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DARK ELVES 5:

DISCOVERY

Jet Mykles

www.loose-id.com

Warning
This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

Dark Elves 5: Discovery


Jet Mykles
This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Published by Loose Id LLC 1802 N Carson Street, Suite 212-2924 Carson City NV 89701-1215 www.loose-id.com

Copyright September 2008 by Jet Mykles All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared in any form, including, but not limited to printing, photocopying, faxing, or emailing without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC.

ISBN 978-1-59632-769-6 Available in Adobe PDF, HTML, MobiPocket, and MS Reader

Printed in the United States of America

Editor: Raven McKnight Cover Artist: Anne Cain

www.loose-id.com

Chapter One
I believe that is all we have to discuss. Savous dipped his head in a regal bow, adding a slow blink of his softly glowing red eyes for emphasis. They didnt normally glow, not unless he was actively working magic, but his truemate assured him, in the right lighting -- or lack thereof -- it made him look dangerous, like a lazy, magical shadow cat contemplating dinner. While she found it all quite sexy, humans like Baron Alessandur would find it daunting. The addition of a small, secretive smile only added to the effect. The baron did not need to know that Savous was merely amused by the artifice and not by any sinister thoughts. Indeed, Baron. He extended his hand in a very human greeting, but stirred the magic around him just a bit, enough to make his open black robe and the soft fur of the hood around his face rustle. Trailing ends of his long white hair caressed his bare chest, just a few shades lighter than the white markings that were etched in his obsidian skin. To his credit, the barrel-chested man who stood before him hardly reacted. A slight widening of his sharp blue eyes, a minor tremble in the hand that came out to clasp Savouss, but he did reach out, and he didnt back down. Truthfully, Savous rather liked this one. Of all the leaders of humans hed had to deal with in the past few cycles, this was one who truly thought about the good of his own people and not himself and was not out to rob Savous of everything he could. His father -- his predecessor -- had been the same. Lucky for Savous, this was one of the major landholders adjacent to the forest and one of the humans with whom he most had to deal. Out of respect, Savous relinquished his hand shortly and did not bother with any further tricks of magic. A pleasure, as always, he said, lowering his hand and letting the long sleeve of his robe drop to hide it.

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The baron nodded, glance darting to the men ranged behind Savous. Well be in touch. Savous remained where he stood, watching the baron turn to lead a dozen or so men from the clearing. One of them lingered, a dark-haired, wide-eyed youth in what Savous knew to be a heralds long, slim tabard, the barons boars-head crest blazoned across the youths chest. He would be present because of a near-perfect memory, which he would use to record the details of this meeting. Savous had seen this particular youth recently in the past few meetings with the baron, but had not been introduced. He made note of the handsome face, the expressive eyes and mouth, the mop of longish brown hair that brushed past his shoulders. The youth clearly had something in mind as his gaze drank Savous in, but a sharp call from one of the barons men startled him from his reverie, and he turned and hastened after his party. I think he likes you, Salin murmured, stepping up close behind Savouss right shoulder. Quickly casting a spell of silence over the clearing, Savous laughed. Maybe so. He reached up to lower the hood of his robe, letting it fall down his back. A breeze picked up his loose white hair and blew a little of it in his face as he turned toward the commander. So? What do you think? Salin glanced after the humans, some of his own short silver-gray hair blowing over the sharp features of his face. I think human leaders are a nuisance. Behind him, Krael snorted. Other than that -- Salin shrugged and returned his deep red gaze to Savous -- you did the best you could. Savous glanced at Hyle, who stood at his other side. The other sorcerer also wore a robe, his of deep violet, and his long, snowy white hair fell loose over his shoulders. Whenever they met with humans, he and Savous wore open robes, the better to show off the white markings Rhae had left on the glossy black skin of their chests and faces. It impressed the humans, and he was told the robes somehow added to the mystique. Salin and Krael, who usually accompanied them, always went bare-chested and -armed, clearly displaying their warrior prowess. The fact that Salin, at over seven feet, towered over even the tallest of humans was also useful. Hyles red irises glowed from magic. Somewhat like the young human herald, one of his main duties was to record the events that had just occurred. Unlike the human, he had magic to sharpen his memory and a few hundred cycles experience to hone the technique. Do you think the mention of his king should concern us? Savous thought back. Until now, both the baron and his father had dealt directly with Savous. This time, the baron had made mention of a representative from his king making a visit. That would be the first time in the nearly three-quarters of a century since the elves had been discovered that the monarch from the west would send someone directly. The

Dark Elves 5: Discovery

monarch from the east had already done so, and treaties had been signed. There were no equivalent leaders to the north or south. Its something to consider. Savous turned and headed through the bushes, unerringly aimed toward the hidden cave entrance that would lead them to the caverns toward home. Which of the women are from the west? Suzanas from the north, Krael said as he passed by Savous to lead the way. Arent Gala and Diana from the east? Savous asked of Salin, who kept pace with him. Salin nodded. Yes, but their experience might be out of date. Savous nodded. Salins and Hyles truemates had been among the elves for nearly two centuries. Things would definitely have changed. Maybe we can When Salin stiffened, his head snapping around to look behind them, Savous and Hyle instinctively froze as well. Long ago, Savous might have heard the distant crash of a clumsy human tread when Salin heard it, but he was sadly out of practice at forest craft. Because of this, he looked up at the taller commander and trusted the mans honed senses instead. Salins eyes burned for a moment in concentration, then cleared when he smiled. Its the herald. He chuckled down at Savous. I told you he likes you. Savous laughed. Is he alone? Yes. Hyle, you and Krael go home. Salin, come with me. Without further comment, Hyle drifted into the shadows. Savous had no doubt Krael was near enough to have heard, even if he couldnt be seen. They found the wide-eyed, frightened human within the bushes many yards from the clearing where theyd met the baron. That he had little or no skills within the forest was clearly evident. His mutters would not be audible to human ears, but Savous clearly heard the Where are you? Savous didnt have to bother to use magic to appear out of the darkness. His skin and dark red robe blended perfectly with the shadows, and even his white hair would look like a normal patch of moonlight. When he stepped out from behind a tree, the young human startled so badly that he stumbled backward, falling onto his ass in the leaves. Youre off the beaten trail, my friend. Which -- thanks to carefully crafted local folklore -- meant almost certain death. Savous and the raedjour might now be known to the human world, but they were careful to keep as many secrets as possible, taking refuge in the mystique. I-I know, the human stammered, addressing Savous from where he sat. He probably wasnt even aware of Salin standing silent just a few yards behind him. I-I needed to speak with you. Savous nodded, keeping his gaze on the human, knowing the red unnerved them. The sharp tang of arousal assured Savous that the herald was also feeling the sexual effects of Savouss and Salins nearness. Was that why hed come back and risked his life?

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Dark Elves 5: Discovery

The young man assembled his wits as he climbed to his feet. Although he wasnt a good judge of such things, Savous thought the human to be in the early prime of his life, just losing the softness of youth, having already gained some bulk of manhood. My name is Kinig. I have a request, he said, voice steady now that he had reached his feet. Savous waited, noting the embroidered white heralds tabard was gone. Take me with you. Behind the human, Salin grinned, crossing his arms over his chest. Savous fought a frown in reaction. Pardon me? The human took a bold step toward Savous. Im a bard. Id like to learn more about you, you and your people. Id like to write ballads about you so I can sing of you to others. Savous blinked slowly, letting himself smile a little. And why would we want that? That stopped Kinig. Why? What need would we have of being known to the world in this fashion? Surely the rumors and stories have already spread. But theyre only rumors and stories. I could tell the real story, or -- another step forward -- whatever story you want me to tell. Savous smiled. He couldnt help it. This young man fairly glowed with eager sincerity and a large dose of hero worship. That hed added the last to his sentence said that he knew what he was offering. Youre either brave or foolish, Kinig. Kinig smiled wide. Likely a healthy dose of both, my lord. It was Savous who took the step forward this time. The human was nearly his height, just a thumbs-length or so shorter. He didnt miss the slight tremble nor the spike in arousal as he came nearer. The fact that the human wasnt at all bothered hinted that he was a lover of men and quite comfortable with the attraction. Such a man might even survive among the elves for a time. It was usually those who could not accept a lust for other men who could not live among the raedjour. May I think on it? Kinigs gaze, which had drifted to Savouss lips, cleared and darted up to Savouss eyes. Id rather you just take me. Savous grinned, showing that he heard the double meaning. Such a thing could have a profound impact on my people. Id like some time to think on it. That blue gaze was again fastened on his mouth, Kinig not even trying to hide his arousal. How long? Not long. He reached out to place a hand on Kinigs shoulder, careful to place it so his fingers brushed the bare skin of the humans neck. Kinigs eyes fluttered a little as he bit the inside of his lip.

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Using gentle pressure, Savous turned the young man around. Salin will lead you back to the road, which will take you to Alden Wood. Wait there. Ill send word to Sols Tavern. How? Savous chuckled. I will send word, even if its no. He couldnt see Kinigs face, but he could tell by the hold of his body that he was as profoundly affected by the sight of Salin as he was by Savous. Feeling devilish, Savous stepped into the humans back, letting his chest bump the back of the mans shoulder. As Kinig gasped, Savous leaned in and whispered close to the young mans ear. I appreciate your offer, and I assure you I will think seriously on it. He gave Kinig a little push to get him going in Salins direction and watched the tall commander lead the bard away. Alone, Savous chuckled into the darkness. Now, that was interesting.

Dark Elves 5: Discovery

Chapter Two
Kinig woke in the bowels of the earth. Last he recalled, he had been standing in the forest, facing an onyx-skinned sorcerer and watching with wonder as the mans red eyes glowed. Now, he lay on his back, staring at iridescent mineral deposits in the stalactites dripping from the high ceiling of a cavern. Are you awake? The voice to his right was gorgeously low and familiar. Blinking, he turned his head to see Rhicard smiling down at him. The sorcerer had been sent by Savous to fetch him from the forest and bring him to the raedjour city. Rhicard smiled. Youre awake. Im awake. Rhicard held out a hand. Sit up? Quite willingly, Kinig took the proffered hand and let the strong man pull him into a seated position. Hed already found that he was willing to do nearly anything to have any of the elves touch him even for the briefest of moments. Their mere closeness sent delightful shivers under his skin. Touching them was like Kinig froze on sight of the awesome spectacle laid before him. I thought you might like to see a view of the city, such as it is. Rhicard steadied him when he swayed. This is the best view there is. Most of the city is in tunnels and caves. A city like none Kinig had ever imagined spread throughout a massive cavern for miles. The ceiling he had first seen was merely that of an opening onto a ledge above an amazing array of buildings. From what he could see, they were all stone, or mostly so, but crafted in such a manner that they looked like they might have been carved out of the cavern walls themselves. The buildings farther away from the walls were clearly mortar and stone, but smoothed and polished over so that they shone like the mineral deposits that seemed to drip down upon them from above. In the midst of the closer cavern was a gleaming black statue

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of a naked woman holding a bowl of fire. She stood nearly as tall as the five towers that flanked her. In the distance, a large lake shimmered darkly under some unknown, bluish light source. A true city. Kinig let his gaze roam, his quick mind cataloging details for later. All of it underground, and most of it cant even be seen here ? Oh, yes, no matter what happened, he had made the right choice in approaching the rhaeja. He wandered as close as he dared toward the edge of the precipice, wanting an unobstructed view. People milled on the roads and in the central court below, their small size emphasizing the immensity of the cavern. Rhicard stepped up beside him. This is our town square of sorts. Its the largest cavern and is relatively central to the city. Town square? Rhicard smiled. I may never have seen one, but Im familiar with the term. Forgetting the view for just a moment, Kinig concentrated on the sorcerer, his excitement at discovery quelling his lust somewhat. How? Weve managed to learn quite a bit from the humans weve captured in the past. Kinig nodded. Of course. That made perfect sense. He returned his attention to the cavern. Is that a lake? Yes. Almost directly underneath one topside. He instantly wanted to see it, but declined to ask. Too far of a walk. How far underground are we? Leagues. Rhicard stared thoughtfully at the sparkling ceiling. Save for the stalactites, one could pretend it was a moonless, cloudless sky dotted with stars. Im not sure exactly how many, to be honest. Its difficult to measure. Two men emerged from a small cave entrance down to the left and proceeded along a path that led up the side of the cavern toward the ledge on which Kinig stood with Rhicard. Both wore dark trousers, one in red, the other in blue, with slouched black boots. The one in red had dark brown straps banding powerful legs almost all the way to his hips and a wicked bullwhip clipped to his side. An unstrung bow hung from the others belt, the strap of a quiver full of arrows banding his broad, bare chest. Black skin glistened in the light of the torches set to either side of the tunnel opening behind Kinig and Rhicard. The two men hailed Rhicard with waves, which he returned, then completely ignored Kinig as they turned their backs to the sorcerer and the human to enter the tunnel, two long white ponytails draping their backs. Kinig stared in wonder as they left, knowing hed been snubbed but failing to care. Rather, he was amazed that they could be absolutely silent on the dusty ground. In fact, the whole panorama was eerily silent. No sounds from the distant people, no wind, no animals. He had truly passed into a different realm. Lucky I wore the long jacket, he thought, resisting the urge to reach down to adjust the hardness growing in his trousers. Youll be surrounded

Dark Elves 5: Discovery

by them for as long as the rhaeja allows you to stay ! The thought did nothing to quell his
erection. Rhicard chuckled. Come. Your things are right here. He stepped toward the same path the other two had first come up. Are you afraid of heights? Weve found that some humans are. No. I dont think so. Hastily, Kinig snatched up his lute case and the small pack containing his few personal possessions and followed. Its not dangerous as long as you stay on the path, but you may wish to stay close to the wall at first, Rhicard said, tone companionable as the moderately sloped path came into view. Kinig saw that it formed something of a zigzag down a slope before disappearing into another tunnel. He paused as Kinig caught up to him. If youd rather, I could put you out again and carry you down. No. Although the thought of Rhicard carrying him when he was awake had merit. But no, he would be far too distracted to watch the surroundings. I dont want to miss anything else. He followed the sorcerer, placing his feet carefully as he watched the other mans casual stroll. Rhicard, like the other two, barely made a sound on the dusty ground. It made Kinigs own footfalls sound like a boulder rolling down the hill. How was that possible? The sorcerer was a touch taller than him, but that muscle certainly had to weigh more than anything comparable on Kinigs slight frame. You didnt miss much on the way here. There was enough room on the path for them to walk abreast, with Rhicard on the open side. I wanted to spare you the drudgery of the travel. And hide the exact location of the entrance to your city. Rhicard glanced at him, smiling. That too. I dont mind. He wondered how much the other man moderated his natural gait. Even at a leisurely walk, Kinig found the pace brisk. As I told your rhaeja, I will see whatever you want me to see and turn a blind eye to anything else. The thought of Savous sent a thrill through him. Hed met with the ruler of the raedjour once more after their initial talk in the forest. He blessed his own quick tongue for saying the correct words to convince the rhaeja to send Rhicard to fetch him barely a moon later. I hope you realize what youve committed yourself to. He heard Rhicards low murmur and wondered if he was supposed to. I realize Im taking a chance. He spoke, even though he knew that being silent was sometimes a virtue. He knew that he often trusted too easily. But how else was he to get people to talk to him if he didnt begin in kind? But I think a lot of good can come of this. You need more representatives in the human world. Human representatives who can explain to other humans about you.

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Theyd reached the tunnel at the bottom of the zigzag. Rhicard turned to study Kinig seriously, his dark face thrown half in deeper shadow from the single torch to his right. I know what youre saying, and I happen to agree. So does the rhaeja, and so do some others. But youll do well to remember not all of my people feel the same way. Kinig stared up at that intriguing face, struggling to hear the meaning of his words and not get lost in the wonderment of this exotic being. What do those white markings mean ? That was a question for later. He nodded. I understand. After another moment, Rhicard half smiled and nodded. I hope you do. He turned and led Kinig into the tunnel. With one last glance at what he could see of the city, Kinig followed. Rhicard explained that this tunnel took them to an entrance of one of the five towers Kinig had seen from above. It was in this tower that Kinig would spend most of his time, living with his sponsor. My sponsor? For the reason I mentioned, its not safe for you to wander about on your own. Also, most raedjour, when home in the city, do not use commonspeak. All of us understand it, of course, but some might refuse to speak it, just to be contrary. Also, it would be exceedingly easy for you to get lost. Not all caverns are inhabited or safe. You could be lost and dead before we ever found you. If we ever found you. Kinig was relatively sure Rhicard was exaggerating, but he took the point. The tunnel through which he was led had many offshoots, some lit and some not. Kinig would never have guessed that he was anywhere near the polished towers that hed seen from the ledge above. Rhicard led Kinig off the main tunnel into a corridor that seemed far more inhabited. A mural dominated the length of one wall, depicting a hunt of some kind in bright colors. The prey was a deerlike beast, and whenever it appeared in the continuing mural, there were always the dark shapes of shadow beasts and raedjour within the trees behind it. Stunning work. So, youll have a sponsor. Caught up in the mural, Kinig almost didnt recall what theyd been discussing. He remembered quickly as they started up a broad staircase. Someone who will be responsible for you. The staircase was hewn from rock, but skillfully, the measurements precise and the edges sharp. The worn treads suggested an eon of footsteps along this passage. That wont be you? Kinig asked, a little disappointed. Rhicard grinned. Youll see plenty of me. Im one of the raedjour whove been assigned to help you. But I cant be with you always. Savous had a better idea. Secretly hoping it would be Savous himself -- no, dolt, hell be far too busy -- Kinig stopped with Rhicard at a door. This hallway looked like it came straight out of his barons castle, although it would be within the darker, windowless towers.

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Rhicard knocked, and the door was opened by a youth. Kinig caught his breath. Yes, all of the elves were stunning, but this one He stood perhaps a hand shorter than Kinig, with a rounder face than any of the others Kinig had encountered. Not round by human standards, but a softness of curves that gave him a young, vaguely feminine look. Expressive silver eyes twinkled under finely arched white brows, assessing Kinig even as he was assessed. The frank look forced Kinig to reevaluate his initial impression of youth. The thick white silk of his hair was unbound, falling heavily down his bare back and over one shoulder, tucked behind delicately pointed ears, both of which were pierced with silver all along the edge to the tip. Short white trousers were gathered just below his knees and tied low at his hips. No footwear to hide at least three sparkling silver rings around delicate toes. Kinig had never beheld another male wearing so much jewelry. You would be Kinig, he said in a marvelously musical tenor. He stepped back and drew his free arm back in a dramatic sweep. Please, enter. Kinig glanced at Rhicard, who nodded. Kinig obeyed. The room was sparsely furnished, with everything from the narrow tables to the two couches and chairs hugging the walls. This left the bare floor of the center of the room completely empty. As the door was closed behind him, Kinig noted drums of various sizes sitting on the floor, a lute on the table, a strange-looking stringed instrument on one couch, and a number of wind instruments hanging within a cabinet fastened to the wall. Rhicard spoke from just behind his left shoulder. Kinig, this is Fallil. Fallil, as you may have guessed, is an entertainer. His gaze was drawn to the smaller man. Entertainer? Not bard? The delightful burble of Fallils laughter settled over them as he waved them further into the room. Bard, dancer, actor -- I do it all. Ive sought to fascinate and entertain most of my life. And succeeded marvelously, for all Kinig could see. Certainly his own attention was captivated by the slim man who busily rearranged the instruments lying about, clearing the couch. Although somewhat androgynous, there was no doubting he was male. His chest was slim, but the muscles were well defined, tapering in to a narrow waist and a sweet, round little bottom that seemed to defy gravity within his trousers. Rhicard tapped Kinigs shoulder, regaining his attention. This is where I leave you. Grinning, he nodded toward Fallil. Fallil is your sponsor. Savous thought, since you are both musicians, youd have some basis in common. Also, other than perhaps two or three others alive, Fallil knows more about our history than anyone. And his manner of relating what he knows is a lot more fun than most of the rest of us. Kinig laughed at the teasing note in Rhicards voice. Fallil appeared beside them to smile up at Rhicard. You flatter me. Rhicard brushed a fond, familiar hand down the other mans bare shoulder. Not a bit.

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Kinig blinked, wondering what, if anything, he should read into that touch. Most likely, nothing. He had to remember that the raedjour were very sensual, tactile beings. Hed seen this watching them during the talks with the baron, knowing they restrained themselves due to the situation. Here, there was no reason for restraint. He was in a different world. Rhicards attention was on him again. Ill see you soon, Kinig. Then to Fallil, Send word if you need me. Only then? Fallil called after him as he closed the door, smiling. That same smile turned to Kinig. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Youve had a long trip. He knew that he should be, but he was far too excited to think of something like food. Im a little thirsty. Of course you are. Elegant black hands reached for Kinigs lute. May I? Enchanted by this gorgeous, very polite creature, Kinig handed over his prized possession. Fallil handled it with appropriate care. Set your bag down and, please, sit. Kinig did as he was told, settling on a couch as Fallil laid the lute case on the table and opened it. He drew out the instrument and studied it with a critical eye. Kinig watched closely. The lute had been his grandfathers. It was old but had been lovingly taken care of both by him and his mothers father. Fallil stroked the neck, inspected the belly and frets, and carefully plucked each string to hear its sound. Finally, he nodded, laying the instrument down atop its case. Its lovely. Thank you. He turned toward a side cabinet that held a tray with a pitcher and matching goblets. Do you play anything else? I play a little harp, but Im not much practiced. Pouring a cup, Fallil glanced at a medium-sized harp in the corner. Perhaps we can change that. He tossed a blinding smile over his shoulder. Eh? Was he blushing? Kinig wouldnt have thought he was capable anymore, not since losing his innocence to a young guardsman many cycles ago. Id like that. Fallil crossed the room to hold out the small goblet to Kinig. Now, what has Rhicard told you? That youre to be my sponsor. Is that all? He explained that it was necessary because not all of the raedjour agree with my presence.

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Fallil nodded, folding gracefully onto the couch beside Kinig. Yes. But theres more to it than that. He rested his arm on the back of the couch, bent at the elbow to prop his temple on his palm. How much do you know about our society, in relation to humans? Kinig sipped the light, fruity wine rather than drink in the shimmer of candlelight on bare onyx skin. I know that you welcome human women to join you. That you have a spell you can cast to change them into one of you. I know youre fertile with only one woman ever and that that match is called a truematch. In the past, you kidnapped human women and kept them against their will, but the rhaeja has banned this practice. You know much. A heavy cascade of smooth, snowy hair bisected Fallils chest, a few shining strands hooking around an erect nipple. Please continue. Kinig swallowed a large gulp of wine. Its said that there are no other women among you but the humans you converted, but people dont know whether to believe that or not. No? No. Kinig shifted, all too aware of the bright silver eyes fastened on him. What about human men? Kinig shifted in his seat, the soft shirt underneath his jacket suddenly chafing the skin of his chest. In your history, you killed human men for sport. You allowed very few to pass through the Dark Forest ever, and those only if they stayed on the known roads. Even now, its dangerous for a man to travel the forest, even with a sanctioned caravan. Through this, Fallil continued to study him, a small smile curving generous lips. Long black fingers toyed with a frayed seam on his trousers. Yet you asked to come here. Kinigs cock pulsed in time with his heart. He could rarely contain himself in the presence of handsome human men. Seated in private with this exotically beautiful creature, he had no prayer of controlling himself. I did. May I ask why? I want to learn more about you. So you can write songs about us and become famous? Kinig smiled, nervous. Well, that too. But I am curious. And you realized coming here might be dangerous. I was willing to take that chance. Fallil lifted his head, freeing his arm to straighten across the back of the couch. His fingertips feathered over Kinigs shoulder, barely felt through the thick wool. And if we never let you go? Kinig blinked, then stared at the empty floor in the center of the room. I You hadnt thought of that possibility? No. Hed thought of death, hed thought of denial, but it had not occurred to him that the elves would keep him. Iwhy?

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Fallil leaned toward him slightly. A lock of white hair dislodged from behind his ear to spill over his smooth cheek. Let me tell you a truth. We have kept human men in the past. Many, in fact. But only a few survive. Fallils fingertips traced Kinigs collar, so close to the bare skin of his neck. Unlike for women, there is no spell to convert a human male. Its been tried, and it has failed, killing the subject. Distracted by the almost touch, Kinig swallowed again. What do you do with the men that you keep? Hed heard of such things in other lands, but only in whispered tales of dubious origin. Fallil edged a little closer to Kinigs side. We keep them. We toy with them. A delicate stroke of warm fingers over his rapidly beating pulse. We have enormous sexual appetites. Our goddess bred us that way. One finger traced the hinge of Kinigs jaw just below his ear. Since there are so few women, there isnt a man among us who doesnt know the pleasures of another man. Fingertips brushed along his neatly trimmed beard toward his chin, those silver eyes tracking the progress. Some of us prefer it. Kinig shuddered, giving up resistance by leaning into the touch. Fallil closed the distance between them, nimbly catching the goblet about to fall from Kinigs slack fingers. Was Savous right about you, Kinig? His fingers carded back into Kinigs hair, taking hold and turning the bards head so they were face to face. Kinigs lips sighed open as the other mans obsidian lips came closer. Kinig? Yes? Are you a lover of men? Yes. Those gorgeous lips curled into a smile, revealing small teeth of a white to rival his hair, brows, and ridiculously long lashes. Kinig moaned as the slightly smaller man used his grip on Kinigs neck to brace himself as he gracefully swung one leg over Kinigs thighs to straddle his lap. Keeping control of the bards head, he leaned to the side to place Kinigs cup on the table beside the couch. This isnt something most human men find pleasant, Fallil continued as he settled his firm rump on Kinigs thighs. Or, rather, allow themselves to enjoy. With his other hand, he parted the front of Kinigs jacket, drawing on the string that kept his undershirt closed. Kinig glanced down, gratified to see a bulge that stood testament to Fallils arousal. At least they were both sporting erections. In fact, it drives most men who prefer women to insanity. It bothers them when they feel the attraction toward us, when they cant help but want to suck cock and feel another tunnel deep into their ass. Kinig couldnt breathe. His heart raced. Unable to help himself, he slid his hands up the firm muscles of Fallils thighs until he could sink his fingertips into the meat of the others ass. Firm, tight, demanding to be worshipped.

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Fallil smiled, sliding his hand within Kinigs shirt to find the bare skin of his chest. I can tell that this wont be a problem for you. Kinig shook his head so hard some of his unruly brown hair fell forward into his face. Not at all. Fallil purred, allowing Kinig to gather him closer. He pulled his head back, though, when Kinig would have dived for a kiss. Strong fingers caught in Kinigs hair, arresting his movement, forcing him to focus on the silver eyes hovering before his. Youre mine to command for the length of time that you are here. Fallils voice had gone from softly seductive to authoritative, brooking no nonsense. Your very safety depends on that. The harsh demand zinged through Kinigs balls as he nodded eagerly. If I think that you are any kind of threat to my people, Ill never let you go. At the moment, Kinig thought this might be the better option, despite that he intended no harm to the raedjour. Fallil rolled his hips, brushing his erection against Kinigs. He leaned in enough to lightly brush his lips to Kinigs. You and I will get along well, I think. Kinigs affirmative answer was lost on a moan, one Fallil swallowed with his open mouth and demanding tongue. Kinig fought for control only for the pleasure of losing the battle. Fallil might be smaller, but his svelte body proved stronger than Kinigs. He slid his hands up past the low waistband of Fallils snug trousers to find warm, slightly damp skin. So glossy, so smooth, so amazingly erotic. Almost as amazing as the mouth devouring him. He chased Fallils lips when the other drew away, holding desperately to bare shoulders while Fallil yanked at the ties of his jacket. He had to let go when the jacket was yanked down his arms, trapping them. Growling, Fallil slipped back from Kinigs lap. Get that off, he commanded. Hastily, Kinig obeyed, eyes fastened on the other man as Fallil untied the string holding up his trousers, dropping them to allow his cock to spring free. Caught with his jacket off but with a voluminous amount of poets shirt remaining, Kinig nonetheless reached out with a needy hand toward the gorgeous, glistening black stalk revealed to him. Fallil slapped his hand away. No. Take off your clothes. All of them. But Grinning evilly, Fallil wrapped his fingers around his own cock and slowly pulled them up toward the head. Im waiting. Not for long, if Kinig could help it. It was a struggle, but he managed to get out of his blouse, pants, and underclothes, thankful that his boots were low and loose and easy to remove. Fallil backed toward an open doorway, his cock a delectable, bobbing beacon. Come with me.

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Kinig shot from the couch and stumbled after Fallil as eagerly as any adoring puppy. Fallil kept him at arms distance, leading him into a candlelit bedchamber. Lie down. He indicated a large bedlike structure with a thickly padded green platform rather than a stuffed mattress. An absurd number of furs and pillows were piled against the two walls against which the platform was pushed. On your knees, facing away from me. But But? Kinig couldnt take his eyes from Fallils cock, fascinated by the fact that it was clearly wet. How had it gotten so? Please. Let me taste you. Fallil chuckled. You will. Soon. But not now. He snapped the fingers of his free hand and pointed. Kneel. Hoping he knew what was coming next, and soon, Kinig obeyed. Crawl forward, closer to the wall. The platform behind him sank beneath Fallils weight. Hug one of the pillows, if you like. Are you going to? Fuck you? A hot, damp hand squeezed one of his naked buttocks. Oh, yes. Both Kinig and his cock jumped happily. He grabbed a large, firm pillow and hugged it to his chest as he lowered his shoulders. Behind him, Fallil used hands and sharp commands to arrange him on his knees, spread wide, with his ass tilted up. Strong fingers kneaded Kinigs buttocks open to the tune of an appreciative hum. You see, Kinig, we happen to find humans fascinating. A finger, or perhaps a thumb, traced his twitching opening. He felt the smear of some type of fluid and wondered if it was saliva. So pale, so wanting, so fragile. He moaned when the digit pressed shallowly into him, probing the walls of his entrance gently. And so many human men do not know the pleasures to be found with other men. The digit -- which Kinig decided had to be a finger -- pushed farther inside. So many think it threatens their manhood to be penetrated. The finger found that spot within Kinig, the spot that had sealed the deal on Kinigs sexual preference when hed first felt a cock rub against it. He clutched at the pillow and moaned his appreciation, wantonly pushing back into Fallil. We know better, dont we, Kinig? Oh, yes. While hed never considered himself promiscuous, Kinig had rarely denied himself the pleasure of sex. Hed had a few discreet, moderately steady lovers, but none that he was terribly upset to leave behind. The vague thought of being open with his sexuality for the first time in his life pushed his excitement to a new level. Fallil stopped talking, in favor of driving Kinig out of his mind. One finger became two, gently stretching his tight channel. Then Fallils free hand wrapped solidly about Kinigs cock, stroking in time with his fingers in Kinigs ass. Kinig cried out, rocking to Fallils hands, feeling the climax building. When hot breath and then a wet tongue lapped at his balls, Kinig

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thought hed lost it for sure. A surge of heat charged up his spine to explode somewhere behind his head. He screamed, hips pumping, but no relief was to be had. Fallil had a sure grip at the base of his cock, and the fingers in his ass slipped out, denying Kinig release. Not yet, crooned the elf as he let go of Kinigs cock. Strong fingers dug into his hips, and something that could be nothing other than Fallils cock rubbed Kinigs entrance. Youll come with me inside you. Gods, yes! Please! As much as he liked sex, Kinig had never experienced such a smooth entry into his body. Not the first time. But Fallil slid in, wet and hard and smooth, as if theyd already been fucking for hours. Kinig screamed again as his body stretched to accommodate the other, the inevitable pleasure-pain suffusing his body, a prickling heat that burbled beneath the surface of his skin, not allowing him to be still, forcing him to buck into Fallil, to cry out, to release the pillow beneath him and grab the padding supporting them. It was sweet, wonderful heat such as hed never felt before, and words escaped him. Control escaped him. Fallil rode him smoothly, setting a hard, driving rhythm that kept Kinig mindless, had him sweating and begging as tension filled his belly, filled his balls. Fallil allowed him no reprieve, pushing him higher, denying him release the few times he almost reached it. Kinig rolled with it, sweat filling his eyes, blinding him. Kinig, Fallil breathed, voice low and urgent in the bards ear. His firm grip squeezed just right on Kinigs cock. Come for me. Grateful, Kinig complied, crying out as he arched back into Fallil, spilling his seed onto the embroidered pillows in endless streams. Draped over his back, Fallil dug in, driving into Kinigs ass with punishing thrusts until his own rhythm faltered slightly and he filled Kinig with heat. Kinig fell forward into a boneless heap, mouth wide open as he gasped for air. He missed the heated pressure of Fallil within him, behind him, but couldnt muster a protest when the other man backed away, rising from the bed. He had almost regained some sort of coherency when Fallil returned, sitting beside him. Maddeningly enough, the smaller man seemed barely winded even though his skin glistened with what Kinig took to be sweat. Without comment, Fallil lifted Kinigs sweaty hair and slipped something around his neck. Kinig puzzled it out as Fallil fastened something just below the apple of his throat and confirmed his suspicions by reaching up to touch the leather of a collar as Fallil drew back. This is for your protection, Fallil told him, fingering the collar. He brushed sweaty locks from Kinigs cheek, smiling. Youre mine now. Mine until I let you go.

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Chapter Three
Three seasons later
An involuntary cry burst from her mouth when her back hit the wall. His hand cushioned the back of her head while at the same time angling her lips for a devouring kiss. She succumbed willingly, even anxiously, lifting her legs and arms to wrap securely around him. The flimsy skirt about her hips lifted to her waist as her bare breasts pressed into his chest. He braced her against the wall, fumbling between them at the fastening of his trousers. In no time, hed freed his cock, positioned her, and impaled her, all one-handed. Their grunts and moans as they raced toward completion hardly cracked the surface of the general murmur of the small crowd in the hall. No one paid them any mind. This, Kinig had decided, was the most astounding thing hed experienced among the elves. Oh, a few people would glance at them now and then, but it was always with idle curiosity or voyeuristic interest, never the disgust or horror that would have been prevalent in a human environment. Pretty, arent they? Kinig startled, embarrassed. With difficulty, he tore his gaze from the mans flexing backside, visible now that the womans wiggling had lowered his trousers down his thighs. Yes. Fallil chuckled, handing Kinig a strange, sticky little ball. Fallil knew the open sexuality still embarrassed Kinig, and professed to enjoy the flush it caused on Kinigs fair skin. And hed hardly ever blushed before living among the raedjour! Kinig held the small orange ball up to examine it. It fit neatly in his palm, sticking to his skin a little without leaving any residue. Whats this?

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Fallil held a similar ball, this one brighter yellow, to his lips. Taste it. He demonstrated by taking a bite from it. Trusting his sponsor, Kinig took a bite. Rich, ripe flavor washed over his tongue, like that of an orange but so much more. Darker, more rich, just as tart. Fallil chuckled, watching Kinigs reaction. Good? Very. He blinked, mesmerized, as always, by the humor in the mans sparkling silver eyes. He smiled. Thank you. Fallils eyes hooded, and Kinigs cock perked with interest. That look seemed to always prelude sex. Of course, the fact that they had sex practically every day might lend itself to that way of thinking. Fallil took another bite of his treat and then slowly licked his lips as he tilted his face up toward Kinig. Obediently, Kinig lowered his mouth to Fallils, opening to the tongue that slid past his lips. The zing of lemon mixed with the rich orange and combined with the other-than-fruity flavors. The heady mixture was enough to make Kinigs knees weak, and he gladly sank into Fallils embrace. He should have known that even raedjour treats would have a sexual side. The kiss was long and thorough while, all around them, couples and singles arose from their seats in the common dining hall. The city was large, but those who lived in or around the core often joined others for at least one meal a day, and the kitchens were always kept open and stocked with at least a few cooks on hand at all times. Kinig thought distantly that the other diners probably gave him and Fallil no more thought than they did the couple fucking up against the wall. Fallil pulled from the kiss, licking the last bit of treat from Kinigs lips. Come. Lets go back to our rooms. Our rooms. It still gave Kinig a silent thrill to hear that. He wondered if Fallil was aware of saying it. He stood and walked beside Fallil toward one of the many exits. They passed by the couple, who had reached completion, it seemed. The man now knelt, still bracing the woman in his lap against the wall, his hands to either side of her shoulders. She remained wrapped around him, although far more loosely now. They kissed lazily, oblivious to anything else around them. Who are they? Kinig asked as they left the couple behind. That was Dreidon and his truemate, Corin. Looks as though shes in heat again. Is it the heat that makes them act like that? Fallil chuckled. You should know better than that by now. No, I mean the ravenous need for each other. Usually in public, people are more teasing. Youve noticed that? I shouldnt be surprised how observant you are. Fallil shook his head, causing some of the loose hair down his back to spill around his shoulder. When the

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womans in heat, a truematched couple does tend to lose sense of what goes on around them, yes. Im surprised they arent sequestered in their rooms. Kinig glanced back. He and Fallil were nearly alone in their tunnel, but the memory of the couple stayed with him. Are they in love? I believe they are, yes. Kinig faced forward. But not all truematched couples are in love, correct? Correct. It will happen more often than not but He sighed. Ive found not all people believe in or need love. Or, at least, not in the same manner. There are those who can thrive with someone whom they accept but cant love. Still others are just fine when the one they love loves many others. It takes all kinds of people to populate this world. Strange to hear that from a man Kinig knew had never gone far beyond the borders of this underground city. But then, Fallil had lived centuries before Kinig had ever been born. Do you believe in love? Kinig heard himself ask as they started up a flight of stairs that would take them to Fallils suite of rooms. Fallil glanced at him briefly. Oh, yes. Dont you? Kinig stared at the torch at the apex of the stairs. As a concept, yes. He chose his words very carefully, as he always had for this particular subject. As a bond between families and friends, yes. But not between lovers? Kinig smiled. I would like to believe it, but Ive seen so much evidence that romantic love is a fleeting thing. He laughed. I suppose thats an odd thing for a bard to say. Fallil stopped at the top of the stairs and gave Kinig a long, searching look. Kinig would not have been surprised at all to learn that those silver eyes could read his thoughts like pages in a book. You were hurt in the past, Fallil stated finally. Yes. Nodding, Fallil started walking, expecting Kinig to walk beside him. A man? Yes. Will you tell me about him? Kinig knew by the tone that he could refuse. Fallil did not pry into Kinigs personal thoughts without permission. But Kinig had found him to be nothing but a sympathetic listener. This time, Kinig found himself remarkably willing to open up. He and I grew up together. His father was a clerk, and my father was the herald for the Alessandur house. His mother raised us both, since mine died when I was very young. They reached the door to Fallils suite and entered. It was not lost on Kinig that they had headed home with the intention to have sex and that intention was now muted. It was comfortable, however, and Fallil didnt seem to mind. It was almost a given that they would fuck at some point in the

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near future, and that knowledge was remarkably freeing. I knew early on that I was far more attracted to boys than girls. He was the only one who noticed. He looked at boys as well, but not as much as girls. Kinig shrugged, sitting on the couch to remove the low, softsoled boots that he now habitually wore. We experimented with each other as youths, developed a secret relationship as we got older and proclaimed our love for each other. And then? The other man settled on the couch an arms length away, knee folded so he could face Kinig. He joined the barons guard force. In fear of my letting the others know he was having an affair with me, he started rumors about me -- that I was a liar out to satisfy my own lustful desires and a slut whod fall to his knees for almost any man. Kinig felt a familiar, bitter smile take his lips, but the biting pain no longer plagued him. He succeeded in labeling me completely. No one ever wondered how he got his information. You never told anyone? No. I didnt want to hurt him, even if hed hurt me. Fallil squeezed his arm. Did anyone hurt you physically? No, thank the gods. By the time it happened, I was well enough established as my fathers apprentice that the baron decided to ignore my preferences. He said it didnt matter as long as I could perform my duties and not embarrass him. What happened to your former lover? Hes still in the guard, as far as I know. Kinig took a deep breath. Ive had a number of lovers since. He laughed. A few of them due to the rumors. But surely you can see that his love was flawed. But so was mine. I was upset by the embarrassment and attention he caused me, but I discovered later that I wasnt at all upset for losing him. You were both young. That type of love often doesnt last. Ive seen few types of love that do. And youve lived so long? Youve met so many people? Fallil sniffed, softening his words with a smile. Among the raedjour, we will typically live for centuries without falling in love. Many of us never do. Amazing that you believe in it. Fallil reached across the small space between them to comb his fingers through Kinigs loose hair. Im a romantic. Yes. You are. They were teasing, but a strange buzz hummed just underneath Kinigs heart. He found himself unable to meet that penetrating silver gaze, choosing to admire Fallils long, slim neck and the shine of his snowy white hair instead.

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Besides, I believe that its fate that draws you to the one you love. You cannot predict its timing, its method, or its path, but if love will find you, there is no escaping it. Fallils tenor was softly serious as he edged closer to Fallil. His knee bumped Kinigs thigh as he came close enough to tuck his fingers inside the open front of Kinigs shirt to smooth a hand over his chest. Kinig closed his eyes, instinctively leaning in to his lover until his head came to rest on Fallils shoulder. So good. So natural. So easy to hold or be held by this man. I, for instance Fallils voice was soft, contemplative, as he carded his fingers through Kinigs hair, his other hand softly rubbing Kinigs nipple. would not have thought Id fall in love with you. Kinig froze, eyes snapping wide open. He swallowed, staring at the opposite wall. What? You heard me. Shaking his head, Kinig sat up and pulled away from Fallils touch. Youre mad. Fallil shrugged. Perhaps. But I know what I feel. No. The other man sighed, cocking his head to the side as he calmly watched Kinig panic. Do you propose to tell me what I do or do not feel? Kinig gaped. Butyou cant. Why not? Im human. Yes, Id noticed. Fallil, be serious. Im being quite serious. Kinig stared, not knowing what to say. When Fallil smiled and leaned forward for a kiss, Kinig backed away. Quick as a wink, Fallil tucked his fingers into Kinigs collar to prevent him from rising. Where are you going? Kinig averted his face. I dont know what to say. Youre not required to say anything. Fallil, undeterred, nuzzled his ear. Fallil Shhhh. A warm, wet tongue traced Kinigs ear. I ask for nothing in return other than what we already have. You will stay with me for your time with us. Then, when you are ready, youll leave to see the world. I wont stop you. In fact, I encourage it. Y-you dont want me to stay?

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No. Because you dont want to stay. You would be unsatisfied, and I wouldnt truly love you if I were to trample your dreams. Pressing closer, Fallil snaked a hand between Kinigs thighs to cup his erection. But I will enjoy you to the fullest while you are here. Kinigs head fell back against the back of the couch, his legs splaying open to give Fallil room to work his trousers open. But II dont know that I His words faltered, not only because of his thoughts but also because of the hot hand that wrapped around his cock. I dont know what love is. I dont know that I should say the words you deserve. A swish of movement and then a tug on his collar made him lift his head and open his eyes. Fallil was on his feet between Kinigs knees, his face just a thumbs-length from Kinig. Im not asking you to say words you dont mean or dont know if you mean. I dont want them unless theyre heartfelt, and I dont expect them. He placed his hands firmly on Kinigs shoulders. I give my words of love to you freely because I think youre a marvelous creature and I am thankful to Rhae for bringing your light into my life, even if only for a short time. Smiling, he sank slowly to his knees, his hands sliding down Kinigs torso. Helpless, Kinig watched as Fallil pushed aside his shirt to expose his cock. Fallil bent but kept his face tilted so Kinig had no trouble watching obsidian lips part, exposing white teeth and a wet black tongue, just before that gorgeous mouth engulfed the head of his cock. His hips bucked, driving his cock deeper down Fallils willing throat. Letting his head fall back again, Kinig closed his eyes and gave in to Fallils expertise at driving his every sense to its limit. Sex. It was all sex, wasnt it? He couldnt possibly think that Fallil meant what he said. It was absurd. He was a human man. What possible worth could he have to a raedjour? If Fallil was going to fall for any man, it should be one of his own. One with whom he had a possible future. The list of men with whom Fallil had shared him cast through his mind. Any one of them would be a more suitable recipient of Fallils love. He slid his hands into Fallils hair, holding loosely as the others head bobbed. He would not deny that he craved making love with Fallil. Having sex with the others had been marvelous, but sex with Fallil alone wasspecial? Was it special? Yes, it was. Hed known that. Hed thought it was because he spent more time with Fallil, that they had more in common. Could it be love? Orgasm built low in Kinigs belly, making it impossible for his hips to be still. Impossible to contain the short little moans that spilled from his lips. Fallil was a highly skilled lover, no doubt, with the raedjour edge of the ability to feel his lovers emotions during the heights of passion. Did that sense go deeper than Kinig had originally thought? Could Fallil sense a love in Kinig that he himself could not recognize? With a shout of joy, Kinig climaxed, spilling down Fallils throat. The man allowed him only a moment to catch his breath before jumping to his feet. Displaying his remarkable strength, Fallil pulled Kinig from the couch and onto the rug. Kinig lay prone as Fallil

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stripped him of his boots and trousers, then fell on him, nudging Kinigs legs even farther apart than he had willingly spread them. Fallils fingers spread Kinigs ass cheeks apart. This is where I love to be, Fallil crooned, expertly fitting his cock at Kinigs opening and pushing that first little bit in. The natural oils from Fallils skin, along with the numerous times he had fucked Kinig over the last few seasons, ensured easy entry. Kinig gasped, thrilled as ever to feel Fallil sink inside him. It did feel better than anyone else. Kinig had thought Fallil just happened to be the perfect size. Perhaps there was more to it?

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I crave being inside you. Fallil sighed as he reached his limit, the smooth, hot skin of his groin pressed to Kinigs ass, his cock deep within Kinigs body. You cant feel my enjoyment as I can feel yours, so I can only assure you that this is right. That this is better than good. He pulled out partway, then sank slowly back in, taking his time, nuzzling the back of Kinigs neck. I love you and I would share with you anything that you would share with me. Unexpected tears burned in Kinigs eyes. Tears? Why? And why was he gripping the rug beneath him for dear life? Fallils hands closed over Kinigs, weaving his fingers between Kinigs white knuckles in a successful attempt to ease that grip. I love you, he breathed into Kinigs ear as he thrust his cock as far as it would go. Thats the simple truth of it. Kinig clutched Fallils hands, eyes closed to the emotions that poured out of his heart. He opened up to Fallil as he had no one else before, the mans soft words touching an unknown place in his heart. By the time Fallils patient thrusts and soft crooning turned to serious rocking and wordless grunts, Kinigs heart felt raw and exposed and far more open than it ever had before. It was daunting and frightening, but oddly freeing. Trust that had built far more than he realized in their time together allowed him to spill forth and let go, knowing Fallil would be there to catch him. Afterward, Fallil lay draped over Kinigs back like a warm, heavy blanket, silently giving him time to recollect his thoughts. Kinig stared at their hands, still entwined on the rug beside his shoulder. I love him, he thought. It was still too new and frightening for him to say aloud, but something told him that Fallil already knew.

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Chapter Four
Damn. Savous looked at the woman lying among the bedclothes. Her bones were
clearly evident in the shoulders and arms bared by her sleeveless shift, but her breasts and belly were obscenely swollen. Lank brown hair was plastered by pungent sweat to the sides of her head and forehead. The muscles of her scrawny neck worked over the panting breaths drawn in between her parted, parched lips. Nearly translucent eyelids kept fluttering over distended pupils. A man sat on her other side, back against the wall, legs folded on the mattress. Physically, he was the picture of a raedjour warrior in his prime. Savous knew him as Garn, one of Salins contemporaries. His face, however showed an unusual wear, etched circles underneath his black eyes and seemingly permanent worry creases in his forehead. His eyes were locked on the womans face, one of her fragile hands carefully enveloped in both of his. His rapid breathing matched hers almost exactly. Adesty, the primary healer currently among the raedjour, sat on the womans near side, one hand spread over her belly, head bowed. Healing magic simmered about him, through him, tangible to Savous but likely not to the other two occupants of the room. As Adesty was busy, Savous directed a question to Garn. How long has she been like this? The man on the bed didnt stir. Might not have heard him. Garn? Black eyes blinked, a modicum of awareness returning to them as Garns attention switched to Savous. The bleak, miserable expression was out of place on a raedjour face. I didnt know. Savous wondered if the man even recognized that he spoke to his rhaeja. How could any of us have known? How long has she been like this?

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He shook his head. A season. Two. Shes been pregnant for more than two seasons. A tear spilled down Garns left cheek as he dropped his gaze back down to the woman. We werent sure We didnt know She only began to show over this last season, and we didnt think it could be The tear dripped from his chin to spatter on his hand. I got her here as soon as I realized.

Not soon enough. That the woman was still fully human was clear. A human womans constitution could not hope to support the two-cycle raedjour pregnancy. How did this happen?
A small sob shook the mans shoulders. Garn! One of the villages near the southeastern edge of the forest. Theres a new mill theyve built thats a short enough walk from the trees. You left the forest? Hed only known of one other raedjour brave enough to leave the protection of the trees, but Radin had never been stupid enough to do so where there were humans around. Garn nodded. Some of the younger He gritted his teeth, a remnant of his accustomed bravado showing through. The first time, I just followed them to bring them back. I found them with her. Anxious eyes darted back up to Savouss. They werent forcing her. None of us did. She was willing. More than willing. Well, that was unwelcome news. He knew of a few women whod come to the forest seeking the elves and the sexual pleasure they were rumored to give. Hed not yet heard of his men leaving the Dark Forest to administer said pleasure. Perhaps in reaction to Savouss scowl, Garns gaze dropped again. I shouldnt have. But she was so I was drawn to her, but I didnt think it was like that.

That. He couldnt even say it. Couldnt acknowledge the evidence of the doomed
truematch that lay before him. You didnt think. Garn winced. She was so tempting, rhaeja. Of that, he had no doubt. But for a man of Garns experience to succumb to something so dangerousit shook Savous to the core. This only happened once? Pause. He didnt know if he was angrier with the man or with his own inability to guard against such tragedies. Garn, dont force me to pull this out of you. Tell me what happened, and tell me now. Garn drew in a breath, responding to the tone of command Salin was always telling Savous to employ more often. More than once. I slept with her the one night with the others, but I went back. She welcomed me. I thought I would know ! It didnt occur to me

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until she started to lose weight, until I heard that she didnt welcome the others back. Only me. As soon as I figured out she was my truemate, I brought her here. He faced Savous, face a picture of grief. I didnt know. You knew. Although Savous felt sorry for him, he wasnt feeling particularly comforting. You knew it could mean the death of a woman to sleep with her without the changing spell. Garn frowned. Only if youre her truemate. Which you are. Garns eyes closed, and tears spilled down his cheeks. It was wrong to see a warrior brought to tears, and this was perhaps the one occurrence that could do it. Can she be saved, rhaeja? he asked, strong voice wavering. I dont know. Savous looked to Adesty, noting the closed eyes. Healing magic shimmered around him and the woman. Rhaeja Savous held up a hand. Shhhh. He didnt want to look at the other man. He wanted to leave the room. He wanted to deny that even one of his people had done such a stupid thing. Every child among them was raised with basic knowledge of the spell that changed human women to raedjour. Everyone knew that it was only safe to make love to a woman after the change spell had been set. It was common knowledge that if a human woman got pregnant before a sorcerer had cast the spell on her, it meant not only her death and the death of her child, but was almost surely the death of the man who was her truemate. In one thoughtless act, Garn had ended the lives of two people and an unborn. He was a walking corpse. A thought occurred to him as he waited for Adesty to resume consciousness. How many of you were there? Absorbed in his grief, Garn didnt immediately respond. Garn, how many other warriors were visiting this human? I dont know, exactly. Approximate. A dozen. A dozen warriors, not just Garn, each of them gambling not only their lives but the lives of the women they fucked. He wanted to rail against them, against Garn, demand from Garn why he would take the chance. But he didnt. It would serve no purpose with Garn. The man was suffering enough. Adesty stirred. Both Garn and Savous focused on him as his violet eyes fluttered open. With a small sigh, he sat back, letting his hand slip down the womans distended belly. His attention went first to Savous. He shook his head. Theres nothing I can do.

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No! Garns outburst turned Adestys attention to him. Savous saw the healers normally empathetic expression cool, clearly showing that he shared Savouss disgust at Garns behavior. Her body is not equipped to support the child, and I can do nothing to help. Its not only food thats necessary. Shes simply not strong enough. Even if we tried to abort the baby -- Savous was shocked. Theyd heard of such things, but no raedjour healer would dream of disposing of a precious life -- she would still die. He shook his head. She has no consciousness now, and I dont believe shell regain it. Shed been unconscious when Garn had appeared with her in his arms after carrying her for nights to reach the city. She may last a few more days, but not much more. A sob burst from Garn. Disgusted as he was, Savous had to feel for him. Garn was older than he, had lived longer without a truemate. Savous could not imagine what it would be like to finally find her, only to lose her through his own careless actions. The muscular man shifted, stretching out to lie beside the woman. Big arms slid carefully around her slight frame, seeking to protect her from that which no amount of muscle could. Adesty looked to Savous, who, after one last look at the doomed couple, nodded. Silently, the two men left the room. In the outer room, Savous hailed Theros, the boy serving as Adestys aide. Send someone to fetch Salin and Hyle, and have them meet us in my study. The boy nodded, short white hair bobbing. Yes, rhaeja. By mutual consent, neither man spoke as they left the tower in which Adesty had his rooms. They crossed the courtyard and entered the elaborate private tower where Savous lived with Irin. Sending Adesty upstairs to his workroom, Savous made a detour at the second floor toward his bedchamber, on the off chance that Irin was there. As luck would have it, she was. At his entrance, she looked up from her embroidery. Hello, my love. Her smile dwindled as she stood. Whats wrong? He tried a smile for her but couldnt quite manage it. Would you come up to the workroom? Of course. She grabbed a long red strip of fabric and began to wind it about her hips as she approached. Are you all right? No. He sighed, kissing her cheek briefly before walking with her toward the stairs. Is this about the urgent message earlier? Yes. Ive sent for Salin and Hyle. Adestys upstairs. Id like you all to hear it together. She nodded and fell silent. They were halfway up the last flight of stairs to the door of his study when she slipped her hand into his. He squeezed in return, appreciating her mere presence. Adesty stood at the table at the far end of the room, staring blankly at the small fire within a ring of stones in the huge firepit that dominated the center of the room. As she

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circled the room toward him, Irin used her magic to light a few of the sconces mounted on the walls. Please, Adesty, sit. She pressed him into one of the chairs beside the table. Something to drink? The healer sat heavily and nodded. Have you any of those spirits the traders have brought recently? Having just opened the door to the cabinet with the beverages they had to offer, Savous stopped himself from reaching for the wine. Yes. He eyed the healer, frowning at the lost look on his face. That bad? Adesty swallowed, eyes closed. My lord, I hope to never see anything that tragic again in my lifetime. Irin turned wide, questioning eyes on her truemate over the healers head. For Adesty to speak of tragedy spoke volumes. As a healer, hed seen much, both in humans and raedjour. There were warriors among them whod lost eyes and limbs, who had been torn asunder through fighting or natural disaster. Savous recalled a particularly notable cave-in a few hundred cycles ago that had happened just after Adesty had reached his prime as a healer. He had seen it all and had never been anything but calm. It was unsettling to see him rattled. Sighing, Savous grabbed a bottle of what many of the warriors called fire water and poured a healthy portion for both himself and Adesty. By the time he got it into the healers hands, Salin and Hyle had arrived. Salin took one look at Savous, then Adesty, and frowned. How do I know this cannot be good news? Savous sat. Its not. He raised his glass toward the newcomers and gestured at the cabinet. Help yourselves, if you like. Salin considered briefly, then got himself a drink. I think I might need it. Hyle? The shorter man shook his head, walking straight toward the table to sit beside Savous. Waiting. Savous let Salin get his drink and be seated, then told them of Garn and his doomed truemate. Salins fury was ominous. He said little, only asking questions for clarification, but the banked fire in his eyes made his dark red gaze nearly glow. Is there nothing you can do? Hyle asked softly when Adesty finished saying what he had to say. Sadly, the healer shook his head. Ive been told of what happens, but nothing in our history provides a cure. Hyle nodded. He was, perhaps, the best read of any raedjour alive. If neither he nor Adesty had heard mention of a cure, there wasnt likely to be one. He turned to Savous. Do you propose we try anything?

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Savous spun his empty cup on the surface of the table, giving his fingers something to do. I think its far too late for that. She is nearly dead already. A sniff beside him. Without looking, he reached for Irin. She clutched his hand, wrapping both of hers around it. He could feel her vibrating with sorrow. I dont propose to do anything, Savous stated sadly. We can make them comfortable in their last moments. Perhaps draughts for the pain. Adesty leaned forward, elbows on the table, staring into the empty cup that sat between his hands. Im not sure she feels pain anymore. Maybe for him. Irins voice was small and tearful. Let him suffer, Salin growled, slamming down his cup. It was his moronic actions that brought this on them. Hyle faced the older man. You cant blame him fully. Salin glared at him. Cant I? I dont condone his actions, but at a certain level, theyre understandable. How is that understandable? Garn is over seven hundred springs, commander. He had access to a willing female. After so much time, a man can forget even the most basic of tenets. Not when he puts the womans life and his own life in danger. It could be he didnt believe hed ever find a truemate. Most men dont. Im well aware of that. Then why is it so hard to believe that he lost his head? That doesnt happen. That didnt used to happen, Hyle corrected. Not when Rhae was a very real presence in our lives. But we all know that thoughts and beliefs have changed drastically since She left us. To be honest, Im shocked more of these tragedies havent occurred. Savous winced. Irin squeezed his hand. He drew a deep breath. For all that Rhaes absence wasnt his fault, a century and a half later, he still shouldered most of the blame for it. He and Irin. How many do you suppose have been doing this? Hyle and Salin stared at each other. It was Salin who dropped his gaze, muttering a curse. Who can tell? Could be hundreds. We no longer know everything that goes on in the outer regions. Our only saving grace is that more humans havent settled closer to the forests edges. Hyle nodded. And that is where Garn was. He said there were a dozen visiting this one woman? Savous nodded. Then weve reason to believe this is not an isolated occurrence.

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Savous heaved another breath. This is most likely in reaction to my decree to abduct no more women. Hyle nodded. That, and the fact that there are only seven sorcerers capable of casting the change spell, and they are all here in the city. Three of them apprentices, Irin noted sadly. Savous gritted his teeth, well aware that Hyles own son was the last sorcerer born, and he was still under one hundred springs, barely his fathers apprentice. Irin was a sorcerer, but she didnt cast the change spell, nor would their daughters, even if they werent too young to be sorcerers in their own right. He stared at Hyle, judging whether he was strong enough to ask his next question of Hyle. Have you tallied your numbers? Hyle blinked slowly, recognizing the change of topic. Then nodded. What are they? Calmly, Hyle folded his hands on the table before him. Four hundred and sixty-two. Grimacing, Savous shut his eyes. Is this the census count? Salin asked. Hyle answered. Yes. Savous opened his eyes to see the shock on Salins face. So few? Is that only the adults? Hyle shook his head. Total. Irin gasped. Including those on the outskirts? Yes, although the numbers could, admittedly, be off there. How many adults? Salin demanded. Three hundred and eight. How many women? Adesty asked. Hyle regarded the healer just as calmly. Eighty-two. Silence fell among them, most of the attention centered on Hyle, who remained calm as he switched his gaze to each of them in turn. He and Savous shared a particularly long gaze. Were dying, Savous declared, wanting it in the open. Hyle nodded. The fact hung between them like a lead weight. When he had become rhaeja, there had been a little over a thousand of his race. But the birth rate had been greater then. He knew, from previous discussions, that women were simply not having as many children. The number of births had never been tremendous, but it had been steady. But a few of the older mated couples had died naturally, and very few new truematches had been formed. With the

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existing matches not producing as many, added to the abundance of infighting among the warriors, their numbers were now less than half. We need more women. Adesty spoke to the air between them, to no one in particular. Even then, theres no guarantee of truematches, Salin pointed out. But the odds are much greater. Wed be better if we could unlock the secret of giving birth to daughters, Irin murmured. It was Savouss turn to squeeze her hand. Although shed given birth to three, she was the only woman in their history to do so. Both she and Savous were frustrated that she was not only more fertile, but that she was the only one. She had spent countless hours with healers and sorcerers alike, trying to discover why she was different and how they could replicate it, but the only difference they knew for sure was that she had been within the vetriese and touched by the goddess. Without the portals to the other realm, such an occurrence could not happen again. We are all aware of the issues, Savous said, making his voice brisk. He sat forward. We will continue to address our options with this new information in mind. He looked to Salin. You should make sure it is well known among the men what happened with Garn and why. I hate to use his tragedy, but he must serve as an example. Perhaps it will stop some of them from doing the same. Unhappy, Salin nodded. Adesty, make Garn and his truemate as comfortable as you can in their final time. He met the healers violet gaze. And you and Gineon learn all you can. Adesty frowned, but nodded. It would feel wrong, Savous knew, but Adesty thought of the good of more than just two people. He and his apprentice would record what they saw so others could learn from it. Outside of that, I dont see much we can do. Im open to suggestions. The silence told him there were none. He stood. Then were done here. The others stood in uncommon silence. Usually when a meeting broke up, there was discussion. This time, the news was too dire, and Savous had no doubt that the others thoughts were as bleak and unhappy as his. He and Irin trailed the others down the flights of stairs to the bottom floor, their hands linked. He gave serious thought to detouring toward their bedchamber on the second floor, almost succumbing to a need to reaffirm life by plunging deep into his truemates willing body. But he abandoned the idea. Later -- definitely later -- but right now, he felt an equal need to see more of his people with his own eyes.

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Without comment, Irin walked with him, slipping easily under his arm and wrapping her arm about his waist after they passed through the front door. Her warmth was a great comfort to him as he wandered toward the main courtyard. Perhaps a dozen men loitered at the base of the statue of Rhae, talking and laughing. Other raedjour passed singly or in pairs on other business, many of them young boys scurrying about their chores. The men at the statue took note of his presence, and a few of them waved. He recognized Kenth and Jarak among them. He smiled. Is there a wrestling match tonight? Irin answered, as she was the only one within comfortable hearing distance. Mmmm, no. Tomorrow, I believe. Is there entertainment tonight? Fallil and Kinig are performing in the west tower.

Kinig. He veered, changing their direction to head for the largest of the five towers
ringing the statue. How long has Kinig been among us now? Oh Irin sighed, pert chin tilted up toward the cavern ceiling as she thought. Over a cycle. Hes seen at least two summers with us. How is he doing? At first, hed kept close track of the human, but once hed discovered that Fallil seemed to care deeply for Kinig, his attention had waned. He trusted one or the other of them to notify him when Kinig was ready to leave. What little he had heard had been favorable, and certainly hed enjoyed the performances he could occasionally catch. Wonderfully. He and Fallil make quite a team. Both onstage and off. She chuckled. Yes. They reached the wide, flat steps leading up to the arch into the main floor of the tower. By necessity, they had to part to keep their balance, but they kept hold of each others hands. Do you think hell ever want to leave us? She shrugged. Perhaps not. I think he and Fallil may be in love. Although her words were warm, they held an undercurrent of sadness. He knew why. It wasnt unheard of for a raedjour to fall for his male human charge. Not common, but not unprecedented if the man, like Fallil, preferred men over women. It was a tragic occurrence however, since the change spell for human women did not work on human men. Hes not as bad off as Garn. She shuddered. Oh, Savous. As they reached the top of the stairs, he again wound his arm about her shoulders. Im sorry, my love. He brushed his lips over her cheek. I shouldnt have brought it up. No. Not that. I just She shook her head. We cant let that happen again.

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I agree. The sound of music drew them toward the smaller of the two performance arenas within the tower. There were a few boys setting up tables and couches for the nights festivities. In the center of the cleared area, Fallil and Kinig were rehearsing. The nights performance must be about the hunt, Savous decided, given that Fallil was dressed all in a stylized huntsman outfit of midnight leather. The cured skins had been dyed almost the same shade and gleam as Fallils own skin; if the lighting were lower, he might seem to be naked. His wealth of snowy hair was pulled and knotted about his head in complicated braids that must have taken hours to complete. He moved to the driving, primal beat Kinig beat on a set of five drums of varying sizes. Savous stopped Irin when they were just inside the entrance, pulling her aside so they stood mostly in shadow. He hoped Fallil would not notice them. Quietly, they watched the dancer and the human musician, admiring their talent. For all of the skill displayed before him, Savous was reminded of Kinigs original reason for coming to the elves. Drawing Irin in front of him, pressing her back to his chest, he circled her shoulders with his arms and breathed next to her ear. Maybe its time to send Kinig into the world. Why? If hes willing, if he really wants to do what he said originally, perhaps he can spread word and bring more women to us. She thought about that, her fingers tracing lightly over his wrists. Maybe. But it could be the opposite. It could bring more unwanted human attention. He smiled. More than any other woman among them, Irin disregarded her own human beginnings. Having been raised by the raedjour, her loyalty had been theirs long before she ever changed. It may be a chance we have to take. She snuggled back against him. Perhaps youre right. Then, after a moment, Do you think hell go? I dont know. Well have to ask him.

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Chapter Five
Kinig placed his fingers gently over the strings of his lute to still them, letting the hum of their sweet vibration drift into silence. A heartbeat. Then two. Three spaces of silence before the ovation of cheers rose from the audience that sat around the small circular platform on which he stood. Turning slowly, he bowed his appreciation to his listeners. He ended his turn by bowing low to a couple who sat on a couch draped in purple velvet and strewn with plush, embroidered pillows. Savous reclined, supporting Irin, his truemate, tucked up against him. They wore very little, each dressed in a simple loincloth of silk -- his blood red, hers dark pink -- the better to show off the exquisite white designs etched into their glossy black skin. Her long, straight white hair spilled over her shoulder and his chest as they smiled at him. Well done, sir bard, said Savous, deep voice carrying easily over the assemblage of fifty or so raedjour. Those -- dare he say, his friends -- who had come to know Kinig in the two cycles of seasons since hed come to live with them had gathered this night to see him off. Im touched at hearing such a wonderful ballad about my people. Kinig hugged his lute to his chest, unable to contain the beaming smile that possessed his lips. I can only hope to convey the majesty and generosity the raedjour have shown me these past seasons. He heard the chuckles and murmurs his comment caused and grinned even broader. And humor, he added impishly. That got him laughter. I think your songs are lovely, silver tongue, Irin told him, red eyes twinkling merrily as she addressed him by the pet name the raedjour had given him. We couldnt hope for better representation among the humans. Thank you, lady, Kinig replied with another bow, both in respect and to hide a grin. It continued to amuse him that once the women were converted, they seemed to cease to

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remember that they, too, were once human. Then again, after a century or two of life among the raedjour, truemated or not, he supposed the life of a human being would pale in comparison. And not just due to the darker color of skin. Make way, another voice trumpeted. A single male mounted the steps to one side of the platform, carrying a small set of drums with him. Clear the stage. Donnals black eyes twinkled as he stepped up beside Kinig. Time for us to pay tribute to you. Kinig blinked at his friend. To me? On the other side of the platform, another of his close friends mounted the stairs, her progress a tad slower, due to the fact that she was about half of Donnals height. Yes, she said, soft voice carrying clearly. Cradling her harp next to her bare breasts, she approached, smiling. Weve prepared something special for your last night among us. Touched, Kinig could only gape at Suzana. Only Fallil and Rhicard had spent more time with him in the past two cycles, and he valued highly the musical instruction hed received from her. The lute he held within his hands was, in fact, brand new, a gift from her earlier that night. What? You didnt have to When did you? Donnal clapped a hand on his shoulder and propelled him toward one of the sets of steps. But we did. Now, go sit down and watch. Shocked and amazed, Kinig left the platform. He headed toward the couch beside Savouss, where He stopped. Fallil had been sitting there. Where was he? The answer to that was immediately apparent when he turned back to the platform. Now there were three people, the two musicians readying their instruments, seated on cushions toward the far edge of the platform, and one more. Fallil. The dancer wore an elaborately embroidered belt in black and silver, with gossamer white scarves dangling from it to provide a flimsy, revealing skirt to his ankles. Silver bands with more scarves attached wrapped elegant wrists. Fallils long white hair fell in a marvelous sheet to his waist, putting any of the silk scarves to shame. A headband with an elaborate moon disk in the center of his forehead kept most of the hair out of his lovely triangular face. There was no mistaking Fallils toned muscles for anything but a males, nor the cock that the scarves gave tantalizing glimpses of, but there was a gorgeous androgynous quality about the performer that always fascinated Kinig. Kinig grinned up at Fallil, who returned the expression with a wink of one of those expressive silver eyes. Fallil pointed to the abandoned couch, a silent direction for Kinig to sit. Wiping the grin from his face, Fallil swept in an elegant turn, scarves drifting like feathers on the wind as he faced his rhaeja and bowed low. Carefully setting his lute on a pillow by the couch, Kinig sat on the low cushions, so intent on the impending performance that he jumped when a young boy appeared at his side with a goblet of sweet wine and a plate of edibles. By the time he thanked the boy, Suzana and Donnal had begun to play. He got comfortable, loosening the ties that held together the blousy linen shirt he wore. Fingering the collar about his neck -- something he often did

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when thinking of his lover -- he watched as Fallil floated out of his low bow and began to move. There was nothing in Kinigs experience that could compare to Fallil dancing, unless it was Fallil having sex. But for this particular performer, the two acts werent terribly dissimilar. There was a rhythm and a sensuality about Fallils movements that invited his audience to share in the hedonistic experience of his body. Hands reached out, and one could almost feel those sensitive fingers stroking over skin. He struck certain poses that were undoubtedly feminine, designed to evoke the passions of those in the audience who preferred to sleep with women, then morphed into struts that were wholly masculine, making one want to plunge into the tight, delectable ass that a thrust of his hips would bring to notice. Kinig couldnt tear his eyes away from the performance, but he could hear the effects of it in the audience around him. He had yet to witness one of Fallils dances without one or more couples taking the hint of his gestures and falling into sexual congress themselves. Fallil even used that, building on the smells and sounds of sex within his audience to generate yet more lust with his moves. Kinig finally realized that Fallil paid homage to the moon and her cycles. The transformation from fully ripe through waning to dark was symbolized by the shedding of the scarves from his waist and wrists. They fell into an artful arrangement that looked like a ring of foam surrounding Fallil, who even managed to catch up the glorious cascade of his hair and hold it while he portrayed the moons wane. Then, as the music crescendoed and those in the audience succumbed to their own lustful urges, he released his hair and followed the increase of tempo to mark the orbs swell back to fullness. As he was now devoid of the scarves, this time the moons ripeness was represented by Fallils own as the dancer, without touching his cock directly, swelled to full erection, grandly displayed when he fell to his knees in final pose, his back arched, hands spread behind his heels, hips thrust up. He didnt climax, but he might have been one of the few who did not. Kinig himself was uncomfortably close to coming, but he held it, choosing instead to clap joyously in homage. Fallil rose and bowed to his audience. But his attention was directed at Kinig. He cut short his normal, effusive appreciation of praise, in favor of stalking toward the steps descending from the platform, his cock leading the way, long hair floating capelike behind him. Feeling distinctly like prey, Kinig leaned back in the corner of the couch and spread his legs. The soft, low boots he wore swished on the fine linen covering the couch, a few smaller pillows dropping to the rug. The laces that held his suede trousers closed strained over the erection that rose to greet Fallil. Without words, Fallil straddled him, strong, slim arms instantly surrounding Kinigs neck to pull him into a devouring kiss. He willingly wrapped his arms around the heated body of the other man and drank down the tongue that invaded his mouth. He held steady as Fallil yanked open the ties of his trousers to fish out his cock. He moaned, digging his fingers into the firm mounds of Fallils ass, his grip slipping slightly, due to the oily sheen on his

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skin. Kinig sent up silent, fervent praise to the absent goddess whod created Her elves to sweat sexual oils. Pressing in close, pinning Kinig into the corner of the couch, Fallil stroked Kinigs aching cock, clever fingers molding around the shaft and expertly pulling up until his thumb could swipe at the head. You enjoyed my dance? Fallils lips brushed the beard on Kinigs chin as he spoke. Kinigs head fell back against a pillow, a moan bleeding from his throat. Very much. He massaged Fallils ass, edging his fingers marginally deeper within the crack to brush against what he knew to be a remarkably sensitive opening. Growling, Fallil bit at his exposed neck. Show me how much. Slipping his hands inside the front opening of Kinigs shirt, he spread his palms over either nipple to brace himself as he crawled further up Kinigs body. Purposely, he dragged his groin against Kinigs, first his balls, then the hot skin behind, tormenting the shaft of Kinigs cock. Long, slim fingers shoved between Kinigs neck and the leather of the collar he wore. Yanked. Obediently, he opened eyes he didnt recall closing to see Fallil grinning above him, black face shining in the light of the torches that ringed the chamber. A heavy wave of hair had escaped the headband to flow over one gleaming silver eye. His other shoulder was twisted, arm behind him. Kinig caught his breath when Fallils strong grip circled his cock, expertly positioning the head against the elfs tight, wet opening just an instant before Fallil let his weight drop to impale himself on Kinigs iron-hard erection. Kinig held on to Fallils hips for dear life, needing some anchor as that tight heat dragged up and sank down. Silky white hair fell down to curtain them as Fallil reached up to rip off the headband, tossing it aside before leaning forward to grip the back of the couch to either side of Kinigs shoulders. Relentlessly, he rocked above Kinig, managing to keep the human at the brink of climax without pushing him over the edge into an explosion of relief. Kinig both loved and hated that about Fallil, far more of the former than the latter. But when his balls were drawn tight and he ached for release, Fallils combined instinctive and practiced skills drove him insane. He tried to reciprocate by wrapping his fingers around Fallils erection, but the dancers movements made concentration on even that most pleasurable task nearly impossible. Fal Fa He panted, unable to form coherent words as exertion dripped sweat into his eyes. Is it time to come? Fallil taunted, musical tenor insufferably calm. Only the slight tremble in the sinuously undulating body above him told Kinig that Fallil enjoyed their union as much as Kinig did. Please, Kinig breathed. Anything for you, my love, Fallil murmured. Kinig had been with his share of men before coming to live with the raedjour, but no human man in his experience could hope to compete with any of the elves in pure sexual

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performance. He had no idea how -- perhaps it was a different twist of his hips; perhaps it was a squeeze from his thighs; it could have even been a change to his scent, for all Kinig knew -- but Fallil managed to do something different that burst the bubble of Kinigs mounting frustration and released a climax that shattered his world. Unable to do anything but come, he relinquished his hold on Fallils cock to a more adept hand. He felt the hot splash of the other mans seed on his belly just as his thoughts were reordering. He sighed his appreciation as Fallil settled down, spreading over his chest like a pampered cat. Kinig slid his hands over Fallils smooth back and accepted the others lazy kiss. Without warning, a stab of regret turned in his belly. He was leaving this. For two cycles, this man and his people had welcomed him, taught him, fed him, and pleasured him, and he was about to leave. A part of him -- much of him, if he was honest -- looked forward to it. Hed come to the elves originally because he wanted a unique story to tell. With his present experience, he was sure to become the bard to hear from regarding the raedjour, who were a great curiosity in the human realm. But another part of him, a very strong part of him, did not wish to leave the warm body currently draped over him. Ouch! he yelped in response to a sharp pinch to his side. Stop it, demanded that gorgeous voice from the face nestled in the curve of his neck. Stop what? Teeth bit his neck before a tongue quickly lapped at the hurt. Stop regretting. Tomorrow you leave. Weve put it off too many times now. True. Originally, hed only been meant to stay a single cycle. Fallil and Suzana had made a case for him to stay an extra cycle in order to master the many new songs he, Suzana, Donnal, and Fallil had composed. Now that cycle was up. Savous might let me stay. Of course Savous would let you stay. No one wants you to leave. Which, in itself, was surprising. He now knew raedjour history and knew that human men were not typically long-lived among them. True, not all the men among the elves had been effusive in friendliness, but he had not encountered animosity in his entire time among them. He suspected he had been sheltered somewhat, but even if that were true, the reaction was remarkable. But, Fallil continued, pushing up so he could look into Kinigs face. Silver eyes enchanted him. He did request that you go. For that, you should go. Which, to be honest, was probably the only reason the subject had come up. Savous had come to him and asked him to start his journey, to see if word of the elves might lure potential truemates to the Dark Forest. He sighed, weaving Fallils hair between his fingers. Anxious to see me leave? Fallil grimaced. You know full well theres no truth to that.

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To this day, Kinig often had difficulty believing this beautiful creature had chosen him for love. But, as Fallil would say, Rhae always has Her own reasons. I love you, Kinig whispered. It had taken him precious time to say the words after Fallil had first uttered them, but once he had, there had been no doubt whatsoever in his mind. This man filled his heart completely. Fallil smiled sadly, reaching up to stroke his fingers along Kinigs jaw. And I, you. But that changes nothing. Reluctantly, Kinig had to agree. They had conducted this discussion numerous times in the last two seasons, including varying degrees of anger and despair. But the conclusion was always the same. Kinig was better off living the life hed intended among humans. His wanderlust was often palpable to them both, especially lately, and Fallils very nature precluded him from sharing in such an experience. Fallil kissed his cheek. Dont be so melancholy, he admonished. Sitting up, he availed himself of Kinigs goblet of wine and eyed the tray of sweetmeats. Behind him, the other guests of the party amused themselves, but Kinig knew there were at least a few who would like to talk to him. Youll go and experience the world. Youll tell them about us. And, perhaps, when youve had your fill of the wide world, you will come back for a visit and let me live vicariously through you. Reminding him of the larger reason why Kinig should go on with his own life. Even without that, his life among the elves could not be a long-term one. Although he loved Fallil, there was the aging difference. Fallil was over four hundred springs of age, twenty times Kinigs own age. He would live long beyond Kinigs death and, if Kinig were to stay, would have to watch him grow old and die. Although Fallil professed that he would do such a thing without complaint, Kinig knew he himself couldnt bear it. Human women could be changed to raedjour to live with or without truemates, but human men could not. It was a fact that sat cold in his heart. Ill be old, he pouted. Fallil laughed, climbing off Kinigs lap to lie beside him on the couch. Im far older than you are. And you look younger. Fallil shrugged. Perhaps one day youll believe me that I dont mind. But he said it with eyes averted, attention on the snack tray and not on Kinig. Fallil was very good at concealing his emotions, but Kinig had learned to read the signs. Was it wrong of him to be glad that his absence would pain the other man?

*****
Rhicard came to fetch him in the morning. By mutual agreement, Fallil would not be accompanying them in their journey through the forest. An outdoorsman, Fallil was not. He

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detested camping and hiking, much preferring a warm room with a fire that a nice boy had lit for him, complete with a meal the same boy would have brought to him. The time statues flame simmered green, indicating sunset or sunrise. Now used to the passage of time within the raedjour world, Kinig knew it to be sunset. He and Rhicard would do much of their traveling at night, even underground. Kinig had come to the elves with his grandfathers lute and one small bag of belongings. He was leaving with a different lute, crafted especially for him, two bags -- each larger than the initial one -- and a bedroll. A small sack was tucked securely at his belt, holding a number of raw and cut gemstones of varying size. These he knew to be worth a small fortune. Other stones were sewn into his jacket, trousers, boots, and bags as extra precaution. Hed come to them a pauper and was leaving a moderately rich man, in more ways than one. Fallil fussed with his clothing and reminded him of a dozen unnecessary things, all the while avoiding direct eye contact. Eventually he wound down until he was simply standing before Kinig, his hands on Kinigs chest, staring at the juncture of neck and shoulder. Rhicard? Yes? Do you have it? Kinig frowned, watching the sorcerer as he stepped up to Fallils side and handed something flashy to him. Fallil held up what turned out to be a pendant on a silver chain. He recognized the spiral around the circle that the elves commonly used to depict their goddess Rhae. The silver of the loose spiral matched the chain with a gorgeous rainbow-sparkled obsidian cabochon in the middle. This is for you. Its lovely. Kinig reached up to hold his hair out of the way while Fallil fastened it about his neck. Yes, it is. Fallil smoothed his fingertips over it, teasing the skin beneath it with a feathery touch. But its more than that. Its a beacon. Bring it anywhere in or near the Dark Forest, and one of our sorcerers will feel it. Rhicard tells me theyll even know its yours. A brief glance over Fallils head showed Rhicard nodding. But we cant take credit for the design of the stones setting. That was all Fallil. Fallil shrugged. Without warning, he stepped forward to bump into Kinig, winding his arms about Kinigs waist and resting his forehead on the pendant. I wanted you to have something to remember me by. Heart in his throat, Kinig wrapped his arms about Fallils shoulders to hold him close. Im not likely to ever forget you, he murmured into the others ear. Youd be better off if you did. They had had this argument. Ill forget you if you forget me.

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Fallil snorted. That is not likely to happen. He tilted his head up, unashamed to show the tears obscuring his sharp silver eyes as he again reached for Kinigs throat. This time, the collar Kinig had worn since his first night with the raedjour was his goal. Kinig grabbed his wrist to stop him from unfastening the collar. What are you doing? Fallil shook off his grasp and continued to unlatch the silver buckle. You cant take this with you. Not into the human world. At best, they wouldnt understand. At worse, theyd misinterpret. Kinig frowned. He recognized the sense in it, but he was remarkably unwilling to part with it. For two full cycles, hed only removed it to bathe, and not always then. Ill keep it for you. Worn leather clasped in his fist, Fallil thumped Kinigs chest lightly. I do love you, but please do not let that mean that youll be lonely. Be careful, but dont deny yourself lovers. He shook his head. I will not. What seemed like decades ago, Kinig might have objected. Now, knowing that sex was a basic need for the raedjour, he could only envy Fallils lovers. He nodded. Ill try to find a few humans to live up to your standards. Fallil laughed, reaching up with his empty hand to cup the back of Kinigs head so he could tilt his face down. You have my permission to seek lower than that. Both laughing, they kissed. Kinig tried to linger, but Fallil wouldnt have it. He stepped away and held up a hand when Kinig would have followed. You should go. Out of the corner of his eye, Kinig saw Rhicard pick up one of his bags. It really was time to go. I will miss you, he said, picking up his lute case. And I you. I love you. I love you too.

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Chapter Six
Nine cycles later
Kinig was now used to camping and spending extended time in the out-of-doors, but he couldnt say that he actually enjoyed it. He appreciated the beauty of nature and the calm of the flora and fauna, but he wasnt fond of sleeping on the ground, cooking at a campfire, or the plethora of bugs and small beasties that plagued the weary traveler. He could enjoy riding, but after days on horseback, he often wished never to see another equine. Give him the great room of an inn or, even better, a clean bed at a noble residence. The bed didnt even have to be soft! However, there were plenty of times that hed had to do without in the last nine cycles of seasons, or had to do with less. At least tonight he had good company. Kinig, did you travel through Rotella when you came south? San asked, dropping his bedroll beside Kinigs. Even under a layer of travel grime, his black hair shone in the fading rays of sun that speared through the sparse canopy of leaves overhead. A smudge of dirt on the left of his sweet, apple cheeks was ridiculously charming. The young man tried to look older under two days worth of stubble, but not enough of it grew to hide the fresh youth of his face. No. Absently scratching his own stubble, Kinig laid his cased lute carefully on the ground beside his roll. I came south closer to the west coast, through Tortuella. Isnt that dangerous? No. Most of the aggression has died down. He ran a hand through his loose hair, noting that it brushed his shoulders. Time to cut it. I traveled with a caravan for much of it. A brief memory of a young lad whod seen to his hair -- and more -- during that trip made him smile.

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One of their companions dumped his and the common packs on the ground. Its not so bad. Ive been there. Don set his hands in his lower back and stretched. Galirs from a town not far from there. Over where he was picketing all four horses, Galir laughed. Not that close. Don waved a hand at him, scoffing. Close enough. Ha! You know so much. Don rolled his eyes, hunkering down to open one of the packs. Kinig grinned, enjoying their camaraderie. Don and Galir were veterans of Villovias war, a conflict conducted by Hange Villovia in his goal to rule the southern continent. Although the true wars had ended with Villovias execution seven winters previous, the countries involved were still reeling from the aftereffects and the troubles caused by what seemed to Kinig to be an overabundance of Villovia descendants. But Don and Galir had made enough to retire from fighting and were headed to the city of Rotella to buy land. As Rotella was north of where hed been at the time, Kinig had welcomed the offer of traveling companions. What happened to the caravan? San asked. A mage, straight out of an academy, San had been traveling with Kinig for much of the spring. They had met in Saryguay, and San had elected to travel west with Kinig but was as yet unsure whether he sought to cross the isthmus to the north. He was, however, intrigued by Kinigs tales of the elves. His enthusiasm combined with his comely looks and a preference for sex with men had made him a welcome companion. Sans large brown eyes twinkled gleefully when he listened to any of Kinigs stories and his soft, pouty lips and eager mouth did wonders to alleviate the lonely restlessness that had descended on Kinig in the last few cycles. Kinig didnt look at him, doing some stretching of his own. We reached Jordagua, spent the winter. Then they headed north while I headed southeast. Jordagua? Don whistled. You got through Jordagua intact? Kinig shrugged. The caravan master introduced me personally to the local hange. They were rather hungry for tales of lands far distant. His smile returned. They treated me well. Galir echoed Dons whistle. Impressive. Ill say. Sans soft voice couldnt hide the biting tone. Jordagans arent known for their tolerance. Kinig gave him a look. Being a bard often helps in situations like those. Im less a person and more a vessel of stories and news. Don laughed. And it cant hurt that youre famous across two continents. I doubt the Jordagans would want to be known as the people who killed Kinig of the Dark Elves. His laugh settled into a chortle. No telling what the elves might do to retaliate.

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Kinig had to smile. Salin would be amused to think that threat of raedjour retribution extended so far. Kinig was sure Savous wouldnt mind if he exaggerated a little on the elves abilities if it would increase their mystique as well as Kinigs safety. Don was nearly done unpacking the bags for the evening meal. He plucked up a hatchet and held it out toward Kinig. You mind getting firewood? Of course not. The ex-mercenaries did most of the chores about the camp, so Kinig tried to help where asked. Ill go with you, San offered, following when Kinig headed into the trees. Dont wander off too far, Don called after them. Im hungry. Kinig smiled. He had no doubt the other men knew of his and Sans dalliances, but neither chose to say anything about it. He took the hatchet and headed toward the sound of a stream he knew must be nearby. The road theyd been traveling had crossed it not long ago. The trees here were different kinds of giants than those in the north. In the wetter climate, there were many with roots well above the ground. Arms slid around Kinig from behind as soon as they were out of view. Tonight, we should probably just get firewood, Kinig laughed, although he didnt move from Sans embrace. San nuzzled the back of his neck. I know, I know. But -- he reached up to cup Kinigs chin with two fingers, turning his head so they could see each others eyes -- just a little? Chuckling, Kinig turned in Sans arms, reaching up to loop his own over Sans shoulders, careful to keep the hatchet out of harms way. He nudged his groin against Sans. Doesnt feel little to me. Laughing warmly, San leaned in to kiss Kinig. Happily, Kinig allowed himself to be tumbled to the ground, dropping the hatchet near a broad-leafed bush as Sans weight settled atop him. He fed at Sans mouth until he had to wonder if they did have time for a quick tryst to relieve the hardness in his trousers as well as Sans. But no, they shouldnt leave Don and Galir waiting for another night in a row. That was just rude. A quick wash in a different creek the previous night meant he didnt stink too much, but hed been wearing his current clothing too long for them not to be ripe. The thought of that put a damper on his ardor. Decided, he pushed at Sans shoulders, breaking the kiss. We should get the firewood. San pushed against his hands, brushing his lips against the corner of Kinigs mouth. I know. But -- No. Laughing, he turned his head to the side. San, stop, we -- He froze. There was a man standing over them, perhaps three or four paces away, a shadow deeper than the darkening evening shadows. A man with a face as white as snow nearly hidden within the deep cowl of a voluminous dark blue robe. He assumed the male gender by the breadth of shoulders and the height that he couldnt judge very well from his vantage

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on the ground beneath San, but the face was not overly masculine. Nor was it particularly feminine. Glowing red eyes with no whites to be seen stared down at them, the pink-hued lips underneath a long, thin nose unsmiling. The man spoke before Kinig could truly react, the deep voice undeniably masculine, a strange accent to his southern commonspeak. Kinig of the Dark Elves? Kinig knew better than to immediately admit who he was to strangers. Not everyones intentions were good, and he had a few scars to prove that. San jumped, rolling off of Kinig to see who was above them. What? Who are you? Watching the stranger, Kinig groped for and found the hatchet he had dropped, then rose warily to his feet. Beside him, San crouched. Those red eyes watched them both without any outward alarm. The man was, indeed, rather tall, taller than any human Kinig had met. He might even match Salins seven-foot height. And those eyes. Kinig had only seen glowing red like that among the raedjour, but the sorcerers had whites to their eyes, only the irises glowing when they actively cast magic. This white-skinned mans eyes glowed so brightly that they cast a pinkish tone to his high, sharp cheekbones. His attention settled on San. Are you Kinig? Kinig hefted the hatchet, wondering how effective a weapon it might be. Rather small, with a dulled blade, it was clearly more of a tool than a weapon. The strangers dark robe looked to be thick velvet or something like, and all those folds would serve as armor against such a light blade. His daggers might be more effective. Carefully, he drew one into his left hand. The pale man didnt even glance at the movement, attention focused on San. San crept sideways from Kinig, putting some distance between them. He turned mostly profile to the man, hands ready at his sides. What do you want? The robed man raised a hand, palm spread toward them. Long white fingers glowed moonlight bright with magic. Quick as a wink, San had his hands up, a magical shield ready when the light that burst from the mans hand shot toward him. Miniature lightning bolts sizzled, and the sharp bite of rotten eggs filled the air for a brief moment before drifting away. Youre not Kinig. The pale man made a complicated gesture with the same hand, ending in a fist. A surprised, throttled cry seeped from Sans throat. His shield dissolved, and he crumpled to his knees, eyes rolled back in his head. San! Kinig cried, watching the mage topple from his knees to his side. Flipping the dagger in his hand, he hurled it, using all the skill hed learned from his tutors among the dark elves and honed since. To no avail. The robed figure waved an arm, and the dagger halted in midair, then, like San, toppled to the ground.

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Crying out, hoping Don and Galir would hear, Kinig turned, intending to run. There was nothing he could do against such magic, and the man was clearly after him. Perhaps if he ran, the man would leave his companions alone. He didnt get far. Invisible bands closed around his arms, cinching them to his sides, and the ground sank beneath Kinigs boots as he was lifted into the air. He glared over his shoulder at the robed mans emotionless face. What do you want? The full brunt of that burning red gaze chilled Kinigs blood. Or was it the complete lack of emotion in those chiseled features? You. He turned, and Kinig watched, amazed, as a black emptiness opened in the air beside the man. At first it was just a fist-sized disk in midair. Then it expanded in height and width. More small lightning bolts crackled silently at its edges, looking for all the world like the air tearing open. Taller it grew; wider it spread. Within the emptiness, a woman was revealed, just as breathtaking as the man. Where his skin was pure white, hers was the blazing scarlet of fresh blood. Her skin color was far more abundantly obvious, as she wore not a stitch of clothing. Her voluptuous curves were on full display, from heavy breasts to the dip of her waist to the flare of her hips and thighs. The length of her black hair was only obvious against the black background of the hole because two spills draped her shoulders and chest, the tips curling just beside her hairless mons. She, too, had glowing eyes, but hers were spring jade. Kinig heard feet treading the undergrowth, sure it was Don and Galir, but he couldnt bring himself to look away from the beautiful female. He was astounded to find himself growing hard, since the sight of a woman had never given him an erection before. The man in the robe turned back to face Kinig. Calmly, he lifted a hand and beckoned. The horror of feeling himself floating through the air toward the pale man and the rift in the air broke Kinigs fascination with the woman. No! Stop! The womans glowing eyes might have been focused on him, but without visible whites and pupils, it was difficult to tell. He managed to turn his head to see Don and Galir. The mercenaries werent looking at him. Their attention was locked on the nude woman. Don held Kinigs lute case in his hand, and neither mercenary had unsheathed his sword. Nor had they moved to check on San, who still lay nearby. That didnt seem right. Help! Kinig cried, struggling in his invisible bonds. Don! Galir! Help! They might not have heard him. They simply stood and stared, transfixed. Kinigs attention returned to his immediate predicament when a robed arm came up to encircle his waist, taking his weight as the spell that held him aloft was released. The invisible bands around Kinigs limbs remained, however, preventing him from lashing out. This close, he could clearly see the harsh, ethereal beauty of the mans face, a beauty that would have stirred his blood if it didnt so obviously lack emotion.

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As if he didnt hold Kinig with one strong arm, the man held out his free hand, fingers spread. Kinig glanced over to see Sans unconscious body lift into the air and float toward them, head, arms, and legs dangling like a rag dolls. Kinigs lute dislodged from Dons grip and followed Sans progress through the air. Still, Don and Galir remained where they stood, faces as devoid of emotion as that of the man who held Kinig. Kinig tried to squirm against the steely hold. What are you doing with us? No answer. He might as well be a yapping puppy the man held but ignored while he attended to other matters. Sans unconscious body and Kinigs lute settled on the ground beside the hole in the air and the woman within. Is he all right? The womans voice was muted, as though she spoke through a thick door or from the opposite end of a long tunnel. Scowling, she flipped her hair back, pushing the heavy locks over her shoulder. It exposed her ear. Her delicately pointed ear.

An elf ? Certainly he knew there were other elven races, but other than the raedjour,
hed yet to meet any. Elves of all kinds were notoriously secretive. Hes fine, answered the man in a monotone. He adjusted his hold on Kinig, turning so the arm with the bard was closest to the opening. Kinig could feel the sizzle of magic, an indication that there had to be a fair amount, since he was completely without the gift. Here. Wait! Kinig would have echoed her if a white-hot, burning pain hadnt seared through his back, his neck, his limbs, as the man released him to fall backward into the opening. He didnt have time to scream before things went black.

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Chapter Seven
Nialdlye refrained from speaking until they left the void. But that meant standing silent, holding the human, shielding him from the lack of elements while Aletone took his precious time paying off the mercenaries and giving them their next instructions. Cradling the human in her arms, she studied his face in the shadowless light of the void. A nice face. Smile lines at the corners of mouth and eyes made him look younger despite the weathered tan. A few days worth of stubble had created a shadow of a beard, just a few shades lighter than the disarrayed brown hair that floated about his head and neck. Kinig. Now she could assign a face to the name shed heard so often lately. She scowled to see the little grimace of pain that had yet to fade. You could have at least put him to sleep before thrusting him through the portal, she chided in her head -- in her head because she knew it would do little to no good to mention it to Aletone. She waited impatiently, watching him pay and dismiss the mercenaries, then cross back to the portal. She could hear sounds, but only barely, and sometimes the whisper of a leaf through the air was louder than a shouting man, so she couldnt rely on hearing anything of value. But Aletone was done talking. He bent over to pick up the other man and the lute, then crossed the portal. Turning immediately, Nialdlye focused on the pinpoint spot that had been behind her and expanded her portal while Aletone closed his. As soon as she could, she stepped through with her burden and crossed to the center of the workroom to give Aletone space to enter with the human he carried. Once he had cleared the portal, she let it close. He let the human drop to the ground. Dont drop him like that! As her own arms were full of unconscious man, she couldnt do anything to help the other. Thankfully, Aletone had let him fall feet first, so he more or less crumbled to his side.

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Aletone gave her a cold, level look as he set the cased lute beside the man. She glanced at the comely young man on the floor. Why did you bring him? Hes a mage. Her eyes widened. You didnt tell me there was a mage with him. He started working on the long column of tiny buttons that held his robe closed. I didnt know. The young man looked so fresh, he was almost a boy. Let me have him. No. Then let him go. No. She rounded on him, clutching the man in her arms. Aletone No. The word was clipped, his gaze flat. Calmly, he draped the robe over the back of a chair. The simple shirt beneath bloused open over his chest, the white fabric dull and yellowish in comparison to his skin. Loose, straight white hair the same hue as his skin spilled freely down his broad back. She knew this argument was futile, but she had to try. He wont do much for you. Hell do enough. He crossed the room again to pick up the lute case. Take your pet upstairs, and see that hes ready for questioning in the morning. She caught his gaze as he set the lute into the curve of the body within her arms. Dont kill him. He blinked slowly. It is not your concern what I do with him. Please. Enough. Go up to your room. I do not wish to see you until I call for him tomorrow. She knew that look. Argue, and shed suffer. She wasnt going to win, and losing the man in her arms would be the least of her punishment. Closing her eyes, trying not to scream in frustration, she turned and mounted the stairs, abandoning the unconscious man on the floor. Im so sorry, she thought as she left the workroom. Breathing deeply to calm herself, she forced her grip on the human to loosen before she crushed him. Aletone might not care if the man shed left behind was hurt, but he sure as the void would punish her if this one was incapable of speech. Because this one knew things. This one had lived among the dark elves, the current object of Aletones considerable obsession. This one possessed a wealth of information that Aletone believed he needed.

Poor man.
She took Kinig the bard up the flights of curving stairs to the top floor of the small, round tower she and Aletone inhabited. His workroom took up a whole floor underground, the kitchen and a main room were on the ground floor, a second floor contained rooms for guests that went largely unused, and Nialdlyes room was half of the third floor. A

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bedchamber for Aletone took up the other half, but as he rarely slept, he seldom used it, preferring the workroom. There was no furniture to speak of in her room. Instead, she had scattered stuffed mattresses and thick pillows over rugs across the floor and draped the walls with colorful scarves and tapestries. She had vague memories of similar rooms from when she was a child, and the layout made her feel comfortable. She laid Kinig on one of two mattresses, the one set farther away from the windows, then locked the door. Aletone would have her hide if she forgot to secure the room, even if the human was unconscious. Although, where would he go ? The tower was surrounded by flat, dry, barren land, and the nearest human habitation was at least three days walk for a human. Sitting back, she studied the man on her bed. A quick feel of him with her magic verified that he was deeply asleep and, if she didnt use a spell to wake him, would remain so for the night. That was expected. Humans did not endure the void very well, and every one theyd brought through had succumbed to a deep, fitful slumber for at least a day afterward. Fitful, but she had found there was something she could do for them that would chase away the dark dreams and make their rest more productive. And it was fun. Slowly, she started divesting the bard of his clothing. His boots came off first, releasing the pungent tang of worn wool stockings. Those came off next, and she spent long moments stroking his feet, caressing the insteps. Even sleeping, he gave an appreciative sigh, and the corners of his lovely mouth curved up slightly. Pleased, she lifted his tunic to see the ties of his trousers. Very lovely, she purred, stroking the bulge behind the ties that kept the trousers snug about slim hips. The organ within stirred, rising to her touch. Slowly she drew the ties loose and pried apart the front placket. Some manner of underclothing was tied underneath, but she made quick work of that as well, finally releasing a fine, proud cock. With no reason to resist, she bent down to bury her nose in the fragrant ruff of dark, wiry hair at the base of his cock, opening her lips so she could inhale the thick, male scent of him through both nose and mouth. Truly, there could be no finer scent than healthy, unwashed male. At least, not to her mind. Pausing, she knelt up and took hold of the waistbands of both trousers and underclothes and pulled them off. Compelled, she petted the sparse hair of his nicely shaped calves and thighs, kissing the inside of each thigh as she pushed them apart and lay between them. Rolling his tunic farther up so that all of his hips and much of his flat belly were exposed, she lowered her nose back to his groin and spent endless moments just enjoying the scent and warmth of him. Although she enjoyed active men, there was something to be said for sleeping ones. Especially ones that wouldnt wake, no matter what she did. A coherent man would never lie still and simply allow her to smell him. Sighing happily, she laid her cheek on one thigh and reached up to stroke his cock. His brain might be asleep, but this organ was fully awake and vibrating with flushed, vivid life.

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No more than toying with the shaft, she tucked down to lap at his sac, enjoying the warm, delicate texture of the skin. He breathed another sigh as his hips tilted instinctively, exposing some of what was hidden underneath. His legs parted farther at her urging, giving her room to slide her hands underneath to cup the firm globes of his ass in order to tilt his hips more. Using her palms and thumbs, she parted his cheeks, finding his tender, puckered opening. She pointed her tongue and rimmed his hole, loving the soft little sigh he gave in appreciation. Aletone had told her that he was a lover of men, so it was not surprising that his body pressed toward her, greedily seeking more. She gladly gave, lapping at the sensitive skin, parting him further with her thumbs so she could delve deeper into him, so she could digest the sharp taste of him. When his hips started to rock in earnest and sweet little moans bled from his lips, she thoroughly wet two of her fingers and carefully sank them inside of him. He gave a harsh cry of pleasure, bearing down on her hand. She chuckled and inserted a third finger when she realized that the two could not possibly satisfy him. The three felt nice and snug, and she easily found that lump of nerves that made him gasp and shake. Pleased with herself, she hitched up and wrapped her free hand around his shaft, bringing the leaking head of his cock to her lips. Greedily, she sucked it down, laving it with saliva. Fallil. He moaned.

Interesting, she thought, making a mental note to ask him later who this Fallil might
be. Likely his love, which gained her utmost interest. Anyone who loved deeply enough to call his lovers name while unconscious possessed a depth of passion that Nialdlye craved. She felt ill when deprived of sex and only somewhat better with standard sex. Sex with those who could feel love so deeply, however, made her heart gallop and her blood sing. Even now, her sex wept and throbbed, responding to his needy cries. Holding her breath, she swallowed his cock as deep as it would go. He wasnt the largest man for whom shed done this, so it wasnt uncomfortable. She stayed as long as she could, working her throat around the head of his cock, all the while working her fingers in and out of his ass. He came down her throat, crying out as he spilled. She drank him down, both physically and emotionally. She kept his dwindling cock in her mouth as he subsided with a small whimper. As his body relaxed, she eased her fingers from his clutching hole. Reluctantly, she let him slip from her lips as he softened. Although she would have liked to continue suckling, she knew it wasnt a pleasant sensation for most men after theyd spilled. Sighing, she settled back down, her cheek on his belly, her breath caressing his glistening organ. Dont forget to take off his tunic, she reminded herself dreamily, closing her eyes. She would do that. But first, shed enjoy this healthy male body for a few more moments.

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Chapter Eight
Kinig woke gradually. For a moment, he could only blink at a huge gossamer scarf hanging from a dark ceiling like an elaborately colored web, the purple seared to nearly lavender by what looked like sunlight on his left. The plush softness of a thickly stuffed mattress supported his body, and warm, fresh air caressed his skin. Skin. Startled, Kinig looked down to find that he was naked, made obvious by the fact that there was no blanket over him. Not that one was necessary in the comfortable heat. That, however, was not the biggest shock. No, that was the fact that another person was cuddled up to his side with one arm and one leg thrown over him. Very long, very silky black hair with vivid crimson highlights draped most of this persons shoulders and back, but not enough to disguise a few disturbing facts. First, this persons skin was the scarlet of fresh blood and as glossy as a gemstone. Second, this person was a woman. The curves of her hips and thighs could not belong to any man, and one of her full breasts was quite visible at Kinigs side. Her thigh was snugged up quite familiarly to his groin, and the hand resting on his belly lay just a thumbs-length above his cock. His hard cock. Shock froze him. He had never lain with a woman and had only seen women having sex when he was among the raedjour. Seen, yes, but never participated. Proximity to the women among the dark elves had made him hard, of course; the very nature of their race made it nearly impossible not to be so. But he had never felt the burning desire to act upon it, and the women hed known had plenty of partners to choose from and had no need to seduce a bard who openly preferred men. So why was he now lying here with a woman and, if he were honest, wishing her hand would drift down to relieve his cock? Why was he feeling the soft press of her breasts against his side and fighting the urge to turn her on her back so he could suckle them?

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For distraction, he racked his mind for details of what had happened before hed fallen asleep. Had he fallen asleep? He didnt recall arriving in this room with its flowing, colorful furnishings. The heated air was quite different from the tropical heat of the forest. Then, finally, he remembered the white-skinned man in the robe, the black void, and the woman with red skin. No, not just a woman -- an elf. He clearly remembered pointed red ears peeking through her wealth of hair. Looking now, he recognized the woman draped over him as the same person or, if not, some woman very similar. Something very odd was happening, and he could not think straight with her pressed familiarly against his side. Carefully, he moved, tilting a little so he could try to slide his arm out from under her head and neck. But either she was already awake or she was a light sleeper, because as soon as he moved, she sighed and stirred. Her head lifted, and she rose to her elbow. She lifted a hand to push a fall of hair from her amazing jade eyes. No whites to speak of, and the pupils were obscured by a veil of white specks, like stars reflected on a pond. She smiled. Youre awake. He could only stare at her, dumbfounded, afraid to open his mouth for fear that hed lift his head to seal his lips to hers. Did she know his thoughts? Was that why her smile deepened? Are you hungry?

Yes, he thought, but food wasnt the cure.


She stroked his chest, palm grazing just below the obsidian pendant Fallil had given him, her gaze still fixed with his. You must be hungry. Would you prefer a stew, or something more solid? Her palm drifted to his belly, circling there, staying clear of the cock that lay hard and twitching to one side below his navel. How do you feel? He shook his head, jaw unhinging, but no words came out. She patted his belly. Ill get you some stew. He watched, transfixed, as she rolled away from him and flowed gracefully to her feet, wearing only her red and black hair for clothing and clearly quite comfortable with the fact. The smooth curves of her bottom peeked through the trailing ends of her hair as she walked away from him. One long, elegant arm pointed to an open doorway to her left. If you need to relieve yourself, theres a privy there. She threw a glance over her shoulder after opening another door. Ill be right back. He sat up when she was gone, eyes wide, mind just a little clearer without her distracting presence. The room was long, with only three walls, one of them curving to make up the space where two should have been, giving him the impression that he must be inside a round tower. Judging from the curve, this room must take up a good half of the floor. Bright scarves and tapestries in reds, golds, and purples draped the ceiling and walls, matching the scattered assortment of pillows and rugs on the floor. There was no real furniture other than two standing stoves in opposite corners. Given the open windows and

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mild temperature, he didnt think there were flames in either stove. He lay on a large mattress spread on the floor, surrounded by pillows. Another similarly clad but smaller mattress was spread out closer to the windows. There wasnt a blanket to be seen. Confused, alarmed, he scooted to the edge of the mattress, setting his bare foot on the soft rug tucked underneath. There was his lute case propped in a pile of pillows over to one side. Rushing to it, he opened the case and was relieved to see his instrument safely inside. He could find none of his other belongings, not in the pile of pillows, not on the mattress, not anywhere in the space. No clothing, nothing except the pendant about his neck. He rushed to the door. It wasnt heavy, but it was locked. He was not a lock picker, but he studied it anyway. Not surprisingly, he couldnt tell how the tiny mechanism worked. To be honest, he couldnt recall hearing her lock the door at all. Anxious, he looked out one of the windows. He was at least three stories up, with nothing but sheer wall between him and the rocky ground of a small, deserted courtyard. Beyond a wall that was maybe as high as the first story, there was only dry, sun-bleached ground interspersed with scrubby plants and rocks. Far to the left, he could barely see what might be a small gathering of trees or the edge of a larger wooded area. It was a far cry from the moist forest where hed been with Don, Galir, and San. Recalling the odd, transfixed state in which hed last seen the mercenaries, he wondered what had happened to his companions. He sat back down in the nest of pillows on the mattress, feet on the rug, elbows on his knees, and fingers in his hair. What is happening ? Confused, disoriented from lingering sleep, he propped his forehead in his hands and tried to think. He had no idea where he was, and he was naked as the day he was born. He didnt know where the white-skinned man was or what the red-skinned womans connection was to him. He had no idea what was going on, but if they intended him harm, would they feed him? Would he have awakened in her very pleasant embrace? Or was this all a ploy? If so, for what? What do they want from me? He sat up straight when the door opened. The woman stepped through, carrying a tray supporting a bowl, a small pitcher, and a tall cup. I hope youre hungry. Its not much for taste, but its filling. She spoke the fluid commonspeak of the southern continent, with just a hint of an accent he didnt recognize. He drew a red silk pillow into his lap, the rough thread of the embroidery rubbing his bare thighs. His erection had wilted once she left him, but her return had it perking back to life. The dark, hearty aroma of the stew wafted toward him, thick with the nose-itching scent of a popular spicy pepper from the east. It reminded him that he hadnt eaten for most of the day before hed been taken. How long ago was that ? Who are you? Smiling, she knelt in a cleared space in the middle of the room, setting the tray down on the finely woven rug. Youll have to come and eat over here. Its not easy to clean accidents out of those pillows. Who are you? Why am I here?

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My name is Nialdlye. She settled herself easily on the rug. He had never seen anyone quite so comfortable in their nudity. No, thats wasnt true. The raedjour were just as comfortable in their skin and just as overtly sexual, even when they werent trying to be. Was it an elven trait? Come eat, Kinig. Youll need your strength. I will? Yes. That, and youve slept over a day. She glanced toward the other wall. Did you use the privy? How did you know my name? Ive heard most of the stories about you, she answered patiently. Why was I abducted? She stared at the pitcher she held in both hands, her smile mostly melting. For what you know. What do I know? She shook her head. No more answers until you come here and eat. He could have taken offense at being treated like a child, but he chose not to. Keeping his pillow, he crossed to her and sat awkwardly. With the pillow in his lap, he lifted the porcelain bowl and silver spoon. Both items had clearly been fashioned by fine craftsmen. He even recognized the style, so the maker had to have been human. What were elves doing with human finery? Although, he mulled as he spooned up some of the stew, the raedjour had also surrounded themselves with human finery, nearly all of it stolen from caravans and forest travelers over the centuries. The style of the stonework of the walls around him seemed human, as well. Why was an elf living in a human-built tower? An otherwise deserted one, if the courtyard hed seen was any indication. Why was the tower in the middle of a savanna? So many questions warred in his head that he was unable to pick the ones to ask, so he tried to compose himself as he ate. She was quiet as he ate, the silence between them almost companionable. He couldnt help but watch the gentle sway of her breasts, clearly evident when she pulled her abundant hair back to tie it into a tail at the nape of her neck. Her face was shaped much like the natural-born raedjour, although certainly more feminine. The upward curve of her lush mouth hinted that she smiled often. Once the hair was tied back, she sat on the side of her hip, her legs folded primly to one side as she leaned on the opposite arm. He was grateful for that. Seated cross-legged like he was, without anything to cover her lap, her sex would have been on display, and he didnt think he could have stood that. Much to his chagrin, his cock was already poking at the underside of the pillow in his lap. Her odd jade eyes hooded partially, and only that warned him that hed been staring. Hastily, he spooned up some more stew and averted his gaze. What is it that I know? She didnt pretend to misunderstand. You know about the dark elves. Yes. For that, I was abducted?

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Yes. I would have been happy to talk with you without this. Eyes averted, she shook her head. It isnt me. Its Aletone. I take it thats the man from the forest? The one with the red eyes and white skin? She nodded. Why abduct me to take what I would have freely given? A small sigh. Thats Aletones way. Does he plan to harm me? I dont know what he plans. But Ill do everything I can to make sure youre not harmed. Arent you with him? Im with him, but Im not privy to all of his intentions. She chanced a glance at him, gaze sober. Im as much a prisoner as you are. He frowned, highly doubting what she said, but choosing to let it go for the moment. Why does he want knowledge of the dark elves? A small smile and an expansive gesture with her free hand. Were elves. Both of you? Yes. Despite the possibly dire circumstances, a thrill of excitement tingled Kinigs spine, warring with suspicion. Of two different races? She nodded. I didnt think most elves ever left their homelands. Hed discovered a little over the past cycles, mostly that meeting or seeing an elf anymore was extremely rare. Centuries previous, a few members of some of the elven races had tried to make contact with human societies, but all efforts had fallen away. Most dont. Sadness swept over her gentle features. We probably wouldnt, but Another sigh. Were each the last of our kind. He blinked. Last? She nodded. There were once four races of elves on this continent. As far as I know, Aletone and I are the last of any of them. But why? What happened? I dont know. Aletones race and the two others were long gone before I was born. Aletone took me from my people just as the last few were dying. I dont remember them. He gaped, too distracted by such information to recall his manners. She played with the trailing end of her ponytail for a moment before glancing at his bowl. Are you finished?

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He looked down at his bowl, surprised to find it mostly empty. He hadnt touched the cup or the pitcher, but he wasnt especially thirsty. She held out her hand, and he gave her the bowl with the spoon in it. Briskly, she set the bowl on the tray, then rose to her feet, leaving it there. Come. He stared at the tray. Leave that. Ill see to it later. Come with me. She started for the door. He got to his feet, holding the pillow to his nudity. Could I get something to wear? She paused at the door, turning halfway to face him. You dont need it. Id like it. She shook her head, her ponytail sweeping across her back and ass. Im sorry. Theres nothing to give you. He rather doubted that. Not even a blanket? Its not necessary. She started for the door again. Come. But -- The sooner we are there, the sooner Aletone can answer your questions. Stopping with the door open, she glanced at him and failed to hide an amused smirk. You may bring the pillow, if you like. He scowled, wanting to take offense at her flippant tone, but he couldnt. What he felt was a flush of blood rushing to his groin. Bewildered, he did indeed keep the pillow as he followed her through the door. He never did see her unlock it. Had it really been locked when he tried it before? Or had she not relocked it when she returned? There was a narrow hallway beyond, which meant that a mirror image of the room theyd just left was on the other side of the hall. At one end was a stone wall with a tall, thin window, the shutter open to allow a breeze. At the other end was the landing to a staircase going down. The stone stairs hugged the curved wall, rounding down to another hall like the one above. This one was darker, without a window. She led him across the hall to another downward staircase. This second flight of steps emptied into a clean but deserted kitchen. The aroma of the stew hed just eaten filled the hot, enclosed space, spilling out through the open doorway to his right. He gazed out onto the empty courtyard, expecting to see a dog, chickens, a cat, a goat. Any sign of life. But aside from the flit and flutter of a few little brown and gray birds, there was nothing. Come, Kinig. She waited for him beside yet another flight of stairs leading down. He glanced back at the doorway. You can try to escape, but how long would you last with no clothing? The nearest village is at least three days walk for a human, with no water on the way, and there are no horses.

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He had to believe her. There was no evidence to say that she was lying. Resigned, he crossed the kitchen to join her. She paused, gaze earnest as she searched his face. Dont fight him. He frowned. Im sorry. It probably wont be pleasant, but if you dont fight him, he wont have a reason to hurt you. His frown deepened into a scowl. She shook her head, reaching out to trail her fingers over his shoulder. Please dont make him hurt you. A burble of pleasure deep in his groin made it difficult to concentrate on the severity of her request. I-Ill try. Clearly, she knew that was the best he could promise. Without another word, he followed her down into darkness broken only by one shielded sconce set in the curved wall halfway down. Expecting a cold, barren basement, he was both relieved and shocked to find a spacious, comfortable workroom. The area was circular like the tower above, but smaller. The walls were mostly unadorned, packed earth. The white-skinned man from the forest sat in one of two large, carved wooden chairs set at a matching heavy table. Where the room at the top of the tower was devoid of furniture, this one was cluttered with it, as well as bound books, scrolls, and any number of artifacts on shelves and tabletops. At first glance, it looked haphazard, but Kinig decided that it was all very neatly arranged, just rather pressed for space. The man wore another voluminous robe, this one of dark indigo rather than blue, the hue of the garment clear in the light of at least a dozen shielded lamps set about the room. The robe was hoodless, exposing the straight, shiny length of pure white hair that fell halfway down his torso. The pale tips of his ears were the same color as the hair, which almost disguised them. The only color to his face at all came from his eyes and a pinkish cast to his lips. This time, his eyes werent glowing, so they didnt cast a ruddy sheen on his high, chiseled cheeks. He remained seated as they entered. His attention was on a detailed map spread on the table, and he showed no sign that he knew of their presence as Nialdlye led Kinig to the middle of the wide room and a pair of chairs arranged to either side of a low, freestanding, open stove. The exposed fire provided light but, curiously, no additional heat to the already warm air. Nialdlye stopped him beside one of the chairs, then pulled what looked like a cloak off a hook on the wall and draped it over the seat. She indicated he should sit. By the time Kinig had settled, pillow still held over his groin, Aletone had risen and crossed to them. So odd, Kinig thought, studying the other man. Of the two of them, this was the elf that should have stirred his blood. The man was starkly beautiful, in the manner of a

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shard of ice or a finely honed sword. Gorgeous to look at, but cold and very likely dangerous. He sat, arranging his robes about the seat of the armless chair, then finally settled his red gaze on Kinig. You will tell me all you know about the raedjour. Kinig blinked. He glanced over to where Nialdlye had folded herself into a chair nearby, out of his immediate line of sight. She frowned at Aletone but, seeing Kinigs attention, offered Kinig an encouraging smile. But offered no more. He turned back to face the other man, who waited, still as a statue. Why am I here? To tell me what you know of the raedjour. Is there anything in particular you would like to know? Everything. He nodded, straight white hair caressing the shoulders of his robe. You may begin with your songs, if it pleases you. Kinig licked his lips, fingers digging into the soft pillow in his lap. My lute is upstairs. Aletone waved his hand toward Nialdlye, who had moved to get up. There is no need. She settled back down. I am concerned with the facts of your songs, not the artistry. Kinig frowned. Why? Aletones stony, almost bored expression never wavered. So I may learn what you know about the so-called dark elves. You didnt need to abduct me for that. Yet, you are here. Anger burbled. I would have been happy to talk to you, if you just asked. I am asking. Kinig wanted to point out that demanding was not asking, but he doubted that would gain him anything. Why did you take away my clothes? I didnt. The indication was clear, and Kinig glanced over to see Nialdlye with her gaze averted. She might have been blushing, but the tone of her skin made it impossible to tell. Where are my friends? The mercenaries brought you to me and have been paid for it. The mage is dead. Shock stilled Kinigs breath. He heard Nialdlyes soft, sad sigh. Sans dead? Aletones steady regard and clear lack of feeling was unsettling. What happened? Thats not your concern. My friend is dead, and youve brought me to the back side of nowhere, and its not my concern?

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Aletone didnt shift like a normal being. He might have been a statue if not for the fact that he spoke and very occasionally blinked. You need only tell me all you know about the raedjour. I have heard that, outside of the raedjour themselves, you have the most knowledge of them. I will know all that you know. It was odd. Humans rarely referred to the raedjour by their given name, preferring the dark elves term. Kinig had even written it out of his songs, adjusting to popular demand. That this man -- this elf -- used the proper term seemed sinister, and he wasnt sure why. Reining in his anger, knowing it wouldnt serve him, Kinig moderated his tone. Why? White lids and equally white lashes closed slowly over burning red before lifting just as slowly. Pale fingers laced calmly over the mans lap. I am the last of my kind. A minute nod in Nialdlyes direction. As Nialdlye is the last of her kind. I have known, in my time, of two other races of elves, both of which are long gone. I wish to know more of this surviving northern race. A simple enough request. One that would sit better with Kinig if it had been asked before hed been kidnapped. And after I tell you what you want to know? That would depend on what you tell me of them. Kinig hesitated, trying to think of a way to ask his question differently and get Aletone to answer. It was clear he didnt have the power to read minds. The raedjour could almost read thoughts, but as Rhicard explained it, it was really more a knack at deciphering emotions. The better sorcerers could read them so well that it was almost the same as reading thoughts. But if Aletone had such a gift, he would surely have used it rather than asking Kinig. As he was pondering, an awful, burning pain shot up his leg. Yelping, he twisted to his side, extending the leg, certain that his limb was on fire or worse from the shin down. His first thought was that an ember had popped from the fire between them, but no, the sedately burning fire could not have done so. He was astounded to see no visible evidence of the pain and almost as surprised when it suddenly stopped. He looked to Aletone, who had not moved. If you wish more pain, please continue to delay. Out of options, again deciding that being agreeable might win him more in the end, Kinig began to recite one of his songs. It could have been days, although he was sure it was just the afternoon and perhaps some of the evening. At some point, Kinig realized that the fire between them never consumed more of the wood within it. It seemed to Kinig that he had been sitting in front of Aletone, reciting and answering questions, forever. First one song, then another. It felt odd to recite the words without the music, but what choice did he have? Also, Aletone rarely let him get through a verse without stopping him to ask about the phrasing, to ask about the background behind the choice.

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Are those their words or yours? Is that a historical fact or a fanciful recreation? What more do you know of this story? This Savous is the fifth rhaeja. What do you know of the first four?
Each question was delivered in the same even tone. When Kinig hesitated to answer, Aletone asked again, sometimes rephrasing, sometimes not. Often before Kinig could finish answering one question, Aletone would ask another that seemed to have little to do with the first. By the time hed recited four or five of his songs, Kinig was exhausted and confused. He couldnt recall what he had answered and what he had repeated. He couldnt tell if Aletone was pleased with the information that hed received. Any and all questions Kinig tried to ask himself were ignored. Without warning, Aletone rose from his chair. Enough for today. Not so much as glancing back at Kinig, he resumed his seat at the far table and bent over the map. We will continue tomorrow. Kinig jumped when he felt Nialdlyes hand on his shoulder, fingers warm and oddly comforting after the exhausting interrogation. He looked up at her gentle smile. Can you make it upstairs? He nodded, standing. The pillow fell from his lap, and he watched it dully, wondering why it had been there. She bent to pick up the pillow, then turned him toward the staircase. They passed by Aletone without any sign from the man that he knew they were there. Kinig stumbled blearily up the three flights of stairs, guided by Nialdlyes hand on his shoulder as she walked behind him. He couldnt manage to think clearly and hardly recalled that he was naked. Certainly, he didnt have the wherewithal to worry about modesty. When they entered the pillowed room on the top floor and she nudged him toward the mattress, he fell into the nest face-first. Half asleep already, he felt gentle fingers stroking the back of his neck and his spine. Are you hungry? Nialdlye asked softly. Kinig could only grunt in reply, unable to open his eyes. She chuckled. Sleep, then, she murmured, petting him. He did.

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Chapter Nine
The next day was more of the same. He woke again in Nialdlyes arms, unable to recall if anything sexual had happened between them. He thought not, given the state of his exhaustion, but she did nothing to confirm or deny any occurrence. She fetched him breakfast and vacated the room while he ate. When he was done, she took him back down to the workroom and the same procedure as the previous day. He sat in the dark, hot, windowless room across a heatless fire from a man who could have been a marble statue save that his eyes and lips moved. He questioned Kinig in the same manner and even asked many of the same questions. This time, however, Nialdlye spoke up when Kinigs belly growled loudly. She appeared beside him, her hand on the back of his chair. Aletone, thats enough for now. Oh? Red eyes snapped up to regard her, showing just a hint of anger. Or was Kinig so desperate to see some sign of life in the man that he was imagining it? Clearly hes hungry. And exhausted. Her hand switched from the back of the chair to Kinigs bare shoulder. You will get much better results from him if you dont wear him down. Kinig had the distinct impression that wearing him down was part of the goal, but he stayed quiet. He wasnt as tired as the previous day, but he would certainly welcome the break. He thought Aletone was going to refuse, but then he unlaced his fingers and stood. Very well. Aletone put his back to them, retreating to his table. We will resume tomorrow. Kinig stood. May I ask one question? Nialdlye gave him a warning look, but he ignored it. Despite Aletones high-handed treatment, Kinig brimmed with the need to conduct an interrogation of his own. Aletone clearly possessed an awesome depth of

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knowledge, evident through just the questions he chose to ask and how he phrased them. He hadnt written one thing down, yet he recalled everything Kinig said with vivid clarity. Kinig ached to ask him about himself, his people, his homeland. Aletone deigned to look up at him after he arranged his robe over his knees. One. How old are you? Perhaps his question intrigued the man. For long moments, those red eyes studied him. Then, when he was sure Aletone wouldnt answer, the elf replied, I have seen eight hundred and three springs. Do you age like the dark elves, or do your people live longer? White lids hooded the red eyes. Good day, Kinig. Serenely, Aletone turned to face the table and bent over the map. Kinig opened his mouth, but Nialdlye squeezed his arm to get his attention, shaking her head when he looked at her. Frustrated, he held his tongue and allowed her to lead him upstairs. Nialdlye paused in the kitchen. He doesnt like to be questioned. She headed for the brick oven that dominated one corner of the room. I gathered that. She snagged a small reed basket on her way to the oven, then reached inside to pluck out two flaky pastries. Although he couldnt see the flames, he could clearly see the bright orange illumination of their presence. It had to be hot, but she showed no discomfort. How old are you? She smiled, turning toward him. Im not sure. Could you get that? She pointed to a tall pitcher. Not sure? He picked it up, enjoying the mellow, light, woody scent of the liquid. She gestured him toward the stairs going up, then answered as she followed him. I was a child when Aletone took me. That was over one hundred springs ago. Were you an infant? No, a child. Do you age like the raedjour? Aging had been one of the questions the previous day, with Aletone drawing from Kinig that the elves lived an average of one thousand cycles. My guess would be yes, but I dont know. Im not as interested in these things as Aletone. He mulled that over as he ascended the remaining stairs, using the thoughts to distract him from the fact that he was naked and she was naked and they were essentially headed for a rather sensual bedchamber. Belatedly, he realized he should have asked if they could eat in the kitchen. He reached the landing of the top floor and glanced back at her. Do you know anything about your people?

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Some. She opened the door, and he followed her inside. Not much. Were you that young? An elven child would still have been alive for fifty or a hundred cycles. She sat down on the rug in the center of the room. I only have vague memories. Reaching into the basket, she used one of the cloths that lined it to pick up what smelled like a meat pastry. He wont confirm it, but I think Aletone erased my memories. Fascinated, Kinig took the pastry. Can he do that? He can with humans. She shrugged. He might have been able to do it with me. Hes harnessed my magic. Kinig realized this could all be a ploy. Aletone and Nialdlye could be working together, and her caring demeanor could be a trick to get him to open up. But he had a hard time disbelieving her. Harnessed? Yes. When I was young, he did something that prevents me from using most of my powers. Hes as much as told me that and threatened to take more away if I displease him. Hes taught me to use what little I have left, but only spells that he finds useful. She enumerated with long, black-nailed fingers. Healing, cooking, portals, household maintenance She trailed off, grimacing. Im little more than a servant. He wanted very badly to ask about their personal relationship. She walked around naked; shed slept in a bed with Kinig for two nights straight. If they were lovers, Aletone had no issues with sharing her. But he couldnt think of a delicate way to ask, so he danced around the subject. Hasnt he told you anything about your people? Some. She took a drink directly from the tall pitcher hed set on the rug between them, then picked up her own pastry. We lived in the canyons of the Tohonowee Desert. He says not many humans knew of us and that there were never that many of us. Our god was Tohon, but I have never known Him. Not at all? No. He found that shocking. Even though the raedjour were separated from their goddess, they still worshiped Her and believed in Her return someday. Their relationship with Rhae was far more intimate than anything Kinig had ever felt toward the human pantheon. He had learned in his travels that not just the raedjour but all elves were created personally by their gods and given direct ties to the land where they were born, as opposed to humans, who were cultivated from divine will, earth, and free spirit. As such, the elves ties to their gods were much more direct. He couldnt imagine what it would be like for Nialdlye to never have known her god. Do you know what happened to them? She nibbled on her pastry, her solid green gaze seeming distant. Or was it her expression that made him think this? Tohon abandoned us. Without him, we werent

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fertile. Her voice was flat, as emotionless as her expression. He wondered if she really felt nothing, or if it was just a facade. Aletone has told me that I was the last child born. He wanted to ask how those who had been living died, but her expression made him reluctant. He took a few bites of his own pastry and waited in silence. The flaky shell was crispy around a gooey center of rich, savory sauce with little chunks of meat and vegetables. He found that he had to pay attention to avoid dripping the hot sauce on his arms or legs. The cloth shed wrapped around the pastry for him was soon covered in it. They can be messy, she remarked with a chuckle, licking sauce from her own fingers. He froze, mesmerized by the sight of her long, elegant fingers disappearing between soft, full lips. The red of her skin was just so bold, so prominent. As though it were flint, it touched off a flame in his belly. Embarrassed, he tore his gaze away to concentrate on finishing his meal. Wine? She picked up the pitcher and offered it to him. The rich center of the pastry made up for the dry, flaky crust, but he licked his own fingers and reached for the pitcher anyway. The watered-down wine was cool and light, a welcome comparison to the complex tastes of the pastry. Are you still hungry? she asked when he set the pitcher down. No. He wiped his fingers on what little clean spots remained on his cloth, trying to concentrate on little things to keep his cock from hardening any more than it already had. Soon hed need to move away from her before the damn thing popped up fully to make itself known. You speak very highly of the raedjour. He blinked at the unexpected topic. Hed thought he was done discussing the raedjour for the day. As a whole, they are wonderful people. Hands mostly clean, he dropped the cloth into the basket that sat between them and grabbed one of the medium-sized pillows from where it lay on the floor within arms reach. They took me in and treated me very well. Trying not to be obvious, he set the pillow in his lap and folded his arms over it. If she noticed or knew what the pillow was for, she said nothing. Her attention drifted around an indeterminate point to her right. They benefited from your presence. Im not sure all of them would agree with that, but Im glad to be of some use to them. Her attention turned to his face. Her rapt study was nearly a tactile caress, and he struggled not to shudder with pleasure. Not all? He toyed with the tight seams at the edge of his pillow. Centuries of experience have not given the raedjour a high opinion of human males. Ah. She nodded. Aletone is the same, except for all humans. He doesnt understand how even intelligent beings could know much of value when they have such short lives. Kinig nodded. That explained a lot.

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But you did find acceptance among the raedjour. Oh, yes. The people with whom I spent most of my time were wonderful. Memories of Fallil swam through his head, tugging at his heart even as they made him smile. She tilted her head thoughtfully. You fell in love. Surprised, he blinked up at her. Pardon? She smiled, setting her empty cloth in the basket along with his. Ive had contact with many humans. I can feel when a person is in love. She sighed wistfully. Its a lovely feeling. Oh. So she did have some abilities like the raedjour. Interesting that she could sense love. Could she sense other emotions? But she was continuing. Is he wonderful? Another surprise distracted him. She knew his love was male? I He must be. Hes raedjour? Or have I misjudged, and theres been someone since you left them? Oh, no, hes raedjour. His smile grew as he let himself dwell on his absent love. He is amazing. A unique beauty among beautiful people. He is a bard too. He helped me to compose all of my songs about his people. Her smile warmed. Your love for him is evident. Did he return your feelings? Yes. How long have you been apart? He sighed. Nine cycles of seasons. Why so long? Did the raedjour tell you not to come back? No. They would have let me stay, and they assured me that Im welcome to come back at any time. The man I love, though, he was the strongest supporter of my leaving to achieve my dream. He shook his head. Ever since I saw the first bard who came through our town when I was a child, thats what I wanted to be. Ive wanted to travel the world and see things the people in my hometown could never hope to see, then return and describe it for them in such vivid detail that they could think that they had, indeed, seen what I had. Thats a wonderful dream. She leaned on her hand to the side. Her long hair spilled over her shoulder and pooled in her lap. Do you feel youve achieved this dream? I do. So, now, is it time to return? Yes. He let his gaze wander, seeing Fallils gorgeous face in his minds eye. I gave myself a decade, my own deadline. Ive almost reached that milestone. You miss him. Very much.

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Her warm, comforting scent enveloped him as she edged closer, crawling slowly around the basket and pitcher between them. It must be true love to still be so strong after all this time. So why was he currently aching for this woman? Hed been attracted to men in his travels. Hed slept with men, following Fallils own request that he do so rather than deny himself. But he had not wanted anyone this fiercely since leaving his beloved. Nialdlyes hand slid up his arm, and he forced himself to flinch away. Undeterred, she reached in front of him and picked up his pendant with her forefinger and thumb. She edged even closer to look at it. Did he give you this? Ahyes. The trailing ends of her hair tickled his thighs, the warm, earthy smell of her making his head spin. Your people. He edged back, clutching the pillow to his lap as he eyed her warily. The stars in her eyes danced, mesmerizing him. Did theyis there a natural sexual attraction your god bestowed on you? She smiled, giving him a peek of sparkling white teeth. Yes. Tohon was a fertility god. He created us for sexual pleasure. Just like the raedjour. Groaning, he leaned back, unable to convince his muscles to take flight. Instead, he closed his eyes, shivering with the effort not to launch himself at her. I thought so. Because you feel something for me? Yes. Boldly, she slid her hands from his knees to midthighs. Had he not known better, he would have thought she stroked the cock that was pressing against the pillow he clutched. I would gladly share my body with you. He bit back a groan. II prefer men. But you are not incapable of being with a woman. With other women, that had been exactly the case. With this woman He fell back onto his elbow, caught like a rabbit in a snare while a jungle cat stalked it. One hand braced on the floor beside his hip, she brought the other up to stroke the many days worth of beard on his jaw. Her lips hovered before his. Please, Kinig. She brushed his lips with hers. Please. Share with me the ache you feel for your lover. Use me. Think of him. Another kiss. Tell me his name? Fallil. The name came easily, blossoming from his soul. Yes. Spreading her hand over his galloping heart, she opened her mouth to his. Helpless, he succumbed to her, experiencing the stroke of her tongue over his teeth. Closing his eyes, he could believe the kiss came from a raedjour. Hed slept with others besides Fallil

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and knew their mastery of the kiss. Nialdlye possessed the same sure, intoxicating magic. But he could not begin to mistake her for Fallil. It was not firm, male muscle that settled on him, pressing his back to the rug. No, it was soft, pliable female that lay over him, generously curved hips that ground the pillow into his groin. Helpless, his arms closed around her, and his hands eagerly explored her curves. The contrast of hard nipples and oh-so-soft breasts teased his chest. Her hand came up to tangle in his hair. He gave himself to the kiss, to the embrace, recognizing that he was lost. At length, he had to pull his head back, needing to breathe. She took advantage of his arched neck to plant kisses down his throat. Fascinated, he slid his palms over her back and arms, brushing aside the heavy silk of her hair, watching the waning sunlight from the window play fire on her red skin. Fallil, she whispered, nibbling his jaw as she yanked the pillow from between them. He must love your kisses. She nipped his lip, slipping her fingers up to unerringly find and pinch both nipples. And the sweet sound of your moans. Was he moaning? Why, yes, he was. Fallil had, indeed, always loved the sounds he made and encouraged every one. She grabbed first one then the other of his wrists and used surprising strength to yank them up over his head, pressing them to the floor. He closed his eyes, trying to remember how to breathe as she ate at his mouth and rubbed that delectable body all over his naked skin. She ducked down to taste his chest, tangling her tongue in the sparse hair trailing down to his groin. She made love to his navel with her tongue while teasing the hairs on his thighs. Gathering her knees under her, she thrust his thighs apart, massaging them as he stared at his cock. He had to look. The gleam of delight in her eyes made his belly flip and his cock jump. Smiling, she tossed her wealth of red-black hair down her back and wrapped an eager hand around his erection. A firm squeeze brought not only a groan from him but a copious dribble of precum from the tip. Her sigh of appreciation as she lapped it up made him feel like a decadent treat. He clawed at the rug, his eyes closing as the sheer erotic heat of her mouth enveloped his cock. Groaning, he threw his arm over his face, burying his nose in the bend of his elbow as she tortured him with the wet velvet of her tongue. She brought him nearly to climax before stopping. He opened bleary eyes to watch her climb his body until she straddled his hips. She was feminine perfection in garnet skin. Full breasts were tipped with peaked nipples that looked like dark, ripe cherries. The gentle dip of her waist flared into the voluptuous curves of her hips and thighs, framing the hairless triangle of her sex. She leaned forward and covered his eyes with one palm. Close your eyes. Her shins were hot, pressed against the outside of his hips, her breath sweet as it wafted over his temple. Think of him. Make love with him. Let me feel your love. Please.

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He couldnt forget it was her, but her words brought the image of Fallil to the forefront of his mind. Laughing silver eyes, delicious, gorgeous lips. He could hear the hiss of soft, heavy hair falling over him like a curtain, and it was easy to picture it as snowy white. A hand gripped his cock, and a heated entrance pressed the tip, and he couldnt help recalling the sight of Fallil rearing over him as he positioned his hips. When tight, warm heat began to descend over his cock, splendid moisture easing the way, his loves name spilled from his lips, his hips thrusting up to bring his cock home. He brought down his arms so he could sink eager fingers into the hips of his lover, helping the hot, willing body above him to rise and fall. He could not last long, and he said so. The pace picked up, hurrying him along. Wordless moans echoed his, and strong hands gripped his knees, bracing so the hips could rock furiously, forcing him to the brink. Pushing him over. With a cry of agonized pleasure, he came into the body above him, his own body spasming uncontrollably. The release was like nothing he had felt since leaving the raedjour. Since leaving Fallil. His heart burst, love heating his blood and prolonging his orgasm. Fallil, he whispered as it subsided. Yes. Confused by her rapturous voice, he cracked open his eyes. Nialdlye was still poised above him, back arched, breasts pointed toward the ceiling, head thrown back so that her hair draped her hands as she clutched his knees. Yes! Her body convulsed and squeezed his cock, still buried deep inside her, and he realized she was coming. Dazed, he let his gaze

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drift down to the juncture of their bodies. She twisted and, with one last cry, finished her climax. He could see the drenched petals of her sex perfectly, pulsing, empty. He was buried deep in her ass. He had not known women could orgasm from entry there, but there was no denying the tremors of her experience. With a satisfied little mewl, she sat up. Jade eyes opened, the starry flecks within dancing as she smiled. You love him so deeply. She rocked her hips, dislodging his softened cock from her body. It feels wonderful. He could only blink at her, the sweet lethargy of aftersex rolling over him twofold. What? Shhhh. She shut him up with a full-tongue kiss, one which he could only receive, for he hadnt the strength to reciprocate. Sleep now. Well talk later. But Her palm closed over his eyes, and sleep rushed over him almost as quickly as the dark. Sleep.

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Chapter Ten
Two days later
Kinig cried out, spilling his seed deep into Nialdlyes willing body with three last ragged thrusts. Spent, he fell forward, panting as he caught himself on rigid arms just before he collapsed onto her back. On her knees before him, Nialdlye sighed happily as she reached up to push aside the heavy fall of red-black hair that hid her face. Twisting her neck, she grinned up at him, chuckling softly. He stared at her, trying to catch his breath. Her red skin glistened with that not-quitesweat that served quite well for sexual lubrication. That, at least, she shared with the raedjour. Could Tohon and Rhae have shared secrets when fashioning their people? Or was it just a natural trait of those created by fertility gods? His own sweat soaked the roots of his hair and dripped down his back. His blood sang, and his muscles ached from the strain of really good, active sex. Slowly, sanity returned, replacing the blind, raging need that had filled him and demanded he fuck her. Not that shed been unwilling. Quite the contrary. After waking to find her gleaming wet lips sucking his cock, he suspected she was much the instigator in what theyd just shared. Did you cast a spell on me? Some of the pleasure drained from her face. Sighing, she shut her eyes and settled deeper into the pillows. Not quite. With a little grunt, he pushed himself back up to his knees, a little surprised to find his half-hard cock still partway within her ass. Her ass. Again. That had been her idea too. He remembered her long fingers wrapped around his shaft, guiding it to where she wanted it,

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his rod sliding easily into her. What do you mean not quite? He pulled his hips back to free himself, shocked at how reluctant he was to do so. Its just the aftermath of great sex. With a woman. Still not a fact he was fully comfortable with. Its not that I cast a spell. Its just what I am. She hugged the pillow beneath her, watching him as he rolled away to sit beside her. She stretched her legs out, letting her hips lower to the bed. Humans find me irresistible. He had to laugh, wedging a large pillow underneath his head and shoulders. Youre very confusing for me. Ive never found a woman this attractive. Not even among the raedjour? Most of the women I knew were truemated. Attractive, certainly, but not like with you. With you, I cant stop myself. She purred happily, reaching out to stroke his thigh. I dont mind. His smile died as he met her gaze. Will Aletone? She frowned. No. Youre not lovers? No. No? No. Sighing, she pushed to her side, thrusting all of her hair behind her to bare the full glory of her breasts and flared hips. Despite how I feel about him, I tried many times to seduce him when I first came of age, but hes virtually sexless. He tells me that his god created his people that way. They were only fertile once in their lifetimes and could only ever be fertile with one other. Even that relationship had to be cultivated over most of a decade and blessed by Alain himself. Good gods. Yes. He says there were never more than a hundred or so of them at a time, and that was a high number. And your people? Her smile returned. He says that my people would fuck anyone or anything and could be fertile with any of them. He says thats what weakened us and made Tohon give up on us. He blinked. Fertile with anything ? As far as I know. Does that mean? Yes. With animals?!

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Im told there are a few odd animals that came about because of my people. She laughed. I dont know what became of them, though. Aletone claims most of the stranger offspring were barren. Kinigs active imagination reeled with that tidbit of information, but his thoughts settled on something more personal. Is that why? Are you afraid of getting pregnant? Is that why youve let me? Fuck my ass? No. I thought thats what youd want. I dont have a cock to offer you. When he only looked at her in shock, she laughed again, reaching out to pet his knee. I am capable of enjoying sex in many, many different ways, Kinig. Im perfectly happy with what weve done. After living among humans for so long, used to womens confusion and, often, disgust about his sexual preference, it was surprisingly comforting to be with someone with an outlook matching that of the raedjour. As his thoughts jumbled, she cuddled close enough to press a kiss to the side of his rib cage. My people need sex, Kinig. Her breath over his heated skin was as soft as her voice. I feel ill if I go without. Aletone says Id die if I had to go without for too long. She nuzzled even closer, sliding an arm across his hips. Im sorry if you think I took advantage of you. He found his hand carding through her hair, sliding over the smooth warmth of her back. No, I He swallowed, aware that the spark deep in his belly was flickering again. Is that another reason why Im here? Yes. You probably cant go where there are a lot of humans around. She chuckled. Not for very long. We tried once. There was something of a riot. He smiled, believing it. You would do well with the raedjour. Do you think so? No doubt. They might even be able to satisfy you. He chuckled, very aware that although she might have enjoyed sex with him, she hadnt been completely satiated. He sobered, glancing down at her. With her head nestled at his side, he could just see her profile and the thoughtful look on her gorgeous features. Do you think hell take you to them? She was still for so long that he wondered if shed heard him. Then she sighed. I dont know. I dont know his plans. Yet Aletone was obviously intent on learning more of the raedjour. Clearly he had intentions. They sat for a while, sharing a comfortable silence. Despite the desert outside, the temperature in the room was mild. A spell of hers, she had told him. The bed was comfortable, the woman beside him soft and firm and delightfully fragrant. Soon she would feed him and take him to Aletone, but until then, he mulled over what he had learned. Nialdlye?

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She drew idle patterns along the trail of hair down the middle of his belly toward his groin. Yes? Do you often bring humans here? What do you consider often? You mentioned that you need sex. Do you always have a lover here? If so, where was the man before him? No. She rolled away, onto her back. Her strange, starry eyes fixed on the scarves that obscured the ceiling above them. Ive gone as much as a moon without, but I feel much better if I have sex more often. How do you normally find them? Aletone has humans who work for him. She glanced at him. The mercenaries you were traveling with were two of them. Her attention returned to the ceiling. Sex with me is sometimes part of their payment. Other times, they bring someone for me at Aletones request. He says he likes it more when Im occupied. Derision dripped from her lips. The ones they bring to you come here? She nodded. What happens when youredone with them? Aletone sets them free after warning them to be silent. Just a warning? Not much more is necessary. The ones who decide to talk can never find us again. You bring them throughwhat do you call how you got me here? The void. Aletone and I can make portals into the void and travel through them. He was almost excited when he was able to teach me how to do it. Alone, he can only make one portal, which only allows you to go in and come back out the way you came. With two people, I can make the portal in and hold it while he makes a portal out somewhere else. Kinig frowned. What is the void? A realm between realms, although Aletone doesnt like it when I call it a realm itself. Its where the gods used to visit when they first left the earth. Didnt the raedjour have portals into the void to commune with their goddess? Understanding dawned. Yes. They called them vetriese. That sounds similar to vitol, which is what Aletone calls them. She shrugged. I just call them portals. He turned on his side to face her, head propped up on one arm. How far can you and Aletone travel? Aletone does the traveling. I spend a long, boring time in the void, trying not to lose my mind. She sat up and started to finger comb the tangles from her hair. As for how far,

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hes mapped most of the east and middle parts of this continent. He might have reached parts of the west by now. I dont understand. Traveling between portals takes a matter of minutes, but through them he can travel far distances. The key is that he can only open a portal where he has already been and marked it. And hes been over most of this continent? Much of it. Hes been working toward the isthmus, but he hadnt planned to reach that for seasons. What about the northern continent? She very carefully kept her attention on the hair she drew into her lap. I suspect thats where hell be going next. The northern continent. The raedjour. Which brought Kinig back to the question of what Aletone wanted with the dark elves. Kinig wasnt sure why he felt Aletone was such a threat. He was just a single man, after all. What could he possibly do to the raedjour, with a number of sorcerers among their ranks? Surely Savous was every bit as powerful as this man, and Nalfien, the oldest of the elves Kinig had known, matched his age. But as he didnt have an answer to that question, his mind roamed back to his previous topic. So Aletone brings back lovers for you? Yes. How long do you keep them? He couldnt shake the notion that he was talking of pets and not human beings. It depends. Sometimes a few days, sometimes a few moons. You mentioned you could be fertile with anything. She froze, staring at the silky hair in her hands. Yes. He debated asking, but decided hed already opened the door. Have you gotten with child from any of your lovers? Yes. What happened to the babies? There were no babies. Eventually, Aletone taught me spells I could use to decrease the chance of fertility. They work well. Before that -- her pause was heavy with the bitterness splashed across her face -- he killed them. The babies? The pregnancies. He aborted them. I never even -- Her words bit off. He gaped. How long has this been happening? She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I came of age sixty cycles ago.

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Compelled, he reached out to grasp her slender wrist. Nialdlye, Im so sorry. She nodded blankly, someone who had buried a pain and had become very good at ignoring its existence. Abruptly, she scooted toward the end of the bed. Ill get your breakfast. Standing, she kept her back to him. You should clean up. He sat up, grimacing at her back as she walked away from him. He wanted to comfort her but didnt know how. He wanted to kill Aletone for what hed done to Nialdlye, but knew that was impossible. Frustrated, angry, Kinig punched a few of the pillows once shed left the room, promising himself to stay keen and watch for a way out of this situation.

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Chapter Eleven
Youre not taking Kinig? Aletone regarded her steadily. Why would I take the bard? To let him go. Are you tired of him? No. But its time to let him go. Kinig had been with them for the final part of spring and now most of summer. Aletone reached up to pull his hair into a tail at his neck. I have no intentions of releasing him. She didnt like that there wasnt a qualifying today or even a yet at the end of his sentence. While Aletone was not always forthcoming with all the details of his plan of action, he never, to her knowledge, lied. He preferred brutal honesty, especially when it hurt. Were leaving him here? We will be back in less than a day. He bent over the map that was spread on his favorite table, tracing the northwestern edge of the Coden mountain range. Youll leave food and water for him, and I will set a spell to keep him confined to your rooms. She stared at the map without seeing it. She knew where he was going and cared little the exact route hed take. She wouldnt be doing any of the road traveling. You dont need to set the spell. Where would he go? He didnt reply, which meant he would do as he pleased, despite her objections. Long practice allowed her to swallow her anger. When do you want to start? As soon as you can prepare your pet. I want to be on the road shortly after daybreak. Nodding, she turned toward the stairs. He meant daybreak where he would exit the portal, since it was just past daybreak over the tower. Feeling maudlin, she prepared two

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meals for Kinig, one for now and one that would keep for later. She shoved a bottle of light wine and a bottle of mead into the basket with the second meal, then took it all on a tray up to the tower room. A thought unlatched the door, and it crept open, allowing her to pass through with hands full. Kinig lay in bed where shed left him after Aletones curt summons. He eyed the basket as he came to sit with her on the floor in the middle of the room. For later, she explained, setting the basket to one side before she took out the wine. Later? She nodded. Aletone wont be questioning you today. He couldnt hide the relief, but it was quickly followed by suspicion. Why not? Well be leaving you for the day. We should be back long before daybreak tomorrow. She hoped. Youll be traveling through the void? He will. Did he say where? She shrugged, busying herself with pouring wine. Northwest of the Coden Mountains. She gestured to the basket. Ive put pastries, bread, and some cold meats in there. Theres a spell on the basket that will keep them cool. Do you think youll need more? Will the wine and mead be enough? Is he done with questioning me? I dont know. Aletone had managed to fill nearly every day for the past several moons with questioning Kinig. She didnt think there was a thought in the bards head or any obscure occurrence in his memory that Aletone was not now aware of. But hes questioned me every day that Ive been here. As though she wasnt well aware of that fact. There isnt much more I could possibly tell him. Why wont he let me go? She stood and went to the window. Hes going to cast a spell on this room that will keep you in it. You should be able to keep the windows open, I think. Nialdlye, why isnt he letting me go? I imagine that he still has plans for you. What? I dont know. Does he ever plan to let me go? She stared at the scrubby desert beyond the tower window, noting the purple haze of the mountains in the distance. I dont know. Have you asked him?

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Yes. I want to see him. She turned to see Kinig standing. No. Yes. No. It wont do any good. I want to know what he has planned. What makes you think hell tell you? I cant get him to tell me, and Ive known him for over four times your lifetime. She went to him, sliding her hands up his arms to rest on his shoulders. Please, Kinig. Im doing what I can. I know its frustrating. Hes going to kill me. As soon as he gets whatever it is that he needs, hes going to kill me. Isnt he? She forced herself to look into those frightened, furious blue eyes. I dont know. I can only tell you that I will do everything in my power not to let that happen. Then again, there are worse things than death. She blinked, surprised. What? He scowled. Ive come to care for you, Nialdlye, but I wont enjoy spending the rest of my life as your sex pet. She dropped her hands. I wouldnt do that to you. He would. She turned away. Yes, he would. What Kinig didnt know was that he had before. With sad results. Her pets didnt enjoy long lifespans. Eventually the constant sex wore on them physically as the lust continued to build. At some point, the two became vastly out of sync and the body wore down while the mind could only think of sex. It was painful, and shed refused to do it again, but Aletone had kept Kinig with them longer than any human besides those whod died in her keeping. A full cycle of seasons was about all it would take before it would kill him. I wont allow that to happen. How will you deny him? The door opened before her. Ill think of something. She heard him fast approaching from behind. Nialdlye. A complex thought and a small surge of magic from her stopped his forward momentum, freezing him in place. She regarded him over her shoulder as she continued out the door. Ill do everything I can. Nialdlye! She passed into the hallway, dropping her spell on him as the door closed behind her. Nialdlye! The door latch rattled as he yanked at it, only to find it locked.

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She left him calling her name, choosing to address his wrath when she returned. Unhappy with herself, she reached up to braid her hair as she descended the three flights of stairs into Aletones workroom. Once he had started hiring humans, hed used them extensively to build up a library. This room was merely a part of it, holding the scrolls and artifacts he deemed most important. The chamber on the top floor across the hall from hers was filled to bursting with scrolls and books as well. Hed tried to get her to read on more than one occasion, but shed never developed an interest. She much preferred hearing news through word of mouth. Hearing her, Aletone rose from his table. Without a word, he removed his robe and draped it over his chair. Not for the first time, Nialdlye noted the muted lines that defined the muscles of his broad chest, admired the smoothness of the flat, white belly that dipped into slim hips. Kinig had told her that the raedjour, as a whole, were more muscular than Aletone, although there were variances. She didnt doubt they would be prime specimens of malehood, having been created by a goddess for Her sexual pleasure. Nialdlye shivered at the pleasure of the very thought, even as she admired Aletones smooth back when he turned from her to pick up a brown tunic draped over the back of another chair. Aletone was certainly much more beautiful to look at than any human male shed encountered, even if he didnt have the gorgeous muscle tone of some men. Unfortunate that he was sexless -- or was, at least, for anyone except his one. Aletone donned the tunic and belted it. Except for the pure white hair and skin, he could have been an ordinary traveler. Hed dressed for travel, not disguise. The terrain he was covering was quite secluded, and it was doubtful hed encounter any foot traffic. Is your pet secure? She bristled, but didnt bother to correct him as she finished off her braid and tied it with a slim leather cord shed had about her wrist. Yes. Are you certain? Yes. Watching him gather up a cloak and travel bags, she took a chance. I want to know what you have in store for him. Its not your concern. It is my concern. Ive told you that I dont want to watch a man waste away with me again. Do not worry there. He will be gone long before that. A chill raced up her spine. Are you planning to release him on the northern continent? That is where youre headed, isnt it? That got his attention. He gave her a level stare. Do not assume you know the reasons behind my actions, Nialdlye. You need only obey. Just tell me what you plan for him. So you can try to reason with me?

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Perhaps. No. You have no say in the matter, at any rate. Her anger flared, a boiling pot ready to burst from under the lid. Aletone! He spun to face her, red eyes flaring. Instantly, the weight of his power smothered her. His presence covered her like coarse netting about a fish. Instinctively she struggled, but no matter how she flowed, no matter how she wiggled, she couldnt shake him. This time, he exerted just a little more pressure, tightening the netting so she could feel the bite of him and had to recognize the extent of her limited abilities. She forced herself to stop struggling, and gradually the netting loosened to the barrier she was so familiar with that she didnt even feel it anymore. As it lessened, the glow in his eyes diminished. It would be unfortunate if the bard were injured due to your stubbornness, would it not, Nialdlye? A bitter calm settled over her. So thats it. A bard without functioning fingers or with a damaged throat might become despondent. She drew a deep breath, averting her gaze. Are we finished with this? he asked coolly.

No ! She had many, many things to say, starting with the fact that she thought he was
evil and she wished hed killed her rather than taken her from her family. She wanted to tell him to rot in whatever hell Alain reserved for His people so she could be free for a life of her own. She wanted to demand that he release her. Knowing that was futile, she at least wanted him to release Kinig and not ruin yet another life. But she couldnt. And she knew it. Yes. His red gaze bored into her for another moment. Then let us be on our way. He crossed toward one corner of the room and the empty wall space there. Silently, she took her place at his side. His eyes glowed a moment, and she felt his magic surge through the tower, setting his spell to cage in Kinig. Sadly, she suppressed a sigh, a small portion of her having hoped hed forget. Although she had no idea what Kinig could accomplish if he had the run of the tower and beyond. Once Aletone was done, he glanced at her and nodded. They both turned to face the blank wall. With practiced ease, Nialdlye turned her focus inward to find that access within her to another realm. Her vision went hazy, and she knew the white flecks within her eyes would be swirling madly over the now glowing green. A tingle shivered somewhere behind her heart, echoing within her skull toward the apex of her neck. When both tingles harmonized, she sent out a pulse toward the wall. The portal faded into being, the fabric of the realm melting like wax beside a flame. The void opened and expanded, obeying her will, creating an opening large enough for first her and then Aletone to walk through.

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The void. Thats what Aletone called the blackness beyond. He claimed it to be a road, for lack of a better term, between the earth and the place of the gods. From here, one could reach any point in any known realm. One needed only the talent and previous knowledge to create the opening. The two of them stood on something that seemed like ground, although the black beneath them was indistinguishable from the black all around. Aletone said it wasnt there, that the ground was a construct of their minds, something to allow them to function within a place that wasnt. Certainly it wasnt necessary for Nialdlye, who often just let herself drift with no imagined solidity beneath any part of her body. She could see him perfectly well, but it wasnt as though there was any light. Long ago, shes realized that there were no shadows. Shed asked once if she really saw and touched him physically, or if that were a construct, as well. Aletone could only theorize that they were physically present, but he admitted he was not absolutely sure. That, in itself, was daunting. Aletone had taught her all she knew of the void and portals. It was unsettling and somewhat exciting to know that there were still things that even he didnt know about it. Once she was settled, he spread his palm before him. The gesture wasnt necessary, but he tended to use the movement to focus his spell to open a portal. This, she knew, was something only he and she knew. At least to Aletones knowledge. In the history of his people, plenty had learned to open portals into the void, mainly to commune with Alain. But Aletone claimed that none of Nialdlyes people had learned the talent. They had simply used the permanent openings that had been set up for them once, long ago. Certainly no one had learned or thought to create a second portal within the void to another point. She didnt know exactly how Aletone marked his spots, but she knew that he now had a number of them within the eastern and southern portions of the continent. The one and only time Nialdlye had seen true excitement on Aletones face was the day they had first managed the two portals successfully. It had taken nearly forty cycles after Nialdlye had reached her magical maturity to accomplish it, and quite a bit of hard work on both of their parts. A genuine smile of pleasure had curled his lips, a notable enough occurrence that she recalled it vividly. Now, however, he waited for his portal to open, the morning sun beyond a harsh contrast to the nonlight of the void, then stepped through without a further word to Nialdlye. Used to this, Nialdlye watched his portal shrink. It didnt close -- that would sever the joint spells between them -- but it shrank to a tiny pinpoint. Within the void, the shining white of it was obvious, hovering a few feet in front of Nialdlye. Outside the void, it wouldnt be noticeable. Aletone would be able to feel where it was, enabling him to return. Now she was stranded. She let her own portal shrink -- it was easier to maintain when small -- and let her awareness of the ground seep away. There was no pull of the earth on her here, making her weightless. Breathing deeply, she let her mind and vision wander. Her hair floated about her, one of the reasons shed braided it. Experience had taught her that when it was unbraided, it tended to tangle, due to her movements.

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The whispers started. Whispers of past conversations. Whispers that wouldnt be heard unless the one listening had spent immeasurable time within the void with nothing else to occupy her time. Whispers in many languages, most of which she couldnt understand, but some that she could. It was the latter that she listened for, naturally, and the former that she tried to catalog in her head so perhaps she could puzzle out a meaning later. For cycles, shed listened and occasionally seen the faded visuals that accompanied, occasionally caught an echo of a scent. Long enough to decide that what she heard were echoes of long-ago conversations between elven men and women with their respective gods. Long enough to learn snippets about different races, including her own. Long enough to know that Aletone knew nothing of the whispers. Shed decided that it was because he hadnt spent a prolonged length of time in the void like she had, and she wasnt remotely inclined to clue him in. True, his knowledge could help her decipher the words she didnt understand. His unfettered power might do something about honing the whispers so they could be more easily heard, the visuals more readily seen. But this was her secret. Her only secret. The only thing she felt relatively confident that she knew that he did not. That made it special. That made it hers. And she would keep it. She listened carefully, trying to guide the whispers around her. Sometimes she could choose what she heard. It wasnt a precise process, but in the past shed been able to sift through the whispers to find those in a language she recalled from her childhood. Her people. She caught glimpses of men and women with red skin and wide, ready smiles. Unfortunately, the snatches of conversation that she caught rarely related anything of import. Through the whispers, shed verified all Aletone had said about members of her race. Sex was utmost on their minds, and sex and sexual relationships were the primary focus of their conversations with their god. It felt so odd to her sometimes. Even with her own undeniable urges, she could not fully relate to the mindless urges and flighty worries of the people she overheard. Today, however, she was not interested in her people or her past. She thought of the raedjour. Focusing her thoughts, she sent whispers of her own into the void. Raedjour. Rhae. Over and over, thinking of everything shed heard from Kinig. Shed rarely been successful at directing the whispers or filtering out those she didnt want to hear, but she gave it a good effort now. For a long time, nothing. Just unintelligible gibberish. But then she heard echoes of her own words in different voices. Deep, sensual male voices. She closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the sounds for a while, letting her imagination be filled by men with black skin and white hair and sexual skill beyond anything shed ever known. Her body ached at the mere thought, knowing these men were created for sensual pursuits and had none of the hesitation that shed encountered with her human lovers. Oral sex, anal sex, multiple partners, simultaneous penetration Aroused, she slid her fingers between her legs and massaged her wet folds and pleasure center. Eyes half open, she nearly turned somersaults in the weightless void when she arched and screamed her climax.

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As shed hoped, there were the visuals. Faded, soft. The black skin of the men in question somehow stood out against the black-that-wasnt-black of the void. To her positive delight, the first visual showed a hazy man, his shoulder-length white hair floating freely about his head and neck, so she could better see his face, his tightly closed eyes, as his hand worked frantically between his legs, pumping a gleaming, gorgeous black cock. Absently pumping her fingers into her still-pulsing channel, Nialdlye watched the man climax, watched him cry out as the image of him faded from view. He was replaced with the image of another, this one also in the throes of ecstasy, although his arms were stretched up over his head, strained as though they were held there by an unseen force. His body writhed, growled words spilled from his lips, and his hips pumped as the cock that stood out straight from his body spewed into the darkness. Then he faded, to be replaced by another. Nialdlye had seen sexual visions like these of people like her, people with red skin, but she was fascinated and aroused beyond measure by visual after visual of these men. Eventually, she stopped pleasuring herself, distracted by trying to memorize what few details she could. She moaned aloud when the last visual faded. The tingle behind her told her that Aletone was activating his portal. That was the sum of it. The whispers and the visuals always stopped when a portal opened beyond the pinprick. For cycles, shed thought that meant the visions were in her imagination. Now she knew better. There was simply too much that happened, too much that matched what little Aletone had told her of history or matched what he said after careful questioning later. She was seeing real people. Whether or not they were still alive, she had no idea. Aletones portal expanded, displaying a view of a moonlit river. He stepped through and promptly collapsed his portal. If he noted her state of arousal, he made no mention. It was not uncommon. She often amused herself to fill the boredom. Keeping her silence, she expanded her own portal. After hed gone through, she reentered his workroom and released her spell. After dropping his bags and cloak on the floor, he headed up the stairs without a backward glance for her. She followed quietly and continued upward, leaving him behind to make a meal for himself. At her door, she encountered his spell. A slight magical tug, and she was able to unravel it, the spell meant to keep Kinig in and not to keep her out. Soft lute music filled her ears as the door opened, but stopped as she crossed the threshold. Kinig looked up at her from where he sat on the bed. Youre back, he noted needlessly. Yes. Flushed with arousal, Nialdlye crossed the room and nearly threw herself to her knees on the mattress. Alarmed by her approach, Kinig put aside the lute just in time to catch her as she blanketed him with her body. Eager hands framed his face, holding him for a devouring kiss. He was not one of the obsidian-skinned beauties shed glimpsed in the void, but he had been with more than one of

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them, so he was the next best thing. He was also a delicious, responsive man in his own right, and that was what she needed. Nialdlye, he gasped when she finally released his lips to sample the galloping pulse below his jaw. What happened? Reaching down, she circled his half-hard cock with her fingers and started to pump it to full erection. I missed you.

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Chapter Twelve
My pendant? A spark of interest brightened Kinigs pretty blue eyes. Why? Nialdlye hesitated, then shook her head. I cant tell you. The spark died. Of course you cant. The death of his interest, even if it was suspicion directed at her, tore at her. Anxiously, she reached out to grasp his shoulder. Kinig, Im sorry, Id tell you if I could. He nodded, but she could tell he didnt believe her. She hated the listlessness that had settled over him in the past moon, a reaction to the frustration and boredom of a man entirely unused to inactivity. She knew what that boredom felt like and also knew that her long-lived nature made her better equipped to handle it in many ways. She stroked his arm. Kinig, let me borrow the pendant. I promise Ill tell you all I can when I get back. He stared at the pillows at the foot of the bed. After a quiet moment, he reached up behind his neck and unlatched the chain. It spilled into his hand, and he gave the pendant a lost, forlorn gaze. I havent had this off since Fallil gave it to me. Ill take good care of it. He held it out to her. Grimaced. Could you? He swallowed, not watching as pendant and chain slithered into her palm. Could you put me to sleep while youre gone? Sleep? Yes. I A deep breath caused his nostrils to flare. I cant bear the thought of another empty day. Oh, Kinig. Eyes closed, a pinched snarl ruined the sweet line of his lips. Please. All right.

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Nodding, he settled down onto his back in the pillows, staring at the ceiling for a moment before he shut his eyes again and folded his hands on his chest. Clutching his pendant, she sidled close enough to smooth a hand over his forehead. Touching him wasnt necessary to cast the spell, but she felt the need to soothe him. Sleep. The word wasnt necessary either. As her magic settled over him, she watched the unhappy lines smooth from his youthful face. Sleep, Kinig. When she was sure he was under, she bent down to bestow a soft kiss on his lips. I will find a way to free you. Despondent, she sat back and studied the pendant in her hand. A lovely circular silver setting supporting a smooth obsidian stone. The black glittered with tiny flecks of multicolored light, mesmerizing. The dormant spell within the pendant still puzzled her. Kinig didnt seem to know of its existence, and Aletone had never remarked upon it. She wouldnt have even realized it if shed hadnt spent a number of mornings waking with her head pillowed on Kinigs chest right beside it. It gave off a remarkably subtle pulse, not alarming and very easy to overlook, vaguely echoing Kinigs heartbeat. Aletone could probably tell her more, but she was loath to call his attention to it. As far as she knew, Kinig just thought the pendant was a gift from his lover. It might be that, but it was more. Sitting a moment on the edge of the mattress, she reached behind her neck to draw forward her heavy, half-braided hair. After slipping the pendant from its chain, she worked it into the folds of hair. There was plenty to both support it and hide it within. When she was sure it was secure, she stood and dropped the chain onto the floor beside the mattress, where she would remember it later, then stood. With one last, sad glance at the sleeping man in her bed, she left the room, braiding the remaining length of her hair as she descended the stairs to Aletones workroom. With practiced calm, she went through the motions with Aletone, watching him carefully for any sign that he noted the addition to her person. Shed brought other small artifacts into the void with her previously, some with and some without his knowledge. Shed found that the objects imbued with some sort of elven magic helped to attract more of the whispers from that society. Aletone did not allow her access to highly magical objects, but she had managed to bring in a bracelet once that had let her see a woman who she fancied to be her mother. She hoped that Kinigs pendant, unfettered by Aletones attention or touch, might produce even better results. She remained silent as they entered the void and he prepared his portal. The quiet between them was quite normal of late, so she only breathed a sigh of relief when he stepped through his portal and let it shrink. Taking her time, she got comfortable, then reached behind to grab her floating hair. A moment of prodding reminded her where the pendant resided within the braid, and she used her fingers and thumbs to expose it without unraveling her hair. She couldnt feel anything of the spell within at first. But then she focused and felt it, a faint pulse that was slow to nonexistent. Sighing, she doubted it would help her much.

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Still, the whispers and faded visuals came. Of late, they had all been of raedjour. She didnt know if that was because of her particular focus or not, but she welcomed their presence. The men with black skin appeared to pleasure themselves for her, speaking in that low, gorgeous language she wished she understood. She played with the pendant as the obscure visions and breaths of touches whispered over her body. She rubbed the pendant between her fingers, then traced her collarbone with it. The added sensuality from the slide of her hair with it encouraged her to continue as she enjoyed the show. Focusing on the pendant did not make the visions solidify nor increase her understanding of the rumbling murmurs. Sighing, she eventually settled back to simply watch. Then, quite suddenly, one of the visions clarified. A face. Very masculine, with a square, strong jaw, hooked nose, and defined cheekbones. A full, sensual mouth, black lips curled up at both sides, an indication that this face smiled often. High white brows hovered over closed eyes, long white lashes evident over his cheeks. White, totemic designs clarified on his forehead and chin, making Nialdlye want to brush away the abundance of soft, straight white hair that floated freely about his head so she could get a better look. The fact that the rest of his body was clarifying as well distracted her. Excited, she waited, watching broad, muscular shoulders melt into being out of the black of the void. An odd, stylized web design was etched in white over an equally impressive chest. From the belly down, he was still vague and didnt solidify as she watched. She got the impression of a similar wave pattern over the flat lower section of a slim belly, pointing down toward hips she couldnt see. Thinking the vision was still solidifying, she waited eagerly, focused on the spot where his cock would come into view. Hello. She jumped, gaze flying up to the figures face. Hair continued to float around his head, obscuring the view, but the eyes were open. Eyes unlike any shed ever seen. She knew hers were odd, all green with white flecks floating before them. Where the whites of his eyes should be were solid black. Streaks of different reds swirled around the black dots of his pupils to make up the irises, with a few streaks shot through to the edges, resembling tiny firestorms in his eyes. Despite that odd gaze, his smile was lovely and friendly, the voice low and sensual. She knew her eyes were wide as saucers, but couldnt calm herself. Youre talking to me. He smiled. Should I not? I can understand you. His commonspeak was accented heavily with northern inflections like Kinigs, but she understood him fine. And I you. She clutched the pendant so tightly, the silver bit through her hair into her skin. She didnt know what to say, her mind reeling from the unexpected success of her endeavor.

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He reached up to spear long fingers through his floating hair, pulling to hold it behind his head and away from his face. Odd that the top half of him was quite clear now and the bottom half still missing. I recognize the call from that gem in your hand. Who gave it to you? You recognize it? Yes. I knew it. Theres a spell in it. A raedjour spell. The gentle amusement in his smile softened the sharp lines of his face. She tried to decide if shed ever seen a more beautiful man or if her judgment was tempered by the fact that someone new, a raedjour, was speaking to her. You received it from one of my people? No. Almost. A friend of mine did. He lived among your people for a time. He? Yes. Times have changed. He chuckled. And is he, like you, an elf? No, hes human. He tied his hair into a knot to free his hands, but some shorter strands floated about his ears and forehead. Times, indeed, have changed. I wonder how long its been. Been? Since I died. Youre dead? As close as I can decide, yes. Although She tells me Im not, quite. He looked down and evidently saw as much of himself -- or, rather, as little of himself -- as she did. Im rather surprised I was able to manifest as much as I have. She blinked, recalling one of Kinigs most favored ballads. What is your name? My name? Do you know it? Yes, he said slowly. I know it. Its Radin.

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Chapter Thirteen
Kinig lifted his head from the pillows, opening his eyes to look down his chest at her. Radin? Nialdlye lay between his legs, nuzzling one side of his groin as she gently petted his moist, soft cock. Yes. He speared his fingers through the sweaty hair at his forehead, his face still flushed from recent orgasm. Ive told you about him. She lapped at the salty moisture coating the bend between leg and groin, enjoying the musky male taste. Yes, I know. Tell me again. Closing his eyes, he bent one arm over his head and dropped back down to contemplate the ceiling. His body hummed with a delicious sexual energy that she could very nearly taste. Early evening cast a curtain of lavender through the sunlight streaming in the window. He was a sorcerer, son of a renowned raedjour warrior. His mother was a mage, although I dont know how powerful. His master, Nalfien, claims Radin was one of the most talented magic users ever to live among the dark elves. His brother Salin is the commander, the closest thing they have to a military leader. Both of them are widely respected, and for good reason. She edged up so she could fold her hands on his belly and rest her chin on them. Her breasts pressed in underneath his balls, supporting them. Did they have other brothers? A brief pause, then he shrugged. I assume so, but I never heard anything about them. Tell me about how he died. Most of what I know is in The Ballad of Radins Sacrifice. One of his more popular and romantic ballads. He and Savous were master and apprentice. Savous credits Radin with teaching him most of what he knows.

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They were lovers. Although, from what shed heard of raedjour friendships, this was almost a given. He nodded. And they fell in love with Irin and discovered she was a mage. They kept it hidden from Savouss father, who was rhaeja then. He believed in a prophecy that a human mage would save him. When the rhaeja found out about Irins gift, he took her from them and used a corrupted vetriese to hold Radin and Savous. And it was unknown until then that the rhaeja could open a portal, yes? Yes. Theyre still not certain where he learned. Although -- he frowned, thoughtful -- I suppose what he did isnt any different than what you and Aletone do. She nodded confirmation when he glanced at her. Idly, she drew swirls in the drying spunk on his belly as he settled back. What then? Irin used her powers to enter the portal. Together she, Radin, and Savous fought the rhaeja. He was so powerful, so insane, that he nearly defeated them. It took the sacrifice of Radins life to send Savous and Irin to safety while closing the portal as part of defeating Valanth. She suspected there was more to that part of the story, but Kinig had repeated it countless times over the past moons for Aletone, so she had to believe that Kinig simply didnt know more. She dipped a fingertip into his navel. It was now autumn; it would soon get cooler, even if this part of the world never became truly cold. She might need to fashion some sort of clothing for him, despite the spells that kept the temperature within the tower moderate. They see him as a hero. Radin? A small nod. Very much so. Even those who dont follow Savous. Another fact that had come through Aletones relentless questioning. None of Kinigs ballads hinted at dissention within the raedjour society, but Kinig had revealed enough facts to expose the truth that some of the dark elves didnt believe the events of The Ballad of Radins Sacrifice. Some believed Savous, not his insane father, was to blame for both Radins disappearance and the loss of contact with their goddess. She kissed the soft skin stretched over the curve of Kinigs hip, noting the softening of muscle. Theyd kept him inactive too long. Sex was not enough exercise. Do they think the portal, the vetriese, can be reopened? His breath stuttered a little as she brushed her lips across his skin. Some do. Some dont. Most dont know what to think. Beside her cheek, his cock started to harden again. What does Fallil believe? The very name of his love surged blood to his groin. She hovered over his skin, eyes closed, trying to feel more of the rush. His voice, though, was admirably calm. He believes the portals will one day reopen and Rhae will return to them.

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Sliding her hands to his sides, she propped up on her elbows, her head centered over his groin. Hes a romantic. She breathed on the tip of his cock. When he groaned, she opened her lips and slid her tongue across the silky skin. Nialdlye. She paused when his fingers threaded through her hair, holding. When he said no more, she looked up. He swallowed, blinked, then took a deep breath. This timelet me She backed onto her knees as he pushed up to sit. He reached forward to cup her jaw with both hands, gazing seriously into her eyes. Let me taste you. She studied his face. He was quite serious. She smiled. You dont have to. I dont need it. I want to. A womans body is not your interest. But you are. She hesitated. That was not a good sign, despite the pleasant shiver it produced in her belly. It meant he was far more attached to her than he should be, his current desires winning out over his normal leanings. He leaned forward, encouraging her to roll with his body so that she ended up on her back with him at her side. Please. He kissed her, sliding his tongue between her lips. Tasting. Exploring. Not remotely hesitant anymore. When hed had his fill, he drifted down to her chin, her neck, sucked at the juncture of neck and shoulder. She caressed his back and shoulders lightly as he readjusted, knees between her thighs as he braced over her chest. His lips closed over one aching nipple, and she groaned. So far, all of their encounters had been initiated by her. Directed by her. She expected it, understanding and respecting his reluctance. Although her body craved attention, she was well used to the ache of unsatisfied desire. It felt so good to have his soft lips tease the bud of her breast, to feel his wet tongue trace her. She arched into him when he sucked her in between his teeth. Nearly purring, she wiggled underneath him as he switched breasts. But when he started to drift down below her breasts, she grabbed his shoulder. Kinig, stop. I want to taste you. No, you dont. Youre reacting to my nature and loneliness. And, maybe, just a little caring for her. He nipped at her belly. I dont care. Kinig, dont do anything youll regret. I wont regret it, he assured her, crawling down further.

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She let him go. Misgivings still plagued her, but she knew there was nothing she could do. Stopping him would be worse. He was fully snared by the spell of her people now, and proximity to her would only make it worse. Obediently, she spread her legs wide as he settled between them. Chuckling, watching him, she carded her fingers through his hair. Even given his resolve, once he was confronted with her sex, his confusion was obvious. You dont have to. He ignored her, tracing his fingers delicately about her wet folds. He parted the lips of her sex to find her opening, sliding the tips of two fingers easily inside. When she mewled softly, he smiled. Drawn, he leaned in to bestow a kiss above the top of her sex before letting his tongue out to graze down. His tongue brushed that tiny bundle of feeling, and she couldnt help but jump at the jolt of fire that surged up her spine. A tongue to her most favorite spot was a glorious thing. He learned quickly, lapping at her again, making her jump again. His tongue circled the engorged little bud, eventually drawing it between his lips. As his fingers slid deeper within her, he gently suckled. She groaned, head dropping back as she gripped the pillows to either side of him. He murmured into her, holding her nub with his teeth to torture it with his tongue. Her hips rolled into him, and he opened to take more of her in. After so many seasons since shed been able to convince any of her lovers to do this for her, it took very little time for the excitement to build. Trying not to alarm him, she clutched at the pillows and rocked her hips, biting her lip over her cries. When her climax came, she released a strangled cry, body shaking with delicious release. So different to come to someones mouth instead of fingers or cock. Smiling, she opened lazy eyes to watch him crawl up her body. He took her expression as a good sign, matching her smile as he fit his hips between hers. She wanted to ask him if he really wanted to do this, but refrained, seeing from his expression that he did. Was he surprised at the difference of feeling when his cock slid into her pussy and not her ass? Was he put off? He didnt seem to be. Closing his eyes, bracing on his elbows over her, he apparently let instinct take over, thrusting hard and fast inside her, chasing a climax that she thoroughly encouraged by wrapping her legs around his waist and meeting his thrusts. He cried out, stilling over her as he spilled within her. Then he sighed and easily accepted her embrace as he came to rest atop her. Crooning, petting his back, she sent a tendril of a spell into him. Gradually, his muscles calmed and his breathing evened. When she was sure he was asleep, she carefully rolled him to his back. Taking a slow breath, she closed her eyes and focused within, casting another spell to prevent his seed from taking root in her womb. A part of her regretted that, but she would not give Aletone any more from herself or Kinig, and she certainly couldnt put any offspring through that.

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Once done, she rose to clean up, then set about the motions of leaving food and such for Kinig. It was night, and she felt the subtle mental prodding that was Aletones summons. When she was sure Kinig was taken care of, she descended into the workroom. Strangely, she gained Aletones immediate attention. He sat at his table, but his hands were folded primly in front of him, that red gaze fixed on her as she stepped down to the floor. She stopped, confused. You are not having enough sex. I just had sex. Not enough. I dont want to wear him out. He stood. Ill find you another lover. Ice shivered through her veins. No. You need more sexual activity than he can provide. She rushed forward to grab his arm, spinning him to face her. I wont let you discard Kinig. I have no intention of doing so. I still have use for him. He pulled his arm from her grasp. Whats your use for him? Thats none of your concern. Already dressed in his traveling garb, he picked up his bags. There is a camp of brigands near my latest portal. Ill bring one back. Like he was shopping. Shed heard this before, but it irritated her far more now. I dont need another lover. Im fine. Ill be the judge of that. Her anger caused her power to surge, gaining his attention enough to turn him around. That calm face filled with rapt attention as he studied her. You have been rather belligerent of late. Perhaps Im weary of your treating me as no more than a pet. Anger almost showed in those porcelain features. Perhaps you should recall that you have no choice. You are mine to do with as I will. I am notah! A wave of power burst in and around her, making her recoil against the warm stone wall. Aletone advanced, his greater height allowing him to tower over her. You are nothing save what I require you to be. I spared your life to fulfill my needs, nothing more. I see to your needs and comfort only because that makes you more useful to me. He reached up to splay a cool hand over her collarbone. I could snap your life in an instant, Nialdlye. And where would that leave your precious bard?

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Her nostrils flared as she met that fiery red gaze without flinching. His net of control squeezed her, reminding her of its presence. Do not think to defy me, Nialdlye. I know far more than you can imagine. If you did manage to escape me, I would find you and ruin you and everything you hold dear. Do you understand me? The cold fingers closed around her throat, just to the point of pain. Do you understand me? Yes. Like water dousing a fire, all emotion drained from his face as he stepped away. Calmly, he moved toward the empty space in the corner. Come. I have work to do. Pressing her lips together, she stepped up to his side. Without comment, she opened her portal and followed him through. He opened his portal out into what looked to be a forest. Trees and bushes dominated what little she could see, far more lush than anything within leagues of the tower in which they lived. He paused before stepping through, spearing her with his glowing red gaze. Do not try anything inventive, Nialdlye. With that warning, he stepped through and was gone. She stared at the pinprick that was his portal. Not for the first time, she considered reopening her portal and stepping back through. It would sever the link. He would be stranded with most of a continent between them. It would take him weeks, if not moons, to travel back to the tower. She and Kinig could be gone long before then. But she didnt. She knew better. She had absolutely no skills at surviving on her own, certainly not in the desert. The only clothing she might be able to find would be one or two of Aletones robes or the scarves hanging in her room. Even if she and Kinig did manage to survive to the first town, she knew that reaction to her would be notable. No one could miss the elf with red skin who oozed sex. Her very nature would make it absurdly easy for Aletone to track her down. No, she was stuck until she came up with a good plan. You are stunning when youre angry. She jumped, spinning aside to regard the half-image of Radin. He grinned at her, much of his soft white hair braided behind his head so that his sharp, handsome features were fully visible. The white designs on his skin stood out on his forehead, chin, and chest. She let out a frustrated breath, trying to calm down. We had a disagreement. I gather. Care to talk about it? About to decline, she took a moment to regard Radins red eyes. So different than Aletones. He might still just be a figment of her imagination, but even with only half of a body visible, he was far more of a real person than the man who had raised her. Why dont you show yourself to him? Radin blinked, surprised. Who? Your keeper? They had talked enough over the past weeks that he knew about her situation. Yes.

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He smiled. Hes not nearly as lovely as you. She had to smile, but she wanted an answer. Hes the more powerful of the two of us. Why not show yourself to him? First and foremost, he shows no interest. He walks through the void from portal to portal without any regard to whats between. You see him? Of course. How do you know were here? I now know the instant you start forming your portal. Ive made sure of it. Why? He let himself drift closer. I like spending time with you. She couldnt touch him. Theyd tried that. He remained insubstantial, merely a visual with a voice. But that didnt stop him from teasing her. But Aletone knows more than I do. He may know something that could help you. Theyd discussed this, as well, the details of his death, such as he knew them. He was relatively certain that he hadnt died. His goddess had saved him and told him that there might be a way for him to return, but Shed faded away before giving him any further answers. Thus he floated in the void, which he claimed was at the same time vast and tiny. He shook his head. I dont believe I want his help. Why not? Look at what hes done to you. She grimaced. But he would be fascinated by you. I would rather not be the rabbit that he guts just to see whats inside. Disturbed by that image, she drew into herself, folding her arms underneath her breasts. Why havent you told him about me? She hesitated. The whispers in the void used to be the only thing I knew that he doesnt. He doesnt spend enough time here. Or if he does know about them, he disregards them. So Im your one secret? Yes. His voice was right by her ear. I like that. She imagined he had breath, wafting over her cheek. Turning her head, she studied him from almost kissing distance. He looked solid. She fervently wished he were.

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His seductive gaze gradually turned into something more serious as he studied her. Finally, he drifted back so he could see her more fully. What? I hadnt noticed before, buthes draining you. What? He held up a finger for patience, the red firestorms in his eyes glowing as they raked her up and down. She stayed still as he drifted around her, studying her from all angles. Yes. Its subtle and quite secure. He settled before her, arms crossed over his chest in thought. Theres a drain on your energy, something like a bucket that fills near you but outside of you. Its not something youd be able to see or feel unless you knew it was there. I can only imagine that he drains the bucket, so to speak, every once in a while. His stamp is all over it, and fresh. She blinked. He controls my magic, but I didnt know he drained me. Radin shook his head. He doesnt control your magic. He has something of a tether on you, and hes made it so that he can interrupt your concentration and your spells, but your magic is your own. What? He smiled bitterly. Of course he wouldnt have explained that to you. Im sorry, it didnt occur to me to mention it. Youve seen this before? Not exactly this, but something like, yes. His smile turned rueful. My master used to cast something like the tether on me when I was young, trying to rein me in. Did it work? For a time. Until I learned how to slip the noose. Her heart thumped. You did? I did. But I knew what he was doing when he cast the original spell, so I saw it cast. Her hopes dropped. I also ended up being more powerful than he thought I was. Just as youre far more powerful than Aletone can guess. I am? If you knew what to look for, Im quite certain you could break both spells. A lump surged in her throat. Truly? He smiled wide, showing teeth. Truly. The smile dimmed. But you must be careful. Hell know as soon as you start to try. Youll have to decide if youre ready for that. She nodded, catching his meaning. Ill have to decide if Im ready to kill him. He wont let me go.

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Radin shook his head. She took a breath. Can youcan you show me the spell? Explain what I need to do to break it? I can, but you must be careful not to try anything until youre ready. I understand. Good. Then lets begin.

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Chapter Fourteen
He comes. Nialdlye opened her eyes, her concentration shot. She had no idea how long she and Radin had been studying Aletones spell, but it didnt seem that long. But in that time, hed shown himself to be a marvelous teacher. She recalled everything hed told and shown her in detail, far more than she ever remembered of Aletones dry lessons. Radin smiled at her, one hand hovering near her cheek. The desire to touch shone in his face, reflecting the same desire in her heart. I must go. She smiled back, feeling Aletones portal forming. As it grew in strength, Radin faded, keeping eye contact with her until he simply was no more. A moment later, Aletones portal expanded, and the man himself stepped through. She scowled to see the dark-skinned human male slung unconscious over Aletones shoulder. He made no comment as he collapsed his portal, and she continued the silence as she expanded her own and led the way back into his workroom. She headed straight for the stairs, not looking back. Nialdlye. She kept walking, making it halfway up the staircase before he used his magic to tug at her, forcing her to stop. She glared down at him. He gestured at the body now lying at his feet. Take this. No. Nialdlye. I told you I didnt need it. It galled her to refer to a human being as an it, but she hoped her inattention would make Aletone take him back. And I told you to do what I say.

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No. She tried to resume her ascent of the stairs, but he kept a hold on her. They stared at each other a moment, at a standstill. Then he hovered a hand over the man. Take him now, or Ill dispose of him. Panic. She hadnt thought. Her instinctive reaction was flawed. If the man wasnt useful, Aletone would kill him; he wouldnt just put him back. He couldnt put him back without her help. Inwardly berating herself, trying to remain calm, she descended the stairs. As quickly as she could, she knelt and picked up the human. His clothes were heavy from travel dust but otherwise well kept. The black beard on his face looked recently trimmed. Soft black curls were sheared close to his skull. He was a little thin, but certainly a man in his prime. She hoped Aletone had not stolen some poor womans husband. Youll be pleased to note hes a lover of men, Aletone called after her as she mounted the stairs. She was surprised enough to stop and look back down at him, again surprised to find him watching her. You know this? I made sure of it. Why? I thought you might share him with the bard. She frowned. Never before had he given any thought to her pets. Why now? When she did nothing but stare for a few moments, he turned away. What do you have planned for Kinig? I would rather he were in good spirits and good health. Thats all you need know. Gritting her teeth, she made herself turn away to mount the rest of the stairs. She would get no answers from him. She took the unconscious man to one of the second-floor rooms and laid him on an old bed. The mattress needed restuffing, but a dustcover had kept it from being unusable. She removed his weapons and boots, left watered-down wine and bread on the bed table, and locked him in with a spell. He wouldnt wake until the next day, due to traveling through the void, but she knew better than to take chances. Returning to her room, she didnt bother to wake Kinig immediately. She bathed, then snuggled in on the bed beside him, lifting her spell so he would wake naturally later. All the while, her mind reeled with what Radin had taught her. She examined the magical net about her with new eyes, inspecting every angle, very careful not to disturb it. Radin had shown her a few different aspects of the spell and had started to explain how she might go about breaking it. While it was intricate and intrusive, he believed force was her best option. When she had told him that brute force had never worked in the past, he had explained that directed force in the right spot would be much more effective. She didnt have the training for something more refined, and the brilliance in the spell was its ability to mask its weakness to the victim. Now that Nialdlye knew where it was and what it was, Radin felt

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confident she could break free. However, he had been very careful to point out that she would likely only get one chance to break Aletones hold. She had to choose her time wisely.

*****
She told Kinig the fact of their impending company while he took a bath the next morning. Another man? Nialdlye nodded, toying with the pillow in her lap. Im not sure what to do about him. Kinig sat forward in the tiny copper tub that was set on the floor in the corner of her room, folding his arms over his bent knees. The dry desert air had already halfway dried his hair. Why would he bring another man? Did he mention plans for me? Shaking her head spilled loose hair down her chest; a heavy curl caressed her nipple. He claims he doesnt want me to wear you out. That Kinig didnt say anything immediately told her that the thought had occurred to him. She shrugged. Its nothing that hasnt happened before. I can go down and fuck him. Im relatively certain Aletone will free him. Unlike me. She let that slide. What confuses me, though, is that he made sure to tell me that this man is a lover of men. Surprise. Really? Yes. Coincidence? No, he sought him out specifically. Why? I dont know. He suggested we share him, you and I. She shook her head. Its not like him. I dont understand She cut off, frowning at the door. What is it? Hes coming. Hastily, Kinig stood and, dripping, stepped from the tub. Up here? She rose to her feet just as the door slammed open. Aletone filled the doorway, shoving the naked man before him. The man stumbled, unable to use arms that seemed to be stuck behind his back. He fell to his knees on the rug with a muffled grunt, dark brown skin dusty in the light from the windows, showing off

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lean, toned muscles in a long body. The scent of scared, unwashed male filled her head, causing her to lick her lips unintentionally. Aletone stared, his face as expressionless as ever. She glared right back. You are to use him. A throttled cry rose from the man between them, but Aletone must have done something to prevent him from speaking. Nialdlye clutched her hands into fists. I wasnt aware he was awake. He should have been here, not downstairs. I was going to -- Aletone pointed at the rug. He should have been here. Her anger expanded inside her chest, like a flower bursting into bloom. I wasnt going to leave him there. I was going to check on -- She backed away hastily when Aletones eyes widened, the red flaring to life as he swooped toward her, robe flapping in his wake. The man on the ground had to roll to avoid getting kicked. Aletone grabbed her arm, hauling her close to study her face, his stark white brows crouching low over blazing, narrowed eyes. What have you done? Her heart hammered, the breath leaving her chest. What had she done? She hadnt touched his spell. He couldnt know He clutched both of her arms, keeping her face so close to his that she could imagine the red glow burning her. Look at me. Instinct made her avert her gaze, but he snatched hold of her jaw and forced her to face him. Caught, she glared at him, knowing her own eyes were responding with a vivid green glow. What? she demanded, digging her nails into his wrist in an attempt to force him to free her. Only because she was so close did she see the briefest glimpse of an expression she had never seen on Aletones face. Before she could identify it, he shoved, snapping her head back, forcing her to tumble off balance to the floor just shy of the mattress. She had to roll to face him again, and by the time she had, hed turned with a dramatic flare of his black robe and descended on Kinig. Aletone! She climbed to her knees as he snatched up the shocked, still-naked bard. Kinigs drying cloth drifted to the floor as Aletone turned them to face her. What are you doing?! Let me go! Kinig shouted, kicking and clawing. But the robe was far too thick and heavy for him to do much damage. Aletone banded an arm about his torso and arms, holding him back to chest. You disobeyed me. What?

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Tell me how you discovered the spell, and perhaps I wont hurt him. The lie sprang to her lips easily. I dont know what youre talking about. Do not test my intelligence. Youve discovered the weakness of my spell on you -although you have no chance of breaking it. You havent the skill. The contradiction of his words confused her. Finally, she identified the unknown expression and the strange emotion that vibrated from Aletone. Fear. Or, at the very least, concern. She propped herself on hands and knees before him, shocked to realize that he was scared. She had never felt the like from him before. The bound man on the floor gasped and rolled away from them all, his arms and mouth apparently now free. Wisely, he rose to a crouch by the wall and remained silent, watching. Why had Aletone freed him? Was it too much to threaten her and keep the man bound? But she couldnt worry much about the unnamed man. Kinig struggled mightily in Aletones grasp, but he didnt have a prayer of breaking free. Aletone, let Kinig go. She lifted one leg to plant the sole of her foot firmly on the rug. He took another step toward the door. Tell me how you discovered it. In all her life, hed never been able to force her to speak her mind, nor could he read it. For this, she had always been thankful and was exponentially so now. She got her other foot on the ground, squatting now. If you can still control me, then it doesnt matter how I discovered it. Let Kinig go. Kinig gasped, pretty blue eyes shooting wide. He clutched at his throat, staring at the ceiling as horrible rasping sounds stuttered from his gaping mouth. Aletone, stop it! she cried, standing. Kinig sagged, breathing as deep as a drowning man finding air. Aletones stark brows crowded over those gleaming red eyes. Tell me. She stared at Kinig. She could try to break Aletones hold on her, but she had no idea how much time that would take. If it took long enough, he could very well kill Kinig. If it didnt work, he certainly would kill Kinig. She couldnt do this while he was holding the bard. Nialdlye! Aletone warned. Kinig continued to make awful noises, an ugly, mottled red hue rising over his complexion. I stumbled on it! she cried, staggering a step toward them. Aletone swept back two steps in the direction of the door, Kinigs feet scarcely brushing the rug beneath them. Impossible. You could not have discovered that spell without help. Who was it? No one. Who could help me? He glared at her.

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Kinigs face was nearly as red as her skin, his mouth wide open, gagging, eyes about to pop from their sockets. Aletone. She held out her hand toward Kinig. Stop! Tell me who helped you. Theres no one here. You found someone. He glanced at the suffocating bard. It couldnt possibly have been this one, despite the dormant spell he wears. A small portion of her brain was shocked to find he knew about the pendant, but she couldnt favor that portion right now. She launched herself toward him, hands up, fingers in claws. Let him go! Aletones free hand snapped up. Kinig pulled in a loud, sucking breath. Invisible bands closed around Nialdlyes brain, crushing, as though someone had stuck a hot poker through the soft tissues inside her skull. She crumpled to her knees with a cry. Nialdlye! Kinigs shout was hoarse, but she was grateful to hear it. The crushing pain eased, allowing her to find herself with her face in the rug, gasping for breath as her vision swam. Nialdlye. Aletones voice was reasonable, but louder than usual. Tell me who helped you. Radin. The truth spilled from her lips, and she stared at the violet and crimson pattern of the rug in horror. What? She swallowed. He had heard her. He never heard incorrectly. She couldnt take it back. A gasp tore from her throat as the pressure on her brain squeezed, then let up. Nialdlye. Radin. Impossible. What do you mean? She pulled up to her elbows, still staring at the rug. Her loose hair curtained her hateful, horrified expression from the room. I mean what I say. Sit up and look at me. Slowly, she did so, aching with betrayal. Betrayal of Radin, betrayal of Kinig and hopes of his freedom, betrayal of herself. She had just ruined her only hope of escape. Finally, she made it to her knees, sitting on her heels. She pushed aside her hair to clear her face and looked up at him. Both Aletone and Kinig stared at her. She felt the unnamed man in the corner watching them all. Aletones expressionless mask was back in place, but Kinigs face held enough shock for both of them.

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Explain yourself. What should I explain? She knew very well what he wanted, but was determined to hold off as long as she could, trying desperately to think of a way to turn this to her advantage. Radin. I assume you mean the raedjour sorcerer? Yes. The bards songs claim that he is dead. As far as anyone knows, he is dead. She paused, mind racing. Where did you find this dead elven sorcerer? When she didnt answer fast enough, Aletone grabbed Kinigs right hand, enveloping the smaller mans entire fist in his. Before she knew what he was doing, Kinig screamed, No! his wide eyes on their combined hands. Nialdlye opened her mouth to protest, rising from her heels, but not before a sickening series of cracks filled the air. Screeches of animal pain erupted from Kinigs throat as Aletone continued to hold his hand, eyes on Nialdlye. Aletone, not his hand! she cried, entirely too late. Aletone released Kinigs hand, allowing the bard to curl it to his chest, still moaning pitifully as he sagged in Aletones grasp. One side of Aletones mouth rose in a sneer, revealing pristine teeth pressed together. Tell me what I wish to know. Tears burned down Nialdlyes cheeks. Kinig, Im sorry, she whispered. It was her fault for stalling. He has another hand. A stream of bitter, inventive curses spilled from Kinigs lips, ruined by the tortured whimper that underlined them as he cradled his purpling hand. Her fault. Radin is in the void. He didnt die, not exactly. He showed himself to me a fortnight ago. Aletone studied her, as he did when he wasnt sure if she was telling the truth. He is not a figment of your imagination. It was more statement than question. She shook her head. I thought so at first, but no. He saw your spell and told me what it is. Does he have any direct contact with his people? She frowned. No. But he helped you. Why? He likes me. And why didnt you tell me? She could only stare at him, sure that the truth would not make him any happier.

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He evidently got the idea. Did he tell you how to break the spell? He said I couldnt. The half-truth came easily. He had said she couldnt break ituntil the time was right. Another long stare, during which she met his eyes steadily, allowing decades of hatred to show. You cannot break the spell. Its woven into your very being. Break it, and you will die. Radin had cautioned as much, except with a substitute of might for will if she wasnt careful and didnt take precautions. I know that. She let bitterness drip from her lips. How else could you drain my power? His eyes widened a fraction, then shuttered. You are mine to do with as I will. Unexpectedly, he dropped Kinig, stepping away as the bard crumpled clumsily to the floor. I saved you to use you. For the portals? Shed given it a lot of thought and could think of no other reason for him to need her. For the portals. A smidgen of a smile. For the power. No other of your worthless race was even worth my time. Lying on his side, clutching his hand to his chest, Kinig flung out a foot, but his kick only brushed the hem of Aletones robes. You bastard! Aletone glanced down at him, the glow in his eyes dimming. The glance took in the silent man in the corner, then returned to Nialdlye, his accustomed expressionless mask back in place. He turned and started for the door. Aletone! she cried, hurrying to Kinigs side. Fix his hand. He regarded her over his shoulder. Other than the very basics, he had never taught her healing, certainly not enough to fix the damage Kinig had just suffered, but she had seen Aletone heal the mercenaries who worked for him on occasion, when it was more expedient for them to be healthy and whole. Knitting bones was not beyond his abilities. No. Aletone -- she gathered Kinig close, smothering his muttered obscenities to her chest -- he wont be able to play anymore. Let that be a lesson to you. To both of you. You exist solely at my mercy. She bit her tongue over a number of things she could have said, simultaneously tamping down on the angry magic that threatened to burst out of her chest. Apparently done, Aletone put his back to them and left the room. In her arms, Kinig groaned in pain, rocking around his injured hand. Lost, she could only hold him, burying her face in his hair. The presence of another at her side startled her. Lost in grief and self-pity, shed forgotten the other man. Looking up, she found him kneeling before her, his hand hovering

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over Kinigs shoulder. Eyes the color of dark, rich earth regarded her levelly from his copperbrown face. Im not a healer, but I know how to bind his hand to minimize the damage. She studied him for a moment, then nodded, dislodging tears that rolled freely down her cheeks. What do you need? His hand landed gently on Kinigs shoulder, helping to roll the bard onto his back. Kinig looked up at him through pain-hazed eyes. Clean cloth to bind it. Short pieces of wood to splint it. He slid his hand down Kinigs arm to his shoulder, his gaze dropping to meet the bards. May I see it? Without a word, emitting just a small whimper of pain, Kinig held his hand toward the man. Three of the fingers were clearly bent at very wrong angles, both at knuckles and in between. A bone sliver showed through a break in the skin on the back of his hand. The man wrapped stubby fingers around Kinigs wrist. Im Robern. Im Nialdlye, she answered, nudging Kinig to sit on his own so she could get the supplies Robern requested. And this is Kinig. Hes a bard, so we need to be careful. Kinig of the dark elves? Ive heard of you. Caught in the midst of standing, Nialdlye didnt see Kinigs face, but she heard his muted, tortured groan.

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Chapter Fifteen
The men talked quietly from their seats on the floor by the window. Moonlight cast their soft shadows on the floor, creeping toward where Nialdlye sat on the mattress, staring blindly into the corner, her thoughts turned inward. She didnt dare poke at his spell anymore, so she could only wonder what Aletone might be doing that very moment to strengthen it. She didnt, after all, know much about it other than that it drained her of her power slowly so that she wouldnt notice it. Was that one of the reasons she had to have sex? Was that one of the reasons that Aletone was so good at providing her with lovers? What had he done before shed come of age? Question after question tumbled ruthlessly through her mind, with no answers in sight. It would be dawn in a few hours. Would he let an entire day go by without confronting her again? Or would she see him toward daybreak? What was he doing? What did he expect her to be doing? Nialdlye? The sound of a voice let her take her attention from her inner thoughts, even though they continued to boil. Yes? She turned to see both men regarding her. Due to her nature, she couldnt help but admire the pretty picture they made. Light and dark, tan and brown, each naked form finely detailed in the light of candles set in the sconces on the wall. Kinigs clean brown hair shone, and the wiry curls on Roberns head stood out in high relief. Blue eyes to sleepy brown eyes. Light brown beard to thick jet black. Robern was shorter and stockier than Kinig, but nowhere did he seem thick or clumsy. She couldnt help but note the nearly black skin of his cock resting quietly amid more black curls between his thighs. Did you really meet Radin? Kinigs glowing good looks were somewhat dampened by the pain lines at the corners of his eyes and lips, but shed managed to cast a small spell over him to minimize the pain. He cradled his broken hand close to his belly, wrapped in a myriad of her colorful scarves.

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Yes. I did. Is that why youve asked me so much about him lately? Yes. Im sorry I didnt tell you. I was worried He shook his head. You know better than I what Aletone might see and hear. She nodded, unhappy that was the truth. Unhappier that even she didnt know all of what he planned. Is Radin real? Mostly. I can see him and hear him, but when I try to touch him, my hand passes through him. And hes only visually solid from the waist up. Ive heard of spirits that manifest in that way, Robern remarked, gaining their attention. The dead materializing with an important message from beyond. She studied him, then shook her head. I dont think that was the case here. He told me what happened. His goddess saved him before She disappeared. He thinks She intended to send him back home, but Her battle with another deity was more strenuous than She expected. Another deity? Kinigs curiosity reared its head. Yes. Savous didnt tell you the whole story. Valanth was supported by another deity She frowned. Well, something of a deity, who had promised to help him overthrow Rhae. Overthrow Rhae? Her frown deepened into a scowl, and she reached up to rub her temples as a rare headache encroached. Yes. I dont know much more than that. I intended to ask him. Where did you see him? Robern asked. In the void, Kinig answered for her. Evidently, when shed been lost in her own thoughts, the two men had discussed quite a bit, because Robern accepted that without a frown of confusion. What do you think will happen now? Robern asked her, shifting on his pillow. She shook her head. I wish I knew. In all my time with Aletone, weve never had a situation like this. What is the spell he mentioned? She liked Robern quite a bit. His steady calm helped to focus her wandering thoughts, and he had been a tremendous help with Kinig so far. Its a spell to control me and to sap my power. Ive known about the control, but Radin told me that Aletone has been stealing strength from me in small doses. Its designed so that I couldnt detect it, but Radin had seen something like it before. Which means he must be real, Kinig affirmed. That was my thought.

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And now that youre aware of it, you can break it? Kinig guessed. Id hoped so. Radin showed me how I might. Then do it. I dont know if I can. She tangled her fingers in her loose hair and tugged hard. And if I fail, what might happen to the two of you? Robern puffed up. Id rather do something than wait for something to be done. Correct me if Im wrong, but this Aletone may very well decide to kill us all without a moments notice. I dont think hed do that. She frowned. But you dont know. No. I dont. If he were desperate, if he thought she was that dangerous, if he thought he truly had lost or would lose control of her, he might just seek to destroy her quickly, catching her off guard. Robern continued to speak, but she didnt hear. Her thoughts sparked enough panic that she had to check the spell, to see if it had changed. Holding up a finger to indicate she was no longer listening, she closed her eyes and looked inward. Closing her eyes wasnt necessary, but it would help the two men know that her attention was elsewhere. It took a moment for her untrained eye to focus, mostly due to the agitation and uncertainty that plagued her. Her inner sight revealed the gossamer net that was Aletones spell, the net in which shed been caught all of the life that she remembered. She moved beyond to the previously unknown level of intricacy that Radin had shown her. She viewed it. Recognized it. Gradually realized that it had changed. Fighting panic that smeared her sight, she forced herself to calm and study the delicate web, to follow its origin for a short way to seeAletone. He was working the spell, shoring it up, layering it, pouring energy -her energy -- into it. It was her own power that supported the thing that bound her. And now there were more of the fine threads to hold her. Thats what hed been doing since hed left them. He sensed her watching. She could almost see his glowing red eyes, vividly angry across the wide nondistance between them. Unexpectedly, he lashed out. She cried out, thrown from her inward gaze by a slash across the front of her brain. Reeling, she found herself sprawled on her side on the mattress, shocked that a chunk of her bloody forehead wasnt lying on the faded purple fabric before her. Instantly, the two men were beside her, Kinig kneeling behind her and Robern on the rug at the foot of the mattress. Nialdlye! With his good hand, Kinig combed her hair from her face and shoulder to her back. What happened? She swallowed in a dry throat, leaning heavily on her elbow. Hes strengthening the spell. Hes making it stronger. She rubbed her forehead furiously as panic gripped her. Radin

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had said that the spell was strong enough as it was. If Aletone could shore it up, shed have no chance of breaking it. Oh, no. Robern clutched her knee. What can we do? She curled up to sit, legs folded. Nothing. I cant -- Kinig gripped her shoulder and shook her. Break the spell. She glanced back at his determined face. What if I cant? If I fail If you fail, we cant be much worse off than we are. No. We can. You dont know He shuffled around to her side so she could look at him comfortably. I know that he very likely never intends to let us go alive and that hed likely hurt or kill me and Robern to get you to obey him. He held up his bandaged hand between them. This is the least of it, Nialdlye. Id rather incur his wrath now and have him kill me cleanly. She gaped at him. You dont mean that. I do. Roberns fingers dug into her knee. Me as well. You? But you dont even know whats going on. Ive seen enough. I felt his power over me when he stripped me naked and brought me up here. I dont even remember him taking me from camp. He broke Kinigs hand. I know that the only one among us with the chance of fighting him is you. She clutched her hair. No! I cant. Youve got to try. I dont know how! Isnt there anything you can try? No. You dont understand. He never taught me more than he needed me to know, and there hasnt been time to learn much from Radin. He only showed me the spell yesterday. And I, clumsy fool, botched things and drew Aletones attention. Kinig grabbed her arm. Then go back to Radin. What? Open a portal. Go into the void. Radin can help you. What? No, that wouldnt work. Aletone would know the moment I started the spell. What would happen to you tw --? She broke off, flinging her head up to face the door, eyes wide. Hes coming. Hes furious! Their faces flooded with panic. Robern shot to his feet, facing the door with his hands balled into fists. We fight. You cant! She reached up to touch his bare backside, fear racing through her veins. Aletone advanced up the stairs slowly, despite his anger, biding his time, perhaps trying to

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calm down. But Aletones calm was far more dangerous than emotion. A calm Aletone was a thinking Aletone, and Nialdlye had no doubt he was smarter than she. He was stronger than Robern and Kinig combined, not that he would necessarily resort to physicality.

Think!
No time. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go.

Open the portal. What about Kinig and Robern? Take them with her? But they would
be useless in the void. She might keep them safe there for a while, but they couldnt survive it long. She would eventually have to exit the void right back here, right back into Aletones arms. But Radin was in the void. If there was anyone who could help her, it had to be him. No. Standing, she grabbed Kinigs good arm to pull him to his feet. Robern glanced at her over his shoulder, and she took his arm too and drew them toward the corner farthest from the door. Ill try the portal. She squeezed their arms, facing the blank wall. Dont shake free of me. Ill need to catch you both when we cross over. Understand? They nodded. She put the fact that Aletone was mounting the stairs to the third floor aside. She forced down panic and shoved herself into a calm state of mind. Either this would work or it wouldnt. She squashed the voice that told her that it couldnt. Power simmered, ready for her to use. She drew from it as quietly as she was able. The portal began to form. In the distance, Aletone paused. Trying to ignore that awareness, she hurried the portal, pulling it taller and wider with her mind, needing space for three people. Nialdlye! Aletones shout thundered through the tower, rocking the stones of the foundation. With a gasp, she fumbled. The opening wavered. The men held her up, each grabbing one arm without dislodging her hold on them. Scowling her determination, she focused to solidify the portal. The tiny bolts of energy at its edges sizzled sloppily. Aletone would have made her collapse it and start over, perfectionist that he was. The portal expanded. Almost big enough. She cried out as pain shot through her skull, causing the portal to fade again. She managed to keep it open by sheer force of will, despite the fact that she was convinced the back of her head had just expelled her brain. Aletone reached the third-floor landing and rushed down the hall to her door. Nialdlye, stop ! The compulsion in his voice was worse than the pain. The wall behind the portal showed through the fading black. A cry of despair spilled from her lips as she watched the only possible escape slip from her grasp. Then it stopped. Energy outside of herself flooded it and it snapped to solidity. Blessed blackness beckoned, buoyed by the strength of an outside force.

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Radin! she gasped, her shocked relief a measure of calm outside the pain. The door burst open on Aletones wordless shout. A blinding light threw three shadows over the black of the portal and the wall around it.

No time ! Come! she screamed, yanking the two humans toward the opening with
her. She tumbled through, clutching the arms of the two men. The clenching agony in her head ceased the instant her body cleared the opening, and she sprang forward, floating in the nothing, eager to put some distance between her now-unconscious charges and the portal. Radin! she cried. No response. When she was certain both men were clear, she tried to collapse her spell. And couldnt. Wide-eyed, she watched through the oval opening as Aletone stood before it, red eyes blazing, stark white hand held toward it. Two forces slammed against each other, with her thin spell an opening between them. Aletone held one side of the portal open. The black power she assumed was Radin blocked the other side. Nialdlye! Aletones voice was loud enough to carry through the muffling of the portal. Come back here. He thinks thats going to work? asked a muted, disembodied voice that filled her heart with joy. It was Radin! Anxious, she gathered the two floating men closer to her, wrapping her arms about their waists, pressing their backs to her sides. What do I do? Im not sure. Did you have a plan? No. He knows I found the spell. He knows about you. Well. Thats problematic. Despite his words, there was a perversely cheerful note in his voice. Can you close the portal? No. Cant you? Its your spell. Didnt you help me? I did, a little, but I cant close it. She groaned. Hes keeping it open. Are you in pain? Not now. Aletone stood almost motionless, glaring into the portal. She could only imagine what he saw, what was going through his mind. Would fear of Radin keep him from following her? Hes rather strong, isnt he? Radin mused. Yes. She did not share his calm.

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Sorcerer! Aletone called, his furious power surging against Nialdlyes portal. Radin of the raedjour. Show yourself. Would that I could. But Radins voice was far too low for Aletone to hear. He cant, Nialdlye called. Aletone glared. Unaccustomed emotion looked uncomfortable on his face, twisting it into a parody of its normal, pristine beauty. Nialdlye, come here. No. What will you do? Remain in the void? Die with your sorcerer, along with your two pets? Hes got a point, love, Radin murmured, warm voice right near her ear. What do you propose we do? I dont know! I had to get them away. He maimed Kinig. He would have killed them both. Who are you talking to? Aletone demanded. I thought you said he was smart? Radin quipped. Unexpected, hysterical laughter burbled in Nialdlyes chest. She cuddled her two naked men closer, like large stuffed toys to comfort a child. She laughed aloud, despair washing over her. Radin chuckled softly. Aletone was not amused. His eyes narrowed, and a pulse of power shoved at the portal. She gasped, head snapping up. Can he hurt you? Radin sounded a little less amused. Alittle. Its like a dull pain. Distant? Yes. Interesting. Aletones hand tightened into a fist. His hair started to float in the energy that surrounded him. Nialdlye, what will you do? You cant stay there forever, and you cannot open another portal without my help. She mustered a glare. Come and get me. I will rip your pets to shreds! He snarled. His overflow of emotion scared her more than anything. Well, thats not going to lure you out, is it? Used to getting his own way, isnt he? Tears pooled in her eyes, blinding her, since the pull of the void didnt allow them to stream down her cheeks. Bereft, she buried her face in the bend of Kinigs neck and let out a sob. The links of the chain that held his pendant bit into her cheek.

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Nialdlye! Id rather die here! she spat. Id rather die here than let you have them again. Aletones other hand rose, fingers clawed. Do you mean that? Radin whispered quickly. Yes! Aletones furious gaze surged red as power gathered. His hair spread out about him, and even the heavy skirt of his robe started to rustle. Pull him through, and close the portal. Radins voice continued to be insufferably calm. What? Listen to me. He spoke quickly now. I think I can help you with him, but only if hes on this side and only if you close the portal after him. Well be stranded. Youre already stranded. But how? Hes expecting resistance. We wont give him any. Ill drop my block, and you pull him through. She watched Aletone glare at her, entirely unwilling to open herself to him more than she already was. If she pulled him through, the veil of the portal wouldnt be between them. The pain from before could return. Or they could all die. But better that death than a slow, painful one at his hands. Aletones eyes blazed, intense enough to fill her vision. He aimed. Cast. Radins wall of power dissolved. She reached through her portal and pulled. Like a man stepping off a stone precipice into the abyss, Aletone fell. Shock unhinged his jaw, his eyes continuing to blaze as he jerked forward and tumbled into the void. Even before she was sure he was through, she eradicated her portal. She didnt collapse it to a pinprick. She didnt close it cleanly. She simply cut all of her connection to it. There was no more.

*****
Everything was gone. Light was gone. She hadnt realized the portals, even collapsed, allowed the light. Allowed the sound. She drifted in nothing. Mostly nothing. She could feel the bodies of the two unconscious men in her arms. Could they survive this? Too late to wonder now.

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Radin ? she called, uncertain her mouth worked. She couldnt hear the sound of her own voice. No answer. Then an intense flash of pure, blinding white, there and gone before she was sure she truly saw it. Radin ? She clutched at the two men held to her sides as a lifeline. Was he gone? Was she lost? Stranded? Would she waste away into nothing, or would the void sustain her, hanging through eternity? Would she become like Radin? What was Radin? No, she couldnt do this. Shed go mad! How much time had passed?

RADIN! Im here.
His voice filled her, surrounded her. Not so much heard as felt. If she could have, if hed had a body, she would have thrown her arms around him and held him close.

Where is? Hesgone. Radins voice was different yet the same. That flash Yes. What now?
She got the impression of an indrawn breath, a moment of collection. His thoughts sounded tired. Open your portal. But wait She stopped gathering her power although she was anxious to create an exit from the nothing.

Open it in the Dark Forest. I cant. Ive never been there. I have. Together we can use Kinigs pendant as a guide.
She slid her hand up from Kinigs waist to splay across his chest, allowing her palm to rest over his pendant. So odd to feel yet not see or smell him.

Teach me how to make a portal.


She shook her head, despair rising in her throat like bile. It took me decades to learn. We have all the time in the world. A gentle, weary chuckle. You were untrained and Aletone Strange pause. Thoughtful? He kept much from you. But well work together, you and I. A small sense of foreboding trilled through her, but she gave it up. What other choice did she have?

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Chapter Sixteen
Hell do fine, Salin murmured to Krael, watching Jarak direct some of the younger men through a drill. Lately, his former squire and his trusted friends had been seeing to more and more of the daily duties that Salin and Krael used to handle. It was no secret that Salin intended Jarak as his replacement. His duties on the council tended to take up more and more of both his and Kraels time, and he thought it was time to step back and enjoy his sons. Krael fingered the whip at his waist. No doubt. Do you intend to announce it? Not yet, but -- He broke off, head whipping around to stare at the distant wall to his left. He scowled, exploring the feeling inside his head. No, not his head, precisely. In his mind. In his soul. A presence he hadnt felt for far too long. Salin? Krael asked. An empty place in Salins heart filled. Radin. Ignoring Kraels aghast look, Salin sped for the arched exit from the practice arena, scattering young men in his wake. Nalfien lay in his bed, idly stroking Ianas brittle, yellowing hair. Her breath rasped through her lips, somewhat calm now, but still wet. She had neglected to see Gineon, Adestys apprentice, so the young healer could see to her cough earlier. The ailment was chronic and annoyed her to the extent that she did all she could to ignore it. But the healer had come and gone, and she was now resting comfortably.

For now. He laid his cheek on her shoulder, increasingly aware that his time with her
might be drawing to a close. A surge of magical power in the distance interrupted his thoughts. He sat up, staring into the darkness. A vetriese?

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Hastily, he scrambled out of bed and tried to recall where he had left a robe. Hyle pushed up to his hands and knees, staring blankly to the left. Gala chuckled beneath him. Hello? Her truemate was absentminded, but he rarely forgot what he was doing when they were having sex. When his eyes glowed softly red under brows drawn down in concentration, her mirth dried up. She watched, waiting for his thoughts to return to the immediate vicinity. He was rolling from the bed before he spoke. I have to go. Whats wrong? Im not sure, but theres a surge of magic that feels just like a vetriese. A vetriese? She rolled off the other side of the bed. Are you sure? She grabbed the robe she was pretty sure he was looking for and held it up. No. He saw what she held and grinned, crossing the room back toward her. Taking it, he swept her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly before pulling away again to don it. Im sorry. She waved her hand in the air. Dont worry about it. Although -- she poked his chest -- I do expect a full report, and I expect you to make it up to me later. He grinned. Its a promise. Hyle. She stopped him at the door. Do you want me to go with you? He thought about it. No. But could you go see if the rhaeja, my father, and the others know? Certainly. Although Im sure if you feel it, Nalfien and Savous do too. She waved her hand at him again as she went to get a wrap. Go. Savous dashed from his workroom, hurtling himself down the circular staircase as fast as he could. Irin ! he called through their mind link. Her thoughts were as panicked as his. You felt it too ?

What did you feel?


Reaching the bottom floor, he paced the entry hall, waiting impatiently for her to join him. At times like this, their internal communication was quite convenient.

Im not sure. A vetriese? An unknown power. And He nodded, knowing why she hesitated. I felt him too.
She appeared, running down the stairs at the opposite end of the hall, an untied vest flapping open about her torso as she secured the side tie of the matching short skirt that barely covered her hips. She locked gazes with him, her red irises glowing in agitation. Is it possible? she gasped.

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He fell into step with her, and they both rushed out of the front entrance of their tower. I havent a clue, but its him. It has to be. No one else feels like that. Salin raced down the rough-hewn tunnel, following a call he hadnt felt in decades. Warily, he held his two daggers in his fists, but the draw of what he thought might be ahead of him overrode any further precautions. Are you there ? he thought furiously, concentrating on a portion of his mind that hadnt been used in many cycles. No answer. Nothing that consisted of words. Just a pulsing feeling and a sense of fading. Salin picked up speed. Behind him, footsteps sounded. A glance over his shoulder showed two robed figures whom he decided were Nalfien and Hyle. Facing forward, he kept his pace, willing to meet danger before them, if there was any. Down a tunnel he hadnt traveled in ages, to the grotto that formerly held the vetriese giving the raedjour direct access to their goddess. The grotto that had been mournfully empty and abandoned since She had taken Radin.

Radin ?! Was he right? Could it be? Or was this some cruel trick?
He rounded the dark corner, his night vision allowing him to see the roughly spherical cave perfectly, if without color. There, where it had once been, was the vetriese, its blackness total even to his heightened sight. The small lightning bolts about its perimeter failed to cast any true light. On the hard, smooth ground at its nadir, between the two rough benches carved into the walls, lay four bodies, all sprawled, none moving. He remained in the doorway, blocking it, blades ready as he quickly scanned the bodies. All naked. One female and three males. He heard Nalfien and Hyle rush up behind him. One of them cast a light. Salin gasped with the sorcerers, all recognizing one of the bodies instantly. Radin! Expertly sheathing his blades, Salin threw himself to his knees at his brothers side. Salin, wait! Nalfien cautioned from the doorway, far too late. Radin lay sprawled on his back, head turned to the side on which Salin knelt, snowy white hair scattered underneath his head and shoulders. Eagerly, Salin gathered his brother into his lap. It took Salin an instant to figure out what was wrong, other than Radin being unconscious. The white marks on his face were gone, leaving behind only smooth, jet black skin. The sweeping design on his chest and belly remained, but they were different. Not white. Red. Blood red. But the face and body were unmistakable. The sharp cheekbones, the hooked, pointed nose, the generous lips set to a slight permanent smirk. This might not be him, Nalfien said from somewhere over Salins shoulder. Salin shook his head. Its him. He held Radins body close to his chest, kneading the firm muscles of his brothers back as though to convince himself they were real. I can feel him.

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Salin. A hand on his shoulder. We dont know what -- Two more arrivals at the entrance of the cave, two more people shoving into the crowded space. Salin wasnt remotely shocked when Savous and Irin both knelt beside him, carefully stepping around the other unconscious people, whom Hyle was checking. Salin released Radin enough so they could see him. Irin gasped, her hand immediately reaching out to stroke Radins jaw. Savous gaped, eyes fixed on the face of his former master and lover. Its him. Salin looked to Savous, who glanced up to meet his gaze, red eyes filled with tears he might not have been aware of. Did Salins eyes hold them as well? Was that what burned and obscured his sight? You feel that. Savous nodded, the moisture pooling in his wide eyes amplifying the crimson glow of his irises. Unaware of what he was doing, Salin reached out to gather Savous to him, crushing Radin between them. Hes here.

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Chapter Seventeen
Darkness burst apart, and Nialdlye woke instantly, belly, breasts, and pussy aching with need. She swallowed, staring at the beams of a wooden ceiling the likes of which she had never seen, trying to beat down pure sensation to recall who she was. She turned her head slowly to the side in response to a deep, soft gasp from that direction. Suddenly, she didnt care who she was.

Want. It might have been a word in her mind. It might have spilled from her lips. She
didnt know. She didnt care. Not four yards away stood a man. The muscled arms and chest revealed by an open gold leather vest were glossy black. A cobbled belly marched down into tied trews of a brown many shades darker than the vest. White hair was pulled back into a tail, revealing a chiseled, gorgeous face and violet eyes held wide in shock. She held out her hand to him, a whimper gurgling in her throat. He was at her side instantly, kneeling on the bed, hovering over her, slamming his open mouth over hers. Keening, she wrapped her arms about his neck and hauled him down atop her, wiggling anxiously to get his hips between her legs. A light blanket proved to be her enemy, brushing her aching sex but denying her a full, satisfying press against the man over her. A slight thought, a burst of magic, and the blanket singed away. He groaned, sinking his hands into her hair as he ate at her mouth. They ground together, his clothing not much of a hindrance, since the front of his trews had burned away with the blanket. The hot, steely length of his cock pressed roughly at her sex, sliding easily in the copious moisture from her body. Or was it his moisture? Her hands slid through some of it when she shoved them under his vest, seeking more of his glorious satin skin. Desperately, she rocked beneath him, wrapping her legs about his waist to better rub against his length.

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He growled, or whimpered, or something in between the two. Yanking a hand from her hair, he burrowed between them to take himself in hand, never relinquishing their mutual ravishment of mouths. He fought her viselike hold around his hips and won enough space to set the head of his cock at her entrance. As soon as she felt it, she slammed up, taking his entire shaft in one slide. A scream tore from her throat, arching her neck into pillows that mashed back into the stone behind the head of the bed. She dug her nails into his back as he braced on his elbows above her, bending one thigh under her ass for leverage right before he commenced to pounding that hard, beautiful length into her repeatedly. Gods, yes! His cock was at home within her, dragging through clutching, sensitized tissues. His brutal grind rammed her clit with each thrust. His grunts of effort ghosted over the heat of her skin, failing to cool her neck. He bit her, and she howled, pressing her heels into his ass to urge him to more speed. She came with a screech, convulsing around him. But she wasnt done. Wonderfully, neither was he. He paused, unable to move as she clutched him hard, but as soon as her grip lessened, he started rocking inside her again. She shivered with delight, curling one hand in his hair to draw his head aside, exposing his neck to her hungry mouth. He groaned as she tormented him, meeting her thrust for everlasting thrust through another, smaller orgasm before she finally squeezed one out of him. He breathed hard where he braced above her, finally meeting her gaze with dazed violet eyes. His mouth was open, but no sound emerged. A surge of panic took her. Had she broken him? Sense returned. What is your name? She swallowed in a raw throat. Nialdlye. A smile curled his swollen lips, revealing gleaming white teeth. Im Adesty. Im your healer. I take it youre feeling well? She gaped, caught between laughing and groaning, very aware of his cock still buried within her. I -- A door to her right opened, and there was another one. Same black skin. Wider shoulders, perhaps shorter stature, definitely shorter hair, this ones just past his pointed chin. Adesty? His eyes widened, and he staggered against the doorframe. Goddess! Unthinking, she reached for him, her pussy clenching Adesty in her excitement. He shuddered. Swallowed. Gineon, come here. Take off your clothes. The man stumbled a few steps into the room, hands already at his belt buckle. Are you sure? Fingers cupped Nialdlyes chin, forcing her to turn her head away from the new man. She met his gaze hungrily. You need more, dont you?

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The whimper oozed from her throat before she could help it. She wiggled, making him groan. He nodded. Gineon, hurry up. Then to her, Do you want him in your mouth or ass? She gaped. Shed thought mouth, but his mention of ass filled her mind. Shed only had two human men at once like that a few times. The thought of two of these men? Raedjour. They could be no other. A glance at the other showed her another gorgeous, long, black cock revealed as he dropped his clothing. Ass. Nodding, Adesty rolled, keeping his cock inside her. She adjusted, ended up straddling him. Free to move as she liked, she forgot anything else but the glide of his cock inside her, riding it eagerly. So thick. So long. So beautifully hard. Gripping the padding beneath him, she ground her hips, making sure that length touched every possible place within her. She remembered the other when his hands gripped her waist. She stilled, casting a glance over her shoulder. His attention was on her ass, shocked. Fingers slid through the cleft, lingering on her hole. Shes wet already. She could feel her greedy little opening sucking at his fingers. Shes an elf, Gineon. Her name is Nialdlye. Adesty laughed, and the bouncing did lovely things to jostle his cock inside her. And when we can all think straight, well discuss it. Turning back to face him, her hair falling over her right shoulder, she grinned at him. Talk later. Fuck now. She reached back with one hand to grip the other mans side. Gineon groaned. If you say so. He rubbed his cockhead at her puckered opening, gasping when she shoved back to encase the first little bit of him. Goddess! Indeed! For the first time in a very, very long time, she sent up a silent prayer to Tohon, thanking Him for the sensations Hed blessed her with. She was limited in range for moving backward, thanks to the pole jammed in her pussy, but Gineon realized that caution was not necessary. He pushed in slowly but steadily, filling her. The walls of her other channel burst aflame with sensation, different and darker than those in her pussy, but no less glorious. Nialdlye had to stop moving, had to stop thinking, had to close her eyes and simply feel as two large, thick cocks filled her. Larger than any others shed had, and she had them both.

Did I die and reach the heavenly fields?


No time to wonder. Time for fucking. The rich, ripe musk of them filled her head, making her giddy as Gineon set to sliding in and out of her. Fire jumbled up her spine, weakening her, collapsing her onto Adestys chest. It had never been like this. The burning need continued to ramp up, and echoing fire pulsed into her from the two men who strove to please her. Thats it, a distant part of her brain recognized. It wasnt just physical. There was something else, that something that

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allowed her to drink sustenance from her lovers. That something finally found a match, two matches, something to bounce off of, mingle with, share rather than simply feed. She screamed, writhing, filled to bursting. Too full. She was going to burst. She did. She burst and wouldnt have been surprised to see flames eat her skin. She burst, she cried, they cried, and all three of them stilled. Then, after a panting, resting moment, Gineon moved, and it all started again. Nialdlye clung to her sanity by a mere thread and had never felt more at home in her entire life. Kinigs eyes opened to dim darkness. A hooded candle was lit on a small table just in front of him, at the side of the bed in which he lay. His damaged hand, thickly wrapped in clean white bandages, lay before his face on a pillow that smelled blessedly familiar. He blinked, holding his breath, afraid to test whether the stone wall, nightstand, and bedding in which he lay were real. He focused on a framed painting of a silhouetted dancer in front of a larger-than-life moon. He knew that painting. Could it be? A humming purr warmed his ear as a slim, strong arm snugged his back up against a smooth, satiny chest. Are you awake, silver tongue? He swallowed in a throat suddenly constricted. Fa-Fallil? he croaked. Lips pressed against his neck. Yes, my love. Its me. Eager, graceless, he rolled onto his back. Chuckling softly, Fallil moved to allow it, propping himself on his elbow to hover over Kinig so their eyes could meet. Silver ice eyes. Gorgeous white hair spilled over his shoulder and chest, the bulk of it pooling on the bed behind him. Fallil! Their lips met. Kinig reached up to card his fingers through his lovers hair. His hiss of anger tore him from the kiss because hed unthinkingly reached with his injured hand. Fallil grabbed that wrist and pinned it to the mattress, then recaptured Kinigs mouth to let their tongues get thoroughly reacquainted. It was Fallil who finally pulled back and stilled Kinigs efforts for more. His eyes twinkled as he captured Kinigs other wrist to pin it too while he readjusted so he could straddle Kinigs hips. Kinig groaned as the weight of his lovers ass pressed his growing erection. You have quite a story to tell me. Ugh. Later? White hair shushed forward to curtain them, creating a darkened haven that the candlelight barely penetrated. It wasnt fair. He knew Fallils night sight allowed him to see perfectly. Fallil chuckled. Arent you curious about your companions?

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He stilled. Are they all right? As far as we can tell, yes. What does that mean? The woman woke last night. Remarkable. Excitement laced Fallils voice. You brought an elven woman to us. Kinig chuckled, still too aware of the press on his cock. Fallils tiny bit of rocking didnt help matters, but Kinig strove to converse. Nialdlye. Have you spoken to her? Well, no. Fallil laughed. Shes been rather busy since she woke. Kinig frowned. Busy? Adesty and his assistants have had quite a time seeing to her, ah, needs. It took an instant, and then Kinig laughed. I take it theres been a lot of fucking? Quite a bit. Word has spread, and theres a line of men waiting to see her satisfied. Shell like that. Kinig smiled. What about Robern? The human is still resting. Both you and he have been unconscious for days. Oh? And Nialdlye just woke? Yes. She asked after you, and Im to let her know when youre awake. If she was busy, how did you --? He stopped himself, chuckling. Sex was so commonplace among the raedjour that it was quite possible for them to carry on discussions during. Nialdlye would probably be the same. Yes, shed be very happy here. Will Robern be all right? Adesty believes so. Im sure hell wake soon, now that youre awake. Fallil released Kinigs wrists and sat up. His move distracted Kinig as his ass clenched over Kinigs aching length. Arent you going to ask about Radin? Kinigs good hand stilled on Fallils hip, his gaze flying to meet the other mans. Radin? Fallil watched him closely, eyes twinkling. You didnt know about Radin? Iyesnowhat happened? How much do you remember? Aletone threatened us. Nialdlye opened a portal and carried us through. Shed told us wed lose consciousness in the void. Fallil cocked his head. I dont know any Aletone. A vetriese opened in the room where it used to be. Nalfien, Hyle, Savous, Irin, and Salin all felt it. When they got to you, the four of you were lying unconscious on the ground. Four? You, the woman, the human, and Radin. Kinig gaped. Radin?

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Grinning, Fallil nodded. Great gods! Have you talked to him? Sadly, no. Hes not only unconscious, but his body is surrounded by some sort of spell that Nalfien and Hyle are still trying to decipher. Youre sure its him? Its either him or an exceptionally fine likeness. Although his markings from Rhae have been changed rather strangely. But believe me -- his voice lowered, and he leaned forward to spread his palms over Kinigs nipples -- I know Radin when I see him. Kinig arched a brow, fingers digging slightly into Fallils hip. Do you now? Fallils silver eyes shuttered above his grin. I do. Kinig knew better than to be jealous of any kind of relationship Fallil might have had with Radin. Hed led a full life before Kinig was ever born. But Kinig could play jealous for effect. He wrapped his hand around the gleaming black cock jutting over his belly, his grip sliding easily over the hot, moist skin. And just how intimately do you know him? Fallil closed his eyes the rest of the way, smiling happily as he thrust forward into Kinigs grasp. The move brought his hips forward, smearing wetness over Kinigs cock. Quite intimately. He reached behind him to grasp Kinigs length. Radin was a lover of the arts. Kinigs laugh twisted to a groan as Fallil rubbed Kinigs cockhead against the elfs tight entrance. I cant blame him. Slowly, Fallil impaled himself. Neither can I. He pulled up slowly, then sank back down. I have an appreciation for bards myself. Conversation stilled as Fallil started to rock. Kinig felt certain Fallil was aware he wouldnt last long. He caressed his lovers cock as Fallils channel gripped his. He kept his eyes open, drinking in the sight of the one person he loved above all others. It occurred to him to tell Fallil about his time with Nialdlye, but not yet. Not when that luscious feeling of orgasm was building below his belly. Not when Fallil fell forward so their lips could meet, so Kinig could wrap his arms around him. Kinig ignored the bandage on his hand, ignored the curiosity of why he felt no pain, ignored everything but the man he was with and the feeling that soon ignited into fire that poured from his loins.

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Chapter Eighteen
Kinig told the story of a lovely red-skinned elven woman held captive by a tyrant. A wonderful heroine who later saved a poor, hapless bard and an unwitting mercenary from the clutches of an evil elven overlord. Nialdlye barely recognized herself in the telling, which allowed her to enjoy it with the rest of Kinigs small but impressive audience. She only commented when Kinig either didnt know what had happened or if his effusive praise got to be too much. She sat in a comfortable sitting room, a mug of mulled wine in her hand as she curled at one end of a pillowed platform. Her new companions, these marvelous sexual men, didnt mind her preference for nudity a bit. It had taken two days to bring her to a state of sexual satisfaction that she had never felt before, after which she found the raedjour rather amenable to her needs. Shed lost count of the string of lovers who had pleasured her after shed awakened, and she lamented that she probably would not recall all of them, as shed not asked for every name. She vowed to learn their names, however. If the rhaeja let her stay. That had yet to be discussed. He had asked Kinig to relay the story first. Despite the unknown, Nialdlye was happily at ease. Present company was marvelous. The rhaeja and his truemate, Irin, were both thoroughly enjoying Kinigs storytelling and truly seemed to welcome his presence. Kinig sat on a large footstool by the lit fireplace with his lover seated on the rug beside him. She had been more than happy to meet Fallil and quite unable to stop herself from hugging him tightly with tears in her eyes. To see them reunited was a godsend. The other elves in the room had been introduced as Hyle; his truemate, Gala; Nalfien; Diana; and Salin. She recognized each name from one of Kinigs ballads, giddy to be in such company. Diana and Salin sat and stood, respectively, at the doorway leading into an adjoining bedchamber.

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In the bedchamber, Radin lay. She was told these rooms had once been his apartment, which accounted for the slightly musty scent. Obviously the rooms had been cleaned and aired in the last few days. She had seen Radin lying on a wide bed, seemingly asleep. She could see and feel the aura around him, a strange remnant of a spell that she didnt recognize. Nalfien and Hyle told her it had surrounded him since the four of them had emerged from the portal -- or vetriese, as they called it. They were still trying to decipher what it was. What happened to Aletone? Nalfien asked. All eyes turned to her, but she shook her head. Ive told you all I know. Radin never would say. But Aletone didnt disturb you when you were tutoring Radin on how to open a portal? No. You sensed nothing of him after the flash of light? No. We opened the portal, and Radin pushed me through with Kinig and Robern. I didnt know he intended to join us. I didnt know he could. But you dont know that Aletone -- Stop it, old man. Salin glared from across the room. Its Radin. I know it. Nalfien regarded him levelly and said no more. Nialdlye knew what he was thinking. I dont think its him, she told the elder sorcerer. Granted, Im not well trained with my magic, but I lived under Aletone for over a century. I dont feel him. Nalfien nodded, settling back in his chair. He didnt say it, but she thought it. Aletone was a master. He could have buried himself so deep that she could not detect him. There was no way to know right then, no way to know until they could investigate. Well. The rhaeja spoke, gaining everyones attention. His own was focused on Nialdlye with a smile. Im sure theres more to Kinigs story than hes been able to tell. He threw a fond look the bards way. Although Im sure he did his best. Kinig chuckled along with everyone else. I, for one, would love to hear more of your story, Nialdlye, Savous continued mildly. He smoothed his hand down Irins back. Will you stay with us to tell it? She took a breath and let it out. I would stay as long as youll have me, rhaeja. He nodded. Your situation is sadly unique. Im very sorry for the loss of your people. But I believe I can speak for us all, within this room and without, that your presence and contribution to our society would be most welcome. Her heart expanded as Savous proved himself to be the wonderful man Kinig had told her he was. She could not help but smile widely. Thank you, rhaeja.

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Please, youll have to call me Savous. He stood, drawing Irin up with him. Youll understand if we have to take it slow? Well need to take some time to get to know each other. She stood, realizing that his we incorporated all of his people and not just him. I understand completely. He smiled. Good. A suite of rooms has been prepared for you. Hyle and Gala will show you, as they live right next door. Theyll be available for you.

And to watch me. She didnt mind. She couldnt expect them to immediately trust her.
Savous faced Kinig. Sir bard, I hope you intend to stay with us. Kinig was unable to stand, due to the fact that Fallil was wrapped about his waist, half lying in his lap. He laughed. If you would have me, Id be honored. We have all missed you. His sincerity made Nialdlyes heart skip with happiness for her friend. His gaze flitted between her and Kinig. About your friend. Im happy to invite him to stay, but do you think that is what hed want? She glanced at Kinig. Shed seen Robern, seen his awe at being in the elven city. But her loss was reflected in Kinigs stare. I dont know him well, she told Savous. He helped us, but wed known him less than a day before we escaped. Savous nodded. Ill have someone explain the situation to him and let him make his own decision. Youre both welcome to see him as you like. Thank you. Very well, I think thats it. He wandered to Salins side to take a moment to gaze into the bedroom. Sadness, love, and hope warred in his expression. It looks like lifes about to get lively here again.

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Epilogue
Kinig flexed his fingers. Adesty and his apprentice had done all they could for the bones Aletone had shattered. Three seasons later, he now had much of the use of his fingers back. His grip was not what it had once been, and not all the knuckles would straighten fully, but his agility on the strings of his lute was almost where he could play again. He sat in the room he shared with Fallil, practicing alone. So he was surprised when the door burst open and Nialdlye dragged Fallil in behind her. The two of them had developed a friendship. Predictably, when Fallil heard about their relationship, hed been grateful that Nialdlye was there to care for Kinig and gave not a thought to the face of their sexual relations. No, that wasnt true. It had intrigued Fallil enough that the three of them had shared a bed -- floor, couch, rug, etcetera -- on more than one occasion. Rhicard entered quietly behind them, grinning as he closed the door. Nialdlye laughed, pushing Fallil onto the bed beside Kinig. A glance at Fallils surprise told Kinig his lover didnt entirely know what was going on. Nialdlye beamed at Kinig, practically radiating joy. I can do it. Do what? Set the spell that will change you to raedjour. Kinig gaped. What? She giggled, rubbing her hands together. We didnt tell you, but Robern let me test on him. She glanced back at Rhicard. Rhicard and I tested a theory. Its been a fortnight now, and Robern has shown signs of the change. Rhicard says that no other man that had the spell set lasted longer than a day! I can do it, Kinig! He blinked. He knew shed been working with Rhicard to learn more about her magic. Hed had no idea shed come so far or had a goal in mind. Robern?

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She knelt at his feet, hand on his knee. Yes. He wanted to try. You never told me. Her glance flitted from him to Fallil. He followed her glance, but his lover suddenly found something of profound interest to study on the far wall. We didnt want to upset you. In case In case he died? He scowled. Robern is my friend too. She had the grace to look aside. She probably would have flushed if her skin wasnt already red. It was his idea too. Thats no excuse. She scowled. Kinig, would you concentrate on the good news I have to share with you! Reaching over, she squeezed Fallils knee. I can do this. Rhicard and Nalfien both say I have a talent for it. Its true. Rhicard stepped up behind Nialdlye. Our guess is that its due to the nature of her people. Her magics just a little different than ours. She fairly bounced, making her breasts sway in a nicely distracting fashion. Robern volunteered to be my test subject. It worked. I can help you! Kinig took a deep breath, taking in her words. Slowly, he turned his head to face his lover. Fallil, no doubt sensing the attention on him, met his gaze. What do you think? Im not sure. Im afraid to hope. Kinig nodded. Before them, Nialdlye opened her mouth to protest, but stopped when Rhicard laid a hand on her shoulder. Perhaps we should let Kinig and Fallil talk alone. Her mouth closed with an almost audible click. She looked from one to the other of them. Nodding, she stood, then surprised Kinig by leaning in to hug them. I love you both, she whispered fiercely. I want you to be together a long time. She kissed Fallil and then Kinig, and gave them both another squeeze. I wouldnt offer if I wasnt sure it would work. With that, she left with Rhicard. Carefully, Kinig put aside his lute and then turned to face Fallil, who bent his knee up on the mattress to face him, as well. They linked their fingers together and rested their hands on their knees. I love you, Kinig told him. More than anything. I would love nothing more than to have this work and spend the next few centuries with you. But -- he stalled Fallils interruption -- I dont want to burden you. Fallil scowled. How could you burden me?

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Kinig gritted his teeth, then forced himself to say it. Youve known from the beginning of our relationship that you would outlive me. You could look forward to other lovers after me. For a long moment, Fallil simply glared. I dont know whether to walk out of the room or punch you right now. Dislodging one hand, he reached up. Kinig flinched, but Fallil just gripped his jaw tightly. I love you. I feel more for you than I have for anyone else in my life. A large part of me died when I let you go before, and Im beginning to wonder if Id outlive you. Kinig gaped. Fallils grip loosened, long fingers stroking his cheek. Im positive were truemates, although there will never be a child to prove it. But men dont I know. But then again, can anyone really know unless they experience it? Kinig found himself in Fallils arms, his face pressed into the crook of the others neck. He wasnt sure if hed rushed forward or if Fallil had gathered him there, and it didnt matter. Tears burned his eyes as he gripped his love close. Do you believe Nialdlyes spell will work? Yes, in fact, I do. Warm lips pressed against Kinigs temple. As she said, she wouldnt offer if she werent sure. Kinig stayed where he was a moment. This was it. His chance. The chance hed craved but never dared hope for. The chance of his dreams that hed always known was fantasy. The chance to live out a long life with his one true love. Reluctantly, he drew back but kept his arms around Fallils shoulders. He gave his love a watery smile. Then lets go find her.

Jet Mykles
Jets been writing sex stories back as far as junior high. Back then, the stories involved her favorite pop icons of the time but she soon extended beyond that realm into making up characters of her own. To this day, she hasnt stopped writing sex, although her knowledge on the subject has vastly improved. An ardent fan of fantasy and science fiction sagas, Jet prefers to live in a world of imagination where dragons are real, elves are commonplace, vampires are just people with special diets and lycanthropes live next door In her own mind, shes the spunky heroine who gets the best of everyone and always attracts the lean, muscular lads. She aids this fantasy with visuals created through her other obsession: 3D graphic art. In this area, as in writing, Jets self-taught and thoroughly entranced, and now occasionally uses this art to illustrate her stories, or her stories to expand upon her art. In real life, Jet is a self-proclaimed hermit, living in southern California with her life partner. She has a bachelors degree in acting, but her loathing of auditions has kept her out of the limelight. So she turned to computers and currently works in product management for a software company, because even in real life, she cant help but want to create something out of nothing.