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Brightest of Stars

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They had played here, once, many times before the war became the War. They had flown, then, for the far side of Ehmead Hill was a day's hike from nowhere in all directions. When Duke left the army, he came here, walking a way that would become familiar, though he did not know it then. He had stripped every piece of his uniform, tattered and dusty from days of cross-country hiking, wrapped up the glittering dark gemstone of Elucifer's soul and thrown the bundle beyond the cliff. He did not watch to see where it fell. Elucifer would not be used by humans again.

Now, the sun touches the horizon, but Duke faces the oncoming night. He knows the sun will rise again tomorrow, that the world is no longer in danger of complete desolation. He was there. He knows. Duke knows that much.

The gravestone is solid against Duke's back. "Ten years," he says, rough voice, a man used to speaking to himself. "What now, Elucifer?"

There is a light and Duke must shut his eyes for the brightness. A hot wind buffets his face, solid with smoke that makes his eyes water, the thick scent of burning balsam branches and then, as suddenly, the smoke shifts, thins and cools. All that remains is the smell of matches blown out.

Eyes open, Duke can see only feathers, glossy black feathers, catching purple and green in the sun's waning light. The shortest beginning from the span of his palm, the pinions the span of his arms. The first pair of wings unfurl from across a broad, dark, human chest, the second from piercing brown eyes. The last remain across the being's lower body, covering its feet.

"You are familiar to me," the being says. "You, and this place. You were my dearest friend." It turns its head to look at him, angling one way and the other. What Duke had first taken to be an ear is a nose, two other faces looking out from behind wavy locks of black hair. The arrangement, the movement, is alien, jarring in such otherwise human features, and more beautiful. Duke is reminded of Elucifer turning his beak to view Duke fully with one aquiline eye.

Duke remembers grooming Elucifer's feathers, remembers with a shock of sudden joy that the plan of Terca Lumiresis' salvation transformed all apatheia, and remembers what it feels like to hope. If this being is not Elucifer, Duke is not the same man he was ten years ago.

"I am no longer what I once was; I do not know what I will be. You must give me a name."

It reaches out a hand towards him. Duke leans his cheek into that touch. The being's hand is warm, warmer than he would expect for a creature with such smooth, exposed skin. His own skin is prickling under his clothes, too warm, too confining.

"Hail Phosphorus," Duke says, "Brightest of Stars."

"Phosphorus," the being speaks, a purring caress of Duke's inner ear. Duke's stomach shudders, his mouth suddenly rushing with wet, and his cock pulsing against his thigh. He has not felt the pull of desire in ten long years.

"And will you also call Phosphorus 'friend', Duke Pantarei?"

"Yes," Duke says, falling to his knees. "Please."

And behold, Phosphorus spreads its final pair of wings, and Duke knows that Phosphorus is male.

Duke tilts his head back, opening his mouth to receive. Phosphorus places his flesh there, pressing against the back of Duke's tongue. His wings beat with his movements, stirring the cool night winds. Duke swallows deeper, deeper, eyes watering, glorying in the majesty above and within him. Phosphorus' fingers weave like anchors in his hair, cupping his skull, stroking the length of his throat. Phosphorus has three faces that watch him, six hands, and all are reaching for Duke.