“How could you?” Prism asked, pulling away from Ghayle.
“How could I what?” Ghayle asked.
“My life should show you how much love remained in the world, how much goodness remained.” Prism growled and walked away, throwing his hands in the air. “How could you destroy that?”
“Why were purities harvested in Kobinaru? What is so special about that place?” Ghayle replied.
Prism stared at her, but inevitably shook his head. “I don’t know. Ego says because we were there, but we were just kids. Clearly it’s not because of us.”
“Both you and Grim contributed, Grim more than you, clearly.”
“I’d surmised Khalis’ interest in him contributed, but I didn’t dare think it.” Prism’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Now that you’ve confirmed my suspicions, it makes me even angrier.”
“You know where it began. You started him down that path, to become the purity of stillness.” Ghayle stared at him. “If not for your reticence, it would’ve never happened.”
Prism shuddered as if withstanding the harshest winter chill. “I’m not ready to relive that night. Can we not?”
“Of course.” Ghayle bowed her head in acknowledgement. “It takes time to absorb it all. In the interim, I will attempt to explain about the purities, and hope you will understand.”
“Please, enlighten me.”
“Kobinaru was unique in many ways. Oligan and Ultaka—the two most powerful nations—were corrupt, and in either nation, pure thoughts were rare and fleeting. Purities were more common in the other lands and peoples, but the issue with the purities is that they needed to be performed in spite of the corruption.” Ghayle let Prism process the thought for a few seconds before she continued. “Janlynd martyred herself against Fedain apathy. Marhys had a child despite the illness in her body, and she gave herself freely to the cycle of life and death, despite offers to heal that same illness. Neredos challenged the will of his ruler who sought to subjugate or destroy the world in a mad grab for power. Civine and Palas used their psychic connection in an attempt to stop Oligan’s agenda by spilling its secrets. Grim—”
Prism raised his hand to stall her. “No, thank you. I don’t need to be reminded right now. I understand the examples.”
Ghayle nodded, skipping to her next point. “In Kobinaru, the corruption seeped from every corner just as it did across the breadth of Ultaka, but there were differences. Distinct ones.”
Ghayle smiled fondly as she replied, “Selfaeth, who never stopped fighting for his citizens, both Fedain and Human alike. Though never becoming completely pure himself, his policies helped create the climate for change, even if it eventually came to naught. The Order of the Mountain, who fought for purity as they understood it in all their days. Some did better than others, but under Grandmaster Valkean, the Order stood as a monolith against the corruption spreading through humanity. Veillynn, who followed Janlynd’s legacy and finished the development of the vaccine, something which could have virtually wiped disease from the world had she time to implement it.”
“I’m one of the few who benefited from it,” Prism observed.
“Indeed,” Ghayle said. “And that is also why you can’t see the truth yet. You lived in an island of good surrounded by a sea of evil. You are fueled by nostalgia for your youthful love, the lessons learned by careful masters, and the care of the good people who surrounded you, all while the edges of your world crumbled. Love rules you and keeps you from seeing the hate.”
Prism shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve always seen the evil in the world. I’ve always been a part of it.”
Ghayle raised her hand to Prism’s face again. “Then let me show you and erase your denial with your own memories.”
Prism couldn’t keep his eyes from Grim during their travel to the hospital in Kobinaru. So many possibilities swirled through his head. The future lay just around the corner now, only a couple years until they could fully express their affection.
Grim, for his part, didn’t return as many of Prism’s glances. Though glad for Prism’s reduced sentence and the possibility which awaited them, he had other concerns. The drive through the city took them past a hundred different reasons to worry about the state of the world.
Graffiti adorned many of the buildings now, most pointing out the evils of the Fedain regime. Unrest continued to spread through Ultaka, and hate crimes committed against the Fedain people increased in regularity every week.
As their cavalcade passed through the poorer sections of the city, the people watched it go with either indifference or outright hatred. Their eyes weighed on Grim with every mile. He hated himself for sympathizing but couldn’t help it. His people’s unrest brought back the image of Master Jan on the steps of the Council Chambers.
The closer they came to the center of the city, the angrier the people became. Several groups protested in front of each government building, or businesses owned by Fedain. The military interceded in these places, forming a blockade of muscle and gun, but tension filled the soldiers’ eyes as well. How many of them were ready to turn against the government? How long before the status quo shifted against the Fedain?
When they arrived at the hospital, the largest mob of protestors yet had gathered outside. They held signs decrying Fedain intervention in human lives, and others which claimed the Fedain were only trying to control them. Grim sickened with each person they passed until they disappeared into the parking garage beneath the hospital.
“This is getting worse and worse,” he muttered when the vehicle came to a stop and the two soldiers in the front seats stepped out.
“What is?” Prism asked.
Grim didn’t immediately answer, perplexed that Prism had managed to miss the signs around them. They walked from the vehicle together, approaching the large doors which would lead them inside the hospital’s research center. Dr. Balindae waited for them beside the doors; Grim’s security detail had contacted him pending their arrival. His gaunt features made him appear malnourished, and his thinning hair didn’t help his appearance at all, but he wore a polite smile as they approached.
“Did you see the protestors?” Grim asked after a moment. “I’m surprised they haven’t become violent yet.”
The doctor responded before Prism could. “They still remember Master Janlynd’s death, Lord Grimfaeth. Becoming violent in the face of her memory would be improper. I’m Dr. Bal, and you must be Master Prism.”
“That’s why I’m here, actually,” Prism said. “Master Jan was a friend, though I only knew her for a short amount of time. Once I heard the vaccine was her work, I wanted to honor her.”
“The Order is welcome here,” Dr. Bal said with a bow. “Hopefully with enough monks willing to undergo the procedure, the people will trust it.”
“Do the people know about it?” Grim asked. “I wasn’t aware it had been announced.”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Dr. Bal replied, sighing as he held the door open for Grim and Prism. They stepped inside and started down the corridor as Dr. Bal continued his explanation. “We wanted to announce it after the successful trials were completed, but some of those who participated in our earlier trials violated the non-disclosure agreement. It’s already been demonized by most of the human community leaders.”
Grim’s face scrunched in confusion. “Why? It’s for their benefit, isn’t it?”
Dr. Bal grimaced at the question. “The most common accusation I’ve heard is ‘they’re not content to rule our lives, now they wish to rule our bodies, too’.”
“But that’s not even . . .” Grim shook his head, flustered by the statement, “that doesn’t make sense!”
“Regardless of whether it makes sense or not, that’s the reality of it,” Dr. Bal replied. He turned down another hall and gestured for them to follow him. “Your sister has tried to find a way to market it to the masses, to cleanse the negative image it has already acquired. So far, the monks are the best she’s come up with. So, thank you for being here, Master Prism.” He smiled appreciatively at Prism and stopped in front of a door, opening it for his guests.
“It’s my pleasure,” Prism replied, stepping into the room. Grim followed him, and they both took stock of their surroundings. Cabinets lined the upper walls, and an examination bed occupied the center of the room while a chair rested against each wall. Grim sat in a chair while Prism leaned against the bed and addressed Dr. Bal. “I’m ready to begin whenever you are.”
“It’s a really simple procedure,” Dr. Bal said as he let the door close behind him. “We’ll just take some blood samples first to determine your blood type, then find the best match for you among our Fedain donors and inject their modified blood cells into you.”
“Doctor, if we’re a proper match, would you be able to use my blood cells?” Grim asked.
“I . . .” Dr. Bal gave Grim a strange look, “suppose so. I’m sure it’s none of my business, Lord Grimfaeth, but why?”
“Prism is my personal bodyguard, Doctor. Perhaps it is a bit sentimental of me, but I have come to value his place in my life, and if I may be the one who safeguards his protection as he does mine, then I would feel much better with the world,” Grim replied.
“Very well,” Dr. Bal said. “Since there are only a few donors at this time, finding yours won’t be too difficult. If it’s a match, I’ll make sure we give the right ones to Master Prism.” Dr. Bal opened a cabinet and withdrew gloves, a syringe, and several vials, before directing Prism to sit on the examination table. He took bandaging material from another cabinet and joined Prism at the table.
He filled three vials with Prism’s blood and applied the bandage to Prism’s arm, then excused himself to go perform the blood tests. Prism waited until the doctor was long gone before speaking to Grim. “I thought Fedain didn’t care about relationships between members of the same gender.”
Grim raised an eyebrow. “They don’t.”
“The doctor seemed like a friend of yours. I’m surprised you didn’t tell him the truth about us,” Prism said.
“I did. You protect me, and I want to protect you. As far as our relationship goes, there are worse things than homosexual relationships in a Fedain’s eyes.” Grim met Prism’s gaze, hoping to communicate his love.
“Because I’m human,” Prism said with a smirk.
“Because you’re human.” Grim sighed. “But I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t mind who knows once you’re free of your sentence. The whole world can know about us then. I just don’t want to jeopardize our being together in the meantime.”
Prism smiled. “Sounds reasonable to me.”
They spoke of mundane things while waiting for Dr. Bal to return. Despite this casual moment with Prism, the unease persisted in Grim’s mind. He doubted one monk’s example would ever be enough to satisfy the people’s need for answers. Prism’s willingness to participate in the program wouldn’t solve anything, even if it convinced more people to try the vaccine.
The general populace already distrusted any words which came from a Fedain mouth. It would all eventually collapse, and no amount of benevolence from the few Fedain who had cared would make a difference. Something bad was coming, a great upheaval which would destroy the world Grim knew. The future Prism saw as full of hope now filled Grim with nothing but dread.
But at least they would be together. Grim hoped that would be enough.
Dr. Bal eventually returned, carrying another syringe in his hands, filled with a dark liquid. “Sorry to keep you waiting. It took a moment to verify your blood type. You’re a match with Lord Grimfaeth after all.” He approached Prism and raised the syringe, showing it to Prism. “It’s just a simple injection, and then the Fedain nanites will be in your system.”
“Then by all means, give it to me,” Prism said.
Grim watched it unfold, glad that, no matter what happened to him, at least Prism would always have a part of him. When the world ended, at least they’d both survive in him.
Prism stared at the open doors to Grim’s balcony with great skepticism. Grim had insisted this had to happen now, in the middle of the night. Prism doubted they would manage sneaking out of the palace, much less getting back inside.
He wasn’t wearing his robes anymore, instead borrowing clothing from Grim more appropriate to clandestine activities. All black and made for cool weather, in the spring temperatures it was perfectly comfortable. But he couldn’t stop himself from sweating from nervousness; a monk of the Order shouldn’t sneak around.
He rationalized it as part of his duties to protect Grim. If Grim insisted on putting himself in danger, it was Prism’s duty to accompany him. Still, he made his misgivings known. “I don’t like the idea of us sneaking out of the palace at night.”
Grim dug through his wardrobe, glancing up briefly to give Prism a scathing look. “It’s been awhile. I need to stretch my legs. Besides, this is something you’ll like.”
“But what if we’re caught?” Prism crossed his arms and stood his ground. He’d already lost this argument three times, but until they left the room, he still had a chance of convincing Grim to change his mind.
“We won’t be,” Grim insisted. “Without the rains, climbing over the wall is easy. Have you ever seen one of these?” he straightened from his wardrobe, a large coil of cable in his hand. It resembled glass, its transparency allowing it to camouflage itself against Grim’s body.
“It’s completely transparent,” Prism said, taking the end of the rope. He pulled at it and bent it, surprised by its tensile strength and flexibility. “Strong, too.”
“These are called ‘chameleon ropes’ and are used in theater and acrobat performances at the Kobinaru Grand Theater. I used to regularly attend performances when I was younger, and since I’m part of the nobility, getting backstage was easy.” Grim grinned as he headed to the balcony. He tied one end of the cable to a post in the balcony railing next to the palace wall, then fed the rope’s length through the hole. He went back to the wardrobe to grab another chameleon rope and wrapped it around his shoulder.
“How’d you get out with the rope?” Prism asked.
“Why? Do you think I stole it?” Grim asked, his eyes filled with a mischievous glint. “Thinking maybe we’re both thieves after all?”
Prism shook his head and replied, “Knowing what I do about your father, he would’ve never let you have something like this. He’d know its purpose.”
“Veil took it for me with Father’s approval,” Grim said. “She said she wanted to use it to decorate her room with hanging ornaments. It wasn’t the best lie, but she sold it well. After a month, she told Father she wanted to change her style, and did something different without ever having used it. Both cables have been mine ever since.”
“You’re crafty as ever,” Prism said.
“Well then, down we go,” Grim replied. “Don’t worry, Prism. My craftiness will guide us. Grab the lights, will you?”
Prism sighed and turned off the lights in Grim’s room before joining Grim on the balcony. Grim grinned in the dim light washing over them from the city and swung over the edge of the balcony, taking the rope in his hands. He slid onto it, then walked against the wall of the palace, descending to the gardens below.
With no more time to protest, Prism followed Grim’s example with ease to join him in the gardens. Once there, he let Grim lead him to the palace wall, waiting for Grim to tie a slipknot in the cable and toss it up around one of the spikes adorning the top of the wall.
He shimmied up the cable then perched at the top, waiting for Prism to join him. Once they both sat atop the wall, Grim pulled up the rope and dropped it off the other side before descending to the street below. Prism joined him a moment later, and they hurried into the night, leaving the nearly invisible cable attached to the wall.
Prism waited until they’d traveled a few blocks away before asking Grim for details on their destination, hoping this time Grim would answer. “Where are we going, anyway? You’ve been tight-lipped about it since we left the hospital.”
“So, I may not have stolen the rope, but . . .” Grim pulled a small vial and showed it to Prism. “I did steal this.”
“What is that?” Prism asked.
“It’s your blood,” Grim said. “Do you remember when I said I needed to pee? I sneaked into the lab and took one of your samples.”
Prism raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Well . . .” Grim sighed, making sure no one else was in earshot. “I won’t do this if you say ‘no’, but I really want to get a tattoo with it. There’s an old Gor tattooist in the Old City who could make us each other’s familiars.”
Prism staggered back from the weight of that idea. “I’d be able to feel you at all times, sense things you sense, and our lifeforce would be connected?”
Grim nodded. “That’s the idea.”
“Then of course I want to do it.”
“Yes!” Grim shouted, clamping both hands over his mouth as a light turned on in a building above them. At the end of the street, a patrol of soldiers moved in their direction, and Grim darted into an alley with Prism hot on his heels. “Oh blood, I need to contain myself,” Grim whispered once the soldiers passed their position. While Kobinaru had no official curfew, the less attention they attracted, the better.
“It’s okay,” Prism said. “I’m excited about it, too, but . . .” He hesitated.
“I won’t be able to do it.” Prism sighed.
“Doesn’t a tattooist have to touch me?”
“Blood! You’re right!” Grim growled in frustration. “Maybe we could figure out some way to stop that?”
“Or maybe . . .”
“Maybe it’s not . . . not so bad.” Prism smiled as an idea came to him.
Grim shook his head and said, “Prism, you can’t break your oaths. You said so yourself.”
“It wouldn’t be breaking my oaths at all.”
“How do you figure? Didn’t you just say it would?”
Prism nodded, but then explained, “My monk duties currently include protecting you with my life. Being able to sense you at all times is consistent with those duties.”
“Are you sure?” Grim asked, biting his lip.
“No. I’m not, but . . .” Prism shook his head, firming his resolve as he met Grim’s eyes. “I want to do this. If I’m rationalizing it in some way just to make it happen, I’ll be damned for it, but I’m not going to let it stop me this time.”
“Okay,” Grim said after a moment. “Then let’s get going. It’ll be difficult to get it all done in one night, but that’s all the time we have. We need to catch a streetcar.”
Nearly an hour later, they’d passed from the rich, predominantly Fedain-populated sector and entered the old part of the city within the wall. Humans dominated this neighborhood, known simply by the bland title ‘The Old City’, but the people regarded it as the toughest part of town.
Uneasy as ever about their current location, Prism kept a wary eye on everyone moving down the streets, after they left the streetcar. Grim kept his hood around his face at all times, keeping his heritage hidden, but Prism wouldn’t take any chances and stared down anyone who came close to them.
Grim led him to a back alley, lit by only a single green light illuminating a doorway at the back of the narrow passage. Without any hesitation, Grim approached the door and knocked. Prism couldn’t decide whether to protect Grim’s back or front and ended up standing at his side.
A light clicked on behind the door, a soft glow emanating from the crack at the bottom. The door opened a crack at first, and then all the way, forcing them to adjust to the light differential. A middle-aged Gor leaned in the doorway, smoking. Wild and matted black hair framed his face, and his bright yellow eyes regarded them in a stupor as they adjusted to the dim light. “Huh . . . what have we here? A human and a Fedain . . .” he took a drag on his pipe and blew out a puff of smoke, then his eyes lit up in recognition. “Not just any Fedain, I’ve seen ya on the broadcasts. You’re the Duke’s son, ain’t ya?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this,” Prism said, turning to Grim.
“Ya got money, rich boy?” the Gor asked.
“Yes,” Grim replied. “Are you Zaalf Terbrinix?”
“That’s right, and don’t worry, human, I won’t be telling anyone ya came to me. All my clients are secret,” Zaalf replied. “What can I do for ya two?”
“Can we come inside?” Grim asked. “I’d rather not discuss this out in the open.”
“Come in, yeah,” Zaalf said, pushing the door open for Prism to take it. Grim led the way inside and Prism followed. Zaalf took up the rear, closing the door and locking it. “Sorry about the mess. What with the troubles, ain’t had much business lately. No one has the time or money.”
He led them down a hallway filled with clutter. Most were just odds and ends, some scrap metal here, old papers there, but it gave Prism the impression Zaalf didn’t get out much and preferred to live among his collections.
At the end of the hallway was a small workshop filled with strange and unfamiliar tools. A barber’s chair sat in the center of the room, a box sitting inside it. Zaalf moved the box to the floor and rescued two stools from other boxes of junk, indicating Prism and Grim could take whichever seats they wanted.
Grim sat in the barber chair while Prism took a stool. “We’d like to get matching tattoos using special inks. I need this to be incorporated into my tattoo,” Grim said, handing the vial of Prism’s blood to Zaalf. “And I need you to take some blood from me for him to get a tattoo as well. Obviously, as a Fedain I’m not worried about infection, so feel free to use whatever needle you have.”
“Ya wanna be familiars?” Zaalf asked, catching on to the nature of the request. “Ya two are lovers then? My, ain’t ya two a peculiar couple! A human and a Fedain! Now I’ve seen everything.”
“Can you do it? They say you specialize in spirit tattoos, but can you make us familiars?” Grim asked.
“Yep. It’s pricey, though. It’s illegal, ya know,” Zaalf said. “Doin’ it is a risk.”
Grim pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and handed them to Zaalf. “Will this be enough?”
Zaalf counted the wad and smirked. “For one.”
“Good,” Grim said, pulling a second wad of cash from his opposite pocket. “Here’s twice as much with a little extra. I want this done as quickly as you can while still doing it correctly.”
“I’ll take your blood first,” Zaalf said. “The enchantin’ has to be done before I can do the tattooin’.”
Grim nodded. “I assume you have a syringe?”
Zaalf grinned. “Yep. And I’ll even use a clean one for such a high payin’ customer. Let me go get it.”
As soon as he left, Prism rounded on Grim and said. “Are you crazy? This guy looks like he just crawled out of a drug den.”
“So?” Grim said.
“You’re going to trust him to stick needles into you? To perform magic on you?” Prism asked.
Grim nodded. “Yep. Why wouldn’t I?”
“He’s bloody crazy!” Prism said.
Footsteps alerted Prism to Zaalf’s return, and he stopped talking. He forgot to account for Zaalf’s Gor hearing, however, and Zaalf fixed him with an amused look. “Human, you’re the one fucking a Fedain. Ya realize ya’d be executed for your pleasure? At least I can make a livin’ with mine.”
“Come on, Prism,” Grim said. “It’s not like we have any need to worry about getting infected. I’m a Fedain and you’ve got nanites now. We can heal from anything he does.”
“Ya tried the Fedain juice, eh?” Zaalf said, regarding Prism with a critical eye. “The humans are sayin’ that’ll mind control ya. Are ya sure you’re not the crazy one?” he laughed and turned to Grim, lifting a syringe. “Are ya ready for me to take your blood?”
Grim nodded and grunted in pain as the needle entered his arm. Zaalf found the vein with the precision of a medical professional, drawing out a full syringe of dark blood. Before he even turned away, the wound closed on Grim’s skin.
Zaalf took the blood and knelt on the ground. He produced a bowl from somewhere beneath the piles of clutter and took a piece of chalk from his pocket. Drawing a few runes in a circle onto the cement floor, he then placed the bowl in the center. He poured Prism’s blood into the bowl, then fished a bottle of white tattooing ink from another pile of junk and added it to the blood.
With his hand over the runes, Zaalf chanted low and steady, and the contents of the bowl glowed with a blue light. A moment later, the glow subsided and Zaalf grinned at Prism. “Crazy helps the magic, human, and that’s why ya came to me. I’m the best ink mage in Kobi.” He turned to Grim next and said, “Where do ya want it?”
“I want mine on my inner thigh. It’s the best place for me to keep it concealed,” Grim replied.
Prism followed Grim’s lead at last. “I agree with that. Same for me when you get to mine.”
Zaalf nodded, raising the ink and showing it to Grim and Prism. “I matched the ink I have with your skin tone. It won’t be invisible, but it’ll be hard to see. I can do the same for you, human.”
“Won’t the blood color it?” Prism asked.
“Only until your body absorbs it,” Zaalf said. “Then only the ink will remain, but the connection will be full. This’ll be like nothin’ ya’ve ever felt. Ya’ better be sure ya love each other.”
“We’re sure,” Grim said.
Prism nodded. “We are. Let’s do this. No more excuses.”
The whole process took four painful hours, but between Grim’s natural healing and the nanites flowing through Prism’s blood, the tattoos didn’t even hurt as they walked away from the alley. Silence overtook them as they waited for the streetcar, and they basked in the foreign yet familiar feeling which settled over them.
Prism felt the air on Grim’s skin, could sense the teasing way the air pressure raised the small hairs on his neck and arms. If he stopped to listen long enough, two heartbeats thrummed through his body instead of one. The longer he listened, the more in sync those pulses became.
“I can already feel you,” Prism whispered in awe. “Thank you for this.”
“It’s like dancing without touching,” Grim replied.
The streetcar approached, and Prism met Grim’s eyes. His love for the Fedain echoed through Grim’s entire being. “Let’s go home,” Prism said.
“I love it when you call it that,” Grim replied. Prism could taste the words as if they’d left his own tongue, and he kissed the them as they lingered in the night air. The kiss settled like a snowflake on Grim’s tongue, imperceptible but for an instant before it melted and became a part of him.
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