A/N: Okay, I have a few things to say here. First, this might be the last chapter. I'm sorry for how it ends, but I don't think I'm going to write more of this story. I might come back and do an epilogue, but as it stands for right now, this is the last chapter. I'll try to start the next book soon, but honestly I don't know when I will get to that, so it might be a while. I have so many conflicting ideas in my head it's driving me crazy.
I have a lot to say, but I'm going to put it at the end of this chapter so it's not flung on you right from the beginning. I will just say here, this:
It's been a long, fun ride with this story. It was also a disobedient little shit right from the get-go, and I'm sorry if the plot or characters are all over the place. I never meant for that to happen but this is just written for fun. I apologize for blatant, glaring inconsistencies or plotholes, but again, just for fun. Maybe one day I'll get around to fixing it, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
It's been a fun ride, and a monster of a story, and as always, I'm glad I got to share it with you, through all the ups and downs. You guys are the true heroes of any story; feedback is the best thing to any writer, good or bad (as long as it's constructive criticism and not a simple "oh fuck you and this story") and I want to say thank you to all of you for sticking with me this far. I hope I haven't disappointed you.
Thank you, all of you. So very much.
Chapter length: 4091
Chapter Forty-Eight: All These Worries
I thought Lacy would be angry with me for keeping her in the dark. Be angry with Tommy, too, for also keeping her in the dark. She knew something was wrong and he wasn't telling her; I hated that I was the reason she felt that way, but she was safer not knowing… at least, that was what I thought. Now, she told me that had she known, she would have been more cautious and would have known what to look for, and it was wrong of us to keep her in the dark.
I thought she'd be angry, but she was mostly tired, and worried. For me, for Kieron, for herself and her family… They'd have to move, and have perpetuals watching them more frequently and closely, but at least now she wasn't left in the dark. She knew what was happening, and she knew how dangerous it was for me and Kieron.
She hugged as both so tightly, and told us to keep in touch no matter what, and let her know we were okay or she'd never be able to sleep she would be so worried. We promised, and then Bekkah took them through the gateway and out of Ethereal. He would help them pack and secure a new home where they'd be safe, and then he'd return once that happened. He'd be gone for at least a month, we assumed.
Kieron and I were going to go, but Bekkah convinced us not to. Alona was still training with Kieron, to teach him better shields, and we both needed training on that, she said. Kieron said he never meant to shut me out or leave me without word from him for so long, but it was necessary for his training. He didn't know he was going to undergo this training until a mental attack, by one of the people in the group after me, left him bedridden and with a migraine so intense he nearly couldn't keep it from me. He blocked out the bond mid-attack, attempting to keep the attack from me, and then in the end never completely re-opened so he could focus on further training his shields on mental attacks, and keep me safe in case it happened again before he was ready. He wasn't going to tell me, initially, about the mental attack because he knew I'd worry, but in the end he told me anyway, because I didn't like secrets. He did it to protect me, but regretted that it caused me pain. He regretted that I suffered without him for a long time. For months.
I forgave him, because I would always forgive him. He thought he was more stable in his training now, and promised not to block me out again unless he was being mentally attacked. I told him he could share the pain, but he insisted. He could be quite stubborn, my perpetual.
Kieron told Alona about my vision, or whatever it was, of him dying. Of things that happened before they truly happened, and how I altered it. She was very fascinated, and said she'd ask around for further details, but it might be a bit before we received answers from anyone, as the Elders were scattered at the moment, attempting to reign in the outlying perpetuals to create better battle plans and defense strategies. They would also need to replace Dettere, since he was dead. That had been thrown to the backburner so far, with everything that had happened and was still happening, but he would need to be replaced. They would have to choose a new Elder. There were whispers Alona might take his place, since she was trained to be Farrow's replacement, an act on which there were still lingering questions. Farrow was still missing, possibly presumed dead, and if so Alona would have to replace him anyway, and they would need yet another to replace Dettere.
Ashere wouldn't talk to anyone, not even Kieron. Kieron appeared stoicly impassive when Ashere ordered him from the room and told him to leave him alone, but the bond was open, and I knew better. This bothered him. For centuries, Ashere had been a steady presence in Kieron's life; he'd never ordered him away before. This upset him, though he would never show it.
I could understand Ashere's reluctance to have anyone near him right now, though. He lost a leg, and as time passed there was little hope of it growing back or fixing itself. He could be without a leg permanently now. He'd have to learn to walk again, with a prosthetic if they could wrangle up enough people to make him one, or he'd have to use crutches. He was still adjusting to everything, and probably more than a little bitter about it, and thus he ordered Kieron, and everyone else, away. He just needed time. Time to adjust, time to heal, time to accept what happened to him.
Kieron needed time, too. Time to also accept what happened to his closest friend, and accept that he might never be the same.
There was a small part of him that also worried if Ashere blamed him. Blamed us. I shared the sentiment; it was my fault Ashere was involved as he was, after all. It was my fault he got hurt. If I had only stopped John from attacking me… if I was stronger, faster, smarter… then maybe he would be okay now.
I didn't blame Kieron, though. I knew Kieron blamed himself for not being there from the start, but I was the one who told him to stay away, and he did, for the most part. I told him to stay away to protect him, and Ashere got hurt in his place. Thankfully, Ashere was still alive, though, while in my dream, vision, whatever it was – Kieron died.
Even now, a week after I woke up rescued, I still felt chills every time I thought about it, every time his bloody, still body came to mind.
He's okay. He's here with me.
He was okay. I was okay. We were okay. Ashere would be okay, once he accepted and healed. Once he adjusted.
It could have been so much worse.
But we were all okay, for the most part.
Lacy now knew the truth of everything. Bekkah was taking them somewhere safe. My family was safe.
For the first time in so long, things were actually starting to look up. Hope, on the horizon.
Kieron was back in my head, warm and thrumming. He was here next to me, hale and whole, safe and sound. Lacy and Tommy, and their kids, were safe. They knew everything, and they would be more cautious, and perpetuals would watch them and keep them safe.
We would have to find a new apartment, but we would be together, at least. Though, I was sad about the apartment. It was home. It was supposed to be safe, but it wasn't, and not even because of screamers, really. Because of a human. Because of John. But then, we never really expected the screamers to use my human friends against me. I hadn't realized how manipulative they could be until John turned on me the first time. I should never have helped him. I should never have trusted him. I should never have let my guard down.
But I did, and I couldn't change the past.
I could only keep moving forward.
The perpetuals responsible for watching me, for keeping me safe at the apartment, were nowhere to be found. They had other perpetuals out looking for them, but so far they hadn't found anything. We didn't know if they'd switched sides and allowed me to be taken, or if something had happened to them. They had felt perpetuals die during those months Kieron was away, after all; perhaps that was them.
Nothing was for certain.
It left me feeling nauseous every time I thought about it. If we couldn't trust the perpetuals on our side… then who could we trust? Would anywhere be safe? My family? Were they safe? Could we trust the perpetuals assigned to watching them?
I had to trust them; if I didn't, my mind kept spinning in circles, with little pushes of doubt.
There was a knock at the door leading to my room. Our room. We were staying in a large cabin somewhere I didn't recognize, next to a large river with the sound of rushing rapids lulling me to sleep every night. The door to the room pushed open as I was getting to my feet to answer it, and Alona's head poked inside.
"They're here," she said.
I blinked. "Who?"
I nodded. "Kieron out there?"
I knew he was around, but wasn't entirely sure of his exact location.
She nodded, and I followed her out of the room and down the short hallway into the living room. Kieron stood off to the side, eying the man who would be our liaison with the Elders, and Dettere's replacement. We always only ever dealt with Dettere and not really the other Elders; this man would now be taking his place in that regard.
The man looked ordinary enough, with short-cropped black hair and dark, earthy brown eyes. His face was pale with freckles, and his brows furrowed slightly when Alona and I entered the room. His gaze landed on me, and he stared at me long and hard. He was short, maybe around 5'5", but in that moment I felt like he was seeing through me, seeing inside of me, and I decided he could be intimidating.
Then he smiled, the furrow disappearing. "You must be Terrence."
"Terry," I corrected.
"Terry," he said with a nod. "I am Haelix."
"Nice to meet you," I said.
"I was saddened to hear of Dettere's passing, but trust that I will do all I can to replace him," Haelix said. "I am your direct link to the Elders. Although I am still in training, I have been 'in the loop', so to say, since we discovered perpetuals could be killed. I may be inexperienced as an Elder, but I am not completely irrelevant either."
"I'm sure you'll do fine," I told him with a nod.
"I thank you." He looked at Alona. "I have heard you are in training as well."
He didn't speak a question openly, but his brows lifted, hinting at what he wasn't saying.
"I know it's odd that I was being trained long before we realized any of us could be killed," Alona said, frowning, "but I don't believe Farrow had ulterior motives, at least not the negative kind. I don't think he's in league with Exrie. I think maybe he had a feeling it could one day happen, and thus trained me, or maybe he simply wanted an apprentice, or was wanting to one day retire so he trained me accordingly. I do not know for certain, but I don't think he was working with Exrie. Of course, since he's missing, we can't simply ask him."
I watched Kieron's face as she spoke, and watched his eyes narrow and a shutter close over his expression. Farrow was important to Kieron, whether he'd admit it or not. I knew it was hard for him, with Farrow being suspected of such things.
I'd never met the guy, but I felt nearly the same as Kieron. I saw his memories, felt them as though they were my own, and in them, Farrow was more of a father figure to Kieron than his own flesh and blood.
Haelix nodded. "I agree with you, though I only met him a few times. He always seemed level-headed, and I don't believe he would willingly follow Exrie."
"And unwillingly?" Alona asked.
He shrugged. "Who can say? Times are changing. Perhaps he was captured. Perhaps he was threatened or blackmailed."
"Blackmailed?" Kieron asked, frowning. "What do you mean by that?"
Haelix frowned. "I'm sorry, I misspoke. I shouldn't have said that. It is not for me to discuss, but something for you to take up with the actual Elders, and not one in training. It is not my place to say."
I sighed heavily; he wouldn't say everything because he was probably sworn to secrecy, just like everyone else. What was with perpetuals and secrets? The Elders and secrets? It just made everything so much harder. Kieron looked like he wanted to argue, but then exhaled loudly and nodded. He understood what it was like with the Elders; they swore him to secrecy a lot, too.
I hated the secrecy, so very much.
Haelix looked at me, sharp brown eyes focusing on me. "A group of Etherians are after you; a few groups of people, all part of one larger movement."
I nodded. "Yeah, they tried to kill me," I said, remembering the pain and the way it felt like I was dying. I did die for a few minutes; my heart stopped and everything, but Kieron brought me back. He always saved me. "Kieron and the others were hunting them down, last I heard."
Haelix nodded. "Yes, I was told about that. Dettere was overseeing it. He was also searching for information on the whereabouts of Exrie, but that was before he took you. We've searched the area you were kept, but it appears he was moved out. All he left behind was a prisoner."
I shared a look with Kieron and Alona. "We weren't told anything about a prisoner, or about any of this." At least, I wasn't informed of it, and Kieron and Alona looked confused, too, so I didn't think they knew about it either.
"We searched the place he kept you and your family, and found it cleared out save for a few screamers and a solitary prisoner in the dungeons. We freed them and they are currently in our custody for questioning, but so far they are unwilling to speak with anyone." Haelix's eyes slid toward Kieron. "Except you."
Kieron frowned. "What?"
"The prisoner refuses to answer any questions unless they are asked by you, and Terry."
"That doesn't make any sense," I said. "We don't know them. They don't know us. Do they?" I looked at Kieron. "Was someone you know captured?"
"Not that I know of," he replied, shaking his head.
"Regardless, they say they will only speak to you two," Haelix said.
"Do you know their name, at least?" I asked.
"Are they a perpetual?"
"Yes, according to preliminary test and pheromones."
"Pheromones?" I asked, looking at Kieron.
"Perpetuals smelled differently than other Etherians," Kieron said. "Just like you humans smell differently to us, but still all have the distinct scent of being human. Most Etherians can't smell it, but perpetuals have sharper noses than a lot of them, and we know what our own kind smell like."
I nodded; that made sense. "Alright, so they're a perpetual, but you don't know who they are?"
Haelix shook his head. "The Elders don't seem to know. They want to do a Reading, but the prisoner refuses, and says they will only speak to you two. Considering they were a prisoner of Exrie, they have been through enough already, so the Elders are reluctant to simply do a Reading against their will if they are willing to speak with someone."
"Alright," I said. "So we have to talk to this prisoner."
We would begin our journey to Tephyr, a city a few days away, in the morning. Haelix would sleep on the couch, while Alona slept in the second bedroom, and Kieron and I held the master bedroom. The cabin was large and spacious, but held few rooms. That meant the rooms were large, but there were only two of them, a luxurious bathroom with a shower I loved, a modest living room and lavish kitchen complete with a dining area off to one side of it.
It was late, but I couldn't sleep. I had too many thoughts running rampant in my mind. Too many little worries pricking at my brain.
I tried to shove them away, but sadly, it didn't look like I'd be sleeping tonight.
Kieron sighed next to me, startling me as I wasn't aware he was awake. "Sleep, human."
"I can't," I told him.
"I don't know; my mind won't let me," I said. "I know, I know – us silly humans."
He snorted, and sat up next to me. "Anything I can do?" he asked almost hesitantly.
"Not really," I said. "I'm just worried about a lot of things. About my family, about us, about the war, everything."
"Aren't you the one telling me it will be okay?"
I smiled tiredly. "Yeah, I know."
"And yet you're always the pessimist."
He sighed. "It will be okay."
"See, I want to believe that, and I guess I do in theory, but…" I sighed heavily. "It's just in my nature to worry, I guess."
"Maybe," Kieron agreed. "I wish you would stop."
Silence followed his statement. He sighed.
"I mean – I wish I could ease your mind. It seems like you're always worrying."
"I am," I said quietly. "But it's not because of you. I mean – I worry about you, but it's not your fault."
None of this was his fault.
"I'm… sorry, I didn't contact you for months," he said.
"I know you are."
"When the mental attack came… I was unprepared for the onslaught," he said. "I was trained to defend myself against Readings, and keep things to myself, but an invasion of that sort… I don't know where it came from, but it immediately sought out the bond. I had to partially close it to protect you, or it would have gone to you too. That's what it wanted."
I nodded; I knew all of this. He didn't have to tell me, but I appreciate his words nevertheless. "I understand why you did it, Kieron. I just… you don't know what it was like for me, those three months. I was worried about you, and I didn't know what to do with myself, but that's my fault, I guess. I need to stop worrying so much." I inhaled slowly. "I know you can take care of yourself; I know you're a fighter, and you're trained in combat and everything, I just… I worry, because I care. Can you understand?"
He was silent for a moment, before he sighed. "I know. I understand. I care about you too, and I was worried about you, too."
I looked at him in the darkness, at his outline, shocked. "You… were?"
"Yes, I was," he said, almost reluctantly. I knew he didn't like talking about this, about his feelings, but I always enjoyed it and appreciated it when he did. "I know I can be… closed off at times, but I do care. I worry, too."
"I didn't know," I said. "I mean, I know you care, I just – I didn't realize you worried about me, too."
He didn't act like it. He was always so focused and calm and collected. Not an emotional mess like me.
"I'm not good at showing it," he said, seemingly understanding my thoughts even though I didn't project them his way. "I'm trying. You have to understand I'm trying. But I've tried not to feel for so long… I guess I forget to show it sometimes."
"I understand," I told him gently, resting a hand on his arm, slipping it down to entwine my fingers with his own. He didn't pull away. Instead he squeezed my fingers, and I squeezed back. "You've held everything in your whole life; I know it will take time for you to change. It's been a while for me, but to you – I mean… you've had centuries, you know? So it's… going to take a while for you to… change…" I winced. "That doesn't mean I want you to change."
"I know what you mean," he said with a small chuckle. "Stop worrying so much."
I exhaled. "Right, well… I just… I love you as you are, even if you can be emotionally constipated sometimes."
"That just makes it sound horrible," he said, though I could sense the humor through the bond.
"You know I'm right."
I leaned over and kissed his cheek. He turned into it, a hand coming up to wrap around the back of my head, pulling me closer, his mouth against mine. I missed this, so very much. I missed him. I missed this closeness.
I sank into him, and his arms wound around me, holding me to him.
We stayed like that for a long time.
Eventually, I fell asleep.
Three days later, we made it to Tephyr.
The city was bright and bustling; Etherians walked everywhere, and occasionally I saw a hover-vehicle, like I did that first time I was in an Etherian city so very long ago, after the incident with the hotel and Kieron. I stared at it much as I did back then, shocked by the technology, mostly because a lot of Ethereal seemed… older. Without technology. They lived in cabins and huts and houses; they used candles more than electricity; they walked everywhere as their primary method of travel; there were no paved streets, just dirt roads and occasionally some sidewalks… it just didn't remind me of Earth, or modern times, very much, and then something like a hover-vehicle happened, and I remembered that they did have the technology… they just preferred the old-fashioned way.
They had what they wanted of modern technology, and even what humans would consider futuristic technology like the hover-vehicles, but they chose the older things. They had electricity, but liked the glow of candles more, for the most part. They had refrigerators, and modern toilets and showers, but they also had dirt roads and carriages with strange creatures hauling them instead of horses.
Haelix led us toward a large stone building in the center of the city. A few Etherians tossed us looks, some perhaps knowing I was human. Maybe they had been to some of my speeches. I couldn't remember if we came through this town but I didn't think so; it didn't look familiar. It looked far more modern than any of the other places we had been, with electric lights keeping houses lit in the late afternoon, early evening hours, and hover-vehicles weaving around walking people.
We entered the building. A reptilian looking man greeted us, his eyes blinking with double eyelids. I shivered, reminded of a snake or a crocodile. He gave us directions on where to go, and we moved toward the stairs. We descended quickly, into the underbelly of the building, and then went down a long hallway. Halfway down it, Haelix stopped and faced a door, keying the lock before beckoning Kieron and me inside. We entered, and Haelix stayed in the hall.
Inside there was a man chained to the table with cuffs on his wrists. He looked up as we entered the room, and sapphire eyes latched onto us, peeking out of a pale face with dark blue-black brows and a veil of equally dark bangs.
Another shiver flitted down my spine as I was reminded of Kieron.
"Who are you?" Kieron asked, equally unsettled.
The man smiled. "You must be Kieron." His gaze slid toward me. "And the human."
"The human has a name," I said. "It's Terry. Please use it."
The man nodded. "Of course. Terry."
"You didn't answer his question," I said, frowning. "Who are you, and why did you say you'd only talk to us?"
"I was captured for talking to the wrong people," he said, expression shuttering closed, smile fading. A darkness slid across his face. "I was kept in that cell for years. Tortured, questioned, ripped apart only to heal back together. Do you know what that's like?"
I shivered again, running my hands up and down my arms. "That's terrible," I told him. "I understand you've been through a lot. Being Exrie's prisoner… it's not something I'd wish on anyone."
"Who are you?" Kieron asked.
Light blue eyes shifted back to Kieron, and looked up and down before an almost sad expression flitted across his face. "I guess it makes sense you don't know me, but I'd hoped you would. I guess they never mentioned me, huh?"
My spine went rigid. "Wait… you're…"
"My name is Kaspin," he said, still looking at Kieron. "I'm your brother."
A/N: I wanted to apologize, again for this cliffhanger ending, but as you know all of them had cliffhanger-ish endings. I tried to keep going but it felt more natural to leave it here. I might add an epilogue, but again, I wouldn't hold my breath.
And here's the notes I mentioned at the start of the chapter:
Guest: Thank you for your criticism. This is just written for fun so I wasn't being too worried about anything, but that said, I do understand your concerns. Of course, when I started this series it was just literally something fun that came out of nowhere, had no real plot or storyline, it just kind of happened and I was just as confused as Terry most of the time. And now, years later, at the end of this story, it's all a jumbled mess because I literally just went with it; there was little planning until this one, and those plans got tossed out the window pretty fast because I'm a shitty writer. That probably means their relationship is all over the place, and yeah, it is kind of unhealthy. But, again, I thank you for your criticism. I understand your concerns and I know their relationship probably isn't healthy, but neither of them are truly in a good place mentally right now. Please read the part concerning "Kieron and Terry" below for more information, and I apologize again that I'm not the best writer. This was just for fun. Thank you again for the criticism though.
The Ridian Eclipse:
I know when Miitha Tiaydh was first mentioned, it also mentioned the Ridian Eclipse. I never came back to this, mostly because it was just a timeframe meaning they had to hurry, and it came to pass after Kieron and Terry escaped and they were dealing with Kieron's possession and everything. It was just how long the presence, Perez, thought they had until Miitha Tiaydh was destroyed, and as you know, the others mentioned its official demise to Kieron and Terry, telling them it was gone. I never brought this back up, mostly because it wasn't that important except to act as a timeframe so they would hurry to Miitha Tiaydh, but beyond that it wasn't relevant to the storyline, really. The Ridian Eclipse is similar to our eclipses; it happens once every two centuries (204 years to be precise) and so that's why Kieron was like "oh shit the Ridian Eclipse" because he kind of forgot it was this year, since he's centuries old and timelines don't really matter to him. But, there you.
Kaspin looks a lot like his brother Kieron. Blue hair, blue eyes, animalistic perpetual. But. While Kieron's hair and eyes are the same color (except for when he's got his glowing eyes, of course) Kaspin has very, very dark blue hair to the point it looks black unless he's under the right lighting, and his eyes are a deep, but light blue color. Sometimes they change to a lighter baby blue color, depending on his mood, but of course that wasn't mentioned here.
Since Kieron looks a lot like him, his parents were suspicious from the get-go, wary of him from the start, but then after his animalistic tendencies started they feared the worst and assumed he was just like Kaspin, a son they'd already had issues with and who had been thrown into the Lake, so they cut themselves off from Kieron, distancing themselves immediately and sending him to the Lake for judgment. However, since the Elders don't judge children, they waited until he was an adult before they did that, and by then Farrow had taken him under his wing. Realizing Kieron might not be like Kaspin after all, Jo and Rhett tried to mend their broken relationship with their son, with mixed results. Kieron accepted them back into his life only because Kleo wanted to see him more, but he has little love for his parents despite their efforts. He still holds a grudge to this day for the way they just disowned him. He might accept them as his parents, and be civil with them, and he might even forgive them one day, but he will never forget, and he will never call them Mom and Dad, only Jo and Rhett.
Kieron and Terry's relationship:
Kieron's had a rough life, as we all know, and he's spent so long hiding from his emotions he's emotionally stunted. Kieron is over 800 years old; he's spent his whole life trying not to feel, and hiding all of his emotions, up until he met Terry. He's trying to open up, but while it's been years with Terry, that doesn't amount to the centuries he's had, so it's a work in progress for him. He's trying, and he cares in his own way, but it's always a struggle for him to show it or act on it without Terry starting the interaction because he's emotionally stunted and literally doesn't know what to do with his emotions or how to show them properly. And then Terry is messed up as well with all his worries and overthinking, and so he tries to have Kieron act first but Kieron doesn't know where the line is, what he can and can't do, what's appropriate for him anymore with all the conflicting thoughts in his head going against his teachings, and so it leaves them in an unhealthy relationship. I will try to get around to having things in Kieron's POV again to better show this, but we'll see how that goes. Terry's never had a real, steady relationship before, and he's always had unhealthy flings and friendships, so he's not sure what he should do either, so he panics a lot. And Kieron's not the best at offering explanation because he's never had to really explain things to anyone before, because it's always just been himself and a few occasional flings who he didn't have to answer to. They're both in a delicate situation, and trying to balance it but of course things don't always go as planned.
Lacy and Tommy:
Tommy hates that Terry is involved in any of this, but won't try to talk him out of it again. He accepts that Kieron does care about Terry in his own way, and admits that part of his dislike of the perpetual is because he's an overprotective big brother who can't come to terms with the fact he can't always protect his little brother. Lacy feels betrayed that she was left out of everything for so long, but mostly she's just worried. She'll certainly have words with her husband once they get home, but in the end she's just glad everyone is okay, and is worried about Kieron and Terry caught in the middle of everything, as well as she's worried for her family. She has agreed to not tell Terry's father, although a protective unit is being sent to watch him too.
I hope that clears some things up. I'm sorry I couldn't better explain it all within the story itself, and that everything might be all over the place, but this was just written for fun and I don't take it that seriously. Maybe I'll get around to fixing it one day, but... again, don't hold your breath.
For now, this story is complete and I hope to see you in the next installment, tentatively entitled "Almost Human". Thank you all so very much, again. It's been a fun ride.