For decades, Armando had suspected that there were many pieces of his life that
others had hidden from him, intentionally or not. Now, he was at least going to get some of the answers he’d wanted for so long.
“You had a very happy childhood Armando,” Xersa began. “You were well-loved and, usually, well behaved. Up until the point your parents died, very few things brought a frown to your face. You remind me so much of your mother. Your father was a happy individual too. However, Olivia just cultivated happiness. She simply embodied the word. To see you change into someone who could have such hatred in your heart was saddening, painful and bewildering. It was the complete opposite of how your parents would want you to act.”
Armando thought back to those decades when he’d despised Nitelge. He regretted his actions, especially in regard to Izdahl. He marveled at Izdahl’s steadfast interest in him, despite how cold and dismissive he’d been. He felt remorse about how much time he’d wasted, missing out on many opportunities to begin a fulfilling life with Izdahl.
Xersa read the expression on his face and reached out to squeeze his hand.
“I’m not saying these things to make you feel negative about yourself,” she assured him. “It’s understandable why you were so angry. I’m just amazed at how much you’ve changed. I’m proud of you and I know your parents would be too.”
“Thank you, Xersa,” Armando murmured, his tone subdued.
“So, then, let’s get to one of the most important matters.”
Xersa reminded Armando that every living being possessed spiritual energy, which was harnessed to strengthen the Shield. Some individuals were especially strong in this regard; though most humans were not as resilient as Nitelge. The Nitelge and humans were able to use this energy to protect their world from the Basheil.
“When we had you tested for the strength of your spiritual energy, our machines couldn’t handle the calculations,” Xersa told him. “We completed the process with you twice, using different systems each time. We wanted to make sure our data was correct. We received the matching results. When we looked at your charts, we realized that your strength, and aura, was almost identical to that of Zaitis.”
“But how could that happen?” Armando asked.
Xersa explained that at times two beings could have almost exactly the same spiritual frequency. It could happen for numerous reasons; created from a deep sustaining love, having the same mentality, or a host of other causes, some of which researchers were still trying to understand. The Nitelge hadn’t been able to figure out why but Armando and Zaitis had virtually the same spiritual chart.
“Before I tell you how this directly affects you, it’s important for you to have a historical perspective,” Xersa said.
She spoke of what had happened after the Nitelge had driven the Basheil off the planet. At his request, Zaitis was put in stasis so that his energy could help power the newly designed Shield, which was still not functioning at the intended capacity. At rest, his energy was concentrated, accounting for 20% of the Shield’s strength.
After Zaitis was put into stasis, the seven Nitelge clans began to feud about their next steps over the course of 25 years. The Amasis, the Markels and the Ziyads were in agreement about having Zaitis in stasis. The Nieris and Shabotas were only concerned about rebuilding their territories. Overall, they’d sustained the most damage from the battles with the Basheil. The Havads and Teradas wanted to awaken the Kelcho. They were in favor of having him lead an attack against the Basheil. However, his wish had not been for this to happen, as he did not believe it was the right time. Through much political maneuvering, the Amasis became his protectors.
One fact few individuals knew was that with Zaitis was his lover, Sabira Vign. She was the daughter of a Basheil high-ranking officer; her father had overseen the occupation of several of the Nitelge territories. Zaitis, as the leader of the rebellion, had come to the attention of Sabira. She had fallen in love with him and devised ways to meet him in secrecy. As she hadn’t been in favor of the war, she’d let Zaitis know about a main physiological weakness of the Basheil. The Basheil had yet to figure out how to counteract that disadvantage.
The limitation was as a result of the Basheil being separated from the Nitelge; the two groups had evolved in different ways on their respective planets. The atmosphere of the Nitelge’s planet could be modified to make it difficult for the Basheil to function. They knew of this issue and had prepared special clothing and a breathing apparatus to counteract being on the Nitelge’s planet. However, the technological advancement Sabira shared with Zaitis was used to drain some of the Basheil’s strength, though they still remained a formidable foe. Fortune, thus far, had smiled upon the Nitelge but the Kelchos knew they couldn’t strictly depend on that.
Learning all of this information created a maze of questions and concerns for Armando. He didn’t know what to believe.
“This must all be some elaborate joke!” he exclaimed, his frustration getting the best of him. “Why are you doing this? Nothing that you’re saying is like what Dagmar told me. Zaitis was forced into stasis; the other Kelchos felt he was too much like the Basheil. They were threatened by him. Zaitis actually wanted to chase after the Basheil and get rid of them. Dagmar told me that the clans wanted to stop him. They were just unable to kill him because he was too powerful; they could only imprison him.”
Xersa laughed out loud, shaking her head at the duplicitous nature of the other Kelcho. He’d been quite bold to try to manipulate someone under her protection. She would have to directly address him in the near future. However, for the time being, she would inform Armando of the truth, so that he would no longer be unaware.
“Obviously, I was right to be concerned about Dagmar’s plans,” Xersa began. “He has resorted to telling some horrible lies. We didn’t have the resources to go after the Basheil. It took us over 100 years to seriously begin to recover from the war! Even as critically wounded as the Basheil were, we were also struggling. Plus, everyone had to adjust to giving up some strength to power the Shield! Most of us don’t think twice about it now because we’ve created so many foods and supplements to offset the effects. That’s the result of over 200 years of innovation. We were in no shape to launch a counterattack back then. We barely drove the Basheil off our planet and much of the credit goes to Sabira.”
“So what is my role in all of this?” Armando demanded.
“In order to fulfill the wishes of Zaitis, my clan created a cryptic way to hide his location. The key to this location has been transferred from a few Nitelge and humans over the years. The key now resides within you Armando.”
“Where exactly inside me is this key?” he asked, alarm rising in him.
“It’s in your bloodstream. It’s a small but incredibly potent orb that continuously travels through your body. It is made of blood from Zaitis. I know that as a result of your accident and your coma, some of the doctors in Dagmar’s territory found two blood types within you. And even before that, Rasmus had collected your blood.”
Armando thought about the implications.
“All of that was aimed at finding out if I carried the orb?”
“Well, Dagmar is dangerously close to the truth…”
Xersa was providing Armando with the information that Dagmar sought. As the Head Kelcho, she could make the final decision about who would receive the key. The faction in support of awakening Zaitis had believed Xersa would have chosen Olivia, as she had been like a daughter to Xersa. However, after seeing the results from Armando’s childhood tests, Xersa had devised a way to outwit those eager to awaken Zaitis.
“I can’t pretend to understand all of this,” Armando admitted, shaking his head. He stood and paced behind his chair.
Xersa studied him carefully, seeing the strain the knowledge caused him. She explained that the true records of all that had transpired were restricted. There had been much speculation but ultimately few were allowed to know the actual events. She was only providing Armando with the information because he was at the center of the situation.
“There is much more for me to tell you,” Xersa said. “However, I believe this is enough for the time being.”
“Does Izdahl know any of what you’ve told me?” Armando asked.
“No. Do you wish to tell him?”
“I couldn’t keep it from him.”
“That’s perfectly understandable.”
“I won’t tell him right away though. I need some time to get a grasp on what all of this means.”
“I realize it must be quite draining,” Xersa sympathized. “We’ll continue this conversation at another time. You’ve been through so much this year.”
“Well, never could I imagine anything like this,” Armando admitted.
“Viktor and Khalaf will be here soon,” Izdahl informed Armando. “You said you’d be home by now.”
With their schedules having become more reasonable, Izdahl and Armando were now able to have the conversation with Viktor and Khalaf. The four were supposed to meet that evening. However, Armando was late, further annoying Izdahl, who had already been highly agitated. He believed the purpose of the discussion was to relay information he would not like.
“I know, I know,” Armando responded. “I just have to make a few more changes to these drafts.”
“Armando, leave that for tomorrow. You’re the one who set up the meeting time. Aren’t you ever going to come?”
“Relax,” Armando soothed. “I’ll be there well before they arrive. Besides, whatever they have to tell us probably isn’t horrible like you think.”
An hour later, when Viktor and Khalaf had completed the goal of their visit, Armando had a different impression of the situation. He hadn’t expected any of what the two had to say. Khalaf, with Viktor by his side for support, had explained his role in helping Dagmar spy on Armando and Izdahl.
“Clearly Armando, you are not psychic,” Izdahl told him drily. He looked at his lover with a raised eyebrow. “Not as horrible as I think, huh?”
Armando could hear the rising fury in his lover’s voice. He put one gently restraining hand on his lover’s arm, reminding him of his earlier promise to not do anything extreme.
“I’m no longer doing any of what I mentioned,” Khalaf assured them. “I swear.”
“And what about Rasmus?” Izdahl demanded.
“He has some issues to resolve but he is of the same mindset,” Khalaf explained.
“Then why isn’t he also here confessing?” Izdahl shouted. “Where is your gutless wonder of a brother?”
“Don’t talk that way about him!” Khalaf shouted back.
Even as fearful as he felt around Izdahl, he was able to muster the courage to defend his sibling. He hadn’t expected the conversation to go smoothly. However, he’d hoped there wouldn’t be such a toxic atmosphere. Perhaps Rasmus had been right; he might have been naïve to belief there would be any appreciation of telling the truth.
“My left hand is itching,” Izdahl informed Khalaf, his tone cold. “That means I’m close to punching you in your mouth.”
“Izdahl, relax,” Armando chided.
“How can you tell me that?” Izdahl looked at the architect, with an incredulous expression on his face.
“He’s being honest with us.”
“So? Why should that mean that I can’t throttle him?” Izdahl demanded. “He and his brother played games with our lives. Who knows what the repercussions are?”
“Izdahl, please try to understand that—”
“Don’t speak to me,” Izdahl interrupted Viktor. “You’re part of the problem. You couldn’t even tell Khalaf was disguised as Leila. Is your cock so in control that you can’t—”
“Excuse us,” Armando said. “We’ll be right back.”
Armando motioned for Izdahl to follow him into the kitchen. His lover did his bidding but not before fixing Khalaf and Viktor with another glare.
“What is it?” Izdahl asked, when the two were in private.
“I don’t like how you’re acting,” Armando told him, candidly.
“I’m not doing anything, besides trying to get answers,” Izdahl protested.
“Really?” Armando asked, laughing. “Well, you might need to work on your technique. The way you’re going about things doesn’t make any sense. Threatening Khalaf won’t help the situation. He’s already intimidated by you—”
“I doubt your attitude is making this any easier for him,” Armando continued.
“I’m not interested in how easy this is for him,” Izdahl said, his voice beginning to rise.
“Could you please calm your ass down?” Armando requested. His sudden annoyance only made Izdahl laugh and tease him.
“Or what ‘Mando? What are you going to do, if I don’t calm my ass down?”
“Look, I don’t want to be the only one acting like an adult here.”
“Oh, so now I’m immature?”
“You know what, stay in the kitchen. I’ll handle this.”
“You’re not going to put me in some kind of time out,” Izdahl huffed. “That’s insulting.”
“Then stop being a pain!”
“I’m not going to just forgive them because Khalaf chose to confess,” Izdahl told him. “Besides, as he explained, his mother demanded that he do so. His mother actually has a conscience, even after decades of being married to a Terada.”
“Izdahl…” Armando pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. Then he gave his lover a warning look. “I’d really like for you to maintain your composure here. If you antagonize Khalaf, he’s not going to be helpful.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Rasmus is who we need to talk to about all of this. Depending on how we act with Khalaf, we might never get a chance to find out more about what happened.”
“Oh yes, Rasmus…He’s the one who really needs to answer for what he’s done.”
While Izdahl and Armando had their discussion in the kitchen, Viktor tried to minimize Khalaf’s concern.
“What do you think is happening?” Khalaf asked Viktor.
“Armando is probably trying to reason with Izdahl,” Viktor explained. “I’m sure he’ll keep Izdahl from doing anything extreme.”
“Extreme?” Khalaf looked a bit alarmed. “You mean like coming out here and killing me?”
“Um, let’s have happy thoughts, Khal,” Viktor encouraged his lover. “You’ve taken a big step here and you came into Izdahl’s territory to do it.”
“Then why do I feel that I’ve made one of the largest mistakes in my life?”
“You have. You and Rasmus made a poor choice. However, now it’s all about damage control.”
Assured that Izdahl would restrain himself for the rest of the conversation, Armando led him back to the living room.
“You and Rasmus should have never agreed to deal with Dagmar,” Izdahl stated. “Make no mistake, Khalaf, depending on what you’ve set into motion, there will be a heavy price to pay.”
Apparently, the conversation in the kitchen had not totally gotten through to Izdahl. Even as well as Armando knew him, he was surprised by the merciless coldness in his voice. There wasn’t much else for Khalaf and Viktor to say, after Izdahl’s comment. The two left, wondering if they had accomplished much of anything.
Late into the night, Izdahl was awake in bed, his mind racing with a series of negative possibilities.
“Izdahl, you have to get some rest,” Armando said, pulling him closer.
“I can’t and I’m surprised you’re not concerned.”
“I am but I’m trying to keep things in perspective.”
“Keep this in perspective,” Izdahl told Armando. “Now more than ever, it’s important that you see Sunja. She’ll be able to tell us if Khalaf and Rasmus have done something to tamper with you internally. No more avoidance, Armando. Understand?”
“Yes, love,” Armando responded. It was the only remark he found he could make, as Izdahl had clearly closed the door on any more arguing about the matter.
Izdahl and Armando were towards the end of the two-hour drive to where Sunja Ziyad was staying. Izdahl’s great-aunt was considered to be one of the most skilled individuals at acquiring and processing spiritual information. The most difficult situations were referred to her; for the past fifty years, she had proven herself capable of deciphering what many others could not.
Normally, she remained in Mabina, the primary Ziyad territory. She’d focused on honing her powers, often meditating for hours in the mountains. However, at the request of Hadil and Xersa, Sunja had come to see what was happening with Armando. She was relaxing at a house owned by the Amasi family. It was in a secluded area, near a lake where she liked to stroll. She would walk slowly, processing the stream of spiritual information she’d gathered, searching for patterns out of pieces many would find inscrutable.
Currently, she was waiting for Izdahl and Armando to arrive. She felt especially eager to meet with Armando, believing it would be fascinating to see him after several decades. She already knew that Armando was incredibly reluctant to have anyone analyze him. She realized that he’d have his barriers up, making it that much more challenging to find the source of what was plaguing him. The unique burden he’d been carrying since his boyhood might be the least of his troubles.
When Izdahl pulled into the driveway, Sunja was tapping her foot impatiently.
“Finally, you’re here,” she said, going to greet him and Armando.
She took Armando’s hands in hers, affectionately squeezing them. Armando felt a warmth flow through him, as the Nitelge read his spiritual vital signs.
“Oh, we indeed have much to sort out,” Sunja stated firmly. “I can feel the confusion inside of you. It might be more complicated than Xersa and Izdahl mentioned.”
“That’s only because he let things go on for so long,” Izdahl said, giving Armando a pointed look.
“I was not speaking to you Izdahl,” his great-aunt told him.
Izdahl only shrugged and blew her a kiss, used to his relative’s brusque mannerisms. Armando stifled a laugh at the withering look Izdahl received from her.
“Armando, do I cause you to feel fear?” Sunja asked, turning her attention back to the architect.
“No,” Armando replied. “I suppose not.”
“Then why did it take you so long to come to me? Why have you been letting yourself be tormented?”
“He’s stubborn,” Izdahl answered. “You’d know all about that, don’t you?”
“Again, I wasn’t speaking to you,” Sunja informed her great-nephew. “You can leave now.”
“Yes, Auntie,” Izdahl said, taking the cue that he’d overstayed his welcome. He kissed her on her cheek and she smiled, despite her attempts to be stern with him.
“I guess I’ll see you in a little while,” Armando told him, laughing.
“Actually, you won’t,” Sunja stated.
The slight comfort that Armando had begun to feel around Sunja completely disappeared.
“You’ll be here for the rest of the day. I have much work to do,” Sunja informed. “I don’t think you understand just how complicated this is.”
Armando looked at Izdahl, the anxiety in his eyes showing. A similar look of apprehension was reflected in his lover’s face.
“Just stay,” Izdahl told him quietly. “It will be fine.”
“Clearly, you were both expecting a quick conversation,” Sunja said. “I assure you, it’s well past that point. Izdahl, I want you to leave, as you will only be a distraction for Armando. Besides, you can’t stay here. You have your own challenges to handle.”
Izdahl frowned, wishing she had not voiced her last words. This afternoon, he was to have his first Resonance Ceremony with Avila Nieri.
“Avila and I might not even be compatible,” Izdahl told Armando, who looked pained at the reminder. Wanting a private moment with Armando before departing, he stared expectantly at Sunja, until she took the hint.
“You act as if your love is as strong as what Zaitis and Sabira have,” she teased, as she walked away. “You two haven’t truly been tested yet.”