A place for the stories that take place within Rhy'Din
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Post by Koyan » Tue Jan 21, 2020 4:01 pm

January 19, 2020

The scent of scorched flesh permeated a bedroom otherwise fit for a king. Arabesque arches, Turkish lamps, and luxe furnishings surrounded an immense bed that provided a place for its owner to sprawl. Koyan was face down, arms splayed wide, naked back exposed to the elements. Exposed to the pain of an unseen hand burning imagery into his swarthy flesh.

He'd been there for hours, too many to count, while the torture went on unabated. Midnight had come and gone a long time ago; when he surfaced from the newest bout, he wasn't sure at first whether it was morning or afternoon. When he was able to move from the sweat-soaked sheets, the dusky colors falling in the balcony windows told him it was approaching evening.

Almost a full day of this shit.

The tall fireplace with its carved mantle stood empty and cold as he passed it on his way through a stylized arch into an airy kitchenette. Every movement enhanced the lashing pain across his back, reminding him of the consequences of his actions. As if to exacerbate the ripping-tearing-shredding sensation, because fuck the architects of his misery, he exaggerated a reach into the fridge, stretching his tender skin, to snatch a chilled bottle of water from the shelf.

He guzzled the contents as if the cool liquid might rehydrate his system. He felt like a husk, organs withered, muscles shriveled from Holyfire heat.

After tossing the empty vessel in the trash, he walked back into the bedroom, pausing to crouch and cuddle little Marley. The duckling nuzzled its beak against his whiskered jaw, commiserating perhaps, or just giving all the love she had to give. Her yellow fuzz was beginning to turn white around the tail and belly, proving she was growing fast.

The sight of the rubber duck bobbing in the kiddie pool set up near a balcony door might have made him smile any other time. The toy, a gift from Mesteno, squeaked once when Marley slid back into the water and pecked.

He remained crouching until the pain in his back forced him upright. The jeans felt loose on his hips, denim sagging away from his flesh near the hip.

Just as he hitched one side up with a pinch of his thumb and index finger, a presence made itself known in the room. A presence of light rather than darkness.

It wasn't Eli standing on the other side of the suite, waiting for his attention to swing that way.

“This episode is coming to a close,” Araton said, getting right to the point. The angel, with his neck-length brown hair and pale blue eyes, didn't look so much like an angel at the moment. He wore a simple but elegant suit, one hand lodged in a front pocket.

“What episode is that?” Koyan asked, strolling to a desk near the sitting area. He poured himself a glass of whiskey rather than light up a cigarette in deference to the duckling.

“The abomination, of course. Have you not looked at your back?”

“I haven't had time. You made your point last night—and today.” Koyan drank half the glass, watching Araton past the rim.

“I haven't even begun to make my point,” Araton said. “I've given you time to take care of this on your own. Now, you'll do it my way.”

“Yes, I know. The big battle between me and Eli.” He couldn't have sounded droller.

“Not just any battle, Koyan. I know you think you'll find a way out, as referenced by your conversation last evening at the Inn. We've amended things to assure the desired outcome.”

Koyan upended the rest of the drink, cautioning himself against throwing the glass at Araton's head. “What are you talking about?”

“You and Eli will fight to the death. When your tattoos are complete, you will see where your dagger needs to strike. We have imbued a protection in that exact spot which should spare you when he dies. You'll learn your lessons one way or another, Koyan—which usually means the hard way. Your friend calls you a mule for a reason.”

So Araton and his ilk were spying on him even in public settings. Koyan carefully set the glass down. “And if I refuse?”

“We knew you would. The targets that will be apparent on both of your tattoos are also imbued with a curse that will force you and Eli into violent conflict when the time comes. You'll have no choice. Be aware that we're watching and listening. Any plans to thwart the inevitable outcome will be met with resistance. Fierce resistance. You or Eli will be the recipients of backlash and worse if we catch you at it. Understood?”

Koyan stared hard at the angel while he considered the information. The situation had been deteriorating for years, culminating in a final confrontation. While he'd done a fair amount of practicing with his craft, Eli had become far more efficient and deadly with his.

“I won't win this fight, you know. So what's the point?”

“We've invested too much in you now. I suggest you use the information the tattoos will give you and find a way to best him,” Araton replied.

“And if I still don't win?”

“Your soul is contaminated with Hellfire. We won't let you in. We'll take you completely apart and remake you into the vessel you agreed to be during our last accord.”

The agreement he'd brokered with Araton for more power on the trip to retrieve Yeardley had come back to haunt him far sooner than he'd imagined.

Well. Wasn't this a shitty situation.

“See it done for good this time, Koyan, or see yourself undone,” Araton said.

A moment later, before he could counter with a new agreement, the angel became incorporeal and vanished.

Koyan thrust a hand through his hair, a litany of curses ringing through his mind. He headed for the shower to rinse away the sins of the flesh.

Afterward, it was time to have a few conversations he wasn't ready to have.

* * *
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Mon Jan 27, 2020 1:07 pm

January 26, 2020


Straddled backward on a chair, naked spine exposed to the elements, Koyan stared out the open balcony doors in his bedroom suite at the lovely grounds of Alvaka. The latest burn session was finally over, leaving behind a swath of newly scorched flesh. It would be hours yet before the wounds healed, allowing him relatively easier movement. If he was lucky, he wouldn't have to endure another bout until the wee hours tomorrow evening.

It was sense more than sound that alerted Koyan to company. He could usually feel Eli when he was close, the Holyfire reacting to the Hellfire in predictable ways.

“The door's locked for a reason,” Koyan said with a snarl.

“I have come to tell you--”

“Get out.” Koyan didn't want to hear a thing. Didn't want updates, information, news about his businesses or the stables. He had management for that. “And don't come in again until I summon you.”

“I tried to kill Aiden.”

“Did you succeed?” he asked without a lick of emotion.

“I don't know.”

“It's not like you to leave things unfinished.” Koyan picked up a bottle of water from a nearby chair and tipped back a drink. He didn't allow himself to think too much at his utter lack of concern.

“This was a special circumstance.”

As much as it pained him to do so, he twisted around to look at Eli. Several vicious claw marks cut raw wounds down Eli's face, the skin flayed open. At least the bleeding had stopped. Nothing the Hellfire wouldn't heal in due time. Koyan turned back to the view of his property, the water bottle coming up for another drink. He said nothing.

“I warned him, Koyan.”

“Don't make excuses. You did what you did. More than likely, you'll suffer the consequences. Now get out.”

“He gave me this. I'll leave it here.”

Koyan didn't glance to see what 'this' was. He didn't much care. After a quiet rustle, silence reigned once more. Eli was gone.

Left in preferable peace, Koyan let his gaze go distant on far off treetops. Staring without seeing, thinking without feeling.

The numb shell he was (re)constructing around his heart was almost complete.

* * *
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Tue Jan 28, 2020 2:33 pm

January 28, 2020


He'd lost track of the days. As overcast as the sky was, it sometimes felt like one long, continuous eon, like he'd entered the realm of forever and found it to be a monotonous landscape of gray. Sometimes he was upright in the chair, other times sprawled on the bed, enduring the burning.

It was just after he'd spent twenty minutes in the shower rinsing away the most recent layer of sweat, that he arrived in front of the bathroom mirror, pulling jeans up his now dry body. He stared at his reflection: fathomless black eyes, drawn features, heavily whiskered jaw. His hair, past shoulder length now that he'd let it grow out, was a wreck around his head.

After doing up the button on the jeans, he leaned his hands on the marble counter and regarded his image with more clear-headed scrutiny than he had in days. That specific deadness in his gaze was something he hadn't seen in himself in a long, long time. But he recognized it sure enough. Knew what caused it, where the core wounds came from.

He lifted his chin and said, “Talk to me, Sebastian.”

Even saying the man's name sent a flicker of life through the numbness. Sebastian, and likewise Gwyn, were too long dead to offer him any physical advice or comfort. They could not help him put the shitstorm that was his life into better perspective. It was their memory that came to his aid, the memory of endless loyalty, of deep trust, of, I've got your back no matter what, that began to soothe the tsunami within. Their actions had spoken louder than words ever could.

He knew what he had to do.

In another action from a different age, Koyan found a black button-down shirt in the closet and brought it with him back to the mirror. He slid his arms into the sleeves and began snicking the buttons through their respective holes. Once upon a time, he'd watched Sebastian do the same thing with clothes much nicer than what he had on, had jokingly referred to the dressing as putting the armor on. Sebastian had been a man of suits and ties and regal appearance; although Koyan fell far short of that mark today, he found peace and strength in the familiar ritual. It wasn't a suit of armor he'd donned, but the memories and familiarity stitched up the shredded pieces of his soul.

By the time he'd finished pulling on boots and grabbing his keys, he no longer looked like a dead man walking.

He looked intent on a mission that would, he hoped, further strengthen his resolve.

* * *

An hour later, his Escalade parked somewhere behind him, he stood in front of a handful of headstones. Two belonged to Gwyn and Sebastian. He dropped into a crouch at the foot of Gwyn's grave and touched his fingertips to the soil. She'd been the only woman he'd ever really loved, the only woman who knew how to deal with his mercurial moods and unpredictable temper. The only woman he'd ever planned to spend the rest of his life with. “I was a better man when you were here, Gwyn. I miss you like crazy.”

Next he crouched at the foot of Sebastian's grave, a heavy exhale pushing from his lungs. “Just when I think I have my shit under control, it appears I don't. But I'm working on it. I'll probably have to work on it for the rest of my life. I wanted you to know that I still lean on your memory, even in death. I still remember the long talks by the fire, a bottle of expensive cognac between us, ruminating over everything that had been and everything yet to come. I miss those conversations, my friend. I miss your rock-solid steadfastness, your fortitude, your forthright honesty. With any luck, I'll eventually become even half the man you are. It would be a giant step up from where I am. I'll visit again soon.”

He touched the soil as he had with Gwyn, then pushed to his feet.

After a long look at the whole row of loved ones he'd lost, he turned back to the Escalade.

Time to attend the living instead of the dead.

* * *
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Wed Jan 29, 2020 3:46 pm

January 29, 2020


The scenery on the long road back to Alvaka looked the same as it always did; broad meadows, patches of thick forest, towering trees crowding close to the asphalt. Here or there he passed streams gurgling over river rock. In the dead of winter, the dreary brown landscape was unappealing unless it was covered in snow, and today, it wasn't. Just large swathes of brown interrupted by conifers that remained green year-round. Pine, cedar, spruce, fir.

After nearly twenty years of driving the same stretch between the city proper and the hundreds of acres that made up his property, Koyan knew every pasture, every creek, every oddly shaped tree. He knew precisely which stand of evergreens were the last patch before he reached the serene meadow that belonged to him. From there, his holdings spanned both sides of the road, three hundred acres on each side.

Coming upon the newly rebuilt markets on the right-hand side was so commonplace that at first, he didn't realize anything was wrong. It wasn't until he should have started seeing smaller homesteads built into the landscape beyond the markets that he suddenly hit the brakes on the Escalade. Rubber squealed on asphalt as he stared out the passenger side window.

What in the fuck.

There was nothing there. No little quaint homesteads, no slither of smoke from the chimneys, no glimpse of desert folk moving about the landscape.

He put the Escalade in reverse, speeding backward until he should have come upon the roadside markets. The new buildings were beautifully constructed, heavy, well built. Solid enough to withstand years of harsh weather abuse.

Nothing. No sign of anything ever existing in their place.

For a moment, Koyan experienced a dizzying sense of extreme confusion. The markets should be here. Right here. There should be lovely desert women fluttering about, adding merchandize to outside racks and ringing up customers inside.

For all intents and purposes, the land looked as if no one had ever broken ground or built anything, anywhere.

“Fuck. What the hell?” Koyan yanked the gear into drive and stomped the gas. His heart thudded in his chest. Still existing in a weird, altered reality state, he drove on until he should have been able to glimpse his immense manor through the trees on the left. The gated entrance wasn't too far from the markets.

Except there was no gate. No manicured lands beyond fences that were no longer there. Once more, he stomped the brakes. Even opened the door and stood in the middle of the road, looking left and right.

His entire house was just...gone. The land appeared as undisturbed as that of the marketplace, as if he'd never built anything at all. There wasn't even the drive from the road to the house.

No stables, no barracks, no covered carport to the side with quick access to the back kitchen door.

Just nothing. There was nothing.

No people, no animals, no noise other than a slithering breeze through the trees.

He cupped his hands on his head, as if that might stop the severe disorientation. A moment after that, he jumped into the Escalade and swerved off the road in between two tall trees. He drove wildly, the truck bouncing over uneven patches of ground. Two hundred or so feet ahead, he brought the Escalade to a halt and got out again. His house should be right here. He was standing inside, probably where the kitchen should have been.

“Eli! Rais!” His voice echoed across the landscape. He received no reply.

Where were his knights? His boys? The wolves?

He turned a full circle. Only the distant trill of birds and hissing wind through pine needles greeted his search. He heard no voices, not even one.

“It's a nightmare. Has to be a fucking nightmare,” he said, gripping the keys in his hand hard enough to hurt. Everything seemed too real to be a nightmare, however, and he decided that his ability to reason it out meant he was, unfortunately, wide awake.

He fumbled for his phone in the pocket of his jeans. His hands shook as he typed out a text to Eli. It took him too many minutes to stab the screen and make coherent words.

What the fuck is going on? Where is the house?

He thought he sounded like a madman.

Long minutes went by. No reply.

He clenched his teeth and turned another full circle. As if altering his perspective might bring everything back.

More nothingness. No house, no stables, no people.

All that zen and serenity he'd worked so hard to achieve shattered into a million pieces.

He sent out another text, this one to Mesteno. It seemed to take forever to type and send. His fingers refused to stop shaking. He didn't bother to correct all the mistakes. Wht the fuck? Wher rae you? Are yu alive? Where is the fuckng house?

He didn't care that he sounded panicked. He was panicked. More than three hundred people that he cared for were missing. Maybe dead. Were they all dead?

“Startling, isn't it?” a voice said somewhere behind him.

Koyan whirled around. Araton stood there, hands behind his back, watching impassively.

“What did you do? You fuck, what have you done?” Koyan could not contain his outrage and disbelief.

“Giving you a preview,” Araton said.

“What? A preview?” Koyan didn't understand.

“Of what you will face should you not follow orders. We have been watching, Koyan, as I told you we would. Your little gatherings with your friends has not gone unnoticed. Should you thwart my plans, this is what you have to look forward to.” Araton glanced nonchalantly around at the landscape. At the nothingness.

Koyan thought his heart might explode. Fury, anxiety, stress. . .he wasn't sure he would live through the next five minutes. It was difficult to breathe.

“Where are my people?” he bellowed. In that moment, all he cared about were the many, many lives he was responsible for.

“Drive up to your mountain lodge, Koyan, then drive back. And remember what I said.” Araton glanced pointedly at Koyan's wrist and the bracelet that sat there. Between one blink and the next, he was just simply gone.

The mountain lodge. Had Araton taken that out, too? What did he mean by drive up and drive back? Koyan ran for the Escalade. Sped off the property much faster than he should have. He remained on the road going away from Alvaka toward the mountains, driving with both hands clenched on the wheel. His mind spun with Araton's words, implications and threats.

Halfway between Alvaka and his mountain lodge sat another property he owned. A large ranch with enough acreage to run a smaller, more secretive stable. The ranch sat to the right, with a nice house that could be glimpsed through the trees. This property also had a gate—which came into view as he drew within range.

He hit the brakes as he realized everything at this property appeared to be fine. There was the fencing, the gate, the house sitting back in its clearing. He even glimpsed the white stables and a few moving bodies.

The ranch was all right. The people were alive.

He sat there for no less than ten minutes, catching his breath and willing his heart to calm down. If the ranch was fine, the lodge should be fine. Araton had sent him on this little detour so everything would be right at Alvaka when he returned.

That had to be it.

Koyan whipped the Escalade around and sped back toward Alvaka. He used the driving time to further bring himself back to reality. It didn't mean his hands had stopped shaking or that dread hadn't settled deep in the pit of his stomach.

Thirty yards from Alvaka's entrance, Koyan spotted the gate. And the manor beyond the manicured grounds.

Thank fuck. He passed through the gate after the guards opened it, spending a second to take in the guard's faces and nods of welcome. He nodded back and drove on, taking in the full scope of the manor when he reached it.

Everything looked as it should. Beautiful, tranquil, imposing.

He parked beneath the covered spot and headed in through the kitchen. The door felt real, the smells in the kitchen were fresh. Surely he couldn't be imagining all that. Through two more archways and one hall, Koyan went on the search for his boys. Two should be on guard on the lower floor.

There. Rais. The youngest of the assassins. Koyan closed in with long strides, gaze sharp on the young man's features. Rais heard him coming and smiled.

“How do you feel? Has anything unusual happened in the last few hours?” Koyan asked as he drew abreast. He laid one hand on Rais' shoulder and squeezed. Rais sure as hell felt real. And his confused look at Koyan's questions meant he'd heard and didn't know how to respond. A true reaction, not the ravings of a fever dream.

“I'm okay, Koyan. I don't think anything has happened? I can call Bodin and ask,” Rais said, a frown on his brow.

“No, no. I just needed to know if anything weird went down recently.” It didn't appear so. Maybe Araton had orchestrated an illusion and Alvaka had been there all along.

So how had he been standing inside the manor itself and not known it was there?

“Not to my knowledge,” Rais said.

Koyan pulled the young man closer and hugged him. He felt and sensed Rais' surprise, but the boy did not pull back.

“Is everything all right?” Rais asked.

Koyan released Rais and strode on. “Fine, it's fine. Keep up the good work.”

He spent the following hour walking the manor and finding the rest of the boys, reassuring himself they were real, that the house was real. Koyan found it difficult to shake the odd sensation of being locked in a dream.

It would be a long while, he thought, probably hours, before his world righted itself once more.

(January 29, 2020)
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Mon Feb 10, 2020 8:12 am

Heaven and Hell

February 9, 2020

The urge to kill became overwhelming. Every breath, every motion, every thought centered around ending Eli's life. For two days and two nights, Koyan prowled the streets as the final lines burned themselves into his back. He followed some unknown trail, seeking, searching, stalking, sure that his quarry would be right around the next corner.

He wasn't.

Eli proved to be difficult to find, which, in some still-functioning part of Koyan's mind, seemed strange. Because surely, the young man was stalking him with as much determination. Koyan could feel it. Could feel the heightened sense that prickled along the nape of his neck, a hot whisper over the skin of impending confrontation. In a moment of clarity, sometime during the second night, he paused to consider whether the angels and demons were driving him and Eli toward some pinnacle, a prime place to fight. Somewhere less easily accessible to those who might try and help. But the curse resumed its purpose, scattering his thoughts to the wind.

All he wanted to do was slice and stab and kill.

He wasn't aware when he became more animal than man, wasn't aware he lost himself among the debris-laden alleyways and became nothing more than a hunting machine. He saw red. Tasted it. Breathed it. Soon, he would feel the hot flow of it across his fingertips when his blade sank deep.

Twilight came and with it, the desire to sink himself back into darkness. Although heavy cloud cover obscured the rising sun, Koyan experienced an inexplicable pull toward the shadows. He took a shortcut through an old cemetery, ignoring praying angels and weeping cherubs, and entered the grounds of an abandoned carnival, a site that had existed since time immemorial. Paint-chipped creatures sat in varying stages of decay all over the place, their eerie eyes fixed on distant points—or were they? He cut a look aside as he passed a once-grand but now dilapidated merry-go-round, positive he'd seen one of the horses twitch. Despite the fading, once garish colors and the prancing positions of the equines, nothing moved. The eyes were not following him.

He continued to navigate an array of carnival wreckage: a falling-down funhouse, crooked vendor stalls, and creepy thrill rides. Statues carved by a talented hand were scattered everywhere, all life-sized or larger. He passed a mime frozen in time, three wickedly grinning jesters, and a cluster of devils that he gave a wide berth to. There were more horses, decked out in elaborate saddles and bridles, pitched to and fro on the ground. There were even large cut-outs depicting characters from a freak show: an obese woman, a man with four arms, a giant elephant whose long tusks resembled a medieval mace. He paused once or twice when movement out of the corner of his eye convinced him something was out there. On closer inspection, nothing. Yet he had the strange sense of being watched. Judged. That there had been a twitch or a flick or a shift of painted eyes, all still now that he was looking right at it.

The strength of the curse forced him onward. Away from the hellish carnival landscape and into the mouth of a nearby tunnel. A hillside and its trees flanked the abandoned fairgrounds; once upon a time, the tunnel must have been intended for an underground transit system that never saw completion. All that remained of the construction were thick piles of heavy wood, old wheelbarrows, discarded tools and stacks of crates against both rough-hewn walls.

It was dark. The weak light of the overcast day barely penetrated thirty feet into the tunnel, where it filtered down until only the barest shapes could be detected. Despite the gloom and the evil feel of the earthy enclosure, Koyan experienced a surge of inner light. The Holyfire raged to the fore, creating a tangible vibration a foot in all directions.

Eli was close.

Death was closer.

From ahead on his right, a sharp but rusted instrument hurtled out of the darkness with impressive speed and force. Only instinct and his heightened awareness allowed Koyan to swerve his head at the critical moment, avoiding being impaled straight through the eye by a screwdriver. Even as he moved, he reached for the dagger at his hip. He spun a circle, bending the top half of his body low, his arm swinging an arc toward where a pair of knees should be. He knew Eli would not hesitate to follow up the throw with an all-out attack. His knife sliced straight through the air when Eli nimbly jumped the blade.

The lust to kill created an even thicker haze in Koyan's mind until everything narrowed down to this: kill or be killed. Somewhere in the deeper reaches, he vaguely remembered an alternate plan. To kill so they could both live again. But those memories and instincts plunged beneath the base animal drive to end Eli's life.

When he missed, and Eli jumped, Koyan understood the assassin would be slicing downward with his own blade. The knife-edge caught the back of his shoulder and ripped upward, a spare furrow that went through the material of his shirt to his skin. It was not deep enough to prevent him from rolling out of the strike zone and rounding on Eli again.

They circled each other like foes of old, wicked blades in their hands, staring across the gloomy space into one another's eyes. Koyan parried forward with three fast slashes, aiming for Eli's chest. The assassin proved too quick, dancing aside with silky ease. Their blades cracked together, sending a sharp vibration up Koyan's arm before the steel hissed as it separated.

He jumped back just in time when Eli's blade stabbed forward toward his ribs, missing by less than an inch. Koyan corrected his balance even as Eli's blade swung away on an outward arc, and kicked toward the assassin's stomach, hoping to pitch the man onto his back. Eli used his own momentum to swing his body around, too nimble to believe, the knife coming across to slice at Koyan's leg.

A strike. Blood seeped down his leg beneath the black pants, not a gush but more than a trickle. They faced off again, circling. Assessing. Calculating. Koyan looked for an opening, lips peeled back from his teeth.

Eli feinted left, another blade suddenly appearing in his empty hand. Koyan dodged, realizing too late that stabbing had not been Eli's intent at all. The dagger was just a diversion so that Eli could thwip the throwing knife through the air. Close range, impossible to miss. Koyan took the blade high in his right shoulder, already preparing to lurch his torso back so Eli couldn't finish the attack and slice for his throat.

Too slow. Eli was right there, the dagger sinking deep past his ribs instead of across his jugular.

Pain lanced through Koyan's midsection, blood oozing from the wound. A memory rose, so faint it was almost untouchable. Hit the target. Hit the target.

His own dagger rose and sank into the juncture of Eli's neck and shoulder, just where the tattoo indicated. Blood spurted outward like an erupting volcano, painting itself half across Koyan and half across the dusty ground.

Koyan staggered backward, boot catching on a piece of debris. He went down hard. An unusual blitz of agony emanated from the rib area, much stronger and more potent than the throwing knife sticking out the front of his shoulder. Pain like he'd never experienced. A burning, melting insidious pain that brought a rough groan to his lips.

He'd been stabbed before. Many times. Nothing came close to this.

Koyan rolled onto his side, gasping for air, barely able to see Eli across the way. The assassin was sprawled on his back, one hand pressing ineffectually against his neck. Bleeding out.

Alarm surfaced in Koyan's mind, temporarily obliterating the agony.

Eli was going to die. Was dying.

This was what he'd wanted, though. Kill, kill, kill.

A gurgling noise floated on the air, sending a new spike of alarm through Koyan. The conflicting desires—to see Eli die, the alarm over the death noises—sent fresh waves of confusion through Koyan's already confused mind.

Something sinister was at work here.

Koyan's own pain intensified, but he did not look away from Eli. The assassin's legs shifted, drawing in and out as if he was trying to push himself away from the scene.

His legs went still.

Eli's hand slumped away from his neck. A moment later, the assassin's body suffered a volatile spasm.

Koyan experienced vicious pleasure at Eli's death as well as crushing sadness.

He's dead too soon. Will stay deaddead. Didn't configure that into plans. Koyan couldn't make sense of his own thoughts. He labored between victory and profound grief, alarm bells going off while celebrating at the same time.

The edges of his vision blurred. A deeper kind of darkness crept in, until all he saw was black.

He hitched a breath. Exhaled.

Just before the end of the exhale, a searing, ripping, tearing sensation exploded in his chest. The kind of pain no man should ever endure, an agony so intense his entire body spasmed.

Like Eli's.

The flare ended, along with his life.

* * *
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Yeardley Owens
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Yeardley Owens » Mon Feb 10, 2020 3:24 pm

February 9, 2020

It was a day.

Beat, Beat, beat…. She knew it was coming. Knew it was a good thing to know. Knew that it meant she’d be able to help him. It had become part of her over the days, his heart rate steady against her wrist. Feeling it race at times. When the last beat faded her breath hitched past her teeth, held on parted lips as if she could wait it out and make it return. It didn’t. Even when her eyes stung with unshed liquid, there was silence on her wrist. Two beats and she pulled herself together and into motion.

By the time Rhys arrived she was, as ever, the pragmatic bundle of weirdness that made up her skin. Not even the best empath would sense a difference, it had been a moment for herself, one she wouldn’t even share with the sadist.

The landscaper had stuck close to the shop, making sure she’d be near the wheelbarrow when the time came; in the end not needing them. Never let it be said she couldn’t roll with on the spot changes. And roll she did, along with jumping, into a crazy horse carriage ride with company running along side them. All the plane shifting didn’t bother her this time, her focus fully resting on her silent wrist. Personal reactions weren’t on the agenda. No matter what her footing felt like, there was a Turk, and someone dear to him, somewhere that had no footing, which far outweighed everything else.

That they ran into roadblocks wasn’t a surprise. Would have been more surprising if it was an easy snatch and grab. In truth, she needed this, needed to expend the energy, it was mildly disappointing she didn’t get to blow more faces off, but the extra help ensured they got to the boys quickly.

The black of Koyan’s eyes, staring at nothing, was haunting, one of those things no friend ever wanted to see on someone’s face. It made her want to kick him for daring to have flat eyes and forcing her to look at them (because the dead could force things). Rather than give into that emotion she drew on a memory of his ass being smug and arrogant (which really wasn’t difficult!).

When she was urged out of the way from helping carry the Turk she bristled; who the fuck was this fae touching her friend. It was possible she was a wee bit protective. But changes, had to roll with them. It was a nice feeling stab a jester in the eye, and thankfully she wasn’t body checking the thing when Rhys cut its head off! Would have sucked to lose her head, lots of suck. Sadly, she had no time to grab the jester head for Mesteno.

By the time they arrived at the catacombs she was relieved to see the necromancer, scary as he looked, and while the dark elf was new to herm that he was with the sadist told her he was trustworthy, so there were no snarls when he started moving bodies through the air. Especially given the way the necromancer looked. If Lexius was any sort of a threat he’d already be dead.

Now it was a waiting game, letting the guys do what they were good at. The war of relief and annoyance bounced behind hooded eyes, forcing herself to focus on the bracelet around her wrist. If will alone (who knew Lexius had that!) could have brought them back, there would be two naked men sitting up already.

Oh hey. Naked. It was one of those things a person would stare through, not realizing what it was until it wasn’t. Truly, if asked to recall details there would be none. Not that the Turk was lacking, simply because she was so focused on wanting him alive. It wasn’t until they were covered up that it even registered. Now the chest and thighs, well, she was a warm-blooded female!

The sounds he made when he woke, those tore at her. Her time in the shroud had her understanding, too well, the pain and fear upon breaking back into reality. The haze of the unknown. It was the reason her hand went to his cheek; she couldn’t fix anything, couldn’t take the pain (and if she could he suspected he’d be mad if she tried).

What she could do was give him the solid feel of reality, encouraging his mind to remember the gentle side of life while he fought through his turmoil. The back of a warm dark finger stroked over his cheek, the rest pressing solidly against his whiskered jaw. No words. In her experience words offered nothing, too easily able to mix and be part of a mirage, whereas a silent touch was solid proof to latch onto. It stayed, shifting only to brush sweat off his brow so his view of Eli remained unobstructed. Even once he sat up, she remained. Warmth and calm in the middle of chilled madness.

The second hardest part of her day was when he left. Watching him climb the stairs, and forcing herself to remain still, took every ounce of self-control she had. There was nothing stomping on her spine. There was a man, hunched and hurting, looking so incredibly alone. The urge to keep him safe and protected was almost palpable. She wasn’t going to fight to have him stay with her and have him end up worrying what he was bringing to her door. Where he was going *was* safe, it was simply a place outside of her control, and she didn’t like it one bit. Indeed, having him and the sadist both in the van all night would have been her choice! Granted, the Turk needed more luxury than that given his day, so while she didn’t like it, she didn’t begrudge him going.

It meant Mesteno got the focus of the protective vein. She wasn’t asleep when he knocked on the van. Nor would she be for a bit after he was. Too soon these nights would be gone, the sadist sleeping somewhere in some unknown mountain. If she slept, she’d miss the precious moments slipping from her fingers. She watched his face, not even really at peace in slumber, one hand used as her pillow, the other resting along the back of his arm. And, though he didn’t breathe deeply, it pulled at her, lulling her into slumber sooner than she wished.

It was a day, turn into night.
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Wed Feb 12, 2020 6:50 am


February 9, 2020

The first thing Koyan experienced when his soul slammed back into his body was pain: a tidal push of lava and ice; phantom claws that raked his organs and flesh. He crossed his arms over his stomach, positive he would discover his skin flayed open, guts hanging out.

But no. There were no injuries anywhere. For those initial seconds of resurrection, Koyan's scattered mind could not stitch his memories together fast enough to produce answers to a litany of questions. The agony obliterated everything.

What got through, what began to anchor him, were the faces sliding in and out of view above: Mesteno, Lexius, Rhys, Yeardley. Their voices registered past the all-consuming torture.

Finally, he remembered he'd been dead. That Rhys and Yeardley had surely come for him in the tunnel, that Lexius had healed him, that Mesteno must have successfully put his soul back where it belonged.

He remembered Eli. Dead, as well.

“Eli?” he asked through the rasp in his throat.

But then there was the sadist with his obvious condition, one that put his own well-being in jeopardy. For a few horrible moments, Koyan thought he would have to choose between Eli and Mesteno. How did one choose between the person he'd been closest to for decades and a friend who'd sacrificed everything, on more than one occasion?

The agony made it difficult to think.

In the end, he wasn't forced to choose at all. Mesteno did what he had to, regardless of the cost to himself. Lexius stood at the sadist's side, monitoring the recovery of Eli's soul. Koyan sought the comfort Rhys and Yeardley both offered until, finally, Eli surged to life on the slab. Koyan didn't think he imagined the relief that swept through the catacombs.

They'd all done the impossible. Or what had seemed impossible to him before the resurrection.

He and Eli were alive and breathing.

The other details could come later.

For now, there was pain and recovery and getting the hell out of the catacombs before trouble found them again.

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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Thu Feb 13, 2020 8:21 am


February 10, 2020

“We had to handle it as quietly as we could and not bring more attention to ourselves,” Araton said.

“Not only did Eli live,” Zathaniel replied, “he is now somewhere out of range. I have had your brothers looking for him everywhere, to no avail. As far as not drawing attention to yourselves? That little battle between us and the other side drew far more attention than it should have. The abandoned carnival grounds are a disaster area.”

“Eli will surface eventually.” Araton leaned back in the booth and stared across the pub's table at his boss. “Their side brought up too many minions. If we hadn't intervened, Koyan would have fallen into their grasp and stayed dead.”

“Speaking of Koyan. Where is he?”

“He is out of touch right now. But not for much longer.”

“And how can you be sure of that?” Zathaniel asked.

“Because as soon as his mind clears, he will remember what I showed him. The loss of Alvaka and all its people. Trust me. He'll come back sooner rather than later.” Araton paused, then added, “Perhaps we should consider using someone else. Someone with fewer. . .issues. Someone who does not have dark side attachments.”

“You mean someone who doesn't occasionally make you look incompetent?”

Araton's mouth thinned into a displeased line. Fucking Zathaniel. He said nothing, waiting for his boss to go on.

“Rhydin is one giant chessboard, you know that. Koyan does not realize what a useful tool he is. He might be a pawn's pawn, but he is still a movable piece. His connections have connections, if you get what I mean, which in turn benefit our side now and then. We need someone deeply integrated into the local scene, and he fits the bill.”

“He's difficult to work with,” Araton said.

“You don't like him because he drew a sword on you five years ago. Threatened to kill you.”

“And why is it that I'm still working with him? Shouldn't his case have been handed off to someone else by now?” Araton asked, masking his irritation behind a sip of beer.

“You know damn well why you're still on this case,” Zathaniel said, censure in his expression.

Araton knew. One slip up had brought veritable hell raining down on his head. Now he was stuck with the mess that was Alvaka and its owner.

“I know you don't want to bring him all the way into the fold. So what now?” Araton asked.

“Not after he disobeyed your order and bonded with one of them,” Zathaniel said, words full of disgust. “Even though the Holyfire has been stripped out, we would never be fully sure he wouldn't do the same thing again if the situation arose. And being brought in fully? That would create far too many problems for us. No. We will continue to use him as an informant.”

“I have assured he will return to Alvaka. If only to make sure it hasn't disappeared.” Araton smirked around the mouth of his beer for the next drink. After swallowing, he said, “But I doubt he'll be willing to work with us under his own recognizance.”

“There's something you don't know.”

Araton lowered the bottle to the table. Whenever Zathaniel said those words, it meant trouble. Trouble he wouldn't like or appreciate. “What don't I know?”

“While your servicemen were burning the tattoo into Koyan's flesh, I added a little something of my own. Into him and Eli both.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Along with the curse, I inserted a failsafe, if you will. To force their hands. Koyan and Eli have no doubt already begun to feel the symptoms of withdrawal, which will exponentially increase as time goes on. In two weeks, if they have not already been drawn from hiding, their desperation for relief will hit its peak.”

Araton didn't like where this was going. “And?”

“And they will do anything, and I do mean anything, to take away the pain. That's where you come in.”

“The only thing I plan on doing to Eli when I see him next is to kill him.”

“Which should have happened during the carnival mess. Since it did not, yes, that is your task. Get rid of him once and for all. When Eli comes seeking relief from whomever he thinks can help, when he gets in the open or dares to surface on Alvaka land, end him.”

The carnival again. He wasn't ever going to live it down. “And Koyan?”

“Give Koyan a few days. Let the burn really sink in. Then offer him a hit of Holyfire in exchange for his compliance. Trust when I say that after a few times of that? He will willingly do anything you ask. He'll be primed for extracting whatever information we need.”

So this was hell. Not only was this case far from closed, Zathaniel had just assured he would be stuck here for the foreseeable future. “And how long is this to go on?”

“Until I say so.” Zathaniel adjusted the knot of his tie and finished off the glass of water sitting at his elbow. “Remember to only give him enough to appease the addiction. Keep him on the edge. Dependent. It shouldn't be too hard with what I worked into the tattoo.”

Koyan would have no power, no ability. Just a brief reprieve from the agony of severe withdrawal. And Araton had just become his supplier. He suppressed a snarl of discontent. The only saving grace was the promise of bloodshed.

“Don't make me have to come back here and deal with this place again,” Zathaniel said as he stood. He gestured around, indicating Rhydin in general. “Get things running smoothly, do as I've asked, and then we can renegotiate your case status. Pass such menial tasks to someone much lower on the proverbial totem pole, hm?”

“Absolutely. I can't wait to get started.” Araton couldn't contain his sarcasm.

Zathaniel smiled sharply. “I'm sure you can't. I'll expect a report within a few weeks.”

Araton glared at Zathaniel's back as he departed. Fucker. The meeting hadn't gone at all like he'd expected. The only possible thing to do was drown his discontent in a bottle of whiskey.

And so he did.

* * * *
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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Thu Feb 13, 2020 12:16 pm

The Discovery

February 10, 2020

Alvaka. His home. Araton had threatened to erase the entirety of it from existence should he go against orders.

And Koyan had done just that. Fought back. Hadn't killed Eli, hadn't retained the Holyfire through which they could control him. The loss of the Holyfire hadn't been planned, only wondered over. Koyan already missed the pulse of power, couldn't have ever guessed the absence would affect him so profoundly.

But it was the threat to his home and his people that brought him back to the manor far earlier than was wise. Only a day after the resurrection he returned, using alternate entrances on the property to help keep his presence a secret. He arrived just after dusk, when the landscape gave over to full dark.

The manor looked as it always did: stately, imposing, beautiful. He walked the halls with his hands in his pockets, his body resisting the exertion. Koyan pushed through the agony because he had to. Needed to reassure himself the house and thus, the whole of Alvaka, was real. When he ran across Rais, the youngest of his assassins, he allowed a moment of conversation to pass between them.

“Welcome home,” Rais said, as if he'd never doubted Koyan or Eli would return after the fight.

“I'm not staying long. Just needed to make sure everything is where it's supposed to be.”

“There's something you should see in the collection room,” Rais said, before moving on.

Koyan watched Rais exit the moon-dappled hallway, brows drawn together. A moment later, he headed to the stairs and struggled to ascend to the second floor. Sweat beaded his brow and weakness plagued his bones.

At least he wasn't retching up that dreaded opaque bile any longer.

The collection room, a large space filled with priceless artifacts he'd acquired over the years, was one of Koyan's favorite places. He came often to study the ancient maps, sarcophagi, statues, and other irreplaceable items. His most prized possession was the Papyrus Ani, enclosed in a glass case and warded for extra protection.

This evening, however, it wasn't the Book of the Dead that drew his gaze. Something else at the far end of the room, bathed in the vague glow from the windows, snared his attention completely.

It could not be what it appeared to be.

But it was.

His breath caught and held as he approached the spacious table. On it sat a carving of Alvaka in its entirety: the house, the stables, the cliffs, the trees, the Heaven and Hell field, employee houses on the other side of the road. Every single thing he loved and had worked his whole life for.

Other carvings were present as well. A fox, whippet, snakes, cricket. More. Even an Arabian foal. He'd been upgraded. There were God carvings surrounding the whole, facing out.

He felt like he'd been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer.

Overwhelmed by a riot of emotion, he traced the finely sanded edges of a tree with a finger. If someone had asked him why he'd been so obsessed with collecting the damned carvings in the beginning, he wouldn't have been able to offer an accurate reply other than they'd be perfect for his collection room. Here in the privacy of his own house, in his own thoughts, he knew the carvings were more than just things to admire from time to time.

From the pocket of his pants, he withdrew the carving that he'd found there before leaving the catacombs. The one that someone had put there for him to find before coming home to this.

The boar (with tusks!) rolled between his fingers, intricate and compelling. Why he'd been so drawn to this specific one that night in the Perch, he could not say. He'd even attempted to steal the thing using his mind, a failed experiment that he would never again be able to try with the loss of the Holyfire.

So many things lost.

He put the boar (with tusks!) back into his pocket and left the collection room. Koyan knew he was in no condition to make a trip into town, that his body might give out any second. Yet he navigated the halls and floors to the basement, where he used the portal to cut down on time and effort.

Exposing himself in public was the absolute wrong choice right now, but his stubborn ass had a reputation for a reason, and nothing short of a catastrophe would keep him from a visit to the Perch. He knew there was nothing to gain by standing outside and staring at the windows, certainly no answers to his questions.

He went anyway.

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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Sat Feb 15, 2020 2:44 pm


Feb 13, 2020

He stood on the balcony of his bedroom suite, looking out over the grounds of Alvaka. Snow swirled from the sky, painting the landscape white. The serene view was at odds with the blitz of withdrawal happening inside his body, an inescapable dichotomy that he felt to his core.

Every day, the withdrawal became worse. By fractions, the loss of Holyfire overwhelmed him. The only difference between when he'd first come back to life and now was his ability to hide the symptoms. Because he didn't want his friends to worry more than they already did, he'd taken to suppressing the restlessness, the shaking, the groans of misery.

At some point, he knew, if he didn't find relief, he would not be able to hide it in public any longer.

And what if he didn't find relief? What if there wasn't a cure? Would his body continue to wither, turn into a hollowed-out husk of dried flesh and bones? Already he checked the mirror too often, looking for signs. The feeling of his flesh puckering and shriveling was so intense that he expected to see it manifest on the outside, visible to any and all.

What he wouldn't give to feel the Holyfire burning through his veins once more.

“You make things so much harder than you have to,” a voice said from somewhere to his left.

Koyan snapped a look across the balcony to where Araton leaned casually against the wall. A streak of violence hit so hard his fists clenched in the pockets of his coat. That bastard had become the bane of his existence.

“What, no attacks? You're not going to beat me to a pulp for disobeying? I'm surprised you've waited this long to find me,” Koyan said, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice.

“I was waiting for that ugly feeling growing inside you to become just this side of unbearable. Have you reached that point yet?” Araton asked.

He didn't like that Araton knew of the withdrawal. “I have no idea what you're talking about. But let's dispense with the suspense. What the fuck do you want now?”

“Oh, but you do know what I'm talking about, don't you? The growing desperation, the searching for something to relieve the pain, the internal need that you're afraid will get worse. And I have bad news about that, Koyan. It will get much, much worse. To the point that you'll crawl to me, begging for help. In less than two weeks, you won't even recognize yourself.”

“It'll be a cold day in hell before I beg you for anything,” Koyan said with a snort. His derision was a front to cover the way his body responded to the idea that Araton could, right that second, ease some of his suffering. He felt the invisible pull toward the angel, toward the Holyfire, a draw that went against his will.

“Soon, Koyan, you won't have a choice.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that the powers above me have placed a failsafe inside the tattoo, assuring that what you're feeling now will only increase until you must have release. It's inescapable, inevitable. Although the tattoo is gone, the celestial enchantment has seeped into your skin, into everything that you are. There is no getting around it,” Araton said.

“And why would they do that?” Koyan asked on the back of a snarl. Just when he thought things couldn't get worse, here comes Araton with more bullshit.

“Because you always do things the hard way. If you would have listened, like I told you, none of this would be happening. But no. You never learn. A thing you said yourself in the not too distant past.”

Koyan wanted to punch the knowing grin right off Araton's face. Spying again. “That can't be all.”

“The other reason is simple. The powers above need intelligence of the sort you provided without even knowing it while under the Holyfire influence. I can ease your pain, Koyan, so long as you keep us informed of any God movements or plans. Anything out of the ordinary regarding upcoming wars or battles? We want to know about it. You give us what we need, we'll give you what you need.” Araton extended a hand, palm up.

Koyan eyed Araton's hand with a mixture of urgency and disgust. Urgency to reach out and have the pain be over; disgust at being blackmailed into becoming an informant on his friends. “Fuck you, Araton. I won't do it.”

Araton left his arm extended. “As I said. Soon you will be begging me for relief. Even now you have to admit that a little infusion would be welcome. Fill your insides with light and power. Not what you had before, of course, but enough to calm the shaking. Enough to spread a tingle of pleasure through your brain. Information is a small price to pay, is it not?”

Koyan's hand trembled briefly with the desire to lay his fingers over Araton's and feel the hot rush of Holyfire sweep through him. He resisted, and it cost him. But not as much as it would cost him if he agreed to the terms. “What about Eli?”

“Eli is not long for this world. I have my orders and his own kind—well. I imagine they have orders, too,” Araton said, hand still extended. Tempting.

Koyan didn't need to be told what that meant. He turned his back on the angel because the urge to connect physically was overwhelming. “I won't do it. You can tell your bosses that I'm through being used.”

Snow continued to fall. It blanketed the distant trees, the tops of the cliffs.

Koyan twisted to look back at Araton and found himself alone. He dragged a hand down his face and blew out a breath. Fuck.

How long could he hold out? A week? Two? Not two. Instinct insisted he would be doing exactly what Araton said he would. Infuriating. Impossible.

He turned away from the peaceful view and headed inside.

There were other places he needed to be.

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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Wed Feb 19, 2020 11:42 am

The Release

Feb 19, 2020

“This is going on your permanent record,” Zathaniel said, closing a file on his desk.

“I'm sure it is,” Araton replied. He was standing in the middle of Zathaniel's office, arms crossed over his chest.

“I wouldn't get too condescending if I were you. You're in deep shit for letting this whole thing get so out of control.” Zathaniel leaned back in his white leather chair and assessed Araton in that critical way of his.

“It's not my fault that he's got friends in high places, so to speak. You all knew it would be difficult to set up operations here, where there's an abundance of magic users. Who'd have thought Koyan would know someone powerful enough to remove the enchantment?”

Zathaniel grunted. “That was unexpected.”

“I can't be held accountable. So send me on to my next case.” Back on Earth, preferably, although Araton knew better than to suggest it.

“Not quite so fast, Araton. There's the little matter of consequences for failing to manipulate Koyan to best serve our interests.”

“Hey, I threatened to wipe out his entire estate. Even went to all that trouble with the illusion and everything. If that doesn't sway a man, nothing will.”

“I actually presented it to the Uppers. Too many innocent souls, Araton. Someone has to be accountable for that many deaths.”

Araton hid his surprise that his extreme idea might have been taken seriously by upper management. He'd only wanted to bend Koyan to his will, not wipe out the population of a small village. It told him just how serious the bosses were taking this particular operation.

“Still, it's time to move on. Koyan's lost the Holyfire and, as far as I can tell, he's miserable without it. That's punishment enough. Not to mention Eli's death when I catch up to him,” Araton said.

“Eli's death serves as punishment enough, yes. We can let the Koyan-Eli situation go. However, as I said, there is the matter of you.”

Araton drew in a breath. Zathaniel, and upper management, weren't going to let it go. He waited, a muscle twitching in his jaw.

“Your new assignment is to compile a list of the most powerful beings in Rhydin. The ones with the most influence. We want to know who is fucking up our plans, who to watch when we go into action again.”

What?” Araton almost came out of his skin. “You don't need that. You already have--”

“You will compile a list, Araton. Clearly, we don't know every single one with power, do we, or we would know how Koyan was stripped of the enchantment and where Eli currently is.” Zathaniel's direct gaze gave no quarter. “We anticipate this task to take, oh, about a year. Perhaps two.”

A year or two. It was punishment for the perceived failure, he knew. The Uppers were meting out a sentence, nothing more. Making a point. They didn't need a fucking list. He knew, because he used to be upper management.

“Oh, and one more thing,” Zathaniel said. “Your travel has been restricted to Rhydin only. No off-world jumping.”

No Earth. No more delectable cuisine and various cultures. Araton's one true love, besides power and wielding it mercilessly, was a nomadic lifestyle. Visiting as many countries as possible and trying all the unique food there was to offer. To restrict him from that was punishment indeed.

“Anything else?” Araton asked. He could not curb the caustic tone.

“Not for now. Enjoy your new case.” Zathaniel smiled.

Araton slammed out of the office, door rattling on its hinges.

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Re: Inevitable

Post by Koyan » Sun Feb 23, 2020 3:59 pm

February 22, 2020

Koyan prowled the palatial halls of his home with agitation sitting thick beneath his skin. A cigarette had burned nearly to the skin of his knuckles, smoke trailing behind like restless phantoms.

He didn't seem to remember the cigarette was there. Didn't pay much attention to the luxe grandeur all around. Priceless paintings, tapestries, ancient vases, and stunning Persian rugs all blurred by as he put miles on the soles of his boots.

At some point, he paused to slide the spent cigarette into a tall marble ashtray so he wouldn't leave more of a mess on the spotless floors than he needed to.

Despite the fact that more than three hundred people lived on Alvaka grounds, the hallways and living areas of the main house were empty. No children's happy cries bounced off the high arabesque archways, no women laughed behind their hands while their menfolk danced, and no guests graced the ballroom or his private library. There was only the dull thud of his boots as he walked and walked and walked.

Even the boys on duty, Rais and Jaabir, were not anywhere to be seen. They were exceedingly skilled at staying out of his way when he was in this kind of mood.

Koyan thought back to the impromptu meeting not thirty minutes before. When Araton had shown up and unexpectedly announced that their interest in him was done. They were, for all intents and purposes, withdrawing from his life. The agreement he'd made to allow the angels to use his property as a staging area remained; he'd been forced to accept that condition to gain extra power before the Yeardley extraction. He would honor the agreement because he had to.

When he'd inquired about Eli, Araton's intentions were unforgiving. They would kill him on sight.

And so, Araton had departed after the brief interlude, leaving Koyan relieved to be done with it all. He missed the Holyfire every minute of every day, but to be out from beneath the sometimes cruel machinations of the angels could only be celebrated as a victory.

Then had come the whisper in his mind from Lexius.

It was time.

The Elf had whisked him to a small plateau atop a cavern in the desert, arid wind sliding its hot fingers against his swarthy skin. He'd only had seconds to appreciate the stunning view of a city that seemed to rise up from the sands themselves before turning back to Eli, also present on the plateau for a final goodbye.

The poignant words they shared had been born of a lifetime together, of employer and employee, as royal and servant, as assassin and desert man. As friends.

Eli had been full of confidence and reassurance; Koyan accepted what he could not change and hauled Eli in for a tight embrace.

“Kick their ass and come back home,” had been his final whisper to Eli.

And, just like that, he'd found himself right back inside the familiar walls of Alvaka while Eli went to face the test of a lifetime.

The waiting, for Koyan, was brutal. Thus the laps around the expansive home, smoking, snarling quietly when his agitation overcame him.

On yet another pass by the music room, a room he'd not entered in more than five years, his steps slowed. He stared through the glass of double french doors to the glossy black grand piano sitting just so beneath a stunningly beautiful chandelier. A painful exhale pushed from his lungs at the memories the piano brought.

Yet, he touched the handle and let himself in. Crossed the room to stare at the perfect ivory keys, dragged his fingers lightly across their shiny surface.

That he was touching the piano was a miracle in itself. Acknowledging its power over him and his emotions. He hadn't played since before Sebastian and Gwyn's death. Didn't think he'd ever play again.

A different face swam through his mind. Not Sebastian's. Not Gwyn's.

He pressed a key. The note rang through the room, almost too loud in the dead silence. But it drew him in, drew him to sit on the dust-free bench. He splayed long, dark-skinned fingers over the pristine keys.

In his lifetime, he'd always been able to play by ear. All he had to do was recall the song in his head and, eventually, his fingers found the notes. It took him less than fifteen minutes to figure out the basic structure of the tune he had on his mind. It was poignant, melodic, addictive. He added an ever-so-soft vocal accompaniment, the rasp of his voice barely spilling beyond the piano itself.

“I'll follow you down through the eye of the storm, don't worry I'll keep you warm. I'll follow you down while we're passing through space, I don't care if we fall from grace. I'll follow you down--”

A bloom of warmth spread across his mind, interrupting his concentration.

The contact he'd been waiting for. A mix of angst and hope surged through him as he sent a tendril of thought back. Yes?

Please be good news.

(lyrics: I'll Follow You , Shinedown)

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