by Michael Arram
Conditions were primitive in the refugee camp, but that didn’t bother the Cubs too much. It was a world away from some of the places they’d recently inhabited. Now there was an entire army between them and the Horde, and daily survival was no longer a concern. Their problems now were more mundane: long queues for everything, and how the Ciric brothers were to get to their parents.
After six hours in a line at the Red Cross centre the next day, Vuk came back despondent. ‘There’s no transport available to take us to Linz, so we have to wait for the next transfer. That might be a week or more.’
Janko looked up at his brother earnestly. ‘Any news from mum and dad? Do they know we’re here and safe?’
‘There’s been no response. I tried a terminal but all our mail accounts are defunct. They had a phone I could use, only I couldn’t raise mum’s mobile number. I couldn’t remember dad’s.’
‘Why not drive, Vuk?’ enquired Marsin. ‘There’s still fuel in the truck if some bastard hasn’t drained it.’
Vuk shook his head. ‘They’re not letting foreign vehicles out of the holding area without documentation. I checked. The Austrians won’t allow you on their roads unless your car’s insured.’
‘Come on, Vuk,’ Radovan urged. ‘We’re the Cubs. We survive. No way am I gonna sit around by this pond for the next few weeks. What’s your plan?’
Toby caught a familiar flicker in his lover’s eyes. ‘Well …’ Vuk responded slowly, ‘one thing did occur to me.’
The gang brightened at the evidence of the old Vuk surfacing. Following orders, Radovan and Marsin disappeared for an hour, returning with greasy hands and objects hidden in a plastic bag. They all packed up and took the trail back down the lake to find their truck. It was right where they’d left it. Evening was darkening the sky when Marsin – who apparently had a background in car crime – removed the Hungarian plates and replaced them with a set of Austrian ones he had ‘borrowed’ from a digger down by the lake. As night fell, Vuk hit the ignition while the boys piled in the back. Toby felt it right that on this drive Janko should sit by his brother in the cab.
A police picket scrutinised the truck soon after it pulled on to the road but did not go beyond looking at the plates. It was only forty kilometres to Vienna, which they skirted. Once on Route 19 to the west, Vuk looked for a layby where they could spend the night. He found one in the Wienerwald. In better times it evidently had been popular with long-distance truckers, as it had restroom facilities, though they were now locked up. The Cubs were the only ones using it that night. They bedded down in the truck or beside it.
Several hours later a familiar finger traced its way down the channel of Toby’s back. The moon was up and a naked Vuk was squatting beside him, his genitals hanging heavy between his legs. He put his finger to his lips and took Toby’s hand. Toby was sleeping in briefs, but Vuk pulled them down to his ankles and off, then led him into the trees. Once away from the road and the occasional passing car, they kissed. Toby braced his back against the rough bark of a tree as their mutual passion increased.
‘Tovyan, fuck me, please,’ Vuk gasped, breaking off.
‘Me? I … I’ve never done it.’
‘Your handsome cock is in the right condition, baby. It’s straining at the leash, see? Look at it slap against your belly when I make it bounce. I so want you in me. I think about it all the time. And … well … who knows when we’ll get another chance. Do you want me?’
‘All the time, my wolf, but I’d never contemplated going on top.’ His eyes devoured Vuk’s slim, muscular body, gazing hungrily at the straight, thick cock he spent a lot of his waking hours daydreaming about. He reached out and caressed it, enjoying the jerk as it leapt at his touch, then held and massaged the full balls below. Vuk moaned a little. Toby delved further back and searched around the hot damp area between Vuk’s cheeks. Finding a part of the crack that gave, he pulled his finger back out and put it in Vuk’s mouth. His lover suckled it greedily, then Toby put it back and slid it inside.
‘Oh!’ There was surprise in Vuk’s exclamation as Toby searched around within him and got a second finger to join the first.
‘Sorry, does it hurt, my wolf?’
‘No, no. It’s just I never had anything up there before.’
‘Not even your own fingers?’
‘No. Will it be easier if I go on all fours?’
‘That’s how wolves do it, isn’t it?’
Vuk chuckled as Toby got behind him, lubricating his finger with spittle and applying himself to loosening Vuk’s tight anus. ‘Why do you feel you have to do this, Vukašin? I know it’ll hurt you.’
The answer came muffled from where Vuk’s face was buried between his forearms. ‘I have to, baby. I want to be gay with you so badly. And until a man’s fucked me, I can’t be properly gay. That’s what I feel anyway. You know what it’s like. Our Cubs fucked you happily ‘cos there were no girls at hand, but none of them feel as though they were homos for doing it. People think it’s taking it makes you gay. And I don’t want to be straight. I want to join with you in every way, my beloved angel … now, while I still can. Please sink your beautiful cock in me. Do it now baby, I want it so much.’
Although a lot of what it meant to be human passed Toby by, he thought he understood why Vuk was saying that, and the power of his need. Leaning up over another man’s back for the first time, he held his rigid cock in his hand to seek out the dark crater between Vuk’s buttocks. He spat copiously down on his penis and slicked it up as much as he could, then pushed. Rigid or not, his cock bent under the pressure, and it needed his hand to steady it. He tried to screen out Vuk’s swearing, impressed that, despite the pain, his lover was pushing back on him.
Vuk’s anus gave and he yelped. Then Toby was experiencing something new in sex. His dick was gripped as it ran deep into Vuk, its head coming alight with erotic fire at every movement forward. So this was what it was designed for. Automatically he began humping and moving around to get the best position for penetration. Eventually he was in a half squat, hands braced on Vuk’s back, frantically thrusting home until his heart nearly exploded with the power of his orgasm. It was only when he stopped grinding and came that he began hearing the encouraging cries and moans from his lover below him.
Toby lay along Vuk’s warm back, not removing his cock from its sheath. It was still hard and showed no tendency to deflate. Vuk moved slightly on it, feeling it with the internal muscles he was discovering he had. Then he lay flat on the ground.
Toby stretched out along him, kissing and nibbling at his lover’s shoulders. He had no idea why he should do those things, but they felt right and made him even harder as he did them. The two lay joined for quite a while until Toby began moving in Vuk again. This time Toby drove himself ruthlessly to a second climax, careless of what he was doing to Vuk’s butt beneath him.
The second ejaculation was followed by deflation. Toby pulled his wet, flaccid length out of Vuk, who groaned at the sudden emptiness. Then Toby did something he could not account for: he buried his head between Vuk’s cheeks and, still gripped by his deep passion, began sucking and licking at the open hole he had excavated, digging out his own seed with his tongue, rejoicing in Vuk’s acrid odours while his man moaned and squirmed his enjoyment. Eventually, a hand in his hair pulled Toby up to join mouths with Vuk.
When they were finally sated with each other, Vuk laughed. ‘So that’s sodomy. I love it! I’m such a homo.’ Then they fell asleep where they were, curled up naked, like mated animals on the grass under the moon.
Toby awoke in the grey light before dawn. He would have been cold but for the warm body encircling him. The birds were already starting their morning din.
‘I love you, Tovyan,’ Vuk’s voice murmured in his ear. ‘I wish waking up could always be like this.’
‘What, chilly and naked in the woods?’
‘Well, yeah. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just be animals, with no possessions and no clothes, fucking when and where we liked, doing what we liked, with no responsibilities? I had a dream last night about you and me, bare-arsed and together in a forest. But we were living there and it was our home.’
‘No, like people, but primitives.’
‘Did you have a beard?’
‘My dream wasn’t so specific. Though sexy stubble would certainly have been acceptable.’
‘You’re bristly now, my wolf.’
A soft kiss was planted on Toby’s neck. Vuk laughed. ‘But your cheeks, both sets, are as smooth as a baby’s little butt, my Tovyan. Come on, let’s get up and pretend we slept in the camp with the others.’
They padded quietly back to the swathed and sleeping bodies of their friends. As they slid into their blankets, Janko’s voice piped up from under his coverings. ‘Welcome back, Adam and Eve.’
Henry was unthinkingly tapping a pen on the desk in front of him. ‘That seems rather a large number for a scouting party.’
‘You said it, Henry,’ Justin agreed. ‘Question is, what are they being sent ahead for?’
‘Intelligence might be part of their mission, but if so, how do they communicate back to their base? The mobile network collapses wherever the Horde goes. They don’t do maintenance, just pillage.’
Terry had his ideas. ‘Think retro, Henry. Radio’s still an option, though it’s low-tech. I’d get your engineers to scan for transmissions from the camp area. Recognising them might not be too difficult, though understanding them could be another story. The infiltrators will contact their base in any one of a number of the obscure languages spoken in the Horde. There’s your problem.’
Henry sighed. ‘Damn! I need one of my kids here. They can handle all human languages.’
‘Well, I’m pretty sure your Mike would be up for it,’ Justin pointed out. ‘And he’s old enough for military service, isn’t he? Come to think of it, he’s led an army of his own by all accounts.’
Henry shook his head. ‘I don’t want them involved.’
‘Permission to speak freely, sir?’ Terry asked with a grin.
‘As if I could stop you, major.’
‘Your two older lads are the same physical age as a good number of the boys out there in your command. They’re enlisted cadets, so they’ve signed up for this in their heads. They’re on earth for a purpose, Henry. This may be part of it. Ask Ed. See what he says.’
Henry looked briefly rebellious, then sighed and nodded. ‘I’ll get on to him. He’s still in the capital. Now, back to these infiltrators. A couple of hundred men are more than just scouts. Fortunately, I doubt they can be aware of the state of this fortress or even its existence. Google Maps won’t show much, and it hasn’t been updated for years. If they have been sent ahead by the Horde, it has to be to assess the military preparedness of the Andreshalch Pass, one of the only two highways into this land from the east. Their job after that can be nothing less than causing havoc in the rear of the defence and disrupting communications. I wonder if that’s how they took down the Hungarians.’
‘They can’t be heavily armed,’ Terry added, ‘but they’ve used suicide-bomber tactics in the past.’
‘That death cult of theirs. They offer themselves to their Nameless One. If I could get hold of that bastard, I’d wring his neck.’
Justin’s eyebrow shot up. ‘You what?’
‘We have intelligence that the Nameless One is none other than my old friend Tobias, out to end the world. Weren’t you there at Wenzelberh when I explained it to the Ultras?’
‘So we’re fighting seraphs? Great!’
‘One seraph, so far as we know. But we have angels on our side.’ Henry drew a deep breath. ‘I’ll talk to Ed, and if he agrees, I’ll have Lance and Mike brought here. There’s no way round it, I suppose.’
Marky von Lauern was not happy, and Mike Atwood had grown enough in the ways of humanity not only to detect it, but to guess the cause. He looked broodingly across his Fridricsgasse bedroom at his lover, while continuing to stuff gear into his military backpack. He was already in his cadet camos, his sergeant’s stripes fastened on the breast tab. He looked the complete soldier.
‘Marky, we’ll all end up fighting in this war eventually. My father wants Lance and me at Kaleczyk because of our special gift. Our time has just come before yours, but yours will come soon enough. We will draw swords together as warriors, I sense it. And I want it to be so too, almost as much as I want your body under me.’
‘I pleaded with my father to let me join the garrison at Kaleczyk. But he said that three sons in the king’s army are enough for now.’
‘I am sorry, my Marky. I can say no more. I will miss you, despite what may appear to be my willingness to go. I feel torn.’
Marky softened and went over to his man. ‘Then do one thing for me,’ he whispered in the ear of his lover, who looked startled and then nervous.
‘Have we time?’
‘Half an hour’s usually enough. Everyone else is in school, and the housekeeper’s out.’
Mike deliberately began stripping, but Marky was naked in half the time and on his back on the bed. Mike was poised and erect between Marky’s legs when they both transformed. Their passion caused the house to tremble and several pictures to fall off the wall downstairs. Consummation caused other problems too, not least for Marky, who had to adopt an unusual position in order not to damage his wings.
Marky had gone by the time Lance drove up to the Atwood house. ‘Ready, big guy?’
‘Yes, my brother. Are you not wearing uniform? It is required, I believe.’
‘It’s in my pack, but I’m gonna stay in civvies till we get to Wendel. Dad’s gonna send a transport down for us from Kaleczyk. We gotta be quick, so let’s go. Belt up, bro.’
‘Have you said goodbye to Reggie?’
‘His mums allowed him to sleep at my pad last night, giving us a chance to do more than say goodbye.’
‘Marky and I likewise. Lance, my beloved brother, I am pondering the future state of our species.’
‘Good, Mikey. At least you’re admitting we might yet have a future, whatever Tobias tries to do.’
‘It is about our fellow angels. Their brightness and happiness faded when you left us. When I and the rest of the archangels followed you to Earth, there was mourning in heaven. What can we do for our people?’
‘What song did the angelic choir sing of our new mortality?’
‘It was a song of fear, my brother. The seraphs have frightened them, claiming our order is being doomed by what has happened to us here on earth. They have no one to comfort and lead them.’
Lance brooded. ‘You know that you and I may not survive this war?’
‘It had occurred to me, my brother. Which is why I am thinking of our people.’
‘Then they need some hope. Perhaps I can give it to them.’ Lance looked around and led his brother to the secluded backyard. The pool was uncovered and he rapidly stripped.
Mike shook his head. ‘This is no time for a swim, Lance.’
‘It’s not swimming I have in mind, bro.’ Lance scrambled up to the lowest stage of the tower and stood above the pool. He transformed where he stood, and held his great spear balanced across his palms. As he stared at it, the shaft crackled and sparked. The spear rose from his hands and floated slowly above the pool, rotating till it was upright. There was a flare of light and it arrowed skyward; it was soon lost to sight
Mike stared up at Lance. ‘What did you do, my brother?’
‘Sent the guys back home a message. I can’t go there, but my spear can. It’ll sing them a new song. Trust me.’ Lance grinned down at his brother as he resumed his human form and climbed back down to get dressed.
As Lance resumed his jeans, he observed, ‘Our sister has been hard at work on avian physiology.’
Mike nodded slowly. ‘She was a healer as Uriel. It is not surprising that she is drawn to the study of our new species. How can she do it, anyway?’
‘She and Mattie transform for short periods, and she has devised a series of tests for both their bodies. Can’t say I understand it when she explains it to me, but she’s coming up with ideas. Her first theory is that the female avian body doesn’t have periods … nice for her and Helen. It may be that ovulation happens differently for avian chicks. She has also concluded that we’re not an egg-laying species.’
‘I’m sure that will be a relief to everyone.’ Mike gave a rare chuckle. ‘It would be exceedingly boring sitting on a nest with just a book or an iPad to pass the weeks away. I would do much to be a good father, but that would be asking a lot.’
‘We’re basically mammalian, she believes. Our physiology is not unlike the human one which is our template, though there are many differences … some obvious, some less so. I’ll tell you more later. Now then, bro, d’you know what it is dad wants us for? Ed was cagy.’
‘Mendamero our father confided that it was a matter of high secrecy, and that we mustn’t lose time getting to the fortress. He said it was our special gifts he needed. Since I do not think he meant our avian ones, he must be referring to the residue of our angelic intellects … in particular, our gift of tongues.’
‘Interesting. Are we there for an interrogation? I think I could do that. Get my fork out and be a proper little devil for a bit. Scare the willies out of the black-clad buggers.’ Lance gave a wide and quite Mephistophelian grin.
‘Not amusing, my brother.’
‘What about Tobias?’
Mike’s face grew fierce. ‘The traitor-seraph will not survive our encounter. There can be no forgiveness for what he’s done. If he’s been apprehended at Kaleczyk, then you may use as big a fork on him as you wish.’
‘Interesting you should say that, Mike. When I met and defeated him in Eden it was clear his power was fading, rather than mine increasing. Now I wonder why that was so.’
‘It is evident that he has distanced himself from the Creator, and he is after all a seraph. His people are not in sympathy with the material world, and he has spent far more time in it than any other of his kind.’
‘You think he’s been contaminated by flirting with the mortal universe? Interesting. It would explain a lot. The erelim are all brain and no heart, and when one comes into a world of emotion and sensation, something odd’s bound to happen.’
‘I would guess that was what you observed in Eden. He is however the Nameless One worshipped by our enemies, and no more demeaning thing can happen to one of the orders. To be worshipped as a deity when we are no more than servants of the Creator and the One is obscene. Yet Tobias has let it happen, and even rejoiced in it. Clearly he is deranged. I will deal with him as a rabid animal.’
Lance looked across at his brother and the determined set of the young man’s strong jaw. He did not doubt that Mike would carry out his intention, given a chance, though how a mortal, human soldier – or even an avian one – could take down a seraph was more than he could imagine.
A certain tension became apparent to Toby as the truck reached the city of Linz and the River Danube. His self-absorption was however interrupted by a thump on the shoulder from Kristijan.
‘What do ya make of that, Tovyan?’ The river below the bridge was shining with drifts of golden flowers.
Toby stared, then mused to himself, ‘That can’t be natural. Those flowers are not algae bloom. They have no root structure so they cannot be any form of water lily. It can only be the One.’
‘Yer what? Make sense, Tovyašin.’
Toby felt particularly comfortable with Kristijan, one of the more likable of the Cubs, who had a certain intellectual curiosity and kindness about him. It suddenly occurred to Toby, when he heard the affectionate form of his name, that the boy thought of Toby as his friend. Maybe it was even more than that. Apart from Vuk, Kristijan had been the Cub who had sought sex with him most at the quarry. The size of his endowment, as much as his foot odour, revealed his identity in the dark. Toby had not remarked on this to Kristijan and had respected the anonymity of the night. For his part, Kristijan had backed off once Vuk’s love for Toby had become obvious to all.
Toby put his arm round Kristijan and pulled him tight, because it seemed right. When Kristijan responded by nestling into him, it appeared he had read the situation correctly.
‘What I was saying, Kris, is that the flowers aren’t a natural occurrence.’
‘Like a mutation?’
‘Something like that.’
‘They look lovely … they cheer me up.’
‘I think that may be the intention.’
‘You mean someone planted them?’
‘That’s exactly what I mean.’
The truck drove on through the city into the countryside to the north. In a valley leading up into the Rothenian Alps they found the camp they were looking for, a large settlement with portable cabins near the road. Vuk pulled into a parking area and cut the engine. The Cubs jumped down from the back to find Vuk and his brother already heading at speed towards the administration area, identified by Red Cross and Rothenian flags flying from a line of poles, alongside those of the Austrian Republic and the European Union. Unlike the camp at the Neusiedler See, there were no police or military to be seen.
Vuk joined the inevitable queue, while Janko looked longingly out at the great expanse of tents where his parents must be. Toby stood next to his lover, who gave him a tight smile. Toby wondered at the tension. Eagerness he had expected, but Vuk seemed uneasy too.
In half an hour they were at the information point. With Vuk at a linguistic loss, Toby took the lead. The desk clerk was Rothenian, and Toby addressed him in that language, much to the clerk’s surprise and gratification.
‘You’re a Rothenian kid? How did you get caught up in this mess? Are you looking for repatriation?’
‘No, I’m not Rothenian. It’s just a language I have; I’m with these Serbians. Two of them are brothers from a family called Ciric. They’ve been told their parents are here. Can you tell us where they’re to be found?’
The man checked his laptop. ‘Sure. Been here about three weeks. They’re just two lanes over in the older section. The boys are … Vukašin and Janko, right?’
‘Those are my friends, yes.’
‘Their parents know they’ve turned up, but they’re not expecting them to be bussed over for a week. How did you get here?’
‘Er … they wouldn’t wait. We hitchhiked.’
‘Austrians won’t like that. They prefer things tidy. Anyway, you can tell your friends the good news. What about the others?’
‘We’re all homeless refugees, no families.’
‘Well, take the Ciric boys over to their parents, then come back here. I’ll get the other five of you assignments for tents; best we can do. Let me have your names and I’ll update the records. I can give you a two-man and a three-man in section F. Which of the guys will you share with?’
‘Oh … I’ll bunk with Kristijan, he’s the one with glasses.’
‘Okay. The assignments will be sorted in twenty minutes. Get your friends over to their mum and dad, then the rest of you come back here. Ignore the queue. Nice to talk to someone in Rothenian for a change.’
Toby briefed the Cubs and, following the directions the Rothenian worker had given him, led them to the right area.
‘Mum! Dad! Mummy!’ Janko broke away and ran.
A woman poked her head around a tent flap. ‘Janko! My little Janko!’ For quite a stout woman, she moved surprisingly fast and swept up the boy in her arms. There were tears and sobs. Vuk was soon with them, and joined in the kissing and the hugging.
Toby felt curiously empty at this display of human emotional bonding. He looked at Kristijan and saw something similar in his face, a certain deadness, as if this sort of display could never now concern him. Kristijan’s home village was a burned-out ruin, and he did not believe his parents had survived its razing. Toby found and took the boy’s hand, which squeezed his back, painfully hard.
Another head emerged from the tent. This must be the father. When he straightened up, Mr Ciric was much the same height at his elder son, if a lot fatter. There was a clear resemblance to Vuk in the strong face, Toby thought. Maybe it was the look of a man who expected to be obeyed, though in Ciric senior’s face it was tinged with something that Toby could not immediately identify. Vuk and his father stared each other in the face for a moment, then clasped hard, Vuk burying his face in his father’s neck. They did not separate for quite a while.
When Vuk finally broke free, the older man wiped his eyes and said in a gruffer version of Vuk’s voice, ‘So, you made your way back to us, Vukašin And you brought your brother. It’s good.’
‘You must tell us all about it, darling,’ added his mother. ‘And who are your friends?’
Vuk looked round, a little confused. ‘Mum, these are my good comrades who helped get me and Janko back to you. Brave men all; we owe them our lives.’ He introduced the Cubs, starting with Radovan. When Toby’s turn came, he copied the formal handshake his friends gave the elder Cirics.
‘What a handsome young man,’ smiled Mrs Ciric. ‘And where are you from, Tovyan?’
Toby was caught out by that question, and stammered something inarticulate. Vuk rushed in to answer for him. ‘None of the lads have any family left.’
‘Oh! I am so sorry, I should have realised.’ Mrs Ciric seemed concerned at her own thoughtlessness, which made her look a lot like Janko, still clinging to her as if he were a much younger child.
Mr Ciric surveyed them, and it seemed to Toby that it was in not a very friendly way, though he admitted his fallibility in judging human emotions. But the fact that the others began shuffling and looking at each other uneasily convinced him they were being given a message to shove off and leave the Cirics to themselves. He glanced past Mr Ciric to Vuk, from whom he caught a strange look as though his lover wished to demonstrate some affection but dared not. The boys left, Mrs Ciric urging them to return the next day, once they were settled, so the family could thank them all properly.
There was a distinct air of gloom amongst the Cubs later, when all five were sitting outside their adjacent tents. They were on the other side of the field from the Cirics.
Radovan sighed eventually. ‘Well, we knew our mission was ended when we got them back to their folks, so what now? You always expect Vuk to have plans, but he’s let us down this time.’
Marsin agreed. ‘We’re gonna be on our own now.’
Kristijan growled at this. ‘Don’t be unfair to Vuk. We’re all alive, aren’t we? And we’re here in Austria, safe from the Horde. He only ever promised to get us to safety, and he did.’
‘But the Cubs!’ protested Marsin. ‘When we were a pack, it was … I dunno … like we were …’
‘… a family?’ Toby volunteered.
‘Yeah!’ Marsin asserted. ‘I belonged. I never had before. You guys at least had families of your own. Me, I never did. But for a while it was like I had brothers.’
Toby looked earnestly at the boy’s round face. ‘You did, Marsin, you still do.’
But Marsin was not to be comforted. Muttering that the others didn’t understand, he disappeared into his tent. Radovan and Klement decided to go and look around the rest of the camp, ‘checking out the talent’, as the older boy put it.
Kristijan and Toby retired to their bedding, now unloaded from the abandoned truck. They lay silent and unhappy for a time, until Toby dozed off. When he awoke he half expected Vuk to have come around, but he had not. Radovan and Klement had returned with news of a football game going on at the back of the field, so Marsin and Kristijan went off with the others to scope it out and see if they could have a kick around themselves.
Toby excused himself. He could not see the point in human games of physical skill or endurance. He dozed again, to wake up in an empty tent as the evening was drawing on. Finding no sign of the other boys, he decided to take a stroll himself and clear his head.
The camp was more crowded as he got closer to the administration area. There were many groups of men sitting around smoking or playing cards. It did not seem there was much else to do. Women and girls likewise gossiped, tended babies or hung out laundry. Camp kitchens were filling the air with the odours of cooking as dinner was being prepared. Toby’s stomach grumbled its hunger.
Arc lights began powering up around the perimeter. Toby stared moodily beyond the camp to the jagged line of the Rothenian Alps against the darkening sky, the sinking sun gilding the sharp faces of the peaks. North of Linz was the Waltherberh pass where the railway line to Rechtenberg disappeared into its notorious two-mile-long tunnel. To the east, but invisible, he knew there was a broader dip in the Tirolen range where the river of Rothenia, the wide green Starel, cut its way through to join its waters with those of the Danube.
What were Lance and his siblings doing now? The end result of his machinations had been kinder to the archangels than to himself. They were loved, supported and cherished by their adoptive parents, safe beyond the Rothenian Alps and the wall of the Glottenberh massif, under the powerful protection of the Red Elphberg and the One.
The One. Was there hope there? But how could a refugee teenager in ragged clothing get within even a kilometre of the boy-king of Rothenia? And even if he did, what more mercy from the One could he expect than from the Creator? He was – as his Vuk would put it – royally fucked, and he deserved no better.
Then there was Vukašin Ciric, his lover, the only good thing that had happened to him on Earth, but a distance had already opened up. Vuk was back in his family, and Toby was outside in the cold. How could he expect Vuk to acknowledge him, when to do so would be to confess his homosexuality to his parents? Toby thought he had glimpsed issues there. He was experiencing human loneliness in full force, and it suffused his soul with melancholy.
He turned away and wandered to the camp commissary. Noticing people carrying meals in plastic containers past him to their tents, he decided to get some food for his friends. It was as he queued for his turn that he briefly caught sight of a familiar face. It was impressed like few others on his consciousness, for in it he had first recognised human pity. It was the face of Atib, Malik-rammu’s faithful bodyguard, in a group of other men. Though it was only a passing glimpse there was no doubt in Toby’s mind.
The Horde was in Austria.