Authors: Scarlet Hyacinth
Before he could finish the phrase, the Spirit Mother interrupted him.
“Are you being deliberately cruel to your human, G’aladon?”
“Why do you insist on this madness? I know you dislike me, but that is no reason to throw your life away now that you finally have a chance to live it.”
Quinn realized she was speaking inside his head. Even so, Roarke seemed to hear her, although Hewitt and the others just seemed confused.
Meanwhile, G’aladon and the Spirit Mother continued their conversation.
“When you create something, you take responsibility for their actions, and for their lives,”
“I was building myself an army, and I did not care that my soldiers were living, breathing creatures. They were tools to me. I need to make it up to them. No matter what you say, I cannot have a real life, but they can. I want them to.”
“And how do you think they will feel once they are granted this gift and are left lost and leaderless? They have been emotionless for centuries. They would not know what to do with what you offer. It would only destroy them further.”
Her words gave G’aladon pause. Apparently, he agreed with her reasoning.
“And what do you suggest, then?”
he asked quietly. Quinn could feel the witch’s pain arching through his muscles.
“I do not want to be cruel. I merely want to give Quinn and Roarke freedom and give the Oriakai a better life. I do not know any other way to do it.”
“This is why you must listen to me carefully and trust me. To achieve your goal, Quinn and Roarke have to join you in the astral realm.”
* * * *
Horror assaulted G’aladon as the Spirit Mother’s words reached him. How could she even suggest that? He would rather die a thousand deaths or continue living in the astral realm for the rest of eternity before he allowed this torment to destroy Quinn and Roarke. Quinn in particular was like a delicate flower that needed light to bloom. His soul held so much love, and G’aladon was ashamed to admit that he had used that love for his own purposes. G’aladon refused to put the human in harm’s way, and he relied on Roarke to protect Quinn when he could not.
“No, I don’t trust you,”
he told Shaiyta. He should have known better than to attempt to get her to help him in the first place.
“I can’t understand how you would sentence one of your own to such a fate.”
In the end, Roarke was her child, which made G’aladon wonder and doubt her motivations even more. He felt her irritation lash out at him and tried to absorb it within himself, knowing that Quinn and Roarke would be able to experience it through him if he wasn’t careful. He only half succeeded, and through his mind’s eye, he saw both men recoil.
Instantly, Shaiyta retreated, probably realizing that she was hurting Quinn and Roarke as well. “My apologies,” she told them. “It seems that, like always, our friend draws out the worst in me.”
Once more, she reached out to G’aladon. This time, the agony vanished, replaced by a feeling of calm and relaxation.
“I don’t mean you any harm, G’aladon, and I wouldn’t deliberately endanger a child of mine. You know this. Why must you be so stubborn?”
“May I remind you that the last two times we met, you banished me to this place?”
Not that he hadn’t deserved it, but that was beside the point. Her opinion of him couldn’t have changed so radically since then.
“My opinion hasn’t changed at all,”
she told him.
“I’ve always believed you were capable of far greater things than the ones you destroyed yourself with. It was very saddening for me to trap you here, but as you know, we had no other solution.”
This time, she wasn’t apologizing for what she had done, merely explaining. G’aladon wanted to believe her. After all, what did she have to gain from hurting Quinn and Roarke? G’aladon was already caught within the astral realm and couldn’t get out. Perhaps she truly intended to help him.
But G’aladon didn’t dare chancing it. He couldn’t risk the safety of the two men who had grown to mean so much to him, whether they knew it or not.
To his surprise, it was Quinn who stopped the debate.
“I’m afraid you have no say in the matter. I think I speak for both myself and Roarke when I say that we’re willing to do anything to solve this.”
“Arguing about it is useless. You must have realized that we would never have allowed you to go through with your original plan.”
G’aladon might have continued to protest, to argue against the far too dangerous idea. But then, the Spirit Mother said, “You’ll be able to see them, to touch them. You’ll be able to kiss them.”
His resolve crumbled. Selfish as it was, he yearned for that. He had desired it for so long. He could no longer fight Quinn and Roarke’s will. He was helpless against the strong desire within the two men.
he said, excitement, guilt, and terror warring inside his heart.
“What must I do?”
“Simply open your mind and follow our instructions. We shall do the rest.”
Once G’aladon agreed, things moved at a far-quicker pace. Since the cabin was quite small, Hewitt directed them outside. Roarke found himself waiting in a beautiful forest, while the witch made the preparations for the ritual. Roarke and Quinn just stayed out of the way, and eventually, so did Mason and Devon, since Hewitt seemed to handle the issue just fine on his own.
Meanwhile, the Spirit Mother proceeded to explain the details of her idea. “The two of you will join G’aladon in the astral realm,” she said. “This will leave a rift open, allowing him to come out. Now, chances are that if he does abandon his prison, he will go insane again and attempt to do something we’d all regret. This is why you must bond to him.”
“Bond?” Quinn repeated. “How?”
But Roarke already knew what she meant. He had already suspected this was coming. In his heart, he had known it even before he’d met Quinn. The human’s affection toward G’aladon and the almost irrational attraction between him and Roarke only confirmed it. They were mates.
Roarke admitted that this wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind when he’d imagined meeting his potential mate. As a spirit wolf, he had thought he would know his other half on sight. Their eyes would meet and they would breathlessly introduce themselves, and then Roarke would initiate courtship. He would nuzzle his mate’s nape, touch him, and get acquainted with their new bond. Then, they would finally settle on the grass, because in Roarke’s opinion, the ideal place for this union would be somewhere in a forest. With eager hands, they would remove each other’s clothing, touching, exploring, caressing.
He hadn’t considered the chance that something might interfere with his meeting with his mate and they would be unable to consummate their bond. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted to, because somewhere deep inside, he had sensed the truth about his connection to G’aladon.
Shaking himself, Roarke focused on Quinn and the Spirit Mother once again. Quinn was giving him a puzzled look, having obviously sensed Roarke’s mood. Roarke forced his mind away from his peculiar musings. He might have dreamed for an ideal, but what he had received was so much better. He just needed to fight to reach it, and he intended to do just that.
He’d have liked to hear the Spirit Mother’s opinion on his bond with the other two men, but she didn’t seem inclined to provide it. “You’ll know what to do when the time comes,” she said unhelpfully.
Roarke just nodded and wrapped his arm around Quinn’s shoulder, pulling the human close. This was so important, perhaps the most important thing Roarke had done in his whole life. He buried his face in Quinn’s hair, inhaling his mate’s comforting scent. He didn’t think he’d be able to live with himself if he disappointed Quinn or G’aladon.
G’aladon’s voice appeared in his mind.
“You can never disappoint me.”
Roarke certainly hoped that was the case. In truth, he felt very torn. He didn’t want Quinn to experience any pain, but at the same time, he yearned to rescue G’aladon. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
But he had never shied away from a challenge. Whatever madness G’aladon’s power could cause, Roarke believed beyond any shadow of a doubt that their connection could surpass it.
The Spirit Mother must have guessed his thoughts, as she somehow seemed pleased. “Once G’aladon is outside, we must draw out the excess power that urged him into becoming the loathsome creature we were forced to banish. We will need his cooperation, though, so your connection to him will be very important. There will be someone else here, a dear friend of mine, who might unsettle G’aladon further. This is why the two of you must provide G’aladon’s mind and soul with strength.”
“We will,” Roarke promised. He shared a look with Quinn. “We are ready.”
Hewitt had finished the preparations as well. He seemed to have cast a spell of sorts over a chosen area, as the grass shone greener than in other places in the grove. Roarke half expected for it to come alive any moment now. The wind picked up, and the rustling of the tree branches seemed to speak to him.
Hewitt gestured them forward. “Come. Stand here, holding hands.”
He pointed at a spot, and Quinn and Roarke obeyed his instructions. Facing Quinn, Roarke clutched the human’s palms in his own. “This is it.”
Quinn smiled. “Excited?”
“Excited. Worried. Elated.”
It was so very strange to confess his feelings and confusion to a man he’d only met earlier that day. But Quinn’s blue eyes were so pure and gentle that Roarke was almost hypnotized by their light. It seemed as if he’d known Quinn forever. They were united in their desire to rescue G’aladon, but also in a connection that had come into existence from the very moment Quinn had been born.
“You want to meet him,” Quinn said. “I want that, too.” His eyes gained a dazed, almost distant expression. “I think I know what the Spirit Mother meant, but I’m concerned that I won’t be enough for him, for you.”
“Don’t ever say that,” Roarke protested. “You are the perfect match for us, the same way Hewitt is a match for Devon and Mason. Don’t doubt it. You know it’s true.”
Quinn blushed prettily, but didn’t deny it. Roarke wanted to kiss him, but that would have to wait. With the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Devon, Hewitt, and Mason forming a triangle around them. Light flashed, and another spirit beast appeared, this time a panther.
“Well, here I am,” it—he said. “Let it be noted that I think this is a horrible idea. It will never work.”
Roarke had suspected other beings like his goddess must exist, but he’d never had contact with any of them, so he hadn’t been certain. He wondered who he was and if he had created a species of his own.
In the end, it didn’t really matter. Roarke had more important things to worry about. Mentally thanking the new arrival—who’d obviously come here to aid them—Roarke took a deep breath and prepared himself for what was about to follow.
“Of course it will work,” the Spirit Mother told the panther. “Have a little faith.”
Whether he agreed with her or not, the feline nevertheless complied. The translucent panther and wolf took position to the right and the left of Quinn and Roarke, respectively. Both spirit beasts started chanting, which was somewhat odd given that they didn’t actually have lips. But Roarke had gotten used to the peculiarity of his life, and he took in all in stride.
“Close your eyes,” Hewitt indicated. “Think about G’aladon. Think about what you want of him, with him. Focus on your bond.”
Roarke obeyed, allowing his eyes to drift shut. He wished he could see the witch, touch him, kiss him. The thought came to him naturally, and he accepted it, opening his heart.
As the spirit beasts continued to chant, Roarke sensed something appear in front of him. He couldn’t see it, but he knew it to be the hole in their reality that would allow them to at last meet G’aladon.
Releasing one of Quinn’s hands and still clutching the other, Roarke turned Quinn toward the rift. Without a moment of hesitation, he stepped through the rift, the human right by his side.
A rush of strange coldness hit him first. Roarke opened his eyes and looked around, only to see nothing, or rather, nothingness. It was void of substance, light, and life. Roarke couldn’t even see Quinn by his side, and if he hadn’t held onto the human’s hand, he might have believed he’d lost his mate completely. Roarke shuddered at what G’aladon must have gone through here. For crying out loud, he couldn’t even move.
But the astral realm was, above all else, a place where the soul mattered. Roarke focused on his lingering spirit wolf abilities, and he sensed Quinn summoning his own powers. All of a sudden, shapes started appearing, a golden path emerging in front of them. The darkness shied away as shining spheres hovered around Quinn and Roarke. Beyond the glass of each sphere, Roarke thought he spotted moving people, lives unfolding before Roarke’s very eyes.
The void no longer seemed threatening. Instead, it had become warm, almost welcoming. Roarke found that his muscles had started to cooperate again. Together with Quinn, he landed on the golden path and started walking.
He didn’t know how long they followed the winding road. It seemed to go on and on, and Roarke noticed that actually maintaining it was draining his abilities. The astral realm almost appeared to have a life of its own, and while it welcomed Roarke and Quinn, it didn’t want them to reach their destination.
“We are stronger than you,” Quinn muttered under his breath, frowning. The spheres that had been closing in on them burst into flame, becoming torches of pure light. The path steadied, and finally, Roarke spotted G’aladon ahead.