That evening was one of the best ones Wren could remember for quite some time. Aside from the occasional look of guilt and a teasing comment from Wren that had unintentionally triggered a moment of shame induced sadness, Jampa looked happier than Wren had ever seen him. Maybe it was the life of a monk or maybe it was due to the darker past of his friend but Wren noticed that Jampa seemed a great deal more comfortable in this new form of his than Wren had ever witnessed in either Rohn or Jaden. It was as if Jampa had long ago discovered and made peace with his 'inner demons'.
Lilly was fairly glowing under the older man's calm but absorbed attentiveness. Under Jampa's gentle urging, Lilly revealed a great deal more of here childhood and the last three hellish years of her life than she had shared in the last iteration. Wren had to admit that Lilly was far more mature than most sixteen year old girls he met and it took some of the sting out of his guilt for not seeing a situation like this coming, that she was mentally grown enough to handle an adult relationship and even seemed ready and receptive to having one. Wren opined that her unstable life and the unreliable father and step father that had starred in it had perhaps quelled the teenage desire to run wild and party, instilling in her a desire for a stable supporter and devoted, loving partner instead.
As she cried out her pain, Jampa held her strongly but after a few moments he invited Wren and Troy in to offer comfort as well, surprising Wren. Troy walked over and lightly punched her arm and said some bro-like things that oddly made Lilly laugh. Wren hugged her and reaffirmed his feelings of family to her before relinquishing her back over to Jampa. Empowered by the moment, and her own 'inner demons', Lilly requested that Jampa and Wren hug and she wasn't satisfied till she had conjoled the two to 'kiss and make up'. Jampa complied good-naturedly but Wren was tense which caused him to be poked fun at by Jampa before Wren retaliated with a sloppy and exaggerated kiss. A familiar flash of light let Wren know that Lilly's magical smartphone had returned for revenge.
After Troy made a half joking comment about being sad because he was feeling left out, Lilly imperiously declared that he was owed a kiss from each one of them for the over sight before giving him a quick but solid smack on the lips. Jampa followed, his eyes a little tight around the edges after seeing Lilly kiss but otherwise still the same old Jampa. After Wren kissed Troy, he pulled out a flask of peach tree liquor and took a swig.
Troy said, looking a little hurt, “What was that about?”
Wren gave Troy a wry smile and said, “Dude, you used tongue and I forgot to swab your mouth out earlier with a little void power so you have death breath.”
Troy blushed furiously as Wren handed him the flask which turned into a pass around session till it was gone.
“I thought you couldn't have stuff like this Brother Caterpillars?” Wren said teasingly.
Jampa responded sagely, “Since Lilly has insisted on taking me as her wife, I have officially become a secular Buddhist.”
“Her wife?” Wren and Troy said at the same time before looking at each other.
Jampa nodded and said, “I vowed over my mother's grave marker that I'd not continue my father's legacy. That I'd take no wife and be no husband. It's more than sophistry. Any children we have shall bear her family name.”
Lilly came up behind Jampa and snaked her arms around, eliciting a little embarrassment from Jampa, as she said, “Do either of you see a problem with that?”
Seeing how serious she was, Troy and Wren both gave quick negative replies.
“Well, in most places on this world, a person is considered an adult at sixteen. I personally think that's a bit early but in your case, Lilly, it seems alright. If you'll allow me to stand in for family, I'd like to say a few words,” Wren said.
After Lilly agreed in curiosity and Jampa, in good-natured confusion, also consented, Wren said, “Jampa, I know you call me Brother Small Prayer as an affectionate jest that I spent so much time with you at the temple I could be considered a half-monk but out of the world that I consciously rejected, you are the family I chose. I can't easily say I see you as my brother because you've been more than that to me. There are times you felt like a father, other times a son but you are 100% the family I chose and I want to see you happy.
“Lilly, I know you haven't had much chance to know me as you once did. I know that's confusing but once, I suppose you could say in another life, we were very close. I can't explain it better but I just want you to know that if there's anything I can do to make your life better, that is not at the expense of another I care about, I'll do it. It would be jarring for me to suddenly declare you my family but I do see you that way and over time I hope you can accept me as such. I admire your strength, that even in a situation like this you've taken your licks and moved on. Jampa is a peace loving man so it'll be up to you to cherish and protect him. You're a fighter, Lilly. Fight for your happiness and Jampa's both.”
Wren gave them the rings he had spent some time earlier in the day crafting and after the four of them shared and bonded some more it was time to call it a night. Wren whipped up a couple stuffed mattresses that weren't pretty but all he could make with what was available and bid the couple a good night after warning them that the next day was game time so they should be well rested.
“We're going to that place tomorrow, aren't we?” Troy said after they were in the small room.
Wren fidgeted around as he looked at the single mattress and said, “Yes, and until Ephyra is dealt with, it's going to be dangerous. Glaucous will need time to adjust after I awaken his memories. I also need to give Rohn and Jaden their inheritances. Things are probably going to get very complicated again if I don't handle things well.”
Troy looked at Wren sympathetically and said, “Is there anything I can do to help? You know, aside from dealing with Ephyra.
“I don't know how to face him, Troy. I don't even want to but I have to. I want to be a coward and run away from it all,” Wren said on the verge of tears.
“How long did things go after I...” Troy said.
Just above a whisper, Wren said, “Three months, maybe more. He let all the residents of Seaside die from torture. The bastards sicked a world-eater on us. The whole world came after us. We had to kill innocent people. I became a soul eater. We became the monsters that the Observers and Balance Keepers accused us of being.
“So yes, there is something you can do for me. I need to... I want... Do you love me Troy? I don't mean like you and me alone forever but I mean love me like a normal human being might love another?”
Troy looked at Wren dumbfounded for a moment but right before Wren lost his nerve and bolted out of the room, Troy said, “Yes. All this time I have. You shouldn't even need to ask. I can't be selfless like Little Gray or devoted like Jaden. I can't be forceful and demanding like Rohn. I especially can't be the weird combination of all those things that Glaucous is but I do love you. I've often thought that one day, after years had gone by, I'd be able to return to you and be those things without growing to resent you.
“I hope that you can understand that the very reason I can be honest to you like this is because of that love. Anyone else I've ever wanted, I'd do or say whatever I needed to get them. It's an ugliness of my past you forced me to see. I still do but I've tried not to hurt feelings, to be truthful about what I'm willing to give but I've always went after what I wanted with no regrets...None except you.”
Wren looked up into Troy's eyes and saw a vulnerability there that was both familiar and foreign. He'd always hated how easy those soulful smoky jade eyes of Troy's could get to him. In his most honest moments, Wren recognized that the reason why he was so hard on Troy was precisely because of those qualities about the young man that made it so easy to give in. Troy had something about him that was almost supernatural, in Wren's mind, that evoked the desire to be desired, the want to be wanted.
Wren said, “Just once, I think I'd like that, before everything has a chance to go sideways. Just once, I'd like to hold or be held by someone that I love, that loves me, with no bonds, no 'sharing' or imprinting. Ju-”
With a calm, sure step, Troy strode to Wren and leaned in to claim his mouth. In a pace that was neither hesitant nor desperate, Troy undid Wren's robe-like top and slid their pants down over their hips. They broke their kiss long enough to pull their boots off and for Troy to pull off his shirt before closing in on each other again. They stayed like that for awhile, running their hands over each other and kissing. Finally Troy pulled them apart and yanked down his jock strap, his eyes locked on to Wren's.
“I hate how much I love your eyes,” Wren said.
“I hate how much I love the feel of you in my arms,” Troy said as he turned Wren around and drew Wren's back into his chest. “I hate how every small bit of affection I won from you made me feel better than any trophy or medal I've ever been awarded.”
Troy began nibbling at Wren's neck as his hands glided across Wren's stomach before lodging themselves under the band of the shorter man's underwear, earning a hitched intake of breath.
Wren said shakily, “I hate how much I've grown to like jockstraps.”
“I hate how sexy you look in a jockstrap, with your sweet bubble butt out on display. I've lost count of how many times I've gotten hard just thinking about it,” Troy whispered in Wren's ear as he ground against him. “I know it's got to start to be uncomfortable for you but do one more thing for me before you take it off.”
Wren started to feel embarrassed as Troy guided him down to his hands and knees. He could feel Troy staring at him as strong hands squeezed and kneaded his backside. A familiar fluttering began building in the pit of his stomach as Troy worked the jockstrap down and began sawing his ridged member between Wren's cheeks, smashing them together over and around the hard heat.
Troy stopped as he shivered a couple times, taking slow deep breaths as he said, “Almost let it get away with me. Your ass is just so hot.”
Wren almost whined as he said, “Touch me, fuck me, just do something already. All this playing around is killing me.”
Troy flipped Wren around and buried his face in Wren's crotch as he said between nips at Wren's tightly drawn sack, “Half the fun is getting there.”
Wren became hot and flushed as the fluttering turned into radiating pulses. Troy's ability to bring Wren right to the edge before easing off was making him lose reason.
As Troy was using Wren's precum to to wet Wren's twitching hole, BZ interrupted with, “Formation of Lustitia is imminent.”
Not wanting that, fearing what Lustitia would do to Troy, Wren started fighting the rise of sensation to say or do anything to stop Lustitia's forming. Before he could fully formulate a course of action or word, Troy took Wren's head into his mouth and ran his tongue around the flared edge. Wren felt his world shrink down to the pleasurable sensation, multiplying it vastly, as the half formed instinct fought back to be born.
Wren knew the futility of fighting against himself in such a way so he implored his intuition for a compromise instead. Then thinking of a 'better yet' idea, Wren appealed for a more powerful and inclusive thought form. An idea that resonated to all of himself. He entrusted himself to his intuition as his mind fogged over, lost in Troy's ministrations.
In what felt like moments, Wren came to as ghostly ribbons of angelic script and barbed chains of profane lettering faded away to reveal Troy within them. In turn, a fading image of a serpent dancing figure eights around seven points of light on Troy's body also faded. Troy collapsed on top of him and for a brief moment Wren panicked, thinking he may have harmed his friend but Troy stirred to consciousness and clutched at Wren like he was afraid that he'd fall off the world.
Troy said weakly, “It's going to be a long time before I have the balls to try to have sex with you again. I'm not even sure that's what we did.”
Sated, confused and exhausted, Wren let Troy fall asleep on him and closed his eyes.
When Wren woke up to a knock at the door, he called out an affirmative that he was awake. Jampa called through the door that breakfast would be ready soon and could be heard chuckling before the sound became fainter. Wren ignored the faint protest of Troy as he pulled himself out from under his friend.
Wren took a moment to admire Troy's naked form unabashedly before waking him up, then asked, “What did I do last night, Troy? Intuition kinda took the steering wheel there for awhile.”
Troy looked blearily at him for a moment before saying, “I can't really say. One moment I was blowing you and the next it was all darkness and light. I felt like my whole being was all painful pleasure. I felt like I was fighting for survival in it all until I was too tired to fight then I thought I was dying but it felt so good I didn't care. My most clear memory through the whole thing was this kind of knowing that there were four people in the room. There was me and you and there was also a you that wanted to pleasurably fuck me to death and another that was bring me so high I thought I would dissolve into perfect love.
“It was terrifying but at the same time it was the best I've ever felt. No worries though. Like I said, it will be a long time before I have the balls to try to have sex with you again. It was just waaay too much.
“I didn't go through all that without anything to show for it though. On the last run, I struggled trying to awaken a manifestation. In case you don't kno-”
Wren said dryly, “I know what they are, a little too well.”
Troy looked irritated for a moment as he continued, “Well, you could have told me. I wasted a lot of AP trying to figure out how to break into Tier IV before I figured it out... But what was I saying... I finally pieced together something called the 'Song of Bliss' and the 'Song of Little Deaths' and broke into Tier IV but both manifestations didn't have much growth potential and they were only really good for one thing. When I thought I was dying last night, I kinda turned to Tantric meditation as a last resort. I was just thinking that if you were 'accidentally' killing me with sex I might find an answer there. I was right and wrong. At the moment when I finally gave up and just thought, 'Well, if this is how I die it's not a bad way to go,' I felt something happen.
“Do you know anything about Kundalini?... Okay, so there's this energy that...Alright, essentially I woke up some kind of force inside myself and even though I always thought it was just sex stuff, I was so wrong. Okay, so you can get harsh on me if you want but even if you count mental age, I'm still only like 21 or so. What do you expect me to be thinking about?... Anyway, this is the first morning I've woken up since I was like fifteen and didn't have a boner but it's cool because I just know that what I tapped into last night was used up. I gotta recharge. So I've done some wild stuff but you really took it out of me... Where are you going?”
Wren finally got the gist of it and seeing that Troy was alright he wanted some space and privacy to collect his thoughts. As he walked out and closed the door behind him he muttered in a low voice to Jampa and Lilly that he was going to use their room for meditation for a little bit and if Troy came out looking to say that he was somewhere else but not to let him leave the safe-zone. Then he darted into their side and closed the door. The smell in the room was more than a little distracting but he didn't really care that much.
Wren said, “Buzz, fill me in.”
BZ responded, “Congratulations on awakening an evolving concept, first manifestation. It's quite compatible with the Mandala of Nameless Transformations I have given you to build your reality structure with. I know you would have preferred to awaken a manifestation that would have granted you a usable tulpa but this is close to conceivable best case scenario. I now advise you to obtain many different sprites to give to your void.”
Wren said with a frustrated voice, “Alright, but what does it do?”
BZ replied, “I am unable to answer what you have not analyzed unless it is already within my directories. There are numberless permutations of manifestations. Even within the same named groups there are subtle differences. If you require a basis for comparison as the SYSTEM provides, I would say it possesses an approximate eightieth percentile comparison to the base model for Impermanence. The most obvious deviance is your manifestation's ability to provide inspiration during intimate acts but without more data I cannot say whether that is a coincidence or part of it's ability.
“Your own method of discovery and insight seem to revolve around the concept of identifying potential extremes and grounding yourself at their theoretical fulcrum for observations. I see no particular reason to advise alternative research and analysis methods. If you desire to know more, I would suggest you do as you told your friends you would. Meditate on it. I have limited capacity to offer guidance on intuitive processes.”
Wren attempted to do just that. It was difficult to sink into meditative state knowing there were time limits to consider along with worries that were plaguing him. After a couple of times trying he finally managed to use his mandala training to achieve half-state. His intuition pieced together an image for him to work with but was oddly silent on insight, as if even it wasn't certain what it had helped to create.
Wren stared in fascination at the image of his manifestation. An angelic being and a demonic one were crouched with their backs facing one another, both wingless. The angel was shackled to the demon with barbed chains, one hand raised to the sky while the other was digging fingers into the demon's left pectoral. It's face contained a look that could be ecstasy or despair, as it wept black tears. The demon was bound to the angel with silk ribbons, one hand stretched out towards the ground while the other covered the angel's genitals. It's face contained a look that could either be compassion or contempt, as it wept crystalline tears.
As Wren observed them, he felt a sense of being observed in return. Even though he was in mindscape, over the time he had observed, it had taken on a sense of reality. The bent knees of one side formed a chair, perhaps one could even consider it a throne and out of picante, Wren sat in it. Contradictory yet complimentary feeling built up within him as celestial script and profane sigils flared to life on the ribbons and chains. The joint thighs that he sat upon gave the sensation of flesh and bone, of being alive.
It was no wonder his intuition felt at a loss. The concept that this structure represented was so far beyond him that he couldn't fathom more than a few aspects at a time. Whatever his intuition had done to form this, it hadn't done it alone and it disquieted him what the price of that aid may be.
Buzz was wrong this time. This manifestation isn't evolving, I just can't access all of it yet. I might never be able to. I even feel like its more of a channeling than a self made thing. A vastly superior duality is bound into subservience to me and the only thing that keeps it from ripping me apart is that it doesn't care. On the contrary, it feels pleased to have an outlet to express itself.
This is a test. Give the child a ring of endless wishes and see if he will destroy himself or rise to be worthy of such a thing. Luckily for me, it isn't all at once. I'm getting a fighting chance of survival by it limiting itself for my sake. There's a warning in here too. As it becomes more me, I become more, whatever it is. They are bound and tempted by each other but I will become bound and tempted by both.
Wren finished up and joined Lilly and Jampa for breakfast. Troy joined them minutes later looking a bit irritated at Wren for pulling a vanishing act.
Wren began, “I had hoped that a certain quirk of mine would have popped up before this morning but it hasn't. That mean's I can't use leylines to get us to our destination for free. Luckily there is a dangerous thing out in the woods right now that's just started becoming a problem. Listen to me carefully. Lilly, I know you've picked up some pretty formidable fighting skills and a bit of element and nature manipulation but the only thing in your repertoire that could hurt these things is fire and fire is a no. Using fire could get us all killed.
“Jampa, the silver portion of your purification flames won't count. Before you say anything, understand that what we'll be chasing down isn't natural. It's an abomination that destroys natural order. You could say it's the responsibility that comes with your power to help deal with it.
“Troy, I'll be needing you to exercise your finding power. I know you don't have the blessing that granted it to you anymore but here's the thing. That blessing only awakened what was already in you, with the help of what a certain lady taught you, you should be able to bring up an echo of it, which is all we need. Once we find a part of it, the rest will come looking for us.
“The only catch to all this is that it might not be there yet. If that ends up being the case we'll have to go to the river and see if I can get a certain person's attention or go to the only entrance to an underground place and hope for the best. Troy, lets get searching. Lilly, you and Jampa keep your eyes peeled for little black dots at the lock-box area. If they start jumping on you and Jampa's flame power gets too weak, don't hesitate to jump back in to the safe-zone.”
Despite Jampa's unease he joined everyone in acceptance of Wren's plan as the four took to their tasks... An hour and a half in with no sign that Troy was going to pick up anything and with Wren's exaggerated usage of Spectral Transportation having his tank dangerously close to not being able to get them back to Lilly and Jampa, Wren called it quits. On the way back Wren lamented how small oversights can lead to big problems when Troy latched on to Wren's arm and flung him off the transport which in turn caused Troy to be flung from it as it suddenly stopped.
Off to the side, flashing through the trees was a dark figure who had just threw out a few darts at Wren that missed due to Troy's actions. For a brief moment a wild hope flared through Wren that it might be Grimalkin before Little Sprite's information and the realization that the figure was a little too big brought that hope crashing to the ground. Little black dots rained down and peppered the ground as the figure shimmied up to the top of a tree to observe.
Trying to be as innocuous as possible, Wren allowed a couple of the black dots to jump on him as he used void power to eat the ones that went after Troy. Locking on to the figure above, Wren got a strange sense of familiarity.
“Is that you Sable?” Wren said, not completely sure.
The figure above, froze and in a moment of carelessness, slipped from the branch he was standing on but corrected himself. He cushioned his descent off other branches before landing squarely on the ground.
“How do you know that name? It doesn't matter. Now that we are all marked, the blood slimes will come to claim us.” The figure said.
Troy hobbled over, scratched and bruised from shoulders to socks, looking like he was ready to murder the stranger who Wren was almost certain to be Sable.
“I know because the son you were supposed to have with the one who gave you that name was my lover.” Wrens said steadily, motioning for Troy to stand down as he healed his friend.
“Say whatever absurdities you like. We are all marked to die and there is no harm in it. I even feel a sense of peace at hearing that name before the end. I think I will indulge in this fantasy of yours. Tell me more,” Sable said.
Wren said, “Sure thing but do you mind if we walk and talk. There's a place I'd rather meet this thing than here. Since you are all set for death surely you wouldn't mind me choosing the venue?”
Sable nodded, removing his hood before he said, “Certainly, though I know not how far I will make it before paralysis sets in.”
“Not a problem. I have an ability that will let you laze around while Troy and I do the walking. Where I wish to reach isn't far,” Said Wren, letting the man climb on to Spectral Transport before continuing, “Grimalkin was known as Shadow 11-14 before we met. He, you and another guy were sent to test how much protection the Riverson was affording me. After discovering that your Guardian was very much intent on my protection, drowning your son and bloodying the other fellow, the two of you were set on leaving with his body. I stopped you and resuscitated Grimalkin. Under the guise of not wanting to draw the Riverson's wrath back upon your house, you left him in my care...”
Wren went on with the story as they approached the lock-box area. Wren kept just enough of the nerotoxin cleared from Sable's system for the man to be able to continue asking questions. When Wren had reached the part of the story about how Grimalkin volunteered himself to be the 'mother' of their child, both Wren and Sable's voice were thick with emotion. Moments later, when Wren told Sable about the pregnancy of Jhessa, the stern man broke into tears. After Wren finished the story at the part where everyone was separated, conveniently skipping the sorted details of survival, Wren briefly described his time on Earth and how, even under the delusion of Orison, he had felt Grimalkin's presence once. Joining the man in tears, Wren described how he could feel that the red string that once bound them had attached to another and Wren's desire for Grimalkin to be happy had overcome the desire for reunion because until his enemies were dead or neutralized he would not risk Grimalkin or his son to be drawn back in to his battle.
“What a bitter-sweet dream to die with. A pity it cannot be made real now,” Sable opined.
Wren replied, “If what you refer to is the restoration of your manhood to make a child outside of the grips of Grimshadow, why not?”
Sable said, “We are not going to survive Black Tide. Ancestor Aaron empowered honored Ephyra's curse weaving himself. Only the chosen within House Grimshadow will survive. I am surprised we have not been taken yet.”
Wait, what!? Looks like this problem is a lot more complicated than I thought. Aren't they usually, though.
Wren said darkly, “Leaving aside the fact I have been, um, neutralizing the smaller clumps as they come, we are about to meet up with two friends who can help with the rest.”
I just hope that tackling this problem two months earlier means there's a hell of a lot less to deal with. That, and I hope this ends soon. The skies are starting to look mighty ominous.