"Patience, my student, before you lose your bravery." A hand crossed Van's forehead and covered his eyes from the bright, high sun. "You'll descend into cowardice soon enough. No need to get ahead of yourself."
The forest was hidden from his sight, but Van didn't need to see the dark trees to tremble at them. There was enough of its aura, thick and beckoning, grabbing onto his body and making him want...
"Remember the lessons," Van's instructor went on. "Remember your strength." His teacher hugged Van once, tightly, before releasing him. "And most of all, remember that we all will be waiting for you to return."
"I will return," Van said, formally so that his voice would be deep. "I'll return a prince."
And set off to the forest.
The forest was oppressive and dark. Though the sun above him clearly said high noon in its bright, glittery way, his shoulders felt none of its heat; only the chill of the forest crawled beneath his skin, giving rise to goose flesh and then shivers. The fear had made the hair on the back of his neck rise far faster than the cold.
He was no psychic. He could no sooner see the future than he could breathe underwater. Nonetheless, he sensed. It was not the same thing, really, but he knew that he had to press forward because something was drawing him in. It was like having a scent itching at his nose, unplaceable in his memory yet knowing it was meant to be there. A taste of a spice. Deja vu. Any moment that was as insignificant as two pairs of eyes meeting amidst the crowd and somehow irreplaceable.
It called to him.
It would be the test, of course. Van was determined to meet it without hesitation.
Van's senses went dead as soon as he entered the clearing. The pain in his sides were surely because of his exertion. His ears were filled with ringing. He closed his eyes. He gasped for breath.
He tasted mist on his tongue. He scrambled for the water and plunged into the river, face first. When he reared back for air, he shivered hard. The water had been like ice, waking his mind and senses in time to have soft hands clamp across his eyes. Exhaustion from the run kept him from being able to fight back with efficiency, but it was the hands themselves that kept him from fighting with the certainty that was normal.
They were a woman's hands, but they drew them backward with the strength of a man, stretching Van out of his crouch and into a high arch that pulled at muscles and joints in a manner for which he had not trained. A leg wrapped around Van's legs and pulled tight to brace against the forest floor. Van felt grass brushing at the top of his head and a long body against his back, pressing and forcing the arch higher.
"So you are to be my test?" The voice that growled in Van's ear was deep, masculine. The lips that touched his skin, however, were lush like a woman's. "Easily conquered. With your death, I'll be a prince in no time at all."
And there, the threat of failure: a silver dagger curving along Van's stomach.
"Just a little—" The blade dug in a bit, brought blood to the surface, and retreated. "It would be over so quickly, but..." Van's mind latched onto the dark groan that rumbled in his ear. "Oh... yes, you feel wild."
It was the body behind him that finally made Van start into action — all weariness aside. It thrust upward and rubbed, and immediately, Van's face flamed. He wrenched himself out of the hold and shoved his attacker away.
Van wasn't sure what he expected to find. The clues as to male or female had been mixed, tenuous and difficult to decipher. When he saw his attacker lurch to his feet, the chest was flat, the face was strong, and the muscles were those built by a man. And the sneer, broad and full of madness, spread across a boy's face... it made shivers run down Van's spine.
"Finally," the boy said as he tapped his dagger against his pale cheek, "you show promise. Put up some fight, would you? I'd like more blood."
Abruptly, Van was advanced upon — pushed back against an old tree by a flash of blade that was tainted by his own blood. His cut on his stomach was beginning to throb and ache. In his veins, his blood was swimming rapidly, making him dizzy...
The boy tossed his silver hair out of his eyes. "You may call me Dilandau. Feel free to scream."
...and Van felt like he was falling.
Van tried to fight. Really, he did. Dilandau's hands, however, teased every inch of him as his clothes were stripped from his body by the point of a blade. Van ached. As an heir of royal blood, he had rarely been allowed such intimate contact with another person, let alone the personal time to do it himself. Yet, Dilandau — presumably another boy vying for the station of Prince — touched easily, as if he had touched Van all his life and was returning to something familiar. It was a disturbing feeling.
"Yes," Dilandau hissed. "Shiver like that for me."
With each touch, Van felt like the forest's aura was sinking into his body, wrapping around his bones. It was fear again... "Wait," he gasped, pushing at Dilandau and heedless of the dagger. "No."
Dropping the blade, Dilandau's hand slipped along Van's neck, briefly gentle before wrapped around its length, just beneath Van's jaw. "Good. Resist more."
Dilandau tightened his grip with the slightest of increments, as if he wanted to test the point at which Van would start fighting back. Van lashed out long before his threshold, and without the knife to force Van back, Dilandau was easily subdued. When Van thrashed, a slap had the other boy recoiling, falling away from Van with a gasp, then a growl. Silver hair in disarray now, Dilandau lunged at Van, fingers curled and nails scratching at Van's arms.
"You hit me!" he snarled. "I'll cut you to pieces!"
Van grabbed the back of Dilandau's neck and shoved him face-first into the grass. Van sat on Dilandau's legs to keep him from kicking, but it was only so much. Dilandau was just strong enough to raise his hips and buck backward, again and again, right against Van's cock.
"Stop it," he choked, fingers tightening around Dilandau's hair, twisting the boy's head so that he could see the profile of his contorted expression. Dilandau only thrust back once more. "Stop it," he said again. "Stop or else I'll—"
"Just you try it!" Dilandau snapped.
Dilandau's eyes flashed violet with his anger. His face was twisted with hate and his voice spat curses. His body, however, spoke other things as he twisted and squirmed. I want this, said his hands as they scrambled at the earth and reached behind him to grab at Van's legs. I know you want this, too, said the rising arch of his spine, begging for Van's tongue.
And a deceitful little voice whispered in his ear: Take it.
The purpose of this test was meant to show boys, who came of age, their darkest side, their most forbidden of desires, their wants and cravings and secret fears, their actions in desperation. Van had been prepared for the idea of murdering someone. Van had been ready for insanity. He hadn't expected this.
"Beautiful," whispered Dilandau.
Dilandau's voice was quiet and strained. In the last hour, Van had learned that tone meant he was close; he sucked the cock further between his lips anyhow and thrilled at the sharp cry above him as he swallowed. Van kissed his way up to Dilandau's mouth, touching pale skin with his tongue and biting down until blood spotted the surface. Long hands — a woman's hands yet still Dilandau's — traced the curve of his spine as they kissed and slid a finger swiftly into his opening. The pain made Van jerk forward, surge against Dilandau's lips and feel the tip of a re-hardening cock tap against his thigh.
"Your teacher taught you this, didn't he?" Dilandau asked, voice tickled pink as it painted images on the inside of Van's mind.
"No," Van gasped, wanting somehow to deny that he wanted this. "He's never touched me there."
"He wouldn't have, of course." Dilandau was pleased. He pressed deeper and squirmed a second finger inside Van's body. "But he's taught you this without knowing."
And suddenly, sharply, his teacher's voice echoed in Van's head: Take the pain and accept it. Do not let it break you.
As the fingers twisted, Van sucked in a sharp breath. Dilandau laughed, "There we go."
Enraptured by Dilandau's teasing fingers, worming around inside him and finding places that made stars explode behind his eyes, Van barely noticed when his body was urged upward. He whimpered a protest when those fingers slipped out of him. Though a part of him — distant now — thought that a prince should not beg, he kissed Dilandau's mouth in hopes those fingers could be tempted back. Dilandau only laughed again and gave him something better.
Dilandau pressed the head of his cock in slowly and whispered, "My teacher taught me this." Van groaned, deaf to the words. "Take it, he said. Accept it, he said." And until then, it seemed as if Dilandau had been taught by the same teacher. "Want it, he said." Therein lied the difference
Van's eyes were closed against the red of Dilandau's gaze. His body was shuddering. The pain and the pressure was building in the small of his back until it burned. "I want it," he said and forced Dilandau deeper inside. "I want it."
A long hand pulled Van's face down for a long kiss. "You'll have to get it yourself then," Dilandau said.
Van seemed infinite in his cooperation, squirming until Dilandau's cock could not go further. Then, he was rising and falling as fast and as hard as he could manage. It was painful and rough with only pre-come to ease the way, but the burn filled him with heat, chasing away the chill of the forest with a biting lust that wound through his veins.
"You want it." Dilandau's voice taunted him, teasing at his senses even as he struggled to find release. "You can't resist this."
Van did nothing to reply. Only gasped as he sat down heavily and said, "You want this too."
"Not at all," Dilandau replied, voice rising in a gleeful lilt. "I'm weak and unarmed. You overpowered me."
But once again, Dilandau's voice and body were saying different things. His hands were crawling up Van's legs and wrapping around his cock, twisting and tugging so that the action was painful, so that his nails were scratching at sensitive flesh and drawing hurt cries from Van's mouth. And then, Van's body was seizing around Dilandau, squeezing him, constricting the blood flow. Dilandau shouted in surprise, and glared accusingly at Van, who was handing Dilandau back his maddening smirk.
"You want it," Van said. "Say you want it, you coward."
Dilandau gritted his teeth. "No." And it was good that he had prepared himself because Van sank a little further on Dilandau's cock and turned his hips in a way that made them both seize and shudder at the feeling. Dilandau was shaking his head again. "No, I do not."
Van had the strangest feeling that they had switched personalities, that this is what the forest was saying was their greatest fear... or their greatest desire. It was certainly a nice thing to feel like he had power over Dilandau or that with the slightest movement, he could make Dilandau feel whatever he wished.
"More blood, you said," whispered Van, remembering earlier words as his eyes landed on the dagger. It was beyond his reach, but he felt as if he could improvise.
He pressed his mouth against Dilandau's skin, the smooth pale patch beneath his ribs that trembled with each shaky breath the boy took. He licked first and nipped at it until the skin was rosy, until Dilandau was reaching up to push him away. He grabbed both of the boy's wrists and held them down.
"Regretting making me ride you yet?" Van murmured, not really interested in hearing an answer.
"I'll fuck you into the ground," Dilandau spat.
Dilandau's rant was abruptly cut short, however, when Van sucked the bit of skin into his mouth. He could feel the pressure of it pulling at his teeth, squeezing his lips tightly between. Dilandau shifted beneath him. Van thought he heard a grunt above him, but was sure he felt the sweet pressure inside him grow. For a few moments longer, he bit the tender, freshly-reddened flesh.
"Bastard." Dilandau's breath hitched. "That mark will take weeks to fade."
Van merely smiled as he straightened. "And if you kept up on your promises — threats," he amended at a glare, "then I'd be remembering you for a lot longer."
Though later Van would remember himself struggling a bit more, Dilandau rolled them with an ease that was only allowed by Van's own peaceful surrender to have his back pushed into dark grass and his wrists kept above his head. His legs rose of their own accord when Van discovered it allowed Dilandau to pound into him at the promised, relentless pace.
The entire act would be vivid in his mind for years to come, Van was sure. In the future, he would be able to recall with perfect clarity the way Dilandau pistoned into him, teeth gnawing at his bottom lip to muffle sounds of passion. Van would remember with certainty the way the burning hatred cooled from Dilandau's eyes as all of him focused on finding completion.
It felt as if he were straining toward something impossible. His hands scratched at Dilandau's shoulders and it seemed as if he'd never get what he'd want, as if he were clamoring for something as forbidden as the Mystic Moon. While Van's body fought for that final moment — the one where his body squeezed upon itself and released in such a way that it felt as if he'd never been relaxed before that moment — his mind was voice was whispering encouragement.
"Yes," he was saying. "More. Harder. Please, just..." He was lifting himself higher and he whimpered, desperate for the explosion that Dilandau was somehow denying him. Amazing, thought the distant, princely side of him, when he's striving for the same thing.
"I'll make you—" gasped Dilandau, just as Van was feeling the shock waves roll through him. There was a strange glint in his eyes. "You wait and see." But in the next moment, he came with a cry. "No, no, not yet—" and seeing the stars twinkle into existence above him, Van was following after, oblivious to the angry sense of failure settling over Dilandau.
Sated. From the core of his bones to the hair on his skin, Van felt his body thrumming. Though he couldn't see it, he was sure that he had an aura glowing around him. Perhaps, it was a warm orange to match the flush of his cheeks. He felt more like himself than he had during the entirety of his time in this forest. He itched to spread his wings and fly.
Dilandau, by contrast, seemed to be getting colder. That, Van could not understand. The pale boy was icy against his back; his body jerked with each breath. It was only when Dilandau's voice rose, terrifying with its sudden intensity, that Van recognized it as a laugh.
Dilandau had vanished by day break, dagger and clothes gone. There was not even an indentation on the grass to indicate he'd slept during the night. Van did not wish he'd been awake to see him go. It was a strange thought, considering what they'd just done.
Van rose and walked the way back to his kingdom. The forest did not seem nearly so dark and foreboding as it had the previous day, and as the sun climbed higher into the sky, Van could feel its warmth cascading down around him. He watched the Mystic Moon sink below the tree branches, with only small glimpses of it beckoning his sight.
Another calling, he imagined was whispered to his ear, in the light tones of a girl.
Another calling for a future time, Prince Van.