"Quick, turn on the newscast," Veil said, bursting into Grim's room without knocking.
Grim quickly pulled the covers over his naked body. He wasn't ashamed of his nakedness, but he didn't want her to see the results of the fantasies he'd pursued for the past hour. He'd done the same a dozen times at least since meeting Prism a week before, but some things were inappropriate for even twins to share.
"What? Why?" Grim asked, making no move to access the broadcast screen on the opposite side of his room. If he hadn't misplaced his activation rod, he would've turned it on remotely, but climbing out of bed required showing Veil the semen coating his stomach and chest.
"There's something happening downtown. Have you heard anything about the protests?" Veil asked.
"What protests?" Grim replied dumbly.
"Blood, Grim! Don't you pay attention to anything?" Veil said, turning away from him to manually turn on the broadcast screen.
"Nope," Grim said. As Veil faced the other way, Grim reached for his discarded shirt, wiped his skin clean, and slid out of bed, searching for some fresh underwear.
Veil wasn't even watching him, her attention glued to the large screen and the scene unfolding across it-video footage of a large mob running away from the Council Chambers in downtown Kobinaru. Grim slipped into some underwear and joined her at the screen.
The newscaster's voice spoke over the footage as Veil increased the volume.". . . the brawl broke out amongst the protestors of the new Immigration Act which put a temporary freeze on all refugees from Lodan. The Ultakan Military was forced to turn their heat-rifles on the violent protestors in order to drive the mob back from the Council Chambers."
Grim grew more uneasy with each passing second of the recording. Human protestors ran for their lives as the Ultakan military police moved after them. Shots rang out in the night as radiation bullets rained down on the crowd. The back lines of the fleeing protestors collapsed to the ground just before the broadcast cut out.
"Is Father all right?" Grim asked. "He wasn't there, was he?"
Veil shook her head and glanced at Grim. "No, he'd already come home for the day, but several government representatives were injured."
Although Grim wanted to sigh in relief, another question demanded an answer first. "How many people died?"
"At least thirty-two from the last reports, all of whom were protestors. There were at least a hundred injured by the military's counter-attack, however," Veil replied, grimacing.
Grim's face clouded over with anger. "Who gave them the order to fire?"
"What!? Why?" Grim asked. "He's usually willing to resort to non-violent measures first."
"Father is trying to figure that out right now," Veil replied. "It seems several healers have already arrived, but I think maybe you and I should go down there, too. With an escort, of course.
Grim eyed her skeptically. "Would Father approve of that?"
Veil nodded and said, "I already ran it by him. Let's go as soon as you're dressed." Her gaze flicked momentarily downward and she added, "though perhaps you should run through a shower first. You missed a spot."
They made good time. Veil's forethought in speaking with their father meant an escort had already formed by the time Grim had dressed, and they made it to the hospital within a half an hour of the newscast.
Their position and escort ensured them swift access to the emergency reception center, though the Fedain doctor greeting them as they passed through the double doors had not been informed of their coming. His grizzled features creased with a tired and polite smile as he greeted them. "Lady Veil and Lord Grim . . . To what do we owe this unexpected visit?"
"We came to lend our energies in healing the injured protestors," Veil said, taking the lead as the heir to the Duchy. Grim shrank some under the gazes of the injured people in the room, many still bleeding from wounds sustained during the protest.
"We don't want their help! You're the ones we're protesting!" One of the patients nearest them called out, his face flushed from anger despite the bloody mess on his shoulder where his hand applied pressure.
"Yeah! Get out of here, Pale!" Another voice shouted.
"Maybe this was a bad idea . . ." Veil said, avoiding their gazes by turning to Grim.
"No. No, this is probably the best idea you've ever had, Veil," Grim said, charged by the passion in these people. They were angry, sure, but rightfully so. Despite the nobility's best intentions in protecting their people, they'd failed here, and now they had to make it right somehow. If that meant suffering through some angry shouting, Grim would gladly pay that price.
He'd spent significant time among them, walking the streets and getting to know the people as well as his station would allow. He knew them, loved them, and desired to make things better with all his heart. According to Fedain culture, religion, and education, being a Fedain meant sacrificing himself for others, and he'd never fully understood that responsibility until this moment. He addressed the room, projecting his voice over the din. "People of Kobinaru, I know you're hurting, I know you feel you can't trust us, but please allow us to meet you partway. Please let us show you we have good intentions. Allow us to help heal you?"
"How come there aren't more of you here? Aren't you Fedain all supposed to protect us?" Another voice replied. It was quieter, more composed than the first two angry responses, but it rang truer than all the others.
The first man added to the statement with the same vitriol as before. "Yeah, how come the doctors are the only ones here other than you? Where's the rest of you Pales?"
Murmurs of agreement rippled through the room, and Veil took up where Grim left off and said, "Some have forgotten their responsibilities to the people, and we will do our best to correct that problem. But we are here now, let us help you."
While not all the murmurs following her statement were positive, some agreed and that was enough for the tension to dissipate. Grim moved to help but stopped when Veil put a hand on his arm.
"Have you thought about using the vaccine?" She asked the doctor.
"It's still experimental and has only shown success in a small number of cases," the doctor replied, shaking his head. "I don't think it's ready for widespread distribution yet."
"Vaccine?" Grim asked.
"The research department here at the hospital has been developing something revolutionary," Veil explained. "Father and I have followed it since they first started trials last year. It involves nano-bioengineering. Modified Fedain blood cells are injected into a human to act as aids in natural healing, essentially replicating our own abilities on a minor scale."
"But there are problems," a tired voice spoke from the side, and Master Janlynd of the Temple of the Mountain stood from her crouch beside the bed of an injured protestor. She walked toward them and gestured for the doctor to resume his duties, implying with her hands that she'd take charge of the two nobles. As soon as the doctor left, she continued her explanation. "Unfortunately, getting the blood cells to self-replicate in the bloodstream has been the largest issue. Getting them to target every injury has also proven difficult. Convincing them to do both has been . . ." she hesitated as if searching for the right words, and settled on two, "nearly impossible."
"Master Jan," Veil said, bowing in respect to her former tutor. "It's good to see you. The Temple responded to the call for healers?"
Master Jan bowed a hair lower in response. "Yes, of course."
"You look like you've already reached your limit for the evening. Let us take over," Grim suggested, reaching out to touch her but stopping short. As a Master of the Order, Master Janlynd had taken vows against physical contact unconnected to her duties as a monk. Even a comforting touch would go unappreciated.
"No, I need to make sure these people are taken care of," Master Jan said, but her body betrayed her, and she swayed on her feet, almost losing her balance until Veil reached out and stabilized her. Having once been Master Jan's pupil, Veil's contact could be considered proper, though even she pushed the limits of propriety, guiding Master Jan back onto an empty hospital bed.
"You'll kill yourself if you heal any more tonight," Veil said as Grim joined them. "You've already taken years off your life by giving up so much of your energy. Let us give some of ourselves to these people."
"You're too kind, Veil," Master Jan said. She smiled at Grim and went on. "Both of you are. The doctors have given all the energy they can, too. Where are the rest of our brothers and sisters? Are these people correct? Have we Fedain truly forgotten our responsibility to watch out for our neighbors?"
"Veil and I have not," Grim said. "Hopefully that will be enough for now."
"I'm going to see who needs my help most. Grim, do you want to start on the other side of the room?" Veil asked, letting go of Master Jan's arm as she turned to face him. Grim nodded and moved to follow her but stopped in surprise when Master Jan caught his arm.
He turned to face her, and she let go of him. If she felt embarrassed by her actions, she didn't show it. "Before you go, I met a young friend of yours earlier this week. Prism."
Grim's eyes lit up immediately. "How is he?"
"He's not taking well to the restrictions placed on him, but he's also intrigued by the lessons Highmaster Vinhkroludar is teaching him. I can see he has a thirst to learn his place in the world," Master Jan replied.
"His mentor is the Gor master?" Grim asked in surprise. "How'd that happen? I thought Master Vinh didn't take students?"
Master Jan chuckled. "I asked him as a personal favor, only to find out Grandmaster Valkean had already asked him."
Grim remembered Master Vinh well. Much as Janlynd was the only Fedain monk at the Kobinaru branch of the Order of the Mountain, Vinhkroludar was the only Gor master, though he also bore the distinction of being the only Gor master in the entire order. He'd never fit in with the other masters, as much for the racial hatred which permeated human and Gor societies as Master Vinh's own peculiarities. But from the brief interaction Grim had with Prism, he saw only good possibilities between the rogue and the eccentric master. "I'm sure they'll be a good fit."
He smiled and was about to turn away when Master Jan spoke again. "One more thing, Grim. That boy seemed positively smitten by you. I advised him to keep it silent, considering the way human culture in Ultaka treats those who love their same kind, but I thought it adorable and hoped it would make you smile."
Grim nearly swooned but managed to show only the slightest blush. "It does. Thank you, Master Jan."
Master Jan smiled, but her tired eyes moistened in the bright hospital lights. "All we can do in this world is try and look out for each other. It's the only cause worth living and dying for."
Grim felt a need to remain with her for a little while longer, and he rushed to find some excuse to stay. "Master Jan, I've never healed a wound from a heat rifle, could you give me some pointers before I go help?"
She nodded, and though the sadness didn't leave her eyes, they glowed a little brighter, if for only a moment. "As you know, 'heat' is more of a misnomer, as it refers to the radioactive particles embedded in the bullets. The idea-as awful as it is-was that by inflicting radiation poisoning on the enemy, they could be debilitated in the long-term and seek Fedain help to be cured more effectively. We call ourselves pacifists yet allow our human military to inflict horrible damage in our name. It almost makes you wonder how we can dare to call ourselves benevolent."
Grim agreed, but despite his personal feelings on the matter, the people still needed him, and so he made sure to keep Master Jan on track. "And how do I heal radiation poisoning effectively?"
"Sorry, I got a little preachy there, didn't I?" Master Jan said. "The first thing you'll need to do is coax the bullet and radioactive particles from the wound, provided you're skilled enough to convince the blood to move for you. You'll have to use their cells to guide the particles out. If they're too deeply embedded, a surgeon will have to do the work, and you'll have to pay close enough attention to know the difference."
As she explained, Grim asked questions where he needed until he had a good enough understanding to feel comfortable. When he left her side, however, the darkness behind her eyes unsettled him more than his uncertainty ever had.
Grim and Veil sat in the hospital break room, Veil laying on top of her brother, her hair a sweaty mess as he stroked her arm. He stared blankly ahead, doing all he could to fight off sleep. At least he had hunger to keep him awake, or he would've slipped into unconsciousness the moment he sat.
"Are you as exhausted as I am?" Veil asked, yawning.
"Yes," Grim replied. He tried to laugh, but it came out as a wheeze. "I should've eaten more. Though that would've only helped a little."
Veil raised her head off his chest but immediately dropped it back down from exhaustion. "You didn't push yourself too far, I hope?"
"I don't think so," Grim said, though the opposite could've well been true, if he honestly assessed his physical state. Fedain healed by manipulating the life force inside themselves and transferring it to their patients. A small amount of healing only used the energy gained from food and rest, but any greater healing sapped the energy from a Fedain's own life-force. Benevolent Fedain often died early deaths from giving too much of themselves to others. "It wasn't easy to stop, though. There's still people hurting in there, but I don't think any will die, at least."
"Heat-rifles are troublesome, but at least they kill slowly," Veil said, stifling another yawn. "We can come back tomorrow, once we've had some time to rest, and help out with anyone who is still suffering from radiation poisoning."
"That's a good idea," Grim replied, blinking back tired tears. "Maybe we can convince some others to come down, too? Maybe even Father can lend a hand."
Veil shook her head. "He'll be busy with the fallout from this incident. I don't think he'll have the time." She found the strength to rise from somewhere and slid fully into her own chair. "Still, someone has to look out for them. Fedain may rule in Ultaka, but obviously, of the millions of Fedain, most aren't in the nobility. We have thirty-thousand Fedain residents in Kobinaru. Why aren't they here? That's enough healers to heal the entire mob of protestors without sacrificing more than their breakfast energy, much less tapping into their own lifeforce."
Grim sighed and leaned forward. It helped him resist the urge to lay his head back and succumb to exhaustion. "Maybe the problem is as bad as the people say it is? I was out on those streets a week ago. The humans didn't seem happy to see me or Sharis, I can tell you that much."
"And you're even popular, as far as nobles go," Veil replied.
"Shut up. I am not," Grim scoffed. "The nobility hates me."
"I meant you're popular with the general populace," Veil said, ignoring his annoyed tone. "You know that's the reason Father allows you as much freedom as he does, right?"
"What do you mean?" Grim asked.
"Grim . . ." Veil sighed his name, as if trying to figure out how to explain her thoughts in simple terms. "Father has to balance Fedain policy with doing what's right by his people. I do, too, as the heir. You? You get to focus just on the people. Do you realize how much of a relief that is for him?" She smiled and put her hand on his neck, massaging the skin there. "He's always cared about the common people, whether they be Fedain or Human, but the government ties our hands. Yours are free. You get to do whatever you want." Her body tensed, and she pulled away, folding her hands in her lap.
"And you resent that?" Grim asked, trying to decipher the meaning behind her tension.
"Only when you play instead of help," Veil muttered.
Grim leaned back again, sighing as he turned to her. Their eyes locked as they communicated silently for several seconds before he responded. "Playing is helping. You should've seen the looks on the faces of the Humans I danced with. Before I joined the parade, they looked at me as an alien, but after I started dancing I was one of them. I could feel it."
"But you're not one of them," Veil stated. "You have to be better."
Their gazes lingered on each other for several seconds before the sound of footsteps drew their attention to the door leading outside. A member of their escort, a young soldier barely older than them, bowed to them before saying, "There's a disturbance outside, you both need to be on your guard."
"Another protest?" Veil asked, summoning energy from somewhere to rise to her feet. Grim followed, drawing on as much adrenaline as he could manage.
"There is a crowd gathering, yes. It seems to be led by a Fedain monk," the soldier explained.
"Master Janlynd?" Grim asked, the dark look in the monk's eyes coming back to him. He shuddered as he remembered their conversation, the cool way in which she'd spoken of Fedain responsibility. It resonated with him now more than ever as he stood facing the possibility of what those thoughts might have led her to do.
"Yes," the soldier replied. "She's leading the mob to the Council Chambers." He bowed again and remained in that position as he said, "The Duke would prefer if you remain here for the time being. By your leave, I need to go secure the perimeter with the rest of the escort."
Veil waved him away and the soldier took off at a run. Grim wasted no time in walking back into the emergency room.
"Where are you going?" Veil asked, following on his heels.
"To be better." Grim said, moving past the emergency room and into the doctor's locker room. He checked lockers until he found one with clothing inside, pulled a dark, hooded jacket from the contents, and slipped it on over his clothing. He walked over to the medical supplies table and took a dark surgical mask, slipping it on to obscure the lower part of his face.
Veil caught onto his plan and caught his arm just as he was about to leave the room. "Wait for me to find a disguise. We'll go together."
Veil and Grim struggled to stay together as they moved along with the mob toward the Council Chambers, and took to holding hands to prevent separation. The people surrounding them were incensed, and the anger and vitriol flowing through the crowd made both their hearts race.
But they remained determined to follow the crowd all the way to witness what was happening. Even though they hadn't spoken about it, both felt the need to witness the public unrest firsthand, instead of through the filter of a newscast. They owed it to their people.
"What are we doing following a Pale?" Someone shouted nearby as they neared their destination. Grim inclined his head toward the sound, hoping those nearby wouldn't notice his pale skin, eyes, and hair.
"She said she had something to show us," someone answered. "And she helped heal people at the hospital."
"And that means we should care?" A third voice asked.
All these voices echoed in Grim's ears but were soon drowned out by a soldier standing at the barricaded doors of the Council Chambers using a voice amplifier. "PEOPLE OF KOBINARU, YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO DISPERSE." The soldier lowered the large, cone-shaped device to assess the crowd's response.
"This doesn't look good," Grim said, glancing nervously around the crowd.
Veil nodded in agreement, her eyes wild as she followed Grim's frantic gaze. "If Father knew we were here, he'd be upset."
"Father's up there, look," Grim said, pointing to the balcony on the third floor of the Council Chambers. Duke Selfaeth stood among a contingent of human soldiers and Fedain council members, all looking down at the crowd. Contempt in some of their gazes made him fearful, though his father's concerned expression gave him some hope. "I wonder what's going to happen?"
"Calm down. You keep pointing like that and people will see us," Veil said, pushing his arm down.
The soldier with the voice amplifier spoke again. "IF YOU DO NOT DISPERSE IMMEDIATELY, WE WILL BE FORCED TO ARREST YOU."
"That's what started the last riot. Have they learned nothing?" Grim asked.
"Father's saying something to General Parrow. Hopefully they'll be able to sort this out," Veil offered.
"Look, Master Jan is asking to address the crowd," Grim said. Master Janlynd was climbing the steps at the front of the Council Chambers, her hands raised in surrender. She gestured for the soldier to lower the voice amplifier. The soldier looked to the General and the Duke for instruction and once he received confirmation, he extended the voice amplifier to Master Jan. "They're giving her the chance."
Master Jan declined to take the device, and instead turned toward the mob, raising her hands to silence the crowd. To Grim's surprise, they showed deference to her and quieted, allowing her to speak freely.
"My brothers and sisters, my friends and neighbors, I speak to you now not as a monk of the Mountain, nor as a Fedain, but as a citizen of this fine city," Master Jan said, her voice ringing with the power of a voice used to loud chanting.
"What's a Pale know about being a citizen?" One voice called out in response.
She acknowledged the speaker with a nod but kept speaking to the crowd at large. "I know you're upset about the recent restrictions placed on the people. The government is trying its best to reconcile those restrictions to protect the best interests of the people, and those of the state."
Another voice added dissent to the first. "Best interests? What are you talking about?"
"But it is not enough," Master Jan said, shaking her head as she lowered her hands. "The Fedain have forgotten their role. They have chosen to ignore our responsibility to ensure the good of the people. We hide in our homes while the sick and injured are left only to overworked medical staff when we could attend them ourselves. It is to every Fedain to heal. We are not allowed to cause harm to our people, and yet by refusing to help, we are harming them."
She turned toward the balcony, shouting now to be heard by the crowd as she projected her voice upward to the Duke and the council. "I spent this evening in the company of those wounded in today's incident. I gave all but my last breath to their health, and I would do so again and again in defense of the vows I hold sacred as a Fedain." The Duke remained expressionless, but the council regarded her with nothing but contempt. Master Jan appeared to be addressing Duke Selfaeth as she went on. "But others have grown fat on the labors of the common man and refuse to acknowledge our sacred responsibility."
"So," Master Jan continued with a deathly calm. "I will give you one more last breath, and let it echo for eternity from the steps of this council, that we may never forget our responsibility again."
Before anyone could even blink, Master Jan ripped open her robes and placed her hands on her naked chest. She activated her own blood, quickening it to a feverish pulse until the life-giving liquid betrayed her, shattering her heart with an explosive force as her chest and veins burst all over her body. Her broken corpse collapsed to the steps of the council, her blood showering the stone and staining it red as the crowd watched in stunned silence.
Then the screaming began, a chorus of voices reacting in horror to the scene they'd just witnessed. Grim screamed along with them, only stopping when his voice grew too hoarse to continue.
Veil did not, instead she tried to pull away, tried to rush through the crowd to the steps where the soldiers and the mob had already begun to clash. "Oh no . . ." she cried, turning back as she tried to wrest herself from Grim's vice-grip. "Grim!" She shouted in desperation.
Grim recovered his senses and pulled Veil back, crushing her to his chest. "We can't get to her in time. Veil, you can't. She's already dead. We can't revive the spark of life, only sustain it," Grim said. When Veil tried to break away again, Grim gripped both her shoulders and screamed in her face to get her to listen. "You know this!"
"She . . . can't be dead!" Veil said, her whole body shaking.
Grim pulled her to the side. People were pushing everywhere, some trying to move toward the Council Chambers while others attempted to flee. "We have to get out of here. This is about to explode, and Father will go crazy once he learns we ditched our guards."
"What about Father?" Veil asked, looking at the balcony as her sense returned to her. "This crowd is only going to get angrier."
"Then we'll come back tomorrow," Grim said. "We can't do any more tonight. Come on, let's get home."
Prism ripped himself away from Ghayle's vision, sick to his stomach. He'd witnessed millions of deaths in his lifetime, some near and dear to him, most distant and unfamiliar. He'd grown numb to death, or so he'd thought until he witnessed Master Jan's death.
It was even worse through Grim's eyes. Grim, who'd felt the ripples of the coming darkness long before anyone else, sensing it through the eyes of the martyr Janlynd. Grim, whose light died a little on that day.
Grim, whom Prism loved more than any other, who proceeded to carry the weight of that moment with him for eight centuries. Prism wept on Ghayle's shoulder.
After a moment he wiped his eyes and suppressed his sobs, staring into the beauty of the garden as he gained control of his emotions once again. "I never knew Grim witnessed her death himself. I'd only ever had that conversation with Veil, and it was long after the fact. It affected them both in different ways, I suppose."
"You remember it, though?" Ghayle asked.
Prism nodded solemnly. "Yes. We didn't get to see the newscast. The Temple didn't have a broadcast screen, but we heard about it almost as soon as it happened. Grandmaster Valkean received word through his representative on the council, and he called an assembly to inform us of her passing. He made no mention of the political impact of her message, however."
"It affected you, too," Ghayle said.
"Definitely," Prism replied. "It was the first time I ever shed tears out of empathy, and out of losing someone important to me," he explained. "I didn't even know why, other than that she'd been kind to me."
"It was a moment of pure sacrifice," Ghayle said. "Her blood was used in the ritual to open the gate. It was the first ingredient Khalis acquired."
"What did it represent?" Prism asked.
Prism raised an eyebrow. "I would've thought a weapon would've served that purpose better."
"Weapons are destructive, yes, but hers was a moment of pure destruction. Obliteration of self runs contrary to creation, and a martyr's blood is the purest destructive force in the universe," Ghayle replied.
Prism shook his head, failing to comprehend her logic. "But her sacrifice made things better for a while. Shouldn't it have stalled your need for the demons?"
"It did," Ghayle said. "It delayed it for a long time. It was many months before Khalis found the next ingredient."
"What was happening to you during that time?" Prism asked.
Ghayle raised her hand to Prism's face again and said, "Let me show you."
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