[CH I]

Based on what I knew, that didn't seem possible. Keyd would have been born in Clarylon, his own world—at least, that's what I thought. And one of the first things I'd ever learned about him and Rysa was that their world had been destroyed by the clarbach. And this place was dark and ugly and depressing—but not destroyed.

"Then this is—but I thought your world was destroyed," I said, hesitantly. It was one of Keyd's more sensitive subjects.

"It has been," Keyd said. He looked back towards the cold, silent city. "There's nothing here. Nothing lives here. It's always dark like this, and cold. Plants don't grow, animals can't live. Nothing could live here."

"Jesus," I said. "This is what happens to a place the clarbach take? Christ, then I don't get it. Why is a world that you guys won in the brightest fucking place ever, and the world that gets taken over by the light guys is like this?"

"Because," Keyd said, very quietly, "I think you still don't really understand this. Us, and the clarbach, and how we exist. Clar, the word I mean, has many meanings. That the word has so many meanings is one of the reasons why it was chosen as a name for our people. I remember Rysa telling you that clarbach means haichir—she used that word specifically to explain the word clar. But I don't think it translated well to your understanding. I didn't mention it because I—I didn't speak to you much, then."

"Yeah," I said, almost smiling despite the horrible setting we were in. "Yeah, I remember that."

Keyd almost smiled back. "Haichir means destroyer," he said. "It's only one part of the world clar. I think you took it to mean that they were destroyers, and that light described their appearance. But light—refers to what they destroy. And another meaning of the word clar, one I think that you've never been told, is devourer."

"Light devourer," I said. "Shit."

Keyd nodded. "They—the entities in them—do very literally devour light. They absorb it and feed on it, and give the clarbach their power in return. That's why they have the appearance they do, and also why we have the appearance that we do."

"The…grove," I said. "At my school. That was—but wasn't Ahieel generating that? I mean, I thought he was like, taking over the place with those trees—"

"He planted the beginnings of the grove there," Keyd said, "but it wasn't growing from itself, or him. It was feeding off of the light in your world, using it to build itself. The longer the grove had stayed there, the more light it would have absorbed from around it. Your school, and everything within a certain area, would have gone dark, just like this." Keyd looked around, moving just his eyes, gesturing to everything we were seeing. "And then—"

"And then…what?" I wasn't the biggest science geek ever, but I honestly was having some trouble figuring out how eating light was even possible. The sun had been shining the same as ever, right? The clarbach weren't going to the goddamn sun. But I did know that light was some sort of wavelength or—or, well, energy. Maybe it made a little more sense, that way. Everything about the clarbach and oenclar had to do with energy.

Keyd wasn't answering me, either. He was looking at his hand—more specifically, the back of his wrist, and the oen marks there. And I was looking at it too, now. I never really thought about the fact that they weren't really tattoos, but tiny living organisms in his body. But I was really thinking about it now.

Then Keyd dropped his hand with a sudden exhale, and looked at me. "Rysa and I have both told you that these entities, and us—it's symbiotic. They give us access to the presence, to frequency, to the abilities we have. But we have to give in return. And what they require from us is that we provide them sources of energy."

"So, then," I said, "what is it that you do? How do you—eat darkness?"

"Our part is a little more—it's—I don't know exactly how to…it's complicated," Keyd said, back to his usual incompetence with words. "Light and energy have all the same rules in all worlds, but are often—thought of, differently. I'm not sure how to explain to you, without first knowing what you know."

"That conversation would probably take hours," I said, not sure if I really wanted that right now, and Keyd nearly smiled.

"Then, the most you need to know right now is that—we are a counterpoint to them, as they are a counterpoint to us," he said. "We're supposed to balance. Like the grove—it faded when Ahieel wasn't tending it because it was a mutation in the balance. The war begun in the first place because they broke that same balance. Our intentions, why we're fighting them, is to restore it."

"This…is why Edo isn't very dark, at night," I said, and Keyd nodded.

"It used to be much brighter, even," he said. "After we won there, and the majority of our forces were there. Our presence always disturbs the balance when our numbers are great, because the entities are always working, always using energy. Edo would have gone back to normal once we mostly left it, but now that we've been returning…"

I felt like we should have had this conversation long ago. It seemed so fucking basic. Somehow, it just hadn't happened. There had always been something more important going on—a life-or-death fight, panicking about getting summarily executed, getting engaged, people dying—and a war on top of it all. Semantics and definitions were last on my list of things to worry about.

"I kind of wish I'd known this earlier," I said, although I wasn't sure what it would have really changed.

"I know," Keyd said. "There was just—always something else happening."

I reached out and took his hand. Keyd glanced at me and smiled, a sort of tight, anxious smile, but I hardly blamed him—he'd had a shitload of stuff suddenly thrown on his shoulders and trying to explain these fundamental things to his slow-as-hell boyfriend probably wasn't another thing he needed on his to-do list.

"Thanks for—telling me," I said. It wasn't really what he had told me that I was thanking him for, but more than he'd taken the effort to tell me. He squeezed at my hand, and then started forward, tugging at me to follow him.

Oh, Christ, we were going to go in the city? I kind of thought he'd just wanted me to look at it. I didn't need to see it much closer than this. I resisted a little bit, pulling back on his arm, and Keyd looked at me with a slight frown.

"I don't want—" I started, and then fully reconsidered. Keyd was trying to share this. With me. I was not going to throw it back in his face.

"Okay," I said, moving after him. "Let's go."


Walking through the abandoned city of Lojt was just as unnerving and creepy as I had thought it would be. It was an immensely huge place, and it had probably been beautiful, once. But now shadowy towers crowded the dull murky sky above us, and dead leaves stirred and scratched against the stones of the wide street as we passed by. Every tree we passed was cold and dead-looking—all completely bare-limbed. The wind off the ocean had died down this far from the beach, and left the air still and sterile and cold. There was no smell at all; the salt scent had disappeared with the sea breeze.

I didn't know quite how to fully describe the city. The architecture was detailed and obviously sophisticated—it wasn't just bricks thrown together to make useable buildings. There was careful design and craft that had gone into everything. There were lots of columns, arches, detailed windows and moldings, archways and bridges spanning between balconies. I knew fuck-all about architectural styles or periods but it looked maybe…Roman, or something. Or Spanish? Hell, I didn't know.

And it wasn't a ruin—nothing was broken or destroyed, crumbling or disintegrating from age. The city had obviously been empty for a long time, but it was just that—empty. Abandoned. Like everyone had just gotten up and left. And then this hideous, murky night had fallen, and time had come to a halt. Nothing was overgrowing, because all the plant life was dead and shriveled.

I didn't realize how hard I'd been clenching Keyd's hand until we came to a stop in front of one of the buildings, and he gently shook his hand lose and repositioned it in my grip. We were the only two people in this entire city. The feeling of loneliness was almost crushing.

"Sorry," I muttered, and Keyd's only response was to grip my hand back almost as hard as I'd been grabbing his. I felt better about that as I glanced up at the building we'd stopped in front of—way up, as it was at least half a dozen floors high, maybe more. Taller than any building around it.

"This was the city rhun," Keyd said, also staring up the face of the building. "My family lived here, mostly."

He probably didn't know that rhun hadn't translated for me. If I had to guess, I would have said it was some sort of city hall. It was large enough, and somewhere near the center of the city, although it didn't look much like a house for a family to live in. It had a huge dome on top and several small towers around that, and a wide set of steps lead up to the front entrance—a huge, open arched doorway—from where we were standing. Keyd tugged forward on my hand again, so we were going up and in.

The front entrance had once been awesome, I could tell that at once. Even cast in the dull blue-grey hue of the city, I could see the design and detailing in the walls and stairs and floors was intricate and beautiful. The room was entirely circular, stretching up to a huge carved dome several stories above us. The floors were a shined marble, reflecting our dark shadows as we moved. In the middle of the room there was a tree that was growing up from under the floor, ringed by a circle of stones built around the base. Like all the others, it was also dead, the branches dark and brittle looking.

Keyd had slowed his pace a little, and his eyes kept flicking around to focus on different things, but he seemed to have a definite idea of where we were going. He never let go of my hand and he never stopped moving forward. I half-trotted along after him, trying not to trip over myself as I tried to look around at everything at once. It was all still creepy, but I wanted to see it, because Keyd had grown up here, and I really didn't know much about his past.

We moved out of the huge entrance area and into a long, high-ceilinged hall, with tall glass windows taking up one entire side. Past them was a large stretch of grey, dead grass, ringed by a bunch of leafless trees. Beyond those, the ground sloped down a long mild hill until running into other buildings, an area of the city on a significantly lower level than the part Keyd and I had been walking through before. In the distance I didn't see the sea at all, but dark craggy hills and dim mountains beyond.

We went up a narrow, polished staircase that curved around in a half-spiral, taking us past a second, third, and fourth floor and straight to a fifth. The sound of our boots echoed off the pale floor and the high walls like single, abrupt claps. The brief moments of silence between the sounds raised hairs on the back of my neck. I just held onto Keyd and let him lead me on, trying my best not to freak out. I felt like my skin was going to crawl off or something.

The stairs dropped us off in a long hallway, a wall on one side and more windows on the other, everything as intricate and beautiful and grey and flat and depressing as the rest. Keyd let his hand slip out of mine here, but it seemed like he almost hadn't realized it—his expression was far-away and focused when I glanced at him, like he was concentrating on something distant and unseen.

There was a mirror hung in the hall, about three feet tall with a huge complicated frame on it. Keyd moved right past it but I got hung up for a second, pausing in front of it. I hadn't seen my reflection in a while—I kept forgetting my hair had turned black. It was still black now, and so was the stubble growing in along my jaw. Although, there were random places where it was looking a little lighter, like a few strands were fading back to blond. I pushed my bangs back off my forehead, pushed my glasses down and peered a little harder at myself—maybe it was just this mirror, or this miserable light, but it looked like I'd lost weight. And there were huge shadows under my eyes. Maybe it was good I didn't see my reflection much recently, because I was looking damn unattractive. All this fucking stress.

I stopped gawking at my scruffy reflection and moved on after Keyd—who had stopped some thirty feet away. He had paused in an open arched doorway, his hand clenching the frame. I came up behind him, looked over the bend of his arm.

The room beyond was not overly-large, but not that small, either. From the angle, the first thing I saw was a bed, with a carved headboard and curtains hanging down from a frame built over it. The curtains reached the floor, and this high up a breeze reached them through a pair of tall open windows, and they shifted slightly against the carpet of the room. The bed was unmade, which sent an odd, uncomfortable shiver down my spine.

"This was my room," Keyd said suddenly, even the quiet tone of his voice was like a scream in this stilted silence.

"Oh," I said, dumbly. And then, "Keyd—"

But he was already moving away, stepping into the room like someone walking in a dream. I suppose in a way, for him, it really was. I followed him in, because he hadn't said not to.

There was a wooden desk with a hutch to the right, littered with objects, which Keyd moved towards. Books, papers, an inkwell and pens with nibs on them cluttered most of the shelves. Several little carved wooden figures, most of which looked like men in armor and—interestingly—horses, were up on a higher shelf. An open drawer spilled out a length of thin rope with several different knots tied into it. In another corner of the room was a large sort of dresser/armoire thing, and one of the bottom drawers was open, with rumpled clothes inside. There was such a weird conflict in this room, of looking lived in but still completely abandoned. It was giving me even more of the fucking creeps.

Keyd had gone over to the desk, and had picked up one of the little carved men in armor, laying it in his palm and curling his fingers around it once by one. Then he put it back, carefully, in the exact place it had been before. He turned around, suddenly, his eyes startling bright and alert.

"I have…something I want to give you," he said, which was not exactly what I had expected. He reached into a pocket in his vest, and drew out a tangle of black cord, with a flattened silver pendent in the middle. It almost looked like an army dog tag, roughly the same shape, except it was printed with a short line of symbols; their alphabet I couldn't read.

Keyd brought it over to me, holding it out above my hand. It was heavier than it looked, and my hand dipped a little bit when he dropped it into my palm. I turned the tag over a few times, and rubbed my finger over the indents in the metal. It shone a flat blue in the strange light. "What does it say?"

He just looked at me, not answering. Did he want me to guess? I had no idea. I also wasn't sure why he was giving this to me. I didn't even really wear jewelry, although I had noticed it was actually more common on male clar than female. Keyd was wearing some now even, a round black-silver thing on a thin strap around his neck, and a silver clip on one ear. And he almost always had a few rings on when he wasn't in armor.

I turned the tag over in my hands, feeling like I was failing a test. How was I supposed to know this, what this said? But…it couldn't be something completely random, if Keyd expected I could guess. I tried to think, of any specific word that meant something, between the two of us—and realized what it had to be almost immediately.

"It says lan, doesn't it," I said. "Fate."

He nodded. "I thought it was—right."

I curled my fingers around the tag, feeling the metal edges press into my palm. "I guess it is," I said. I opened my hand again, held it back towards him. "You gonna put it on me or what?"

Keyd smiled a little, seeming surprised, but he took the necklace from me and stepped closer, sliding his hands around the back of my neck. He pulled the cord close enough so that the metal tag rested just under my throat, against my collarbone. It was uncomfortably cold, but warmed up fast enough against my skin. I pinched it between my thumb and forefinger as Keyd tied a knot in the cord.

When he was done his hand slid down to my waist and spun me around, the other hand staying at the back of my neck, and he kissed me deeply. I wasn't sure why, and I didn't really want to do this here, not in this weird place. I pushed him away a little, and he fell back obligingly, his features a little tight and wounded.

"Sorry," I said, wincing a little. "It's just—creepy, here."

Keyd looked at me, seeming somehow softer, in a strange way. "I know," he said. "That's why—I need you."

I was too startled by that to duck away when he leaned down to kiss me again. His hands went to my shoulders and neck, cupping the sides of my face and holding me in place, and I grabbed back at his shirt a little, not sure if I really wanted to push him away or if I wanted to let him keep at it. He started guiding me backwards, walking me back until my legs hit the edge of the bed.

I guess I was going with it, at this point. We fell down into the unmade sheets, and I tried hard to ignore how eerie this whole place was, nor that we were in Keyd's childhood room and probably the last person who'd been in this bed was Keyd when he'd been much younger, because maybe…that was why Keyd needed this now. Not just coming back and facing the world that had been taken from him, but also facing memories of a life spent being terrified of what he was. I could give him that.

But he pulled back then, still leaning over me and studying me carefully, and he moved his hand around from my hairline down to my jaw.

"Can we—" he said, very quietly. "Alan—"

"Yeah," I said, putting my own hand to his face. "Yeah. It's okay."

Keyd smiled then, a real one, and leant in and kissed me again. I kissed him back, moving into him, and he let himself sort of roll down and over on the bed, dragging me with him so that I ended up lying on top of him. Technically it wasn't my turn, if we were taking turns—we had been, so far—and I was still a little unsure about how to do all of this business. It had worked out fine last time, but…

And did he want the same stuff as the last two times, or—was that too boring? Not that Keyd came across as kinky or anything, but—my how-to-do-stuff-to-my-boyfriend knowledge was severely basic. But then again, Keyd had told me he was roughly equivalent to being eighteen years old. Maybe any kind of sex was good on him, vanilla or not. It had been for me then. Still kind of was, actually.

"What do you want?" I said, putting my hands carefully on him. "Tell me what you want."

"I don't—really know," Keyd said, quietly. "You. That's all. Any way I can have you."

"That's really sweet," I said, trying to sound more casual than I suddenly felt, "but not very specific."

"I—specific how?" Keyd said, starting to sound a little nervous. "I don't—know what to tell you."

"Well—you said you researched this, or something, the first time—I thought you knew more—what happened?"

"It was a book, I found," Keyd said, blinking fast. Christ, found where? Gay Porn R Us? "I couldn't read it, so I only—there were pictures. It was very…basic."

"Jesus," I said, not sure if I should be laughing or kind of worried about this. Also, trying to imagine Keyd looking through some sort of gay sex guide for beginners was—goddamn amusing. I wished I'd been there—wherever the hell he'd found it.

"Well," Keyd said, sounding slightly defensive, "how did you know what to do?"

"I tried to copy what you'd done the first time," I admitted. Keyd stared at me for a moment, and then I felt him start to shake a little as he started laughing, quietly, against the back of his hand.

"We're kind of fucking hopeless, aren't we?" I said, both amused and anxious, and then rolled my eyes at my own stupid accidental pun.

"I'm glad," Keyd said, and he sounded it. "I'm glad that we—don't know much. We can figure it out together."

"Stop being so sappy," I said. "I might start liking it, or something."

Keyd smiled up at me, and then suddenly threw an arm over my shoulder and flipped us, rolling me beneath him and catching himself on his elbows over me. Oh man, I liked it when he did stuff like this, the screw-everything-this-happens-now thing. I don't know what kind of weird shit that said about me, but I couldn't just pretend it didn't get a reaction out of me. And he was kissing me the next second, his mouth open and warm and insistent, and my body moved against him the way it tended to naturally do.

"You gotta slow down if the bond starts to go crazy, okay?" I said, but distractedly, because Keyd was moving his mouth down my throat, over my collar and down my chest, kissing and breathing and licking and it was pretty difficult to concentrate worth a damn when he was doing any of that. For a guy who didn't know what he was doing, he did it all pretty damn well. "I—uh, fuck, do that more."

He'd pushed my shirt way up and his mouth was—wow, fuck—on my nipple and that was about the point I stopped caring that we were in this goddamn creepy place in his childhood room in his childhood bed. I could only think about one thing when someone started tonguing my chest like that, and it was sex sex sex let's have it right now now now.

Fast and clumsy undressing happened after that—I had to fight with Keyd's more intricate clothes but he just peeled my t-shirt and jeans right off—my glasses went with them—throwing them all off somewhere beyond the bed. We'd never done this with antshil between us, and even at this stage it felt different. Over two days the bond had calmed down a little, but I could still feel him through it without much choice in if I did or not. I felt his heartbeat, speed up to the rate of a regular pulse, and I knew he was feeling mine—improbably fast, from what he was used to. I could sense his blood, his breath, his energy, everything moving and working in him. And he felt the same thing in me.

Kir hadn't been lying when he'd said it wouldn't feel normal now that we had antshil. It seriously didn't. The shared sensations through the bond, his energy spinning off him like always and crackling through the air around us—I could barely keep a grasp on where my body was, what I was doing, what Keyd was doing. It was all just feeling, motion and energy, heat and impressions, shared breath and shared heartbeats. And I thought I'd felt things the first time we'd done this. But there was nothing like experiencing both sides of it. In the moments when I could touch down into my own body, all I could feel was Keyd wrapped around me from the back, arms crossed tightly, protectively over my chest, pressing his face against the back of my neck, breathing fast and hot down my spine.

Keyd was always almost worryingly quiet when we were together; it always seemed like he was making a specific effort to not make much noise, and he was doing the same thing now. I heard only his breath, his heart, and at the very end he said something, a quiet word in a whisper that I didn't really catch. But I had a hard time caring because we'd sort of collapsed to the bed, both of us completely out of breath and Keyd was mostly crushing me, and his teeth were pressing into my shoulder.

"You're really heavy," I said, muffled, once I got some breath back, since I was facedown in a pillow. A soft laugh rolled through Keyd's body and he shifted off of me, keeping his arm draped over my back. His fingers moved up along my neck, pinching a little at my hair. He was completely on top of my right arm, so I couldn't touch him back, but it seemed okay. I felt him withdraw his wings—they'd come out again, like always—through the bond, without seeing it at all, just sensing the extension of them settling back into the rest of his energy.

I turned my face out of the pillow to look over at him. He already looked like he was halfway asleep—his eyes half closed and his face more slack. Seriously, every time he did this. Well, I was exhausted too. Sleeping sounded good.

Yeah, I thought vaguely, as I was already drifting off, still watching Keyd's face and feeling his fingers move just a little at the back of my neck. Yeah, this is definitely—I think I could do this for the rest of my life. With him.


Gold light was blobby and hazy everywhere, changing the faces of the people around me into featureless, blurred mannequin faces, glowing white and smudged. I was on my knees, beside a bed that held a man's body, dark and sharply outlined compared to everything else. I was holding the man's hand tightly between mine, gripping it without feeling it. The man's features were sharp and angular and familiar, and at first it was Maedajon's face I was looking at, but it wavered and blurred and suddenly became Keyd's face, blank and slack with wide glazed eyes, staring up into the glowing, looming figures all around us.

I was holding his hand, and thick black tar was running out from between Keyd's fingers, welling up between our hands and oozing in sludgy pulses down my arm. His hair was turning to liquid as I watched, running all over the sheets of the cot and trickling like blood down his face, into his eyes. His teeth were stained black when his mouth opened, wide and gaping, to suck in a horrible, reedy breath. His left eye had turned into a deep hollow of black, sightless and ugly, and trails of inky blank were running out of the corners, turning the mark there into a bleeding blurred smear. The heart-mark on his chest was a dark mess of twisting black veins beneath his skin, a mass of wriggling, twitching shadows spreading out across his body.

Keyd! I tried to speak, but my mouth wouldn't move, I was frozen in place at his side, black liquid gushing down my arms and off the sides of the cot. The golden faceless figures surged and circled around us, their white blobbly heads looming closer and closer, caging us in. Panic was thick and hot in my chest and I couldn't even draw in a breath to scream with, all I could do was tighten my hold on Keyd's fingers which started feeling thinner and thinner beneath the sludgy tar, starting to feel like just thin bones between my fingers, and even the skin on his face looked like it was starting to thin and melt away, and—

And I woke up with a jerk and a flail and a choked gasp, adrenaline shooting through me in a sickening rush. It took me a second to remember where I was, that I wasn't in my apartment or a tent or an underground chamber—or back in a medical tent—but somewhere almost worse. It all came back fast then—the grey city, Lojt, being here with Keyd. Keyd, who wasn't dying and wasn't bleeding to death and should be right beside me here, in bed.

I threw my arm outwards, searching for him beside me, half-dazed panic rising when my hand only groped into rumpled fabric and empty mattress. But the spot was still warm, so he hadn't been gone long, and I lurched upwards, tugging the sheet away from where it was twisted uncomfortably around me. My heart was pounding around in my ears and washes of adrenaline were still lingering uncomfortably in my chest, and I could feel the metal of the necklace Keyd had given me—turned cold again—swinging against my skin.

I closed my fist around it, squeezing it, blinking furiously into the flat grey-blue of the room and finally seeing Keyd, once my eyes had adjusted. He was standing at one of the windows and staring out, his pants back on but not his shirt. He was almost fading into the dimness of the room, and only thing that stood out about him was how dark his hair was, darker than anything else around him. My glasses were lost somewhere on the floor, so he was a little blurry and indistinct anyway.

"Keyd," I said, and he didn't seem to hear me at all. My voice hadn't come out very loud, and he looked a little lost in himself. I pushed the rest of the blankets away and climbed out of the bed, picking up my jeans off the floor and sliding back into them, trying to shake the last of the dream out of my head as I did. Christ. I had thought I might have nightmares about that, but not like that. Not about Keyd.

I moved up behind him, quietly, not wanting to startle him. Over his shoulder I could see the layout of the city, grayish buildings down below. The black rock face of the cliff was to the left, and beyond all of it—deep murky water, stretching out flat and featureless like an ocean of grey sand.

I put my hands on the bare skin of his waist, carefully. When he didn't move away from that touch, I stepped forward, resting my forehead against the back of his shoulders. He leaned back into me, and just a little bit of anxiety filtered away. I made myself breathe slowly for a minute, trying to calm down. My whole body was still all locked up and tensed, probably from the dream. I hated being so on edge. But after a minute or so, I realized that I wasn't. Keyd was, and I was feeling it.

Being back in this place was probably a lot of the reason, but I thought it was probably going deeper than that. A lot of really intense shit had just happened to him in a really short time, and Christ, his dad was dead. Even if Keyd hadn't really liked him that much overall, it was still his dad.

I knew it was a loaded and dangerous question, and Keyd would probably lie about the answer, but I had to ask it anyway.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes," Keyd said, curtly. Pretty much what I had expected.

"You're sure."

"Yes," Keyd said again. He still hadn't turned, and I could feel him tensing—both through the bond and from where I was touching him. "I'm fine."


"I said, I'm fine." Keyd's voice was getting a little sharper. "There's nothing to be worried about. My father—" Keyd broke off, and his head ducked down. "My father," he started again, but more dully. And then a third time. "My father..."

I tightened my grip on him, having no idea what to do here, how to help him. Keyd jerked under my hands, and then suddenly spun around into me. His arms went around my neck and his face pushed against my shoulder, pulling me close. I gripped him back in reflex, one hand falling into his hair and the other at his back. I could feel him shaking under my arms, his breath hot against my neck.

He was leaning on me, too much, and I had to slowly go down to the floor under his weight, settling to my knees. Keyd went with me, completely collapsing until he was lying over my lap, half-curled around me, arms still around my neck. He was still trembling, and breathing hard against me.

I wanted to tell him that everything was okay, but it really wasn't. So I didn't say anything. I held him more tightly instead. Probably hard enough to bruise, my fingers digging so hard into his skin that they were going numb. I pressed my face into his hair, which still smelled a little like salt-air, a hard-to-swallow lump in my own throat. I had no idea what losing a parent felt like. I had no idea what it was like to lose that, and then gain the responsibility for an entire people. I couldn't even grasp what he was going through right now. I could only do this for him, which seemed so uselessly small.

I don't know how long it was that we stayed there. Time was hard to keep track of in this place—a place that never probably changed at all, from hour to hour, day to day, or even year to year. Keyd calmed down pretty fast, but he didn't pull away from me, and after a long while I almost thought he had fallen asleep on me. I dragged my hand through his tangled hair, cupped my fingers around the back of his neck, and then he stirred and pulled away, sitting up.

"I'm sorry," Keyd said roughly, not looking at me. "I shouldn't have—"

"It wasn't weak," I interrupted, and Keyd startled. "He was your dad, for Christ's sake. Of course you're not all right. You shouldn't be all right."

Keyd's eyes were bright and glittering, and I almost hoped he would cry again. It would have been good for him. Instead he just deflated a little, and rested his forehead back against my shoulder. I put my hand back in his hair, and somehow the motion tipped us both backwards until I was leaning against one of the windows. The glass was freezing against my bare skin, but I ignored it. Keyd's hold loosened up on me, but he didn't let go.

"I really hate doing this," he said, with a strained laugh. "I—and you have to deal with me, every time I do."

"If you can't break down in front of me, who the hell else can you do it with?" I said. "Anyway, I get emotional at you all the time, about stupider things. I call us even."

"You aren't that bad," Keyd muttered. He lifted his face off of my shoulder, and raked his hair off his forehead with one hand. "I've never seen you cry."

"I did over you once," I said, and Keyd looked not much short of astonished. "A while ago, when you were hurt. After the thing with Ahieel. I felt so bad, and—I was kind of out of control of myself. I cried a lot. Like, a lot. Ask Rysa."

Keyd tilted his forehead against my temple and didn't say anything to that. His hand pushed into mine and held, interlacing our fingers. As weird and awkward as it was, these were the kinds of moments where I really felt that we had something. We misunderstood a lot about each other, but these kind of simple things—when one of us needed support—we were getting pretty good at that.

"What did you dream about?" he asked me, after a moment. So, he'd noticed the spastic way I'd woken up.

"Nothing I want to again," I said, and when Keyd stayed expectantly silent, I elaborated just a little. "It was about you, but—not in a good way." I didn't want to tell him that I'd dreamed about him dying in the same way his father had. That was not really what he needed to hear right now.

"Are you all right?" he said, and I nodded. I would be, anyway, in a few minutes. When the dream wasn't so vivid in my head. Keyd's hand, the one not holding one of mine, came up around the back of my shoulders slid up over my forehead, pushing into my hair. His skin felt incredibly hot against mine, like one of us was running a fever but I couldn't tell which.

"Your heartbeat is still fast," Keyd said, in an are-you-sure-you're-okay kind of voice. Well dammit, he was trying to do the same thing to me that I'd done to him earlier. But I wasn't going to let him push me until I broke.

"Look, it was pretty bad," I said. I shifted around a little, so I could look at him, see his face. "But you have enough shit to worry about. It was just a dream—and I'll be okay."

Keyd made his short exhale-laugh noise, which I hadn't heard for a damn long time this point and—oddly—made me feel better. "But we're always talking about things to do with me," he said, and two of his fingers rubbed across my eyebrow. I didn't think anyone had ever done that to me in my entire life, and it was weird and intimate both.

"Well, I'm low maintenance," I said. Keyd gave me a look like he had no idea what that meant, and I shook my head. "Really, don't worry about it."

Keyd's answer to that was to draw me in closer to him, tilting my head closer against his and leaning into me. His fingers went over my eyebrow again and then up into my hair, combing through it. I let myself lean against him, because this was…so comforting. Who cared where the fuck we were, we had time to ourselves, and nothing felt rushed. Christ, it was nice.


Time passed—or didn't. It was hard to tell. We sat against the windows for a long time, not speaking or moving, still holding hands. After a while I shifted into Keyd's shoulder and just stayed there, my forehead against his neck. I could have slept, I wasn't really sure, because this place was so surreal and removed from anything normal.

Some amount of time later, Keyd finally spoke up.

"Alan," he said, with a sort of we-can't stay-here-forever tone. I suppressed a sigh, and shifted up. Keyd's hand slid over the back of my shoulder as I did, falling against the small of my back. And we just looked at each other for a surprisingly awkward moment.

"Are you going to be missed?" I finally said. "I mean, being the agistar now and everything."

That was perfectly tactless, and I winced a little after I'd said it. Keyd's expression didn't change at all, which might have meant he didn't take offense.

"Being that now sometimes means I can do whatever I'd like," he said. He sat up suddenly, his arm lifting away from me, and I missed the warmth. I sat up beside him, and rested my elbows on my knees.

"I know this place," Keyd said, "hasn't been the most inspiring to see. I wish you could have seen my world, this city, the way it used to be. But I wanted you to see it this way now, because…I want to take it back."

I blinked. "That's possible?"

Keyd nodded. "My father tried once. But they were simply stronger than us at the time. They almost always have been, since they devoured this world."

"How're you going to take it back now, then?"

Keyd looked at his hands, and didn't answer for a moment. Something edgy and unsettling starting coiling around in my chest—I didn't think I was going to like his answer.

"The clarbach," Keyd said, after another moment, "haven't taken a world in several years. The one in which Rysa and I were fighting in before Ahieel cursed us was the last, and it was some time ago. That already means they aren't as strong as they could be. And they're investing most of their power now into your world."

I wasn't stupid. I understood what he wasn't saying, pretty damn fast.

"Right," I said. "Right, so—my world's a distraction while you come back for this one. I got it."


I realized I'd curled my hands into hard fists, and slowly tried to unclench them. I didn't want to get mad, but I was. A low, boiling rage that at the moment, was directed only at Keyd.

"I don't want to sacrifice your world," Keyd said. "That's not my intent. But there's—many reasons why we should make this move now. I wish that it wasn't your world that will be a part of it."

"Yeah, me too," I said. "Goddammit, Keyd—"

"I'm sorry," Keyd said. "I'm sorry, but the decision has been made. It doesn't necessarily mean that your world will be lost. But we need to take back our own before we can save others. We've failed too often in the past. Maybe we can save yours once we have ours."

"Is this—is this why you haven't told me anything? Haven't been telling me anything from the start? Because you knew this whole time that—that you weren't going to bother trying to fight for Earth?"

He didn't answer, but that was enough of one. That was exactly why he hadn't been telling me anything. He hadn't wanted to look me in the face and tell me that my world wasn't quite worth a fight, but it was a good distraction.

"We will send some forces to your world," Keyd said. "Just not as many as we would. I—we have to look involved there still, if—"

"Stop," I said. "Just—stop, okay? I can't hear this." Especially because 'we' now essentially meant 'him'. Keyd was in command now, fully. And even if he was following up what his father had planned out, it was still his choice. 'We' wasn't some vague orders coming from somewhere up a chain of command. It was him.

I pulled away from him, getting to my feet. I saw my shirt on the floor near the bed, my glasses tangled up with the sleeve, and I went over and put them both back on. My hands were shaking so hard I nearly put my own eye out with one of the temple tips. Keyd hadn't moved from the floor by the window, he was sort of a lurking shadow in my peripheral vision. I wasn't really sure what I was doing, except that I couldn't look at him right now and—I didn't even want to be in the same room with him.

So I left. I walked out of the room and down the hall and back down the stairs and into the huge, empty, dim entrance room. I was only half-aware of what I was doing really, beyond the equal parts shock and anger going on in my head I couldn't focus on much of anything.I sat down at the base of the dead black tree in the middle of the room and leaned back against it, dragging my hands over my face.

What would happen if the clarbach really did get Earth? Would every city and town be like Lojt—filled with this cold, sterile emptiness, where nothing lived and nothing changed? The sky always this flat, horrible grey—an endless inky twilight. I couldn't even fucking imagine.

More importantly, what would happen to everyone living there? Would it kill everything on the planet? Even if it didn't, what would some six billion people do, in a world that had turned into something like this? Obviously no one would be able to live there, life couldn't be sustained. But there was no place for them to go—Earth was muted, we didn't have access to frequency or magic or energy like the clar, and we couldn't just start jumping from world to world.

If the clarbach really took our world, the human race would basically be over. Six billion people gone because of a decision my boyfriend had made. Where the fuck did he get off making that decision? He couldn't just fucking do that. Was this what his people did with all worlds—picked and choose which ones to fight for? A long time ago, Ahieel had said to me that if I had known some of the things Keyd and Rysa had done, then I wouldn't have wanted to be on their side. I'd never really stopped to wonder what things they might have done. But maybe, it was things like this. Maybe neither of them—clarbach or oenclar—were people to side with.

I don't know how long I sat there—goddamn time vortex in this place—but after a certain amount of time I heard the abrupt and sharp sounds of footsteps on the floor, echoing around in the huge dome of the entrance, and a heightened sense through the bond. So Keyd had finally decided to come down after me. I kept the heels of my hands pressed to my temples and didn't look around at him.

His footsteps got closer, softer, and slower. He was still at least a good few feet away from me when they stopped altogether, and then there was a pretty long and fairly awkward silence.

Keyd broke it first. "Alan, I'm sor—"

"I don't want to talk about it," I interrupted, dropping my hands, because I seriously didn't. Not right now, not with him. "Let's just go back, okay? I want to go back."

"All right," Keyd said, after hesitating slightly. He stepped forward and held his hand down to me, to help me up, and I wasn't going to be so immature and petulant as to ignore it. But I didn't hold on to him for any more than I had to once I was up again. I didn't look at him; I couldn't bring myself to.


We walked back through the city and back along the beach in silence; a completely different silence than what we'd come here in. I still couldn't even look at him, and I certainly didn't want to hold his goddamn hand like before. The wind off the water felt even colder and the dismal beach felt even more dismal, and I was just about fucking thrilled at the idea of getting back through the rift and back to somewhere more familiar. Even if that familiar place was a world that wasn't even mine.

I went through first, and Keyd right after me. I expected us to be in that little black tent, but we weren't—we just popped through in the middle of one of the tent rows, in the grass. I did see the black tent; it was about fifteen feet away. I must have looked startled enough that Keyd started to explain.

"There isn't perfect alignment between worlds," he said, very carefully, like he was afraid I was going to lash out. "Traveling between doesn't always bring you back to the same space."

"Right," I said, only half-interested. "Right, sure."

Keyd moved a little closer to me, and his hand came down, very lightly, on my shoulder, almost one finger at a time. Now that he'd dropped the fucking bomb, he was treating me like I was delicate and sensitive. I was neither. I was just goddamn angry.

"You, just—give me some time," I said. I didn't want to see his face right now. Especially when he was looking like this—sincerely apologetic but resolute. He wasn't changing his mind about this. "I need some time. Go away."

To his credit, he did. He backed off a few steps, his hand falling off me. I walked away from him, off through the tents. It was sometime in the late afternoon, nearing dusk, about the same time that we'd left. But I didn't know if we'd spent a whole day gone or just an hour or two. I felt completely thrown and unstable and displaced.

I found my way back to my own tent and just sat down in the middle of the floor there. I wanted to think, but I was having a hard time of it. The only thing I could think about what how betrayed I felt, and how suddenly this had all come down on me. An hour ago, everything had been—well, not anywhere near perfect, but not like this. At least I had thought that Keyd was on my side.

After a few minutes, I heard a scratching sound at the tent doors.

"Yeah, come in," I said. I already knew it was Rysa, I could feel her. I'd been feeling her more and more steadily for a past few minutes as she had been coming closer to the tent.

The tent flap pushed aside and she ducked through it, dressed entirely from feet to neck in various shades of black, all pieces of clothing that adhered tightly to her figure and looked—well. Hot and badass, especially with her new short hair. She had her sword at her hip, the blade bare and just hanging from a leather loop at her belt. I didn't know what this new outfit was for, but damn. It almost made me forget what I ws so miserable about.

That was, until the first words she spoke.

"He finally told you."

"Yeah," I said, all of it unfortunately returning. And she had known too—of course she had known. The whole time. Everybody but me. "What a fucking asshole."

Rysa lifted her eyebrows, just slightly. "It was the only thing Keyd and his father ever agreed on," she said. "That we needed Clarylon back. As the new agistar, it's a strong move for him—and the timing is right, in many aspects. There's—"

"No," I said, cutting her off. "No, I don't care. He just made the choice to sacrifice my fucking world. There's no justification."

"Alan—" Rysa started. I got to my own feet, took a step back from her.

"No," I said. "And if you're going to back him up, then fuck you too! You even know what it's like to lose your own world to these fucking guys, and you'd let Keyd—this is my world."

"It has nothing to do with you, Alan," Rysa said, her voice getting sharper. "And he can't ignore this chance just because his lover is from a threatened world. He especially can't do that."

"Well, fuck—all of that!" I said. "You didn't tell me either—none of you did—you all knew and you just held off. Do you have any idea how fucking stupid I feel, any idea at all? Going around this whole time thinking everything was for Earth and none of it was, and all of you, everyone, just—fuck—" I stopped because my voice getting embarrassingly strained and high. Rysa's expression was only somewhat softer, but she didn't look very impressed by me at the moment.

"We held off because we know how emotional you are," Rysa said, and goddammit why did that always make me feel like such a goddamn pussy when she said things like that? Just because she had all the emotional display of a brick. "We knew you wouldn't like this—and it isn't our most favored decision either. Keyd held off on telling you because he wanted to give you time to understand, he wanted to show you himself what he wants to save."

"And by showing me that he also showed me what he's going to let happen to my world!" I said.

Rysa made a little noise that almost sounded like a growl, and reached around to the back of her belt, pulling something out. She took a step forward to me, holding whatever it was out towards me.

"Here," she said. "Take this."

What she was holding was small bound book me, covered in thin leather and held together with a tied strap. The cover was stamped—or maybe even burned—with darker brown symbols that were the clar alphabet. I didn't move to take it, so Rysa grabbed my wrist and slapped the book into it.

"Here," she said again, as my fingers closed automatically around it. "You should—"

"Fine, whatever," I said, yanking the book from her and stuffing it into my back pocket. I didn't know what it was and I didn't care, and I didn't have the patience for it. "Look, I want to be alone right now. By myself. Seriously, by myself."

Rysa didn't look happy about it, but like Keyd, she acquiesced. She turned on her heel and went through the tent flap, but paused just before she went out entirely.

"Remember that he loves you," she said over her shoulder, and I gritted my teeth and turned away. I didn't need to hear that from her, like it was a reminder that would somehow change my perspective. I already knew it. I knew he loved me. He just didn't love the place I was from, or the people who lived there. He didn't have anything invested there—not like I did.

The tent flap fell closed, and Rysa was gone. I felt her presence through the bond grow fainter as she got further away. I couldn't feel Keyd at all, not unless I reached out for him. And I wasn't going to do that.

Dammit, why the hell did Rysa have to bring love into this whole fucking thing? It had nothing to do with it. For once, this problem we were having had absolutely nothing to do with our relationship and what we felt about each other. And everything to do with Keyd's people, what they were, and how they did things, and that Keyd was now their leader.

That I loved Keyd had nothing to do with the fact that I was so ragingly angry that I wanted to kick his ass and shove his own stupid ideas about politics right down his damn throat. I hated what he was doing and above it all I hated that he hadn't told me. He'd known that I'd have a pretty poor reaction, but that just made the fact that he'd held off even worse. He hadn't wanted to deal with me, hadn't wanted to deal with me reacting to a decision he'd made. Fucking coward.

I didn't want to stay in this tent anymore, all my anger and frustration was turning into a hot itching under my skin; I felt cramped up and claustrophobic and suffocated. I pushed out of the door and just started walking, through the orange light and blue shadows of the fading day. Everywhere I looked I saw faces of the people who were going to willingly abandon Earth, and I couldn't stand it for long. I headed out of the tent city and up into the rocky hills, just climbing mindlessly up and up until I was out of breath and gaining a slow headache in the back of my skull.

I stopped and lent my knee against a rock, breathing slowly and pressing my fingers against a stitch in my side. In a minute or two, I heard a pleased little trill from near my feet, and glanced down to see the coiling silver shape of one of those purring snakes, slithering around near the base of the rock. It lifted its head up from about half the length of its body, opening its toothless gummy mouth at me.

The fucking thing was looking for food again, and I was so pissed off that its harmless begging was just the last thing I wanted to deal with.

"Go away!" I bellowed at it, aiming a kick at its swaying head. It dodged away to the right, coiling back down into the grass with a startled little trill. But it didn't go away, instead tilting its narrow face at me almost quizzically, as if it didn't understand.

"Go the fuck away!" I snarled, clenching my hands so tightly on themselves that my arms started to shake. "Just—go, go! Leave me alone!"

Senselessly, unthinkingly, I threw a mass of energy at the snake, just a formless blast of random residual stuff. It was almost an unconscious response, just a reaction of the energy in me to how angry and panicked I was feeling. It scorched a dark brown mark across the grass and I smelled something like burnt toast and rubber. I saw the silver shape of the snake wriggling madly away through the grass to a safe spot behind another rock, unharmed. Good—I hadn't actually wanted to hurt it. I was just—I was just loosing control, that was all.

Something jingled at my throat and I reached up automatically to it, my fingers tangling into the black cord of the necklace I had mostly forgotten I was wearing. Keyd's necklace, the one that was inscribed with something as stupidly corny as the word fate. I yanked at it, blindingly furious, heard an abrupt snap and felt a raw burn against the skin at the back of my neck, and the necklace came loose in my hand. I wound up my arm and hurled it away as hard as I could. It fell a distance away behind a outcropping of pale rocks, rustling in the grass.

For a long minute I stared after it, breathing hard and still feeling a rub across the back of my neck. I felt totally stupid, and childish, and petty. How mature had that been? Not very fucking much. I went after the necklace, scrambling over the rocks and hunting around in the knee-high grass where I thought that thing had landed, my face burning with embarrassment and disbelief at myself.

I found it, finally, only because a glint from the sun shone off one of its edges. I picked it up, brushing some dirt out of the metal indents in it. I'd snapped the cord right next to the knot, so now it would be impossible to tie it around my neck again without choking myself. I stuffed it into my pocket instead, and sat down on the ground against the rock, knocking my head back against it.

Tired. I was really tired. Getting angry, and staying it, this long always made me exhausted. I hated being angry. I hated that I had a legitimate reason to be angry, and I hated that I couldn't think of a single reasonable thing to do in response. What could I do? I couldn't just go back, pretend that everything was fine, the way it had been before. I had to either accept what Keyd was doing or…or not accept it. It came down to that. I just didn't know which one to do. Both of them had terrifying consequences.

I heard an angry-sounding little growl somewhere near my ear, and I jerked away from the rock, spinning around. The little silver snake had wriggled its way to the top of the rock and was coiled up there, making angry little noises at me that didn't sound anything like purring at all. I knew it had no teeth and couldn't really bite, but I edged away from it anyway, in case it wanted to give it a try. A few spots along its scaled back were brown and singed-looking—apparently, I had hit him a little bit, after all.

"Fuck, sorry," I said to it. "Sorry. I—sorry. I didn't mean it."

The snake eyed me, its tongue flickering out once, and made another little growl. I held out my hands to it, palms up, getting a stupid thick feeling in my throat like I was about to cry, or something.

"I'm sorry," I said again. "I'm sorry, I'm—" I had to stop, because my voice had cracked, and even if this goddamn snake was the only thing around I wasn't about to start losing it. It eyed me again, then looped its body around and slid away over the rock. I drew my knees up and pressed my forehead against them, feeling stupid and idiotic and miserable.


I didn't go back to the camp that night, and not entirely on purpose. I was so tired and burnt out from being so angry that I actually fell asleep up in the hills, leaning back against the rock. When I woke up again it was the middle of the non-dark night and there was a pale, weak moon hovering half behind clouds. That was something I hadn't really noticed, or looked for here before. A moon. It looked…really a lot like the one in my world. A tiny thumbnail sliver of spotted grey-white. Completely ordinary looking.

I didn't know how late, or early, it was, but I still didn't want to go back into the camp. I'd rather stay out here all night than face any of the people I knew here. Facing them meant making a decision. And I already knew what I was going to have to decide. There was only one sane decision, after all. The bottom line was—I couldn't condone what Keyd was doing. I couldn't. And if every other person here was completely fine with his decision, then I couldn't stay here.

Faint light was coming up over the horizon by the time I finally picked my way back down into the camp. I knew what I wanted—had—to do, but only a vague idea of how to even do it. I'd have to find someone, someone who wouldn't ask too many questions but would know the answers I needed. Someone like—

Maybe someone like Darban and Kir, who were the first people that I saw in the camp. Kir looked a little sleepy, kind of listing towards his partner, and both of them were dressed pretty casually, no armor. Darban saw me and lifted a hand in greeting, and they stopped in front of me.

"Hey, you guys," I said, watching Kir blink himself a little bit more awake.

"Alan, hello," Darban said. I noticed then that he and Kir were holding hands. It tripped me up for a second. I hadn't heard much about the whole gay rights thing since Keyd had become the agistar, but apparently Kir and Darban felt secure enough to blatantly show affection with each other now, in public. That was…nice. I was—really glad, for them.

"Uh, so," I said, getting back on track, "do either of you know if there's still that rift open to my world? The semi-permanent one," I said. "Is it still up?"

Darban and Kir glanced at each other. "It should be," Darban said, with something like a shrug. "There'd be no reason to close it yet."

"Okay, all right," I said, trying to sound more casual about it. I didn't think these two would ask many questions of me, but just in case. "Where would it be?"

They exchanged another look, but more to confirm with each other than anything else.

"I'm sure it's with the other orihaisul," Kir said, and Darban looked like he agreed with whatever that meant. "We just never went through it ourselves."

"It's not near that little black tent by any chance, is it?" I said.

"That's where it is," Darban said, nodding. "All the rifts get put in tents just to keep track of them, if they're permanent."

"Great," I said. "Good to know."

"The one back to your world should be in a grey tent, I think," Kir said, glancing at Darban again, who gave me a that-sounds-about-right look.

"Thanks," I said. "I—you know, I was just curious. Didn't want to feel stuck here or anything." I laughed a little, and it felt kind of awkward and forced, but Darban and Kir seemed to buy it. I stepped forward, kind of trying to move casually past them without seeming too rude and dismissive. "I'll, uh—well, I'll see you later, I guess."

Although, I probably wouldn't. I tried not to think about that much as I walked past them, still trying for that whole casual thing and not like I was in a big damn hurry to ditch them.

"Also, Alan—" Darban suddenly called after me, and I flinched on reflex, "Hahd brought your bag back; it's in your tent."

Right, my backpack, which had been left back in the woods in a tent a few days ago. "Oh, right," I said. "Uh—thank him for me, then."

Darban nodded. And right then was when I remembered—he'd been part of the ghereen, and now he was in Keyd's gheret. He'd known, had to have known, exactly everything about the war. And he hadn't said anything either. God dammit. God dammit. Everyone I knew had been lying to me, or avoiding the truth, while I went around naively believing that everything was for Earth's sake.

I found my way back to my tent, my mind entirely made up now. I was going home. If Keyd and everyone else here were writing off my world that easily, then there was no way I was going to consider myself above the rest of humanity by staying here. After all, if Keyd had never met me, I'd just be one more person mixed in with the rest, just as meaningless to him as the other six billion people on the planet.

By the time I'd reached my tent, my anger had simmered down to a sort of cool determination. I knew what I was doing and it was going to get done, just as fast and efficiently as I could manage, with the least amount of contact with other people I could make. I'd fought like hell to stay and now I didn't want to be here—there was some irony. But I didn't care anymore. I was leaving by my own choice this time; I wasn't being scared or forced or ordered away.

My backpack, as Darban had mentioned, was sitting to the side of the tent door, looking a little dustier than it had been, but otherwise intact. I tossed it to the center of the tent and opened it up, taking out the balled-up aifot garments and throwing them off to the side. Those belonged here, in this world, where Keyd was my fiancée and it mattered. In my own world, I wasn't engaged to anybody. Anything that made sense here, that was real and important—it wasn't real on Earth. Different laws, different customs, different people, and none of it mattered between worlds.

The little book Rysa had given me was still in my back jeans pocket. I pulled it out, hesitated a second, and then tossed it into my backpack. Whatever the hell it was, I could at least look at it later. It wasn't anything that couldn't wait.

That was it for arrangements I had to make. I really did have very little here. After all, this was supposed to have been just a temporary trip anyway, because I had senselessly followed Keyd here on a lovestruck whim. And then been severely disillusioned. Because I was a fucking moron.

I didn't try to be real sneaky or anything when I left the tent again, but I didn't really want to parade myself around in the wide open either, in case anyone I knew saw me and tried to talk to me. Especially if they asked where I was going. I tried to move along quickly and near to sides of tents, not out in the middle of the aisles.

Finding the place where the little black tent was wasn't that hard; at least I could find the general area since it was near the whole busy area of the camp. It was still pretty early, the sun wasn't even really up yet, and there weren't too many people around, but the ones who were were kind of…watching me. At this point I was pretty immune to it, since I'd been stared at since the first minute I'd come to this place. I just didn't want any of them trying to stop me or talk to me; as long as they didn't they could gawk at me as much as they wanted.

Next to the black tent with the rift to Keyd's world was, like Kir had said, an equally small grey tent. I just had to hope there was no one in there—and no one was, when I pushed through the flaps. The only thing inside, just like the black tent, was a rift, a stretched place in midair. And hopefully, it lead to the park near my apartment. Otherwise I might be kind of fucked.

I paused before stepping through, a last hesitation. Keyd…I did have to think about him, a little. This would hurt him, I knew it. But if Keyd really needed me, he could find me. It's not like he didn't know where I lived. But I just had to get away from this for—for a while. I wanted to see my family, I wanted to see Earth. I wanted to be around a race of people that I fucking understood. And if some sort of crazy Armageddon was going to happen there, well—then I'd be there when it happened.

So I drew in a last breath of air from this world, and stepped forward into the rift. A twist, a rush of dizziness, and then I was standing in early morning sunlight, in the paved street in front of the small neighborhood park a few blocks from my apartment, smelling grass and hearing the far away drone of cars. It was so familiar and strangely foreign at the same time, and I wavered in place for a moment, my balance thrown by more than just the trip through the rift.

I put my hand into my pocket and curled it around the metal necklace tag Keyd had given me. Lan. Fate. Right. What a stupid fucking—it didn't matter. It didn't matter at all. I'd made my choice, made a different sort of fate for myself that had nothing to do with Keyd's.

I drew in a slightly unsteady breath, rubbed once at my eyes, and headed up the quiet street, back towards my apartment.

Boo, I know.

The next chapter literally has all of one sentence written, and it's the last one. It'll take time.

A completely unrelated note, but I'm mentioning it in as many places as I can: I'm taking Christian Faith down.People still alert and favorite it so I figured I might as well give warning to the people who actually like it so they can save it or whatever, because soon it's going away away away.