Mo Guan Shan knew he didn’t have the best qualities in his personality. He had a quick temper, was easy to annoy, would be irritated at a lot of things in the world and he knew he had a foul mouth that would be quick to swear.
And, it was these attributes that had lead to his downfall.
He should have never made that stupid bet with He Tian. He really shouldn’t have. But in that moment in time when he did, it felt like it would be a good idea. He could win the bet; have He Tian do one thing for him. It could be anything and Mo Guan Shan had come up with so many ways to embarrass the black haired man.
He supposed being blind, magically that is, had its perks. He could hear the High Lord’s heart beat, could tell what his blood pressure was. He was ill. Interesting that it wasn’t in his scent. The High Lord of the Dawn Court was also nervous about having him and his father and Dacia in his court. He could feel Aurora’s annoyance for him being back in her court after the Bellum Armis.
“Looking as great as usual, Aurora.” He grinned. “Lovely shade of bitter you got on. Does it come in green to match my eyes?”
“You can’t see me,” she said flatly. “Why are you back here?”
“These aren’t just our guests, Daughter. This is your soon to be husband you are insulting. I suggest you adopt a better tone with him.”
Her pulse quickened, her blood pressure heightened from anger. “Of course, Father.” he could feel her eyes on him. “I apologize Ash. I have been in a foul mood as of late. I hope you can forgive my rudeness.”
He snorted. “Quite forgiven, Aurora. Perhaps you should get yourself laid to bring out a better mood.” Her blood pressure spiked. He wondered if she was thinking about decapitating him with the twin swords she carried.
A smack hit the back of his head. “Don’t be a dickhead, Ash.” He rubbed the spot his sister hit, glaring at the same time.
“Are you offering?” Aurora’s voice was venom laced honey. “I don’t think you would know your way around a female body if one came up and stripped naked right in front of you. Although since we are to be married I suppose I would have to teach you.”
“I know plenty-”.
“Aurora.” her father growled.
His own father cleared his throat. Ash could feel the amusement he was hiding. “Seeing as how my son and the Lady Aurora are to be married, High Lady Dacia, my mate and I feel it would be best for the her to spend a week each month at our courts to learn our customs and laws. And to get to know Ash better, of course.”
Tolerating Aurora for two weeks every month, Cauldron he dreaded the thought. He supposed he would have to spend more time at the war camps with Bay.
“One week per court?” The High Lord of the Dawn Court mused, “Will the young lord be spending time here as well?” Learn our customs and laws? It would only be fair.”
More like stage an accident that would end up with him dead. “He’ll have an escort, same as the Lady Aurora,” his sister said smoothly. The only betrayal of her emotion was the pounding of her heart, the forced calmness of her breath. “If she so wishes it.” He reigned in a groan.
“No,” Aurora said.
“No?” Her father said.
“I’ll teach him about our ways when I am at his court. He could easily get himself killed with his…shortcomings…and our borders. It would be safest for everyone if I taught him our ways while I was in the Aututmn and Spring Courts.”
Ash glared at her, her father’s eyes were ice on her back and she blocked out the dread for the beating she knew would come for speaking out of turn. She didn’t care. Ash was her mate’s cousin and she would be damned if his blood was spilled because of her family. Even if he was an incompetent idiot who only cared about himself.
“When do you suggest these visits start?” Her father’s tone was clipped.
“Today,” she said. She turned her eyes to High Lady Dacia. Her eyes were a cool green, a hidden warmth to them. “Do you agree?”
“The arrangements have already been made. So, yes as soon as you are ready, Lady.”
Perfect, perhaps she could persuade Dacia to take her to the end of the Blood Rite, after all she was friends with that blond bastard who happened to be her mate. She could confront him.
Her fathers clipped voice was ice, “We are in agreement. I do hope you learn much, Aurora.” A chill went down her spine at the double meaning of the words. Knowing her father, he will want her to spy on them. She bristled. She was Lady of the Dawn Court, not some spy.
She smiled at her father, “Of course. I look forward to leanring much and to spend time with Ash.” The red haired lord snorted and it was an effort to not roll her eyes.
Dacia took her hand, “Let’s go.”
He knelt before Adrien, surveying his wounds and face. The gold undertone in his hazel eyes were heightened from the dark circles underneath his eyes and from the pain he was in, his hair was darker than night, matted with sweat and blood, his face gaunt from the lack of food. He supposed with a bath and some nourishment, the male would be very handsome. He was trying to hide the amount of pain he was in and judging by just how bad his wings were, it was a very large amount.
The male’s eyes were hopeful, almost filled with relief. “You can heal them, right? You have the blood of the Dawn Court High Lord. Tell me you can heal my wings.” The males throat bobbed.
“Your wings are much worse than I thought. I knew they were torn but they’re shredded, almost beyond use.” The hope in Adrien’s eyes shut down. “I can help your wounds so you can at least walk on your own, and perhaps keep the infection at bay at least until we get out of here tomorrow. But, I don’t think even the High Lord’s blood could fix these. There is still hope, however slim, Adrien, if they heal on thier own.”
“You can’t heal them?”
Tarus bit into his wrist, his canines tore open his skin. He felt his brown-gold blood start to well. “Here, this will help you walk.”
Adrien hesitated, ready to protest against it, but the female Mazayknn leaned down, meeting his eyes. Her voice was a whisper, meant just for Adrien to hear. “You do not get to give up. You promised me you would stay alive and I will keep you to that promise.”
After a heartbeat, Adrien sighed, “Yeah, I did.” Adrien brought his wrist to his mouth, his chapped lips brushed his skin, sending a shiver up his arm. He swallowed twice, the tawny color almost returning to his skin, the circles under his eyes lighter, his wounds nearly completely healed, the only two remaining was the wicked scar that stretched around the curve of his side, and the small one over his left eyelid. He’d wager it had been there for many years.
Blake crossed his arms, surveying his brother. “How’s the pain?”
Adrien grunted, “Manageable.”
Blake looked to him, “What do you think? Will he be alright?”
He rose his brows. “You want my opinion?”
“I am right here,” Adrien said flatly. “Do you want my opinion?”
Blake ignored his brother. Tarus surveyed Adrien’s wings, his torso, legs. “With his wings being as damaged as they are and exposed, they’re prone to infection. Sudden or jerky movements will cause more damage than good. If he fights too much it could further the damage. But wings are durable. He should be able to still fight, if he’s careful. But I would suggest he not fight at all.”
Blake nodded his head and turned to Adrien. His face yielded nothing beyond brutal efficiency. “You will not fight. You will stay in between us. You will ignore whatever comes out of Cyrian’s mouth or so help me when we get out of here I’ll make sure you do more training exercises than Bay did as soon as you are healed. Are we clear, Adrien?”
“Just because Cassian is grooming you for a higher rank doesn’t mean you can tell me what to do.”
“That is precisely why I can tell you what to do.” There was no arrogance in his voice, just fact. He turned to Cyrian, “The only thing I want out of your mouth is helpfulness. Do not bait Adrien with your commentary or I will have the Commander inform your father of your idiocy, understood?”
The male’s brows flattened, “You think you can get me to do what you want with idle threats?”
Blake stood toe to toe with Cyrian; neither yielded to the other, their shadows swirled around them both; Angels of death ready to go to war. “I will not hesitate to kill you if you become a liability to my brother’s healing. If you have a problem with that, I suggest you either get over it or leave. Choose wisely.”
The female got between them, “Cyrian will play nice and Blake, just stop. You aren’t Cassian’s second yet. You have centuries before that is even a reality.” They both ignored her, staring each other down; one golden the other darkness. “Cyrian.” Nothing. She pulled Cyrian away from Blake. “Do you really want to spend your time having a measuring contest with Blake when the longer you wait, the longer Malyus lives?”
A growl was low in Cyrian’s throat. “I’m gone.” Cyrian turned on his heel and departed through the darkness. Blake’s face was granite watching him go.
“Tania-” No. Her blood was so dark, near black. It coated the bed, the floor, her body. Her unseeing chocolate eyes stared upwards. Not a single piece of clothing was on her mutilated body. The scent hit his nose and a growl was in his throat. Malyus. He was going to kill him.
He matted down her hair, closing her eyes. Tears pricked the back of his eyes and that weakness enraged him further. He carefully wrapped her body in a blanket before turning to the woman at the door. His dark hair and ears. His mother.
“Where the fuck were you?” His growl was so low and guttural he didn’t recognize his own words.
His mother’s face was brutal, her lips pursed, chin raised. “You do not speak to me like that.” A disapproving frown tugged at her lips. “Wipe those tears. I did not raise you to be so weak. Perhaps my training wasn’t effective enough.”
“I will speak to you however the fuck I want. Where were you? You knew she was ill and that I would be gone. You gave me your word-”
He must be hallucinating. For a brief moment he thought he saw guilt flash across her face. “I was working. Your rooms had two of my best guards posted. It would appear whoever killed your wife also killed them.”
“He’s dead,” Cyrian swore. “I will kill him and make him beg me for forgiveness until his throat is bleeding.”
If he valued the promise he made to Tania, it was best to separate from the group. He couldn’t avenge her without a pulse and he wasn’t a fool. He knew Blake was ranked highest in the camps for a reason and it wasn’t because of his good looks. The male could kill him, it would almost kill himself in the process, but he could do it. He was four years younger but Blake was a prodigy of the battlefield, just as he was in the interrogation rooms.
“Maze will follow behind, Tarus and Zevakyn to the sides and I lead, and you Adrien, will be in the center. We’ll be spaced out enough that we can each fight. And if someone makes it to the center, to you, then you can kill them. If you are in the middle, there is a less chance of you getting further hurt.”
Knowing his brother, he probably feels five inches tall, having to have others protect him when he has had the training to kill his opponents. “I don’t need you to coddle me, Blake. If I can stand, I can fight.” There wasn’t much fight in his brother’s voice.
“I’m not saying you couldn’t. But, I will not tell our parents that I let my little brother destroy himself to sate his ego.” The glare he was receiving from Adrien was cold enough to freeze the Summer Court. He turned to Maze, “Your bandaging is getting better seeing as how Adrien can still move.” She gave him a rude gesture. He flashed a grin at her. He flicked his eyes to Zevaykn and Tarus. “If you want to go off on your own, I understand. You didn’t ally yourself with us to become glorified body guards.”
Zev and Tarus exchanged looks. The former said, “We’re not going anywhere.”
Blake nodded, “Good, then the formation stands.”
His wings, his fault. It was his own fault that got two of the most precious things in the world ruined. His fault, his stupidity. He shouldn’t be allowed to complete the Blood Rite. He’d let a mask of arrogance and pride show before he admitted that he was close to breaking. At least Cyrian was a distraction.
Maze tied back her hair, her amber eyes filled with a lethal calm. “Bay and Nate will most likely meet up with us in a few hours.” Her eyes shifted to him. “Can you tell his location?”
Finally, he could be useful. His shadows reached out to find Nate. He and Bay were fighting with two males. Both appeared to be fine, minor injuries to both; wings still bound despite the binding covered in blood and dirt. “If we go south, it’ll be two hours tops before we reach them. I didn’t pick up any warriors besides the two that Nate and Bay are fighting. Unless you count Cyrian.”
With Zevakyn beside him and the fact that he was supposed to be one of his closest friends but hid such a huge secret from him, any trust he had for him went out the window. He would not make the same mistake twice.
His shadows told Blake what happened before he showed up and his brother turned his brutal eyes on Zevakyn. “I’m changing the formation.”
Zevakyn frowned. “Why?”
“I have my reasons. You lead, I’ll take your place by Adrien.” If Zevakyn lead, they could all keep an eye on him.
Hurt flashed in the male’s eyes but it shut down fast enough he almost thought he imagined it. “Okay.”
Blake handed him a weapon, “If you keep quiet, your shadows should keep you hidden. Try to not open your mouth.”
He just nodded, gripping his weapon.
Maze nodded, “Let’s go.”
Nate’s fist connected to the male’s nose, the cartilage breaking beneath his knuckles. The male snarled, grabbing his fist midswing. He ignored the fear of a broken wrist or fingers and brought his foot to the male’s chest hard enough the sound of cracked ribs filled his ears. He was an artist and he would be damned if his hands were ruined. The male let him go and fell backwards to the ground wheezing.
“Must you males keep attacking us? Cauldron, I know we’re better than you but are you so insecure that you must show your alpha male douchebaggery through jumping us?”
Baylor snorted behind him, “Apparently.”
He sighed. “Well, it wouldn’t be very gentlemanly of me to let the poor bastard suffer.” He brought himself down to his haunches, surveying the male. He was coughing up black blood, his ribs are puncturing his lungs then. He broke the male’s neck.
“You? A gentleman?” Bay had the male in a headlock, with a snap, he broke the male’s neck and let him fall to the ground. He sighed, “Is that the last of them?”
“It’s that kind of flattery, Baylor, that will get me into the bedroom.” Nate shot his head up, facing into the darkness. “Not quite. We got one more coming.”
“Friend or foe?”
Nate snorted, “I’m not sure about foe but definitely not a friend. It’s Cyrian.”
He sighed, “Lovely.”
Cyrian came out of the shadows, his eyes a cool boredom. “Well look at that, Baylor and Nathaniel are finally together at last. Can we expect an announcement of your engagement? Should I expect an invitation to the wedding or am I not invited?”
Bay flattened his brows, “I don’t like you.”
“Is it because of Nathaniel and I’s history? If it makes you feel better, I’m sure I can fit you in my schedule. Would you prefer to fuck before or after I kill the Bastard Born Malyus?” His face burned. “Well?”
“Not on your life.” Bay said, his eyes turned to Nate, his eyebrows raised.
Nate winced, “It was just once. Not even once. Mostly oral.”
Bay snorted, “You don’t have to defend your sex life to me. Who you’ve been with isn’t my business.”
“How big of you, Baylor.” Cyrian smirked at Nate, “And you loved it.”
“Don’t call him that.” Nate glared at him, “As riveting as the stroll down my sexual encounter list is, what are you doing here? I thought you were with Maze.”
He shrugged, “I was and now I’m not. They should be heading your way within the hour.”
“They get to Adrien?”
“Yes, your brother is being coddled by them all. It was annoying so I left on my own.”
“Well,” Nate said cheerfully. “We’d hate to keep you from slaughtering your way out of the mountain. We’ll be on our way.” He turned to Bay. “Let’s go.”
“I’d say it’s been a pleasure, Cyrian,” Bay said. “But I’d be lying.” Cyrian rolled his eyes and continued his way in the opposite direction.
It was nearly ten minutes of quiet before Nate said quietly, “Do you want it to be your business?”
Bay stepped over a body, “What?”
“My sex life. Do you want to know who all I’ve been with?”
“No,” He said firmly. “I suppose it only matters who you’re going to be with. The past is in the past.” Although he was shocked about Cyrian.
“What about you?”
“What about me what?” He paused. “Who I’ve been with?”
Nate shrugged, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. Like you said, the past is in the past.”
That was a night he’d like to forget. “Once.”
Nate’s brows shot up, he nearly tripped. “So you have been with someone?”
Heat rose in his face as he winced, “Well, it was a week after I hit Kapriel. I started to realize that I was…gay… and I panicked.” He ran a hand over his face, “I had the bright idea that I could turn myself straight if I slept with a female. I had to get myself wasted in order to even have the nerve to touch her.” He admitted, “I don’t remember much about that encounter. If fact I’d like to forget what I do remember.” Considering all Illyrians liked to do was fuck and fight…he guessed he wasn’t much of one. He sighed.
“I know that face. How many you have or haven’t been with, or how many times, doesn’t make you any less incredible.”
He rose a brow, “‘Incredible’? Really, Nate?”
“You came out by kissing me in front of thirty males who more than likely will tell every male they come across.” He figured that would happen. “That was very brave, considering you would much rather be invisible. It makes you incredible.”
He snorted, the tension in his shoulders evaporating. “You should write greeting cards.”
Nate grinned, “How do you know I don’t already?”
“I do have one question though.”
“Does Adrien know you’ve been with his arch nemesis?”
“Cauldron, no. That would make family dinners so awkward.”
Here’s the next part! I hope you enjoy it :) Please, please leave a comment XO
The theory of gender performativity presupposes that norms are acting on us before we have a chance to act at all, and that when we do act, we recapitulate the norms that act upon us, perhaps in new or unexpected ways, but still in relation to norms that precede us and exceed us. In other words, norms act on us, work upon us, and this kind of ‘being worked on’ makes its way into our own action.
Judith Butler, “Performativity, Precarity and Sexual Politics” (xi)