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In this Life and the Next

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From a window in the tallest tower of a grand palace, a King surveyed his realm with a sigh.

 

It had been a most vexing night, and the King was tired. So tired . He had been foolish to let his guard down, and it had almost cost him dearly.

 

Tonight was supposed to be a gift for his Prince: a grand ball, attended by the most elite figures from the surrounding provinces, a royal gala with an elaborate dress code. It had taken him months to plan… his beloved did so love parties, and the King would do most anything to see him smile.

 

It had been one for the ages: music, dancing, a banquet so divine that had the Gods had dominion over this realm, they would have wept… And then it was so rudely interrupted.

 

He should have expected it, they always found a way to disrupt his plans. The King’s dark brows knitted in distaste. Why couldn’t they just leave him be? It had been the gnome this time, she had been sloppy, yet he had still lost one guard before the others had discovered the body and captured her… if she had managed to do more damage… well, it didn’t bear thinking about. He yearned to destroy them, his fingers itched with the desire to just end this foolish game with the rest of them and keep his prize… But for whatever reason, they just kept coming. He had banished the dwarf, he supposed he would do the same with the gnome; but with all the power in this universe at his disposal he could do little more than that.

 

A soft noise behind him startled him out of his brooding, and his gaze left the moonlit sky to follow it, and alighted on a sight that never failed to take his breath away... His Prince, reposed beneath silken sheets, silver hair slightly mussed from the pillow; The glorious, milky skin of his chest exposed; rising and falling with sleep. He was simply dreaming, but his beloved always had the most terrible nightmares, and by the taught expression on his face one was beginning to take hold.

 

The King softly crossed their sumptuous chamber to fall on his knees beside the sleeping Prince. He caressed the fine cheekbones of his beloved with a careful hand, savouring the feel of them.

 

“Ezriel, my love” he whispered.

 

It was enough. The Prince’s eyes flashed open, and as always gave the King a start: their piercing, icy gaze hard at first, before softening when they met his own.

 

“Your Highness” the reply came, the voice that owned his very soul.

 

“I keep telling you, love, you don’t have to call me that”

 

“But I know how you like it.” Ezriel raised an eyebrow and a corner of his mouth teasingly as he said this, and it was doing things to the King that he didn’t care to admit right now.

 

“Enough of that.” the King chided, and reluctantly turned the conversation to more unpleasant things. “It looked like you were having the dreams again. Were you?”

 

The Prince’s expression darkened and he tried to look away, before one of the King’s slender fingers caught his chin and turned it back to face him.

 

Ezriel complied “... Yes.. It happened again… I just wish I knew what they meant.”

 

Curses. This was that gnome’s fault. He would punish her later.

 

“What did you see?” He smothered his annoyance into kindness.

 

“The same thing as always… Darkness… First I am falling… and then… the demons come… horrible piercing shrieking in the blackness… and those people, the ones that act like they know me… they scream in front of me, but I can’t hear them. I don’t know what they’re trying to tell me, I-”

 

“Sshh, my darling”

 

Ezriel’s eyes were beginning to sparkle wth crystalline tears. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

 

The Prince continued.

 

“Who are they, my King? Why do they know me?”

 

“They are just bad dreams, my love.”

 

“-I want to help them.”

 

“They are not real, Ezriel”. An edge crept into his voice.

 

“You say those words to placate me. But what if they are? Has your Highness entertained that notion?”

 

There was defiance in that voice… It sent a shiver through him. Not again… I don’t want to have to do it again… but what happened earlier seems to have left an impression on him.

 

“Ezriel?”

 

“What?” the Prince looked annoyed with him, leaning on one arm poutily.

 

“I love you.”

 

“You’re not listening, I knew it.”

 

Ezriel”

 

The Prince huffed a sigh… “I love you too.” That was it.

 

In this life, and the next...”

 

At these words from the King, Ezriel’s expression went from haughty insolence, to a serene, eerie calm in an instant. The change would have been alarming, had this not been the intention.

 

“... I am yours” Ezriel returned the phrase the King expected; his voice thick and languid, the light was dim behind his eyes, as though they were hidden behind a haze.

 

“Good boy” The King purred, and kissed his lover’s lips, they responded, compliantly, as they always did in the end. Even like this, in the spell haze, the King could not resist him, and the kiss deepened, his tongue hungry for the taste of his beloved, his angel.

 

His .

 

***

 

Aurelia waited what seemed like an eternity for the water to boil over the fire… Goodness, everything took so dreadfully long here without magic. Stoga and Eida were having a tearful reunion in the other room and Aurelia had thought it prudent to give them a moment alone, but alas, her home here was a modest few rooms and as much as she wanted to give the other women privacy, the whistling of the kettle could only drown out so much. She couldn’t blame them, having Eida back was heartening, and a great relief. They had spent a few weeks travelling back here with the confused dwarf before she had regained her memories.

 

Aurelia allowed herself the ghost of a smile; three Thorns out of four were the best odds they had had in a long while.

 

She poured three cups of the steaming brew (Urgh how she despised having to do these menial tasks herself... if her maidservants could see her now!) and hesitantly walked back into the main room.

 

Eida was doing some sort of weird, on the spot dance.

 

“Eida my dear, whatever are you doing?” she ventured.

 

“Waiting for you to put that tea down so I can hug you, you idiot!”

 

“Oh! Um, well then” She searched for a free surface and no sooner had the tray been placed down, when she was unceremoniously glomped around the waist by the red headed dwarf.

 

“Oh Aurelia, I’m so glad to see you, I mean, I know I saw you, before, but I mean... really see you”, the dwarf sobbed into her skirt.

 

“Eida, I love you, you know I do,  but please try not to get snot on my outfit, I only have the one now…” she sighed wistfully, thinking of her palatial suite at Whitewater and her sumptuous gowns.

 

The dwarf ignored her and carried on sniffling.

 

“I’m still… really confused… But… I’m glad I remember… Oh god, it’s so horrible. I feel like there are two me’s.”

 

“The confusion will pass, in time more of the real Eida we know should start to come back to you”

 

“That asshole made me a stablehand??? ME??? I’m a fucking warrior! Just wait til I get a maul in my hand,  when I see that slimy asshole, I am going to smash him so hard that-”

 

A somewhat tearful giggle erupted from the floor where Stoga was seated.

 

“-It’s still not funny Stoga.” Eida finished with a glare.

 

“Count yourself lucky” Aurelia interjected, “he had me attending to his household and polishing his silver.” The thought still made bile rise in her throat.

 

“He WHAT , oh Aurelia, you poor thing.”

 

“It’s quite alright Eida dear, I will make him pay, I am simply biding my time. Now, now, please sit, we have things to discuss.”

 

The dwarf extricated herself from Aurelia’s skirts with a serious look, and made her way to where Stoga waited; it looked reluctant, like she was bracing for bad news, and Aurelia felt a twinge of guilt that she had to be the one to tell her.

 

She gathered herself to begin, but before she could find the words-

 

“It’s Ezriel, isn’t it?”

 

Here we go then.

 

“Well-”

 

“So where is he?”

 

Aurelia stared into her tea, focusing on the swirling leaves… So she really doesn’t know… this is going to be bad.

 

“Eida-”

 

“Where is he , Aurelia?”


“Eida, she’s trying to tell you, please try to stay calm, okay?”, Stoga placed a consoling hand on Eida’s knee.

 

Aurelia started again.

 

“You… you are aware of Leviathan’s… status , in this realm?”

 

“Mmm”, Eida’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “All praise our benevolent King Levirion.” She scoffed,  voice dripping with sarcasm.

 

“Quite… well, I’m not sure if word made it all the way to Briarwood but, the King happens to be… married.”

 

“What does this have to do with Ezriel? Did he have him officiate the ceremony or something ridiculous?”

 

“Not… quite”

 

Eida’s face became a mask of concern as Stoga’s grip on her thigh tightened. The elf continued.

 

“Rumours abound here closer to the palace... tales trickle down to the common folk from the few nobles granted access to the place on occasion… tales of the Fair Prince: hair of silver; a beauty so striking, that it’s like gazing upon the face of an angel.”

 

There was a smash of breaking ceramic, as Eida shot to her feet so quickly that her cup fell from her hands, shattering to pieces. Tea seeped into the earthen floor.

 

WHAT???”

 

“Eida, please.” Stoga tugged on Eida’s sleeve, trying in vain to get her to sit once again.

 

“You... did not just say. . That can’t… That’s so messed up!   Even for that fucking creep.”

 

Aurelia grimaced. She would have to tread carefully.

 

“Eida it’s alright. He doesn’t know, he’s just like you were before, he doesn’t remember a thing.”

 

“That’s worse! He’s what, some fucking trophy??? Oh gods , I can’t.”

 

“I know, babe, it’s horrible”, Stoga’s voice was kind, and full of sorrow.

 

“We- We have to go get him! Like, right now!” Eida was nearing hysterical, she shook off Stoga’s grasp and balled her fists in her hair.  “Why aren’t you guys moving , let’s go! Get up!”

 

“Eida…” The other two shared a solemn look.

 

“Fucking, get up !” Tears streamed down the dwarf’s face as she moved to pull Stoga off the ground. The gnome didn’t resist, but once she was on her feet, encircled her arms in an attempt to embrace Eida.

 

“No, no no no NO!

 

“It’s okay, sweetie, it’s okay.”

 

“We were supposed… to be… heroes ” Eida’s words were choked between wracking, painful sobs. “We killed him… twice … why is this… happening”

 

“Ezriel would probably say something wise right about now about a ‘heroes trials never being over’… or something”

 

“But he can’t, can he? Because he’s being kept like some pet , by a sick psycho he despises who’s obsessed with him! Is it really true?? Aurelia?”

 

Aurelia met Eida’s horrified gaze, and regretted that she couldn’t take the pain away.

 

“I’m afraid so my dear, I saw him myself.”

 

“You saw him and you didn’t save him??”

 

“I couldn’t save him, I have no magic here.”

 

“You could have done something -”

 

“I did.” Aurelia said firmly.   I found both of you”




***

 

Her feet were quick, but her blades were quicker.

 

There was always room for improvement, though. The guard had been far too close to raising an alarm before she had had to slice the life from him. She hadn’t wanted to, he was just doing his job, but this was too important. She couldn’t fail.

 

Not for the first time, Stoga cursed her small stature, because the body wasn’t moving.

 

Ughhh… come on buddy, work with me here.

 

What did Leviathan feed these guys? This guard weighed a ton! She wished Eida were here… But that… that was impossible. They hadn’t found each other since the last time and the memory made her heart ache.

 

One day, we will all be together again.

 

She kicked the guard’s foot unceremoniously into the room with the rest of him, that would have to do, she couldn’t afford any more wasted time, someone could walk down this corridor at any moment. She would just have to hope none of the “King’s” guests felt like taking a break from the festivities and stumbled into a nasty surprise.

 

You can do this, Stoga, just keep to the shadows… no more missteps.

 

From what Aurelia had told her of the palace layout, the door to the balcony should be just around…

 

Here.

 

Thanks, Aurelia. In a way it was ‘thanks Leviathan’; His twisted sense of humour had ended up, as it so often did, coming back to bite him after “employing” the elf here at the palace in some sort of mockery of her former station in life (their true life. It seemed so long ago now that occasionally Stoga wondered if that had been the dream). As was the mad wizard's most frequent downfall, he had once again underestimated the Thorns. Aurelia had broken free of his enchantment first, regained her memories and rather than confront the beast head on, had been clever; stole away one night and sought out Stoga instead. Their former healer had told her that it took her years to find the gnome, in a small village to the East, near where the mountains met the ocean, eking out a humble existence. Stoga had been terribly confused at first at the appearance of this elegant, well-spoken stranger; but Aurelia had gotten through to her eventually.

 

As for Eida… she had… not had the patience of the other women. Her sweet Eida. She had not taken the Wakening well, could not come to terms with what they’d lost, wouldn’t wait until they had a better plan, she had needed to see Ezriel.

 

They had tried, Stoga thought grimly, tried to make Eida see reason and wait; but the truth had been too horrible for the headstrong dwarf to comprehend, and she’d marched straight to the palace, shouting that she’d make the bastard pay whether they followed her or not... but this wasn’t their realm, and they were weak here, he’d seen to that.

 

Leviathan had caught her before she had even reached the palace, and Stoga had watched as he banished the dwarf before her eyes with a simple wave of his hand, leaving her staring him down, tears streaming down her face, screaming incomprehensibly at the loathsome being that was the cause of all their misfortunes.

 

“Oh look at that,” he had gloated icily “you seem to have lost your dwarf, what a terrible pity… let that be a lesson to you, Thorn, you are not wanted here”

 

“If it takes us the rest of eternity, we will end this insanity, Leviathan.”

 

Her and Aurelia had looked again, with heavy hearts, for months after that, but found no trace of Eida. It hurt terribly, achingly, like a piece of her soul was missing. Aurelia tried to console her, convince her that it was okay, he couldn’t really kill them here, just… reset them, somehow. Like pieces on a chessboard; but wherever he had sent Eida must be far, far away… Stoga hoped her new life wasn’t too punishing.

 

I’ll save him for you, boo, then we can all leave together. The key lies with Ezriel...

 

...I could really use your help though.

 

Venturing out without the reassurance of the fighter at her back just wasn’t the same. She felt so alone.

 

Well. This is about to get scary.

 

Cautiously, she opened the door to the balcony floor just a sliver. After a moment of hearing only the soft string music and chatter from the ballroom below, she entered. As Aurelia had promised, the balcony floor itself was empty and in shadow; the party contained beneath it. Up here she could gain a full view of the room if she was careful, and watch for Ezriel, and the right moment.

It took her a moment to fully grasp the size of the room she found herself in. It was truly magnificent. From here she could see quite clearly, the intricate masterpiece of the vaulted ceiling of the enormous ballroom, painted, or perhaps enchanted, with a stunning mural of a colourful, aurora-filled night sky, complete with glittering stars. Shimmering, incandescent silver drapes reached across the room from giant marble columns to the centerpiece of an elaborate, celestial chandelier that hung from nowhere and gently spun. If the circumstances had been different, she would have been enchanted, but as it was, she was disturbed. This room didn’t remind her of Leviathan at all…. these were Ezriel’s tastes: this room was decorated for him.

 

No one would hear her soft footfalls from all the way up here over the din, but Stoga didn’t want to take any chances, and chose her steps carefully. Years of artfully searching for traps had drummed wariness into her. She was good at avoiding them… most of the time.

 

She headed for one of the great pillars so that she could look out on the festivities from it’s shadow. She was thankful for Leviathan’s cockiness, he would not expect her, after what he did to Eida, and he would certainly not expect her to come alone; she just prayed her luck would last just as long as she needed to carry out her goal.  

 

Find Ezriel. Wait until he’s alone. Make him remember.

 

Stoga took a deep breath, said a silent prayer to Aurelia’s goddess (though Aurelia had remarked that Sune could not hear them here, it never hurt to try) and risked a peek around the pillar.

 

“... Woah”

 

She couldn’t help but let out a tiny exclamation, and immediately reprimanded herself for it; but… gosh darn, what a spectacle. Every surface just…. sparkled; the guests themselves, all nobility from the surrounding provinces, were bedecked head to toe in their very best finery, and as they moved they almost looked like shimmering fireflies from where she viewed them from above. A banquet table was laid out that was so huge that Stoga wondered just how long it would take her short legs to walk from one end to the other, and laid upon it, every delicious thing you could imagine, and some that you couldn’t, in all sorts of fantastical shapes and arrangements. Her stomach growled, she had been eating nothing but thin soup and bread for too long.

 

She didn’t see him at first, and her heart twisted into knots to think that they might have gotten something wrong, but as she scanned the room below the crowd parted as the band shifted seamlessly into a waltz, and there he was…

 

… the Prince.

 

She could have sobbed in relief to see him there, alive, and unhurt. He was dressed in silver and white, and shone like the moon itself. She wanted nothing more than to leap off the balcony and jump into his arms and hear him say something about ‘public decorum’… but it wasn’t the time. He was smiling at someone, a smile you would kill someone to protect, and as more gilded guests moved from her line of sight she felt a wave of nausea.

 

It was Leviathan.

 

Except… it wasn’t, not as they knew him. There was no sallow skin and hollow eyes, no madness. He was as they saw him in their final, fated battle, bedecked in softly glowing gold, he was a handsome elf once more, regal in countenance, and smiling back at Ezriel you could be forgiven for thinking they were the happiest couple in the world, but it was… wrong. Stoga held back from launching a dagger across the ballroom, it wouldn’t have helped, and she doubted she could hit him from here, she wasn’t that good of a shot; but to see their nemesis revelling in Ezriel's attention and touching their dear friend made her sick to her stomach. She watched the silver haired Aasimar take the offered hand of Leviathan as the “King” led his “Prince” into the waltz. The floor emptied for them, this whole scene… this whole existence was a pantomime. The great Fury of Thorns reduced to dance for a mad wizard’s dreams.

 

And as Leviathan placed his hand on Ezriel’s slender waist to lead him… the balcony door slammed open.

 

I’m an idiot.

 

Stoga barely had time to react before two guards had already barrelled into her, twisting the daggers she had drawn out of her grasp. As she struggled, she noticed that the party below still went on unaware, the music must have drowned out the crash. She had fucked up… so caught up in her feelings about the show Leviathan had put on for his prize  that she hadn't remembered to listen out for telltale signs that the body she had left had been discovered. She had to do something. She only had moments before she was either thrown in a dungeon or banished and lost herself and her friends once more.

 

“EZRIELLLL!” She screamed, as loud as her little lungs would allow.

 

The music didn’t stop, but the King did. He spun around and looked right at the source of the shout, fury etched into every facet of his face, but Stoga didn’t care, she was only looking at Ezriel.

 

“EZRIEL!” She screamed again, and struggled harder, if he could only see her.

 

His eyes found her, but he wasn't himself, there was only confusion, and concern, as though he thought she intended to harm him.

 

“IT’S ME, STOGAAA-”

 

That was all she was able to get out  She thought she might have seen a glimmer of recognition in his icy blue eyes, before the world went dark.



***

 

With a wave of his hand, the music stopped. In fact, everything did. The party guests froze in place where they stood, as though merely painted on a canvas. On the faces of these statuesque figures were expressions ranging from amusement to fear. But the room was silent.

 

Why hadn't he expected this? He didn't think it would be so soon... He didn’t think it would be the gnome. At least he’d caught her before the damage was irreparable.

 

He looked up at her- the tiny body limp; head lolling comically to one side where one of the guards had incapacitated her. When would they give up? Why must they continue to torment him. He had given them a place in his world, wasn't that enough? Why did they need to take his beloved away from him? They should be happy for their friend, he had given him everything he could ever dream of . He absently brought the guards back into motion, they swayed on their feet, the gnome remained unconscious.

 

“Take that miserable creature to the dungeon, I’ll deal with her later”.

 

“Yes, your Highness”, they bowed awkwardly, still holding their charge, and left.

 

How tiresome this is becoming.

 

“My King?”

 

That soft voice brought him out of his dark place, the Prince was looking at him for answers.

 

“I’m terribly sorry, my love, it appears a rat interrupted our party”

 

“Do you… know who she is?”

 

“Probably a bungled assassination attempt, or something even more mundane I expect. Nothing to trouble yourself with”. That should be enough.

 

Ezriel brought a gloved finger to his lips in thought, and the beast within the King hungered.

 

“An assassination… right. She… she seemed to know me.”

 

“You’re a Prince, darling, everyone knows you”, Leviathan attempted to laugh it off, this wasn’t going anywhere he approved of.

 

“It’s odd, you're going to think me mad but she seemed… familiar to me, like an acquaintance that I can't place.”

 

“Ezriel, my dear, let me sort this mess out and we can go back to our evening, hm? I need to make sure our guests don’t kick up a fuss”

 

“...What aren’t you telling me?”

 

Ezriel was pacing towards him, and Leviathan met his eyes, afraid to find some of their old righteous fury there, but there was only worry, and hurt, it cut him like a shard of ice to the heart.

 

“Ezriel, please, we can talk about this later”

 

“I don’t want to wait until later, you will tell me now or you can tell them all to go home, party be damned!”

 

I only wanted us to have a beautiful night, I wanted to see you smile. I can still give it to you if I just...

 

“Just trust me, Ezriel . I love you.”

 

“I love you too but-”

 

In this life and the next”

 

The Prince froze, mid sentence, and his eyes became dark and hazy. The King sighed painfully. It had been so real for a moment, but it always ended like this. It had given him immense satisfaction in the beginning, to have his once proud nemesis respond to him like a trained dog, but the taste was growing ever more bitter as he continued to lie to himself that the “Prince’s” feelings for him were real.

 

In the hushed ballroom, glittering with stars, surrounded by the statues of revellers frozen in time, the King motioned a hand, and the angel knelt obediently before him, empty eyes gazing into his own, that were threatening to spill with tears.

 

I am yours”   the angel spoke.

 

***

 

With no more interruptions, the rest of the night had passed swimmingly, and once he had erased the memory of the last few moments from the minds of his guests, the most scandalous event they could recall was when the Duchess of Clearlake had too much to drink and made a pass at a serving boy, believing him to be her husband.

 

Ezriel had danced the rest of the evening away, blissfully unaware of what had almost happened, until finally he had complained of being tired, and retired to their chambers.

 

Until he had those dreams…

 

It’s taking more of a toll on him every time. The King thought grimly. And happening more often. The window of peace where Ezriel wouldn’t ask questions was growing slimmer, and it was requiring more power to quiet him. I should have known I couldn’t keep you forever… not like this anyway. He kissed the soft skin on the shoulder of the beautiful angel that was curled asleep next to him, their bodies fitting together like it seemed cruelly it was always meant to be. If only you would see, how much I’ve done for you.

 

***



Leviathan woke up and tried to take a breath that wouldn't come.

 

His eyes opened as he attempted desperately to gulp in air and felt only pain. There was a vice around his throat.

It was Ezriel’s hand.

 

He felt his body go cold with fear.

 

“I’m glad you’re awake... My. King. ”, the last word sparked with venom, it had been a long time since Leviathan had felt this scared.

 

He was seeing black spots now, but Ezriel’s eyes were burning into his with a rage that scorched his very soul, assuming he still had one. The pressure on his neck grew more intense as the strong fingers gripped him ever tighter.

 

“I want to choke the last breath from your corpse ” the angel’s words from gritted teeth sliced through the space between them. He couldn't move. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe.

 

“...But fortunately for you, you putrid wretch, you still have a purpose. You will tell me…” each syllable was snarled so sharply it could have cut flesh “...what you have done with the others”

 

Only gurgling noises escaped his throat, Ezriel’s fingers only squeezed harder, the effort of it evident in his breathing, before he seemed to collect himself, and relented enough that Leviathan was able to finally gasp in a wracking breath. As oxygen flooded to his starved brain he thought with a flash of unwanted annoyance that of all the things the other man could have said to him in this moment, this was just like Ezriel. All the humiliations he had suffered, and still his first thought was that wretched band of miscreants he called friends.

 

He realised a second later that that time he spent being annoyed should probably have been used for doing something about the predicament he was in. Ezriel seized his wrists before he could get his body to react and pinned him to the bed, his throat burned and his wrists throbbed. His lover was not being gentle.

 

Speak.” The silver haired man commanded, with a power that, had Ezriel had magic in this realm, would certainly have had him spilling forth everything he knew. But it was Leviathan alone that knew the secret to bend realities to his will, and he'd be doing it right this second if he hadn't been so taken aback for the umpteenth time tonight.

 

Irritation raked at his throat and he began to cough. This earned him enough reprieve to notice that it was not yet morning. Not too much time must have passed since they fell asleep together on these same sheets. The spell had lifted so quickly, and he had already cast it twice tonight. He also took in the fact that Ezriel had attacked him with his bare hands... he hadn't plotted this while the King slept, hadn't thought of a better plan, just suddenly woken up, possibly after another of his nightmares, free of his curse and ready to strangle the life out of his captor.

What a cruel mirror image this scene was of the countless nights they had spent here in similar embraces. Well… the night was still young, perhaps he could still turn this situation to his advantage.

 

“I…

 

love… y-”

 

“Don't. You. DARE utter those words to me.”

 

Pain. White hot, as Ezriel’s hand left one of his wrists to choke him again.

 

But he only needed one hand.

 

With a flick of his wrist the Aasimar was launched  backwards, and Leviathan couldn't help but appreciate despite himself, the splendor of his love's form, he was truly magnificent in every way, and, even more worryingly, he enjoyed how real this felt.

 

His nemesis was back.

 

Ezriel had only been thrown for a moment, Leviathan was weak and the force spell had been cast in a panic, Ezriel growled in rage and leapt for him once more.

 

TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE!”

 

Slam. The sound of the silver haired head hitting the bedpost as he was knocked back again. The Aasimar grunted, stunned for a split second, another opportunity.

 

Leviathan gestured, and manacles were conjured from the aether to encircle the wrists of his wayward Prince.

 

Ezriel struggled violently to wrench himself free, and Leviathan thought he was going to rip the bedpost in half with the force of it.

 

Click. Another motion from him and iron encircled the neck of his lover too. Ezriel was caught, resplendent in his anger, fighting his bonds uselessly as the iron chains pulled him in to secure him on his knees, his back against the post.

 

“My my, sweetling, I could get used to you like this”

 

“What have you done with them??”

 

Must you prattle on about your friends in our bedroom? It does so spoil the mood”

 

“Lay a finger on me and I will eviscerate you”

 

By the look on his face he most definitely meant it.

 

“Is that any way to speak to your husband?”

 

Leviathan watched Ezriel’s mouth curl into a snarl, his eyes were cold fire, it had been so very long since he'd seen him as he once was, and it was delicious.

 

“You are a pitiable excuse for an existence, Leviathan . The universe at your command and you would simply have me simper for you? how pathetic”

 

In all the years they had spent in this reality, Leviathan had almost forgotten what it was like to hate Ezriel, but the sinewy fingers of their old feud began to grip him once again. So typical of the proud Aasimar to reject all that he had done for him. Leviathan had manipulated the fabric of the universes, sculpted entire realities into being, expertly orchestrated how to get him here, spent years trying to make him happy; and yet any  moment where the angel’s senses began to return, he would face nothing but rejection.

 

Indignant and hurt, Leviathan tightened his hold. Iron was stronger than the hands of his lover had been, and Ezriel would not escape him.

 

“Even now you still do not see, you are too full of yourself to acknowledge my power”

 

Ezriel grimaced in pain as the bonds restricted him even tighter, cutting into his alabaster skin. Good. Hurt. Hurt like I have.

 

My dear Ezriel…” Leviathan slid back on to the bed to approach his captive, savouring every moment of the sight before him: the proud angel reduced to nothing in his presence. He reached a hand to caress Ezriel’s face. The Aasimar tried to move away but met only resistance. He could see his lover’s hands struggling at their shackles, trying in vain to cast something, anything… but all magic in this realm belonged to Leviathan.

“...I would have you love me”

 

There was a scream of frustration as Ezriel writhed in outrage at his words. The bonds creaked but did not loosen. Sweat had begun to bead on the angel’s skin with the effort of trying to free himself.

 

“Fighting me only makes you more enchanting, my sweet”

 

“You make a mockery of love, you don't even know of what you speak, you became nothing but a husk long ago.” spat Ezriel “tell me where the others are, I grow tired of your games”

 

“To business so soon? My love, we have an eternity”

 

Ezriel closed his eyes

 

“Eida. Stoga. Aurelia…”

Each name spoken with such irritating reverence, like a prayer. “Tell me what you have done with them”

 

Hearing those names spoken aloud made Leviathan growl lowly in his throat. Even still? Why can't you see me.

 

“You know… I did try at first…. worlds where we could be happy together, as a group... They joined us in the beginning, but they were more trouble than I cared to put up with. All of you Thorns are determined to be miserable. Here you could be anything , yet you reject me at every turn, and it's pointless!!  You can never go home, and still you try. It is exhausting!

In the end, I only kept you.”

 

The dwarf had been the first to go, the way Ezriel had sometimes looked at her had been more than Leviathan could stomach; Stoga had soon after rejected any reality without Eida… and Aurelia had gone last, that one was clever, and always tricky… She was sure to be plotting something out there, but it was no matter, she had no real power out of the reach of her foolish goddess.

“They live. Fortunately for you, I cannot erase you, only your memories, and even then, with a time limit, it seems.”

 

Ezriel’s eyes narrowed, searching for truth in the others admission.

 

There was a long pause, before the next words the angel spoke tore through the silence to his very core.

 

“If I…

if I stay…

Will you send them home?”

 

He was not struggling any longer, merely meeting the dark wizards gaze, steady, determined and grim. Only Ezriel could look this regal whist bound and naked. His voice hadn't cracked, he was acting true to his nature: a grand sacrifice to end the war once and for all. Leviathan wanted more than anything for what he had said to be possible.

 

“I… cannot.” He admitted. “The portal, it was destroyed with the spire”

 

“You are a fool!”

 

And yet you are the fools who fell right into my trap”

 

“There must be something you can do. You cannot leave them like this...

Do what you can for my friends, and I will-”

 

The Aasimar broke the intense eye contact, and his silver hair fell over his face, casting it in shadow. Leviathan's gaze moved to Ezriels lips as the next words came.

 

“-I will give myself to you”

 

A thrill of electricity flooded through Leviathan's veins like alchemist's fire.

 

“Oh Ezriel, if you give in so easily I might suspect you want this” he traced a fingertip along the angel’s sharp jawline, while at the same time tightening the bonds holding him ever so slightly. The angel took a tight breath, cheeks reddening from the effort to do so. Leviathan wanted to paint this sight into his memory for eternity.

 

Keep… lying… to… yourself

 

“Who is lying to who, Aasimar? The position you are in, you are hiding nothing.”

 

He never could resist the thrill of humiliating the celestial, who acted as though he thought himself above such base desires, if Leviathan had known he was hiding these deviant inclinations he might have experimented sooner.

 

“Just… free them… you loath- aaargh”

 

Ugh, couldn't he shut up and let him enjoy this for a moment?

 

“You are in no position to bargain with me. Look at you, helpless. I could keep you here forever”

 

Levi...athan”

 

The question was, what was he going to do? He could not send the Thorns back as Ezriel wished, nor could he send them to a new reality without taking he and Ezriel with them. He could lie to the angel and say that he had, but If he simply erased their memories, they would keep coming, and his lie would be exposed. There was only one choice, he wondered why he hadn't done this already… he'd been far too kind.

 

A blink of his eyes, and a flick of his fingers, and the dwarf and the elf joined the gnome in his dungeon. If they couldn't behave, then he wouldn't allow them their freedom. They had had plenty of chances, and yet they kept uselessly fighting; kept destroying the lives he tried to build. Well no more. He only needed one Thorn, the man who started it all.

 

“it is done… “

 

Was it really this easy? He released his grip ever so slightly to let the silver haired man speak. His head dropped to his chest, perhaps Leviathan had been a little rough.

 

“Do you speak true?” Ezriel raised his chin to search the other’s expression. But he didn't have to lie, not about this part.

 

“They are together”

 

“Where? Show me”

 

The dark wizard raised a hand and conjured an image in the air, it shimmered between them, illuminating their faces like ghosts in the half-light.

“I have sent them to another reality, they are together, they will be happy”

 

It was a fragment of another past, before they had recovered their memories. The dwarf and the gnome outside a humble dwelling by the sea, laughing, hand in hand,  Aurelia rolled her eyes and smiled nearby. It was a picturesque scene, it hadn't lasted long, Ezriel didn't need to know that.

 

“This is… they are safe? Content?”

 

“They do not remember you, they are blissfully ignorant”

 

“If you are lying to me...”

 

“Let's face it, my love , what choice do you have?”

 

Ezriels face was resigned. He knew this, the sacrifice had been a last resort, an attempt to appeal to the weakness Leviathan had for him.

 

Don't you realise, I can give you everything, except the thing you want most? Not one of you will ever be free of me.

 

If it means possessing him, the real him, even for a while. He would lie… he could keep a dungeon full of secrets to have him in his bed.

 

“Well, I have done as you asked, I will interfere with the Thorns no longer. They will live out whatever mundane existence they desire, free from thoughts of both of us. And you… let's see...” With only a hint of reluctance, Leviathan vanished the cold metal shackles that bound his captive where they had held him, leaving angry red stripes across the skin. They will fade, but I do enjoy marking him. Part of him expected Ezriel to leap for him, to try once again to destroy him as he knew he so badly wanted; but the angel was true to his word. He leant slightly bent forward on his knees with the sudden change in resistance. His expression was pained, hands balled into fists in front of him; honouring his word to the end…. Idiot.

 

Leviathan took one of Ezriel's hands, it barely perceptively flinched for a moment, knuckles white, before relenting. He moved so close that there were mere inches between them... he had touched the Aasimar many times, had revelled in his skin, his voice, his pleasure… every time it had been Ezriel's body, yet his mind had been a fantasy, a facsimile of what he imagined a life with the the Aasimar would be like… a neutered pet. The man before him now was his enemy of old,  whose countenance had haunted his every thought for as long as he cared to remember. Every memory was intact, and raw; every grand victory the Thorns had had meant nothing- it had let to this moment, this surrender. And it had been so easy. Oh Ezriel, you almost disappoint me.

 

That was another lie: disappointment was far from his mind. He placed Ezriels hand on his own cheek, with an unapologetic smirk, he held the slender hand there as his other traced the weal around the Aasimar’s neck. Ezriel did not recoil,  merely stared at him with a grim expression, but his ice chip eyes betrayed humiliation. Leviathan brought his mouth to Ezriels ear...

 

Say it”

 

The other man’s body stiffened, Leviathan knew he had had to hold himself back from lashing out. Oh, he was going to savour every second of this.

 

The angel bowed his head, he did not want the elf to see his thoughts to take pleasure in them; but Leviathan was right there to grab him by his chin, never had the gesture felt so possessive as it did at this moment.

 

“Be a good boy and say it for me, love”, his lips were inches from the angel’s now, and their breaths intermingled, one tense with excitement and the other with trepidation and barely contained fury. Their bodies were so close that their flesh was touching in places that made Leviathan's blood run hot.

 

“I…”

a trembling beautiful breath, so quiet it could barely be heard

am yours” .

 

The spell was long since broken by now, and the only change that overcame Ezriel after the words hung in the air was unwelcome shameful desire as his enemy's lips crashed into his own.

 

In this life and the next, the angel with clipped wings belonged to Leviathan.