“The motion regarding the Ymir Briger museum passes with a vote of 4 to 3,” Xersa announced.
After issuing a reminder about when suggested topics for the next meeting were to be submitted, she brought the bi-annual meeting of the Kelchos to closure. The nine-hour discussion had included finalizing the plans for the Gathering, determining the emergency funds for each territory, reviewing the latest reports on major conflicts between the Nitelge and Human populations, and the building of the Ymir Briger museum. As the last order of business, the conversation about the structure had been the most contentious and had taken up the majority of the time. Xersa was doing her best to maintain her composure, after the vote. Dagmar stared at her pointedly, taking robust pleasure in having finally achieved one of his main goals.
Xersa stood and left the conference room, leading the way to the dining area for the customary post-meeting luncheon. It was a way to unwind, after reviewing the variety of issues that affected the entire planet. Even as the seven leaders settled at the dining table, a dark mood rippled through the room.
The respective executive assistants of the clan leaders were also on edge. The amount of tension was still severe, particularly between Xersa and Sunja, who’d been on opposite sides. However, given that they were related through the marriage of Jaxon and Hadil, towards the end of the meeting, they’d tried to tone down the animosity, while also voting their consciences.
By the time the second course of a five-part meal had arrived, some of the tension had begun to drain away. While many suspected there would be serious repercussions from the decision regarding the museum, including those who had actually voted for the building of it, the Kelchos resolved to let the matter rest for the moment.
Dagmar’s executive assistant, Elij, bowed deeply. She apologized for halting the light conversation the Kelchos were having after the luncheon. She passed a coded note to her boss, only when he assured her there was no problem with the interruption. His pleasant mood died quickly, as he read the encrypted message. It informed him that the protective barrier around Zaitis’ statue had been breached. He might have requested that his executive assistant handle the matter, except that the note also stated that Armando and Izdahl were present at the site.
Dagmar did his best to hide his alarm at the development. He destroyed the note with a small flame, as he rose. He dusted off the ashes into what remained of his drink.
“There is a matter to which I have to attend,” Dagmar announced to the rest of the Kelchos.
“Is everything alright?” Xersa asked, studying him carefully.
“I’m sure I’ll resolve it soon. However, I will need to use a portal.”
“Then it must be quite pressing,” Xersa stated, with one eyebrow raised. “Perhaps you would like some assistance.”
“I can handle it on my own,” Dagmar responded curtly.
Various pairs of eyes followed Dagmar, as he left the sitting room, followed by his assistant. He went outside the building and opened a portal, stepping through it to where Armando and Izdahl were.
Izdahl and Armando turned rapidly, when Dagmar and his assistant suddenly appeared behind them. Izdahl placed himself in front of Armando, understanding the gravity of the situation. Committing an infraction that was serious enough to make a Kelcho use a portal was going to be widely publicized within the Nitelge and Human society.
“Whatever were you thinking?” Dagmar shouted, as his eyes pierced Izdahl and then Armando. “This is unacceptable.”
He’d slipped into the Rokteel form of Nitelge, using it to reprimand Izdahl severely. Izdahl forced himself to respond in the submissive Alteel Nitelge.
“It’s unclear what happened,” Izdahl stated, bowing and making sure that his tone was deferential. “Kelcho Havad, I assure you that we never had or will ever have any intention to harm the statue.”
“A previous Kelcho of my clan made the determination that this cultural artifact would be as unobstructed as possible,” Dagmar stated. “She was interested in allowing anyone to get close enough to properly admire the one who was instrumental in saving our planet. No series of guards were posted for that very reason. Other Kelchos, including myself, honored that practice. The most we’ve done was to put up a protective field around it. I had no idea that either of you would show such disrespect and destroy the barrier!”
“I offer our sincerest apologies,” Izdahl responded, bowing deeply again.
“I don’t know how you did this but there will definitely be an inquiry,” Dagmar said. “And be assured that your Kelcho will pay for the costs of fixing any damage to the statue, as well as putting up the barrier again.”
Armando stayed silent, caught between Dagmar’s fury, Izdahl’s reluctantly restrained responses and the pull of a force that had an unsettling familiarity. He was tempted to go searching for the source of the presence that was causing him to go cold with fear. He knew it wasn’t Dagmar, Izdahl or Elij.
“Mr. Medina, have you nothing to say about this?” Elij asked, perplexed by the architect’s apparent nonchalance.
Izdahl glanced at Armando and, knowing his partner well, read the fear and pain that he was trying to keep out of his eyes. Izdahl had seen that expression before, when Armando had spoken about the night his parents had been murdered.
“He’s also stunned by all of this,” Izdahl said, by way of covering for his lover.
Elij narrowed her gray eyes in suspicion and began to study Armando carefully. She was going to ask him a few more questions, when Dagmar spoke again.
“I suggest you two leave this site immediately,” Dagmar said. “But don’t think this is the end of the matter.”
Izdahl led Armando to their car, where they sat for a few minutes, discussing what had happened.
“I’m sorry if I’ve caused trouble,” Armando began. “I had no idea—”
“It could have been an accident, or even a coincidence. Maybe there was something wrong with the barrier and…” Izdahl trailed off, running his hands through his hair and letting out a long breath. “Fuck! This is a huge problem.”
They were quiet for several minutes, before Armando began tentatively stating what else was on his mind.
“I think somebody was there, Izdahl.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was some force pulling at me and I’ve felt it before. I think that person was around the statue when the barrier fell.”
“Wouldn’t you have sensed him or her earlier, before Dagmar even found us? We’d been there for a while.”
“Not if the person was inside the barrier being shielded by it.”
Izdahl paused, considering the magnitude of what Armando said.
“Let’s get home and talk more about this,” Izdahl suggested. “But first, we need to inform GG; I don’t want Dagmar ambushing her.”
Izdahl’s voice was muffled in Armando’s ears, as the architect was still preoccupied with the presence inside the barrier.
“Armando,” Izdahl said, shaking his lover. He put a soothing hand against Armando’s face. “Whatever it is, we’ll work through it.”
Volpe wanted to get revenge against Dagmar Havad, as well as deal with several other individuals. Before he could do anything, he had to figure out what year it was. He didn’t know how long he’d been in the forced state of suspended animation. He needed to gather his bearings, formulate a plan and then execute it flawlessly. He’d had the presence of mind to expertly camouflage himself, his well-honed survival instincts kicking in, moments after he’d come out of stasis. He wasn’t sure what had ended his captivity but the discussion he’d overheard about the statue’s barrier had enlightened him about a few matters.
He looked up at the position of the sun to get his bearings, noting that it was past midday. Then, he cast a small spell to mask his real features, changing his auburn hair to a rich black and morphing his piercing blue eyes into green ones. Then, he started heading towards a populated area, a small smile gracing his mouth, as he thought of all that he would do.
Tybris had been about to slip deep into his slumber, when a backhanded slap forced him awake. His eyes flashed open and he saw Rasmus fixing him with a penetrating, frustrated gaze.
“I broke your fucking spell,” Rasmus announced. “You’d better make it up to me.”
Triumph appeared in Tybris’ eyes, when he fully awakened.
“Don’t look so damned smug,” Rasmus muttered, as he sat down on the bed next to Tybris. He paused and an appreciative smile tugged at his mouth, when he perused Tybris’ tanned, muscular chest. “How fortunate for the both of us that you enjoy sleeping in the nude.”
The pace of Tybris’ heartbeat increased, as Rasmus’ long, graceful fingers traced each of his nipples, then pinched them. Rasmus bent to kiss the pulse that was now pounding away at Tybris’ throat.
Tybris had expected Rasmus to get out of his cell, aware that the other Nitelge was quite crafty. However, Tybris knew he’d miscalculated by several days; Rasmus having freed himself earlier than he’d intended. There were still several pieces of his far-reaching plan that he’d wanted to put in place, before fully engaging Rasmus. He decided that he could be flexible and adjust some of his ideas, in lieu of the latest development.
“You don’t seem as furious as I expected,” Tybris said, chuckling when Rasmus nipped at his ear playfully.
“And you don’t seem at all afraid,” Rasmus replied. He bit hard on Tybris’ ear, causing the other Nitelge to flinch. “Why aren’t you concerned that I made it to your bedroom?”