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Chiroptera.jpg

the chiroptera

Note: If you read the last two chapters early, I made a few changes after a reader gave their thoughts--an example of how important your thoughts can be. The comment made me realize that Lauden was being a bit too harsh after Ayrie told him he hadn't been with anyone before. So...Because Ayrie doesn't like how vulnerable he feels in the situation, he chooses not to tell Lauden that he's a virgin and acts with bravado. I also added that Lauden tries to ask Ayrie if he needs some preparation, but Ayrie tells him to get on with it. (He'll regret that later when he's sore as hell, lol.)
For those of you who didn't like that Marona and Aswold checked to see if "the deed" had been done, just know that I ALMOST had them insist on watching! Failure to follow the prophecy's instructions would be detrimental to everyone.
Warning: Some of the words/topics in this chapter aren't safe for work.

Chapter Nine: Ayrie

An Innocent Walk

"Where did you get this?" Ayrie asked, holding up the cup of marigold tea Ote had handed him before demanding that Ayrie tell him everything about the previous night.

"I brought it with me, and don't change the subject. You told the Vampire to fuck you hard and fast? Really?"

"I wanted it over with."

"And he did it? Knowing that you—"

"I didn't tell him I was a virgin." Ayrie could have let Ote think Lauden was a complete bastard, but he didn't want to do that. And not just because he didn't like to lie to his best friend. Lauden might not be what Ayrie would have chosen for a husband, but he could have been a lot worse. And as Ayrie, Ote, and Lyles were stuck there in the Umbral forever, Ayrie didn't want to cause more bad feelings than there already were.

Ote's mouth dropped open and he sputtered a moment before getting his words out. "B-but…Why in the universe wouldn't you tell him? You were terrified to go to him when we talked last night."

"I wasn't terrified. I just wanted to know if you had any pointers for me," Ayrie mumbled into his cup. He hated that he'd had such a vulnerable moment in front of someone, even wihen that someone was the person he trusted most in the world.

Ote clenched his fists. "Stop it. You can't lie to me; I know you too well. You were afraid, and instead of asking the Vampire to be careful with you, you went in the opposite direction and told him to rut you like an animal."

Sighing, Ayrie set down his cup. "You don't understand."

"Oh, I think I do. I've known you our entire lives and you're a stubborn—"

"You don't!" Ayrie said sharply, cutting Ote off.

They stared at one another in silence.

In a quieter voice, Ayrie continued, "You don't how it felt to walk into that room, strip, and offer myself on that bed. I've given up everything, Ote. I had to keep my pride in some way. I didn't plan to do it, but when I got in there, I simply couldn't let him know that, along with everything else, he was taking that piece of me, too. And I'm not sorry. It was the only kind of consummation possible in that situation."

When Ote opened his mouth to argue, Ayrie cut in, "Dammit, did you think that we, two complete strangers from different realms—a Fae and a Vampire, for Freyja's sake—would fall into bed and make romantic love just because we said some vows in front of a druid? The last thing I want is Lauden's pity. At least with a sore ass I can still hold my head up in front of him!"

Never mind that once the discomfort eased, he'd found pleasure in the act. He didn't understand how he could have, but there it was.

"And when it was over?" Ote asked.

Ayrie steeled himself for another outburst. "When it was over, it was necessary for Marona and Aswold to see that we had completed the act."

"What?" Ote shouted, bringing Lyles to the door.

"We're fine," Ayrie told him, and, with a quick glance at Ote, the guard left, shutting the door behind him.

Ote's nostrils flared as he said between clenched teeth, "He invited his mother and advisor in to see his seed dripping out of you?"

"It was a compromise. They'd wanted to watch the entire process. I didn't like it, but I understand why it had to be done. What if Lauden or I hadn't been able to go through with it?'

"They couldn't just take your word for it?"

"Everything rests on this, Ote. And we still don't know if the coupling produced a child. Marona and Aswold looked and they left and it was done." He felt his face go red, remembering the humiliation, although Lauden had covered most of him and the moment had passed quickly. Lauden had also stopped Aswold on the threshold, Ayrie suddenly recalled. Why had he done that?

Suddenly feeling unbearable trapped, he abruptly rose to his feet. "Let's not talk about it anymore. I want to get out of this place for a while. Take a walk."

Ote frowned. "Do you think it's wise to go outside the palace without protection?"

Pulling his nightshirt over his head and tossing it onto the bed, Ayrie began to dress for the day.

"This is our home now. They can't keep us prisoners in it. Lyles will accompany us, and we'll stay on palace grounds."

Thankfully, Ote didn't argue.

The moment Ayrie stepped outdoors—bag of food from the cook in hand—and got a breath of fresh air, he felt better. He was a positive person by nature, rarely feeling low spirited for long, and even though he was in a strange land with a stranger for a husband, he was saving his people and he wasn't alone—he had Ote and Lyles with him. As he watched the two talking at the bottom of the steps, Ayrie couldn't help but smile when he remembered that Lyles was Ote's long-time crush. He wondered how the bedroom situation was working out. Perhaps Ote would soon get some experience with a man. And when that happens, I will will not go easy on him, he thought with sadistic pleasure. Not after Ote's inquisition earlier.

As Ayrie descended the steps, he looked around. The temperature was at least ten degrees cooler than this time of day in the Ephemeral realm. Although it was mid-morning, it looked more like twilight, with the sun just a small orb in the sky behind a thick haze, and strong bursts of wind occasionally sending dark clouds to block it now and again. Ayrie supposed the Umbral had its own appeal. The mountains that encircled half the castle were certainly majestic, portions of them covered in the red blooms of some determined, hearty flower. The wind smelled faintly of the sea, reminding Ayrie of trips he had taken with his fathers to visit the mer-people. He recalled from his research that the ocean wasn't far from Belladonna palace. He wondered if Lauden would take him there if he asked.

"Did you tell anyone other than the cook that you were leaving, your grace?" Lyles asked Ayrie as they began a brisk walk along the row of tall hedges inside the walled courtyard.

"Jarvin was in the kitchen at the time and heard." Ayrie held up the bag the cook had packed for them. "We have sandwiches and cookies for a picnic."

"Vampires like cookies? Are they made of blood?" Ote asked, looking doubtful.

"She said they are made of oatmeal," Ayrie assured him. "We'll walk a ways and then sit and eat, shall we?"

This seemed to cheer up Ote, and, as they walked, he soon began to blather about the tiny frog-like creatures in the hedges and how the ground was mostly covered in brown moss.

"I guess it's all that can grow here," he said, looking up at the faraway, feeble sun.

"Do you regret coming with me?" Ayrie found himself asking. "You could be home right now, walking in the full sun and having fun."

Ote made a derisive noise. "How could I have any fun without you there?"

 

Ayrie wanted to throw his arms around Ote and hug him, but he kept walking.

"I promise you both that things will get better. We'll make a life here somehow," he said. "And when the Divide completely closes, things will surely change for the better."

"Didn't it close the moment you said 'I do'? Or, maybe it was the moment Lauden put his—Ouch!" Ote glared at Ayrie, who had given him a boot to the ass, sending Ote staggering forward.

"We would have felt it if it had closed, idiot," Ayrie said, glaring at Ote for what he'd almost said in front of Lyles. "The Divide will probably close upon conception, since that is a stipulation to the Prophecy."

Undeterred by Ayrie's anger, Ote whirled around and walked backwards while talking. "Is Lauden a good kisser?"

Of course Ote wouldn't drop the subject.

"We didn't kiss," Ayrie said stiffly. They'd walked to the end of the great hedges and left the walled courtyard for more open ground. "There's a good spot to eat," Ayrie said after a moment, indicating a large patch of brown moss.

The three men sat down, and Ayrie passed out the food.

"I'm sorry he didn't kiss you," Ote said before biting into his sandwich.

"What for?" Ayrie asked in exasperation. "Who said I wanted to be kissed by a stranger during an awkward sexual act? Anyway, it's kind of difficult to kiss when you're on all fours."

Behind him, Ayrie heard Lyles choke on his sandwich. He'd forgotten about the guard's presence for a moment. He inwardly cursed Ote's persistent teasing.

Ote handed Lyles one of the jars of water the cook had thoughtfully packed into the bag and patted the guard's back encouragingly as he drank.

"So romantic," Ayrie said, giving Ote a taste of his own medicine. "Perhaps you two are the ones who should kiss."

Turning red in the face, Ote attempted to hit Ayrie in the arm, but Ayrie was too quick and easily evaded the swat.

"Or you could do more in the privacy of your shared room. The walls aren't thin, so I probably wouldn't hear you."

Ote launched himself at Ayrie, but Ayrie anticipated the move and scrambled to his feet and taking off running, Ote at his heels, both of them ignoring Lyles' shouts to stop.

"I'll show you a kiss!" Ote ran after Ayrie, who was laughing breathlessly as he dodged Ote's attempts to take him down.

 

Happiness welled in Ayrie's chest because it felt like old times. Ote's legs were longer, but Ayrie was lighter on his feet and consistently slipped through his friend's fingers as they ran. Eventually, though, Ote managed to take Ayrie down.

"Could the two of you please act your age?" Lyles was breathing hard when he reached where Ote had sprawled on top of Ayrie on the ground. Jerking Ote up, the guard held him by the collar. "How old are you, eight? No, I'm sure I've seen eight-year- olds act more maturely than the two of you."

Breathing hard but still laughing, Ayrie got up and swiped at the dirt on his rear end.

"Here, let me help you with that," Ote said, swatting Ayrie's ass much harder than necessary.

"Ouch!" Ayrie moved back, shielding his abused bottom.

Shaking Ote by the collar, Lyles said sternly, "Stop this instant. How am I to keep you two safe when I have to be your babysitter?"

Looking ashamed, Ote stopped struggling and said, "I'm sorry, Lyles. I won't tease Ayrie anymore."

Reluctantly, Lyles released him.

Standing behind Lyles, Ayrie stuck his tongue out at Ote, making his friend scowl.

"That goes for you, too, my liege," Lyles said, turning to Ayrie in time to see the tip of his tongue disappear back into his mouth. "Perhaps you should remember that you are now consort to the king of the Umbral and have a duty to its inhabitants. It is time you conducted yourself properly for the role, wouldn't you say? What would your fathers think if they could see you?"

Chastised, Ayrie hung his head and mumbled an apology to his guard.

The three began walking back the way they'd come. Ayrie hadn't realized how far the chase had led them—he was pretty sure they had left the palace grounds. Lyles kept his hand on his sword as he scanned the area for danger. The haze had momentarily dissipated and the sun shone down on them, warming Ayrie's skin.

"You made me leave my sandwich," Ote muttered, too low for Lyles to hear. "The bread was fresh from the oven. I'm telling you, if some two-headed, cross-eyed Umbral bird got our food…"

Ayrie tried not to laugh, but Ote's description of what an Umbral bird might look like got to him and he cracked up. Soon, they were both laughing uproariously.

Until a giant shadow fell over them, blotting out the weak sun completely. Ayrie looked up at the sky just as Lyles shouted a warming and pushed him to the ground. But Ayrie had gotten a glimpse of the giant bat—just like the one that had tried to attack them the other night. A chiroptera, Lauden had called it. A deafening squeaking sound filled the air as it swooped past and then circled back to fly at them again. Ayrie tracked the progress of its enormous shadow on the ground and ducked his head as the creature made a second dive at them. Tightening his hold on Ayrie, Lyles managed to roll them away several feet, pushing Ote, who was lying beside them, as he went. The bat let out another ear-splitting squeak at missing its mark again. As it made a second wide circle, Lyles got to his feet, drawing his sword from its scabbard.

There were no bats were Ayrie had lived in the Ephemeral, but Ayrie had read about them in books. They were said to be small and to come out only at night. Obviously, the chiroptera was a different type of bat. A monster type. Also, Ayrie had read that bats were nearly blind and relied on sound waves to catch their prey, but this thing was looking right at them with clear, large red eyes.

Belatedly, Ayrie realized he had been childish and impetuous giving into his urge to play with Ote. He'd led his friends off the palace grounds and into danger. With an inward curse, he told himself he had to keep them safe, even if he must sacrifice himself to do it.

But, if he were to do that, his mind rationalized, it would be breaking the terms of the Prophecy, and everyone would be doomed.

Better to be doomed to a bloody war than to be eaten by a giant bat, he thought as they barely dodged the creature's next lunge, and a jolt of real terror at the sight of its fangs ran through him.

Lyles managed to slice one of the bat's wings with his sword, but that only seemed to enrage the chiroptera, which let out another ear-splitting screech before flashing its dagger-like fangs and flying straight for them.

Ayrie didn't have time to make an informed decision. He only knew that right then, at that moment, he had to save his friends. Jumping to his feet, he began to run, waving his hands in the air to make sure the horrible creature followed him.

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