Armando watched his lover closely, knowing Izdahl was lost in thought. The conversation during breakfast was scarce. Armando eventually had become silent, when Izdahl only responded with a few mumbled words. Not even his food was getting proper attention. He had repeatedly stirred his drink but had not taken a sip. The food, which Armando had made for him, had received the same absentminded treatment.
“Love, what’s wrong?” Armando asked.
“Nothing,” Izdahl murmured. He finally sipped the coffee but put it down in displeasure. It had grown cold. Armando noted the deepening furrow of irritation on Izdahl’s brow.
“Why are you upset?” he questioned.
“I’m not, Armando.”
“Then why aren’t you focused?”
“Alright. This is not a game I like to play with you,” Armando told him, pointedly. “Just answer me.”
“I’m under Dagmar’s thumb,” Izdahl grumbled.
Armando looked at him expectantly, waiting for an explanation. Izdahl gave it reluctantly, his words becoming forceful as his anger steadily rose.
“And so GG gave him up to a year to punish me,” Izdahl finished.
“I see. I know how the Nitelge honor system generally works,” Armando said. “So, I’m not surprised she did that.”
He was aware that while the seven leaders could be incredibly indulgent with their followers, it was understood by all that there were boundaries. And those boundaries were more stringent for their Nitelge followers than for humans. Izdahl had crossed one barrier and had nonchalantly done so in public. In truth, Dagmar could have demanded that Izdahl pay penance immediately. On the lighter end of the punishment scale, Dagmar could have ordered Izdahl to kneel and kiss the Ring of the Havads, a baltium piece of jewelry that denoted Dagmar as that clan’s Kelcho. To be required to do such an action, while officially a member of the Amasis, would have been extremely humiliating for Izdahl. For Xersa, it would serve as a commentary on how well she could manage her clan members.
“Sometimes the protocol rules are ridiculous,” Izdahl fumed.
“Perhaps your GG’s decision is not as punitive as it seems.”
Armando’s remark only served to further irritate Izdahl. He knew he had overstepped his bounds, not thinking of the consequences of publically downplaying the importance of another clan’s leader. While everyone knew the hierarchy, it was particularly in bad form for one Kelcho’s follower to be dismissive of another Kelcho. During the time when the clans had their most brutal feuds, battles were started over those types of insults; the Nitelge pride had overridden their restraint.
In some ways, Izdahl understood that he might have been treated lightly by Dagmar and especially by his great-grandmother. But he didn’t want to hear that kind of reasoning echoed by Armando. Instead, he wanted his lover’s concern; he wanted to hear how unjust the situation was, especially given the dislike he had for Dagmar. And so, his displeasure with his circumstances caused him to be terse with Armando.
“And how could you possibly know that it’s not that punitive?” Izdahl demanded, pounding his fist on the table. His plate and utensils rattled. His coffee rippled, threatening to spill. “Have you ever been at a Kelcho’s mercy?”
“No but I—”
“Anything else you have to say after ‘No’ doesn’t matter.”
“No…but I would like to fuck you on the table.”
The unexpected comment froze Izdahl’s anger and he began to laugh.
“See how easily I can handle you?” Armando teased him. He looked at his lover smugly. Then he calmly went back to eating his breakfast, as if he hadn’t issued an enticement.
“Are you going to deliver?” Izdahl asked eagerly, his mood having shifted dramatically.
“On what?” Armando asked coyly. He took a sip of his coffee, looking at Izdahl over his cup, his eyes filled with mischief.
“On what you just said.”
“And what did I just say?”
“Sex on the table.”
“I didn’t say the word ‘sex’.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No. I actually did not.”
Armando looked down at his plate, trying, but failing, to stifle a laugh. Izdahl leaned back in his chair, his mouth twisted in frustration. He waited for the architect to look up again. A few moments later, when Armando glanced at his lover, Izdahl’s eyes showed that he was aroused, the familiar dark blue eyes ringed with silver making an appearance.
“Okay, you didn’t say the word ‘sex’ but you said ‘fuck’, which is…” Izdahl gave an exasperated grunt. “Sex or not, Armando?”
“Not.” Armando glanced at his watch, as he finished his last bite of toast. “I need to leave for the office.” He wiped his mouth and got up from the table.
“A kiss?” Izdahl asked, as the architect casually passed him.
“No. You started my day in a dark mood.”
“But you asked why I was bothered,” Izdahl protested, following him to the door. “I didn’t want to tell you.”
“Well, had you kept better control of your mouth, you wouldn’t be in this position.”
Armando hurried out of the house and to his car, grinning as he evaded Izdahl’s grasp. Izdahl moved quickly. He grabbed the door handle on the driver’s side to prevent Armando from entering. When Armando tried to pry his hand away, he realized that the difference in their strength made the attempt pointless. Izdahl smiled and effortlessly pinned Armando between himself and the car.
“I’ll be going to The Gathering next week,” Izdahl reminded Armando. “I won’t see you for a while. We should take advantage of every opportunity.”
“I’m aware of that. However, you should be as understanding of me as I am of you.” Armando gently admonished.
“What do you mean?” Izdahl was barely listening. Instead, his eyes were focused on Armando’s mouth, waiting for an opportunity to slip his tongue inside it.
“Iz, I told you I need to get to work. You know the level of projects I’m handling now.”
“Yes…” Izdahl sighed, realizing that a kiss was still possible but not likely. Armando had taken on the tone that meant he was going to be stubborn.
“And it’s true that, at times, your moods have been difficult to bear.”
“Yes…” Izdahl now believed any chance of even getting a kiss, at least one that wasn’t stolen, was now gone.
“And you are aware that my sleep currently isn’t particularly restful.”
“Yes…” Izdahl’s grip on the door handle loosened.
“Then please let me go.”
Izdahl felt that Armando had bound him, intentionally or not, in strong chords. Armando’s quiet request was the final twist, sapping Izdahl’s resolve to keep the architect at home, even for a few minutes more. Izdahl sighed in defeat and moved out of the way.
Before getting in the car, Armando did give him a kiss, making sure it was a slow, sensual one. While doing so, he massaged Izdahl’s muscular back and then slipped his hands low to give Izdahl’s rear a firm squeeze. Armando heard Izdahl gasp and felt him quickly harden…And, he left his lover in that state.
He ignored the six rapid calls Izdahl sent to his cell phone, chuckling as he drove to work. He imagined that his lover had interesting words for him. He thought he’d let him simmer for a while; let him find his own way to calm his frantic mood.
After finishing his rehearsal with the Preva Symphony, Dmitri had invited Izdahl over to his home for a drink. The two were now relaxing in Dmitri’s living room.
While Dmitri was deciding which wine they’d have, Izdahl flipped through one of several books on the wooden coffee table. A leather-bound book had caught his eyes. It was A History of the Havads: The Most Influential Kelcho.
Izdahl thumbed through some of the pages, feeling uneasy about the book’s subject, Zaitis Havad. Of all of the planet’s Kelchos, Zaitis was considered to have been the most formidable. Zaitis had amassed a great deal of power, as he rose from being a general in the Havad military to leading the entire clan. He had commanded the Nitelge forces during the warring period with the Basheil, his tactics bringing his planet victory. His actions also caused other Nitelge to fear what their world would be like, once the war was won.
Izdahl stared at a picture of Zaitis standing in front of the Ymir Briger, the capitol building that was previously in Meino, the primary territory of the Havads. Looking uncompromising, Zaitis seemed as if he was capable of leaping out of the book. His waist-length, jet black hair contrasted with his piercing hazel eyes, a color that was rare among the Havads, who usually had eyes of blue or green. His face, which was unmistakably masculine in nature with its strong jaw, revealed his serious, confident nature. His muscular arms were crossed over his expansive chest, baltium bands surrounding his bare biceps. His skin, a rich, earth-toned brown, was complemented by the precious metal.
The other Kelchos of that time were positioned behind Zaitis but it was as if they didn’t exist. Almost a foot taller than most of the other leaders, his long muscular legs added to his commanding presence. He was dressed in the traditional silken black and gold robe the Kelchos wore when they had their formal sessions. The complexity of the patterns on his robe made it clear that he was the highest ranking member. There was also a golden sash across his chest, which, as the Head Kelcho, only he was allowed to wear. It had been embroidered with his personal motto, “Clear Mind. Clear Outcome.”
Izdahl found himself admiring Zaitis, despite his overall dislike of Havads. Had the Kelcho not been effective, the lives of all Nitelge would have been vastly different.
Izdahl was flipping through more pages, when he saw there was note. It was from Dagmar, congratulating Dmitri on a “phenomenal performance.” A chill went through Izdahl.
“Dima, what’s with this book on Zaitis Havad?” Izdahl asked, closing the book when Dmitri appeared again.
“You’re asking that as if I’ve done something wrong.” Dmitri looked at him with one eyebrow raised. “I have books on all of the clans. You know I like to be informed. And, along with music, history is a huge interest of mine.”
“That’s true. I suppose it’s just that I was a bit surprised. Did you just get the book? It looks fairly new.”
“It is. Thanks to how we did at the concert, gifts are still coming to me,” Dmitri explained, as he set out two large wine glasses. He poured Izdahl a glass of wine and then did the same for himself. The wine had been aged for 35 years, roughly corresponding to how long both of its present consumers had been alive. “The book is from Kelcho Havad, as is the wine.”
“I see…” Izdahl replied. He turned his glass on the coffee table, watching as the light caught the dark red liquid. He now had reservations about drinking it but also wanted to avoid offending his friend.
“You’re quite pensive,” Dmitri noted, as he settled himself in a leather chair. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. Then again, maybe not so much but I’ll be alright.”
“It must be the Fragment. The energy from it is actually affecting me and many others around you. I have to be honest, Izdahl; I want you right now. You’re sending out some serious signals.”
“Should I go? Will it be too difficult for you to control yourself?”
“No, you arrogant bastard,” Dmitri replied. “But it’s a wonder Armando can still walk.”
Izdahl threw back his head, laughing loudly.
“Well, actually, I’m afraid I’ve been a bit unbearable lately, especially with him.”
“Speaking of the man who stole you from me, is he still having the nightmares?”
Izdahl let the question hang in the air for a few moments, wondering how to respond. Dmitri looked down at the floor, realizing that he had caused Izdahl to feel awkward.
“Sorry about that,” Dmitri told him. “Unresolved feelings…”
“You know we couldn’t have had more than a night right? We’re best as strictly friends. And I would never hurt Armando.”
“I’m certainly not loyal to him but I respect you. So, I’ll reign in myself.”
“I appreciate that…As for your question, he doesn’t talk about his nightmares often but I know he’s still having them.”
Izdahl thought of the restlessness Armando continued showing at nights. He’d be deep in sleep but he’d shake from the images in his head, unable to shut them out. Sometimes the architect would even wake up, clinging to Izdahl. Izdahl believed things were getting worse. During the past month Armando had been staying up, unwilling to go to sleep until he was absolutely exhausted, hoping that would help him bypass the nightmares.
“Wasn’t he supposed to see someone about all of that?” Dmitri asked.
Izdahl had planned to take Armando to discuss the situation with Sunja Ziyad, his Great Aunt and the Kelcho of the Ziyad Clan. Sunja would be able to discern more information about the spells that had been cast on Izdahl and Armando, in particular. Of course, the most difficult step was getting Armando to even have an initial conversation on the phone with Sunja. Izdahl had tried on several occasions to fully discuss the topic with Armando. However, the architect had been completely wary, unwilling to visit Izdahl’s Great Aunt.
“I’ve talked with him about it,” Izdahl responded. “I still haven’t been able to convince him. However, I think after last week’s two sleepless nights, he’s closer to seeing my point.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll bring it up with him again but not anytime soon,” Izdahl responded. “He goes to his parents’ graves every six months. The anniversary of their death is especially hard for him and that’s in a few days. Talking about being examined by Aunt Sunja and dealing with the memories of their deaths would be unreasonable.”
Dmitri brought up another topic, sensing that Izdahl didn’t want to further comment on Armando. In truth, Izdahl felt he had disclosed too much, even to his best friend, because Armando was so private. The architect also had limited interaction with Dmitri and would likely be annoyed that his dreams were the topic of conversation. So, instead, Izdahl and Dmitri discussed Dmitri’s latest attempt at seducing the Preva Symphony’s first violinist.
“She’s still ignoring you?” Izdahl teased.
“Yes but I’m not giving up just yet…Maybe I should have saved that wine for her. You’re not even drinking it.”
Izdahl laughed and looked at his untouched glass of wine. He raised his glass and toasted to Dmitri’s luck in getting a date. Then he took a sip, still feeling uneasy about consuming anything Dagmar had sent.
As the seven members of Armando’s staff provided updates about their projects, he was only half-conscious of what was being said. He drew a series of circles on his notepad, each swirl representing his tangled feelings. Today, he’d visit his parents’ graves.
“Armando, is there anything else we need to cover?” Jonas asked, after the reports had been given.
Everyone looked expectantly at Armando. When he didn’t respond, Jonas called his name again.
“I’m sorry; I’m distracted,” Armando said.
“It’s alright,” Jonas assured him. “Maybe you should have taken the day off.”
“Yes; I haven’t been very useful today.”
Jonas reached over and clapped him on the shoulder.
“You’ll be visiting them?” he asked.
“Yes…In fact, maybe I’ll go now.”
“I have things under control here,” his partner assured him. “I’ll review the rest of the drafts.”
“Thanks Jonas. Again, sorry I haven’t been focused.”
Armando bid goodbye to everyone in his office. Then he drove to a location that made his heart heavy.
He went inside the black marble mausoleum, his eyes adjusting to the muted glow of the lights. He saw that Kiana had been there earlier; a bouquet of roses was already on the pedestal that was centered between the locations where each parent was buried. He laid his own bouquet down. Then, he activated a metal music box hologram.
Visiting their parents’ graves was quite difficult for Kiana and Armando. It had been especially painful in their younger years. However, they had known that their parents wouldn’t want them to be filled with sadness. The Medina household had always been a happy place. The two had wanted to honor that. To help ease the pain, their uncle had let them select footage from some of their favorite videos. Then he’d had the scenes made into a hologram.
The scene Armando enjoyed the most was where his parents danced. They were in each other’s arms, kissing and laughing as they whirled. He watched them for a while and then turned off the hologram; his heart was a bit lighter.
Armando spoke quietly, telling his parents about the past six months of his life.
“I’ve been so busy,” he said. “But through it all, I’ve been very happy. So much is going well for me. Of course, I’ve told you about Izdahl. I’m worried about how the Shield fragment will change him. I haven’t mentioned that to him that yet. I don’t want him to misinterpret me. He’s very sensitive to me rejecting any part of him. That’s really my fault. If I’d been open-minded, he wouldn’t need so much reassurance from me. I know you raised me better. I want to apologize to you…Anyway, I think, overtime, he has become more confident that I love him.”
Armando spoke to his parents for a while longer. Then, when he felt tears beginning to come, he turned back on the holographic music box. The sight of his parents dancing made him smile again.
Dagmar could see that Armando was vulnerable. He had been watching the architect and now he’d found an opportunity to catch his notice. Pretending to be at that location by chance, he crossed paths with Armando in the parking area, literally bumping into him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was lost in thought,” Dagmar said.
“It’s alright,” Armando said, laughing and reaching out to steady Dagmar. “I should have been paying attention.”
“Were you here for anyone?” Dagmar asked.
“It must have been difficult growing up without them.”
“Listen to me. I don’t mean to pry. The last thing you want is to be accosted.”
“I don’t feel the least bit accosted.”
“I appreciate your understanding…Well, I don’t mean to keep you. Have a good day.”
“Yes sir, you too.”
Dagmar watched him leave. Then when Armando was almost to his car, Dagmar called out his name to get his attention.
“Since we have met, perhaps you could spare some time for me,” Dagmar mentioned, getting to the crux of his real goal.
“Of course,” Armando replied, walking back towards the Kelcho.
“Well, I’d like you to look at a location. Are you sure you have the time to see it?”
“I do,” Armando replied, after taking a quick glance at his watch.
“I’m glad you’re willing to indulge me,” Dagmar said. “I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you.”
“Not at all. Perhaps I can call Jonas and—”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Dagmar assured him smoothly. “I feel overbearing enough by asking you to see the site. I don’t want to bother Jonas also.”
Armando smiled and nodded.
“Then I’ll follow you,” he told the Kelcho.