Join Thommas and Jordan as the adventure continues in Chapter 23 of The One That Feels!
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“I’m in a dungeon?” asked Jordan. He was nervous, blinking too much, unwilling to meet my gaze.
“You are. To be gifted to Rakibak as a pleasure slave. It’s not a dream, Jordan. You can’t let yourself think that. You have pulled your body out of the Real, and it is here. You can bleed, Jordan. You can die. This realm is as real in its way as the other.”
“A pleasure slave?” he asked. He looked at his hands, and then felt the great arcing antlers at his forehead. “W-what am I?” For a moment his eyes met mine.
“There is little time for questions. We must get you out.”
“He didn’t come.” Anger. Sadness. Even proof of Brian’s love could not erase Jordan’s doubt completely. “Why didn’t he come himself?”
“Brian cannot leave the Real, Jordan. He is anchored there, through all realities, and this place cannot touch him.” I set my hand on Jordan’s shoulder. “You must trust me.”
Jordan’s nod was hesitant, halting from the unfamiliar weight, but it was there.
“How do you... I mean, this dungeon, you know the way?”
“We are in Garuth,” I said, my voice a whisper. “And I was once its Guardian.”
Through snaking corridors we moved and as we hastened through the halls I wove my own magic, powerful glamours of deceit and trickery that would leave us unnoticed. The pounding of footsteps echoed through the walls, down the corridors, but they never stepped foot in the corridors that we took. These were secret, close, hidden ways that twisted between walls and jumped across corridors in arcing power that could not be seen. Boots thundered, voices roared—shouting orders. Alarms were sounding in the depths of the dungeons, unheard above.
Finally, we reached a room with no doors. Small and protected, it was meant for the safety of the Lady, and even Rakibak did not know where it was. I slid us through the wall and into that place, and finally, slowly, breathed out a deep sigh of relief. We’d passed from the oubliettes below through the deeper dungeons into a place only just below the palace. We’d done it unnoticed. And, for now, even Rakibak’s plotting could not touch us. I turned to Jordan, whose face bore the scars of things he could not unsee.
“They are protection only,” I said.
“Monsters in the dark!”
I stamped my foot hard, and in this tiny space that echoed.
I stamped again. “They are there to keep others out, not to keep us in.”
He gulped, his eyes wide at the implication. His face blanched white as he searched the walls for an exit.
“There are no doors. The only way in or out is through the things that you saw.”
“W-what were they?” asked Jordan, his glance tellingly upon the wall.
I pressed my hand against the stone. “Trolls live here. They are the stone, and the water below, and the fire within. They are the air that goes through the corridors, their breath the breeze that should not be. They were conquered once, for crimes against the Realm, and this duty, protecting this place, is the penance they pay for their trespass.”
Jordan’s gaze danced about the walls.
“They will not harm you while you are in my company,” I said flatly. “Believe that.”
“I felt fear,” said Jordan, his gaze finally settling on me. “Like they were afraid. Afraid of you, Thommas.”
I let the corner of my mouth curl. “Yes. They were.”
Jordan’s hands went to the antlers on his forehead. “Can you tell me now?”
I looked at him. “Your mother did not wish you to know.”
“My.... She hasn’t spoken to me since I started dating....” Jordan closed his eyes.
“Is that why you didn’t bind him?”
“I don’t understand. You called him my mate. You talk about binding and I don’t know what you mean.” Jordan covered his face with his arm, hiding his eyes in the crook of an elbow. “I just don’t know what’s going on!”
“You’ve always seen this. Places like this. With the world we know, the real world, on top, like a film half-seen.”
Jordan didn’t answer, but he did nod rapidly and awkwardly, as though unused to the weight of his antlers.
“You are a child of a mating, Jordan. Your mother and a creature of the Realm. They loved, in the way you love Brian, completely to the raw touch of the soul. And you were the result.”
“But my father—”
“His name is Yarath. Yarath of Om.”
“No. No!” Jordan shook his head. “My dad is—”
“That man is your dad. He raised you.” I turned away. “I give him little credit, given how he thinks of your desires, how he dismisses your heart. But he was your dad. The man who raised you. Your father, he is something else entirely.”
“Mom wouldn’t do that to Dad!”
I raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps not now. But she did. There is no mistaking it, Jordan. I have stood before Yarath of Om and his features are written upon your face.”
“Brian will see me like this and hate me!”
I laughed. “Brian could never hate you. And he will never see you like this. You do not look like this in the Real. And Brian cannot leave the Real.” I squatted next to him. “But that means to be with him, Jordan, neither can you. I will not be there to walk these paths for him and find you again.”
“I thought the drugs just helped me dream,” said Jordan softly.
I shook my head. “They bring you here. And Brian cannot follow you. I think you knew that—sensed it somehow. That’s why you fled this time wasn’t it? You couldn’t face him. Knowing how he feels for me.”
Jordan closed his eyes and nodded.
“He loves you, Jordan. But he is your mate. He will always choose you. You’ve touched his soul.”
“But you... you showed me—”
“Moments of what that love is, yes.” I said. “For me, and my Nem.”
“I don’t understand,” Jordan said. “If you have a lover here, why did you.... You could have made it so easy for us, if you’d just made him understand that you weren’t available.”
“He loves me, Jordan. It’s strong, and he fought against the mating for a long time. You never sealed it. You never claimed him and bound each other the way you need to. And so he would search me out.” I paused. “The drugs didn’t help. You’d trap yourself here. You did it more than once. Brian would come to me despondent, and I’d have to search for you in the Realm. Sometimes your body would die. The kind of death that I could heal, but it scared him. Jorden, he never came back for me. Only for me to find you. It was heartbreaking.”
“But you have a mate and—”
“My mating is new. I found my Nem searching for you. Found him and knew him. You know what that’s like. You felt it for Brian. He was coming back to me to try again when he met you. But you saw him and you chose him and he was lost to me forever—he was your mate from that moment on.” I swallowed and looked at hands settled between my knees. Squatting was not an easy position for me. I was too big for it to be comfortable for long. “I don’t regret my time with Brian. I won’t. But it’s over. I have my Nem. I will not leave the Realm again.” I tipped his chin up so we were looking eye-to-eye. “But just as I will not leave it, you must never enter it.”
“But I have to! I’ll see this place. I see it all the time!” said Jordan, grimacing as he looked away.
“Brian is an anchor. It makes you feel safe, I expect, without even knowing why. But his power is to dampen that sight. You can live with him and be happy, if you let yourself.”
“You’ll have to bind to him. It’s a permanent thing. He’ll do that for you, choose you forever, as you have already chosen him, if you let him. But you must do it. I will not be there to find you. I have chosen a life here, with my mate. I have forsaken the Real. I took an oath, when I bound to my Nem, to my mate. An oath made here has power.”
I gave him time for the words to sink in and then stood. “Your birth father, he shakes the world with his movements. He is coming for you.”
“He’ll want me to stay,” said Jordan, looking up at me.
“That choice is yours. I could not live without my Nem. Can you without Brian?” I asked.
“No,” said Jordan, shaking his head vigorously. “I can’t.”
“Then be ready to tell him.”
“I have to see him?”
I turned away. “Your mother has marshalled him to come for you. He will demand your presence. And his strength is such that your gifting to Rakibak will be undone, and you will be released, for you are the son of a king, and heir to the land of Om. Such treasures cannot be given as mere gifts of pleasure.”
“My mom?” I could hear him stepping up behind me. “My mom is here?”
“I’m so confused. I thought people from our world—”
“From the Real.”
“Yeah. I thought people from the real, that they couldn’t....”
I looked at myself in a small mirror in the wall. Me, as I was in the Real, for I was of the Real, and the Realm did not change me. “Most can’t,” I said softly. “But your mother is the chosen mate of Yarath of Om. And he gave her a key to the Realm.”
“You aren’t different here, like me,” Jordan said. “Are you even real?”
“I am real. I am of the Real. In this place, I am honored. Once I was the Guardian of Garuth. Once the trolls in the walls had reason to fear my name. This world has a legend of a creature from the Real who brings with him the depth of true feeling. The One That Feels.” I turned to look at Jordan. “I am the One That Feels, Jordan. And in this place, feeling has great power.”
“So, I’m a freak?” asked Jordan.
I grabbed hold of his shoulders. “No. A bit of blood from the realm is not so unusual. Long ago the blood of the Realm and the blood of the Real mixed, and that is why we dream, such wondrous dreams.” I looked up. “You are the son of a king. A prince of the blood. As much blood of the Realm flows in you as does blood of the Real. It’s a dangerous combination. I think you probably know why.”
“It drove me to drugs,” whispered Jordan. He turned his face away. “Will Brian still want me?”
“Brian will always want you. Forever. You chose a mate. He did not get to choose.” I turned away and released my grip on his shoulders. “But if he could choose, Jordan, he would choose you. He will always choose you. He is your mate.”
“And when your mate, this Nem, when he chose you, did he let you choose?”
I looked into the mirror, at Jordan’s face reflected behind me. “He offered me escape from his choice, to let me go. But his was already made. He could not unmake it.”
Jordan’s face was pained. I watched the struggle written on his face as he tried several times to ask. Finally, he blurted it out. His fear, the one that brought him to the Realm.
“If I wasn’t his mate. If I hadn’t chosen him. Would Brian—”
I spun and glared at him. “Do not play what if with me, Jordan. Brian made a choice. He sent me to search for you. He doesn’t understand it, what it means to enter the Realm, but he knows that it’s dangerous. He still sent me here to find you. He made me swear, because he knows a promise born of the Realm would bind me.”
I stepped up to Jordan and looked deep in his eyes. “I will bring you before the Lady of Garuth. I will bring you safely past the guards to the court. When Rakibak stands and tries to claim you then and there, you must know in your heart what you feel. You have to be sure. You have to know it and own it. You have to be able to stand before her and repudiate the claim of Rakibak. You have to be able to stand there and resist the call of your father. He will offer you a place at his side, Jordan. He will offer to make you a prince in all the ways you can imagine. When you stand there, before the powers of the Realm, can you tell them all no? Can you reject this world completely?”
“Brian can’t come here?” asked Jordan.
I shook my head. “Never. It would destroy this place for him to touch it. But do you need it, if you have him? He loves you.”
“But they’ll make me—”
“I can enforce your decision. I can stand behind you and protect you from them. But you must still make it.”
Jordan closed his eyes. “I love him.”
“Then you must tell them that.”