Summary: The night before the final battle, Phelios, Duzell, and Rishas stumble upon each other. Their meeting is the impetus for events that no one could have ever predicted. Warnings for slash: D/P, D/R, and a bit of P/R
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters.
Phelios followed the maze, marveling at the huge irises in full bloom under the moonlight. They were astonishingly beautiful. In fact, the entire garden was astonishingly beautiful. It was full of the smell of rich and earth and life. He inhaled, exhaled, and, seized by a sudden childish desire, dashed down the leafy aisles to the centre of the maze, only to stop at the sight of what lay in its heart.
There was a splendid marble fountain carved in the same gothic style like that of the garden gates. Fireflies zipped in between the water spouts, illuminating the fountain and its owner.
"Rishas," the Vampire King murmured, half to himself, "Rishas, do you…do you think humans can…"
Phelios stared at the vulnerable back of his nemesis for a moment, but then answered with a smile. "Well, I'm not Rishas, but if it's a question about humans, I could try and answer you."
Duzell turned his head slightly, so Phelios could see the smile on his lips. "What are you doing in my garden, Phelios?"
The blonde's eyes widened in astonishment. "This is your garden?"
He rose and faced Phelios, the smile a little unkind now. "As I remember, there are gates around this place to keep humans out."
Phelios thought carefully. "There are gates…they were beautiful once, but they're rotting now."
Duzell looked surprised at this. "Ah, time passes differently for you humans. What do you want?"
It was Phelios's turn to look surprised. "Nothing! I couldn't sleep tonight, and the moon was beautiful." He raised his head, basking in the silver light as much as he would the gold light come morn. "And I saw the gates. I didn't know there were still people alive who could make craft like that."
"There aren't," Duzell replied bluntly. "The makers are long gone. Life for you humans is so fleeting, so fragile." Phelios wasn't sure, but he thought he detected a bit of envy in Duzell's voice.
As the conversation wore on, Rishas was weaving his way through the Duzell's maze. Not for the first time he wished his king would pick a more accessible place. It wasn't as if their entire court didn't know they were sleeping together. As he got nearer, he heard voices, and froze in place.
"Us humans? Duzell, are we that different? You're faeriefolk."
"I renounced that right at least a millennia ago," came his king's uncaring voice. He heard the familiar-but-not-yet-identifiable voice gasp.
"Yes, a millennia, at least." Rishas could see the shimmer of Duzell's hair as he tossed his head. "Now do you see how different we are, Phelios?"
Alarm bells were going off in Rishas's head. Was that not the king of the human forces! Duzell didn't seem to be alarmed at all, however. Rishas crept closer, till he could see the two kings.
Duzell sighed irritably. "Where is Rishas?" At the mention of his name the vampire blushed guiltily. "He was supposed to come help me bathe. I'll just have to make do without him." He glanced at the pleasantly smiling human standing opposite him. "Come if you want."
Phelios inclined his head politely, and followed the sweep of black robes that was Duzell. Rishas blanched at the sight. He knew the young human was too innocent to ever suspect anything, but he also knew his king. It would not be beyond Duzell to seduce the youth.
"What did you intend to ask Rishas about humans?" Phelios asked.
Duzell bowed his head a little, as if in thought. "I know a human's answer to that question. I wanted a vampire's answer." They had reached the waterfall which Duzell and Rishas bathed in every night. Personally, Rishas thought it was the best invention the ancient humans had made. Spring water poured down continuously, but if a knob was turned, the underground boiler would heat the water.
Duzell unfastened the pin of his cloak, and let the robes drop. He was barefoot, and only wore black trousers, which he quickly shed. Rishas watched his king with an appreciative eye. The years could never diminish King Duzell's beauty. Duzell stepped under the waterfall, resting against the rock as a hand sought the knob to turn on the boiler.
Phelios looked startled as Duzell stripped rather matter-of-factly before him, but recovered quickly. Surely as a page and squire, he'd seen his fair share of naked men, although none of them could ever measure up to the vampire before him.
"Ask me a question for a human, then," he said over the noise of the waterfall.
"When I traveled freely amongst humans I asked all the questions I wanted," Duzell answered. He unscrewed the bottle of shampoo and began working it into his mane of silver hair, bit by bit.
"Was this the same time you had men make the garden gates for you?"
"During then, and for a little while after," Duzell agreed. He still wasn't sure why he was taking time out to talk to this human king. He wasn't much more than a child, barely into his twenties. His youth and innocence showed in his face. "Where is Rishas," he muttered, frowning a bit. He washed the shampoo out of his hair and began soaping his body.
"Then those answers are at least three hundred years old. So you must need an updated answer."
Blinking water out of his eyes, Duzell looked at Phelios in disbelief. This kid wanted to play twenty questions before he died on the morrow?
Phelios lay down on the grass, spread-eagled. He stared up at the night sky with a beatific smile on his face. He appeared to be waiting for Duzell's question.
"People may have changed, Phelios, but not their problems. And definitely not the responses to their problems." Duzell snorted delicately at that memory. But suddenly a thought struck him.
"Phelios. I have your question." The human king sat up, and inclined his head questioningly at Duzell. "Think you vampires can love?"
From the stunned expression on Phelios's face, it was clear he wasn't expecting that. Rishas wasn't expecting anything like that either. He wondered at the question Duzell was going to ask him.
An adorable expression of concentration formed on Phelios's gentle face as he thought the question over. From time to time he looked up at the Vampire King, only to have Duzell meet his gaze evenly. Duzell's water-slicked skin only emphasized the long, lean lines of the king's body. He washed his underarms and the back of his neck. He touched his chest, then let his hands rest on his abdomen. He turned his head, sprinkling Phelios with slightly scented water.
"Well, Phelios? Think you my marionettes can love?"
"Yes, my marionettes." Duzell's smile was cruel, but no less beautiful. He closed his eyes, letting the hot water wash over him. "My beautiful, doomed marionettes. They cannot think for themselves. Why else would they follow me to war against you humans? Don't you think they know your blood is our water?" At the beginnings of a snarl, Duzell bared his teeth, but turned away almost as quickly.
"They follow me because they cannot live without me. They follow me because they are shadows of me, avatars in which I have poured my power into, marionettes for whom I pull the strings." He tossed his head proudly, running his hands through his untangled length of silver hair.
"Even Rishas?" Phelios asked.
Duzell did not look at him, but merely continued to play with his hair. Rishas squirmed in his hiding place. He did not want to hear his king speak about him. In truth, he was frightened of what Duzell might say. His king was an imperialistic bastard at times, but Rishas cared very much for Duzell. It was almost too easy for Duzell to hurt him at times.
"He is my most loyal and faithful servant," Duzell finally replied. "He was the only one who dared question me about my decision to start this war. Time and again he tried to sway me, using the knowledge he had gleaned from me, and the knowledge he had gleaned from his time among you humans. But he finally submitted to my will."
"You are lucky to have him," Phelios said, "a servant loyal to you not out of duty, but out of love."
Duzell smiled mysteriously. "So my marionettes can love?"
Phelios frowned, and said slowly, "I said Rishas, not your marionettes. He is your servant, is he not?"
Duzell threw his head back and laughed. He didn't stop laughing while he turned another knob which drained the dirty water away from the shallow pool. He stepped out and wrapped himself in a towel.
Suddenly he sobered, and sank down on the grass next to Phelios. The short towel was wrapped about his hips, while his long, wet hair covered his slender chest and back.
"I would end this war for him," Duzell whispered, looking miserable. A miserable Duzell was a downright heartrending sight. "And I would win this war for him."
Phelios smiled, reaching out to tug a damp lock of silver hair. "If your marionettes are your shadows, then they must all feel like you do. Then they must all love like you do. Except Rishas, I think."
The Vampire King blinked in confusion. "Methinks Rishas doesn't care half as much for himself as he does somebody else," Phelios explained.
Duzell looked away, his red eyes fathomless.
Phelios smiled and chuckled a little. "Sometimes I wish humans would be like that too. I wish they could all feel that strongly about someone. Perhaps we wouldn't have so many wars that way. The men loyal to me are only united because of the threat you pose, Duzell. If you hadn't started this war, we humans would have started down the road of self-extinction. Methinks we're quite far gone already."
"If I stopped the war," Duzell whispered, "would you too?"
Phelios bit his lip as he thought. "I would try as hard as I could. But these men are scared of you now. They would kill you out of fear, and call it self- preservation." He sighed. "This war should never have been started in the first place, Duzell. What were you thinking?"
Duzell smiled a bit. "I wasn't." He pulled on his trousers, then lay down on the grass. A moment later, Phelios sank down beside him. "I was bored," he admitted.
The young king turned and stared at disbelief. "You would risk everything out of boredom?!"
"Humans," Duzell dismissed his response contemptuously. "You call living fifty years a miracle. I call that the blink of an eye. These lives mean nothing to me."
"No one but Rishas," Phelios said sadly. Rishas thought he heard a bit of envy in the human king's voice.
"Phelios, I'm not bound by morals or a conscience, like you are. I'm not even bound by reason." He let out a howl of laughter. "All I can say that this war isn't half the bore I thought it'd be."
"Does Rishas enjoy it as much as you do?"
Duzell frowned. "Rishas this, Rishas that- why do you keep bringing him up? If you must know, he's got more conscience than he can handle and occasionally tries to inspire some decency in me. He tries ever so hard."
"I can see he hasn't succeeded," Phelios said wryly.
Rishas had a hard time trying to stifle his laughter at that particular comeback. Duzell was slightly nonplussed, that this human youngling was talking back to him. Then he sighed.
"We are so different," he murmured.
Phelios tugged on the silver lock of hair he still held. He smiled brightly, with all the youth and innocence of the boy he was. "Methinks Rishas figured that out long ago."
"Do you know him, or something?" Duzell demanded irritably.
The blond king laughed. "No, we just seem very much alike to me."
Duzell looked at him pensively. "Should you see him, thank him," he told Phelios. "That might be the only reason why you aren't dead yet."
Instead of being insulted, or even fearful, Phelios smiled, and nodded in agreement. He looked a little apprehensively at Duzell, but moved tentatively closer anyways. Duzell turned his head and let their lips meet.
In his hiding place, Rishas looked away. A part of him wanted to run in there and rip Phelios away from Duzell, using his humanity as an excuse, but that was a very small part. From his first encounters with humans, Rishas had always thought humans and vampires were very much unalike. But tonight, hearing the conversation between Phelios and Duzell, made him realize Phelios was right to say that he and the human were very similar. He wouldn't, couldn't, begrudge Phelios Duzell this night. He stood and walked back to the heart of the maze.
Duzell broke the kiss, and cocked his head inquiringly at Phelios. The red eyes were unreadable, and his face was impassive. "I have Rishas," he whispered.
Phelios looked mortified. "My wife is pregnant with my child," he whispered back. Duzell was astonished that his fidelity to Rishas would mean this much to him. He had never once been tempted by his marionettes.
Phelios thought of Anne, whom he'd known his entire life. They were both determined to make the best of their marriage, even if the feelings that lay between them were more brotherly and sisterly than anything. He had never thought of finding another lover, although Anne would never mind. But the first time he'd seen Duzell, cruel and haughty and spattered with human blood, he'd been awestruck.
"Rishas," Duzell murmured, staring into Phelios's sea-blue eyes.
"Anne," was the word on Phelios's lips as they met Duzell's again. Duzell deepened their kiss, parting his lips and allowing a soft moan to escape. Phelios slid his tongue in, tasting every bit of the vampire's mouth. He pressed against the twin points ever so slightly, and was surprised to taste a familiar coppery tang. His eyes opened to face red, cat- slit ones. Duzell gently drew his mouth away, and slowly, ever so slowly, the cat-slit pupils became normal again, although they never once left Phelios's face.
"Now I know what a king tastes like," Duzell said with smile.
"Would you like to taste some more?" Phelios asked with a bravado that astonished even himself.
Duzell looked startled, and then began to laugh. After a moment, Phelios joined in.
The Vampire King stopped laughing first, although levity remained in his eyes. "I would," he answered Phelios's earlier question.
The blond youth froze. He began to chuckle again, and drew Duzell nearer, baring his neck to the vampire. Duzell's teeth were so sharp Phelios never even felt them sink in.
The next moment Duzell removed his teeth from Phelios's neck, and licked the wound they had left. Phelios shivered at the intimacy he had never experienced at the hands of his wife. When their mouths met again Phelios tasted blood, and knew it was his. Their kisses became more frantic and passionate, and Phelios felt Duzell's fingers fumble at the clasp of his armor.
"I…never…" he murmured, lips mashed against Duzell's.
The Vampire King straddled him, and flung the piece of armor harmlessly away. Now those same fingers began to undo shirt buttons. "I'll be nice," Duzell breathed into Phelios's ear, before leaving a wet line of kisses down his neck.
Phelios dug his nails into Duzell's biceps as the vampire drove into him. With a gasp at the feeling, his face flushed with color. Duzell laughed and kissed him. "Rishas always blushes," he said kindly.
When he came first under Duzell's hand, his body sagged before tensing again, feeling an unfamiliar warmth spread about his insides.
"Ah!" he cried. His blue eyes were wide. Duzell kissed him again. "I'm glad I got to be the one to open your eyes," he told him cheekily.
"Ha!" he exclaimed with a sharp bark of laughter. He shoved Duzell off him, and pinned him down with his own body. His kisses were longer and more arousing. He caressed the side of Duzell's face, and the vampire nuzzled into his hand like a cat. He smiled shyly. "Anne only leans into my hand."
Phelios took his time to work Duzell's body into a state of arousal. Whenever it seemed Duzell's attention might be wandering, a chance touch snapped him back to attention.
"Beginner's luck!" Phelios laughed at the scowl on Duzell's face. He interlaced their fingers and kissed him just as he slipped in.
Phelios felt the longer, leaner body buck under his administrations. Duzell tossed his head from side to side, pinned down by Phelios, and let his silver hair cling to their sweaty skin.
This time they came together, and Phelios flopped down to fit in the curve of Duzell's arm. The moon looking down on both of them was at her zenith.
"I'll speak to the rest of the army once I get back," Phelios told him.
"That's all very well, but now I have to bathe again!"
They laughed. Slowly, because they were tired, they began to dress. Duzell nodded once to Phelios, and the blond king raised his hand in farewell.
Following the maze back, Phelios came upon a figure on a bench. He seemed to be dozing. Phelios shook him lightly on the shoulder to wake him up.
"Excuse me," he began politely, "but this is a vampire's garden. I don't think you're safe here."
"There are more dangers than just physical ones, Your Majesty." Surprised blue eyes met liquid brown ones.
"Rishas?" Phelios ventured tentatively.
The vampire smiled. "The very one. Would you like to sit?"
Phelios did so, more than slightly nonplussed. "I spoke with your king. He was looking for you."
Rishas smiled kindly at him. "You don't need to be so wary. I saw the two of you just now, so I didn't want to interrupt."
Phelios blushed, then looked absolutely stricken. He laid a hand on his shoulder, and began babbling, "Rishas, I'm so sorry! Please, I-"
A soft finger was laid on his lips. "Thank you for trying to stop the war," he said, looking straight ahead with a gentle smile. "Although I doubt you will be successful, but thank you for trying.
"I would serve my king in his next life, too. Even though I don't think he would find me as necessary if he found someone to love."
Phelios was startled. But Rishas, with his gentle smile and beautiful brown eyes, was looking directly at him. "Do me a favor, Your Majesty. End this war. No matter what the cost. I…am really not of much use. I am the closest he can find to an equal from among these. This soul, this heart that I have, is still born out of his. I will never be free of him, even if I wished to be so."
"Rishas, don't lower yourself like this!"
The brunette's gaze was steady. "I won't fight my fate," he said. "He might have caused me much pain, but he made me, and for that I am ever grateful. Do you understand? What he has given me?"
Phelios looked into the vampire's face. He bent his head, and touched his lips to Rishas's, just a brotherly brush. "He knows nothing of this," Phelios whispered. "I don't think he ever meant to cause you pain."
Rishas laughed. His laugh was different from Anne's, Duzell's and his own. It was like the tinkle of a wind chime, and oh so sad. "The day he realizes that is the day he finally understands what love is."
At that moment Phelios understood just how alien Duzell was.
"You should go," Rishas was saying. "Dawn will be break soon."
"I will try and end it peacefully," he promised.
The brunette smiled and stood with the grace of a tiger. "Thank you for making a promise you can keep. Good day, Your Majesty." With a polite inclination of the head, Rishas walked past him, back into the depths of the maze.
When he reached his camp, Phelios called for a meeting.
"I've been thinking the whole night," he told his generals. "I want to negotiate."
They gave out a snort of laughter. "Do you really think those creatures will listen? They're proud, have too much power, and depend on human blood to get it! Listen to yourself, My Liege!"
He argued with them the whole morning. Many of his generals thought he had gone off his rocker during the night before. Finally his uncle, the Lord of La Naan, drew him aside.
"What is the real matter behind this?" he asked frankly. "Did some vampiress enchant you last night?"
Phelios sighed in exasperation. "Uncle, Anne's at home with child. I wouldn't let a vampiress distract me when she needs me so." He looked far away as he struggled to come up with an adequate reason. "We lived in peace once before," he said at last. "I don't see why we can't once more!"
The Lord laughed. "Is that all?" he wheezed. "Phelios, my lad, war is not something to feel remorseful about, especially not with undead creatures!" he turned to his brethren. "Prepare to march!" he roared.
Unseen by the rest, Phelios buried his face in his hands.
In the vampire camp, Duzell in his pavilion heard the human war cry.
"So they march," he said with a secretive smile about his lips.
"So he failed," Rishas murmured so softly that none other but Duzell could hear. At his words red eyes widened.
"You spoke to him?" he demanded.
"I met him on the way out, My Lord. He told me of his plans."
Duzell stared piercingly at Rishas for several moments. His hooded eyes betrayed nothing. Eventually Duzell turned away. "To arms!" he called, his voice ringing in the ears of his marionettes.
On a plain that was once grassy, the two armies faced each other. The living rode living horses, while the undead rode undead ones. Phelios rode at the head of his army, and he could just make out two figures riding side by side before the vampire army: one with brown hair, and another with silver.
"Give me that," he commanded a foot soldier, pointing at the banner of Pheliosta. "No one moves until I give the order," he enunciated clearly so every one of his subordinates could hear. With that he nudged his horse towards the direction of the other army. He ignored the protests of his generals. He saw the two figures begin trotting to meet him in the midway between both armies.
"I tried to stop it," he said once they were within earshot.
"But so it continues, regardless," Duzell announced with no sign of grief. "I would win it, Phelios," he continued. The vulnerability he displayed last night seemed to have vanished.
"You don't seem too burdened by that," he noted.
"The second choice it is, King Phelios!" he crowed. Tossing his head back he laughed. Rishas, by his side, was as calm as he had ever been.
"Your Majesty," he said politely. "We will see you on the field." They wheeled their horses as Phelios sat there astride his horse, watching them.
Suddenly a bolt shot out of the vampire army. Perhaps the projectile was aiming for him, but it never reached. Instead it speared Rishas off his horse and bade him trapped on the ground. Before he knew what he was thinking, Phelios spurred his horse towards the fallen vampire.
He flung himself off his horse, to kneel by the brunette's side. Duzell had dismounted, but was standing above Rishas, rigid.
"How alike you are," Duzell remarked to no one in particular. "He wouldn't let me trick you into having you killed. And now you care for your fallen enemy. I would think you'd be glad that you have one less vampire to deal with."
Rishas gave Phelios a last gentle smile before expiring.
"Duzell, he was right. Rishas might have had your heart and your soul, but he had a human conscience."
"How much better do you think humans are than vampires? You kill yourselves for no reason at all!"
The irony didn't escape Phelios.
"I did hope you'd remember Rishas, and how much he cared. We will find each other again someday, Duzell, when you have learned to love."
Phelios hauled himself into saddle, stood in his stirrups and drew his sword in one smooth motion.
"Treachery!" he screamed all across the battlefield. "Treachery!" he faced Duzell with wide blue eyes, Rishas's body lying between their mounts. Duzell smiled back calmly.
"I never understood why Rishas placed so much sentimental affection on things that would perish so soon. Like you."
He drew his sword and charged straight at Phelios. "CHARGE!" Both kings thundered as their swords met. Hoof beats of a thousand horses shook the ground as twin armies poured into the shallow valley and met with a deafening clash.
For hours the two kings fought, and none dared interfere. All around, the battle waged. Their steeds were long dead of wounds, if not exhaustion. Blood marred Phelios's golden face, and marked his arms and chest. Duzell's leg was torn, but other than that he remained untouched. Both kings were weakening, physically and mentally. Sorcery had been a big part of their battle, too.
Phelios closed his eyes momentarily, knowing he wouldn't last much longer. Duzell, although waning, was still more than a match for him. He looked at the undead king, down on one knee, catching a breather. Duzell caught the end of Phelios's glance with a cruel smile.
With a deep breath, Phelios raised his sword and began his last spell. With a shock Duzell recognized the La Gamme spell.
"That spell will destroy us both! You're willing to sacrifice yourself?" Infuriated beyond reason, Duzell bared at his teeth at the blond youth as he tried to stand. "Then what is the point of victory?!!!"
Phelios just smiled. Someday you'll understand, he thought. You'll understand that this was the best way, the only way things could turn out.
Duzell felt the spell grip him. He tried to tear himself away from its binds, but he couldn't. So he was enormously, tremendously, exceptionally pissed.
"After a century of darkness, your soul will live again in the body of one of your descendants. At that time, I will also be reborn. And when we meet…I will drain your blood, tear your body limb from limb, and laugh while your soul writhes, condemned for eternity to a lake of fire."
His remaining power flashed through the spell of La Gamme, but whether it hit Phelios, Duzell didn't see.
Phelios was fading quickly, too.
"After a century of darkness, your soul will live again in the body of one of your descendants. At that time, I will also be reborn. And when we meet again…"
Darkness blurred his vision and hearing.
"After a century…I'll be waiting, Duzell. I'll be waiting, to see you again."