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by Rayne Auster
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Duiem, the Land of Earth and Fire, is doomed to destruction unless a prophecy requiring Kaji, the king of Duiem, to bond to one of royal blood is fulfilled. But fate sends an escaping slave stumbling into the ceremony, and Kaji ends up bonded to a total stranger. Shy and withdrawn Aniol is an exotic enigma, a puzzle for the impatient and headstrong Kaji to solve amidst growing chaos: His world is a shambles. His people are at war. The prophecy is lost. And he is inexplicably and passionately drawn to his new bondmate. A painful betrayal forces Kaji and Aniol on an impossible quest, guided only by a myth that tells of a gate leading to the Land of Air and Water. Though facing incredible danger, they must find that mystical gate, for its keeper holds the key to both Duiem's salvation and the secret behind Kaji and Aniol's growing love.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: May 2010
55 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [554 KB]
Reading time: 345-483 min.
Gatekeeper is a fascinating story with a well-developed storyline. [...] Those who enjoy fantasy male/male romances with a paranormal twist will find this story well worth a read. by Scandolous Minx @ Literary Nymphs
Legends, fables, and myths: tales filled with mystery, wonder, and a touch of the impossible. Tales rooted in times long gone by, begun from mere fact, but as is usual with the retelling of tales, gaining life of their own with each embellishment made. As with all life, they grow and change, impacted by the times in which they exist, the times that define the interpretation of these tales. Yet one constant remains... hidden within their depths is a thread of truth, a lesson to be learned.
Time: the greatest ally and yet, at the same time, the greatest enemy of legends. Time adds mystery, intrigue, hides facts, and fuels the human curiosity, fuels the desire for knowledge of truth. Yet at the same time it is capable of obscuring the truth to such a degree that often facts are nigh impossible to separate from fiction. Such is the case with the legends of the Gatekeepers.
* * * *
"Why must I bond?" Amber eyes flashing in discontent, Kaji shifted as the tailor made some last-minute adjustments to his rather opulent outfit, glaring at a dark-haired man in the doorway.
"Milord." Karl's smile did little to ease Kaji's temper. "We have already been through this. It's tradition and law."
Kaji's eyes flashed once more, but he remained silent, knowing there was no arguing with tradition and law. However, he couldn't seem to shake the feeling that something was wrong. When the tailor stepped aside, Kaji heaved a sigh of relief, only to wince when the hairdresser got hold of him instead.
Resisting the urge to shift again, Kaji waited patiently as a thin golden band was placed onto his head. The hairdresser then proceeded to braid his long hair into an intricate pattern around it. He hated how restricted this style made him feel but knew that if he argued, the response he'd receive would be that it was tradition. This was a difficult point to dispute, as tradition ruled Duiem and its people. And so, as demanded by tradition, Kaji stepped out of the temple dressed in various shades of gold, bronze, and copper, the colors shimmering and blending together, creating the illusion of a brilliant coastal sunset, further complemented by the sun shining off of Kaji's bright red hair.
Stepping into the bonding circle, he glanced up to meet the gaze of his intended, intricately dressed in flowing robes that complemented his own despite the fact that they were colored white, silver, and pale pearly blue. The girl was breathtaking, deep violet eyes contrasting with her dark auburn curls, a rather nicely curved figure, and the grace that clearly marked her as noble.
Saya was the daughter of Kiyou Jai, the head of the Kiyou clan and head priest of the Taiyou order. Still, Kaji could not shake the feeling that something was gravely wrong. He knew his mate was to be of the Kiyou clan and that no other was near him in age, yet something nagged him. Some instinct in the back of his mind was dead convinced that something, he knew not what, was wrong.
A priest dressed in various shades of red and orange stepped onto the platform situated just outside of the bonding circle and began the ceremony. The circle itself was set into the ground, intricately done up with interwoven strands of silver and gold, a long-forgotten symbol for both unity and contrast. After the traditional blessings had been spoken, silence fell upon the watching crowd as the priest held out the ceremonial dagger, it too, a marriage of silver and gold, the two metals intertwined in a dance of life and death as the sun glinted off the blade.
* * * *
Aniol shivered as he was dragged through the crowd, his bound wrists burning in pain as the rope cut into his skin, his hands slick with the blood that seeped out of the wounds the rope burn left upon his slender wrists. He stumbled when his captor impatiently tugged upon the rope tied to a collar around his neck that clearly marked him as a slave.
The strange surroundings, the strange people, and the unfamiliar clamor of voices was rushing in on him, making him feel claustrophobic, causing fear to well up and lodge itself in his throat. He clenched his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to separate himself from what was threatening to drive him past the boundaries of uncertainty and into the territory of downright terror. Sadly, his action only complicated his situation as he tripped and tumbled to the ground, landing painfully on his side, hissing to keep from crying out at the sharp pain that coursed through his hip.
He winced when a large hand slapped him across the head and cursed him for falling and delaying their progress. That same hand then dug into his arm and dragged him up and forward as his unknown captor began to once more lead him toward an unknown destination.
Just as Aniol was about to give up all hope, something unexpected happened. Something soft and warm brushed over his wrists where they were tied behind his back, followed by a flash of silver, and then he was free, the rope falling away from his wrists and slipping away from the collar he still wore. He stared in shock as his captor felt the change in tension and turned, realizing something had gone wrong. The man's face turned red with rage, and he began shoving his way through the crowd toward Aniol. It was then that Aniol spotted a slim figure smiling at him, one with pale blue-silver hair and violet eyes winking at him, just before smoothly cutting the purse away from the his captor's belt. Purse in hand, the mysterious figure melted into the crowd before disappearing entirely.
The sound of steel being drawn shocked Aniol out if his stupor. He suddenly realized that his captor was drawing his sword and was but a breath away from being close enough to use it. Aniol shot into movement just as the man lifted his sword and swung it down, disregarding the crowd around them. Screams broke out, fear cutting into the earlier atmosphere of joviality and spreading like wildfire. Aniol's movement was enough to spare him his life but not enough for him to escape unscathed as cold steel bit into the tender flesh of his right arm, cutting it like a knife through butter and leaving a gaping wound stretching from his wrist to his elbow.
Ducking when the man raised the blade once more, Aniol clutched his arm to his chest and ran headlong into the confused and fearful people, using the fear and confusion to his advantage as he weaved a pattern through the crowd. Blindly staring at the ground, he wasn't really watching where he was going.
With only thoughts of escape in his mind, what transpired next came as a horrific surprise. Unaccustomed to his surroundings, he misjudged his next step. The sudden transition of shoving through a crowd to having no people to push disoriented him and caused him to lose his balance.
He fell forward into a circle surprisingly and strangely clear of people. Glancing up, he met the shocked, violet eyes of a beautiful girl moments before she stumbled back from him, fear evident upon her face.
He had but a moment to register her features before his momentum drove him into someone else, causing him to reach out with both arms in a desperate attempt to prevent himself from once more landing on the hard ground. He winced as sharp pain flared in his hip, a new wound added to those he already possessed.
Shocked, horrified gasps filled the air as his gaze traveled up to meet wide amber eyes. A silver and gold blade fell from limp fingertips, clattering unnoticed to the ground, rolling toward the edge of the circle as the amber gaze shifted to the left. Aniol followed after, looking at their intertwined arms, his right arm clinging to the stranger's left. His eyes widened when he noticed a wound similar to his own upon the stranger's left arm, their blood intermingling.
The fallen blade slid to a halt at the edge of the silver and gold circle, two tiny drops of blood falling off of it into tiny breaks in the circle's metalwork, breaks long ago forgotten, thus sealing it and making it complete.
* * * *
Prophecy: that which is meant to guide us through the course of our lives, defining the path we are meant to travel in order to bring about some great change.
Yet one thing always seems to get in the way: free will. Nothing can take away the free will granted to all man, the will to choose which path one will travel. The free will that seeks to interfere with prophecy is not only that of the one the prophecy seeks to guide but also that of those who surround the one.
Until fulfilled, each first born heir of royalty in the land of Duiem is born with a prophecy meant to guide the land toward peace and salvation, guiding him toward repentance for a sin committed a long time ago. Only part of this prophecy is revealed upon the child's birth, a vital part that if fulfilled will strengthen the firstborn's will of mind, body, and soul. If not fulfilled, it will weaken his desire to fight, break the prophecy, and subsequently pass the responsibility for change onto the next descendant.
What is the prophecy itself? Whom one shall wed. It is not a concrete command, but a mere guide in where one's partner is to be found. Prophecies that have come before include: a thief, one of the Meriel family, a gypsy, and a wanderer, yet the most noble of all be the one for one named Conflagration. He is to wed one of royal blood.
* * * *
Kaji swallowed in shock as the sheer impact of what had just occurred registered. He tightened his grip when the young man who had inadvertently stumbled upon and ruined the bonding ceremony tried to pull away, though Kaji knew it was already too late. There was no turning back. The priest, automatically reaching out to interfere with what was happening, froze in mid-motion at Kaji's words.
"Continue," Kaji ordered. His voice was calm and sure, hiding the chaos, confusion, and panic warring for attention deep within him. A loud gasp of shock rippled through the guests, followed by surprised and rather affronted whispers. Kaji ignored it all, knowing there was nothing anyone--neither he, the priest, nor they--could do. Continuing was the only option they had left open to them. The remainder of the ceremony was just a show. The true bond had already been sealed.
The priest continued, his tone filled with resignation, the same resignation that now dwelled within Kaji's heart. Kaji watched the young man before him, carefully taking note of his features. He wanted to know everything about the one he was now bonded to. The first thing he noticed was the rather small body, a body that seemed to have seen much abuse. Then he noticed the wounds. The gash on the young man's right arm was bleeding profusely, far more than what would have been required by the ceremony. Added to that, the young man now had a wound in his hip.
Kaji frowned when he realized it was a wound he himself had given the boy. True, it had been accidental, but that didn't change the fact that the wound was there and obviously not helping the slim figure before him.
Apprehension coursed through him with the realization that the stranger he had just bonded to was not faring well, and he began to fear that the young man would not live should his wounds remain untreated for much longer. Kaji didn't know why, but this bothered him, a gut-wrenching fear of losing the young man overtaking him. He blamed the bond, but whether it was the bond influencing his feelings or not, he knew that he had to keep his little mate alive.
Suddenly restless, Kaji looked up at the priest, desperate for the last words of the rite to be uttered. Then the circle in which Kaji and the stranger stood flared, the light lost within the afternoon glare, remaining unnoticed by all. The blade that lay at the edge of the circle was now clean, spotless, as if no blood had ever marred its surface.
Kaji scooped the young man up into his arms and marched through the crowd, knowing it would part for him. He glared at anyone who moved just a fraction too slowly. His boots made a decisive sound upon the ground, his golden clothes now marred with blood red billowing around him in his haste as he headed straight for the infirmary. His breath quickened in panic and his rather haughty aristocratic pace became more of an uncontrolled run when he realized the young man had become a dead weight in his arms, passing out from rather obvious loss of blood.
* * * *
Aniol blinked, trying to shake off his disorientation as he woke. Colors swam and danced before him, drifting back toward their respective places, slowly defining what he was in fact seeing. He sat up slowly, lethargy dragging at his body, making the smallest movement a rather strenuous undertaking. His gaze snapped to the right when a rather outraged hiss came from that direction.
"You should not be moving," a rich, stern voice reprimanded him. Someone rather forcefully pushed him back down. Aniol blinked in confusion, trying to make sense of what was happening to him. It was then that the person beside him came into focus, bright red hair framing a face defined by strong features. Aniol reached out, unthinking, wanting to make sure that the hair was real, only to flinch back in uncertainty.
The stranger's gaze focused upon Aniol, making him feel like prey beneath the gaze of a predator. He was mesmerized in that moment when death was sure and escape was futile.
"Who are you?" The rich voice demanded. The stranger before him was obviously accustomed to being obeyed. There was no uncertainly his tone, only surety that he would be obeyed. And obeyed he was.
Aniol bit his lip, pausing but a moment before responding, his voice soft and timid from years of disuse. "Aniol."
"Aniol? No family name?" The redhead raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
Aniol shook his head, wanting to drop his eyes but unable to do so, firmly caught in the redhead's amber gaze.
"Whose slave are you?" The redhead barked.
Aniol jerked at the tone, blinking in confusion. "Slave?"
The redhead gestured to the collar Aniol wore. "Slave," he repeated.
Aniol finally managed to tear his gaze from the redheaded stranger and looked down in his lap at his hands, marred by marks of bondage, the rope burns peering out from beneath his bandaged arm. He traced the marks lightly, swallowing before speaking. "I was taken...by some men... about three weeks ago."
"Taken? From your home?"
Aniol shook his head. "No. I was...." He paused, considering his words carefully. "Lost," he finished.
"Lost? What were you before you became... lost?" It was apparent the redhead was suspicious. He wasn't buying Aniol's lie, but he was going along with it.
Aniol licked his lips, trying to figure out the answer to that question before shaking his head in defeat. "I don't really know." He whispered the response, true and honest. His entire life lacked definition, lacked learning, and lacked all that most took for granted. What he recalled was cold, loneliness, and rough demands for visions and predictions of the future... none of which he could grant.
"Look at me."
Aniol was compelled by that voice, but not because of its tone, nor because of its orders, but because of something far more subtle. He sensed a slim strand of uncertainly and pleading in that tone, and that was what drew him to obey.
"How did you get here?" The redhead whispered the question, perhaps fearing the answer.
Aniol licked his lips once more, feeling thirsty and weary. As if reading his mind, the redhead grabbed a glass from the bedside table and reached beneath Aniol to lift his head. "Shh," the redhead comforted softly when Aniol winced. "I'm not going to hurt you." Aniol swallowed, relaxing slowly, for some reason trusting the words. He allowed the redhead to help him and sipped carefully from the glass. The cool liquid soothed his dry throat, giving him new energy to use in order to deal with the other discomforts that still plagued him.
He nodded when he had drunk enough, and the redhead carefully lowered him back down again, treating Aniol with more affection than he had received in his entire life. Once settled, as comfortable as he was likely to be, Aniol licked his lips once more and spoke in his usual slow and careful manner, attempting to answer the question he had been presented with. "I was attacked... by some men." He swallowed nervously, clenching his eyes closed in remembered terror. "They took me to a place I did not know... and left me to... die." He paused, gathering himself. "Then I was found, tied up... and brought to a city... a city where the men intended to sell me. Someone cut my ropes.... The man who had me was furious. He tried to kill me... so I ran and then...." His eyes snapped open in sudden realization. "I bumped into you." He whispered in shock, feeling himself go suddenly pale. "I ruined something."
The redhead gave him a wry smile before running a hand through his hair. "'Ruined' would not be the best way to describe it, I think." The redhead's tone was dry. "Maybe more along the lines of disrupted and changed, creating an alternate future," he stated in resignation.
Aniol licked his lips nervously. He desperately wanted to ask about what he had disrupted, yet fear held him back. Fear of knowledge. Many would consider him a fool to fear something as intangible as knowledge, but experience had taught him that knowledge could be a two-edged, dangerous blade.
"I am Kaji," the redhead said, introducing himself. "Kaji Taiyouko." He paused, obviously waiting for Aniol to react. He frowned when he didn't receive the response he'd expected and then continued to speak. "I'm your bondmate."
* * * *
Legends speak of a land rich in silver, of white-tipped blue mountain ranges, torrents of water, and white tears falling from the sky. They speak of a time when trade and wealth were shared freely between Duiem and the Land of Silver, the people living in peace, harmony, splendor and equality. Among the legends concerning the Land of Silver, there is one that mentions a sacred union, a union that if shattered shall bring about chaos and disaster. Another legend speaks of how this union was betrayed.
* * * *
Aniol stared at Kaji in shock, unsure if he had heard correctly. Had Kaji just called him his bondmate? He frowned in confusion as he struggled to sit up, wanting to be at eye level with Kaji, seeking some way to confirm the truth of those words. His frown turned into a scowl when Kaji moved forward to either assist or hinder him. Aniol didn't know which because he slapped Kaji's hands away before the other man was even able to touch him. "What do you mean bondmate?" he demanded roughly, voice still weak but containing a hard undertone. He was breathing heavily, panting from both agitation and the exertion of his movements.
Amber eyes watched him for a moment, narrowed in suspicion. Kaji seemed to take in every detail before speaking in a slow, calm voice. "You disrupted a bonding ceremony by bonding yourself to me at a key point," Kaji stated, watching Aniol like a hawk, reading the young man's reactions. "All of the conditions have been met."
"Bonded to you? Conditions?" Aniol was verging on hysteria.
Kaji pointed at the bandage on Aniol's right arm before raising his own left one. Without speaking a word, he calmly rolled his sleeve down to reveal a long cut on his inner arm, traveling from his wrist to about halfway to his elbow. He then reached out and took Aniol's right arm, not giving him time to flinch away. He turned Aniol's arm so that his inner arm faced up.
"Yours is here," he stated simply, tracing a diagonal line across the bandage, stopping mere inches from Aniol's elbow. "It's messy, too long, and too deep, but all of that is irrelevant to the bonding. You mixed your blood with mine, left arm to right," he stated, looking up to meet Aniol's wide eyes. "You are Tae."
Aniol blinked the word completely unfamiliar to him. "Tae?"
Kaji remained silent for a moment, watching Aniol closely before giving Aniol the most wicked smile the young man had ever seen--and Aniol had seen some really wicked ones. He'd been approached by some really sick and sadistic people during his twenty-three years of life, by people who all wanted to find a way to use him for their own gain. They usually approached him with a smile in an attempt to win his trust, but Aniol had long ago given up on trusting anyone. As wicked as Kaji's smile was, though, Aniol realized there was no malice in it; it was filled with pure mischief. "The girl," Kaji explained, still smiling.
"I'm not a girl!" Aniol protested, pulling his arm away from Kaji and holding it to his chest, doing his best to glare at the redhead before him.
Kaji's smile softened as he watched Aniol carefully. He cocked his head to the side as something caught his attention. "Did you know that your eyes change color with your emotions?"
Aniol shifted back at the words, adding a pout to his glare. He had not known that, seeing as he didn't know the color of his own eyes to begin with. Having this stranger before him know more about his eyes than he knew did not sit well with him. It made him feel rather inadequate and strangely sad.
"They are a very interesting color to begin with, but as your moods shift, so do the colors in your eyes. They have a misty quality about them, and it's almost as if the mist in them is alive, shifting and changing as rapidly as your moods." Kaji settled back into his seat, giving Aniol some space.
Aniol watched him for a moment, desperately trying to figure him out. He wanted to know what Kaji was thinking. He absently chewed his lip, momentarily distracted by the look Kaji was giving him and the feelings that look stirred within him. He didn't understand the mixture of apprehension and excitement. Aniol's frown returned when he realized he'd been sidetracked by Kaji's comment. "I am not a girl," he repeated.
"I never said you were a girl." Kaji lifted a hand to silence the protest he could see forming on Aniol's lips. "I said you were Tae. The role of Tae in a union is normally taken by the girl or the partner that will be representing the girl for all intents and legal purposes. One of the impacts of that is that you take on my family name. But seeing as you don't appear to have a family name, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. The cut on your right arm marks you as Tae. Mine"--he gestured to his own arm--"being on the left marks me as Gova: male, or head of family. I need to get new bonding bracelets made, but I don't know what to put on them in representation of your family."
"Bonding bracelets?" Aniol asked in confusion.
Kaji's brow furrowed. "Yes, bonding bracelets. A pair or bracelets is worn by bonded couples so that they may be identified as such. Each pair is unique, created by merging the family insignias of both partners in order to create a new symbol. They hide most of the scar made by bonding and represent to all that the wearer is bonded, identifying whom they are bonded to as well. Anyone with a scar not wearing a bonding bracelet is widowed." Kaji paused, looking for a delicate way to phrase his next words. "Why are you unaware of this? Surely some time during the course of your life you would have witnessed or at least heard about a bonding?"
Aniol winced, dropping his gaze hastily in an attempt to hide the reaction. He took a moment to compose himself before looking up once more. "I don't get out much."
Kaji frowned at the words, concern visibly flickering through him. He tilted his head to the side in contemplation before speaking, leaving his questions unasked for the moment. "Three things are needed for a bonding to be complete: the cuts on the arm, the intermingling of blood, and the circle. We've already discussed the first. One partner receives a cut on the right arm, the other on the left for the reason I have already explained. The intermingling of blood is a dual process. The blood mixes on the blade used to create the cuts and is then mixed again by pressing the pair's arms together. It is thus that two separate individuals become one. Technically, the cut on your arm was done with a different blade, but your blood was mixed with mine on the ceremonial blade I was using in the bonding ceremony when I cut you with it." Kaji pointed at Aniol's side. "The third is the circle. The two bonding need to be standing together within a complete circle. This symbolizes the lifelong commitment they have to one another. No other should be in the circle with them as it may disrupt the bonding and make it unstable." Kaji gave Aniol a wry smile. "You pushed Saya out when you stumbled into the circle, so we were the only two in the circle at the time of the actual bonding. Thereafter it is usually customary to exchange bonding bracelets. This is not necessary as the bracelets are more a social symbol and not involved in the actual bonding ceremony itself. The bracelets are embossed with a symbol that uniquely identifies a bonded couple. I had bracelets made for Saya and me, but they are rather obviously inappropriate now. I will have new ones made as soon as I can figure out what to put on them." Kaji fell silent, watching Aniol for a reaction.
Aniol licked his lips, shifting uncertainly. "I don't know anything about my family," he admitted softly.
Kaji sighed, running an absent hand through his hair, further mussing the already messy red hair. "I guess it's a dilemma that requires some careful consideration, then. You should get some sleep." Kaji reached forward to gently push Aniol back down onto the bed, tugging white sheets up after Aniol was once more lying down. "We will speak further of this once you've had your rest."
Aniol blinked at him, trying to keep his eyes open but failing as exhaustion took over once more. "I don't want to sleep," he murmured tiredly.
Kaji smiled, his entire countenance softening at the sheer audacity of the rather contrary comment Aniol had made. He reached out to brush a stray strand of silver-blue hair out of Aniol's face. "I'm sure you don't," he stated just as softly, waiting for Aniol to drift off before standing up and leaving the infirmary.
Kaji paced back and forth, mind racing as he tried to deal with everything that had happened. The disruption of his bonding ceremony had not only been unexpected but had also ruined the prophecy. This worried him, but not nearly as much as misty grey-blue eyes that haunted him wherever he went. His new mate was an enigma, a mystery that begged for some kind of resolution. He had no idea where the young man had come from, who his family was, or how to deal with him. He'd seen the fear on Aniol's face, the fear that caused the mist in his eyes to coil as if preparing to strike out in defense. Yet Kaji couldn't understand it. He wanted to know what caused that odd mist.
He fisted his hands, contemplating actually doing something constructive in an attempt to distract himself and turn his thoughts away from his newly acquired mate. Growling deep in his throat, Kaji resumed his pacing, knowing it was futile. The same questions he'd had since first seeing the young man still went round and round in his head, unanswered and sadly joined by even more questions as a result of his efforts to resolve the original set. What had Aniol gone through? What brought him here? What was he, Kaji, supposed to do next?
Deciding that his pacing was not actually accomplishing anything, Kaji turned and strode out the room, his steps quick and sure. He headed straight toward the object of his distraction, walked into the infirmary and picked his mate up in one easy movement before he turned to leave. One glare silenced the doctor who was about to protest.
Kaji glanced down at the slim, too-light figure cradled in his arms. Aniol was still asleep and absolutely enthralling. The young man had long strands of the softest hair, shades of blue and silver mingling and shifting, changing as the young man's hair moved. His skin, what little of it that was not covered in yellow, purple, and blue bruises, was burned ragged by sun he was obviously unaccustomed to, the dark red looking rather painful. Aniol had long lashes that rested against his cheeks in his sleep, hiding his most striking feature: his rather strange eyes. Those eyes were unusual, a deep, clear blue tinted by shades of grey and made stranger by the light mist that seemed to travel through them.
Kaji walked straight into his own quarters and bent down to place Aniol onto black sheets decorated with red embroidery. As he leaned over, something slid from beneath Aniol's clothes and struck Kaji's knee as it slipped to the ground. Kaji's turned toward the object in curiosity. Unable to locate it with a cursory glance, he settled Aniol before releasing the young man and shifting away to search for the fallen object. What he found caused him to gasp in disbelief. Lying on his rich red carpet was a silver chain with a tiny teardrop pendant. The pendant was made of moonstone.