“Violet,” Karzarul barked, bursting into the room that Violet had set up as a temporary office. “I need you for something, it’s urgent.”
Violet stood immediately, wings briefly arching. They fell again when the mood failed to meet the tone of Karzarul’s voice. Karzarul was in Savagewing form, making the two of them twins in different colors. Karzarul still insisted on wearing a formal tunic, as well as straightening his hair.
He’d always had the benefit of being the most distinct of all of them.
Violet’s feelings were already getting muddled, a vague anxious sense of dread that he only ever felt when Karzarul was near. The wanting, the ache, the desire to please, the resentment. If anyone else made him feel this way, Violet would assume he had a crush. Instead it was Karzarul and all the waves of his internal life crashing against Violet’s shores. Indistinguishable from being anxious, from resenting Karzarul for making him feel this way.
Violet was proud of his ability to untangle that knot, because he knew them too well. He remembered what it felt like to be them. He knew now what it felt like to be himself.
“What happened?” Violet asked with languid suspicion. Karzarul wasn’t upset enough for it to be a serious matter, particularly when he’d come alone.
Karzarul had started to pace already. “Minnow is interested,” he said. He gestured to himself for clarity’s sake.
“Of course she is,” Violet said, pleased beyond measure. “She’s supposed to be.”
Karzarul huffed in annoyed impatience.
Violet hummed thoughtfully. “Did you want practice?” he asked.
Karzarul stopped pacing, flexing his wings. “Kind of.”
Violet laughed, which brought Karzarul’s wings to an angry arch. He couldn’t decide if they were basically the same person or basically strangers, couldn’t decide if this was worth feeling embarrassed about.
Violet remembered as well as he could the awkwardness of it, the clumsy learning of a new body. Unexpected responses in parts of the anatomy that hadn’t previously existed. And Karzarul was still, Violet was sure, lying to Minnow. Pretending that he’d spent his years getting wise and figuring out what the fuck he was doing. A repeat of the first time with Jonys would be difficult to explain.
“Don’t be so fussy about it,” Violet teased, closing the gap between them. “You know I live to serve, Your Majesty.”
“Fuck off,” Karzarul muttered reflexively, gaze sliding from Violet’s. Violet felt a brief flitting sense of shame before remembering it wasn’t his.
“I liked the fucky energy better,” Violet said. He arched his own wings with a slight flare, a purring little growl to test the waters. Immediately Karzarul raised his wings high toward the ceiling, snarling and baring his teeth. Violet had to resist the temptation to spread his wings out and roar at him. “We’re going to have to decide who’s in charge,” Violet warned.
“I am,” Karzarul said.
“Of course you are,” Violet soothed. “Do you want to be?”
Karzarul hesitated, wings falling a little. “… we can figure it out.”
“Only if you want to end up fighting over it,” Violet said. “I don’t know how many of this body’s instincts you keep,” he explained, “but we like to claim what’s ours.”
“Ah,” Karzarul said, with a faint glow.
“I don’t mind being underneath you,” Violet said, “but you’ll have to pin me like you mean it if you want it to stick.” The space between them was gone, but Karzarul’s heels gave him an extra inch in height. He always wore his crown when he came to visit as if there were any risk of confusing him with another monster. Violet wrapped two arms around his shoulders and the others between Karzarul’s sets of arms. “We already know where Minnow’s predilections lie,” Violet said. “But you could go either way. Isn’t it easier if you let someone else do all the work, the first time?”
“Maybe,” Karzarul said, but their bodies were pressed together and when Violet rocked his hips he could tell it was working.
“If it helps,” Violet suggested in his ear, “you can tell yourself it’s vanity when I call you beautiful.”
Karzarul’s feathers fluffed momentarily as he rolled the word over in his mind and tried to decide how he felt about it.
“Too far?” Violet asked.
“Say it again,” Karzarul said.
“Beautiful,” Violet purred. He reached up to stroke one of Karzarul’s antennae, and Karzarul shuddered. “When you’re with Minnow,” Violet said, “you shouldn’t let her touch these.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Karzarul said before Violet caught his mouth in a kiss.
Despite the problems it presented with the other monsters, Violet did prefer when his King was like this. They were getting caught up in each other already, because ‘horny’ was the kind of feeling that didn’t leave room for many others. Violet hadn’t been his own person long enough to have nurtured feelings as big as the ones Karzarul had, so this felt like the only way he could hold his own. Getting turned on by turning on someone else was almost normal.
“Come on,” Violet said as he pulled away, taking Karzarul’s hands. “Let’s find a bed, these floors are unkind to knees.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Karzarul said, following along as Violet pulled him through the halls.
“Oh, rude,” Violet gasped. “I’ll have you know I am being considerate.”
“Uh-huh,” Karzarul said as Violet pulled him into a room with a neatly-made bed, closing the door behind them.
If it were anyone else, Violet would have used this as a learning opportunity about having a smart mouth. But it was Karzarul, and even when he let Violet be in charge there were going to be limits. It took a certain sort of person for Karzarul to willingly submit, and they typically wore stars on their hands. Violet was only a lesser monster, a less-than person.
Karzarul didn’t know he thought about them that way, but Violet remembered. It was a problem they’d need to work on, was all. And in the meantime, there were limits to what Karzarul was willing to submit to.
Violet kissed him again, face tilted upward to meet his extra inch, unfastening his tunic with all four hands. “How do you get this off your wings?” Violet wondered.
“I don’t,” Karzarul admitted, and the garment dissolved into moonlight nothing along with his gloves.
“So it’s a flex, is what that is,” Violet said with an annoyed crinkle of his nose, untying his robe. Of course Karzarul deliberately wore clothes that anyone else would need to be sewn into. Violet didn’t know why he’d expected anything less.
“Little bit,” Karzarul said, and Violet was startled when Karzarul grabbed him to crush a sudden hard kiss to his lips. Violet growled with a flare of his wings, catching his breath as he pulled away.
“Who’s in charge?” Violet asked before Karzarul could respond to the display.
“Ah,” Karzarul said, unsure if he was offended or aroused, naturally inclined toward offense.
“I’m not trying to be a bitch,” Violet said, throwing himself at Karzarul and draping himself over him dramatically. It was silly enough to defuse Karzarul’s short fuse. “I told you,” Violet reminded him, kissing at his neck. “I can’t help it.” He sniffled, but not believably. “It’s not my fault I’m like this,” he reminded him.
“For fuck’s sake,” Karzarul muttered, rolling his eyes, which meant Violet had succeeded.
“Behave yourself, Your Majesty,” Violet said, running his fingertips along Karzarul’s scalp before tightening his grip on his hair. He pulled his head back to kiss his throat. “I know what you like,” he said against his skin. “I’ll take excellent care of you.”
Karzarul hummed as Violet pushed him toward the bed, urging him to sit. Violet straddled his lap as soon as he’d done so, two hands cupping Karzarul’s face to kiss him. Karzarul quickly forgot himself, because he always did when he had someone’s tongue in his mouth. Violet ground against him, and Karzarul groaned in his mouth, nothing but thin fabric between them. Violet dragged his teeth along Karzarul’s throat, and Karzarul shuddered. Violet let his robe fall to the floor, beating his wings once on principle.
“Ah,” Karzarul said. “She likes the wings.”
“Good,” Violet said into his mouth. “Don’t flap them around on purpose, they’ll go on their own near the end.”
“You’ll see,” Violet purred. The thumbs of his higher hands brushed over Karzarul’s nipples, lower hands pulling at his tights until his cocks were free. He caught Karzarul’s moan in his mouth. “Your Majesty,” he giggled.
“Don’t,” Karzarul warned weakly. Violet’s feathers fluffed as he resisted the desire to remind Karzarul who was supposed to be in charge.
“My lord,” Violet sighed, and though it was better it didn’t satisfy either of them. “My heart,” he said with greater conviction, though it made Karzarul’s pulse stutter. “It is,” Violet reminded him, pressing his hand against Karzarul’s chest, grabbing one of Karzarul’s hands to press it to his own. “Where else would it have come from?”
“Ah,” Karzarul said. Violet wrapped his thumb and index finger around one of Karzarul’s cocks, the rest of his fingers around the second so that he could stroke them simultaneously.
“You gave us ex-cellent dicks for getting head,” Violet said as he stroked him.
“Did I?” Karzarul panted.
“Oh, yes,” Violet purred. “If they tilt their heads a little you can rub one against the bulge in their cheeks.”
“Mm-hmm,” Violet said. “Much less likely to break anything than your other ones.”
“Yeah,” Karzarul said. “Did you want me to—?”
“You’d regret it,” Violet said.
“No,” Karzarul insisted. “I want to.” Violet kissed him again, stroked him harder and pressed his hands against his chest. “Please,” Karzarul added. “I’d make it good for you.”
Violet pressed his lips to Karzarul’s shoulder, trilled involuntarily while grinding through his tights against Karzarul’s cocks. “Do you think I doubt it, beautiful?” he said in his ear, a hand not already occupied tracing a thumb along Karzarul’s mouth. Karzarul licked the pad of his thumb. “Tease,” Violet accused. “Would you kneel?”
“You know I would,” Karzarul said. “Unless you can think of something hotter.”
Violet laughed. “We could bind your wings and arms behind your back,” he suggested, “and lay you down so I could watch my cock make your throat bulge.”
“Fuck,” Karzarul gasped with a buck of his hips. “That’s—”
“—a bit much?”
“Yeah,” Karzarul confirmed. “Later, maybe.”
Violet giggled as he slid off Karzarul’s lap. “We’ll keep it simple, then,” he said, working his cocks out of his tights. Karzarul was on the floor in a heartbeat, two hands on Violet’s thighs and two on his cocks. Violet trilled but didn’t scold him for it. Karzarul ran his tongue along the length of the first before sliding his lips to the base and taking it in his throat, repeating the process for the second. Once they were both slick with spit, he focused the attention of his mouth on Violet’s lower cock. When he took it all the way he could stick his tongue out to lick at Violet’s balls, hand pumping Violet’s higher cock and rubbing it against his face.
Violet groaned a little, running his higher hands through his own curls, lower hands touching Karzarul’s hair. “Oh, I did learn from the best, didn’t I?”
Karzarul hummed an affirmative around a mouth full of dick.
Violet stroked Karzarul’s antennae, and Karzarul faltered, moaning and going briefly slack. Violet used the opportunity to thrust hard into his throat before pulling out entirely. “Isn’t that nice?” Violet asked.
“I like that,” Karzarul confirmed breathlessly.
“I knew you would,” Violet said. “Get your mouth back on me, beautiful, let me do it again.”
Karzarul complied immediately, shuddering and letting out a low sound when Violet started stroking his antennae again. A fortunate oversight that a gag reflex was not something it had ever occurred to Karzarul that he should have. Violet watched him intently, having never been able to see this from the outside before. Silver lashes and soft lips and the odd awareness that it both was and was not his own face. The rhythmic sound of regular thrusts, throat tight around the head of Violet’s cock. As arousing for Karzarul as it was for Violet, or maybe the one simply led to the other. Violet had to stop and pull out for the sudden worry that he’d finish too soon.
“Am I allowed to fuck you?” he asked. Karzarul hesitated. “No,” Violet answered for him. “That’s okay,” he assured him.
“It isn’t like that,” Karzarul said, rising in that too-fast way he sometimes did, momentarily incorporeal. The rest of his clothes went missing in the transition. “I don’t mean it that way,” he insisted, touching Violet’s face. “It isn’t about allowed.”
“It’s okay,” Violet said, trying to get him to lower his hands. Karzarul laced their fingers together instead.
“Leonas has baggage,” Karzarul said.
“I’ll say,” Violet agreed.
“I’m waiting,” Karzarul said. “I haven’t let anyone have me since I came back, you know how it is with that.” The same form but a different form, the same body but a different body. Always the same but after he’d died it always felt new. A fresh start, a clean slate. “If it were anyone but him, I wouldn’t wait.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” Violet said.
“I do,” Karzarul said, pressing a hand against Violet’s chest. “I can feel it. I need you to know it isn’t you, it isn’t the way I feel about you. I don’t want to make you feel like me. Never like me.”
“Tough luck,” Violet said, giving in and kissing him again. “Like yourself more.”
“I’m trying,” Karzarul said against his mouth. “I really am. You don’t deserve what I do to you.”
“I deserve many sloppy blowjobs,” Violet countered, and Karzarul giggled as Violet kissed his nose. “All right, dear heart, let’s get in bed and figure out what I can do to you that won’t ruin you for other men.” Karzarul let Violet guide him backward but the digression had thrown them off course, left Karzarul feeling guilty and then guiltier for knowing that Violet could feel it too. “Be a good slut for me and stop thinking so much,” Violet teased.
Even if Violet hadn’t felt Karzarul’s frisson of pleasure, he could see it in his wings and his feathery antennae. He hadn’t figured out how to manage his body language yet, the body too new to him still.
“If you want to get comfy on your back, it’s going to help to stretch your wings out a bit,” Violet advised, pushing Karzarul onto the mattress. Violet took off the last of his clothes while Karzarul struggled to figure out what to do with all his limbs. “You’re so fucking pretty,” Violet said.
Karzarul blinked at him, then grinned. “Yeah?”
“You know you are,” Violet said, detouring to the side table to retrieve a bottle of oil.
“Vain,” Karzarul accused.
“Yes,” Violet agreed. “But I’ll admit you might be a little bit prettier.”
Because he was the color of moonlight, and he glowed, and he was always every inch of him entirely himself. And all the rest of them, in his presence, had to accept the reality that they were copies.
“Are you jealous?” Karzarul asked as Violet climbed into bed with him, and so he must have felt it.
“Hush,” Violet said instead of answering, fanning out his wings above them and letting their limbs get tangled as he kissed Karzarul again. “This position’s going to be awkward,” Violet warned. “If we’re on the bottom we’re usually flipped the other way around.”
“Ah,” Karzarul said.
“It’s okay,” Violet said. “We’ll make it work.” He poured oil into one of his palms to start stroking Karzarul’s cocks with it. “It’s a trial run to work the kinks out, it’s not a rehearsal.”
“Right,” Karzarul agreed, breathless.
“Wings out so I don’t get my knees on them,” Violet warned, nudging at Karzarul’s lower wings until both sets were splayed out on the comforter. “Good boy,” Violet said as he straddled Karzarul’s hips, recalling too late that he ought to be more careful with language. Karzarul didn’t take offense, was nothing but pleased when Violet kissed him again. “This is practice for both of us, because I haven’t tried this with another Savagewing before and it might not work.”
“Oh,” Karzarul said, surprised.
“Don’t look like that,” Violet scolded. “I’ve taken it up the ass, that isn’t what I meant.” Violet wound up using three hands to try and guide one of Karzarul’s cocks inside him without the other one doing anything unexpected. “If I’m not careful your dick is going to spear me in the balls and then we’ll have to wait and try again tomorrow once I’ve recovered.”
Karzarul barked a laugh, then covered his mouth as if he could shove the sound back in.
Violet pressed the slick head of Karzarul’s cock against him, gave way almost immediately as he lowered himself onto it. It stretched him open much too easily for the size of it, and maybe that was an advantage they had, that they were so much the same, that they fit so well. That it felt so good to be sitting on Karzarul with one cock balls-deep inside him and another rubbing against him.
He did manage to avoid getting jabbed in the testicles, but it had been a valid concern. The arrangement left Karzarul’s upper cock poking up between Violet’s thighs, rubbing along the skin of his balls near the base of his cocks.
A little clumsy. Certainly not ideal. But it felt fantastic all the same. Violet ran his fingers through his curls again, rocking his hips to feel Karzarul slide in and out of him. “You feel so fucking good,” Violet sighed. He leaned forward to brace two arms against Karzarul’s shoulders. “You like it?” he purred.
“Yeah,” Karzarul said weakly.
“You going to give me what I want?”
“Going to let me use you to get myself off?” Violet pressed. Karzarul shuddered, breathing ragged. Violet laced the fingers of his lower hands with Karzarul’s, pinning them to the bed. He kissed Karzarul’s jaw, mouth close to his ear. “I want to treat you like you’re mine,” he murmured. “Would you like that?”
“Yeah,” Karzarul said.
Violet gripped his hands tighter, rocked his hips to bounce a little on Karzarul’s cock and grind against his stomach. “Even if it hurts?”
“Please,” Karzarul breathed.
Overwhelming desire, the best and worst part of them, the feedback loop that made it too easy to finish too fast and just as quick to try again. Violet growled as Karzarul gasped underneath him, thrusting up into him as Violet rolled his hips to encourage it. “You feel so fucking good,” Violet said, capturing his groans in another kiss. “I want to feel you squirm, sweetheart, I want to make you earn it. You don’t get to finish until I’m done.”
“Fuck,” Karzarul gasped. Violet took the hands he’d been pinning and guided them to his hips.
“Fuck me, beautiful, I want you to rail me like you mean it,” Violet ordered. Karzarul’s fingers dug into his skin, pulling him down at the same time he thrust harder into him. “Like that, like that.” Violet rose up with his hands braced against Karzarul’s stomach, adjusting the angle of his hips until Karzarul was hitting the right spot. Violet let himself cry out shamelessly, throwing his head back as pleasure mounted inside him.
Violet stretched out his wings, abruptly dropping his head with an awkward curve to his spine to keep the angle of Karzarul’s cock where he wanted it. He kissed Karzarul’s throat before biting his shoulder with a growl. Karzarul made a sound of surprise as Violet bit down hard, thrusting against Karzarul’s skin and riding his cock. With each thrust of Violet’s hips, his wings beat hard, snarling against Karzarul’s skin.
Violet came hard and noisy, teeth breaking skin, cum splattering across Karzarul’s stomach. Karzarul had stopped thrusting for a moment, and Violet only released the grip of his jaw after his pleasure had crested and crashed. He licked silvery liquid moonlight from his fangs.
“Violet,” Karzarul said, his voice low. Violet hummed, basking in the blissed-out feeling. “You said I have to pin you like I mean it, right?”
“Oh,” Violet sighed. The idea appealed to him more than it ordinarily would have. He seemed to have fucked himself stupid, which was not usually how this sort of thing went for him. Karzarul took the small sound as approval, using his upper hands to push himself upright. He didn’t actually pin Violet down, cupped his face instead to kiss him hard. Violet wrapped his arms around Karzarul, and they were a tangle of limbs and beating wings.
Karzarul pounded into him, didn’t stop kissing him for even a moment as he bounced Violet in his lap. Violet found himself whimpering onto Karzarul’s tongue, couldn’t tell if it was his own pleasure mounting again or if it was Karzarul’s.
“You’re beautiful,” Karzarul said against his mouth. “You’re so good to me, you feel so fucking good Violet.” Both their wings were moving, air cool against hot skin. Karzarul pressed his forehead to Violet’s, and the lengths of their antennae rubbed against each other.
“Karzarul—” Violet descended into loud and incoherent cries, surprised when Karzarul managed to wring another orgasm out of him, making a mess of the both of them. Karzarul’s cocks twitched as he came, spilling out onto Violet’s thighs as well as inside him. Violet’s limbs were all shaky as Karzarul tipped them both sideways.
Karzarul kissed the corner of Violet’s mouth. “I think that worked,” he said.
“Good practice,” Violet agreed, patting Karzarul’s chest.
“Are the baths done yet?” Karzarul asked.
“We have tubs,” Violet said. “Not the baths proper, yet. Don’t make that face, we both know you’re going to shift to a form that isn’t all cummy anyway.”
“I like a bath when there’s nice ones,” Karzarul said. “Did you assign Taurils to herd monsters?”
“Some,” Violet said. “Better to minimize the dead. Particularly when I’m sure you haven’t told Minnow.”
“Courageous Tauril died,” Karzarul said.
“What?” Violet sat upright immediately. “When?”
“Earlier,” Karzarul said. “Astian soldiers, trying to clear out the Howlers Coura was managing. It looked like he was with Temmy?”
“They’re on the buddy system,” Violet said. “Why was this not the first thing you mentioned?”
Karzarul blinked. He was still laying on his side. “I got distracted,” he said. “Temmy seems fine, none of the Howlers seem to have been lost.” He sighed. “I wondered why things were going so well, I didn’t realize you’d set something like that up.”
“It would serve you right if I didn’t bother covering for your stupid lies,” Violet said, poking Karzarul in the sternum. He was still a bit sticky. “I’ll have to check where I had them stationed.”
“I found Drakonis,” Karzarul added.
“Yeah, she’s good. She’s having a good time.”
Violet rubbed at his forehead as he processed the fact that Karzarul’s first and foremost concern had been Minnow’s perception of his sexual prowess. “Ridiculous man,” Violet muttered. “Where has she been?”
“With the Moon Cultists.”
Violet pounced on Karzarul, hands on all his biceps. Karzarul was too surprised to respond poorly. “You are going to drive me insane,” Violet said. “I hate this.”
“Having to get everything secondhand from you,” Violet said. “I am well aware of how things look when they’re happening versus how you tell it later.”
“I’m not that bad,” Karzarul said.
“You’re awful,” Violet said. “What happened with Moon Cultists? How did we never meet one?”
“You know regular people?” Karzarul asked.
“Regular people,” Karzarul said again. “There were always bandits, mercenaries, soldiers, Aekhites, Gaigonians, Sun worshippers. They weren’t regular people.”
“Right,” Violet said slowly.
“But then there were regular people,” Karzarul continued. “The normal… everyone. I guess they call those Moon Cultists, now.”
“That can’t be right,” Violet said.
“You can visit yourself, if you don’t believe me,” Karzarul said defensively. “They’re in Dragon Canyon, you’re the one who figured it out. They ought to call it Drakonis Canyon but she doesn’t seem to mind.”
Violet let Karzarul go to run a hand through his hair. “I’m going to have to visit, I think. I don’t suppose you established any kind of official diplomatic channels.”
“Teacher Zadven was nice enough,” Karzarul said. “You can talk to him. I didn’t notice an official government or anything. They were regular people.”
“Right,” Violet sighed.
“I couldn’t stay long,” Karzarul said. “Drakonis wasn’t the only beast monster there. It was. A lot.” He rubbed a hand over his face. Violet could feel the usual roil of emotions rising up in Karzarul already.
“I know you don’t want to talk about it,” Violet said. “But I already know the worst of you, you know.” He watched Karzarul’s throat bob when he swallowed, still covering his face.
“I almost lost it,” Karzarul admitted. “The whole time I was there, I was losing it. She was so happy, Violet.”
Violet carefully took one of Karzarul’s hands, and Karzarul let him.
“It wasn’t just happy,” Karzarul said. “I don’t know how to explain how… they all felt so… secure. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that. I didn’t even know, until I felt it. Another thing I didn’t even know I was missing.”
“That isn’t your fault,” Violet said.
“All that means is that I can’t fix it myself,” Karzarul said. “I’m stuck like this. And even when Minnow says she wants to fix it, it’s not… she believes it. They all believe it, when they make promises. I don’t know how to pretend to believe it.”
“She’s different,” Violet said.
“They’re all different,” Karzarul said.
“Not like Lady Minnow,” Violet said firmly.
That was enough for Karzarul to peer suspiciously through his fingers. “You’re very defensive,” Karzarul observed.
“I’m just pointing out the facts,” Violet said, letting go of Karzarul’s hand and fluffing his curls.
“Do you have a thing for Minnow?” Karzarul asked, lowering his hands. Violet wished he’d managed to find a different topic to distract him from his own angst.
“I don’t think that’s an appropriate question,” Violet said primly.
“That sounds like a yes,” Karzarul said, sitting up.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t that,” Violet said.
“So what is it?” Karzarul asked.
Violet huffed. “You made us for her, dummy,” he reminded him. “If we have a thing, it’s that we’re hers and we know it. And she likes us. That’s why things will be different.”
Karzarul set his hand on Violet’s this time. “I didn’t mean to make you like her. Just because I have feelings for someone—”
“That isn’t it,” Violet said. “You don’t get it.”
“Is this—the other monsters—”
“Not all of them,” Violet said. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to.”
“I can see why this is annoying,” Karzarul said. “If this is what I’m like.”
Violet huffed again, blowing a curl off his forehead. “Only some of us were for someone. You have plenty of forms that were as much for you as for anyone. Abysscales were for you. You wanted to get laid. That’s not the same as being for someone.”
“Right,” Karzarul said.
“There’s a lot of Leonas-related confusion here,” Violet said, gesturing to his entire face. “That’s not the same as being for him. I exist to please Lady Minnow.”
“I think before when you kept calling her Lady I assumed you were being a shit,” Karzarul said.
“Good,” Violet said. He reached out to touch Karzarul’s cheek. “You are my king,” he said. “Your heart is my heart. If I thought for even one instant that you were going to do something that would harm Lady Minnow, I would kill you, and you would thank me for it.”
“That’s fair,” Karzarul said.
“I am blessed,” he said, “to have been made with a purpose, and to have had that purpose validated by my Lady’s approval. I plan to live a long and happy life.”
“It will be long.”
“And it will be happy,” Violet said firmly. “I am well aware that you find this indistinguishable from yet another person making promises they cannot keep. But. Even if everything goes to absolute shit. Even if she trips and falls into a volcano.”
“Don’t jinx it.”
“I will be happy,” Violet said. “Because there will always be us. All of us, forever. It would please her to know we could be happy without her, and I was made to please her.” He paused. “I won’t have to, though. She’ll be fine. She’s different.”
Violet took his time cleaning himself up after Karzarul left, using it as a chance to reacclimate to being entirely his own self again. He tried to examine his various feelings to establish which were valid, and which were lingering remnants of what Karzarul had carried in.
It was trickier than he expected. He felt a persistent concern that he’d given too much, said too much, revealed what he shouldn’t have. He wanted to blame that on Karzarul, but he wasn’t sure if he could. It was only that it didn’t make any sense for the feeling to be Violet’s. He knew better than to treasure secrets. It shouldn’t have been his. But could it have been anyone else’s?
He dressed and headed for the construction area, where the castle was climbing ever-higher. Brutelings were delighting in finding interesting new ways to make stone defy gravity. Bullizards were excellent at finding shiny things, a skill they’d been using to mine various magical ores that the Brutelings could use in creative architecture. The ability of Bullizards to stick to walls also came in handy when building upward and sideways.
Brutelings had already figured out how to make one tower look like it was drooping outward, and it was only a matter of time before they managed to make one corkscrew. The core structure was that of an enormous hexagon rising upward, but it didn’t take long for it to split off and be surrounded by a variety of experimental towers and spires.
Out in the open air of the level still under construction, Violet could hear a band of Bullizards playing. It was Ecru and Chartreuse and Alabaster today, all on stringed instruments of their own making. The air was thin and cold this high, and a few wispy clouds were visible above the countryside below. The light of cities and towns could be seen in the distance, always giving Monster Mountain a wide berth. Closer, fires were fewer and further between.
Violet remembered roads and imagined there being roads again. He leaned against the half-built wall to look out at the horizon, the sky swirling stars in blues and purples.
A match lit to the right of him.
“Obsidian,” Violet said, snapping open a fan to flutter it. “Come here often?” he asked.
The Impyr was well-suited to blending in with the night sky, though he was darker than either the sky or the shadows. There was a shimmer to his skin, and in the dark of night he sometimes looked like an illusion, the absence of a person. The effect was somewhat tempered by the double-breasted wool vest in grey over a pale linen shirt, calico trousers that buttoned down the sides and ended below his knees. He wore his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, bent forward to lean against the half-wall as he lit a cigarillo. His tail swayed behind him.
Obsidian wore his hair short, lately, and it fell in an enticing mop that contrasted with the neat lines of his beard.
“Sometimes,” Obsidian said, exhaling smoke and shaking the match out. “Sid’s fine.”
“Having trouble sleeping?” Violet suggested, moving closer in a deliberately casual saunter.
“Nah,” Sid said. “Just wanted a smoke.”
“If you wanted to put something in your mouth, I could have found you something better,” Violet suggested.
Sid took a long drag and sighed, smoke billowing out of his nostrils. He drummed his fingers on the stone of the wall. “You should stop,” he said.
Violet stilled. “I beg your pardon?” he asked archly.
“I haven’t been playing hard to get,” Sid said. “If you keep doing this, it’s going to get awkward.”
Violet’s feathers fluffed. “Fine,” he said as he snapped his fan shut, his voice pitched high. “Fine. I’m not—fine. If I’m not your type, you could have said so. Instead of implying that I can’t take a hint.”
“You’re too new,” Sid said.
“Not that new,” Violet said.
“Too much like Karzarul,” Sid said, flicking ash over the edge of the wall.
“Rude,” Violet said immediately.
Sid snorted. “See how offended you got?” he said, and Violet bristled. “You and I, we’ve both got the most memories out of our cohort. I remember this desire, early on. This need to be closer. It feels right, being so close, because you’re him and he’s you. You’ve been a part of him for so long, you want to find a way to be a part of him still. But you know it won’t work, you remember what he’s like. You settle for the next best thing.”
Violet’s wings were drawn in close. “It isn’t like that,” Violet said as Sid took another drag.
“Could be,” Sid said. “It’s different for you. You had a better start, you like yours. Maybe that changes things.”
Impyrs had been for Lynette, after all.
It was a marvel that any Impyr was sane. To be made a mistake, to know that your purpose was doomed from the start. Unable to placate the implacable. The way it must have felt to feel Karzarul’s regret and loathing whenever he was near.
“I don’t know you, Violet,” Sid said. “You don’t know me either. You know me as much as Karzarul knows me, which isn’t much at all. You know all the shit he’s put me through, the things he didn’t notice. The things you think I’ve earned. It could be that I’m wrong. Or else you’re still too much like him. You think of love like a reward you get, a prize you earn. If you keep working hard and letting them hurt you, someone ought to love you at the end to make it worth it.”
Violet turned away from Sid to look out at the darkened landscape again. He clutched his forearms, hidden in his wide sleeves. “You can just say I’m not your type,” Violet reminded him.
Sid took another few drags of his cigarillo in silence. Violet felt as if he’d be conceding something to leave first.
“I’ve been married twice,” Sid said.
“What,” Violet said, dropping his hands and whipping his head around. The faint hint of a smile ghosted over Sid’s mouth. “Bull-shit. To humans?”
“Who else?” Sid asked. “Humans’ll love anything, if you let them.”
“When?” Violet demanded.
Sid shrugged. “It’s not like I’ve lacked for free time,” Sid said. “All those times he sent everyone away, wanted nothing to do with any of us. Didn’t want us together causing trouble. Couple times he died so fucking fast the rest of us couldn’t even get there to try helping. Left us waiting around until he came back again. He doesn’t really think about what we do without him, unless it inconveniences him.”
Violet shifted uncomfortably, knowing perfectly well the truth of it. “What happened to them?”
“They died,” Sid said. “Humans do that. Gigi was already in her forties by the time we met, gave me this habit. She was a weaver. Owen was around fifty, we ran a bookstore for a while. I like people that’ve settled into themselves. They know who they are when they’re not loving me.”
Violet was unable to imagine what either of these hypothetical marriages would have looked like. “You did love them, then.”
“Wouldn’t have married them if I didn’t,” Sid said. “It doesn’t have to be all-consuming passion. It can be easy, if you let it. It hurts when it ends, but not enough that I’d give up the person they made me. I never stop wishing they were here, but it hurts less than it used to. I’ve got good memories and bad habits. I know the difference between feeling loved and feeling useful. I don’t know if you do, yet.”
“I wasn’t asking you to love me,” Violet said.
Sid sighed smoke. “Were you not?” he asked.
“I’m tired,” Violet said, turning on his heel to head for the stairs.
“Sleep well,” Sid said, looking up at the stars.