7 Deadly Sins – Gluttony

You feel it, don’t you?

The voice was impossible.

One moment it boomed like thunder, shaking the space around him and making his ears ring. He was sure his bones would be shattered to pieces if the sound lasted much longer.

The next moment the voice was a whisper, an intimate breath of wind against the nape of his neck that made him want to shiver. Each word slithered over his skin like disembodied fingers sliding up and down the length of his body.

And for a moment, somehow, it was both, though he could not fathom how that could possibly be.

Even in the silence that followed he could still feel the after-echoes, the words lingering in his mind like ghosts.

But even those were swallowed up by what followed, by a feeling even greater, and more terrible. He could not deny the question put to him. His stomach rumbled and ached, his traitor of a body calling out for food. In all his years he’d never been made to go hungry, had never known a day without the bounty of the farms and jungle at his fingertips. Never knew a night without the sweet taste of wine on his lips. But he also knew instinctively what hunger felt like now, as if his stomach would fold in on itself. The emptiness, the fatigue, the sheer force of need. It was as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks or, he realized, as the warm coils around him tightened, a millennia.

He was going to die if he didn’t eat something. Of this he was sure.

Only, he realized with growing horror, he couldn’t die.

He was immortal. No, the god inside of him was immortal, and he would live so long as that god made use of his body. He was sure it would leave him to suffer the gnawing hunger for all eternity. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t his mind; his stomach still felt the pain and the desire. The god hadn’t feasted in so long, and so neither had he. The sweet fruits and succulent meats he’d glutted himself on for his last meal seemed a lifetime ago, though it had been less than a day. The god’s hunger wasn’t just inside of him, it was him, and he was powerless to separate himself from it.

“I do,” he muttered.

It was too much, and he cried out. He felt invisible fingers sinking into his mind, peeling his thoughts back like banana leaves. They sifted though his memories, nibbling at the edges of his last meal, draining the color and taste from them. Before it went too dark, however, the feeling stopped, and he felt a wave of distaste wash over him.

It is as ash. Your food does not satisfy my hunger.

For a few moments the presence went still, letting the hunger grow and fill the void until it overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t help but wonder if this was some sort of punishment. It hurt, more than any wound could have, as if a pit had opened in the very core of his body.

He would eat anything at this point to make the pain go away, anything at all to stop the terrible hunger. He would gratefully gnaw a leather sandal strap, suck the skin from rotted fruit, gobble raw meat upon the ground.

The being inside of him shifted, practically purring at the last of his thoughts. A single phantom finger slid down his cheek, warm and dry, moving so smoothly he almost didn’t feel it.

Do not worry, my little vessel. I would not have us eat off the ground.

The words were like a gentle wind through dry grass, announcing the coming of a stalking jaguar. It sent a sickly shudder through him. It was a promise, he had no doubt.

What was more concerning though was that his body did not mirror that shiver. Up until now he’d been content enough to stay still but now he tried to move his arms and, while his mind registered that the motion should have occurred, nothing outside happened. It was the same with his legs, his fingers, even his eye lids. He started to panic, trying to reach out for something to grasp onto, but there was nothing, as if he were floating below the black surface of the nearby lake. He drew in several quick breaths, forcing his breathing to even out, even if his heart thrummed away in his chest.

Strangely enough, he could look out through his own eyes and observe the world around him. Even as he struggled in the nothing, he found himself looking into the large polished glass set into the wall of his room. His lips pulled back in a predatory smile, exposing his teeth. His brown eyes flashed, quick as a snake striking from the brush. His fingers ran deftly through his long raven hair, teased over his cheeks, and brushed across his lips. He looked pleased with himself, but he felt none of it, not his skin, or silky hair, nor the press of the fine cloth draped over his slender form.

He was trapped in his own body, tied, unable to do anything but watch and feel whatever the god wanted him to feel. Surely he would go mad like this, stuck amid the smothering heat and hunger.

The great serpent moved his legs. Down they went, through hallways, and stairwells, to the special ritual chamber that lay in the belly of the temple. He’d been there before, and longed to feel the smooth hewed stone, cool under his feet and the sense of mild dampness that seeped in below. The senses were there, vaguely, but he wondered if the god even felt such things. They were small feelings, perhaps inconsequential to one so grand. The god seemed to need powerful feelings and sensations to take notice of them. Always needing more and more.

The chamber they entered was small but empty, though as he approached he caught a whiff of the burnt charcoal and reed smell that usually clung to the high priest. The man had been here, recently no doubt, to prepare the room. As far as the man knew he was gone, and it was only the god that now walked the halls. No doubt he was eager to serve in all ways, pleased his ritual had been a success.

All the candles were in their proper places, bathing the room in flickering light, and flowers and cuttings from the surrounding jungle festooned nearly every surface. But their sweet scents were completely overpowered by another, far more sickly smell, that he didn’t have to stretch himself to catch.

In the center of the room, on a small altar, sat the great obsidian cauldron, its surface polished to a near perfect black glass, with sharp edges that could cut the careless. He knew what it was for, had seen it used so many times, but it seemed today it was all for him. It was filled, near to overflowing, with what the god had come here to find; recently harvested hearts. It only made sense that the god made flesh would need to feed, and there had been plenty of stock to pull from.

This. This is what we have hungered for, is it not?

They approached. Steam rose from the pile, and he could almost feel the warmth radiating from it without even touching it. The air smelt of iron, like the edge of a sword. The offering should have sickened him, turned his stomach. But, with a growing dread, all he felt was that ravishing hunger, washing away all other thoughts. It was exactly what he hungered for.

He flew forward, plunging his hands into the pile of meat and, for a moment, he couldn’t tell if he’d guided the move or if the god had. In that moment it didn’t matter; they were one step closer to what they wanted. He pushed deeper into the slickness, the heat inside feeling near enough to burn his hands, but he didn’t stop until his arms were sunk in to the elbows, and there they rested.

The smell of blood and offal assaulted him, but his stomach rumbled pleadingly, and he could feel his lips drawing upward in a pleased smile.

The god reveled in the heat, the sensation, the knowledge that all these hearts had been torn free for him. The serpent wanted and so he wanted.

His hands closed over a pair of hearts and drug them free from the rest. His arms were painted red that smeared over the pale linens he wore, but that was of little matter. He lifted one of the hearts and stuffed it into his mouth, biting out a huge chunk. Warm wetness filled his mouth, but he felt no disgust. He tore and bit, and pulled the flesh away, and swallowed in one great gulp. And for a moment that impossible hunger eased, and he held a glimmer of hope that this could, finally, sate him.

The feast began. He ate until his body was half covered in red. Ate until the heat began to cool. Ate until he felt as if he were going to burst from the inside. How his stomach could contain this much he would never know. But it soothed the horrible ache, and suffused him with a sense of strength and power that was not his own. He felt powerful, invincible, ready to strangle the world in his coils.

Through it all he was aware of being both apart from himself but still there, as if someone had lashed him to his own body, and drowning in the desires and being of another, near the threat of losing himself. He knew, deep down, this was how his life was going to be from now on. Watching every moment, but helpless to change it. He may as well have died. That, he thought, might have been a kindness.

Finally the god finished and rested for a time. He took some small comfort from the hearts filling his insides. But as the time passed he began to realize, with a great dismay, that the hunger began to creep back inside of him. He gave a cry and felt the god stir.

An amused chuckle sounded right against his ear.

The hunger never really dies. That is the fate of a god. A fate you now share. But there is power to be had. You will see.

Now that I possess flesh to walk in I will feed, and drink the life blood of this world. There are not enough beating hearts in this world, on any world, to sate my hunger. Not forever. But this world has mortals aplenty to appease it.

Again invisible fingers slid over him, dry and soft, and no matter what he did he could not escape them. He shuddered.

Oh my little vessel, this is just the beginning. I have so many wonderful things to show you. It will be truly glorious. 

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7 Deadly Sins – Envy

“Welcome, sir. Please come in, the Mistress is expecting you.”

The butler held the heavy wooden door open as the lone guest stepped inside the richly decorated entrance hall. Though he was dressed well he seemed almost out of place in his modernly cut coat and plain tailored shirt and slacks. His long black hair was tied in a simple tail and when he gracefully shrugged off his coat the cuffs of his sleeves pulled back for a moment, exposing the pointed tips and gentle whorls of black ink tattoos that graced his wrists.

He handed his coat over without remark, and to his credit the butler drew no attention to it.

“Thank you. Has your employer any particular rules she would like followed while I’m here?”

For a moment the butler looked open surprised. Given the nature of the guest, he clearly hadn’t expected such a humble question.

“No, sir. I think only that she will be happy to see you.”

“That is good. I’m happy to be of service.” He smiled, warm and pleasant.

The butler swept his hand forward and bade him follow. There was hardly the sound of a footstep as the tall, thin man followed through the opulent hallways.

The butler’s back was straight, his gaze ahead. He had to hand it to the man. Most people were uncomfortable in the presence of an assassin, and it was hardly usual to invite one into your home. The nobility had always had a strange fascination with the assassins guild and their work, despite also regularly being their targets.

But he wasn’t here today to fulfill the request of someone who had been wronged. In fact, as far as the guild’s research could tell, the woman he would be meeting had led a pretty clean life, all said.

No, he was here for another reason; one that marked him different from most of his fellows.

Their way led upstairs, and into a plush study. A grand oak desk stood in the center, along with fine leather couches, and walls filled with books. The scent of herbs filled the air, overwhelming a stubborn hint of tobacco smoke. He recognized them immediately as medicinal, no doubt meant to be a breathing aid. The dark curtains had been drawn back, bathing the room in sunlight, and a gentle breeze blew in through a set of double doors that opened onto a balcony overlooking a blooming garden.

Amber eyes swept the room, scanning instinctively for traps or danger, before coming to rest on the rooms only other occupant.

She was seated in an expensive wheelchair, thin arms resting on a blanket laid over her lap. From this angle all he could see was a thin halo of white hair atop her head, held up by a neck skinnier than someone her height should have been.

That wasn’t surprising, though, given why she’d called him here.

“Mistress, Master Sesha Liatos has arrived.”

Frail, thick-veined hands took hold of the wheels, and the chair turned slowly. It paused several times mid-turn, the shoulders of the woman rising and falling with the effort. Beside him the butler winced, his muscles straining with the effort of staying put; likely a prior order from his employer, though it was clearly not a popular one.

When she’d finished turning the woman’s face was pale from the effort, and she drew in several shallow breaths. Despite that, she seemed to still be fighting to sit up straight, and her eyes remained sharp on her guest.

Sesha always liked to think of it as the stubbornness of nobility, a desire to never appear weak, but it was quite clear to him that she was dying. He had the eyes of both an assassin and a doctor, but he needed neither to see that.

“Thank you, Arin.” The woman’s voice was thick, as if something was stuck in her throat. “Would you like anything to eat or drink, Master Liatos?”

“No thank you, Madame Villara.”

She didn’t press him, instead beckoning him further inside with a quaking hand before dismissing the butler.

He crossed the room and took a seat on one of the leather chairs near her own, running his fingers lightly over the supple fabric. It was real, as was everything else in this place; he knew old wealth when he saw it. Many would have killed to live in a house like this, to posses the wealth of its owner. He was sure many jealously stared at the building as they went past, even while imagining their own name on the postbox.

Sesha felt no such envy.

Though he was surrounded by another sort of opulence every day in his home at the guild hall, those finer things had never drawn his attention. Material goods were transitory, as was power, as much both civilian and assassin alike wanted to deny it. Unlike most of his fellows he was rather content with where he was. Having been chosen so young to be the Guild Master’s personal physician might have had something to do with that, but his position within the Ravens brought him into contact with another sort of death that most assassins rarely saw.

Up close Leise Villara’s cheeks and eyes looked even more sunken, and deep wrinkles creased the corners of each. Her was skin dry like parchment paper, drawn taut over her bones, and her veins were clearly visible through the thin skin. Still, he couldn’t help but note the tinge of red on her lips and a brush of blue around her eyes, the touches of makeup subtle but fitting. Embroidered birds danced delicately on her dress, flying with a freedom she could not hope to gain. Still seeking elegance, even at death’s door.

“Thank you for coming to see me.”

“The guild found your case worthy of our services.” He replied, bowing his head.

“So… how do we do this?”

Straight to the point. That wasn’t unusual in cases like this. Most of his clients weren’t afraid of him, and a good portion welcomed him.

“It is very simple, Madame Villara. Your application has been accepted, however in cases like these it is customary for us to visit and speak with the person in question before final approval. We need to be absolutely sure this is the path you want to take.”

She chuckled, voice wheezing a bit. “You would think people wouldn’t just ask you to do this while playing around. Are there often problems?”

“Occasionally. Jealous or ambitious family members sometimes try to push through applications for the infirm, claiming it is their wish. Others apply, and are approved, but change their minds at the last moment. We take every step of this very seriously.”

“As you should. I admit, I assumed you’d show up in my bedroom one night to do the deed after my application was approved. You’re far more businesslike than I imagined. What if I change my mind?”

“These are the only applications where the guild allows retractions after a contract has been approved. In such an event we will keep your information on file and allow for reapplication. Our goal is to make things as easy and peaceful as possible.”

For the first time the woman’s expression soured.

“Peace? You do it out of pity, you mean. You must know we’ll come crawling right back when it gets to be too much. When you have to call an assassin to end your life what else is there but pity?”

“We do not pity those in your situation, Madame.”

“My situation,” she said, giving a hoarse chuckle, and fixing him with a withering look. “I’m dying, young man. You don’t have to sugar coat it for me.”

“Then I will not. You are dying, but I am here to do all that I can to help you, with dignity.”

“Then help me. Don’t you understand? Everything hurts. I can’t sleep anymore, can barely tolerate anything more than damned soup and bread. I can’t even get up. I’m stuck here either choking on those herbs or my own lungs. You must know who I am, the things I’ve done. To end up… here…” Her words shifted into wheezes and she laid her head back against the chair to try and get her breath. It took time, but when she was finally calm enough again she turned her head back to him, though for the moment it was as if the fight had gone out of her.

“There’s no dignity in death. There’s no choice. Just the pain, and the darkness.”

“That is where you are wrong, Madame. Death is welcoming. It is a warm embrace after a weary life. And, despite what you might think, you do have a choice.”

“Choice?” She laughed, voice ugly and guttural. “That’s easy for you to say. You assassins deal life and death with your own hands. You sweep through the rest of us like gods.”

Sesha was silent a few long moments, drawing in a soft breath before letting it out again.

“The truth is, Madame, I often envy you.”

Her eyes widened, and she looked rather incredulous, before her eyes narrowed.

“Don’t you dare play games with me. I won’t have it. How could you envy someone like me, sitting here waiting to die?”

“Because you have a choice.”

“The choice to die?”

“Yes.Tell me, Madame, why do you go out of your way to dress like you do, to put on makeup, even when you know what’s coming? It must cost you effort, and discomfort, and there’s no point, right?”

“There is a point,” she said, gently rapping her fist on the arm of the chair. “I don’t want to be like one of those people you see laying in bed in their nightshirts, all grey and wan. The ones who already look like ghosts. I won’t have myself seen that way. I still have that left to me.”

“Exactly. But, you also have more than you know. You submitted your application, and now the choice to live or die is yours. You don’t have to wait, if you don’t want to. You can choose to end your suffering right this moment, or continue on for as long as you desire. And those in your position are able to choose the method, if you want. Just like you won’t give up how you look, your situation cannot take this choice from you. Your life, your death, belongs to you. You are free to do with it as you will. Very few people have that opportunity.”

She stared at him, her dark eyes wide as she processed what he’d said. She almost seemed to be grasping for words, and as she thought, some sort of understanding seemed to come into her eyes.

“And you don’t?”

“Not like you. An assassin only has one choice, and taking our lives is not it. Anyone can come to us when they’re in pain, and take their life into their own hands. This is your choice, every part of it. We are not given such a luxury. Death takes assassins too, but we cannot choose it. Our deaths do not belong to us.”

“I- I never really thought about it like that. I just know I don’t want to keep diminishing, to fade away into nothingness. I was never the sort of woman who gave up on anything.”

He paused a moment, a somewhat sad look touching his lips. “Most do not. That is why I envy you. It is the choice I will forever be denied. I’m not glad that this choice is in front of you. No one who comes to us ever takes it lightly, and I truly am sorry you’ve suffered so much. But, you can take comfort knowing that you have control over that which is most precious. Something so important that it makes even an assassin envy you. If you do not wish to fade away, then stand and fight. That is what I am here to help you do.”

She was silent then, and turned her head to look out the open doors at the garden beyond. Sesha wondered what she might be thinking, but didn’t press her. Silence was a welcome thing too, and he truly did want her to choose her own path, no matter what his own feelings were. He might envy, but he would never force.

After a time, Leise lifted her head from the cushion on the back of her chair. She shifted and forced her sluggish body to obey, so she could once again sit up. Despite the weakness, the disease, her frailty, it seemed she’d made a choice.

“I refuse to fade away, or take what I have for granted. If this is my last hill, I will make my stand here. Thank you, Master Liatos. Now, if you would be so kind, tell me what my options are.”

Sesha smiled, a feeling of pride rising in him for her. He always held the greatest respect for his clients, and he had no doubt that she was sure of her path now.

“Of course, Madame. I’d be happy to.”

Sesha – The First Snowfall, Alternate

What if things had happened differently? – The first snowfall of the year.

Sesha Liatos, archmage of the warlord’s domain, peered down from one of the grand citadel’s open balconies. His gaze coolly scanned the dingy hovels clustered up against the stone walls, like refugees huddling together for warmth. They certainly needed it today.

Snow was piled high in the narrow alleys that served as streets and weighed heavily on thin roofs. The white blanket spread out as far as the eye could see, likely making travel difficult. Spindly columns of smoke rose out of rickety chimneys, the families inside no doubt trying to fight back the chill.

The year’s first snowfall had come in with a vengeance, as if the aura of Darkhaven itself influenced the surrounding weather, drawing it in like a beacon. With the recent regime change he would not have been all that surprised. The air was bitterly cold, and he pulled his fur-lined cloak closer around himself. He himself had little to worry about, safe and warm when he was in his tower, or curled under the covers of his lover’s bed.

Down below, the peasants were busy trying to clear the snowbanks that had formed between their sad houses. Snow didn’t excuse them from work. Each had a task to help feed the machine, and they would need to work even harder now that the lean times were here.

He watched impassively as a pair of children, a boy and a girl, worked beside what he assumed were their parents, shoveling snow. The boy stopped, wiping his brow, and happened to look up and caught sight of him. He pulled on the girl’s arm until she, too, stopped and looked up. They were rake thin, which wasn’t usual among their kind, and even from here he could see a sort of haunted look in their eyes.

They stared at him. He couldn’t blame them.

He stood out like a splash of brightness against the stone. The weak winter light didn’t diminish his color, or dull the jewels he wore. His wings dripped with rubies, amber, and pearls, points of cold fire running through the feathers. He’d taken to wearing more than ever these days, until he looked more like a bird of paradise than the common ravens his wings resembled. His clothes matched, rich red trimmed in gold, that draped behind him.

It was all heavy, and restrictive, but he minded less and less these days. His love preferred him this way, beautiful to the eye. The other man often hinted of just how much he loved him draped in finery, so he always tried to look his best.

He wanted Domerin to be happy with him.

Just as he was starting to feel impatience with the children’s gaze their parents saw what they were looking at and quickly pulled them away and out of sight. None of them would risk rousing his wrath, no more than they would risk angering their ruler.

He felt a presence behind him. Arms went around his middle, and lips lightly brushed his neck.

“I thought I might find you out here, Sesha.” Domerin’s tone was light, no doubt pleased to have found him. “Watching the rabble dig themselves out of the snow?”

In the past he would have balked and pulled away from the man, but instead he relaxed. The former general alone had such skill to sneak up on him, and he did so often. Without even thinking he pressed himself back against the man’s hard chest, welcoming the added warmth.

“Yes. They’re having quite the time of it.”

“They think the cold gives them a pass to be lazy. I’ve already informed them that I expect the roads to be cleared by noonday.”

No wonder they were working so hard. There would be hell to pay if the warlord himself was unhappy.

Thinking to distract his mind from the people below he turned so he could look up at the other man, slipping his arms up to his shoulders, though he made no move to extract himself from his arms.

“Were you playing with your toys last night?”

“I was. You’re not jealous are you, Sesha?” The man asked, a gentle hint of reproach in his voice. “Green does not suit a jewel such as yourself.”

“I’m not jealous,” he quickly replied. “I just-”

“Missed me?”

Sesha felt his face flush. He might have been embarassed to admit it, but the other man had always been able to read him so well.

“Yes. I did miss you, Domerin.”

A smile touched the other man’s lips, a genuine one, though there was something almost possessive about it. It sent a pleasent, tingling feeling down his spine.

“There are so many more demands on me now that I’m warlord. You understand that.”

Domerin lifted his hand, gently brushing his cheek. “Don’t forget, my darling, that you sit at my right hand, above all others. And, I know how busy you are. Far be it from me to impose on you every night, right?”

The other man was indeed busy. He softened, the words soothing him, and he smiled. It was hardly fair to try and hoard the other man all to himself.

“Yes, you’re right, of course. Just don’t work yourself too hard.”

“I would never. Besides, I can’t stay long away from your beautiful face.”

Sesha felt his cheeks heat to the praise and he couldn’t help but preen a bit, which drew a pleased smile from his companion.

“Speaking of, I have a gift for you, my lovely. Down in the dungeon I’ve got another seditious lieutenant I recently rooted out. It seems the plots against me aren’t fully spent yet. His screams have been lovely. You really should join me tonight.”

Sesha hesitated. He wasn’t all that keen on that part of Domerin’s play, always feeling off base after each time the other man talked him into joining him down there.

Perhaps sensing the reluctance, Domerin ran his hand up and down his back, causing him to shiver when the touch slid between his wings. He leaned in and whispered, breath hot against his ear.”I’ll be done with him tonight. He’ll be yours, then. I’m sure he’ll taste wonderfully. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Sesha couldn’t help but shiver again at the thought of it. The first time they’d let his demon feed on a living person he’d been hesitant. But it had felt so very good, and the power had been indescribable. He’d felt practically drunk on it, and the night they’d spent together after had been earth shaking. Domerin had given him such a gift in the act. As horrible as the screams had been he couldn’t help but feel desire rising inside of him.

“I admit… I feel the hunger.”

“I can see it in your eyes. We don’t want you getting hungry now, do we?”

Sesha shook his head, almost on autopilot.

“And just think,” Domerin whispered, tightening the hold he had on him for a moment, drawing the mage firmly against body, “we’ll have all night together to celebrate.”

“I would like that very much.” The words had left his lips before he’d even realized he’d said them.

“That’s wonderful! Come to me at sundown. I’ll have dinner waiting.”

“I’ll be there.”

“I cannot wait. But you should come inside, darling, you’ll catch your death out here.” Domerin drew back a bit and took up his hands, lightly rubbing them as if he could massage warmth into his chilled fingers.

“I will soon, I promise. I only wish to watch a bit longer.”

The other man looked as if he wanted to say more, but for the moment relented.

“As you wish, but don’t be overlong.”

Domerin ran his fingers along the pale skin of his hand, his touch brushing over the ring set with rubies that Sesha no longer ever took off. It was a symbol, a promise, and as the warlord gently turned the ring on his finger Sesha couldn’t help the pleasant flutter that went through him that had nothing to do with the cold.

He wasn’t sure exactly when his mix of utter frustration and desire for the man had morphed into something different. Perhaps when he’d given him the ring and asked him to sit at his side, solidifying something he’d yearned for. For years he’d never been able to get his feelings straight for Domerin Lorcasf, but now he looked at him with adoration.

True, there were times when he still balked at something asked of him, but the other man was powerful, cunning, and he made him feel such things. He’d be a fool to deny it now, when he had what he’d wanted for so long.

He nodded his promise, and lightly caught the man’s hand before he could go. “I love you.”

The man stepped in, cupping his chin and lightly lifting his face. “I know, my dear one.”

Domerin leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips. There was hunger there, passion, and the way the man led him left him weak at the knees.

He was half clinging to him by the time they drew back and Domerin hovered close, with a smile that made his heart flutter.

“A little something to carry you through the day. To keep you warm. Remember, I’ll be waiting.”

Sesha nodded. He felt the chill again as the other man drew away, but the memory did warm him substantially. No doubt the warlord’s face would hover in the front of his mind for the rest of the day, and he already longed for his arms.

His fingers absently turned the ring on his finger, and he smiled to himself. What would he have done without the other man? He didn’t know, but he couldn’t imagine things any other way.

Star Crossed

Stars blazed in the night sky

They sky above was clear and cloudless, stars blazing in the inky blackness. A figure moved beneath them, taking extra care over water-slicked rocks and uneven ground. It was a strange sight, for one with such great black wings to be crawling over the ground like a worm. It would have been but the work of a moment to fly down from Above, but there were rules, and with sentries patrolling the cliffs throughout the night he wouldn’t have had a chance if he’d taken to wing.

This was the only way down, and the winged man breathed a sigh of relief as he finally reached a sheltered cove at the base of the cliffs. He nearly wilted from the effort and stress, and nestled himself up against a rock to get his breath back. Part of him wasn’t even sure why he’d given in to the impulse to come down here, but as he drew in lungfuls of the salt-scented air, his shoulders slumped, the tension leaking out of him.

He looked up. The stars were an ever constant presence, no less here than up on the cliffs. It was comforting. They even shone on the water. There was no gently sloping shore in the cove, just a pool with a sharp drop off. The water here was calm and almost gentle, but black as pitch. It was a perfect mirror for the sky above, though the stars swayed gently on the water’s surface.

He should not be down here. Goings and comings from the aerie were very carefully controlled. Even more than that, none of the winged elves ever dared venture down from the safety of the cliffs at night. The desire to get away had finally given his feet more power than his mind, and this was the furthest spot from anyone else he could get without flying.

He picked up a rock, rolling it between his fingers for several long moments. The rough surface against his skin made things feel real. He sighed, and tossed it into the water with a little plunk. The stars shook on the surface, and he laid his head back to watch their frantic dance.

The ripples had nearly died down when the water suddenly broke once more. Another stone came flying out of the water, as if in reverse. He stared as it bounced off a rock, just inches from his head. Shaking off his shock he looked down and hesitantly took up the rock.

It was the same one he’d thrown in.

His stomach twisted, and the realization that he should not be here blossomed suddenly into his mind. Even so, he was intrigued, and tentatively leaned toward the water, seeking any shape in that black mirror.

The stars began to sway again, then folded over a head that rose from beneath the surface. The hair was black and long, flowing silkily as the water cascaded from it. A dusky-skinned, and very handsome, face followed it. The figure rose only up to his shoulders, but already the winged man could see the edges of the gill-slits that marked the necks of their watery neighbors.

He could hardly believe what he was seeing. He’d never expected to meet one of them tonight.

“Y-you’re a scal-” He bit his tongue to stop the rest. The pejorative his people used for those who lived Below was widespread, but they were generally polite enough not to use it to their faces.

The figure’s dark eyes narrowed slightly.

“A scalie?”

The man’s voice bit, and Sesha couldn’t help but wince. He’d insulted him already. Before he could say more, the man continued.

“Yes, I am. One of the brutish creatures from Below. And you’re a wingling, all knowing, who looks down on us from high.”

The sarcasm was impossible to miss.

He felt his face burn. For a moment a feeling of indigence rose in his chest. He didn’t look down on anyone, but he quickly realized he’d insulted the other man first. He supposed he couldn’t fault the merman for calling him such a name in return, nor for his displeased response.

He held up his hands in a gesture of peace.

“I’m sorry. I really am. That was very rude of me.”

He spoke honestly, and didn’t try to excuse himself. It must have carried through; the other man looked momentarily surprised, but then the frosty look melted.

“It’s all right. Though, to be honest, I expected your nose to be up in the clouds by now.”

Again his face burned, but there was plenty of truth to the words.

“I don’t really like the air up there. Sorry about the rock, too. I- didn’t hit you, did I?”

To his surprise, the merman laughed. For a moment he feared it would draw the sentries down, but the man kept his voice low, as if he were aware of the potential danger.

“Your aim isn’t that good.” The merman winked, teasing instead of insulting.

He instantly felt more relaxed, wings drooping a bit, and he couldn’t help but laugh softly in return.

“Yours is. You almost hit me square in the face. It was quite a throw.”

“Sorry.” The man smiled, giving a little shrug. “It probably helped that I could see you, even if you couldn’t see me.

“All I saw were the stars on the surface. How long were you down there?”

“Long enough. I saw you climbing over the rocks to get down here.”

The thought was a little disturbing. What lay Below was a frighting enough prospect during the day, let alone at night. Anything could have been down there. He couldn’t help but glance upward at the safety of the cliffs. It might not be too late to go back up.

When he looked back down the merman was watching him with an appraising eye.

“You don’t have to worry, you know. I’m not going to grab you and drag you under with me.”

“I-it’s not that. I just didn’t realize I was being watched. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“What are you doing down here at this time of night, anyway? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of your people at the waterline after dark.” The merman looked more curious than suspicious.

“I just…” He trailed off for a few moments, looking down. His people would have laughed at him, but there was little point in lying to the merman. He’d probably never see him again after this. “I needed to get away for awhile, is all.”

The man arched a brow, question clear on his face.

“You wouldn’t think it, but the aerie can get stuffy at night. No one but the sentries are allowed to leave after dark, so you’re sort of trapped until sun-up. The entire sky is only a few steps away, but out of reach. I just needed a bit of space to breathe. It’s stupid, I know.”

Instead of laughing, the merman regarded him with those dark eyes of his. He moved through the water, barely making a ripple, and crossed his muscled arms on the rock ledge, resting there. He looked up at Sesha, a knowing look in his eyes.

“I know how you feel. We’re under a similar edict Below. There are guard patrols through the night, and for most the punishment for being caught isn’t worth the risk. The whole of the ocean is our domain, but we are restricted to the reef each and every night.”

The winged man’s eyes went wide. He never would have expected to find someone who understood, even more so a merman. He hadn’t known they suffered the same.

“It’s awful isn’t it? There are days I just want to fly out and never come back.”

“I feel like that too, sometimes. The ocean is vast, and there is so much unseen.”

Silence fell for a few moments, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

Sesha realized something and he scooched a bit forward, coming to rest at the water’s edge, nearer the other man.

“You said it wasn’t worth the risk to go out. What are you doing here, then?”

The other man grinned, a mischievous look touching his face.

“I said it wasn’t, for most. I’m not most of my fellows. I don’t follow rules very well, in case you couldn’t tell.”

Sesha was surprised to hear such an admission. He’d never heard a merman speak like this. The majority of his interactions with them had been frostily polite.It was oddly refreshing, though, and he laughed softly.

“I suppose I don’t either. But even if I can’t just fly away it helps to look up at the stars.”

The other man followed his gaze upward.

“We don’t see them like this Below, though you can see the moon some nights. It does have its own beauty.”

“I’m not sure what I’d do if I couldn’t see the sky. I admit, I’ve always thought of underwater as being very claustrophobic.”

The other man smiled gently.

“Well you would, if you’re used to walking through air. Above, everything is so light, as if it weighs nothing. Everything is ephemeral. It is rather disconcerting.”

Sesha had never considered that before. Just walking through knee-deep water felt like a slog to him, and he couldn’t help but notice the definition in the merman’s arms and shoulders.

“We must look like sticks to you.”

“Not everything is solid and hard. The water can crush, but it also lifts. You can float, if you try. There are many things Below you could only imagine. Creatures so thin and insubstantial you’d hardly know they’re there. Others that can swim far deeper than any merman. We even have our own stars.”

“You do? How?” He was intrigued.

“In our homes in the reef, we cultivate a type of plant that glows when it’s dark. We grow them across ceilings, and very often in large caverns that serve as our meeting places. Sometimes, when it’s particularly dark, they glitter just like those stars. Imagine it just like this, only you can swim up and pluck them from their place.”

“It sounds beautiful. I wish I could see it.” For a moment he forgot that all of that would have been underwater, a place he could never go, even if he had ever wanted to go beneath the waves.

“I would happily show you, but you could no more descend to see than I could visit the tops of your cliffs. I have come here many a time, wondering what is up there.”

“Oh! That’s where we keep our instruments for tracking the weather and the stars. The observers keep their base up there, and take down everything they see. No matter how many times I see it, it’s still fascinating.”

The merman was now the one listening, entranced.

“What does it look like?”

Sesha did his best to describe it; the building of stone and brass, how they traded for the metal in the far off markets, the instruments that lay within.

The other man looked wistful, and in turn spoke more of his home down Below.

Sesha lost track of time after that, burying himself in the stories they shared, but at some point he looked up and noticed the moon had drastically lowered. He’d only planned to be out here for an hour or so, but dawn would be coming soon.

“I hate to leave, but I have to head back up. I need the dark to hide from the sentries if they fly over.”

“I will also need the time as well. Getting back is not as simple as just swimming down.”

Strangely enough, neither of them moved to go. Sesha had enjoyed himself. He felt at ease with the merman in a way he didn’t think he ever had, even with his friends. It wasn’t just the stories of Below; the man’s personality was easy, and welcoming. He got the feeling the merman felt similar about him.

“We should do this again,” the merman said, meeting his gaze.

Sesha didn’t even hesitate. He didn’t care about the potential danger, not after a night like this.

He smiled.

“I’d love to. What do you say to next week, same night?”

The man looked pleased, and nodded.

“I’ll see you then. I can’t wait. You must tell me more about Above.”

He turned in the water, as if to go, but stopped and turned back, when Sesha called out to him.

“Wait! What’s your name?” They’d been talking all this time, and hadn’t even asked each other.

“Domerin.” The man smiled at him. “Yours?”

“Sesha. It’s good to meet you.”

He leaned forward, reaching his arm out over the water without fear now, holding out his hand to the other man.

After a moment Domerin enveloped it in his own. It was warm, and soft. Not like a fish at all.

They lingered there a few moments more, letting their hands rest, and smiling at each other.

Domerin gave his hand a squeeze, and then pulled gently away.

“It was good to meet you too. See you next week, Sesha.”

“Be well, Domerin.”

The merman turned. A blue tail sent splashes of stars up into the night air as he disappeared under the surface.

Sesha waited until the water had become a mirror again, smiling a bit dreamily at the star-studded surface. He couldn’t help but wonder if Domerin was down there still, watching him.

The thought no longer filled him with dread. Instead he smiled, and waved, just in case, before making his way back up the cliffs to home.

 

Sesha – The First Snowfall

It was the first snowfall of the year

Sesha Liatos, former archmage of the fearsome warlord’s domain, peered over the crest of the small hill he was crouched behind. His eyes scanned the field before him for signs of the enemy. His eyes narrowed, and though it was somewhat tempting to use magic it wouldn’t be playing fair. This was supposed to be honorable combat and, besides that, he’d promised. He took a more solid grip on his weapon, ready to act at a moment’s notice. His enemy was crafty, however. There was the crunch of a footstep, and a shadow loomed over him from behind. He barely had time to turn before the blow came in the form of a snowball to the back of the neck.

He sputtered as snow began to drip down his neck, and blindly lobbed his own snowball back in the direction the attack had come from. He heard the decisive ‘poff’ of a hit and then the sound of laughter. Wiping the snow away as he turned, he saw the candle maker’s children, Aldis, who he’d struck in the side, and Torin, who was happily taunting his sister about her misfortune.

“It doesn’t count anyway! Sesha was out cause I hit him first!” She announced, loud enough for all to hear. For the moment they’d forgotten him as they descending into sibling bickering. Using the opportunity, he took up a premade snowball in each hand. Rising up slowly, like a dread thing from the ground, he loomed over the both of them. He lifted his hands, wielding the snow as he might have a spell, and made the most sinister face he could. “Beware! Now I have you both!”

The children looked up at him. In the past he’d rarely seen children, outside of messengers scampering here and there through the halls of the citadel. They’d always looked at him with awe, or fear. Always, until one child in the neighboring kingdom’s capitol had found him interesting instead of scary. He’d met many children since then, and his attitude toward them had slowly evolved from annoyance, to curiosity, to fondness. He’d been awkward around them at first, but found the more he relaxed, the more they responded to him.

The caught siblings screamed at his challenge, but there was laughter too, and as he threw his snowballs they careened away from him with squeals of delight. “You’ll never catch us!” The other children on their team were waiting for them and he quickly ducked back behind his little hill as as fresh wave of snowballs covered their retreat. He took a moment to catch his breath.

It was the first snowfall of the year. The storm had rolled in the night before, sweeping in the bitter cold along with it. The locals said it was early this year but they’d been lucky they’d had enough time to fortify to make it through the winter months. Sesha hadn’t known, as he’d been well shielded from the day to day lives of the common folk before now, but usually the winter months were very lean times and losses weren’t unusual. He was determined to see everyone make it through this year.

The night before, the locals had stayed indoors, huddling around fires and under blankets to keep warm. Unlike in the past, when everything went to those in the citadel itself, they’d made sure the citizens had more than enough to keep them safe and warm. Seibel had overseen the distribution of food, blankets, and firewood to any who needed them. Any one who didn’t have a home to go to was put up in a room in the citadel, no matter their standing.

The wind had howled, the cold deepening through the night. He’d cuddled close with Domerin, their tower shielded from the buffeting winds. Despite the storm, the next morning had dawned with an open blue sky and a weak sun shining above. Everything was covered with a thick layer of white. It was beautiful.

Unlike in the past, with the shadow of the warlord over them, the locals had struck out to spend some time in the snow. The local children, particularly, were taking advantage of it. Their parents had come up with improvised sleds for a nearby hill. There were snowmen, of varying degrees of skill, and of course, snowball fights. It might not have been a lot but it was such a change from the silent dreariness that had laid over the people before this.

Sesha had never much bothered to spend much time outside in winter. He wasn’t the greatest fan of the cold and he’d had no real reason in the past. Today, though, he’d dressed up in his warmest gear, and headed out to see how things were going. It had take a bit of time to find something to wear, since most of his coats were still the gaudy things he was avoiding wearing these days. The replacement of his wardrobe was going slowly but surely.

He’d gone out to check and make sure everyone had made it through the night all right, and to see if there was anything anyone needed. He hadn’t gotten far before the children had gathered around him and pulled him away toward the snow hills, begging him to play with them. It had taken him a bit to learn all their rules, and the children had then bickered over who got him on their team. Eventually he’d promised to take turns playing for both teams. When the game had finally started he played with an almost childlike glee.

He’d never been allowed to do this sort of thing when he’d been young. Memories of playing were distant and faded, and each passing year had brought more restrictions, more responsibility. As one child showed him how to make a proper snowball he could just imagine the stern voice of one of the senior mages telling him to come inside and stop being foolish. There was something freeing about playing like this, even if it was just a short interlude before he returned to his work.

He did care anymore about old voices in his mind. They were nothing but memory, long past. Things were different now, he was different now, and he could enjoy himself, even if he wasn’t a child anymore. He took his turns with both teams, warmed by the enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy of the young.

During a lull in the battle one of the children called out and pointed, and a chorus of happy shouts followed from her fellows. He saw Domerin approaching, and he waved, smiling at the man. He was dressed warmly too, in the gifts given to him by the locals. He was thankful they’d shared what they had with him, when he’d had almost nothing.

There seemed to be a truce at the moment, so he stood and made his way over to the other man. He slipped an arm around him, leaning up to press a kiss to his cheek.

A smile touched the man’s lips. “You’ll give me frostbite if you’re not careful.” Domerin’s tone was teasing though, and he couldn’t help but laugh softly. After a moment the other man reached down to lightly brush one of his cheeks. “Be careful about staying out too long.”

“I will,” he promised, returning the smile. He had to admit the thought of curling up in his tower with a cup of tea was a nice one.

Before he could say more they suddenly found themselves surrounded. The children had given up the current game at the sight of Domerin and ran up to them, crowding around. Much as they had with him earlier they called for him to join in their game. Some implored him to play with wide, pleading eyes, some asked sweetly, while others challenged him to the great snowball fight.

There seemed to be nothing for it, and Domerin gave a hearty laugh. “As long as you’re willing to take turns having me on your teams.” A great cheer went up and they promised to share him. Before they headed back Aldis smiled up at him, asking if he wouldn’t say and play with them a little longer.

Sesha watched, the children already bickering over who got Domerin first, the other man being as diplomatic about it as he had been. “I think I can play another few games.” She broke out into a grin and ran back to announce it, and after a moment Sesha followed. He couldn’t help but smile, feeling warm all over despite the cold.

Sesha – Trappings

Getting dressed

Many hands moved through the archmage’s long, raven hair, each touch expert and gentle. There were days he relaxed and let himself silently enjoy it, but today he hadn’t the time. There would be unpleasantness later, and he had to make a powerful impression. Sesha opened his eyes as his servants finished the final touches of preparation, eyes following them as they moved. They’d been working on his hair for nearly an hour. Simply brushing the floor-length tresses took a long time. Most days he didn’t rush them. He took the time to review spells in his mind, read, or even occasionally speak with his personal general. Seibel Abolan was the only person, save for his servants, he would ever allow to see him in this state of creation. To everyone else he had to appear beautiful, whenever he left his tower.

The servants had worked expensive oils into his hair to keep it healthy, filling the room with the heady scent of jasmine. It would fade by the time he was finished dressing, but linger the rest of the day, flowing it in his wake when he walked the halls. It was a sweet, gentle scent. Much like the flower, he looked delicate and pale, ready to be plucked by greedy fingers. But jasmine could kill if you took too much of it. He thought it fitting. His outward softness belied the power underneath, and every detail of his dress was meant to accentuate that.

When the preparation was done the servants curled, twisted, and pinned his hair into graceful loops and designs. As usual some was left to fall free down his back, between his black wings. Rubies and pearls had been meticulously woven in, glittering like stars among the dark gloss. His hair was crowned with an intricately carved gold and amber flourish. Each new style was carefully crafted, sculpted as keenly as any of the decorations he wore. Sesha was very particular, and it wasn’t unusual he asked the servants to redo it. Everything had to be perfect. Even a quick jaunt out of the tower required him to dress for it.

The archmage was the jewel of the warlords domain. The generals all craved military might, power through sword and lance, but his power was innate. He could call down fire from the skies and burn them all to cinders. Whoever commanded his hand was sure to be victorious. They all craved control over him, and thus gave him what he desired. He was something cossetted, indulged, and spoiled. The price was that he always had to look the part. He had to make the proper impression when he was brought out to be shown off.

He stood and went to the dressing chamber, moving with grace. He’d long since learned to balance hair and wings, and the many layers of clothing he was ready to don. The outfit today was one of his favorites. Shades of crimson, amber, and yellow, mixed and almost seemed to swirl across the delicate fabric of the outer robe. He caressed the fabric, taking pleasure from the feeling as it slid between his fingers. He’d always loved how silk felt, sumptuous and soft, like a whisper. It was also something only the most powerful of people could afford. People like him. In a way, he was much like it. Only the most powerful of men could command him, or call him their own. His mind drifted to one, but he quickly jerked it away. Down that path danger lay.He was not fully immune to the citadel’s games.

Again the servants began to move, circling him like a pack of wolves. Instead of stripping away, they began to add. Even his underthings were finely made, but they were quickly covered by a delicate base layer, the silk sliding pleasantly over his skin. He really had only to react, as other hands drew on sleeves, and did up buttons. It was easier, in a way, as all his clothing was specially cut and tailored to fit his wings, and could be somewhat difficult to put on alone. He used to do all this for himself, but back then his styles hadn’t been nearly as elaborate. When he’d become archmage things had changed, and he couldn’t manage dressing on his own anymore.

Deep down, part of him hated it. Outwardly, he let his servants see only self satisfied smiles, cruel little laughs, cutting remarks. He deserved this, he told himself. He was owed every hard won luxury, after his laborious years of training, after every dangerous test. This was all exactly what he wanted. If he ever began to doubt, there was always some new bit of lore, or something shiny to occupy his thoughts with. His extensive wardrobe was partly proof of that.

Layer upon layer of cloth slid onto his slim frame, adding complexity, adding beauty. There was something about watching the archmage take shape through cut and color. There was a fine line between too little and too much. What no one else knew was that each layer was armor. Sesha knew his own power, but being so covered put him at ease, gave him confidence. He beguiled with the drape and flow of fabric, and distracted the eye with beautiful colors. Most didn’t look deeper as they sought to win him. Silk, cashmere, and zephyr cloth might not stop a sword, but it didn’t have to, to be what he needed.

The servants added the final robe, setting it gently over his wings and securing it around his waist, making him into a column of swirling flame. The effect was breathtaking. But they weren’t yet done. Others arrived with wing drapes, almost impossibly delicate gold chains dotted with rubies and pearls. It was impossible to easily fly with them on, a feeling he still hated, but the look wouldn’t have been complete without them. He kept still as they were affixed, by the end his wings subtly glinting from the jewels. So many hands brushing over his feathers was less pleasant. They were a deeply intimate part of him. It was tiring, being constantly pulled, plucked, and touched.

Servants returned with jewelry, and began to place the final touches. Ruby encrusted necklaces and rings, that would have fed a family for a year, were clasped around his neck and slid onto his fingers. He looked in the mirror, unable to deny his own beauty. He couldn’t quite help but preen a little bit, pleased with a job well done. He cared nothing for those outside his sphere. He had what he wanted: great power, his tower, his position. It was worth the hours spent dressing himself for the halls below, and the hungry eyes and hands that wished to posses him. Let them try to grasp a living fire. He was ready for the next round.

Crescent & Sesha – Something in Common

Dialogue – “We have something in common”

“The nerve of that man,” Sesha muttered as he turned his attention back to Crescent, the momentary anxiety of being trapped in the room with him subsiding. He’d promised Domerin to stay, but didn’t know if it would change anything. He and Crescent simply didn’t see eye to eye, and he wasn’t sure they ever would. “Let me see your injuries.” He settled back on the stool, reaching out his hand, but then hesitated. “Please.”

Crescent dutifully held out his left hand. He knew what was broken. The pain had eased to a dull ache by now, nothing he couldn’t handle, though he winced slightly as the doctor’s delicate fingers moved over his furred ones. They’d never touched like this, willingly anyway, and he could see the concern flash across Sesha’s face as he felt for the broken bones. The man might not like him, but he was a doctor all the way down to his bones. “It’s really not that bad. I’ve had worse.” He wasn’t sure if that helped, noticing the storm clouds forming on Sesha’s dark brow. He didn’t know how Domerin dealt with his moods. The man had always seemed shrill to him.

“He just let you stand there while he chatted away?” Sesha asked, voice sharp.

Crescent just shrugged, or tried to, wincing again at the motion, which indicated further damage. Domerin had taken a chunk out of him, but he had deserved it for questioning. “A few minutes more doesn’t make a difference.”

Sesha didn’t seem mollified, and his voice cut over him. “I’m going to need to cast the finger.” Usually he would have just splint it, but he didn’t trust Crescent to let it heal without a proper cast. There was a problem though, Crescent’s current anatomy didn’t lend all the well to his skill, he’d never had to do something like this on a person like him.

“Can you… change back?” He didn’t know what that would do to the man, and he didn’t want to cause him more undo pain. Even so, Crescent hardly hesitated.

The feline body shifted, fur receding, though when the change hit the broken finger Crescent gave a cry of pain as the bone transformed, along with everything else, pushing against flesh in a way it was never meant to. “Mother fucker!” His vision darkened in the moments after, spots flashing before his eyes as he tried to get his breath back. Sesha was there, close by, seeming concerned, though he did not touch, only gave him time to recover himself.

In those moments, Crescent seemed very vulnerable to Sesha, though it was hard to believe. Surely the man couldn’t be hard all the time. He wasn’t a monster.  Those thoughts were soon overshadowed by the sight of Crescent’s bare skin.

“What the hell is all this!?” With growing consternation, he took in the huge bruises forming across Crescent’s left shoulder and side, along with many more such marks darkening his flesh. The man hadn’t bled one drop, but his injuries were far worse than Domerin’s.

“We worked it out.” Was all the Crescent said,  his voice a bit sharp, refusing to speak further of it. Sesha would never understand. He and Domerin were bound together. Deeper than words. Deeper than blood, bone, and sinew. Their very beings called to each other. The winged man had no right to criticize something he didn’t understand.

Sesha was so incensed by that point he thought it unwise to push him and got on with his work. Luckily, he had everything he needed on hand, and he worked with a quiet efficiency. He simply didn’t understand Crescent. The man was everything he was not. It was as if a great gulf divided them.

When everything was ready, Sesha began to roll the material over Crescent’s hand, being very careful not to cause more pain. He’d been silent since his last outburst, feeling uncomfortable. Something needed to be done. For once, though, he didn’t know what to say.

Crescent spoke first, as if reading his mind. “Don’t worry, he showed me the truth I needed to see.” The words didn’t overly satisfy Sesha.

“Do you really believe that, or is it just words hammered into your brain like these bruises he put in your flesh? I can tell the break wasn’t some sort of accident. He did this, didn’t he? He did it on purpose. No one deserves this!” That made him angrier than anything. Perhaps, for the first time, he felt sympathy for Crescent but the man didn’t react in the way he’d expected. Instead, Crescent bared his teeth.

“What we do between us is none of your fucking business, just as what you and he do is none of mine.” He believed, that was all that mattered. Domerin would not lie to him. “I will not make the same mistake again.” He fixed the doctor with a long look, something searching in it. “You don’t understand what’s between us. I chose this life. I chose him. Make no mistake, what he does, I allow. That should be all that concerns you.”

Crescent’s words stunned him into silence. Despite the sharp tone there was candor there, and real honesty. Deep down, he knew the other man was right. He might not agree, but it wasn’t his place to judge. The two men clearly had an understanding between them, something that fit them. Even if they didn’t get on much, perhaps they could do with a bit more respect for each other. He was silent for a time, finishing up his work.

“I’m not after Domerin.” He ventured, finally. Despite living with him, and sleeping with him, sometimes it felt like he hardly knew the man. “Even if he wanted me like that he’s not the sort of person I could be with. Not forever.” He’d never planned on asking more from Domerin than he’d been willing to give. Things were good now but he wondered how long he would last in this organization.

“I know.” Crescent said, his voice surprisingly soft. He was sure Sesha would leave one day, but he no longer feared his presence.

“I think I liked you better when you were mean,” Sesha muttered. He was surprised to find a little smile touching Crescent’s lips.

“Give me time.”

There was silence again, for a time. Even so, it felt a bit more relaxed now. Finally Sesha spoke, his voice softer. “I know we don’t really get on much, and that we’re very different people, but we do have something in common. We both care for Domerin and, like it or not, we have to share. So… what are we going to do?”

Crescent shrugged and again he winced, though this time less than the last. He was preparing himself to face the world with those injuries and refused to let it bow him further. He couldn’t deny that he and Sesha did share that one thing. Domerin saw value in Sesha, who was he to question that? Perhaps Domerin saw things he did not. The least he could do was try to see eye to eye with the other man.

“I will not give you trouble again.” He said, finally, sounding a bit more like himself. His deep seated fear had been addressed; he didn’t feel threatened anymore. “If Domerin approves of you, then so do I.” The words were simple, but for a man like Crescent it was quite an admission.

Sesha was surprised, never having thought to hear such a thing from Crescent. He figured that was as much of a peace as they were going to come to, but it was far more than what they’d had before, which had been a whole lot of nothing. They might never be friends but they could respect each other, and stop the hostilities. Crescent had more than proven he could be reasonable, and he was right, it wasn’t his place to judge what he and Domerin did together. A little more harmony would be welcome, for everyone.

“Likewise. I know the two of you share a very deep bond. I’ll try harder not to interfere, and I’ll respect what you and Domerin have between you.” It might be easier if they didn’t interact as much but at least there seemed to be a truce now, if nothing else. He’d finished his work, and he offered Crescent a little smile. “Well, I suppose we should go tell him.”

The other man shook his head, but there was a smile touching his lips, a good-natured one that reached his eyes. “No need. He’ll know. Domerin’s good like that.”

“Yes. Yes he is.”