What has become of our Hearts and our Homes
With more coasts under its power than any other kingdom on the continent, K’hithvahn had developed a strong sea-side culture. They glorified the balance of power and elegance of the ocean, and they especially revered the manta rays for their speed and agility. Although some have described the water elves of K’hithvahn as arrogant and prideful, they would defend themselves as rightfully so.Their claim was that no others had mastered the sea, nor the ways of battle, as they had. Their fighting techniques were exquisite, stylized, reserved for the water elves alone. Against it, their foes struggled to prevail.
With that in mind, it made no sense for Amaten’s village to fall so easily to Z’Lé’s soldiers. They should have been able to sense the approaching attack, to defend themselves against the imperial soldiers who pushed into their land, especially considering that most of them lacked formal training, and many others were no more than empty-minded ghouls.
The day was a haze to the lost soldier, and riding aback the Zeah dragon was of no help. Flying, to some, was refreshing, the swift air exhilarating as it rushed over them; for water elves, only the oceans and rivers of Lorata were suitable dwellings.
Amaten was relieved when Jza sank onto the grass in his village just a few days after they’d left Jzamneh Forest. In the receding light of the day, he searched among the ruins of the homes, hoping to find somebody still there, still alive. His own home was crumbled and beaten, the tiles shattered and the beams splintered.
He pushed past the rocks, working his tired muscles to reclaim as much of value as he could find. Beneath the broken frame of his bed, Amaten found his scabbard, blue leather worked with designs that depicted the sea and the crests of both K’hithvahn and his village. He released a grateful sigh when he found his sword still sheathed within it, and tied it to his waist. Everything else that he managed to find as he continued his search, he collected in a makeshift pack,.
In another ruined dwelling, between rotted larders and flooded gardens, he found but one body, but there was no life left within it. Disheartened, Amaten freed her from the rubble that had buried her, and wrapped her in a blanket that he found nearby. Shaken and suddenly incredibly lonely, he carried her back to Jza.
“My condolences,” the dragon rumbled as the elf returned. “Was she important to you?”
Amaten eyed the dragon in dismay. “Everyone in our village was important to me. But…” he knew what Jza meant. “She was not special to me in specific. I hardly knew her.”
“Nobody else is there?”
“Not even our animals,” Amaten replied with a sigh. “The village was deserted, but not altogether suddenly. They took everything important with them when they left. Hardly anything is here besides these ruins.”
Amaten stared across what remained of his home, he heart desolate. What had happened to the people he had lived with? He knew that several of them had been killed in battle, and some taken as conscripts, but most of them should have been able to get to safety. In the end, he had to admit that he had been taken away too soon to have learned the truth about what had happened.
“Aye, little elf?” the dragon replied.
“Can you fly me to my king? If he will grant me an audience, perhaps I can learn what has happened here. He should know, too, what I saw while I was away. I what to offer my service to him, to defend our land.”
“With intentions as noble as yours, I can take you where you need to go,” the dragon said. “And as for the girl?”
“I hope to find a way to give her a proper parting ceremony, so that she can join our ancestors. She deserves that at least. I cannot simply leave her in this deserted place.”
Jza stretched his wings and let Amaten climb onto his back. He settled his pack behind him, alongside the bag of black armor that had been thrust upon him by Z’Lé’s army; he refused to litter his or any other village with it, and hoped that it would prove to have some use eventually. He held the girl in front of him as the dragon left the ground, and watched the land fall away behind him.
As the cold air rushed through his hair, Amaten prayed that his king would be able to offer him some form of explanation. Why K’hithvahn had been attacked, he could understand; Z’Lé had turned imperialistic, and he needed more soldiers to fight for his cause. Why the village had been abandoned by his people, rather than restoring what remained, he needed to know– and he had to keep it from happening to other villages. By his wave-blade, he would serve his king and keep his fellow water elves free.
Blinking, Vénes looked up from his book to see Shu-Giri’s grinning face. He sat down beside the sorcerer, offering him a warm mug.
“Those books will never teach you more than I could personally,” Shu-Giri reminded him.
Vénes took a sip from the mug, then eyed his friend with irritation.
“Mead cannot hurt you, Vénes,” Shu-Giri said, remembering that he had a dim view of alcohol. “I will not let you be all tea and books. You said yourself that you used to like mead.”
Vénes sighed. “I stopped because Lysander would never drink it with me.”
“Is that it?” Shu-Giri asked knowingly. “It all comes back to him.”
“Haven’t I explained that clearly enough?”
Shu-Giri looked hurt. “You have. I understand how important he was to you, Vénes. But…”
“What?” the sorcerer asked, knowing that Shu-Giri would not be satisfied until he did.
“I want you to cheer up. Lysander will always have been special to you, and I do not expect you to ever forget him. Still…” He took a breath, then forced the words out. “I want you to think of me like that– and I want you to be that special to me one day.”
Vénes stared at the chieftain, wide-eyed and incredulous.
“You think I am too playful to love you that way?”
Unsure how to answer him, nor how to respond to his serious tone, Vénes said nothing.
“I thought you were opening up to me,” Shu-Giri complained, his rosy eyes glistening. “We’ve talked so much in the time you have been here…”
Seeing that his companion was hurt, Vénes’s demeanor changed. “It is only that I am not used to such energy. I–”
“Still?” Shu-Giri interrupted, laughing. “After all these weeks with me?”
“You make it sound like months. Shu-Giri, of all the people I grew up with, Vincent had the most energy, but even he is quiet and mellow sometimes. He can even be down-hearted. You have more energy than Vincent even at his most boisterous. Besides that… Well, Lysander was as quiet as I was.”
“Two of a kind!” the other declared with a grin.
Vénes nodded. “So we were.”
Shu-Giri set their mugs down and took the sorcerer’s hands, looking him directly in his eyes. “You would welcome the change though, wouldn’t you?” He hardly gave Vénes a moment to answer before going on. “Do you like me at all?”
The question made Vénes blush. “You have been good to me, Shu-Giri. I do like you, but…” he thought of how to explain what he felt. “Just keep being patient with me. I cannot explain how far I have come already because of you.”
Before Vénes could say any more, Shu-Giri crawled onto his lap and wrapped his arms around his narrow shoulders. The sorcerer found himself being kissed, unable to object– and not wanting to. Rather than fight it, he relaxed, conceding his reservations and allowing deeper feelings to flood his heart. He gave back as much as his admirer gave him, fully absorbed in that kiss as the minutes passed.
“I love you too,” Shu-Giri whispered when he eventually pulled back.
“Do you really think you have to say it?” Shu-Giri replied, his voice soft, resting his forehead on Vénes’s. “I could feel it.”
“How?” Vénes asked, his voice trembling.
Shu-Giri laid his hand on the sorcerer’s chest, and he understood. Spiritually, somehow, they shared a heart, an essence that he could not describe accurately. The Jzamneh elf could tell by his friend’s persisting sadness how deep his pain had been, how seriously losing Lysander had wounded him. He watched Vénes’s eyes, the way the dark color shone in the daylight.
Like a forest, he thought to himself, and continued to look contentedly at the sorcerer.
“Like crystals,” Vénes said. When Shu-Giri raised his brow, looking confused, the sorcerer explained, “Your eyes. They sparkle like crystals.”
“Like treasure?” Shu-Giri added playfully.
Vénes nodded, knowing that this would please his friend.
Then, out of nowhere at all, Shu-Giri asked him, “Do you want children?”
Choking, the sorcerer pushed Shu-Giri off of him and got up. He stared out the window. “How can you ask something like that all of a sudden?”
Exasperated by how sensitive his companion was, Shu-Giri explained himself. “I was thinking how handsome you are… And then I remembered your parents. So–”
“Do you think I should not?’ Vénes asked, turning to eye the other coldly.
“Nothing of the sort!” There were times when Shu-Giri struggled to defend himself against the way that Vénes would react to things. He went to his side and took his hand. “I– Vénes, I only thought that your children would be so beautiful. What I meant was, I worried that you thought that you shouldn’t.”
Vénes shook his head. “I have never considered children, if you must know. Lysander never mentioned anything like that, and my brother… He seemed to know just what to not ask.”
“Vincent has children, though, doesn’t he?”
“I could tell. I know you never understand how, but I can.”
Vénes let out a tired sigh. He knew that he could not deny that Shu-Giri was right, but his omniscience was starting to become trying. The chieftain was in tune with the forest and life, and could even access the astral plane, but his character was one that rarely hid what he knew. He had learned not to share others’ secrets, but what unnerved Vénes was that way that Shu-Giri had of telling others he already knew– before they themselves could say it to him.
“He is very protective of her, and also very proud,” Vénes told his friend. He moved to give Shu-Giri an earnest look. “If you tell anyone– especially Mearrk’hal– without Vincent being ready…”
“I would never!” When Vénes contested him no further, he went on. “But what about you? Can you imagine yourself as a father?”
“When you put it like that, it sounds dreadful. Shu-Giri, I all I have ever done is study magic. Things like family and home that you keep asking me about are not so gravely important to me.”
Those words cut into Shu-Giri’s spirit, and he sulked over to his bed. Not knowing how to respond, Vénes simply watched him go. Shu-Giri stared at him, sullen and wounded. He stared back, unsure if he was about to cry, or if pouting would be the extent of it.
“I was not asking to satisfy my curiosity.”
“How unlike the Jzamneh.” The words came out more bitter than Vénes had intended, and he thought too late that they would hurt his new companion.
“I know you are sensitive about those things,” Shu-Giri said. “You have a lot of heartache. If it had not been important to me personally, I would have left it alone.”
Grumbling, Vénes walked over and sat beside him. “Do you realize that you have gotten awfully attached to me so quickly? How can you be sure that I will feel the same way about you– or that I’m capable of such feelings?”
“Because you already do!” Shu-Giri shouted the words, narrowing his eyes at him. He was so impassioned that by the time he realized they were there, the tears were already dripping from his cheeks to the backs of his hands. Vénes leaned over and wiped them away with his sleeve, giving the treasure-hunter the opportunity to grab onto him.
“You’re so attached to me, yet you hardly know me.”
“Stop it, Vénes! You cannot belittle that I feel like this. I am not fickle, and it isn’t any sort of magic swaying me. If I want someone, I do not have to claim or pretend any sort of love. What I feel for you is truly there. Have I pushed you to do any more than talk to me?”
Vénes groped for the right words, but Shu-Giri was saying too much for him to find anything right.
“I was surprised that it came so soon, myself,” Shu-Giri went on. “If you had spoken to Mearrk’hal about it before letting him leave, he could have told you that I am sincere. I told him what I feel for you; if he’d thought that I was wrong, would he have let you stay in my care?”
“You don’t love me? You don’t want another man in your heart? Maybe you would rather find a woman from your father’s tribe–”
“That is enough!” Vénes shoved the other elf away from him and got up from the bed. He glared down at Shu-Giri, fuming. “You have to understand that I do not want a family. I have never been with a woman, and I never shall. I just want to study magic.”
“For what purpose?” Shu-Giri demanded.
“What other purpose but to– Isn’t it obvious? To…” Vénes faltered. He had been sure that he knew the answer to that question, but when he tried to put it into words, all terms failed him.
The treasure-hunter pressed him further. “What are you going to do with everything you know? Do you want to be a secluded sage, watching your brother raise his child, with all the kingdoms rising and falling around you? Are you going to let the nobility be your master, and serve their intentions? Perhaps you could teach at a school of magic somewhere.”
Still Vénes had nothing to say. His friend’s words carried too much weight and emotion for him to respond properly.
“If you have planned for none of those, then plan to live with me. Plan to have me at your side, to learn what only I can teach you. Vénes…” Shu-Giri struggled to speak through his sobs, and soon gave up his efforts.
Seeing him so open and hurt, Vénes forced himself so sit beside Shu-Giri once again. He pulled him close, and Shu-Giri clung to him, shaking as he laid against his chest. Vénes rubbed his back, but could still think of nothing to say.
“Would you rather be without me?” a small voice asked.
Vénes looked down at his friend, then sighed. “No,” was the only word that escaped him.
“I would miss you if you left…”
Still silent, Vénes let a hand absently wander into Shu-Giri’s downy curls of hair. He sorted through the colors, admiring how the dusty pink changed to pale green. The lock of black that he had received after their exchange on the astral plane stood out strikingly against the rest. One finger traced the line of his ear, then down his chin. Shu-Giri looked up at him with his crystalline eyes.
“You said that you would be gentle to me,” Vénes at last told him.
“Was I not?” the other whimpered.
The sorcerer shook his head. “In some ways… But I think I understand it a little better now. I was worried that you were only infatuated with me.”
“No. This isn’t a passing fascination. Maybe you really do feel so deeply for me. You have a strange way of sharing it, but I am starting to under–”
Shu-Giri leapt onto the mage, pushing him backwards. He caught Vénes in his kiss before he could even catch his breath, taking his hands and entwining their fingers together. Vénes did not resist; he in fact replied in kind, enjoying the moment for as long as it would last. When he sat up, Shu-Giri smiled down at the handsome sorcerer.
“You realize that I love you?”
Vénes nodded, which made the treasure-hunter smile.
“You can be all those things, you know. Sage, teacher, aide to nobility. But I want to be with you in whatever you do.”
“You cannot talk to me about getting hurt. I would rather come to the end of my days having been with you than get any older knowing that you left without me.”
“I was not going to argue that.”
“Then what is it?”
Vénes blushed, and looked away. “I am not ready for… anything else with you.”
Realizing that he had pinned the sorcerer to the bed, Shu-Giri grinned widely, proud of himself. He leaned down and trapped Vénes in another kiss.
“My body does what it will, but my heart would not push you,” he whispered into Vénes’s ear. “As long as you accept my affection, anything else can wait.”