Seel was a mess. His feelings were a succession of storms: hot winds of anger, driving rains of futility, lightning bolts of anguish. Ashmael had asked him to
kill this horrific re-creation of Pellaz, and in the moment, Seel hadn't been able to do it. Thiede had known it all, of course. That thought was a red-hot
poker of fury, one he took out on one of the few remaining glasses left in his room.
"FUCK YOU!" he roared, hurling the glass against the far wall where it shattered with a satisfyingly loud smash. "Fuck you!" he declared a second time, his voice more measured, the 'you' encompassing a roster of hara at this point.
He lifted the bottle of sheh to his lips, sickened by the knowledge that he was a pawn just like everyhar else. Could he ever act as unpredictably as Cal, enough to break free from his own marionette's strings? The thought of Cal made his mouth sour, and he took another swig. He felt a shift in the atmosphere, and his skin prickled as though suddenly tuned into approaching static. A sedu and rider. Ashmael had arrived. Or he certainly hoped it was Ashmael— other Gelaming had visited Saltrock, but he wasn't as attuned to them.
Dispassionately going through the motions, Seel cleaned up, sort of. He combed his errant hair, tucked in his shirt, and then walked to the bathroom and washed his face. He looked like he'd recently come back from the dead himself, and then wished that analogy hadn't come to mind.
"Damn it all," he said to his reflection, easing away from the cracked mirror when he heard the unmistakable sturdy thumping of Ashmael's leather boots. What surprised him was hearing a second set.
"Ashmael?" he called out, striding to the head of the stairs, his heart rate slowing slightly at the sight of the General's blond hair.
"The natives tell me you haven't been out of this house in two days," Ashmael said by way of greeting.
"Yeah, well " Seel wasn't particularly articulate, not when faced with the friend he'd just failed and a stunning golden-skinned beauty behind him. Seel looked steadily into Ashmael's light and calculating eyes, seeing compassion there he honestly hadn't expected after he'd botched things up.
"I couldn't do it," Seel said, his voice a pained sigh. "He had self-awareness. It flickered through and then went away. It's so unnatural, so grotesque," he spat, the turbulent feelings sparking to life again.
"I don't fault you," Ashmael reassured him. "Thank you for trying. I'm not sure that I'd have been able to do it either."
"Thiede knew anyway. All of it. Your part in goading me to ask to see him, too." Seel chewed on the bitter words, surprised when Ashmael merely made an affirmative noise.
"I should have predicted that."
"I don't suppose you're the one Thiede sent for my sedu instruction?" Seel interrupted.
Ashmael gave him a provocative smile. "No. I weighed in with my preference, and you'll get to work with Parallax, here. Before that, though, we're going to bring you back to the land of the living. Least we can do after what you went through."
Seel raised his eyebrows in question. Parallax was high ranking in the Gelaming army under Ashmael, someone Ashmael had known from his days as the leader of his own settlement named Castlegar, located north of Saltrock. Ashmael had been transparent that the two of them were longtime roon friends and confidantes, and Seel could see why. The har, dressed in similar military leathers to Ashmael, stepped around the General to stand right in front of Seel. Without preamble, he took Seel's hand and pressed the palm to his lean, muscled chest.
"I'm pleased to meet you," he drawled, and then raised Seel's hand to kiss the back, looking coyly at Seel through long, dark lashes. "And I look forward to doing anything in my power to get you ready to join us in Immanion."
"Holy hell," Seel exclaimed as Parallax took his pointer and index fingers and drew them past expressive lips into the heat and wet of his mouth. "Your protégé, here," Seel said to Ashmael over the enticing curve of Parallax's shoulder. "Did he just wander up to Castlegar? If so, you should have sent his friends to Saltrock."
Ashmael's genial smile morphed, becoming feral as he stood behind Parallax, his hands moving around to grasp possessively at the mound at the soldier's groin.
"No, even better than that. I incepted him."
"You're here to kill me then, obviously."
"Only with pleasure," Parallax replied, having taken Seel's fingers out of his mouth to feather against his lips.
"Parallax has as an uncanny way with the sedim, and he's a patient instructor. He just happens to be blessed with many other gifts as well," Ashmael went on, leering at Seel.
Seel moved his fingers from Parallax's lips to skate across his jaw while Ashmael reached to the hand hanging at Seel's side. He brought it to press against the hardness trapped under leather, and Seel's eyes grew wide in astonishment.
"Feel free to unwrap me, tiahaar," Parallax said in a husky voice.
For a moment Seel paused. He'd expected to smell bourbon or some other ancient spirits on his mouth. Parallax had the air of someone younger, but he couldn't have been incepted too many years after Ashmael, knowing Ashmael's history as he did. Parallax was potent, possessing all of the General's confidence but seemingly not his fey streak.
"Yes," Seel murmured before clasping him around the neck to soundly kiss him. Soon it became a sharing of breath, the taste of tart apples and summer starlight causing tingles to shoot up from the heels of Seel's feet. They frissoned through the backs of his thighs to lodge, throbbing, in his soume-lam. Seel was dimly aware of candles flaring to life, his clothes removed and soon he was lying on his unmade bed, a wriggling pile of tawny limbs flush and hot against him.
The air crackled with arunic exuberance. As Parallax kissed and nibbled his way down Seel's quivering torso, Seel could see the shimmers of copper energy, Parallax's aura, vibrant and intoxicating. Ashmael had guided Seel down erotic paths he'd not known were possible, allowing him to put Cal's — damn Cal! — prowess into perspective. While Ashmael had mentioned Parallax multiple times, until now they'd never been introduced. If Ashmael's loyalties really were as true as he'd said, helping to build Immanion with Ashmael and Parallax as his companions and allies, well, that made living so close to Thiede and away from Saltrock much more palatable. He stopped being able to think in sentences when, through glazed eyes, he saw the crown of wavy chestnut hair descend between his legs. Parallax's tongue began enthusiastically to bring his sikras to life.
"Seel, Seel," Ashmael said sadly from the other side of the room, his boot sweeping through the broken glass. "We should have come sooner. I'll just have some of your sheh and then join you two."
"Fuck," was all that Seel could manage, garnering a throaty laugh from Parallax, the vibrations coursing through his already sensitive flesh.
Parallax had risen up on his arms, his lips covered in glistening fluid, lust burning in his eyes. He turned his head when Ashmael approached, tilting his head so Ashmael could kiss him deeply, their tongues sharing Seel's taste from mouth to mouth.
"Take pity on this poor har, will you?" Ashmael rasped once they broke apart, gesturing at Seel. Blood pounded in Seel's ears and his aching soume-lam vibrated with the tones Parallax had struck with his practiced tongue.
"Of course," Parallax purred. "I just didn't know if you wanted him first."
"No. Seel can't seem to keep his mouth closed, so I'll put it to good use."
The next few moments passed in a dreamlike, priapic haze as Parallax speared into Seel and Ashmael settled on his knees, ouana-lim shining and full and aimed for his lips. Seel was a viol, his harish body plucked and bowed by two virtuosos. Deep within his inner organ, Parallax skillfully glided past zinging nerves, creating overtones of pure pleasure Seel could see with his inner eye: dancing, luminous prisms. He tried to focus on Ashmael and the myrrh-laced ambrosia of his essence seeping from the tip of his spire. When that failed, he tried not to lose himself in the gathering energies, rumbles on the earth before a geyser erupts. Ashmael guided them through the tiger's eye, explosive and shattering, caressing Seel's throat as he swallowed his salty offering. Seel convulsed around Parallax, grateful for Ashmael's speed in dropping to his side, blowing hot breath on his face, and calming his trembling limbs. With the grace of a hawk gliding on a current, Parallax gently eased out of Seel and sank down at his side. He glowed with satisfaction, eyes dilated under soft lids. He licked along the flesh of Seel's ear, teasing the skin in his teeth before looking over Seel's sweat-covered chest to Ashmael.
"Shame on you for not bringing me here sooner, you scoundrel."
"He couldn't have handled you before. But Seel's a fast learner with all sorts of untapped potential."
"If you untap anything else, I think I'd combust," Seel said, his voice hoarse.
"In all seriousness," Ashmael said, "I know you've had to fight your own battles, and you want the power to bring some hara to justice."
Seel clenched his jaw, wishing he could simply exorcise the violet-eyed demon from his life once and for all.
"Hey," Parallax soothed, nuzzling against Seel's neck like a cat rubbing its head, hoping to be petted. "I was wary of the Gelaming too, and I still get weird butterflies in my stomach when I see Thiede. I met Orien— did you know that? I was at Castlegar when he visited. It's history, though, and like Ashmael, I want to be on your present path."
Seel couldn't help relaxing as both Parallax and Ashmael spooned at his sides, the air heavy with musk and spicy scent of aruna. Slowly he turned his head to look at Ashmael, whose handsome features were rather smug. Seel decided he was justified to wear that expression.
"This one's a keeper," Seel stated. "You're smart to keep him close in your ranks."
Ashmael laughed, low in his chest. "Parallax understands me as nohar else does. It's precisely why we're not chesna."
There was a meaningful pause, and then Parallax said in a tone that belied years of trust, "There are other reasons. Regardless, Seel, I think you and I will get along just fine in your sedu training. And I very much hope you won't be a stranger once we get back to Immanion."
Seel found the energy to sit up slightly and gave Parallax a nod of assent. "No doubt you'd come find me." He let out a long breath, gratefully accepting the sheh bottle Ashmael offered. He felt as though he'd been in a fight and won, though any soreness was from pleasure, not pain. "I guess it's time for me to quit acting like a sulking child, especially if you'll both be there as shields."
Ashmael turned a gimlet eye on him, kissed him firmly on the mouth, and said, "Put on your armor. It's time to claim your place in the Gelaming."