Bel'rok threw open the door of his carriage, startling him awake. "Bel'rok, what on Earth…" he muttered shielding his eyes from the bright morning light.
"The war, Dani'el! It's over!"
"What?" Daniel lowered his hands. The bed bounced as she sat beside him and showed him the letter she bore.
"It arrived this morning by hawk."
"Mel'rok sent it," Daniel said as he traced the familiar signature. "Where are they? How do Hazel and the rest fair?" He scanned the words to search out the answers for himself, but Bel'rok supplied them for him.
"They have stormed the capital and ousted the emperor. I assume since he made no mention of casualties, that everyone we know and love is fine."
"She lives." He once again touched the signature. He met Bel'rok's eyes and grinned. "As does your son! And Ke'thrala and Franmarrow…"
"I can scarce believe those damn fools have lived through seven years myself." She smacked Daniel on the back almost sending him flying from the bed. "Come. We must pack up camp and head out."
"To where, lady? We just arrived."
"Do you think that I'd miss out on the celebrations in the capital?"
"Surely not all will be celebrating. It seemed those that wanted a change in government were very much in the minority-"
"If those in the majority know what's good for them, they will plaster smiles on their faces and fake that they were part of that minority! They'd better with that sweet little girl as Empress now."
"Sweet little…You cannot mean that…"
"Who else would they have on that throne, Dani'el?" She flung herself up and out the door.
Empress. His Hazel. He wondered if that was what she had planned all along. Shaking his head, he banished the thought. She had never been power hungry. She had wanted freedom for her people and to lead them on a new path away from the violent debauchery they had clung to for centuries. This must have come as an awkward surprise to her as well. Empress now or not, Daniel longed to see his friends and his sister-in-spirit. He would never admit it, but life had trained him too well that everything tended to lead to tragedy; he had honestly believed that he would never see them again as he had watched the four ride off that long ago day.
Hazel's banners flew from every available surface as they rode into the capital. They clung to walls and streamed from roofs and windows. The city was awash in crimson. It all looked too much like blood to Daniel, and he wondered how much of it had had to be spilt for his friends to claim their victory. He shuddered and tried to dispel the gloomy thoughts.
Ke'thrala and Franmarrow were waiting for them on the steps of the palace. Daniel swung off Aeneus and ran to them. Ke'thrala's noble face bore a slash high on her cheek and her arm hung in a sling by her side. Franmarrow seemed unharmed save for a crack that crossed one lens of his glasses. They both grinned like school children when Daniel approached. He noted that they never once stopped holding one another's hands. "My friends! I am so glad to see you again."
"And we you, Daniel." Ke'thrala beamed. "We've won. The start of a new era! I never thought to see the day." She looked behind her at the castle, also bedecked with Hazel's banners.
"Are you badly injured?"
"We're fine." Franmarrow flapped his free hand in agitation. "But my library! They burned it down! Ruined it! My life's work!"
"They only burned down half of it, darling. We can rebuild."
Franmarrow harrumphed. "It won't be the same!"
"It's been burned down and rebuilt before. It was due in my opinion."
"Did the fire damage that…that lovely painting of its founder?" Daniel asked.
"History demolished! Gone forever, those barbarians!" Franmarrow wailed.
Ke'thrala dropped Daniel a wink and he sighed in relief. It would be so good to visit Franmarrow at work without having to see that awful woman at "play" every time he was about to enter the door. "The library will be up and running again in no time, my love," she soothed. "We have an empress in our debt now after all."
Franmarrow's only reply was to grind his teeth and glare off to the side.
"About that," Daniel began, "how is she taking it all?"
"Becoming Empress?" Ke'thrala asked.
"Like a child being dragged off to a bath!" Franmarrow cackled.
Ke'thrala shot her husband a glance, and then smirked. "That is about the truth of it. She didn't really expect to be crowned anything, especially not as soon as she stepped foot within the palace."
"And the old…ruler?"
"Best you talk that over with your soul-sister," Franmarrow said, gently touching his wife's shoulder.
"Maybe you can help her see reason!" Ke'thrala snapped. "Come, Franmarrow. I am tired and the pain grows."
"Time for your medicine then." He tugged her down the stairs, pausing when they were level with Daniel. "You will stay with us while you are here, won't you?" He looked unsure and somewhat shy.
"Good." He sighed in relief. "It's just…seven years is nothing to our kind, but yours… I worried that…" His fingers skimmed Daniel's hair.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," Ke'thrala interjected. "It is nothing. Come along, Franmarrow."
"But…" He hesitated, and then with a worried expression, he followed his wife.
The exchange had been overly strange. Daniel wondered what it was about himself that had concerned Franmarrow so. Pushing it from his mind, he ascended the steps two at a time, eager to at last reunite with his oldest friend.
The interior chamber was thick with guards milling around, seeming unsure of where they should be or what they should be doing. Daniel was unwilling to open a mind link with any of them for he did not know friend from foe. He asked in the Traders' Tongue for the whereabouts of Hazel until he found a young woman who spoke it. She looked him over warily and seemed about to refuse him answer. Then she sighed and clucked her tongue. "If she doesn't want to see you, she can tell you herself. She's in the throne room."
"I guess that would be the sensible place for her to go."
The guardswoman snorted. "She didn't go there herself! It's where we stashed her until it sinks in that she's our ruler now! Do you know how many times she's tried to bolt!" She waved around herself. "That's why we're mostly here. Not to keep the emperor's supporters out, but to keep her in!"
"So you are those who fought with her then?"
The woman grinned proudly at that. "Yes, every single one of us."
"Then I must thank you for keeping my dear friend safe."
She blinked at that and then started. "Oh! You're…Oh, it's such an odd name. Dav…Dana…"
"That's it! She speaks of you constantly! I think you are one of the main reasons she kept fighting. We must thank you as well."
Flustered, Daniel waved the praise away and bowed quickly. The throne room was easy to find. He tried not to notice the murmurs that followed him now or the appraising stares of the guards as they watched him wend his way through them. He had never thought that Hazel's rise would lend him some small amount of status as well. It was…unwelcome.
He debated knocking on the doors, but threw caution to the wind and threw them open.
"Danny!" Hazel turned to him, her face breaking out in a relived grin. "Shut those damn doors and come here!" She flung her arms open and hurried over to him. Daniel quickly met her. For once, her embrace was not the strongest one. "I have missed you."
"And I you, Hazel." He took a step back and held her at arms' length. "You have a uniform now." Come to think on it, it was the match of the ones the guards outside wore. The learther-ish, slightly scaled armor was black, though when it caught the light there was a slight rainbow sheen to it. Her gloves and boots were red, as was the piping that overlaid the seams of the uniform. Above her breast was a gold emblem of a fanged eagle. "It is very striking. An improvement over the old regime's!"
"Surprisingly, Franmarrow's idea." She laughed and held her hand over the emblem as if hiding it. "I find it too showy, but much better than what they tried to stick me in when they declared me Empress!"
"Was it really that much of a shock?"
"Of course! I never ever wanted… I thought we would decide by committee or…" She tugged at her hair-still the black wig Mel'rok had given her when she had ridden with the caravan. "You have to get me out of here!" She took Daniel's hand and led him to the back of the room. "I've spent the whole morning looking for a secret passage. I know the bastard must have had something of the sort in here. He was too paranoid not to have!"
Daniel laughed and gently reclaimed his hand. "Did you ever stop to think that your people might have made the right choice?"
"What?" She looked slightly betrayed.
"What people need after an upheaval such as they have had is a leader, and a well known and respected one at that. Yours was the face that led them to victory, that encouraged them when the night looked darkest. And yours is the visage that the other side feared and probably still fears. They made the right choice in you." He held up a hand to stop her protests. "But it need not be forever, Hazel. There will be a time where you can argue for another to take your place. You could even try to introduce elections like the ancient Greeks held to choose that new leader, but that is something for the future and not right after a civil war."
"I'll explain later. Where is Mel'rok?"
She scowled and threw herself down on the step before the throne. "He got tired of my whining and snuck off to visit with his mother."
"You cannot fault him for wishing to spend time with his mother."
"I can fault him for leaving me by myself! Do you know what he did when we won and then everyone started kneeling to me like idiots? He laughed! The fool." She brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them.
Daniel bit his lip. It seemed that Mel'rok had not changed over much. "So the emperor is dead."
"No." She rested her chin on her folded arms.
"No? Where is he then?" Daniel took a seat next to her.
"In the dungeon. I just couldn't…Not in front of everyone, not with him smirking up at me. It was too much like…like I would become him. I know everyone thinks it is either a weakness in me or that I am planning something particularly nefarious for him, but…" She shrugged.
"Do you?" The look she gave him was so full of hope.
"I do, Hazel. I do. You did the right thing." He put an arm around her and she leaned against him.
"I know I have to do something with him. I can't just leave him down there to rot."
"You are Empress now. You can do whatever you want."
She laughed. "But even a reluctant empress knows that it's not a good idea to leave the old emperor alive while his supporters still abound."
"Maybe this would be a good time to try to introduce those committees."
"What do you mean?"
"Have your followers decide what to do with him. Have them vote?"
"And if they vote to free him?"
"Then exile him. Show them how different you are from him by honoring their choice."
"And if they choose to kill him with one of his horrific machines? It could cast us right back to what I am trying to free us from."
"There is no easy answer to this, Hazel. But if you do not want to hold the hands of your people every step of your life, you need to come to some point where you trust them to make the right choice by themselves."
She bit her lip. "I have time to think on this."
He smiled. "I think you have earned the time to relax, to celebrate and to catch up with your adopted brother before you have to even begin to ponder this dilemma."
She laughed and leaned her head against his. "I think you are right. Gods Below, I have missed you." She combed her fingers through his hair and watched the strands catch the light. "You have silver in your hair now. I didn't know your kind's hair could change color. How pretty."
Daniel smiled and tucked his hair behind an ear and out of Hazel's fingers. "Thank you."
The celebrations at the capital lasted months. The dancing and feasts made even the staunchest of the old regimes supporters enjoy themselves the tiniest bit. Just when the festivities were dying down, they were struck up once again by the marriage of their new empress to one of her most loyal traveling companions. If anyone thought the pairing odd, no one dared say so. Mel'rok beamed at Hazel's side, looking as if he belonged nowhere else in the worlds but at her side.
Daniel raised his glass at them and they returned the gesture. His eyes scanned the crowd until he found Franmarrow and Ke'thrala. Her hair was loose and she had her head on Franmarrow's shoulder. Franmarrow's fingers combed through the long strands of her hair as he read a book precariously balanced on several wineglasses. Daniel's smiled. The empty space at his side throbbed in time with his heartbeat. He stood and walked from the hall, hoping his absence would not be missed.
Everyone seemed to be celebrating the joining of their monarch with her true love. He did not spy one single sober personage his whole walk throughout the palace. He paused before fleeing into the gardens. There was one thing he had been curious about, and perhaps tonight when everyone was distracted would be the best time to attend to it.
The dungeons were easy to find; they were the only rooms not left unguarded. The guards recognized him and waved him to pass. "Are you sure?" he asked peering at the darkness beyond. One of the guards, an oddly portly gentleman with impressive mustaches, laughed. "I would think you the least likely to want him out." He spat to the side. "There are two more guards within by his cell. We'll send them word that you are coming."
"My thanks." Daniel stepped onto the first stair. He truly did hate dungeons.
"Why do you want to see him?" asked the other guard. He was younger than his companion. His eyes were gentle and he looked more a librarian than a guardsmen.
"I do not know. To say goodbye perhaps, to try to get some sort of peace."
The older guard nodded. "It probably won't do you any good. Nothing resolves as prettily as it does in stories. Whatever he has done to hurt you, will still hurt after you've had your say to him."
"That might as well be, but I have to try."
Daniel walked down the stairs. Turning the first corner, he lost the light and his heart seized up in fright. Taking a deep breath, he held his right hand up and willed flame to it. He sighed in relief as the blue fire sparked into life. No one knew that he had been practicing and had mastered this little trick. He thought of how he had once plucked a flame such as this from Rosyth's fingers and his heart pained him again. He continued down into the depths of the palace.
The guards had kept their promise and the two he met, looking surprised as he closed his fist over his flame as their torches came into view, stepped aside for him.
Daniel was disappointed that the emperor still looked as haughty and as beautiful as he had when he had lounged upon his throne at their first meeting. He did not cower in a dirty corner, adorned in rags. His clothing was clean and well mended, if poorer than had been his want. He sat in a chair, back straight, reading a book in the flickering light of a candle.
"I never thought to extend our lighting systems to down here. I thought torchlight added to the ambiance of the place." He clucked his tongue. "A grave oversight on my part. Hello again, Rosyth's little whore."
The emperor dropped his book on the floor and laughed. "I never thought to be called that again, especially not by you."
"I do not know your name, my lord."
"So well mannered and deferring still." He raked his long fingers through his hair. "It would have been something to have known you more privately. Too bad our most loyal murderer had to come home. Where is he, by the way? I am surprised he still lets you slip from his sight."
"You truly do not know?"
The emperor met his eyes and grinned. The torchlight turned his teeth red and Daniel shivered. The smile broadened. "The things I could have enjoyed doing to you. Oh well. There will be other lives than these. Yes, Daniel, I do know about the end of your sordid romance. Quite droll may I add." He stood up and paced the small confines of his cell. Daniel took a step back from the bars, well out of arms' reach.
"I am sorry it disappointed. I have wanted to see you from some small time now. To ask you something."
"Then spit it out. It might relieve my boredom."
"Do you know what became of Rosyth?"
His white eyebrows shot up. "You think I killed him?"
"I rode past our…his keep a few years back. It lied in ruins."
"And you blamed me. I did cast it down, I will admit. I had good reason to be angry at the family you bonded into, but the coward had fled well before my men razed it."
"Do you know-"
The emperor laughed and rested his hand on the bars of the door. "If I knew where he was hiding, I would have killed him by now."
Daniel met his demon-ish eyes and did not flinch. "How do I know you have not already killed him?"
"I have no reason to lie to you now."
"It would hurt me and that would give you pleasure. That would be reason enough."
He licked his teeth, and then clucked his tongue. "You're bonded. If he were dead you would know. It would feel like a sharp pain in your breast, a rending that would never completely heal."
Daniel raised a hand to his heart, and then looked up at the emperor. "How do you know? Have you ever been-"
"Gods no!" The emperor laughed. "It was how my mother described it as I ripped my father apart before her. That was entirely too much fun, by the way." He hung onto the bars and leaned back from them. "I miss those days. Becoming Emperor quickly became so tedious."
"I am sure the countless victims who died for your pleasure will be glad to hear that."
"Such venom hidden in you. You were wasted on that worm."
"I was happy with him," Daniel corrected.
"Hm." The emperor rested his chin in his hand, his elbow wedged between two bars. "You weren't happy for him for that long, were you? Barely two years together, not counting the ones you spent pining for him. Well, and it looks like you don't have much longer to spend in heroic sacrifice, away from your true love." A hand darted out viper-fast and flicked his hair.
Daniel shied back.
"He'll feel your death, little one, and I will howl with glee over it. His pain will be delicious."
"I left him."
"He let you leave him. The fool probably thought he was doing something noble." The emperor rolled his eyes. "Come now, bonded!" He banged his palms against the bars. "If he wanted to find you he could have years ago!"
"Then he does not want-"
"He wants. Trust me he wants. I saw the way he looked at you, the depths he sunk to to protect you. You were the only thing that ever made him brave. He would never have stopped wanting you."
Unease stirred in Daniel. "I think I have been away too long. They are bound to have noticed my-"
"Leaving me so soon? I had hoped I could seduce you. Or at least lured you close enough to the bars to rip your throat out with my teeth." He looked amused at Daniel's sudden pallor. "I will confess I have spent many a night wondering how your blood would taste."
"Sir, you are a monster."
He mock bowed. "I, at least, have never claimed to be anything other."
"That my death is brutal and protracted?"
"No, I hope you find peace in whatever hereafter lies for your kind. Whatever life has done to you to make you…this…You have my pity, sir."
The emperor tilted his head to the side and studied Daniel out of cold, calculating eyes. "I'll take your pity. I don't think anyone has given it to be before. How novel."
"I really must be on my way. Goodnight, sir, and…goodbye." Daniel turned to leave and then froze as the screech of metal upon metal rang out behind him. The door to the emperor's cell had opened of its own accord. "This…" He thought back to Hazel's wedding taking place upstairs and then with a shiver remembered that it had yet to take place; it was scheduled for the week after next. The ease in which the guards had let him pass bespoke the truth of his situation as well. "This is a dream," he murmured, whirling to face the emperor leaning against the doorway of his prison.
"Yes. And no." The emperor took a step towards him and Daniel retreated.
"So we are meeting in a sense then? In our minds?" Daniel could not keep the distaste from his face, the thought that his mind was mingling with this monster's yet again…
"Funny how…realistic dreams can become."
"You are going to kill me."
The emperor's only response was a small smile.
Daniel raised his chin. "Why? I did not lead this revolt. I did nothing to you."
"It will hurt that little upstart. Won't that be enough? You said it yourself, Daniel. I like pain. And if I can leave the world inflicting one last wound…"
Daniel took another step back. The events of the real world were falling more into place, slipping through the crack of the dream-logic that ruled this 'world' he now stood in.
There had been a committee; Hazel had called it after announcing her nuptial plans. The purpose of that committee had been to vote on what should become of the city's most nefarious prisoner. The verdict had been for death and Hazel, mouth set in a grim line, had accepted her people's wisdom. There was one surprising condition that she had tacked on though.
"She said she would see out your execution herself," Daniel mumbled.
"Yes, I had heard. Little birds still find their way even into the deepest of dungeons. Why is that, do you think, that she will carry out my sentence herself?"
Daniel met his eyes. "She said that the Kin had had enough of rulers who would not dirty their own hands. She also said that the pain, the murdering, would end with her."
"Rather naïve, that."
"Perhaps. Even if it is impossible, I would rather live in a world where I can hope her vision will come true."
"You're proud of her."
"Of course I am."
"Well, let's see if her delusions of being better than her people's natures can live through your death." The emperor gestured and a cruel looking weapon appeared in his hand. He smiled broadly. "She won't be the only one to mourn you, you know. His pain…it would have been delicious to see his expression the moment he felt your death."
"You mean…Rosyth?" Daniel's back met a wall that had not previously been behind him. He tried desperately to wake himself up, but the dream held him fast. The guise of the handsome ruler dropped and Daniel saw the emperor in all his foul glory, the heart of his very soul was exposed. Daniel could not stop himself from whimpering.
An arm wrapped around Daniel and forced him behind the tall figure that seemed to have sprung from the blank wall behind him. "A pity I must deny you that pleasure. You won't be supping my tears this night."
Rosyth spared him a glance, before turning his attention to the monster before them. The emperor seemed nonplussed, but only for a moment. His gruesome smile was back and the weapon morphed into something even more wicked looking. "Not whom I was expecting to face tonight, but beggars cannot be choosers. Blood is blood after all."
"And this was a long time in coming," Rosyth grimly said. He took a step to meet the emperor, his hands still bare of weapons.
Daniel grabbed onto his sleeve. "Rosyth, he still has power in him! He could kill you!"
Turning to give Daniel a tired smile, Rosyth placed a hand over his. "Daniel, wake up."
The news of the former emperor's death rocked the city. Most were disappointed that they could not attend the execution; it was Daniel's understanding that many a pretty party had been planned around it.
"How strange it all is," Franmarrow mused, feet propped up on his kitchen table as Ke'thrala attended to his hair. "Not a mark on him and the guards swore that no one passed them."
"Guards can be bribed," Ke'thrala said between the hairpins she held in her mouth.
"Perhaps it was some sort of psychic attack," Daniel said, picking at his breakfast.
Ke'thrala snorted. "There would be no way in the hells that cagey bastard would lower his mental defenses enough for that to happen."
Daniel made a soft, non-committal sound.
The wedding between Hazel and Mer'lok was moved up a week to feed her people's need for the thwarted parties they had been denied. Daniel stood by Bel'rok throughout the ceremony and pretended not to notice that she sniffled and dapped at her eyes occasionally. Hazel had chosen to be wed in her uniform-much to the horror of her people-but honestly Daniel could not picture her in anything more becoming. This was what she really was, what she would always be: a warrior. She had fought the entirety of her life for one thing or another and nothing would ever make her lay her arms down. The former emperor had been right: Daniel was so very proud of her.
Confused applause started up as Hazel and Mel'rok embraced in front of the gatherers. "It must be odd to them," Bel'rok said, "having a wedding celebration and one from the Travelers' tradition to boot.
"The bonding of the Nel'rum is always a private affair then?"
She snorted. "Not always, but thankfully mostly."
Daniel shuddered. "Hopefully that will be one of the things to change."
"I won't hold my breath that it will be soon."
"Change will come in its own time, and I have faith it will be for the good."
"Change…" Bel'rok mused. "I never thought to see it come in my lifetime. Especially when her first rebellion ended as it did."
Daniel smiled. "She did not even let death itself stop her though."
Bel'rok frowned and played with a bit of ornamentation on her dress tunic. "I worry for them. I am glad my son has found happiness, but…"
"It is as you say, Dani'el: She lives beyond death now. And my son is but mortal."
Daniel took her hand. "Do not fret over something we do not even begin to understand just yet. Perhaps she will age; perhaps she very well is immortal now. But they have years and years to be together, and no matter what the outcome…Look at them!"
Mel'rok had picked Hazel up and was spinning her around as the crowd murmured in shock to see their empress laughing like a delighted child.
"They will be happy. That I do not just believe or trust in, I know."
Bel'rok squeezed his hand. "Thank you, Dani'el."
Daniel cleared his throat. "Do your people plan to move on soon?"
"Yes, as much as it pains me to leave my son, the winds of the Waste call us."
"I would go with you, if you still want me that is."
Bel'rok laughed. "I would have thought you would stay here and enjoy the prestige of your new position as the empress's soul-kin!"
Daniel shook his head. "Then you do not know me half as much as you claim to! I miss the desert; I miss my wanderings…and my freedom. Everywhere I go there are petitioners trying to gain my ear thinking I will relay their requests to Hazel…It is driving me mad! I cannot walk without tripping over supplicants!"
"I knew you were one of the People at heart, Dani'el. Travel with us as you want, you will always be a part of my caravan."
Daniel smiled as she embraced him. "Thank you, my lady. And now we really must go forth and give our blessings to our relations!"
"I am so weary of dreams," Daniel snarled as he 'woke' to corridors. He took a step forward and then paused as an echo of his footfalls spattered behind him. "It is you, is it not? Have you truly been dogging my steps for all these years, never revealing yourself?" Daniel felt anger flare within him and tried to quell it.
He spun around and faced the emptiness. "Why? Why did you leave me?" Because I wanted you to, he answered himself. Because I asked you to let me leave and, after your anger had faded, you loved me enough to honor my wishes. Daniel twirled the ring around his finger. "Rosyth, cannot you come stand before me?"
"I have…been thinking. On you, on me, on…us. On what transpired both before we met and after. I think I know why you disliked my former self so much, or disliked what he changed into at least. He reminded you overmuch of yourself, did he not?"
Was the silence heavier than before?
"No one wishes to die, Rosyth. Everyone fears it and can be reduced into doing mad, ignoble things to avoid it. I will not say I will ever entirely forgive you for what you have done, but I do begin to under-"
A cold wind blew down the corridor almost knocking Daniel to his feet. He raised his arms to protect his face and when he lowered them he found himself awake and staring up at the ceiling of Ke'thrala and Franmarrow's guestroom.
"You will not stay? Nothing I can say will make you stay?" Hazel, destroyer of empires, clung to his sleeve.
"I have to, Hazel. My place is not here."
"You can't just leave me here alone!"
Daniel laughed. "You are hardly alone! You are surrounded by your subjects and you have your husband." He glanced at Mel'rok, giving his own goodbyes to his mother.
"He's not you, Danny. They don't know what I've been through, not really. Not like you do."
"And mayhap that is for the best. It is time for you to put it behind you, to move on."
"And you have moved on from your past?" Her tone was challenging. When she was piqued she looked so much like her brother. It took Daniel's breath away.
"No. But I am trying," he hurried to add, taking her hands in his.
She curled her fingers around his. "You will come back to visit me, won't you? My oldest friend."
"My oldest and dearest friend, of course I will." He hoped it was not a lie as he stood on his toes to kiss her cheek.
It was all too easy to slip back into the routine of the trails. Daniel once more wore the mantle of the caravan's tinker. The work was relaxing as it had been before, but it was beginning to chaff ever so much. He looked up from the journal he was scribbling in, the start of his second attempt at a book, and stared out at the horizon. There was so much more to see out there, whole worlds! Think of all the civilizations and ruins he could still explore and chronicle! Then he shook his head and, tucking his journal under his arm, he entered his home.
He sat down at the small desk beside his bed and made himself sort through his notes. His first book was apparently very popular in the capital now that his "sister" was on the throne. The second book was being eagerly looked forward to, and Daniel did not wish to disappoint.
Daniel paused as he opened his eyes to his dream corridors. He knew well enough how this started and played along. Again there was the slight sound as if something were following him, the slightest echo to his breaths as if someone were right behind him. Unlike his previous ventures though, he stopped and spoke to the emptiness. "I know you follow me, Rosyth. Will you not appear before me? Am I not owed the courtesy of seeing your face as I address you?"
Silence. Daniel closed his eyes. "Very well then." He concentrated and then spun around, his hand shooting out, grasping at air…and closing on sturdy flesh. "Oh, Rosyth," he sighed opening his eyes. Rosyth it was, looking down at his wrist which Daniel held in a loose grip. Surprise smoothed into blankness. Daniel had to smile at his control.
"You're still improving in your mental abilities, I see," Rosyth drily remarked.
Daniel chuckled and shook his head. "All these years and that is all you can think of to say?"
Rosyth had the good grace to flush. "I meant, I always knew you would do well." The without me, hung between them. Daniel let him go and Rosyth rubbed his wrist as if it burned him.
"So you have been following me all this time."
"Not following, not really. I have no idea where you are in the real world, I would never pry that far," Rosyth hurried to assure. "I…You deserve your peace. I know that. I only want to be close enough where you can find me, if…If you ever need to find me." He would not meet Daniel's eyes.
Daniel touched his arm. "Could you?"
Rosyth flinched. "Could I what?"
"Could you find me? If I wanted you too? If you…wanted to?" The ring on his finger caught the light from a nearby torch and Rosyth's eyes lighted on it. His expression became almost grim.
There was a pounding on his door and Daniel's eyes flew open. His dream dissolved into shreds with the morning light. He pondered the small fragments of the dream that remained to him as he opened the door. The dream had seemed important and something about it had reminded him of Rosyth… One of servants of the wealthiest merchant in the town they had encamped in front of was before him. The machine that controlled the temperature of the merchant's house had broken in the middle of the night and could Daniel please set it to rights? Daniel forced a smile to his face and turned to gather his tools.
It was an unremarkable day when he looked up and beheld the rider on the cliff. The lone figure, stark against the sky, arrested something within Daniel, and he rose to his feet as if entranced. The journal he had been scribbling in-the beginnings of his third book- tumbled from his fingers and into the sand. Glancing around he saw that he was the only one to remark upon the presence watching over them. When he turned back he saw the figure was gone. Had he imagined it then? He resisted rubbing his eyes, afraid that he would banish the rider to being nothing but a figment if he did. Instead he walked to the holding pen to fetch Aeneus, making pains to keep his stride even and unhurried.
On the top of the cliff was a cave and not a sign of another soul about. Daniel dismounted and cast around him in disappointment. Had it been his imagination then?
A whickering from the cave burst forth and Aeneus shook out his mane and answered. Daniel clutched at his mount's neck and resisted the urge to remount and gallop away. When nothing emerged from the cave to greet them, he took a cautious step away from Aeneus. "Hello?" He approached the cave, always on the edge of flight. "Is anyone here?"
The cave was dark and Daniel could not see inside. Gulping, he raised his hand and summoned the blue flame before plunging inside. He turned a corner and yelped in surprise as he saw the man waiting for him, seated on the cavern floor. His hand closed into a fist of its own accord and he plunged them into night. His breath tangled in his throat and he started to run for the sunlight when a hand closed around his wrist.
"Please! I need to… I need…"
"Daniel, calm yourself. It's me."
"Rosyth? Please, I cannot stand the dark, I need to…"
"Summon your flame again. Apparently you no longer need to be in darkness unless you desire to." Was that deep voice the slightest bit teasing?
Glad that the darkness hid his blush, Daniel raised his hand and summoned the blue flame forth once more. It lit Rosyth's angular features with an eerie glow. Rosyth stared into the flame, refusing to look at Daniel. "How remarkable," he murmured.
"Not really. All you people can do something like it."
The slightest of smiles formed on Rosyth's lips. "I wasn't talking of the flame." His eyes darted to Daniel's and then away. He took a step back and Daniel immediately noted the loss of his body heat. He shivered and forced himself not to follow after. "You had wish to speak with me?"
Rosyth frowned. "In your dream-our dream- you had said…" He sighed. "Oh. I have made a mistake it seems. I will-"
"You will not." Daniel grabbed his arm as Rosyth tried to walk past him. "I…do not know if I have anything in particular to say to you, but…I did wish to see you again."
"To spit in my face?"
"Rosyth! Be civil."
"One of the last times we 'met' you compared me to a sniveling madman."
"And that sniveling madman was once me, you will remember. Rosyth, have a seat. Please."
A long moment's hesitation before Rosyth sat down on a curious ridge in the cavern wall.
"So…How have you occupied yourself since last we-"
"You did not summon me from across the world for banal chit-chat, surely?"
Daniel huffed. "You will remember I asked you for civility." He paused. "I wrote another book."
"I know." Rosyth studied a scuff on his boot. "I read it. I thought it very good."
Daniel could not help the smile blooming on his face or his pleased flush. "Thank you. It appears to have sparked a lot of interest among the Nel'rum, I mean, your people. Groups of amateur anthropologists and archeologists are springing up. Franmarrow says the library has never been busier!"
An awkward silence again fell upon them. Rosyth coughed. "That is...nice. I have done nothing as fruitful with my time. Mostly trying to keep beyond the reach of the emperor when he was still in power and protecting..." He coughed again.
"You killed him." When Rosyth did not reply, Daniel gently prompted further, "Why?"
"He would have killed you."
"Again, why, Rosyth? We are no longer together."
"And do you think merely that would stop me from-" Rosyth stood and began to pace. He halted and glanced down at Daniel's left hand. Rosyth's smile was mirthless. "I have always tried to do what was best for you. I know that it might not seem so, but I did. I…" He raked his hands through his hair and sat beside Daniel once more.
"You said once that I was the only one you had ever loved."
"I think it a lie."
Rosyth took his hand and played with the ring that adorned it. "Banish the light."
Daniel jumped. "Rosyth, you know that I cannot!"
"Please, I think what we must say to one another will go easier if we had the anonymity of darkness."
Daniel gulped. "You will…You will keep hold of my hand throughout."
Rosyth squeezed his hand. "If you want me to."
Closing his eyes and drawing a breath, Daniel made a fist of his hand and cast them into shadow.
"You shouldn't try to humanize me, Daniel."
"I am not. I only see what is there. You said you loved no one besides myself, but I know… You love your sister."
Rosyth snorted. "And I showed it in a pretty way!"
"You kept her alive the best you could. If you had let her live, truly live, the emperor would have caught the both of you and killed you. You did what you could."
"You are still so hopelessly naïve, my love. You called me a monster once and there was a time I might have pretended to be other, but that time has passed now." His fingers twirled the ring around and then started to take it off.
"No!" Daniel drew his hand back and clutched it to his chest.
"Daniel, it is time for you to be free in truth. Give it to me, give it back to me. Go on your journeys and write your histories. Visit the capital and your Maria and forget the darkness that came before it. Forget me."
"I do not want to."
"Daniel," Rosyth's voice was exasperated.
"No, wait! I do not know how you came to be here, but I am…happy for it. I have…missed you."
Rosyth snorted. "You have a new life now. An empress for a friend and a world eagerly following your literary adventures. You have everything you wanted, everything that you deserve."
"There was a time I thought I deserved you."
Such a bitter laugh answered that. "You never deserved me. I see that now. And I love you enough to wish to see you happy and to see you could never be happy with-"
Daniel placed a hand over his mouth. "I think I am best to judge what makes me happy."
"A dilapidated keep in the middle of the Waste with a man who murdered his family and turned his sister into an abomination? That is not befitting of you, Daniel."
"I was happy with you though."
"At first. Then you...grew up."
"Only me?" His fingers found the pulse in Rosyth's wrist and pressed against it. "There was a time where you threatened to keep me locked up should I ever try to leave you. Times where your jealousy and temper ran so hot it frightened me."
A sigh in the dark.
Daniel continued, "Yet I find out that you have had the means to find me for years now and left me alone until I asked for you. Am I the only one to grow, Rosyth?"
"And if I had, what then? It changes nothing. We are not meant-"
"It seems that your only concern is for my happiness or my lack thereof. If I were to tell you I see a way that I could have you and my happiness and my freedom?"
Quiet in the cave.
"I know…that you have committed unpardonable sins, but I have as well!" Daniel plunged ahead to interrupt Rosyth's protests. "And as I grow older I realize that I cannot judge anyone, I have not the right. My kind is not as long lived as yours, Rosyth, and even if we were…" He fumbled for Rosyth's fingers. They lay cold against his own and he tried to rub warmth into them. "I do not want to be alone as more years pass. I do not want to be without you, and I know it might seem selfish, but…I believe that after all I have been through, I am owed some selfishness."
Rosyth gently tried to take his hand back, but Daniel proved stubborn. He finally gave up and curled his fingers around Daniel's. He must have leaned forward, for Daniel felt his breath ghost across his cheek. "Even if you have earned your selfishness, I have not earned mine. I treated you horribly. I have done such horrors. I do not deserve-"
"Then see it as your penance!"
A small laugh against his face. "Watching over you for a lifetime, a penance?"
"I can make it one," Daniel challenged. Rosyth took hold of his chin and tipped it up the slightest bit.
"I have no doubt that you will." His lips met Daniel's and Daniel sank against the other man. When they parted it was not far, Rosyth kept hold of him and their noses brushed. "Bel'rok will never allow me to accompany the caravan."
"I know. You made me a promise once. To show me worlds. Does that still hold true?"
"More books you wish to write?"
Rosyth laughed and pressed a kiss to his brow.
"Yes, I will show you worlds, if that is what you wish. We will wander the stars until you grow tired of them."
"Then show me, Rosyth. Show me the multiverse, stay with me until I die. No matter how many worlds there are, if you aren't with me in one of them then they mean no-"
"Hush." Rosyth kissed him, but Daniel pulled away.
"I did try to forget you, to move on, but I could not. Every moment I wondered what you were doing at that exact instant and, oh! How my heart ached when I saw what had become of our home! No matter what you've done, I cannot stop-"
"I said hush," Rosyth chided, kissing him more firmly and this time not letting him wrench away.
When they finally parted, Daniel was breathless and flustered and entirely too happy. "Where should we journey to first, my love?" he asked, pulling Rosyth's arm around him.
Daniel swore he could feel Rosyth's smile light up the darkness. "I know the very place."
"It is just as beautiful as in my dreams!" Daniel marveled darting from one crystal to the next.
"Did you think I lied in our dreams?" Rosyth smiled as he watched Daniel.
"No, well, I thought you may have exaggerated a bit." Daniel crouched down beside an azure stone and held his hands up before it, watching the glow light his palms.
"I finally kept my promise," Rosyth said as he knelt beside Daniel.
Daniel smiled at him and nudged his forehead with his own. "You always do keep your promises, I am finding out."
"Look, this is a change from your dreams: You have a reflection here." Rosyth stroked over the smooth surface of the stone, over the perfect mirror of Daniel's face. Daniel's smile froze. He did not like seeing his face overmuch these days, the wrinkles that were beginning to form in the corners of his eyes, the streaks of grey in his hair. He forced himself to laugh.
"It occurs to me that the keeping of promises should be rewarded." He wrapped his arms around Rosyth's neck and drew him down.
"Should it?" Rosyth feigned surprise, but his golden eyes danced.
"Oh, yes." Daniel smiled as their lips brushed.
"Do you ever think of Maria?" Daniel asked as his lover lazily stroked his body as they lay before the fire.
"Yes, every now and then."
"And what do you feel, when you think of her?" Daniel asked leaning over Rosyth.
Daniel raised an eyebrow. "I guess she could be seen to be your greatest creation. Going on to become Empress, conquering death itself, ecterea." He let himself drop down onto Rosyth's chest and smiled as the other's arms rose to embrace him.
Perhaps I will have another someday, another marvelous creation." Rosyth carded through Daniel's hair, pausing to tweak a strand of it.
Daniel laughed. "Perhaps you will, but let them be of more lovely aspect than the majority of your constructs have been."
"If I dare try my hand at invention again, I promise it will only be on the loveliest of specimens."
Sorry, I had to end with the creepy. I tried for fluffy, but it didn't really ring quite right... I am so sorry for the long delays in this story and thank you so much for those of you who are still reading this. Thank you so much for your reviews, comments and support and I am so sorry I was not able to reply to you all as I used to do. My health has taken a really nasty turn and I spent a great deal of July in the hospital. I hope the quality of the story didn't suffer from these long hiatuses and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It's been quite the adventure writing this, and I really do hope that Rosyth and Daniel have their happy ending, even if Daniel might be an undead construct in that happy ending. I hope that you will see more stories from me in the future, especially Amensia-ish ones. I am looking forward to A Machine of Pigs! This is getting rambling, but just...Thank you. I couldn't have written this much or gotten through this tough time in my life without all of you.