Izdahl felt as if his life had stopped. Armando remained in a coma. For the past two weeks, his status had not changed. Izdahl and Kiana had spent much of the time talking with his doctors, speaking words of encouragement to Armando and comforting each other.
Armando’s doctors still believed that it was best for him to remain at Meino’s central hospital. Izdahl’s reservations about this lingered. He’d repeatedly heard the reasons behind the decision. However, that didn’t mean he had to believe them and he consistently challenged them. Kiana shared similar concerns, as she now understood Izdahl’s worries. While she’d known that Syrik disliked Dagmar, Izdahl had only recently told her his misgivings. He and Kiana were in the middle of discussing more about the extent of his anxieties, when the cause of them came to visit Armando.
Dagmar paused, noting that the reception of him was less than welcoming.
“I’m here to check on Armando’s progress,” he explained, his glance passing between Izdahl and Kiana.
“Thank you,” Kiana told him. Her words were stiff, not filled with her previous inviting tone. Even as Dagmar wondered if Izdahl was turning her against him, he took her hands and held them in his large ones. Izdahl bristled but kept his words in check.
“I confess that I’m still so surprised by happened,” Dagmar began, as he seated himself in a chair. “I knew that Armando was fascinated with the Ymir Briger. The statue of Zaitis especially held his interest. However, I had no idea that he’d somehow be injured.”
“These things have a way of happening…Kelcho Havad,” Izdahl stared pointedly at Dagmar, his eyes communicating the opposite of his calm words.
Dagmar looked at Kiana.
“My dear, forgive me. I would like to have a quick conversation with Izdahl. Please bear with us.”
Kiana nodded her understanding. Dagmar motioned for Izdahl to speak with him in the adjoining room. Izdahl followed him.
“I appreciate your restraint,” Dagmar said. “I know these circumstances can’t be easy for you. Naturally, an incident like this increases your animosity towards me. You appear to believe I have something to do with this.”
“I’m glad that we don’t have to pretend. You’re correct in all that you’ve stated.”
“Despite your inaccurate beliefs, we must both follow certain rules of decorum. I do occupy a position in our society that is significantly higher than yours. With that said, while you go through this stressful period in your life, I will make limited allowances for any outbursts you have.”
“As always, you are incredibly accommodating.”
“And yet, my allowance has its bounds. You would do well to remember that, Izdahl.”
“Of course, Kelcho Havad.” Izdahl bowed, his heart aching under the strain of controlling himself. “I appreciate you seeing that Armando has received the best of care. I apologize for any inconvenience. I’m thankful that you’re lending us your support.”
Well played young Izdahl, Dagmar thought. You do know when not to go too far.
Izdahl wanted to demand answers from Dagmar about his role in this. He believed that Dagmar also had a larger plan. These things did not merely happen.
In truth, the Kelcho hadn’t expected that Armando would be injured. However, he believed these circumstances could be used to his advantage. In fact, he already had exploited them. Armando’s blood, which he’d ordered Rasmus to collect several years ago, had not provided the answers he’d wanted. He was certain he was being prevented from finding the information he needed to continue with the rest of his goals. As a result, he’d been forced to put his ideas aside. Now, it was if the roadblocks could be removed and he would learn why Armando was so unique and important to the Kelchos, especially to Xersa. He surmised it had to do with much more than the closeness Xersa had shared with Armando’s parents. Until his plans could come to fruition, he’d be tolerant of Izdahl. Besides, he speculated, in the end the Amasi upstart could prove to be more useful.
“Then, as we have an understanding, let’s return to where Armando is,” Dagmar told Izdahl.
Dagmar spoke with Kiana for a few minutes. When he left, Kiana gave a meaningful look to Izdahl, as a series of questions went through her head.
“I might not have all of the answers,” Izdahl began, reading her expression. “But you should certainly ask the questions. Still, this just isn’t the time or place.”
“But you’ve already told me so much about why you’re bothered.”
“No, I’ve barely begun.”
“I understand,” Kiana responded quietly.
“I wish I didn’t care about him,” Rasmus told his brother.
Khalaf handed him a drink, noting that the circles under his eyes had become darker. He sat down next to Rasmus, weighing his next words. His brother was in a fragile state, one in which he’d never seen Rasmus. The news of Armando being in a coma had strained him incredibly. Khalaf now tried to spend as much time with Rasmus as possible. Sometimes, Rasmus didn’t accept his company, preferring to avoid interacting with even his sibling and staying in his home. He regretted that he’d been involved in any of Dagmar’s plans.
“Ossti, I know you’re facing a dilemma,” Khalaf stated carefully. “We both want to send our sympathy to Armando’s family and to Izdahl. However, we’ve made some choices that were not wise. We don’t know how far our actions have reached. It might be best to stay away from the Amasis. Izdahl isn’t particularly friendly towards you and—”
“That’s putting it lightly,” Rasmus scoffed. He raised the glass of liquor to his lips, sloppily emptying the contents.
“It will be okay, Ras,” Khalaf encouraged. He was pained. It was rare for him to see his brother with such a despondent disposition.
“I don’t think it will…” Rasmus stared off into space, wondering how his intricate ideas, ones which he’d believed had been well-thought-out, had gone so horribly awry.
“Listen, why don’t we change the subject for a little while?” Khalaf suggested. “How’s your new assignment going?”
Rasmus had recently begun working for his father, helping him to manage the clan. Much of that was his mother’s doing; Listia felt that Rasmus needed to channel his energy into another arena. Rasmus’ ultimate aim had been to improve the status of his clan. Listia had been able to convince both of her sons that they could achieve this by actually concentrating their efforts within the clan. Rasmus’ talents included negotiating with others and, thus far, he’d been quite successful at resolving some longstanding conflicts.
“Mother was right, as usual…” Rasmus replied. “Some of the feuds go back decades. No one had taken the time to listen to the subclans in quite a while. I think I’m beginning to make a difference; Father has actually been complimenting me lately.”
“So something is going right going in your life?” Khalaf teased. “That self-satisfied expression is back on your face.”
Rasmus laughed, feeling his spirits light. However, Khalaf’s next words served to limit how much better he could feel.
“We still need to tell Izdahl, Armando and Viktor what we did,” Khalaf reminded him. It was one of the most significant requests their mother had made of them.
“I’m not looking forward to those conversations at all.”
“Neither am I,” Khalaf assured him. “I’ve fallen in love with Viktor. But it’s ‘Leila’ he wants.”
“Are you and ‘Leila’ really so different?” Rasmus teased. Opportunities to pick on his brother were so appealing.
“I hate you, Ras,” Khalaf told him, chuckling. “Stop enjoying my pain.”
The two sat next to each other on the couch, thinking about their next steps.
“We’ve really made a mess of things, haven’t we?” Rasmus asked.
“What’s this ‘we’ bit?” Khalaf teased. “I followed you like a good little brother and you led me astray.”
Fortune had smiled on Armando and Izdahl. Izdahl waited impatiently as the doctor finished another examination of Armando. The anxious Nitelge paced, eager to be assured that his lover was indeed healthy after having awakened.
Dr. Moshe Han, the lead physician, was a short but imposing figure. Her black hair was braided and wrapped in a bun. Dressed in a crisp black medical coat, she peered at Armando, as she assessed his wellbeing.
Armando was staying as calm as possible while Dr. Han administered to him. He wanted nothing more than to be alone with Izdahl. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that his lover was anxious. He became impatient, feeling that his doctor was only prolonging the time he and Izdahl were apart.
“Armando, you’re not fully recovered,” Dr. Han stated. “I’ll need you to get some more rest.”
“Can’t I just go home tonight? I feel fine.”
It was true. His demeanor was the opposite of many patients who had returned to full consciousness after being in a coma. His state of clarity was the first thing upon which the medical staff had commented. He’d been able to answer the initial questions about who he was, how he felt and why he’d ended up in the hospital. Still, none of that meant his doctor was prepared to release him.
“I’d rather you remain here for a while longer,” his doctor told him. “You can leave against my recommendations. However, we’d like to monitor you for at least another week. There are some anomalies with your blood.”
Having heard the doctor’s comment, Izdahl stopped his pacing to listen even more carefully.
“What do you mean?” Armando asked.
“Perhaps we should have this discussion at a later date. It might be too much for you today.”
“No. I want to know now.”
“It’s rare that I’m unable to explain any conditions with a patient,” Dr. Han began. “Yet, in your case, you remain quite mysterious to our hospital staff, Armando.”
She activated her digital tablet, accessing data on him, some of which she’d acquired from previous visits he’d had to other hospitals. She let him know that the results showed that he had two blood types.
“How is that even possible?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I haven’t found an answer.” Her lips pursed in concentration, as she reviewed the information once again. “The best determination my staff and I have made is that you’re carrying a shield fragment. Humans who do so exhibit all types of anomalies. Yet, your case is on another level entirely. Each time we’ve tested you, your blood told us different things. It appears that two blood types really are flowing through you…”
Armando let out a huff of air and shut his eyes, confused by what he was hearing. Dr. Han noted his demeanor and stopped her explanation.
Izdahl saw the signs of distress on his lover’s face. He was tempted to ask Dr. Han to talk about the anomalies at another time. However, he restrained himself, wanting to respect whatever way Armando chose to navigate this situation.
“Mr. Medina, are you in pain?” Dr. Han asked.
“No, I just… Please continue.” Armando reached for the nearby glass of water and drank it, the cool liquid soothing him. “I need to know more.”
“This morning, when we tried our imaging techniques on you, we were unsuccessful,” Dr. Han reminded him. “Each of the three machines we used malfunctioned. For some reason, your body just does not want us to know what is really happening. You remain quite fascinating.”
“She said I’m ‘fascinating’,” Armando called out to Izdahl, trying to lighten the mood. “Did you hear that?”
“Stop it,” Izdahl admonished him. “This is serious, Armando…”
Armando had made the joke because he was now fearful. He’d wanted to hear Izdahl laugh, instead of seeing his lover’s face reflect the unease he felt. His heart now heavy with worry, he focused again on the discussion.
“I don’t know what to say,” he told his doctor. “I’m not aware of having a shield fragment. I was tested twice as a child.”
“Yes. I saw that in your records. That’s quite rare. What’s even more alarming is that we couldn’t access anything. I only received a notice saying you’d been analyzed twice and that an Alpha 1 clearance was required to find out more. A Kelcho must provide us full access to your information. As you are from a territory controlled by the Amasis, only Kelcho Xersa can decide who gets permission to know your full medical background. I have been denied.”
Armando looked at Izdahl to see if he had any further answers. Izdahl shook his head. Even if he had known, he wouldn’t have discussed the matter there. He still felt that it would be best to have any candid conversations when they were at home.
“At any rate, Mr. Medina, please remain here for at least a few more days,” Dr. Han continued.
“He will,” Izdahl assured Dr Han.
“Well, I see that someone didn’t change,” Armando joked.
Izdahl rubbed his neck, embarrassed at his action, though it had been filled with care.
“Sorry,” he murmured.
Armando grinned and Izdahl’s insides warmed. He realized just how much he’d missed even that small gesture of his lover.
Armando was dreaming again. This time, he was walking towards the cliff of the old Ymir Briger. The statue of Zaitis was reassembled and stood firmly placed on its original location. A figure was casually leaning against it. When Armando arrived at the statue, the figure appraised him calmly, then finally commented.
“Armando Medina, it appears that you will need me.” Zaitis said.
Xersa had summoned Izdahl. She’d put aside what she’d learned for long enough. While she knew Izdahl was still worried about if Armando had fully recovered, her concerns reached far beyond the two individuals. She had to tell Izdahl about the resonance ceremony, so that he could mentally and physically prepare himself.
As Izdahl sat across from his great-grandmother, he saw the strain in her eyes.
“I know that this is a difficult period for you,” Xersa began quietly. “Even putting it like that is an understatement. With that said, after evaluating the Resonance results three times, my staff has determined that two matches are especially strong for you. Since there is no one definitive match, you must be with both of them to find which one is best.”
“Everyone is aware that my lover was recently in a coma. The Shield Council truly expects me to go through with this ceremony? GG, tell me this isn’t so.”
“Izdahl, we all must do our part to protect the planet.” Xersa’s tone was understanding but firm, leaving no room for him to argue.
“Then, I will do what is expected of me…Who are my matches?”
Xersa provided Izdahl with a digital tablet containing information on his two matches, Matero Nolasca and Avila Nieri. Matero had sworn allegiance to the Shabota clan, while Avila was of the Vieri clan. She had also recently become the wife to the son of that clan’s Kelcho.
“The Resonance Ceremony is already difficult enough,” Izdahl grumbled. “Now I also have to be with someone who is a new bride? It says here that Avila and Lorne married last month. How are newlyweds going to handle something like this?”
“This process has always been quite a trial for couples. Once we learned the results, Kelcho Vieri and I had Avila and Lorne begin counseling. The news was unbearable for Lorne, as you and he do not have the best history.”
In their youth, Lorne and Izdahl had started to strongly dislike each other. That hadn’t changed over the years. Izdahl’s general impression of the Vieri clan was that the members were frivolous, preferring to make their fortunes providing entertainment, instead of being industrious, like the Amasi. In his more impetuous youth, he’d stated his beliefs out loud, to Lorne’s face, during a discussion on the power each clan had. The difference of opinion had occurred at a Gathering, when Lorne and his mother had attended the one in the Amasi territory, acting as ambassadors from the Nieri clan.
Izdahl’s arrogant words to Lorne had resulted in a fight. The following day, the two had faced each other in the Fire Sparring competition, the rivalry fueled by the previous night’s altercation. Izdahl had won, further building his reputation in the sparring arena. Even a decade later, he and Lorne had contempt for each other, the discord showing in their eyes and coating their words, whenever their paths managed to cross. Now, it would seem that their paths would intertwine more than they could ever want.
“At any rate,” Xersa continued, “Lorne does wish to speak with you.”
“No doubt to threaten me,” Izdahl commented drily.
“Perhaps,” she replied, laughing softly. “He is quite…spirited. I doubt he would take things too far. He only wants to look you in the eye, as you will be with his wife…Now, we have set up two appointments for you to meet each of your matches. As the Core Guardian in this arrangement, the ceremonies will be on your terms, as much as possible. You must complete both ceremonies by the end of this year.”
“That only gives me three months. There might still be repercussions from Armando’s coma. What if something happens to him? I don’t want to be in the middle of a ceremony when—”
“Izdahl, at times, we have great responsibilities to bear.”
“Do any of the other Core Guardians have the same circumstances?”
“Yes. Rius Markel has been quite adamant about criticizing our methods. He believes that we need to improve the techniques so we can completely match people at all times. He’s now on a mission to show the Shield Council our ‘deficiencies’.”
“I think I might have found a new friend,” Izdahl said, smiling.
Once again, he scanned the information about Matero and Avila.
“Are you thinking about your next steps?” Xersa asked.
“Yes. I need to talk to Armando as soon as possible.”
Since being a Core Guardian had made Izdahl into a celebrity, he was worried that news of his matches might reach Armando before they could have a conversation.