Tolrek was fascinated by the changes to Darion’s body. The rebel took full advantage of the negotiator’s prone form to examine the tattoos.
The Tildari with the strongest bloodlines had the intricate markings that naturally formed. Darion’s tattoos, elaborate mazes, were some of the most complex. The first one covered his left pectoral muscle and then extended down to the elbow of his left arm. A second one curved over part of his right buttock and spiraled around his muscular right thigh. The art on his body provided an illustration of his true prowess.
“You go to work and come back with all of these tattoos?” Tolrek teased. “Is this your way of dealing with the trouble I cause you?”
“You must know why my body is like this.” Darion laughed. “Haven’t you heard of the Treaty of 2250?”
There was a provision in the treaty between Tildar and Vaironia that would allow certain individuals with Tildari heritage to release their seal. Darion, with Beilon’s clearance, was able to provide better protection for Tolrek.
“So these markings start appearing at the age of 22?” Tolrek asked, wanting to confirm what he’d previously heard. His deft fingers traced the tattoo near Darion’s thigh. He watched the negotiator’s muscles twitch and he smiled. Darion groaned as Tolrek ran his finger across a place that clearly had no tattoo.
“My body’s still humming from the change,” the negotiator murmured. “Be gentle.”
“You feel pain when you release your seal?”
“Oh yes, once I come out of stasis. The current QikMeds can’t always relieve me. The Centers have been trying to get ones that can manage a Tildari’s level of pain. Because of Vaironia’s process, it feels like there’s a layer of fire under my skin. I don’t have this problem when I’m in my father’s country. On Tildar I can just be myself.”
Tolrek heard the wistfulness in Darion’s voice. He thought that the pain must have been even greater than the negotiator wanted to admit. It wasn’t like him to complain about any type of discomfort.
“I’ve only known a few individuals with Tildari blood but I’ve never seen anyone in this state,” Tolrek said. “I’m curious. Indulge me and it will take your mind off how you feel.”
“Are you actually trying to soothe me?” Darion looked at him through half-closed eyes.
“Maybe. And it might seem contradictory to ask you questions about being Tildari while you’re in pain because of being—”
“I’m not in pain because I’m Tildari.” Darion’s voice was a little curt. “I’m in pain because Vaironia doesn’t—”
“Let’s focus on my questions. What causes these natural markings?”
When Darion ignored him, Tolrek prodded the negotiator in his ribs, making him cringe and gasp. Tolrek chuckled, taking a dark satisfaction in Darion’s pain. He received a warning look. Then, Darion gave him an explanation.
“Our blood is affected by certain hormones our bodies produce starting at puberty. The effects show on our skin. There are a few other groups in our Galaxy who experience the same thing. Tildaris who honor the treaty inhibit this process and, as a result, the marks disappear, until we completely remove the restrictions.”
Though Darion was half-Tildari, the genes from his father still provided him the same power as those who were all Tildari. Anyone with Tildari ancestry could undergo the change, so potent were the bloodlines. As a result, Darion was also bound by the treaty. Under normal circumstances, he was required to seal 70% of his abilities. Even at only 30%, his aura had an unmistakable effect on others, making it clear that much lay beneath the often calm surface.
“How far does your power go?” Tolrek asked.
“Let’s just say that the guardian robots were built with 60% of my full strength.”
Tolrek thought of the robot that had thrown him across the room. He realized that had it been Darion doing that, he might have gone through a wall.
Darion saw the speculation in Tolrek’s eyes and guessed where his thoughts had wandered.
“You should be mindful of the robots, even when they are on your side,” Darion teased. Tolrek was about to make a snide remark and change the relatively relaxed mood but Darion’s cut him off. “So, let’s continue to talk about Tildar.”
The negotiator explained that, when it suited their purposes, the Tildari could rearrange an entire planet. The nations that had experienced Tildar’s full power no longer existed. Some countries had consumed themselves with civil war, unaware, until it was too late, that Tildar had been the architect of their strife. When various nations had submitted to the power of Tildar, they had become an ever-expanding part of the empire which now covered an entire planet. The realm also had territory on several other worlds.
“The treaty with Vaironia, as well as other countries on this planet, is only in place because we have a use for it,” Darion clarified. “Tildar is, after all, a military state like Vaironia. Only, we’re more determined and resourceful. If we ever had a need, that treaty would be broken without a second thought. The empire has become mellower in the past 1000 years but the right incentive could bring out its deepest nature.”
“When you talk about Tildar, you say ‘we’ but aren’t you Vaironian too?”
“Yes. I confess that, at times, I prefer my father’s culture. It is one of the oldest in our solar system; I tend to feel pride because of its longevity and its ability to conquer…Does it bother you, knowing these things about my bloodline?”
“No,” Tolrek assured Darion. “Actually, it just makes me want you more.”
“Then we might both be doomed,” he said, laughing.
Tolrek stretched out on top of Darion and the negotiator let out a sigh of pleasure. Yet, he knew he had to establish some conditions, given the changes to his body.
“And therein lies a problem.” Darion stopped Tolrek’s progress to his crotch.
“What’s wrong?” Tolrek asked, frowning. “Is this still too painful?”
“I’m mostly recovered. However, there are precautions we need to take before we have sex again. We’ll begin today.” Using the intercom, Darion told Halsam to bring some anbalra tea.
Darion didn’t have to wait long for Halsam to bring in the drink. The young man was asked to leave, after bombarding Darion with questions about his tattoos.
Tolrek peered suspiciously at the steaming, green liquid. The smell was quite strong and foreign to him.
“Taste it,” Darion coaxed. He stared expectantly at Tolrek, who finally drank a bit of the tea. The rebel grimaced as the bitter liquid made its way down his throat and into his stomach.
“It’s not that bad,” Darion said, laughing. “And you need to have it. I want to put some strength into you.”
“What are you trying to say?” Tolrek grumbled, as he set the cup on a bed stand.
“You’ll need to be stronger. With my seal off, I’ll be much more fervent, including during sex.”
“Great! I won’t have to fake it any longer.”
“Ohhh,” Darion laughed brokenly. “You’re on your way to trouble.”
Darion deftly flipped Tolrek beneath him, pressing their bodies close together.
He brought his mouth down to Tolrek’s. When he felt the rebel become fully hard, he pulled away, doing the best he could to control himself.
“What is it?” Tolrek asked.
“I can’t sleep with you yet. There are exercises I need to do to adjust to the additional power. It’s not safe for you until then. Now, before you completely distract me, there’s something I want to tell you. I took off my restriction because of the threat to you. Things are getting more serious.”
Tolrek assured Darion that he wasn’t worried.
“I can take care of myself.”
“If that were true, you wouldn’t have ended up in a prison 200 feet below the VSB.”
“Considering your role in the whole matter, you should watch what you say,” Tolrek responded drily. “Let’s move on to something else. A while ago, I’d asked you about more privileges. You said we’d talk about it later. ‘Later’ is here.”
“You’re so persistent,” Darion said, sighing.
“It’s served me well in life….”
“Oh, is that why you ended up in prison?”
“Stop going back to that. Now, the Ostabeln Market is open in a few days. Is it possible for me to go?”
Many interplanetary traders would come to the market. It hadn’t happened since two years before the last war between Ersha and Vaironia. The merchants, sensing the violent winds, had opted to take their business to other areas. Tolrek was now eager to see what would be there, especially the engineering technology.
“Tol, use the Simulation Room,” Darion said, dampening the rebel’s mood. “I can get Fei to create a full-scale program for you. It’ll be just like you’re at the market.”
“That’s not enough, D. I can’t fake the atmosphere, the things I want to buy, the bartering…You’re not taking this seriously.”
Darion paused, still feeling ambivalent about revealing his plans. He hoped he wouldn’t regret his choice.
“Next month, when I go to Tildar, I’ll take you along with me,” he finally said. “Isn’t that better than any Vaironian market?”
“Really?” Tolrek looked at Darion skeptically.
“Yes but—and you will comply with this—I’m going to have special security chips implanted in you.” Darion held up a hand to cut off Tolrek’s argument. “I already know that you won’t try to escape. This is for your safety. Now, I’m granting you a massive privilege. Are you really going to fight me on this? Do you want to go to Tildar or not?”
“You know I do.”
“Then, when Reya arrives to do the implants, you’d better not give her any trouble. Otherwise, you’ll be marched off to the Punishment Room. Promise me that you won’t cause any problems Tolrek, especially on the trip.”
Darion pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Given the rebel’s nature, there likely would be some issues.
“Darion, are you sure you want to take him off the planet?” Reya asked. She had come to administer the implants for Tolrek.
“Yes, it would make him happy and I care about that.”
“My, my. You’ve fallen in love…”
“Well…” Darion laughed, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away.
“Enjoy it,” Reya encouraged him. “He’s apparently quite a match for you. Shall I go to him now?”
“Yes. By the way, will you do me a little favor?” Darion explained what he wanted, as he took Reya to meet Tolrek.
In Darion’s study, Tolrek was impatient for him to bring in Reya. The negotiator had ordered Tolrek to wait, until he’d had a few words with his close friend. The rebel had occupied himself by searching through Darion’s desk, hoping he’d find something interesting.
“Stop meddling,” he heard as he opened a fourth drawer. He looked up to see Darion giving him an iron glare, with Reya by his side.
“He’s even more adorable in person,” Reya said, walking over to Tolrek.
Ordinarily Tolrek would have bristled at another adult labeling him as “adorable” but he was simply too mesmerized by the woman in front of him. He breathed in the rich perfume of Reya as she leaned close to him. The rebel took in her features, finding her to be one of the most attractive people he had ever seen.
Her deep olive complexion offset her long-lashed blue-green eyes, as she appraised the rebel. Her long brown hair was pulled back into a conservative, severe bun. The style contrasted with her voluptuous figure that was covered with a simple but chic black blouse and a pair of black pants.
Reya’s glossed lips curved, as she thought of what she’d seen in the video. The lustful gleam in her eyes caused Tolrek’s insides to become heated.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” she said, offering her hand to him.
Tolrek shook it and felt his loins stir when her hand came into contact with his. Darion stared at him pointedly, knowing exactly the carnal reaction that Reya could cause.
As a Mekrian, she released a flood of pheromones that easily enticed many. Years ago, when Darion had first met her, she’d cast the same spell on him, even though he’d heard of her abilities. The Mekrians often joked that their motto was “a charge of lust smoothes the way.” Their style of getting what they wanted through carnal arts wasn’t always appreciated, especially after the recipients recovered from the rush and realized they’d been manipulated.
Burgundy embarrassment rose to Tolrek’s cheeks, as he realized he was reacting like a naïve virgin.
“Are you blushing, Tolrek?” Reya teased, her tone seductive.
“I think he is,” Darion said, chuckling. “I can only imagine why.”
Tolrek shot him a dark glare, when Reya laughed softly.
“I have to give you two injections,” she explained, as she took out her materials and set them on the desk. “One is to release the chips. The second will keep your body from rejecting them.”
After Reya put the first injection into Tolrek’s left arm, he watched as she prepared the second one, which had an even larger needle. When he continued to hold out his arm, Reya grinned and shook her head.
“I’ll need you to lower your pants. And, it would be best if you’re on the couch.”
“But we haven’t even gone on a date yet,” Tolrek joked.
“Just listen to her,” Darion ordered. Tolrek did his bidding, giving him an obnoxious smile.
“It’s going to sting more than the other one; this needle is thicker and the fluid is quite potent,” Reya said. “But you can take Darion so…” Tolrek laughed and Darion rolled his eyes.
Tolrek flinched when the needle went into his flesh. Reya’s statement that the second shot would be painful was accurate. When she’d finished administering the shot, she patted Tolrek on his firm backside, which caused Darion to bristle with jealously.
“Reya…” the negotiator warned.
“That wasn’t a problem,” Tolrek assured her, laughing and making Darion scowl at the both of them.
As Tolrek pulled back up his pants, Reya turned to Darion. “I’ll expect my 200 runds in my account soon. He did listen.”
“You made a bet on me?” Tolrek asked.
“Yes,” she admitted. “And you could have taken the second shot in your arm.”
“It’s true,” Darion chuckled. “I wanted to see if you’d argue about it.”
“You ass,” Tolrek grumbled. That earned him a smack from Darion on his sore rear.
“Well, I should go now,” Reya said, packing up her items. “I need to humiliate Makdan, again.”
“Really? How much did he lose this time?” Darion asked.
“He must give me 1000 runds. My robot beat his in the latest high-stakes tournament. Not only did I get the pot but I also won my private bet with him. I told him to stick to composing music.”
“You build robots for competition?” Tolrek questioned, clear interest in his voice.
“Yes; she builds them and battles at an exclusive club for tech fanatics,” Darion answered. “Reya’s practically a fixture at that place.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” his friend chided, pouting playfully.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Darion responded. “I do like how you frequently demolish Makdan. You’d think he’d learn by now.”
“D, if I made a robot, could I—” Tolrek began.
“No. It’s out of the question. The person who attacked you was obviously technologically savvy. For all we know, he or she could frequent that club.”
“I’ll pay close attention, in case I hear something,” Reya said. “At any rate, don’t forget to bring me back a souvenir from Tildar. It must be from Tezza’s emporium or it doesn’t count.”
“Who’s Tezza?” Tolrek asked.
“You’ll meet her when we get to Tildar,” Darion answered. “Let’s see Reya out.”
When Reya left, Tolrek tried to verbally corner Darion.
“Have you slept with her?” the rebel asked. “You two have a certain ease.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“So that’s a yes,” Tolrek grumbled. “Well, at least you didn’t film that.”
“No,” Darion replied. As he sauntered off to the kitchen, he smugly left a parting shot. “She did.”
Darion left Tolrek wondering who else he counted among previous lovers, though the rebel didn’t want to care.
“If you’re not ready in the next five minutes, I leaving without you!” Tolrek announced.
He was anxious to take the flight to Tildar. He’d been waiting almost half-an-hour for Darion, who was finishing a few tasks. This had gone on longer than expected. Tolrek’s annoyance at having to wait was especially severe, as he knew the threat to leave without Darion was an empty one. He simply wouldn’t be permitted to go too far.
Najrina growled, echoing Tolrek’s frustrations. He stroked her fur to sooth her and she purred, wrapping her long tail around his thigh.
Darion, ignoring Tolrek’s complaint, wanted to make sure his household was in order, before he left. The plan was for Arjan and Halsam to remain in Vaironia. Arjan would work for Makdan, who undoubtedly would attempt again to woo him away from Darion. The chef promised that Makdan would fail. He and the negotiator laughed, as they made a bet about how many tactics Makdan would try.
Halsam would begin an apprenticeship with Beilon. He was nervous, having always been intimidated by the high-ranking official. Darion put a reassuring hand on his shoulder to give him some words of wisdom.
“You’ll be great,” Darion told him. “He wouldn’t have agreed to take you, if he didn’t have confidence in you. Use the opportunity well. React quickly to what he wants. In fact, try to anticipate the best course and mention it to him. You’ll be remembered for it. Don’t make me regret suggesting this apprenticeship.”
“I’ll do my best,” Halsam murmured.
“No Halsam, don’t do your best. Do my best.” Darion laughed and playfully punched the young man on his shoulder, surprising him.
“What about me?” Fei asked, sounding petulant. “I want to go with you.”
“Fei, you’re a computer, no matter how much you pretend otherwise,” Darion replied. “Reya and Kejaro will be coming by periodically. They still have some security diagnostics to do.”
“This long-ass goodbye is making me nauseous,” Tolrek complained. “Can we just get on the damn shuttle?”
“Well, then I guess I won’t miss you,” Halsam teased. Tolrek put him in a headlock and dragged him out to the car.
Arjan and Halsam drove Darion and Tolrek to the Chreba Space Port, where they boarded the private shuttle provided by Darion’s parents. Once the two were firmly in orbit and could move about freely, Tolrek eagerly began to explore the ship. Darion watched him, laughing as he pried, accompanied by his pet.
“I’ve never really had the chance to leave the planet,” Tolrek explained. “Well, at least I couldn’t go this far away from it, not even when I was battling.”
“Just don’t distract the pilots,” Darion told him. “And before you even bring it up, no, you can’t fly the shuttle.”
“These sixteen hours are going to be fun,” Tolrek grumbled, part of his plan to get through the flight being crushed.
Upon arriving on Tildar, Tolrek could already feel the atmosphere pressure affecting him. He’d learned that it could at times cause those unaccustomed to it to experience some pain. The pressure behind his eyes and in his head, which had started increasing once the shuttle began its descent, had steadily become worse. He was intrigued by the activity at the restricted spaceport, a location only government officials and their guests could use. However, the pain he was feeling was too acute for him to truly enjoy his surroundings. He didn’t complain but Darion noticed his growing discomfort, while they waited for their ride to Darion’s place.
“Are you hurting, love?” the negotiator asked.
“Yes,” Tolrek confessed, rubbing his eyes fiercely for the third time in as many minutes.
“Come here,” Darion said. “I have some fluids to put into your eyes.”
“Now that sounds nasty.”
“Only you would twist my words so badly.”
Darion tipped up Tolrek’s chin, administering the eye drops.
“You should feel better soon,” Darion said, watching Tolrek’s eyes once again become a vibrant green.
“If that’s your Pet, you spoil him greatly,” the two heard. Darion turned to see that Jarrick Abires was standing a short distance from them.
“Your brother sent me to get you. He’s consumed with business and apologizes,” Jarrick explained. “I’m glad I could pick you up; I’ve been looking forward to your visit, Darion.”
“This is unexpected,” Darion said, embracing the other Tildari. “But, I’m glad to see you!”
When Darion’s eyes had locked with Jarrick, familiar feelings began to stir within the negotiator. Tolrek noticed the current between the two and felt the uninvited sting of jealousy.