Can Thommas free Brian's love, and in doing satisfy the obligation that keeps him from his beloved Nem? Find out!
A little lost? Check out the story from the very first words!
I followed the narrow circling corridor into the depths of the dungeons. The atmosphere was eerily quiet. This deep, the prisoners within the oubliettes had no hope. It did not matter whether they had given up or not. Those who had no longer screamed. Those who had not no longer had voices left to scream, their outraged screamed into oblivion until their voices were no more. And so both no longer had hope.
Somewhere deep in this maze of lost souls, there was a cell, and in it a man. A man who the Realm thought crazy. A man who had been offered up to the most miserably perverse creature in Garuth. Rakibak had imprisoned his toy deep in an oubliette, to be forgotten until Jordan’s blood was needed to give undeserved honor to his own.
My steps were as careful as they were quick. Rakibak had taken risks to put Jordan in an oubliette, but he viewed Jordan as his route to the blood. In the Realm’s vigorously class stratified society, that was something he would kill for. Something he would betray for. Something he’d twist his vows to Garuth for.
Jordan would be guarded.
I watched the shadows, the floor, the walls. Every step taken was a risk, so much risk. Necessary risk. If I paid my debt, fulfilled my vow, I would be free. I could remain with Nem, remain with my mate. My Nem. I hesitated for a moment. I would take the risk. I would find Jordan. I would be with Nem. Forever.
“You must not pass, Guardian.” The voice of stone—implacable.
“I am no longer the Guardian of Garuth,” I said.
Impassively their stone gaze fell upon me. “And yet you are still a Guardian. You must not pass.”
I glared into their eyes, first one and then the other. “I must pass.”
“Then you must fight,” said the statues in one voice. “And if you fight, Guardian, you will die.”
I cast out my mind. He was close, so close. A presence of the Real. It could only be Brian’s mate. I fixed my gaze upon the statues. “I will pass.”
“To pass you must fight. And if you fight—”
I moved forward, a single step, and the statues raised their swords.
“Jordan,” I said loudly. “Brian needs you.” It was a risk. If he called out the name with need, with power, he might still manage to summon Brian here. He was of the blood.
A choked sob echoed through the narrow corridor. And it was followed by a scream.
The statues readied their blades.
“He loves you, Jordan.”
A figure appeared past the statues, beyond the great arch. He was ragged, dirty, his eyes red from tears. His clothes were torn, decrepit. But it was Jordan. I’d found him at last. He staggered forward. “S-stole him....”
“He’s waiting for you.”
“Y-you’re lying. You. You s-stole him,” Jordan’s voice cracked with the effort, hoarse and tired.
Rakibak had said Jordan was mute. I shook my head, cursing under my breath. Of course, Rakibak would hide how much he knew. How much had Jordan told him? I glanced to the statues. Jordan was steps away, and yet there might as well be a wall between us. One more step and the statues would strike, and no blade wrought of emotion could help me fight them. They were relentless, created of stone, bereft of spirit. They could not feel, and so I could not touch them. I looked into Jordan’s eyes. They were not entirely sane, but there was still a spark, still a light in them.
Within Brian’s frayed mind that spark, that ember could still be made to burn. Brian could make it burn. If I could get him back to Brian. The statues still stood, swords raised, waiting for me to fight them. I shook. So close. This man was all that was keeping me from my Nem.
“Jordan!” I said sharply.
He was slumped too far beyond the statues reach, but he peeked up at my words and shambled closer. “You s-said I w-was dead.”
I shook my head. “I said you had died. It’s not the same thing. Not here.”
I looked at the statues. Jordan had edged even closer.
“He’s holding your hand, Jordan. He sits in the Real, holding it tight. Caressing the fingers with kisses. He’s whispering through the Realm. Listen. What does the voice tell you?” I glanced at the statues. He was almost in reach.
Jordan looked distracted, listening to the aimless breeze, the breath of trolls long bound. Just maybe the voice of a mate speaking across worlds with desperate hope.
Please Bri, be speaking to him.
“Listen to him. He’s talking to you. Let his voice in,” I said.
“H-hard to hear. S-so hard.”
I glanced at the statues. They were charged to keep me out, that was clear. But were they charged also to keep Jordan in? I fixed my gaze on Jordan. “Feel him.”
“You can. This is the Realm. Feel him.”
The statues turned to look at him and then to me, their cry thundering in unison. “No!”
“Feel him, Jordan!” I put power in those words, even as I watched the statues’ shoulders for any clue—the attack would come soon.
The statues stepped forward. Jordan’s gaze shot up. “He—”
“He loves you, Jordan,” I said, dodging backward just in time as the statues began their attack. Sparks showered where their swords hit the wall instead. “I was sent for you. To bring you to him. Come back to him, Jordan!”
The statues advanced. I danced away, ducking and dodging, blow after blow, clanging, sparking—forcing me back.
“No!” shouted Jordan. “Come back!”
The statues continued to force my retreat, but now Jordan was shambling past the arch, rushing after them, chasing after me. I smiled. He was past the arch. The statues kept advancing, and Jordan screamed, his words harsh and laced with power, with loss. The statues were no longer smooth in their movements, and Jordan’s stumble had become a loping run.
“Wait!” Jordan screamed. He rushed the statues pushing them aside. And they fell at his touch, fell and crumbled as they hit the walls. This was a prince of the blood. This is why Rakibak wanted him. His power was new, raw, untapped—but the blood of Om had always been mighty. “Please!”
I stopped. “Jordan.”
Jordan’s face was streaked with tears. His eyes still held that spark. Let them hold onto that spark. “He said... he said he loves me!”
“He does.” I cupped my hands around Jordan’s face and studied him for a moment. He blinked furiously, his eyes darting about as though waking from a dream.
“I’m there again. In that place,” Jordan said.
“Yes. You’re in the Realm.”
“I can’t normally affect it.”
I grunted and let out a long sigh. “You normally see it, but aren’t wholly there. This time your mind fled here and left your body behind. You were trying to escape.”
Jordan gulped. “I thought he didn’t love me.”
“You chose him as a mate, Jordan. He will always return to you.”
“He touched you!” Jordan said, his disgust plain as he pulled away.
“You were dead. Only machines keep you alive in the Real. He came to me desperate, willing to do anything, even that if it meant I might save you.” I hesitated. “I have loved him a long time, Jordan. His affection wasn’t a price; it was a reminder.”
“He asked me to help. I fortified your body in the Real with my own life. I pulled the death from you and took it into my own body. I sought out your mind in here the Realm. These things I did for Brian. I swore an oath to do it. I think you have seen enough of this place to know the power an oath holds.”
Jordan closed his eyes. “But he still loves you.”
I could see the shell of his mind fraying. He was... he was losing hope.
“Don’t give up!” I shouted. These were the oubliettes, where prisoners were held to be forgotten, and I did not fear to shout.
Jordan’s eyes scrunched tight. There was a strength in madness, a strength he’d abandoned to talk to me. Now he was face-to-face with the uncomfortable reality that Brian had loved me first, that he hadn’t abandoned that love.
“Please,” I said. “You heard him. He told you he loves you. He means it!”
“He won’t let me see it.” Because I told him not to. Had Brian listened to me in the dream?
“Open your eyes,” I said. “Not the eyes in this shell that you made to flee. Open your eyes in the Real and look at him.”
“He won’t be there.”
“You heard his voice. He is at your bedside. He will not leave it. Jordan, he is your mate.”
This would be cruel to Brian. But I could see the fraying in the mind of his mate. Jordan might fade completely. He’d die in the Real. If he faded here, his body would die. There was no time anymore to get Jordan’s mind back to his body. I could only, maybe, bring his body here and hope I could get him back home.
“Open your eyes, Jordan.”
“He won’t love me!”
“But he does. He has loved you from the moment you met. Because you are his mate. Open your eyes. He will let you see.”
“How do you know?” screamed Jordan. And he did open his eyes. But only the eyes of the shell he’d created for himself.
“I am the One That Feels,” I said, and my voice echoed with power in the corridor. “And I feel him. And I know him. He is so full of love for you, Jordan. The thought of losing you, he was desperate. That’s all. I don’t regret the time he gave me. But it was borrowed time. You touch him to his soul. You chose him as a mate, and he submitted to that call. To be your mate. To be joined to you. Open your eyes, Jordan, and let yourself see that love for yourself.”
“What if he doesn’t!” Jordan’s fear was poignant. It dripped from the words and I watched as his mind, that shell before me, began to fade. Crap. He’d held that shell together for this long and now he was going to fade? Of course, he was. Before he had lost himself in madness. Now he knew what was at stake. Now he feared to lose his mate.
“This is the love I have for my mate,” I said softly. And Jordan fell to his knees as he felt. The weight and power and beauty that was my Nem, that was us, joined together, that was fear when he was hurt and tortured by his father. That was lust when I saw the slinky bit of fabric, that I knew, because he was my mate, he was wearing even now with desperate hope he’d see me, and I’d know. That was love when I looked into his eyes, and shared my soul and my life with him, even when it was just a moment, even when it was just a glance. And Jordan felt.
“It is what Brian feels for you. His is different, Jordan. But it is just as strong. Open your eyes and see it. Open your eyes.”
There was a sob from the floor. “I thought you loved him,” Jordan said.
“I do. And you have seen the love that I have for Brian, and that’s strong. But for a mate, Jordan, the feelings are so much stronger. What you feel is a shadow.”
“He loves you,” I said. “Open your eyes. Let him show you. He wants so desperately for you to know.”
Jordan turned to look up at me, and I could only smile. His eyes were open, but they weren’t seeing me. He was surrounded by a cascade of love. By an openness and a love and a want so strong, it thundered its way across the Realm, and then there was fear. Jordan couldn’t feel that, but I could. Brian’s fear. Desperate and powerful and driven. Heartache that was crushing to witness. In the Real, Jordan was unraveling, and Brian, he could see it happening.
Shabby tangled blond hair smoothed into a cascade of liquid silver and gold. Antlers sprouted from Jordan’s forehead as his decayed body grew muscular, the skin pale and translucent. Still there were the bits of red and black flowing beneath, but it was there in his eyes, in the cascade of light in the eyes: Brian’s love. Brian’s features blended into Jordan’s and I knew that Jordan was looking into Brian’s soul and seeing love.
And that made Brian more. In that moment he was not an anchor. In that moment he was only a man in love, knowing an incredible loss. And that opened the gateway. No longer was I looking at a shell. This was Jordan Blackmun—not the Jordan that Brian knew, but the one he could not. Jordan of Om, prince of the blood. Tears ran down Jordan’s face. His voice was a whisper, his hand pressed against a spot on his shoulder and the murmur he spoke was not for my ears. But still I heard it. The whisper of a promise made as Brian marked his flesh. The binding of a mate. The want and love of that act that had made them one. Jordan’s hands trembled as he closed his eyes.
“Soon, my love,” he whispered. And I knew, because I also have a mate, that Brian could hear those words.
I held out a hand, and Jordan took it, and got slowly to his feet. “You are in the dungeons of Garuth,” I said quietly.
“Can you get me home?” asked Jordan, tears still flowing.
Slowly I allowed myself to smile. “As the Realm binds me, so it shall be done.”