Imprisoned deep in the dungeons of Garuth, Thommas is at the mercy of the cruel Rakibak. Somewhere in the dungeons with him is Jordan. He swore an oath to return Jordan to Brian—to bring the noble prince of the house of Om back to the anchor of the Real that is his mate. With his own prince, his own mate, he understands Brian's desperation. But he is just a prisoner. He needs help. Join us in Chapter 20 of The One That Feels as Thommas returns to the world of dreams....
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“Am I dreaming?” asked Brian. He scarcely looked up, his gaze frozen on Jordan, still unmoving in the bed, but he still knew I was there.
“Yes,” I replied, “but you’ll remember it.”
“Have you found him?” asked Brian. He didn’t move. He sat at the edge of the bed, a pale, fragile hand held to his cheek. Jordan’s body had gotten nearly skeletal. How long had it been in the Real?
My poor Brian. “You must hold him,” I said. “Keep him close. Never a moment alone. Skip sleep to stay with him if you have to.”
“I’m already doing that!” said Brian. “You... you promised, Thom. Please.”
“Let him see,” I said quietly. “The love I told you to keep hidden—he must see it in your eyes.”
“You told me—”
“Let him see,” I said. “He must see that you love him, Bri.”
“You said it would be a gateway. What if I.... I could lose him, Thom!”
“His mind decays here in the Realm, his body decays there in the Real. It doesn’t matter anymore which one comes to the other. They must be joined or he will die.”
“If he ends up here, Bri, I will get him back to you.” I said the words quietly, and the implication wasn’t lost on him. He knew me too well.
Brian gulped. For the first time, he looked at me. “Get him back. Not bring him back.”
“It is a choice I made willingly.”
“We have little time. He is not well?”
“No,” said Brian. He pressed his tears against the hand at his cheek. “Is this what it felt like when I left you?”
“That’s hard for me to know.”
“What can I do? Tell me Thom. I need to do something!”
“There’s a spot where you mark him. A special spot. And when you mark him there he goes wild.”
Brian glared at me. “How did you—”
“You are a mate, Bri,” I said. “I would have been spared a lot of grief if I’d known earlier, but I know it now.”
“I don’t have much time,” I said.
He nodded. “All right. What do I do?”
“Keep it marked. His body will know it’s you. If you say something special when you do it, make sure you say it. Tell Janice I told you it was necessary. And tell her... tell her she is needed in the land of Om.”
“She won’t go.”
“If she does not come, Bri, there will be no one to return your Jordan to you.”
“That’s where you are?” he asked. “This Om?”
I shook my head. “I am in the Duchy of Garuth, and once in Om, that is where she must go. He is here, in the dungeons beneath the city.”
“You’ve found him!”
“I know he’s here, but the dungeons themselves are almost a city. It will take me time to find him, and I have little. Yarath of Om must demand to see his son. That itself will buy me time.”
“Yarath?” asked Brian.
“Janice will know. You must send her, and soon.”
“Is he all right?” Brian looked so fragile, sitting there with Jordan’s hand in his.
“No,” I said softly. “The locket. Before Janice comes, Bri. Put a picture of Jordan in the locket. A picture of the two of you. It’s important.”
“You and I both know what we shared. This isn’t about what was. It’s about what is. Jordan is your mate. It’s not a bond that can be broken by others. But he can sever it himself, Bri, if he’s hurt. He needs to know that he belongs to you. He gave that to you. Make sure he knows that he belongs to you.”
What about what belongs to you? His voice sounded in my head.
He has to know, I replied. Make sure that he knows. He is your mate, your love. He is your future. Do not dwell so in the past that you lose it.
Brian scrunched up his face.
I love you. Remember me.
Brian’s eyes widened. “Thom?”
I shook my head. It is over for us, my love. Our time was borrowed, and it is done. Live for your mate. Love him.
I do love you.
And he did. I could see the pain in his eyes, aching.
“Will you... will you be happy there?” asked Brian very quietly, looking back at Jordan.
“I lived in the Realm for a long time. The only thing that kept me in the Real was you.” I glanced at Jordan. “Just as what keeps him in the Real is you. If he knows he belongs to you, he will stay. Bind him to you. Give him a ring and a commitment. He will stay with you, Bri, if you do.”
“What about you?”
I am with my Nem, love. And he loves me.
Brian’s eyes shot up.
I will get Jordan back to you. Do not weep for me. I am here. And I will have my Nem with me.
“He loves you?”
“Very much. Send Janice soon.”
Brian nodded. “Thom?”
“He is my mate, love. That’s why I’m staying.”
Brian’s mouth opened very slightly as he let out a soft gasp.
“Be careful, Bri. And love him.”
And before he could answer or respond, I fled.
“They cannot hear you,” I said.
She glanced around. “A dream.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve dreamed of you, Thommas of Ashe.”
“Doom comes to Garuth, Lady.”
The Duchess fixed me with a withering look. “If you were here, Thommas, I would know.”
“A troll stepped from the gates this morning. Did your advisors mention it?”
She looked at him, her eyes a little wild. “A troll, from the gates? It would take....”
“The old guardians, they still admit me. Corakh let me pass the bridge from Zaharoth and challenged the knights that rode behind me in hunt.”
“I would have heard. Rakibak would have said!”
I shook my head slowly, my arms seeking and finding the courtier and joining in the dance that was her dream. A dream I’d interrupted. I spun and danced and she watched me. “He would have said,” she said again, but her voice lacked confidence.
“Rakibak rarely tells all of the truth, and seldom outright lies. That is how I became the Traitor of Garuth.”
“I regretted that, when I found out.”
“Not enough,” I said. “As I am still banished from your sight.”
“It was not him.”
“Oh, it was,” I said. “But that hardly matters. Lady, I am still Guardian of Garuth, and doom approaches.”
She raised her chin. “And what doom that Rakibak prepares me not for it.”
“You have given him a gift, a slave to use as he sees fit.”
“I have given him many. Young fit men who get to live a life of pleasure and—”
“Rakibak is not gentle with his pleasure slaves. But this one he will claim, Nastasia. For it is a prince of the blood you give to him to use.”
“I wouldn’t do that.” Even icy translucent flesh could pale, and hers did.
“It courts disaster. He will be of the blood, Nastasia, and he was always a man of ambition.”
“A loyal man.”
I shook my head. “Not so loyal. But there is more.”
“Tell me then.”
I shook. I was being pulled. “You must seek for truth,” I ground out the words. I was fading. I was being blocked. “Seek out the—”
“What treachery?” I asked.
“You spoke to the Duchess. Now I have need to convince her it was only a dream.”
“That won’t be easy,” I said. “I’ve spoken to her in dreams before.”
“That was long ago,” said Rakibak dismissively. “Now, what did you tell her?”
“I think you know.”
“If you’d told her that, I would be in chains already.”
“What did you tell her?” A demand. Brutal. Shouted.
“That doom comes to Garuth,” I said. “As I told you.”
“He is a useless boy.”
“He is loved.”
“He’s your mate!” squealed Rakibak in glee.
I narrowed my eyes and gazed at him. “He is trapped here without his body, Rakibak. It is a shell created from the mind that fled here, to Garuth.”
“I would recognize that!”
“Would you?” I asked. “I think not.”
“It’s a lie. In six days I will have the lordship I desire and you will be dust.”
“You cannot claim that boy.”
“Oh, because ‘doom will come to Garuth,’ Thommas? You think I’m that stupid?”
“I think your ambition blinds you,” I said. I tested the strength of the enchantments on the shackles. “I think you don’t think ahead to consequences. You didn’t when you tempted the wrath of the trolls, and the Plains of Fire were lost.”
“I meant for them to be lost,” hissed Rakibak. “To be rid of you! It was worth it to be rid of you!”
“And you sent me into battle for the glory of the Duchess, and of Garuth.”
“You were meant to die in that battle, too!”
“And instead I was named Guardian. My life the defense of the Duchy.”
Rakibak growled as he turned away. “You became sacrosanct, untouchable. My oaths were sworn, promises to which I’m bound by the Realm. But soon that will be remedied and I’ll finally be rid of you.”
“Your actions threaten the Realm, Rakibak.”
“Soon I will be the Garuth, and you will be a memory.”
“Remembered only as a traitor!”
“I am the One That Feels, Rakibak.”
“A useless title. There is no use in feeling.”
“You are wrong. Feeling makes me very strong.”
He looked me up and down and laughed. “But not strong enough.”
“Strong enough to defeat the trolls. To bind them to the service of Garuth. Strong enough to make them allies.”
Rakibak hesitated. “That was a long time ago. You’ve forgotten too much of the Realm. And we have grown powerful while you were away.”
He glanced at the door. “A dozen of my guard stand ready. You will not escape again. And if you seek to dream, it will not go well for you.” He looked at me and smiled. “But do try. I love to hear my prisoners scream.”
“What will you do, Rakibak, when she asks for me?”
“I will tell her it was a dream, and when she insists, I’ll arrange a tour of the dungeons. She’ll be left with no doubt that you were not here. And not knowing I was warned, she will believe me.” His smile widened into a caricature of a grin. “I’ve been doing this a long time, child of the Real. You are still an amateur.”
“You bring doom to Garuth. The Realm will not forgive you for it,” I said, straining against the shackles.
Rakibak hesitated as he walked away, but he did not turn. I took a deep breath and I strained against them again. Rakibak’s enchantment would not hold for long. The shackles were cold iron and nothing was more resistant to spell craft than that. Rakibak knew that of course. They were meant to hold me from him while he was in the cell with me and no more. Insurance against my strength.
The guards renewed the spells strengthening the shackles, and so I hung from the wall. I couldn’t sleep that way, and lacking sleep could not enter dreams. Not that he’d allow that. Surely he’d set up wards in the walls now that he knew. Or maybe he trusted the ones already there, though having escaped my bonds once already I doubted Rakibak would be so foolish. He knew who had wrought the protections on this place. He knew not to trust them to hold me. I strained again against the shackles. My size notwithstanding, I was no ogre. The bonds held. I grimaced and waited.
Jordan was here. Somewhere in the walls of this dungeon, somewhere deep in an oubliette, forgotten until Rakibak was ready for him. And if I did not find him first, Jordan would be lost to Brian. I would be left with only one way to fulfill my promise. A single route and I could not take it. I must not take it. For to bring Brian here would unmake Garuth, and I was the Duchy’s Guardian.