The dim crimson moon had little light to offer Adorin as he stumbled through the coliseum, nearly tripping over broken discarded weapons from the brawl earlier. Ralk had little trouble seeing as he held onto the man’s arms and led him through the pit from behind.
There was too much to discuss, but there weren’t enough words. They barely spoke to one another after what happened in the pool. Ralk avoided eye contact, and Adorin didn’t know what to feel about any of it.
After the kiss was over, he felt ashamed of what he’d done. How could he do that with a G’yel, and why did it feel so good? That was a physical attraction at its most primal, much more potent than what he felt with Vicco. Had all the years of eschewing human contact finally broken his mind, making him prefer beasts to men?
The thought disgusted him. Ralk wasn’t a beast though, or was he? He looked like a beast, but his behavior was more human than most G’yel. Was that what attracted him?
“Are you listening?” Ralk’s voice sliced through the man’s intense contemplation, startling him.
“I am sorry. What were you saying?”
The G’yel handed Adorin two halteres, the same weight as the other day. “Lie down on the bench,” Ralk said, as he widened the space between them. Adorin did as instructed, and Ralk walked toward his head, leaning over to meet the man’s eyes. “Raise the weights above your chest. Keep one arm straight and lower the other at the elbow. Lift it, then do the same thing for the other. Ten times, each arm.”
“Simple enough,” Adorin said, lowering the weight on his right arm, lifting it and repeating with his left. On his ninth repetition, the light halteres got heavier. By the time the tenth rolled around, the muscles in his arms stung. “Oh, that burns.”
“That is good.” Ralk chuckled a bit and Adorin sat up. “I did not tell you to get up yet. You will do ten more in each arm.”
“But my arms hurt,” Adorin said, his voice coming across whinier than he intended.
“Rest for a minute, then do them until you break form. When that happens, you are done.”
Adorin nodded, giving his arms a minute’s rest before starting again, the burning intensifying. After the fifth repetition, his right arm fell. Ralk caught it and grabbed both weights.
“Good,” he said, grabbing Adorin’s hand to pull him from the bench. “We will not overdo it. You will be too sore tomorrow if we do.” He handed the weights back and nodded. “There are other muscles to work in order to build strength. As soon as we are done with these, we will work this.” His hand gently pressed against Adorin’s midsection.
Ralk paused for a moment, but kept his hand where it was. Adorin felt his stomach knot and his lower body get tight. What was happening to him? The G’yel never caused this kind of reaction before, but now it was like Vicco.
When Adorin heard the G’yel lightly sniffing the air, he dropped the weights and backed away. He had forgotten about the Ralk’s heightened sense of smell.
“I—I am sorry,” Adorin said, holding his arms close to his chest as he looked at the dark sand-covered floor. “I do not know why this is happening.”
Ralk sat on the bench and sighed, clasping his right hand over his left fist as both of his broad ears drooped to the side. “Perhaps we should talk.”
“I do not know what to say.” The man sat on the ground, legs crossed as he stared up at Ralk. “I am confused and scared. I should not have done what I did.”
“Why?” The G’yel asked, his paws nervously kicking at the sand.
“Do you not feel how wrong this is?” Adorin asked, shakiness in his voice. “It is one thing to lust after a man, but this is a different level of sin.”
Adorin cringed. Had he not berated Vicco earlier over such foolish beliefs? However, the events of late had him believing more in divine punishment. What he did with Ralk… he shuddered to think what Nau’s vengeful gods had in store for him.
“What is sin?” Ralk asked. “I have heard this from other humans while a slave, but I never truly understood it.”
“Sin are immoral acts people do. An offense to the gods.”
The two were quiet for a moment before Ralk spoke up.
“But who determines morality?”
Adorin cocked his head as Ralk’s ignorance confused him. “The gods. Did you not hear?”
“What gods? Have they spoken to you and told you what they consider moral?”
The man paused and thought about the answer. Did the gods speak to men? Every culture had their own religion and their own gods. How many were there? The ones he worshiped in Alacotl differed from those of Ke’chetah.
But Nau’s religion, the holy texts of Sa’itz, were not only prevalent in this island, but had spread around Xayn. There were many acts the gods deemed immoral. A bond between G’yel and man was never mentioned, probably because the notion was so blasphemous no priest would dare write it.
What religion was right? There must have been a reason Sa’itz was so common, and the gods were so widely worshipped. Even the days of the week were named after their gods, and so were the seasons.
“Can we know the true will of the gods?” Adorin asked, ashamed years of cultural erasure had finally caught up with him. “We are very different physically. We do not fit together.”
“How do you know this? Have you been with a G’yel? Have the gods whispered damnation in your ear today?”
“It is a feeling, Ralk,” Adorin said, exasperation in his tone. “I felt it after. Great shame, like it was wrong.”
“But that is not what you felt during.” Ralk stood and shuffled closer before sitting on the ground in front of the man. He brushed a rough hand over Adorin’s cheek. “You saw me today for the first time, and I saw you. But I understand your fear. I should not have done what I did, not because some imagined god said it was wrong. I do not fear the non-existent, but I do fear man’s laws and what that could mean for you.”
Adorin looked down. Being so close and smelling his potent male scent sent waves of heat through him. Something unlocked today, and now that it was free, Adorin was powerless to restrain it.
“It is close to the fertile season,” Ralk said, pulling his hand away. “I feel it. All male G’yel go through changes during this time. My fur becomes thicker, muscles get larger, and I will begin to stink.” The G’yel chuckled before raising his arm to sniff. “That part may happen, regardless.” Adorin joined in the laughter for a moment before Ralk continued. “It will become harder to control things I should be able to. It is why I am looking forward to fighting, and why I do not think it wise for us to share a bed.”
Adorin nodded. “I thought about this today. I do not know who brought food that night, but no one mentioned us together. I would not risk the lord catching us like that. G’yel are different as it is not seen as anything more than sleep, but humans find the position amorous.”
“I… may not have been completely truthful that night.” A crooked smile inched up Ralk’s face. “It was rather amorous.”
Adorin’s eyes went wide. “I knew I felt something back there,” he scolded for a moment before looking away and laughing again, Ralk cackling loudly as well. The man exhaled and stared at the beastman in front of him. His eyes were so warm. “What do we do?”
The G’yel shrugged. “This is new for me, so I do not have these answers. But your t’kirr is going to drive me crazy if we do not do something.” Ralk jumped to his feet. “Back to the bench with you. Use this frustration to get stronger, like a G’yel would.” He grinned and reached a hand down to grab Adorin’s.
“I do feel like I can do much more,” Adorin said, clearing his throat. “You never told me why we are doing this.”
Ralk’s face went rigid as his stare narrowed on the man. “Because there may come a time when you need to fight or die, and regardless of what happens to me, I want you to survive. You are all that remains of Lydia and—”
“I am not Lydia,” Adorin interrupted, his teeth clenched. “I will never be her.”
“No, you will not,” Ralk whispered, leaning in close as his warm lips pressed to Adorin’s neck. A sharp tooth grazed his skin, and the man’s legs began to crumple beneath him. Adorin squeezed his eyelids shut as he tried to push the feelings away. “You will surpass her.”
Adorin awoke drenched in sweat, unsure of the time. There was no light peeking in from under the door, so it was likely still before dawn. It was as black as the void in his room, but he kept his tinderbox close. He sat up and grabbed the box, removing a piece of flint and a small stone. He wrapped the stone in jute, leaving enough of an opening for the two minerals to strike one another. The fibers ignited, and he set fire to the oiled wick of his lantern before the flames consumed the fibers.
He let the jute turn to ash on the concrete floor while breathing in deeply and exhaling a few shaky sobs. That wasn’t a pleasant fantasy or a memory of the past, it was a vision of what was to come. Ralk lay still in a pool of blood as people cheered from all around. The vision faded as he wiped his forehead with an old cloth that lay next to his mattress.
Tears welled in his eyes, but he blinked them away. It was pointless to mourn something that hadn’t happened yet, but the dream seemed so real. Unseen hands held him back as he tried to run to Ralk’s side, and they continued to hold him as the G’yel took his last breath.
He was helpless.
Adorin rubbed his arms and shoulders, which were still aching from the rest of the workout last night. Ralk had gone easy on him, but Adorin pushed himself beyond what he should have. It wasn’t frustration he felt. He wanted to show Ralk he could be strong too.
Once again, the man slept by himself. He hated sleeping alone, especially after sleeping so well in Ralk’s arms…
He had to stop thinking about that. Adorin pushed the G’yel away, allowing Vicco to strut into his thoughts wearing the outfit from earlier. He had always imagined the man’s large build, but to see it bulge through his thin linen shirt gave him new contours and ridges to add to his fantasies.
It still did him no favors to think about what he couldn’t have, but it was better than thinking that way about a G’yel. Adorin slipped his torn trousers down and ran his fingers over what wasted no time standing to attention at the touch.
Before long he was moaning, his eyes closed as he visualized the man, now shirtless. Sweat dripped from his broad, hairy chest down his rippling abdomen as he thrust his hips slowly, his pelvis rubbing between Adorin’s thighs. He’d always imagined it this way, though he never knew what it felt like.
It would probably hurt in reality, but for now, in his mind, he only felt pleasure.
Adorin moaned again as he arched his back, his toes curling as Vicco got faster with the speed of his strokes. He looked away for a moment, only to see Ralk now staring down at him. The thrusts were no longer gentle, and Adorin pictured himself wrapping his legs around the G’yel’s furry hips. It didn’t take him long to climax from that.
The G’yel roared in his mind as he released. It was the most intense feeling he’d ever had, and it left him trembling afterward. He lay there in shock as he panted. Adorin closed his eyes and pressed his hand to his forehead.
This was a bitter dose of reality he had to take in. Something changed in him, and he’d never rid himself of those thoughts. Ralk was now dominating as Vicco faded into the background.
“Another curse,” he muttered as he wiped himself clean with the cloth. “What is wrong with me?”
Ralk was gnawing on his breakfast while Adorin quietly nibbled on a pastry that Aldui ‘accidentally’ made in excess. Vicco would be by after a while to escort them to the coliseum. It wasn’t necessary considering they had no problem getting through the gates last night, but the captain insisted on staying.
The wound on Ralk’s arm was healing remarkably fast, but that was thanks to a bit of Lydia’s teachings. Now that he had been demoted from healer to part-time caretaker, he didn’t have access to Tauh’s expensive herbs and ointments. Instead, he relied on Vicco to bring clean cloth and alcohol from the barracks.
He didn’t require fancy medicine to heal Ralk, but the abilities he used took their toll on his strength. Adorin could only use the skill once a week and before bed.
Infusing the alcohol-soaked bandages with magic soothed the G’yel and helped quicken the healing process. It was a loophole to deal with the ability’s devastating cost. As long as he never healed directly—using it a little at a time as a medicinal enhancement—it wouldn’t cost such a heavy price.
Ralk didn’t know what Adorin did to him; he just assumed he was healing quicker than normal. The G’yel needed every advantage afforded him before tomorrow night.
He made himself sick thinking about it.
“You have that thousand arm stare again,” Ralk said, pulling Adorin’s attention. He finished chewing his food before padding toward the pond to wash his hands and face. “Are you still sore from last night?”
“A bit, but I will be fine.” The Alacian finished his meal before walking to Ralk’s side. He sat on the edge of the pond while dipping his legs into the water. The G’yel joined him, his tail fanning a soft breeze from behind.
“You are worried about me.” Ralk turned his head and glanced around the courtyard before slipping his large, rough hand over Adorin’s. “Do not be.”
The human said nothing. Instead, he squeezed Ralk’s hand in response, his gaze never shifting from the sky. The G’yel inched closer as he sniffed the air. It was hard to keep his feelings to himself.
Sensing Adorin’s receptive behavior, he leaned in close. “I want to kiss you again.” Ralk’s breath was hot on the young Alacian’s neck.
“We cannot.” Adorin couldn’t catch his breath as he turned to the G’yel panting next to him. “We were lucky yesterday that no one saw us. We cannot keep pressing that luck.”
Ralk pushed himself to his feet before reaching for Adorin’s hand. “Come.”
“Where are we going?” he asked, grabbing the G’yel’s palm.
Ralk led Adorin through the courtyard before approaching the outside of a small, wooden shed. It was a well-maintained building, painted a dark rust color with a slanted, metal roof. It belonged to the caretaker, but was seldom locked.
The G’yel pulled open the latched door and dragged the human inside with him before shutting it tight. It was so dark inside that Adorin could almost feel enveloped in a quilt of stifling blackness.
The G’yel was quick and forceful as he pushed the human against the wall before leaning in. His earthy scent was overpowering in the stale air of the shack. Adorin couldn’t help but gasp as Ralk leaned into him and ran his tongue along the crook of the man’s neck before finally meeting his lips. Both of their bodies squeezed against one another, the G’yel dwarfing the ‘helpless’ human.
Adorin wouldn’t have protested, even if Ralk had given him that opportunity. Their lips pressed against one another, tongues wrestling as the randy G’yel’s hips slowly ground into the man’s abdomen.
What had come over them both?
Their lips weren’t the same, and a muzzle against a human mouth didn’t fit as well, but it was no less amazing in the way it felt. Adorin was drenched in sweat, and the G’yel was hotter than the suns as he gave off that amazing scent. It became irresistible the more he breathed it in.
Ralk’s tongue went deeper and Adorin moaned, soreness coming from his groin as everything got unbearably tight.
The doors to the menagerie clanked, and Ralk jumped back, pulling away from the wild embrace.
“It is Vicco,” Adorin whispered, wiping the excess spit from his lips while trying to calm down enough to walk comfortably. “I told you this was a bad idea.”
“It is fine. No one has seen us,” he responded. It was too dark to see what the G’yel was up to as he shuffled around. “Maybe he will leave. I am not done with you yet.”
Adorin could hear the G’yel growl. It was low, bestial, but enough to send another wave of heat through him. How far was Ralk planning to take this? He had to get out of there, or he wouldn’t be able to control himself for much longer. There was so much passion—so much vigor and a bit of violence in Ralk’s kiss. It was even better than the first one.
“Gods, why am I falling?” He thought to himself as he pressed a hand to his chest. His heart thudded at such a rapid pace that he felt lightheaded. Could a heart beat itself to death? If it could, the Alacian had but seconds more to live.
“We need to go. This is dangerous.” Adorin’s whispers fell on deaf ears as Ralk took him in his arms, lifting him from the ground. Their lips met for the second time as the G’yel placed him up on a high table. Remembering the fantasy from last night, his legs wrapped around the G’yel’s hips.
He could feel everything throb through Ralk’s small loincloth. Adorin wondered how the fabric stayed where it was, considering the size of what tried to escape its tight confines. He had gotten rather familiar with the G’yel’s anatomy, but this was the first time he experienced it.
As ready as Ralk was, Adorin was not.
The human pushed up against the G’yel’s heaving chest, but instead of pushing him away, he grabbed onto longer fur and sealed his lips tighter. Why couldn’t he stop? Years of holding back made him a covered cauldron on the fire that threatened to boil over.
The courtyard door clanked again, signaling that Vicco had left. Adorin was powerless to stop what was about to happen. Ralk pushed him further onto the table, and several clay flower pots fell to the concrete floor and shattered. It didn’t deter either as they kept going, Ralk’s hand reaching between the waist of the human’s flimsy linen pants.
Before he could react, a massive hand caressed what stiffened to the point of aching at the touch. The G’yel broke away for a moment.
“We should experience this while we can,” he whispered, his voice breathless as he panted. “I thought about this last night. If I die tomorrow, I want this to be a memory before I close my eyes.”
Adorin nodded, not saying a word. He cared deeply for Ralk, and knowing what tomorrow could bring made it harder to protest. They were almost desperate now as their lips locked again and tongues wrestled.
The door to the shed flew open, but neither of them registered what had happened for a moment. They froze, locking in place—Ralk’s hand down Adorin’s pants and Adorin’s arms around Ralk.
The young Alacian broke from the kiss and glanced at Vicco standing in the doorway, his armor reflecting the suns, making it hard to see the man’s face. He backed away slowly, letting the door come to a gentle stop against the frame.
Ralk never turned around; he was so terrified.
They both broke apart, Ralk stepping back and Adorin slinking off of the table, his feet gently touching the floor as he wobbled onto them.
Neither of them said a word as they stood in the dark quiet of the shed. Adorin’s heart raced again, but the emotions this time were anything but pleasant. What would Vicco do? The question tortured him as every possibility flashed through his mind. He never wanted to leave that shed, but they both had to face the consequences.
Adorin reached for the door and nudged it open. The light of mid-morning hurt his eyes as he stepped outside, Ralk following him close.
Vicco sat on the bench, blankly staring into the swirling water of the pond. There was a sick feeling that threatened to come up the closer Adorin got to the captain. Would he be able to speak without vomiting? What could he say? He wished nothing needed to be said and that this would all be forgotten.
“It seems I really have lost,” Vicco said wistfully, not looking up from the pond. “I hadn’t expected this, though. I—I can’t believe it.”
“What do you mean you lost?” Adorin asked, trying to pry Vicco’s attention toward him.
The captain laughed and shook his head. “I don’t even know what to say to you right now.” He removed a plate gauntlet and rubbed his fingers along his forehead. “I always assumed you liked me, but—” He finally looked over at Ralk. “That is what you really wanted? An animal?”
Adorin expected Ralk to snarl at such a comment, but his shoulders lowered and his stare never left the ground.
“He is not an animal,” the younger man said, crossing his arms. He was terrified, but he wouldn’t allow himself to cower if these were to be his last moments before judgment came. He would face it defiantly. “He has more humanity than most humans do.”
“And me?” Vicco asked, now looking at Adorin. “Am I just another soulless Nauan to you—someone who worships demons and treats slaves and foreigners like filth? Am I someone who cheers at the gore and death of the coliseum? Do I not have humanity, Adorin?”
The questions punched him in the gut over and over. Vicco and he had their disagreements, but never once had the man treated him unjustly.
“Of course you do,” the younger man said, walking over to sit on the bench next to the captain. “You and Ralk are the only people I trust.”
“Trust?” Vicco asked, his gaze cutting like freshly whetted swords. “You didn’t even trust me enough to tell me Ralk could speak.”
“That was his wish, and I would not break it.”
“Vicco,” Ralk said, his voice gentle but low. This was a delicate situation, and he understood he needed nuance. “I did not trust you then. That was not his fault. I knew what he felt for you, and I used it so that he would keep my secret. I am sorry, but does any of this matter?”
The G’yel walked to the front of the bench, standing at the edge of the pond.
“Everything is unclear. My survival is not guaranteed tomorrow, and Adorin is the closest to me. Would that not make you want to seize any opportunity to be with someone if it could be your last chance?”
Vicco replaced his gauntlet and crossed his arms, letting out a stiff breath.
“This goes beyond sin, Ralk. I already assumed something was going on because I’m not stupid. I saw the signs, but it was too revolting to believe it was true.”
Adorin thought for a moment. “You cannot truly understand the world unless you experience it in other ways.”
“Excuse me?” Vicco asked, cocking his head to the side.
“Those were the words of my mentor years ago, before I came to this city. To truly understand someone’s feelings, you must walk with them and experience what they do.” His glance shifted to Ralk, and he smiled. “You both may not agree to this, and it may be the stupidest suggestion I have ever come up with.”
“Adorin,” Ralk grunted. “What are you scheming?”
“Come, let us go to the caretaker’s shed,” he said. “The three of us.”
“You have lost your damn mind,” Vicco growled, shooting up from the bench. “What possesses you?”
“Was what Ralk and I did truly revolting? We live every day, never satisfied, while others get to live full lives with someone else. You and I have fooled ourselves.” Adorin shook his head. “We fooled ourselves into thinking the gods hate us, and we should feel shame. Well, in the darkness, there will be no shame, no judgement, no eyes upon us, no gods.”
Vicco swallowed hard. “Adorin, we ca—”
“Yes, we can. There is no one else but us.” The Alacian took Vicco’s chin in his hand. “Look at me. When I kissed you, you did not break away. You have been lonely for so long, and none of us should be.” His fingers slid down Vicco’s neck before grabbing onto a plated hand. “Come, let us try it again.”
Vicco’s eyes widened at the offer. There was barely an ounce of willpower left to refuse, and Adorin knew this. The man’s eyes said what words wouldn’t dare.
Adorin looked over at Ralk and nodded before pulling the captain along to the shed. The G’yel followed close. The door opened, and the Alacian entered, Vicco stumbling behind him. There was a shakiness in his steps, but anticipation in his rapid breath. The G’yel entered last and closed the door, but left it cracked so the humans had enough light to see.
“Kiss me,” Adorin whispered, reaching up to stroke the strong captain’s cheek. There was no hesitation as Vicco’s lips pressed into his. This time, it was expected, and the older man’s real passion burst free. There was no one around, no one to catch them—no one to see. He let himself go free, and it surprised the Adorin.
His lips and tongue differed from the G’yel’s, but they were just as skillful. They kissed passionately between breaths, Vicco moaning as he pushed against the younger man. His armor was too heavy to get too far into the moment, but what he could do, he did exceedingly well.
Adorin pulled back and looked over at Ralk. The G’yel’s tongue traced hungrily along his lips. This was normal for him—multiple interests, but it was still strange to both humans. Vicco more so.
The Alacian smiled wickedly as he wiped his mouth. “Now you two.”
There was just enough light peeking through the slit in the door to see the terror on Vicco’s face as Ralk approached him.
“I…” The captain’s tone was breathy as he tried to think of something to say.
“Shh.” Adorin placed a finger on Vicco’s lips and nodded. “It is only a test. See for yourself if he is revolting. There is only us.”
Something about the darkness of the small shed, the heat and the smells of sweat, musk and arousal made everything outside seem thousands of parces away. Vicco must have felt it because he wasn’t protesting.
Ralk was so tall that even the captain had to look up to him. The man could barely swallow as the G’yel leaned in close.
“You can stop me any time, and I will honor your wish,” the G’yel said, leaving little time for Vicco to answer before his long tongue gently traced along the man’s neck. Adorin heard a slight clatter of steel as the captain seemed to weaken under Ralk’s touch. The same thing happened to him.
The Alacian smiled as he watched the G’yel work the strange sexual prowess he possessed. Vicco tried to push back against Ralk, but like Adorin did earlier, he removed his gauntlet, letting it fall to the ground before grabbing a handful of the G’yel’s chest fur.
Their lips finally met, and Vicco’s eyes were closed as they explored one another. It was strange to watch them do this in front of him, but it was thrilling at the same time. Watching two people he often fantasized about—ravaging each other like animals—sent his heart into another fluttered state. What was it about Ralk that made him so physically appealing?
After what felt like an eternity, they both pulled away from one another. Vicco never refused, never pushed away.
“Gods…” Vicco whispered, out of breath as he turned to the door before opening it. Ralk glanced at Adorin and grinned, the captain’s utter defeat glistening on the G’yel’s black, wet lips.
The three of them now shared a secret. Perhaps it would be something they could explore further in a better place… if such a place existed in Nau beyond tomorrow.