After he’d awakened from another nightmare, Armando had slipped out of bed and gone to the balcony. As he stood and looked out over the water, his mind was racing. He was trying to understand his dream. It had been the same one where Izdahl had died. Though he could not see the direct cause of his lover’s death, he realized new details about the situation.
In the dream, as Izdahl had fallen to the ground, life had faded out of his eyes. He’d been surrounded by four figures. All of them had been pressing him down, as if to make sure they squeezed all of the vitality from him. Armando could not identify three of the figures, which bothered him, as he believed they were responsible for Izdahl’s death. However, the most disturbing image for the architect was that he’d been the fourth one. He didn’t understand how it was possible for him to participate in killing his lover.
When he’d last spoken to Sunja, Armando had promised that he’d tell Izdahl about his dream. Still, that was before these new scenes. How could he now admit all of what was in his head?
Armando heard footsteps and a hand gently touched his back. He already knew who was behind him. Internally he flinched, wondering if Izdahl would see the guilt in his eyes, if he turned to face him.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Izdahl asked.
“No,” Armando admitted.
“Tell me what you need,” Izdahl said quietly. “Do you want me to stay out here with you?”
“Yes, I’d like that.” Armando still avoided Izdahl’s eyes.
Izdahl stood next to Armando, noting that his partner didn’t turn to look at him. Deciding not to comment on it, he stared up at the stars.
In his culture, one could view the stars and make wishes. He hadn’t done that in over a decade. Now, he felt the strong urge to do so and begged the objects in the sky for answers.
“Did you sleep with Avila?” Armando asked. Another pressing matter on his mind had finally escaped his mouth.
“No,” Izdahl answered. He’d been wondering when Armando would bring up the Resonance Ceremony with Avila. “But please remember that it might still happen.”
“I can’t help hoping you’re not compatible with her, or with anyone else. I know this is all very important but that doesn’t make it easier.”
“All you need to focus on is how much you mean to me.”
“Even if you have to be with someone else?”
“Especially then,” Izdahl replied.
Armando turned to face him, deciding that there was something else he wanted to discuss. While he wasn’t prepared to tell Izdahl about the entire dream, he’d decided to at least impress upon him the importance of it.
“Izdahl, I want to tell you more about my most recent dream.”
“Well you’re just jumping from one major topic to another now, aren’t you?” Izdahl teased. “I’ll do my best to keep the pace.”
“I’m sorry. I just have so much on my mind. This is a vacation but some things I couldn’t leave back home.”
“I understand. Tell me everything. “
“The dream keeps expanding. The worst part is that Izdahl…you die.”
Hearing that alarmed Izdahl but outwardly, he tried to be calm.
“Don’t enter next year’s Tournament, especially for the Talso Nakra Hein,” Armando begged. “Go to The Gathering but don’t enter that competition, please.”
The Talso Nakra Hein, or Elite Fire Sparring, was for tournament participants whose fragments had activated. Their power was too much for the usual contestants. Every five years, a special version of the tournament was held for them.
“I don’t believe in living a life filled with fear, Armando,” Izdahl stated, after carefully considering what to say.
“But you believe in living, don’t you?” his lover countered.
“Do I die while fighting in the tournament?”
“No but right afterwards, you do. It’s connected to that. The details are hazy, Izdahl. The competition means a lot to you but…”
Armando’s voice trailed off when Izdahl moved away from him and went to lean against the balcony wall. With his arms crossed, he faced Armando, the displeasure clear. There was a tense downward turn at the edges of his mouth and his eyes had gone a darker shade.
This year’s Gathering would be Izdahl’s first opportunity to participate as one of the Elite sparring with fire. It was a fantastic event, easily the most popular one, whenever it occurred. The contest was more aggressive than the normal fire sparring. Whenever Izdahl had seen the Elite, he’d hoped to be one of them someday. Now, when he was given the first chance to partake, Armando was asking him to forfeit it. It was possible that the architect would never want him to be part of it.
Armando saw the pained expression on his lover’s face.
“Maybe I overreacted,” Armando began. He started to go to Izdahl. However, he stopped, seeing that closing the distance would not be welcomed. “I’ll talk with Sunja some more. She can help me figure out what the dream means. I…I could be wrong.” Armando wondered what else he should say to get a response out of Izdahl. His lover was completely silent and had turned away from him.
Izdahl was gripping the balcony, feeling anger begin to rise in him.
“It’s not that I don’t value your concern,” he finally clipped out. “But you can’t just go making predictions like that!”
Armando was surprised by the forcefulness of his words.
“Izdahl, I didn’t mean to…” Armando walked over to him, searching his face. “Wait. Why should I have to apologize for caring about you?”
“Don’t you try to twist this! I’m furious that you would say something like that and not even be sure! It’s irresponsible. We probably would have had more answers by now—about everything going on with you—if you would have spoken to Sunja much earlier. And how long have you been having this latest dream anyway?”
“About a month,” Armando murmured.
“Oh, so it’s not that new!” Izdahl exploded. “Why did you wait so long to tell me?”
Izdahl could see that things were getting out of control. He knew that it was reasonable for him to be upset but he thought that the level of anger he was feeling was out of proportion to the circumstances. Yes, Armando’s dream worried him. Of course, he was incredibly eager to participate in the tournament. Definitely, he’d reconsider, given what Armando had told him. Naturally, he was furious that he wasn’t told this earlier. Still. The rising tide of fury was already too high. He was now changing into his second Nitelge form, his cuspids lengthening.
He gripped the cement railing again, as he fought for control. Part of the balcony began to crumble from the pressure of Izdahl squeezing it.
Armando and Izdahl finally noticed that their disagreement had attracted an audience. Syrik and Kiana were staring up at them from the level below. The two had just returned from an early morning swim.
“You’d better calm down now!” Syrik shouted. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up. He realized his brother was barely keeping his power in check. He was concerned about the consequences, if his sibling should fail to restrain himself.
“I’m trying,” Izdahl gritted out, his voice now twice as deep. He sounded frustrated and slightly fearful.
Kiana suddenly gasped, her face contorting with severe pain. The pressure inside her began to build to a dangerous level. Her blood was violently throbbing in her head and the cause of it was Izdahl’s abilities. Kiana grabbed onto Syrik’s arm for support, as her eyes rolled back in her head. She gagged as she became nauseous and her nose started bleeding. Her husband began to change forms, his fists clinching as he was eager to strike his brother for hurting his wife. He looked back and forth between a trembling Kiana and his brother. He was reluctant to leave her, despite the pleasure he knew he’d feel from clobbering Izdahl.
“I’m warning you; you reign in yourself!” Syrik shouted.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Izdahl repeated, as he shook with the force of getting himself under control.
Suddenly, Kiana slumped against Syrik with relief. The pressure was gone. After releasing his wings, Syrik picked her up and flew to the balcony.
“When this vacation ends, you will go to the Resonance Center,” Syrik told Izdahl. “They need to take a look at you.” He was breathing heavily with the effort of containing his fury.
Izdahl recognized the amount of rage Syrik was holding back, having had a few damaging fights with him, when they were younger. It had been over ten years since Izdahl had felt that level of wrath from his sibling. He knew he’d be able to defend himself, and possible seriously injure Syrik, but he didn’t want things to escalate. There was no room for an argument. He was ashamed and embarrassed about what had happened. He looked down, seeing that chunks of the balcony had fallen at his feet; parts of it had also been crushed into dust. He couldn’t meet the eyes of anyone.
Armando had rushed to Kiana. She’d assured him she was alright. Syrik held her more tightly, the warning in his eyes causing Armando to back up a few steps.
“Don’t either of you follow us,” Syrik warned. “I’ll tend to her.”
He and Kiana hadn’t shared it with anyone else yet but they’d recently learned that she was pregnant with their second child. As a result, Syrik’s protective nature had increased. Kiana again murmured that she was now fine, trying to sooth him. He nodded that he understood but took her inside the house, wanting to verify that for himself.
When Armando started to protest, Izdahl put a hand on his arm.
“I want to see if she’s okay!” Armando insisted.
“Now’s not the time. He’s in protection mode.”
“Alright,” Armando said, reluctantly. “I’ll go check on her later,”
It was common knowledge that coming between a Nitelge and his/her mate often ended badly.
When Izdahl studied Armando’s face, he saw confusion in his lover’s eyes. During the entire event, the architect had looked back and forth between Izdahl and his sister, feeling helpless. He’d seen his lover cause her to suffer and he’d been unable to do anything. He’d also felt bewildered because he hadn’t experienced the same reaction. He had not even flinched, though he’d been right next to Izdahl. There were now many more questions.
“I’m so sorry,” Izdahl told him. “These aren’t the kinds of memories I wanted to make here.”
He brushed past Armando to go into the house, hurrying to their bedroom. The architect followed him.
“Don’t avoid me,” Armando said. “What happened?”
“The fragment magnified my anger,” Izdahl explained.
He looked down at the floor, thinking back to a few years ago, when he’d been trying to start a relationship with Armando. He’d been so preoccupied with making sure he wouldn’t do anything that would cause Armando to fear him. Now, that anxiety was beginning to wind its way back into his heart.
“I’m going out for a while,” he announced.
“Why are you running from me?”
“Why would you want to be around me when I’m like this? I hurt your sister. I hurt you…” Izdahl voice trailed off. “Wait a minute, you didn’t react the same way as Kiana.”
“No, I didn’t. I knew something was happening but I didn’t feel any pain.”
“All humans would. I don’t understand.”
“It might be because of what I’m carrying.”
Armando had hoped that the conversation would happen under different circumstances.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s something else I recently learned about myself. But I think enough has happened for today. Why don’t we put off that discussion for a while?” He put his hands up when Izdahl started to disagree. “Just a short while.”
“I had plans to take you to the cave,” Izdahl admitted. “We can go tomorrow, enjoy ourselves and have that discussion.”
“I’d like that,” Armando told him.
He stretched and yawned, making Izdahl smile.
“We should get more rest.”
“Can we go back outside?” Armando asked. “I liked being with you on the balcony—well, before you became furious with me.” His light teasing lifted the mood even more.
“Yes, let’s do that,” Izdahl agreed. “There was a nice breeze coming in from the ocean.”
They returned outside and settled down in a nearby hammock, facing each other. Even though Izdahl was calm and lying next to Armando, the architect still felt some unrest. He wondered if his request for Izdahl to avoid the tournament had actually been an unreasonable one. Still, it was more important to him to do whatever he could to protect him.
“Are you thinking about what happened?” Izdahl asked.
“Yes. I really didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I know…” Izdahl murmured. “I have to admit, I’m surprised.”
“By how much this request of yours points out just how unfair you are.”
“What do you mean?”
“It took me so long to convince you to get help with your dreams. Then, in a matter of minutes, you talk me into skipping a very special tournament. Why do I have to fight this hard to get you to take care of yourself but then you can just quickly bend me to your will?”
“It’s really not funny,” Izdahl told him.
“I’m sorry love. I guess I’m just more convincing than you are.”
“Uh huh. Thanks a lot.”
Izdahl slowly set the hammock to rocking, holding Armando until he fell asleep again.
“What is the cave like?” Armando asked.
“Just follow me,” Izdahl said, smiling.
He was looking forward to showing Armando one of his favorite places. They’d driven about ten minutes from their home to a part of the island where the entrance to a cave was located. In front of it was a lagoon with clear, blue-green water.
Without any hesitation, Izdahl removed his clothes and threw them into their car.
“We won’t need that set of clothes,” he assured Armando.
Armando looked him up and down, and then did the same thing.
“While I’m in that water, I’d better not get anything bitten,” he said.
“Well, I can’t guarantee that,” Izdahl said, chuckling.
He dove into the lagoon and then gracefully moved downwards for a few feet, taking pleasure in the rejuvenating feel of the water. Then, he popped up and stared intently at his lover, an invitation in his eyes. Armando went to him, enjoying the cool liquid on his skin. They circled each other, kissing and laughing.
“Let’s go into the cave,” Izdahl said after a few minutes. He took the lead as they swam.
Part of the lagoon extended into the large cave. Their splashes echoed as they went through the water, which gradually became shallow. Soon, they were able to step on solid ground. They walked up an incline, pebbles and sand under their feet.
When they went much further into the cave, Armando was surprised by what he saw. The bright sunlight had partially reached into it but there was only a limited amount of natural illumination. The rest of the area had torches, which had already been lit.
“I’ve prepared things for us,” Izdahl explained. He grabbed a towel and started drying off Armando.
“Ah, this is where you were today.”
Izdahl had gone to the cave about an hour earlier. He’d taken the torches, along with other supplies. He’d brought along a waterproof backpack to carry the items across the lagoon.
“Yes…Kiana and Syrik know not to expect us for a while,” he said, smiling.
The four had eaten breakfast together that morning, the events from the night before quickly forgiven. Still, there had been no disagreement that each couple wanted more time alone.
“How long are we staying? A year?” Armando teased.
He eyed the provisions that were in one corner. Izdahl looked around at what he’d brought and he laughed at himself. It did appear to be a little too much now.
“It’s only for two days and nights,” he explained.
“You plan on keeping me occupied for that long?” Armando quipped. He took the towel from Izdahl and began removing the water from his lover’s body.
“Occupied…hmm, that’s one way to put it.” Izdahl gave him a salacious grin.
“I can only imagine what you have on your mind.”
“Oh, don’t be worried. You’re already quite familiar with what I’m thinking.”
Izdahl took his hand and gently pulled him down to their bedding.
While the light from the torches flickered on the cave walls, they sat face to face. Izdahl reached for some lube and squeezed a generous amount into his hand and Armando’s. He wrapped his hands around Armando’s cock and the architect did the same to him. Their fingers were interlaced, as their thumbs pressed against the underside of each other’s shaft. Rhythmically pumping their hands up and down, their hands created a cocoon, the pleasure heightened by watching the reactions of one another.
Izdahl threw back his head, his lower lip trembling with his effort to prevent himself from coming too soon. Armando enjoyed watching his abandon, almost as much he relished the sensations being created in his body.
Usually it was Izdahl who had stroked Armando in this way, as he’d been the one to introduce this act into their sex life. However they had never stimulated each other at the same time. Now, experiencing it together provided a completely different level of pleasure for Armando.
Soon, they could not take the prolonged teasing of each other. Armando heard Izdahl’s breath deepening, a strong sign that his was about to reach his peak. Thick fluid escaped his body, landing on Armando’s hands. Only a few seconds passed before Armando also came. After they caught their breaths, they laughed shakily. Izdahl licked the evidence of his lover’s pleasure off his hands and the architect mirrored his action. They lay back on their bedding, exploring each other’s bodies, until they fell asleep.
They’d only been resting for about an hour when Izdahl woke his partner from slumber, biting on his ear until he stirred.
“Do you love the elements?” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” Armando sat up, wondering what he was planning.
Izdahl made all four elements appear in his left hand. Small orbs of fire, water, air and earth circled each other a few times and then disappeared.
“You’re being quite odd.”
“Do the elements love you?” he asked again. He gave Armando an enigmatic smile.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ll show you exactly what I mean.”
As he casually transformed different parts of his body into the four elements, Izdahl explained about some of his sexual exploits.
“Water and earth together are not very appealing in bed,” he told Armando, while his left arm became liquid. “I’ve already tried with disastrous results.”
“When? With whom?”
“It was decades ago with, Tiah, a former girlfriend,” he said, as his right arm became earth. “We were experimenting. Part of me was earth, part was water. I didn’t have full control of the situation and I accidentally started destroying her bedroom. There was mud all over the place, the bed, the floor…”
Armando laughed, shaking his head, imagining the scene.
“That’s not even the half of it,” Izdahl continued. His entire chest became fire. “When she and I agreed I should try with fire, I ended up charring some of her hair. I think I might have lost my eyebrows too. Air just knocked her out of the bed. It was damn embarrassing. Fortunately, since she had similar talents; she quite understood.”
“But didn’t you have these powers as a child?” Armando asked, laughing harder. “Why would you have such trouble?”
Izdahl had made significant progress with managing his abilities by the time he was twenty. However, there were some instances where his skills became unsteady.
“Let’s just say that I was very excited,” he commented drily. “I’d wanted to be with her for a while.”
“So when you truly have raging hormones, it’s more difficult to maintain yourself.”
“Isn’t that how it usually is, especially when I’m with you?”
“I’m not sure I like hearing that you’ve been so excited over someone else.”
“Tiah and I are most definitely history,” Izdahl promised his lover. “Besides, only you could ever get me to this point now.”
Izdahl placed Armando’s hands on his crotch, letting him feel that he was rock hard, literally.
“Well now you’re just showing off,” Armando murmured. “And, you’re definitely not sliding into me that way. I don’t mind it rough but that would be taking things too far.”
“But I brought a lot of lube,” Izdahl joked. “Anyway, suffice to say that, during sex, I’m best at wielding fire and water.”
“Just how long did it take you to determine this?”
“A few very active days and nights. Want to be adventurous?”
“I don’t know. I’m worried you’ll drown or burn me,” Armando teased.
“Have you so little confidence in me?” Izdahl asked. “Let me show you, love.”
Using his ability to wield fire, he began to slowly raise his body’s temperature, also causing Armando to heat up.
“You’ve done that before,” Armando said, feigning disinterest. “I’m quite bored.”
The architect gave his lover a theatrical yawn. In truth, he knew he would always be fascinated by the way Izdahl handled the elements. Yet, he rarely missed an opportunity to provoke him lovingly.
“Bored are you?” Izdahl asked. “I’m going to pound this arrogance of yours right out of you…”