There were questions Armando wanted to have answered. All of his queries revolved around Izdahl. He’d tried countless times to put aside the thoughts of the demon…no, the Nitelge. Izdahl preferred to be called a Nitelge. While Izdahl’s people were seen as demons by some humans, which carried a negative connotation, Armando was working on removing his bias; it was a difficult process.
He thought back to the years when he and Jonas had discussed starting a business. They had been 22 years old—beginning a program to earn their second architectural degree and a year into their internships—when they had first thought of their venture. One of their conversations had turned heated when Armando had stated that he refused to work with or for Nitelge. Jonas had known of Armando’s narrow-mindedness and had tried repeatedly to talk him out of it. Still, he was taken aback by the vehemence with which Armando had stated his refusal. Jonas had pointed out that, based upon Armando’s thinking, those with whom they contracted could only be humans who, in one form or another, accepted Armando’s intolerance.
The exchange had turned unpleasant. Jonas had stated that he was tired of Armando being a bigot, that he was tired of accepting Armando’s closed-mindedness when it came to Nitelge. Armando had shouted that Jonas had his parents, that he’d never had to be around the beings who made him an orphan. The volatile discussion ended with Jonas leaving Armando’s apartment, slamming the door behind him. They hadn’t spoken to each other for almost three months. It was Felicia and Kiana who had, after much cajoling, convinced them to reconcile.
After several lengthy conversations, Armando had accepted the wisdom of Jonas’ ideas. Years later, when the business was established, Armando had initially found it difficult to handle the meetings with demon contractors and clients. Many of the Nitelge knew of his beliefs. They also knew of his loss. Some had been willing to overlook his discriminatory mindset. In time, Armando became used to having demons frequent his business. However, his acceptance of them halted when it involved his family. Kiana’s choice in mates had been unpalatable.
Yet, Armando now found himself preoccupied with the kind of being he had spent years building a barrier against. More and more, there were dreams of Izdahl. A part of Armando wondered if they could become reality.
Finding that his thoughts of Izdahl were relentless, he kept on searching for relief. Unaccustomed to indecision, he vacillated between keeping his feelings to himself and revealing them. The latter choice eventually was intolerable, his curiosity about what Izdahl’s response would be grating on his mind. He realized he was prolonging his agony instead of speaking to the focus of his uncertainty. The answers he wanted could only be gained from one place. He called Izdahl’s home and was told that he was away; he would be returning in a week’s time. He asked the butler to have Izdahl contact him. For Armando, the time that passed until Izdahl responded seemed interminable.
“Uelden informed me that you called,” Izdahl said. He was still reeling inside after finding out Armando had needed to speak with him. He had asked his butler to repeat the message three times, causing the usually reserved servant to laugh openly at his employer’s exuberance.
“Yes, I wanted to discuss something with you, face to face would be best.”
“Is everything alright?”
“Then, I’m available in two days, in the afternoon.”
They scheduled a time and hung up, both of them speculating about what was on the other’s mind.
Ten minutes before Armando was scheduled to arrive, Izdahl was pacing in his study. He’d remembered what Rasmus had said during the Nakra Hein. What if there were situations Armando was involved in, circumstances where he might know Rasmus in a way that Izdahl would find unbearable? He thought that he could use the meeting with Armando to clear up the matter. Still, part of him was reluctant, believing that he might not like the answer.
His musings were interrupted when Uelden brought Armando to his study. After the butler verified that they were not in need of refreshments, he left them alone.
Neither knew how to begin, shyness overtaking them. When they both realized how tentative they were being, they laughed. Then, recalling the reason for his visit, Armando grew serious. He decided to start off with a light topic, unsure as yet about how to broach the primary one.
“You’ve been quite busy for a while,” he noted.
“I would have met with you sooner,” Izdahl explained, motioning for him to be seated, “However, I was away for two weeks. Naturally, I had several matters to handle after I returned. I was at the Gathering.”
“Ah yes. That happens every year, correct?” Armando settled himself into a comfortable, blue, upholstered chair across from Izdahl.
“What exactly goes on there?” Unconsciously, the architect’s eyes narrowed slightly as he waited for the response.
Izdahl sighed over that expression. It was one he had seen on the faces of other humans. Some were uncomfortable with the idea of legions of Nitelge privately gathering. Many humans were paranoid about Nitelge, in some cases, justifiably. Still, Izdahl did not like that assumption being applied to those he knew were not guilty, especially himself.
“We Nitelge are plotting to enslave humans.”
“That isn’t funny,” Armando told him, sharply.
“Neither is your suspicion,” Izdahl returned.
“I’m sorry. I am trying, you know.”
“And you’re certainly making progress…Now, when I last met with you, we didn’t get to completely discuss everything I’d planned.” Izdahl leaned back in his armchair, viewing Armando with a slight smirk on his face. “As I recollect, you forced me out of your office, so I—”
“Because you kissed me,” Armando interrupted.
“I didn’t exactly initiate it but I’m certainly not sorry it happened.”
“I see,” Armando said, quietly. He was lost for a few moments as he remembered the moment his lips had first met with Izdahl’s, his brain shuffling through the sensations. Unaware that he was doing so, he licked his lips. Izdahl had to stifle a groan.
“Armando, may I proceed?” Izdahl asked, doing his best to avoid being distracted, “I have more to say.”
“What? I’m sorry. Go ahead.”
“Do you know who Rasmus Terada is?”
“He came to my office not too long ago. He said that his employer wanted me to know that Viktor was working for someone else.” Armando looked at Izdahl accusingly, remembering his confession.
“Yes, let’s move past that. You know my intentions were noble…Hmm, I’d definitely like to find out who his ‘employer’ is, if one even exists. Regardless, please be prudent around Rasmus, if you have to let him in your presence in the first place. I do not have all the information I need to see every detail but please trust my judgment.”
“I will,” Armando promised, hearing the gravity in Izdahl’s voice.
Izdahl opted not to explain about Rasmus being the one to injure both of them. He felt that it might be appropriate at another time. A bit of a warning about Rasmus would suffice until later. Armando had come to speak to him about a particular subject and Izdahl was eager to hear what it was.
“Good. Now, please discuss the reason for your coming here.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about you for a while now, especially since our kiss. I find this all to be a little…disturbing.”
Disturbing. Things aren’t going in the direction I want, Izdahl thought. His disappointment in the architect’s word choice was balanced with some happiness. Finding out that he had been on Armando’s mind for some time was certainly a boost to his ego.
“I’ve been very careful about not getting close to anyone, especially a demon—excuse me, Nitelge,” Armando continued, “It’s difficult to let go of long-held beliefs, particularly those that are grounded in a painful loss.”
Izdahl nodded his understanding but kept quiet, giving Armando the room he needed to lay out his thoughts.
“This is really confusing Izdahl,” the architect said, sighing, “I don’t know what you want from me. You’ve started making a path into my life and I need answers about your motives.”
Izdahl watched as Armando chewed once then twice on his bottom lip.
“There’s no need to be concerned about what I have in mind. I’ve wanted you for quite a while, Armando. But you can be so aloof, even with many humans. Plus, your dislike of my kind, though it has greatly diminished, doesn’t help my chances.”
“I have reasons for the way I act. And I can’t say I’ve completely gotten rid of all my prejudice. I know it’s a flaw.” Armando coughed and shifted in his seat, Izdahl’s penetrating gaze making it difficult for the architect to shield himself.
“What’s wrong?” Izdahl asked.
“When you stare, it’s extremely daunting. It’s like you’re searching for more than I’m willing to tell you.”
“Why don’t you be candid? You came here to speak with me. Stop holding back.”
“I’m not…Well, when you look at me the way you do, I…”
“I can’t help it. I’m taking in everything about you, your hair, your hazel eyes, and your well-shaped mouth.”
“I’m not a science specimen,” Armando said, laughing.
“It’s truly not my intention to cause discomfort in you. What can I do to help?”
“You can stay out of my dreams, stop being so appealing.”
“All of that flatters me,” Izdahl responded, smiling.
“Did you use some trick to get me to feel this way about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know Nitelge are capable of many types of manipulation, from the relatively benign to the unforgivable. Have you used any of your abilities on me?”
Izdahl admitted that he had, explaining the idea Syrik had given him. Armando was about to voice his annoyance when Izdahl raised a hand, requesting that he listen to the rest of the explanation.
“I know it bothers you and it’s usually not my style. Now, let me add that the ‘target’, for lack of a better word, has to be attracted to the one using the technique. Some part of you must desire me, Armando. So…what do you want to do about it?”
Feeling vulnerable for having revealed so much, Armando became defensive. “What makes you think I would like to do anything about it?”
“Did you come to my home just to admit you’re attracted to me and then return home?” Izdahl was not about to let the architect downplay the magnitude of his words.
“No…I…Do you have to make me sound so stupid?”
“I’m not trying to do that,” Izdahl said, chuckling, “Can I propose an idea?”
“Go ahead.” Armando looked at him warily.
“We can begin slowly, start by getting to know each other as Izdahl and Armando, not as Nitelge and Human. We’ll see where things go.”
“But I’ve never had sex with a Nitelge, especially a male!” Armando blurted out.
Izdahl’s eyes widened in surprise. He willed himself not to laugh out of courtesy, realizing that Armando’s nerves were getting the better of him.
Armando cursed, feeling like a novice. At the moment, he was disappointed in himself, believing he was raising his sentiments in an amateur manner. It wasn’t as if he’d never tried to start a relationship and, more importantly, been in a long-term one. Why couldn’t he voice the right words? Though, admittedly, he had never found himself in this specific circumstance. Two decades of intolerance were wrestling with intense need, creating turmoil in the otherwise composed architect.
“Armando, you truly are being candid… For what it’s worth, the relevant parts are compatible. And we certainly don’t have to rush into anything.”
“We both know what might happen, on my timeline more so than yours.”
“That’s not a problem,” Izdahl said, chuckling, “I doubt you’ll ever do anything on my schedule.”
“Well, I do apologize for not acting according to your scheme.”
“Come now,” Izdahl said, “Don’t draw away from me. Stop giving me that haughty expression.”
He walked over to the architect, who stood.
“I think we’re reaching an understanding,” Izdahl told him. He started to give Armando a kiss.
“What are you doing?” Armando asked, with Izdahl’s mouth an inch from his.
“I’m about to taste you.”
“Why do I feel like I’m your prey?”
“Hmmm. Maybe I will consume you—on your timeline more so than mine, of course.”
Armando laughed, the warm sound going straight to Izdahl’s loins. He took the opportunity to slip his tongue into the architect’s mouth.
After pulling apart, Izdahl searched the face of the man he wanted so much.
“What is it?” Armando asked.
“Did I ever thank you for caring for me?”
When I was injured as a bird?”
“No, you never did.”
“Then I will,” Izdahl assured Armando. He was about to claim another kiss when a buzzing sound came from the direction of his desk. He huffed out his annoyance, ignoring it.
“Important messages always come at moments like these.”
“Moments like what?” Izdahl asked, his eyes half-closed, a seductive curve to his mouth. Armando looked away, swallowing. He was nervous under Izdahl’s scrutiny and was thankful when the buzzer sounded again.
“Speak,” Izdahl said, sighing. The voice of his butler came through the intercom in the office.
“Sir Syrik stated that Lady Kiana has gone into labor. She will soon be delivering their baby. Her condition is well enough so she can have the child at home, as she originally wanted.”
“Thank you. We’ll be leaving now.”
The sound of colorful words from Kiana’s mouth greeted Armando and Izdahl when they entered her bedroom. Kiana was propped up against several pillows, her brow severely furrowed. Syrik was wiping beads of sweat off Kiana’s forehead, trying to sooth her.
“Kiana, are you alright?” Armando asked.
“No,” she snapped, “I’m in pain and it’s all Syrik’s fault.”
“All my fault?” her wounded husband asked, “How so?”
He was saved a peppery response by the entrance of Sione Devari, the Amasi family’s midwife. The tall, thin Nitelge, dressed in serene light blue, surveyed the scene, noting where she could put all the materials she had brought with her.
“Hopefully that fierce look is not meant for me,” she said to Kiana. Her kind brown eyes looked down at the patient she had tended to throughout her entire pregnancy.
“No,” Kiana replied, “Only Syrik could work up such wrath.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Armando asked Sione.
“You can go wait elsewhere and not be such an adorable distraction. It’s a shame I hadn’t met you a long time ago. I wonder if I can remember any medical techniques with you in the room.”
Armando shot Izdahl such a bewildered look that he couldn’t help grinning.
“Sione knows what she’s doing,” Izdahl told him, “Her family has delivered the past five generations of Amasis. In fact, she personally oversaw the births of Syrik and myself.”
After scanning Kiana, Sione announced, “You’ll be in labor for another 30 minutes. Everything will go well.”
“How do you know?” Armando asked.
“I don’t,” Sione responded dryly, “I’m only carelessly guessing.”
“Look, that is my sister and her child. You’d better be certain.”
“I believe I told you to vacate the area,” Sione reminded him. She promptly set about making the final preparations to assist Kiana with the birth.
“Armando, enough,” Izdahl said when the architect was about to issue an angry response. He took Armando’s arm and tried to steer him out of the room. When the architect resisted, Izdahl said, “Either you walk or I pick you up.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh but I would.”
Armando opted to exit, wanting to keep his pride intact.
“Sione is a professional,” Izdahl explained as he walked with Armando to Kiana’s nearby study, “If she says 30 minutes, then we can count on that.”
“I’m just worried about my sister.”
“I know, me too…I’m also excited. I’ve never been an uncle. We can spoil the child together and make things difficult for our siblings. Syrik deserves it and I doubt Kiana was always pleasant.”
The worried crease in Armando’s forehead disappeared. Izdahl smiled and pulled him close, finding his mouth.
“Wha-What are you doing?” Armando sputtered. He looked around, wondering if anyone had seen them.
“It’s nothing we haven’t done already.”
“You said we would take things slowly.”
“We are…” He put some distance between himself and Armando to keep him from becoming unsettled. “Does being so near a Nitelge scare you? You couldn’t have disliked us so much. You named your horse in Nitelge. Yohan, is ‘be free’ in my language.”
“Oh, I had forgotten. Kiana actually called him that, since I had so much trouble coming up with a name. She purchased him for my birthday, four years ago, when he was still a yearling.”
“Perhaps we can go riding together someday soon, if you would not mind.”
“I think I would like that,” Armando said, quietly.
“I can show you Koraiy, my luraga.”
“That’s the Nitelge version of a horse, right?”
“Yes, a bit larger than one.” Izdahl again moved closer to Armando.
“What are you doing?” the architect asked. The wariness was back in his eyes.
“Just exploring,” Izdahl murmured, “Look at you. Stop being so nervous.” He ran one index finger across Armando mouth, searching the architect’s eyes for acquiescence. When the concern that was there disappeared, he put his mouth to Armando’s, slipping his tongue inside. The sweet tingle created by the kiss was just beginning to peak when they were interrupted.
“Izdahl, take your tongue out of his mouth! Go get Kiana some more ice chips,” the two heard.
They pulled apart to see Sione’s keen and mischievous gaze on them. Armando backed away quickly, his urgency making Izdahl grin.
“I’ll do your bidding right away, my lady,” he said to Sione.
When he’d completed the task, he returned to wait with Armando. He was trying to coax another kiss out of the architect when there was an unmistakable cry; that of a child.
“Kiana, you did it!” they heard Syrik shout out. The two of them laughed and hurried to the door, knocking on it to request access. After making sure all was well with the baby, Sione allowed them to enter.
They saw Kiana, who looked tired but very happy, holding the new arrival.
“You’re so beautiful,” Kiana said to her child, “Welcome to the family, my little Nyrese.”
She tenderly stroked a few of the soft black curls on her daughter’s head. Then, she handed Nyrese to her husband, smiling up at him. Syrik cradled the small figure and instantly felt protective of her. After cuddling her for a few minutes, he agreed to pass her on to her uncles, laughing when everyone teased him about his initial reluctance.
“Do you want to hold her?” Kiana asked her brother.
“I’m not sure. I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Oh Armando, you’ll do fine. Come here.”
Armando sat down in a chair near his sister and cradled his baby niece.
“She’s so light, so fragile.”
“She’ll be sturdy soon enough,” Syrik assured him, “Her Nitelge genes will see to that.”
“Yes, Syrik said that because she’s part Nitelge, she’ll develop at a faster pace than humans,” Kiana explained.
“And when she’s about eight months old, it’s likely she’ll be walking and trying to fly,” Syrik said.
“I should have done some research to find out about Nitelge babies, or rather half-Nitelge/half-human children,” Armando said, “I’d hate to have her fly away from me if I’m caring for her.”
“Oh, her wings won’t get her higher than five feet, not until she’s about seven,” Kiana told him, laughing, “By then, we will have instilled in her the responsibilities of being able to fly.”
“Her flying will be the least of our troubles while she’s young too,” Syrik added, “All Nitelge can wield at least one element. The power shows itself at the age of five. Izdahl started many fires as a kid.”
“It wasn’t intentional,” Izdahl protested, “I worked really hard to control it too.”
“If she has the fire ability, you have to contend with her,” Syrik told his brother.
“You handle water, so you’re better equipped,” Izdahl replied.
“Let’s get her saying her first words before we even worry about all of that,” Kiana said.
Armando looked at Izdahl and gave Nyrese to him. Izdahl held her, marveling at her small features; black hair, steel gray eyes, a bow-shaped mouth, a tiny nose and slightly pointed ears.
“I think her looks are a good combination of Syrik and Kiana,” Izdahl said.
“Me too. I can’t wait to see how she’ll change,” Kiana said.
“Later, we’ll have the ceremony to welcome her into the Amasi family,” Syrik told Armando, “Great-grandmother Xersa will seal her name into the Book of Amasis. It’s a tome containing a birth record for all the Amasi family members. The welcoming ceremony begins with the oldest member of our family writing the name of the newest member.”
“Nyrese will also get our brand on her left hip,” Syrik said. When Kiana looked alarmed, he eased her concern. “Love, remember, it is painless. I spoke with you at length about our ceremony.”
“I know,” she replied, “It’s just that I always think of a brand as being so painful. I forgot what you had said for a moment.” Suddenly, she began to cry.
“Ki, what’s wrong?” Syrik asked, “Are you in pain?”
“No,” she replied, continuing to sob, “It’s just that Mother and Father won’t ever see her.”
Syrik held her close, soothing her. Perhaps picking up on her mother’s distress, Nyrese began to cry too and Izdahl handed her back to her mother. Kiana immediately turned her attention to her daughter, speaking to her in quiet tones.
Sione, who had busied herself with making sure that the room was presentable again, now saw to the mother and child. She requested that Syrik, Izdahl and Armando give her some time with Kiana. They left, allowing the midwife to tend to the rest of her duties. She checked to make sure Nyrese’s responses were as expected. Then, she answered Kiana’s questions, instilling in her additional confidence that she would be an excellent mother and that she had many resources. Afterward, she went out and spoke to everyone else.
“As you can see, the birth went quite well. I consider her an honorary Nitelge because of how she handled things. Now, I’ll take my leave so you all can enjoy the newest Amasi. Please contact me if you have any concerns.”
Everyone thanked her and then she left, feeling pleased after helping another mother and child safely navigate the birthing process.
Wanting to give Kiana some more private time, Syrik stayed outside the bedroom, chatting with his brother and Armando.
“I was so worried. Nyrese came a week early.”
“But she’s here now and she’s safe—and so is Kiana,” Izdahl said.
“I know.” Syrik ran his hands through his hair, sighing.
“Are you excited to be a father?” Izdahl asked.
“Yes and a little scared. I just don’t ever want anything to happen to her. I felt a new purpose when she came into the world.”
“I know that you will protect my sister and everyone important to her,” Armando told him.
“And we’ll help in any way you need,” Izdahl added.