Several announcements related to the upcoming Gathering had been released early in the morning. The Official Competitors List for the Elite Tournament was published. Additional news had also cleared up a mystery. A winner had yet to be declared for the contest hosted by the Inter-territory Architectural Design Committee. While the three firms that had become finalists had requested information as to their status, the committee had stated they would be postponing their decision. Yet, an explanation hadn’t been given. The reason for the delay was finally made public. The winner would be announced at the first Gathering that would involve Nitelge and Humans.
The news quickly caused ripples.
While he was driving to work, Izdahl received a call from Syrik.
“Come in the back entrance,” his older brother told him. “There are reporters swarming in the front lobby. They’re all eager to question you about the Elite Tournament, among other things. Father’s having our press liaison and security deal with them.”
“I bet he’s not happy about this disruption.” Izdahl sighed, imagining the lecture he’d likely receive from Jaxon. “We have meetings with two of our most important clients today.”
“Oh, trust me; he’s livid,” Syrik informed Izdahl, as he laughed softly. “He has been expecting the frenzy but he doesn’t like it. You’re already in trouble and it’s not even 8 in the morning.”
“Thank you, dear brother of mine,” Izdahl responded drily. “I’ll see you in about twenty minutes. Goodbye.”
Izdahl had barely finished the conversation with Syrik, when Armando contacted him.
“There are reporters outside my office,” Armando stated; his tone was carrying his displeasure.
“Hello to you too, my love.”
“I’m sorry. I should have said hello first…”
“That’s better. Now, tell the reporters you have no comment and go about your business.”
“They’re in the way,” Armando complained. “It’s not so simple; I can’t merely remove them. I don’t want to become a nuisance for the other businesses.”
“I’ll be there to help,” Izdahl offered.
“Iz, you don’t have to do that. I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad, love.”
“I know but I understand why all of this is happening,” Izdahl said, changing his route, even as Armando continued to protest.
“I’m not trying to inconvenience you,” the architect insisted.
“It’s the least I can do,” Izdahl told him.
Izdahl had known that his entrance into the Elite Tournament would spark further interest into his life. A natural repercussion of that was how Armando was being affected. Izdahl had hoped that most of the attention would be saved for when the Tournament was closer. However, that clearly was not turning out to be the case.
Even as Izdahl drove to Armando’s business, he was thinking of the frustration that was likely creasing his lover’s brow. Armando had been gracious about their circumstances but Izdahl preferred that his partner not deal with such strain.
“Love, I’ll be there soon,” Izdahl told Armando.
There was silence on the other end.
“Love…” Izdahl prompted. “Armando?”
“Jonas is ushering reporters into our conference room. He can be so unpredictable with the press.” Armando cursed. “I need to go. I’m sensing a disaster.”
“How many reporters are there?”
“Seven and more might arrive! I have Viktor watching for them.”
“Armando, they’re curious, not dangerous,” Izdahl said, laughing at Armando’s mortified tone. “And that’s hardly a large number.”
“That’s not the point!” Armando responded. “Now, I need to hang up and prevent Jonas from causing problems.”
Armando found himself with 12 reporters staring expectantly at him. Even as he had cringed inside, he’d helped Jonas make sure that all of their guests were comfortable. The company had even ordered food and beverages from a nearby bakery.
Now, Armando was sitting around the table in the largest conference room with members of the press eating pastries and enjoying their drinks, while waiting for his answer to the first question. One of the more straightforward reporters had asked him about his relationship with Izdahl. He was reluctant to reveal anything, beyond the length of time they had been together. He knew the questions would become more probing and wasn’t looking forward to the prying. He was barely preventing himself from squirming.
“I’ve been with Izdahl for several years,” he said, stiffly.
The reporter who had asked the question leaned in, as a gleam of speculation appeared in his green eyes. Armando watched him warily, wondering what his ultimate goal was.
“And how is he different than your previous partners?” he asked. “I know there was some abuse in a former relationship.”
Jonas, who was sitting next to Armando, felt a pang of regret that he had encouraged the reporters to stay at the business.
“I only focus on the relationship I’m in now,” Armando responded smoothly. “And, Izdahl is a fantastic partner.”
“How is he doing?” Izdahl asked Viktor, who’d greeted him at the office door.
“It’s been kind of painful to watch,” Viktor admitted, as he led Izdahl to the conference room. “Some of the questions have made Armando uncomfortable but he’s managing well. Still, I’m glad you’re here.”
Viktor announced Izdahl, who stood behind him, picking up the atmosphere of the interaction. He wondered what questions were most recently asked, as there was significant tension.
“You might as well bring him in here,” Armando said. “Keep the madness contained.”
Viktor laughed and motioned for Izdahl, who breezed into the room like it was a daily action.
“It appears you’re at the wrong location,” he stated. “All of the action is at my company.”
Izdahl’s arrogant quip earned him laughter and the mood in the room relaxed.
Armando calmed too, though he inwardly chided himself. He wished he could be as confident as Izdahl.
Izdahl lightly rested his hand on the shoulder of a reporter who was sitting next to Armando. He gave her a charming grin, as he’d recognized her. She’d been at previous press conferences his company had held.
“I won’t be offended that you decided to come here, instead of to Amasi, Inc.,” he teased her. “That is, as long as you let me sit next to my Armando.”
She chuckled and took the nearby seat Jonas offered her.
When Izdahl settled himself, he glanced at Armando, passing him a tender look of reassurance. Armando gave him a barely perceptible nod, in response to the unasked question. Once he was sure Armando was alright, he took control of the room.
“So, who wants to know why I just took so long to enlist in the Elite Tournament?”
Many of the reporters indicated that was the main information they wanted.
“Well, I’m not going to tell you,” Izdahl teased. “Let’s talk about the regiment I’ll be using to prepare. As you might have heard, Metienne Amasi agreed to be my personal trainer. She won a previous fire sparring Elite Tournament. Everyone familiar with her knows that she won’t be going easy on me.”
“Speaking of the tournament, Izdahl, the rumor is that Armando didn’t want you to participate in the tournament,” the youngest of the reporters stated. “Any truth to that?”
Izdahl looked at Armando to see how he wanted to handle the question.
“That’s true,” Armando admitted. “Based upon what I know, during the regular tournaments, there have been casualties. I’d imagined that the Elite version would be even worse.”
“So, then you don’t think Izdahl’s strong enough to handle the competition,” one of the more seasoned reporters tested.
“It’s not about that!” Armando quickly clarified. “As his lover, I naturally show concern for him.”
Izdahl’s heart filled with more affection, as he listened to Armando’s words. He knew that Armando was intensely private. It was refreshing for Izdahl to hear Armando discuss his feelings so openly. Armando noticed Izdahl’s admiration and smiled shyly at him.
They answered a few more questions from the reporters. Then, Izdahl requested that the interview end. When there were appeals for more time, he pointed out that the entire situation had been impromptu and that Armando had been quite gracious. Eventually, the reporters relented, filing out of the conference room and heading off to their respective locations.
Izdahl took a few moments to pull Armando aside.
“Are you alright?” he asked, as he searched his partner’s eyes.
“I’m not that delicate,” Armando responded, laughing. Then he became serious and a frown creased his brow. “Do I come across that way to you?”
“It’s not about that,” Izdahl stated, smiling as he echoed most of his lover’s earlier words. He moved in closer and gave Armando a light kiss. Still keeping his mouth near Armando, he whispered, “As your lover, I naturally show concern for you.”
Izdahl had finished ushering one of the company’s most important clients to the elevator. He was going to Jaxon’s office to brief his father about the client, when his father’s assistant stopped him.
“Kelcho Havad is visiting Sir Amasi,” Elris informed him.
“Do you know how much longer they’ll be?” Izdahl asked, as he glanced at his watch.
“I expect only a few more minutes.”
“Then I’ll wait. I want to update Father.”
Izdahl sat down in a nearby armchair and pulled out his tablet. He began to review his tasks for later that afternoon. Though he tried to concentrate, his mind kept wandering to Dagmar’s presence. The Havad Kelcho didn’t often visit Amasi, Inc.
When the door to his father’s office opened, Jaxon and Dagmar exited. Izdahl forced himself not to look too eager to find out the purpose of the visit. In his attempt to appear nonchalant, he committed a blunder in etiquette.
“Where is your greeting for Kelcho Havad?” Jaxon prodded his son, when Izdahl didn’t glance up from his tablet.
“I apologize, Father,” Izdahl said, as he quickly stood. He bowed to Dagmar. “I hope your health is well, Kelcho Havad.”
“Thank you and the same to you.” Dagmar spoke to Jaxon, confirming their next meeting and then turned back to Izdahl. “Some time ago, you insulted me in public. As I recall, I had up to a year to penalize you, and with your beloved Kelcho Xersa’s permission.”
“Kelcho Amasi did permit the penalty,” Izdahl responded. “However, the year ended almost a month ago.” There was a sparkle of triumph in his hazel eyes. Izdahl had tried to mask his emotion. Yet, the interactions with Dagmar tended to cause him to lose his filter, even when he knew there were consequences.
“Yes, I realize that,” Dagmar stated. “How lucky for you…”
“I’m sure my son remains contrite about his actions at that concert,” Jaxon said smoothly.
“Of course,” Dagmar responded. “At any rate, the point was to teach him that he’s not untouchable. Had I wished to exercise my right to punish him, that lesson would have been driven home.”
Jaxon gave Izdahl a warning look, knowing that his son was strongly considering a rude response. Izdahl glanced down at the floor, hiding his annoyance with both Jaxon and Dagmar.
“Perhaps I should walk you out of the building,” Jaxon suggested to Dagmar. “I know that your schedule today is quite busy.
“Yes, I should be going,” Dagmar said, as he looked at his watch. He spared another glance at Izdahl, giving him a slight smile, which only caused Izdahl to bristle more internally.
Armando cursed and crumpled yet another piece of paper. Like all of the others that were part of the pile at his feet, it was marked with bits and pieces of a design he was trying to remember.
The previous night, he had dreamt of when his parents were killed and then his recovery in the hospital. An image he’d seen was now rattling around in his head and he was determined to complete it.
“I thought I was the messy one,” Izdahl said, as he came out of their en suite bathroom after showering.
He laughed softly, as he continued to dry his hair. While Armando would not appreciate hearing it at the moment, the architect was looking especially adorable, due to his frustration. His brow was furrowed and he rested his chin in one hand, glaring at the small hill of paper. He looked like a small child waiting to leave the corner after being secluded.
Izdahl stopped drying his hair and hung the towel around his neck. He took the recently crushed paper from Armando and straightened it. There were a series of geometric shapes on the paper; sometimes by themselves, sometimes in combinations.
“Couldn’t you use a tablet, instead of all of this paper?” Izdahl asked.
“No. Something like this has to be more tactile; I need to feel my hands making the arcs, curves and lines.”
“Why not a pencil instead of pen?” Izdahl wondered. “You could erase your mistakes and save paper.”
“That is the least of my issue right now!” Armando fussed at him. “I’m trying to make sense of something from a dream. But I can’t quite remember.”
“I’m sorry love. I’m not trying to be difficult.” Izdahl sat near Armando and gave him his full and serious attention. “Why is this so important?”
“When I was in the hospital, someone came to see me,” Armando began. “I’d felt that he shouldn’t have been there. I’d just awoken and he was standing over me. I’d opened my eyes and saw him, he’d smiled. I’d recognized him as the Nitelge who’d grabbed my arm during the night my parents had died. He’d waved a hand over my face and said a few words that sounded like a spell. I’d tried to push him away but then blacked out. For years, every time I’ve tried to describe to others what happened my head would hurt so badly. Eventually, I gave up, thinking I’d just imagined it all.”
“You don’t appear to be in pain now,” Izdahl noted.
Armando paused, realizing that Izdahl was right. He put a hand to his forehead, even more confused now.
“Never mind all of that,” Izdahl said, seeing that Armando was losing focus. He took his lover’s hand away from his forehead. “What caused you to think of it now?”
“Last week, when I told you about my parents’ death, it brought back so much that I’d buried.”
“Do you remember anything else about the figure?”
“He had a scar on his forearm. I know that scar is significant.”
“Can you describe it?” Izdahl asked.
“It was a crescent over some other geometrical shape, like a square or rectangle or hexagon. I don’t know. I’m only sure about the crescent. It was a raised scar; it had been branded onto him.”
“Well, put together all of the combinations you can think of and we’ll research it. It sounds like what someone from a guild might have. Throughout the planet we have professionals that offer their services. They periodically form guilds to help them negotiate betters rates and build resources. If you wanted to, you could join an architect’s guild. At any rate, there are guilds where the members have a tattoo, a brand or some other kind of mark.”
“The more ‘unsavory’ guilds have this or…”
“No,” Izdahl said laughing. “The mark doesn’t automatically mean something negative. For example, there are five accountants’ guilds and they each have a special design. But who knows? Maybe they eventually assassinate clients who have horrible accounts.”
Armando laughed and shook his head at his lover. The amusement disappeared when he looked again at the half-finished symbols. He needed answers and the key to the correct questions to ask was still locked in his head.