Pale Bright and Shining

by Aoime Kouchou (あおいめこうちょう)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/101990.html)

On the Twenty-third day of the Var’nik, during the year of the Red Moon Descending, the august Lord-General died in his sleep. His triptychs were euthanized and his favored lovers transported to their permanent estate on Satvit Two. The planet mourned his passing with great celebration.

Of his fifteen sons, Fifth son Dedric was the one deemed genetically superior, his seed proven ten times over to produce many sons. Fourth son, Berrique, with his smooth charm, had enough clout among the senators to aid the process. First son, Tethish, was a warrior true, made Obsidian Spear before his nineteenth year. Tenth son Va’nar was a merchant, and was a friend to merchants, with many starships, frigates and pilots in his employ.

The crown went instead to the youngest son, a youth known as Damasque, who had held old Morth’set’s hand as he died. It was into his palm that the signet ring dropped, and it was to him the triptych master came to after the Lord-General was laid to rest.

The master was a short man, bald, and rotund enough to gather small moons about his girth. His pink, crisped skin spoke of years among the killing sands of Ballique’s fifth moon, as did his blackened robes and the short photon-whip at his side. The servant on duty announced his name as Master Hervash, and quietly closed the door behind him.

If Damasque was to be impressed by the man, he didn’t feel it. He’d met with countless senators and generals that morning, all of whom had heaped gift after useless gift at his feet. He’d had them all packed against the adobe walls of his small visiting chamber, vowing their givers that he would cherish them forever and a day. In truth, he’d have them stuffed into vaults so his successor – one of his brothers, he was sure – would regift them after Damasque’s assassination.

The Ballique man – Damasque had a horrible time with names – wiped his broad forehead clean of sweat. His black, piggish eyes looked to Damasque’s feet, all the way up to the top of his red curls. “You are Princeling Damasque’ish’Travat, son of Morth’set’ish’Travat?”

There were about five titles the man skipped, but yes. “I am, sir, or they wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“The princeling is…blunt.” Drawing forth an envelope, the piggish brute staggered up the length of carpet to hand it to a page. “Hervash like blunt.”

Damasque snatched the envelope from the boy. He still didn’t quite understand why he couldn’t just accept things with his own two hands. None of his brothers’ assassins were that stupid, or that bold as to lace contact poison on things. Morth’set only raised one mooncalf fool and that was Damasque himself.

As he tore into the letter, he grumbled, “You came all the way from Ballique to hand me a note?”

“No, Hervash ask question too,” the Ballique man bore his fanged smile. “Princeling want girl or boy?”

“Your command of my language is foul,” the prince grumbled as he scanned the letter.

It was in his father’s withered script, and nigh illegible. He recognized enough to read ‘faithful servants’, ‘paid in full’, his own name, and repeated mentions of the word ‘triptych’. It brought up fond memories of alabaster hands, cradling him, and his father’s laughter.

“Princeling honors Hervash, Answer now, or wait for another. Makes no mind to Hervash.”

“And how do I know if what you have are real triptychs?”

“Hervash brought last of stock.” The Ballique man turned, put his fingers to his swollen lips, and squealed a whistle. The doors opened, allowing two figures entrance to the sitting room.

The male stood a head taller then Damasque; the female was taller still, but slender and lithe against her partner’s powerful mass. Their skin was paler then fire ash, with straight, white hair that reached their buttocks. Their faces were covered with electronic masks that displayed computerized imitations of their facial expressions. Thick metal bands, running from chin to shoulders locked the masks in place. Outside of those cold accessories, not a scrap of cloth covered their bodies.

There was not an ounce of fat to be had on either body. The male, just by the glory of breathing, put to shame all the gladiators in the capitol arena. One flex of his arm seemed enough to bend bronze. The prince couldn’t seem able to keep his eyes from traveling up, and embarrassingly down, the male’s body. He spared one glance to the male’s shaft – perfectly formed and long as the rest was tall – then rushed down the legs to the feet. Nothing sexy about feet. Or calves…certainly thighs…

He willed himself to look to the female, lest his desires lead him astray. Damasque had not the eyes to judge their body’s strengths.

All Maa’rish were physically male, and so fathered children upon the other planet’s races; their seed was potent enough to breed true, striped mewlings every time. Maa’rish ancestors, the religious texts decreed, were so fond of war that all their women-folk transformed into men so they might share in the killing.

The prince didn’t want to look at the female. She reminded him too much of his father’s triptychs. It made him sick to see the body of his caregivers so grossly flaunted so soon after their deaths.

Turning his eyes towards the Ballique man, Damasque wrinkled his nose. “Have you not a credit to at least clothe them?”

Hervash snorted, “Why waste credits on merchandise? When is your merchandise, you waste credits. Not Hervash.” With a grunt, the piggish man forced his bulk around. “Princeling, come. Prove to you Hervash merchandise is true.”

The prince waved his guards away. It had been hours since he was allowed to rise from his chair, and stretch his legs. His page slid gilded sandals over his bare, earth-brown feet. He hardly knew the boy’s name and already he wanted to curse it. It wasn’t three weeks earlier, Damasque had been allowed to run, bare-feet and loincloth, over the dry palace floors.

He followed behind the Ballique man, trying not to trip too much on his ceremonial silks. The blues, the golds and royal greens all clung to his skin, and still there was a fourth layer he’d refused to let the dressing servants put on him. The layers alone would kill a man in the stifling jungle heat. Perhaps it was his brothers’ will he drown in his own sweat.

As he neared them, Damasque could scent a thick musk of incense and fruit. Hervash butted his mass between the two, shoving the female aside to draw near the male. Her balance quivered for but a moment as she sidled a step away. Neither the male, nor the female looked down to acknowledge the prince.

It chilled him. Until the day of his first Rat’demlaou, Consort Savan had always cradled him to her bountiful chest. When it was him and his father, Warrior Saria would save her off-hand to curl over his shoulder. He could not go an hour with out Mother Sanai’s cosseting. To see no emotion from the two pale beings was disheartening.

Damasque looked to the male’s mask as the Ballique man brusquely wrenched the pale arm from his side. “What are their names?”

“Names,” Hervash grunted in mild disgust. He turned over the male’s wrist, “Princeling, look here.”

The prince bowed over Hervash’s shoulder. A stylized brand was seared into the white flesh, just over the longest vein. All three of his fathers’ triptychs had borne the same mark in the same place.

“That proves nothing, other then you’ve burned this poor man with some bit of metal. I’ve heard the president of Vericuse was fooled the same way, and lost millions for a painted up Terran woman.”

Sneering – or smiling – the Ballique man knocked the pale man in the side. Damasque heard the stiff exhale of breath beneath the mask. “Princeling wants proof, Andiya. Show Princeling your proof for your brothers.”

The pale man turned, allowed the whole of him to be seen. So close, Damasque could see the grace and flow of the many powerful muscles. The pale hands reached down, between his taunt thighs, push it aside his sizable length. The flesh behind was smooth, allowing the prince to see the wall behind Andiya. Damasque bit down on his lower lip and shifted his balance uncomfortably.

“All three brothers clipped. Make them strong, easy to manage.” Hervash licked his lips, “Will show with female if Princeling wishes.”

“N-no, that’s fine,” Damasque patted the pale man’s arm. “You can stop now. I believe you.”

The hands moved, just a fraction to follow his orders, when the Ballique man’s whip snapped. At once, Andiya was on his knees, kneeling to receive the blows in sharp sequence. Hervash squealed curses in his native tongue until the prince could grab the man’s pudgy wrist.

“Enough now! What did he do wrong?”

Hervash jerked his arm away, “Andiya too young. Needs reminding often. Andiya should not let Princeling touch merchandise not his own.”

The hiss came to Damasque’s throat, and the hairs at the back of his neck rose like any good warrior’s should. “Then he has nothing to worry about any longer. I’ll take him.”

“Not even look at female?” Frowning, the Ballique man shook his head. “Bad choice. Princeling should see options.”

“I don’t give a damn. If it will keep your whip from him, then it’s a fair trade.”

The Ballique man grunted, “No refund if Princeling changes mind.”

“Just bring me the damn contract.”

*

By dinner’s third course, the prince was still endorsing Hervash’s documents, parchments, and electronic waivers. Each one had to be further notarized by a sworn witness, a priest of Damasque’s chosen faith, and a judge of the intergalactic courts. When he saw the red moon rise over the canopies, the prince wondered if he truly understood what he was getting into.

Hervash allowed him to see the documentation concerning Andiya and his brothers’ breeding, their verification of passing though training, and the score-sheets for their various tests. Andiya was proven to be the most intelligent of the three, with all high marks in mathematics, clerical and logical testing. Andysha, the middle brother, was practiced in court etiquette, and skilled in various sexual practices; Damasque couldn’t read the file without blushing. The third brother, Andeimi, scored superior marks in the martial arts of sword, spear, and rifle. Looking at the man, Damasque believed every sentient.

It was the warrior that joined the prince and Hervash for dinner instead of Andiya. The Ballique man had returned to his ship to fetch the required documents, the brothers, and his own bags. While payment was being transacted and backgrounds checked, Hervash would remain and tend to the triptych brothers’ furnishings. As he shoveled in oysters and stout Pond’ique ale, he made his demands on their behalf.

Damasque’s attention was to Andeimi, who stood rather then sat, at the foot of the table. The Ballique man had permitted he wear traditional triptych armor about his chest and hips. Bands of silver-seeming metal wound around his wrists, his biceps, and ankles; the breastplate looked like metal bandages across the torso. A length of blue silk did a poor job covering Andeimi’s manhood.

Realizing he was staring, the prince forced himself to look to Hervash. “Why does he not eat?”

“The mask prevents such things,” a bowl of pila’que livers vanished down the Ballique man’s gullet. “They know when and where to do their nasty business. That is one of few things Princeling must worry for.”

Heaving a defeated sigh, Damasque returned to his papers. His roasted water-pheasant was growing cold.

*

He met Andysha before the moons fell, as the pale man was attempting to slide between his sheets.

Damasque could still smell something of Consort Savan’s perfume still on the velvet pillow at his head. It made him toss in his dreams, her mask a clear memory. She’d been with him when his father passed. She and Mother Sanai had been the closest parental figures in his life. His father was a bad dream; few Maa’rish ever knew their egg-donor.

Rolling onto his side, he felt the pillows shift with him. He paid them no mind.

He tossed again, trying to find some comfortable place for sleep to come. His coronation rites began tomorrow…

A warm hand caressed his cheek, luring him to soft lips and the scent of sweet apples and incense-musk. It felt as if he were touching silk, gentle and warm, until he felt the scrape of a damp tongue against his lower lip.

Damasque’s eyes opened immediately to take in white skin and black cloth. He pushed back against the pillows, his breath stolen from his very lungs.

The pale man’s eyes were bound shut with rough, black wool, the kind spacers wore when they flew between worlds. A band of silver ran behind ear to sharp ear atop his head; his mask-plate, the prince realized. Besides his neckbands, he was bare to the winds, and made beautiful by the watery moonlight.

“W-what…?”

A ripped scrap of parchment was pressed against his chest. Damasque had to turn it towards the window to read it. The letters flowed in Standard script, not Maa’rish,

My name is Andysha ♥♥♥

The sound of skin against skin drew his attention back to Andysha. The pale man pushed his lips against Damasque’s chest, his tongue sneaking a lick to taste the brown skin. Only the thinnest of sheets separated one body from the other. Andysha pulled a little bit down at a time to give his lips more to kiss.

Damasque had favored one lover – a handsome guardsman with fair green eyes – over the moon-lovers he’d been served between his first Rat’demlaou and that very breath. He wasn’t fool enough to still believe consorts only helped soothed their masters to sleep. And yet, even seeing the way Andysha moved, how his powerful body shuddered, Damasque couldn’t perform.

“Andysha,” he reached out to touch a pale cheek. “Stop. Please.”

He could see the eyes beneath the mask widen. The pale man touched his wrists, the moonlight making his skin shine with a faint blue light. Damasque shuddered as Andysha’s soft lips parted to a frown.

All at once, he watched the expression change from confusion to fear. Andysha turned away to bury his face in his hands.

“Oh no,” he touched the pale man’s shoulder, “No, Andysha. Please, understand. It’s not you.”

Andysha turned, letting the moonlight pick out his lips as they moved to form one word. “Why?”

“I cannot just make love to someone I don’t know.” His hand seemed drawn of its own will to caress the pale cheek, “You’re beautiful. I…I don’t want you to force yourself…”

Andysha leaned in, pressing kisses all over the prince’s face. Damasque dared spare one; Andysha tasted sweet, like fresh, chilled apples during the dry season.

He wrapped the pale man in the sheets and ordered paper and pen from the sleepy page outside his chamber door. Andysha’s script was surprisingly clear for someone who couldn’t even see the paper he wrote on.

Andiya was right. You are very kind.

“Thank you,” the prince blushed. “Are your brothers…happy with me?”

I am. Andiya too. Andeimi, the pale man frowned before writing, isn’t sure.

“Why? Is it something I said, or…?”

No. He is a warrior and has a warrior’s heart. Give him time to know you, and he will come around.

“Oh,” Damasque blinked as the pale man hurried to scribble his text. “Wait, what are you-?”

Andysha shoved the parchment against the prince’s chest. His lips dripped down a brown shoulder, following the curve towards the prince’s throat. I was not made to write. I was made to love you and give you pleasure. Why will you not let me do so?

Damasque wasn’t sure. He knew he wasn’t thinking straight anymore. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since his father took ill. All he could think about was how much he hated everything and how damn stupid his father was for handing him the stupid ring. He couldn’t even wear the damn thing on his finger. He had to wear it on a chain around his neck…

He didn’t realize he was crying until Andysha touched his cheek. The pale man’s lips parted, the shock apparent beneath his mask. A second hand joined the first to wipe away tears. Fingers raked through the prince’s curls. White silk skin pressed against his cheek. Lips found lips to kiss.

Andysha had him against the pillows before their lips parted for breath. Damasque whimpered, his breath coming too fast to keep. Those pale, coral pink lips pressed rose-petal kisses down his chin to his throat.

It was strange to see someone so tall be so gentle, so graceful. The sheets were lured away, allowing precious kisses to coat the prince’s skin. Andysha smiled, rubbing his cheek against Damasque’s filling cock. With the writhing grace of an Ateimei mud priest, the pale man’s tongue danced over the heated brown flesh.

In an instant, Andysha sat himself atop the prince’s lap. The pale man parted his thighs, his head leaning back as he slid the prince’s length inside him. Damasque could feel the damp trace slick over his skin when their strokes began; Andysha had prepared for their union. It was he that started their pulse, and he that gasped soundlessly when the prince’s seed welled inside him. Quick as it came, it seemed enough to make Andysha shudder and collapse atop Damasque’s body.

Between gulps of breath, the prince buried his face against the pale shoulder. His hands slid over Andysha’s sides, following the powerfully sculpted muscles up to his back. Thick hands glided through his hair. Lips pressed against his scalp. Warmth and white moonlight faded to oblivion.

*

Much to Damasque’s horror, Hervash terrorized the palace staff. The Ballique man outright stole command of the royal suites, commandeering the three rooms Morth’set had used to house his triptychs. All the furniture – the beds, pillows, mattresses, antique knickknacks – were replaced with objects of stark Ballique style. The prince had so little warning; most of the treasures he’d wanted to save were lost.

A member of the senior staff gave Damasque a list of objects Hervash demanded. Most were things he’d never heard of. The prince, cradling a cracked figurine from Mother Sanai’s bedroom, gave his seal for the wholesale slaughter of his memories. Breakfast, or what little he ate of it, sat in a cold lump throughout the rest of the morning.

Somewhere outside, on his way to the lavatories, he heard the first shot ring out. Something big and pale held him against the hot adobe wall. Powerful arms held him as shouts and gunfire rang out.

His first thoughts went to, “Andysha!”

He pressed his cheek against the warmth, starving for something to touch throughout the madness. Before another breath could pass, the gunfire ceased and the pale white body pulled away.

“Wait,” the prince looked up to see the mask in place and lifeless, electronic eyes looking down upon him. “Y-you’re not…?”

The head shook, the computerized face flickered to a hard-eyed frown. The pale man fished a small card from his belt to shove against Damasque’s chest. On it was printed the man’s name in bold block letters.

“Andeimi,” the prince read. “Oh, I’m sorry…”

“Ah-ha,” came the shrill squeal of the Ballique man. He stood between two of Damasque’s guards, wearing brown desert robes and a head-cloth to hide his pink flesh from the jungle’s sun. “Is good Hervash came, or Princeling have new breathing holes.”

The guard to the left shouldered his spear. He was part of the house-guard, and therefore forced to wear the bronze breastplate and loincloth of ancient times. The only advancements allowed to the costume were the com-piece around his ear and the small pistol secreted about his person. He tried to get a good look at the prince, but larger Andeimi blocked his way. The lessons of Morth’set’s own warrior were well pounded in every new palace guard.

“Are you all right, sir?”

“Yes,” the shock of it all hit Damasque hard. He leaned on Andeimi’s thick arm to catch his breath. “What happened?”

“Sniper, wearing Futari clan colours.” The other guard in black gear pressed his finger to his ear to engage the communication’s link. “Copy that. The prince is secure…”

The black-clad guard turned around, scanning the area as he continued his one-sided conversation with whomever he was ordering. There were so many new guards around, Damasque couldn’t keep their names or faces straight.

He felt a hand at his chin, drawing his focus back to Andeimi. The pale man kneeled before him, his body bound in the same armor and blue loincloth as before. His electronic eyes shone flickering computer-error blue as they scanned Damasque’s face. Andeimi turned the prince’s head side to side, then made Damasque raise his arms to run his thick hands down his body.

The prince whispered, “What are you doing?”

Andeimi lifted the rim of his electronic mask up to the tip of his nose. His pale, rose pink lips mouthed in clear, readable Standard, ‘Are you all right?’

“I’m fine, Andysha,” his hand reached out to touch the pale cheek before he could stop himself.

A thick fist slammed against the adobe wall, making flakes crumble down Damasque’s ear. He saw the hot electric burn glimmer in the mask’s eyes, the stern lips peal back into an angry snarl. His hand was slapped away so Andeimi could pull his mask down. The electronic plates locked into place.

“I mean Andeimi,” the prince watched, eyes wide as the pale man pulled away. “Andeimi, I’m sorry.”

Andeimi was already on his knees, accepting the punishment of Hervash’s photon-whip against his shoulders. The curses came in stiff Ballique, with enough Maa’rish for Damasque to understand the offence. Attempted destruction of property and raising his hand against the prince.

On their way to Damasque’s chambers, the Ballique man shared a small piece of advice to the prince. “They get angry when you confuse one with the other. A skilled owner learns to tell brothers apart just by way they breathe.”

*

The meeting with the senate went without incident. He had Andeimi at his side, and three black-clad guards behind him. There was very little for Damasque to do, outside of listen to all the different voices contest or agree to his reason for breathing. Most of the senators were Maa’rish men, whose wrinkles hid their race’s characteristic black stripes. There were a few of the other native races present.

He remembered his father complaining about the senate hearings, when he took Consort Savan and Damasque to the palace gardens. The sun had been so warm that day; they lounged about the artificial pond to keep cool. Damasque played in the water, while his father told Savan his dream about a culturally diverse senate.

Damasque sighed into his palm. If his father wanted such things, why didn’t he tell Berrique, or Va’nar? Either one of them could change the world.

He was the baby of the family. Had always been treated as the baby. No one but Father and Mother Sanai came to his name-day celebrations. Sons one through fourteen all had lavish parties, with celebrities and paparazzi and television cameras. There were five years between him and fourteenth son, Irick. Fifth son Dedric had sons of his own. First son Tethish brought his Ateimei concubine to the battlefield; rumor had it they had conceived their first child there.

The prince looked in the rafters of the ceiling. Maybe one of Tethish’s old army buddies managed to sneak a pistol inside…

But then Andeimi would jump between him and the bullet. Maybe even get killed. Andysha would be upset if one of his brothers were killed.

Damasque put his hand in front of the microphone at his desk. He looked to Andeimi, and asked, “Can I see your hand, please?”

The pale man thrust his wrist against Damasque’s chest, pushing him back against his seat. If not for the cool metal bands at the wrist, he could imagine it was Andysha or Consort Savan he was holding on to.

*

After a light lunch of fish and flaked potatoes, Andiya met him in the palace study for the choosing of the new banners. It seemed, despite Damasque’s demands, Hervash refused to clothe the pale man.

The blush refused to leave the prince’s face. “Ancestors damn you, little man. How can I speak with him if I cannot bare to look at him?”

“Not Hervash problem.” The Ballique man shoved a bookplate against Damasque’s chest. “Here. All Princeling need know. Rest, they handle. Money came through. Ship fueled. Hervash going to safe space lest lose life!”

That sounded like a plan. Damasque frowned, “All this grief and you’re leaving early?”

“Princeling not worth Hervash life. Have Andeimi. Keep his metal. Hervash gift to Princeling.”

“How generous of you,” the prince stuffed the bookplate between his robes for safe keeping. “Don’t I at least get your ship’s identification number?”

“Why Princeling need that? Need help? Call Ballique. They send another, if Princeling not already dead.”

With that shrill squeal of laughter, the Ballique man took his whip and his damnation of the Maa’rish language with him out the library doors. Damasque turned to Andiya, and forced himself to look into his electronic green eyes to ask,

“Are you as scared as I am right now?”

*

Law 45: Do not attempt to alter the mask or collar to allow vocal communication. Do not attempt psychic influence to broach communication. If communication must be bridged, the triptych is only allowed via keyboard, paper and pen, or movements of the mouth and lips.

Damasque groaned, letting the bookplate fall into his lap. His eyes burned from reading the tiny green letters, and his brain ached from translating Standard to Maa’rish. There wasn’t a port on the side to hook a translator card, nor a program built into the device to override the text display.

“Ugh, I’m bored!”

Andiya nudged the prince’s chair with his foot. He flipped the page of his fourth heavy tome –a history of the planet – without skipping a beat. It made Damasque want to vomit. The rate Andiya absorbed knowledge was incalculable.

The royal clothier had scraped together a quick traditional-style loincloth for Andiya out of loud blue and green cotton. It would serve until better garments could be acquired and properly fitted. Damasque insisted each brother go and pick their own clothing style. He had a hard enough time distinguishing them. Matching clothes would be too much.

Andysha was easiest to identify, because he only appeared at night in the prince’s bedroom. However, he’d had the misfortune to mistake his comely love for his fiercer brother and lost an expensive Pond’ique water-box for his troubles. That resulted in the demand for punishment, which Damasque was loath to give.

It was Andeimi who handed him the bookplate, and it was he who pulled up the list of owner laws.

Law 1: Disobedience, in any form, should be dealt with swiftly. Punishment should be delivered with the following instruments…

Damasque settled for a muted backhand tap against the pale man’s shoulder. It was all his heart would let him do.

“Now, punish me by taking me to my coronation.”

The whole affair was mind numbing. An attempted poisoning at breakfast, two gunmen along the parade route, and one duelist later, Damasque was crowned Lord-Prince of the Maa’rish Empire. Ruler of one planet, five colonies and twelve hundred starships; his flagship, the Sunspear, set off cluster mines, in low planetary orbit, as part of the fireworks display held in his honor.

A body-double was sent out to view the festivities his place while the prince spent the night at home with Andysha. They’d made fireworks of their own until the sun rose over the jungle. How a man that tall could move with such grace, Damasque would never know.

Nor would he understand how the three brothers had been made so vastly different. His Andysha always seemed to have a smile on his lips and a kind word to write. Andeimi was so easily angered, Damasque walked on snake scales to placate the man. And Andiya…

“You’re really a machine, aren’t you?” The prince blurted out, “You and Andeimi are really cyborgs or something. Maybe Andysha too.”

The book lowered, allowing him to watch an electronic eyebrow rise to an annoyed curve.

“Well then what are you?”

Breathing a sigh against his mask, Andiya put his book down on the table. He stole the bookplate from Damasque’s lap, tapped the screen a few times, then handed it back. The harsh green and black text document had been closed out and a wholly different application put in its place.

Atop a pink, flowery background, pastel bubble letters bounced to the center of the screen (in Standard, of course) Your Triptych and You

“The hell was this made for? A child?”

Andiya returned to his book without a nod or a stray glance. The prince engaged the program.

The bubble letters were replaced with a cartoon of a smiling red-furred anthropomorphic feline. “My name is Gerri and I’m here to teach you all about your new friends.”

Without missing a beat, Damasque looked up at Andiya. “Are you my friend, Andiya?”

The pale man tapped his bare foot against the carpet. That had become his sign of annoyance, since he couldn’t always show it on his mask. It had also become a threat for the next time he’d kick Damasque’s seat.

“Fine,” he tapped the screen to continue. “Don’t be nice to me.”

The happy cat named Gerri went on to explain how lucky the prince was that he had triptych friends and how rare that was. The image changed to display two cartoonish triptychs next to the cat. One was male, the other female; both were clothed in non-descript blue costumes. Damasque was asked to pick the gender of the triptychs he had.

“Oh, you have brothers,” the cat deduced. “Triptychs only come in threes. They’re always the same gender, and look exactly alike in every way. But please remember not to confuse them. It makes them very unhappy when you confuse one brother for another.”

“That’s an understatement,” Damasque grumbled.

The screen flipped, allowing the red cat to drag the male triptych over to stand with his two brothers. The one in the middle wore Andeimi’s armor, and the one on the end wore flowing blue robes.

“Your triptych friends have special talents that only they can perform. One is very smart,” the one dragged from the previous screen waved his hand. “He’ll help you make very important decisions. Keep him around when you need to do something with numbers or when dealing with great crowds of people. He’s called the Advisor.”

As the first and second cartoons switched places, Damasque’s ear twitched. He thought he heard something scrape against the adobe floor. The prince took a moment to pause his application and ask,

“Andiya, did you hear something?”

His advisor was already a step ahead of him. He motioned for Damasque to remain where he was and gave the hand-sign for changing places.

“Oh.” The thought of being alone with the goofy child’s program unnerved him. “Okay. Sorry if I’ve been annoying you…”

Andiya shook his head, then pushed his electronic lips to the crown of Damasque’s head. He vanished between the shelves before the prince could even raise his hand to the spot.

He un-paused the program, allowing Gerri the Cat to continue his discourse. The warrior triptych stood out in front, armed with a massive tower-shield and a strangely curved sword. It reminded Damasque of an elongated claw with wrappings at the base for a hilt.

“This one is very, very brave.” Gerri assured the prince, “He is very powerful and will keep you safe and sound. He has been trained to use every sort of weapon imaginable from swords, to guns. You never have to be afraid as long as he’s around. He’s called the Warrior.”

The heavy pound of bootsteps made the prince jolt. Andeimi rounded the corner of a bookshelf, wearing his newly acquired black gear. The whole affair looked one flex from ripping, but it looked that way on all the guards so Damasque didn’t argue. The collar-plates remained curved around his neck, leaving very little space between the metal and the black shirt collar. His arms were bare, save for the metal bands he enjoyed. The dark blue loincloth remained to cover the crotch of his regulation pants. There was no readable expression on his mask.

“Oh, it’s you,” the prince paused his program again. “I take it Andiya got tired of me…”

Andeimi shook his head. As he settled against the wall, Damasque noticed the bulge of black nylon at his side.

“Is that a new pistol?”

That made the electronic lips flicker into a smile. The pale man pulled the weapon from its holster to show him. Andeimi made sure to point out the name of the maker on the side.

“Aren’t they the ones that make the weapons for the Intergalactic Union?” A nod and a smile answered him as the weapon was returned. “Then I’m very happy you have it.”

Andeimi reached over to ruffle Damasque’s curls. The sudden show of affection lured the prince into leaning against the pale man’s side, a soft sigh passing his lips. For those few moments, he was a little mewling again, huddled against the strongest person in his small world. A thick arm pulled him close, enticing him to take in spicy incense and gunpowder. A child’s purr tickled his throat.

A gentle poke at his shoulder brought the prince back to reality. Andeimi helped him sit up, then pointed to the bookplate.

“Oh, yeah,” he turned it so Andeimi could see the screen. “Andiya showed me this program.”

The pale man motioned for him to keep doing what he was doing. Andeimi pointed to himself, then made a circle with his finger.

“You’re exploring? Why?”

Andeimi pointed to his chest again, then to his ear.

“You hear something?” A nod came, and the prince reached for the pale wrist. “Please be safe, Andeimi.”

Thick fingers raked through his curls as the man lifted his mask up to his nose. His pink lips were streaked to a pleased grin.

The mask was restored and the pale man vanished when the prince finally looked back down at the bookplate. He reread the cat’s paragraph about the warrior and remembered all those high marks Andeimi received for marksmanship.

“It’s probably just a librarian or some page for the senate.” He pulled himself into the corner between a bookshelf and the wall. “No one would hurt Andeimi. He wouldn’t let them. He’ll be safe, and then he’ll come back.”

He could hear Andeimi’s boots wash across the stone floor. It didn’t make him feel any safer, but it did help soothe him to hear the pale man walking about. The library wasn’t that large. He’d come back soon enough.

Something small and sharp lanced into his neck, straight into the jugular. Damasque had enough time to rise up and shout Andeimi’s name before crashing against the carpet.

*

He woke up in warmth and musky spices. Everything beyond him was a blur of noise and shades of grey. There was a constant beep annoying his headache. Damasque pushed his groan against soft black cloth.

He wanted his daddy. He wanted Mommy Sanai to lift her mask, kiss his forehead, and make it better. He wanted Andysha to hold him tight and never let go. Their faces all blurred together in his mind, until all he could make out was the comforting scent of spice.

The buzz dulled into words, then whole voices. None of them sounded familiar.

“…coming around…”

“Yes, his…opening…”

Thick hands pressed his shoulders and his back against a tight chest. Cold plastic nudged his cheek, bringing the sting of metal to his ear in the process. He could hear an electronic hum dangerously close to his ear.

“Where…?”

A hand pulled over his cheek, pushing him against the chest behind him. Gunpowder stink and harsh pepper, along with the chilled metal strips, helped bring the prince to full consciousness.

“Andeimi,” his fingers, numb and useless, pawed instead of gripped the pale man’s shirt. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”

A relieved sigh puffed behind the electronic mask. Large hands pulled him into a welcome embrace. He felt safe enough to purr.

The prince was allowed to settle against the pale man’s chest as the doctors made their assessments. He found a detox patch at his throat and a breathing assist clamped to his nostrils. A monitor cuff had been slipped over his finger, linking his vitals with the small, beeping machine by his bed.

An Ath’baakan in police reds bobbed inside the royal bedchambers, flanked by the captain of the palace guards and the head of Damasque’s personal guards. All of them were in their best and brightest uniforms.

The guardsman tossed a scrap of cloth to Damasque’s lap. On it were the red, black and gold of Clan Futari. “At your command, we’re set to raid their headquarters. We mean to seize prisoners and documentation on who bought your contract.”

“I don’t remember anything,” Damasque muttered. He couldn’t remember the names of his own security force; he bet Tethish would have made the effort.

“We have your warrior’s report. We also have the lab inspecting the corpses now.” The guardsman nodded his head to the prince. “Had we got to you sooner, we might have saved the assassin’s life. Your warrior is very thorough.”

A sudden surge of protectiveness made the prince growl, “His name is Andeimi.”

“Right,” the guardsman favored his earpiece a moment. “At your word, my prince. Shall we take the complex?”

“Try to get as many alive as you can. I don’t want anymore people to die because of me.”

“As you will it, my prince.”

*

When the doctors finally dragged the last of the medical equipment out of his room, Damasque breathed a little easier. Andeimi took his leave when the moons rose, allowing Andysha to take his place. It had been so long since they’d seen one another, the prince couldn’t help steal his consort’s breath away. Especially when not but sallow moonlight graced the fair, white skin.

“Andysha,” Damasque had his pale lover on his back, pressed deep against the pillows. He lifted a pale wrist to his cheek, his lips pressing rose petal kisses against the flesh. “My starlight…”

The pale, pink lips parted into a luscious, pleasured smile. A powder blue cloth mask kept Andysha’s eyes covered; the throat bands kept his moans quiet. Damasque wasn’t used to having so few indicators of pleasure, besides the throbbing member nudging against him. His own was steadily filling as his lips graced the broad canvas the pale man called a chest.

Hands raked through his hair; hips shuddered, gently urging their shafts against each other. The touch lured Damasque into a rutting pulse.

“An-Andysha,” all he knew was to lean back, to let his body move with the warmth below him. Thick hands rubbed up the prince’s thighs, luring him to buck towards the touch. “Yes…touch me…touch me, please…”

His consort took his time, sliding his warm hands over every spare inch of brown striped flesh. He touched while being touched; Damasque explored the pale flesh for hints of pleasure. It was as if he were touching Andysha for the first time, despite all their past midnight encounters. There was a different sort of grace to the nimble hands – not hesitant, but curious, confident.

Andysha stretched out over the sheets, parting his thighs slowly, seductively pushing his hips against his own palm. The prince could no more control his lust then a fighting bull. In a breath, he pressed against his consort, purring as his hands slid up Andysha’s taut buttocks. He followed the curves up, around the bend of hips and abdominal muscles to set the pace for their rutting pulse.

Damasque leaned against the broad, powerful back, his lips and tongue leaving a sloppy trail of kisses along Andysha’s spine. The wet taste of citrus and tamaske flowers made it impossible not to savor every inch of pale skin. The prince rubbed his shaft dangerously close to his consort’s entrance.

The pale man arched into his touch as his hands nimbly wrapped around Andysha’s taut shaft. In a breath, he pushed inside his consort’s waiting body. Andysha followed his thrusts, shuddering at every deepened push. He quickened his rut against the prince’s touch, tears dampening the corners of his mask. Damasque held his pulse as long as he could, crying out when the rush passed from him.

He smiled into Andysha’s back, feeling the thigh muscles clench beneath his palms. His fingertips massaged the ready shaft, “Come for me, my love. My sweet starlight.”

Throwing back his head, his consort grew still. The prince nuzzled the pale skin, scenting the pleasant blossom of sweet citrus to the mixture of musk that made up Andysha’s scent. It thrilled him how his beloved bathed in such sweet oils.

He released the relaxing organ, his fingers languidly bleeding up to the pale man’s chest. Andysha slowly dripped across the sheets, gasping and grasping Damasque’s fingers. They glided against one another until the prince lay on his side with his consort tucked beneath his chin. The found sleep in a tangle of blankets and tired limbs.

*

Tenth son Va’nar, publicly brokered a trade agreement with Damasque during the merchant’s council. He announced how honored he was to be the first to enter such agreements with his youngest brother. He openly denounced the assassination attempts and condemned their instigators against his advisors’ better judgments. He declared himself, first and foremost, to be a businessman and had no desires to wear the crown.

Three days after the announcement, the imprisoned Futari clan leaders pointed fingers to the tenth son’s business partner. The prince’s own advisor found the names of fifteen captains, merchants and acquaintances of Va’nar who delivered steady payments on the man’s behalf. Upon questioning, the merchant handed over ships’ audio logs and other incriminating recordings between himself and the tenth son.

Va’nar was found in his office chair, a ceremonial dagger jutting out of his throat. According to the holy texts, it was the required way to deal with slanderous conspirators.

*

Damasque dragged his feet behind him as he shuffled between servants. Clothes were pulled off; damp rags greased soapsuds across his brown skin. As towels and sweet oils were rubbed down his back, he shuddered Andysha’s name. He was too tired to do anymore then that. He hoped his beloved would understand.

He recognized Senior Body Servant – an older man, named Mordenae – but few other faces brought names to mind. He’d try to ask for names later. The day had just been too horrible to suffer.

They left the slender diadem atop his head. It was a federal offence, punishable by death, to remove it. Damasque would have happily shoved it to the nearest brother, so long as they promised safe passage for he and his triptychs to the farthest colony. Anywhere would be fine, so long as he had them. He would suffer to keep them alive.

Several hands guided him towards the bedchamber. He heard voices, wishing his majesty a pleasant evening. It took him a few breaths to understand they were speaking to him now. The Senior Body Servant patted his shoulder and helped him open the door.

A great field of white washed across his field of vision. He didn’t think, he just fell against it, curving his arms about the muscular chest. He heard Mordenae beg forgiveness to the consort, that he hadn’t known the man was there, or he would have sent his majesty straight inside. Sandals swished against the stonework; warm arms tucked against his back and against his knees to lift him up.

Andysha didn’t do that. His Andysha was a gentle, meek thing who guided and tugged. Even when he was lusting-hot, he only used the most tender of touches.

Damasque willed himself to look up, to focus on the face of his pale captor. It was Andysha’s black mask. His brothers both kept their electronic masks locked over their faces. The pale, pink lips looked as they always had. The skin and hair no different. Perhaps he just saw how tired the prince was, and sought to make the way easier.

He lifted his hand, his fingertips brushing against warm cheek-skin. Breath puffed against him, taking in the prince’s scent.

“Thank you, my starlight,” the prince purred. His touch blessed the pale pink lips, “Can you and I just lay here? I’m so tired…”

The pale man nodded as he helped Damasque down among the sheets. The warmth of Andysha’s hands felt so good, they woke him enough to seek out his beloved’s gentle lips. The give and take heated quickly between them until he suddenly found his mouth filled with Andysha’s searching, spiced tongue. Damasque’s fingers gripped at the pale white scalp, his moans hungry.

Andysha’s strength quickly toppled the prince’s back against the mattress. Weakness bled away with their swiping, electric kisses. His beloved had never been so dominant before.

The pale man looked up to the shadows looming against the tapestries. Damasque had enough time to reach up; Andysha reached beneath the pillows to draw out a pistol. The safety clicked, and three shots roared through out the room.

The prince was deaf to the guards’ questions until the ringing finally dulled. Police personnel carted off two Ateimei night-dancers, their scales greased with oil to keep them silent. The bullets had pierced their throats, where their natural armor was weakest.

Damasque looked to his beloved, his mind slow to connect the dots between the gun, the bodies, and his dear, sweet Andysha. The room was searched, evidence collected, and declared secure before the guards left the two of them alone.

“A…An,” the prince hissed, “Andeimi?”

The pale man lifted his head.

“Andeimi! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Looking around, Andeimi quickly located the bookplate and brought it to Damasque.

“No! Get me paper! Pen! You tell me in your own words-”

Andeimi lifted the bookplate and pressed his thumb against the scanner block at the side. Black letters appeared over a white screen. You didn’t need to know.

“I what?!” Damasque smashed his palm across the warrior’s cheek. “How could you? You held me. You let me kiss you…”

I wanted you to. They wouldn’t have appeared if I came as myself.

“Andeimi…I thought,” confusion bled through into tight whimpers. Damasque leaned against Andeimi’s chest. “You hated it when I confused you…”

Gentle, warm hands guided him to look to the bookplate. You taste really good.

Damasque blushed. He felt Andeimi’s touch lure his chin up. Spiced kisses crept across his lips; Damasque’s mind dropped into the chasm of sensation. He wanted to taste more of the strange, indescribable spices that peppered Andeimi’s skin. His warrior stole his breath. Their swipes of tongue and lips heated the prince’s blood.

Growls tickled Damasque’s throat. The hairs at the back of his neck stood on edge. As was written in the texts, not all battles were fought on a warrior’s feet. All Maa’rish were warriors, from the youngest sons to the oldest men. When the jungle’s heat crept inside their bodies, warriors battled their lovers for a moment’s worth of dominance. It came to commoners just as it came to princes and was called the Rat’demlaou.

Beneath his cloth mask, Andeimi lifted an eyebrow. Whatever he wanted to ask must not have been very important; he tossed the bookplate aside. The prince panted as his warrior took hold of Damasque’s wrist. Andeimi jerked the prince against his chest.

Damasque hissed, showing the tips of his canine fangs. Andeimi only smiled back at him. Taunting him. The prince glared up to his warrior’s mask; Andeimi grabbed him by the hair and forced his lips against Damasque’s throat. Damasque dug his blunted nails into his warrior’s back. His knee rose over Andeimi’s hip.

Andeimi ripped off the flimsy sleeping robe the servants had covered the prince with. Damasque retaliated with bites and yowls. His nails scored a narrow trace of a scratch against the warrior’s chest. Andeimi snatched the prince by the chin, forcing him to hear the soundless roar. Their lips were quick to connect; the pale warrior forced his tongue inside the prince’s mouth.

Damasque clutched his warrior’s hair; Andeimi groped the prince’s buttocks. Their hips rutted one against the other. When their lips broke apart, Damasque pulled Andeimi down towards his throat. A facsimile of a warrior’s roar passed between the prince’s lips. Andeimi buried his hot kisses across Damasque’s skin. The prince’s voice echoed with purrs. Something thick and taut nudged against the prince’s thigh.

Damasque submitted the whole of himself to his warrior’s power. As he dropped to his knees, he pressed kisses against Andeimi’s pale skin. Damasque’s hands slowly glided up powerful thighs to grope the tight buttocks behind. His tongue scraped across the thick phallus, worshiping the whole of its erect self.

He helped guide Andeimi’s rhythm with mouth and hands and pleasured purrs. His warrior, powerful and strong, rutted against his kisses. The prince brought his lips to the tip, taking what of it he could inside his mouth. He moved with the thrusts, whimpering and sucking and drinking in the flavor of godly spices.

The pale warrior leaned back, his mouth open to the great roar he could not make. He reached down, rubbing Damasque’s curls. It took a few more listless licks for the prince to realize they were through. He released the deflated organ to push kisses against the pale man’s inner thigh.

Three quick jerks, and the prince came into the sheets.

*

When Damasque opened his eyes, it was to bright red letters.

How could you?! You said you loved me!

The prince leaned against the pillows, his eyes fearfully wide. He took in the dark blue silk mask, the knitted brows beneath and the slender cut of the pale man’s azure tunic. It terrified Damasque to see such an angry expression. He stuttered through syllables; he wasn’t sure if he was looking at Andysha or Andiya.

The pale man jerked the bookplate in front of Damasque’s face. The letters on screen shifted from strange, daggered glyphs to harsh, red Standard. ‘You don’t even recognize me, do you?! You call me your starlight when you take me! What did you call my brother when you made love to him?!’

A panicked gasp ripped through the prince. “Andysha! My starlight! You-”

The pale man pushed his free hand against the prince’s chest, keeping him at arm’s length. More red letters flashed across the bookplate’s screen.

Don’t say that to me! You don’t love me! You made love to Andeimi!

“I’m sorry! My starlight, it was the heat. First the assassins. He…Andeimi let me kiss him, and the heat…it just came upon me! I couldn’t stop it!”

And that is supposed to excuse this?! Andysha lifted the corner of the sheets, showing the stain of milky-white seed.

Damasque pushed the sheet out of the way. “Andysha, please-!”

His consort tossed one last message in his lap before curling up over the sheets. He told me he needed to protect you last night! I only let him kiss you because he had to make them think he was me! And now you want him to pleasure you, and not me. You don’t love me anymore!!

“No, Andysha,” the prince let the bookplate fall to the floor. He curled up, pulling an arm around the pale man’s shoulders. “I love you.”

Lifting his head, Andysha mouthed, “Lies.”

“I love you,” Damasque collapsed with his beloved. “I can’t control the heat. No one can. When it comes…my starlight, warriors have died during the rat’demlou. Warriors have killed their dearest lovers in the heat of it. I’m sorry, but I hope the ancestors never let you see me do such things.” He leaned down to whisper against his consort’s hair. “I could never forgive myself if I hurt you. I would cut off my own hand. I love you!”

Andysha rose up to gather Damasque with one hand and the bookplate with the other. ‘NO! Don’t you dare do such things! I won’t let you! You’re mine! Mine!’

“My starlight, I love you.”

Their lips met, and met again, slowly inspiring their bodies into the purest form of communication. Hands and lips swept over pale white skin. Fingertips enflamed the senses. Andysha fell against the sheets, his knees pressed against the prince’s sides. He showed Damasque how to unbutton his tunic to leave him bare across the sheets. The scent of sweet apples tore through Damasque; he couldn’t stop kissing and moving and loving everything that made his beloved real.

Pale fingers prepared his shaft, coating it with fine oils. Thighs parted, showing him the warm flesh he so greedily sought. Damasque was into his second thrust, when someone tapped against the bedroom door. An old, withered voice called out,

“Your majesty? Are you ready to greet the day?”

“Leave us be,” Damasque hissed. His pulse quickened, driving him deeper inside his beloved’s body. He arched back, feeling the rush take over him, “Andysha! Andysha, I love you! Andysha!”

He came fast enough to make stars shine behind his eyes. He felt his beloved shudder beneath him. His hands were quick to seek out the pale shaft, to feel the muscles shudder, then relax fluidly.

Damasque dragged his touch up to the root of his lover’s shaft, to his clean hips, across his tight abs. No place went without some hint of his fingers as Andysha drooped against the pillows. It took the prince a whole breath to pull himself free of the home he’d found within his beloved.

“Andysha,” he tickled the tip of his nose against the tip of his consort’s nose. “I want to spend the whole day with you.”

It took a moment for his consort to fumble for the bookplate. Don’t you have important things to do today?

“You matter so much more to me then some damn senate debate.”

Andiya will be mad at us.

“Then we won’t invite him to come with us.” He kissed his lover’s shoulder, “Come on. Let’s go bathe. It’ll feel so nice with you there with me.”

*

The prince and his consort spent the morning visiting the chy’tok stables and making new friends among the palace staff. They terrified the guards by ducking into stalls or hiding in trees for their precious kisses.

Damasque couldn’t remember feeling so happy or so loved since taking his father’s crown.

The afternoon sun found the two of them relaxing by the cool, deep blue waters of the garden’s pond. The kitchen sent them fresh fruits, honey and sweet breads to share. Fresh water was as close as the brimming stone fountains. A single house-guard stood by the walkway, far from the prince and his lover.

Damasque lay purring against Andysha’s thigh as knowing, strong hands worked loose bundles of stress from his back. His robes lay on the grass, cast aside long before Andysha began his treatments. There was something naturally wonderful about being petted, the prince realized, especially by someone you loved.

A wide Pila’que petal tumbled across his shoulder to rest atop his slender arm. Damasque lifted it to his lips for a kiss.

“Your petals are shedding, my starlight.”

Rolling onto his side, the prince watched the flush sparkle beneath Andysha’s new red silk mask. Their hands found one another, tangling brown between white. Damasque could see eternity hidden in Andysha’s covered eyes. Pale lilac flowers were braded into the white locks; Damasque’s doing.

It was a howl and a shrill scream that bid them watch the guardsman fall under the weight of the hunting dog. The man’s ceremonial armor did little to protect him from the massive jaws. Two leathery hounds darted over his corpse, leaving their fellow to the kill.

Damasque pulled his mate to his feet. They rushed between the trees, hand in hand, as the chill howls soaked the air behind them. Cauldisian hunting dogs were famous for their skill to track birds that flittered between the great jungles’ massive trees. They’d been bred over thousands of years to track prey; it was only the last twenty years that saw them mutated into killers.

Few of the gardens’ trees were large enough to hold a man, let alone one of Andysha’s height. The prince darted between bushes, sparing momentary glances back to make sure his consort was safe. Past the old pond, the great stone statues of the ancient kings, he led his love to the tamed mangrove tree that threatened to breech the palace wall.

“Quickly,” his sandals dripped off his feet. The howls closed in around them. “They can’t climb this height.”

Damasque had practice climbing the old mangrove; he guided his beloved to all the warn handholds. The hounds slunk out of the greenery to surround the base. They would make it, the prince knew. He and his consort would hide out in the branches until help arrived. He felt Andysha’s helpful hand push him onto a sturdy branch.

A sick crack echoed across the garden. Damasque turned, watched the flutter of white hair catch the breeze. A weak limb smashed against a hound’s back. Andysha, with knowing, fluid grace, touched down atop it. He darted off, leading the hounds deeper into the garden’s groomed flora.

Andeimi, his clothes torn and soaked through with hounds’ blood, found Damasque an hour later.

*

His bedroom felt like a cave without his starlight. Doctors came and went; guards announced an investigation was in progress. It all mattered very little to the prince.

Grabbing his warrior by the shoulders, Damasque wept. “Where is he?! Where is my beloved, Andeimi?!”

Andeimi lifted the bookplate, and black text flashed: With Andiya.

Damasque caught his breath, “He made it home? Is he safe?”

He will be. Andiya is tending his hurts.

“He’s hurt?” Panic set in, “Does he need a doctor? Will he be all right?”

Andiya cares for our hurts. Have no fear.

“My starlight,” Damasque collapsed against his warrior’s chest. He buried his tears against the black shirt. “Andeimi, it was dogs that hurt him. They tore him away from me. My starlight…Andysha…”

Warm hands glided through his curls. Plastic shushed against metal; soft lips touched the crown of his head. Damasque looked up and caught his breath. Andeimi finished tucking his electronic mask into its band, leaving his eyes covered by strips of dark wool. Their lips met, passively at first, slow to warm into hot swipes between tongues.

“Andeimi,” the prince gasped, “But…Andysha…”

Andeimi, sucking on the prince’s earlobe, managed to lift the bookplate between his thumb and forefinger. I will protect you, glowed across the screen.

“Yes,” he leaned into his warrior’s kisses as they washed down his throat. “Please, my warrior. Protect me from all my hurts…”

The pale man shoved the bookplate off the bed. He ripped his own shirt apart, bidding the prince his choice of kissable muscles. They were only slightly kinder to the royal silks as one torn belt made the rainbow melt off of Damasque’s striped body. The prince yanked off the black leather belt and split Andeimi’s fly to get at the filling cock.

They were infected by the jungle’s heat. The clash of their bodies made the thunder roar, their kisses choked the green with lusting rain. The pale man dropped him against the sheets, conquering the prince’s heated flesh. Damasque didn’t give it up so easily. He hissed, clawed, and bit with savagery his ancestors would be proud of.

The oil was procured from the nightstand. Andeimi spread it liberally across his phallus, allowing himself to rut into his own hand. The prince reached for his warrior’s wrist and spread his thighs. He purred and bucked his hips as a finger rubbed at his entrance.

The pale warrior was gentle, gauging just how quickly to push by the moans his prince gave him. He took time to lure out every purr, before permitting a second to follow the first. Damasque bore down his hips when he felt the fingers start to curl inside him. As the third came, the burn made his eyes water.

Andeimi pulled his hand free and knelt atop the mattress. He lifted Damasque’s rump off the bed and drew the head of his engorged shaft against the slicked flesh. Slowly – with a patience the prince couldn’t understand – he pushed inside.

One push became two, became three, until the prince was moaning from all the power coursing inside him. He dug his fingernails down the pale warrior’s back, rutting with Andeimi’s thrusts. He’d wanted this since he’d first pressed his lips against his warrior. Just as he loved Andysha’s grace, he loved Andeimi’s strength, the raw courage to consume and make whole the prince’s weak flesh.

He felt the surge – watched the pale pink lips part into a roar – and lost everything. Seed. Sight. Consciousness.

*

The gentle slide of thick fingers through his curls helped bring Damasque back from the land of dreams. His thoughts went to Andeimi, but he thought better of it when he saw the crimson silk covering Andysha’s eyes.

“My starlight,” he wanted to cry. “I have shamed myself.”

The pale man shook his head. He pulled the bookplate off the nightstand and held it so Damasque could read it. Andeimi and I talked about it. I know that you need him to protect you, just like you need me to love you. So long as he doesn’t take my place with you, I don’t mind how he does his duty.

“Andysha, no one could take your place with me. You are my love,” he pushed kisses against a pale cheek. “It’s your beauty that helps me make it through the day. It’s you that helps me through every senate meeting, every boring lecture…”

Andiya told me it was his poking and prodding that kept you going.

Damasque sat up with a smile, “Maybe we’re both right. I’m always thinking of you whenever he starts trying to bruise me.”

Andysha, laughing silently, slid down to lay against the prince’s chest. He just wants you to do well. He’s the youngest, so he doesn’t have a lot of patience.

Damasque purred, “If that’s true, does that make you the oldest? You seem to have built up lifetimes of patience.”

I’m the middle brother. Andeimi is the eldest.

“My starlight,” his hand brushed down the metal collar to the velvety tunic. He moved aside a sleeve to study the camouflaged wrappings. “All these bandages…”

His consort winced away from his touch. His letters took on a wispy grey font. I’m sorry I couldn’t run fast enough. Andiya did his best, but there will be scars.

Drawing his lover against him, the prince tried to make his groan sound like a purr. “My starlight. My most beautiful love, your body will always be perfect to my eyes.”

*

It was the memory of those bandages that kept Damasque moving throughout the day. He dragged Andiya behind him to the morgue to watch the medical examiners study the dead Cauldisian hunting dogs. Impressions of the fangs were made, and saliva analyzed for any possible toxins added to their bite. He ordered their leathery hides be tanned so that they might keep their master warm before his execution.

The prince sat in on meetings between his guard-force and the police chiefs. Copies of the report files were sent to his study. With Andiya’s help, he began to identify key people who provided him with more details as to who instrumented the attack against him and Andysha.

When not collecting evidence or debating with senators, he was in bed, keeping Andysha safe and warm. The wounds healed quickly, but remained covered at his lover’s request. Andysha took to wearing delicate, sheer sleeping tunics. Even when they were making love, he wanted his scars hidden.

His lover’s fear brought out the jungle’s rage hidden deep within Damasque. When no more evidence presented itself, he attacked furniture. Pillows, tables, chairs. If he could lay his hands upon it, and it didn’t breathe, he tore it apart. He became so enraged one afternoon that Andeimi replaced Andiya, lest the prince do himself harm.

Andeimi took Damasque to the guards’ training grounds, and had him take out his aggression on the practice dummies. The pale warrior gave him lessons in combat, helping him focus his mind and soothe his anger. It wasn’t long until the flabby muscles along the prince’s arms grew taut and strong. Andysha remarked often how powerful his prince was becoming.

One evening, after spending his time against the training-master, Damasque found Andiya in his bedroom. There were papers in his hands and a cold smile glowing on his electronic mask.

*

The black guard had Second son, Meekal, in custody before the sun rose. The leader of the special task force, sent to apprehend him, reported finding him between two Ateimei night-dancers. Such illegal assassins only worked in pairs, no matter what prey they pursued. All told, three different holding cells accommodated the traitorous rabble.

With Andeimi – armed and armored – at his back, Damasque dragged a massive leather pelt into the interrogation chamber. The Second son was handcuffed to a chair, in a room surrounded by one-way glass; he was as naked as the day he was born. His dark red hair was cut in the style of popular nobility, and his brown skin covered with black spots instead of stripes. His face was a mess of bruising and blood.

“Here,” the prince threw the dog pelt against Meekal’s chest. “Cover your shame, brother.”

“You runt! You think because that demon is behind you, you’re safe?”

Damasque’s hand went straight for his brother’s throat. “Andeimi is here to make sure I don’t kill you. Why don’t you be a good older brother, and set the example for me, huh? You keep hunting dogs on your estate, don’t you?”

Meekal nodded, “So do fifty thousand others. You can’t prove this one’s mine.”

“My advisor disagrees. He found out this neat little fact about dog breeders.” The prince let photographs of the dogs and reports spill across the table. “They like to keep genetic records of their animals. It’s to prove just how pure the bloodlines are, you see. And Diamond Crest Breeders, the ones that created your mongrels, just happened to keep stellar track of their stock.”

“I had a break-in months ago,” the Second son choked, “Someone stole my dogs. From right under my nose. They’re worth thousands!”

“Now, see, wouldn’t a smart man, who cared about his animals, file a police report?”

“I did,” Meekal hissed. “Check Center City! My place was crawling with cops for over an hour!”

“Try two. And the animals were later found,” Damasque slammed a photograph on the table. “Tearing into a malt’ique in a national park. According to Animal Control Officer Dar’qua, you offered to donate ten thousand credits to the department if they kept the incident to themselves and let you keep the dogs.”

“What’s that got to do with a damn thing? It was one damn malt’ique! The forests are overrun with them.”

“Oh, they might be, but it’s still national land. And you were still found, sucking down a night-dancer’s scaly cock. You know what the punishment is for harboring such a person? Let alone an active pair?”

“You son of a bitch! They told me they were melanistic twins.”

“Sure they did.” The prince grabbed a fistful of red hair, forcing Meekal to look up at him. “I didn’t care when your little pets were trying to kill me. But when your damn rabid pooches put their fangs into my mate’s leg-”

“I’m only sorry they didn’t cut his damn neck.”

Damasque slammed his brother’s forehead against the table. The metal shouted around the room.

“You selfish son of a bitch! I’ll have them flay your skin, so I can hang it up on my trophy wall!” The prince stalked out the door and snarled to the chief of detectives, “Take this bastard to his cell. I want all his assets liquidated, and the proceeds donated to the parks service.”

Meekal’s defeated roar stayed with Damasque all the way to the limousine. He produced his bookplate from his pocket when his warrior motioned for it.

Andeimi held his thumb over the scanner so the prince could read: My kitten has sharp claws.

*

Meekal’s trial was televised across the planet, and even reached the colonies. The police took credit for discovering the links between the second son and the “thoughtless, uncivilized attacks against the Lord-Prince.” Andiya’s own words, as spoken by the palace Public Relations representative. Both Damasque and his advisor thought it best to leave the brothers out of the news as much as possible.

The matter of the night-dancers was also kept from the viewing public. Tensions between Maa’rish and the other races were strained enough. The crown did not need innocent Ateimei citizens lynched in wild which-hunts.

Given a jury of his peers, Second son Meekal was sentenced to life at hard labor by the intergalactic courts. He would be sent to a penal mining colony somewhere in the galaxy, until the ancestors flushed his dim’lat from his body. His two lovers, both found by accredited Ateimei spell-casters to be night-dancers, were handed over to tribal jurisdiction.

*

Damasque leaned against his chair, throwing another proclamation of fidelity from an older brother against his desk. They were all signed and sealed by both the brother’s mark and the seal of the priesthood. Should the brother go back on his word, he would suffer under the full extent of his ancestors’ armies.

“Look at this,” he thumped his knuckle against the stack. “Just a few more, and I’ll have the whole collection, huh?”

Andiya coved his hand over the prince’s shoulder, allowing him to lean against the chair and reach the bookplate. Do you want to have them framed? They might look better then the animal heads on the trophy wall.

“My dear,” he chuckled, “These aren’t worth the parchment they’re typed on. My brothers are just biding their time, sharpening their knives while they think I’m not looking. Then, they will come.”

The letters stamped across the screen in cold, crisp ebony. And we will be ready.



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