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Title -- "Love and Loyalty: Aeren" Book Two Chapter Three Part one
Author-- AnonymousAvatar
series -- A Distant Soil
Disclaimer -- Colleen Doran owns all
Rating -- NC-17
Characters/Pairing -- Seren/ Kovar, D'mer/Seren
Summary -- The Avatar and his Shield Kovar must face a conspiracy that threatens everyone and everything they love.

WARNING: Child abuse. Some content may be disturbing for some readers.



PART I PART II
PART III Part IV Part V Part VI Part VII Part VIII
Part VIX
Part X
Part XI





Love and Loyalty

Book 2 AEREN

Chapter 3


“Well,” said Aeren, in a voice that once again dripped with bitterness, “that finally shut you up.”

Kovar realized he’d been holding his breath.

“I wish you’d let me stay drunk,” said Aeren, looking into his glass, and away from the pain and horror in Kovar’s face. The Prince shifted in his seat, the first nervous motion Aeren had ever seen him make.



Aeren was still rather intoxicated, but he was considerably more sober than he had been before Kovar gave him the pill.

“As you pointed out to me earlier,” continued Aeren. “Children have no rights. As I do not. I am your ward,” he added snidely. “But children young enough not to have been through the Choosing aren’t even born yet. They have no souls. They’re just empty vessels waiting to be filled.” He waved his hand in the air. “They’re no different than this glass. You break one, it’s just a broken thing. You can always get another.” Aeren hurled his glass across the room and it shattered into sparkling shards on the perfect stone marquetry floor. Kovar watched as the bright sparks danced to a stop.

“You break a child’s body…” Aeren paused. He caught his breath on a sob and wiped his eyes. “The Hierarchy made the problem go away by declaring the children corrupted vessels,” said Aeren. “The children went through the Choosing and none of them got souls. Etan ended them. That was it. The sins committed against them ended with them as well.” He took in a deep breath and turned to the Prince, his blue eyes red with weariness and tears, bitterness and grief. “What do you think of your God, now?”

Kovar rose from his seat and went to the window where the glorious, pristine landscape of blindingly white snow made his eyes water from the reflected glare. He placed his forehead against the window, and took a deep breath. “Yet they let Seren live…”

“Yes,” said Aeren in a whisper. “Yes.”

Kovar closed his eyes. “The price?”

“We’re still paying it,” said Aeren, sadly. Kovar turned to look at him.

“If it is ever revealed what happened, what they did to Seren, then the world will know that the Avatar’s heir was ‘corrupted’. If this happens before he takes the mantle of the Avatar, The Hierarchy will have him destroyed,” said Aeren in a soft voice.

Kovar groaned. “God damn it, Aeren.”

“Seren is soulless before he ascends that throne,” said Aeren. “Until he takes on the soul of the Avatar, he’s just another…empty vessel. That’s what Etan meant when he said he feared I would ‘corrupt’ his heir. He was speaking in riddles, as he always does. But I knew. That was his warning.”

“To be silent. To stop what you were doing lest they destroy the child, the last witness to their crime.”

“Yes.”

“God.”

“God is a toy. The Hierarchy plays with him. Then we tremble and worship. Aren’t we idiots? You bastard, I wish I were still drunk. Why couldn’t you let me stay drunk?” Aeren began to sob quietly, his shoulders shaking, his head down, his face veiled by disheveled tendrils of golden hair that had escaped his untidy queue.

Kovar let the boy cry. After some time, he walked to his desk and removed one of his immaculate handkerchiefs. He returned to Aeren and held it out, until Aeren raised his head. It took him a moment to register what was being held in front of his face. Then he took the handkerchief into his hand with dull awareness. “You always do the right thing at the right moment. It must be a great burden being perfect all the time,” Aeren said. He wiped his face and blew his nose. “I’m so tired,” He pulled a pillow to the arm of the chaise and laid his head upon it, curling up into a fetal position on the couch. He stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the shards of glass spread across the floor.

“You endangered Seren’s life when you embarked on this crusade, Aeren,” said Kovar, softly.

“I would never do anything to endanger his life,” Aeren said, sharply. “ But I couldn’t stand by and let them…”

Kovar closed his eyes.

“They’re still hurting children, you know. You can get children without going to the crèche. You can get them off world. No one cares.” Aeren sniffed and wiped his nose with the handkerchief. “If I’m found out, they’ll never get me. I’ll escape off world. I’ll kill myself. I told you earlier. I’ll destroy everything in my mind if I have to. I know how to do it. ”

“You love him very much.”

“Etan?”

“Seren.”

Aeren hesitated before he answered. “I love him more than anything in this existence.”

Kovar returned to the window. A storm was gathering, great grey billowing masses of clouds roiling over the farthest mountains, dimming the light as it slowly made its way to the palace. Kovar wiped moisture from his eyes again. “You say Lady Sere is behind all this.”

“Oh, yes,” said Aeren.

“You can prove it.”

“Oh, yes.”

“If she is the mistress of all this misery, why didn’t you target her first?”

Aeren sighed. “Etan forbade it. He was adamant. He says…he says if something happens to her, the one who replaces her will be even worse. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but he doesn’t make declarations like that lightly.”

Kovar frowned. Lady Sere was an extraordinarily beautiful woman of immense psionic power who was a cornerstone of the Hierarchy. She was even older than he was, popular, elegant, extremely manipulative, and utterly ruthless. But he had heard nothing of her harming children. When Lady Sere was discussed, it was with a mixture of awe, admiration and cold terror; what prompted the terror was never mentioned.

Teramis had battled her House many years ago, when there was open war among Ovanan’s peoples, but much of the conflict was before Kovar had ascended the throne. Treaties were signed and times changed. He had never fought her directly, but he disliked her on a visceral level, and they steered clear of one another. He had not spoken to her in any great depth beyond their trying to take one another’s measure, and retreating to their separate lairs like animals that did not like one another’s scents, but were too wary to attack and devour one another. His House supplied her with much of her security staff, as was the case for almost every noble on Ovanan: he did not like the idea of leasing Shields to her, as he did not trust what was in the minds he would get back. He required her to buy Shields outright, and he rarely saw any of them again.

“Aeren, if Sere is behind all this, and you cannot take direct action against her, what action did you intend to take?”

Aeren shrugged again. “At first…at first I thought it would be good to let her see her circle of friends die around her. To not know when or where her end would come, too.”

“You assume she knows what fear is and will respond to it as you would,” said Kovar.

Aeren sighed. “I am not sure what I will do when I get to her. I’m afraid…I’m afraid of what would happen to Seren if I did. And I’m afraid that Etan is right. That something even darker is standing behind her.”

Aeren rolled over and looked at Kovar standing at the window, his back stiff and straight, his hands clasped behind him.

“You don’t know what it’s like in that House, do you?”

Kovar turned to look at him. “The Avatar’s House, you mean?”

“Saveris says nothing to you? You visit him, you are intimate.”

Kovar raised a brow. “Saveris has taken vows to never reveal any secrets of the Avatar’s House. You know this. He honors those vows, as all my men do. No matter how…intimate we are, we keep boundaries. If Etan did not think we did, he would forbid me to court my lover. And I would have to obey this command, no matter how much I love Saveris.”

“You really do think he’s God.”

“Of course I do.”

“A God who sends little molested children to their deaths.”

“Aeren, I will not have blasphemy spoken in my House.” Kovar said it quietly, but with such force that Aeren felt the words reverberate in his bones. “The Avatar is the earthly incarnation of God. I realize that his fleshly form is…weaker than the spirit it holds. And that the Hierarchy exerts a great deal of influence upon it,” he said. “He is God but he is mortal. His flesh burdens him with mortal failings and mortal needs. You should know that better than anyone.”

Aeren flinched. As the body upon which the Avatar quenched the thirst for some of those mortal needs, he knew it very well.

“Etan would not have harmed those children of his own will,” Kovar said, with finality.

Aeren hung his head. “No. He wouldn’t.” Then he blew his nose again, an inelegant honk into the handkerchief. “The things they do to him…the things they make him do. He can’t bear it much longer, Kovar.”

Kovar moved back to the chaise and stood looking down at Aeren, who was blotting at his runny nose. “Giving life to Seren would be an indication that Etan’s time on this world is almost over.”

“Practically an announcement that he wants to die, isn’t it?” Aeren looked up. His eyes were puffy and his nose was red, but Kovar noted most of the discoloration from last night’s fight was gone.

The Avatar was the only person on Ovanan who had a private crèche. The seed of all Avatars before him was stored there, and the progenitors of his heir gave birth to the young boy who was to take Etan’s place. Once Seren was able to wield the power of the Avatar, Etan would die and Seren would become God.

“Everything they make Etan do, they will make Seren do, unless Seren is strong enough to resist them. And no Avatar has been strong enough to resist the Hierarchy in many generations.” Aeren shook his head. “Etan wanted Seren to grow up protected, loved, to give him a hope of being something Etan could never be. That’s why he let Lady Sere take Seren to spend time with other children. He hoped he’d be happy, able to make friends as Etan never was. He never dreamed she’d…” Aeren choked back a sob. He wiped his nose again, and continued. “By hurting Seren as they have, making him weak, vulnerable…the Hierarchy is making him grow to be as damaged as Etan is. They control Etan by threatening Seren. Then if they kill Seren to torment Etan, what of it? There will be another child to grow in the crèche to take his place.”

Aeren sighed hugely, then rolled himself back into a fetal position on the chaise. “You don’t know what it’s like in that House,” he said again. “It’s hell, there. Hell.”

Kovar looked at Aeren for a long while as the boy closed his eyes, teardrops on his dark lashes like small diamonds. Kovar marveled at him, this image so far from the confident and radiantly beautiful boy who dazzled the women of the court and strutted from one gala to another, dressed in his finery, the center of attention. Here was another true piece of him: last night’s rage and fear, and today, weary with pain and grief.

“There is only so much I will be able to do to help. You know this,” said Kovar.

Aeren opened his eyes, but did not look at the Prince.

“If it is known that I am acting against the interests of the Hierarchy, there could be reprisals against my House. There could be war.”

“I understand,” said Aeren.

“I will not risk open war between our peoples.”

“Yes,” said Aeren.

“You must swear to me you will obey me in all that I ask of you. I cannot have you operating as a wild agent at cross purposes to me. If you put my House at risk, I will throw you out of here to your fate….do you hear what I am saying to you?”

“…Yes, Your Highness.”

“Swear it, Aeren.”

“I swear, Your Highness.” Aeren did not move. His voice was low, and he showed no emotion, but he was unable to stop the flux of his aura. He radiated hope and relief. And pain.

“We will discuss this further when you have had more time to think on what has happened today. And when you are more sober. But until then you can obey me in one small thing.”

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“Get your boots off my couch.”

Aeren let out a sharp laugh, smiled ruefully, then pinched the space between his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Wearily, he sat up, but before he could bend over, Kovar was already on his knees. He took Aeren by the calf, and slipped off one of the shiny black boots. Aeren gasped lightly in surprise.

“These don’t fit properly,” said Kovar. “I’ll have the tailor in to see you and have you properly attired.” He slipped off the other boot. “I can’t have you walking about embarrassing my House in sloppy dress.” He reached up to Aeren’s temple to touch one of the psi-blocks. He frowned. The ugly red blotches from Aeren’s allergy were spreading again. “I don’t want to remove this while you are still intoxicated.”

Aeren gave Kovar another one of his wan smiles. “It’s nice not to have to be in control, at least,” he said.

“You’ve never had proper training.” Kovar said. He set aside Aeren’s boots, but kept his place kneeling at the boy’s feet, looking him in the eye.

Aeren shrugged. “Not like I could get it. There are no others like me.” He sighed. “Etan did his best.”

“What is the extent of your power, Aeren?” Kovar said. A flicker of anxiety flashed across Aeren’s face. “Aeren, I have to know. If I am going to train you, there must be deep trust between us. I have to know what I am dealing with.”

Aeren bit his lip. “Well, you figured out I’m a disruptor.” Kovar nodded. “That’s related to my being a crystalcutter, you see. It’s why crystalcutters are so rare. The same psionic pattern that senses the pulses in the crystals is the same pattern that gives me the ability to sense energy flow of all kinds, and to disrupt it. Most crystalcutters aren’t very good at crystal sensing, actually. I am, because I have the full range of the power. They don’t.”

Kovar nodded in understanding. “You can feel power flow in all things?”

“Yes, of course. It has its drawbacks, though.” He bit his lip again. “I’m a sensitive, too.” Kovar raised an eyebrow. “It’s impossible to compartmentalize the flow of these energies, to shut them out. They’re always on.”

Kovar frowned. “That range of ability? Aeren…that must be…you must be bombarded with impulses constantly.”

Aeren sighed. “Yes.”

“It must be hell.”

“I try to keep up a strong shield,” Aeren said, without conviction.

“I felt it. But there’s no nuance. You have no real control over it.”

“Not really,” Aeren agreed. He smiled again. “Not bad being here, though,” he said. “I noticed the first time I came to Teramis. Everyone has very strong shields. They keep their feelings to themselves. It’s easier to manage here. Restful.”

“How can you possibly tolerate court life?” said Kovar.

Aeren’s face set in hard lines again. “Not very well,” he said, flatly.

Kovar took a pillow from the chaise and put it on the floor to sit upon. He arranged himself at Aeren’s feet and crossed his legs, leaning against the chaise with his arm, ready to hear what Aeren had to say. He looked open and expectant in away that Aeren had never seen before, and it made him smile. He wondered if the Prince of Teramis relaxed like this with his soldiers. If he talked to them about their problems the way he was talking to Aeren now. Kovar was his Shield Master. Is this how it would be between them? Aeren stretched out on the chaise, his bare feet now welcome upon it, and spoke again.

“It’s difficult for me to be in crowds, as it is for any sensitive, I suppose. Going to events and meetings, so many sensations to block out. Etan can’t do it. He needs to have eyes and ears he can trust out in the world. I’m all he has.” Aeren shrugged. “I need a lot of time to recover after.”

“You cultivate many relationships for one who is so sensitive,” Kovar said, skirting the issue of Aeren’s romantic conquests as delicately as he could manage.

“Ah. That.” Aeren shrugged again. "These relationships… they’re not as… as deep and wide as people seem to believe.” Kovar raised a brow. “It’s just sex. With one person I can be…complete, whole, and in that moment. All of my senses dedicated to one thing and one person. I blot out the world, and that person becomes my world. I give them everything. It makes me forget…everything else. You felt what I can do. ” Kovar’s eyes narrowed and Aeren flinched. Kovar had felt a fraction of that high-powered sensitivity being directed at him, and had no doubt Aeren’s reputation in bed was well earned. But he also wondered how many people he had manipulated, and to what political purpose, to get his way, or, Etan’s way. Aeren looked down at his hands. “They’re not lovers to me, you know.”

“I’m not judging you, but I am concerned for your safety.”

Aeren grinned ruefully. “You’ve felt my blocks; they're strong as a wall. I’m not a fool, Kovar. I bring a Shield, too.” Aeren sighed. “Besides, being with people strengthens alliances. They like me, and then they want I want. Then Etan gets what he wants.”

And lives vicariously through you, thought Kovar. Intermittently celibate, disconnected from the world and almost completely unable to interact with it except through his gloriously beautiful and gifted young lover, Aeren, whom, it now seemed, he sent out into that world to seduce people into getting what his House needed.

Teramis had few sensitives in its ranks; most of them were too soft for combat. Some were relegated to counseling and healing professions. Others became courtesans. Aeren was a unique combination of delicate and deadly. What a spy he would make! No doubt, that’s what Etan had thought when he took him on as his ward.

Kovar considered, then he said, “As a sensitive, the emotions of others must be difficult to block. Yet you did not sense what was happening to Seren?”

Aeren frowned and looked defensive for a moment, then caught himself. “I sense emotions, Kovar. Emotions aren’t thoughts,” he said. “I knew Seren was troubled, but I didn’t know why. I thought…I thought it was because he’d witnessed The Choosing and understood what was happening to the children.” Aeren closed his eyes. “I asked him over and over, begged him to tell me why he was so sad. He would tell me he was fine and he would tell me that he loved me. That was all. That he loved me.” He rubbed a hand across his eyes. “And I wasn’t…I wasn’t there for him, Kovar. Etan and I were fighting then, quite a lot. I would leave, run away. Not come back for weeks. I couldn't stand to be in that House! God damn it!” Aeren muffled a sob under his hand. “I left Seren there alone. All alone. He said he loved me and I left him.”

Kovar waited until Aeren gathered himself again. The guilt and grief poured off him in dark waves. Then the boy sighed in resignation. “Etan wants me to be here. Not just…not just for my protection. But for the training you can give me. You can give me greater control over my powers.”

“That would be my guess,” Kovar said. “Everything he does has layers of meaning, no matter how simple it seems.”

“I’m sure he enjoyed letting you think it was your idea,” he said to Kovar, who smiled. “He trusts you a great deal,” Aeren continued, chewing his lip. “I didn’t realize how much until now.” Kovar said nothing to this. Aeren was nursing oubliettes of guilt, including guilt over suspecting Kovar of the horrible abuse he’d discovered. He would be nursing these difficult feelings for a long while. “Would have made more sense to send me to you years ago, one supposes,” mused Aeren.

“He had his reasons,” said Kovar. “Not least of which is he and I did not know one another when you were a small child. We have grown to share trust, over time. Even so,” said Kovar, leaning forward, "I must protect what goes on in this House, even as you must protect what goes on in the Avatar’s House.” Aeren looked wary. “You will honor the confidentiality of what you learn here.”

“I understand.”

“You must understand,” said Kovar firmly, “For I will not tolerate betrayal.” Aeren went very pale at this, no doubt considering the beaten he’d taken last night as a small taste of the punishment he’d receive for displeasing Kovar in future. “You have been candid with me about the sad circumstances that brought you here. And these revelations were with the Avatar’s knowledge to some extent, I am sure. I will not press you for anything else you know. Moreover, whatever I learn from you will be held in strictest confidence as well. We will both swear an oath upon this.”

“I swear it,” said Aeren.

Kovar smiled. “Not now. When you’ve had some rest. When we have both had more time to decide what needs to be agreed upon between us. You have not read your ward contract yet.”

“Ah,” said Aeren. “That.” He looked around Kovar’s comfortable office with the big windows and attractive appointments. “I suppose I’ll be carted off to the cadet’s quarters,” he mused, mournfully. He dreaded a future in a grim dormitory with uncomfortable cots and burly roommates who would no doubt find their diminutive resident an easy target for hazing. Aeren had heard sordid tales of the way young soldiers treated one another.

“You? Hell, no,” scoffed Kovar. “They’d eat you alive." His fears confirmed and lifted at once, Aeren sighed with relief. "You’re my ward, you’ll live with me. I told you, you and I will become very close to me in the time we will be together.”

“Years, you said,” replied Aeren dubiously.

“However long it takes,” said Kovar.

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