Wren laid in the bed unable to sleep. As time passed he felt his strength return enough to function at a relatively normal degree, however. As the thoughts of the past hour or so ran through his head he came up with a plan to spend the next couple hours before getting an early start on D-Day.
Wren summoned his spectral servant infused with a small bit of void power to clean himself and the rest of the area up while he used a bit of water and air to get the area properly fresh and obscene sent free. After he was done with that he had the construct move Troy to the bed and slowly helped boost Troy's fast healing to remove the drug. A couple of minutes later Troy was looking at Wren with a complex expression as Wren tried as best he could to describe all that had happened while Troy was knocked out and what it meant for them.
“His confession aside, he raised a few questions in me that have tickled the back of my mind and there is no easy answer to any of them so lets do what we can and move from there.”
As they laid on the mattress facing each other, Troy reached for Wren's hand and held on to it tightly before saying, “There is a way. For you to know the absolute truth within me. It would be my truth but it would be absolutely my truth. What you have to understand though, is that a lot of what makes us who we are come from a lifetime of thoughts and feelings. Those things aren't our truth but they are just as much a part of us so keep that in mind.
“People like me, at our core, are just specks of eternal stuff that gather the truths of many lifetimes till we find our way or are lost. Almost all either join with something bigger than ourselves or wander till we lose ourselves completely or become a bigger thing ourselves. So when you ask me for the truth, make sure you say, in some way 'the part of you that is Troy' or you are not going to get anything definite or so basic it won't do you any good.
“I'm going to give you my True Name after you make an oath on the Eternal Circle to forget it in ten minutes and to only use it to ask your questions. Is that fair?”
“More than fair. This True Name business sounds pretty heavy though. Is that the only way?”
“It's the only way for you to get what you need Wren. Maybe the only way for me too. I wasn't the only one who was changed by this bond. If anything, you were changed more than me but you are the one who controls it... I'm not a good person, Wren. I don't think I'm a bad one either. Don't use what you find in there to judge me. We all have darker days.”
Wren made his oath to forget and to only use Troy's True Name to ask questions and Troy relinquished it.
“****, I only speak to the part of you that is Troy. All that I ask is only for that part to answer. I call upon you **** to answer truthfully, in all that I ask. Is all that I have just said clear to you?”
“Yes.” Troys face was relaxed and although he was looking at Wren, it didn't seem as if he was seeing anything at all.
“Do you love me, and if so, what is the nature of that love?”
“Yes. It is the love of a savior. It is also the love between those who share hardships.”
“Is there is no romantic love?”
“I have not experienced it before, if it exists. I do not believe it does.”
Holy shit! Well, don't ask questions you don't want the answers to. Can't say that doesn't hurt but I can understand. He's what, 20?
“Is your want of me only because of the bond or my scent?”
“What other reasons do you have for wanting me?”
“You are my dreams made real. I want the happiness I believe exists in having you. I want to claim a part of you for myself the way you have claimed a part of me. I- wa-nt y-ou-r T-rue Name.” Troy's brows furrowed.
“Why would you want my True Name and how would you get it?”
“Ephyra showed me a way to use our True Names together to undo the bond without hurting us. I wanted to be free of it for a time then take it back if I liked having it more. If I could claim a part of you, freely given, that you had not shared with another, then I could see your True Name.”
“How much of what she told you about this do you believe?”
“I believe that no lasting harm would be done. I believe that the damage caused by a broken bond is caused because of the parts of ourselves that do not wish to let go. I believe that she wanted me to do this for another reason. I believe that reason is no longer a concern. I believe that the remaining harm is only emotional loss. I believe that the remaining balance of what I hold would be split between us. I believe the bond between us doesn't feel like it was made correctly. I believe that is why you were so weak. I believe breaking this bond would be good for both of us. I believe that a new bond would be better for both of us if I still want it for the same reason. I be-”
“That's enough answers to that question... If you have a choice between having the bond or not having the bond, what would you choose.”
“I would choose to not have it. I would choose to have it”
“Why do you want this bond?”
“I do not.”
“Why do you not want this bond?”
“It was not made correctly.”
“How is this bond not correct and how do you know?”
“It is too thick inwardly. It has inconsistencies. The investment of your resources in it are too much. The flow between us is not even as good as the one you have with Lilly. You fought against our bond which caused this. I instinctively understood this wrongness before Ephyra even explained it. It is why I tried so hard to get you to accept me before it became worse.”
“Is your understanding about yourself and the world around you clearer or more clouded in the state your in.”
“Would you be willing to swear the same oath you made to me but for thirty seconds instead of ten minutes?”
“If it is your will outside of the power I hold over your true name then I ask that you say that Oath.”
“I give you my True Name if you've the power to see it.”
“I give you permission to use my True Name to demand all of me to relinquish my hold on our bond as I demand you relinquish yours, ****.” Troy said after a few seconds.
“I demand the same, ****” Wren said as a voice outside screamed in panic.
“The waters come!”
Wrens perception disappeared.
He was back to seeing the world as much bigger. In this state, with all his knowledge and ability he was able to flit from one place to another with the greatest of ease. He didn't move so much as appeared and disappeared wherever he desired within the void overlap. He was removed from the panic around him but still felt that he wanted to help.
He called upon the mark of passage and spoke in pictures of compassion and desire to help all that he encountered. A small shadowy star surrounded by a soft, prismatic corona, he darted forth to appear before the greatest emotional distress, guiding them to safety above. He fell into a trance, moved to all places that distressed called him. Many reached out to him. Some with darker thoughts tried to capture him but he was untouchable, unreachable. He was a distant star shining a benevolent ray to illuminate the path.
Some attacked him. Some, despite their need, drowned for fear of him. It saddened him when that happened but he still opened the way. He did this until there were none left to save. There were still some here, drowned for too long or too much consumed by the angry fish women. He could pull water from lungs and mend wounds but he could not revive the dead beyond a few moments. The angry fish women had finished claiming this place and few were interested in his aid but a few did. He grieved with them at their loss he did not fully understand but they were grateful. Some of the older ones sent pictures back of fairness and prices paid. He sent them pictures of closure and forgiveness. Most agreed. Some who admired his beauty or had been helped by him in some way gave him tokens which he kept within himself. Some wished to hold him and though it saddened him to deny them he felt it was not a good thing.
When all here became calm enough he heard other pictures of distress and need so he moved higher to hear them. Some of the ones he had saved were fighting some of the others. There was anger and fear. He could hear two more clearly than the rest so he went to them first. They called a name, it was his but in a small way. The angriest one ordered three others to release a wrongness at the two who knew his small name. This wrongness would snuff their lights. As he had done things to this point he could only save one but wanted to save both. He found a way but the wrongness would touch them which meant he would have to touch them too.
He warred within for a moment that was too small for others to feel. The want to save was stronger than the want to not be touched for these two. He stretched to eat the wrongness. He stretched further still for the wrongness that would touch three lives waiting to be. He twisted himself to reach for another connected to these two that was far away yet reachable through them. For want to ward harm and sadness from these two, three lives and three lives to be were touched by him as he ate the wrongness and other wrongness' that were already there . He cared not if they changed him, after all, it was only a shell but he would not be tethered to so many. These two were his as he was theirs, in a small truth way, and that was enough.
His form to be remained frozen for a small moment. The one far away had a clear image of desired form. The two here were less clear but differing echos of each other and the three yet to be only knew of themselves in a primordial way, offering legions of possibility that stretched back eons but offered no guidance. And so the guiding power took the countless potential and turned it to an average of sleeping possibility from the three yet to be lives, expressed it through both the acknowledged and unacknowledged desires of the two and seated it all in the frame of the one clear picture.
Wren's perception and mind snapped back into place. He was standing in front of Jaden and Lilly, bristling at the eldest Grimshadow.
Awed and wary at had just transpired, the Eldest Grimshadow asked, “And whom may I be addressing, sir?”
The build of myriad essence clamoring to be claimed, that Wren had ignored in that other hermit's lantern form, became an incessant beating as Wren said, “I am a debt collector. Pay up.”
Prominent family leaders dropped to dust in moments while their nearest and most knowledgeable aged and weakened. A drastically decreased effect rippled out down the lines of all the family elites save for three: Suncave and Deepwise who remained untouched and Grimshadow who were nearly eradicated. The sudden explosive influx of essences left Wren's void feeling dangerously bloated for a moment before it began to crush and condensed down towards the purifying center, a trickling amount spilling over into his connections with Jaden and Lilly.
So that was her plan. I would take and purify a portion of all this before I would need aid which she would helpfully provide. I would get what my channels could handle. Jaden and Lilly would get a portion and the ever helpful Ephyra would take the lion's share. Fortunately for me, my too big shoes had plenty of room to handle the excess. No seriously, thank gawd for that, because not only did I not take it in chunks at a time, there was no eager Ephyra to leech the excess.
I estimate that my LE will be roughly around half, around 1 ½ more than I could have personally handled before. Don't know how much my spare tank could hold though. My SE will be around 20% so I'll be just out of the red for the first time ever on that but before my little growth oopsie I could only safely take in maybe around 10% of my personal total at any given moment. Now it's up to 30% but I was so empty that the middle space acted as a spill catch. I can't rely on that later. This was deadly dangerous. Even the bit that sloshed through the lines was enough to make Jaden and Lilly red faced and they have a shared realm to catch their over spill too! Now time to monopolize on the shock and awe before someone else does.
“I bring three decrees from your guardian! I also bring an invitation but will have to wait till I have discharged my duty. The first decree is that the guardian hands his weighty task of leadership over to the rightful heirs of his brother... House Suncave your family name is restored to Umberdown. Matron Kushal Umberdown, you are the first and last queen of your people. You are charged with the creation of a council that gives equal voice to all and it's stewardship for a total of twenty years, at which time your charge, princess Rohna will steward for twenty more. In the event of either of your deaths, Dhassa of Umberdown will attend the duty or her appointed heir among the brown sashes will. If this will is not followed it is the sacred duty of all brown sashes of every house to execute any purple sash that does not belong to house Umberdown or Deepwise. If the stewardship of house Umberdown is in question in forty years or if the council does not give equal voice to all people at that time, then it is the sacred duty of the brown sashes to find an heir of Umberdown or Deepwise they believe capable of the task and protect them while executing all corrupt officials. In short the brown robes are the custodians of equality and house Umberdown is it's champion.
“The second decree is thus; Outside of the sacred duty of the brown sash, no discrimination of gender or station , including the right to choose spouse, will be tolerated. It will be Queen Kushal Umberdown's duty to establish the punishments and implementation of them. Within this generation you will find that much of your fertility and relative safety of childbirth will be restored.
“The final decree is thus; Branch Shadow, Branch Shade and Branch Night of house Grimshadow shall return to their ancestral father's side. The house of Grimshadow is no more. These three branches are recognized as belonging to his family and are not to be harmed unless they cause harm... Grimalkin Tidren, see to their understanding and organization. Do not interfere with those who choose to suicide. It is their choice if they wish to join a filthy master in damnation or the awaiting embrace of a loving father!”
A few more globs of wrongness were flung at Wren before the dissenters were cut down, either by Grimalkin or, surprisingly, his father who Wren decided not to stop as he went on to slaughter nearly half of house Night. Seeing that the scary bringer of death and equality was no longer speaking House Umberdown and Deepwise began organizing everyone aside from the remaining group of nearly spiritless people being led to the riverside by Grimalkin and his father.
“Thank goodness we can recognize you, Wren. If we had not then a couple of people might have snatched you up before you could finish your little speech.” Lilly delivered dryly.
Wren turned around to see Lilly and Jaden had a Deepwise red sash and two Umberdown brown sashes trussed up. Fortunately, many others who might have tried to interrupt him with a dagger punch to the ribs were stopped by a ring of Umberdown and Deepwise guards.
“To be honest, I expected more sleeper agents than this.” Wren said pleasantly.
“There are or at least were. They are currently walking down the hill to join the rest of Glaucous' folk,” Troy said, pointedly looking everywhere but at Wren.
“Lilly will not ask out of politeness but I feel no such impediment. What happened to you Wren?” Jaden said, looking at Wren with burning curiosity.
“Troy and I mutually decided to sever our bond. Lilly, you still got that compact mirror?” Wren said as if he was just explaining that his favorite sports team lost, a little annoyed and a little sad but nothing big.
As Troy explained to Lilly and Jaden his reasons, which sounded a lot more for the benefit of Wren than the unadorned truth of earlier suggested, Wren gave himself a once over. The ghost of his form before could still be seen in skeletal frame, eye shape and lips, even the backside, but some fairly radical changes could be seen outside of that.
I got a little muscle tone under all the soft now. Glad I graduated from the high school chess club to a bench warmer on the swim team... baby steps. If I get any more junk in the jock I'm gonna get scared instead of flattered. Looks like I ditched the vampire pale for alabaster. At least it's a real person's skin color but I could do without the perma-blush. Holy mother of dye jobs, human hair can't be black from the blue scale and I'm going to have to find a nice Persian cat or my friends or gonna pet me bald... The eyes kinda make me think of a deep blue/ kinda purple, blue fire opal. That's just close enough to a possible real color to fly...barely. Of course if I ever had to visit an eye doctor I'd be fifteen minutes from talking with a geneticist. All in all I got an upgrade from trap to late teen who puberty skipped from the waist up... What the hell I gotta do to look like an real man? No offense but I wanna look like an Olympic gymnast not someone who ran away from home to join a Visual Kei band.
“Look guys, this is definitely a talk it out kind of situation but I've got a group of milling spies, assassins and freaky ability people down by the river I got to help get to their new home before they decide there's something else they'd rather be doing. Be right back, soon-ish.”
Wren walked down to meet up with Grimalkin.
“I knew is was you brother Wren!” Grimalkin said, sounding rather proud of himself.
“Oh? And how were you so sure?”
“Your mind voice. I remember it from when...” Recalling recent past events, a cloud passed over Grimalkins face but the small smile returned.
Wren affectionately patted Grimalkin's shoulder a couple times before turning to his father.
“You're Little Gray's dad?”
“I- Yes, you could say that.”
“Think you could stick by me till we get where we're going. I'd like to speak with you.”
“It will be as you say.”
“I can see where you get your glib tongue from, Little Gray.”
Wren opened the mark of passage for the last time. He briefly thought about how cool it would be if he could keep it but many factors mitigated the cost of using it here. Using it on unfamiliar waters would likely place a burden on Glaucous that he could currently ill afford.
“Alright errybody, time to go see your new home. I know some of you mi-”
Wren thought they might need a little coaxing to enter a whirlpool in the river after what just happened but he had underestimated how much most of these people didn't really care if they lived or died.
“So, just stick by me and we'll talk in a bit, um, what should I call you sir?”
The man looked in his mid forties but with the way these people aged there was no real telling how old the guy was.
“This one's last obtained name was Observer but this one possessed names from Branch shade in the past.”
“You are a man superior to me in age and experience. You are now a man beholden to no master but possess an ancestral father who values you in their stead. Would you like to take up a name more befitting a distinguished and self possessed freeman?”
The older man thought it over for a moment before saying decisively' “When this one was rewarded Little Gray's... Grimalkin's-” he looked apologetic as Wren interrupted.
“You're Little Gray's dad. I think that entitles you to use his nickname,” Wren offered encouragingly.
“Ah. When this one was rewarded Little Gray's incuba- mother's comforts, we would sometimes talk afterwards. She said that I was kind and gentle, unlike others, so she gave me a secret name for us to use. I knew it did not make me special. She had probably made a secret name for all who she was made to embrace, a way to sooth them and spare herself unnecessary pain. It did not matter to me. Whenever she called this one by our secret name, this one would feel a warmth and tightness inside this one did not have words for then. Little Gray...s-son, do you think Sable is a fitting name for this one?”
“Yes, father... Sable is a good name I think, a v-ery good name.” Grimalkin said in a suppressed warble.
As they stood a little too stiffly looking at each other Wren was tempted to give them a moment alone but it was obvious that even if he did they wouldn't know what to do with it. So even though it was a little embarrassing he would just have to show them.
“Sable, Little Gray is my little brother. Do you feel that makes us family too?”
“This-yes. It is as you say.” Sable instantly pushed all the emotion away as he responded neutrally.
“Then in such situations, this is what family does.”
Wren gave a meaningful look at Grimalkin as waked over and gave Sable a hug. The man froze for a moment before awkwardly attempting to return the unfamiliar gesture. A second went by before Grimalkin joined them and Wren took the momentary confusion to extricate himself and gently urged them to continue without him.
“Familiarize yourself with this. Join me when the want for it has passed.”
And I thought Thanksgiving with my family was a trial.
Wren walked over to where Lilly and Jaden had just finished Speaking with an Umberdown runner.
“Do you think you are able bodied to build a shelter for... Queen Kushal's son and grandchildren. Everyone else would be fine for the tents and other materials we can provide but I worry for their safety if they are too easy a target for assassination before this new reality sets in. Little Gray and Troy are welcome to the normal accommodations of the pavilion but considering the change in circumstances...” Jaden trailed off.
Lilly jumped in, “What he's trying to say is that after we talked about it, you can join us, for sleeping. That is, unless you make other arrangements. The invitation is an open one.” Both Jaden and Lilly blushed a little towards the end but the point got across and the bond spoke of acceptance not request.
Wren noticed he wasn't the only one to experience some changes, though he had been trying to ignore it. Jaden must have been utilizing the space as much as Lilly because he had filled out a bit and looked to be losing some of his boyishness. Lilly was a great deal more lithe than when they had first arrived here and even though she was quite a bit more fit she was showing a great deal more curves and the shadows of maturity. The curls of her hair were looser and and a bit darker, her skin clearer and her eyes were changing into a hazel that had the brown at the center looking like burnished gold. As time went by, a little faster for them than others, they were turning into a mature and envy inducing couple that had Wren's pulse quicken a little at the thought of joining them before he was slammed with a heavy sense of guilt.
Now that Troy was no longer a bonded Wren's ties with the couple were without counterpoint. He knew that the positive feedback loop between them would cause changes. He had to comfort himself with the fact that it wouldn't have happened this fast. They must have been discussing this for some time. Lilly had even hinted at it the night before last. Still, this was too soon and Lilly likely knew it too. Wren got the impression she just wanted him to know he wasn't without a place to be and feel wanted, loved and most importantly, without the comfort of bonds.
Switching to multi-tasker mode, Wren fired up the conjuration juices as he asked runners who were already at the task of cording off areas for development, what was going to be built where and got to the job of helping them get a jump start on essential structures. Two large bath houses and four large communal latrines, all equipped with a handful of simple enchantments, later he found himself erecting a crude wall around the settlement area. With Grimalkin attending to his resource acquisition and refreshment needs, he was free to speak with Sable, whose presence was good enough deterrent to let him work in peace.
“I probably should have let you go with the rest, Elder Black. I feel a little selfish for getting you to stay behind and delaying your acquaintance with a new home and circumstance.”
“This o-I do not feel at a sense of being deprived of anything, uh... son-in-law?”
Dear gawd save me from this culture's need to have a family label or official title for every single damn kind of interpersonal communication.
“Since there's no real comfortable way for you to address me, that meets the standard, just call me Birdy till you can say my first name without thinking you're offending me.”
“I've spent a long time teaching young ones the proper way of addressing their betters and each other as a part of their report giving knowledge. Give me time to take things slowly. I may be older than most of you but I think it capable to adapt. Just, a personal name is for lovers and parent-child relationships...”
“For Pete's sake! Then think of me as one of your kids but I'm going to call you Sable or Elder Black and no offense intended.”
“All is well then.”
Tolerance, please tell Stress Headache that he's not much different than any English teacher I've ever met and I could handle that just fine. Thank You.
As some random family's Runners dropped off another load of dirt and clay rich river mud at Grimalkin's direction, Wren finally was able to bully through to the main points.
“Saying thank you for slipping your son poison seems wrong for many reasons but I want you to know that it saved him a great deal of personal trauma. I've only seen him have a serious freak out once and that was when I was showing him how to back float in a pool. I'm glad it seems that you didn't suffer because of that.”
“No one was aware of my doing in that case but on the word of a Branch Night member that I showed signs of guilt I was unmanned but at my age such a thing is of little consequence.”
Wren stopped wall shaping. After taking a brief moment to pull out a ground blanket and futon from his space, he set up a standing curtain around them.
Sable was standing naked with his suit dropped to his ankles, looking at Wren, before a bland curiosity appeared on his face roughly ten seconds after Wren's request. Wren admired the convenience of the suit design for a half second before asking Sable to lay down. If it wasn't so terrifying to him how efficient the conditioning was he would have laughed, seeing the older man tremble a little as he lay there. He kind of had the look of a maiden on her wedding night. The mutilation exposed, dowsed Wren's suppressed humor quickly.
“I'm going to establish a circuit through the energy points in your body. Then I'm going to heal you, alright?”
“I-it will be as you say.”
“Just out of morbid curiosity, was 'strip' a command frequently used?”
“Yes, Birdy. And it was for a number of reasons.”
“Then I owe you an apology.”
“None necessary. It is an efficient communication of need.”
Choosing not to dwell on what he believed some of those 'needs' were and how much abuse was likely tied to it, Wren got to work. He didn't take a lot of time nor use much resources, he just finished pulling the fish that was partly breaching the top of a nearly clear pond surface (indicative of little established personality?) out before healing internal damages and hidden sequela. He took a second look while he was running controlled LE to rejuvenate Sable's life-force and vitality and made a startling discovery.
Sure the surface is clear but the bottom of his pond is killing-intent black. This dude used to be a scary mother back in the day and I bet he could be again if he ever felt the need.
“I had been warned that the desire to procreate would all but die when one had their manhood removed. I have never felt it keener.”
“It's the effect of life essence. Try your best to keep it in check as I restore you.”
Far from just keeping it in check, it's like he checked it off! How cool would it be to go from randy to all business at the drop of a hat? I'd hate to know what kind of training it would take to get it though. No, serious. I'm pretty sure that would be nightmare dream fuel and I already got tick man for that.
“Well, there you go Elder Black. Good as new or at least good as 35 with a clean and healthy lifestyle. It's a reward I think you have more than earned for finding a father's love within you in a situation where most would not.”
“I can see why my son is devoted to you far greater than I ever could devote him to the branch. Such tools at your disposal could earn you loyalty that even the most skillful master would envy, Birdy.”
“I would feel much more comfortable hearing that warning laced compliment with you calm and clothed.”
“Then with your permission I'd like to relieve myself before you draw down this blind.”
“Uh, have at it?”
Wren made a hasty retreat when Sable closed his eyes and got to business without delay, returning to making wall...
Wren caught himself having an absurd juvenile thought about how the 1 x ¼ soft diamond of wall probably looked like a vagina from bird's eye view when he was near completion. Being that it was less than two hours before night fall, it came as no surprise that Umberdown runners had came to hound him about a shelter for their Matron. What did surprise him was that Rohn was with them. With a finger up gesture he got busy finishing the wall at double time.
Oh how I miss ready access to migraine meds.