Chapter Thirty-Four The Fifth School of Magic
With his guests satisfied and given leave to use his home as freely as they would their own, Shu-Giri retired to his own chambers. There he found Vénes, his eyes on a book of spells, the tray of food beside him untouched. Shu-Giri stepped up behind him and laid his hands on his shoulders.
“You’ll waste away to nothing if you don’t eat,” he whispered into his ear.
Vénes laid the book down on his lap and turned to look up at his Rrandah. “Did you forget? I don’t need to eat much; magic is all I really need to sustain me. …And you,” he added before picking the book up again.
The comment made Shu-Giri grin, and he climbed over the couch, where he pushed the book out of the other man’s hands and straddled his lap. He stared into Vénes’s earthy green eyes and told him, “I know that you remember what I told you last time you were reading my books.”
Vénes pulled his eyes away from his Rrandah with a sigh, reaching for the book again. “I’ve always learned my magic this way.”
Shu-Giri grabbed his wrists, shaking his head at the sorcerer, refusing to let him go back to reading. “Alone; I know. But you didn’t agree to take the Rrandah vows with me to sit alone in this room and read the same books that I read a decade ago.”
“I told you, I’m not– “
“Not ready?” Shu-Giri finished for him, feeling his anger rise. “You merged your spirit with mine, and swore to share our magics, but still you say you’re not ready?!” He let out an exasperated sigh.
“For more than that. You know what I mean.” The sorcerer’s voice had a saddened tone to it, as though he preferred to sulk and hide away in the old books.
“I know precisely what you feel, Vénes.” Shu-Giri laid a hand on his heart, and one on the other man’s. “I know your life-force, your emotions, and your magic. Sometimes I can even catch a glimpse of a memory from you. You have to stop thinking of us as two separate beings and let yourself join me completely.”
Vénes looked away. The sadness in his heart flooded forward, the pain of the loss he’d experienced years ago, the guilt and loneliness that had enshrouded him for so long. Shu-Giri felt it through their bond, the debilitating melancholy that had nearly taken the sorcerer’s life as he mourned the loss of the only other man he’d ever loved. Every time he had tried to help Vénes out of that misery, another wave of it would emerge, threatening to pull him backwards and rend him incapable of healing. He knew how to help him, if only Vénes would let him.
“If you want something to read, please study the Book of Rrandah,” Shu-Giri whispered to his beloved, wrapping his arms tightly around him. “It will tell you that lying with me is not the simple act that most lovers make. We have sealed our spirits together on the astral, my love. Joining our physical forms will not only strengthen that bond; it will complete it. It’s only when we have done both that the true Rrandah power will emerge.”
Still the sorcerer said nothing. He shut his eyes against the tears that welled up in them, only weakly returning Shu-Giri’s embrace. His thoughts were a mess with thoughts of his past, and of his first few days with the treasure hunter. He felt lost in sadness and confusion, the impending doom that Métius threatened to bring upon the land weighing heavy on his mind; how could he have time to think of his emotions when the prince was counting on him to help protect Onsira?
“I understand this turmoil you’re carrying within you, Vénes.” Shu-Giri sat back, wiping the tears away from the sorcerer’s cheeks. “I feel it through you. But it’s time for you to stop bearing it all alone. I know you trust me, deep down. Let yourself trust me with this: Lysander will be no less remembered if you give yourself to me completely.”
When he heard the name of his lost love, Vénes’s tears flowed more freely, and his lip trembled. Shu-Giri held him, taking in the torrent of emotions coming from the sorcerer. When he felt that he’d sorted through the mass of memories and despondency that was too much for Vénes, he spoke again.
“Lysander’s death was not your fault. Some part of you knows that; you just have to let it dominate over your fears. Your study of the black arts had nothing to do with why he got so sick, and why you couldn’t cure him. Lying with him didn’t infect him with the Dark One’s terrible essence– and none of your spells went astray.”
Still the sorcerer’s body trembled, his Rrandah’s words doing little to soothe him. Then Shu-Giri realized another reason why Vénes was so troubled. “And I swear to you, none of your magic can harm me, Vénes. We are bonded to protect and support one another. The more power you have, the safer I am, no matter what kind of magic it is. That is the power of the Rrandah bond.”
After a moment, when Shu-Giri’s words had sunk in, Vénes looked up at his Rrandah. He thought of too much that he wanted to say, and in the end, his throat closed around all of the words.
“You could make this into something about Lysander, or something about Phiare and Faolan– or Gelkrem, or Sihlphan, or–” he sighed heavily. “In the end, so could I; I’ve lost love before, and while you’ve spent years clinging to memories of Lysander, I’ve been raising my son. But I love you, as you are now, as you came to me with your entire past. I welcomed you here with all of my past. And you cannot allow everything that has gone before to affect what you let your heart feels right now.”
Shu-Giri’s words weighed on the sorcerer’s mind with such gravity, such surety that he couldn’t help but realize that he was right. Vénes raised his eyes to gaze into his Rrandah’s, a wave of gratitude emerging in his heart that cut through his sorrows like sunrise shunning the darkness.
“You’ve been so patient with me all this time…” he started, clinging to Shu-Giri’s hands as he spoke. But he couldn’t finish the thought.
“Of course I have. I love you, Vénes. Truly. If I didn’t feel this way for you, if I didn’t plan to always be at your side and support you, I would have given up on sharing my bed with you long ago. I wouldn’t have asked to make the Rrandah Promise with you. So now you understand; I didn’t do all of this because of some desire for your physical form.”
“It’s the natural course that love takes…” Vénes added for him, feeling the other man’s thoughts flood into his heart, now that he’d finally made way for them. “To want to share everything, completely.”
Shu-Giri nodded. “In all ways, not just the physical.”
“Then what you did with Phiare…”
“Now you understand the Jzamneh better. I would never take any sort of vow with her. Faolan was the unexpected result of the time we spent together, but I feel lucky to have him.”
By then, Vénes was only half-listening to Shu-Giri’s explanations. He wasn’t interested in his what he had to say about elvan conception, that it usually took deeply-felt emotions to trigger the hormones that allowed to womb to ripen into a state in which it could carry a child. The reason why that had happened in Phiare even though they hadn’t been in love no longer seemed relevant; it wouldn’t change the fact that Faolan had been born. Perhaps it was through their bond, but Vénes was developing a sense that it was for the best; there was no other way for Shu-Giri to sire a child to carry on his bloodline.
It seemed to Vénes that he’d managed to open his awareness to the fact that just as Shu-Giri could sense his emotions and catch glimpses of his memories, so too could Vénes feel his. With their astral forms linked, they could know one another without having to say everything in words. There was only one thing in all the world that Shu-Giri was left wanting, and only because he wanted to strengthen the bond that he shared with the sorcerer.
“There’s good reason for sorcery to be called the fifth alignment,” Shu-Giri reminded him. “You’re able to unify the magic of the four gods, to embody the ability to use all of them together without conflict.”
Vénes nodded. “It’s why I continued along this path even after I lost my mother.”
“The Rrandah bond only adds to that, Vénes. When the final unification is complete, you will have all of my magic,” Shu-Giri whispered in his ear, knowing that he felt it too. “The Jzamneh spells, the powers of crystal and metal, the Fae powers that I learned as a young boy. You’ll be able to use it all just as well as you can use the magic you learned in the tower of sorcery in Mithkyn. Your access to the fifth alignment will be complete.”
“And you can use my power in the same way?”
Shu-Giri shook his head and replied, “It’s not a Rrandah’s place to use his sorcerer’s magic, but to give of himself to support that sorcerer. I’ll know the spells that are under your control, but only so that I may sustain and strengthen you. Anything that I don’t know on my own, I’ll have to learn the old way if I’m to use without you.”
Vénes thought over his explanation of how his magical abilities would change. It seemed that he had a lot to gain, while Shu-Giri didn’t. He gave his Rrandah a perplexed look and asked him, “You’re doing all of this even though you have no magic to gain?”
“I thought you understood by now. I’ve gained something far greater than magic or power. I have your love, and that’s all I ever wanted. If Métius is up to something that’s threatening all of us, I’ll share what I have in order to protect you. Will you at least consent to that?”
“I would agree to it,” Vénes told him, his voice quivering as he spoke, “even without such a need to do so.”
Shu-Giri was so surprised that he’d finally heard Vénes agree to complete their unification that he nearly leapt off the couch and danced around the room. He had to remind himself to stay there with him, to wrap his arms around the sorcerer instead. Feeling Vénes return his embrace, Shu-Giri leaned down, letting their lips meet, letting their kiss deepen. When he leaned back, he pulled Vénes’s robe away from his shoulders, revealing the smooth white cloth beneath it. His fingers ran down the sorcerer’s neck and under the cloth, taking in the feel of his rich, tan skin. Vénes watched him, his body trembling from the touch after so many years of keeping himself alone.
Then their eyes met, as though for the first time, and Vénes pulled him close again. This time he was the one to initiate the kiss. His heart raced as he squeezed Shu-Giri’s shoulders, keeping him close against him. His lover’s fingers slipped into his hair, diving through waves as dark and rich as the earth; he pulled away the cord that kept his hair tied back and let it flow freely behind him. Shu-Giri moved to sit beside the sorcerer, admiring the way Vénes’s hair ran down his chest, grinning at how handsome he was.
Vénes leapt onto him, leaning down for another kiss, his hands caressing Shu-Giri’s chest, feeling the muscles that moved just below his clothing. The Jzamneh elf let out a contented sigh as he let Vénes take over, reveling in the deftness that the lean sorcerer possessed. He released the clasps that held the sorcerer’s robe shut and slid it further down his shoulders. The heavy, embroidered fabric fell away from Vénes’s narrow body as he shirked it away, halting their kiss for only a moment to lay it aside, then returning to it just as quickly.
As they embraced, an aura of magical power surrounded them. Lines of black and ivory crept up the sorcerer’s back and merged with clouds of soft colors, followed by golden-green energy. The four schools of magic– good and evil, elemental and bardic– swirled within him and revealed themselves as colors that glowed brightly and shadows that darkened beneath them. Shu-Giri’s own body was aglow with power as well, but his was the gold and emerald of Zeah, Jenh’s elemental magic. More specifically, his power over the earth, from the rich soil and the trees that grew from it, to the shining metals and sparkling crystal hidden deep within it. There was a hint of the soft, springtime colors that represented Jzamneh Forest, and Vénes was too caught up in his passions to notice them.
Without warning, Shu-Giri lifted Vénes into his arms and stood up from the couch. He carried him across the room, past the table where the tray of food still sat, stepping deftly over a stack of books, and laid him on the thick quilt that covered his bed. Kneeling over him, he resumed his exploration over his lover’s body. Vénes gave in easily to his touch, allowing him to open each of the many buttons on his shirt despite his nervousness. He did the same for his Rrandah, freeing his muscular arms through the soft leather shirt that he wore.
Then he stared up at him, the contrast in their two bodies becoming all the more real to him. It wasn’t the first time that Vénes had seen Shu-Giri undressed; not by far. In that moment, however, knowing that he was at last giving himself over completely, the way his tall and lean body laid below a man with three times his strength and muscle seemed daunting. Here was a man known for exploring dangerous labyrinths, where physical prowess was necessary in order to survive and escape with treasure in hand. All of Vénes’s power was within him, and he had enough to destroy his own body if he called forth too much of it at once.
Through their bond, Vénes felt how terribly Shu-Giri was in love with him, from the very depths of his being. There was also a sense of giving, of holding back enough to keep from hurting the man he loved. Vénes felt soothed by that gentle aspect of his passion, and he focused on relaxing his body as Shu-Giri’s hands caressed his chest. The golden-green glow of his Zeah lingered where their skin met, tiny tendrils forming here and there like the vines of climbing plants. Sometimes his arms seemed to be encased in gold or bright crystal, which made Vénes stare at him in awe.
“That is the magic preparing itself to go to you,” Shu-Giri told him. “Jzamneh power, earth spells beyond what you already know.”
“Are you sure that I don;t know them?” Vénes asked, trying to catch his breath.
With a grin, Shu-Giri said, “I ‘m certain. I can feel your spells, the magic that you’ve studied so hard to learn. To keep the four alignments in balance, you haven’t accrued much strength in the elements. You have a lot to gain from me tonight, Vénes.”
The sorcerer was unable to reply; his lover’s touch had grown stronger. His closed his eyes, losing himself in the pleasure that he felt and forgetting everything else in the world around him. Even when the cool night air met the skin on his legs, he didn’t mind. Shu-Giri moved closer to him, his own magical aura merging with his lover’s as their bodies touched. He moved so slowly and gently that Vénes was only subtly aware of when they became one; the sorcerer reveled in the pleasure of their astral bond and well as their physical.
More than that, Vénes’s body sparked with new magic that he hadn’t before known. He felt first the bright crystals, which seemed to fill his body with facets of light of every color, and then the metals, each one granting him a new layer of strength. When the Zeah of plants came to him, his mind was filled with visions of the rich, fertile soil. From that he realized that all the power of Jzamneh was flooding into him.
Shu-Giri was alive with its power, glowing as he moved over Vénes, and the earth and stone of his Zeah came together and formed something greater than either one alone. It was what the treasure-hunter could never have explained in words, the whimsy and affection, the colors of the bright woodlands. And deep within it, the more mysterious aspects of Jzamneh, the hidden tribes and the spells that Shu-Giri had learned from them.
Vénes took it all in as a calm bliss came over him. The magic that his Rrandah gave him found its way into the far corners of his body, mixing with the magic that he already had, making him feel more alive than he ever had before. He became distantly aware of Shu-Giri calling his name, of his hands running over his skin. Vénes called back to him, and opened his eyes to see thick locks of hair floating before him. Shu-Giri had loosened it, letting it fall freely around his face. Sweat was dripping from his chin, and beads of it ran down his chest as he moved with his beloved.
“I love you,” Vénes whispered, pushing his Rrandah’s hair back from his face. The words hardly seemed necessary; Shu-Giri already knew how he felt. What he really meant was that he loved what he was doing, what was happening to him.
The words made Shu-Giri cling to him tighter, to move with a renewed vigor as he leaned in for a kiss. His fingers pinched into Vénes’s skin, but he didn’t mind. It had been too long since he’d been loved like that, and now that he felt the wonders of it again, he didn’t want to stop or let go. Shu-Giri’s magic was his, but also his spirit, his body, and his heart. Nothing could have been more perfect.
Shu-Giri’s cries grew louder, his hands tighter, his movements more insistent. He gave no thought as to whether anyone besides Vénes could hear him. He was too happy, and his mind raced just as his heart did. Vénes gave himself to him so easily, so simply that he couldn’t hold out for much longer. Shu-Giri’s body tensed, and he cried out one last time. Magic crackled around him, a final, powerful spell that found its way into Vénes. The he relaxed and rested his body across Vénes’s like a sort of blanket, his chest heaving as he trembled with pleasure.
For a long time, neither of them said anything. They could feel one another’s thoughts and emotions through the bond between them that had opened wide from what they had done. Both were left contented, satisfied and fulfilled.
And weak, Shu-Giri amused himself to think.
It was a while before his muscles consented to move again, to allow him to move his weight off of Vénes and lie beside him. The sorcerer remained in his arms, laying his head on his chest and listening to his pounding heart. As the rhythm became steadier, he let his eyes close, soothed by the even beat that it drummed out.
His own heart felt lighter, freer. The pain that he’d carried with him for so many years felt lessened, allowing him to truly rest. He was soon lost in the peaceful kind of sleep that he had longed for longer than he could remember.
When Shu-Giri realized that his lover was asleep, he smiled to himself. He could sense the peace that he’d brought Vénes. He’d never been able to tell him, for he knew his reservations would be too great, but a Rrandah’s duty was not only for magical support. They were also meant to look after the emotional well-being of their sorcerers. He wouldn’t be dragged down in Vénes’s misery, but could help to lessen it. Now that he’d given himself over completely, both of them could rest knowing that they were at peace with their pasts.
As the night grew deeper, Shu-Giri began to feel his eyes closing. He gave in to sleep, holding Vénes in harms, as happy as he’d ever hoped to be. If only, he thought before dreams came to him, that easy peace wasn’t doomed to last only the night. On the morrow, they would resume their journey, and the danger that they were in would draw ever closer. Shu-Giri would fight that evil with all of his strength if it meant protecting Vénes; that he swore to them both.