A/N: And the last chapter is extra-extra long! With a jaw-dropping shocker at the very beginning, too. :D
Five months have passed since my last entry, but even now my hands shake. I do not wish to write this, but I feel I must. There must be a record, even if it is never read by anyone but myself.
I have done the unthinkable. I never intended to use this spell and yet I have. I do not know myself, I do not know what thoughts took hold of me; I cannot even remember the moment it happened, not with any clarity.
What I do remember is this: I remember the High Priest himself asking to speak to me. I remember a…a coldness, something shining. There was rage, hatred, and then…
Then my former friend, the dragon Ahzidyol, was staring at me with an expression of great terror and disbelief. "What have you done?-!" he cried. "You were never supposed to use that spell! What have you done?-! What have you become?-! Whose eyes look out from yours?" and he fled with a cry of such terror that I was stunned in place. And then I saw the book in my hands and I knew who was trapped within.
The High Priest is now sealed within the very grimoire he had presented to me as a gift.
~ Excerpt from Rorek's memoirs.
Chapter 56 – The Date
What is it about me, these days? Raven wondered as she watched Red X nervously pace back and forth in a rather opulent sitting room of his mansion. It was one of many which, she had to assume, had been chosen at random. There was no way the 60-square-foot portrait of unicorns galloping through a flower-infested forest had had anything whatsoever to do with the choosing of this room. Red X – whom she would always think of as 'Red X' even when he was out of costume and being referred to as 'Master Wilson' by Mr. Wintergreen – must have been made blind by nerves.
But, really, what was it? Did she have 'tell me about your problems, I can fix them' written on her face? If not, then how come Red X, despite his proclamation that she could give people shadow-phobia, had decided to unload his life-story on her of all people? She had thought he and Lady Eisen would have bonded, but apparently their friendship consisted of picking on one another and playing video games in versus mode, which got highly competitive. He wasn't comfortable confessing his deep secrets to her.
So, why had he come to Raven? Well, because Raven could keep secrets and went out of her way to help a guy in a tough spot even when she didn't like him much. She'd certainly been there for Red X often enough both before and after the Church of Blood was finished – though at least he'd waited until she was on crutches before making the latter demands. But you didn't necessarily have to like someone to care about them.
It'd taken a lot of convincing to get him to actually go looking for this adopted grandfather of his. Eventually he had. And once he had it was almost ridiculous how easy the elderly man was to find. In all these years he'd never left that church. He wasn't the pastor anymore, but he was still there and still a major part of it.
At first the plan had been to go to this church on a Sunday morning, but even Raven could see that this might cause a bit of a scene.
"Yeah, especially if you burst into flames the moment you step inside, right?"
"Watch it, you. Have crutches, will thwack."
So then Raven suggested he make a donation to the church. Not a huge one. Large amounts of money cause large amounts of trouble and, shockingly, people who go to church on Sundays (a proper church, mind you, the kind that don't ask for you to cut your wrist into the offering plate and are perfectly willing to accept cash), are not perfect. They're people. Sure, you'd like to expect more from them, but people are people. If they were perfect they wouldn't need the church, would they? But it needed to be a large enough donation to get attention. And once it got that attention then, perhaps, the young billionaire might invite a certain retired pastor and his wife of the past five years to come to dinner. How could they refuse?
Red X had been pacing the drawing room for the past two hours asking the same questions over and over again in slightly different ways as though he'd get different answers.
"What if he doesn't recognize me?"
"Then you can tell him who you are. I have no doubt he'll remember you."
"What if he does recognize me?"
"Don't you want him to?"
"What should I say?"
"What would you normally say?"
Which was probably why, when Mr. and Mrs. Phelting had been ushered into the sitting room and Mr. Phelting's face showed such obvious recognition that not even a sugar-jacked Pomeranian could have mistaken it for indigestion, Red X's response was, "Uh…hiya Gramps. Miss me?"
For a moment, Raven was worried that Mr. Phelting was going to have a heart attack. Then his face broke into a smile of such joy that she was acutely aware of the fact that she really, really shouldn't be here. But Red X had insisted and wouldn't have gone through with it at all if she hadn't promised to come.
"Yes, Brian," Mr. Phelting answered, his throat tight and his voice choked. "I did. Terribly." His emotions were so strong, so overwhelmingly potent that they broke through Raven's defenses like a tidal wave through a sheet of glass. It took all the will she could muster to stop her own eyes from moistening with tears, and the joyful screaming of his spill words weren't helping much either.
Mrs. Phelting's jaw dropped. "B-Brian? You're Brian?" she yelped, her hands going to her mouth, jangling the many beaded necklaces she was wearing around her neck. "Oh, Nick, is it really him? You're sure?"
Mr. Phelting was sure alright. He threw his hands around Red X, who was only able to pretend to be embarrassed for a second before he decided he didn't care anymore and he hugged right back.
Deciding that if she didn't leave she'd probably burst into tears herself, Raven picked up her crutches and pulled herself to her feet. To her slight surprise, Mrs. Phelting followed her and even opened the door for her. She closed the door behind them and Mr. Wintergreen materialized to show them to another sitting room. Then he left, promising to bring them tea and cookies while they waited.
"It is Brian, isn't it?" Mrs. Phelting burst out suddenly. "Oh, I am so sorry, I forgot to ask your—" she stopped suddenly when she got a good look at Raven. Yeah, even wearing a sweater and jeans Raven wasn't too difficult to recognize.
"Raven." Raven answered unnecessarily. "And we don't exactly call him 'Brian', but I hope you'll keep that quiet."
"Of—of course. I…What do you…but what happened? Nick told me Brian ran away but it always seemed to me that he didn't quite believe it."
"I think I should let him decide what all to tell you. It's a bit…complicated. He didn't run away, but he couldn't come back until now. I'm more or less here for moral support, and because I can't exactly return to my chosen profession until I'm off the crutches."
"What happened to you, Dear?" Mrs. Phelting asked.
"A lot. But it's over now. That's all that matters."
"Has anyone seen my scarf?" Malchior asked.
"Many times." Raven answered, not looking up from her book.
"What's that you've got on your face? A bag?" Beast Boy asked.
"Ha ha, no. It's a spare, I have five but one of them is missing."
"Maybe Rorek took it thinking it was one of his." Nightwing suggested.
"No, we keep track. He doesn't have any more than he should. I'm starting to suspect that rabbit." he said, leering over at Ru, who was ear-deep in a bowl of salad.
"Hare." Raven corrected absently.
"Same thing." he said. "Anyway, last time I had that scarf was in our bedroom where she was sleeping." he went on.
Which wasn't true. The last time he'd had that scarf had been in Raven's bedroom when The Other had decided enough was enough and she'd shoved Malchior against the wall, yanked his scarf off, and proceeded to do to him what he and Rorek frequently did to her; EG: Make his brain go all fizzy and seriously dampen his ability to walk. The Other with no personal experience had been able to put stars in Rorek's head. The Other in possession of a decent idea of what she was doing had probably made Malchior forget what a scarf even was for a while there.
And then she kept it. In fact, she was wearing it around her shoulders right now like a shawl. She wondered how long it would take for him to figure it out.
"On the subject of clothing theft," Raven began, and the barb in that statement was so huge and obvious that a clump of moss could have spotted it. "Something you want to tell me, Malchior?" she asked sweetly.
"You know it's probably in the wash I just forgot I'm going to go check!" he blurted out and was gone.
"Wow, guilty much?" Lady Eisen snickered. "Hang on a minute, what's that you've got around your neck?"
Raven lowered her book enough to smile impishly, "I'll give him back his scarf when he gives me back my missing cloak." Though she knew dannik well it wasn't a cloak he'd stolen.
Nightwing laughed. "Nice one, Rae."
The weeks had passed. Most of them, especially at the beginning, had passed swiftly since Raven had slept them away. During that time she had managed to tell the twins about the god in the mirror and also report that there were no more gods in her dreams. It was over. And they all rested easier for it.
And, once her body stopped demanding a ridiculous amount of sleep from her, she'd gotten bored. She hadn't been allowed out in the field until she could do away with the crutches without cheating by way of levitation, so, while everyone else got a little excitement in their day, she was left at home.
And that was why she had joined the arts and crafts class that the Wax Ribbon was holding. Though arts and crafts for magic-users was…put it like this: There was a reason you weren't allowed to participate unless you were 18 and over. That reason being that if you blew yourself up as an adult then it was your own fault.
Raven's project had probably been the most boring out of all of them if only because there was no risk of explosions. For one thing, what she was making wasn't magical. Magic was simply being employed by way of an event duplication charm (which, in programming language, would probably read as something along the lines of, 'what you do here happens there') and an Azarathian pen. The objects themselves had been made by people who had an easier time crafting things than weaving spells and were good at it – better than she was, certainly. They had made these to her exact specifications.
They were books. Large, thick books that were the exact same size, the exact same shape, and had the exact same number of thick black pages. The only difference was that one was red with black lining and the other was blue with white lining. The event duplication charm she had placed meant that she only needed to apply her pen to the pages of one book and whatever she did there would show up on the pages of the other book. This did require about twice as much ink as usual and she kept having to refill her pen, but it also meant that she wasn't having to draw the same thing twice.
The pen was quite special. It was a bit more like a marker than a pen, but it had an adjustable head that could go from pinpoint to finger-sized with considerable ease. The ink was also special. It was a new invention and Malchior had made sure – through Rorek – that they got a lot of it. Which they had. It was amazing just how far a tiny bit of gold went on Azarath. Especially when it was so pure you could leave marks in it with your fingernails. The reason the ink was amazing was because it was very easy to adjust the pigments with magic before you applied it to a piece of paper. So easy, in fact, that you could adjust them while you were drawing your lines with the pen. It took a while to figure out the trick of it, but once she had…
Malchior would like this, she knew it. She hoped Rorek would as well. He probably would, it was just…
These designs were in color and against a black background. This was exactly as they should be. From her pen came abstract images of many different variations and colors. Some pages were monochrome with different shades of the same color, others had many colors, others only had a set range of colors, and still others were monochrome with flecks of defiantly different colors here and there. There was no order to them. Each page opened on to different images and designs, some of which filled the entire spread, some taking up small sections so a page could have up to twenty small knots of color each disconnected from one another. And the images flowed so freely and so easily that she sometimes couldn't stop and simply stayed in a dark corner of the Wax Ribbon after the class was over still working on it, the background music no more distracting than the chatter and sporadic bangs of the class itself. She hardly had to think about them at all. It was like the designs themselves were taking over her hand and directing her power to change the pigments to the color they wanted.
But as she neared the last few pages she started to wonder if she could really do this. It was bad enough letting someone see her pencil doodles and she'd even been shy about having Malchior and Rorek looking at the designs she put in her dreamscapes. This…this was so much…more. This was colored, just as they were meant to be. And it was on black paper, which fitted. It was like…it was…
It felt like she was laying herself out bare in these pages, exposing what she was in a way that went down as far as the soul. And that was silly! This wasn't her. This wasn't what or who she was. These were the patterns she saw when she looked at her unleashed power within the depths of a meditative state.
So why did she suddenly feel so reluctant to even show them these books much less gift them as she'd intended?
When the last page had been inked she suddenly felt terrified. Like she'd just laid herself out on a table and was not only naked but had her skin pulled back so that her organs were in full view and all it would take was the slightest touch in the wrong place to end her. She couldn't do it, she couldn't! She wished she'd never made these books in the first place! She should just burn them, burn them right now before anyone else saw them.
But she wanted the twins to have them. And yet she felt so exposed. Like doing so would give them so much power over her and she couldn't understand why.
She'd often thought that artists put a bit of themselves into their work. Perhaps that was what this was. Perhaps there was some deep magic in this. Perhaps the simple fact of where these designs had come from was all it took and anyone who had the right kind of knowing could run their fingers over the pages and somehow be touching the part of her where that power dwelt. Deep down inside, down past the corporeal shell.
Not yet, a soft voice whispered in her mind. You're not ready yet.
She relaxed. No, not yet. She wasn't ready. She definitely wasn't ready. There was something…something else. Something more that had to be said, done, and explained. Perhaps there were several somethings. Bumps to be ironed out, different phases of the relationship to get through. And then…one day…
So she put the books in the same place that she kept Rorek's diary, the grimoire, and the scroll. It was probably the safest place in the world.
There were a lot more dolls in the chest now. She wasn't sure how she knew that, since there was never any distinct amount and the inner dimensions of the chest itself were up for debate, but they were there. She wondered if she should feel worried about that.
Books safely hidden, she picked up one of the rag dolls and ran her fingers through its yarn-like hair, untangling some of the knots.
"They were stone masks for Hrist."
Raven jumped and jerked 'round. Rorek was standing in the doorway of her closet, leaning against the frame. Raven found herself clutching the doll to her chest, almost as though she'd been caught with something embarrassing. But Rorek's eyes were soft and…understanding. She ran through his words in her mind. Hrist…Hrist…she vaguely remembered that name but couldn't quite place it. It was such a long time since she'd read Malchior's version of Rorek's diary. "What…what are you talking about?" she asked.
Malchior appeared next to him. "Rorek thought that it was our rings which protected the Titans from the higher glangs' poisons. It was not, however. Not even the nibelungen iron would have worried them. They may be crafted by Blood Magic but, somehow, they are not exactly of it and do not have the same weaknesses."
"So what stopped them?"
"You did, My Love." Rorek told her. "In a way. Their association with you was their protection."
"Oh there have been some instances where an individual was not only immune to the higher glang but could actually cause damage should they so much as touch them. No one is quite sure why, but perhaps there are some people that Iiam Bormah simply says 'thus far and no further'. If there is one thing evil fears more than Faal Vopraan, it is Iiam Bormah Himself." Malchior explained.
"Faal Vopraan?" 'The Unresting'. Raven looked down at the doll in her hands.
"You are what is called a Dark Keeper." Rorek explained. "A Vuldein in the dragon tongue. There is a poem carved in a deep cave where one dragon tried to describe and explain what a Vuldein was."
"What's the poem?"
Malchior cleared his throat and recited it.
Nust praan ko hin vokun
Hin nust kopraan los haas
Strun haalvut lein ko hi
Faal Vopraan hon hin volaas
Nust los strun, hi los qo
Hin aakhaalvut nust hind
Ko hi los ro, ko hi kopraan
Hi los jul se jul grind
Hin miinne tuz vulom
Hi hon rot vosu'um
Hi los se jun drehzul vul
Nust yah hi ol veysun
Faal Vopraan praan hin vokun
Raven translated these verses in her head.
They rest in your shadow
The shape you give them is a balm
The storm touches earth where you walk
The Unresting hear your song
They are a storm and you are the lightening
Your guiding hand is their need
In you is focus, in you is a body
You are human as human they meet
Your eyes pierce darkness
You hear words without sound
You are of light and called dark
They seek a ship and you are found
The Unresting rest in your shadow
"Faal Vopraan…" she repeated. "That's what the dragons call them?" It seemed somehow more adequate a name than just 'the shadows'. For one thing, the words themselves felt as though they had taken on flavor of the entities they named. Or, perhaps, these entities had accepted these words as their name. There was no way to tell with Draconic.
Ru had told her she wasn't the only one but she hadn't really considered what that meant until now. It felt…good. A sense of peace was settling over her and it took a moment for her to understand. She wasn't the only one. This was something that had been going on for years – centuries – perhaps even since the beginning of time.
Vuldein, Dark Keeper; there was even a name for what she was. Somehow that made it so much easier to accept. And that poem…she wasn't sure just how accurate it was. She doubted there was any way for the shadows, Faal Vopraan, to be clearly defined and thus there was no way for the purpose or existence of a Dark Keeper to be clearly defined. But…it was enough. It was something to cling to, some way of putting all this in some sort of order in her head where it could be neatly inserted into the rest of her life. Sort of.
She realized she was still clutching the doll. She put it back in the chest and closed it. "I'm…um…sorry I didn't…I mean…"
"We understand, Love." Malchior told her. "This isn't something you can really tell someone about. It's somewhat similar to the reason we decided not to tell the others about the gods unless it was absolutely necessary. If people went around knowing everything about everything about the world then they'd never get out of bed."
"Those who should know will find out." Rorek assured her.
She nodded. And this, too, was a relief. She had wanted to tell them. The secret felt like one more wall that kept her separate from the rest of the world; the rest of her friends. It was nice to have them on this side of that wall with her. And with that she realized that one more bump had been ironed out. She was a step closer to giving them the books she had only just shut away in her chest.
"You…said something about someone named Hrist?"
"I'm so glad you're letting me redo your makeup Miss Raven! After that night I kept thinking that some of the shades just weren't as flattering as they could be." Eric gushed.
She hadn't intended to have him redo her makeup. She'd originally just come in to get him to do her hair but he was so enthusiastic, like a kid whose Christmas had come early, that she just didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. So she sat down in his chair and let him work his magic, literally.
"Wow, the other makeup lasted a long time. You must have liked it a lot. You'll like this even more, I promise! But we should probably do your hair first. Would you like it trimmed as well? You don't have any split ends, but it could do with a bit of shaping and evening out." he went on.
"Um, yes, yes go ahead and do that. Only this time don't make it wavy."
"No, I thought about that too and wavy wasn't quite right. How about making it thicker? Giving it more body? That would work better than making it wavy. I was thinking of curling it at the ends but, no, that wouldn't work quite right either. Let's see…"
Even to Raven's inexperienced eye, the makeup's difference was an improvement. There was a hint of violet in the dark shadow he'd put around her eyes and the color on her lips was a pale pastel lavender blue that was about the same shade as her skin and didn't stand out nearly as much as the dark blue. This brought the most of one's attention to her eyes, which were suddenly quite heavy in the lashes department. It brought out the flecks of both blue and violet that often battled for supremacy as the dominant color in her irises. Eric had also somehow managed to put a polish on her ajna chakra. Her hair was also…fuller. Much fuller and much thicker. It was impossible, but it almost seemed as though Eric had managed to increase the actual number of hairs on her head. And it was very soft. She liked it, but she wouldn't want to keep it like this forever. She was still getting used long hair. She really didn't need to have this much more of it to deal with on a regular basis.
She paid Eric for his work and teleported herself directly to her room where she had the dress laying out on her bed waiting for her. It had come with a lot of jewelry. A ridiculous amount of jewelry, in fact. But she wasn't about to wear all of it. The jewelry that was attached to the dress itself she'd keep, but she only needed one necklace, one set of bracelets (one of which would be the one Rorek made for her sub-space pocket), and the earrings.
Once more she had issues trying to figure out how to get it on. Then she gave up and used magic. She was giving her reflection a critical once-over to see if anything needed to be adjusted when there was a knock on her door.
"Friend Raven! Do you require assistance?" Starfire's voice asked with hope.
Raven opened the door by magic and was about to answer when she realized that Starfire wasn't the only one there. Terra and Lady Eisen were both hovering next to her with big smiles on their faces. Those smiles became dropped jaws.
"Um…I think I've got it. Thanks, though." Raven told them.
"Did you do your makeup?-!" Terra exclaimed.
"No, no. I had my hair and makeup done by Eric Divan. He's a magic-user who specializes in this sort of thing." Raven answered swiftly.
"Isn't that the dress that Mother Mayhem made you put on?" Lady Eisen asked.
"Well, sort of. The original dress was white, but it didn't look right so, before I turned into The Other to fool the Church of Blood, I changed the color. Malchior suggested I think of it as a sort of trophy, but he was probably just angling for any excuse to get me to wear it." she explained. Terra laughed and came around behind Raven to adjust some of the short decorative skirts. They weren't all full skirts. Some of them went off to the side, others parted open in the middle, and one or two were only skirts because they were too wide and ruffled to be sashes. Everything had a gold border to it, and many of the skirts had jewels glittering in the designs of said borders. "Besides, the only other dress I have is about as flattering as a plank of wood." she added.
This dress, the other hand, could have fed a third-world country for well over a year. The jewels on it were real. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and topazes of many different shades and colors were all glittering in various places on her person. If they had been going anywhere public she would have flatly refused to wear it. Unless it was Halloween, that is. Then she could just say she was dressed as a queen and everyone would assume the jewels were fake. She usually dressed up as the Grim Reaper, though. She pulled it off very well. She wasn't sure why, but it was something about having a scythe in her hands, even if it was made of plastic. She wondered if she could get away with being the Grim Reaper in this dress, though. Probably not.
"Oh, Raven! You look glorious!" Starfire gushed, hovering around Raven to see if there was anything she could do to help as well. But apparently Terra had taken care of the last little detail.
"Do you have a swim suit?" Lady Eisen asked.
Raven stared at her. "Yeah…why?"
Eisen grinned. "You should probably bring it. And some toiletries, and an extra change of clothes…just expect to be spending the night."
"Nightwing is allowing that?" Raven asked, surprised.
"Well he did make a fuss, and then Rorek took him aside and told him something that made him change his mind. Not sure what it was, though."
Probably Rorek was explaining to Nightwing just why his fathering instincts didn't need to worry about…certain things.
It was strange. Malchior and Rorek were all but completely denied this one freedom. Pre-marital hanky-panky didn't kill humans, after all (except in the case of certain particularly visceral STDs). And yet, because this rule was so strict it would personally come around and mince them if they broke it, it opened up other freedoms. Sleeping in their arms, kissing in her bedroom, and spending the night somewhere remote with just the three of them were all options opened to them because of the certain knowledge that nothing would happen. Nothing could happen. Not if the two dragons wanted to remain in one piece.
She was starting to wonder if bonding was really the same thing as a marriage. For some reason she had the feeling that it was somehow different, deeper. Part of the draconic Law that could not be broken. Humans married and got divorced all the time. Why did she get the feeling that divorce was flat out not an option for dragons?
Malchior and Rorek were not in their usual armor. Instead they were wearing white tunics over their black bodysuits and scarves had been set aside for the night. On their feet were leather boots, and on the tunics there was embroidery along the hems. Silver for Rorek and gold for Malchior. Closer inspection revealed that the tunics were made of silk, and the embroidery on the hems were draconic characters. They each had a leather belt around their waist, and there was a definite sense that they'd taken greater care with their hair tonight.
Lady Eisen had detached herself from Raven some minutes before she went looking for them and was currently straightening collars and sleeves to their joint embarrassment. The guys were trying not to snicker. They stopped having to try when Raven entered the room. Then all eyes were on her and all jaws dropped. Although in the case of Red X (who was still hanging around the tower despite having his own mansion now), this was mostly a guess.
"Daaaaaaang." X whistled. "And I thought Four Eyes made that dress look good."
"You…kept it?" Nightwing asked, eyes wide.
"Come now, Nightwing. I have seen your room. You understand the concept of trophies, do you not?" Rorek asked. He stepped forward and swept into a bow, taking Raven's hand and kissing it. "You look absolutely stunning, My Lady." he told her.
Rorek's eyes shot open and he rounded like a gunshot on his silfron. "You are shameless!" he exploded.
Malchior just shrugged and grinned. The spill words started flying since the two were decent enough to keep their argument internal, but Raven didn't let it go on for too long. She took Rorek by the arm. "Are we going or what?" she asked.
"Shouldn't we be getting pictures or something?" Lady Eisen asked.
"What are you, our mother now?" Malchior demanded. With uncanny timing, Ru hopped up onto Lady Eisen's shoulder and wiggled her nose pointedly at Malchior. He glared at the hare. "No." he stated. "I absolutely refuse to be mothered by a bunny rabbit!"
'Pictures now!' Ru demanded.
"One picture, and then we're leaving." Raven stated, palming her communicator from the sub-space pocket on her wrist. She put it in camera mode and handed it over to Lady Eisen. "Come on." she said, pulling Malchior towards her.
A/N: Everyone's read that comic 'Malchior the Gentleman', right? XD
They were in her ship and Malchior was flying it. Sort of. He'd had a crash course in piloting from Cyborg but after five minutes of not knowing how to compensate for the unexpected turbulence of the western sea winds and he gave up. He was now directing the ship's flight with magic. The engine was still doing the actual flying, but levitation was pointing it in the right direction and keeping it steady. After another ten minutes Raven was blindfolded so she wouldn't see their destination coming up.
The ship landed a little shakily but it landed and Raven was carried out of it. The salty sea air was prominent here. More prominent since said air was free of the pollution that your nose stopped smelling after a while in a big city. She could hear the steady lapping of waves in the distance, felt a cool breeze somewhere that must be shady because it was only afternoon and the sun was hot today. Her feet felt a smooth surface beneath the glittering slippers and there was a sense of…openness. Openness that felt a bit different from how it might be if they were simply standing outside.
Still blindfolded, Raven was guided by two pairs of hands across a walkway that felt like glass or polished stone, up a short flight of stairs and a few more steps of smooth walkway. Then the dragons turned her about and removed the blindfold.
They were inside a cavern, the mouth of which was wide and looked out onto a wide beach. To the far left was what might have been a sheer drop if it hadn't been for all the crystal clear water that filled it up, around her were straightened and polished levels of stone that could not have been natural, and above her…
Above her it looked like someone had cut open a geode and found it lined with quartz. In her experience, stalactites and stalagmites were generally a dull sandy color since the normal component of the secretions that made them was calcium carbonate. These stalactites, however, were milky white. In fact, some of them were almost translucent while others even had hues of blue and green. There were stalagmites off in the distant reaches of the cave which no normal eye would be able to see considering how dark it was, but around here there were none. That was strange. So was the smooth stone beneath her feet that looked like it had been mixed with flakes of crystal sand. So were the steps. And so was the stone structure behind her.
It was a tower. Not a large one. It was very wide but it only had two stories at most, unless you counted the roof. That was occupied by stone dragons in various poses. Small dragons about the size of large dogs, but they had incredible detail.
There was also writing carved into the tower. Dragon writing. And when she started reading one of the columns out of curiosity she realized that it was the poem that had been cleverly tucked neatly into a random part of the book of draconic literature. The one that had been written specifically for her.
She blushed and was unable to stop the smile from taking over her face. The first draconic structure in hundreds of years and the writing on it was a love poem to her.
"This area is impossible to reach by land or sea. The surrounding scape is extremely rocky and the sea itself looks like the kind of place you'd expect to find Sirens sitting around luring ships to their deaths. No one knew this cave even existed because no one could get close enough to the beach to see what the deeper shadow under the cliff face actually was. Though, to be honest, I don't think anyone cared too much about this place to bother speculating about it. Even small boats go around to avoid the huge rocks, if they come by here at all." Malchior explained.
"Purchasing this area was quite easy, actually. The previous owner seemed happy to give it up. I highly doubt he would have had he known what was here, but since it is only valuable to those of us to whom flight comes easily, it was a win-win situation." Rorek went on.
"You bought this place?"
"I do not believe it would have been legal to work the stone and build a dwelling if we had not." Rorek said.
He was right about that. There was, more or less, no such thing as wilderness anymore. Everything had an owner these days, even if that owner was the Federal Government.
But…this was theirs. This cave was big enough for Malchior and Rorek to fly a few laps in the air as dragons (though not both at the same time), and there was no telling just how deep it went. She wasn't even sure just how deep the water was. It was so clear that she could, in theory, see the bottom. But it, like the cave itself, curved out of sight. And it was all theirs. A home away from home. Just for them.
Raven wrapped her arms around the twins' necks and hugged them tightly. "It's wonderful."
Malchior and Rorek had learned about how dates typically took place in the evenings and did not agree. Especially not for what they had planned, which was to get Raven in a bathing suit and go play on the beach that they now owned.
So instead of a fancy dinner they'd had a fancy lunch within the tower – which was absolutely stunning, even if it was a bit chilly. Since it was made entirely of stone, all insulation and ventilation was done by way of rugs, tapestries, and magic. In fact, Malchior and Rorek had worked very hard to replace with magic all the little comforts and luxuries they had in the T-Tower. And that was impressive, especially the light switches. The lights were all glowing crystals hanging from the ceilings that, unlike light bulbs, were not usually connected to a source of power. But here they were, and so was the air conditioning (cooling and heating crystals within the ventilation system), and even the plumbing. Everything had enchantments that were activated when the stones were given power, and they got their power from a central crystal in the basement, which was huge and could be charged up quite easily – especially by people who had more power than they knew what to do with.
What was more, Cyborg had been brought in to help them install electrical outlets and make little converters that would turn the magical energy into electricity. These all needed to be turned on in order to be used and when you were done it was advisable to turn them off again, but they were there, they were behind discrete covers so as not to disrupt the ambiance, and they worked like a charm.
There was a decent amount of furniture, but because there was a lot of space, it didn't seem like much. There was a fireplace in the living room, a sofa, two armchairs, and what turned out to be a working television installed into the fireplace mantel behind a pair of ornamental drapes.
The twins had clearly given up where the kitchen was concerned, though. Rorek had gotten so used to modern technology that going back to cauldrons and cooking fires was just too difficult and so all the amenities had been installed. The counters, cupboards, and pantry shelves were made of that same polished granite with the crystal flakes and everything electrical was at least black and shiny so it looked pretty sleek, but the fact was that there was a stove, an oven, a refrigerator, microwave, toaster, and sink.
The dining room was different. The chairs and table appeared to have been made from the crystal-like stalactites and stalagmites, though cushions had been added and the shape of both were a lot more stylized than the average worker could have afforded even if they'd been made of hardened plastic. There was a bronze chandelier hanging above them supporting hundreds of tiny glowing crystals. Tapestries depicting interesting pictures of flowers and mythical creatures surrounded them and there were various statues and bits of ornamentation that somewhat resembled the baubles Rorek had decorated his room with. Raven wondered just how much stuff the two of them had accumulated. Just how long had they been around before the whole fiasco with Vergonda? How old were they really?
It seemed like such a big dining room for such a small table, though, and she pointed this out while they were eating the fantastic meal that Rorek had cooked. He was getting really good. Raven was a bit jealous. She felt instinctively that this wasn't fair.
"We have a larger table." Rorek explained. "But we decided not to use it unless we invited others here for whatever reason. It seemed a bit too much for just the three of us."
After lunch they showed Raven to her room upstairs. It didn't have its own bathroom and it wasn't as big as her room in the tower even without dimensions that stuck their tongues out at the laws of physics, but it had a large bed, a vanity desk, a walk-in closet, and an entire wall that was cut out for the specific purpose of being a set of book shelves. It also had a window that had an amazing view of the cave's stalactite structure and its spring.
She almost expected the bed's mattress to be stuffed with feathers, but it seemed as though the twins had decided to buy a modern mattress and set of box springs and then build the frame around it. They'd bought a lot of things for this place. Well, they could, couldn't they? They were probably walking around with more gold than was in the national treasury. And one gold coin could get you a lot of credit plus the unending friendship of the technicians and alchemists on Azarath.
They'd had plenty of time to do all this too, hadn't they? Raven wondered just how often they came back here. She hadn't really noticed it, but they'd been tag-teaming again, hadn't they? One was always around while the other was mysteriously elsewhere and she hadn't thought about it because, once again, it was easier to be the girlfriend of two boys when they took turns.
She changed into her swimsuit in her room. It probably wasn't what the twins (Malchior in particular) were hoping for, though. It was, more or less, the same as her costume just without the legs or arms and with a bit of extra padding in the chest area to compensate for the lack of bra. Oh it was a bit more form-fitting, but they probably had more to look at when she was wearing the dress since the suit came right up to her neck and didn't even dip down invitingly in the back. By modern standards, it was almost ridiculously modest for a swimsuit. But Raven had never been particularly comfortable showing off and it was a rather old bathing suit. Dark blue with a black raven on the back.
The twins were both wearing black swimming trunks. And nothing else. And that was when Raven noticed something a bit…odd.
"Do…you two shave your legs?" she asked curiously.
Rorek coughed. "No, no we just do not have any body hair. It only grows on our heads."
"Oh." which would explain why they had no arm hair, chest hair, or facial hair.
The sea was a bit cool since autumn was coming on early this year, but Raven could turn some of her power into heat to warm her body and it wasn't a problem. It was kind of fun swimming around and going far enough out that the waves caught you. But, unfortunately, what fun she might have had if she'd been a normal girl was taken away by the fact that she could fly and there wasn't much novelty in the buoyancy of water. However, the 'rocks' that Rorek and Malchior told her about were actually tall pillars of darkened stone that looked a bit too theatrical not to be part of some cartoon or movie. There were lots of them, one or two with tops smooth enough to sit down on, and they were fun. Especially when a game of tag had been initiated and the joy of having some playful childish fun was flavored by the fact that the twins' version of 'tag, you're it!' was a kiss.
And then Raven decided she wanted to play in the sand a bit. It was amazingly white and consistent sand. Usually you got rocks and sticks and things when you went to a beach that wasn't maintained by some park or other. She wondered if Malchior and Rorek had had a hand in that as well. They might have, since neither of them seemed too interested in the sand. Probably they felt they'd played enough. So while she was building the big lumpy mounds that kids and adults alike insist on calling a 'sand castle', Rorek had decided to shift into dragon form and was enjoying the feel of the waves crashing over him while Malchior was laying down next to her enjoying the slowly dimming rays of the setting sun.
Deciding that he was just way too tempting lying out flat like that, Raven took a handful of sand and poured it onto his chest. He looked down at it, and then at her. "What are you doing?" he asked as more sand was laid on him.
"I'm burying you in the sand." she answered.
"Not sure. I just heard it's the sort of thing you do on the beach." she answered.
He shrugged. "Fine by me. The sand's nice and warm from the sun."
She was tempted to take all the heat out of her next handful of sand and then pour it on his neck, but decided not to. He might decide not to let her turn him into her biggest sand castle.
By the time the sun was an orange sphere kissing the horizon, she had a big pile of white sand with Malchior's head sticking out of one end. Feeling a bit drunk with the kind of fun she'd never had as a child, she sat on top of the mound and, feeling in a silly mood, said, "I declare myself queen of this castle. All who object are welcome to lodge a formal complaint with my hand."
"I have an objection to make: Her Majesty is sitting outside her castle. Wouldn't she rather be inside where it's nice and warm?"
"Kinda difficult to burry one's self in the sand." Raven pointed out.
"What's magic for then?"
"Well that's cheating. That's no fun."
"Neither is having you on the other side of a layer of sand."
"Oh, I don't know," she began, leaning over the mound so she was, more or less, laying down on Malchior with her arms folded just under the base of his neck. "I kind of like having you pinned down for once, even if it'd take a mountain of solid steel to actually do the job." she said.
He smirked. "Let's pretend that I am pinned down. What now?"
"Hmm…I could draw on your face." she mused. His smile faltered. Then she smiled, moved forward, took his face in her hands, and kissed him.
There was a bit of grime, a bit of sea salt, but quite a lot of Malchior. Especially when, emboldened by the fantasy that he, theoretically, couldn't move, she found herself taking over. This time she was the one pressing in, deepening the kiss, working his lips with hers until, further encouraged by small guttural sounds he was making deep at the base of his throat, she slipped her tongue into his mouth.
She could remember the first time she'd met him – talked to him. How young she'd been; how wonderful the world had seemed when she saw a future that might be changed for the better. And then, afterwards…afterwards she had gotten over the betrayal, forgiven him in her heart though she told herself she'd never trust him again, and yet all that time some part of her had felt too strongly that no other man would fit. No one else had ever gotten so close so swiftly before. She was instinctively untrusting of strangers, and yet his voice, his presence…
She'd gotten over him, yes, but she'd fallen right back in love with him four years later, hadn't she? Only he was different now. He regretted his actions, and not just because she'd trapped him back in the book, either. She remembered those comfortable evenings she'd spent learning the dragon's language from him. She remembered how nice it had been when he was always there in her room, waiting for her. And how strange. Normally she hated people in her room but he was…she was just so comfortable with him. She'd missed him so much when he stopped being the paper man trapped in her book. And now she had him back. He was hers. These feelings were so strong; so palpable; so overwhelming. She felt like she wanted to fuse their wrists together or something so they could never be apart. And all these things she poured out into her kiss because she couldn't say it all out loud.
Eventually she came up for air. She wasn't sure how long it'd been but the stars were out and there was a large crescent moon in the sky. Rorek had also turned back into his human form and was hovering on the beach. There was a hungry look on his face and she didn't even need to read his spill words to know what he wanted.
"Just…a minute." she told him. She needed to get her breath back and remind herself that she had a second boyfriend who would be expecting the same attention as the first. It was daunting. She really wished there was some way she could kiss the both of them at once without having to switch mouths. And there was no possible way anyone could have written a guide to being the girlfriend of dragon twins. She was on her own here; operating off instinct, common sense, and every ounce of internal strength she could muster.
But she had affection for both of them. Perhaps it wasn't so difficult.
Rorek laid down and let her crawl on top of his chest where, with some prodding from The Other, she pinned his unresisting wrists down on either side of his head and took control. He let her do it. He wanted her to do it. She felt him shudder slightly under her as she began to dredge up memories of him as well.
Malchior was the first to call her 'beautiful', but Rorek was the first to truly say it with his eyes. She had gotten used to being the second choice next to Starfire. In fact, she'd come to prefer it that way. She didn't like attention, Starfire did. But Rorek…his eyes had always been on her, not Starfire. She was the one he bowed to, treating her with the kind of preference she'd come to believe she'd never get while she was standing next to the Tamaranian beauty. In his eyes she truly believed she was beautiful. And he was so handsome, so impossibly attractive, that it was amazing a man like him, who could have any girl he wanted, would become so fixated on her and her alone. That was so unusual in this day and age. It was practically weird. If he wasn't so drop-dead gorgeous he'd probably be considered a very polite creeper.
And he was in love with her.
There was no way to measure time like this. She had no idea if that kiss was longer or shorter than the one she'd given Malchior, though if she had to make a guess she'd like to say it was about the same. Like Malchior, Rorek's expression was dream-like and far away. His eyes opened slightly when she pulled back and he blinked up at her. He smiled, looking drunk.
To their left Malchior was upright and brushing the sand off him. Raven rolled off Rorek onto sand that was still warm from the sun. Malchior sprawled out on her other side and, for a while, the three of them just laid there, enjoying one another and the sweet night air. Arms slipped around her as she stared up at the stars. She reached up and her own arms went around their necks. It was a bit awkward and not for the first time did she guiltily wish they had one body. But they adjusted their positions so that they were pressed close enough she didn't have to stretch so much. They nuzzled her neck, their bodies closing over her like a warm tent. Everything was gritty with sand and salt but none of them cared much.
"That was amazing." Malchior murmured, his lips finding her skin.
"Yes." Rorek whispered breathlessly.
The tide was coming in but none of them wanted to move. It was at their shoulders before they finally got up and went back to the tower to wash up and get ready for dinner. This time the meal was simple and they ate it in the living room wearing comfortable clothes as they watched Malchior's new favorite movie, Pitch Black. Not the most romantic of movies, but a romance would have put her to sleep. They knew her too well.
It was very quiet in this place. The distant sound of waves echoing in the cavern somehow seemed to define the silence rather than break it. It was so peaceful, so comfortable. She was starting to think about making a joining door between this place and her room in the tower. She could put it between closets. That way they could come here whenever they liked.
The couch turned out to be one of those that folded out into a bed. They discovered this by accident about halfway through the movie and decided to fold it out and grab some bedclothes for it so they could lay down. It was a bit too comfortable, though, and Raven fell asleep. Tucked between her two dragons, she was more happy and content than she could ever remember being in her life.
(For now :D)
A/N: I kind of wanted to write the love poem out but I'm just too tired and inspiration for it isn't coming. Maybe I'll try to bring it up in Knots. Did anyone notice that both the Draconic version and the English version of the Dark Keeper poem rhymed? That wasn't easy! Even when you're just grabbing words, smashing them together, and giving them your own meaning there has to be some sort of logic to it.
Be sure to watch for the sequel! I will try to start updating Squares again, though, and will keep you all updated via my profile page. Right now, though, Knots is probably going to have to wait for January or February. Hopefully earlier, but Year End is the busiest time of the year for us in the office and the craziness has already begin (20+ freaking hours of overtime looks great on the check but I've had two nervous breakdowns so far this time around and I can feel another one coming on very soon). On the plus side, lots of overtime means plenty of cash for Christmas.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my reviewers. I'm too lazy to go back and list every single one of you by name but you know who you are, so thanks!
I'd also like to thank my betas, Discb and Jezebel. . Thanks guys! You've been a big help! Also Cinis and everyone else who helpfully pointed out my mistakes and errors. No one's perfect, after all, and I really appreciate the help!
It's been fun, guys! I hope to see you all in Knots and I will try to start updating Squares again. It probably won't be this week (since I'm probably working this Saturday again) or next week (since next week is when I'm going on vacation :D), but I will try to continue that if only to keep my hand in. Knots probably won't be nearly as long as Circles, but, if you can't tell from the 'WTF!' snippet from Rorek's memoirs in this chapter, I've got Plans. The kind that deserve the capital 'P' 8D.
Thanks for all the support and reviews! And, as always, do not hesitate to point out any spelling or grammar errors that we may have missed. Oh, yeah, and review. Feedback is always appreciated. :D