He laughed a tiny, choked laugh. His skin! It was sensitive and tender, and felt as though it had been bruised and burned during the spell, but it was there! He felt like he might explode with joy.

He dragged himself off of the slab, and knelt down to where Monxa sat on the ground. He pressed his face into the dark blue fabric of Monxa's robes.

"My lady… thank you! Thank you so much!" he cried. "I am eternally in your debt!"

"Oh, it's no big deal," Monxa said, clutching her charred hand to her chest. "You should really be thanking Arren; he did most of the work."

Geth climbed slowly to his feet, and looked over at Arren. Arren was sitting on the rickety stool in the corner, his head down between his knees.

"Arren?" Geth said. Arren looked up. He looked exhausted. "Arren, you…?"

Arren shrugged. "Y… Yeah." Then he grinned.

"Arren…" Geth was overcome. He hurried around the slab, and threw his arms around Arren, burying his face in his neck. "Arren… thank you!"

Arren wrapped his arms around Geth's slim waist, and was almost knocked off of his stool.

"You're welcome, Geth," he said into Geth's shoulder. "It really wasn't any trou- mmpph!"

Geth pulled back, bent down, and kissed him. Gently, and softly. Then he straightened, and walked back over to Monxa.

"Lady Monxa, please, let me help you with your hand," Geth said, noticing for the first time just how badly she was injured.

"Ah, thank you, but I will treat it myself when we return to my home." She tugged off the cloth strip that bound back her sleeves, and began to wrap it around her hands, casing her fingers together. "I don't have the means to heal it here."

Geth nodded, and picked up his tunic from where he had set it earlier. He pulled it on, then wrapped Arren's scarf slowly around his neck, savoring the feel of fabric to skin.

Monxa walked slowly over to the stone slab, and looked at the collar.

"Do you mind if I keep this?" she said. Geth shook his head.

"No, ma'am, not at all," Geth said. "Please, do. I am happy to be rid of it."

Monxa picked up a piece of the collar with her good hand. "I cannot believe how much work it took to open a Class three collar. I wouldn't have even expected to use that much work on a Class five. What could have-…"

She cursed suddenly, and dropped the piece of the collar. She looked over her shoulder, and bellowed, "Kerris! Get in here!"

Geth was dimly aware of the sound of pounding at the front door.

"What? What is it?" Arren said, springing to his feet.

"That Goddess-cursed collar. It was sealed internally," Monxa said. She held out her good hand, and her staff jerked into the air, and flew into her palm. She pointed it at the pieces. A drop of sweat slid down her cheek as she attempted to counter the magic, and the pieces started to glow. "We just triggered a summoning spell."

Geth felt a cold pit form in his stomach.

"Don't you have wards around this house?" Arren said, his voice frantic. Monxa glanced at him.

"Of course I do!" Monxa snapped, her voice labored. "But they don't help now that we willingly brought the collar inside!" Her voice suggested that the answer should be obvious. Geth stepped away until his back was against a table. The collar pieces were starting to shake.

"Shit. Shit!" Arren said. "What do we do?"

Monxa said nothing. That answer was obvious.

"Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit," Arren said, terror crossing his face. He put his hands into the air, and Geth felt the change of magic in the air.

At that moment, every light in the room went out, and an explosion of black shot out of the collar. Fear finally took hold of him, and Geth dropped down to his knees and crawled under the table. The blackness took shape, with claws and a wide mouth filled with teeth. The Black Thing began to roar.

"Contain it! Contain it!" Monxa screamed above the noise. The magic coming from her staff and the magic surging from Arren's hands began to glow, Monxa's a deep blue, and Arren's a bright green. It was the only light in the room.

"WHERE IS THE SLAVE?" the Black Thing bellowed. Geth's body went rigid as the voice washed over his ears. Geth closed his burning eyes, and curled into the tiniest ball that he could.

"Creature!" Monxa screamed back. "You have entered the house of a sorcerer without permission! Leave, now, or be killed!"

The Black Thing climbed down from the slab, its great nostrils sniffing the air.

"I SMELL YOU, WHORE. WHERE ARE YOU?" the thing said.

Geth shut his eyes, and began to pray. Oh, Goddess, please, please protect me from him please don't let him get me please don't let him hurt Arren or Lady Monxa please please please hold us gently tonight please

Monxa thrust her staff forward, and another blast of magic shot into the Black Thing. It roared, a gaping, dripping hole now visible in its middle. It lifted what could have been its head, and sent a blast of fire through the roof. The fire quickly began to eat its way through the roof, the one wooden part of the house.

Monxa cursed violently.

"Arren! Put the fires out!" she screamed, and blasted the monster again. "No, no, no! Kerris, where are you?"

The pounding on the front door grew louder.

The creature dropped down in front of the table that Geth cowered under. Its teeth appeared in an ugly smile, and its mouth began to open.

Geth couldn't stop the scream that ripped its way from his mouth.

"Geth! Geth, where are you?" he heard Arren yell.

The creature's mouth was wide open. From down its throat, the head and shoulders of a man began to appear. The man had inky black hair, and a pale white face. His eyes were a horrible, glowing yellow.

Geth had known who it was from the moment he heard its voice; it was Serosse, Uzu's favorite servant, there to collect him.

"No, no, no, oh, Goddess!" Geth sobbed, shoving himself back up against the wall. "Goddess, protect me!"

"Do you really think She's listening?" Serosse said. Then he smiled, and his mouth was the same as Geth remembered it; freakishly wide, stretching literally from ear to ear. His long, green, forked tongue slipped from his mouth, as though he were tasting the air with it. "Tell me, slave. Did you honestly think you could get away?" His long arms began to reach for Geth, clutching at his tunic.

"He wanted me dead!" Geth sobbed, kicking at Serosse's hands. "He ordered me put to death! Why are you here?"

"Master has changed his mind, slave," Serosse hissed. "He realized what you did to that brat from the north. Your power… he wants it."His hands hooked around Geth's ankles, and he began to drag him down the throat of the beast. "You did so well at hiding your true potential, keeping him distracted with your tight little ass," Serosse snarled, his grip on Geth's ankles tightening.

Geth clawed at the floor, and grabbed the leg of the table with one hand. "I've been after you since Loneleaf. You won't get away now. Our Master is as powerful as a God. No one escapes him. Especially not his tiny, worthless little whore! Now, come, bed slave!"

(not going back not going back to pain and shame and his horrible claws and purple fangs and the souls the souls no no no)

Something cracked inside Geth, then.

"I'm not his slave," he whispered, his voice weak.

(kill him)

Serosse raised a long eyebrow. "What?"

(KILL KILL TEAR HIM APART SPILL HIS BLOOD)

"I said I'm not his slave!" Geth screamed. He yanked his knife out of it sheath, and sliced at Serosse's hands where they touched him. Serosse howled, and began to draw back. Without hesitating, Geth struck out with the knife, and buried it in one glowing yellow eye.

Serosse released him, and Geth jerked back, and slammed his head right on the bottom of the table. "Ah!" he gasped, as everything went white for a moment.

Serosse ripped back, disappearing back down the throat of the Black Thing. His screech reached an impossibly high pitch, so terrible and grating that all three of them clamped their hands down over their ears. Monxa even dropped her staff, her eyes squeezing shut.

The Black Thing's shape shuddered, then faded into a huge, writhing plume of smoke. A wavering, ephemeral voice touched the air.

"Need… I need…"

The thing contracted, then shot at the nearest person in the room. Monxa sucked in a breath, and didn't even have time to raise her hand before the thing hit her square in the face. "POWER!"

"No! Monxa!" Arren yelled, and reached out with his magic to stop the beast. He used everything left in him to stop the thing from entering Monxa's body, but it wasn't enough. His control slipped, and he was jerked to his knees as the magic severed.

The beast forced its way into Monxa's mouth and nose, every last bit of it disappearing inside of her. She hunched forward, clutching at her stomach.

"K… Kerris…" she choked out. "Huh… Help… me…" Her fair skin began to turn grey, and her deep blue eyes rolled back in her head. Her magic vanished, and the wards around her house, which had activated the moment the summoning spell was triggered, faded.

The front door burst open and off its hinges, and Kerris rushed in. As though he already knew what had transpired, he grabbed Monxa, and heaved her to her feet, bracing one hand tightly around her throat. With the other, he covered her mouth and nose. For a long minute, everyone stood, breathless. Then a horrible screeching sound echoed from within Monxa's body.

Achingly slowly, Kerris pulled his hand away from Monxa's face. With it came tendrils of black smoke, which were squirming angrily. Kerris didn't stop pulling until every last bit of the smoke had exited Monxa body, back the way it came from.

Kerris held the black smoke in his hand. For a moment, he did nothing, while the smoke struggled and shrieked. Then his fist tightened, and white jets of light began to shoot out from the smoke. The smoke squealed louder, and louder, and then there was an explosion of white, and Serosse and his demon pet were gone. The remains of Geth's knife, nothing but the charred handle, dropped with a clatter to the stone floor.

Everything was deathly quiet for a long moment.

And then Monxa's body heaved, and she gasped in a long breath. Kerris set her gently to the floor, smoothing her hair back off her face.

"Holy… oh… oh, my… oh…" She batted Kerris' hands away. "I'm fine! It's me, you dolt! Yes, me! Now get the purified earth off the table, quickly! The damnable thing took my arm!"

Kerris hurried over to the table, and started feeling around for the bowl, his large hands knocking over bottles and scattering papers everywhere.

"No, no, to the… to your left, Kerris! Goddess above. Little twoblood, get your skinny butt out from under that table and help him! He can't see!"

Her shrill voice seemed to wake something in Geth, and he found that he could suddenly move again. He shook himself, and he crawled out from under the table, and found the large bowl of dirt. He brought it over to where Monxa was collapsed on the floor. Kerris waved to Arren, and then ran out of the hut.

"Go with him, Arren!" Monxa ordered. Arren stumbled to his feet, and followed after Kerris.

Where are they going? Geth thought, watching them run off.

"Quickly. Rub it on my arm. The bad one," she said, rolling her sleeve up. "Quickly! Before it spreads any further."

The burns on her hands went up to her wrist, but the dead, gray skin reached her elbow. She shoved her hand deep into the purified earth, and began to rub it on her arm. Geth helped to completely bury her arm in the bowl. Finally, when the last of the gray skin was covered, Monxa sighed.

"There. That should be enough to suck this… poison… out of me." She swallowed. "That arm," she said. "H-He only got it because it was already hurt. He only…" She took a deep breath, and held it. "I need to stay like this for the rest of the night." She sat up slowly, bringing the large bowl up into her lap. She looked around, wincing at the damage done to her house. "Are they still outside?"

Geth nodded. "Yes… what are they doing?"

Angrily, Monxa snapped, "Go see for yourself!"

Geth drew back at the harshness of her words, though he supposed it was only to be expected.

"Yes, ma'am," he said. He got to his feet, and left the half-destroyed house, stepping over the door where it lay on the ground.

The stench of smoke assaulted his nose, and he quickly covered his mouth with Arren's scarf. He could see no flames, but he did see Arren and Kerris walking slowly back to the hut. He hurried up to them.

"What happened?" he said through the scarf.

Arren wiped a hand across his sweaty forehead, leaving a streak of black grime. "That thing caught the damn forest on fire. We m-managed to put it out, but many trees were damaged. Demon flame is very hard to…" He narrowed his eyes, then gasped. "Geth! You're bleeding!"

Geth frowned. "I am?" He touched one hand to his forehead; it came back bloody. "Oh…"

"You need to… to put a… bandage…" Arren's eyes unfocused, and he stumbled forward. "Oh… uh oh…," he mumbled. Then he tipped forward, and hit the mossy dirt with a dull thump.

"Ah! Arren!" Geth cried, dropping down beside him. Kerris knelt silently, and flipped Arren onto his back. He pressed a large hand to Arren's chest, and Geth watched tensely.

Then, Kerris lifted up his hand.

"Is he all right?" Geth said.

Kerris nodded, then tapped his head.

"J-Just unconscious?" Geth said. "Did he faint?"

Kerris nodded again.

"Oh, thank the Lady," Geth sighed. "Um…" He looked back toward the small, partially-destroyed house. "Can you help me lift him?"

Kerris bent, and heaved Arren up over his shoulder, seemingly without any effort at all. He strode off, Arren's upper half thumping against his back. Geth hurried after him, clutching at Arren's scarf like a lifeline.

They walked up just as Monxa kicked her way out the front door, cursing viciously. She looked up at them, her hair coming loose from its thick braid, and her face flushed with pain.

"Kerris… is he…?" She paused for a long moment. "Ah, yes. Of course. That fool." Kerris made a small gesture with his hand. "No, no, I'm fine. Well," she laughed a harsh laugh, "I'm not fine, but… No. No! Kerris, no-…!"

Kerris wrapped a large arm around her waist, and tossed her over his free shoulder.

"Damn it, Kerris! This is not necessary!" Monxa squawked angrily. Paying her no heed, Kerris began to walk in the direction of the town.

Then she sighed, clutching the bowl of dirt to her chest. "Fine. Have it your way."

She remained silent for the rest of the walk. Kerris reached a small stream and plowed straight through it without bothering to step on the rocks to avoid the water, as Geth did. He stared at the back of Arren's head for as much of the walk as he could.

The gates to the town opened on their own, and they passed through them quickly.

Finally, just as the first tendrils of red were reaching up over the horizon, they reached Monxa's house.

0

Monxa asked Kerris to wash the filth and blood off of Arren before tossing him into bed. Once he left the room, it was just she and Geth, alone in the room.

Monxa set her arm and the bowl on the table, wincing.

"Lady Monxa," Geth said, looking at her arm as she began to withdraw it from the dirt. "What… what happened?"

Monxa grunted. "Demon magic and natural magic are very different. This is the consequence of mixing them." Monxa's gray fingers twitched, and she grimaced. "Damn." She reburied her hand.

Kerris walked in to the room. He rested one large hand on the table, and Monxa snapped, "No. I will not allow you to remove my arm. So stop asking." She glared angrily at the blind man until he took a step back. "Good."

Geth's eyebrows came together. Monxa looked over at him.

"Go. Get some rest," Monxa said. "Wash that demon grime off of yourself. We will discuss this in the morning."

Geth bowed. "Thank you, Lady Monxa. If…" He hesitated. "If my life was not already Arren's, it would be yours." He bowed again.

Monxa frowned slightly, then inclined her head.

"I understand and appreciate the depths of your gratitude, Geth," she said. "Go, now."

"Yes," Geth said, and left the room.

He tried to keep his steps even and controlled as he walked down the hall towards the baths. Once he closed the doors tightly behind him, he eagerly stripped out of his clothes and dove into the hot water. He felt it cover every single part of his body, and he happily scrubbed every last piece of grime and dirt off of his body.

And then, nervously, he reached up, and wrapped his fingers at the base of his throat.

Nothing.

His eyes burned.

Sweet, sweet nothing.

Everything felt… so… good!

Uzu no longer had any hold over him. None!

Geth ran his fingers down his throat, and suddenly he was laughing, and tears were forming in his eyes and sliding down his cheeks. He dropped down, and let himself be completely covered by the hot water.

It was as though winds had blown away the gray clouds hanging over him, and everything ahead was blue skies.

I'm finally free, Wen, he thought. Just… just like you always wished. I… I'm finally…We're both finally…

His hands went slack in the water, and his eyes continued to burn.

His body felt suddenly weak. He raised himself out of the water, feeling an abrupt exhaustion gripping him. He dried and changed into the sleep clothes set out for him, then tiptoed down the hall to the room he shared with Arren.

The door creaked unnaturally loudly as he closed it behind him. He turned, his eyes drifting over to the bed.

Arren was sprawled out across it, shirtless, and dead asleep.

Geth bit down on his lip, and he slowly slid into the bed beside him. He rested his head in his hand, and admired Arren's sculpted chest in the firelight. Without thinking, he reached out, and ran a hand down Arren's stomach, resting his fingers in the coarse blond hair that disappeared beneath the sheets.

He ran his tongue over his lips. Geth wondered, briefly, if Kerris had managed to get sleep pants on him, or merely stripped him and tossed him under the blankets. He blushed, glancing over his shoulder at the door.

His hand shaking only slightly, he lifted the blankets and saw, with a tug of disappointment, that, yes, Arren was completely covered.

(so bold gethy!)

His blush intensified, and he stole his hand back.

I need to control myself, he thought, running a hand through his damp hair. He dropped onto his back, and stared up at the stone ceiling. He sighed, closing his eyes.

"Hmmmh…"

Arren jerked, and then turned over so that he was facing Geth.

"Geth where… where'd ya go…?" he slurred out. Geth saw his eyes moving frantically beneath his lids.

"Arren," he said quietly, reaching out to touch his face, his fingers brushing over short stubble. "I'm right here."

"Geth, you're… mmmh… you're here…" Arren said. He reached out for Geth, and Geth happily moved into the warmth of his arms.

"I'm right here, don't worry," Geth whispered.

"Geth… s… safe…" Arren mumbled, his arms wrapping around Geth surprisingly tightly. His breathing evened. Geth smiled.

"You talk a lot in your sleep, Arren," he whispered. "You need to be careful… you might say something you didn't mean to."

Arren said nothing.

"Arren," Geth whispered. He smiled, and rested his head down against the pillows. "You need to shave."

Still, Arren said nothing.

Geth curled closer to him. He hoped that Arren would not wake up to him, clutching at him wantonly like this. Surely Geth would wake up first, anyway.

He rested his head against Arren's chest, and let his heartbeat bring him sleep.

0

"Geth… G… Geth…"

Geth squeezed his eyes shut tighter, and curled closer to the warmth.

"Geth… G… Geth… I need your help…"

Geth shot awake, his heart pounding.

"What? Wha…?" He rubbed his eyes furiously.

"Geth…" he heard Arren moan. He looked over, and saw that Arren's face was partially shoved beneath one of the pillows. "I need help." He laughed weakly.

"What is it, Arren?" Geth said, a twinge of panic shooting through him. "Does something hurt?"

"No, no…" Arren said. "I… my legs are stuck… I'm too weak to move them."

"S… Stuck?" Geth said. He got up to his knees, and tugged the blankets down from their waists. Arren's legs were completely wrapped up in the sheets, and he was stuck at an odd angle. One of his arms had become jammed up behind his back. "Oh… I see… You're just tangled in the sheets."

"Ah…" Arren said. Geth tugged the sheets out from between his legs, and helped Arren roll over onto his back. He pulled the sheets back up to Arren's hips. "Th… Thank you," Arren said, his voice light with relief. "That's much better.

Geth smiled, and inclined his head.

"Arren… ah…" He frowned. "Why… are you still so weak? You… lost your magic back at Summer's Hold, didn't you? But you weren't nearly so…" He paused, searching for a word that would not sound offensive. "D… Debilitated."

Arren sighed, and glanced up at Geth's face.

"Back in… in Honulia, I… my p-power drained slowly. It's… d-different from…" He sighed. Slowly, Arren's hand drifted up, and rested against Geth's cheek.

"Last night… I… panicked…" Arren sighed, and let his eyes drift closed. "Used… too much magic at… at once. Amateur mistake."

Geth shook his head. "You saved the forest, Arren," Geth said, taking his hand. "And me."

"You saved yourself," Arren said with a small smile. "You stabbed that thing... saved us all, really. Leika's going to be so... so mad about that knife..." He chuckled softly. His eyes opened, and he touched the bandage on Geth's forehead. "Does it… hurt?"

Geth shook his head. "No, not really."

"Good," Arren said, relaxing a small amount. His fingers drifted down the side of Geth's face, and then gently rested at his throat. "Finally got that… that fucking thing off you…" He grinned, but then his face sobered. "Geth… Do you know what that… that thing… what it was?" he said, turning on his side.

Geth bit his lip.. "N-Not entirely, no. I know it was a demon… it used its powers to transport one of U…" Geth caught himself. "O-One of my master's servants here to… to collect me."

Arren frowned. "I thought he…"

"Wanted me dead?" Geth finished. Arren nodded, and Geth shook his head. "So did I. Apparently not. He just wanted to… to teach me a lesson."

He swallowed, his thoughts drifting unbidden to those awful two days, in that awful room. He did not know how many men used him then. He had not wanted to count. It was bad… as bad as it had ever been.

And the pain.

Geth's hands clenched into fists, and Arren touched them softly. "Don't think about it... Don't think about him." Arren took on of his hands, and pressed it to his lips. "I care for you, Geth. I… I would not see you hurt."

I love you, Arren.

The words died on his tongue even as they rose in his throat. He stopped, shocked, and unable to speak for a moment. "Th… Thank you, Arren. That means so much." Geth tried to smile, and took Arren's hand in his. He looked down, and caught sight of Arren's palm. He gasped.

"Your hand!" he said. There were a dozen small, rune shapes burned into his hand, from his fingers all the way down to his wrist.

"Happens sometimes," Arren mumbled, his eyes closing. "Don't worry… they'll fade." He smiled slightly. "'Sides. It was… worth it."

Arren's head dropped back against the pillows, and he was asleep again.

Geth sat beside him for a long time, still holding his hand. He waited until he was certain that Arren was completely asleep.

Slowly, he lifted Arren's hand to his lips. He gently kissed every single one of the horrible red burns. Then he traced the shapes with the tip of his finger. He took a breath, and blew across Arren's palm, and watched as the burns disappeared back into Arren's hand, as though they had never been there to begin with.

Geth smiled, utterly relieved. Had removing the collar really been all that was necessary to restore his power?

He kissed Arren's hand again, then gently set it down on the blankets. He left the room, shutting the door quietly, and started down the hall.

Pathetic.

Geth paused.

What good could your affections possibly do for him? Geth felt his feet come to a stop. What good are the affections of a used-up bed slave?

Geth shook his head, feeling fear tighten in his stomach. That… that isn't…

That is. Do you think he doesn't know? Do you think he can't smell those men on you? Do you really think that just because that little collar of yours is off that you are anything? You are a little nothing!

He leaned against the wall, and slid down it slowly. No. I… He…

MURDERER.

He stared at the wall.

"Hold still!" the guard demanded, kneeling back between his legs.

"N…No… please…" Geth whimpered, even as his arm was yanked behind his mangled back. The guard pushed his thighs farther apart, and shoved a rough finger inside him. Geth felt his body try to reject it, and he bit back a scream as another finger probed him crudely.

Geth felt his knees touch the floor, and he bit down furiously on his lip.

"Fuckin' loose slut, isn't he?" the guard said. The other men laughed. "No wonder Uzu's tossin' him."

The fingers were withdrawn, and Geth felt something bigger pressing against him. He tried, even now, to scramble away, but the man jerked his arm hard.

"You want another whippin', whore?"

Geth froze, his heart beating furiously against his chest.

"I asked you a question, whore!" The man yanked his arm up, away from his back. Pain exploded through his shoulder and elbow and wrist, and he cried out.

"No! No, please!" Geth howled. "Please, no more!"

Blood rushed into his mouth, the taste of hot, salty iron, and Geth started to shake.

"Then hold fuckin' still."

And then the man was inside him, buried to the hilt, and the pain was massive, and he pulled out and shoved back in, with only Geth's blood for lubricant. And Geth screamed.

Another man came to his face, lifting him by the chin.

"Pretty face," the man said, untying his pants. "You know what'll happen to you if you bite down, don't you, pretty little slut?"

"Y…Yes… s…sir," Geth forced out. The man nudged his cock to Geth's lips, and Geth opened his mouth and took him down as deeply as he could.

"Oh… fuck… that's right, slut," the man said, and began to fuck his mouth furiously. Geth gagged, despite his training, for he could not help himself. After many dominating thrusts, he said, "Suck me, whore."

And Geth did.

The men fucked him, mercilessly, for what felt like hours. And they came, jetting hot shame on Geth's insides, down his throat, on his face, on his back. He sobbed, coughing and retching.

Two more men. It was harder for him to suck this one, because he kept sobbing

and sobbing, unable to even catch his breath. He stayed, crouched against the wall, his head buried in his arms, for as long as he could stand it.

USELESS USED UP SLUT WHORE KILLER KILLER WHO WOULD WANT YOU NOW?

"Shut up!" Geth hissed. He slapped himself in the face as hard as he could, where Eiro's bruise was fading. "Shut up! No more!" He slapped himself again. The pain was sharp.

Panting and hiccupping, he rubbed his eyes, wiping the tearstains off of his face with his sleeves.

"No more. No more. I'm fine. I'm fine."

(be strong gethy)

Slowly, he got to his feet, feeling the cramps in his legs.

(listen gethy listen!)

He took a deep, shaky breath.

"Uzu would love it if you went crazy, Gethy, so that's exactly what you won't do," he said in a voice that was not his.

"I am fine," he whispered.

"Are you?"

"Yes." He wiped his face one more time. "Yes." He sucked in a breath and held it. He let it out slowly, pressing his forehead against the cool, stone wall.

It was a long time before he could force himself to move again.

0

Lady Monxa was sitting at the table, wrapping her arm in bandages painted with mud from purified earth. Kerris sat behind her, running a brush through her wet, unbraided hair.

"Good morning, darling," Monxa said. "Or rather, good afternoon." She glanced up, and her dark eyebrows came together. "Everything all right?"

"Ah, yes!" Geth said, smiling his biggest smile. "Of course! Ah… May I sit?"

Monxa nodded, and gestured to a chair. "Please."

Geth took the chair across from her, folding his hands on the table. "Arren's still asleep."

Monxa nodded, as if it were to be expected.

"He will be for a while. Don't worry, though," she said, glancing at him. "This is normal for a mage of his level."

Geth shrugged. "Forgive me. I know little of the society of sorcery."

Monxa frowned. "Arren is powerful, especially for his level of training. Not as powerful as yours truly, of course," she said with a small smile, "but powerful just the same." She stopped, and stared thoughtfully at the bowl of mud. "It is my guess that he will be a master of his craft in only a few years." She smiled. "He could easily become a full-fledged sorcerer within the season."

She seemed to ponder on that fact for a moment. Then she went back to wrapping her arm. "However, when powerful mages expend all of their vast amounts of power, it takes quite a while to gain it all back. In order to avoid those little two day naps, masters, like myself, will summon demons to restore our power. Unfortunately," she said, turning her arm over and tightening the bandages, "little Arren doesn't have that capability."

Geth thought back to Arren's summoning of the demon at Swan's Pond Inn. He swallowed, and decided it was best not to mention it.

"I see," he said.

"Arren has also been fortunate enough to have a very powerful teacher." Monxa looked at Geth. "His master is easily one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world, if not the most powerful."

"Oh, my," Geth said.

"Perania is a good place to be if you use magic," Monxa said. "The best on this side of the world." She slowly set her thickly-bandaged arm in a sling around her neck. "There." She looked at Geth. "Would you like something to eat?"

Geth nodded. "Yes, please! I'm starving," he said, only just then becoming aware of his hunger.

Monxa started to rise, but Kerris pressed down on her shoulder.

"Kerris, I can…" She sighed, and rolled her eyes. "If you insist."

Kerris left the room, and when he returned, he set down a plate of eggs and toasted bread in front of Geth, and a large platter of fruit in front of Monxa.

Geth stared, horrified, from plate to plate. "L… Lady Monxa, I…" He shook his head. "Certainly I cannot eat better than the lady of the house!"

Monxa chuckled. "I appreciate your concern for decorum, Geth, but you needn't worry." She speared a piece of melon with a fork. "I can only eat food born from earth right now. Otherwise, believe me; I would have a similar plate in front of me."

Relieved, Geth nodded. "I see." He tried the toast, and chewed it carefully, very aware of her eyes on him. He glanced toward her.

"Ah… is something wrong, Lady?" he said, setting the toast delicately on the edge of his plate.

Monxa frowned faintly, and rested her cheek in one palm.

"Nothing… nothing at all," she said. "It's just… I just can't figure you out."

Geth swallowed. "Figure me out, Lady?"

Monxa set her palm down on the table, and frowned slightly.

"Why do you follow him, Geth?" she said. "What do you want? From Arren?"

Geth stilled himself for a moment, staring down at the table. He folded his hands in his lap, and closed his eyes. "Nothing that he would not give me of his own volition, my Lady."

Monxa's lips pursed. "I see," she said softly. Kerris slowly began to braid her still-damp hair.

Geth stared at the food, noting the fact that his hunger had vanished.

"Do I smell breakfast?"

Geth looked up quickly, to see Arren emerge from the hallway, slumped and exhausted-looking, but smiling just the same.

"Mmm." He sat down beside Geth. "How about someone grabs me a plate of that?"

"Take mine," Geth said quietly, sliding the plate across the table. He saw Monxa watching it carefully. "I've suddenly lost my appetite."

"Don't mind if I do," Arren said, oblivious. He picked up the partially-eaten toast and took a huge bite. He glanced between Geth, who was staring at his hands, and Monxa, who was staring at Geth. He swallowed. "Did I… miss something?"

"No…" Monxa said quickly. "Nothing. Nothing at… at…" Her forehead knit, and she gripped her bandaged arm tightly. "Oh… Oh… f… fuck…"

Kerris placed his hands firmly on her shoulders, his face lined and worried beneath the wrappings on his eyes.

"It's… it's all right… I'm all right…" Monxa hissed.

Kerris knelt down, and rested his head in Monxa's lap. Monxa gently stroked his orange hair, her eyes closing for a moment.

"Geth," Monxa said, her voice weak. She pulled two silver coins from her robe, and gave them to him. "Please go down to Refan's Tavern down in the center of town, and buy me the biggest bottle of blackberry wine you can find."

"Ah…" Geth took the coins, and nodded. "Yes, Lady."

"Do hurry, dear," Monxa said. She dropped her sweaty forehead in the palm of her hand, and Geth nodded again.

"Yes, I will!" He hurried out of the room, and quickly out the front door, barely slowing down to slam it shut behind him.

000

Arren smiled, resting his chin in his hand. Monxa looked up at him, blinking slowly.

"He's very cute, you know," Monxa said, with a knowing smile. Arren glanced at her. "Insightful. Respectful. Hides much of himself. Wherever did you find him?"

Arren resisted the urge to snap at her. He said, in his sweetest voice with his sweetest smile, "Ah, you mean my tagalong? He was a bed slave in Honulia, Lady Utana. I found him in the prisons, to be put to death for trying to kill his master."

Monxa's eyes widened. "Uh… oh… my…" She swallowed. "Well… well that's…" She looked down at Kerris. "I know I should shut my mouth, Kerris, thank you!"

Arren said nothing, only, stared at his own hands for a long time.

"Arren, I didn't know," Monxa said. "Arren." She stared at Arren until he met her eyes.

"Yes, Lady Utana?" he said, smiling his court smile. She huffed.

"Don't do that, Arren! Don't act like a little shit when I'm trying to apologize!"

Arren ran his tongue over the inside of his teeth, and said nothing.

Monxa narrowed her eyes. "You always do this, Arren! You get angry, and you spout off until everyone else is just as livid, and nothing gets done! Oh, excuse me," she said, holding up a hand. Then she bowed in her chair, and said, "Prince Nashima Rodain Galowin. Do you enjoy it? Shall I bow and scrape like the yula rak I am, Oh Great Prince?"

Arren flinched at the outburst and the horrible slur. He must have infuriated her terribly. "Goddess, Monxa! I didn't… I didn't mean to…"

Monxa scoffed. "Didn't mean to, of course you didn't mean to," she snapped. She rubbed at her arm, wincing. "Fuck. Oh… fuck!" she hissed. She hunched over, clutching her arm to her chest. "Goddess…" She groaned, and lurched out of the chair to her knees.

Kerris was there at her shoulder in an instant, his hands on her shoulders.

"It's spreading," Monxa hissed. "It's…"

"No," Arren said firmly, shaking his head. "No it isn't, Monxa. You're fine."

After a long moment, Monxa's breathing steadied.

She looked back at Kerris. "I'm all right, darling. Really," she said, but Arren could hear the exhaustion in her voice. Kerris straightened, and took a step back, and Monxa sent a glance Arren's way.

Guilt rushed through him in hot waves. He swallowed hard.

"I… I'm sorry, Monxa," he said. "I… I h… hesitated… last night, and… and now you're…" He ran his hand through his shaggy blond hair, and squeezed his eyes shut. "Th-this is my fault, and I… I p-promise that it's going to be fixed. Even if I have to do it myself."

Monxa, sighed, and stood, slowly. She walked over to the plants that sat in the windowsill, and gently ran a hand over a pot of small white blossoms.

"I know you mean that, Arren," she murmured. She turned back around to face him. "I have a question for you," she said. Arren's brow knit, and he glanced at Kerris.

"Ah… all right?" he said.

Monxa turned, and looked at him, cradling her arm. "Let's say that you own a slave."

Arren shook his head. "Wh… what? Monxa, I-…"

Monxa held up her good hand. "Just play along for a moment." Arren stared at her. "Let's say you own a slave, and you want to collar him."

Arren rolled his eyes. "All right," he said.

"Tell me this," Monxa said. "What kind of metal do you choose for the collar?"

Arren shifted, frowning. "I… don't know. Iron, I suppose?"

Monxa gestured at Kerris for a moment. "I told you! Yes, exactly! That's what I said!" She walked over to the shelves and picked up the sealed container that held Geth's collar. "This is made of bronze!"

Arren's frowned deepened. "Bronze? That… seems…" He shrugged. "Odd."

"I would understand iron, or gold, or perhaps copper, but bronze?" Monxa shook her head. "Perhaps I'm thinking too much into this, but…" She shrugged, and set the container down.

After what felt like hours of thick silence, Arren looked to the window. "Hey… Do… you guys hear…? Is that…?" He stood, and stepped over to the window.

Kerris grabbed Monxa's robe, and she looked down at him.

"Screaming?" she said. "But what-…"

And then, a great voice rose above the dyne; "HUMAN! SHOW YOURSELF, OR I WILL RETURN YOUR LITTLE ANTHILL BACK TO FOREST!"

"Oh, no," Monxa said. "Oh, no, no, no, no, no."

"What is Lady's name is that?" Arren said.

Monxa said nothing, only shoved her feet into her high sandals, grabbed her staff, and sprinted out of the house, her braid whipping out behind her.

000

Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed! CloudsofRabbits, Checkerspades, Morimur, Shamalan Grey, anaic, Enchantedflame, Potatoe1988, gunarrow, Shiroi Angel, Alienangel4, Reader, rEdRoSeSeSiNaUgUst, anonymous, MysteriaWolf, and anyone I missed from the last two chapters. You guys are seriously the reason I write.

The more feedback, the better, so drop me a review my lovelies.

I'm sorry this chapter is so late. I had a death in the family last month which really put a damper on everything else. And then classes started.

Expected more, better updates in the coming weeks. : D

Also, I promise, shit in the story will start to make sense eventually.

And one last thing. FictionPress likes to screw with the formatting of my chapters. I don't know why, but shit gets messed up constantly. If you see anything that is completely messed up, let me know so I can make it pretty again.

XOXO,
Mango