Fearies Awakening #4: A Procession Of Virgins

town square
One of the difficulties of writing a novel is that you can be really excited to write something at a point in the story which you haven’t reached. This is certainly the case with me, and in the past I’ve just written whatever comes, but this time I feel that it’s important to stay with my characters on go on the journey with them. So I find myself needing to hurry up and get to where I want to be without rushing or letting the story suffer.
Writing, or at least the kind of writing that produces a full book, requires discipline, and self-discipline is not something I’ve always excelled at. However, I know from experience that if I just let my ideas sit in my head and never get around to writing them, they’ll lose their magic and their power, and my writing will become stale. There are also days where you just aren’t as good as other days, and you have to keep writing even though you know you’re only operating at about 80% creative power. Today is one of those days. And I had to really push through to keep writing the story. However, I accidentally discovered that there were some really cool aspects of this scene that I hadn’t seen coming. Previously all I had done was write down the majority of the Virgin’s prayer in my notes.
So, the story continues. Because I’m not operating at fully capacity today, I apologize if the text seems a little sloppy, but I’m confident that if I keep pushing myself to write, I’ll stay at the top of my game. And I hope you find today’s installment interesting.
***

They came to the Central Square, which was ironically a very large circle, with a crowd packed in a wide ring around the circle, being held into place by several soldiers in full ceremonial armor. To Lucas’ right, behind the crowd, were the steps leading up to the closed double doors of the Grand Cathedral. Straight ahead, a path led from the circle up the cobblestoned street toward the castle, and as just as Lucas had settled on a spot where he could see through the crowd relatively well, Rex had started pushing his way through the crowd, a hand clasped around Hephaestion’s wrist, who in turn grabbed Eric as he was pulled along, and Lucas was nearly yanked by Eric into the crowd.

Lucas and the others came out at the front, standing at the edge of the ring. Lucas looked ahead toward the road leading to the palace and he could see them.

The sunset had reached it’s apex and the golden light illuminated The Virgins, who were strolling toward the square in two neat single file lines, probably about fourteen in all. They wore long, flowing gowns of fine silk, in pastel colors of robin’s egg blue, canary yellow, pale lavender, and many other colors. No two gowns were alike, and they each wore about their heads fine silk veils, through which their well-kept hair could be seen and their faces could be detected, though the features were always difficult to discern. Lucas had seen this garb before, worn by the Virgin of New Alexandria, who he assumed was among the procession, though even as they approached it was difficult to tell them apart. The hues of their hair could be detected, and the veil was thin around the area where their eyes peered out, and their eyes could be seen well when approached up close, though approaching a Virgin was an honor that had to be bewstowed.
Their flowing gowns gave the appearance that they were actually floating toward the Central Square, rather than walking. As they filed into the wide circle, they poured like flowing water to the edges of the circle, and began to move their arms and legs in a slow dance, and at the very back of the procession, a Virgin much older than the others, in a gown and veil of pure white, strolled to the center of the circle. The crowd recognized her and there were a few hushed whispers: this was the Grand Virgin. She knelt down and placed her hands together in silent prayer, bowing her head.

A hush had fallen over the crowd as the Virgins danced, their long sleeves and billowing gowns fluttering in the breeze as they twirled silently, beneath the silk could be seen the universally white garments beneath, hugging tight to their slim bodies. There was no music, no drum playing, but they all seemed to be moving together to the same rhythm, and silence fell heavier and heavier as the dance continued. The men and women watched spellbound as they danced around the edge of the ring.

And then the Virgin in the center lifted her head and stood, and she faced heavenward and began to speak, in a loud, clear voice that was at once commanding and comforting. It was impossible not to hear her voice as it reverberated off the stone walls of the Central Square.

“Our Father,” she began, “Whose heavenly throne is that of pure light…”

Everyone recognized the invocation as the way in which all prayers to the Father began. She continued, and as she spoke the Virgins began to edge closer to the center of the circle, straying from the edges.

“Our master who sees beneath him the toil and suffering of all creatures. Our protector who loves even the stray child. You have sent forth to do your work the Angel, in your love you have sent a Redeemer. Blessed are those who accept the gift you offer freely.”

The Virgins raised their hands in unison, and their dance took on a supplicant quality. Those there eyes were too far away to be visible, it was easy to imagine them filled with longing tears of mourning for the lost.

“Angel of light,” continued the Virgin, “Our teacher. Show unto us unworthy children the path that the Father might have us walk. Give us courage to follow your light. Give us strength to overcome the trail of sorrows. Give us mercy, that we may be lifted from the Yoke of despair.”

The Virgins circled closer to the Grand Virgin now, and the pace of the dance quickened, their silken sleeves flowing in the air, making it impossible to discern one from the other, only a mass of colors in which they all seemed to be one. The voice of the Grand Virgin began to boom and echo across the Square.

“Give us knowledge to know the Father’s path, to hear the words spoken through his messenger. Divine emissary, have patience with we children of darkness, born in sin and trudging through murky waters.”

The Virgins spun furiously, so quickly that their forms were blurs, that it seemed as though the gowns and the figures beneath them had truly become a sphere of light which emanated from it all colors of the spectrum.

The voice of the Grand Virgin became ferocious and powerful. Lucas could hear the emotion in her voice and she struggled to be heard over the silent chorus of color that encircled her, her face and her body invisible within the bright cloud.

“Your alone is the light to eternity! Yours alone is the voice of Heaven! Through you are peace, love, and hope! Through you are wisdom, courage, and strength! Through you is the light made manifest, that the darkness might be driven forever, unto the White City, unto the final age, unto the doom and the resurrection, and unto the end of all things!”

In an instant the Virgins dropped to their knees, and the swirling mass settled around them, their gowns falling to rest on the ground. They seemed so otherworldly within their gowns and veils, as though they were not women at all but spirits dancing, and now the dance was done. Lucas strained to see their chests rising and falling, trying to prove to himself that they were humans who breathed.

The Grand Virgin bowed her head. “In the name of the Father,” she concluded.

An chorus followed from the many voices of the crowd in the Square, “In the name of the Father,” they repeated. The Grand Virgin did this again twice, and each time the crowd responded in the same manner. Lucas did not call back the benediction with the others. He always remained silent during prayers. It wasn’t forbidden, though it usually elicited confused responses. This time no one was paying attention to him. Rex had uttered the benediction each of the three times confidently, his voice quivering, Eric had joined silently, and Hephaestion had said it the first time but not repeated.

Lucas turned to see Rex had tears in his eyes and he reached up with the back of his hand and wipes them away.

The Grand Virgin raised her bowed head and gestured for the others to stand, they did so and then bowed toward to the crowd. The crowd began to applaud and cheer wildly. Lucas could now see smiles on the faces of the Virgins. From the edge of the circle came several members of the New Alexandrian council, one of whom came to stand in the center, and over the chatter he announced that the Feast of the Father would now begin in the dining halls of the Grand Cathedral, and the crowd parted to make way for the Virgins, led by the Grand Virgin, who proceeded again in two single file lines up the steps, and the great doors were opened. The procession of Virgins went inside, and council members filed in behind them, and then the townspeople were allowed to follow.

Lucas tried to stay near to the others and had a hand on Eric’s shirt sleeve, but was quickly knocked around by people clamoring to make it to the Grand Cathedral, and eventually he had to make his way out of the crowd and stand back at the edge of the Central Square and stood on the sidewalk by a storefront, waiting to see his friends in the crowd. He looked among the sea of faces for them but he couldn’t make them out, then suddenly caught a flash of Eric’s red hair in the waning sunlight, and he made his way through the crowd to Lucas and stood on the sidewalk with him. “Rex already went in!” he shouted over the commotion, “Hephaestion is looking for you! I told him if I found you, I’d tell you to wait for him!”

Lucas nodded.

Eric smiled and ran back into the current of people. Lucas found a bench nearby and sat down.

Several minutes passed. Dusk was beginning to fall. The crowd was thinning. People were still proceeding from the other streets into the Central Square and toward the Grand Cathedral. Lucas did not feel particularly hungry, but then, most people attending the Feast of the Father were there for the ceremony and not the food anyway. He found himself lost in thought, remembering the swirling chorus of color from the Virgins, the way their bodies moved so quickly and so silently that they seemed to cease to be human at all.

Lucas had always found Virgins slightly disconcerting. It wasn’t that they were intimidating, in fact it was precisely the fact that looking upon a Virgin seemed to fill everyone with gentle calm that he found so confounding. He never quite understood how or why it happened, but upon beholding a Virgin, people seemed to be filled with peace, and this is why such a large procession of Virgins was such a spectacle. And these Virgins had come from Augustine, the holy city, and the seat of the Church of Light. They were at once revered religious icons and also respected on a level rivaling royalty. To Alexandrians they were respected even more, because New Alexandria had no royal family anymore, only a steward whose position, like the royalty itself, was entirely ceremonial.

Lucas felt something nudge his shoulder and he jumped. He looked beside him to see Hephaestion had sat down next to him, and he leaned forward with his elbows on his thighs, smiling at Lucas. “Pondering the mysteries of existence.”

“Virgins scare me a little,” said Lucas.

“I think they’re supposed to,” said Hephaestion, “But it was quite a show, huh?”

“It was,” agreed Lucas, and with a sigh he stood, “Off to the Feast then?”

Hephaestion’s warm smile became a sly grin. “I had another idea, actually.”

Lucas tilted his head in genuine bemusement. “Yes?”

“Well,” Hephaestion glanced around, and though the crowd had thinned there were still plenty of people passing by, though none seemed particularly interested in the two young men. “Remember last week when you told me about the royal library?”

“The one in the castle,” remembered Lucas, “Yeah, it’s closed up. No one tends it anymore, I tried to convince my father to give me the position of the library’s retainer, but he said it was a foolish request and that I should focus more on my studies.”

“But you said you’ve seen it before, right?” asked Hephaestion.

“Well yes,” said Lucas, “But I was much younger, and it’s back when the library was actually open. Now it’s closed off along with the rest of the royal wing of the castle, even the Steward doesn’t live there.”

“But you know how to get there, yes?” asked Hephaestion.

Lucas furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “Well… yes?” he ventured.

“Excellent!” Hephaestion leapt to his feet, “Then we’re going on an adventure!”

Lucas’ eyes widened, “Hephaestion, we can’t go into the royal wing, we can’t even go into the castle!”

“Your father is still there, right?” asked Hephaestion.

“Yes, he probably is, but he of all people wouldn’t let us in.”

Hephaestion shook his head with a grin, “We tell the guards you’re there to see your father and they let us in, and then we sneak into the royal wing!”

Lucas folded his arms. “What’s gotten into you?” he asked amusedly, “You’re not usually this mischievous.”

It was now that Hephaestion indicated a brown satchel on the bench behind him. Lucas suddenly realized that Hephaestion had been carrying it since joining the party after the bout, but hadn’t thought about it or wondered what it might contain. “Well,” said Hephaestion, “I may have found something I’d like to share with you,” and at this he made a gesture with his hand that indicated drinking, “and I’d like to do so in a private location,” he waggled his eyebrows impishly.

Lucas breath caught in his chest for a moment, then asked “Where did you get… that?”

“Borrowed,” said Hephaestion with a grin, “From the stores beneath the military academy. I’ll tell you the story later.”

Lucas raised his eyebrows, “And of all the private locations, you choose a secluded area of the palace?”

Hephaestion folded his arms in mock annoyance, “Are you up for it or not?” he asked in an entirely friendly tone.

Lucas shook his head, “Fine, I didn’t really want to go to the Feast anyway. But you know my father will eventually be leaving the castle, and if he doesn’t notice us, he’ll certainly notice my absence from the Feast.”

Hephaestion waved a hand, “That thing goes on for hours, we’ll be back before he notices you’re gone.”

“What about Rex and Eric?” asked Lucas.

Hephaestion looked thoughtful, “Well, I kind of wanted to spend some time with you.”

Lucas’ heart jumped into his throat and he swallowed quietly. “Alright,” he said finally, “But we need to go quickly while there’s still a crowd. Security at the palace is pretty relaxed under most circumstances, but we’ll probably find the place positively deserted if we can make it through the front gate guards.”

“Yes!” Hephaestion whispered and snatched up his satchel. “Lead the way!”

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Must Be Dreaming

I don’t feel entirely alive today.

There have always been days like this. They vary in severity as far as the melancholy goes. Today is a light-melancholy day.

It has always been this way.

Maybe it has to do with how much I’ve always loved rain. Rain is melancholy, but it’s something that makes me feel safe.

I have diabetes. I’m not as bothered by it now as I was a month ago when I found out, but it’s something I have to keep in mind now. I can’t eat as many of the things that I used to. Although that isn’t always because of the diabetes, it’s as much because of the lack of money.

I’ve been adopted again. And this time my adopter’s have kept me for eight months. I’ve been adopted before. In the end the adopter’s always get tired of me and make me leave. But this time it’s my fault. These two have done everything they can for me. I’m not mad at them. And they haven’t told me I have to leave. But the fact is I need to come up with money, and it’s hard to do. I don’t know why it’s hard to do. Maybe because everything is hard for me.

I shouldn’t have left the first good full-time job I ever had. But I did. And it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting it back. So now I have to rough it. I still have a chance to make things right here. My current job gives me about fifteen hours a week which is nothing, but I can make double that by putting in hours at another store in the area that’s about an hour away. I don’t know if this will destroy my car or suck up all my money in gas, or what… I just don’t know.

In many ways I’m doing better. My surge of determination last week made it possible for me to have a better perspective and more positive attitude about my job. In truth, it isn’t too bad. I guess the fact is that it’s work, and work just isn’t going to be fun. It’s been fun in the past, but maybe not every job has the potential to be truly enjoyable. It’s okay, I’ll find a way to get through it. There are advantages. I just have to look for them.

But I won’t lie, working has always been hard for me. To suspend my existence so that I can go do something I’m not interested in for a large portion of every day, it feels like torture. It’s hard to remain positive, to retain a sense of who I am that way.

I went for a walk today. Well in truth I went to buy pizza and when I felt guilty for eating something gluttonous and unhealthy, I needed to go walk it off so I wouldn’t feel completely useless.

I’ve found myself listening to Frou Frou and Imogen Heap today. I always love Frou Frou. It takes me somewhere else.

I spent a lot of time on the walk thinking about where I’ve been. The people I’ve loved.

What a life it’s been, you know?

Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is to write a farewell letter. Like, if I were on my deathbed, what I would say, how I would reflect on everything, what I’d learned, what I’d felt. Kind of like a suicide note without the suicide. I haven’t felt suicidal in a while now. But I do like to reflect on everything. I guess the thing is, now that I don’t want to die I’m afraid of losing life. That is how the world is, you only get the things you want when you don’t want them anymore, and you only get hurt when you aren’t afraid of being hurt. I don’t know if it’s confirmation bias or karma or just a sick sense of balance in the universe that has to keep everyone continually moving up or downhill, or else standing in one spot.

I came to write because I knew I should. I want to write, it makes me happy to write. But most days I feel that I can’t properly say what I want. So today it’s disjointed and fumbled.

I used to fantasize about having a mother. I do have a mother, but I hate her, so I fantasized about being somewhere and being loved. I love watching the Osbourne’s and I would fantasize about being adopted into their family, with Sharon Osbourne as my mother. Roseanne was another mother figure to me, at least I think she was, but I might just be borrowing from Sara Gilbert calling Roseanne her TV mom. But whether I thought about it at the time or not, Roseanne did feel like my mother figure. And there were others.

I was brought out a period of flat suppression of all emotion and creativity by Imogen Heap. Today as I listened to Shh, I imagined that she had adopted me. I was living in her house, holding her daughter and singing to her as Frou Frou played over the speakers. I played her piano while she made dinner.

Now that I’m an adult, saying things like this makes me sound creepy. If an eighteen year old fantasizes about being adopted by one of his idols and having a family with a mother figure who means something to him, well, people are sympathetic. They think that kid must have been through some bad stuff, he must be lonely, he must want a functional and nurturing family. But when a twenty-six year old says it doesn’t sound so sweet, it sounds like the behavior of a stalker. I guess it’s fine if someone reading that I fantasized about being adopted by a musical idol thinks I’m a stalker, I know I’m not and I don’t have to justify my thoughts to anyone. Of course if I really thought that I wouldn’t have written this paragraph.

Look at that, a thousand words.

I used to listen to A Thousand Words from Final Fantasy X-2 alone in my bedroom, and I used to think about Koji.

I’ve never talked about Koji, have I?

It’s such a long story, and frankly I feel like this whole blog post is reading like the diary of a serial killer or a suicide note.

Ah well.

I only know how to express myself the way I can. I can’t apologize for that. My voice is the only thing I have.

Maybe the story isn’t so long, but it’s complex. When I was twelve years old (it was the summer after seventh grade, so I was either twelve or thirteen, I’m not sure), I fell in love with a character from an anime, the fourth season of Digimon, a character named Koji Minamoto. I used to like watching the transformation sequences when they turned into Digimon because their clothes all ripped off, and that was the closest thing I had to a real sexual experience, seeing these characters naked, particularly the main character Takuya who I found the most attractive, but for some reason it was Koji I fell for. What happened is that I was masturbating one day, the way I masturbated back then was to rub my cock into my bedsheets, so I did that, my face buried in the pillow, and I sort of began to fall asleep and half-dream while I was doing this, and I fantasized about myself and Koji, in this cave by a fire, and we were having sex.

And I was happy, and we were in love, and I was able to hold someone else close to me and touch them and fuck them and feel loved and safe. And so, I accidentally dreamed this person, Koji of my fantasy, into existance. And he began to come back when I masturbated, he’d be there in my fantasy, and I would talk to him, and he was with me even when I wasn’t masturbating, and I thought of him, and I roleplayed stories of our adventures outside all by myself, and I wrote fiction about us together.

Then one day I realized I needed to let Koji go, so I left him in this desert, this place in my mind where I took us, a place where I could leave him and move on, and he wasn’t angry at me for letting him go. But I let him go. And after that, he was gone. I tried to bring him back again later, went back to the desert in my mind and I would bring him back but then I’d realize he wasn’t really back, it was an image of him I was creating in my mind. An imaginary reflection of an imaginary character.

I really felt loss for Koji. I carried him all the way into high school, and by this point I’d begun to give the time when I met him certain names. I referred to the time period as Seventh Grade Summer, and then I began to call it Paradise. I would think about the time I was with Koji, when I was all by myself that summer, watching TV shows and writing Final Fantasy fanfiction and reading and just enjoying myself, and I called it Paradise. Things changed though, when my mother bought me an incredibly nice bedroom suit that was so big and fancy it would barely all fit into my room, but I was incredibly angry at her for changing the layout of my room, because I had all these emotions attached to my memory of Koji and of Seventh Grade Summer, and changing the room changed everything. I was incredibly mad at her which she didn’t understand, and looking back on it I feel sorry for upsetting her so much. I did a lot of things then that were cruel, but it was in response to the cruel and angry way she was treating me.

When I fell in love for the first time with a boy when I was fifteen, I eventually told him about Koji. He actually tried to tell my mom once about Koji because she was mad at me for something or other, and he was trying to help her understand, but he never got to tell the story.

There are so many stories. Michael, the boy I loved when I was fifteen. Koji, the imaginary lover. The times I spent alone. I spent so much time alone. With my video games and my TV shows and my movies and my imagination. It’s all I had.

And now here I am. A different person in a different world. And I love Robert and Zack. I love them and I just want to make them happy. And I want to be safe here, to know this is my home. So I have to keep working. I’ll just keep trying, that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m not always strong. In fact I’m just not a strong person in general. But I’m trying.

This is all probably because I didn’t take my medicine on time today. I mean, I have melancholy days anyway and I had them before I started taking medicine, but still, that’s probably what led to this.

I hope tomorrow is better.

I feel so scared, and so alone. I feel like I’m on the brink of being made to leave Robert and Zack. It isn’t because they’ve done anything unreasonable, either. I just… I don’t want to go. This is my home and my family now. I can’t leave it. I can’t lose another family.

I just can’t keep losing everything. Every person I love goes away. Every person I trust betrays me. Robert and Zack have not betrayed me, I’ve betrayed them. And I just want things to be right. I feel that awful feeling when you’re about to break up with someone you love and you don’t want to but you have to. And I DON’T want to go, but I have this cruel feeling that no matter what I try, I’ll be ripped away from them, only to miss them as much as I miss my boyfriend who I broke up with two years ago now.

I’m scared. And I don’t know where I am or who I am or what living is.

In The House of the Green Witches

The rain was coming down hard again, beating against the thatched roof overhead. The girl from the meadow was setting down a wooden tray on the small table before Lucas and Eric, who sat awkwardly on the dusty old couch in the tiny living room. Lucas continued to take in the little house around him. Above the crackling fire on the mantle were vases filled with flowers of every color, many of which looked like they’d come from the meadow in the forest. There were armchairs scattered throughout the small living room, and in one by the fire sat the elderly woman who had invited them inside. She was arranging her flowing skirts and sipping a cup of tea on a table next to her, where there also sat a pile of old and weather-beaten books.

There were books everywhere, actually. Along the walls were shelves lined with small and large books, all of which with old, yellowed pages, and there were books in stacks in the corners, sitting by the furniture, and lurking on the mantlepiece with the flowers. Across from the living room was a small kitchen area, where the girl had prepared their tea in silence. Since they’d been invited in, no one had spoken. The old woman remained contentedly sipping her tea and staring into the fire. There were doors leading off from the kitchen into what Lucas could only assume were bedrooms.

It was a small place, but strangely comfortable. It felt safe. Aside from the fire, there were candles lit in all corners of the house, casting a gentle glow across the old furniture and the dusty books. Even their ancient teacups, adorned with small painted flowers, felt homely. The girl poured steaming tea into their cups and laid them on saucers before the two young men.

“Thank you,” said Lucas gently.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like any help with that?” offered Eric.

The girl looked up and raised her eyebrows, “It would be a little late to offer help now, wouldn’t it?” she said saracastically.

Eric looked down, embarassed. Lucas tried to find a spot in the house to fix his gaze on that wouldn’t be obtrusive. He settled on a dark corner of the kitchen.

The girl left the tea setting on the table and settled into an armchair nearer to the fireplace. Lucas sipped his tea gingerly. It was warm and delicious, and one tiny sip seemed to fill his mouth, his head, and his chest with a warmth that kept suffusing his entire body. He looked down at his teacup in amazement. “Wow,” he said simply.

“Yes?” asked the girl in the same impatient tone.

“This is incredible,” said Lucas, smiling up at the girl. “I think this may be the best tea I’ve ever tasted.”

The girls face took on a satisfied smirk, as if to imply this was the only answer she would expect. Eric sipped his tea as well. “What did you make this with?” he asked.

“Witch’s secret,” croaked the voice of the old woman by the fire.

“Mother,” the girl shot her eyes over to the old woman.

“Oh calm down, Imogen,” replied the old woman, “I know a witch hunter when I see one, and these two boys don’t mean us any harm.”

“I can certainly agree,” offered Lucas, “Though I have to say I’ve never really heard of a witch hunter. Or, for that matter, a real witch.”

“Well you’re looking at two,” said the woman with a kind smile and a look of mischevious excitement flashing in her old eyes. Her face was wrinkled, her nose was pointed and her gray hair fell in brittle strands around her head. In her dark skirts and robes, she certainly looked the part of a witch.

“I didn’t know witches really existed,” said Lucas timidly, “I’ve only ever heard them mentioned in children’s stories, or in books of fantasy.”

“I expect you wouldn’t hear about real witches,” croaked the old woman cheerfully, “The church has gone to great lengths to expunge any memory of our people from history.”

“The Angelist Church?” asked Eric.

“That’s the one,” nodded the old woman, and she sat back in her chair, still smiling. There was something gentle about her. She seemed like she was having great fun, talking to guests. Lucas thought it seemed as though she might not have had many guests in a very long time. The girl remained silent, sipping her tea with the same disdainful expression plastered on her face. Her blonde curls and delicate skin were beautiful, as were bright green eyes. Her expression was cold and distant.

The girl spoke.

“The Angelist Church is a blight on human history,” she nearly spat, “They subjugated and killed our people.”

“So, you really are witches then?” Lucas asked, feeling silly for asking it again.

“Oh certainly,” said the old woman.

“The Church would like very much for there to be none of us left in existence,” said the girl.

“Oh, Imogen, stop being so morose,” the old woman waved her wrinkled hand and longs fingers dismissively at the girl. Imogen sipped her tea with a scornful expression.

“What did the Church do?” asked Lucas, “I studied the history of the Church in school, but nothing was ever mentioned about witches.”

“It’s not that it’s forbidden knowledge or anything,” the old woman waved her hand again as she talked, her voice calm, “It just isn’t spoken of. It’s a black mark on the Church’s record. Even if they can convince people that an entire population of human beings were evil, or otherwise possessed by devils, they still don’t want people to know they went around killing us.”

“If I may ask,” Eric said tentatively, “What exactly is a witch?”

“Like I said,” said Lucas, “I’ve only ever heard witches mentioned in books or children’s tales. They’re usually old hags who eat children, cast spells to torment their enemies, and live in secluded cabins in the for-” Lucas stopped before he finished the word “forest” and suddenly blushed with embarassment.

The old woman threw her head back and laughed heartily, “Well I can assure that at least only half of that is true,” and she winked kindly at him. Lucas couldn’t help but like this woman. “Witches have always been characterized as villains, cannibals, wicked conjurers, it’s something the Church spread about so long ago that it’s become folklore and legend in some places, and myth in most others. But before there were legends of hags eating children, there were legends of kind, beautiful witches, who offered spells of safety, healing, and words of wisdom to travelers. In the oldest stories, before even my time, the witches of children’s tales were wise women, sought out by heroes on their journey to fell some great foe.
“Before the witches of children’s stories offered curses and lured innocent children into their houses of wickedness, the witches of the old stories offered potions of luck and blessings of good fortune to wary travelers who lost their way.”

“So, what are real witches then, if they’re not like those of the children’s stories?” asked Lucas.

“Oh, there are plenty of nasty old hags in the world,” said the woman with a thoughtful look, “It’s just that the majority of them aren’t witches at all. I suppose our kind have had our nasty enchantresses, but by and large we haven’t ever done anything to harm other people.”

“Certainly not,” said Imogen, setting her tea down on it’s saucer with her eyes closed and her lips pressed together. She opened her eyes to look Lucas directly in the eye, “The Green Children have existed since before recorded time, and it is we who have looked after the forests that the rest of the world greedily cuts down to build their foolish temples to their angels and sky-gods.” Her tone grew angrier, “Our people have always lived in peace with nature, respecting the land, the creatures, the rivers and mountains. We come from every place and every walk of life, and once we were a thriving community of peaceful people who offered safety and wisdom to those who passed our doorsteps, just like in the oldest stories Mother mentioned.
“Hundreds of years ago, when the Angelist church rose to power, the scouring of the Green Children began. The Church’s armies marched across the continents, rounded our people up, and killed them: man, woman, and child, all dead. They destroyed our records, our precious books and possessions, they sent fire to devour our villages, and left nothing but a smoldering ruin in their wake.”

“This can’t be true…” said Lucas breathlessly.

“And yet it is,” Imogen narrowed her eyes at Lucas, “Because your people, those from the outside, believed that they would receive absolution from their deity if they wiped the world clean of anything they didn’t understand.”

“My… people?” asked Lucas.

“Calm down, Imogen,” said the old woman in a voice that was firmer than before. “He doesn’t know the first thing about the matter, and you can’t very well accuse of him of anything.”

“What are you?” asked Imogen to Lucas, her eyes still focused on him.
“I… I’m sorry?” asked Lucas.

“I saw you in the forest. You were holding fire in your hands.”

“Mm?” the old woman made a curious noise.

“I, I…” Lucas stammered, “I d-don’t…”

“Tell me the truth,” said Imogen, “Who are you, and what are you doing in our forest?”

“Honestly, Imogen, you have no manners,” interrupted the old woman, “It’s like you were raised in a barn. In the middle of the woods. Ha!” and then she threw her head back and laughed.

Imogen took a breath and steadied herself. “Look,” she said to Lucas, “I know what I saw. You were holding a flame, floating in mid-air, right above your hand, and you put it out when you saw me.”

“It, it was…” began Lucas.

Imogen interrupted. “It wasn’t a candle, or a torch, or anything else. I saw it. That I’ve ever heard of, the only people to ever conjure fire from thin air were witch hunters.”

“Wait,” asked Lucas, “There are people who can creat fire?”

“Do not play the fool with me,” said Imogen, “My Mother is a trusting person, but I am not. Tell me who you are.”

Lucas was beginning to grow tired of the accusations. “Alright, let me explain.”

Eric gave Lucas a nervous shove with his elbow. Lucas turned to him and shook his head. “No, these people were kind enough to invite us into their home when we were lost. They deserve the truth.”
“Lucas…” began Eric.
Lucas turned back to Imogen. As he spoke, his glance shifted from Imogen to the old woman, “If what you two are telling me is true, then you really are witches. The Green Children, you said, right?”

Imogen nodded.

“Well, it sounds to me like your people were treated with cruelty by those in power. I understand how that feels. I… well, the truth is, my name is Lucas Ballanheim, and I’m the prince of Alexandria.”

Imogen’s eyes widened. The old woman’s grin widened.

“I don’t know how much you both know about the political world in my country,” said Lucas, “But the royal family has no actual power in Alexandria. I grew up in a palace and I attended the most exlusive schools, and I’ve had servants my entire life, but I’m not really anyone special. I don’t have parents. I’m the only member of the royal family that there is, and the man in power in my country, the Archduke, tried to have me kidnapped, or killed. I’m honestly not sure which. I’m running right now, trying to find my friends, and trying to find a safe place.
“I have no idea where I am, or what I’m doing. I was seperated from my friends, who have been protecting me since I was attacked in a caravan, on the way out of the country, and outside this forest, they we were surrounded by soldiers, and they made Eric and I flee into the woods. We got lost, and we found Imogen, and we followed her because she was the first person we’ve run into, and we have no idea what to do.”

The old woman kept a finger pressed to her chin thoughtfully. “A prince, betrayed by his leader,” she said.

“Yes,” said Lucas, “And… well, I have my guesses as to why.”

“And why do you think you were betrayed?” asked Imogen, though her tone of voice was now much less hostile.

“It has to do with what you saw… the fire,” explained Lucas. “I… well, I don’t really know how to explain it. Until a few days ago, I’d only ever told one person in the world about it, and apart from him, the only other person who knew about my ability was the Archduke. I can… well…” Lucas sighed, and he looked down at the single candle sitting on the table in front of him, next to the pot of tea. He held out his hand. There was a tingling in the back of his head as he reached out his invisible hands and grasped the fire mentally, and he called it to him wordlessly. The flame from the candle rose up from the wick and gently hovered into the air to rest above Lucas’ palm.

Imogen took a breath. The old woman smiled silently.

“I can… communicate with fire,” said Lucas, “I don’t know how else to explain it. I’ve been able to do this my entire life. I can move it with my mind, I can make it grow larger or put it out. If I close my eyes, I can feel little lights in the darkness, where fire is. When I was a child I had to sleep in complete darkness so that I wouldn’t set something alight, and my mother watched over me while I slept. But she… well…” Lucas looked down, and the tiny flame wisped away instantly into nothing.

“She died,” said the old woman in a knowing voice.
Lucas nodded. “When I was very young, yes.”

“And your father?” asked Imogen.

“Well,” said Lucas timidly, “The King died before she gave birth to me. She was a widow queen, and she raised me on her own, but when she died, care of me was handed over to the Archduke, which is to say that I raised myself from that point on.”

Imogen’s expression was a mixture of confusion, anger, and what might have been compassion. She didn’t seem to know what to say.

“I am sorry,” said the old woman gently, “To lose a mother so young is a tragedy. To lose a father before ever even being born into the world is worse.”
“I didn’t lose anything,” said Lucas in a bitter voice, “I never had a father.”

“Imogen lost her mother when she was very young as well,” said the old woman. Imogen picked up her tea again and stared down into the cup. “I adopted her, and she’s lived with me ever since. She hasn’t been to the outside world for most of her life. Forgive her for her rudeness.”

“I… I am sorry,” said Imogen quietly, “I didn’t know.”

“It’s alright,” said Lucas, “I’ve lived in fear my whole life that someone might find out about my power. But, I can’t actually create fire, like you said. I can only move fire that already exists.”

“The witch hunters of the days of the scouring could create fire from thin air,” said Imogen, “It’s something that no witch has ever been able to do.”

“Does that mean there are things you can do?” asked Eric, “Like magic?”

“Yes,” said Imogen, “We can weild magic, but it’s probably nothing like what you’ve imagined magic to be. It’s simple. It’s Earth magic, we can bond with the forest and the animals, we can heal injuries, we can understand the words of nature, hear the voice of the wind and the soil.”

“The bits in the stories about curses are true, too,” said the old woman, “But curses are a silly business. There really is no ‘dark magic,’ like in tales devised to frighten children, our power is something more than what any human might possess, but it isn’t anything very strange or frightening. You’ve already seen our power at work.”

“Really?” asked Lucas, “How?”

“The tea, dear,” said the old woman with a small laugh, “You feel relaxed, refreshed, you feel energy flowing through you, yet I’d wager that having been on the run you haven’t had much sleep. You feel rested and powerful again.”

Lucas blinked, realizing it was true. He looked down at his own body as if in wonder at how it had done this. He felt everything the old woman had described, it was as though he’d slept a whole night.

“How did you do that?” asked Lucas.

“Simple spell,” said Imogen, “Though I didn’t trust you, and I’m still not entirely convinced that I should, but Mother asked me to do it and so I did.”

“If you’re witches,” asked Lucas, “And you can do magic, what am I?” his voice suddenly took on a yearning quality. He began to wonder if they had answers to questions he’d been asking his entire life.

“Why should we know, dear?” asked the old woman in a simple, yet compassionate voice. “What you can do may be magic, and it may not be. Even I have never heard of any kind of magic that would allow someone to command fire.”

Lucas hung his head. “I thought surely people who actually practiced some real kind of magic might know.”

“Well, it’s not to say that we don’t,” said the old woman, “As a people, I mean. Imogen and I are not the only Green Children in the entire world. And there may well be stores of knowledge among our people that can give you an answer to how you have your power.”

“Really?” asked Lucas hopefully.

“But you’d have a difficult time finding any of our kind,” said Imogen, “We’ve been mostly wiped away from civilization, and those of us who survive live in hiding. I’ve never even met another Green Witch, apart from Mother.”

“But I have,” said the old woman, “In my time there were plenty of us. The First Scouring happened hundreds of years ago, but when I was young there were still small communities of Green Children. The second great schism occurred then, and I did my best to help refugees into hiding places.”

“Mother was considered a hero among the Green Children,” said Imogen, “She was a noble protector of the innocent.”

The old woman rolled her eyes, “Honestly, I shouldn’t have let you read any of those old letters. I’ve told you a thousand times the same thing I told the Green Children who called me all those things, I was doing my job. Becoming an Elder among the Green Children means protecting your brothers and sisters. Had I not helped them, I’d have been a coward.”

“You never accept praise, Mother,” said Imogen with a sigh.

Lucas suddenly yawned. He held his hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how tired I was. I feel so refreshed after that tea, but-”

“Well yes, your spirit is refreshed but your body still needs rest,” said the old woman. “The two of you can sleep in the library.”

“Library?” asked Lucas, perking up without meaning to at the mention of books.

The old woman chuckled, “It’s just a tiny room filled with moldy old tomes and a lumpy old mattress on the floor, but it’s yours for the night.”

“So, you trust us then?” Lucas asked, though he intended the question for Imogen.

“I’ve trusted you since I first saw you,” replied the old woman, “Imogen is just being protective of me.”

“And myself, too, Mother,” said Imogen.

“Yes, well, I trust you’ve gotten over your fear of our visitors, now?” asked the old woman to Imogen.

“I was never afraid of them,” Imogen set her teacup down, “But yes, I suppose they seem trustworthy enough.”

“Thank you, so much,” said Lucas, “For your kindness. Tomorrow, I’ll have to be off, I don’t know where my friends are or if they’re alright.”

“Bronwen is strong,” said Eric, “I don’t think a few soldiers could stop her.”

“I know,” said Lucas, “But until I see Hephaestian I won’t know that he’s safe…” his voice was tinged with worry and anxiety. Even the effects of the tea didn’t stop his heart from jumping into his throat as he said it.

“Well, the good thing is,” said old the woman, “If your friends enter the forest, we’ll know it.”
“Really?” asked Lucas. “Did you know we entered the forest when we arrived?”

“No,” said Imogen, “Because we hadn’t performed a spell. But the forest has traces of our magic all over it. We can invoke a spell that will alert us if someone human enters the deep parts of the forest, where we are now. People who travel this way usually go around the Grotto. That’s what we call our home, by the way. The meadow you saw, this house, it’s all a part of the Grotto.”

“Charming little name, isn’t it?” said the old woman happily.

“Alright… thank you.” said Lucas, “I don’t know how to thank you enough.”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” said Imogen, standing.

“And,” Lucas glanced at the old woman, “What shall I call you, ma’am?”

The old woman waved her hand, “You may as well call me Mother, same as Imogen. Everyone else does.”

“Mother, you haven’t had a visitor here for years,” said Imogen, “There’s no one but me to call you Mother.”

The old woman raised her eyebrows, “Well the birds call me Mother, in their own little way.”

“Birds do not talk, Mother,” said Imogen with a voice that showed a trained patience. “Her name,” she turned to face Lucas and Eric, “Is Samantha the Wise.”

“’The Wise’ is a title, not a name, dear,” said the old woman, “And I never much liked it. I’m not any wiser than your average old crone.”

Lucas smiled, despite himself. He really liked this old woman. “Thank you, miss… well, um, Mother,” the word sounded foreign when it escaped his lips, but he liked the sound of it.
“Yes,” chimed Eric, “Thank you, ma’am.”

“I’ll show you to the washroom,” said Imogen, “I imagine you’ll both want a bath, you’re filthy as pigs.”

Lucas felt his face redden.

“I’ll get your bed ready for you in the mean time,” said Imogen.
“And I’ll do my best to consult what references I can,” said the old woman to Lucas, “And see if I can’t find mention of someone with your powers. The witch hunters did it through runes on their hands, that the Church had tattooed onto them. It was a strange practice that had the look of magic about it but seemed manufactured. I always suspected there was more technology than magic at work there.”

“Well, there aren’t any runes on me that I’m aware of,” said Lucas, “Thank you again. I’m very grateful.”

The old woman stood from her chair by the fire, her long black skirts swishing, “Yes yes, grateful and reverent and respectful and all that. Enough with the niceties, you boys go and wash the dirt off your faces. Leave your clothes outside the washroom, I’ll have them laundered for you by morning.”

And with that, Imogen ushered the two out of the living room.

She led them through a door on the far side of the kitchen, into a small room where candles were lit against the walls, and an old porcelain tub with feet on the bottom stood. “Throw your clothes out the door and I’ll pick them up in a moment,” said Imogen, and then she shut the door on them.

Lucas and Eric looked at one another bemusedly.

“Well, this is certainly an interesting turn of events,” said Lucas quietly.
“Yes,” Eric scratched the back of his head. “I’m glad to see that you’re safe, though.”

“How exactly did you end up with Bronwen, anyway?” asked Lucas, and then he began to peel his shirt off. He’d undressed in front of Eric plenty of times before in the palace, but there was something about the situation that made him feel embarrassed to do it now.

Eric walked over to the tub and turned on the faucet. Hot water cascaded down into the tub, and he pulled his own shirt over his head, revealing a thin frame, and just a little red hair below his naval that was roughly the same color as the hair topping his head. Lucas had never seen him without a shirt on. He found himself blushing slightly, and hoped Eric didn’t notice.

“Well,” Eric sighed, “I found out about the Archduke’s plan, and I left the palace, hoping to find you. I knew you’d been attacked at the border, and I knew you’d escaped, but I knew not much else.” Both Lucas and Eric had pulled their boots off and were undoing their belts and pulling their trousers down their sweaty legs. Lucas couldn’t help but notice Eric’s legs had a light dusting of darker red hair, almost brown.

“So what did you do?” He asked, as the two stood there in their underwear.

Eric crossed his arms, “Well, I headed to the border town on foot, I ran all night, and I… well, I collapsed near the Inn. I woke up inside, though, and Bronwen had found me, and rescued me. She knew who I was, or at least she recognized my clothes as having the sigil of Alexandria palace branded in. I hadn’t thought to change into something more discreet, and I’d traveled thirty miles wearing my clothing from the palace. She thought I might have something to do with situation, so she rescued me, and she was right. I did know you.”

“She’s quick, that one,” said Lucas. “But Hephaestian doesn’t know if we should trust her.”

“There’s something off about her, definitely,” said Eric, “But she seems trustworthy to me. She did save your life, and mine, after all.”

“Not to mention Hephaestian’s,” said Lucas.

“Yes,” replied Eric quietly, “Him too.”

“I don’t know if you’ve actually met him,” said Lucas.

“I’ve seen him, but never spoken to him. I know that he’s your friend from the Academy though. A soldier in training.”

“He just graduated a few weeks ago,” said Lucas.

There was a silence hanging in the air. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. An impatient voice called from the other side, “Clothing, please. I’d like to begin washing them before the sun rises.”

Eric looked back at Lucas and gave an embarassed smile. “Well, uh…”

Lucas rolled his eyes and in one motion whipped his underwear down to his ankles and stepped out of them. “Hurry up, she’ll turn is into toads or something if we don’t do what she says.”
“I heard that,” called the voice, “Witches do not turn people into toads… unless they deserve it.”

Eric’s face twisted into a look of supreme embarassment as he gingerly removed his underwear, and then bent over to pick up the pile of laundry, pulling Lucas’ shorts out of his hand, opening a crack in the door, and passing the clothes through. He shut it and Imogen could be heard shuffling away. He turned back to Lucas, still looking embarassed.

Lucas really tried not to look, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t think Eric noticed, but he’d seen his member between his legs, surrounded by a tuft of red hair. He heart beat a little faster. He coughed gently, and turned to walk over to the bathtub. It was nearly full. He turned off the faucet and stepped in.

The water was warm, refreshing, comforting. He wondered if maybe Imogen had somehow enchancted the water the way she had the tea. Lucas was suddenly aware of the scrapes and cuts and bruises he’d sustained all over his body, the hot water licking them a little painfully, but cleansing them.

Eric strode over, his hands modestly cupped between his legs. “Eric,” said Lucas, “You’ve seen me naked before, it’s not a big deal if I see you naked too.”

“It’s just an unusual circumstance… Lucas.” said Eric.

“You almost called me ‘sir,’ didn’t you?” Lucas smiled at him.

“I’m not entirely sure that I shouldn’t be calling you sir.” replied Eric.

“Eric, get in the bath.” Lucas pointed to the water. Eric sighed again and stepped in, sitting down on the opposite side. He relaxed visibly.

There was silence for a while. Lucas sat, enjoying the feeling of the water, closed his eyes and saw with his mind the flickering lights of the candles. He didn’t touch them, just felt their presence. Fire had a presence. It wasn’t like a living thing, but it was warm, and real.

Eric sloshed around and Lucas opened his eyes to see him reach over to a table by the tub and pulled a sponge and a bar of soap into the water. He lathered the sponge and started washing grime off his face. Lucas rolled his eyes, “You probably need some help,” he said and took the sponge from Eric’s hand, scooted close to him, and put a hand on Eric’s shoulder as the other rubbed the dirt gently from Eric’s nose and cheeks. Eric kept his eyes shut uncomfortably.

It was an odd moment. Lucas felt his heart quickening, and a tight, warm feeling in his chest. He found himself excited at what he was doing. He reached over to the table by the tub and took a small silver cup, dipped it in the water and ran it over Eric’s head. He did it again, and ran his fingers through Eric’s hair, feeling grass and dirt and grime in his soft red hair, and found himself greatly enjoying rinsing it out.

“Lucas?” Eric asked, and he wiped the water from his eyes and opened them.

“Yes?” Lucas responded, in a sheepish voice.

Eric looked beautiful to Lucas in the dim candlelight, his hair and his face dripping with water, his blue eyes sparkling in the dark. There was a somewhat confused expression on his face. “Are you… alright, Lucas?” asked Eric.

Lucas found himself scooting backward in the tub, and Eric put out a hand to touch Lucas’ arm gently. “No, you don’t have to go away. It’s just… well, you’re being awfully affectionate toward me, it seems.”

“I just…” Lucas looked down at the water. He found that he could see the dim outline of both he and Eric’s crossed legs under the water. “It’s been… a pretty scary couple of days for me. I’ve… been very afraid.”

“I understand,” said Eric, removing his hand from Lucas’s arm as Lucas scooted closer again.

Lucas looked up at Eric, and suddenly, without realizing it had happened, he found his eyes were burning and his vision was blurred. He shut his eyes tight. The tears burned against his dry skin.

“Oh, Lucas…” breathed Eric gently, and he leaned forward and put his arms around Lucas.

Lucas suddenly found that he was crying, and that he couldn’t stop. He leaned forward in Eric’s arms, and without any awkwardness their bodies seemed to move into position, and Eric stretched his legs out beneath Lucas, as Lucas rested his head against Eric’s shoulder and cried into his neck. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed, “I’ve just… I feel so… alone.”

Eric held Lucas firm and ran a wet hand through Lucas’s hair, “It’s alright. I’m here, okay?”

This seemed to make the tears comes faster. It was as though something in Lucas’s chest had broken and he couldn’t stop the tears now. He felt them run down his cheeks and gently drop into the water. He curled up closer to Eric, sitting fully on his lap and noticing somewhere in the back of his mind that he could feel Eric’s member somewhere beneath him, but primarily just feeling sad, and alone, and terrified. He wondered where Hephaestian was right now. He wondered if the Archduke was somewhere conferring with people on how to kill Lucas. He wondered who these strange women were who had offered him kindness. He wondered how his close servant and his only other friend in the world apart from Hephaestian had somehow ended up thrust into this situation, and he wondered if he’d endangered Hephaestian and Eric forever just by being in their presence.

Eric made a gentle noise. “Shhhh, it’s alright,” he whispered, “I’ve got you, okay?”

Lucas wrapped his arms around Eric and breathed deep. Eric reached over for the silver cup and filled it, and then poured warm water over Lucas’s head, into his dirty hair and down his face. He did it again, and started to run his fingers through Lucas’ hair the same way Lucas had done to him. It felt good. Lucas found himself relaxing. He realized suddenly that he had stopped crying, and he sniffed gently, keeping his eyes closed as Eric lathered up the sponge and washed Lucas’ face off the same way Lucas had done for him.

Eric rinsed Lucas’ face, and with a finger wiped away dirt from Lucas’ cheeks. Lucas opened his eyes.

Eric’s expression was one of deep concern, compassion, and something else Lucas couldn’t quite place. Was it affection? He suddenly realized where he was, how close they were, that Eric was holding him in his arms. He realized he was hard between his legs, and he liked being close to Eric.

Lucas leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to Eric’s.

He closed his eyes. Eric kissed him back. Their lips moved softly, gently against one another. Eric’s hand held the back of Lucas’ head. Lucas excitedly slipped his tongue through Eric’s lips, and the tip of Eric’s tongue touched Lucas’. Their lips slowed and gently remained touching one another, as they each breathed silently.

Lucas stretched himself out fully, and then wrapped his legs around Eric’s waist, feeling Eric’s stiff member pressing against his own. He gently kissed Eric again, and Eric seemed to be smiling as he kissed him back. Lucas wrapped his arms around Eric’s neck and pressed his nose against Eric’s cheek, relaxing in his arms as Eric ran the sponge over Lucas’ back.

He felt Eric’s hands moving across his body, washing him, cleaning him. He felt Eric’s warmth, the warmth of the water, and the gentle pulsing of Eric’s member against his own. Lucas sighed gently. He wanted to kiss Eric again, wanted to do a lot of things, but he suddenly noticed that he wasn’t entirely awake anymore. He thought about saying something to Eric, but his thoughts were lost amidst a haze of colors and thoughts that didn’t make much sense, and he felt Eric’s lips gently press against his neck in a soft kiss as he fell asleep in Eric’s arms.

Midnight

Eric’s eyes fluttered open. He sat up beneath the soft, silk sheet and the warm wool comforter spread out on the little futon bed. There was still a dim light from the candle the witches had lit in the corner of the room. He rubbed his eyes a moment and looked around for Lucas, finding him sitting in a chair next to the small table where the single candle burned. He was staring intently at the flame, as it grew larger and then shrunk down again. He was wearing only his pants, his clothes in a pile with Eric’s on the floor beside him, next to their packs.

Suddenly he seemed to notice Eric. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lucas said, “I guess the light woke you up.”

Eric scratched the back of his head and yawned, “Why haven’t you gone to sleep, Lucas?” he asked. Lucas had been sitting in that chair, fully clothed, when Eric had collapsed into the bed and fallen immediately asleep. “You haven’t moved from that spot, have you?”

Lucas smirked, “No, just been sitting here.”

“I suppose you like playing with the fire better when you’re naked,” Eric said teasingly.

Lucas closed his eyes and shook his head with a small smile on his lips, but when his eyes opened his face became serious and downcast again.

“Lucas, talk to me,” said Eric.

Lucas looked over at him, his green eyes wide. “I’m sorry, it’s just been… difficult.”

“I can imagine so,” said Eric, “Your life has been in jeopardy numerous times, from what you and Bronwen have both told me.”

Lucas sighed and crossed his arms in front of himself on the table, laying his chin down to rest between them and staring into the flame. It began to swirl around in small circles.

“You’re worried about your friend, Hephaestian, right?” asked Eric.

“Yes,” said Lucas gently.

“He and Bronwen are both strong fighters, I don’t think a few soldiers could cause them a problem. I’m sure Bronwen will find us soon.”

“Hephaestian told me not to trust her,” said Lucas, “And I did. Now Hepheastian could be hurt, or worse, because I didn’t listen.”

“What alternative did you have?” asked Eric.

The flame began to hover in the air above the candle wick, and Lucas moved his eyes along with it as the flame moved out into the room, becoming brighter, larger, and morphing into streams of fire that danced in a sphere.

“It must be nice,” said Eric.

Lucas suddenly looked up at Eric and the flame stopped dead in the middle of the air, a gentle fiery sphere, floating. “What must be nice?” he asked, “This power?”

“Maybe not that,” said Eric, “So much as that you’re able to do this in front of someone. I can imagine how lonely it was to play with all of those candle flames by yourself in your room, no one in the world knowing.”

Lucas cast his eyes down and held out his hand. The flaming sphere moved slowly across the room to hover above his palm, “Hephaestian knew,” said Lucas, “He was the only one I ever told. And now I’ve involved him in all this because of it.”

“I don’t think your power has anything to do with it,” said Eric, “He followed you into your caravan because he was your friend.”

“I know,” said Lucas, “I just can’t help feeling that I’m responsible for everything, even if it seems silly.”

“May I… offer a suggestion?” asked Eric timidly.

Lucas raised his eyebrows, the flame hovering above his hand.

Eric swallowed nervously and patted the spot next to him. “Come and get some rest.”

Lucas sighed, and with a sweeping motion of his hand set the candle back on it’s wick and it was nothing but a simple, small flame burning again. “You’re right, as usual,” said Lucas, standing up.

Eric had seen Lucas in various states of undress, but he always found it difficult to look away. With his shirt off and the light of the fire dancing against his bare skin, Eric found it difficult not to stare at Lucas’ lean stomach, or the hairs on his chest, around his nipples, and trailing down from his naval.

Lucas walked around the futon to his spot to the left of Eric and crawled into bed, laying his head back on the pillow laid out behind him and staring at the ceiling. Eric laid back too, on his side, staring past Lucas into the rest of the room, where various strange objects were stacked on shelves against the walls. He was making an effort not to stare.

“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do, Eric,” Lucas said quietly.

Eric timidly scooted closer to Lucas, his heart beginning to beat faster in his chest, and propped himself up on his elbow. “You don’t have to think about that right now,” he said gently, and Lucas looked up at him, his light brown hair falling into his eyes. Lucas absently brushed his hair away. Eric couldn’t help but smile. He found the gesture so endearing.

“Come here,” Eric said, and he held out his arms.

Lucas smiled and looked away, “Oh come on, Eric…”

“Just come here,” he replied, “It’ll make you feel better.”

Lucas kept a slight smile on his face as he gave a little defeated sigh and slipped forward into Eric’s arms, slipping an arm under Eric’s and nestling into Eric’s chest. His face, his chest, and his skin were warm and soft against Eric’s bare flesh. Eric held him close, placing a hand on the back of Lucas’s head and holding his head securely against his own chest.

There was silence.

Lucas took a deep breath and exhaled. His body was so warm, his breath was warm, and as he felt a wet warmth against his chest, Eric looked down to see that Lucas was crying gently, without making any sound.

“Lucas…” he said, concerned.

“I’m sorry,” Lucas said, “It’s just that no one has ever held me like this. I’ve never been close to anyone before… in many ways.”

Eric put a hand under Lucas’s chin and gently tilted his head up to look into his own eyes. He smiled down at Lucas. “I promise, Lucas, I’ll stay by you. I may not be a warrior, but I’ll protect you the best I can.” Eric leaned down and kissed a tear sliding down Lucas’s cheek, and then as Lucas closed his eyes, he kissed both Lucas’s eyelids.

Eric pulled back but Lucas reached a hand up to touch Eric’s cheek gently, and he opened his eyes to stare directly into Eric’s. His green eyes were sparkling with tears. The expression on his face seemed to be one of wonderment, or speechlessness. It was difficult to tell. Suddenly he leaned forward and touched his nose to Eric’s closing his eyes.

Eric breathed, his heart pounding. He closed his eyes too, and felt Lucas’s gentle breath touching his face. Between his legs he was completely solid, and as close as Lucas’s body was to his own, he could feel Lucas pressing against his thigh.

Lucas’ lips touched Eric’s gently, and with a hand behind Eric’s head, he kissed him deeply. Their lips stayed together for a long moment, Eric’s heart pounding and his head swimming, and when they parted, Eric went in for another and kissed Lucas quickly.

He opened his eyes. Lucas looked down, his face going red. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t know-”

“Shh,” whispered Eric, “Don’t be sorry. I liked it.”

Lucas glanced up at Eric, a gentle smile on his face. “Can I do it again?”

Eric gave a little chuckle. “Sure.”

Lucas leaned up and more boldly he kissed Eric again, their lips meeting, and Lucas slipped his tongue slightly into Eric’s mouth, Eric touching Lucas’ tongue with his own, and they parted again. Lucas buried his face in Eric’s chest and held on to him tightly. Eric placed a hand on the back of Lucas’ head and ran his fingers through Lucas’ soft hair.

He laid back, holding Lucas closed, and let his fingers trail down Lucas’ back, to which Lucas responded with a gentle moan. “Does that feel good?” Eric asked with a smile. Lucas made a groan of agreement, “Please don’t stop,” he asked. Eric ran his fingers again up the length of Lucas’ spine, and Lucas let out another gentle moan of contentment.

“It’s alright,” whispered Eric, “I’m here,” and he held Lucas close and tight. His heart was soaring. Lucas’ hand sudenly reached up and made a flicking gesture, and the flame in the candle on the table went out instantly, and the two were surrounded by darkness.

Eric held Lucas close as his head began to swim not only with joy but exhaustion, and within minutes he realized, as Lucas’ breathing became a slow, steady rhythm, that he’d fallen asleep in his arms. Eric smiled and leaned down, kissing Lucas on the forehead, then on his cheek, and giving him a gentle kiss on his lips while he slept. In his sleep, Lucas’ lips moved slightly to return the kiss and he gave a sleepy moan. Eric laid his head back on his pillow, holding Lucas close, and for the first time in days, he had absolutely nothing in his head, his mind was blank, and his heart was full. He closed his eyes, and bathed in the warmth of Lucas’ body and the tingling on the back of his neck and all over, Eric fell gently into sleep.