A section to comment on the Awakening series. You may find polls here, secrets answered, character bios–I’m not sure exactly yet. Please, if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
Beverly was silent through the drive home and Evan was grateful for it. She had taken one look at him, turned the car on and just driven away. He wasn’t sure if it was because of Gilda or how he looked but he wasn’t going to ask to find out. His mind was a mess. He felt like he’d been turned upside down and the feeling was only growing worse the closer he got to what right side up had once been.
Evan couldn’t help but think just how easy it would be to step through a portal or cast a teleportation spell now that he had actually experienced the mirror portal at the Hierarchy. It would have been an instant instead of the hours driving. His world could open up so far beyond Beverly’s house and Stephan’s grasp.
Beverly really was a strange sorceress in a lot of ways. It wasn’t that she didn’t have access to all this magic. She had used it when she was younger. Not just when she had fought to protect the Arc Fault, but also before. She had been raised to be a magic user among family that had taken things like portals for granted. He couldn’t help wondering why it had all gone crazy for his cousin.
Sure, Beverly could say things like how a portal could be hijacked, but couldn’t a car be hijacked as well? Wasn’t it just as easy to cast a spell on a moving vehicle full of unsuspecting occupants as it was to target the interspace travel involved in moving through a portal? She didn’t have any magic on the SUV to protect them from such an assault; Beverly tended to avoid magic at all fronts, even the kind that could protect her.
Evan stared out into the dark as they pulled into their neighborhood. Beverly stopped at the corner, putting the car into park without a word. He pulled his attention from the window when he realized there was nothing to see, meeting the woman’s eyes through the rearview mirror as she peered at him. She looked tense, her gaze sharp, and Evan braced himself for what undoubtedly would be something about the woman’s boyfriend.
“Stephan knows,” Beverly said curtly, not bothering to elaborate.
“He’s had one of his moods.”
Evan nodded, his muscles growing tense even as he told himself to remain unaffected. “So?” He asked, his voice coming out too sharp. Beverly ignored his tone, her eyes continuing to pierce into his.
“He won’t let me clean it up,” the woman said blandly. “He said he’ll be home to ‘educate’ you. I wanted you to be prepared.”
Closing his eyes and exhaling slowly, Evan gave another nod. “Right.”
“Try to keep things quiet, Evanel. Edward has final exams to study for. I don’t want the house upset.” Beverly put the car back into drive, the black SUV gliding forward. Evan kept his mouth shut, stuffing his retort down so deep he couldn’t even fathom the words he wanted to say. His eyes caught on something white as the car pulled into the driveway, the headlights illuminating a mess strewn across the lawn.
It was his clothing and things from his room. His bureau was shattered, drawers pulled free and crushed in the dirt. The books he could see were torn in two, pages ripped out and fluttering in the light breeze outside.
No, Stephan had not taken the news well.
Beverly turned the car off, staring out the windshield at the mess as the headlights faded. “If you learned to repair things with magic…”
Evan blocked his cousin out, glaring Beverly’s way until she fell silent. She unbuckled her seatbelt and he followed suit at a slower pace.
If she hadn’t hooked up with a psycho, he wouldn’t need magic. He wouldn’t need to protect himself—He wouldn’t fucking need anything. She was just going to bliss out again, probably the second she got into the house. Fuck, she was probably already halfway there in her mind already.
Beverly could tell him a million way that magic could sneak its way in and fuck their lives but apparently it could never happen through the mind and emotion altering potions she downed like water. No, Beverly being poisoned to death never seemed to cross her mind even though the woman had grown shakier and more weak every time she drank the numbing shit.
He stepped out of the SUV, looking at the house he had lived in for years. It looked tired, as tired as Beverly and just as shaken, the beige paint peeling, shingles off the roof lost and unmissed. The driveway was full of cracks, weeds quick to come in and fill the gaps. The hedges were overgrown but maybe that was a gift to the neighbors down the street that never talked to the family. Sometimes Edward got a hello but never Evan. Edward was going to grow up to be a sorcerer while Evan had just been the weird science geek without any parents.
As he stared down at one of his torn textbooks, he couldn’t help thinking his previous principles had been proven. What use was anything beyond cold, hard facts? What use was this seething pit of emotion in his stomach? It wasn’t real. None of it was real. The soil was real he was standing on, the granite underneath. Metal and minerals were real. Atoms, protons, electrons. The cycle of the water that rained down and seeped deep into the ground. These things were real, not the pain trying to pry into his heart. Not the fantasy of waving your hand and having all your problems just disappear. What a joke magic made of the world.
He left his robe in the car, not seeing the point in ruining it as well as he bent to clean. Beverly left him to it but he didn’t miss her presence. His heart winced and then hardened with every article of clothing he pulled from the damp grass and mud, each ruined book, destroyed dream. It had all been destroyed with the letter from the Hierarchy, this was just the physical manifestation finally revealed. It wasn’t going to get better. He knew Stephan Grock and he knew the way the fucked up man thought. No, there was no seeing this better. All he could do was wait it out and hope he’d make it through.
As he crouched over his broken bureau, carefully pulling shards of wood free from his tangle of shirts, he considered going to Gilda’s, only to shake his head with a sigh. Who the fuck would want to put up with this sort of shit? Stephan would surely follow him. The man would not let him free so easy, not after years of trying to get even the smallest admittance from Evan that he had power. The man would make an ass of himself in the middle of a village of sirens, and make Evan would look just as bad in association. Stephan hated the fae possibly more than anything else because the beings were magic while the warlock fell short in every regard. Making friends with the fae was the fastest way to get on the man’s bad side. Hardly something Evan needed to do more of.
He felt a familiar numbing draining his anger and hurt away as he piled his scavenged belongings together and prepared to step into Beverly’s house. It stole the strange spark Evan had felt since meeting Gilda and the others. Maybe things had been interesting at the Hierarchy. Sebastian had always spoken of having so much fun and crazy adventures… But then, Uncle Seb’s idea of a good time was going off and murdering people so he probably wasn’t the best judge. Evan could only imagine he had experienced something of interest that weekend because now it was gone. He was back home. His days were back to being filled with the same mundane mixed with fear of what might come depending on Stephan’s mood.
Straightening, he exhaled slowly, his eyes sliding up to the dark, cloudless sky and the bright pale moon above. At least it wasn’t a demon, right? He could have been tattooed and waiting for some demon master to drain him until he was dead.
Evan took small comfort in the fact that he wasn’t Vesper Malice even while silently hoping the boy was well and unafraid.
Vesper had stayed too long at the Hierarchy. With slow steps, the platinum blond boy made his way to the vestibule, the one area on campus where residents could teleport outside of the enchanted school. He had lingered for reasons he hadn’t wanted to admit, the main one being to catch a final glimpse of a certain dark-eyed, angry boy he could not stop thinking about.
His demon hellspawn had already slipped away into a foul puff of smoke, returning to its true master where it would undoubtedly become as talkative as it had been silent now that it was free of Vesper’s presence. Vesper had plenty of justifications for why he had stayed as long as he did and had little fear of being found out, especially since he had failed in his endeavor to actually say goodbye to Evan. Instead, he had spoken nearly two hours to Master Cantorous about apprenticing with the man, and he had gotten pulled into a deep conversation with Mistress Nox, the resident demonologist. The woman had been intrigued with his tattoo and the bond that would soon be activated. He would be more than happy to give the sorceress the information she wanted next year when he was forced to endure first hand the bond she had been gushing over in her excitement.
Demons were as alien to Earth as the fae were but they originated from one specific world in the outer realms while the fae had come from many worlds. It was the newness of their discovery that set the demons so apart, for there had been many fae with many different powers that could be just as unsettling. While the fae had populated the earth hundreds of thousands of years back, mixing with humans until they were at times indistinguishable, demons had only been discovered far more recently and through a magical means that few people agreed was acceptable. It was a one-way trip and no demon, to the best of Vesper’s knowledge, had been given a choice in being brought to Earth.
There was still a difference to the demons, one that made even fae avoid them when they crossed. They were all on some level essence eaters. While a fae could choose to consume a being safely of their superficial energy, demons were known to drain their victims of their life force, be it through blood, flesh, or even soul. It made them dangerous on a different level, one that for whatever reason had justified the absolute control of the demonic population as they came to arrive on the planet. Demons were supposedly too dangerous to be allowed free even though the demons had not had any choice in their arrival in the first place.
Most demons became slaves to the sorcerer or sorceress that summoned them. Being essence eaters still didn’t necessarily make them powerful. Demons were rare and some magic users made a habit of bonding the creatures to their own power, allowing them to exploit the creatures. Then there were demons like Vesper’s soon to be master. Beyond powerful, vicious, and with no known rival to defeat him, Heiden could have been a fae god, or so Vesper liked to pretend when he dared to try and comprehend how he had found himself in his dismal situation. Heiden was so powerful, he enslaved demons and when he fancied it, humans and fae as well.
Kruck, the flaming eyed, cracked face demon that had kept student and professor away from the blond’s allure was one of the few of Heiden’s slaves he had met so far. He knew the demon master had more even though he had yet to meet them. Vesper had a natural curiosity of the demons and, perhaps, an affinity seeing as he too was to be a slave. Knowledge of these rare demonic fae was of interest to many a magic user, especially to the sorcerers that would not dare to summon and enslave a demon to satisfy their curiosity. Because of his unique circumstances, Vesper had more than enough information to share with such magic users. He didn’t dare hope that it would one day free him from his demon master but he could at least dream the information might provide a way to free his descendants in the future.
The outdoor vestibule was alight even though evening had fallen hours ago. Beautiful trees framed the domed ceiling that opened up to reveal the clear, dark sky above. It could have been daylight in the area, except there was a quality to the glow that tinged everything a soft blue reminiscent of moonlight. Vesper stopped once stepping through a tall archway, his eyes drawn to the large fountain in the center of the expansive stone patio where a slender, dark-skinned boy sat watching him. It was Asher Vah, still and calm, his long black hair loose around his shoulders and shimmering in the light that bounced off the pool of water.
This was not the first time Asher had sought him out. Of all the peers that knew of his situation, Asher had been the least squeamish to be around him. It might have been companionable if Vesper didn’t have to wonder if the boy was looking for a way to slice his veins open.
The breeze shifted, Vesper’s skin tingling at the nape of his neck when he caught the scent of fresh blood. All his senses warned him of Asher. The boy was a predator, cold and calculating, and he viewed sentient being just as edible as mindless animals. But he could see the tanned boy had fed, Asher showing a slight daze to his pale leaf green eyes that spoke of being sated. The Hierarchy did not lack for anything, nor did the students that attended. He might not have fully trusted Asher, but he could trust that if fed, the boy would be less a danger to his health.
Vesper slowly crossed the distance, taking note of the few people in the vestibule that had chosen to give Asher a wide berth. Asher looked up at him calmly, meeting his curious gaze before looking him over. Vesper was used to Asher sizing him up but he had yet to figure out just what the intention behind it was. The short boy was difficult to read. Sometimes he was certain Asher was trying to figure out if he a worthy opponent, other times he could swear there was a sexual undertone to the boy’s stare. But most times Vesper thought Asher was just looking for a weakness so that he could slash an artery and feast from him.
Fuck, it was Asher Vah. He wouldn’t put anything past the little brat.
“I was curious,” Asher finally spoke, his clawed hands looking deceptively delicate as he braced the marble seat of the fountain on either side of where he sat.
Vesper raised a brow, waiting silently for the boy to continue. Asher was hardly a social creature. He was there for a reason and he’d figure out how to communicate it eventually.
Another moment stretched out, Asher Vah scratching lightly against the stone before speaking again in his lulling voice. “I was curious as to why you interfered yesterday.”
Scowling, Vesper took a gliding step forward, standing directly in front of the slender boy so he could glare down. “You attacked an innocent, Asher Vah. Did you expect me to do nothing?”
Asher tilted his head, a small smile twisting his lips as his hair fell across an eye. “You had to know I wouldn’t kill the boy. You exerted an unneeded amount of energy to save a young man that didn’t need saving.”
“Just because you weren’t going to kill him didn’t mean he didn’t need saving,” Vesper muttered, his glare burning into the tanned boy’s form.
Asher smiled wider, a fang peeking from between his lips. “It was very out of character for you.”
Vesper pursed his lips at the accusation, trying to deny it even though he knew it was very true. He was not the type to get caught up in the stupid games of others, especially of predator and prey. But he had the moment he’d seen Evanel Reed in danger and he couldn’t, for whatever reason, seem to stop himself even now in his desire to protect the boy.
“What was your intention, Asher Vah?” Vesper demanded lowly. Yes, he had been out of character, but so had Asher. The boy was usually controlled but he had given in to the draw of Evan just like the rest of them. Vesper had not been the only one to crack yesterday at orientation. “You risked your life. I have never seen you gamble so much. Why reveal yourself to some null and risk retaliation?”
“You think him null? Truly?” Asher shrugged the blond’s assessment away with a bored sigh. He adjusted the dark silks over his narrow shoulders, wrapping his neck idly. Asher’s tanned skin shone in the magical light, his dark hair and green eyes gleaming; the boy was truly beautiful. Unfortunately, he was a blood drinker, one demented enough to actually bathe in the life-giving fluid.
Vesper wasn’t sure if it was an intimidation ploy on Asher Vah’s part, painting himself in gore to combat his petite frame and sweet face. Asher seemed to take pleasure in fucking with people’s heads in subtle ways. A mindfuck of blood for those foolish enough to see him as weak didn’t seem beyond the boy. It was either that or Asher actually absorbed the blood through his skin. There were demons that had the ability, the djin among them. Except, Asher was only half djin and the rest of him very much human. He could simply eat a damn meal if he was hungry enough.
Vesper had been exposed to demons of all types in preparation for bonding with Heiden. Some of them had been so disgusting and cruel that to see Asher Vah was to know an invaluable jewel with sharp, deadly edges in comparison. The slender boy was a demon/human hybrid, rare and endangered the way anything with demon blood was. There would always be someone, be it concerned citizen, magic user, or more powerful demon that would think Asher better to be owned than allowed free. Vesper sometimes wondered if the boy sought him out as much as he did—little as that was—because of their shared fate.
“I heard you offered him an informal entreaty to court,” Asher finally said, a smile just teasing at his lips.
“You’re mistaken,” Vesper grunted, straightening his stance.
“I know you and the incubus had a rendezvous with the angry thing,” the slender boy countered lightly. “You risk battle and your master’s wrath for the boy. Surely you must have just as compelling a reason as I do for seeking the boy’s attention.”
At the mention of Heiden possibly discovering what he had done, cold flooded through him. Vesper’s eyes shuttered, his expression closing off, his chest clenching painfully tight. “I proposed no such thing. Devlan suggested there was a choice. There is not. I am not available, nor will I ever be.” That it was true only made it hurt more, something inside him rattling in defiance.
He went to turn, done with all reminders of the hell he had gone through yesterday but Asher moved. It was just a twist of one of the boy’s dangling bracelets but it was enough to freeze the blond, warning prickling through him.
“I have never known you to draw your sword, Vesper. Not among your peers. Not in the face of a being like me.” Asher paused, combing claws through his dark hair. “You were going to kill me. All for a boy you didn’t even know.”
There was a new tone to Asher’s voice, unfamiliar and tinged with regret. Vesper sought his gaze, confused. Had Asher been hurt by it? Had he somehow missed that this demented, vicious halfling might actually consider him to be his friend? “Asher Vah, if you hadn’t attacked—”
“Evanel ensnared you much faster than it took to get that tattoo carved into your flesh,” Asher interrupted smoothly, his voice back to its purr of before. “I would have expected far better from a Candidate.”
It was a slap in the face, the words coming from nowhere but stabbing deep and true in a way Vesper could not have prepared himself for. Gritting his teeth with a hiss, he whirled, his hands clenched into fists despite his efforts to control his anger. “Do not approach him again,” he warned, his anger darkening his words. “I will show you no mercy, Asher Vah, no matter how long we have known each other.”
Asher’s eyes glinted and his dark hair rippled in the night breeze as the blond stalked away angrily. “I would expect no less, Vesper.” Looking down, Asher caught his reflection in the water, blood spotting his otherwise clean cheek. He carefully wiped it with his thumb, licking the bloodied digit as he watched Vesper teleport home.
Vesper seethed inside, a storm of emotion trapped in a place of darkness within. Cracking into awareness at the foot of the Sunfall Mountains just shy of the arctic circle in Canada, he kept his head down, ignoring the swirl of white and walls of rock around him and the wind roaring outside the arrival chamber of stone. It was daylight still near the Western Coast of the continent where he had teleported to. His home was above, a castle built and hidden into the highest peaks. The only way to access it was through the mirrored portal before him, but he hesitated, fighting to control his anger.
Asher Vah had dared to insinuate he was a Candidate—The boy had to be out of his fucking mind! Surely he was just trying to piss him off and get under his skin. A game. A game of predators that Vesper just didn’t have the fucking mettle for at the moment because he was facing his birthday, his exritus, and his bonding to a demon that would drain him dead.
Damn. A Candidate.
Sighing heavily, he tried to steady the drumming of his heart while running fingers through his long, nearly white hair. Why would Asher have said that? Did he know something? The Malice bloodline always held the possibility but the last time the Candidates had been called forth had been over a thousand years ago. There was no way it would happen in his generation and sure as fuck not to him. Not with the fucking tattoo. Not with Heiden looking to sink his fucking claws into him for a limited eternity of hell.
Scowling, Vesper strode across the rocky footpath, thin powdery snow dusting his way. The steeps around him rose up like the steps of giants. His mother used to tease him, saying the dragons had carved them into the land so that they could reach the sky. But no dragon could be large enough to use the mountains as a stairway. Vesper glared up at the banded rocky wall, bitterness he tried so desperately to keep at bay rising up in him. Another lie told to him as a child to dull the pain of life. He had grown up faster than his cousins. He had been forced to face reality at ten. Now even the suggestion of such childish fantasies made his heart clench painfully. Vesper had grown up faster because his death was already near and though he had accepted it as inevitable, there was nothing in him that would willingly welcome his fate.
Taking a dagger out, he sliced the inside of his palm, then pressed it to the surface of the mirror. Ancient magic, natural terrain, and hazardous weather protected the castle he called home for as long as the Malice line had lived, possibly even longer. They had little fear of losing their mountain fortress, but then, it had done little to protect any of them from Heiden in the end.
Vesper’s reflection rippled in the portal, his glaring face disappearing to reveal the familiar scene of his home on the plateau above. He took three calming breaths, internally kicking himself for having let Asher Vah get to him. His expression schooled again into one of indifference, he stepped through the portal and into the warm air of Celestial Keep.
The estate stretched out before him, a fertile oasis among an otherwise desert of rock, scrubby brush, and snow. Below in some of the valleys, thin trees grew, greenery dotting the craggy landscape. But at the top of the plateau where his ancestors had made their home, magic had been used to create a hospitable environment. Orchards dominated the majority of the land, gifting a bounty of fruit and nuts that fed the humans and animal alike that had been transported to the three acres of land. Sitting above, sturdy and oppressive with its tall towers was his family castle made of the magic imbued rocks of the cliffs around them. Some stone repelled magic, others enhanced. Celestial Keep was crafted from a stone that was fortified against magical attack. It truly was a fortress and Vesper breathed a sigh of relief to be home.
He rarely left his family estate. His tutors came to him and besides the few visits to relatives and the occasional party, he had little desire to leave Celestial Keep. His trip to the Hierarchy had been his longest away that he could remember. Stepping back into the magical boundary felt significant, some of his tension slowly unkinking from his muscles as he was engulfed in familiar scents and sounds. It was as if the magic that cultivated growth from lifeless rocks was trying to do the same to his otherwise numb existence. Something within him welled to see his home again. It was the one place he was certain he truly belonged and the place he would soon be leaving forever.
Heiden wouldn’t force the issue; the demon would be happy to move in. No matter how much he would miss his home, Vesper would never invite the monstrous creature to enter Celestial Keep and put his family at risk. It was just another sacrifice he had resigned himself to, another internal wound that would eventually dull and numb like all the others had. He was just the walking dead at this point. A ghost that had haunted his home long enough. Once he left, his aunts, uncles, and many cousins could finally return to the Clan’s castle. It would give his parents the companionship he had failed at no matter how hard he’d tried to smile if only for them.
Depression was not new for Vesper but he was surprised to be aware of his state of being. Something had changed in him, something unsettling and disturbing on as many levels as the mountains around him. His weekend at the Hierarchy had been worse than he had anticipated. Mostly because of one strange, confusing boy that he hadn’t been able to stop looking at the moment he had caught sight of him.
He could have easily named twenty men more beautiful than Evanel Reed, most of them from his own Clan. He could have likely named a hundred more powerful than the angry-eyed boy who had been able to avoid Vesper’s allure but not much else. But for whatever reason, he could not stop thinking of Evan. Even now, when back in the familiar surroundings of the Sunfall Mountains while standing in the shadow of his family’s castle, he could see the blond in his mind’s eye. He could nearly remember Evan’s scent and hear those damn near silent whimpers the boy had made—
Fuck. What the hell had the boy done to him?
He had drawn his weapon on a classmate. He had used his power to intentionally pull. Hell, he had agreed to let Devlan call Evan and feed off of him, just so he could have an excuse to see the boy again. It was unforgivable. This weekend had marked not only Vesper’s acceptance into the Hierarchy as his power demanded, but also his first test to see if he could control himself away from the protection of his family and home. He had failed. He had failed on nearly three separate occasions all because of that boy. How could he trust himself to keep the masses safe from Heiden’s possessive rage if he couldn’t even control himself over one damn boy?
Vesper had run the memory of orientation through his mind a dozen times, each recounting more damning than the last. It wasn’t that his actions had been questionable but that his emotions had been joined in them as well. He had wanted to use his power. He had truly wanted to kill Asher Vah. He had been damn near giddy with the idea of slicing the small, vicious boy to pieces. The feeling had almost been as exhilarating as the idea of fucking Evan after in reward.
Vesper raised his clenched fist to his mouth, resisting the urge to actually bite his own flesh as the same feeling rose up inside him unbidden. His hand was healed, the blood still wet from where the portal had sealed the wound. He licked it idly as he thought.
He was just some boy. That he had made it to the Hierarchy at all was a wonder because, for all intents and purposes, Evanel Reed was a null to his senses. He was weak, ignorant of magic and physical defense—An absolute victim too blind to even fear for his own safety. And if Vesper had only felt a need to protect the boy, that might have been acceptable. But it wasn’t protectiveness seething inside him when he thought of Evan. It was definitely something along the path of defilement and enslavement bubbling through his very core. He wanted to possess the boy at every level, kill any that would dare challenge him, and then be free to do whatever dark, delicious things he pleased to Evan.
Madness. Goddess, but he was going mad.
Scowling to himself, Vesper expanded his magical senses, seeking out his mother’s presence. She radiated from the direction of the library and he turned himself towards the imposing building, barely seeing the beautiful gardens as he passed.
Maybe it was the change coming. His birthday was upon him and his exritus was due. Vesper had been so focused on his upcoming bonding that he hadn’t given much thought to the possibility that he might end up becoming some barbaric, bloodthirsty fae. It was not as if his last name was a coincidence; there had been more than a few Malices in the past that had ended up more chaotic and destructive than anything much else. Was that why Heiden had chosen him? Had the demon sensed he would be a monster among his family?
He should have dismissed the invitation to the Hierarchy. Even now, Vesper was thinking of never returning. Exposing people to whatever the hell he was turning into had no useful value beyond his selfish fear of dying alone. Maybe a part of him had hoped the demon would choose to drain him less if there were people to see him falter, to see him grow weak and frail. Now he knew how foolish a dream that was. Heiden would want an audience to his slow death.
The castle was colder than the outside, the properties of the stone keeping the environmental magic from affecting the building. Vesper barely felt it even though his torso was mostly bare. They had personal enchantments and furs if they grew cold but, unlike his father, he rarely had to make use of them with his higher body temperature. His body had been born for the cold, as had all the Malices. They were descendants of the great Fae Ezella, the Celestial Dragon that had birthed his mother’s family. In the foyer was a mural depicting the fae goddess in dragon form, scaled and sinewy, her coloring like the pure snow that fell among the untouched mountain tops. She dazzled in the light, a creature of such power, even her own had feared when she approached. But Ezella was a mother, a protector, noble of heart and true to what was right even if the shadow she cast was dark and impenetrable.
The Malice line may have strayed too far for even Ezella’s mercy. The demon Heiden was a curse on their bloodline, one the goddess had allowed for nearly a thousand years. No one had intervened to save them and Vesper could not expect anyone to. Not after so long. Ezella had pledged her loyalty to the shadow faced god and with that promise, the lives of her descendants had been pledged as well. Neither god or goddess had stepped forth to repay that loyalty and no Candidate had been called. After a thousand years of silent deities, who could expect them to return?
Maybe that too was the way of the gods. Sacrifice the loyal so the weak had a chance to flourish. It wasn’t as if the Malice line had been decimated. No, they had just been culled in such a ghastly manner that many refused to continue the bloodline for knowledge their children could be the next victim. Vesper certainly had no interest in siring an heir.
He found his mother in the library, shimmering in the light from the large picture window that looked out at the mountains. Slender and willowy, Leandra’s white-blue hair reached down to her knees, the locks kept in perfect tight curls. She was pure elegance but Vesper would expect no less from a dragon queen even if she had no Clan to rule. His mother was clothed in a silky blue dress, the material draped straight down to accent her gentle curves. The sleeveless sides revealed the delicate silver tattoos that decorated her otherworldly pale skin from her biceps to the tips of her fingers.
Vesper regretted seeking her out once catching sight of his mother, pity and guilt hitting him in a familiar wave. Leandra looked weaker today than when he had left her Saturday. He knew it was his imagination; the baby growing inside the woman had yet to start redirecting her magic into its protection. Still, it was a reminder of the dangers facing his parents, especially when Leandra turned her pale blue gaze towards him, something mournful just beneath her beautiful surface.
“I felt your power. I was concerned.” Leandra placed her book on the windowsill, standing from her cushioned perch. At Vesper’s expression, she stilled, refraining from approaching her son just yet. “Was there a problem?”
“Potentially.” Vesper winced internally, hating to admit to it. But there was no escaping his parents’ ever watchful eye. If his mother had sensed his lapse of control, his father had as well. Goddess, what was happening to him?
Leandra’s gaze hardened, the woman straightening until she was facing her son not as his mother but as the queen she doubled as. “Your exritus is soon and your bonding sooner.” She swept forward, her dress swishing around her legs. “You lost control at the Hierarchy during orientation. You were hardly in the door. Can you explain yourself? Must we lock you away to protect the world from you?”
Licking suddenly dry lips, Vesper forced himself to stand taller and meet his mother’s disapproving gaze. He could see the concern beneath her stern exterior but it wasn’t important. She was very much right. If he had touched anyone at the Hierarchy, be it for fighting or saving, he would have doomed them to a terrible, unwarranted death.
“I believe I may be in the throes of a mating courtship,” Vesper answered carefully, silently cursing Asher for the boy’s choice to be cryptic when bluntness had been needed. “I did not see the reasoning behind it earlier. I was caught up with just… so much. But looking back, it seems to make sense.”
Leandra inhaled sharply, the warmth draining from her face. “Son, you know you cannot—”
“I know,” Vesper replied swiftly. “It is not a courtship of choice, mother. I was blindsided. I could not have expected such a thing but I will surely be prepared next time.”
She shook her head, a pinched expression of anxiety marring her delicate features. It made Vesper’s stomach twist to see. His mother was not one for emotional displays outside of flashes of anger. She had spent his lifetime pretending all was well while a demon waited at their door.
“We will speak with your father.” Leandra turned back to the window, picking up and holding her discarded book in hand like a shield across her chest. “Perhaps Ryder will know some way to curb the mating urge.”
“Mother, there is no need. Bringing more attention to this will only—”
Leandra shook her head sharply and he fell silent. “Your father sits beside me on a tarnished throne while a demon ravishes our bloodline. There is a great need.”
Vesper’s father was not a Malice. Vesper had inherited his mother’s name as all fae born did, along with much of her genetics. Ryder’s great fae ancestor was Avem, a lesser being compared to the celestial dragon, Ezella. Even still, his father had chosen to marry his mother after everyone knew that Heiden had been feeding on their line for centuries. Vesper had assumed it was out of some great love that his father had thrown all sensibility to the wind to stand beside Leandra. Now seeing his mother’s face, he had to fear that it had instead been a biological drive that had overridden his father’s rational mind.
Not that love couldn’t be called the same. A mix of chemicals that addled beings long enough to ensure that a mating occurred. Except the fae had magic to add to the insanity of the hormonal cocktail that was mating. Vesper gritted his teeth as an image of Evan flashed in his mind again, the boy’s bare torso covered in scars and old wounds, his eyes full of something dark and pleading.
Goddess, but he was such a fool.
It was more than just attraction, more than just the lure of the boy’s unique scent and defensive glare. Vesper had felt an underlying recognition the moment he had watched Evanel Reed huff into the orientation with his standoffish posture and haunted gaze. Curiosity had immediately turned to something else. He had wanted Evan to see him as much as he had wanted to know the boy. Had he turned one fucking moment into an absolute fantasy? Had he sought a companion in the only face he hadn’t known because all his other peers had already chosen to withdrawn from him in self-preservation?
There was a painful tearing inside him Vesper defiantly ignored. In the most unassuming of moments he had proven weak once again and a boy had nearly died because of it. He would not allow the mistake to occur again.
He knew what it was like to have been marked in life early on. Heiden had singled him out among his family and sealed his fate. Vesper had endured the endless whispers from his cousins as to why it had been him and not them. He had seen their unspoken relief, their pity, and never-ceasing fear every time they looked at him. Just because one boy had looked at him differently did not excuse his loss of control.
Vesper could not share his fate with anyone, even if he did see a kindred spirit in the angry blond. He was destined to walk his path alone, protecting all he could until death took him. He would hold out as long as he could so that his unborn sibling could have a chance at a life and not face the fate he had been given. It was his duty whether he had chosen it or not.
Leandra turned from her study of the mountains, her expression again controlled. She offered her son a small smile, leading them to the library door. “Your father returns later tonight. He’ll know the best approach in this, Vesper, I’m certain.”
Meeting his mother’s gaze, Vesper simply nodded in agreement. Something inside struggled to be heard but he pushed it down as he had been doing since he had first caught the eye of Heiden. He could only hope the caged being inside him would one day stop rattling, stop slamming at the bars for a freedom he had not been fated to have. Surely it would make it easier once all of him finally gave up.
Ryder, Vesper’s father, arrived late to dinner after his family had started. The large dining hall of Celestial Keep was mostly dim, only a few floating orbs illuminating the area of the main table they used. There had been a time when the entire hall clothed in pale blues among the white marble would expect to be near capacity to house the Malice extended family, the walls echoing with talk and laughter. If Vesper hadn’t been chosen, it would still have been the case. But Leandra’s child had caught Heiden’s attention and the queen’s family was now the outcasts, always spoken to so kindly while pity shone in every family member’s eye and vicious word was held in cheek for later when not face to face with the monster’s meal.
The dimness of the lighting made it so Vesper didn’t notice that the two individuals with his father were not the servants the Malices employed. It wasn’t until his mother suddenly stood, her eyes flashing, that he looked up, his gaze taking in the two huddled, slender forms.
“Guests?” Leandra asked, her eyebrow arched in the closest expression of confusion the woman would dare reveal.
Ryder offered a weak smile to his wife, stepping to the side and ushering the two young men forward. “Of a sorts, my love. Vesper, Master Heiden intercepted me with a delivery while I was away on business.”
“Father?” Pushing himself up stiffly from the table, Vesper met his father’s gaze. Ryder might not have been of Ezella’s blood but his looks complemented the Malice bloodline well. Having just turned forty with his smooth, straw blond hair, cool complexion, and gray eyes, Ryder fit in with his ethereal wife and son, even if the man insisted on dressing in heavy layers of clothing to combat the temperature of the castle. Although his father had his normal, casual smile in place, Vesper could see a tension to his stance, the man’s eyes sharp and full of warning as he tilted his head towards the two new guests.
A pair of red eyes peered back at him from beneath pale, purple tinted hair and Vesper inhaled sharply. Demons. His father had brought demons into their house. Vesper looked to his mother but her expression was as carefully crafted as his father’s. Still, he was certain this was just as much a surprise to her as it was to him. She would have warned him otherwise.
Vesper approached slowly, trying to gain as much information as possible with his eyes before he dared speak and say the wrong thing. Two, they couldn’t have been older than him, petite, slender, and eerily similar in looks. They were dressed in thin shifts, hardly offering much in protection from temperature or gaze, their legs and arms bare. They came up to his shoulder, their hair cut in identical fashion to bob silky around their faces. After a moment, he realized he was looking at twins, the only difference being that one was as pale as the snow with startling blue eyes while his brother was nearly gray skinned with a demonic red to his stare that could belong to no other creature. They were horned, a single small spire protruding from the center of their foreheads. Beyond their odd coloring, sharp fangs, claws, and pointed ears, they seemed far from hostile, the two of them huddled together possibly from the cold or maybe just in terror.
Vesper noticed it then, the frozen, thick black metal wrapped around each of the young man’s slim throats. They were slaves, their magic cut off from them along with any ability to flee.
The Malices did not deal in slaves. They did not allow them into their household, nor did they support the enslavement or trade of slaves in any way. Enslaving demons, fae, and humans was about as barbaric as one could get and Vesper’s family had no stomach for it. Yet there were two in his dining hall, eyes wide and full of misgiving as they peered back at Vesper with thinly veiled curiosity.
“Vesper, I would like you to meet Lilo and Draven,” Ryder said carefully, indicating the blue-eyed than red-eyed twin while beckoning his son closer. “They will be joining us at Celestial Keep until you find it time to move. They will then accompany you to your choice of estate. Space will be made in your set of rooms so that they can be near whenever you have need of them.”
A sickening wave of heat clenching in his stomach, Vesper nodded tightly. He didn’t dare ask just what sort of need he was supposed to have of the two youths, not when they were standing there staring at him like he was a step away from stripping the flesh from their bones. “They are from Heiden?”
Ryder nodded, his eyes downcast. “A very special gift for his precious one.”
“I see.” Forcing himself to breathe normally, Vesper took a small step back. “I imagine the three of you are famished after your journey. Father, if you will take your seat, I will have Gibbens add two more place settings for the evening.” The two boys were so thin, he had to wonder if they had been fed at all since arriving on Earth and just how long ago that might have been.
His mother sent him an approving look Vesper couldn’t fully feel past the ice moving through his veins. Heiden had gifted him with two slaves. Slaves. The demon had no understanding of his disgust of slavery—Or perhaps he completely did and that was why he had gifted them. All he knew for certain was that two very real lives had just been placed into his responsibility and he had little idea how to care for them.
He glanced back when he heard the two hissing, the pale boy having grabbed his gray skinned brother with a soft cry after seeing the tattoo on Vesper’s back.
“If he desires to bond with us—”
“Do not assume.” Red eyes glowed in warning, glancing Ryder’s way cautiously to see if the outburst had gotten them in trouble. They were speaking in their native tongue, Vesper recognizing it from one of the many demonic dialects he had studied.
“No one will force you to bond,” Vesper said bluntly in the same tongue, ignoring the wary glares immediately turned towards him. “I will not share my fate with anyone. As long as you are under my protection, you will have as much freedom as I can grant you.” He finally met the twin gazes, not sure if he could handle much of any reminder of Heiden at the moment. “I cannot promise it to be much in ways of freedom, given my own situation.” He crossed to the table, lifted the servant’s wand from the center, and signaled the kitchens for Gibbens.
The older man stepped in after a short wait through one of the hidden internal portals, gray-haired and stooped with age but still full of spirit. He took one look at Draven and Lilo and immediately summoned chairs and unfurled placemats that contained plates and bowls magically flattened and at the ready. In moments, the man had food steaming on the two new plates and both demons seated under their own respective fluffy furs for warmth.
Seeing Lilo and Draven were situated well enough, Vesper did everything in his power to ignore the two of them. He could feel their eyes on him, glancing at him secretively while they prodded their food. He couldn’t stop the feelings of resentment swirling within him. No matter how hard he had tried to avoid it, his home had been invaded by Heiden. It would take hours for his father and mother to be able to ensure that the two demons weren’t covered in trace spells or listening runes, or their fancy collars soaked in spying enchantments for that matter. And at the end of the day, Vesper would never be able to guarantee that either boy wouldn’t report any misdeed right to his demon master when his back was turned. The bonding ceremony hadn’t even taken place yet Vesper’s slavery had begun.
He couldn’t even talk to his father about what had occurred at the Hierarchy. Vesper could only hope his mother would relay the information to Ryder. If Avem’s genes were dominant to Ezella’s, Vesper’s control might be nonexistent when it came to the mating urge. After his exritus, he could potentially just off and decide to go seek out Evanel and mate the boy no matter that Heiden would kill the angry blond immediately after.
Vesper had done some reading that evening while waiting for his father’s return. It had not been encouraging. He could already identify traits that were strong in him from Avem. Many of the fae’s descendants had the ability to control prey with their eyes—An ability Vesper was certain a lot of his natural allure was centered in. When he wanted someone, he only had to look at them. Eventually, they would turn and meet his gaze, and he would simply pull them closer after that. It had seemed so insignificant at the time, just a different level to his already overwhelming allure. Now he saw it as the possibility that more of his father’s genetics would awake during his exritus with disastrous results.
Not that Ryder was a particularly aggressive man. Tall, impeccably dressed, and dignified, Vesper’s father was more a man of the world than the type of fae one would expect to lose his temper while seeking a mate. But Vesper had only ever known his father when the man had been past his mating days, married to Leandra and working as a long term investment banker. Vesper’s father had been well on his way to assuring the Malice line would never fear financial instability, along with the entire Celestial Clan. Even Heiden hadn’t been able to disturb Ryder’s financial plans, although it was clear the demon master preferred his victims to be completely reliant on him. Vesper had no idea just what type of man his father had awoken as when his exritus had come. Assuredly someone that had felt no fear to pursue a dragon queen and win her heart.
If anything had stayed the same, it was Ryder’s unfathomable loyalty and love for Leandra. Theirs was not a superficial relationship. Vesper had never doubted it because he had seen arranged marriages within his Clan. The contrast was startling. His parents were friends, confidants, and lovers; nothing less. Even if Leandra had been cursed with the Malice blood that had tied her family to the will of a demon, she had been blessed with a true partner. It only made the fate of their son more tragic, but Vesper knew his parents would persevere even in that. He would not deny them anything, including the replacement his mother was soon to birth.
It didn’t stop the bitterness still from twisting inside him. The world had compromised with his parents. Their love for each other strengthened the two and kept them going. He would never have that. He could never allow another human being to get close to him physically, never mind emotionally. He could not love or be loved.
Vesper didn’t know what fully compelled him as he sat there between his parents, the two exchanging simple pleasantries that held a warmth that revealed their happiness to be back in each other’s company. Maybe it was to distract from all the many things he wished to say but couldn’t because of the two demons that were failing to hide their dislike of the food before them. That night, as the walls seemed to close in and the shadows held a new darkness, he wished silently for a higher meaning beneath it all.
“Who was the last Candidate in our bloodline?”
His mother’s sharp look suggested the question was far beyond the scope of appropriate at the moment. More confusing was his father’s expression, a twist of anxiety on his lips that just as quickly dispersed when the man looked to the two demons.
Thinking a moment to soften the question, Vesper added, “The Hierarchy was riddled with visages of the Exault. Half their buildings were practically covered with the winged beasts. Yet I saw none of the shadowed Domin.”
“They’re beneath the observatory,” Ryder explained quietly. “There is a chamber equal in size. You know those traditional academic types; they have to have symbolism in all they do. They couldn’t just put His statues out in the light of day.”
Vesper nodded in understanding, waiting patiently. Still, it was a full minute before he got his answer, Ryder shooting Leandra meaningful looks until the woman finally relented.
“Over a thousand years, Dionys Malice was the last Candidate of our bloodline.” Leandra gave a small shrug. “He was not chosen but the honor to be selected as a Candidate for the shadow faced god was still great.”
Vesper didn’t respond. From what he recalled, the Candidates battled between three houses for the right to be chosen by the Heir. The remaining living survivor was chosen for the job. “How long ago was a Candidate chosen before Dionys?”
Her hair shimmering in a wave of delicate steel, Leandra’s head bowed forward, her eyes fixed on her plate. “Previously, no more than six hundred years passed between his coming.”
Vesper sighed, staring at his half-eaten plate of food. It would be extremely unlikely. It would be insane, really. Over a thousand years and no sign of the shadow faced god’s human incarnation? How accurate were the old records, truly? How much had just been fables and scare tactics to keep the people in line? He really couldn’t be expected to be called to serve the shadow faced god. It’s not like fae gods really just came down and fixed everyone’s problems. If it really happened, wouldn’t things just make more sense? Less? When there was something so much bigger in the mix, did anything anyone did actually have a value in comparison?
“We do seem a bit due,” Ryder said, his voice a low rumble. Leandra’s face was too impassive for words. It was her war face. Ryder was not a sorcerer to be crossed, by no means, but if there was anyone more dangerous than the dragon queen in the Clan, Vesper didn’t know it. She had upheld the Celestial Clan when even her own family had turned their backs on her. Her tense silence seemed word enough. Looking from his mother to his father, Vesper had to wonder how their world would change if an Heir was born. His parents had spent the last eight years preparing to lose their only son. Would they be happy or devastated to have to come to terms with a change of plans? Would it be another lost child they’d have to look forward to instead of just him?
He wondered dimly if he could reach Asher Vah, then dismissed the idea. The boy had been cryptic, not to mention annoying. Whatever the halfling’s price would be for any information was probably not worth the bother. Vesper had little interest in opening a vein. Either the little brat knew something or just suspected. If he was called to some ancient battle to the death, Vesper assumed he’d have his answer by then.
It could be decidedly more interesting than being fed off of by Heiden for uncountable years. Vesper kept that particular thought to himself. He had no desire to damn any of his relatives to his fate. Still, a battle to the death seemed far more fitting a way to die than being drained until there was nothing left of him.
Ryder surprised his son after dinner by suggesting Leandra show the two demons to Vesper’s quarter’s alone. Apprehensive with all the weapons in his rooms that could be turned against him if the demons felt threatened, Vesper would have preferred to have gone along. His father’s expression left no room for argument and with steady steps he followed the older man down the stairs and into Ryder’s personal study. He was confused to find Gibbens there, the stooped man casting the last in a list of charms on a magical device Vesper had not seen before outside of books.
“A Foure ward. For discretion,” Ryder explained tightly, ushering his son into the room and nodding to Gibbens in farewell. The servant lingered long enough to make sure the magical device on the desk was operational, then bowed out silently. A fire was roaring in the grate, burning a cool blue flame and committing no smoke but a great amount of heat. It cast the dark colored stone and wood in an eerie, ghostly glow. Most of Celestial Keep was as pale as the dragon fae that lived there but the basement rooms had a darker theme. More ancient traditions steeped in something Vesper couldn’t fully name because it was before his time. Something to do with honoring the earth magics and the night while so close to the stone of the mountain. He thought it more symbolism than useful but his mother dutifully kept with the theme whenever adjusting the decor of the rooms.
Ryder’s office was crammed with an array of books, half the bookcases dedicated to accounts and finances and the other half to magic, mostly focused on prediction and luck, two aspects that suited his occupation well. There were a few dark books but Vesper’s father kept those locked in his safe, the items too dangerous to be left out unsupervised. Like most things magical, they usually found ways of being discovered unless they were chained up.
Feeling decidedly unsettled, Vesper chose not to sit when his father offered him a chair in front of his smoothly polished walnut desk. He crossed his arms over his chest, looking around the room idly while trying to think of what he was going to do with his two new guests. It wasn’t their fault they’d been shoved into his life but it didn’t make him any less resentful to the fact. He had enough things to worry about without adding two lives to the list of things to keep from getting killed.
“Vesper, I need you to tell me what happened at the Hierarchy,” Ryder said. He leaned back against his desk instead of sitting, his stance suggesting he was dealing with his own level of nerves.
Shaking his head from his thoughts, Vesper looked up to meet his father’s gaze. “What part? Where I nearly killed Asher Vah over some boy I just met, or when I then nearly got the same boy killed by trying to pull him?”
“The entire incident will suffice,” Ryder said dryly, ignoring the huff sent his way. “I fear it is the reason Heiden has acted. Did you touch this boy?”
Vesper shook his head dully. His muscles were tense and he could feel a headache threatening just at the edge of his consciousness. Nothing was going right. “I never made contact… But it was clear to anyone that saw that I wished to,” he added with a heavy sigh. “Kruck had to physically remove Devlan and Ev—”
“No names,” Ryder interrupted with a sharp shake of his head. “Do not tempt things, Foure ward or not.”
Swallowing, Vesper nodded again while looking at the glowing device. “They had to be removed to keep me from making contact. Others saw.” Saying it aloud only revealed how much he had fucked up, Vesper inwardly cringing at the realization. Somehow he had managed to get home and not fully comprehend just how bad it had been. “Why did Heiden send me those two? What of that incident would make him think slaves were appropriate?”
Clearing his throat, Ryder straightened. “That would be revealed by what type of slaves they are.” At his son’s blank look, he added quietly, “When they were given to me, I was told they were to be your sex slaves. The two demons are your only allowable indiscretions, hand picked by Heiden himself.”
His breath stuttering to a halt, Vesper grabbed the back of the nearest chair. “Fuck, he knows,” he choked out. Would he kill him? Would Heiden kill Evan when he hadn’t even touched him? “His words exactly?” He asked, trying to keep the panic from his voice only to fail miserably.
“Draven and Lilo are the only two beings you are allowed to touch in a sexual manner without repercussions. If Heiden scents another on you outside of your immediate family or the two demon slaves, he will hunt down and kill the individual as stated in the terms of the bonding contract. You are for his enjoyment alone.”
“I’m not bonded yet,” Vesper whispered, knowing it was pointless before the words were even free.
“The tattoo was a sign of you acceptance to the contract,” Ryder reminded, his voice emotionless and steady. “You know he only waits for your exritus so he doesn’t impede your final growth.” He waited for Vesper to get ahold of himself, the boy shaken and pale. “I cannot say for certain that the two demon slaves will not be punished if you actually touch them. I asked him—I didn’t wish for anything to be unclear. Heiden’s only answer was to say that the two belonged to you in all sense of the word. I can only assume once you belong to Heiden…”
Vesper felt another wave of sick hit him. Once Heiden owned him, he owned nothing in return. No slave, no property, no title. He was a ghost from the moment the bonding started, allowed his name and nothing else, unless his master decided otherwise. If Heiden decided so, he would torment the two demons no matter what he said of them being safe.
“Tell me about him.”
Staring at the pattern of dark leaves and vines on the carpet, it took Vesper a moment to notice his father’s request.
“The boy,” Ryder prodded, grabbing his son by the bicep and guiding him beside him at the desk. “The one that caught your eye. What’s he like?”
Vesper looked at his father, biting his lower lip for a moment. “He’s cute,” he finally said, shrugging slightly. “Normal.”
“Normal?” Ryder raised a brow in surprise. “At the Hierarchy?”
Nodding, Vesper studied his father’s face a moment. “He was immune to my allure. I hadn’t seen him before and, well, I’ve known just about everyone that was going to be in my class for years now. So when I saw him… I might have tried to get his attention.” He flashed an awkward smirk. “I ended up pulling three kids that were standing in front of him while he barely looked my way.”
“Impressive.” Ryder whistled softly. “I’m sure that didn’t help matters.”
Vesper snorted softly. “No. By that point, I was ready to pull the damn room just to get the kid to look at me.” He sighed heavily, running his hand through his hair.
“Did you? Pull the room?” Ryder prompted when his son fell silent in thought again.
“No, I only wanted to.”
“I felt your power all the way from Asia. You did something.”
Gnawing on his lower lip again, Vesper gave a reluctant nod. “One of my classmates thought it would be funny to hit the kid with a feverlust enchantment. He over did it and…” He turned his gaze back to his father, something dark and desperate sparking in the boy’s crystal blue eyes. “I wanted to save him. I wanted to save him, and own him, and kill every single person that would dare to look at him. Still… I still want that and I can’t stop this crazy feeling inside.”
Silent for long moments, Ryder mulled for the right words. Vesper was certain it would be the same as his mother; the absolute insistence of what he couldn’t have, no matter how much he wanted it. Instead, Ryder replied with a question of his own, one that Vesper hadn’t expected.
“Does he return your interest?”
Vesper didn’t even have to think about it, the answer clear to him as most things had been concerning Evanel Reed. “Yes.”
“Beyond your allure?”
“He could love me if given a chance,” Vesper said fiercely. “I might love him now. When I reached my magic out to him…” He trailed off, a shudder of heat tingling through him. “He is beautiful. Fiery, angry, and damn beautiful.”
“Ah.” A smile teasing across his lips, Ryder leaned forward with a conspiring whisper. “Your mother was just about the angriest young woman I have ever had the privilege of meeting. She made it very difficult to look elsewhere when she insisted on flaying me alive with every word from her pretty mouth.”
Blinking, Vesper couldn’t help but return his father’s grin, a tension within uncoiling and melting at the man’s words. “Did you know with mother? Was it clear right away?”
“Gods, yes,” Ryder said with a laugh. “Don’t get me wrong; ultimately it was her choice no matter how much of an ass I made of myself trying to woo a dragon queen. But whenever our magic touched…” He sighed. “It was like a meeting of souls. To feel her fire was to help me burn greater. There is nothing else like it.” He gave his son an assessing look. “And I’m glad you had the opportunity to experience such a thing.”
Vesper shook his head agitatedly, abruptly pushing himself away from the desk. “I’m not. It has ruined everything. I barely know who I am anymore and I fear I’ve gotten him killed in just one meeting.”
“Vesper.” Ryder stopped him, grabbing his hand and pulling the boy back to the desk and the device it held. “You must hold on to every memory. Every moment. Do not deny your heart no matter how much trouble it wishes to get you in. It is rare to find someone you connect with. It is a true gift and you should cherish it.” He tilted his head, waiting for his son to meet his gaze again. “When things feel their worst, I can always count on my memory of your mother’s energy as it touches mine. It warms me when nothing else can. You now have his memory, brief as it might be.”
Swallowing back a retort of just how useless a memory was with the many things he was facing, Vesper just nodded. He felt close to tears, the hopelessness of his situation seemingly more concrete since having visited the Hierarchy.
“Is his energy warming?” Ryder asked softly.
Vesper shook his head. “His anger never reached his magic.” He furrowed his brow, turning away from his father.
“I did not mean to suggest he had to be like your mother,” Ryder said when Vesper seemed to shake before him. “When magics touch, it is a unique experience each time.”
“I told you, he was very normal,” Vesper whispered, his eyes glowing in the dim light as he stared at the ground. “Familiar. When I touched his magic, I felt despair. Beautiful despair.” The last words were choked out, something breaking in him to actually speak the words aloud.
His expression grim, Ryder pulled his son into a hug, silent as Vesper shook in his embrace. It took long minutes before the boy could get himself back into some control, tears streaking his porcelain cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” Vesper muttered hoarsely. “I don’t wish to burden you.”
“You haven’t. There is nothing you need to protect me or your mother from, Vesper,” Ryder said gruffly. “We’re adults. We’re strong.”
Vesper nodded weakly, his face pressed tightly to his father’s shoulder. “I just… I feel so alone.”
“I promise you, you’re not, no matter how bleak it seems.” Ryder gave his son a final, fierce squeeze, then raised his hand, magic swirling in a curtain around them. “I need you to listen to me very carefully. Do not speak, just listen. Even with the spells in place, what I’m about to say can still cause us harm if word is revealed.”
His eyes closed, Vesper let his breathing even out, turning his cheek so that he could hear his father clearer. He could feel the spell take hold, the magic forming a wall around them making his own breath bounce back on his skin.
“There was a prophecy concerning your birth.” Ryder’s voice was pitched low but his words were distinct. “This prophecy was so cursed that once it was foretold, Celestial Clan had no other recourse than to abandon your mother. You need to understand this, Vesper. They did not leave us because of Heiden. It was because of what the prophecy said of you.”
Vesper’s chest tightened painfully, the light fluttering of his lashes the only sign he was listening. He waited, not certain he wanted to know what could have ever been said that would drive his Clan away.
Ryder ducked down closer, his lips pressed to the side of his son’s head. “You are god touched.”
Breath hitching, Vesper didn’t dare move. Candidate. Asher Vah must have known. The boy had to have known about the prophecy or just that an Heir had been born or maybe just—
Ryder’s fingers brushed his chin, Vesper raising his face to meet his father’s solemn gaze. “By the maddened on, Vesper. The shining faced god has marked you.”
Jolting back as if struck, Vesper stared up at the man with wide eyes. “Father?”
Ryder held his finger to his lips. “Heiden must never know. Do you understand? If you bond with the demon, he will have an instrument of the gods. And by the goddess, you will surely be a destructive force. Your power far surpasses your mother’s already. No one in the Celestial Clan can match you, son, not even close. If your exritus is allowed to pass, what you will become…” Ryder swallowed, his expression pleading something his son couldn’t fully read.
His mouth going dry, Vesper found himself nodding to an answer that hadn’t been spoken. “I must die now.”
Ryder nodded as well, his hand heavy as it fell to the boy’s shoulder. “Soon. Your mother and I are brewing the potion together. It will be painless—A sleep you never wake from.” There were tears in the man’s eyes Ryder didn’t blink away.
“Why?” Vesper asked, his voice rough, his body shaking as he tried to comprehend the magnitude of it all. “Wouldn’t it have been better to have just killed me at birth?”
“We loved you too greatly. Even then, newly formed, you were perfect.” Ryder wiped the back of his hand across his eyes with a heavy sigh. “We were weak. We chose to sacrifice later to have the years we could with you. They were good years, Vesper, happy years. But I fear your short life was marked with only pain and loneliness. Our selfishness hurt you. Your mother and I chose to embrace the pain as consequence of the joy we did have together.” He pulled his son back into a hug. Even in his confusion, Vesper gripped him back just as tightly.
“We never would have let him have you. You had to have known that,” Ryder said with a swift kiss to Vesper’s forehead. “Death is better. Your mother saw two of Heiden’s bonded and they told her as much. They begged for death.”
“You’ll be punished,” Vesper whispered, burying his face against his father’s shoulder. “He might kill you for this.”
“I know. We all die, son. Only a few of us get to decide what we die for.” Ryder’s expression softened as he gazed down at Vesper’s bowed head. “You met a young man. Someone you could love. I am so glad you had a chance to feel such a thing. I… I was worried you might spend your entire life never having the opportunity to love.”
Vesper could not comprehend just how his parents had made it this far with all they must have known. God touched by the maddened one—How could they love him at all? No wonder the Clan had run from him. They likely feared he would kill them each, one by one. “Is this why you and mother waited to have another child?” He asked quietly. “Because of me?”
“We feared what you might become, yes,” Ryder answered carefully, meeting his son’s gaze evenly. “Out of all the records, no one has ever been marked by the shining faced god. Even still, all know…”
“He’s insane,” Vesper whispered, a cold shudder moving down his spine.
Ryder nodded silently, then tilted his head, tucking his son beneath his chin while holding him tight. “We will never let it happen. I promise you; we will save you from such a fate.”
Even though Vesper knew the only way that could be, he felt a warmth of relief at the words. Death would be better.
Vesper couldn’t sleep. Before leaving his father’s study, Ryder had suggested he take something to calm him, but Vesper had refused. He didn’t want to be calm. He didn’t want to sleep, or dream, or forget a damn fucking moment. He had less than a month to live and rest was not at the top of his priorities.
Pacing the length of his bedroom, his gaze inadvertently strayed to the adjoining room where the door was left ajar. The twins were asleep, or at least, the blue-eyed one was. Draven, the red-eyed one, was likely pretending. Vesper wasn’t sure just how things had been told to the two demons about why they were there and what was expected of them. Heiden had likely scared the fuck out of the two. From what he could see, Draven was determined to protect his brother, Lilo, even if the both of them had very little capability in doing such. The gray-skinned boy was currently curled around his brother while the two slept on one of the two beds that had been spelled up for them, claws facing outward just waiting for attack.
Vesper didn’t bother to tell them that no attack would be coming. He had little interest in coupling with either of them. Not that they weren’t attractive—They were fine enough in a slender, petite way. They were also frightened, angry, and seemed to not wish to be in his house even more than he didn’t want them to be there. Vesper had spent years curbing his own innate desires. He wasn’t about to fuck it all up during his last month just to have the two demons end up dead when Heiden realized his pet had betrayed him.
Closing his eyes, he inhaled sharply and turned on his heel. This was not the first time he had faced his death, but it was the first time it had ever felt quite so real. There had been times too numerous to count in the beginning when he had thought to just end it all. To chose death over enslavement and draining. Heiden had been so terrifying, from looks to the disgusting feel of his magic. To think such a being would one day touch him had filled him with such dread, Vesper had dreamed of sharp blades enchanted to keep wounds from closing. Still, some nights, he would take down the Celestial blades passed down through the generations and consider the ease in which all of his problems would slip away with theflow if his blood from his veins.
He was not a coward. He had repeatedly chosen to live so another didn’t have to face his fate. Now… Now, having realized he should never have lived at all, he was at a loss.
His parents would not fail. They did not fail. Not when it came to the gods. Celestial Clan had dedicated their lives to the shadow faced god. Candidates had been in their bloodline since the first time an Heir had touched down on the Earth. Even if a Candidate hadn’t been chosen in a thousand years, it did not mean that the clan had lost their way.
Vesper just hadn’t known how absolute his fate had been decided before he had even been born.
God touched by the maddened one.
He should have killed himself. Now his parents were risking their own lives for his curse—And fine, perhaps they were responsible for not doing what needed to be done at his birth, but he refused to see it that way. They had given him life, had stood by him when his entire Clan had turned their backs. His very existence had hurt them at every turn, and still, his parents had kept their loyalty to him. He did not wish to have them be sacrificed because of him yet again.
His pacing brought him to the adjoining door again, red eyes glinting at him from the dim room. Vesper huffed, stalking past while trying to ignore the shiver of dread that went down his spine from his thoughts. Heiden knew about Evan. He may not know the name of the boy, but he knew a boy existed and it would be nothing for him to find the rest of the information. It wasn’t like he’d been discreet about any of it. No, he had made a damn ass of himself, challenging Asher Vah, pulling Evanel, then scheming with Devlan just so he could have a chance to scent the boy’s arousal again.
It had been good, though. It had been fucking divine. If he had been allowed to just touch the kid… Just kiss him. Evanel had nearly demanded a kiss. The boy would be punished anyways…
Vesper shook his head fiercely, forcing the thought aside.
Goddess, he had fucked everything up. The one boy he had ever felt anything for, he had very likely just damned. The demon twins were proof of it. Heiden would find Evan and he would destroy him. Just because he could. To send a message to him and to every bonded Malice that came after him that the rules were not a suggestion but a law. Heiden would take glee in it, whether Vesper was alive to see it at the time or not.
He had to do something. He had fucked it all up and he needed to fix it before it was too late.
Vesper sighed, his paces faltering, his gaze drawn up to the high ceiling where carvings of dragons glared down from the corners of the room. Was he allowed to pray to the goddess now that he knew? Would she curse him for being god touched by the maddened one? What god would listen to him with such a monster holding power over his soul?
Could he pray to the shadow faced god?
Blinking back tears, Vesper took heavy steps to his bed, his hands resting on the decorative cover. He could not pray to the maddened one. He had heard of men that had before and all had gone insane. The creature was demented, cruel, and all powerful. He had no interest in such a selfish, chaotic god that would destroy all for his own wants. All the Children of the Light were like that and Vesper had been taught to hate them for the destruction they wrought on the world.
But his brother, the shadow faced god, was known for his mercy. There was none other like him. While the Children of the Light squabbled and fought, destroying all in their wake, the shadow faced god came down and healed. He restored the balance, brought magic back, and always peace. He loved the beings he saved, as well as the gods he fought. The shadow faced god was mercy incarnate, and fuck, he could really use some mercy.
Decided, Vesper turned to his wardrobe, opening the wooden paneled door and skimming his fingertips through until he found a robe the color of night sky. He wrapped himself in the silky fabric, realizing for the first time just why his skin might shine so bright. God touched by the shining faced god. Made to be beautiful in his image. Beautiful, powerful, and fucking insane.
Maybe that was the new presence rising up in him. Not some primal mating brain waiting for his exritus but whatever the maddened one had imbued in him during his creation. Maybe even a piece of La Lune himself, waiting for his fae awakening to take him over and wreck havoc on the world in a way only a ruthless god could.
He could not let it happen. He would pray to the shadow faced god. Pray to his Heir if the being existed yet, reincarnated on the planet. Pray for a merciful end. It was the best he could hope for.
There was no way to tell if the shadow faced god was listening.
Vesper had gone out into the dark, stepping past the portal of his home just in case Ezella took offense. He didn’t want to ruin his family name any more than he had already. Encased in black against the mountain wind, he stood silent at the cliff’s base where the family portal led to above. He didn’t have any token of the shadow faced god, nothing to show that it was him he wished to speak to among all the many fae, ancient and new. But like all the Malices, he knew Nox Amor’s symbol and with a steady hand he drew it in the thin snow beneath his feet. There was something meditative in the curves of the rune, an interlocking spiral of power that held the light within while the darkness grew complete externally.
Vesper had given up on the gods many years ago. Being chosen by Heiden had stolen most of his faith. He still wasn’t sure just how much he believed. Something more powerful than him had marked him and cursed his family before he had even had awareness. That this creature could be more dangerous than Heiden seemed impossible, but then, there was some comfort in that as well. Maybe there being something larger in the world did not make him feel infinitely small and worthless. It had sparked a hope within, one not fully realized but already felt.
The darkness seemed to close in even greater by the time he had made the last line to the shadow faced god’s symbol. His eyes fixed on the rune, Vesper ducked his head, hunching over in the snow as he whispered to the god named Nox Amor.
He prayed for his family; for Leandra, Ryder, and their unborn child. He prayed for the Celestial Clan and his many aunts, uncles, and cousins. He prayed for Ezella’s forgiveness in his betrayal of her name because of the maddened one’s touch. He prayed for himself and whatever indiscretion he must have committed to have been chosen by the shining faced god in the first place. He prayed that Devlan wouldn’t face retaliation because of his involvement at the Hierarchy. He prayed that Lilo and Draven would be spared when he died. He begged that his brother or sister would be spared the curse of Heiden.
Then, when Vesper could think of nothing else that required his attention, he prayed for mercy for one boy. For Evan, who had done nothing but see him, and ask of him. He hadn’t shut him out when their eyes had met each time. It hadn’t been Evan’s fault but the boy would surely suffer if Heiden had his way. Vesper had taken on so much, had sacrificed without ever a word of complaint even if inside something screamed and broke each time. Surely he was due one wish of mercy.
“Just one boy,” he whispered, a note of pleading in his voice. “Just one.”
Fae gods didn’t respond to words but actions, Vesper knew that much. He just didn’t have much he could work with given his limited time and being tied to Heiden. The tattoo wasn’t active yet, but it was there, ingrained in his flesh. Any that saw him would make the connection and the more Heiden’s name was made a fool, the more likely the demon would seek revenge.
He had a plan, though, tentative as it was.
“I will do what I must, Nox Amor. I will set what I can in motion so that your hand can guide. Save him and I… I will gift you my last loyal act.”
It wasn’t right that his parents had to take on such a burden. Yes, they might have birthed him, but he wasn’t some helpless babe anymore. His exritus was upon him. He was an adult and it was his life that had caused so much turmoil. He might not have had any part in the circumstances of his birth but he could make a choice on his death. In some ways, it had been the only real choice available since Heiden. Just one he had refused to take. Out of fear. Out of selfishness for the last few moments of a life unlived.
It was coming to an end either way. Staring at the shadow faced god’s rune, the darkness closing in like a wave of water, he could swear he could feel death teasing at the edge of his consciousness. Waiting. Calling. The gods were close and surely they would hear his plea.
“I will give you my death, Nox Amor. I pledge my death to you.” The shining faced god might have claim to his life, Heiden might have second claim, but Vesper could at least say his death was his own to give. To protect his family, his clan, and the world from the shining faced god, he would kill himself before the madness took him. It was the only righteous choice he had left.