Music echoed throughout the glade, soothing the beasts that lay around their master. A dire wolf nestled behind the man, serving as his pillow, while a multitude of birds, foxes, squirrels, and deer, as well as the dire wolf’s pack, gathered round, keen to listen to their beautiful patron.
Everything was perfect there around the god. The grass was greener, the flowers brighter, the berries sweeter. Alanci had not moved from that spot in nearly four centuries. Vines wove about him, snaking against his earthen and leaf robes as a testament to the unbroken peace of his domain. A peace so whole and complete surely had no end.
Alanci’s four hundred year melody ended abruptly, his ocean blue eyes snapping open. The scene around him was overgrown, but unchanged. It was not something of close proximity that disturbed him.
The god stood, the vines that had grown about him and his long dead animal companions snapping and groaning as they were moved from their centuries-long resting places. Inquisitive eyes scanned the glade he had rested in, searching for any nearby sign of what had shaken him from his peace. There couldn’t be a violation of his wood’s sanctity now, after all this time. His forest was forgotten by time and man, after all, hidden away in untouched splendor and tranquility.
Finally, he realized just what had disturbed him. Someone was in the deepest, most hidden sanctum of his wood, violating the spring he had sworn to protect with all of his power. There was someone in the Fount of Immortals, and it was not a destined warrior or a chosen soul.
The wind rustled around Alanci as he moved purposefully through his wood, setting the leaves to tremble as he disturbed their peaceful rest. The nature god was not fond of mortals entering his territory, and none had dared try in over a thousand years. The elusive scent of amali flowers tinged the area about him, sweetening his immediate whereabouts and setting the woodland creatures at ease.
How dare this upstart enter my domain?! Alanci thought with anger.
His blue eyes sparked with fury. He was nearly there. Nearly to the holy spring, imbued with immortality and the power to heal even the deepest afflictions, though only when the god himself was touching those sacred waters. He was careful to keep it hidden away but now, somehow , a mortal had found it! Alanci knew he would not touch the water and infuse it with power, would not allow the human the immortality he, without a doubt, sought.
No, Alanci would pluck the silly mortal from his feet and make him wish, no, make him beg to be shown some small speck of godly compassion. And then he would enthrall this foolhardy man for ever thinking he could slip past a being so supreme and ever-powerful as The Great God Alanci of the Evergreen.
Finally, he came to the clearing where the Fount of Immortals lay, hidden behind thick curtains of flowering vine. Alanci pushed this curtain aside, hand raised to smite the profane mortal, but quickly stopped in his tracks. A warm heat spread across the god’s face as he quickly withdrew, touching his cheeks. He'd never known a god to blush over a mortal. Alanci dropped into a bush, peeking out at the man again. What he saw stunned him just as much at the second glimpse.
The man was bare save for a strip of cloth woven round his loins, but that, too, was soon laid to the earth like the rest of the human's dirty clothing. Alanci took in every inch with his eyes, devouring details ravenously. He hadn’t known humans could have such beautiful bodies! Even marked with scars and painted with clear tan lines, this man was sublime . Thick, corded muscle stretched taut beneath the man’s flesh. Calves and thighs that could rival those of Ashantu, God of Warring Nations, acted as a pedestal for the pronounced firmness of the mortal’s ass. Above that was a beautiful marble wall of shoulder and back that Alanci would die to be able to mark up with his fingernails.
The mortal turned, and Alanci flushed brighter. He was not used to seeing the bare flesh of others, but he couldn’t break his eyes away. The man’s torso criss-crossed with scar after scar. To many, the man would be considered a marred, destroyed mess. Alanci, however, could tell that this mortal was not something to be pitied. He was a fighter, strong and resilient, his scars telling the story of the battles he had fought and won .
Alanci’s eyes wandered again, settling now on the mortal’s right arm. Where there should have been smooth or scarred skin, instead the god saw dark grey scales trailing down to a wickedly clawed hand - like that of a dragonkin. The mortal trailed the claw up his body along with his human hand, and Alanci swore he felt all of his blood rushing to his cheeks. Or maybe it was rushing somewhere lower.
The god stayed there, staring blankly, too shocked by the beautiful creature before him to even think of moving. When the human finally stepped out of the water to dress, Alanci came to his senses. He shook his head and sat back, trying to rationalize why he was feeling so light-headed over a mere mortal of all things. He had to tell one of the others.
Alanci picked himself up, hurrying along giddily. He wound through the wood, feet barely touching the mossy ground beneath him. Finally he came to a marble columned gazebo flanked by climbing rose bushes colored in an array of pinks and reds, all in full bloom no matter the season. The moon rose high and full above the gazebo despite it being midday, illuminating the beautiful woman reclining in its center.
“Allura, goddess of the moon, mages, lovers, sister dearest of mine. I’ve come to tell you something amazing !”
Allura looked up from the mice in her lap, mouth twisting into a bemused smile. She sighed and shook her head, silvery locks shifting like strands of pure moonlight over her dark shoulders. Lance hurried to her feet, kneeling in front of her and grinning brightly. Allura raised an eyebrow and laughed, shaking her head.
“I haven’t seen you smile like this in centuries, dear brother. What’s got you so excited?”
“I saw someone today. A mortal came to the fount, but I don’t think he knew what it was. He bathed in it, Allura. ”
The goddess stared at her brother silently for a moment before laughing again.
“Alanci, are you telling me that a mortal wandered into your domain and bathed in the Fount of Immortals ?”
“Yes, Allura! That’s what I just said!”
“Alanci of the Evergreen if this is not some horrible joke that you’ve devised, I will scream.”
Alanci looked away, blushing a bit. Allura sighed with exasperation before shaking her head and reclining on her seat.
“Alanci, you’re the youngest of us all, but I know that you know how important it is to keep mortals out . Antonias makes an exception for the animals you like to keep for pets as long as you don’t make them immortal, but letting a human bathe in the Fount?! He will strip you of your godhood, brother!”
Alanci looked away nervously, his entire face aflame now.
“I-I know that, Allura… But maybe he’d let me have this one ? I’ve only seen him once but he was just so… Allura, he was amazing!”
With a wave, the vines that still clung to Alanci’s robe sprung to life. They grew and wove together, making a perfect miniature image of the man Alanci had seen earlier. The god sighed dreamily, reaching out to touch his replica.
“Allura, I just… I don’t understand why I feel so strange when I think about him…”
Allura sat back up, looking between her brother and the vine copy. She groaned and ran her hands over her face.
“Please, you have to forget about him. It will only cause you to forget your godly status.”
Alanci nodded and let the vines fall apart, but he had already made up his mind. He had to see this mortal again. Whether it cost his status or not, he had to make this man his.
Morning light filtered softly through leaves as Takashi padded through the forest silently, his every step practiced and precise. His bow hung over his shoulder and his quiver barely even jostled at his side. His quarry was close, a buck whose meat would keep him in food for at least two weeks and whose hide would, at the very least, make him a pair of sturdy boots for the nearing winter.
The hunter paused, listening intently before quickly readying his bow, nocking an arrow, and loosing it into a nearby bush. The rustling within stopped, and as his target shrieked, Takashi sighed. Just a fox. He hurried to the bush, eyes widening at the sight within. There was indeed a fox there, but it wasn't like any other in this wood. The creature was a gorgeous chestnut brown with glistening blue eyes. His hunt forgotten, Takashi scooped up the animal with his flesh hand and carried it with him, cursing himself under his breath.
The hike back was tedious on its own, much more so now with a wiggling beast in hand. Despite the arrow that had destroyed its front paw, the fox was fairly calm through the trip, making small noises of discomfort if it happened to be jostled too much one way or the other. Takashi did his best to keep the poor thing still, speaking to it softly and patting its fluffy little head.
The pair finally came to Takashi’s cottage, which was truly more of a shack on the edge of a small glade than anything else. The human brought the fox into his cottage, setting his quiver and bow beside the door. He set the little animal on his bed before gently removing the arrow from its paw. He treated the wound carefully, making sure to begin the arduous task of setting the miniscule broken bones. The sun was beginning to dip in the sky when he finally finished, Takashi looking into the glittering blue eyes of the fox.
“I’m sorry I hit you. I was meaning to scare off predators, not harm a druid.”
The fox’s ears perked up and it looked away, causing Takashi to chuckle softly. He stroked the animal’s fur gently, closing his eyes a bit.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice. There are no blue eyed foxes in this wood.”
The creature’s head drooped a bit before soft tendrils of green light floated about it. The light coalesced in a grassy orb around the fox, which began to morph into the shape of a man. The grass formed into beautiful leaves before falling away from the figure they had made, dissolving into light just before they touched the bed.
Takashi held his breath, eyes widening at the display before him. Where the fox and, then, the grassy orb once sat, a young man was now perched. Wild, earthy curls framed his tragically lovely face, set with wide, inquisitive eyes like forget-me-nots dusted in morning dew that seemed to stare into the hunter’s very soul. His lips formed a lovely pout, positioned delicately beneath an upturned nose, all painted the rich brown of upturned soil. Takashi had half a mind to believe that this was a fae instead of a druid, but he was still alive and not enslaved, so he knew that his original assumption was correct.
The druid shifted, careful not to place weight on his injured hand. He was somehow dressed both plainly and extravagantly, wearing a leather tunic with embroidered edging, leggings tucked into well-crafted boots, and a fur cloak, no doubt in anticipation of the coming winter. He cast a cautious gaze across the hut and Takashi gulped. From what he’d heard, druids weren’t fond of buildings. Maybe he’d never been in one? Takashi was suddenly regretting his decision to bring the druid inside.
Then Takashi’s heart skipped a beat. The druid looked directly at him again, and he smiled. Takashi gulped and managed his own smile in return. He couldn’t explain the weak feeling he felt when he looked at this man before him. Quickly, Takashi scrambled to his feet. The druid strode about for a few steps before turning back to him.
“You shot me with an arrow.”
Takashi felt his cheeks heat up, and he couldn’t help but look away guiltily. He sputtered another apology, trying not to show how flustered he was and failing stupendously. The druid’s lips turned up into a soft half smile, and he reached out with his uninjured hand, touching Takashi’s cheek gently. Takashi felt his breath catch as the young man drew closer, the scents of earth and rainwater fresh on his skin.
“You seem afraid, hunter. Surely you’ve seen more fearsome beasts than myself.”
Takashi’s breath caught. Yes, he’d seen terrible, vicious, awe inspiring beasts before. But none had ever left him so speechless. None before had left his mouth dry as discarded bones. None had caused his knees to quake with just a look nor his heart to still to make silence for their words. Yes, he had been afraid before. But what he felt when he looked at this druid was so far beyond anything he had felt to this point. Takashi had no name for how he felt, and that was what scared him most.
The druid seemed both amused and satisfied by the man's response, turning his attention away from Takashi to wander about the cottage, his fingers sliding over different objects with barely masked curiosity. The hunter watched quietly, a smile slowly tugging at his lips. Maybe hitting the druid with his arrow wasn’t so much of an accident as it was fate pulling them together. At the very least, Takashi hoped it was.
Whether drawn by normal causes or by a want to see the hunter again, the druid continued to visit Takashi’s cottage. At the beginning, he had small excuses like bringing the hunter more wood for his fire or giving him insight to how the animals were moving, but, slowly, the two seemed to just find each other. In Takashi’s eyes, it was fate drawing the two closer. Lance, as he learned the druid was called, always seemed eager to follow the hunter on scavenging hunts for things like firewood, herbs, and food.
It was strange; the woods seemed teeming with life now that Lance was there by Takashi’s side. Birds grew bolder, coming to land on their shoulders. Vegetation seemed greener and more plentiful. It was as though the very area around the druid had been blessed, and Takashi was beginning to feel that this strange power was affecting him as well. His aim was truer, his mind clearer, and the scales on his arm seemed to hurt less and less every day he spent with Lance.
Takashi took a deep breath as he saw Lance coming towards his cottage again. A light rain pattered down on his shoulders, but the man didn’t seem disturbed, a sweet smile on his face as he began to walk faster when he reached the rough stone walkway. Takashi opened his door in anticipation, laughing when the wet bundle of robes dashed into the hut and threw his arms around him. They twirled once before the hunter set Lance back down, giving him a squeeze and pushing the door shut with his foot. Lance quickly removed his outer robe and hung it on the door, fluffing his hair as his host watched appreciatively.
“You’ll never guess what I found on the way here, Takashi! A new family of foxes in the trunk you showed me last week! They were beautiful, a sleek white male and a red female. I think their babies will be lovely.”
Takashi listened quietly as Lance continued to ramble about the things he’d seen. It was adorable, honestly. He knew that Lance must be decades, maybe even centuries, older than him, but he spoke as though he were experiencing every little sight for the first time. It was honestly the most endearing thing he’d ever witnessed. Every emotion on Lance’s face was so genuine. Whether it was his shock of falling into the river while they were fishing or the joy of the first drops of rain they had been showered with together, it all seemed so pure on the druid. Takashi could almost swear that Lance truly was experiencing everything for the first time, but that would be insane. After all, how could someone go so long without feeling something like joy or surprise?
The hunter was pulled from his thoughts by the feeling of Lance sliding into his arms. He chuckled softly, dipping his head down to set on the man’s shoulder. This had become something of a ritual for them on these rainy days when hunting and foraging were ill-advised. The two would find some surface to lean against or curl up together on the bed, heartbeats and breathing synchronizing until they drug themselves apart. Takashi turned his head, pressing his lips to Lance’s cheek gently. The druid shivered and smiled softly, turning his own so their lips brushed together in a ghost of a kiss. They held their breaths, both suddenly caught by nerves. Could this work? Could the two of them share these moments for the rest of their lives?
As though by fate, lightning struck in the forest. The clap startled them both and sent them closer together, their lips finally coming together in a true and proper kiss. The growing storm melted from their minds as they moved together, mouths and tongues playing coyly about one another. Lance’s hands danced over Takashi’s shoulders as the taller of the two moved them slowly towards the bed, never breaking the kiss for a moment. His scaled hand pressed firmly into Lance’s back as his other lifted him up to sit on the edge. Clothing was soon lost on the floor, the rain drowning out the waking world as they brought themselves together, two flickering flames hidden away in the tumultuous gale of life.
Hours later, when Takashi opened his eyes, he couldn’t help the smile that came to his lips at the sight of Lance pressed tightly against his chest. He ran his fingers up and down the smooth expanse of the druid’s back, letting himself stay relaxed. Something, however, seemed off. He took silent stock of the cottage from his place in bed, being careful not to disturb his newly made lover as he sat up. Nothing was out of place save for the small pile of their clothing at the edge of the bed. There were no sounds inside to have disturbed him, nothing moving around to set his instincts on edge. He turned his attention to the sounds of the storm, then, closing his eyes to better focus. He heard the rain outside, tapping gently against the leaves and the roof of his humble home now that the brunt of the storm had passed. The wind had picked up and was whistling softly through the trees. Nothing was wrong. Everything was fine. Takashi took a deep breath as he began to lay back down.
That’s when he realized it. It hadn’t been a sound. If hadn’t been something out of place. It was a scent. How could he not have noticed sooner? How could he have not realized? The scent of smoke clung to the walls of his nostrils and throat. He coughed and tried to take another deep breath but the scent only grew thicker. The body at his side moved, a slim hand coming up to touch his cheek. Takashi recoiled as though he’d been stung, covering his ears. How could he have mistaken that gentle tapping outside the window for rain? His eyes snapped shut as he felt the heat of fire on his skin, burning up his right arm. He let out a scream of pain as the dragon’s hands came again, caressing his cheeks. He heard it’s words. Takashi, open your eyes. Look at me.
As suddenly as it had come, the pain was gone, the fire he’d felt replaced by soothing ripples like little waves. Takashi slowly opened his eyes, surprised to find his vision blurred by tears clinging to his lashes. He slowly lowered his hands from his hair, wincing when he noticed he’s pulled part of it from his head. He leaned gently against Lance, who was holding him tightly in his arms, tanned body glowing with soft green light as he poured healing magic into Takashi’s body to make his pain stop. When Lance finally pulled away, the hunter caressed his cheek, gently wiping away his love’s tears.
“I’m alright. Lance. I’ll be okay now.”
“You were hurting… Y-you screamed when I touched you…”
“I know. But everything will be fine now. You saved me.”
Lance nodded, pressing their cheeks together. They sat quietly like that, arms wound around each other and faces pressed so close they were breathing each other’s air, until the rain finally stopped. The clouds outside cleared and the moon shone down through the trees and into the window, illuminating their still naked bodies wrapped only in Takashi’s blankets. Finally, Lance pulled away, looking up at the hunter with a determined gleam in his eye.
“Takashi, what happened earlier? I’ve never seen someone do… that. It was like your mind was somewhere else but your body was here.”
“I know… It hasn’t happened very much since we met, but sometimes certain sounds or smells remind me of…”
He dropped off, pain in his eyes. Lance lifted Takashi’s claw to his cheek gently, nuzzling it.
“Of when you were cursed with this?”
Takashi choked, his eyes clouding up again and he pulled the druid close. His shell broke, the dam of emotion he’d kept so carefully barricaded letting loose in a flood of tears. For the second time since that terrible day, he told the story of his curse.
Takashi had been on a hunting expedition with two men from the village, a father and son who he had known for a fair portion of his life. They were tasked with entering the cave of a black dragon and rescuing a village girl that had been kidnapped. When they arrived at the dragon’s lair, though, he was waiting for them. The men Takashi had come with stood no chance against the beast’s acidic breath, and the hunter’s arm had been permanently damaged. The pain, however, couldn’t compare to the year he spent in Sendak’s clutches. By the time his brother came to save him, the Harbinger’s Curse in his wounds had already begun to change him into a black dragon like the beast who had kept him prisoner to play his twisted games.
Lance listened closely and quietly as the tale was recounted to him, tracing the scales ever so gently to keep Takashi’s mind at ease. Even after the hunter was silent, they stayed there together, Lance wound tightly in his love’s arms while Takashi took deep breaths of the earthy scent the druid gave off. When sleep finally came back to the larger man, Lance carefully and quietly extracted himself from bed, writing a note to leave on the table before donning his cloak and slipping from the hut without a sound.
Alanci sighed deeply, splayed across a seat in Allura’s gazebo. He turned over, looking at her with a dreamy expression. She glared back at him, mouth twisted sourly as she thought over what he’d told her. Alanci was in love with this mortal. He was so in love that he wanted to break his oath to allow only those the God of Kings deemed worthy into the fountain for healing. And, being the goddess of love, Allura could see that his feelings were true. She shook her head, shifting to lean against Hunk, god of the home and protector of cooks and metalworkers, who wrapped an arm around her gently.
“Alanci, you are my dear brother. My only brother. I am glad that you have found love but I can’t help but be wary of this situation. You know that Antonias won’t allow you to be with this hunter. Especially if you take him to the Fount.”
Hunk nodded, joining in Allura’s cautioning. “Yeah, you know it’s forbidden for us to even just meet with mortals. He’ll already be at your throat for not smiting this guy when you saw him bathing. What makes you think he’ll let you have him?”
Alanci rolled back onto his back, raising a hand and casting an image of Takashi, smiling softly as he watched his conjuration. He knew Antonias wouldn’t be happy. And he knew he didn’t care. The anger of one god couldn’t temper what he felt or what he’d set his mind to do.
“I’m going to give up my power if he lets me heal Takashi. I’ll turn into a mortal and live with him until my life is over. Then I can’t sully the title of a god any longer.”
Allura stood abruptly, her face painted with shock as she marched over to her brother. “You will do no such thing! God Alanci, Chosen of the Evergreen and Guardian of the Sacred Fount of Immortals, I forbid it!”
Alanci sat up, dispelling the image of Takashi and glaring up at her as he bit back, “You cannot order me around just because I’m younger by a fair ten thousand years. I make my own decisions, and if my choice is to give up my power then you cannot take it from me!”
Allura stopped in her tracks, her anger beginning to bubble over. Hunk quickly came to her side, setting his hands on her shoulders. She took a deep, fortifying breath before looking at her brother.
“I know that I cannot control you, Alanci. I’m afraid of losing another of my loved ones to the mortal world… But if it is truly your wish to be with Takashi, then I know I cannot stop you. I only wish that you would pause for a moment to think of what this will mean. Brother, you will die. If you do heal your hunter, he will become immortal from the Fount’s power and you two will be seperated in any event.”
Lance looked at his hands. “I know. But… But it’s worth it if I can heal him. He said he has Harbinger’s Curse, ‘Llura… He told me that it comes from black dragon wounds. And that it… It’s going to make him go crazy and become a feral black dragon.. Or worse, a shadow dragon if he tries to resist. He doesn’t have forever…”
Allura sighed softly. “To love someone so deeply that you would sacrifice yourself for them… I suppose I can’t condemn you for that. But Lance, I want you to promise to be careful, alright? Especially when you go to put forth your cause to our king…”
The young god nodded with a grin, springing forward and hugging his sister tightly before dashing away. Hunk rubbed Allura’s shoulders gently, bringing her close and whispering softly into her hair.
“Don’t worry, love. He’ll be alright. We’ll watch over him.”
The goddess nodded, but she couldn’t help noticing the sinking feeling she felt when she thought of what was to come for her young brother.
Lance smiled as he waited patiently for Takashi outside his cottage, his heart as light as the leaves drifting on the summer breeze. It was the first sunny day in almost a month, and the two were going to take advantage of it for foraging and collecting wood. It was also the day that Lance planned on leading Takashi to the Fount. Better to ask forgiveness than permission when it came to defying Antonias’s orders. The god grinned as Takashi came out, his quiver and bow held in one hand while he shut the door with the other. The two met in the middle of the stone walkway, sharing a gentle kiss before turning to head into the forest.
The pair spent a good few hours wandering about, collecting what Takashi needed in his home, and pausing for sweet kisses against trees. Lance almost forgot that he was supposed to be subtly leading Takashi to the Fount, being too content just to follow the man as he lead him through the forest.
Takashi stopped, suddenly, setting his bow and quiver against a tree before motioning for Lance to follow him. The young god did so quickly, setting his basket of their findings by Takashi’s weapon before catching up with him. The hunter lead him into a small glade up to a towering oak. Before it, grown over with lichens and bright red amali flowers, stood a solemn, hewn stone. Lance narrowed his eyes, reading the roughly engraved inscription.
Here Lies My Only Brother, A Soul Worthy Of So Much More Than This
Lance gulped, suddenly feeling as though he were intruding on something very private. Takashi nudged him forward until the two were sitting in front of the stone. He reached out to touch it, sighing.
“I didn’t tell you my entire story the other day, Lance… I told you about my brother coming to save me, but there’s more. He almost didn’t make it. His body was covered in Sendak’s acid… He was dying faster than he was becoming a black dragon. Keith wasn’t my true brother by birth, but we were blood brothers, sworn to protect one another. He saved me, but I couldn’t… I couldn’t help him in time, Lance. I tried so hard to bring him to the Fount of Immortals… But the god Alanci wouldn’t heal him… He didn’t even come. Keith died in my arms in the Fount and I couldn’t do anything to save him…”
Lance looked up at Takashi, his brows furrowing. What did he mean, his brother died in the Fount? It hadn’t been disturbed for centuries until Takashi had wandered there to bathe. He looked back at the handmade headstone, a deep frown on his face. Something wasn’t right.
“Takashi, you didn’t bring him to the Fount… Not to the real one. Alanci would have healed him if it were the real one.”
Takashi tensed and bristled at the accusation that he’d made such a mistake, shaking his head. “No, no. Lance, that’s impossible. I went to the Fount of Immortals. There were priests and a temple and someone was healed right before we got there. How could you even know? ”
Lance winced and moved away when Takashi’s voice rose. The hunter turned to him, his eyes turning a terrifying golden-yellow as he let out a deep, angry growl. The god trembled, letting out a soft whimper. He couldn’t avoid it any longer. He had to tell Takashi who he was now or risk his love hating him. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a squeak came out. He gulped and tried again, lips trembling.
“I would have healed him… Takashi, I swear I would have healed him if you’d come to my Fount! Even though I didn’t know you then, and even though I will admit that I didn’t hold a love for mortals as I do now, I would have saved him…”
Takashi stared silently at Lance for several seconds, before his eyes narrowed. “ You were a god this entire time? You told me you were a druid! ”
“I never specifically said that I-”
“But you never said you weren’t. You lied to me, La- no, you said you’re Alanci .” Takashi stood, taking a single step away from Lance. “You’re the reason the last of my family is dead. I prayed to you . Even if I wasn’t at the right Fount, you should have heard me! Why didn’t you answer me?! ”
Alanci scrambled up as Takashi started moving towards him, narrowly escaping the hunter’s clawed grasp. He took several steps back, eyes wide and fearful. Yes, he was a god, but he couldn’t hurt the man he loved. Not even if his own life depended on it. The god stared at his mortal love for several long seconds before opening his mouth to speak.
“Leave. You gods are nothing but selfish watchers who can’t bother to sully your hands on us common mortals. Was I just a distraction from the overwhelming responsibility of watching over that healing spring? A toy for your amusement?”
Alanci shook his head, reaching towards Takashi. “No that’s not-”
“That’s not what it is? That’s not how you saw me? How am I supposed to believe you? You kept this a secret for months . Well, now you can keep all the secrets you want, Lance . I don’t want anything to do with gods like you .”
With that, the man turned on his heel, eyes glowing golden with his rage. Alanci watched him stalk away, his mouth hung slightly agape as though to speak. The words, however, died on the god’s tongue as he tried to push them forward. He touched his cheeks gently, startled by the tears he felt falling from his lashes for the second time. He knew he’d made a mistake. He knew he needed to make it better.
Alanci did his best to stand tall. No breeze ruffled his hair like in his wood. No sun kissed him with warmth like in Takashi’s glade. The grass beneath his feet was deathly still, even as he stood atop it. A great throne sat before him, cast of pure gold and set with glittering opals and pearls. The man sitting upon it was no less glorious, his skin a glowing bronze and his hair flowing gold over his shoulders to become the robes he wore over his hips and lap. Topaz eyes glared down at Alanci, making the god feel, for once in his existence, so very small. Antonias raised a hand, ushering the nature god to make his appeal.
“O Antonias, God of Kings and King of Gods. I, Alanci of the Evergreen, Protector of Forests and Their Creatures, come to you with a simple plea. I wish to give up my status as a god to live amongst mortals, for I have fallen in love with one of them. I wish to live a mortal life with him, that we might both be happy.”
The god regarded Alanci for a moment before a cold smirk lit his lips, He sneered as he shifted to sit forward, elbows on his knees and head on his hands. The younger god gulped as the booming voice of the eldest god filled the silence.
“You’ve fallen in love with a mortal, hm? Would that be the same mortal who you watched defile the Fount of Immortals? The mortal that you’ve been frollicking with in the physical realm? The one who sent you away because you lied to him? Is that the mortal you’re wanting to spend a mortal life with, little Alanci? Am I mistaken in believing that this mortal, a human , is also the one with the Harbinger’s Curse?”
He paused, and Alanci cast his gaze away, drawing into himself under his king’s cruel eyes. The man continued.
“I think, Alanci, that this is a splendid idea! Of course, I can’t just strip you of your power and send you off, hm? Let’s make this interesting.”
With that, Antonias stood, striding towards Alanci with wicked intent. The young god tried to move away, but the grass beneath him wove up and around his ankles, rooting him to the spot. Alanci cried out in terror, trying to get away. Allura and Hunk, who had been watching over him from a distance, ran forward in an attempt to assist him. Antonias, however, reached him first, towering over the younger like a giant. He set a large hand to Alanci’s face, squeezing and making the young god scream in pain. As he drew his hand away, vine-like tendrils of green mist followed and compounded into a small seed in his palm.
“Open your mouth, Lance .”
The man shivered at his mortal name being spoken, but did as he was told. Antonias pressed the seed past his lips and forced his mouth shut, making Lance swallow the seed. He fell to his knees, clutching at his throat and chest as it travelled down. He barely heard the god speaking through his pain.
“There you are, little upstart. A mortal, with a catch. You want this human so badly that you blind yourself to everything else. Well, open your eyes and see if he still wants you. If he refuses you when you go back to him, your power will consume you, and you will die like you deserve for disobeying me. Now, out of my sight and on to your demise.”
With that, he turned away. Allura and Hunk carefully lifted Lance from the ground, holding him close to them. Lance trembled and sobbed between them, shaking his head and whispering soft apologies to the two, who shushed him gently. When the pain was finally gone, Allura helped her brother to his feet, a sad smile on her face.
“Brother… Lance… Are you ready to go to him?”
Lance took a deep breath and nodded, closing his eyes. It was time to go to Takashi and beg forgiveness.
Takashi let out a howl of pain, gripping his glowing, scaled arm. Ever since he had left Alanci at Keith’s grave, it had been glowing and pulsing with pain. He squeezed his still yellow eyes shut, gritting his teeth. Everything had been fine while the god was here. His pain was gone. He wasn’t alone anymore. He was happy. But how much of that could Takashi believe now that he knew there was never really a ‘Lance’? How much of that was a lie that the god made him believe, presumably on some whim?
Another jolt of pain flared through his arm as he picked up his bow and quiver. He grit his teeth, determined to bare it as he headed out the door. He had to have another successful hunt before the winter came. As he stepped out the door, He growled, seeing someone on the edge of his glade that he’d never wanted to see again. Alanci was standing there, panting softly and leaning against a tree. Behind him sat a large honey colored bear with a small white mouse on its head. Takashi turned to the side, ready to walk away as though he hadn’t even seen Alanci there. He stopped short, however, when he heard a choked voice call out to him.
“W-wait..! Takashi… Please, please don’t go… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lied. And I should have listened to your prayers… But I was stupid then, just like I’m still stupid now. But I promise, I’m different. I won’t hurt you again.”
Takashi looked down, his golden eyes flickering back to steel grey for just a moment before him frowned deeply and turned to the man. He wanted to forgive Lance, honestly and truthfully. And as much as he knew he wanted to forgive Lance, he knew what his answer had to be.
“Alanci, God of the Forests and Chosen of the Evergreen, I want to forgive you. I really do. You had your reasons not to tell me, whatever they were. And I do forgive you.” He turned now to face the god. “But this won’t work. You’ll go on and on and I’ll become a black dragon and then one day I’ll die. I love you, Alanci. But I can’t take you back.”
Takashi watched Lance’s face twist with horror and shock before crying out as vines began to crawl from the god’s mouth. Lance fell forward, grasping at his stomach as more of the tendrils erupted from his nose, ears, and mouth. Takashi dove forward to catch him as the mouse and bear morphed before him in sprays of pink and gold sparks, two individuals just as lovely as Lance springing to his side with their own cries of shock and anguish. The woman quickly pressed her hands to Lance’s cheeks, covering him in a light glow. This, however, seemed to do nothing. She looked up to the man who was once the bear.
“We have to bring him to the Fount. It’s our only hope, Hunk.”
“But who’s going to give it power, Allura? Alanci doesn’t have his power!”
“We’ll think of something!” The goddess cast a glare at Takashi, who held Lance tight in his arms. “You. It’s your fault my brother is like this. You will be the one to fix him. You may have lost your brother, but I will never forgive you if you lose mine, too. Follow us if you’re not too afraid to fix him.”
Takashi looked up at her and nodded silently, picking his love up and standing. The deities led him through the forest swiftly, winding this way and that through the trees. When they finally stopped, Takashi felt his breath catch. It was the spring he'd bathed in just a few months ago. He didn't pause long, however, scurrying forward to bring Lance into the water. He caressed the god’s cheek gently, warm tears slipping down his cheeks onto his love.
“Lance… Lance, please… I'm so sorry. You said you were different but I never thought you meant like this… You're dying because I was trying to be selfish and keep myself locked away when I should have just let you in… Please live, Lance. We can both be better together, nothing in the way. I promise…”
Lance didn’t stir in his arms, and Takashi broke; he pressed his face into his love’s hair, the only place that wasn’t choked and coiled with the vines that still grew from his orifices. As he sobbed, he heard the god and goddess behind him gasp. A warm feeling surrounded him, and he pulled himself away, mesmerized by what he saw. The water around them was glowing a warm red, brighter where it touched himself and Lance. The vines growing from his love shrivelled and fell away, letting Lance make a choked gasp for air. The dark scales on Takashi’s arm fell away, exposing beautiful while scales in their place. The black of his hair turned a pure, snowy white. He looked between his reflection and Lance, his eyes brimming over with tears once more as the man opened his eyes, a soft smile gracing his lips when he saw Takashi sitting over him. Lance threw his arms about the man’s broad shoulders, crying happily against his chest as Takashi ran his finger’s through the now-mortal’s hair, which had also become pure white like his own. He looked around, trying to find the source of the magic that healed him.
Sitting at the far edge was a sight Takashi never thought he would see again. His blood brother, Keith, knelt by the bank, one hand dipped into the water. He smiled, removing his hand and shaking off the water that clung to it. He stood, looking towards Takashi. Godly radiance shown from his red vestments just like it did on Allura and Hunk. Takashi looked back at Lance, who leaned back, smiling up at him lovingly. The hunter smiled back, leaning in and kissing him deeply. Yes, they had a lot to work out. But now they had all the time in the world to learn each other and untie all the knots.
A thick blanket of snow lay across Takashi and Lance’s glade, freshly fallen the night before. Animal tracks criss crossed snow angels and gouges that once were the makeup of the bodies of a pair of snowmen, built side by side with stick arms holding one another. Inside the single hut the glade housed sat its owners, curled up by the fireplace to enjoy stew made by the smaller of the two as they warmed their snow-frozen limbs. Laughter and love filled the home; it brought smiles to the three who watched from the treeline, a honey colored bear, a grey and burgundy wolf, and a mouse white as the snow around them. They watched happily over their loved ones, content with knowing that they had each other and an entire eternity to spend together.