Life Crusades

Chapter Twenty-Three


"Nice turn out tonight!" Sirius clapped a hand to his best mate's shoulder.

"Their stubbornness is surprising," Lucius remarked, eyes scanning over Remus' shoulder to make sure the hand of his husband hadn't lingered.

"They are powerless now and know it," Rodolphus returned. "These attacks are the last efforts."

"Bound to end soon!" Arthur enthused.

"After Fred's performance, I'd be surprised to hear otherwise. A scary myth has now been created. Of monsters and blood…"

Fred shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. "George is going to kill me."

"He definitely would have wanted in on that horror," Sirius agreed with a nod.

"His performance wouldn't have been half as bloody as yours," Lucius pointed out, giving the younger Ukatae a sage look.

"Lucius is right. You've been worked up, son," Arthur said.

"You couldn't wait to release that tension," Rodolphus added with his brother nodding beside him. "The Commander hasn't returned yet?"

Fred grinned. "This has been fun, blokes, but I have a future engagement at the Wizards' Den… with younger people."

"What's wrong with us?" Sirius demanded. "Are you calling us old?"

Fred looked around at the Ukatae facing him and he felt his grin turn real, felt it reach his eyes as he took in most of their indignant expressions. Especially the Slytherins. All three of them. Didn't like being called old, did they? Merlin forbid they should grow old and wiser. He wondered if he could risk a joke along those lines with Lucius…. Probably not without getting his wings dissected from his body afterwards.

"Course I'm not," he quickly said, edging away from the ice sculpture known as Lucius Malfoy. "You're not old! Look at you!" He waved a hand, indicating their various features of youthfulness. Even Remus now was slowly de-aging as he and Tonks had been taking the potion for weeks now, having no regrets or complaints about it either. And his father… it was still a little bizarre to look at his father and see a younger man…elf. Arthur's hair had even grown back.

He didn't hang around after that, even when they looked ready to drop it. He was sure they would go back to the first topic so he immediately Shadowed to the Wizards' Den Apparition Room. He wanted to maybe try and distract himself from missing his mate. He was still annoyed with Falde, but mostly he just missed him and wanted him to return from the impromptu mission so he could hold out on the sex for an hour longer than he could stand. Falde could stand eternity without sex apparently, so Fred would have to cock block himself to punish Falde…to be honest, he wasn't foolish enough to think Falde would stand for that.

"Dirk," he greeted as he slid onto a stool at the deserted bar where Dirk was spending time hand drying cups with a clean white cloth. He raised a hand, turned it sideways and extended the pointer and middle finger. Looking round, the club looked in pristine condition. All it lacked now were the customers.

Dirk grinned at the signal and nodded a hello before immediately going on to fix Fred a drink. "Fred or George?"


Dirk shook his head. "Fred then." Fred grinned. "Back again already? Didn't think I'd be seeing you for a while after last night."

"I'm on sabbatical."

"So," Dirk started casually, "your friend… the one you brought last night…"

Fred laughed. "Don't be coy. You know who he is." There weren't many Quidditch fans who didn't know who Oliver Wood was these days. And it wasn't as if Ollie never frequented the Wizards' Den.


"And? I think you caught his looks last night. Pumping me for information is not necessary. He'd be agreeable."

"I can never be sure with you lot," Dirk pointed out as he slid Fred's drink in front of him. "And he's a bit of a celebrity, isn't he."

Fred shrugged. "Nothing's changed about him at all since he went pro. It's why he comes back here, back home as often as he can."

"A little more help?"

"He's available, looking, aaaaannnd…" Fred trailed off, drawing out the best part, "he's meeting me here again tonight!"

Dirk didn't say anything to that. But he did grin as he turned away to begin another pre busy crowd chore.

Fred remained at the bar until Oliver arrived. Oliver started to do the eye dancing thing immediately. His eyes would go to Fred but only stay there until Dirk was turned away, and then they'd stay for as long as the bartender was looking elsewhere, and then back they would go to Fred. When Dirk finally came back to ask what Oliver wanted to drink, eye contact was made and not broken until Dirk had made the drink and Fred began to drag Oliver over to a table.

It was a relief to see Oliver so interested in another bloke. He still felt bad for how and why things didn't work between them. But he'd also done the right thing. They were better off friends. Thankfully Oliver seemed to realize this immediately after their breakup. And now the Quidditch player was eyeing the bartender with very keen interest.

Though apparently Dirk wasn't doing a well enough job drawing Oliver's attention tonight.

"What are you doing here?" Oliver demanded.

Fred frowned over his glass at the questioner of stupid questions. "Isn't it obvious?"

Oliver frowned back and leaned over the table. "Again, Fred. You were here last night too."

"I'm not allowed to come hang out in the mortal world anymore or something?"

"You didn't go home last night. The night before either."

"We never got to the point where that was ever your business, Wood."

That hurt. It was meant to hurt and Oliver knew it. To get him to drop the topic. Too bad he wasn't in the mind to play along this time. "And you've been in a shite mood," he retorted before sitting back. "Your warrior god not back yet?"

Fred tried to resist the winning grin on Oliver's face. Prat. "Why don't you get off me and go talk up Dirk already? You've been eyeing him. Yesterday and the last time we were here too. Never known you to be this bashful, Ollie."

It was worth it seeing Oliver lose his cool, and his grasp on the conversation slipped when his eyes darted over to the main bar and then quickly back to Fred, who was openly grinning now. Oliver cleared his throat and pretended to be thoroughly involved with his drink. Finally he lifted his eyes. "He's sorta fit."

Fred nodded, still grinning. "Yeah, sorta."

Oliver turned his head, eyes fixated on the main bar again. "Actually… really fit. He's really fit."


Fred relaxed back, enjoyed the lack of questions, and let his eyes wander while Oliver was distracted. Finally he set his drink aside and cleared his throat so Oliver would quit it with the stealthy looks at Dirk- who was doing the same thing to the Quidditch pro when the wanker wasn't looking- and pay attention to him again.

"Kaego's up the duff, you know."

"Your brother-in-law? The Royal healer, yeah?"

Fred nodded and his eyes narrowed slightly. "Falde thought I would give Kaego a prank product to eat when he's pregnant. Something that might hurt the babies. I can understand Vendyl's paranoia, but Falde…does he really think I'm that stupid? Immature? Where's the fucking trust, Ollie, huh?"

"Did you ask him?"

Fred's narrowed look got darker. "He has to be around for me to ask him anything."


Fred rolled his eyes and sat back with another huff. "Whatever."

Oliver grinned and lightly kicked his leg. "You miss him."

"I miss his gigantic cock," he mumbled.

"You don't compare me to him do you?"

Fred snickered. The question was tossed as if it had been on the tip of Oliver's tongue for a while now. "I don't compare anyone to him. That wouldn't be very fair."


"You have nothing to worry about, Ollie. Trust me."

"Blokes doing alright?"

The two broke eye contact and turned to Dirk, who was standing beside their table. It wasn't a common thing for Dirk to do the rounds himself. He was the boss. He ordered others to do it. Dirk liked staying behind the main bar and running things from there, so clearly this was a special occasion.

Fred scooted to the edge of his seat. "Perfect timing, Dirk. My mate here could use another drink, your Floo address, and probably a blowjob at the end of the night."

"Will two out of three get me a guaranteed Floo call?"

Oliver launched to his feet. "Yes!"

Dirk gave Oliver a crooked smile and turned around to go back to the bar. Fred let Ollie watch Dirk walk away before speaking again. "You're welcome."

Oliver dropped back into his seat, looking exceedingly pleased with Fred. "Cheers, mate."

"Which two do you think he was talking about?"

"The proper two," Oliver replied, rolling his eyes.

Fred tisked. "Where's the fun in that?"

"Your god obviously lets you misbehave."

A Cheshire style grin appeared across the redhead's face. "To be honest, he's tremendously encouraging."

"Merlin," Oliver muttered, shaking his head and easily reading into that. "He feeds into your kinks."

"You're just a prude."

"I'm not. Tried that daydream charm product of yours, didn't I?"

"And it was fun, wasn't it?"


It had been fun but it still wasn't Oliver's thing. Ollie had a healthy sexual appetite just like any bloke his age, but he wasn't as open as Fred was to things. Fred suspected if their relationship had gone on longer than it did, things would have begun to get awkward. It was a good thing he'd seen sense when he did.

"Fred, go. You don't want to be here anymore."

Fred turned and blinked his eyes to clear them. They zeroed in on Oliver, who was watching him closely. "Not really."

"Go home. Go find George and Similae and then go and attack some rogue evil elves."

He laughed. "K, I'll go. But only after I'm sure you get Dirk's Floo address."

Soon the new drinks were delivered. Not by Dirk though. It was a smirking waitress. "Boss says it's on the house."

"And where'd he get to?"

"Took off. Says he was going home for the night. Says he hopes to get some company," the witch replied, handing out a scrap of parchment.

Oliver stood and grabbed his drink. He drank half of it before putting it on the table and grabbing the piece of parchment with Dirk's information on it. The witch winked at him before sauntering off.

"If you don't shag tonight I will be very disappointed in you," Fred said as he stood too. He might as well leave. "He's just given you a clear signal."

Oliver said nothing to this. Not until they were back outside in the night air. Then he stopped when they were enough away from the larger group of people and turned to his friend. "You've made it about me most of the night."

"We talked about me some."

"Look, Fred… I know it must be really hard for you—for all of you."

"Don't start that. You aren't any good at it."

Oliver shifted awkwardly and looked away. "Doesn't mean I don't know what's going on. You're still fighting a war and your mate-"

"Is capable of handling anything that comes at him," Fred finished lowly, getting annoyed with Oliver for bringing this back to the forefront of his mind. "I'm going. Have fun with Dirk."

He left Oliver standing there and Shadowed to Malfoy Manor. From there he used the portal to transport back to the palace, which felt so empty now with so many of the Family gone. Not to mention the hour. It was very late. Fred went straight to Falde's flat and once inside, he didn't bother with the main lighting and instead walked through the rooms with only the softest dimmest of lights on in the background provided by the vines growing throughout the place.

In the bedroom he hovered next to his bedside table where he left the missives from Falde. The warrior hadn't lied. He sent word to Fred as soon as he got to where he was going. Short letters, not a word said about what had happened the last time they spoke or about what he was currently doing, but the messages came every day. Fred dropped four unopened missives on top of the opened two which had been received before he visited the mortal world.

Instead of pulling his hand away, his fingers curled angrily; crushing the letters. Fred gasped and relaxed his hand. He took a shaky step back and squeezed his eyes closed. A wave of sorrow washed over him unexpectedly. He made it to the doorway before he had to sit down. He kept his eyes closed. They were stinging and he knew what would happen if they reopened.

This place felt like Falde's. Fred didn't feel like he belonged there. Without Falde, it felt pointless and he felt stupid for even feeling like this in the first place since he knew Falde would come back the moment he could.

The chime for the front door went off. Fred groaned and tossed his head back, finally opening his eyes; blue darkened and wet. He was going to ignore whoever it was. He wanted no one to see him like this. When five minutes went by and the visitor hadn't given up, Fred finally climbed to his feet. On his way to the door he stopped by the mirror in the foyer, quickly pressing a finger against it and materializing an image of the visitor. When he saw it was Kaego, he sighed in resignation. He would let Kaego in but anyone else would have been yelled at to bugger off.

"I asked to be alerted when you returned home," Kaego said in greeting. "You were gone longer than expected."

Fred nodded and led him into the sitting room. They sat across from each other; Kaego studying the young one while Fred avoided the healer's keen gaze with intense stubbornness.

"The bonding of mates is a powerful thing," Kaego finally began, leaning forward. "No one is unaffected. It is an acute shock to all of our senses and it can sometimes last for weeks or even months after the initial bonding. Even someone like Falde cannot stay immune to the effects of bonding. Do not think you are the only one."

Fred laughed a little shakily and rubbed the heels of his hands over his eyes. "Is that a medical assessment of the situation? Is that your professional opinion as to why I'm sitting here ready to cry like a baby?"

Kaego half smiled, but he also nodded. "And why you've had internal doubts. I assume that's why you've been gone a week. I'm also prepared to bet my academic degrees you are suffering from mild depression."

"How are you doing, Kaego?"

Kaego flashed his teeth in a smile. "Fine."


Fred didn't understand it. If anyone had reason to be upset, it was Kaego. Twins on the way and Vendyl gone for who knew how long.

"You are bored."

He shrugged. Maybe that was true. George was off at Similae's Dehjinae compound and wouldn't return home for another week, which is why he wasn't there right now and Fred couldn't go on with any of their work without George…

Fred suddenly stood, looking around with wide eyes. "I… I can't stay here. I don't like it. I can't stay here without Falde. I feel like an outsider, Kaego."

Kaego nodded and slowly stood before waving Fred closer. When the young one was near, Kaego dropped a hand to his shoulder and began to lead him towards the door. "It would please me if you would stay with me until Falde returns."

Fred didn't think about it for long. He didn't want to sleep in this place without his mate and he liked the idea of keeping Kaego company. Even if he didn't show it, the healer must be missing Vendyl desperately and he most certainly felt lonely. And Kaego shouldn't be alone during this time. Besides, Fred thought as he smiled down at Kaego's swollen stomach, Kaego was his brother-in-law and the little tykes in his stomach were his niece and nephew. Someone had to take care of them while Vendyl was gone.

"Yeah, Kaego. If you really don't mind."

Kaego's smile upped a notch. He looked incredibly pleased, which was an indicator that he lied when he said he was fine. "But I insist."

"Now don't you worry about your parents, little ones," Sirius murmured as he tucked Caellum securely into bed beside Zohrek. He was finishing up tucking all five kids in as Lucius had a late meeting at the Ministry. But it wasn't a big deal. Sirius had learned a system already. Better yet, all the babies were behaving themselves tonight. "Everything is sure to be fine."

He spoke the words steadily, but was unsure whether he'd spoken truthfully. No contact had been made from those traveling Taeneen in several days.

Caellum made a sleepy sound of agreement before snuggling closer to his best friend in all the whole wide worlds. Sirius' lips twitched as he leaned over to place kisses on both boys' heads, relieved. Caellum had not been in the best of moods since Harry's little breakdown the last time they spoke. It was eerie at times how the little prince could sense discord in his parents' emotions and how he clearly despised it. Caellum wanted his parents badly. He knew his mother needed him.

Sirius lightly tweaked Zohrek's ear, grinning when those soft purple eyes focused on him. "Try not to have any more dreams about the stories your father has told you. I'm quite sure Ozemir would be disturbed to know you wake in the middle of the night trying to slay monsters with an imaginary sword."

Zohrek didn't reply except to close his eyes but Caellum giggled again amidst Zohrek's hair. Sirius shook his head as he left their crib, a bit bemused at the understanding these babies had, and headed back over to the triplets. They hadn't moved from where he'd already put them down. Sirius assumed they were already sleeping and he really should have known better. They were, after all, his offspring. He gave his kids three kisses and then quickly left before one of them could start an avalanche of crying because they'd just decided they didn't want to sleep after all. It happened quite often.

Poor Sirius. Poor misguided grown-up. Really he should have known better. All of them went down without much of a fuss… in a hurry to be left alone in the nursery. The moment the nursery door had been shut behind their father, the triplets sat up. Halfway across the room Caellum and Zohrek climbed to their feet, still a bit wobbly, and pressed against the crib bars. At once the little prince's eyes began to glow, followed by Zohrek's and soon their feet lifted off the mattress and the two floated over and beyond the barrier that kept them from the ground. The journey wasn't smooth as they jerked and bobbed a bit- it was their first try after all.

Unexpectedly they stopped moving altogether and were hovering there, clinging to each other. Zohrek gurgle grunted and the triplets crawled to the edge of their crib. They poked noses between the bars and their eyes began to glow, lending support for the feat their cousins were trying to accomplish.

The floating continued until the two eldest were clear of the crib and they began to descend back to the ground. When both little bottoms hit the floor with a gentle bump, the babies laughed and clapped in accomplishment. Caellum crawled over to one of the overflowing toy chests and when he got there, rose on shaky little legs and reached up to grab one of the top most toys which happened to be the sword Zohrek's pa pa had given to him. Zohrek loved that sword. Caellum also grabbed his play sword- his was only play cause Zo was the warrior in their team- and his second favorite blanket. This one big enough for three. Now they were ready to go. Once back with Zo, Caellum handed over the sword and wrangled the blanket around them both. After a bit of time- because they were still babies after all- he managed to secure it around his and Zohrek's shoulders using his untrained magic. The task was completed just as the door cracked open and a blond head appeared.

Grandpa Lucius had finally returned home from work and had immediately gone up to the nursery to see the sleeping little ones. He was not prepared for it when he stuck his head inside to find Zohrek and Caellum out of bed and within what looked like an energized bubble. The little ones' eyes were glowing with their young power. Just as he threw the door all the way open, prepared to rush inside to stop whatever was happening, the bubble popped and the last thing Lucius recounted before being thrown back by force was the bubbly excited laughter of his naughty children.

A world away, bright gold eyes opened to see nothing but green and a wide smile split the little prince's face. They had moved places! They moved to the place his mama and dada were. Caellum rolled onto his stomach and opened his mouth and tasted dirt. It wasn't bad dirt but Grandpa Lucie's garden tasted much better. "Zo?"

There was an answering gurgle. Zohrek had made the trip too! Caellum pushed up and out of the blanket and crawled to Zohrek, who had already climbed to his feet and was standing rather steady despite the fact he and Caellum were alone now in the deepest midst of a dark green place. Zohrek raised his sword, pointing it in a direction. Caellum laughed and took off that way, crawling quickly right into the depths of Taeneen with Zohrek right beside him. They were on a mission!

"I found him."

Dagon paused just inside the door, eyes passing around the room as the occupants turned upon his arriving declaration. Mila tried to discreetly lower herself to the bed before his glare found her.

"Found whom?" Tom questioned when it was clear the assassin had already seen Mila was up and moving about. Dagon's eyes had begun to burn with anger and clearly he was ready to get off topic. "Demai'Tah?"

"It is very probable," Dagon replied lowly as Mila very carefully lay on her back and pulled the covers over her head. Standing beside the bed, Hermione snickered. A hand appeared from beneath the blanket and knuckled her thigh. This only added to Hermione's amusement.

Severus turned to fully face the assassin. "What makes you sure?"

Dagon moved further into the room and withdrew one of the wanted posters from his back pocket. He passed that to Severus before taking the bit of fur from the inside pocket of his tunic and passing that over to Tom for observation. "The paper is saturated with Southern Sea salt. The piece of fur is from a coat and also smells of salt. The paper originated from the same place."

"Would it be easy for Demai'Tah to hide in the South?" Hermione asked as she sat on the edge of the bed, next to Mila who had given up pretenses and was back to sitting up and listening with the rest of them.

"Exceedingly easy."

"That's the problem, isn't it?" Tom replied dryly. "It's easy to hide anywhere when you know how."

"What do we do now?" was Mila's question.

"We need to go there," Dagon murmured to himself.

"No, we need to solve the problem we're having here," Severus interrupted before an argument could take place about the next course of action and who would go where. "If Demai'Tah is there and he knows nothing of our knowledge of his whereabouts…"

"He's not likely to go anywhere," Dagon agreed with a nod. He took another look around. "Where's the demon child?"

"He was fed and put to sleep."

"Did you use magic to make him sleep?"

"He fell asleep on his own."

A nasty grin twisted Dagon's lips and he shook his head. He moved until directly in front of Tom. Leaning in with eyes full of condescending amusement, he whispered, "not only do you have a demon in your care, but he is still just a child demon. And this child has just been let back into the world after how long of being banished? Do you really expect him to fall asleep peacefully? To remain in place when your back is turned?"

Dagon pulled back and Tom was just starting to scowl when a terrified scream wrenched through the air; the sound echoing in from somewhere outside. The assassin's laughter was the only thing that filled the sudden silence following the scream. Another scream and a panicked plea for help finally motivated the others into action. Hermione was the first one across the room and out of the door. Severus was right behind her. Tom remained where he was, glaring at Dagon.

Dagon raised a brow at him when another frightened shriek issued from outside. "That would be him now."

"But that's not Charan screaming," Mila pointed out.

"No it's…" Tom had begun to grit out the words but paused when he thought of the implications. "It's someone else!" and he was also quickly gone, leaving Dagon and Mila alone.

"What's this about then?" Mila asked standing as Dagon walked over to the window to peer out.

"The people here are listless; without motion or words."

"The magic is being drained, I know."

Dagon spared her a sharp impatient look over the shoulder but she ignored it by standing next to him and crossing her arms over her chest; waiting for him to go on with his explanation.

"Someone within the village who is unaffected would be of interest in this mission."

"A pawn?"

Dagon did not reply until she was leaning against the window frame facing his side. He didn't pull his eyes away from the streets outside of the Inn. "Possibly. Whoever it is has been lurking since I arrived." He didn't sound too much like he cared at all about the current Charan situation and this was confirmed with his next utterance. "I need to travel south. I need to see."

"Why didn't Hermione or the others notice this person lurking in the streets?"

Dagon shifted a little to peer down the street in the opposite direction where he could still see Satar standing next to a baker's shop. "Clearly she has skill of some sort. Not anything impressive and nothing that would stand up if she were to try and enter the Inn or come within fifty direct feet of the new blood."

Again he spoke as if half his mind were absent; his gaze moved up and down the main road and over roofs and around chimneys, but he wasn't really seeing anything. His mind was on something else. Mila watched from her place beside him; she watched his face when she knew he was too distracted to notice and before she knew it, she was smiling. Not really knowing why except that he instilled a sort of delight and excitement within her. She couldn't explain what it was exactly but she did know she didn't like not being with him every day.

"I'm coming with you," she declared.

Dagon snapped out of whatever blood filled daydream he had been in and turned his entire attention to her; his body too and suddenly he was in her personal space and didn't seem to realize it. "Coming where?"

Mila took a deep breath and then exhaled. "The South."

He gave her a long hard look. A very unsettling one. "We must wait until business is finished here."

That was not a no, she thought in relief. "Shouldn't we help them?"

"I've done my part for the day."

"I'm going to help," Mila decided as she turned and headed for the door and some breathing space. Just as she stepped foot outside the Inn, a hand wrapped tightly around her arm and jerked her into the light spilling onto the doorstep. Her chin was then grasped and she was being forced to look up into his face. Her breath caught upon the intense look he was giving her.

He lightened the grip on her chin and his thumb pressed back and forth across her skin. "Why do you no longer fear me, Mila? I see no fear in your eyes."

"T-that's not t-true… you scare me."

Dagon's eyes narrowed in displeasure. "I see trust in your eyes... After what I've done, how is that possible?" he demanded, staring where the fingertip bruises had once been. They were gone now. He'd seen to that.

The girl flushed and turned her face away, eyes scanning the road. "I knew you didn't mean it."

She tensed beneath his hand and he knew she was preparing for anger. But…why be angry with the situation. Anger wouldn't change the facts. This girl was his.

"I thought—I mean I think we make a good team," she hurried on to say, not realizing where his mind was inevitably turning, "despite the immaturity for someone as old as you."

A chuckle left him unexpectedly. Blast but Mother knew what she was doing. That was vexing. Never mind that though. Back to why he'd stopped her in the first place.

Mila's eyes snapped back to his face at his short laugh. He was shifting closer by then, very close, and she did become scared then. Scared for her virtue which was amusing and tantalizing because now he knew he was the owner of that sweet virtue. He and no one else.

"Charan! You will stop immediately—Oh buggering FUCK! Hermione!"

Tom's shouting jarred Dagon back to the matter at hand. Again. He shifted his grip and grabbed the hem of her dress, pulling it up and exposing everything of her legs, middle, and between. The assassin was already moving before she could shriek her outrage and his hand pressed against her stomach where she'd been wounded.

He wrapped an arm tightly around her back and lay that hand over the exit wound. The only thing that saved her from internally combusting or trying to gouge out his eyes was the fact that he had them closed in concentration.

"Relax," he hissed at her. "You are blocking my sight."

"You're being very inappropriate! Similae would-"

"Husssh little girl!"

Mila's mouth snapped shut but she continued to glare and stand as still as a statue, trying to ignore the tingling Dagon's hands created all over her body, even places he wasn't touching.

"You do have a set of rather lovely… legs," Dagon admitted.

Mila looked to find his eyes open again. But they weren't on her legs and instead focused completely on her chest. If possible she flushed an even darker shade. The hand on her back suddenly dropped down to settle at the very back of her thigh, just under the curve of her backside. In fact she felt a cheeky thumb trailing lightly back up. Mila gasped as heat seized her body and tightened her chest. Places awakening, aching and the assassin smirked to himself because he could see that new awareness in her eyes.

"This isn't right," she whispered.

Mila thought he would press on with his uninvited touching. And she startled herself by wishing he would kiss her next. She lost her breath with the thought but she did not deny that's what she wanted. However, instead of kissing her, the assassin pulled away and let her dress fall back down to her knees.

"You are well enough to go and do more foolish little girl things," he declared.

Mila retreated without saying anything. She wouldn't have been able to speak anyway. As she raced away to find the others, dashing across the street, around the elves who were leaning up against the sides of shoppes, sitting or laying, she shook her head at herself. She had to jump over quite a few people who only watched her sluggishly. She'd actually thought… what a ridiculous thing to think! That he'd been about to kiss her! Dagon would never. Never ever consider her. She was a little girl.

Mila came to a stop in the town square where Hermione and Severus stood over a cloak wrapped body while Tom stood just a few feet away with Charan in his claws.

"What did you think you were doing?" Hermione demanded of the little demon. Charan looked only a little abashed and tried to wiggle out of the death grip around his neck.

"She's the only one who smells fresh," he whined.

Tom nodded and looked surprisingly pleased with this announcement. Hermione voiced what Mila was thinking. "Are you insinuating something about our hygiene?"

The Dark Lord gestured to the slumped elf. "She's been here since we have. Longer. And yet as we are slowly being affected, she is not. Not at all. She may be immune."



"Let's ask her!" Charan tried to leap at the prone body, forgetting Tom still had firm hold of his neck.

"You were told not to move!"

"Let's get her off the road and make sure she's okay," Hermione suggested, approaching the lady.

"Bind her first," Mila called out. When Hermione turned back to her, she shrugged. "We don't know anything about her."

"Good point."

When the elf regained consciousness, she was not only bound into a chair by rope but she also had Nagini wrapped around her. Hermione had first complained that it was too much but nobody else seemed to mind it. Mila sort of felt sorry for the lady. She was sitting there securely bound to a chair and was faced with a half circle full of new displeased faces and a massive snake.

Hermione stood nearly directly beside the chair with her hands folded in front and her gaze calm and steady on the captive. Severus loomed over his mate's shoulder, staring down his nose at the lady elf. He was his usual dominating sneering presence. Charan sat on the floor a couple feet away, watching the lady in excitement. It was the horns and razor sharp teeth that terrified their prisoner. Beside Charan and directly in front of the bound lady stood Tom. He was the picture of calm as he impatiently waited for her to get her bearings.

Mila sat against the wall near the door. She had a perfect view of the woman over Charan's head. Dagon pushed off the wall and slowly made a trek around the room. He walked from beside Charan slowly, his eyes never leaving the captive and she very clearly did not want to take her eyes off him. Dagon's boot steps were the only sound in the room. He paced one full circle around the unknown elf; one slow stepped circle- drawing out several whimpers while he was at it- before retreating back into the shadows by the door.

Only when Dagon was no longer moving did the lady's eyes move on to someone else. She zeroed in on Tom. "P-please don't hurt me."

"You were the one watching us when we first arrived here."

She bobbed a nod, swallowing hard. "Yes, t-that was me."

"Why aren't you like the rest?"

"I-I think it was my touch- I didn't mean to do it! I was only trying to help! I thought it could be a weapon but I misread the scrolls and now I don't know how to stop it!"
"A weapon for who?" was Severus' prudent question.

"A weapon against those who are killing our race. A weapon for the Empire."

"Did it never occur to you to tell someone?"

"I didn't know who to go to, my Lord!" she cried at Severus, who flinched slightly under the moniker. "Everyone quickly became infected; no one paid attention to me and too quickly it was too late to get help within town. And seeking help outside of town is dangerous, my lord. I wouldn't know who was friend or foe. I've been trying to work up the nerve to come talk to you for weeks, but I've just been so scared. Everyone is lying down and dying! My family… my family was the first to go… I think because I was the one to activate the device… please help me."

"If she's lying, can I eat her?"

All eyes turned to the little demon sitting cross-legged on the floor and peering eagerly at their captive. The captive whimpered when Charan smiled widely.

Tom rolled his eyes. "No, Charan."

"She's not lying," Dagon put out.

Tom nodded and turned to Severus. The Potions Master studied the lady for a moment before speaking. "The next course of action would be to see this weapon, and if need be, destroy it at once."

Tom frowned. "No need to be so hasty, Severus."

"Our priority right now is to stop what's happening here and insure the continued safety of the realm."

"The effects could be reversed. There's no need to destroy something so powerful."

"First, let's see this thing," Hermione said. "And then we'll decide what to do with it."

Tom turned from Severus and hissed out a command. Nagini slowly uncoiled herself and moved down to the floor. Immediately the elf sagged in further relief but then jumped when Hermione stepped forward to vanish the ropes surrounding her. Mila decided this elf was the jumpy kind. A bit scared of her own shadow.

"What do you think?" Dagon whispered to her.

"I think she's harmless. Stumbled on something she shouldn't have and made the wrong decision in haste and desperation." Mila lifted her eyes to the elf leaning against the wall beside her. "We've all done this."

Dagon snorted and shook his head before shifting closer so she could clearly see the mocking light in his eyes. "Foolish little girl," he whispered.

"Yes a shame you must be surrounded by such foolish little children," she replied with an eye roll. She then grabbed his arm and hoisted herself up to her feet, nearly jerking him off his feet as she did it. Nothing else was said until the lady unsteadily climbed to her feet, her dark eyes wheeling around in fright still.

"What is this thing you've spoken about and where can we find it?" Hermione asked the moment she was standing.

The lady elf shrieked and stumbled back in the corner, shaking like a scared mouse. And then Charan hopped to his feet causing the girl to shriek again and fall into herself. The assassin snorted in disbelief and slipped out of the room. Severus turned and followed him and so did Tom.

"Charan, come. You can play later."

Apparently they were going to leave the detailed questions to Hermione. Mila thought about following them but Hermione caught her eye and shrugged a shoulder over. She pushed off the wall and went to meet her. This elf needed to be calm because they needed information. The sooner the better as well.

"Hello, I'm Mila," she started softly and slowly, bringing her palms up to her chest. Then she gestured to Hermione. "And this is Lady Hermione. Your name?"

"Jaene." The girl spoke with more confidence, thank Hirsha.

"Jaene, it's important you remain calm, understand?"

"This object you spoke of," Hermione prodded.

"It was a box," she whispered. "It melted into a sphere which then released a wave and then everyone and everything started getting sick. The water was the first thing to go. Both from above and below-"

"Where is it?"

Jane cleared her throat. "The old ruins a league from here. To the north."

"We've checked those ruins. We checked everywhere," Hermione told her.

"I placed wards around the chamber the object is in. I didn't think it was a good idea to leave it unprotected."

"Very well. We'll leave immediately."

They arrived at the ruins just as the sun began to rise. The ruins had once upon a time been an agricultural college and had been the first thing to go when Demai'Tah declared war on the Empire. Nothing much was left of the ruins above ground, but most of the structure underground was still intact with the exception of a few sections of caved in tunnels. Jaene said the object had been found in the deepest area and led them to that passage. She gave directions and Tom took the lead down, followed closely by his sister and Severus. No one wanted her to be in the lead as they didn't quite trust her. And of course Charan was practically chained to Tom, but at the moment he was behaving himself.

After a while the silence was broken by a quiet voice. "Your name is Dagon?"

The assassin turned to the girl, surprised she had the nerve to speak to him at all. She'd heard Mila speak his name and now was staring at him with an intensity he hadn't thought she possessed. "Yes." He only answered her to see what would happen. He was quite pleased when she paled and backed away from him, plastering herself against the wall of the passage. As if that would save her. "Yes, that Dagon."

"Y-you're-" she cut off and swallowed hard. Dagon turned and continued walking after the others, essentially ignoring her. "You're responsible for Minato's death."

"Yes. That was my work."

"He was my grandfather."

Dagon paused and turned back to her. His fangs appeared in a sharp grin and he wondered what she would do. "He died screaming," he stated lowly, stepping back towards her. "He died begging for his pitiful existence. His blood painted the floor. My hair dripped from it…." He leaned forward until they were nearly nose to nose and he could see her pores trembling in terror. "My lips dripped with it."

"What are you doing?" an exasperated voice sounded from the side.

"Conversing," he answered Mila and she rolled her eyes because he should never ever try to act innocent.

"I didn't like him," Jaene went on.


"But he was still my grandfather."

Dagon was aware of the blade but he let her go on thinking she had the element of surprise. He was surprised, however, she had the nerve for this when it was so clear she was afraid of her own shadow. Perhaps loyalty to family means more than fear to this one. It was admiral, but she was still being stupid. When she moved still he did nothing. The blade was an inch away from the side of his neck when her attack was stopped. But not by him.

Mila's hand tightened on Jaene's wrist and she shouldered her way in between the assassin and the girl. Her face was the picture of calm but her fingers on Jaene's wrist were stark white. Mila's fingers flexed and Jaene gasped in pain and released the dagger, causing it to fall harmless to the ground. Mila said nothing and continued to stare at her.

"D-do you not know who he is?" Jaene whispered, now more scared by Mila's blank stare than she was of the assassin's bored expression.

"I'm very aware."

"Then you know what he is! What he's done! Why did you stop me?"

Mila continued to stare at her and didn't answer. There were a million reasons why she'd stopped Jaene, but she wasn't going to say even one of the reasons in present company. "Don't do something so stupid again. I just saved your life. He knew that dagger was there before you did."

Mila released her wrist and took a step back. She never stopped watching Jaene. She watched until the elf returned the dagger up her sleeve again and continued down the passage, hurrying after the others, who had kept walking through all of that encounter.

"You don't do that again."

"Do what?"

"Interfere. Don't ever do that again. It was a stupid thing to do since you know she was only able to get that close because I let her."

"It just happened."

"She made you angry," Dagon went on, his tone not so serious. He looked at her. "Very angry. Why is that?"

"What were you doing?" Mila demanded. "Provoking her on purpose. Why?"

"To amuse myself."

"We don't really have the time for that."

"She is the one who started it."

"Sometimes I wonder about you. A child stuck in an adult's body perhaps. Maybe that's why you can relate to Charan."

Mila smirked when Dagon hissed at her. They walked along in silence for a few more minutes, the others ahead of them. "Tell me about mates," he instructed.


"Yes. Tell me about them."

"But… why ask me? I'm not mated. All I know about that is…" she trailed off and the color of her face indicated what she was thinking. "Things have to happen… to, ah, cement the bond, um… yes."

"But beyond that. How do mates act, with each other?"

"Well you've seen! You know several couples!" she burst out, embarrassed. The entire conversation was embarrassing. She didn't know why but talking about this topic with him was very uncomfortable. "Don't ask me things like this. I'm the foolish little girl, remember? What do I know?"

"You're not completely foolish."

Mila gasped and covered her heart. "Hirsha, think I've died!"

Dagon rolled his eyes. "Must you bring her into this?" he sounded annoyed but a grin was tugging at his lips. Mila couldn't help but be pleased to know she was the one to put it there.

"Do you really not like her?"

"She did try to destroy me once."

"Still, it just seems…" Mila did something with her hands.

"I don't really hate her. I just don't like her. Do you love your parents?" his hand was at the back of her neck before she could process the question. He squeezed softly the moment her heart did in pain.

"They're dead," she whispered. "Murdered for no other reason than being loyal to the Empire."

"I know," Dagon answered, and his voice was softer than she'd ever heard and his hand had yet to move. "But that doesn't keep you from loving them still."

"Yes, I still love them."

"And when they were alive, I'm sure they've done things to anger you or your halfling. Things that made you not like them. You may always love them, but sometimes you wouldn't like them."

"Yes. I suppose every child has experienced that."

Dagon nodded. "I don't like my mother very much."

"The Mother of Us All, she is a goddess, so I suppose I can understand-"

"No. Pay attention. She is my mother. For you she is The Mother. For me, she is my mother. She involved herself, interfered in Ozemir's bonding to the Kibosh and I was the result."

Mila stopped and turned to him, not quite understanding. After a moment she shook her head. "You don't like anyone do you?"

"It is a very short list. And disliking people is so much easier…"

They walked on and Mila kept her eyes on Jaene's back wondering if she were going to try and attack Dagon again. The way she frequently glared over her shoulder at him, Mila was willing to bet she might. Despite the foolishness of it.

"Something is wrong," Severus declared up ahead and Mila looked just in time to see Hermione slump against the wall, breathing heavily. She wasn't the only one. They all seemed to be having trouble breathing. Even herself, she noticed now that she'd pulled her attention away from Jaene and the hand at the back of her neck. She felt Dagon's hand fall on her shoulder and stop her movement, while the others did the same up ahead.

"Feels like I've been running for days," Tom said, peering closely at his sister. He didn't sound pleased. But she conceded, when did he ever?

"This is not unexpected," Severus returned. "The closer we get, the stronger the effects."

"I will go on," Dagon said, seemingly unaffected, "with Tom and the little demon. You two stay here," he gestured to Severus and Hermione, "and you, Mila will return to the top with her and keep watch. I'm sure Demai'Tah is still searching for us and this artifact. We can't let him near it."

He seemed to not be affected, but somehow Mila knew better. He was just very good at hiding weakness.

Jaene raised her hand slightly, looking to the others. "But I-"

"Have done more than enough," Dagon hissed. "I can find my way from here and since you don't know how to stop it, you're useless at this point. In fact, why don't you run along to your empty home."

"Dagon!" Exasperated, Mila turned and slowly followed after Jaene, who had run off back the way they'd come with a pitiful sob.

Hermione yawned. "I could do with a nap. Severus," and she stretched her hands out to her mate as she sank down to the ground.

"Keep her awake," Tom said to Severus. "Both of you stay awake. This close… we don't know what might happen if you fall asleep down here."

Severus acknowledged the wisdom in the warning and nodded as he settled Hermione in his lap. Dagon grabbed the back of Tom's collar and began helping the Dark Lord further along. Tom was unconsciously dragging his feet. Charan merely skipped alongside them. He also seemed fine.

"Are you…sure…we should…bring him?" Tom questioned about Charan, who was still strangely behaving and remaining quiet at his keeper's side.

"This artifact will have no impact on him."

Tom said nothing to this. Probably because it would have taken too much energy. Just as well since Dagon was going to need the use of Tom's remaining energy to help him negate the artifacts powerful effects when they found it.

The moment Mila stepped out of the ruins and into the daylight, she was hit from behind and knocked down onto her stomach. Quickly she turned over just in time to see Jaene fall upon her, her dagger once again clutched in hand and a murderous look in her crazed eyes.

"What are you doing?" Mila gasped, trying desperately to wrestle the elf off her while at the same time keeping that dagger from getting any nearer to her eye.

"You're his mate," she hissed. "If I can't kill him, then I'll hurt him by killing you! And since you're his mate, the Empire will be better off!"

"You are making a mistake! If you don't stop now you will die here! I'm not his mate! He doesn't have one! Of course he doesn't have one!"

"You're lying!"

"I will break your neck if you don't get off me this instant! You don't want to do this!"

"It's my duty to avenge my grandfather. There's no one else left!"

Mila felt sad. For Jaene and the situation. She didn't want to do this. "Please, stop this," she whispered, her hands tightening around Jaene's wrist. "So many have died already. Stop!"

Jaene didn't stop and it was too easy to kill her. She didn't have the training Mila had and she was too focused on revenge that she let her emotions get the best of her. Mila hadn't been bothered by a death this badly in a long long time. She honestly hadn't wanted to do it. But Jaene wouldn't give up. Even when Mila knocked her away, Jaene kept going after her, again and again until Mila had no choice but to end her. She'd tried. She'd tried to simply incapacitate the girl, but Jaene had been determined and Mila had lost patience. When it was done, she fell next to the lifeless body and a sob broke free.

Severus and Hermione appeared some twenty minutes later. Severus having decided to wait atop as well since he didn't think he could prevent himself and his mate from falling asleep down in the ruins waiting for Tom and Dagon. "What happened?"

"She attacked me," Mila whispered. "She wouldn't stop. I had no choice."

"But why would she attack you?" Hermione said, kneeling and wrapping an arm around Mila's shoulders since clearly her friend was very shaken up.

"To get back at Dagon. She thought I was his mate. She wouldn't listen when I told her she was mistaken." She looked at them, eyes swimming in pain. "I didn't want to do it. I didn't…she was innocent…"

"Not so innocent since she attacked you," Severus murmured, but Mila shook her head and he understood.

He watched the girl dash a hand across her wet eyes before she pulled herself together and to her feet. "Have they found it yet?"

"We'll know soon. And if they don't return to the surface soon, I'll have to go and look for them…"

He hadn't even finished speaking before the ground beneath their feet gave one giant heave, knocking them all off their feet and out of the entrance dust and debri came flying out as if exhaling for the first time. Both Mila and Hermione immediately made to dash back inside but Severus had enough wits about him to grab their arms and keep them still until he was certain the ground wasn't going to heave again. He was certain Tom and Dagon could and would protect themselves from a cave in.

And then from overhead the light faded as clouds rolled in and lightning flashed across the sky. Mila gasped as she tilted her head up and big fat drops began to fall. Five minutes later the sky had opened up and it was pouring. Thunder rolling and lightning streaking across the sky. In ten minutes the hard dry ground was flooded. The earth unable to soak up so much sudden water so fast. Water rushed into the ruins. Hermione and Mila had only begun to panic for their friends when Tom, Dagon, and Charan appeared. Dagon carrying Tom, who was unconscious, over his shoulder and carrying a black metallic box under one arm.

"That was more difficult than I had anticipated," he said, but he wore a very pleased smirk. "But as you can see, the object has been cast dormant again. This," he indicated the artifact, "could be a useful tool against my former master."

"It's a bubble!" Ozemir declared, looking incredibly pleased with himself. "Bubbles of time and space. We pass through the tunnels and it's the same as passing through a portal."

"So we really are leaving Taeneen," Harry assumed.

"Yes, but only when we're travelling between these tunnels. Not only are we leaving the jungle, we may actually be leaving the realm whenever we pass into these miraculous areas."

"But what's the point of it?" Draco wanted to know.

"Haven't figured that out yet. But I will!" Ozemir assured.

Draco then turned to Harry. "What path are you following anyway?"

"Talyn's showing us the way," Harry announced to him cheerfully. Ozemir smiled when Brumek and Draco's eyes widened. Taera simply blinked. "I was going to tell you," he said quickly to Draco when the blond frowned. "It happened the same night you had your nightmare and since then I haven't had a chance to properly talk to you about what happened. To be honest I forgot about it after you regained your memory. Sorry. Should have told you immediately."

Draco dropped an arm on the table in front of Harry and leaned in. "You can tell me now," he softly coaxed.

Harry lifted a hand to brush two fingers against his mate's chin. Draco grabbed his wrist and dropped his chin in order to place a kiss in his palm. Harry blushed. "Erm... Talyn. She crossed planes and used my Sight to converse with me in my dreams; to lead us to the Cavern of Silence. I talked to her, Draco. Hugged her… Yelni was with her," he murmured lowly and Draco's grip tightened. "She's forgiven him. It looks like he really was poisoned by Demai'Tah and death released him from that hold."

Draco watched Harry's face, his eyes flickering in thought. He released his hold on his mate's wrist and sat back in his chair; dropping an elbow on the arm rest and cupping his chin in hand. "Don't take this the wrong way, lover, but how does she know where the Cavern is?"

Ozemir snorted as if to say obviously. "Everyone knows death reveals many secrets. And I believe Talyn. Clearly she's leading us somewhere. Somewhere exciting too and obviously…" he went on talking and Brumek and Taera continued to listen to him while Draco turned back to Harry and kissed him.

"Talyn then?"

Harry nodded, basking in Draco's undivided attention. "She said she was going to come back and talk with both of us one more time."

"It's time we're off," Brumek declared, standing suddenly because Ozemir had begun to go if in an irrelevant babble.

When Harry and the others stepped outside, he immediately spotted Talyn. She stood across the way, beckoning him. He dragged a hand through his hair and looked away with a tired sigh. She was indicating they would be going in a completely opposite direction today and though he trusted her, it was a tiring thought. Why were they being led back and forth through Taeneen? Why couldn't they go straight to the cavern?

Soon they were off again and they traveled for two days straight. Draco was becoming increasingly agitated due to the fact they didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Harry knew Talyn was leading them somewhere, but to be honest, he was also becoming a bit discouraged. Maybe his lack of patience had to do with the fact he hadn't spoken to his son in more than a week.

"Are we going somewhere, lover," Draco asked acerbically on the second night of their new direction and Harry could only smile, still on high about having his husband back completely.

"I'm sure we are."

"Can't you just ask her?"

"She doesn't speak. Just leads. I guess we can only speak in dreams."

They travelled through the night and near dawn, they found themselves wandering into another location which was certainly not located within the jungle. They left the tunnel to arrive at the bottom of a giant temple and by the time Draco had scaled the gigantic steps to reach the temple proper, he was red in the face and more than annoyed. There had been hundreds of giant steps that had to be climbed.

Harry handed him a flask of water and tried not looking amused. "Bet you wish you had wings now."

Because he and the rest of the winged warriors had flown to the top to scout it out since it had been decided camp would be made there for the day.

"Make camp!" Draco barked and snatched the water out of his mate's hand. Around them the warriors took to securing the location and unpacking to set up camp as per the Emperor's command.

As soon as camp was set up, Draco demanded Harry get his arse into their tent. He wanted a massage. Harry didn't have a problem with that and soon he was sitting atop Draco's back, straddling his hips and pressing deep penetrating fingertips into the blond's tense muscles.

"Did you try contacting Father again?"

Harry frowned. "Yeah. First thing I did once reaching the top and finding it safe. No one answered… maybe the orb is broken."

"Or maybe no one was home," Draco murmured with his own frown. It seemed unlikely. It may be dawn in the realm, but it was night in England and Lucius had the babies on a strict sleeping schedule at night, whether they were ready for sleep or not. Either he or Sirius were always at the manor at that time to see the sleeping schedule was carried out.

"Brumek says he hasn't been able to contact Falde or the palace either."

"Maybe its-oomph!"

Harry had lifted his hands and then dropped down with his bony elbows. Draco groaned in appreciation and forgot what he was about to say.

"You're really tense, lover."

"Don't like not knowing where we're going, Harry."

Harry laughed a little. "That's been quite apparent."

"Can anyone else tell?"

"No. Just me and Ozemir."

"We should go exploring." Draco shifted, preparing to turn over on his back. Harry lifted up slightly to allow him room. "After you've eaten something."

Harry nodded and went on with working the tension out of Draco's shoulders. He seemed completely absorbed with his task, though he had lines of worry across his brow. Draco reached up and rubbed the wrinkles away. "We'll talk to Caellum as soon as we can, love. No need to fret. He's safe."

"It's just odd we can't reach anyone."

Draco took his face into his hands and pulled his husband down until their foreheads were pressed together. He could feel Harry's trepidation. "After we eat, we'll try again."

And they did try again, with the same results and Harry held the dormant orb tightly in his hands, squeezing the thing, willing it to work. "Why won't it work?" he whispered. "Why don't they answer?"

"Ozemir, could the orbs be broken?" Draco questioned when the Scholar came to join them by their fire.

Ozemir sat beside Harry, pressing a hand to the smaller Emperor's shoulder. He gently extracted the orb from between Harry's stiff hands and carefully studied the thing, taking Draco's concern seriously. He too had missed talking to his son and he too felt something was off with the fact they hadn't been able to contact anyone. He tried again to make it work, first contacting the mortal world and again no one at Malfoy Manor answered. Next he tried the palace and when no one answered there, no one with the orbs, not even Neville and Dudley, a heavy frown settled on his face.

"You two go out and explore. I'll find the problem."

"So there is one?" Harry whispered.

"Just with the orbs, I'm sure. Go on," Ozemir pressed, not wanting to worry Harry even more.

Draco moved to his husband and bent down to grasp his elbow and pulled him to his feet. "Ozemir will sort it out."

Ozemir was still working with the orb when Taera found him some time later. The young ones were still out exploring the massive temple. She sat beside him, studying the lack of smile upon his face. "Something wrong?"

"Yes," he murmured lowly. "The orb is not broken. It's in perfect working order and yet something is blocking or interfering with the connection."

"Could it be this place? You mentioned these places may be out of the realm completely…"

But Ozemir shook his head. "It worked perfectly at the last place. It should work here as well. And I've already tried going back out into Taeneen with no better results. I feel…" he trailed off and a very displeased look crossed his features. "Demai'Tah," he called.

The orb reacted and immediately the ex clan master's face appeared. A malevolent smirk upon his face. "I did not expect it would take you this long to figure it out, Ozemir."

Ozemir resisted the urge to snarl as well as resist the urge to throw the orb across the tent in enraged horror. Instead he focused on keeping his cool and his voice completely neutral. "How did you… what have you done?"

"Clearly discovered your delightful communication methods, pupil, and have intercepted. I heard some very intriguing things before blocking the ability to communicate."

"What things?" he asked because he knew Demai'Tah was dying for the chance to gloat.

"Those in the human world have been trying to contact you for some time. Seems two very important and precious objects have gone missing. I was able to listen in on a conversation from the Emperor's father to the Mar'raeh before I blocked their ability with those delightful orbs. I'm close to finding those precious objects, Ozemir, and when I do…"

"But how did you do it?" Ozemir hissed, losing his nerve. "And what precious objects?"

Demai'Tah only smiled wider and soon his face was gone. The orb going dormant once again.

"Brother," Taera whispered. Her voice shook. "Brother, what does he mean?"

"Whatever it is, it's surely not anything good. But I am uncertain what he could be referring to. No offense to Lucius, of course, but the only precious possessions he could have would be Wizarding possessions and I'm quite certain Demai'Tah wouldn't concern himself with human artifacts."

The air in the South was so frigid that with every breath inhaled, it felt as if the air was freezing the insides. Ron took no notice of this discomfort as he came to stop at the edge of an ice cliff and peered down into the South Sea; blue eyes taking in the dozens of giant icebergs floating in the water. Eyes zeroing in on one of the largest of the burgs; Demai'Tah's current hidden fortress.

Ron shifted slightly, taking more pressure off his left leg, which was injured and probably still bleeding. He didn't pay much attention to that either as he slid a glance to the elves standing beside him, and sensing the elves standing behind him as well. He felt his lips curl into a dry smirk. They no longer looked at him with doubt and derision. They no longer looked at him as if he were nothing beyond the mate of the ex-clan master.

He'd done what he was told. He had gone and retrieved the artifact his mate wanted, which had been buried deep underground, apparently because of some great upheaval. It had also been protected by enchantments that had nearly killed them all but he'd saved himself and the elves with him and had come from below ground with a trophy and the respect he craved and deserved. He'd also returned to the surface with the confidence and the knowledge that he could do whatever Demai'Tah asked of him. He wouldn't let anyone stop him. He'd killed three of the soldiers who'd gone with him to prove that point when they seemed to not want to follow his orders.

Ron abruptly turned and followed the icy path along the edge until he ran into another drop off. He gritted his teeth as he shifted again, pressing all of his weight on his left leg in order to kick out, kicking ice and snow off the ledge. The snow and ice fell down and as it did, Ron watched it settle, making visible the hidden stairs carved into the side of the ice rock they stood on. Once enough snow outlined the steps, he descended, knowing the last soldier would erase the snow, making the steps completely invisible once again.

Inside Demai'Tah's stronghold of ice, Ron separated from the others and went straight to his quarters. Once inside his bedroom, he placed the relic onto the pillow next to him. He didn't bother to strip, didn't bother to go and clean himself off, didn't bother to go and get healed. All he wanted to do was sleep. He didn't care about the blood and dirt getting onto the bed. Why should he care? Demai'Tah never slept on this bed. Never spent a whole night beside him. Never soothed that particular ache away from him when he realized it was just another sign that his mate didn't care, didn't really want him. But that was nothing new, obviously. No one wanted him.

Demai'Tah appeared within his mate's bedchamber some thirty minutes later. He stood at the side of the bed, staring at his mate's bruised and bloody form. Ronald was on his stomach, facing away from the door. One arm extended and a clawed hand latched onto the relic he'd gone to retrieve. Fingers curled so tightly as if to keep anyone from trying to take it away. Demai'Tah spent a few moments staring at his mate and thinking unproductive thoughts, but not caring because he had some time.

He rounded the bed until he could see Ronald's face clearly. His mate had done exactly what he'd asked of him. Not only that, but he'd gone over and beyond what was expected of him. Not only had he retrieved the relic but he'd gained respect from the elves he'd taken on the journey. Not by being friendly with them but by taking complete control. Ronald's training had obviously paid off if he were able to save not only himself, but the elves with him as well.

Yes. He had exceeded his expectations. Demai'Tah hadn't been sure his young mate would even return alive. But he had, and the rank he had now was deserved. Demai' was sure some of his other Lieutenants wouldn't have been as successful, but of course they weren't so driven as well. So he was sure now, was certain, he would have his perfect soldier; a perfect mate, no longer concerned with the thought Ronald would somehow inadvertently destroy all he'd worked for because he'd turned out to be his mate. There was a reason, wasn't there.

And this was a placation Ronald would never know about. This was something that would save his life over and over again. For Demai'Tah had not been pleased when he'd gone out to find some entertainment and discovered he could not enjoy in bodily pleasures with any other being that wasn't his mate. He'd been furious to discover this, and yes, he'd taken it out on his mate and had planned to take it out on Ronald forever. And yet, Ronald was a lovely young one. As he had said before, Ronald had turned out to be quite the pretty play thing.

Demai'Tah had already debriefed the soldiers who had gone along with is mate, listening to their reports and then looking into the minds to make sure it was the truth. He'd been so pleased with the results that all of the soldiers were able to walk away from him without a scratch, and had been given several days off to recuperate. But, as his gaze scanned the stretched out form of his mate, he saw only Ronald seemed to have the most injuries. It wasn't the soldier's fault. It had been Ronald, throwing himself into the journey. Going first into everything, leading…. Yes, Demai'Tah was very very pleased with his mate.

Though at the moment he wasn't very pleased his mate hadn't sought out healing the moment he returned. He wasn't pleased Ronald had gone straight to his bed instead of going to find him and handing over the extremely dangerous relic. And he wasn't pleased to see his mate bleeding onto his bed from wounds that hadn't been inflicted by his own hands.

Ron was woken up roughly by his mate, but Demai'Tah didn't say anything to him and Ron didn't say anything either. He just lay there as he was healed in silence and then immediately obeyed when Demai'Tah demanded he go bathe. When Ron returned freshly washed and feeling vaguely himself again, he found Demai'Tah had his clothes already picked out for him and hanging outside the wardrobe door.

Ron did as he was supposed to, as he had been asked in a vaguely non threatening way. He liked the clothes. They were nice; costly. He liked them as much as he liked anything nowadays but he did appreciate his mate dressing him in more than rags. At least it looked like he was cared for. A lie, but as long as no one could see the truth. He, himself, could pretend. At least for a little while.

After dressing and securing a half length cape to cover his wings, Ron left his quarters. Descending the ice palace, following previous direction to where Demai'Tah wanted him next. Burning with frustration because every step towards his mate lessoned the frantic tension in his body. He wasn't supposed to feel relief, excitement, or anything positive in regards to Demai'Tah. The elf raped and tortured him regularly. Had completely wiped out the life he knew and made it so he could never go back. And yet here he was, anticipating.

He arrived outside of the appointed room and took a breath before stepping in, unknowing what he was walking into. He put on a brave face and didn't even flinch when he realized he was last and everyone had been waiting for him. Sitting around a suitably sized table several of his mate's forced allies and high ranking soldiers sat, Demai'Tah of course at the head. There was only one chair left available. It wasn't near his mate and was instead a few chairs down between two others.

Ron raised his chin and walked further into the room. Walked to the chair, aware of the eyes on him but only concerned with the one pair. The calm and collected gaze threw him but he refused to let that show as he sat down. Sat down like he was supposed to; sat down as if he, more than anyone else beyond Demai, deserved to be there. He could do this because Demai'Tah wasn't forcing him into a chair, and not beside him. Not like a pet. And because of this he found he was excited for what was to come.

"It's time for the realm to burn," Demai'Tah announced. Within his hands appeared the relic along with a scroll. "It's fortunate you've chosen the correct side in this war." Ron mentally rolled his eyes. Chosen wasn't the word he would use. Forced would be better. "A new empire shall rise from the ashes."

Ron only halfway paid attention. He already knew what the relic was for. More nightmares. A way to raise an army of dead. But he went back to paying complete attention when his name was spoken. When Demai'Tah announced his next personal mission. Ron held his breath because he already knew what was coming. He'd been expecting this and hoping Demai'Tah had just forgotten about it. But it was not to be. Demai'Tah announced he was sending Ron out to kill his former family members. Demai'Tah instructed he would start with Lady Ginevra, who was sailing her way in their direction at that very moment.

Ron knew better than to show any emotion upon this declaration. Destroying the Armada had been fun the first time and he would enjoy doing it again, this time completely annihilating it, but destroying his disowned baby sister? Not so much. He'd rather just stay away from her and be done with it. Demai'Tah knew this and despite Ron keeping his feeling on this secret, the clan master knew and was enjoying Ron's misgivings.

Demai'Tah was also searching for something within the jungles of Taeneen. Ron could tell his mate was purposely keeping secret from him what exactly it was that was being searched for. Ron was very curious about that. Curious and annoyed. Did everyone else know what this was about?

Demai'Tah dismissed all but Ron after that. "You'll be happy to know the heir and Ozemir's baby have gone missing. It is rumored they've accidentally gone into Taeneen, looking for their parents."

Ron jumped at the chance to be able to do something other than going after Ginny, but Demai'Tah quickly dashed those thoughts, laughing at the hope in his eyes. "No, you are going to do what you were supposed to and destroy the Armada. But don't worry. Once I have those babies, I will allow you to play with them. I may even allow you to be the one to take their last breaths."

Ron grinned sadistically at the thought.

A/N: So I'm not dead, and I hope this chap has answered most of the PM and review questions I've received over the last year inquiring whether or not I'm going to keep writing this story. I am. The last year has been eventful, tiring, and busy for me. I had a baby. He's four months old now and his first time sleeping through the night was last night. The pregnancy was hard on me. I didn't really have the inclination or energy to gather my thoughts and write. I've had most of this chap done for months already.

I want to thank everyone for all the continuing encouragement and support I've received throughout the months. It's meant a lot. Thanks and have a great day!