Under Commander Well’s watchful eye, the guards carrying Tanis laid him on the couch. Now that the emperor had reacquainted the two immortals from the prophecy, they would be sharing the same room until the emperor changed his mind. This new apartment was bigger with a bedroom off to one side and a separate bathroom. The room was sparsely decorated with an eating table, couch, chair and a couple of side tables. There were no windows or knick-knacks, and the only picture was that of the emperor glaring down at them. Next to the apartment was a room the emperor had especially made to break his new pet. Just the thought of what was in there waiting made the seasoned warrior shudder.
He is giving them a false sense of security while next door is nothing but blood and pain, Wells thought, his eyes once again taking in the room before him. No. That was not true. Not even this room seemed…safe. The very walls excluded evil intent. Gazing down at the unconscious form on the couch, Wells did not envy the newcomer. He also wondered with the way the emperor jealously guarded his witch, how long it would be before he moved her back into her old rooms that were attached to his.
Tanis groaned, his hands going to his head. The guards immediately leveled their weapons at him. Having witness what happened in the throne room they were taking no chances. This male was powerful, and dangerous. The next moment, Aden walked into the room, his presence dwarfing everyone but the man lying dazed on the couch. Wells watched as the young lord glanced at Tanis, a mixture of emotions flitting across his face Commander Wells could quite not read before it settled on grim determination.
“Leave us,” Aden commanded without looking at the men, knowing they would do as they were told without question.
Commander Wells gave Aden a short bow then motioned the men out. Backing to the door, keeping their eyes and guns trained on the figure on the couch,they left one by one, the door sliding closed behind them.
Closing his eyes, sighing, Aden braced himself for what he knew would bean unpleasant conversation. Tanis was important to Kara, so Aden did not want to alienate him. At the same time, he needed to make the immortal understand there was no fighting the emperor. At least not at the moment. Opening his eyes,Aden watched as Tanis slowly sat up, placing his elbows on his knees his face in his hands, trying to shake off Aden’s blow.
“Do you want to see her dead?” Aden snapped into the silence. So much for not alienating.
“Be careful, boy,” Tanis growled turning his head so he could glare at Aden. “You may have been able to blindside me once. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will happen again.”
“I’ve already heard the same story from the emperor,” Aden growled striding over to Tanis glaring down at him. “I don’t care how powerful you are,I will not allow you to hurt Kara.”
Tanis stood so they were now eye to eye, nose to nose. It wasn’t that difficult since Tanis was only an inch shorter than Aden.
“Not allow?” he snarled.“First off, you are in no position to allow or not allow me anything. I could kill you with a single thought. Second of all, bonded or not, Kara is mine. You will not touch her.”
“Kara chose me,” Aden reminded.
“Because she had no choice! If she had not reconnected with you then the demon would have forced his own bonding on her, and we both know that cannot happen.”
“Just as we both know that is not entirely true,” Aden corrected quietly.He stepped back, his anger fading, although his eyes never wavered from Tanis’s. Yes, if she had not bonded with him, whatever he had felt trying to take her from them would have sunk its claws into Kara in a way they would have never been able to break. But as Aden knew deep down in his soul that was not the reason Kara reestablished their bond, so did Tanis. It was why he was so angry, so hurt.
“Why? When?” Tanis asked the pain evident in his eyes.
“Almost fifteen years now and I don’t know why?” Aden answered knowing what Tanis was asking. “I was sent to retrieve her from Colin and bring her to the emperor. The moment our eyes met it just….happened. The bonding was so fast, so final, there was no questioning it or escaping it.”
Tanis fell back onto the couch with a tired sigh, knowing exactly what Aden meant. Every time he and Kara found each other the same exact thing happened to them. One look, one touch and the bonding began. It was only because she was so weak and did not want to live that it took longer this time.Now all that was left was the last piece of the ritual, and he needed the boy gone and her here. Frowning at the door, he wondered where she was.
“The emperor kept Kara for a few moments longer,” Aden answered the unasked question. “She should be here shortly.”
“You left her with him alone?” Tanis snarled moving to stand.
“Don’t,” Aden said, the promise of violence thick in his voice. It stopped Tanis, startling him. “My master did not go to all the trouble to bring you two together and not allow you to finish the ritual. He will not harm her.” What he left out was the strange way the emperor was acting towards Kara.The complete opposite from just an hour ago. As if her well being was once again important to him.
Tanis heard the surety was in Aden’s voice, but his eyes betrayed him. A slight flinching around the edges. Tanis had Kara’s memories. He knew what happened when they displeased their master.
“I’m assuming the de…Caius was not happy about your bonding with Kara,”Tanis said, carefully watching Aden. Did he know about the demon that resided inside Caius?
“No,” Aden answered his eyes going distant with some unpleasant memory.“He tried to force us to break it, but even if we wanted to we couldn’t. I think he knew that, but he still tried. Still punished us because we refused.”
Tanis frowned. Aden’s voice had grown so soft, so full of a horror Tanis could only imagine what the demon had done to him that would make this obviously powerful man shudder with fear. When Aden met his gaze, Tanis was shocked at the haunted look in the boy’s eyes.
“You must understand the chains Caius has wrapped around us. If you fight him it will rebound on Kara tenfold. If you attack any of his men it will rebound on Kara tenfold. Anything you do to defy him, Kara will pay the price with unimaginable pain.” Aden stepped forward his voice fervent in his need to make Tanis understand. “I saw your expression when Caius mentioned Colin. All the color drained from your face. I know you know who he is, what he is capable of. The things that Colin had done to Kara before we found her….” Aden hesitated,swallowing hard to keep the bile down. “That bastard had her for ten years before we found her. You cannot begin to imagine what he and his son had done…..”
Tanis rose to his feet, rage course through him. “Anthony touched her?”he snarled.
“He did more than touch her. He used her weakness against her, telling her he would protect her if she would give him what he wanted.”
“And what was that?” Tanis asked, his voice squeezed down to a hoarse whisper.
Tanis turned and walked away, his hand over his mouth as he struggled to regain control over his rage. What he wanted to do was destroy everything on the ship then go and find the little bastard and kill him, slowly. But if Aden was right about the spells, then he was trapped.
“I will kill him,” he hissed.
“Get in line,” Aden scoffed. “When Caius found out, he put a bounty so high on both of their heads every bounty hunter in the known universe has been looking for them.”
Frowning at a sudden thought, Tanis turned to face the boy. “Yet when I arrived here, Kara was near death because Caius gave her to his guards.” A small smile crossed his lips at Aden’s shocked expression. “There is very little we can hide from each other. I knew what was happening down on the planet, I just didn’t understand what I was seeing, or feeling. The moment we touched, I knew everything.”
“Then you know how Kara feels about me. How I feel about her. That I will do everything in my power to keep her from suffering that kind of abuse again. Including knocking you senseless,” Aden said with a smug quirk of his lips.
“Again, a lucky punch. It will not happen again,” Tanis promised rubbing his sore jaw.
Snorting his doubt, Aden sobered. “I don’t want to see her broken one more time. She will not survive. Please. Do as Caius asks. Don’t fight him.”
“And you can honestly say that you will not?” Tanis asked his eyebrow raised in disbelief. “Remember, what Kara sees, I also know what you have done to try and protect her, and why Caius is sending you down to the planet. He knows what it will do to you and Kara. How much pain it will cause both of you,yet you are telling me you do not want to hurt her.
“If I refuse, the repercussions will be far worse. Kara and I have been separated for years and we survived.” Barely,he added to himself. “We will survive a few days.”
“Pretty to think so,” Tanis said knowing the lie the boy was trying to convince himself of.
Aden turned away, unable to meet his eyes.
Tanis smiled in response.
“He wasn’t always like this, you know. Caius. Once he was gentle, kind. He had his ambitions, was ruthless when he needed to be, but never…enjoyed that ruthlessness.When we first found Kara, he treated her as if she were something precious.Now….” Aden turned towards Tanis, his confusion plain for the other man to see on his face. “Now I don’t know him. The things he has forced on Kara in the last few weeks…. The Caius I know would have never done those things to her.”
“That is because it is not Caius who is doing them,” Tanis answered, his eyes distant with the memory of that last days they were together two thousand years ago. The pain and fear when they realized what Caius had done. What it meant. How it would affect them all.
“You kept calling him Demon. As if that was his name,” Aden said,breaking into Tanis’s thoughts.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out while his body shook, Tanis looked up at Aden. “Because what is inside my brother, what you heard today, is a demon. I just don’t know which one or why Caius invited him into his soul.”
“The prophecy,” Aden whispered.
“What about it?” Tanis frowned.
“He always said there was someone whispering hints on where to find the original prophecy. That it held secrets that the powers that be had kept from the players, which are Caius, you and Kara. A way to end the cycle of loss and death.”
Tanis’s smile disappeared at the innocent reminder of who belonged to the prophecy and who did not. They had been living the prophecy for millions of years and never once was this boy a part of it. He did not belong now. “I know you have been with Kara for most of this lifetime. That you have been there for her emotionally, done your best to protect her against forces far beyond your abilities, but the fact remains you are not part of this story. As I am sure my brother agrees, I will make sure you will not touch her again. Not while I’m alive.”
“And what about what Kara wants?” Aden asked, his temper flaring. Being with Kara was the only thing that felt right in his life, and all anyone ever kept telling him was he could not be with her. He read the part in the prophecy that mentioned the Catalyst. He knew without doubt that he was the Catalyst and the part he played in the never-ending cycle they were all caught up in. “Whether you or Caius want to admit it or not, I am part of this. Kara is a part of meas I am a part of her. To deny my place in her destiny is to lie to yourself how important I am to her.”
Tanis’s entire body tensed. Aden could see it took a great deal of willpower for him to relax and not attack him for suggesting Kara may love him, may want him in her bed. Caius was dangerous, but this man, if given the chance, could be so much more.
“The legends say you are the benevolent one, the gentle one. From what I have seen today you are far from those things. You would love nothing more than to kill me,” Aden said keeping his voice as neutral as possible, “but you can’t, can you. Not when you know what it will do to her.”
“Do not believe everything you hear or read. I may be labeled as the benevolent one and Caius evil, but there is rarely ever any true good or true evil. The only constant in this game we play is that Kara is the balance that keeps us from destroying everything that had been created, good or evil. The one truth that is written in stone, unchangeable, is that Kara belongs to us and we will destroy anyone who tries to take her from us,” Tanis answered his eyes and voice telling Aden he was walking a very fine line.
“Until now,” Aden corrected.
Tanis came up snarling from the couch. Tired of being threatened by males who thought they had a right to tell him who he could love, Aden’s thin hold on his temper snapped. Holding his ground, he snarled, “If I wanted to take her from you, you would not be sitting here now. I would have killed you long before you came near her, but I knew how important it was for you to find her. So much so I willingly gave her up knowing what it would cost me. It doesn’t change the fact that for some reason only the Gods can fathom I am apart of this, whether you like it or not.” The image of Caius with Kara only minutes before cooled Aden’s temper some as curiosity pushed its way forward. “Something is different, though. Something has changed.”
The sudden change in mood made Tanis blink in confusion. Whatever Aden was thinking that put the crease between his brow and frown on his face so suddenly seemed important, so he pushed his own anger back and asked, “What?”
Aden looked up at him. “Before I left the throne room, I watched Caius with Kara. He was…gentle,” Aden finally said after struggling to find the right word. He looked at Tanis wanting him to explain to him what he had seen. “These last few weeks I have seen him do horrendous things to her and enjoy every minute of it, but as I left the throne room I saw him look at her as if she was the most precious thing in the world again. The sudden change doesn’t make sense.”
Before Tanis could respond, Kara walked into the door, stopping in her tracks as she saw the way the two were staring at each other and felt the residual anger that still permeated the air.
“What did I miss?” she asked frowning.
Tanis immediately walked to her, pulling her into his arms. Two thousand years he had been waiting to hold her, he did not want to wait a moment longer.It was not until she melted into his arms that his body finally relaxed. She was with him, she was safe.
“Did he hurt you?” Tanis asked moving only far enough back to look into her eyes. Kara shook her head no before burying her face once again in his chest, her arms winding tightly around him. Frowning he looked to Aden for answers.
“I think I know what he did,” Aden answered sadly. Walking towards them,he hovered his hands over Kara’s head, slowly moving them down across her shoulders and down her back but not touching. “He strengthened the web, didn’t he,” he sighed stepping back.
“Web?” Tanis asked.
“I told you about the spells he has wound around her so that if she tries to fight it rebounds on her tenfold. Think of them as a spider web, each strand weaving throughout her body connecting every nerve ending, and when you pull one of those strings it vibrates through the entire web, setting off each and every nerve at once. That is what happens to her when that web is activated. It’s one of the ways Caius controls her…us. The threads must have weakened when you…tore me from her during the bonding.” Then he frowned moving closer again, his hand hovering over her.
“What?” Tanis asked worriedly. He did not like Aden near Kara, but Aden was not trying to pull her from his arms and he could feel the boy was genuinely concerned for Kara.
“He seems to have added a few more. Interesting,” Aden mused. It was difficult to stand by and watch another man hold her, and it must has shown on his face because suddenly Tanis pulled her behind him growling.
“You will not touch her,” Tanis snarled glaring at Aden who had frozen with his hand still extended.
“Stop!” Kara commanded moving in between them.
“He is not part of this, Kara,” Tanis snapped glaring down at her.
“Yes, he is. I don’t know how or why, but he is. You know this to be true, Tanis. You felt my soul cry out for him. Searching for him.” Kara put her hands on Tanis’s chest, her eyes begging him to calm down.
Did she believe the lies Aden had been feeding her. That he was part of this? Part of this age old war? Part of the makeup of the universe? Part of her?That last thought set Tanis’s blood boiling with rage. There had only been the three of them. Good and evil circling around Kara, keeping the universe spinning in its delicate dance. Kara was good and pure. Despite the differences in the two brothers, she loved them both equally. Aside from their mortal soulmates, there had never been anyone else but the three of them.
In order for the demon to bond with Kara, it would first have to break one of theirs and then force Kara to his will. It had to be an act so vile his black essence could break through the light of what was their love for each other. Bending her to its will, breaking her, controlling her, owning her.
Tanis knew why the demon had not been able to take her from them. No matter what the prophecy claimed them to be, Caius claimed to be, what their elders deemed him to be, deep down Caius truly loved Kara, and the thought of hurting her, possessing her, did not sit well with him. But this time Caius had broken the rules. He had invited an unknown entity into his soul. Managed to break one of the most stringent of rules by surviving his and Kara’s death.Waited and searched to find her first, then had done acts so vile that in all their years of struggle Tanis thought him incapable of. The images that tore through Tanis’s head. Images of what had been done to her while he had been unable to help her, set his teeth on edge. Images of what had been done to her in the last twenty-four hours. And then there was the necklace. The once piece of the puzzle that made the least sense. A piece of their mythology that was deemed so vile it was thought to have been destroyed. How did Caius even find it?
A small movement behind Kara and Tanis’s eyes narrowed once again on Aden as images of him helping Kara heal after Caius was done torturing her flowed through his mind. Of Aden being punished for disobeying his master time and time again because he tried to shield her from the worst of the pain. Of those rare moments when alone…. The images were suddenly gone.
Tanis frowned down at Kara. They had never kept secrets from each other before. Before he could question what was so important that she would start now, Kara’s emotions washed over him in that familiar soothing way and he realized something. That as much Aden loved her, she loved him too. That she needed Aden to survive much in the same way as she needed him and Caius to survive.That the last part of the ritual that was beating against him to finish what was started, was also beating at her and it was not all aimed at him. That some of it was aimed at Aden, pulling him too her as it pulled Tanis. It was a comprehension that tore something deep within Tanis he did not understand, taking that simmering rage of jealousy and bringing it to a rolling boil.
“You will never touch her again,” Tanis hissed taking a step forward with Kara still in his arms, his eyes blazing with rage.
Kara dug her feet in, holding Tanis away from Aden as Aden’s frustration and terror of losing her sliced through Kara, making her gasp. She needed to calm his fears before they incapacitated both of them. Kara’s calm pushed through Tanis’s anger. I need to speak with Aden. Alone.
Tanis looked down at her, his eyes wary. When he saw the love in her eyes, love he knew was for him because he could feel it weave itself through his soul, soothing his rage, the love that had always been there, would always be there, he finally nodded. Cupping her face in his hands, he leaned his head down, kissing her tenderly until she relaxed against him with a soft moan. It was to reassure her that he was not angry with her and a clear message to Aden that she was his. When Tanis moved back and his eyes found Aden’s, his hands still gently cupping Kara’s face, his eyes were no longer tender.
“Touch her and I will make you regret it,” Tanis warned. He gave Kara one more gentle brush of his lips before releasing her, turning and walking into the bedroom, hitting the button with more force than necessary so the door slid closed.
The silence was deafening.
Copyright © 2019 Heidi Barnes