Anyone who was online during the span of time that I posted the last chapter, you should know that it has been taken down. The concubine I introduced was a mistake and is no longer present in the story. Please forget that that chapter ever happened as it was terrible. Thank you.
Zeph wasn’t sure where he was, all of a sudden.
This wasn’t a problem, for whatever reason. Zeph was in a blue haze of sorts, the sky, he thought. Yes, the sky. There was a sunrise off far to the right- the east, Zeph supposed. He turned towards it, towards its gentle yellows and vivid pinks, but for whatever reason as much as he turned the east remained to his right. He glanced down, and did not see the ground below him. Not even far. There was only starlight. He was standing on the night sky, the blackness solid under his feet. Above was blue, endless, limitless blue, the sky in its purest form. To his left, the west, was more blue, and in front of him was the same. He looked over his shoulder, backwards, and saw a great void.
It was the first thing in this strange sky that actually scared him, and he looked away, rather wishing that he hadn’t seen it. This place had been so nice before he looked back.
“Oh dear, you’re not supposed to be here.”
Zeph turned to his left again, the dawn still trailing his right side.
Prince Jii was standing there.
“Hello sir,” Zeph said politely. Not afraid, per say, but at attention. “I hadn’t meant to impose.”
“It’s hardly any fault of yours,” said the prince softly, his voice causing ripples in the haze like summer heat over black roads.
Zeph said nothing, but stood straight and still. Not tense, for whatever reason, he felt no need to tense. But he stood tall, and would have loomed over the small man if it weren’t for the fact that this sky-place clearly heeded Jii far more than the natural realm of physics ever would.
“None of this is your fault, Zeph…” Jii said again, softly, his eyes distant. The haze around Zeph tightened, no more akin to a vise than a blanket or a well-fitting sweater.
Something snapped back in place in the prince’s head, and his eyes refocused, “Even so, I would prefer that you weren’t here. I’m afraid your particular strain might not bode well in this place, not given your current history with me.”
Jii said nothing.
“I apologize for being a bother, sir,” Zeph said, out of genuine regret. No fear laced his words, just an actual desire to not make the prince’s life any more difficult than it already might be.
Jii waved a hand airily, “Really, it’s quite alright. I don’t suppose you have the ability to find Tiw and go to him, do you?”
“Figures. I’m really quite lucky that Elliot and Tiw are non-magical, and that Boris’ magic is mischief-based and powerful enough for him to control.”
“You’re here because you’re magic, Zeph.”
“Ah.” It made sense. True, Zeph really hadn’t considered himself magical, but it made sense in this strange and airy place.
Jii sat down, Zeph didn’t really know on what, but after a moment Zeph sat down as well. Wrapped in sky and sitting on stars, the two passed a bit of time in surprisingly comfortable silence. Zeph thought, for whatever reason, that the dawn to his right inched closer, tiny bit by tiny bit.
“I wonder if you are what I am intended to see here…” Jii mused aloud.
“Am I, sir?”
“I wouldn’t know at this point…” Jii’s eyes were unfocused again, and his fingers twitched in strange but seemingly deliberate motions.
“Zeph!” Jii said suddenly, and Zeph jumped in surprise. Still no fear.
Zeph’s mood suddenly soured, even though the gentle wrapping of the sky, “Y-yes sir, I have bad luck-”
“No, no,” Jii cut him off once again, “Not your luck, you’re luck!” Zeph, of course, could hear no difference. “Your magic type is luck! I could not ascertain properly in the physical realm but here your every asset is laid out before me should I choose to scrutinize it.” That was not a particularly nice thought. “Your magic is distinctly lucky. True, you have run into quite a bit of bad luck, but only for your dislike of those your luck affected!”
Jii stood up suddenly and began moving around excitedly, his fingers flying in distinct yet still unintelligible patterns. Suddenly, his head jerked up and he smiled brilliantly at something that was either not there, or that Zeph could not see.
Here, in the prince’s realm of the heavens, Zeph was inclined to believe the latter.
“Zeph,” Jii said, his voice wispy and somehow flowing, “I know that you have met me but once, and that that encounter was not particularly pleasant, but I must ask you a favor.”
“I, sir, I’m, I’m not, what- I mean, that is- what do you need?”
“Zeph, you know, don’t you?”
Zeph’s whole body convulsed. The prince, the heart of the thicket, knew that he knew.
His tongue told the truth before his brain could register the fear, “Yes sir.”
“You know about the Mamba family.”
“You know about what they did in Elliot’s lands.”
“You know more than just that.”
“I do sir.”
Jii sat down again, directly in front of Zeph, who leaned back against the void like the terror he felt for it might reassure him against the intensity of the prince.
Jii’s whole demeanor softened when he was seated, and his lips parted as he looked at Zeph’s face.
“I apologize, Zeph,” Jii said, softer than a whisper. The void at Zeph’s back receded, and the stars below his thighs warmed. The sky gentled, and it was then that Zeph noticed that the realm had been exciting alongside its master.
“I truly do not mean to frighten you, but you must understand how important this is for me.”
Zeph’s shoulders shook, and Zeph was not sure if he was afraid or just trembling from an intensity that he didn’t know how to deal with.
Jii extended his hands, palms facing the endless blue above them. Zeph placed his left hand softly on top of them, feeling like it was the right thing to do. Jii slid pale fingers over Zeph’s calloused hand and lifted the tips of his fingers to brush his royal lips across, gentler than a breeze.
Zeph’s heart ached. It ached for a country of people that he could never know all the names of, who would die without proper guidance and protection. His bones creaked under a weight of caring far too much for far too long, but only second-hand. Zeph knew, suddenly, the prince’s love for his land and the souls he could feel moving and burning inside it, knew the prince’s ache for their pain, but did not feel it the same way Jii did.
“Please, Zeph, I do not mean to frighten you. But please, please understand, I’ve a duty to fulfil.”
Zeph nodded, his hand still held between the prince’s. It was not trapped there; Jii merely carried its weight.
“It’s like how I feel for Master Tiw,” Zeph whispered, feeling like full-volume was somehow inappropriate.
Jii’s eyes widened, and Zeph felt mild surprise conducted through their touch. “I want to do everything for him, even when it’s out of my abilities.”
Jii laughed, and it was comparable only to the swell of a hot air balloon.
“And seeing as my abilities are limited, I need your aid, Zeph.”
“How do you know of the Mambas, anyways?” Jii asked idly. Zeph felt curiosity, but no ill intent. Even so, he was reluctant to give a specific.
“An old friend of mine goes where he isn’t seen, but he can hear things,” Zeph said carefully, “When we saw each other again, he told me what he knew.”
Jii nodded, and Zeph felt a silent press for more information. No prying, just asking without words.
“He- he’s owned, by the Mambas. Specifically their head. He’s- expendable.” Zeph swallowed hard. Aptara had once been dear to him, and he knew that when Aptara’s master was done with him he’d dispose of Aptara, along with the secrets Aptara had heard. It wasn’t an easy thought.
“Zeph,” said Jii softly, and thumbs stroked gently across Zeph’s fingers. It was comforting. Jii’s pity was palpable in the blue air and Zeph felt Jii take on the ache of yet another two souls that were hurting.
“He serves when the heads of the rebellion against you gather.”
“Did he tell you who the main mage is?”
Zeph nodded, “A man, and someone who is either his daughter or his younger sister. The man makes ‘green-stone deals’ with others and the sister takes the stones and makes them into what Ap- into what my friend says looks like jewelry.”
“I won’t hurt your friend if you tell me his name.”
“Sir, please don’t make me do that.”
“Alright,” Jii said quietly, reassuringly, “alright, that’s perfectly fine Zeph.”
“The mage is purple,” Zeph said, and the sky around him smelled like warm hoodies straight out of the dryer, “he’s- purple. And his sister is brown. I don’t- my friend never told me what that meant-”
“I know,” Jii said with soft confidence, “I know exactly what your friend means. Did he tell you anything else about the mages?”
“What deals the purple mage makes to gets the green crystals.”
Zeph yanked his hand back from Jii’s grip and tried to crawl backwards, only to find that the endless, horrifying void had already moved forward and polluted the blue, the dawn, until none of it could be seen. Only the stars below him were still present.
Jii was furious.
Zeph had felt the rage in his body crash over him like the entire weight of a dam shattering and falling all at once.
“Wishes,” Jii spat out tightly, and his breathing was harsh and barely controlled. Slowly, then gaining speed, the void receded behind Zeph until it was too far back to be felt once again. The blue of the sky was no longer friendly and soaring, but blue again none-the-less. The dawn looked brighter and closer than ever.
“I’m sorry, Zeph, I’m so, so sorry I hadn’t meant to let my emotions get so out of hand.”
“I’m, not hurt sir. It’s fine.”
Jii snorted and Zeph felt, in the very air around him, a distinct lack of mirth.
“It’s really not, but I appreciate your kind words, Zeph.” Another deep breath, and Jii’s red eyes lifted to meet Zeph’s once again.
Oh. Huh. Eye contact. It had been happening and Zeph hadn’t even noticed or cared.
“If I may ask you to continue?”
“Yes sir. Ap- I mean, my friend, he says that Mamba knew that you love Elliot, and that attacking the Berus lands would be- would weaken you. He wants to hurt the Rosyboa family as well, because, he knows that the main woman is very smart, and also very close to your- uh, nanny?”
Jii nodded, and his eyes flashed with something dangerous briefly. Zeph got the feeling, somewhere deep in the void behind him, that that brief flash was directed at someone, and that Zeph was very glad that he was not that particular someone.
“Thank you, Zeph, I believe that that is everything I need to know.” Jii sounded jittery, barely leashing himself in, ready to move and take action, “Unless your companion could give you names for other members of other families that Engrid Mamba spoke with?”
“No sir, no names.”
“Thank you,” Jii’s eyes unfocused again and his voice turned as wispy as smoke, “thank you, Zeph,” Jii’s fingers twisted distinctly, “you have done me a great favor here.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
“In regards to Tiw, I want you to follow your gut, alright?”
“Zeph, your magic is intimately tied with your emotions. Pleasant emotions sown, good luck reaps. Do well by my companion, Zeph, I may not be able to soon.”
“Good night, Zeph. I see that you can leave now.”
“I can, sir?”
“Look to the east.”
Zeph looked, and found himself sitting on the fading starlight of the dawn.
“Good morning bunny,” Tiw mumbled sleepily into Zeph’s neck. They were spooning, in bed, and the clock on the nightstand showed 7:01 am.
Tiw propped himself up, yellow eyes growing alert and black ears perked in caution.
Zeph blinked rapidly, and twisted to look at his master appropriately.
“Did you have a bad dream?” Tiw asked.
“I- no, not a bad one- uh, I…”
“Shh, bunny, string your thoughts together,” Tiw ordered gently, running brown fingers through Zeph’s messy red hair.
“I met your friend in my dream, I guess, the prince, sir.”
“You met Jii in a dream?”
“Dammit…” Tiw mumbled, and grabbed his phone off the nightstand, “Why’s he messing around inside your head?”
“I don’t think I was supposed to be there, not at first!” Zeph said quickly, before Tiw could hit the speed dial button.
“Really.” Tiw didn’t sound convinced.
“You really don’t need to call him sir; I didn’t mind at all, it was nice for most of it!”
“I’m gonna call him anyway, just to-”
Turned out, Tiw didn’t need to call Jii. Jii called him first.
“Hey,” Tiw answered, and then hit loudspeaker.
“Tiw, is Zeph alright?”
“Yeah, told me you were in his head last night.”
“Not exactly. He showed up in Umn’raNthy’a while I was working. I just wanted to make sure that his thoughts all made it back to his body. Have a good day.”
With that, Jii hung up.
“…Sir, what’s Umn’raNthy’a?”
Tiw sighed and ran a hand over his face, “It’s too early for this bullshit.” Tiw rolled his shoulders and Zeph heard a few pops, “It’s this magical bullshit thing that no one really understands. Some sort of mythic thing that only Jii and a few select ancestors of his have access to.”
Tiw paused, “At least I think that’s that one. It could be some other magic bullshit thing that lots of people have access to. Who even knows?”
Zeph ran his fingers over Tiw’s chest, not really tracing anything but just touching gently. Tiw’s injuries were mostly healed, but the bullet wounds would probably never fade entirely.
“Would you stay at home today, if I asked you?” Zeph quietly asked. Barely audible. For whatever reason, he somehow thought this would be an okay request to make right then. Like his neediness wasn’t something that he had to immediately apologize for. Like he might deserve to ask that question, even if the answer would probably be no.
“You okay?” Tiw asked, “You know I’m good to head back today, my injuries are basically gone.”
Zeph told Tiw about Jii’s parting words, and Tiw frowned.
“And your gut’s telling you to keep me in the apartment today?”
“I- it’s not, a gut feeling exactly. It’s just that I- I really don’t want you to leave.”
Tiw blinked at Zeph, slow and rather intense all things considered. What was with all these people looking at Zeph so intensely lately?
“Yeah,” Tiw relented, smiling a little like he did when he thought Zeph was being particularly cute, and flopped down onto the pillow again, “Yeah, I’ll stay home today. Let me call Bobby.”
Zeph curled into Tiw’s chest and wrapped his arms around Tiw’s torso. They were both naked, it turned out. Zeph thought about it, and yes, they had gotten intimate the night before. It had been something of a celebration, to commemorate the fact that Tiw was once again healthy enough to engage in normal physical activity and also because Tiw had a lot of restless energy from sitting around locked in his apartment for many days on end.
It seemed ages ago.
“Hey, Bobby, it’s Tiw.”
“Hey Tiw” Bobby said, and he sounded twice as old as he was and tired as hell. The bearded, scrawny man set something down in the background, something heavy enough to make a noise that Tiw could hear through the receiver.
“Hey Bobby. Something happen while I was gone?”
“You been watching the news?” The man sounded mildly amused, and maybe would have laughed at Tiw’s ignorance if it weren’t for some unknown weight.
And in fact, Tiw hadn’t. Having his best friend and his boyfriend in his apartment at the same time, while also keeping vaguely regular contact with a prissy nobleman, had been very time consuming. Not to mention he’d needed to sleep more than usual to recover from his injuries. He kept a fairly early-night schedule in the first place. Boris had slept a great deal during his stay at Tiw’s as well, almost inversely scheduled to his own. On one hand, it was nice, because while Tiw loved him dearly he wasn’t someone Tiw wanted to live with. On the other hand, it had left Zeph alone and vulnerable to Boris’ whims, and Tiw had had to spend a lot of time dealing with the repercussions. When he was awake at the same time as Boris, the two of them took up a lot of each other’s time, fighting and bantering and laughing.
“Shit been goin’ down?” Tiw asked idly, stroking a thumb over Zeph’s hair. Zeph, bless his soul, was quiet as a rabbit.
Heh, rabbit jokes.
God it was too early.
“Son shit has gone down and come all the way back up to hit the fan. Shit’s flown everywhere. Shit’s flyin’ everywhere.”
“Nobles.” Bobby was usually laid back, a true stoner. Tiw couldn’t figure out why the perpetually mellow man would suddenly have such detest in his voice, or what nobles could possibly have to do with Bobby. “Nobles have been fuckin’ up everything again, kid. Magic’s happened. People are dyin’, buildings are on fire all over, there was an assassination suspiciously close to the time when you got yourself hurt, not that I’m gonna say anything so don’t you mind…” Bobby sighed and Tiw held the receiver away from his ear in distaste.
“Look, kid, everyone’s lookin’ to keep their heads down for a while. You know I like you a lot, right?”
Tiw nodded. Bobby had, in one fucked up way or another, been almost like a dad to Tiw when he was 14 and desperate. He was the closest thing Tiw had, anyway.
“Yeah,” Tiw said, when he realized Bobby couldn’t see him nodding.
“But I’m not in the business to keep runners goin’ ‘round right now. I’m gonna head off, grow shit, store shit, and I’ll start up again when the coast is clear, but I can’t give you work, kid. Not like you were askin’ anyway. Get online and check this shit out yourself, see if you don’t understand then, but I’m livin’ off of savin’s for a while. Now you’re smart and I’d reckon you’re doin’ this already, but I’d suggest you try and scrape together what you can and then hide your own self, too.”
Tiw nodded again. He felt strange. A bad sort of weird. Bobby hadn’t been close to Tiw, no, but he’d been constant. Bobby, the stoner. The laid back boss. The guy who, almost every single day, had a bag and a list of locations and names. Tiw’s mouth tasted like dry socks and discomfort.
“I got it Bobby. We’re sayin’ goodbye then?”
“For a while. If your other employers start pushing you, you cop out you hear me son?”
“I hear you Bobby. I won’t do anything stupid.”
Bobby chortled, and Tiw felt warm beneath his ribs, “You ain’t the type.”
As the phone call ended, Tiw’s arm left his ear and slid over Zeph’s back.
“Wow…” Tiw mumbled, pondering over what he’d just heard. “Buildings are on fire, huh?”
Tiw’s thumb and forefinger pinched Zeph’s ear and rubbed gently, the rabbit fur softly sliding as Tiw mulled over what was going on.
“Hang on, Zeph, I need to make a few more phone calls.”
Zeph nodded into Tiw’s chest, and pressed a kiss into his sternum.
Tiw made a few more phone calls and found that every single one of his other employers was in the same boat as Bobby. I’m laying low for a while. Don’t call again. When everything calms down I’ll call you. Only one of his regulars was even potentially interested in having him run, but he was a weapons dealer quickly talked out of the idea.
Tiw breathed deeply. “Bunny, I think I’m gonna need to go deal with shit I don’t wanna deal with right now.”
Zeph looked up at him, and made a small, affirming noise.
“You’ll stay here, though?”
“Yeah bunny, I’m staying in the apartment. Do you wanna go back to sleep?”
Zeph shrugged and untangled himself from his boyfriend, who slipped on a pair of boxers and a hoodie left on the floor from last night. Zeph grinned sleepily at the memory of that particular hoodie coming off and hugged Tiw’s pillow.
“You had Jii in your head last night, bunny, go back to sleep. Nothing involving that guy is ever restful.”
“His eyes…” Zeph mumbled, already half asleep once again. Tiw felt a cold shiver of lightning up his spine and knew exactly what Zeph meant. Jii’s eyes could get fucking intense sometimes. Haunting, others.
“Yeah, you just sleep love.”
“Love you too.”
Tiw grinned and shut the door quietly. He was less quiet when he used his heel to knock Boris off the couch.
“Tiw, you’re a bitch.”
“Rise and shine asshole!”
Boris made a sleepy noise and rubbed both eyes, “Whaddaya want?”
“Boris, have you been paying attention to the news at all since we got injured?” Tiw asked as he pulled open his seldom-used computer.
“Not really. Something happen?”
“That’s what we need to find out.”