by Togi Kayako (土宜草子)
Honey-gold light brighter than flame dazzled Aevan’s eyes as he walked through Marya’s portal. He stepped forward off of the stone of her workroom and staggered as his boot sank calf-deep in snow. A sharp wind snapped his heavy brown braid out to one side. Rook’s amulet rested warm at the base of his throat, keeping the cold from reaching him, but Aevan tugged the collar of his thick coat tighter all the same.
Marya’s portal winked out behind him, leaving Aevan alone at the base of a hill. It was piled so thick with undisturbed snow that he would have mistaken it for wilderness, had he not confirmed the location on four separate maps. The wind shifted, sending powdery drifts of snowflakes feinting in every direction. They swirled so densely that Aevan could see nothing but white.
With a muttered incantation, his brown eyes flared a vivid orange. Motes of magic floated up through the snow flurries like sparks from a fire and settled at the base of the hill to reveal the shape of broad stairs running up the slope, buried so deep under the snow they had been invisible. That proof that he was in the right place sent Aevan lurching forward, teetering off-balance as his foot caught on a rock and then again as he failed to account for the weight of his pack.
He stayed standing, but was dusted heavily with snow by the time his boot landed on the stone of the first step. The wind cut off as if it had never been, and all the dancing snowflakes dropped to the ground like stones. Two black metal spikes flanked the first corner of the switchback stairs. Beyond them, the line of fallen snow cut off, giving way to a thick layer of pale blue ice.
Aevan’s eyes followed the glittering line back and forth up the hill. None of the descriptions he had read in his years of research prior could have prepared him for the sight of the palace towering above him. Whatever name it once had was gone, purged out of every text from official histories to personal journals. All that remained were fanciful epithets that had stuck in Aevan’s mind like snatches of song since he first read them.
The Blue-Rimed Bastion, a fitting title for a structure encased in a layer of enchanted ice. Most scholars agreed that it had sprung up to swallow the palace at the instant of the Deathless Lord’s defeat. The Shattered Crown was also apt. Not only was the castle perched on the peak of the hill, but its angular spires reached even higher, spikes of dark stone slashing up into the pale, cloudless sky.
The last of the commonly used titles was The Empty Grave, and Aevan dearly wanted to prove it false. Some details varied, but every account of the century-old battle claimed the same conclusion: A team of mages had found an unknown means of destroying the Deathless Lord’s spirit. A group of warriors then defeated his physical form, leaving his puppet army to collapse and his stronghold to be lost under the ice.
Aevan had found a lone record that differed, buried in a chest of dull personal letters and children’s storybooks acquired from the estate of an eccentric nobleman. It was not even a historical account, but a half-torn page of lyrics to a ballad, written in an old dialect and so faded he had required magic to decipher it.
The writer had opened with much the same tale of the Deathless Lord’s defeat as other sources, but claimed he would live ever on, and ended with what Aevan suspected was a name: a capital K, and the faint curve of a second letter at the ripped edge of the page. That tiny scrap of tattered paper had kindled a curiosity in him which neither time nor other studies nor outright mockery from his peers had managed to quench.
Enthusiasm carried Aevan up the stairs to the summit, though his pack grew heavier and the shadows of the palace stretched longer over him as the sun began to set. He was deposited at the base of the outer walls, panting with exertion as he gazed up at the sheer plane of dark stone stretching up several times his height. A massive portcullis dead ahead blocked a gateway wide enough for two large carriages to pass through side by side.
The frozen gaps between the bars made for poor windows, providing only a hint of open space beyond. No power that Aevan could muster without exhausting himself would be likely to clear such a thing, let alone move it, so he struck out along the wall. He was rewarded after only a brief search by the sight of a narrow wooden door, banded with metal but only thinly covered with ice.
Aevan tugged a glove free and set his palm to the door, opposite the metal loop serving as a handle. He called up a tendril of heat and the door drank it down, the orange of his magic fading to a pale blue as it was leeched away under the ice. After a soft crackle of breaking ice from the far side, the door swung inward on silent hinges and Aevan yanked his hand back as if it might nip at his fingertips.
Had the door been enchanted to respond to any magic, or was it something unique to his own that allowed him entry? Either way, a spell cast generations ago that still functioned suggested a staggering amount of power — almost certainly the work of the Deathless Lord himself. Due to the remote location and edicts forbidding travel to the palace in nearby kingdoms, he was likely the first person here in many years. Aevan whispered the words of a searching charm, letting his magic pool around his eyes until his vision colored with it. He saw no traps along the walls, nor in the small guard post directly ahead of him.
Either it was safe, or the traps were too well-hidden for him to detect, but there was no sense in exhausting himself by keeping the spell active. Aevan wiped a hand over his eyes to clear it and stepped cautiously inside, only yelping a little when the door slammed shut at his heels. He eased forward through the dim room and into the courtyard, shaking his hand free of residual magic.
He took one step out and flinched as the glare of the setting sun hit a perfect angle to reflect off the icy courtyard and blind him. Aevan turned to his left, shielding his eyes, and stumbled back with a shout as he saw an icy hand reaching toward him. His foot slipped and he fell hard onto his backside, managing to yelp out the words to a defensive barrier through the pain of his landing.
After no attack came, he looked up and realized there was nothing to protect himself against. The arm was raised in a friendly wave, and the armored figure it belonged to was encased in so much ice he looked like a statue whose creator had yet to chisel in any details. Aevan followed the man’s gaze and saw another warrior on horseback in the center of the courtyard, helm tucked under her arm. Her hair drifted out behind her like a pennant, serving as a frozen memorial for a hundred year old breeze.
Aevan braced against the guard post wall as he worked his way from sitting to standing on unsteady legs. There were a dozen things tugging at his attention in the courtyard alone: several other figures, the mechanism inside the portcullis, outbuildings whose purpose was not immediately obvious, and a moat with a drawbridge — another layer of defense inside already defensible walls.
Whatever falsehoods the stories of the Deathless Lord contained, they had not understated his military nature. Such meticulous preparations, and no use in the end, as the frozen bodies of his thrall army attested. Aevan did his best to shake off the feeling of being watched by the figures around him and focused on his next steps: the light was fading, he was exhausted, and he needed to find somewhere safe to bed down for the night.
A stable was the simplest option, requiring no further use of his energies beyond unrolling his sleep sack onto a somewhat uneven floor of frozen hay. Aevan stretched out, resolutely turning his back on the icy form of a huge draft horse with its muzzle locked forever in the midst of drinking from a trough. It looked to have been well cared for, tucked into a stall with ample bedding and draped with a thick blanket.
Out through an open section of one wall he could see the palace itself, looming large ahead of him, still and silent as a held breath. Aevan watched it intently as the sky behind it faded from scarlet to blue to darkness. He had a full month until Marya would open a portal back for him, and already it felt too short.
– ♡ –
Aevan would never have gone to the post-exam celebrations without Marya’s insisting, and he had already considered escaping more than once. She was in her element, flitting around the room in a swirl of dark curls and burgundy robes, weaving in and out of conversations like a dance. Every time he got antsy and started easing toward a door, Marya would circle back and whisper filthy promises in his ear to entice him to stay.
Halfway through the evening, as most of their classmates were deep in their cups and getting rowdy, Marya finally pulled Aevan away. She led him through the empty academy halls toward her room, her palm warm against his even through both of their thin gloves. Every few steps she would glance back, a quick flicker of dark eyes over her shoulder. After several checks, Aevan laughed at her softly and asked, “If I was going to run off, don’t you think I would have already done so?”
“Yes, but you might well vanish into your precious library when some curiosity or another strikes if I don’t keep a careful eye on you,” Marya said tartly. “Then it will be weeks before I manage to catch you at a free moment again.” The look she shot him was pointed, daring him to argue, which he could not do in good faith.
He never set out to avoid anyone, but looking up one piece of information inevitably led to a second, and a third, and then it was the next day and the foul-tempered morning librarian was scolding him for wasting candles on his “silly stories.” After he learned a spell to keep a small light hovering over his shoulder, the librarian only muttered about mages having no sense, and that was more tolerable.
Marya pushed her door open, dragged Aevan inside, and used the momentum to send him sprawling forward onto the drab quilt on her narrow dorm bed. What little wine he had drunk finally caught up to him and he started giggling, right until Marya got a grip at the base of his braid. “Can you keep your magic tamped down?” Marya asked. “I need mine tonight for a little something.” She bent over him and ground a thick toy she had been hiding under her robe against his ass.
His voice shot high in a moan that he cut off as quickly as he could. “I can try,” Aevan said, half-breathless with sudden desire, “but how did I— how did anyone fail to notice that beast?” It took him twice as long as usual to pull his power inward, keeping it contained enough not to react with Marya’s own.
“Despite all the rumors to the contrary, I do more than skip classes and sell sex spells under the table,” Marya said, punctuating her alliteration with another roll of her hips. “I got some of the highest marks in concealment this term. Anyway, this is half a test and half a gift for you — it’s even larger than the last one. Now be good, and hold very still for me.”
The sheets were cool against Aevan’s cheek as he nodded. Marya kept a hand in his hair to press his face down, swapping from one to the other as she tugged her gloves free and then hiked his robe all the way up to his shoulders. He wished he had been bold enough to wear nothing underneath as Marya started fumbling to untie his trousers one-handed, but he knew better than to try to help. Abiding by Marya’s rules made the rewards all the sweeter.
She crouched to work his shoes free, then tugged his trousers down and off. Her fingers were ticklish as she walked them up the back of his thighs and Aevan curled his toes hard against the floor. Their magic sparked briefly against one another as his control faltered, but he reined it in again before she could even mention it.
Cold fingers trailed down the back of his neck, then slid forward, cupping his chin and guiding him to glance around the room. Aevan startled, but no one else was there — no one else had been there that night. He was dreaming, asleep in a palace of ice, and with that realization the sensation vanished.
Some little gust of wind had brushed over him while he slept and his brain translated the chill into something that made sense in context. The sensation of eyes on him was likely the same, simply his mind unsettled by sleeping outdoors rather than safe in his own room.
The night he was remembering had been a good one, so Aevan let the scene continue rather than forcing himself into wakefulness. He did jump forward in his memory, past the thorough, torturous slowness of Marya fingering him open. There had hardly been a need, his front hole already wet from hours of anticipation.
Marya had teased him well after he was ready, rubbing the head of her thick toy back and forth through the mess of slick between his thighs. She was strong enough to hold his hips steady as he tried to buck back and get something inside him. No matter how he had enjoyed it then, all he wanted now was to skip to the first aching stretch of her sliding into his hole.
“I have a bit of new spellwork on this harness,” Marya said, leaning down to kiss right between his shoulders. Aevan felt her smile curve against his skin. “I doubt that it will last long, but it should mirror what I do to you back into my own body — though on a somewhat smaller scale.”
Marya’s hair brushed over him as she mouthed the activating words against his back. Both of them cried out in near harmony as she took a tentative thrust, then slid fully into him all at once. Aevan clenched his eyes shut as he teared up. The toy was large enough to test his limits, each thrust bordering on a sweet pain that cleared all other thoughts from his mind.
“Gods above and below, the way this feels,” Marya said, hands digging in hard to the soft curves of Aevan’s hips. She pressed tight against him, sunk deep and only rocking back and forth as small shudders ran through her. Aevan let out a soft whine and she asked, “Is it too much for you? I’m more distracted than I thought I would be.”
Aevan laughed, hooking one foot around Marya’s calf to urge her forward. “When have I ever asked you to be gentle with me? No need to hold back on my account,” he said. Marya planted a hand on the back of his head and shoved him down again as she started fucking him in earnest. Aevan braced his legs, grabbed two handfuls of the bed linens, and let her take him as she pleased.
The pace was two steps from brutal. Aevan remembered the aftermath even as he enjoyed reliving the experience: half-limping back to his own room, refusing any healing and leaving himself tender for days after, thrilling at every sore twinge. In the moment, he had marveled at Marya’s loss of control, all breathless cursing and rough grunts as she fucked him entirely for her own pleasure. She came with a high, sharp moan, bucking against him and then grinding in as deep as his body would allow.
Marya’s breath was hot against his back as she draped forward onto him. “Lost control of the spell when I hit my peak,” she muttered. “Takes too much focus. Needs to be self-sustaining or no one will buy it.”
“Business later,” Aevan said firmly, twisting to nudge her in the side with one of his elbows to get her off of his back. For all her complaints, she was no better than him when it came to getting distracted.
“Have I not ridden you hard enough yet? Greedy boy.” Marya started moving again, this time a slow drag all the way out of his body and an equally glacial pace back in until she was buried deep. “Never fear, I have strength enough to see to you properly and we have the whole night ahead of us.” Aevan held out for a handful of thrusts before he started squirming under her.
Marya stopped with the tip of her toy barely inside him and planted a hand on the small of his back. “None of that now, Aevan. You know how this goes — behave, or I’ll have to stop.” Aevan forced himself to stillness under her and Marya stroked a hand over his hair, gentle as could be. “There we are, good boy. Tell me what you need.”
“Touch my—” His first attempt to answer was lost in a moan as she snapped her hips forward. Marya laughed at him, fingers twisting around his braid to pull his head back. “Touch my cock,” Aevan pleaded, his voice hitching on the final word. Marya had been the one to suggest it, in one of their many late-night discussions, and the sheer rightness of it still brought a flustered smile to Aevan’s lips.
“Of course,” she said, working a hand under his body as she gradually started fucking him again. “All I need in return is for you to tell me what you are.” The feeling of being watched sharpened at her words, and Aevan shook his head. “Tell me what you are,” she repeated, voice sharp even as her thrusts slowed to near nothing.
Aevan shuddered as she rubbed his cock with careful strokes, not fast enough to bring him off but more than enough to make him try to clench around the massive toy inside him. He sobbed, teetering between almost too much and not enough. When Marya prompted him again, Aevan’s resolve broke and he panted out, “I’m a good boy, your good boy, please, Marya—”
– ♡ –
Echoes of his sharp sounds of pleasure lingered as Aevan woke, curled into a tight ball inside his sleep sack. His body felt hot, but his eyelashes were frosted over with the remnants of his tears. He scrubbed them clear with one hand while he worked the other into his trousers and brought himself to the climax his dream had unkindly denied him.
Aevan’s breath ghosted in the air above him as he came back to his senses. Of all the difficulties he had anticipated for his journey, wet dreams had not made the list. It would have made no difference if he had foreseen them; the enchanted satchel Orell had lent him was full to the brim with provisions, parchment, and bottles of the ink Aevan had designed to function in icy temperatures. No space for any pleasure-toys, let alone ones of the size he favored.
A quick cleaning cantrip took care of the mess, though it left Aevan feeling abruptly scrubbed raw all over. Rook’s amulet pulsed with gentle heat against his neck as its magic flared in response to the proximity of his own running over his skin. Aevan felt a twitch at the corners of his eyes and they darted around for a moment, as if to analyze the space, no matter that it had not changed since the night before.
The odd sensation passed, and Aevan squirmed free of his sleep-sack before jamming his feet back into his boots. Breakfast was a pastry filled with tart currants, slightly squashed, and strong black tea that Aevan drank mostly lukewarm. He could have magicked it hotter, but it sat mostly forgotten as he added notes to his map. The outlines of buildings and rooms would fill themselves in through a spell of his own devising, but any finer details needed a personal touch.
The small section of the grounds he had crossed before the light had faded was minuscule compared to the palace waiting on the far side of the courtyard. Once his gaze caught on those dark spires, Aevan jammed the last of his pastry in his mouth and got up straight away. Only a few other brave souls had even been here since the Deathless Lord’s fall, and none in recent memory had even mentioned breaching the outer walls.
In the light of morning, Aevan saw the courtyard with new eyes and considered his approach. He skirted the edge of the moat, now merely a pit of ice, keeping his attention divided between his footing and the spreading lines of the map in his hands. In his heart, Aevan wanted to stride over the drawbridge and feed his magic into the impressive gates to see if they would swing open for him as the small outer door had.
The likely outcome of such theatrics was a day-long nap in front of the gates he had failed to open, and that thought kept him from making the attempt. It was hardly glamorous, but the most likely point of entry was a sewer pipe set far enough above the water level to have escaped freezing solid. Halfway around the courtyard from the drawbridge, Aevan’s eyes were drawn away from his map to a square opening a mere handspan over the ice below.
He eased himself down into the moat and crouched to look. It seemed wide enough to fit him, though only just, and the slight incline suggested it had drained from the lower levels of the palace. Aevan shoved his pack into the opening, crawled after it, and started forward into the dark.
Progress was slow: push his pack forward as far as he could, wriggle along after it, repeat. His heavy breathing all but deafened him in the close space by the time he saw a hint of light beyond the edge of his pack. One more good shove tipped it off a short ledge to thunk onto a floor below. His own exit was a drop and a graceless roll that left him sprawled out on his back, panting.
Aevan fumbled for some strips of dried meat to bolster his strength, gnawing on them as he examined the room. Several large tubs, one with a wooden bat propped next to it, suggested the space had been used for laundering. Far more interesting was the dim, blue-tinged light, coming in from at least a dozen different points along the walls and ceiling.
Easing over to the nearest one, Aevan found it was some sort of prism, cunningly carved and mounted in such a way as to channel in light through the thick stone walls. No doubt they were enchanted as well, for each was as bright as the next no matter where they sat in the room. He took careful notes on their construction and made sketches from several angles. If he could figure out how to recreate them, it could save the academy a fortune in candles for the archives alone.
Aevan pulled his map back out and started exploring the narrow corridors of the floor, all similarly lit. It was an astounding outlay of cost and magic for what seemed to be only cellars and servants’ quarters. The floor he was on centered around a chamber that had no visible entrances. Aevan watched for signs of secret passageways as he continued, though he admitted to himself it was likely support for the massive structure above.
None of the individual rooms he checked were spacious, but each housed only one bed and was arranged to the owner’s taste — a luxury not often afforded to servants. Many of them were occupied, or rather had been occupied, when the ice covered everything. The more frozen figures he found, the more stories of the Deathless Lord’s boundless power used to enthrall those under him seemed… implausible.
Aevan drummed his fingers against a vase of flowers, the vivid red of their petals visible even under the thick layer of ice. If someone stripped their subjects of free will and used their bodies like marionettes, they would have no need for roses. The frozen figure on the bed was stretched out on her stomach, face turned toward a book. It was difficult to make out any features, but Aevan thought she might have been smiling.
With a shake of his head to clear his heavy thoughts, Aevan returned to his mapping. It took him several days to fill in the lowest level and move on the main floor. Everywhere he wandered, his eyes found more lives cut off in the midst of ordinary activities: a younger servant teasing a cat with a piece of string, a cook with her tasting spoon raised halfway to her lips, a man darning the heel of a thick sock, and even a pair of maids who had ducked behind a curtain to steal a kiss.
The sheer variety of tasks being done made the idea that everyone had been controlled by one man, no matter how powerful, utterly laughable. No one appeared afraid or upset, save for one woman holding a scrub brush who was glaring down at a trail of muddy paw prints with a large dog at the end. Aevan found himself crouching next to the dog, its tail frozen mid-wag, and smoothing a gloved hand down its icy nose. Beneath the ice, its eyes were large and dark, and it took a long time before he could coax his eyes to look away.
The Deathless Lord’s defeat had been necessary if even a fraction of the tales of his conquests were accurate, and yet….
Aevan found an empty room to bed down in that night, and used a reckless burst of magic to free the door from the ice. The red flare of his spell sparks faded to blue as the ice absorbed the excess and then blinked out, leaving much of the surrounding wall clear as well as the door. He shut it tight between himself and the countless corpses, but still spent hours staring up at the ceiling before he managed to fall asleep.
– ♡ –
The crackle of a log shifting in the campfire woke Aevan. He squinted at the flames to make sure nothing burning had tumbled too far and managed to lock eyes with his hired guard, Orell. In the firelight, his hair was the color of a fawn and his eyes were nearly as wide as one. How someone so broad and muscular could look that helpless when startled, Aevan had no idea.
He also was unsure if the flush on Orell’s cheeks was from the heat of fire, Aevan’s eyes on him, or the fact that he had one hand still wrapped around his thick cock. “Apologies, Master Aevan,” Orell stammered, snapping out of his daze enough to drag a corner of his cloak across his lap.
“I asked you to stop calling me that,” Aevan said gently. He let his own cloak slide away to reveal his bare chest, the faint lines of his magic-healed scars pink in the flickering light. “And there’s no need to hide. I could even help you with that, if you wanted.” Orell’s eyes shot even wider when Aevan looked him over slowly and licked his lips.
Orell opened his mouth — to turn down the offer, Aevan was sure — but snapped it shut. Aevan tugged his braid over his shoulder and started working it loose, keeping his eyes on Orell all the while. As Aevan brushed the dark brown waves back behind him again, Orell managed a minute nod. “If you’re sure, I mean, we’re alone out here — it’s not proper, but I’d like….” Orell’s shyness got the better of him again, face redder than ever as he ducked his chin to his chest.
Aevan padded over to Orell’s bedroll barefoot and settled down facing him. “Tell me what you’d like,” he whispered, slipping one hand under the cloak to stroke Orell’s knee. A cool wind brushed over his shoulders as he waited, then somehow pressed closer with a feeling like phantom lips against his bare skin. Aevan shuddered despite the fire at his back and thought to fetch his cloak, but — ah, he was dreaming again.
He and Orell had been utterly alone, trekking between towns as they had gone to retrieve a manuscript for Aevan’s research. Still, he could hardly object if his sleeping mind wanted him to have more pleasure than memory alone provided. Aevan relaxed into the chilly touch and let his memory speed forward through the long silences and encouragements that Orell had required to work up his courage.
“I want your mouth,” Orell said roughly, lifting his hand toward Aevan’s face. Aevan met him halfway, leaning in to take one of Orell’s big, sword-calloused fingers between his lips. “Merciful gods, your tongue—” He broke off with a flustered yelp as Aevan drew his cloak aside and wrapped his hand around the base of Orell’s cock.
The circle of his fingers barely closed around it. Aevan’s body throbbed at the discovery of what a prize his staid bodyguard had been hiding, and twice over with his current knowledge of all the joys it had brought him since. The ghostly mouth against his back was joined by a hand against the base of his skull, encouraging Aevan to continue far faster than he had on the actual night.
Orell clapped a hand over his own mouth as soon as Aevan’s breath touched him. The motion was practical rather than bashful — even muffled, the shout Aevan got as he sucked the head of Orell’s cock into his mouth was sharp in the still night. Orell’s indistinct cursing made for flattering background noise as Aevan took him deeper, eager to have as much as he could.
He lost himself in the slide of lips on cock until Orell’s hips bucked forward and surprised Aevan enough to choke. Orell shoved his head away, apologies tumbling out one over the top of another. “Gods, I’m sorry, Master Aevan, I meant you no harm. Are you well?”
“Only startled,” Aevan said, sitting back on his heels. “Why don’t you try standing instead?” He tipped his head to one side, channeling a hint of power to bring out the red mage-glow in his eyes. They had dazzled Orell when the two first met, and they served as an excellent distraction now to keep him from questioning the change of position. Many months later and maudlin after a fair bit of wine, Orell had thanked Aevan for seducing him so he could be sure he enjoyed the company of men.
Aevan braced his hands on Orell’s thick, hairy thighs to steady himself and took his cock back in his mouth, slow and not as deep. Orell relaxed further every time Aevan bobbed his head and eventually unbent enough to stroke a hand over Aevan’s hair. His fingers slid through the same space that the phantom set occupied, and Aevan felt the cool lips curve in a smile broad against his shoulder.
The joined hands tightened in Aevan’s hair and started pulling him inexorably forward. The pace was neither fast nor rough, but he was not allowed a moment’s respite until his nose bumped against the soft swell of Orell’s belly. Aevan relaxed enough to keep from gagging, but the press of a cock at the back of his throat was impossible to ignore.
When Orell tugged him all the way back, Aevan sucked in a breath that felt cold clear to the depths of his lungs. He tried to pull his head forward, but was held fast. Only when he stilled with his mouth open did Orell start drawing him forward, another endlessly slow slide until Aevan had taken him fully again. A ghostly kiss touched the wide-stretched corner of Aevan’s lips, one further indulgence in the dream that had long since parted from his memory.
After a brief pause, Orell began to fuck his mouth with steady, claiming strokes. Aevan’s wet, choked moans drowned out any sounds Orell might have been making, but his fingers clenching tighter in Aevan’s hair was demonstration enough that he was enjoying himself. Aevan pressed the heel of his hand between his legs, too uncoordinated to get his trousers undone.
When Orell reached his peak, he held Aevan as close as their bodies would allow and ground roughly against his face. It tipped from perfect into too much as Aevan began to run out of air and could not struggle free. Aevan’s hips bucked into his hand, fear warring with pleasure but not conquering it. By the time he mustered the power to snap himself out of the dream, his vision was beginning to gray and a strange hum filled his ears.
– ♡ –
Aevan woke with a stab of panic as he tried and failed to take in air. His hands were between his legs, drawing him through the last of his climax even as he realized his mouth was frozen shut. A few sharp breaths through his nose allowed Aevan to regain his senses. The collar of his shirt had come loose and worked its way between Rook’s amulet and his skin, breaking the connection.
Bundled in thick clothes and tucked into his sleep sack, the cold had not yet done him any harm. Aevan righted the charm and warmth rushed over him. The ice over his lips melted in short order and dripped away down the sides of his face, but Aevan lay unmoving. His hands shook as he tugged one glove free and reached up to his neck. That there was a steady beat to be found under his fingertips did little to calm him — it was through fortune alone that he had not become one more body frozen in the palace.
The room shifted to a lighter blue as the sun rose, but Aevan’s unfocused gaze stayed locked on the ceiling above him. He took slow breaths in through his nose and tried to let each one out in a steady exhale, to mixed success. The growl of his stomach echoing in the room was so sudden and loud that Aevan found his lips turning up in a smile despite himself.
A quick cleaning cantrip and a hearty breakfast lightened his mood further. Aevan even caught himself whistling snatches of a tune he had no memory of ever learning as he took notes on his explorations from the day before. His eyes seemed to leap around the page, guiding him to make connections at lightning speed. By the time he tossed back the dregs of his cooled tea, the morning felt like little more than a faded dream.
He began the day to plan, mapping another section of outer rooms on the main floor. His eyes had caught on the massive audience chamber in the center of the palace every time he passed by, though he had noted the throne was unoccupied and marked the room down as a lower priority. As the day wore on and he crossed paths with more frozen figures, an empty space began to seem almost welcoming. The lines of armored guards with their faceplates lowered could pass as mere decorations, provided he did not look too closely.
Whatever crests adorned the banners hanging along the walls were hidden beneath the ice, so Aevan gave them only a quick glance as he passed by. The throne at the front was built on larger than human lines, banded with iron and topped with a fan of metal spikes that resembled the castle. It was a suitably dramatic seat for the fearsome warrior-mage of legend, but had a thick cushion resting on the seat — apparently the Deathless Lord had valued comfort as much as intimidation.
Aevan idly licked his lips and paused as he felt a cold draft run over them. The main doors to the palace were frozen shut, as were all the nearest windows, so the source of the breeze had to be within the room. His eyes drifted to the back wall and locked there as he circled the throne. The draft grew strong enough for him to trace it to one of the panels he had dismissed as purely decorative.
From a distance, the center panel was identical to its neighbors, each covered in elaborate curlicues painted in vibrant colors that were visible despite the ice. Only when Aevan was within arm’s reach could he spot a gap along one edge, no wider than his fingertips. The current of air suggested a large space beyond, and there was only one person whose rooms were likely hidden behind the Deathless Lord’s throne.
Aevan called up his magic at once, letting it run across the carved whorls like lines of flame, stripping the ice from the wall in ribbons that shattered as they dropped to the floor. Now freed, the panel spun on a central axis with only a touch, though it struck something on the far side before it could open fully. Aevan peered in. The space lacked any of the light crystals that most rooms held, but an open window at the far end let in enough of the fading sunset for him to tell it was a hallway with four doors along its sides.
His wide pack had no chance of fitting through the gap, so he pulled his evening rations out and left the bag propped against the back of the throne. He only managed to feed himself through by stripping off his heavy coat and letting all the air out of his lungs.
Even with those preparations, the corner of the panel still dragged painfully against the curve of his stomach as he squeezed through. Aevan worked himself most of the way past the door, then froze in utter terror when Rook’s amulet caught on one of the carvings on the panel and its delicate chain pulled taut around his neck. Without moving his head in the slightest, Aevan managed to reach back and tease the chain loose.
Once he was free, Aevan sagged back against the wall on the far side to catch his breath. As his eyes adjusted, he found that the object blocking the secret door was a sleeping cat with one paw tucked over its nose. It was small, hardly more than a kitten. He could thaw it with only a small outlay of power, but the thought of picking up its tiny, limp body was too much to bear. Aevan resigned himself to another tight squeeze out and turned his attention to the corridor.
The pair of doors closest to him were closed and frozen solid, but those nearer the window stood ajar. One of them was lit with a warm glow that Aevan had mistaken for a trick of the setting sun. He stood stock still and held his breath for as long as he could bear, but heard not a single sound of life. Aevan crept forward one silent step at a time, even as he chided himself for letting his imagination run away with him.
He peered around the edge of the door, finding a lavish sitting room with no occupants. The light came from a pane of thick stone, frozen over but flickering like flame in the otherwise empty hearth. Above the fireplace was a dark wooden frame, also thick with ice. Aevan peered at the painting underneath from several angles, but could not discern the subject.
The rest of the room held plenty to examine, including a book marked partway through with a scrap of ribbon, but Aevan’s eyes were dragged back to the picture over the hearth before he could even attempt to read the title. It took several carefully controlled waves of magic to remove the ice safely, but at last he revealed a large portrait of two men standing back to back. He batted the last sparks of his spell aside, leaving them to fade away into the ice as he peered up to get a closer look.
Both men in the painting were depicted only from the chest up, but Aevan had no trouble guessing who the one on the right was intended to be. Black armor, long waves of hair silver as moonlight, and skin closer to the pallor of a corpse than the rosy hue of living flesh: It was the Deathless Lord himself. Aevan was drawn closer, stretching up on his toes so one hand could reach out to touch the edge of a painted pauldron. Descriptions had not done him justice. The man was imposing, no doubt, but more than anything he was handsome, compelling in a way that Aevan couldn’t even find the words to describe.
He turned his attention to the figure on the left and immediately realized it was also the Deathless Lord — or rather, the man he had been in life. All of his features were identical, save for hair the color of wheat and cheeks with a healthy tint to them. He wore a colorful shirt with flowers embroidered around the collar and a brilliant smile where his counterpart was frowning.
Aevan had never read any records about who the Deathless Lord was before he began his conquests, but the portrait version looked youthful and carefree. Friendly, even. What would drive a man like that to take up foul magics and render himself undying? He stared at the duo a moment longer before firmly putting his back to the painting and heading across the hall.
With only a glance inside, Aevan had to stop and brace a hand against the door frame. It was a bedroom, complete with a massive, canopied bed that could have easily held four people curled together. Perhaps it even had, in the past. If the Deathless Lord’s portrait was painted with any honesty, he could not have lacked for bedfellows. Aevan huffed out a soft laugh; his explorations seemed to have taken a turn from academic to prurient.
He eyed the sinking sun through the window, and then the bed again. It was one of the largest beds he had ever seen in his life. Under the ice, it looked plush and comfortable, with thick blankets and a heap of pillows large enough to cover half the room with no difficulty. It was a terrible idea in every regard, from disturbing a site of such historical value to sleeping in the bed of the most dangerous man in recorded history — but it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Besides, no one could even know that he had done it, unless he told them. With an incredulous grin, like a child who had managed to run off with a whole tray of sweets, Aevan shoved a rush of power into the bed. His eyes watered from the intense wash of orange light in the dark room, but somehow he could not bring himself to close them. He swiped them clear on his arm as the rivulets of magic turned blue and sank away into the floor.
He was lightheaded and giddy from expending so much power in a short period, clinging to one of the bedposts until he could regain his balance. Once he managed to get his gloves off, Aevan found the top quilt felt like silk, and had a fur lining so thick he feared he might overheat in the night. He ate in the deep blue of twilight, savoring each bite as if it were a feast and even caught himself licking his palm once he polished off his bread. Curled up against a throne of pillows, Aevan wound up breaking into a bout of helpless laughter at the thought of getting crumbs in the Deathless Lord’s bed.
– ♡ –
Trading the familiar silence of his office in the academy’s archives for the chaotic sounds of a massive party had not been Aevan’s first choice. The ballroom was packed, with dozens of separate conversations warring to be heard over the musicians. Aevan had no background in music, but he suspected one of the violinists was out of tune. Between a mirrored wall, floating mage-lights, and the gleaming marble floor, the space was bright as day and seemed twice as large as it was.
Worst of all, it was a masked event with a strict black-and-white color scheme, meaning that Aevan had already spent over an hour trying to pick out someone he had met once in passing from a sea of people with their faces covered. His cheap mask was making his nose itch, and his temples throbbed in a way that foretold a splitting headache in the near future.
Aevan grabbed a few pieces of fruit from a carved ice tray and retreated to the corner furthest from the musicians to eat them. Black drapes covered the windows, though a faint breeze suggested someone had sensibly opened them. A murmur of quiet conversation drifted in as well, one of the voices getting sharper and more insistent as they continued until Aevan could make out what they were saying: “—nonsense about not accepting money like a reasonable person!”
“Oh, you think I must simply because you insist? How droll.” Aevan straightened up, smiling for the first time all night at that tone of honeyed amusement. “You may leave now, my lord. I will hear you a second time when you return with a more interesting offer, but if you insult me again, you will not receive a third opportunity to do so.”
A red-faced man shoved through two of the drapes, crushing the edge of his white mask in one fist. In the gap behind him, Aevan caught sight of Rook’s tall, stout form. They wore a lace-cuffed shirt, open to show off a hint of dark chest hair, and black trousers so tight that Aevan wondered if magic had been used to apply them. Rook’s mask was black and feathered, no doubt a tribute to their namesake.
Aevan caught the edge of the curtain before it could fall closed and asked, “Might you have a moment to speak with me, Master Rook?” He — and almost everyone else — knew precious little about the mysterious information broker, but there were a few common points of agreement. Be courteous, be honest, make no promises you could not keep, and never attempt to pay them in coin.
Rook looked him over with a piercing green gaze that made Aevan want to shrink down inside his borrowed black robe. “As my last appointment was cut short, I could in fact spare several moments for you.” Rook beckoned him over and Aevan stepped out onto the terrace, sighing with relief as the curtain fell shut to muffle the rest of the party. “Now then, what brings you to seek me out this evening?”
“I have been searching for a spell that would allow me to survive freezing temperatures for an extended period of time,” Aevan said, folding his hands together to fight the urge to fidget. “If you had knowledge of such a thing, I would very much like to bargain for it.”
His request got him a longer appraisal than his initial question had, Rook staring so intently that Aevan began to wonder if the rumors of him reading thoughts were true. Aevan shifted from one foot to the other, swearing he could feel sweat beading along his hairline. The night air had grown oddly stifling.
“What a fascinating bit of information you’re after,” Rook said at last, his thick lips curving up in a smile below the edge of his mask. “You lack the raw power to cast such a thing outright, so you must intend to enchant an object with it, and that would take a considerable amount of time.”
Aevan would have felt slighted, but he had already run the calculations on likely time frames. Calling in any and all favors owed to him, and getting as much of Marya’s help as her work permitted, the process would take most of two years. Defying nature to sustain life where it was not meant to be took an immense amount of power, and Aevan wanted to create something to last several weeks at the least.
“I am aware of the potential difficulties involved in the creation of such a thing, Master Rook, but I am prepared to see it through despite how slow the process may be.” Aevan squared his shoulders, though he could only bring his gaze up to Rook’s chin.
“And what if I told you I had access to such an object, ready-made?” Rook stepped forward, standing far closer than propriety would normally allow. No one was around to see them, but Aevan’s breath caught anyway and Rook’s smile deepened. “Oh, you would give me almost anything for that, wouldn’t you?”
A hint of Rook’s sweet, floral cologne reached him and any words Aevan might have mustered up were gone. He managed to stand his ground and offered an unsteady nod. Rook chuckled, not unkindly, and asked, “What had you intended to offer me for the information you sought? I doubt a clever man such as yourself came unprepared.”
“I had intended to offer myself,” Aevan whispered. He had planned to lead with his talents in research and organization, and had even considered offering to be a set of eyes and ears within the academy’s walls. With Rook so close, the idea of simply offering up his body had moved to the forefront of Aevan’s mind.
“A handsome offering indeed, if we can come to agreeable terms.” Rook’s gaze was unbearably intense, almost dizzying as he stared into Aevan’s eyes, but Aevan was certain that looking away would be a mistake. “In what capacity had you thought I might make use of you?” Rook asked, narrowing the space between them so much that Aevan could feel the heat of their body.
A soft huff of laughter slipped out of Aevan’s mouth. “I had several options prepared, but carnally would be my first preference, unless I have badly mistaken your intentions.”
“You certainly have not,” Rook said, “and a trade where both parties come away satisfied is ideal. My offer is thus: you give me your willing participation from now until daybreak tomorrow. I will lend you an amulet that will protect you from even the harshest cold for the space of two full moons. Upon your safe return, you will tell me of your journey and I will have your company again for a full night. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes,” Aevan said, hardly able to let Rook finish speaking before he agreed. The phrase from now rattled about in his head like a fragment of song or a research tangent he desperately needed to look into. “I would happily make that bargain, Master Rook.”
Aevan held out a hand to shake on their agreement, but Rook eased it gently back to his side. It was the first physical contact they had made, Rook’s fingertips against a sliver of bare skin on Aevan’s wrist. His magic thrummed under his skin in recognition of Rook’s power and he yanked his hand back.
“My apologies,” Aevan said, “I wasn’t aware that you were the academy sort.” Most mages were quick to announce themself as such, and went gloved to prevent any unintended contact. Aevan did the same, out of social necessity rather than personal preference.
“I am not, in the strictest sense. I rather doubt I would have thrived within your academy.” Rook brushed the thought away with an elegant wave. “Will the resonance be a difficulty for you?” They lifted a hand up next to Aevan’s face and held it there, looking at him expectantly.
Aevan closed his eyes and leaned into the touch, shuddering both at the heat of Rook’s palm and the force of their magic surging against him. “Only if you expect me to retain my composure,” he said.
“On the contrary, I look forward to stripping every last bit of it away from you.” Rook’s breath was sweet and warm against Aevan’s face. “However brief a process that may be.” They kissed Aevan with a fierceness he had been utterly unprepared for, crowding forward to press Aevan’s back to the wall.
Between the space of one kiss and the next, the wall vanished and Aevan fell backward through light bright enough to make even his closed eyes water. He landed on a bed so soft and so piled with cushions that he thought for a brief moment he would be swallowed up. Rook shoved an armful of pillows off each side of the bed and then leaned down to take Aevan’s mouth again.
Rook’s weight pressing Aevan against the mattress became even more tantalizing as they rolled their hips forward. The thin, clinging material of Rook’s trousers made the generous size of their cock obvious. Aevan arched up against them, letting his head tip back, half-drunk with anticipation and sheer need. His hands fumbled with his mask, shoving it down his face and then ripping it free, hardly noticing the sting as the ties snapped against his skin.
When Rook pulled away, Aevan started to reach for them, but a pair of cool hands gathered his wrists together over his head and pinned them there. Aevan caught a flicker of silvery hair at the edge of his vision. Everything had been so true to life that he had failed to notice he was dreaming, but there was no mistaking it now that his sleeping mind had added the most unlikely person imaginable to his memory.
Aevan took a shaky breath and tipped his head back to see the Deathless Lord smiling down at him, though he wore a dark robe rather than armor. He should have been intimidating, with his eyes glowing blue from the power he held, even at rest, but his gaze was soft and he stroked a thumb gently back and forth along the side of Aevan’s hand.
Rook started undoing the plain silver buttons keeping Aevan’s robe fastened. Because it was a dream, and his mind apparently had only one goal, he was naked underneath in a way he absolutely had not been on the night in question. The slickness between his legs was much the same — Rook had been more than compelling enough on their own.
Aevan’s robe came open at last and he thrilled as two sets of eyes looked over his bare body. “Such a gorgeous man,” Rook said, sliding their hands up through the downy hair on Aevan’s thighs. “Tell us your desires, and we will do our best to sate them.” Their voice grew distant as Aevan’s focus drifted to the man sitting above his head.
“Would you kiss me, my lord?” Aevan asked. He tipped his head back to lock eyes with the Deathless Lord, not that there was any way his meaning would be mistaken within his own dream. Aevan vowed never to tell a soul about this particular flight of fancy, as they might reasonably conclude he had a death wish. He felt no fear as the Deathless Lord leaned forward, his silken hair forming a curtain around their faces as he gave Aevan a brief, delicate kiss.
“We need not confine ourselves to dreams any longer,” he said, caressing Aevan’s cheek with a brush of his knuckles. “Let me wake you and bring you to my side, sweet Aevan.” The Deathless Lord’s hand gripped tighter around Aevan’s wrists as the dream world blurred and began to fade away in swirling streaks of color.
– ♡ –
Aevan woke shivering, despite his coat and the blankets piled on top of him. He was not at all surprised to find his hands immobile, trapped in the same position they had been in his dream. For a moment, he thought they were twisted in the sheets, but he craned his neck to look at them and found they were encased in ice that was slowly creeping past his wrists.
His eyes clamped closed of their own accord and his mouth formed several grating syllables in a language he had never heard. There was a flare of blue light with the familiar flickering of a portal, and then Aevan fell backwards through open air. His lips refused to part to allow him to scream, so he plummeted with a frantic whine behind his teeth and tears pooling at the corners of his still-closed eyes.
The frigid air rushing past his ears quieted as his descent slowed, allowing him to hear the shattering ice as his hands wrenched themselves free of their own volition. Aevan caught the patter of cushions thudding to the floor and then found himself coming to rest on top of them, light as a feather. His eyes were at last allowed to blink open, revealing a vast cavern stretching up into darkness above. It seemed to be made entirely of the gem-like ice that covered the castle, or else it was so thickly layered with it that the original walls could no longer be seen.
A dim light under the ice pulsed brighter and darker in a slow throb of a heartbeat, allowing Aevan to take in the room in pieces as he clambered to his feet. Veins of ice twined down along the walls of the room, converging around the base of a perfectly circular dais in the heart of the room. Aevan’s eyes trailed slowly up the sharp-edged steps to the throne in the center, an icy twin of the one above.
His heart fluttered in his chest, beating weakly as if to hide itself as Aevan took in the armored figure occupying the throne. Aevan scanned the unblemished expanse of black metal, half again the height of an ordinary man, and came to a stop on its spiked helm. Any hope that it might be only empty armor was extinguished as the Deathless Lord’s eyes cracked open, bathing Aevan’s upturned face in a luminous blue.
Aevan started trembling so hard his teeth clattered together, and could not still himself. Some animal part of his mind acknowledged he was going to die, even as he created and discarded a dozen plans for survival. He clenched his hands into fists and stood up straight, taking the only plausible route open to him: “Please, if you have any mercy in you, make it swift and painless.”
“You shall suffer no hurts within my domain, save for those you take of your own choosing.” The Deathless Lord’s lips did not move and his voice came from no particular direction; the words simply appeared in Aevan’s mind, tucked neatly around his own racing thoughts. “If you find that lacking, you may ask of me whatever oaths you require to be at ease.”
“Will you swear not to kill me?” Aevan asked. His words were scarcely audible to himself over his fast, shallow breathing. The accounts of the Deathless Lord’s harsh conquests collided in his mind with the lives of the all frozen figures above, who had seemingly thrived under his rule. Hope kindled in his heart, leaving him light-headed.
Aevan got an audible laugh in response, the musical sound echoing through the chamber. “I swear on my honor and my heart that I will lift neither weapon nor hand nor sorceries against you. Will that suffice to soothe your fears, my handsome mage?” The Deathless Lord’s words again sprung up in Aevan’s mind, somehow more intimate than even a lover’s whisper at his ear.
Try as he might, Aevan could find no issue with the phrasing, and with the accompanying flattery, his fear left him in a rush. “As much as anything is likely to, my lord,” Aevan murmured. His shivers began to slow, and curiosity pulled him a few unsteady steps forward before uncertainty brought him to a halt again.
The Deathless Lord lifted his helm away, shaking his pale hair free to cascade down his shoulders. “It would please me if you would call me Koztya,” he said. “Come, sit. You have spent your life studying me, have you not? Surely you must have questions you wish to ask.” With a wave of one gauntleted hand, a large cushion floated over to rest between his feet.
“Would you tell me how you came to be immortal?” Aevan asked, making it to the foot of the dais before he hesitated. This close, he could see that it was not the armor that was oversized, but rather the Deathless Lord himself. He had been large in the dream, modeled after the warriors of Aevan’s acquaintance, but the reality was so much more that Aevan was overwhelmed by how badly he wanted to feel it under his own hands.
With the intensity of the gaze locked on him and the sudden lustful turn of his thoughts, Aevan felt his body heating. He tugged his gloves free from his damp palms and undid the ties of his coat, but it was not enough. The idea that something was amiss nagged at him as he wrestled his coat off entirely, but the relief at cooler air hitting his skin was too great for him to pay it any mind.
The Deathless Lord eased his gauntlets free, letting them drop carelessly to either side of his throne. He stood to unfasten the rest of his armor and the padding beneath, using magic to undo buckles inconveniently placed for him to reach. With each piece set aside, Aevan found it easier and easier to think of him as Koztya, though he remained intimidating even in a plain shirt and trousers.
“Please take off as much or as little as you would prefer,” Koztya said, still speaking directly into Aevan’s mind. “I promise that you will never feel the bite of the cold while I am with you.” Koztya took his seat again, leaving his legs parted with the cushion between them. “Join me, and I will gladly tell you of my strange history.”
Aevan needed no further prompting, shedding his clothes piece by piece as he advanced up the dais and dropped, utterly bare, onto the cushion to Koztya’s feet. A wave of dizziness hit him and he leaned to the side, resting his face against Koztya’s thigh. Large hands stroked him, smoothing down his hair and curving around his shoulder. Aevan felt only the smallest spark of their magics at the touch — perhaps Koztya was holding back as much as was possible, given his great power.
“Easy now,” Koztya said aloud, his voice a low rumble Aevan swore he could feel in his bones. “I assume any stories of me are long gone, but in my first life I was a wandering minstrel, with only paltry magics to my name. Over time, the wrongs I saw committed by the powerful against the common men roused me to anger and I made ballads of their crimes.” Aevan was impossibly tired, body drooping further with every word, but he put all his energy into listening attentively.
Koztya’s hands were gentle as he undid the tie on Aevan’s braid and started to comb it loose. Aevan’s breath caught at the touch and he held it as Koztya continued speaking. “They hung me for treason, in the end, and the mark of that rope is the only one my body yet bears.” Aevan wanted to see it for himself, but his whole body was too heavy to move. “I like to think I put so much of my heart into my songs that I could not die, but truly, even I have never known why I woke again that night to claw free of a pauper’s grave.
“The details grew clearer to me over time,” Koztya continued. “My body may be destroyed, but so long as even a sliver of my frozen heart remains, I will always return.” He pressed a kiss to Aevan’s cheek, oddly warm for someone who had just described his own death. “I shattered it to pieces once I realized. The bulk of my heart remains here, but there are countless small shards hidden away over the whole of the world.”
Aevan’s eyes opened of their own accord as Koztya tipped his head up with one finger under his chin. “Would you carry a piece of my heart, sweet Aevan?” Aevan did his best to nod, falling limp again immediately after. “I can hardly believe such a treasure has come to me,” Koztya murmured. “Truly, the gods must believe my goals just to gift me so rare a mind as yours.”
There was a sound of breaking ice, and the whole room rang like a struck bell. Koztya’s hand spread wide over Aevan’s chest, pressing something sharp and chill against him. His flesh gave way, parting without pain to let the shard slide home beneath his ribs. It pulsed in a steady rhythm and spread a welcome heat through Aevan’s limbs that roused him from his torpor.
As Aevan stretched his arms up and saw Koztya’s appraising eyes on him, the languid heat flared hotter, pooling as desire low in his gut. He considered covering himself, but Koztya gathered his wrists together in one massive hand before Aevan could even make the attempt. “An excellent gift in many regards,” he said as he looked Aevan over. “Do you find me desirable still, now that I am in the flesh before you?”
“You are perhaps larger than I had suspected you might be,” he said slowly, mustering a teasing smile. His eyes drifted down Koztya’s body to the juncture of his spread legs, and Aevan gave another futile tug against Koztya’s grip. The fact that it did not yield in the slightest only warmed him further.
Koztya let Aevan lower his arms, guiding each hand to rest on one of his knees. “I have seen your dreams each night, from the very moment you arrived,” he said, sliding his palms up Aevan’s arms. “With every passing day and every spark of your power that reached me, I learned more of you. You may say what you will, but I know your truths, and one of them is that my size excites you.”
Faced with it phrased so plainly, Aevan could only duck his head as embarrassment washed over him. “You have me at a disadvantage, I fear,” he said, flicking his eyes up to Koztya’s with a smile. “Do I even need to voice my wants, or can you pluck them freely from my mind?”
“Not yet, though I will in the fullness of time.” Koztya’s hands closed on Aevan’s shoulders and one thumb slid down to rest over his heart. “The bond we now share will only strengthen the longer we are together. Currently, I can feel some small parts of your sensations and emotions, and likely you can do the same with concentration.”
Aevan concentrated, closing his eyes and taking careful stock of what he could feel. There was an echo of cloth and pressure against his back, while it was bare to the open air. “It’s faint, but I think I can,” he said, his voice dropping to a giddy whisper with excitement. “Would you do something you will feel more strongly, please?”
Koztya’s laugh should have served as a warning, but Aevan was too preoccupied by the dozen questions that had sprung up. How far apart would it work? Surely they could lessen the connection, or select what they shared, lest they be forever seeing double. He itched for his journal to organize the sudden wellspring of ideas — and then Koztya did as he had requested.
Aevan’s sharp cry rang off the walls at the phantom touch of a hand on his cock. Koztya mercifully did not repeat the gesture, giving him a moment to collect himself and eventually hazard a glance up. Even accounting for the angle he was viewing from, there was little doubt that his quip about how large Koztya was had been accurate.
Koztya’s response had been as well. A faint whimper slipped out of Aevan’s slack mouth. If it proved to be physically possible, he would be stretched to his absolute limit. “When you swore that I would suffer no pain— Truly, I am not even sure if my body would permit, but I want it,” he said, finding the words coming out with a savagery that surprised him.
“I swore true,” Koztya said, favoring him with a fond smile. “Our coupling shall never bring you pain unless you desire it, and I will demonstrate so as often as you wish.” Aevan was struck by a surge of passion that could have belonged to either one of them. “But first, let us begin with something a trifle less taxing. Stand for me.”
Aevan obeyed, marveling at his lack of stiffness after spending so much time in one position. Koztya gestured for him to turn, and he did, somehow putting his back to the Deathless Lord with no hesitation. Broad hands wrapped around his waist and lifted him with no obvious effort. Koztya settled Aevan into place with his back to Koztya’s chest and his legs spread wide over Koztya’s thighs. Looking down, it gave him the illusion of having a cock of his own, though outrageously proportioned to the rest of his body.
“Watch, and focus your thoughts on me,” Koztya murmured. He began with a feather-light touch, dragging his fingertips up along his shaft and then cupping it with his palm to press it against the softness of Aevan’s stomach. The gesture gave Aevan a clear measure of how impossibly deep Koztya would be able to fill him and he shook at the thought of it.
Koztya wrapped his hand around himself and stroked, just once, but the feeling was so strong that Aevan clutched at his wrist out of fear he would move again. “Would you allow me to…?” He trailed off, beset with a burst of shyness that seemed foolish when they were already so close.
“You have no need for my permission,” Koztya said, encouraging Aevan’s hands forward with gentle caresses along his arms. “We are as one, now. Touch my flesh as you would your own, and you will please us both.”
With such an offer, Aevan had no further qualms in reaching down to wrap his fingers around Koztya’s cock. Even with both his hands circling it, there was little overlap at his fingertips. He made one tentative stroke and had to bite his lip to muffle himself at the surge of pleasure and satisfaction. It was impossible to tell how much came from either of them, but the combined total was overwhelming.
“None of that.” Koztya pressed one thick finger to Aevan’s lips and he parted them without a thought. “I will have every last sound of your pleasure.” Even that one digit was broad enough to cover half of Aevan’s tongue while resting on his back teeth, keeping his mouth open. “Now touch us again, and do not stop until we reach our peak.”
It seemed that no amount of embarrassment would prevent Aevan’s hands from doing as he was bid. He started sliding them steadily along the cock between his legs, helpless noises falling from his open mouth all the while. Their twinned pleasure rose so fast that Aevan’s head spun with it. He was slick beyond belief, coating the base of Koztya’s cock and a large patch of his own thighs as well.
Koztya curled one massive hand around both of Aevan’s, setting an even faster pace as they raced toward their shared climax. Their bodies tensed as one, Koztya letting out a deep groan while Aevan cried out so loudly it made his ears ring. The familiar feeling of his own orgasm was punctuated by Koztya’s, shorter but sharp enough to bring tears to the corners of his eyes.
Stripes of seed pulsed out over his chest and stomach, neither warm nor cold against his skin. Koztya released Aevan’s mouth only long enough to drag a finger through the mess and bring it back to Aevan’s lips. His spend had little taste, only a hint of salt, and Aevan sucked Koztya’s finger clean eagerly.
In the fading glow of his pleasure, Aevan started to wonder at their connection — his heart beat remained slow and he could not hear his own breathing, despite the exertion. “How would you have me take you?” Koztya asked softly, startling Aevan out of his thoughts. “Bent forward over my throne? Spread out beneath me in my bed? No, I know what would suit, and we will scarcely have to move at all.”
With a wave of one hand, Koztya raised a plate of polished ice before them. Aevan was not over-fond of seeing himself, but debauched and spread across the lap of a massive man made for a picture too lovely to ignore. His eyes were drawn to the curve of Koztya’s cock between his legs. Some trick of the icy reflection made Aevan’s skin look more sallow than usual, tinted a faint blue much like Koztya’s own. It served to enhance the illusion that it was his own flesh, and the sight captivated him.
Koztya curled his hands under Aevan’s thighs and lifted him until their heads were level with each other. “Tell me, before I take you: would you have me ease any discomfort, or would you prefer to feel the pain and the pleasure both?”
“Let me feel both,” Aevan said immediately. “Perhaps hold back your own sensations, to start. If it becomes too much to bear — well, I suppose you will know as soon as I.” The bond between them was strengthening, though it was easiest for Aevan to read Koztya’s emotions when they were in line with his own. At the moment, all he could sense was a deep-set satisfaction.
“Whatever you desire, my precious Aevan,” Koztya said, pressing a kiss against his shoulder. He eased Aevan carefully down until the head of his cock pressed at Aevan’s entrance. Even the faint stretch promised a fullness beyond any he had experienced before, and Aevan struggled not to tense. “Relax and watch our joining,” Koztya whispered to him. “I would not give you more than you could bear.”
Aevan looked up to see their faces in the mirror and froze as he saw his own eyes glowing the exact same unearthly blue as Koztya’s. Rook’s amulet no longer rested at his throat — Aevan remembered with sickening clarity the sting as he had ripped his mask free in his dream. He had doomed himself before he even woke, then let terror and curiosity distract him from the last moments of his life slipping away.
Fear followed on the heels of realization. The emotion did nothing to speed the steady beat within his chest, because his heart was no longer his own. Aevan closed his eyes as tears started to blur his vision.
When Aevan said nothing, Koztya let him slide a little further down. The sweet burn of him breaching Aevan’s body was all the distraction Aevan could have hoped for, the edge of pain centering him. The simple fact that he could still feel the pleasure and the stinging stretch allayed some of his concerns. Aevan’s eyes opened and he watched intently as Koztya began to fill him in one long, slow motion.
By the time Koztya could go no further, Aevan was stretched beyond anything he had experienced before and already starting to ache as if he were well-used. Koztya gave him no more than two beats of their shared heart to adjust before beginning to fuck him in earnest, raising him up and letting him drop to be filled once again.
Each deep stroke drove rational thought further from Aevan’s head and he welcomed it. He kept one hand on Koztya’s arm for support, and used the other to rub desperately between his legs as if a second climax might wash away his unwanted knowledge. Koztya took him steadily, all the while murmuring an endless list of endearments and praise mixed with the sounds of his own pleasure.
Aevan came, or almost did. His body attempted to clench tight around Koztya’s cock but had no room to do so, and his peak brought him no relief. Koztya began to slide free and he shook his head furiously, hand digging in to Koztya’s forearm. “I will not leave you wanting,” Koztya said, nuzzling through the curtain of Aevan’s hair to kiss his back. “Let me share my pleasure with you, and see if that will be enough to satisfy.”
Koztya’s sensations came over him gradually, like easing into a too-hot bath. The strength of his affection was more obvious now — if he was not bringing it to the forefront intentionally, it was so immense that Aevan could only feel humbled before it. He turned his attention to the physical instead, using the feeling of his own slick hole starting to stretch around them as a focal point.
His own pain was distant by comparison, only enough to add a spark to the overwhelming pleasure of sliding inside his own body. Now their shared heartbeat began to quicken, as Aevan’s lust fed into Koztya’s and echoed back at him. Koztya was not far from his peak, thrusts getting faster and sharper, each snap of his hips leaving Aevan keening.
For one dizzying moment, Aevan could hardly feel his own body. He watched their reflection through Koztya’s eyes as he buried himself deep and came with a low groan. Aevan saw the muscles on his own thighs quiver, but caught only the faintest hint of his orgasm, lost under Koztya’s glow of satisfaction. He floated in the warmth of that feeling, and thought of nothing at all.
Koztya’s careful slide as he pulled out brought an odd mix of pleasure, relief, and loss. Aevan caught a spike of renewed lust as Koztya slipped free from his body and watched a thick wave of seed drip out after. Wrung out in the wake of several climaxes, he found himself snorting in amusement. “You have ruled nations, and yet still thrill at the conquest of my body?”
“I ruled of necessity alone,” Koztya said. Aevan could feel his smile through their shared sensations as much as he could hear it in Koztya’s voice. “No kingdom ever brought me half so sweet a pleasure as this. You shall see for yourself, in time — though perhaps your scholarly mind will take to ruling better than my poet’s heart ever did.”
A shock of confusion grounded Aevan back into his own senses. “You would have me rule at your side?” He could feel the scope of Koztya’s power by now, and even in his weakened state, he was at least Aevan’s equal. Should the well of his magic be filled again, Aevan would be like a candle flame next to the engulfing wall of a forest fire. Though power alone would be only one part of the equation. The castle would need to be staffed again, and Koztya had almost a century of history and politics to catch up on, and— Aevan’s growing list was cut off by Koztya’s laughing at him, mirth ringing his body like a bell.
“I can feel you beginning to plan, and yet you wonder that I would use such gifts to my advantage?” Koztya whispered something in an unfamiliar language and Aevan felt a gentle brush like the softest towelling rubbing over both their bodies. With both of them clean, Koztya turned Aevan around to face him. “You spent much of your life studying me, and by your sacrifices in coming here you have brought me back to myself. I could not ask for a consort more dedicated. That you are comely and possessed of a sharp intellect only makes the choice more certain.”
Koztya offered up the words with a sweet persuasion, giving Aevan a glimpse of how he had become such an influential bard in his first life. Aevan would have called it flattery, save that he could feel the truth ringing through their bond. With shaking hands, he cupped Koztya’s face and rose up to give him a brief, chaste kiss in lieu of the words he could not find.
“Will you give yourself to me, my beloved Aevan? Help me spread my name and my songs once more and together we can bring a just rule to this world, reshaping it how we see fit.” Koztya smoothed a strand of hair away from Aevan’s face, nothing but tenderness in his expression. “So long as a fragment of my heart stays within you, you will be eternal as I am. Hunger will never pain you, sleep will never pull you from any course your curiosity sets you to, and I will gift you every pleasure you could possibly wish for.”
Aevan’s earlier fear melted away to nothing in the warmth of Koztya’s hopeful affection. What more could he want, when offered the world and time enough to experience everything his heart desired? Aevan’s hands clasped Koztya’s shoulders, steadying himself as he rose up, already lost in the mesmerizing blue glow of Koztya’s eyes. Curving up into a helpless smile, Aevan’s lips formed the only possible answer: “I am yours, my lord.”