So. He had him back.
Hadrian watched the rain drip down the walls of his cell, not even feeling the cold or the pain at this point. At least the stone didn't scream for his blood, hate him for his very existence. On top of everything, that would have been the drop that burst the dam. He knew he would have gone insane. It was, he thought dully to himself, something of a shock that he hadn't already.
Certainly Gavedon seemed to think so.
Any illusions Hadrian might have had of still being Gavedon's son had been shredded the instant Gavedon had looked down at the sable-haired young man for the first time in half a year. Even blinded as he'd been by the need to please his father, Hadrian had seen the absolute lack of emotion in Gavedon's face. It would have been better if the man had beaten him, as he used to. He knew now that he was not anything to Gavedon. He was a failed experiment. A disappointment-and, worse, one that had lost its sting and irritation. Just an old mistake. Not one to be brought up or reconsidered; just something in the past.
But he'd still ordered him locked up, not killed on sight. Jessyd had wanted to; the other boy hated him still, acknowledged that he existed, as little consolation as that was. Gavedon had forbidden his new heir to harm Hadrian. There was something Gavedon wanted from him still.
What use could you have for a broken mirror, sorceror?
It was becoming familiar, this feeling of being used. Hadrian recognized it now-Gavedon had done it his entire life. The attempt at grooming him as his heir, the constant feeling that nothing was ever enough. Escape from Shard's Point had not released him from being used. Manix had made perfectly clear that Hadrian was to be used for the battle against Gavedon. (See where that had gotten him.) Jessyd had used his past against him, to fool the others. Caled-gods, when Caled had implied that their time in Rhiad had meant nothing, it had made him want to swallow poison. Maybe that had changed it seemed so, recently but Caled had never said anything to the contrary. Caled was open enough about everything else; if he did feel something for Hadrian, why not say so? It was, at this point, logical to assume that Hadrian had been duped and used again. Given time, the others probably would have found some excuse to do the same. It would have made sense.
He remembered his childhood, when he had still tried to please Gavedon in any way he could. He had been devastatingly anxious to do as he was bid-and it had never been enough. He remembered Gavedon's reprimands when Hadrian had not done something with the thought of winning his father's favor in mind. 'Do not disobey me again, Hadrian Your performance is remarkable in its mediocrity Then perhaps you will see why you are such an unrelenting disappointment to me Be a good son for once in your useless life You scar me deeply with this betrayal, Hadrian '
"I tried," Hadrian whispered. "I tried to be what you wanted. What did I do wrong?" The pleaded words echoed off the stone to mock him; no one could hear them but him. He lowered his head again, too sick with self-loathing to even feel shame. They adore you. Your followers, the Dimorada, the Order they're insane, they're deluded but they love you. I wanted to have that, so I tried to be what you wanted me to be; I thought if I pleased you His single, dry sob choked off even his thoughts. It hurt. It hurt so badly.
What was it, Hadrian wondered mechanically, that made some things stab like knives? What was the reason for pain?
Unexpectedly, an answer presented itself: to keep the body from damaging itself. Fire burned because it was dangerous to flesh; knives tore the skin, damaging the tissue and reducing the maximum capacity for function. Broken bones made it painful to move so that the body would have to keep still while it healed itself. Why would hearts and minds be any different?
He could feel the wounds, the lacerated soft spots that he'd so often left exposed out of ignorance or hope. They were everywhere, punctures in his mind and spirit. But the fact that he could feel them, each separate hurt a clearly defined point, meant that it might be possible to shield them as well. Could he close them off from everyone? Even himself?
It hurts, he thought slowly. It hurts to try. It hurts to be rejected. It hurts to want his affection. It hurts to wish things were different.
So eliminate the pain.
Hadrian sat very still for the rest of the night.
Gavedon frowned when Hadrian was brought out in the morning. The boy had been strange ever since Jessyd had finally caught him, but this was somehow different. From Jessyd's reports when he'd infiltrated the pathetic little band of miscreants, Hadrian had been as meek and scared as a caged rabbit, especially where the bloody mercenary was concerned. Even the rare moments when Roisin's son had been fierce enough to fight back, it was like a rabbit biting, ineffective, defensive, and quickly quelled. His mother's blood, Gavedon thought sourly. No son of his would have thrown in his lot with a doddering Elder, his whining brat of a girl-apprentice, a pair of mangy thieves, and a common rutting mercenary. No son truly of his blood would have laid down for a flea-ridden sellsword. Revolting and weak. Roisin had proven too weak in the end as well.
And yet Hadrian had fought him at Shard's Point. Fought him to a standstill-nearly won. The memory was one of the few that made Gavedon nervous when he thought of how close he'd come to dying.
He shoved it from him with a snort of disgust. Whatever aberration that had been, it was gone now. The boy was broken. He wandered where he was led like a halfwit, silent and unseeing, though his eyes remained open. His own eyes. Sometimes Gavedon contemplated gouging out those silver eyes just so he wouldn't have to look at that disappointing reminder every time he saw the boy's face. The idea held merit, but not right now. Right now if the boy had a wound he would probably find a way to make it work against Gavedon, damn him. As delicate as this next working would be, it wouldn't be hard to disrupt it, even with no knowledge of how it worked. It would have been easier if the whelp had actually lost his wits, but it would seem that he couldn't even manage to oblige Gavedon in that. Always a disappointment.
Jessyd shoved Hadrian forward with a sneer, his posture arrogant down to the way his brown hair fell over his eyes. "I've brought him, Father."
Gavedon nodded, a paternal smile briefly cutting across his hard features. "Very good, my son." Hadrian, who had nearly gone into a fit the first time he'd heard Gavedon address the other young man as such, did not react. The older man's eyes narrowed uncertainly. Maybe the shock had destroyed what was left of his mind.
All to the better, he decided. He had no use for Hadrian's wits, only his body. "Tie him in the Stones."
Jessyd obeyed with a will, manhandling the slender youth into the ancient, ruined dolman and binding him with ropes tight enough that Gavedon could see the red weals on Hadrian's pale skin from where he stood. Hadrian did not move of his own volition once while Jessyd tied him. And, though his eyes were blank, their lack of focus never wavered from the direction in which his father stood. The expression was naggingly familiar; Gavedon shifted uneasily in the silver spotlight.
He pushed his disquiet away from his mind and his face as Jessyd finished and returned to his side, then directed his new heir and the lesser Order members into a circle within the dolman.
Life answered when he called, flooding his body like a rush of blood to the head and heart and loins. He controlled his reaction to the pleasure, focusing on what he wanted: the tombs, sunk deep beneath the Skeleton Stones, and what they contained. There had been sorcerors in the past, before the bedamned Council had been set in place-they had buried their knowledge and a good deal of their power here, and sealed it with an intricate metaphysical 'lock.' Gavedon needed to pick that lock. As insurance if one of the lock's traps were set off, Gavedon would route his energy through Hadrian. Whatever his faults, the boy was the only one with the power necessary to attempt this. He had also proven annoyingly resilient, and would give Gavedon time to sever his connection with the magic.
Hadrian would die in such a scenario, but that was of no consequence. He would not live long in any case.
Hadrian felt curiously detached from everything as he stared at the circled Order and their leader. He knew he should be afraid, should try to escape, but that hadn't done him any good up to this point-it was, in fact, why he was in this position in the first place. He was tied so tightly, he noted absently. Did Jessyd really fear him that much? Did his father? There were so many people surrounding him-surely not all of them were needed for whatever working Gavedon wanted done. Without much thought of what he was doing, he shut himself off from the other mages, just as he'd shut himself off from Life. Gavedon wouldn't be stopped by a little shield like the ones he'd just used, so he didn't bother. He stood passively, waiting to see what would happen. No pain, not yet; it was working so far. The wounds were shut away behind thick armor, and with them every other sensitive spot he had. No one could reach them, including himself. He simply didn't care what they did to him.
A hum of power built in the air, and slowly the broken stones of the dolman began to glow. He could see the ring of sorcerors take hold of Life, revel in it. That was not for him, he remembered. He was the Taker of Life. There had been a time when he had wept for that loss, when it had stabbed at him.
But it didn't hurt anymore.
Gavedon was sunk into the spell by now, but the others in the Order were frowning, muttering to themselves, trying to reach again into it. Hadrian blocked them mutely, letting their attempts bounce off black ice walls. He heard Jessyd's voice raised in panic, heard the other sorcerors' babbling attempts to figure out what to do, but none of them dared break their leader out of his working. Hadrian may have killed many of their number before, but Gavedon would kill all of them without a thought if they cost him more than he thought they were worth, and they knew it. So did Hadrian. Amazing, how clear some things became when you had no reason to delude yourself about them.
Gavedon was working through Hadrian now. He was in Hadrian, threading through his body into the lock below the ground. Hadrian frowned; he didn't like that. Gavedon was too close to him. He already knew that whenever Gavedon got too close, there was pain. He wanted the man to go away. There wasn't a way to push at the older sorceror, not now that Hadrian was effectively a conduit, but there were other ways to make him retreat.
Carefully, Hadrian gathered the lines of Gavedon's power within his body and began to sever them.
Gavedon stiffened, even as his face remained slack with the concentration it took to work the spell. The other sorcerors saw, and fear paralyzed them where they stood. Hadrian simply continued cutting the lines of force inside him, noting that whenever he broke one it would fill him with more energy, simmer in his veins so that he could almost feel what it was like to have Life back. With Gavedon pouring the magic into him, Life didn't realize that Hadrian was tapping into it. That felt good. Power felt good. With more power, nobody would hurt him.
Hadrian cut the lines faster.
Three lines from the last, he cut into one that made an impression: Gavedon's rage and fear flooded through his system, making him go as rigid as his sire. What in the bloody hell are you doing, boy?! Gavedon roared, panic thick in the unspoken words. There were other thoughts, though, and Gavedon couldn't shield them: he didn't know how Hadrian was doing this. He didn't know how to stop him.
Hadrian struggled to separate Gavedon's fear and anger from his own thoughts; it was difficult, more so than he wished it would be. The older sorceror's fear fed his own, no matter how he tried to tamp it down; the anger was cracking his ice walls. He was losing his detachment, but his own fury was giving him strength now. Gavedon had been using him again. He was done with being used.
Leave me alone, he hissed, the cold strengthening in his voice. Go away and leave me alone. He severed the rest of the line and went to work on the next last.
By this time, a gale wind was whipping within the broken dolman, driving some of the hapless mages to their knees and making Hadrian's dark clothes and hair lash his body. The Stones themselves were too painfully bright to look at. The young sorceror didn't notice. He was focused inward, where his father was rapidly losing his battle to control him.
Do you WANT to die?! Gavedon bellowed. If his voice had been physical it would have cracked. By all the gods, leave it be or it'll kill you! It'll kill all of us!
That isn't my problem, Father, Hadrian replied coldly. I don't have much incentive to stay alive. You saw to that. Another line cut. One more left.
Oh, I see. You only want revenge. Gavedon's sneer was almost tangible. Pathetic. So utterly petty of you. You never could see the larger scene. Denying me this won't stop me, you whining brat! I'll have this whether you will it or not, and if you die in the process, so be it. You will kill yourself, and it will be worth nothing. You will fail, as you have done all your life.
As you failed with me, Father? Hadrian hissed back.
Gavedon was silent. With the older sorceror's thoughts wide open to him, Hadrian knew he'd hit his mark. Flashes of experienced scorn and indifference, of shame at his son and other things, swarmed through both their minds, every last major or minor instance. Of all the things Gavedon ni Leyanon could be afraid of, it was failure.
Hadrian did not care. This is not revenge, Father. I want nothing to do with you. I only want you to leave. Me. ALONE.
He cut the final thread.
That last strand had been supporting the full weight of both spells: Gavedon's power on one end, the lockspell on the other. Severing it had much the same effect as cutting a bowstring-both ends lashed back. One end slammed into the lockspell, breaking half the seals on it. Only half, though; enough to destabilize the working and create a magical shockwave that destroyed the spell's precious contents and created a very physical tremor. The other end plunged back into Gavedon, knocking him to his knees, ripping through his senses, and searing his connection to Life raw.
Hadrian did not know this. All he could feel was that Gavedon was not in him anymore, he still held Life, and nothing was binding him any longer.
The ropes on him snapped without his having to think about it; he turned indifferent silver eyes to the other sorcerors, most crying or writhing on the ground in the backlash. They were not as powerful as he, it was plain. He couldn't even feel them there; the individual amounts of their magic were like separate raindrops in a flooded river. He forgot they were alive after a moment.
Gavedon was more powerful, but he was bleeding energy as if someone had cut him in half. There would be little left of him soon. The younger sorceror looked at the elder detachedly, almost inquisitively, and Gavedon's body blasted backward with little more than a thought, splintering in awkward angles against the largest Stone.
He didn't rise, and no one looking at his crumpled remains would have expected it of him. Hadrian had managed to kill his father.
Strange. He didn't think much of it, now that it was done. So easy.
Hadrian turned away from the bleeding wound he'd created in the center of the Stones and left.
Manix stiffened, swaying on his horse. His eyes didn't seem to see anything, but they were transfixed anyway. Syellen gripped his sleeve from her own horse, keeping him mounted and calling his name in increasingly frantic tones. "Manix! Manix!"
"Elder." Caled swung his horse alongside Manix's, looking the older man squarely in the eyes. "Manix, damn it, wake up!" The mercenary grabbed his own fistful of Manix's shirt and shook the man hard, ignoring Syellen's protests.
"Hadrian!" Manix came to with a shout, freezing everyone with the name. "It has to be," he panted. "Hadrian and Gavedon. It's happened."
"Speak sense; what's happened to Hadrian?" Lio's one green eye was wide with fear.
"Up ahead," Manix rasped. "No one else has that much power. It's happened. There's only one left now."
Caled had wheeled his horse around as soon as he understood what happened; the others got the gist a few seconds later. "Come on," he ordered. "We have to find Hades."
"It may not be Hadrian, Caled," Gam said quietly, almost tentatively. The look Caled shot him was so full of venom that he sighed and shut up.
"I'm alive," Caled growled. "That means Hades is still here." No further arguments were made. They rode ahead, pushing the horses hard.
Despite all their protests, Manix and Syellen dropped behind, unable to keep the pace. Gam's horse shied and bolted, taking him with it; Lio's caught its leg in a hole and went down, forcing the thief to leap clear. Caled didn't stop.
The stark blackness of a long cloak and silk hair showed shockingly against a brief, bright clearing. Caled automatically sped his horse toward it, nearly vaulting free of the animal in his anxiety. "Hadrian!"
There was a moment before the young man turned, when everything seemed to pause like a predator deciding when to leap. It was enough to make the seasoned mercenary in Caled freeze, even in his worry over his lover. It didn't make sense. He couldn't figure it out.
Hadrian turned, cocking his head to the side. He looked like Hades, but "Are you all right?" Caled asked, his voice wavering despite his best efforts. It wasn't just from the hard ride.
"Perfectly, Caledon." Those serene, metallic eyes held no sign that he noticed Caled's violent recoil. "I am fine."
Caled swallowed. "Gavedon did you "
"He can't hurt me anymore. Nor can you."
"Hurt you?" Caled croaked. "Hades, I don't I wouldn't "
Hadrian just looked at him. The absolute lack of accusation shook the blond more than screams could have. "Hades, I love you." Even to himself he sounded helpless.
Slow blink. "You do, don't you." It was startling, how easily such a bland tone could make Caled's innards wither like burnt garbage. "But you'd still hurt me."
"I wouldn't," Caled insisted, now managing some anger as well as the sharp, metallic fear. "You know I'd never try to hurt you."
"Trying is not doing," Hadrian replied calmly. He appeared to lose interest, began to turn away. Caled couldn't believe it. His Hades, his beloved, expressive Hadrian, had turned into this? He didn't even realize he'd grabbed the younger man until a black-gloved hand gripped his wrist. He looked at those silver eyes, hoping for some fire, some passionate trace of the old Hadrian.
What looked back at him had less humanity than a knife blade. "Do not," the black-haired sorceror said with measured absence of threat, "touch me."
Caled's hand spasmed open without his willing it. It was shaking, not from effort. "Hadrian, don't do this," he rasped. Even as he said it, though, he knew that Hadrian wasn't there. Gavedon may have been dead now, but he'd killed his son before he died. This ni Leyanon was no one Caled recognized.
"Don't do what?" Hadrian's eyelids lowered a dangerous quarter-inch. "Don't defend myself? Don't stop you from doing as you like? Don't ruin your precious, perfect concept of your shy little lover?" He stepped back disdainfully, and something fast and heavy slugged Caled in the gut before he could make any response. It hurled him backwards ten feet, into a tree that groaned with the force of his landing.
"No " It was the only thing Caled could gasp. His breath was gone, and so was Hadrian. Ni Leyanon the sorceror was standing there, staring at him with empty silver eyes.
"Yes," he said simply. "It would be best if you didn't follow me, Caledon. I can hurt you now," he confided. "I can hurt you worse than you can hurt me." A slight smile edged onto the pale face, far too slight for humor. It nearly stopped Caled's heart. He wished it had. "I've never been able to do that before." The soft wonderment on Hadrian's face was chillingly familiar, and all the more terrifying because he knew Hadrian wasn't in there.
The sorceror ni
Leyanon turned and walked away, leaving Caled to cry the name of a dead