Dagmar planned to make a blood replica of Armando. With enough blood and the correct spell, one could craft a miniature version of a person. The replica could be used to bend the person to his/her will. As a result, this type of spell was forbidden throughout the entire planet.
The blood replica enchantment had come into existence almost 200 years ago. Ulzak Pekar, who’d carried a fragment, had gone mad. Kyozu Samant, his lover of five years, had ended their relationship, unable to handle the changes the fragment had caused in Ulzak. Ulzak’s anguish, which had been amplified by the fragment, raged out of control.
Adept at crafting and wielding all manner of spells, Ulzak had created one of the most destructive curses anyone had ever had the misfortune to invent or witness. Over a period of two years, he’d secretly engineered several accidents that severely injured his ex-lover. He’d been able to collect enough blood, using it to make a sentient version of his ex-lover. Imbuing it with his malice, he’d controlled that replica and, by extension, his intended target. He’d forced Kyozu to kill his new lover.
When Ulzak’s ability had finally been discovered, those drawn to his dark powers committed the same acts, getting revenge on various individuals. Ulzak, and those who chose to follow him, had been either executed or imprisoned for life, depending on the severity of their crimes.
The Nitelge enforcing the punishment on Ulzak and the others who used the spell had also done away with the replicas. The tribunal which had passed judgment had learned that the main weakness of the spell was that the blood replicas depended on the proximity of their creators for their strength. Separated far away from their creators for more than three months, the replicas had wasted away, becoming dust and freeing those they controlled from their hold.
After punishment was handed out, the tribunal had also banned the use of the blood replica enchantment. The members had hoped that no one would attempt what Ulzak had. And, for almost 200 years, that had been the case.
Now, the capacity of the spell to help Dagmar achieve his objective was too much for the Kelcho to resist. He was in possession of Armando’s blood that Rasmus had gathered in the woods. He’d also managed to acquire some of the vials of blood the hospital had collected while the architect had been hospitalized. He’d kept the liquid in a special container, one which had been enchanted. Periodically, he’d take out the container, watching the liquid glimmer in the light as he thought of his end goal. Soon, very soon, he’d be able to put it to use. He’d only need to wait another month, until he could make the replica.
Dagmar had not only resurrected the spell, he’d also found a way to make it even stronger. He’d paid Rasmus a small fortune to collect several of Ulzak’s possessions; his skull and his spell book. Dagmar had crushed all of these items into dust, sprinkling them into the blood.
Fueling the blood with items that were drenched in the malice of the spell’s creator was an inspired technique. Dagmar was quite proud of himself.
If Armando was indeed capable of what he believed the architect could do, the Kelcho would use him to wipe out the Amasis and their allies. The power of what he thought Armando carried within him would help clear the way for the Havads to be in control again. It was time for a change in leadership.
“I can’t believe we’re here!” Izdahl said.
Armando grinned when he saw him flop down on the bed. It didn’t appear that his lover planned on moving anytime soon. They’d just brought their luggage into their bedroom. The two were starting their vacation on Naktun Island with Syrik and Kiana. Vadem Shabota had let them use one of his family’s villas, which was located on a private beach.
The architect opened one of several windows, letting the sounds of the island and the smell of the ocean filter through their spacious room. It would take less than five minutes to walk from the house to the beach. He intended to make that trip frequently.
“It’s good to be a little spoiled,” Armando said, as he enjoyed the view.
“Indeed,” Izdahl murmured, as he nestled his face into a pillow. He smiled as he thought about how he planned to roll around with Armando in the massive bed. However, at the moment, he needed to recharge. It had been an especially grueling two months, his days had been occupied with handling one of the most complex projects Amasi Inc. had ever undertaken. The corporation was looking to buy another company that had subsidiaries across the planet. It was Izdahl’s responsibility to make sure the purchase was managed effectively and efficiently. He’d never been put in charge of a project of this magnitude; he knew his father had given him quite the challenge. He didn’t realize how tense he’d been for the past few months, until he was able to come to the island, to be away from the demands of his work, if only for a week. Even a 15-minute nap would be incredibly rejuvenating.
“Love, are you truly going to sleep right now?” Armando asked. He was eager to explore the island. Izdahl had piqued his interest about a cave where lovers ventured. However, now there Izdahl lay, showing no signs of exploring anything, let alone a cave.
“It’s just a nap,” Izdahl assured Armando, his tone heavy with fatigue.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Syrik shouted, as he entered their room. He cheerfully bounced onto the bed, destroying any chance of his brother resting.
Kiana, who’d witnessed the brotherly assault, chuckled at her husband’s antics. She laughed loudly when Izdahl grunted in frustration and then clobbered his sibling with a pillow. He knew Syrik was already well aware of why he was so tired.
“Apparently we’re going to need some ground rules,” Syrik replied drily, as he adjusted his hair and clothing. “First, no bashing me in the head with pillows. Second, Izdahl and Armando have to either make or pay for all of our food this entire week.”
“I’ll race you for it,” Izdahl challenged, suddenly wide awake.
“What just happened?” Armando asked.
He was slightly surprised by how a competition had suddenly sprung up, especially one where he might be partially responsible for that week’s meals. Ten minutes later, he and Kiana were being treated to a spectacle on the beach.
As Izdahl had done many times during his childhood, he sprinted across the black sands of the island. He laughed as he raced against Syrik, trying to outpace his brother. When Izdahl passed the agreed upon goal, Syrik cursed, knowing that he’d lost.
“You cheated somehow,” Syrik complained. He narrowed his eyes, as if squinting would help him determine how Izdahl had gained an advantage.
“I did not,” Izdahl responded.
“You must have. It’s the first time you’ve beaten me, even though I gave my all.” Syrik continued to scrutinize Izdahl. Then, he nodded knowingly. “That’s it. That explains it all.”
“What do you mean?” Izdahl shook his head and laughed, once he realized what Syrik’s train of thought was. “You can’t blame the fragment. I didn’t pull any power from it, as I promised I wouldn’t.”
“I’m still not sure about you,” Syrik grumbled. “You’re not like any of the other carriers.”
Syrik had voiced something that Izdahl had learned during the past month. He wasn’t like all of the other carriers. Unlike them, he was beginning to learn how to manage the power of the fragment. Other carriers were at the mercy of the fragments, dealing with unpredictable upheavals in their lives caused by their emotions.
“I forgive you for accusing me of cheating and I’ll give you a chance to redeem yourself,” Izdahl offered. “How about a rematch?”
Syrik agreed. He and Izdahl ran back to where Armando and Kiana had waited, as they’d watched the friendly rivalry.
“You really should be classier about losing,” Armando teased Syrik.
“Oh yeah. Well, you really should avoid bouncing off cliffs!” Syrik jabbed.
He laughed loud and hard, holding his stomach. Kiana punched him in his arm, only making him laugh more. Everyone looked at him, shaking their heads.
“Syrik, that was quite cruel,” Kiana scolded him.
“I know babe , but he deserved it.”
Izdahl squeezed Armando’s hand to quiet the fiery reply he knew his lover wanted to say.
“You’ll only encourage him to do something worse,” Izdahl cautioned.
“Go ahead,” Syrik goaded Armando.
“Syrik!” Kiana complained.
Syrik wrapped his arms around her, kissed her and then rubbed his sweaty face against her cheek.
“You know how irreverent I am, sometimes,” he reminded her. “I momentarily forgot how worried everyone was about him. Even me…I was wondering if we’d lose one of our babysitters. Nyrese actually seems to like him.”
“Do you not know when to stop?” Kiana demanded. She flicked her husband on his ear.
Though Syrik and Kiana were to handle all of the meals, Izdahl had given them a reprieve for that night. He’d wanted very much to make dimyeh. The dish consisted of the delectable ocean life surrounding the island served with rice and vegetables from three of the most fertile areas in the Shabota territories. Izdahl first had the dish as a child, when he’d been on vacation with Vadem and his family. He wanted his lover to enjoy one of his favorite meals.
While chatting with Kiana, Armando and Syrik, Izdahl kept an eye on the food. He’d been meticulous in his preparation, even going so far as warning everyone to stay away from the dish, in case they ruined it. Unable to resist teasing his lover, Armando had slightly tampered with the food while Izdahl was setting the table.
“I heard you talk so much about it that I couldn’t wait,” Armando admitted. “I tried some. It needed a little seasoning.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you correctly,” Izdahl responded. “Did you really put more seasoning in there?”
“I…” Armando’s voice trailed off at the seriousness in his lover’s voice. “Um, yes. I won’t lie.”
“Don’t touch the food, when I’m cooking,” Izdahl told him emphatically. “You should know that by now.”
“But Izdahl, I—”
“I’m particular about a few dishes. This is one of them.”
“Alright, I get it!”
Annoyed, Armando snapped up a nearby bright red elra pepper and slid it into his mouth, biting into it viciously.
“You shouldn’t eat the raw, un-soaked ones,” Izdahl informed him, as he made salad. “They’re too bitter and extremely spicy, unless they’ve been submerged in water for at least six hours.”
“I’m sure I can handle it,” Armando grumbled.
“Alright, have this large one,” Izdahl challenged, offering him another. “Take a big bite. Let the juices fill your mouth and swallow the seeds.”
Armando did. The defiant expression was threatening to fade, as his right eye began to twitch and his lips trembled. He felt as if his throat, lungs and intestines were melting.
“Understand now?” Izdahl asked.
“It tastes fine,” Armando squeezed out.
To the contrary, the pepper was incredibly bitter and much spicier than anything he had ever tasted. He wanted to spit it out and sooth his insides with the coldest liquid in existence. But he didn’t want to give Izdahl the satisfaction of seeing him panic. When Izdahl turned away to add more vegetables to the stew, Armando gripped his throat. He tried but failed to stifle a gasp of pain, as tears slipped out of his eyes.
“You like it?” Izdahl asked drily, as he stirred the food. “Feel free to have more.”
“No,” Armando said quickly. “I’d um, like to savor this one first.”
Izdahl shook his head at Armando.
“Stop making an ass of yourself. Spit it out. Now. Next time, listen to me. You don’t handle spices well. Your clothes couldn’t even stand up to the elra.”
Armando laughed, remembering when he’d first cooked with Izdahl.
“Nothing could get out those stains. I had to throw away that shirt.”
“Well, now you know what the pepper can do when you eat it raw.”
“I’d like to eat you raw,” Armando teased, squeezing his rear.
Izdahl, who’d began slicing a few more vegetables, almost cut himself.
“Get out of the kitchen,” he ordered, laughing. “Tell Kiana and Syrik that dinner is almost ready.”
“Yes, my master,” Armando responded, grinning cheekily.
“Mind if I join you?” Izdahl asked Kiana.
He’d hoped he’d be spending some private time with Armando. However, after dinner, his lover had wanted to disappear, explaining that he wanted to explore the beach…alone. When Izdahl had learned from Syrik that Kiana had made a similar request, he became curious. He was reluctant to disturb his sister-in-law but he was worried about Armando.
“Sit with me,” she invited him. “I’ve been brooding for too long anyway. Your timing is actually perfect. I’ve wanted to discuss something with you for a while.”
Izdahl settled next to her.
“It seems that my brother and I have always had some connection to Nitelge,” Kiana began. “Mother and Father never really went into the details but I knew the relationship with your family was unique. Yes, we played together as children and later grew apart, once my parents died. However, I know there’s more. I’ve tried to talk with Xersa about this a few times but she always finds a way to avoid giving me answers.”
“What do you think the connection is?”
Kiana was unsure how to express what she thought. She just knew it was necessary to keep asking questions about her family. She still felt there were too many mysteries surrounding the loss of her parents. A few weeks ago, she had started looking at some of their belongings again; old letters, family photos, etc. She hadn’t even been sure about what she’d been looking for yet. She’d hoped she would see something that would trigger memories.
“What do you want to remember?” Izdahl asked.
Kiana curled her feet under her, as she traced swirling patterns on the sand. She bit her bottom lip, realizing that she was, once again, returning to the most damaging experience in her life. Izdahl waited patiently, until she haltingly started to explain.
“Well, mainly the attack,” she began. “After our parents were killed, Armando and I blocked out much of what happened. He saw the worst of it and for many years he had nightmares. It’s as if his dreams are constantly plagued in one form or another. At any rate, he and I have talked about that night several times. At first, he wouldn’t tell me what he remembered. He said that he didn’t want to burden me…Did he ever let you know what he experienced?”
“No. And, I haven’t asked because I don’t want to put him through that pain. I hope one day he’ll want to talk about it.”
“It isn’t easy to discuss,” Kiana assured him. “It wasn’t until a few months after I gave birth to Nyrese that I told Syrik what I could recall. I’d awoken from a nightmare where I was being torn away from Nyrese, like my parents were suddenly taken from me…By the way, is Armando still having those dreams?”
“He hasn’t said anything about them, since he spoke with Sunja,” Izdahl told her. “You know how he is though; he might just not be telling me. I try not to ask because I know how upsetting it is for him. I figure I’ve made my wishes clear and he’s already taking steps to get help.”
“Do you think Sunja will be able to make a difference?”
“Yes. Also, fortunately, she won’t just focus on his dreams. ”
Sunja had promised to examine the effects of the coma too. While Izdahl could respect doctors, they didn’t have the abilities of his great aunt. She would be able to reach the depths of Armando’s mind. During their bi-weekly meetings, she’d steadily been building trust with him.
Her concerns beginning to weight her down, Kiana shook her head and sighed.
“I’m really sorry, Izdahl. What a heavy conversation we’re having…”
“What made you think of these topics now, of all times?”
“The day before my parents were killed, we’d come back from a vacation at the beach…Listen, if Armando is sometimes kind of quiet during his trip, he’s going through the same pain as me. One of the best times of our lives happened right before the absolute worst time of our lives.”
“Thank you for telling me. I wish Syrik and I had known of this earlier. Maybe we would have picked another place.”
“I only told Syrik last night,” she admitted. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him sooner. He was so excited about bringing me here. It obviously holds special memories for him. I know he wants to create some here with me.”
She rested her head against Izdahl’s shoulder. They listened to the waves, as they watched the moon’s reflection on the water.
“I hope that I can give Armando some happy memories here too,” Izdahl murmured.
They were quiet for a while longer, letting the time pass as each became lost in thought.
Long after Syrik had called for Kiana to go to him, Armando still had not returned to the villa. Izdahl quieted the urge to go looking for him. It was early morning before Armando came back. He slipped into bed with Izdahl. His lover held him tightly, not asking any questions.
“Are you truly surprised at his reaction?” Rasmus asked Khalaf.
Khalaf had just finished telling Rasmus about the conversation he’d had with Izdahl and Armando. Rasmus shook his head in wonder at his younger brother’s naïveté.
“I felt it was best to let them know,” Khalaf murmured, as he looked at the time.
He and Rasmus were driving to Creflin Hall, the central meeting place for the Terada clan. It had been almost five years since the two had been there. He’d thought that the six hour drive provided a great opportunity to speak about what he had done, as well as to find out about what his brother’s current plans were.
Years ago, when Rasmus had mentioned his idea to Khalaf, it had all made sense. Khalaf had listened, enthralled as usual, by what his brother had shared. Rasmus had explained that the Teradas needed to align themselves wisely. He believed that another war between the families was simmering. Rasmus was betting that the Havads would ultimately triumph and he wanted to ingratiate himself with the side he expected to win. Now, Khalaf’s had serious doubts about Rasmus’ often expressed motive for the things they’d done.
“Ras, do you think that helping Dagmar will allow you to get Armando?” Khalaf finally asked.
“Don’t you worry about that.”
“Maybe you should focus on someone else.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Rasmus grumbled. “You’re fickle about relationships.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Khalaf, Viktor is your first serious relationship. I’m surprised you two have lasted this long. You usually just keep going from one person to the next.”
Khalaf was about to protest further, when he realized his brother was correct. Rasmus looked at him, an eyebrow raised, which dared him to protest. Rasmus was ready to list off a string of past dalliances. Some of those ex-lovers were still trying to rekindle their relationships.
“I know you’re usually the one giving me advice but you should find someone else,” Khalaf stated firmly. “Armando is Izdahl’s.”
“You talk too damn much,” Rasmus grumbled. “Just focus on driving.”
“Sorry, I’m just looking out for you.”
“I know,” Rasmus admitted, sighing. “But it doesn’t make your words easier to hear.”
“Why do you think you’re so fixated on Armando?”
“I haven’t quite figured that out.”
“I think I know how to help,” Khalaf said.
“What do you mean?” Rasmus asked, looking at his brother warily.
“Well, we haven’t been to one of these reunions in quite a while. Maybe you’ll meet someone there. There are some good prospects in our clan.”
“Says the one dating a human.’
“I had no intentions of being with Viktor,” Khalaf defended himself. “You know he was only supposed to be a means to an end.”
“Well, things don’t always working out like we planned.”