home | livejournal

by Lisacali

art & fanmix by ALetter2Elise

TITLE: Destiny
AUTHOR: Lisacali
CHARACTERS/PAIRING: Beecher/Keller, Said, Shillinger, Robson, Arif
WORD COUNT: 28,000
SUMMARY: Set in an alternate universe, where Toby is raised by monks in order to fulfill a generations old prophecy. Keller is the man hired to get him where he needs to go.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Thank you to Pat for her help and beta. Also to the mods for putting this on one more year, and putting up with me. And to the artist who picked my story - I can't wait to see it!

Many generations ago, a wise and magical king ruled the land of Bastion. He had two sons, and though he tried to raise them to think and rule as he did, with a firm hand and kind heart, they were stubborn and refused to listen. They fought as children and as they grew the fighting grew more intense and violent. They each recruited a band of followers, hoping to amass enough to make an army, determined that when their father died, only one would be left to rule.

Their father, seeing what was happening, drew up the sum of his magics and brought a huge storm, full of rain and thunder and lightning. The lightening struck the castle, hitting the mighty throne and setting everything on fire. The courtiers and villagers ran from the flames, which fanned out and burned a mile around the castle.

"Neither of you will ever rule!" the king decreed, and banished them from the kingdom. The old king made a vow that no descendant of his would rule until generations had passed. He decreed that when the moons, Alkumar and Dal, came together in the night sky, only then would the new leader of Bastion be given the power to rule.

The great-great-grandson of one brother, Said, came back to the original kingdom and built a new home, recruiting men of learning and reason to populate it. These men grew in number and became known as the Priests of the Northern Mountains, in the kingdom of Sydell.

The family of the other brother, Shillinger, traveled south, distancing themselves from
Said, building their own kingdom of Vernal. They used strength and ruthlessness to build their faction, all the while keeping their eye on the moons, waiting for the day when they could come to power.

Generations later, the land of Bastion had become rife with tension and unrest. There were still good and honest and hard-working people, keeping half an eye to the night sky in remembrance of the old decree as they made their living and raised their children. But there were also men who felt the reclamation of power by one of the descendants of the old king was soon at hand, and they began vying for their own piece of power in hopes they would be looked upon as valuable assets.

The magics that the distant cousins possessed faded with each new son born, and now they were able to do only small spells or persuasions. The prophecy foretold that when the moons crossed, whichever cousin had all that was necessary to perform a sacred ritual would gain the magics of his long-gone grandfather.

In this climate, there are many jobs for a man willing to pledge allegiance to a master in exchange for a bag of silver. Mercenaries are plentiful, and always busy.

Especially now, as the always full moons grow noticeably closer as they pass each other in their trek across the night sky, and the people grow expectant and fearful by turns.


Christopher was just finishing his second mug of ale when he heard a familiar voice - two of them, actually.

"If we're late and don't get the job because of your empty belly, I'll kill you."

"Don't be so dramatic, Ryan, we'll make it. We have until noon tomorrow, plenty of time."

Chris turned in his seat, a grin forming as he saw the two brothers taking their seats at the table next to him.

"I can't vouch for the food, but the ale is quite filling," he said, tipping his cup.

"Keller!" Both men stood back up as Chris stepped to them, clasping hands with their fellow mercenary.

"What brings you here?" Cyril asked as he signaled the serving girl.

"I'm on my way home from the low lands - two minor lords were fighting over a small strip of land." He shook his head in bemusement. "Amazing what people will kill for - and pay others to kill for."

"This road is out of the way for you if you're coming back from the lowlands, or have you a new home?" Ryan commented while his brother ordered enough bread, cheese and ale for the three of them.

Chris shook his head. "No, I'm still in Browncreek. I'm not sure what brings me in this direction." He frowned in thought, trying to remember why he took the longer road when he got to the fork a few miles back. "I'm just not in a hurry to get home, I guess."

"Well, then," Ryan clapped Chris' shoulder, "why don't you join up with us? We're headed to the next town, someone's hiring there."

"The job?"

"We don't know." Cyril answered. "The rumor is that it has something to do with the prophecy, but lately it seems as though selling a cow has something to do with the prophecy."

"What do you think of it all? The moons will soon be meeting, if they continue the way they are."

The men sat and finished their discussion as they waited for their food.

"It's all a scam, it you ask me," Ryan scoffed. "The seers and potion makers are making a fortune, selling charms and elixirs to ward off the evil spirits when Shillinger has rule of the land."

"And what if it's the Priest Said that is the victor?" Cyril asked.

"I wouldn't mind having a token to ward him off, either."

"Ryan, you should be careful what you say. When the moons cross, things might be very different around here."

"Let's eat and be on our way," Ryan said, ignoring his brother as the food was set before them.

Keller was glad to have run into these two - they had worked together many times and enjoyed each other's company. After spending the night in the barn behind the inn, they left early the next morning. They traveled light, as most mercenaries were given small provisions or at least a small amount of coin to tide them over when they were working.

Keller carried one change of clothes, a pair of lighter weight cotton pants and shirt in case the weather turned warmer. Now it was late summer, but the air had already cooled considerably, and the smooth, worked deer hide pants he wore were good for keeping off the morning and evening chill. His shirt was made from the same, crafted material and an extra pair of boots and a heavy cowhide jacket tucked in his bedroll completed his wardrobe.

In a bag behind his saddle he usually carried dried venison and hard-baked biscuits, along with some butter, a small flask of whiskey and his larger hunting knife. He had another knife attached to his leg by a leather thong and sword always at his side. A bow and arrow he kept for hunting, and a bag of salt for curing anything he caught.

His horse was his pride, a beautiful dappled gray he'd had for six years, appropriately named 'Gray.'

As they rode they talked of goings-on since they had last seen each other, the summer past when they had helped a small land-owner fight off a band of squatters, meaning to take a few acres of the farmer's land.

Keller teased Cyril about his long, blond hair, hanging down his back in a loose and now messy braid.

"Don't you make the wenches you bed jealous? I'm sure none of them has such a halo as you."


The men reached the small village of Victor late in the afternoon, finding the inn where their potential employer was to meet them.

By the time the appointed hour arrived, there were several men waiting, ushered into a larger room in the back. Keller recognized many of them, all mercenaries like himself and the O'Reily brothers.

There was some small talk, but they were all in competition for the jobs, and so most were quiet and watchful.

When a door opened there were a couple gasps, and low murmuring, and a few men bowed.

The men who came into the room, their potential employers, were wearing white robes, and round, flat-topped hats, brighter than any white Christopher had ever seen, the contrast of which made the dark skin of the men that much more stunning. Keller had seen these men before, having traveled far North in his journeys, and he was sure many others had as well. But no one had ever seen or heard tell of them traveling to such a small town as this, nor looking to hire such lowly mercenaries as themselves.

Keller and his companions had remained still and silent at their entrance, but Chris noticed Cyril gripping the back of Ryan's sleeve.

Cyril, as strong and tough as any man Chris had ever known, was also superstitious. He had died once, a few years ago. At least that is what Ryan tells. Cyril had been thrown from his horse and hit his head and his breath and heartbeat had stopped. In his despair, Ryan had brought his fists down on his brother's chest, and Cyril had woken with a gasp.

Cyril told the story of being in the dark, only a small beam of light ahead of him. As he had made his way toward the light, a hand came from it, a dark hand in a white sleeve, motioning him to stop, sending him back to where he had come from.

Cyril was positive it had been the Priests of the North that had saved his life, though he generously gave his brother credit as well. And since then his belief in the stars and signs had been unshakeable.

Now, the three priests were quietly looking at the small gathering of men, holding their attention by mere force of their presence. The elder man, his robe and cap trimmed with intricate patterns made of silver threads, started at one end of the line of men and took each by the hand, asking their name and where they were from.

When he came to Chris, their eyes met and Chris felt unable to look away. He saw the priests eyes open slightly and then narrow as he smiled. Keller felt disoriented as the man asked his name and home and he stumbled on his words.

"Keller...Christopher...I'm from Browncreek."

"I'm curious, Christopher, how you heard about us. I sent out no notice or inquiry further east than the village of Hazing."

"I was on my way home from Dalling when I ran into my friends in Hazing and they invited me to join them."

"I see. But you must have passed the road to Browncreek on your way to Hazing." The man looked like he knew the answer to every question or comment he made, and Keller grew even more anxious in his presence. But a normal flippant response, like one he would have made in any other situation, was not to be found, and he could only answer the truth.

"When I reached the crossroad I just felt...compelled, I suppose...to travel on and see what might lay in Hazing for me."

The priest nodded and moved on to speak with Cyril and Ryan. As Cyril began to tell the man about his vision, another priest came to Keller, and asked him to follow him to another room. Keller noted that all the other men were following the third priest through the door to the front of the inn.

After a few minutes of waiting in the small room the elder priest, along with the O'Reilys, joined him.

"My name is Kareem Said. I am the High Priest of the Kingdom of Sydell."

Keller hid the surprise he felt. He had known this man was of some import, it was obvious, but he had never expected to hear that he was the High Priest Said, revered to the point of being a fable or story to tell children around the fire at nights, urging them to follow the goodness of their heart, the way the Priests of Sydell did.

"What can you want from any of us?" Keller asked.

"I need something retrieved and brought to Sydell."

Despite his awe and confusion at being in the presence of this man, Keller was skeptical. "What could it be that a man such as yourself could not retrieve it yourself?"

Said smiled. "Another man."

"What? Is it a kidnapping?"

"Not at all. The man is named Tobias Beecher, and he will be waiting for you. Take him to our keep in the Northern Mountains."

Ryan looked at the High Priest, and at the other two standing behind him. "Why don't you do it yourselves? If he's willing to go, why do you need us?"

"There is another who wants to have custody of Beecher. He'll be watching for us - we need someone else who can travel quickly and quietly and hold their own in case they are found out. I believe you are those men."

"Who is the other man?" Keller asked. "Why does he want Beecher?"

"And why do you?" Ryan added.

Said nodded toward his men, who moved to the table. "Let Arif and Khan take you to your rooms and get you some food. You will spend the night here and begin your quest early in the morning. After you've eaten, when the sun has set, meet me in the courtyard."

The men joined Said and his men out back in the gardens when the sky was dark, sitting on benches around a fire pit.

The priest began talking without preamble. "The other man who will be looking for Beecher is Vernon Shillinger."

"Shillinger!" Ryan jumped to his feet. "What's this all about?"

"Surely you've suspected that it has to do with the prophecy of the moons. The blood of one true and innocent of mind and body is needed for the ceremony. That man is Tobias Beecher, of the Brighton Abbey."

"Why don't you have him already?" Cyril asked. "Why wouldn't the priests have raised him on their own?"

"We didn't know until just recently where he was. His location was known only to the monks who had him, and they were instructed to keep him and his location secret until word came that the ceremony of the moons was to commence.

"The name and location of Beecher was given to me only once the moons started moving, in a ritual I performed. That was the last bit of strong magic I was able to conjure - the same for Shillinger, I'm sure."

"How did the monks know that this Beecher was the right one?"

"He was born on the Dark Night, when the moons were both eclipsed. And it is said he has a birthmark of Alkumar and Dal on the back of his leg."

"So," Ryan said, skeptically, "we're going to go 'escort' some naive monk who you think is the key to the future because he has two round birthmarks that someone thinks looks like the moons. And we'll likely be chased by Shillinger, the leader of the followers of Dal."

"I suppose you can look at it like that."

"We must have faith," Cyril said, squeezing his brother's shoulder.

"Indeed." The priest pointed to the set of stars, set between the crossing moons. "You see that constellation?"

"Of course." Keller felt something in his gut when Said pointed to the sky.

"The larger stars are called the Gateway of Fate, and the smaller ones, reaching out to each other are the Guardians of Destiny."

* *
* ... ... *
* *

"Everyone knows that," Ryan scoffed.

"But did you know there's a story, a prophecy for the them, as well as the moons?"

"No," Cyril leaned forward. "Tell us."

Chris swallowed, his mouth gone dry, his heart beating faster - what was wrong with him?

"You can tell from their narrowing paths that when the moons come together they will cover the stars. It's been said that when that happens, the stars themselves will come together as well. We won't be able to see them, but we have faith that this will happen. Just as we have faith that the rest of the prophecy will happen."

Ryan stood. "Whatever. As long as I get paid, you'll get your monk."

"Why will the stars come together?" Cyril asked, and Chris silently thanked him for asking the question, the answer of which he was inexplicably desperate to know.

"They'll come together to guide the new ruler on his way to fulfilling the prophecy."

"You mean *you,* don't you?" Ryan smirked.

Said was unfazed. "I hope so."

Arif accompanied the men back to their rooms, paying them half of their money and making sure they knew how to get to the abbey and then their compound in the Northern Mountains.

Khan approached Said as the men walked off.

"You didn't tell him that Beecher represents one set of the stars? And that you believe he is the other?"

"No," Said shook his head slowly. "There was no need. I can see in his face that he is already set to do all he can to ensure Beecher's safety. Besides, there's no need to put ideas in his head that he is anything other than a bodyguard for the chosen one."

"You are convinced it is safe to bring them together? If the other prophecy is true, having them meet could bode ill for you."

"Beecher has been raised his entire life knowing his destiny is to fulfill the prophecy of the old King. Nothing he has known has prepared him to be a part of the prophecy other than being an instrument for its completion. As for Keller, all he knows is what he is paid to do. He'll deliver Beecher and collect his money and be on his way."

"You were sure he would show up, but why take the chance on using him?"

"He showed up here because of his connection to Beecher, and for that same reason I know he will make sure Beecher reaches Sydell."

That night Keller slept behind the inn, so he could watch the sky. He watched as the higher moon, Alkumar, said to represent good, and the lower, Dal, the symbol of evil, crossed over and below the stars. The idea that the Gateway would soon close and the Guardians would come together would not leave Chris' mind. He pictured it over and over while thinking about Beecher and what kind of man he would be - the Chosen One, the one necessary to bring back magic to the land.

He also couldn't stop thinking about the fact that he was also born on the Dark Night, as it was called, when both moons were eclipsed. It meant, he was sure, nothing...it had to be coincidence.

That night he had another of his recurring dreams. He had had this dream for years, sometimes only once a year or so, sometimes more, and in it he was always looking for someone. Even though he never found who he was looking for, he always felt good when he awoke, knowing that one day he would succeed in his search.

Lately, he had been having the dream more frequently, and the object of his pursuit was definitely a man. He would be walking through the woods or a field, and he would glimpse a figure just ahead of him, just out of reach.

In his dream this night, the figure was shown to him even more clearly. The man was at the base of a mountain, illuminated with the glow from the two moons. The moon Alkumar shown brightly upon him, and Chris knew he would soon reach him. But then the glow from Dal overshadowed Alkumar's brilliance and blinded Chris until he could no longer see the man.

He woke in a sweat, searching out the moon and the stars to make sure all were in their place. He told himself the dream was a result of all he had learned today, and the prospect of the job ahead, but he couldn't shake the feeling that their journey would not go as smoothly as they were hoping for.

He didn't say anything to the O'Reilys the next morning, but as they were packing their horses, Cyril asked him if he was all right.

"I'm fine, why?"

"You seem distracted, maybe worried."

"No, it's nothing."

"This is an important job we're taking."

"Of course it is, like any other." Chris turned to his saddle bag so the younger man couldn't see his face. "We do the job, we get paid for it." He turned back, a small smile forced on his lips. "I've worked for Shillinger before, I know how clever and ruthless he can be. I guess I am a little worried."

"We'll be okay," Cyril reassured him, patting him on the back. "We have Alkumar on our side."

For the first part of their journey, the men were quiet and Chris had time to wonder why the words he had said to Cyril had felt like such a lie. It was true, if this Beecher really could bring back the magics to Priest Said there would soon be major changes in the world. But the task itself was like any other - pick up and delivery he had done over the years. Get what your employer wants, take it to where he wants, and collect your money. Simple and done.

They reached the abbey in two days time, riding as hard as they dared without ruining their horses - but not hard enough, as it turned out. When they arrived at the old, well-kept abbey and found that Beecher had left that morning with a group of men saying they were sent by the Priest Said, Keller threw down his riding gloves in rage.

"There goes our payment," O'Reily groused.

"Payment?" Keller whirled on Ryan. "Is that all that bothers you?"

"And what else is there?"

"The quest, brother." Cyril put his hand on his brother's arm. "He's the most important man in Bastion at the moment, we have to find him. It must be Shillinger who has him."

"Of course it's Shillinger, and of course we'll find them," Ryan answered, as he turned to lead his horse to water at a stream running along the edge of the church's property. "But only for the gold it will bring. You two can tell yourselves you're doing it for the salvation of the world if you want. I want the rest of my pay."

Keller was silent as he followed along behind O'Reily. If this had been any other job, he would have felt the same, he knew. But his anger and disappointment at Beecher not being here was not entirely for the same reasons as Cyril. When the priest who answered the door had told them Beecher was not there, Keller had felt a deep sense of loss, which did not make sense to him. How could he be missing something he never had?

The men let their horses drink and graze along the bank, deciding which road south to take. They could only assume Shillinger would be at Vernal in anticipation of the coming night of Fate.


Toby lay awake, his gaze drawn to the top of his tent, where a good-sized hole let him watch the stars as sleep eluded him.

It was late in the night of the second day he had been traveling with the men sent to accompany him to Said - only he was certain they were not Said's men but Shillinger's. He had spent the day trying to figure out how he could get away and make his way to the Northern Mountains on his own.

From the start he had been suspicious. The two older men, Robson and Scott, were loud and crude. They drank every night and then sexually used the young man traveling with them.

Their conversations were all of whoring and fighting

But it had started even before then. From the moment they showed up at the abbey door he had felt uneasy, and listened closely while Brother Albert had questioned them.

"I'm sorry gentlemen, but I was expecting priests from Sydell. I hope I'm not being rude, but you don't seem like priests to me, especially from the Northern Mountains."

Mack had laughed. "You mean because we don't look pious and we're not dark-skinned?"

"Well, yes."

"It's a ruse, of course. If an entourage of priests from the North came traveling through the midlands, don't you think that would draw attention? We're set to meet with Said in three days and finish our journey with him." Mack nodded to the parchment Brother Albert was reading. "I trust the message from Priest Said is in order?"

Brother Albert was looking over the document the men had brought, sealed with Said's official seal. Brother Albert had seen it before and confirmed that it was legitimate.

"All seems to be in order. Tobias is prepared to leave. Give him a moment to say his good-byes and you can be on your way."

That had been difficult, saying his farewells. Even though he had been preparing for that moment his whole life, leaving behind his whole life was far more traumatizing than he thought it would be. Most of the monks he had known since he was a child, and Brother Albert was the closest thing he had to a father.

His distress over thinking he would never see Albert again was so profound he didn't even notice until the first evening, when they stopped for camp, that they were heading South, not North.

When he questioned the men about it, he was told it was part of the deceit. If word got out that Said had the Chosen One, the enemy, Shillinger, would certainly travel to Said's stronghold of Sydell in the North, not thinking to look for the Priests in the South.

Toby accepted this explanation, but that night, when Scott slipped from the tent they were sharing to join James and Adam in theirs, his doubts and suspicions were aroused again.

Perhaps these three were just hired men, as Scott said they were, but would a great man such as Priest Said, poised to accept powers that would virtually make him the leader of the land of Bastion, hire such men as these? They had started drinking and chewing on boca leaves, which Toby knew caused a feeling of peace and euphoria and even hallucinations sometimes, even before the tents were set.

Would he put his trust in someone more interested in drink and sex than the mission at hand? He had lain awake the last two nights, listening to what was going on in the next tent, hearing the moans and oaths and cries as Robson and Scott fucked the young Adam.

The further South they traveled, the more ill at ease Toby felt. And his dreams had grown more intense and real...and disturbing.

As long as he could remember, Toby had dreamed of a dark man. Not dark-skinned, like the priests - in fact, Toby wasn't never sure what he looked like - but he always thought of him as the dark man of his dreams. At first, when he was a young boy, these dreams were brief and hazy and came infrequently. As he got older, the man became more tangible and visible, and though Toby could never remember what he looked like the next morning, he always felt comforted and safe after those dreams.

When the moons began moving and Brother Albert told him to start preparing for the fulfillment of his destiny, the dreams started to hold a menacing tone to them. Where as before the dreams were mostly of the man just out of Toby's reach, a sort of guiding, watchful presence, now the dark man was there to fight the unseen danger of the dreams.

He never talked of the specifics of these dreams to anyone, feeling the need to keep them to himself. But he did tell Brother Albert that he was having dreams of being in danger. Brother Albert counseled that perhaps it was the fear of what was coming up, that perhaps Tobias thought something might go wrong.

There was truth to that - Tobias had never thought much about what the fate of the moons had in store for him. He would do what had to be done when the time came - there was no question he wouldn't and no reason to think he wouldn't be able to. But now that the time was at hand, he was anxious and nervous - he just wanted things to be over and it made sense that his dreams were a reflection of that.

But now, after he had left the Abbey, the dark man that was keeping the danger and menace of his dreams at bay had grown fainter - the second night Toby could hardly see him at all. He was afraid if he fell asleep tonight, the man would not come at all.

And that was part of what was convincing him that he had to escape. By going South, the dark man couldn't find him, couldn't come to his dreams. He knew it sounded crazy, even to his own ears, but he knew it was true.

And another reason - Robson and Scott were expecting to meet up with another hired agent soon - Toby was afraid it would be Shillinger. It would be hard enough to slip from these three men, if there were more he would have no chance.

And why was he being guarded? Robson or the other man, Scott, was always with him, watching, except when they though him asleep. They said it was to protect him from Shillinger's men possibly coming for him, but he didn't feel like he was being protected, only guarded.

He looked again through the hole in the tent, thinking on how he had gotten to this moment in time, his thoughts bouncing from his past to his present to his future. All his life he had been told that he was special, raised from the moment of his birth by the kind monks of the small Brighton Abbey. They treated him the same as the other boys, yet he was always told that his path would someday take him from the only home he knew, where he would offer up a cup of blood to determine the future of the land.

That night he dreamed of the dark figure, calling to him from a distance and Toby wanted to go to him. He knew he would find safety and strength with the man...and something more. But there was someone else there, blocking him, a man with a smile on his lips but when he turned away, Toby drew back, startled by the pair of eyes tattooed on the back of the man's head. The dark warned Toby away - the man with the tattoo was Shillinger.

The next morning, Toby woke to a new voice, one sounding forceful and in charge. He pushed open the tent flap, pausing to find the source of the voice before going out into the cool morning air.

He saw him across the camp, on the other side of the campfire.

He was talking to Scott and Robson as he rubbed a wet rag across his face and bald head. Toby froze as saw markings on the back of the man's head. He stepped closer, holding his breath as the tattoo came into focus. Just before the man pulled a cloth cap over his head, Toby could see what the tattoo was - the eyes from his dream of the night before. He didn't realize he had gasped until everyone turned and looked at him.

The man crossed the camp and took his hand and clapped him on the shoulder. "You must be the Chosen One."

Toby resisted the urge to jerk away from the man's touch. "You can call me Beecher. And your name?"

"Call me Andrew."

"Andrew." Toby knew, knew with complete certainty that this man was Vernon Shillinger, leader of the tribe of Dal, grandson of the Old King, one of the possible recipients of the powers that Tobias could bestow upon him.

He watched all day for a chance to slip away, or gather anything he could use when he left - bedding or clothes or food. But even though he had opportunity to secure a bedroll or extra food, he had nowhere to stash any of it. He was kept on a horse, a man close in front and behind him at all times. During any breaks he was never left alone.

Shillinger didn't talk much with him, he was spending most of their rest time talking earnestly with James and Scott, but Toby often caught him watching him, smiling at him, trying to look comforting and friendly, but every glance and every smile brought back the night terrors of his dreams, and he was glad the man was keeping his distance.

They stopped early for the night, and Vern and Adam took a change of clothes and headed for a small spring that lay not far from where they were camping. Vern had tried to get him to go with them, putting an arm around Toby's shoulders, squeezing him companionably. Toby tried his best not to stiffen - Shillinger's touch left him feeling feel cold and scared; watching the man walk off Toby was confident he was making the right decision.

His plan hinged on Robson, and his lustful desires. Many times during their journey, Toby had noticed the man looking at him with a considering look that made Toby feel like he was Robson's next meal.

He'd heard Robson talking to Scott last night, telling his companion how much he'd love to get his hands on Toby, to take advantage of his virginity. He knew Robson would not really ever touch him in that way - it would surely mean his life if Toby was not delivered a virgin to the ceremony. But perhaps Toby could entice him in another way.

He started walking away from the tents.

"Hey, where you think you're going?"

"I just need to relieve myself - I prefer to do it away from camp, if that's okay."

Robson sighed. "Yeah, I'll come with you."

Toby had gone in the opposite way of Shillinger, hoping he could give himself enough time for his plan.

Soon, the camp was out of sight, but Toby kept walking.

"This is far enough," James said.

Toby had been hoping for a little more distance, but this would have to do. He was nervous, and afraid of this man. He had seen him lose his temper and start fights even in the brief time they'd been together. But it had to be done now - he didn't know when he'd get another chance.

After relieving himself, he took a deep breath and turned toward James as he fastened his pants, taking his time, leaving himself exposed as long as he could without seeming obvious.

"Do you have a wife?" Toby asked, trying to sound casual, noting Robson's flushed gaze.

James laughed. "Why be tied to one woman? I can have any woman I want." He stepped closer to Toby and leered. "Or man. You guys mess around in that abbey? I know you're supposed to be pure, but how can you go your whole life with no sex?"

Toby smiled ruefully. "It's difficult. Especially when I see the others engaging, even though it's forbidden. Sometimes I feel like I've been raised in a prison." He sighed. "Now that I'm out in the world...I see how much of the world I don't know." He lowered his voice, speaker conspiratorially. "Sometimes I'd like to just break away, or at least do something rebellious." He smiled wistfully and shrugged, and in the back of his mind he knew that what he was saying held a little of the truth. "Guess we should get back."

James put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "I think I can help you with that rebelling." His leering gaze swept Toby head to foot.

"No, I can't do that. I have to remain untouched for the ceremony."

James rubbed himself vulgarly and squeezed Toby's shoulder. "Don't worry, my hands will hardly touch you."

Toby's heart pounded. If this didn't go right, he was in danger of being used by this crude, disgusting man. He nodded, not trusting his voice to say the right thing. The thought of himself on his knees, as he had seen that boy, Adam, taking Robson into his mouth, caused his resolve to waver.

"We need to hurry," Robson was saying, "before Shi-Andrew gets back."

Toby nodded, pretending not to notice how Robson almost gave Shillinger away. He was delighted by the slip - now he was absolutely sure he was doing the right thing. He looked around quickly, searching for what he needed.

"How about behind that bush?" he suggested. "We can see if anyone comes from camp before they see us."

James wasted no time in heading for the spot Toby was pointing at, unfastening his pants as he went. Toby was right behind, quickly and quietly grabbing up the large, broken branch he had seen. He swung hard and Robson knew nothing, dropping to his knees before pitching forward.

Toby stood over him, seeing with relief that the man was still breathing. As much as Robson disgusted him he did not want to kill. Using the branch he'd wielded as a weapon, he poked at the still body. When there was no movement, Toby starting to kneel, wanting to take the knife Robson carried around his waist. But voices coming through the trees stopped him and he hurried off, taking his chances with only the clothes that he wore.


Keller and the brothers were able to pick up Toby's trail fairly easily, aided by farmers and other men of the land who had seen them pass.

They had taken the chance that Shillinger would take the more westerly paths to the Southern Mountains and the city of Vernal, where he and his men lived. It would be easier to be followed on these trails, but quicker. They learned they were correct when they were told by two farmers that they had seen a group of men enter the woods just down the river.

Even though there were still heavy woods almost the whole distance between the river and Vernal, travel over the years had cleared a somewhat decent trail - they would be able to catch the group along it.

They pushed their horses, traveling two days with little rest before they came upon the camp. They tied the horses and walked as close as they dare, becoming even more careful and then concerned when they saw only two men in the makeshift camp; one lying on the ground and the other kneeling by his side.

"Is it Beecher?"

Keller shook his head 'no' in response to Cyril's question, though from their position it was hard to tell anything about the men - but he was certain it wasn't Beecher.

"How do you know?" Ryan whispered.

"Shhh. I'll find out." And in the next instant, Cyril was gone.

"Is he crazy?" Keller hissed.

"He may be big, but he can move like a cat."

In a few minutes Cyril was back, reporting what he had seen and heard.

"The man on the ground is injured - there's something wrapped around his head. He was complaining about it hurting, and the other man said that's what he deserved for letting Beecher escape."

"Escape? What the hell did he do that for?" Ryan said.

"Obviously, he didn't know he was going to be rescued, Brother. Perhaps we should have sent a messenger on ahead telling him to stay put?"

"How did he do it, I wonder," Chris thought out loud. He was impressed and - oddly - proud.

"From what I gathered, he hit the guy there on the ground on the head with something." Cyril added, "The other man called him Robson."

Keller surpressed a laugh. He had occasion to meet Robson when he had worked for Shillinger, and found the man to be a pompous, loud-mouth fool. The news that he had been knocked out by Beecher amused him no end.

But there was no time to appreciate the humor - Beecher was out there somewhere, being sought out by Shillinger. The good news was that, according to the farmers they had talked to, there were only five men altogether in the group. As he was thinking this, Shillinger and his other man came riding into camp. They were only checking in, Chris knew, and would soon be leaving - he made a quick decision.

"If Shillinger finds us in the woods, he'll suspect what we're up to. I'll go down, say I was hunting with you two and got separated. I'll offer to look for Beecher while I'm looking for you. You two can offer the same story if anyone from Shillinger's camp comes across you."

"And if one of us finds him?" asked Cyril.

"Then just go. Take him North as fast as you can. Go by the spot where we camped last night - leave a rock in the ashes from the fire so I'll know you have him."

The men agreed, and all went back to their horses. The brothers headed North, as they hoped Beecher had been able to do, and Chris went on into the enemy camp, causing all four men to draw their swords.

"Keller! What the hell are you doing here?" Shillinger looked pleasantly surprised, but Chris could see the suspicion in his eyes - he had to play this carefully. Even though he had proven himself in the work he had done for Shillinger, he knew the man would trust no one; he doubted even his friends and aids gained his complete confidence.

"I should ask the same about you. I thought you'd be in Vernal, preparing for the prophecy. I'm out here hunting with friends - we've become separated."

"What do you know about the prophecy?" Shillinger's smile remained, but Keller noted the other men moving closer, hands on their weapons.

"The same as everyone else - rumors, I suppose, that either you or Said will be regaining the full power of your magics and be the new king of Bastion. My money is on you over some weak, do-gooder of a priest."

"Is that a fact? Said has a reputation for being quite strong and fearless, doesn't he?"

Keller swore to himself - he'd overplayed. He grinned and clapped Shillinger on the shoulder. "I was hoping flattery would get me something to eat and perhaps a drink of wine, if you have some."

Shillinger seemed convinced, and called to one of his men - Adam, he called the one that he had rode into camp with - to bring some bread and a skin of wine.

While Keller ate, Shillinger talked. "We're on our way home now, but we seem to have lost one of our men. Rather, Robson did. He's very important to the prophecy ceremony."

"Is that right?" Keller smirked in Robson's direction, earning a deadly snarl in return. "I really need to find my friends, but I could keep my eyes open while I'm out there. Does he have a horse or weapons?"

"No horse or weapon that we know of, but he had enough to take out James here." Shillinger grabbed Robson by the back of the neck and shook. "But that's not saying much, is it?"

Robson swore and pushed Shilllinger's hand away. "He took me by surprise."

"Was it that, or were you just paying too much attention to your dick?" Scott laughed. "We found him with his pants around his ankles, face down on the ground with a goose egg big enough to feed us all on the back of his head," he explained to Keller.

Chris hoped he was able to hide his disgust at the thought of Robson touching Beecher.

After eating, all the men but Robson rode out. Chris rode a fair distance north before feeling compelled to stop. He sat perfectly still, and even closed his eyes, listening as though he had heard something, but he didn't think he had. He didn't know what was going on with himself, all these odd and unfamiliar feelings he'd been having. The protectiveness he felt toward Tobias Beecher went far beyond the job, and this feeling of somehow being guided was unnerving, yet he didn't dare go against it.

He opened his eyes and loosened the reins on his horse and gently nudged Gray forward, letting him set the path.

After a couple miles of picking through the dense vegetation, Keller began to think he had gone the wrong way - there was no sign of anyone out here, no broken branches or small plants, no trampled grass or footprints in the dirt. He held still and closed his eyes...and then he did hear something.

He slid from Gray and tied the reins to a tree branch before moving toward the sound.

Moving through the bush he came upon a small clear spot and...he couldn't fucking believe it...there was Beecher. He knew it was him, would have known even if he wasn't wearing the white cotton pants and brown shirt that was a common uniform of monks - and the clothes Beecher was always wearing in his dreams. He held his breath as he watched him.

Beecher was kneeling, using a stick to dig at the ground. Chris saw that he was digging at the roots of a wild onion, two of the plants already pulled from the ground next to him. The fruit and plant of the onion were flavorful and good to eat, but the roots were what made it valuable - large and fibrous and very filling. There had been many a day that Chris himself had lived on them.

He knew he should move - he needed to get Toby and run, but he felt frozen, captivated by watching him. A few shafts of the late afternoon sun were making their way through the foliage, dappling Toby's body and hair and Chris couldn't look away. He couldn't believe the man he had seen so many nights over so many years was an actual person, within his touch. Finally, when Toby pulled the freed onion from the ground and stood, Chris stepped forward.

Toby turned sharply, and the stick he had been using as a shovel became a weapon, pointed at Chris.

Chris held his hands up in a sign of surrender, but his awareness of the stick pointed at him disappeared as he saw Beecher's face. The man's expression was a mirror of his own, he was sure - wariness turned to surprise and then...recognition and shock.

Beecher lowered his arm. "I've seen you," he whispered.

Chris stepped forward, reaching out, his hand just grazing Beecher's sleeve, about to answer that he'd seen Beecher, too, when there was a crash in the brush behind him. He gripped Beecher's tunic instinctively, and his mind raced to think what to do next.

"Keller!" Shillinger and Scott stepped into the clearing and Keller's heart sank. "I should have hired you in the first place. If you'd been the one watching Beecher none of this would have happened in the first place."

Shillinger nodded at Scott and it took all of Chris' willpower to let himself release Beecher's sleeve when Scott stepped forward and grabbed the man from him. The look on Beecher's face was a rictus of emotion - confusion, anger and betrayal.

Keller followed behind, grateful to have a moment alone as he collected Gray. He was dazed, realizing his thoughts back in Dalling had been correct - his dreams had been a foretelling of him being with Beecher - and now he was.

He was so overcome by this turn of events, he was in the camp before he realized what Beecher had said - 'I've seen you.' What did that mean? Could Beecher...could Beecher have dreamed of him as well?

When he joined the men in the camp, Beecher was seated on a log, his eyes down but his head held high in defiance. Robson was across the fire pit, glaring at the man who had humiliated him.

Shillinger was standing behind Beecher, his hand dropped casually on the dark blond curls, held back with a strip of leather, and Chris' stomach lurched at the sight.

"I was trying to get Beecher here to tell me when he knew we weren't working for Said."

"I just can't imagine Said's men getting drunk and having their cocks sucked every night," Beecher snarled.

"Yeah, I knew I was taking a chance sending Adam along." Shillinger leered at the young boy skinning a rabbit. "It's apparently too hard for some people to resist that mouth." Adam flushed and bent over his task. "Keller, you planning on staying? Adam has caught a couple rabbits and we're going to celebrate the return of our wayward son. It's getting late, you might as well bed down with us."

Keller didn't miss the glint in Shillinger's eye and felt repulsed. He wanted to run, to find the O'Reilys and come back and rescue Beecher. But he was loathe to leave him - he felt physically ill at the thought of leaving him here with these men.

"And you can help hold the monk here down while we deal with his disobedience."

"Deal with it?" Chris felt chills on his spine.

Shillinger picked up a thick branch, hefting it in his hand. "We figure he won't be doing anymore running with a broken ankle."

Chris broke out in a sweat and his chest tightened at the horrified, stricken look on Beecher's face.

"Do you think you should?" Chris blurted out.

"Why the hell not?"

"I...I mean, isn't he supposed to be pure and...and untouched. Or something." Again he'd spoken without thinking, his emotions getting the better of him.

Shillinger smiled oily, stroking Beecher's hair as he answered. "I think that means something else, and I assure you, as difficult as it is, he'll remain pure and untouched in that way."

Keller nodded.

"And how did you know about that, by the way? According to you, you were barely aware of the upcoming ceremony. And now you know this detail?"

Chris shrugged. "Just part of the rumors, you know. The moons crossing, virgin blood, bones and magic." He threw in that last bit, hoping to put Shillinger's mind at ease that he really didn't know much.

"But nothing about an unbroken body, correct?"

"Right," Keller laughed. He bit his tongue to keep from saying more.

"Well, then, we'll have our feast tonight and tomorrow we'll tie our runaway to his horse and make for home. Will you be joining us?"

"I think I better find my friends. If you come across a couple brothers, wandering lost out here, tell them I headed west, will you? We heard the deer are plentiful out that way."

"Of course." Shillinger reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bag of coin and tossed it to Chris. Keller and Beecher both flinched at the sound as it fell into Chris' palm. "I can't repay you enough. After the moons have crossed and I'm in rule, come see me and I'll see what I can do for you."

Chris got onto his horse and left the camp, looking back one last time, wishing he hadn't as he saw Shillinger tossing the branch to an eager looking Robson and pulling Beecher to his feet. Once out of sight, Chris rode as hard as he could through the thick brush, but he wasn't fast enough to outrun the anguish cry that came just moments later. At the sound, he jumped from Gray and threw up.

Chris rode on, toward the spot he and the O'Reilys had stopped at the night before. Twice he reined in his horse and turned back toward the way he had just come. He knew it was no good to go back, nothing he could do but pretend to not care about Beecher's fate one way or the other.

He felt disoriented. For almost forty years he had felt connected and protective of this man, someone from a dream. But now he was real, and here, and Keller was walking away from him.

When he reached the camp he was relieved to see Ryan and Cyril there, building a fire, but he couldn't bear to face them just then. He dismounted and tended to his horse, leading him to the small pond just next to their camp while the brothers questioned him.

"Did you have any luck? Did Shillinger buy your story?"

"He believed me, and I found Beecher, but Shillinger came along just as I did. They took him before I could even talk to him. He doesn't know who I am...he thinks..." He rubbed his face and tried to shake off his despair. "I don't know what he thinks."

"Who gives a shit what he thinks," Ryan said, kicking at a tree root. "How are we going to get him?"

"Let's eat something and figure out a plan," Cyril answered his brother, but his concerned look was aimed at Keller.

During a meal of salted venison and biscuits, Chris told the brothers, as briefly as he could, what had happened. When he came to the end, telling them how he heard Beecher's scream when they crushed his leg, his voice faltered and he broke off.

"Bastards," Ryan and Cyril said in unison.

"I think the best thing for us to do is take him just as they're waking. If we try to get him during the night they'll surely have a guard watching. If we move in while they're packing up we might have a better chance of taking them by surprise."

The O'Reilys agreed with this plan, and they all lay down, wanting to sleep early to rise early.

Chris' sleep was restless, full of dreams of moons and stars and amidst them all was a retreating figure, a man dressed in brown and white, with golden hair...and only one leg.

He woke with a start, heart pounding and covered in sweat. He got up, not wishing to repeat that dream, and began quietly packing the few items he'd taken out.

Standing to check on the horses, he noted Cyril was awake, watching him.

"You okay, Keller?"

Chris grunted and nodded. "Just anxious to get to Beecher - I don't trust Shillinger for an instant."

Cyril got up and walked with him to the horses. "I can see how upset you are over leaving him."

"I just said I don't trust him with Shillinger."

"But it's not just that, is it? It's not a job for you, it's personal."

Chris stopped what he was doing, and turned to the younger brother. The sympathetic face he found looking at him in the glow of the moonlight moved his defenses to lower. "I feel a connection to him, O'Reily. I don't know what it is - it's like I know him already." It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Cyril about his dreams - he knew the younger man would understand. But he couldn't do it - it was too personal, he was afraid it would leave him feeling too raw and exposed. "When Shillinger showed up and Beecher thought I was with him, the look on his face..." Chris shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face. "He looked like I had committed the worst kind of betrayal. And to him I had."

He grabbed Cyril's arm in his frustration. "When I had to walk away from him, leaving him with those men, knowing what they were going to do." Chris turned quickly away, hiding the tears that took him by surprise." When I heard his cry..."

He angrily brushed his sleeve over his eyes before turning back. "What's going on? Why do I feel like this?" Why have I seen him for years in my sleep, he wanted to ask.

O'Reily pulled a shocked Chris into his arms and hugged him tight before letting go. "It must be the prophecy, Keller. You feel this connection to him, I guess, to make sure you get him safely to Said."

Chris nodded - he knew that had to be true, it was. "It's the only thing that makes sense, but why me? Why don't you or your brother feel it?" And it's more than that, he wanted to add. It's not just a protectiveness he felt, it was sothing so much more. Something he'd never felt before, more than a desire or even need. It was a compulsion, a necessity that he find Beecher.


Toby was awake throughout the night, the pain in his ankle and the unease in his head and heart keeping him awake.

The image of Robson bringing that branch down and the searing, nauseating pain that followed battled with the confusion and distress he felt when Keller first turned him over to Shillinger and then went off and left him to his tormentors.

The second he saw Keller approach him, he'd felt such a surge of relief and something else...a sense of rightness, was all he could think to call it. He'd dreamed of this man, seen him come to his rescue in the nights before. And now there he was, dream come to life. Only the dream turned to nightmare in a wrenching heartbeat.

He had lain in his tent, after Shillinger and Scott had tended to his leg, and listened to the men talk about Keller. He had worked for Shillinger before, and Scott and Robson had fought alongside him.

"He was pretty fucking fearless," Scott had said, "I'd never worry if I had him by my side in battle." He added with a chuckle, "And he could hold his wine."

"And his whores!" Robson had offered.

Toby felt sick in his head and his heart. He knew he could not let Shillinger use him to gain the power of the old King's prophecy, but with his broken ankle, he had no hope of another escape. Thoughts of taking his own life had begun seeping into his thinking since the moment Keller had left him earlier today, destroying any hope he of that man helping him get away.

Dawn was breaking and Toby tried moving his leg, knowing he would have to stand soon.

It hurt, horrible, cringing pain, but he knew it could be worse. Shillinger had produced a powder, some of which he mixed with water into a thick paste and rubbed on his leg, while a small amount was put into a cup of water for Toby to drink. It had eased the pain to bearable, but Toby was dreading having to ride.

Scott had been sharing his tent with him, but he had gotten up several minutes earlier to pack. Suddenly, the sounds of the men packing were disrupted by many loud voices. Toby could hear Adam yelling about the horses, and then Shillinger's voice forcefully cut through it all.

"I should have known, Keller. You seemed a little too concerned about Beecher's welfare. Though you taking off to leave him to Robson's revenge was very convincing."

"Just turn him over, Shillinger," a strange voice said. "We can do this quickly and bloodlessly."

"I don't know you, stranger, so I'll tell you the most important thing you need to know about me right now. I'll kill Beecher before I let that simpering priest have him."

Toby got to his feet, biting his lip until it bled to keep quiet against the pain in his ankle. He looked through the slit in the tent to see a stand-off between Shillinger, Robson, Scott and Adam. Across the ashes of last night's fire stood Keller and two other men, all three holding swords in one hand and knives in the other.

"It's four against three, gentlemen. I believe we have the advantage."

"I don't know if I'd count that little pup as an advantage - he looks ready to drop that knife on his own foot."

Toby looked at the boy, Adam, the knife in fact shaking in his hand. Toby almost felt sorry for him, caught up in such evil at so young an age.

Toby looked back to the other men, apparently there for him. He was still confused but Shillinger's words were bringing things into light; Keller's abandonment of him was only a ruse to fool Shillinger. As his realization of this was becoming clear, he caught Keller's eye and even in the gray of the pre-dawn, he could see the pain of what he had done in the brief look he gave Toby.

Things happened quickly after that - the sun rose, and though they were surrounded by trees, its bright rays shone through the branches into the faces of Shillinger and his men, while at the same instant Toby saw a bow and a quiver of arrows laying close to the tent, waiting to be tied to a horse, all of which were now gone, scared off, he supposed by Keller and his companions.

In an instant, as Shillinger and the others raised their weapons and squinted against the dawn, Toby moved for the bow. The pain exploded through him as his full weight came down on his broken ankle, dropping him to his knees. But he threw himself forward, stretching as far as he could, grabbing the bow and fitting an arrow. He turned and without thinking shot an arrow into the chest of Vernon Shillinger, who had spun around when he caught the movement from the corner of his eye.

Everyone froze for a second, staring in shock and disbelief as the leader of the people of Dal stumbled a few steps and fell to the ground.

Toby rolled to his side, pulling his leg up and wrapping his hands around the binding on his ankle, trying to stay conscious and not throw up.

He could hear fighting behind him, swords clashing and bodies falling. He forced himself to roll over when he heard a man's voice, deep with anguish crying out, "No, Cyril, gods no, Cyril!"

Scott lay still, dead, Toby thought, with a bloom of red spreading across his shirt. There was no mark or sign of blood on him, but Toby thought Robson also had been killed. Of Shillinger's men, only the young boy, Adam, was still alive, lying on the ground with Keller's sword point at his throat. Shillinger himself lay off the side, the arrow in his chest pointed skyward.

Of the other two men, the one with long hair lay on the ground, the other kneeling beside him, holding his head, talking desperately to him in a voice choked with emotion. He turned to Keller, desperation now tingeing his words.

"It's his head again, Keller, That fucker Robson hit him in his head again."

"There's powder," Toby said, gnashing his teeth together, speaking through his pain.

"Powder? What the fuck are you talking about?" The man dismissed Toby, turning to Keller. "We have to get him some help."

"What powder?" Keller came over to kneel by Toby, threatening Adam's life if he moved.

Toby pointed to Shillinger's pack. "He has something in there, some powder that he used magic on. He put it on my ankle and gave me some to drink. It helped me some." He looked sympathetically toward the long-haired man on the ground. "I don't know if it will help him."

Keller went to the pack and dumped it on the ground, pawing through the items until Adam spoke up.

"It's the red bag. You mix the powder with water into a paste for the wound, and then some to drink."

"What does it do?" O'Reily demanded as Keller prepared the remedy.

"It's a pain killer and stops infection. It's a common remedy but Shillinger spelled it to make it more powerful."

While Ryan held Cyril's hair, Keller applied the paste to the gash on the side of his head. They wrapped it tightly and then looked to each other.

"We can take him to Sydell, they can fix him," Keller said.

Ryan shook his head. "It's too far, at least two days. We can make it to that village on the edge of the woods by this afternoon. You can send someone from Sydell when you get there."

Keller looked briefly to Toby. "I hate to send you off alone like that. We have time, we can all go to the village and then..."

Ryan shook his head. "You go North, you have to. Are you kidding me?" Ryan managed a grin, though it was not a convincing one. "If...shit, when...when Cyril wakes up he'd kill me if he knew I didn't send you and Beecher on to Said."

Keller nodded, reluctantly. "You're right. Let's get you on your way and then Beecher and I will go."

"What about him?" Toby pointed at Adam.

Ryan jerked his head toward the young man and was before Toby knew what was happening, the older man had the boy pushed back on the ground, his boot on his chest and a knife held to his throat.

"We should just kill him."

"No!" Toby leaned forward, his hand outstretched toward O'Reily but his look directed to Keller. "We can't kill him. He's just a boy, he deserves a second chance."

Ryan's face twisted in disgust. "No one who rides with Shillinger deserves anything but a blade in his throat."

"He can go with you, help you with Cyril."

"Yes, I will!" Adam was looking up at Ryan through tear-filled eyes, scared and desperate. "I only joined up with Shillinger because I had nowhere else to go. I was an orphan on the streets when one of his men found me. He's used me for petty crimes and to..." He squeezed his eyes closed, his voice dropping to a broken whisper. "He uses me for the pleasure of his men."

Ryan stood up, looking from Adam to Cyril. "You can come, but once we get to the village you're on your own. You'll ride with Cyril and help hold him on his horse. I'll be right behind you, my sword at your neck."

"What should we do with the others?" Toby asked, not wanting to leave dead men unburied. As he looked around, he discovered something shocking. "Shillinger! He's gone!"

"The moon of Dal!" Keller ran to the spot where Shillinger had fallen. "I was sure he was dead." He looked back at Ryan. "He can't have gone far with his injury. Should I go after him?"

"Leave him," Toby spoke up. He knew it would be dangerous to have Shillinger out there, but all he wanted now was to get to Sydell. And he was uncomfortable with the thought of being separated from Keller - the idea made him feel anxious. "Let's just head north. Please."

"Yes, let's get you to Said."

The men quickly gathered what they thought they could use from Shillinger's men and their belongings and prepared Ryan, Cyril and Adam to leave. Over Toby's protestations they decided to leave Robson and Scott, not taking time for burial.

"They deserve nothing but the meal they'll make for the wild animals," Ryan spat as he cradled his brother's head.

Toby knew arguing would be pointless, and in truth he was not too disturbed by the idea of leaving them to their own fate.

After waving off his friends, Adam riding on the point of Ryan's sword, Chris turned to Beecher.

"That was a good thing you did, sticking up for the boy."

Beecher shrugged. "I don't think he should be punished for falling in with the wrong people. He's still young, perhaps he'll learn better."

Chris was more cynical, but he hoped Beecher was right. "You need a splint." He quickly gathered the items he needed and knelt beside Toby.

Before he could get started, Toby held out his hand. "Thank you."

Chris took his hand and had to close his eyes at the touch. When he opened them, he saw that Beecher too had been affected. He hadn't meant to ask, at least not right now, but the words were out of his mouth and he didn't try to stop them.

"What did you mean when you said you'd seen me?"

"I've...I've dreamed of you. I knew you were looking for me, that you were coming to help me."

Chris' breath had left him and he had to remember to regain it. He reached out a tentative hand, meaning to touch Beecher's cheek and tell him of his own dreams, but quickly caught himself, startled by his actions and dropped his hand. "I should get started."


Toby watched as Keller worked on his leg, wondering what kind of man he really was. This is the figure from his dreams, all those years. A real person, in the flesh, here to help him in his most important hour. But what kind of man was he, really?

Just a paid mercenary, providing safe passage? The way Shillinger and the others had talked made him sound like a man of no morals, doing whatever needed to be done for a coin, then spending it in debauchery.

This morning he had proved he was fearless and capable, and not afraid to die. Toby now understood that Keller had left him yesterday so that he could save him today, but he wondered how easy it had been for Keller to do it, to ride off and leave him in the vengeful hands of Shillinger.

But now, Keller was sitting beside him, carefully taking Toby's leg and placing it on his lap. He moved aside the torn shreds of Toby's pant leg, and Toby could see a shadow cross Keller's face when he saw the damage to Toby's leg. He shifted his eyes to look at Toby, but remained silent as he began wiping the paste on the injured skin.

Toby watched Keller's hand, how slowly and gently he touched him. Keller's fingers were rough and callused, his knuckles swollen, with small scars and marks covering his hands. But the way they touched Toby didn't give away that those hands had been used for violence. He looked at Keller, bent over him, his brow furrowed in concentration, his touch almost reverent. A warmth flushed over Toby's body and suddenly it seemed as though Keller's touch was the source of that heat.

He must have made a noise, because Keller looked up at him, concerned. "Are you okay? Did I hurt you?"

"No, I'm okay. The medicine works well. You should have seen it last night, all purple and black, and the cut was much deeper."

At Keller's reaction, he instantly regretted his words. The other man had stiffened and turned his head from the wound before reaching for a bandage he had made from a shirt found in a fallen knapsack.

Toby stopped his movements with a hand to Keller's arm. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. I don't blame you for what happened, it wasn't your fault, you know."

"He didn't hurt you, did he?" Keller blurted out the words and Toby could see he was sorry for it, but couldn't stop. "Robson, when you escaped, the others said..." Keller shook his head and bent back to his work. "Never mind."

Toby was moved by Keller's concern, and he was pleased to think that this was more the true nature of Keller than what he had overheard the night before.

"He didn't."

Keller wrapped Toby's leg, fitting a splint onto it, securing two sticks with strips of the shirt.

He stood and helped Toby to his feet. "I'm glad," he finally said. "And I know I had no choice, but leaving you yesterday was the hardest thing I've ever done."

Toby didn't answer, but his chest felt tight and he felt a surge of sympathy for the man.

Keller tied the extra supplies to the back of his saddle and helped Toby settle on Gray's back. He had Toby sit sideways, hooking his injured leg over the saddle horn to hold it steady.

"I'll walk," Keller said, and he took the reins and started north.

Toby nodded, feeling oddly disappointed that Keller wouldn't be riding behind him, but in a way he was glad. As he had this time to think, he couldn't stop seeing the arrow he had released piercing Shillinger's chest. He was having trouble accepting the fact that he had almost killed a man, no matter that it was to save his own life and the lives of those there to help him. In this violent and troublesome world, he had been raised in peace, taught by men with good hearts and kind dispositions. He was not naïve, but this kind of turmoil had never struck this close to him before. And not only had he been witness and victim, now he was a perpetrator in it. He prayed to the gods of Alkumar that they could give him peace of heart and mind.


As Chris walked, picking through the trees and bushes, he could feel Beecher's eyes on his back and he wondered if the monk could see his misery. He still couldn't get over leaving the man to suffer at the hands of Shillinger. Even more, he couldn't believe he had so openly admitted the distress his actions had cause.

At the thought of the dark lord, Chris suddenly stopped, causing Gray to bump him with his nose; Chris turned around.

"Are you all right?" he asked, feeling he had failed Beecher once again.

"I'm doing okay." Beecher patted his leg. "It's paining some, but I'll manage."

"No," Chris shook his head. "Not your leg...you." He went to Beecher, looking up at him, forgetting his own shortcomings in his concern. His life had been spent fighting and killing when he had to, doing what it took to make a few coins...but not Beecher. Beecher was innocent of that type of life, yet the last few days had subjected him to experiences that would overwhelm the strongest of men.

"You've been through so much - how are you?"

Toby's mouth opened in surprise. "I was just thinking about that. I'm not sure how I feel."

"You did what you had to do, you saved yourself and me and the O'Reilys." Chris' hand went to the saddle horn, covering Beecher's resting there - Chris couldn't deny how natural it felt to be touching this man that he hardly knew.

Toby looked at his hand, but did not pull away. Instead, he turned his hand and Chris watched as their fingers gripped each other's; his gaze went to Beecher's face.

"Will you ride with me now?" Beecher asked.

Without a word, Chris handed the reins to Beecher, resettled the supplies and then swung himself up behind the saddle. His arms went around Beecher as he took the reins, and they continued on.

"You don't still feel bad about leaving me, do you?"

Chris shook his head. "I did what I had to do, just like you did this morning." He bit his tongue from saying more, from telling Beecher how he had thrown up at the sound of his cry, and how the need to turn and go back to him had been like a physical force he had to battle.

"But I don't suppose it compares to you having thought you killed someone." Chris rested his hand on Beecher's back for a moment in a comforting gesture.

"I think maybe it was easier for me. It wasn't really a choice I made. It was all instinct. I saw the bow and after that everything happened on its own, it seems." Beecher turned to briefly look Chris in the face as he said, "It's harder now, for me to think about it than it was to do it."

Chris nodded. "I understand the instinct for survival, and the consequences of your emotion afterward." And it was true, he had lain awake many night in his past, thinking of battles waged and lives taken. But over the years he had grown hardened and jaded against such thoughts, knowing that no matter how he might feel guilt for his actions, he would do it all again the next day.

And that was partly why his emotions now were hitting him so hard. He'd learned to keep his feeling tamped down and ignored for so long he was feeling overwhelmed by everything he was feeling.

They rode quietly for several miles, all the while Chris trying to take in the fact that the man he had dreamed of for his whole life was sitting here now, in his arms. It was incredible, almost unbelievable, yet it felt completely right. Chris hadn't felt more like he was where he belonged than he did at this moment. Somehow, in the last two days, Beecher had gone from being a dream to a mission to a part of his life.

Beecher shifted a little, pressing closer against Chris in the process. Chris closed his eyes and stopped himself from instinctively wrapping his arms tighter around the man.

"Can I ask you, what is it like growing up in an abbey? What does it mean to be a monk?"

Beecher shifted so he could look Chris better in the face.

"I'm not a monk," he smiled.

"What?" Keller was stunned, and suddenly he was much more aware of Beecher's nearness, feeling the heat from his body and noticing the his long, blunt fingers resting on his lap. He strived to ignore his senses. "I don't understand - you grew up in the abbey, didn't you, your whole life?"

"I did. And I was raised and trained as a monk would be, but when I reached the age to take the vows I couldn't go through with it. Even though I believe all that was taught me, I still feel as though I can't promise all of my devotion to the religion. I feel as though there's a space in me to be filled with something other than religion."

"Then what will you do when this is all over, Beecher? Will you go back to the abbey?

"Toby, call me Toby. Most people call me Tobias, but I like Toby."

"Toby." Chris wanted to say it again. "Toby, you can call me Chris."

"All right, Chris." He turned thoughtful as he came up with a reply to Chris' question. "I won't go back. Even though I miss those people, so much, they already seem like a distant part of my life, a part that is done. Brother Albert told me there is a place for me in Sydell, after the ceremony. I understand there's more there than the temple, there's a whole village. Perhaps I can find something that I like doing there."

"Of course."

Gray stumbled just then, so Chris slid off her broad back and went back to leading her. He took a deep breath, feeling something like relief being away from Beecher...Toby. The moment he had told Chris he wasn't a monk, he had felt...something. All along he had felt he was dealing with someone holy, devoted to the gods of the moon and stars. It didn't matter - if Chris felt any physical attraction to the man (and he was doing his best to tell himself he didn't) whether he was a monk or not made no difference. His job was to get Toby to Sydell, to meet his fate, live out his destiny, and that didn't involve Chris.

They walked until there was just enough light left to make camp. Chris thought of trying to get a rabbit or bird for their dinner, but he couldn't leave Toby, not with Shillinger out there. So they ate a quick meal of dried venison and biscuits, instead, and while Chris built up a fire, Toby fell asleep. Chris sat watching him for almost an hour, trying to come to grips with all that had gone on the last two days. He had to keep telling himself that nothing he was feeling mattered - in two days time he and Toby would part and that would be it.

The next day they started early - Chris could tell Toby was hurting, not just his leg but his whole body, the results of spending the day on the back of a horse.

The woods were growing even thicker, the brush harder to get through and Chris spent much of the day walking ahead, hacking a path where needed for Gray to get through.

When they stopped for something to eat, Toby asked Chris how he had come to take this job. Toby looked thoughtful as Chris described his chance meeting with the O'Reilys and the subsequent meeting with Said.

He looked thoughtful when the story was done. "So, do you think it was just chance that you went on to that town where you met your friends? Or do you feel like you meant to be here?"

Obviously, Toby must know there was more than coincidence at play here, having dreamed of Chris as he had, but Chris was not prepared to talk about it. He didn't see the need - the more he and Toby knew of each other, the harder it would be for him to leave him at Sydell.

"I'm not sure about any of this," he said abruptly. "We should be going."

The rest of the day was spent in silence, though Chris started many times to apologize.

The sun was well into its descent when they reached the abrupt end of the woods. Ahead of them was an endless field of green, broken only by an occasional stand of trees.

"Do you know what this is?" Chris asked Toby.

"It's the Basca Grass Sea, isn't it?" Toby had sat up, eagerly looking out over the waving ocean of large, wide grass leaves, the tensions of earlier seeming to drain away.

"It is."

"It's amazing. How far does it go?"

"We'll walk for a little over a day - we might make it in one, I think. The Northern Mountains aren't that much further after the grass ends." He tugged on the reins and they started walking again. "We'll walk a couple more hours through here before making camp."

Chris climbed back up on the horse and they started through the grass.

Basca Grass was a staple of the land of Bastion. It was long and wide and harvested to use in many ways. Most homes had roofs made of the grass, as well as mats covering their floors. It was said to be blessed with the magic of the Old King, because it lasted a very long time, staying green and supple and waterproof for almost a year.

Toby seemed entranced by it, and Chris remembered the first time he had seen these fields, many years ago when he had been hired to root out squatters who were cutting and selling the grass illegally. It was not against the law for people to come and take what they needed for themselves, but only one family, long ago appointed by the Old King, was allowed to sell it to the town folk unable to travel this far north.

"Did you ever get to travel?" he asked Toby.

"Yeah, a little. We farmed a lot of vegetables and made cheese, and would take them out to the orphanages and others in need. We also visited other monasteries, to share teachings, or hear traveling scholars talk."

"And you learned to handle a bow and arrow."

"All the acolytes were taught survival skills. Brother Albert was the mentor to the group of boys I grew up with. He taught us all to hunt with bow and arrow, and we can trap. I know a lot about plants, which are edible or medicinal or poisonous."

Chris looked back at Toby, impressed. "And I always imagined monks just praying and chanting in long robes."

"There was some of that." Toby smiled and Chris almost faltered at the sight. He was beautiful with the setting sun catching the red in his hair, setting it to flame. Chris knew he had to be exhausted but his blue eyes still held a spark and his smile warmed Chris in a way no one ever had, yet it still felt familiar.

With about an hour of sunlight left, Chris picked a spot for them to camp, under a stand of trees with low-hanging branches.

"We'll need to make a shelter, it always rains sometime during the night here."

Toby nodded, looking toward the dark clouds on the horizon. "That's too bad. I like to watch the stars at night."

Chris was helping Toby down from Gray's back, and when Toby mentioned the stars Chris stopped, standing face to face with Toby.

"I look at the stars, too. The rains usually don't come until close to morning."


"In the mean times, I'll weave some mats to sleep on and for shelter."

"I can help, I've done it many times at the abbey."

Chris nodded, and then became aware of their close proximity, his hands on Toby's waist, Toby's hands on his shoulders, steadying himself on one leg. Their faces were close and Chris felt a strong urge to brush a soft curl that had escaped its leather thong away from Toby's blue eyes.

Instead, he stepped back, flustered, and helped Toby to the bedroll he'd already spread. "We should get started, then.

They ate a couple bites of the dried venison Ryan had given them before they left and then Chris hurriedly gathered armfuls of grass, and they began weaving. Both of them were fairly skilled at the task and they soon had a large mat to hang in the trees, and one to cover their spread bedrolls.

Chris set his saddle against a tree and helped Toby lean up against it. "I'm going to change your bandage and reset your splint, then you can eat some more if you want while I dig some holes to collect the rainwater."

When he pulled out the supplies he needed for Toby's leg, he was dismayed to find only a small bit of the powder was left.

"It looks like there's only enough left for one use."

"It's okay, I don't need anything for tonight - I think I'm tired enough to sleep through the night without it."

"Gods, of course, you're probably ready to drop." Chris should have noticed before the lines of exhaustion around Toby's eyes and cursed himself for being distracted by his growing attraction to the man. What Toby had gone through in the last few days was extraordinary and harrowing, yet he was braving it all without a word of complaint, and Chris had failed to notice how it had caught up with him.

Chris quickly undid the old bandage, and gently turned his leg to wipe it clean. The skin was even clearer now, most of the bruising clearing up, but he noticed a dark red mark on the back of his calf. "This part doesn't seem to be healing as well, it's pretty red."

Toby smiled tiredly. "No, it's my birthmark, the sign that I'm the Chosen One." He leaned to his side, exposing the whole back of his leg. "You probably couldn't see it earlier because of mottling from my injury."

Chris ran his fingers over the red skin on the back of Toby's leg. A haze of light red, looking like a wash of clouds, and in the midst of this was two, perfectly round darker red marks, inches apart. "It really does look like the night sky." He looked up at Toby, feeling something like awe. "You're the key to the future of our world, Toby. And you're here, with me."

"Where else should I be?"

Chris shook his head at Toby's casualness. "With someone more important than me!"

"I don't think there's anyone else I would trust my safety with more than you." The look in Toby's eyes told he was speaking the truth. The warmth and faith Chris saw in Toby's eyes, beautiful, blue eyes, was too much for him to comprehend, and he bent his head to the task of finishing Toby's splint.

"You're good at this," Toby said. "Have you done this for many times?"

"Mostly just myself," Chris answered. He had turned to his pack and was pulling out some more venison and some of the hard biscuits he carried.

"You've been hurt often?"

"A few times - a hazard of the profession."

Chris got the blanket from Gray's back and settled it over Toby's legs, then stood back looking over their small camp. "I bet you can't wait to get Sydell and a decent bed."

Toby shrugged with a small grin. "The beds at the abbey were not much better - comfort is not much of a consideration."

"The most comfortable bed I ever slept in was in a hotel at the coast of the Western Ocean."

"You've been to the ocean!" Toby sat up, eager to hear more. "Can you tell me about it?"

"Sure. I'll talk while I weave some more mats. I'm going to dig a couple shallow holes and line them to collect the rain water."

"I'll help you." Toby could barely get the words out before a huge yawn split his face.

"I'm good," Chris said, "it won't take long."

And so while Toby listened, Chris wove two more small mats and then dug two shallow holes away from the trees; one would be for them in the morning, the other for Gray, who was tethered on the other side of camp, having enjoyed a filling meal of the tender new shoots of grass growing among the mature blades.

Toby was a good listener, or perhaps he was just tired, but he seemed to content to listen without much interruption. Chris found he enjoyed having the opportunity to share some of his life. He talked about the places he'd been, and a few of the more colorful people he'd met, refraining, of course, from bringing up the reasons he had traveled to most of those places - almost always to join in a fight.

When he had finished up with everything, Chris took off his boots and stretched out next to Toby. Lying on his back, he looked up at the Basca grass mat over their heads. "I guess we'll find out in a few hours how good our weaving skills are." He looked over. "Are you still hungry? We didn't eat much."

"No, I'm fine. But I will be glad to eat something other venison and hard bread."

"Roast duck," Chris murmured.

"You like that, huh?"

Chris rolled to his side, propping his head on his elbow. "At that hotel I was talking about, they make the best roast duck I've ever had. Not that I eat much duck, but that is so good. I don't know what they use, but it's got baby potatoes and onions and a gravy that I could just drink in a cup."

Toby smiled at him. "Sounds wonderful."

"We should go sometime. Take a trip out to the ocean, see the dunes..." Chris trailed off, embarrassed by his enthusiasm for something that would never happen.

"Who's to know what the future holds?" Toby said kindly.

"Sure. Good night." He rolled over, tensing at the touch that came to his shoulder a few moments later.

"I would love to see the ocean."

Chris only grunted in response, feeling a knot in his stomach. He had become so excited, so fast, at the thought of he and Toby together, exploring the town, doing something fun. Chris realized he had not traveled anywhere or done much of anything if it wasn't related to earning a coin.

He would sometimes take a few days and go to a bigger town than Browncreek, to go drinking or whoring, but he'd never had anyone to plan a real trip with...never anyone that he cared about. He silently cursed, telling himself to get control of himself - this was crazy.

Toby seemed to read his mind. "It wasn't a bad idea, Chris."

"Maybe not, but it's one that's never gonna happen, right?" Chris sat up, turning to Toby. "I mean, you'll be living your savior-of-the-world life, and I'll be back to fighting for some two-bit land owner who needs..." Chris trailed off, a thought just occurring to him. "If Said becomes some big, all-seeing, all-knowing ruler of Bastion, there might not be much work for men like me anymore. I mean, most of the people I fight for have been trying to scrape together enough land to have some to hold on to when the prophecy is completed. If there's someone in power to stop all that, what will become of men like me?"

"Are you really worried? I'm sure that all fighting won't stop - Said can't control every facet of everyone's lives - that would be more like a tyranny." Toby turned a little more toward Chris. "But would it be terrible? Isn't there anything else you could do, or have thought of doing? You could farm, or go to the sea and fish...or become a cook and make roast duck for people."

Toby's smile was kind, and Chris returned it, but he couldn't shake the feeling that his life was going to change dramatically in a few days, and not for the best.

"The stars are rising." Toby pointed to the sky, and moved over, giving Chris room to lean against the saddle. "Come sit here and watch with me."

They watched in silence as the stars began appearing at the horizon, far across the fields of grass.

The sky was full of small points of light, with Alkumar at one side of the broad expanse, and Dal at the other. After a few moments, the men could see the Gateway of Fate rise up and take its place in the sky.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Toby asked.

"I look at these stars every night and never get tired of them."

They sat watching the stars grow brighter and the moons start their journey across the sky, toward the Gateway.

"I even got a tattoo of the Guardians, just one half, though." Chris took off his jacket and pulled his shirt over his head to expose his upper arm, revealing the pattern of ink marks that made up one half of the constellation of the Guardians of Destiny. "I don't know why I never got the other half done." He was looking down at his arm. "Can you see it good enough in the moonlight?"

When he got no answer, Chris looked over, startled to see the look on Toby's face - it was a mix of shock and disbelief.

"What? What's wrong?"

Toby put out his hands. "Help me up."

Chris pulled Toby to his feet and helped steady him while Toby loosened his pants and pushed them down to his hip. Pulling his shirt and jacket up, he told Chris to look at his back.

Chris went behind Toby, keeping a hand on his shoulder, and looked at the bare expanse of skin on Toby's lower back. There was a tattoo, half of the Destiny stars, the opposite of Chris' own tattoo. "What in fucking Dal...?"

He came back around, gripping Toby by the arms. "What does this mean? When did you do that? Can you even get tattoos?"

Toby grinned at that last remark. "Apparently, I can."

After straightening up their clothes, the men sat down, facing each other. Toby started.

"When I told you I dreamed of you, why didn't you say anything?"

"What? What does that have to do with the tats?"

Toby shook his head. "I think you know it has everything to do with it. Why didn't you say anything?"

"Because it's too weird, Toby, all of this. I'm just a hired swordsman, going where the war and money are. I don't know how to handle...this."

"You've dreamt of me."

Chris nodded. "All my life. As soon as Said told me about you, I knew you were the one I've been dreaming of." He let a deep breath, relieved at finally being able to talk about it.

"What does this mean, Chris?"

"I talked with Cyril about it - he's spiritual. He thinks I have this connection with you to make sure I get you to Said for the ceremony."

"That makes sense," Toby leaned forward and took Chris' hand, "but do you think that's all it is?"

"What else can it be, Toby?" Chris squeezed Toby's hand in return, feeling grounded by his touch. "All I know - " he stopped, not wanting to finish his sentence, not wanting to admit that he couldn't imagine never seeing Toby again. No matter what he wanted, Toby's future was already decided.

"What, Chris, what is it?"

"Nothing, it's not important."

"Everything you have to say is important...to me."

Chris was overwhelmed; he got to his feet, pacing. "This is crazy, Toby, we've only known each other a couple days. How can I feel like I do about you? I...shit!"

"Help me."

Chris thought a moment about leaving Toby there, hands out, waiting for Chris, and just running, leaving it all behind. But as he pulled Toby to his feet, his thoughts changed to throwing Toby onto Gray's back and riding west, taking him to the ocean and hiding away from the world, letting the fates play out without Toby.

"I love you."

Chris was shocked out of his fantasies, not sure he heard right. "What?"

Toby was looking at him, unafraid, his emotions raw on his face. "I love you."

"You don't know me."

"I've known you all my life."

Chris touched Toby's cheek, his hand trembling. "I love you, too," he whispered, as his lips brushed against Toby's.

Their arms went around each other as the kiss deepened, slowly, very slowly. When the kiss finally broke, they stayed entwined, holding each other as the moons came together above them.

"We can't do anything, Chris. I have to stay -"

"I know, I don't care. I just want to hold you."

They sat back down and for the rest of the night watched the sky and talked, telling each other their dreams, discovering they'd had similar dreams at similar times over the years

Toby told Chris how he and another boy had run off one night when Brother Albert had taken a few of the acolytes to a large town to hear the preachings of one of the priests from Sydell. They got drunk on hard cider and each had gotten a tattoo - his choice had been made from the start, he had no other ideas than the Destiny constellation. It had scared Toby, though, getting drunk, because he realized he might do something that would jeopardize his place in the prophecy. He stayed to the weak wine produced by the abbey after that.

Chris' story was similar - he and some friends had decided one night to get tattooed while at a fair. The woman doing the tat had chastised Chris for not getting the whole constellation, but he had been adamant about having only one side done.

When the rains started, they took off their jackets and shirts and walked out from beneath the shelter, letting the cool water wash over them . When the rain stopped and the clouds broke, they could see a faint light on the horizon - the new day was already at hand.

Chris built up the fire and they lay together in front of it.

"I can't believe we talked all night," Chris said, Toby's damp hair against his cheek. "You were so tired."

"I didn't feel it, after we started talking. But now..." Toby yawned, triggering Chris' own huge yawn.

"We'll sleep a while - if we leave when the sun is high, we should still be able to make Sydell by nightfall."

Toby nodded and Chris could tell by his breathing that he was soon asleep.


When they woke, the sun was on its way across the sky. Chris scooped water from one of the water holes he'd made into the single metal cup they had, while Gray drank from the other.

Toby folded the blanket they had been using, cursing his broken leg - and Shillinger - for not being able to do more. He was propped against a tree while Chris gathered their belongings and packed them onto his horse.

Toby watched every move Chris made, everything about him seeming sure and confident, but Toby knew that he was feeling just as confused and bewildered as Toby was.

There was no way this connection they had was there only to ensure Toby's safe delivery to Sydell in time for the meeting of the moons. He knew that, and he was sure Chris did, too. But it didn't seem there was anything for it. Toby was already on the path for the Northern Mountains, and he was determined to follow it to the end. There didn't seem to be any place for Chris in that world, and he knew he didn't belong in Chris'.

The rest of their journey took several hours, which was fine with Toby. His leg was throbbing and his whole body ached from being on the back of the horse, but he would have traveled for days if it would mean more time with Chris.

They talked like they had last night, this time sharing stories about their lives. Toby learned that Chris had left home at an early age, leaving shortly after his father had died, leaving behind a mother whose only goal was to find another husband to take care of her and her three daughters - a teen-age son would only be a liability in her search.

"Have you seen them since then?"

Chris shook his head. "Not my mother - I never went back to that village. I saw one of my sisters a few years ago - she had married and was living a good life on a small farm. What about you? Did you ever know your parents?"

"No. My father was never spoken of - I don't know if anyone knows who he was. My mother came to the abbey on the night of the eclipse and died in childbirth."

"Oh, Toby, I'm sorry."

"No, it's okay. I had plenty of family."

As the sky began to darken, before the moons began to rise, they reached the end of the Basca Sea. The walled city of Sydell was just ahead of them, nestled against the base of the Northern Mountains.

Between them and the city was a wide swath of dark soil, no sign of vegetation in it, nothing for a mile, until just outside the city, Chris explained.

"This was the site of the original kingdom, and when the Old King brought about the storm that destroyed his kingdom, the fire caused by the lightening burned everything this far out. And nothing has ever grown back since. It's called the Dark Earth."

"Is it safe to cross?" Toby asked.

Chris nodded. "Shall we?"

Toby only looked at the city, but didn't answer. Chris thought - hoped - maybe Toby felt the same way he did, that they could find any reason to stay one more night outside those great walls. But while they waited, procrastinating, Chris saw the huge gate open and riders emerge. He pointed. "We have a welcoming party."

It was High Priest Said, Priest Khan, Priest Arif, and three other men, dressed as soldiers, with armored chest plates and carrying long swords at their sides.

Said jumped from his horse, his enthusiasm almost looking out of place on the great man. "Tobias Beecher, at last." He looked to Chris, then back to Toby. "I trust you had a safe journey."

Chris and Toby looked at each other and exchanged weary smiles. "There's time enough for that tale later, High Priest. "Right now, Tob...Beecher needs looking after. He's exhausted, and his leg has been injured. He needs medical attention, and something to eat."

"As does, Chris," Toby added. "At least something to eat. Do you have roast duck, by chance?"

Chris smiled, delighted to share the private joke with Toby while the others looked on, a bit confused.

Chris was exhausted, but he kept waking throughout the night, going to the door of his room and looking down the hall to where Toby was sleeping. After a quick, though very filling meal, the men had been taken to the guest quarters of the Sydell Temple, staying in the same wing, but in different rooms. There were two guards outside the door of Toby's room, and Chris had been told that there were sentries all over the compound, but the threat of Shillinger would not leave his mind. He finally managed a few hours in the early morning, and dreamed of moons and stars and wars.

As soon as he woke, Chris sought out Said, already in his conference room, talking with several other priests. He took Chris to a small antechamber, where a leather bag was sitting on a small table.

"I have your money, Keller, and I sent the O'Reily brothers their share with the doctor that is going to them. I doubled what I've promised each of you - what you have done for the land is monumental." Said handed Chris the bag, heavy with coins. "There is extra for the recuperation of Cyril, I hope he will be all right."

"I do, too. Thank you, Priest. But I'm in no hurry to leave. I wish to stay and witness the ceremony if I could."

Said looked somber. "I'm sorry, Keller. I understand your feelings. I'm sure you've grown close to Beecher in these few days, but it's time for you both to move on. The ceremony will private, only a few of the High Circle will be permitted to witness it. And then Beecher will be staying on to study and serve with us."

Keller was speechless for a minute. He hadn't expected this. He wasn't sure what he thought their future would hold, but after their talk, he had assumed he would have the opportunity to be in Beecher's life, to further explore what this was between them.

"I'd like to see Beecher before I leave."

"Of course. You can share the morning meal with him."

"Thank you," Keller answered.

Toby was sitting at a table by a small window, looking out onto the grounds of the compound. He looked much better after being washed and rested and in clean clothes, the white shirt and pants of the priests of Sydell. His hair was free of its leather thong and fell clean and shiny in the morning sunlight, and the blue of his eyes brightened even more when he saw Chris enter the room; Chris' felt his heart beat harder.

"I would ask how you are, but I can see you're much improved." Chris nodded at Toby's leg, propped up on a low, cushioned stool. "So, it's feeling good?"

Toby patted his leg. "I still can't put much pressure on it, but just sitting here doesn't feel too bad at all."

"Good, that's good." Chris nodded and was saved from thinking of what to say next by a knock on the door and the entrance of one of the priests, carrying their breakfast. He and Toby ate quietly, enjoying the good food - fresh bread, roasted chicken and warm, stewed apples.

As the meal ended, both men kept catching each other's eye until Toby finally spoke.

"Are you staying?"

Chris shook his head. "No. Said was kind about it, but he was pretty firm about me moving on." He looked up, startled by the frown on Toby's face.

"Why should that be?"

"He said the ceremony is private, for only certain priests."

"Maybe so, but surely you should be able to stay here as long as you want...if you want."

He did, of course. The despair he felt when thinking about leaving Toby was no less than it had been when he left him in Shillinger's camp. But perhaps it would be better for him to go now - the longer he stayed, the harder it would be to leave later on.

"Of course I want to stay. But I don't know what there would be for us. Maybe our feelings are only for this purpose, as some say, to get you here."

"You think our love is temporary?"

"No." Chris sighed and looked around the room, out the window at the busy compound. "Things sure are different than they were a week ago, huh?"

Toby laughed. "That may be the most understated thing I've ever heard anyone say in my life."

Chris reached across the table and took Toby's hand. "How does it feel to be the savior of the world?"

Toby squeezed. "You know, when I was a boy, I would sometimes let this whole 'Chosen One' thing go to my head. I'd try to boss the other boys around, or make them let me go first when we played games, or get the best piece of chicken for dinner. And every time that happened, one of the older brothers would miraculously come up with a chore that needed done, right at that moment - the chicken coop cleaned, or the stove scrubbed and polished. It didn't take too many of those tasks for me to understand, I'm nothing special. I'm a vessel, Chris, that's all. I don't know why me, but that's certainly not the important thing in all of this."

Chris shook his head, vehemently. "You are special, Toby, I can feel it, I know it. You're not just a vessel, you're part of this."

"No more than you."

"No, Toby, not me, I'm not -"

"Chris, you can't believe that whatever powers sent us those dreams did it arbitrarily. I guess we both can accept there was a reason we were chosen, and leave it at that. I will admit, I feel good about being part of something that is going to do good for Bastion and the people."

Chris nodded, knowing how he felt. "I should go, Toby. I want to check on Cyril. And if we still feel the same, later on, I'll come back." He went to the door, and turned to say good-bye, but Toby had followed him, limping across the floor with the aid of a beautiful wooden crutch that looked to have been carved just for him.

"Will you?"

Chris put out his hands to help support Toby, and found himself pulled into a tight hug. "Of course, I will," Chris answered, his answer whispered against soft, golden hair. But he didn't know if he could ever bring himself to actually come back, only to have to leave again.

Toby pulled back, just enough to look Chris in the face. "This doesn't seem right."

"No, it doesn't. But this is bigger than us, right? We just need to do what's best for everyone."

Toby's scowl told Chris he wasn't convinced, but really, Chris wasn't either. He just had to get out of that room before he couldn't. He turned to go, to pull free from Toby's grip, but one word from Toby, his name "Chris," had him turning back, and crushing Toby to him, running one hand through his hair to hold him while he kissed him, hard and full of all the passion and love he was feeling, and would never be able to share.

"Gods, I love you, Chris. Never forget me."

Chris sobbed a laugh. "That's an impossibility, Toby, never, ever could I."

And then he was out of the room, resting his head on the other side of the door for several minutes before he could force himself to walk away, collect his things and find Gray.


Toby was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, his nervousness about the upcoming ceremony overshadowed by the empty, hollow feeling in his gut, there ever since Chris walked out the door this morning. He had only picked at his food, and watched listlessly while two priests checked his ankle and tightened the splint. They had rubbed something on it when he first arrived, and given him some kind of potion that had help amazingly well, even better than what Shillinger had given him.

When an acolyte had brought his lunch, he had made a request to see Said. He was going to ask the High Priest to send someone after Chris. It felt wrong to be away from him - the few hours that they had been apart seemed like days. It was somehow as though a part of him was now gone, leaving a void.

But he had been told that Said was very busy, and wouldn't be able to see him until the evening.

The feeling to be with Keller only grew over the afternoon, and a few hours after lunch Toby had decided to make someone listen to him and go after Keller. But when he tried to leave the room, he had found the door locked.

After trying the window, finding it locked as well, his shock had turned to anger then to fear. Why would they lock him up? What was going on that he couldn't leave his room?

He felt like he did when he was with Shillinger's men before he knew who they were - why was he being treated like a prisoner?

Said finally came to his room, staying to have the evening meal with him.

"I understand you're upset about your accommodations, my son."

"Why am I being kept locked up? And don't tell me it's for my own safety. I can see through the window enough men for an army." He looked out again, the encroaching darkness being kept at bay by many torches and lamps lit across the compound. "And why are there so many men here? They're not all priests."

Said smiled. "You are right, they're not. They are men from the surrounding areas, loyal followers who wish to be here when the prophecy is fulfilled."

"You told Chris he couldn't stay," Toby said pointedly.

Said smiled kindly, and a little condescendingly, Toby thought.

"I did send Keller on his way, only for your own good. I know that you and Keller are fond of each other, and I thought he might be a distraction."

"In what way? How would me having a friend here be a distraction? If he's not allowed to attend the actual ceremony, then knowing that he was waiting for me after would be comforting."

"You must trust me, Toby."


The smile on his lips remained but left Said's eyes. "Tobias."

"And why should I?"


The questioned rattled Said and Toby was glad.

"Why should I trust you?"

"You were raised to trust me, were you not?"

"No, not really. I was told all my life that a few drops of blood were needed from me to complete the ritual that would restore the magics of the Old King to one of his descendants. It was assumed that you would be that man, simply for the fact that you were a priest, the High Priest.

"I know you and the other priests here do much good, and the towns and villages under your keep are prosperous and peaceful.

"I know that Shillinger rules with violence and intimidation and fear.

"But I don't know you, or how much you're to be trusted. I don't know what you would do to gain power." Toby smiled ruefully. "I've had a lot of time to think, while being locked away. I was raised in a simple way, and don't know about power, or leading men, much less a nation. But something feels wrong to me. You have me at a disadvantage - I have no one to turn to for advice."

Said frowned. "I'm distressed that you feel you need outside advice, Beecher. Haven't you been advised your whole life that this is the correct thing to do?"

"Yes, but I can't help how I feel."

"It's only a couple more days, Beecher. Let the prophecy play out the way it's supposed to, and then we can talk more about your future."

Toby seemed to consider this, then nodded at the High Priest. "We'll talk more after the ceremony, then."


Chris didn't head south - he couldn't just ride off and leave Toby. Instead, he rides west, and then back east in a wider arc, then back again, looking for signs of anything - or anyone - that shouldn't be there...and he finds something. A few miles to the east of the compound there's a makeshift road leading into a pass in the mountains.

Chris moved cautiously along the road, curious at its presence. After passing through the mouth of the pass, the terrain opened up into a shallow but wide valley. And Chris was stunned at what he saw. At one side of the valley were platoons of men, armed soldiers, going through drills. The other side was a small village, with makeshift buildings and tents.

It was nearly dark as Chris headed back to the temple, determined to find out what was going on.

He paused as he approached the gate to the compound. There was activity going on - men riding and walking, armed and carrying torches. He proceeded slowly and was stopped by two men.

"What is your business here?"

"What's going on?" The feeling of unease Chris had been feeling all day was turning to fear.

His question was ignored. "We're going to have to ask you to come inside for questioning."

"What?" Chris tried to turn Gray's head but one of the men had already grabbed the reins.

His hand was on the handle of his sword when two other men rode up - he was relieved to see one of them was Arif.

"Let him go," the priest ordered. "He's no threat. Go back to your patrol."

"I'm glad to see you're not taking any chances with Shillinger out there. Although, if he did show up, I suppose you could just whistle and have that army I saw in the next pass take care of him and all his men. What's going on?"

"Come with me." Arif led Keller to a small guard house to the side of the main gate.

"I'm glad I found you, I was sure you would come back. I had wanted to talk to you this morning but was sent on a task - I think Said was suspicious of me."

"Why? What in Dal is going on? I can understand Said wanting an army for defense, but those men were preparing for action. There's no way Shillinger could raise enough men to take the temple. I'm more worried about him sneaking in somehow. I want to see Beecher, now. I'm not going to go until I do."

Arif looked down, took a breath, and looked up, his expression troubled. "Said is planning to go to war. As soon as he gains his power, he's going to attack the town of Wilferd."

"Why? If he has the power of the prophecy, why the need?"

"He wants to show the people of Bastion that he is a leader not to be trifled with. After defeating Wilferd, he plans to send out battalions to the major towns and set up posts. He wants his presence felt across the land."

"To insure the peace?" Chris asked hopefully, but he afraid there was more to it than that - Arif's answer proved him right.

"That, but also to dictate his rule. I'm afraid the idea of the power he is going to soon wield has distorted his thinking. He's still a good man, Keller, don't think otherwise, but I'm afraid he's let his vision for the future distort the intention of the prophecy."

"Maybe this is what Bastion needs." Chris knew most people thought if Said were to gain power over the people, he would rule with a peaceful hand. But sometimes more was needed to prevent even the idea of rebellion.

"Attacking an innocent town is not what Bastion needs. But there's one other thing you should know." Arif looked almost fearful, and Chris noticed the priest stepping back from him. "Everyone has always said that the Chosen One was needed in the ceremony to provide a few drops of his blood."

"Yes, we know that." Chris grew fearful of what Arif was about to say and his heart started pounding as he waited for the priest's next words.

"It's not just his blood that is needed, Keller, but his life. He must be sacrificed to fulfill the prophecy."

Chris felt his own blood chill and cold sweat broke out over his body.

Chris lunged forward and grabbed Arif. "What are you telling me? Said plans to kill Beecher in three days?

"Does Toby know this?" It was all Chris could do to hold himself back from rushing into the compound and going to Toby. He would be stopped the moment he was seen, he knew.

"No, I'm sure he doesn't."

This angered Chris even more. "What were you going to do? Wait until the last minute and then just slit his throat."

Arif's answer was to look away, horrifying Chris. "You were! You were going to take this good man who has waited all his life to meet his fate at the hands of you priests and this was how he was to be treated?"

"It has always been thought, by those who knew the true story, that the death of one to help make the lives of many better was a worthy sacrifice."

Chris turned away, afraid he would hit Arif. "Why are you here? Why are you telling me this? Don't you believe as Said does - that Beecher's death is worth it?"

"Perhaps. But after seeing you two together, I believe in something more. I believe in the connection between you and Beecher."

"What connection?"

"Surely you feel it. There has been more to this whole journey than just delivering Beecher to Said, hasn't there?"

Chris almost growled in his frustration. He wanted to go to Toby, to see him and know he was safe. But his need to understand these feeling he and Toby had for each made him delay. His feelings and emotions had been provoked and turned around so much he just couldn't leave without finding out why, without finding out if what he thought was correct.

"What more can there be to it than the prophecy? I feel so strongly toward him because somehow my fate became entangled with his. It's my destiny to bring him here so he can fulfill his destiny."

"Certainly that's part of it, but I - and others - believe there is more. Your fate lies not just with Beecher's, but his with yours as well. You two are meant to be together. The stars foretell it."

"The stars?"

"You and Beecher are the stars - the Gateway of Fate, the Guardians of Destiny. Your coming together was foretold many years ago."

"What? That's ridiculous," he said, but without conviction." He had always been drawn to those stars. And in his dreams, even though he was protecting on Toby, he always ended up feeling as though he were receiving as much as he was giving. But what of the prophecy? "If our connection is meant to last longer than the coming together of the moons, then why will he be sacrificed?"

"That has been discussed for many years. Those who want the power, as Shillinger and now sadly Said do, they say as you do - that the connection between you and Beecher is only there to make sure Beecher takes his place in the ceremony."

"And what do others say?"

"That the prophecy of power is only a ruse to get you two together. I do not doubt that if Beecher is sacrificed there truly will be delivered to Said great power. But if he is not sacrificed, his destiny may bring greater things to the land than if Said or Shillinger regain their magics. Some say the stars are the true prophecy."

"Who says this? Why haven't we ever heard this? It's all been about the moons, about Alkumar and Dal."

"There are still priests and wise men who study the skies and come to their own conclusions about what the heavens show us. But the influence and power of the descendants of the Old King have quieted those wise men and what most believe now is what they want everyone to believe - that it is inevitable that one of the brothers comes to power."

"What will happen to those families, to Said and Shillingers followers, if the ceremony isn't performed."

"Nothing. They would continue as before. Their magics would slowly fade until they and their sons would be as normal men."

"And Beecher?"

"That would be up to Beecher. And to you."

"But what is the purpose of us being together? What can be more important than the magics being returned to the descendants of the Old King?"

"Some believe the ruler of Bastion does not need magic, and that is your purpose, to stop that from happening."

Chris stepped outside and looked around, toward the walls of Sydell and the mountains beyond, then back the other way, across the dead battlefield, out to the waving grasses of the Brasca Sea, where he and Toby had learned so much about each other, and where they had admitted their love

"I'm going to help Beecher escape. We'll meet you outside the east gate as soon as we can. If anyone sees you, tell them you're waiting for me to bring you more money."

Chris bristled at the idea that others might think he had done what he had only for money, but in this instance it would serve their purpose.

Chris nodded and took Gray by the reins, leading him quietly around the high wall city wall to the east side.

He grew impatient after only a few minutes, imagining all the things that could be going wrong inside the compound. He tried to calm himself, planning their escape route. He also kept his eyes open for any sign of anyone moving across the parched, blackened Dead Earth.

After several minutes, Arif finally showed up, alone. "Where is he?" Chris demanded, choking back his fear.

"He's escaped." Arif sounded just as confused and fearful as he looked. "One of the priests, sympathetic to Beecher, let him go. He's been guarding the room, telling anyone who asked that Beecher was sleeping, recovering from his journey. He's been gone a few hours now."

Chris looked around, expecting to see priests and soldiers coming to search for the missing Chosen One.

"No one else knows yet," Arif explained. "We will keep his escape a secret as long as we can. There are a few who feel the way I do - as long as Said does not try and see Beecher, and I don't think he will until morning, he should have a good head start."

"He's out there, somewhere, but where? And where is Shillinger?"

"Good luck, Keller. I should be getting back before anyone grows suspicious." He started off then, turned back. "When he's discovered to be gone, I'll try and throw everyone off his trace, saying someone saw him leave...but what direction should I say?"

"South. Say you saw him crossing the Dead Earth into the Basca Sea. I know he didn't go that way."

"Can you be sure?"

Chris nodded, though he couldn't explain why.

He was certain Toby wouldn't go south, and since he had just come from the east, Chris turned Gray west and headed out. He had gone only a short distance when his attention was caught by a bright star appearing over the highest peak of the Northern Mountains. It was the top point of the Gateway of Fate - he could recognize it by its size and strength. How many nights had he lain awake and watched those stars, struck by their beauty and awed by their presence? He continued to watch as the other stars showed themselves over the peak and when they all had appeared...he knew.

Toby had not gone east or west, but north. He was in the mountains. Why he would do that, Chris could not guess, but he was certain it was fact. He pulled Gray around and headed back to the compound, back to the base of Sydell where he had seen a small pass and a trail leading up to it just outside the walls of the city.

As he went, he noticed another trail leading off to the side, going up the mountain along the wall that made up part of the fortress of Sydell. Following along he came to a clearing, a small, flat area, only a few dozen feet across. There were two men there, wearing priests robes and chanting at the base of some sort of wooden platform in front of a fire.

They saw him and started to rise, but he pulled his sword and slid from his horse. "I won't hurt you, just tell me what this is. Has another man come this way tonight?"

The priests looked at each other and placed their hands over their mouths. Chris didn't know if that meant they couldn't talk or wouldn't, but it didn't matter. Taking a torch from the ground he could see clearly enough what the platform was. It was small, the size of a large bed, made of smooth planks. At each of the four corners there was a leather strap, and on stone mantel beside it, a wooden bowl, polished until it gleamed in the fire light. The platform was raised, and the space beneath was filled with kindling.

It was a pyre - Toby was to be drained of his blood and then set afire.

Chris fell to his knees, sick with the knowledge that this was what Toby's end was to be. His eyes filled with tears as he thought about Toby coming to his end here, instead of being able to see how his contribution to bringing about the conclusion of this long period of waiting had succeeded.

When he looked up, he saw the trail continuing up the mountain from this clearing. He went to the head of it and stopped, closing his eyes and listening, waiting, as he did when looking for Toby days before.

He opened his eyes and knew to follow this trail. He didn't know how Toby was doing it, climbing this mountain with his broken leg, or even why. Chris was sure he had come this way - he considered breaking his word and threatening the two chanting priests until they told him they had seen Toby - and so he would surely know he was to be sacrificed. But why had he left in the first place?

Going back to Gray, he pulled his pack and sword from the horse's back. Turning to the priests he handed the reins to the nearest one. "I'll be back, please take care of her for me."

His only answer was a nod from each man, and then they went back to their chanting.

Chris rubbed Gray's nose, giving her one of a handful of carrots he had taken from the compound this morning. "Be good, horse."

The moons had not reached their full height in the sky, but they still gave enough light for Chris to make his way up the side of the mountain. The Sydell Mountains were old, formed at the dawn of time, and so were worn and smooth, with occasional outcroppings of rock. Here, at the base, there were many trees, tall and thin, covering the hillsides.

The trail Chris was following ended soon at a large pool being fed by an underground spring. He cupped his hands and took a drink from the water, cold and sweet, as he considered which way to go.

He heard a noise behind him, too late, and before he could turn something was around his neck. He clawed at his throat, unsuccessfully trying to work his fingers into the rope that was cutting off his air.

"So, we're back to this point, are we - both looking for Beecher."

Keller threw his body forward, trying to shake Shillinger off. But the man had an unbreakable hold on him. He went to his knees as his vision turned dark.

"Don't worry, Keller," Shillinger said, the last thing he heard before passing out, "I need you alive. Dead bait isn't much good."

When he woke, Keller was lying on the ground, his hands tied behind his back, the rope still around his neck. When he tried to move his hands, the rope pulled on his throat, choking him. His body ached and stung from being dragged across the ground. They were now at the face of a small cave. "You're taking a big chance, aren't you Shillinger?" he gasped. "We're not that far from the temple." Chris' mind was racing, looking for a way out of this. At least Shillinger hadn't found Toby yet. "What are you waiting for? If you're going to kill me, just do it."

"Oh, no, you're not going to die, not until I get what I need. I need Beecher, and I need you to find him. I know about the other prophecy, the one about Beecher finding his soulmate." Shillinger laughed. "Imagine how much easier this all would have been if I'd known it was you in my camp. I had my suspicions, but it wasn't until I saw you climbing up here that I knew for sure."

"You're crazy. Even if you manage to get your hands on Beecher, there's no way you're going to be able to perform the ceremony."

"I'm aware of that."

"Then what..." Chris stopped and his stomach churned. "You just don't want Said to have him."

"You are a smart one, Keller. You can still come and work for me when this is all over."

"There's no way you can avoid Said's men until tomorrow night."

"I won't need to. I just need a few minutes alone with Beecher to render him useless."

Chris' eyes were moving back and forth, searching wildly, hoping to not see Toby anywhere out there. If he kept moving, he might be able to avoid being caught by Said, but if he showed up here, he would certainly be killed by Shillinger.

His mind raced, trying to find any way out for Toby. "If you kill him tonight, it might not be too late. Said still might be able to use his blood and body for the ceremony." Chris almost choked on those words.

"You don't think I've thought about that? I don't think it will be good enough - I'm sure Beecher is meant to be sacrificed beneath the joined moons. And I could always drain all the blood from his body, though that might take longer than I have. But just in case, I don't intend to kill him if I catch him."

"Then what..." Chris had to swallow quickly to stop the bile rising in his throat as he realized Shillinger's plan.

"I'm going to fuck him, of course. An impure sacrifice is no sacrifice at all, is it?"

"You'll never be able to...he'll fight, he'll fight until he's dead, if he has to. He'd rather die, rather take the chance that his body will still be good enough for Said tomorrow night then let you defile him."

Shillinger walked over to Chris and stepped on his chest, holding Chris' own sword to his throat.

"Do you think he'd rather let you die, as well? If he had to choose between you and his virginity, what would he choose?"

Chris bucked up hard, throwing Shillinger off balance, but the dark lord only laughed as he gained his footing and found his place back in the mouth of the cave.

"He would let me die in a heartbeat, if it meant the failure of his mission."

"Are you so sure? What if he has come to believe in the other prophecy, that he and you are meant to be together? For that matter, you can be the one to fuck him. As sweet as it would be, and oh, it would be sweet to deflower the Chosen One of the Old King's promise, I would be content to watch you do it."

Keller closed his eyes, never wanting to kill another human being so much as he did now. In a moment, his eyes flew open as he heard his name being called. Oh, Toby, no!

"Toby, run! It's a trap, run, ru—" His warning was cut short as Shillinger kicked his head, then pulled him to a sitting position and propped him against the cave wall. Chris was conscious, but just barely, and he could hardly understand what was being said.

"What do you want, Shillinger?" Toby's voice seemed to be coming from far away, but so did Shillinger's when he answered. Chris tried shaking his head to clear it, but the motion caused him to feel sick and dropped his head to ward off losing the contents of his stomach.


Toby knew exactly what Shillinger wanted - he had been close by for several minutes, listening. Though the moons were bright, he had managed to stay hidden in the trees as he made his way down to here. He had been much further up the mountain, watching for Chris, who he knew would be looking for him. But something had told him that there was something wrong - Chris wanted to follow him, but couldn't. It was like the dream he had had when Shillinger's men were taking him south - he had to get away from them so Chris could find him. But now he was the one that had to find Chris, so he had gone back down until he heard the voices of his soul mate and his enemy, filling him with dread.

He could see them now, Shillinger hiding behind Chris, who was now injured, the blow Shillinger had delivered almost being enough to drive Toby out into the open.

"I want you, Beecher, alive, preferably. I just need to be assured that you are worthless to Said, and the only way I can do that for sure is make sure you're no longer a virgin."

"All I need to do is walk away right now, Shillinger. I can just go down this mountain and call out and the priests will find me in a moment. In fact, they may be on their way right now."

"That's true, Beecher, that's true," and Toby gained some satisfaction in hearing how Shillinger had lowered his voice, "but if it were that easy, you never have left the temple in the first place - you don't want them to find you."

Toby didn't reply - Shillinger knew the truth and there was no denying it.

"Either you have decided that you and Keller are meant to fulfill the second prophecy, or you have become aware that Said is not going to be quite the benevolent leader that you have always thought he was going to be."

In his enthusiasm, Shillinger had moved a little away from Keller's protection, his head held higher as he called out in a forceful whisper. "I'm not even asking you to do anything to make me the new ruler. I only want Said and I to remain on equal ground. He can retain rule of the North and I will stay to the South and you and Keller can have everything in between."

Toby didn't know what Shillinger was talking about - another prophecy about him and Keller? He and Chris had come close to this idea when they had talked the other day - they felt there was something more between them than just this journey. Even so, he would have put talk of another prophecy as a ploy by Shillinger into giving himself away. But when Shillinger had talked of to Chris earlier, Chris had not questioned the notion, seeming to know all about it.

He pretended as though he knew, as well.

"I will never believe anything you say, Shillinger. Do you truly think I would take your word that you would return to the South and leave the rest of Bastion alone, in return for me preventing the sacrifice from taking place."

Toby was watching Chris, who seemed to be gaining his senses. His head was raised now, his eyes narrowed - Toby knew he was looking for him.



"When we're done here, I want you to take me to that inn you told me about, by the Western Ocean."


Toby could hear the confusion in Chris' voice and hoped he would understand.

"You're very optimistic, gentlemen." Shillinger called out. "Perhaps you can make future plans after you find out if you have a future or not."

Toby ignored him. "I want to try that dish you talked about." Toby slowly raised the bow he had taken from the temple and fit an arrow. He knew he would have only one chance, and willed his hand to stop shaking.

"Chris, do you remember?"

"Of course."

"It sounded so good, I wish I could try it...now!"

Toby took a deep breath and stepped from the thick stand of trees he had been hiding behind. He let out the breath in relief as he saw Chris throw himself to the ground, leaving Shillinger in unobstructed view. He let the arrow fly and then rushed to the cave.


Chris threw himself forward, praying desperately that he had been right in thinking Toby was sending him a message to duck. He found he had been correct when he heard a whistling noise just before Shillinger's body fell on top of him. Before he could even struggle under the weight, it was gone and Toby was there, helping him up to a sitting position and cutting the rope from his body.

When he had been freed the men were in each other's arms in an awkward but bone-crushing hug. When they finally managed to pull apart from each other, Chris could see Shillinger lying on his back, an arrow protruding from his eye socket.

"That's an amazing shot, Toby."

Toby was pointedly not looking at the dead man. "I'm so glad you understood what I was saying."

"I'm so glad you're so clever."

Toby managed a small grin, but he was looking with a concerned eye to Chris. He touched Chris' throat. "Are you all right? This rope burn looks painful."

"No, it's okay. How about you?" Toby was sitting with his injured leg out in front of him. "How the hell did you climb up here? And why? Never mind, are you okay?"

Toby shook his head a little. "I think it might be beyond repair this time."

"Toby!" Chris pulled the other man back into his arms. "What have you done?"

"Let's get out of here, Chris. We can talk later."

Chris nodded, wanting to be away from there and further away from the temple itself. "Are you going to be able to keep climbing?" He got to his feet and helped Toby up.

"I'm not sure I want to go up." Toby was looking down at Sydell. "I came up here to decide what I do want."

"Toby." Chris came up behind Toby and wrapped his arms around him. "We can't go back." He cursed Said for having to say this. "They don't just need your blood for the ceremony, they need your life. You're to be sacrificed. I'm so sorry."

He felt Toby take a deep breath, and his hands went up to hold Chris' arms. "I know, I saw the pyre."

"Then...I don't understand. What's there to decide?" He turned Toby to face him. "We'll keep going, we'll find a cave and hide out so you don't have to keep walking."

"I don't know." Toby expression was anguished with indecision. "Does it matter if I have to die?"

"Does it matter? Of course it matters! They lied to you your whole life."

"Would it have been better if I knew the truth? I mean, what would my life have been to know that one day I would be sacrificed? Every time I looked at the moons I felt a sense of expectation and maybe a little uncertainty. But I also felt I sense of belonging and comfort, knowing that I was meant for something. And not just anything - I was going to be a part of the prophecy of the Old King, bringing peace and unity to Bastion." He shook his head. "I looked forward to this time, Chris, I wanted it. Would it have been better to have fear and hesitation mixed up with that? What good would it have done to know I would never live to see what I had helped bring about?"

Chris realized there was still too much Toby didn't know. "Let's go, please. Just a little further and listen to what I have to say. The sun is only just rising, we still have all day before it's time."

Toby directed Chris to wear he had left the few items he's brought with him, including his crutch.

They made their way up the mountain, going slowly and quietly, though Chris was about to burst with everything he wanted to say. When they reached another small cave that had a good view of the mountain below, down to the Temple, they decided to stop.

Toby's face was creased in pain and Chris thought about just slinging him over his shoulder and taking him back to Sydell for help. But Toby was asking him what Shillinger had been talking about, what was this second prophecy and what did it have to do with them?

"It's just like we were talking about Toby. There was more to us coming together than me just being an escort for you. Arif told me, there is a second prophecy, one that's about the stars...the stars we have tattooed on our bodies!"

Toby was leaning against the wall of the cave, Chris kneeling beside him, desperate to convince him that his death was not necessary. "Those stars represent us, Toby. We were meant to come together for us, not for Said or Shillinger."

"But why, to what end? What purpose would it serve?" Toby was confused and miserable, Chris could tell, and he didn't blame him. This was not how things were supposed to end, not at all, as far as he'd been told all his life.

"That's exactly what I asked Arif, Toby. He said that some don't believe magic should be bestowed to the ruler of Bastion, and that's why we have come together, to stop that from happening."

"But that's the whole point of all of this. Why would the Old King leave that legacy if he never meant it to be fulfilled."

"To get us together."

"What?" Toby sat forward, incredulous, and even Chris was surprised at what he had said. "You think this whole prophecy was about us, and the ceremony of the two moons was only to get us together. Neither Said or Shillinger was ever intended to go through with the ceremony or receive the power of the magic."

"I don't know Toby, I don't know. I do know that Said thinks he's going to be wielding some pretty powerful magic, and yet he's got an army training just a few miles down the mountain. Did you know that?"

Toby shook his head, looking more and more dismayed.

"I saw it, and Arif told me he plans to attack a village because they were sympathetic to Shillinger. His power is going to his head. There are others like Arif and the priest who helped you escape who think that Said lost sight of the kind of leader everyone is hoping he'll be."

"Okay, and then what? What becomes of Bastion? Do we go on with things the way they have been, little men playing at being big ones, fighting and warring going on all the time with no one to keep it in check?"

"No, I don't know. Said could still rule, just without the magic. Maybe if he tried without the powers he would be more grounded."

"I don't know, Chris, I don't know. My sacrifice is all I've been living for, literally."

"The sacrifice of a few drops of blood, not your life! Toby, we both know, we both can feel it - we belong together, we're here for a reason, and it's not you bleeding out all over the ground tonight."

"The spirits of the moons are playing matchmaker for us?" Toby was smiling, but his confusion and distress were over riding any humor he might have been trying to inject.

"You can't deny there is something going on here."

"No, I can't. But I also can't deny that I am scared to death of changing the course of destiny."

"Let's stop talking." Chris knew Toby felt the same way he did, but Toby also had far more invested in the prophecy of the two moons - his life. He didn't want to push him or upset him any more. "We'll spend the day here, resting."

"Maybe I should go talk to Said."

"No!" Chris grabbed Toby. "No, he's apparently beyond talking - he was holding you prisoner, for Dal's sake. What's to stop him from going ahead with everything, no matter what you decide."

Toby agreed to rest with Chris. They lay down, with Chris behind Toby, his arms wrapped around him. If he had his way, they would stay this way forever.

They slept the day through, until Toby woke Chris by getting up and limping to the mouth of the cave.
"Toby, what are you doing? You ever going to give that leg a rest?"

Toby turned, still carrying the expression on his face that he had been all day - uncertainty, disappointment, and a touch of fear.

"I don't know that it matters."

Chris began to feel uneasy.

"I don't know what to do other than go back and go through with it."

Chris' unease grew to panic, and he worked to keep it out of his voice. "What about everything we talked about, Toby? We agreed, there's something to the other prophecy."

"I've seen so much this last week, been through so much, I just don't know how if I can trust my instincts."

Chris held out his hand. "Then trust mine. If you go through with this, that will be the end of it for you - but what about me? After knowing you, Toby, I know that my life can't go on without you. If you die tonight, I'll die with you. Maybe not tonight, but someday, soon, I know it."

Toby still hadn't taken his hand, so Chris grabbed his, squeezing tightly. "I love you, Toby, love you." He shook his head. "It's more than love - I know you feel the same way. I know it's harder for you - your whole life you've been told what your fate is, how your life will play out. But I have nothing to lose."

Toby's voice broke as he answered. "I'm scared."

Chris resisted the urge to pull him into his arms - he had to go slowly, to let Toby come to the decision on his own. "I know, Toby, I know."

"What if this is wrong?"

"It can't be, Toby, what we've got here can't be wrong."

"And what will we do, Chris? What will our lives become? We can't stay here and I can't follow you around as you fight your battles. Will people expect us to take up the mantle of the prophecy and become their new rulers?"

"I'm done with mercenary work, Toby. And it doesn't matter what other people think. The future will play out as it will. I don't know what we'll do, but we can do anything! The world is ours, Toby, let's enjoy it."

Toby looked back over his shoulder. The men could see faint dots of light starting up the mountain from the temple. "They're coming."

"We can outrun them. I'll fucking carry you if I have to. It's only a few hours until the moons meet."

"We don't need to run."

"Toby -"

Toby put his hands on Chris' face and slowly, tentatively pressed his lips to Chris'. Chris' breath stopped and he froze, his hands pressed to his sides, waiting.

Toby pulled back, looking flushed and unsure. "Aren't you supposed to kiss me back?"

"I've never been more terrified than I am right now."

Toby took a step, studied Chris a moment, then burst out laughing. "Really? Of everything you've done as a mercenary, all the battles and fights - this is what scares you?"

Chris was smiling as he pulled Toby into his arms, but his expression turned serious as he brushed the golden hair from the other's face. "Nothing else has ever meant anything to me like you do."

"If we do this, Chris..."

"Then we'll see what happens. We don't have to try and take over the land, or proclaim ourselves as kings, or anything like that. We'll see what happens."

Toby nodded and leaned in for another kiss, this one returned with passion.


Back in the cave, Toby smiled fondly as Chris worried over him, trying to make him as comfortable as possible with their limited supplies.

"Chris, come here, lay down. I'm fine."

Chris knelt next to Toby, taking his hands, kissing them. "I hate that we have to do this here, like this."

"Don't worry." He pulled Chris close, into another kiss. "But you probably should hurry."

They quickly shed their clothes and moved back into each other's arms, kissing hard and desperate, until Chris pulled free and moved down, his fingertips and lips ghosting softly over Toby's skin, causing his body to respond on its own, arching and twisting and Toby had to remember to make himself breathe. They had admitted to each other, that night in the Basca Sea, that their dreams had never been sexual, but this moment seemed like one that Toby had been waiting for his whole life.

Moving further down he nuzzled Toby's sides, nipping softly on his hip bones. Toby moaned and shifted and ran his hands over Chris' head. "Oh, sweet Alkumar," he murmured, his soft exclamation turning to a shout when Chris swiped his tongue the length of his cock.

Toby watched as his Chris' mouth slid over him, engulfing him, his lips and tongue moving in such a way that Toby knew he would not last long.

"Chris, you should stop."

Chris looked up at him, such a disappointed look on his face that Toby had to laugh. "I suppose you're right." He dropped kisses on Toby's thigh and belly. "But I want to make love to you all night, Toby. I can't wait until we have that chance."

Chris expressed great relief when Toby told him that he had some of the medicinal paste that they could use to ease Toby's first time. "I don't want to hurt you, love."

"I know." Toby smoothed Chris' brow with his fingertips. "But we need to do this, now."

Chris coated his fingers and pushed one, then another slowly into Toby, kissing him soft and slow as his fingers moved inside him. Toby's arms were around Chris, pulling him close, holding tight to him as these new sensations overwhelmed his senses.

When Chris moved to take him, Toby's fear and nervousness dissolved at the look of love on Chris' face. Not just love, but adoration, and a silent promise to always be there for him.

"I love you, Chris."

"Gods, Toby, I love you so much."

And then he was pushing into him, and it did hurt - stretching and burning - but the feeling of completion and belonging soon overrode any physical discomfort, and before long he was urging Chris to move against him, shifting his body to take his lover deeper as they began moving as one, holding tight to each other as they reached their completion.

"Oh, my gods, Chris," Toby gasped, as the two men lay in each other's arms. "That was, gods, that was..."

"Worth the wait?"

Toby grinned and pressed a kiss to Chris' neck. But soon the reality of the rest of the world had him frowning.

"We should get moving - the search party will be here soon."


When they had dressed they left the cave and found a small, grassy hill to sit on. "Gods, look at the moons, Toby."

They were almost together now, moving toward each other and the Gateway of Fate. "It's really going to happen, Chris." Toby's voice was hushed with awe. "I wasn't meant to live through this."

Chris took his hand and clutched it in both of his. "Yes, you were."

Toby looked at Chris and nodded, his smile filled with a love that Chris found more wondrous than the event happening above them.

They were quiet after that, heads tilted up toward the sky, lit as bright as the sun by the two huge orbs of white coming together over them, looking close enough to touch.

The moment was suddenly broken by a shout. "They're here!"

Chris got to his feet, standing protectively in front of Toby as one then another priest came into view, followed closely by Said and Arif.

Said was furious. "How dare you run!" he said, his voice low and horrible. "It's almost too late, the moons are almost together."


Chris helped Toby to his feet, being sure to keep a tight grip on his arm.

"It is too late, Said." Toby said. "I'm sorry, I think this is the better path for me - for us - to follow. I won't be your sacrifice."

Said was incredulous. "Of course you will. This is what your whole life has been for - it's what I and the land of Bastion have been waiting for for hundreds of years. It's your destiny, your fate, Tobias Beecher, you must follow it."

"I have another destiny to follow. Fate has brought me here, but now it's up to me to decide where to go from here."

"Nonsense! You've been corrupted by the influence of this man." Said gestured derisively toward Keller. "It's the fate of the world, Beecher! It's your time, now!"


"This is ridiculous, we don't have time for argument." Said stepped forward, pushing past Chris to grab Toby. Chris had his hands on Said's robe, ready to pull him off when Said froze, his eyes wide and staring at Toby.

"You are no longer worthy. You are no longer pure." Said dropped his hand and stepped back, pointing at Chris. "You! How dare you touch the Chosen One!"

Said turned to the priests serving as guards. "Kill them. They have ruined the prophecy - their actions have spelt doom for all the people of the land!"

The two priests looked at each other, drawing their swords but not moving otherwise. Chris cursed that his own sword was lying on the cave floor.

"What are you waiting for?"

"Stop!" Arif stepped up, putting his hands on his leader's shoulders. "High Priest, do you hear yourself? You're ordering the death of two men because they angered you."

"Angered me? They've ruined me! All of the years of work, all my planning."

"It's not about you!" Toby shouted at the priest, his voice full of rage and frustration. "It's about the people! The Old King ruined his kingdom to keep his sons from gaining control like you are planning to do. You're no better than them. You're no better than Shillinger. And where did his machinations get him? He's lying dead down the mountain."

Chris could see Toby was close to tears and he knew the exhaustion and confusion and disappointment were catching up to him.

"Look!" One of the guards was pointing to the moons. They had passed each other and were now on the rest of their journeys across the sky. As they parted, the Gateway of Fate was left exposed. But now, the two separate sides of the constellation had come together, the reaching arms of the Guardians of Destiny entwined.

All the priests dropped to their knees and Chris and Toby held tight to each other, feeling the shaking of each other's bodies.

"Fucking Dal, it's real," Chris breathed. "It's us, Toby, it's fucking us."

"Why?" Toby turned anxiously to Said. "What does it mean?"

"It means that you and your lover have been brought together for the good of Bastion."

"Wait a minute, wait a fucking minute!" Chris was overwhelmed. "What in Dal does that mean?"

"It means that the leadership of the land has passed out of the hands of Shillinger and myself. The stars tell us - you two are the future."

"Oh no, oh no," Chris shook his head, backing away from the group of men. "This doesn't mean anything like that, Said. You have a compound full of wise men and priests and another full of soldiers and Shillinger is dead. Go forth and lead. That is not an option for me or Toby."

He turned, reaching for Toby's reassurance; Toby came to him.

"You're right, Chris." He turned toward the High Priest. "Said, I've lived a sheltered life - I don't have the knowledge or faith that you do, and that's exactly why I think Chris is right. Without the power and the magics of the prophecy, I believe you can be much more of the kind of ruler that this land needs, than with them."

"But the stars..." All eyes went skyward once more, seeing the moons move further apart, leaving the Gateway to shine brightly on its own in the night sky.

"The stars are stars - you are a man and a leader." Toby's grip on Chris' hand tightened and Chris cold feel him falter a little.

"Priest Said." Arif was speaking earnestly. "You're a good man. You can find a balance between faith and force - I believe these men are right. The reason Beecher was not sacrificed was to show us all there is a better way."

For a moment, Chris felt sorry for the High Priest - his life's expectation had not come to pass. But Toby and Arif were right - if Said were as great a man as the stories told, he would be good ruler on his own merit.

But Said was not his concern - right now he needed to get Toby back to the temple. He was starting to shake, and when Chris looked at him he could see the strained line of his mouth and his furrowed brow as he silently dealt with his pain and exhaustion.

"We need to go back...now," he said, taking charge of the small band of men. One of the guards gathered the meager items from the cave and between the rest of them they got Toby down the mountain, reaching the compound as the night ended.

Once again, the priests took great care of Toby, changing his dressing and helping him to bathe and dress. And when Chris had done the same, they came together in the room Toby had occupied earlier, only this time there was a larger bed, big enough for the both of them.

Said and Arif arrived with the boys bringing their dinner. "I'm going to leave you to your meal and to your rest. I have much to discuss with the others on the council - I only ask that after you sleep, you come and talk with us. It is my hope that you will stay with us for a while in this period of transition."

"I don't think that's going to happen, Priest." Chris was adamant - no way was he going to stay any longer than he had to. As soon as Toby felt like traveling, they would be on their way.

Toby put a calming hand on Chris' arm. "I agree, I want to be on our way soon. And I don't know of anything we can do to help you."

"I believe it would be more of a symbol of comfort to the people to know that you are here."

"I think we'll be leaving in the morning, High Priest. I hope we can count on you to provide us with some horses and supplies for a long journey."

Said acquiesced, though reluctantly, and left with Arif.

As the men began to eat, Chris had to pause to look around. "Can you believe it's been only two days since the last time we were here."

"Yes, and we talked about how much our lives had changed in the last week. I'm almost afraid to see what will happen tomorrow."

Chris leaned forward, smiling, but serious as he asked - "You're not really, are you, Toby?"

Toby shook his head. "I should be, I suppose. When we ride out of here, we're going into unknown territory."

"Yeah. I can't wait."

The next day, the two men took off, each on their own horse, with another tied to Gray, carrying supplies. Their first destination was the small village that the O'Reilys had been headed toward.

They spent that first night under the same group of trees in the Basca Sea, watching the moons cross the skies, moving back to their original paths. The Guardian constellation remained in its new configuration, the stars shining with their new-found glow.

After finding out the O'Reilys had gone on home to Hazing - leaving behind the boy Adam to train as a blacksmith - the men took their time, heading in that direction. They stopped in large cities and small villages, listening to the gossip as people discussed the recent events. Some complained that the prophecy had not come to completion, but a few others thought that a land free of magic, and especially Shillinger, would be better.

They spent two nights at Toby's old abbey, enjoying an impromptu evening of music and wonderful food and much laughter, and Chris was so thankful to be able to meet the people who had influenced the man he cared so much about.

In Hazing, Toby and Chris found both the O'Reilys in good health, much to Chris' relief. They spent an evening in the colorful pub the brothers frequented, where Ryan insisted on buying a round of ale for the patrons so that they could raise a toast to a reluctant Beecher, the man who rid Bastion of the evil influences of Vernon Shillinger.

After leaving the brothers, Toby asked if Chris' village wasn't nearby.

"It's not too far, half a day's ride. But there's not much there for us."

"Your home?"

"My home isn't much - a small cabin with a table and chairs and a vermin-infested mattress on a rope bed frame, if the goats haven't gotten in and eaten everything."


"I rent the place from a goat farmer."

"I see." Toby bit back his smile as he looked around. The air had a sharp chill in it this morning and the leaves were turning beautiful reds and golds. "Well, if we don't go to the goat house, we better find somewhere to stay for the winter."

"You know where it's warmer?"

"I would say any bed that you're in."

Chris' eyes widened and he laughed out loud, causing Gray's ears to prick up at the sound. "Well then, we better find one, fast. How about that hotel I told you about, on the coast of the Western Ocean?"

"The soft bed and the roast duck?"

"We could stay the winter."

"And then?"

Chris turned his horse around, heading west on the hard-packed dirt road. "And then, the world is ours, Toby."


"Daddy, this is our new friend, Jimmy. Will you tell us stories about Keller and Beecher? He's never heard any!"

"What, doesn't your father tell you stories around the fire?"

"David, not all families tell stories."

"Yes, father. Sorry."

"So, Elise, what story should I tell?"

"Tell about when they're first together, and they travel and see the whole land and sail the oceans and have adventures until King Said dies and they have to come home."

"No, no, Jimmy doesn't want to hear about that stuff, do you, Jimmy? Father, tell him about when Bastion was at war and Beecher and Keller had to go into all those battles."

"I like how Beecher always rode on the back of Keller's horse and used his bow and arrow."

"How come Beecher didn't have his own horse?"

"Oh, because he got his leg hurt and it never healed right, even though he got it magicked. So he couldn't use it very good to hold onto his horse while he fought so he rode with Keller. Right, Daddy?"

"That's right, Elise. But Beecher didn't fight much, Jimmy, even though he was said to be a dead shot. He and Keller were good leaders because Keller was a very good fighter, and Beecher was very good at solving problems peacefully. He would have time set aside every morning and every afternoon to hear the people that would come to the kingdom with their problems and worries. And in between, he would meet with his council, always trying to make things better for everyone."

"Are they still alive?"

"No, Jimmy, they're not. They lived to be very old, but died many years ago."

"How did they die?"

"Keller was out hunting and he fell and smashed his head and lay in bed until he died."

"David, that's a horrible way to tell it. You tell it, Daddy."

"Well, David told it pretty much right. What happened was that Keller was indeed out hunting when his horse tripped and he was thrown. He was knocked out and never regained consciousness. After several days, when all the healers and priests had done everything they could, it was obvious that Keller would not live much longer. So, one night Beecher got into bed with Keller and told everyone to leave them alone. The next morning, when the servants went to check on them, they were dead. And though Keller had not moved in over a week, he and Beecher were found with their arms wrapped around each other."

"And the moons, Daddy, the moons."

"Yes, the moons. That night the moons did not rise. All the people of the land came out to marvel at it. And though there was no light from Alkumar and Dal, the sky was still brilliant with starshine from the constellation of the Gateway of Fate. And the stars that made up the Guardians of Destiny shone brighter than ever before.

"The people all over knew it was a sign of the end of the reign of their great rulers and they spent the night mourning and also celebrating that they had had such wonderful men to lead them for so many years."

"More, please Daddy!"

"I'll tell you what I'll do. Whenever Jimmy can come over in the evenings, I'll tell a story. Maybe by the end of summer, he'll know all about them."

"But you'll start tonight, right Father?"

"Yes, please, Sir!"

"All right. I'll start at the beginning. Many years ago, there was an old king..."




art & fanmix by ALetter2Elise