He fidgeted in his seat, sure that he looked unusual. His black tuxedo stood out like a sore thumb in the gathering where everyone else dressed casually. Though he was normally known for being discreet in both character and clothing, he needed them to take him seriously, especially with what he planned to share. He sucked in a breath and wiped his clammy hands against his pants, in an effort to calm himself.
He needed to appear confident. With the speech he had planned, they would have more than enough reasons to question his sanity, he didn’t need to add another reason to that list. If nothing else, appearing confident would at least give him a look of mental stability. Anything that would lend him credibility was valuable, especially at a time when his words were more than likely to paint him unhinged.
Doing his best to calm himself, he stood. He had already made arrangements with the host of the event. If everything went according to plan, he would be the next one to speak. Sure enough, the speaker called his name. Walking up the stage, he turned toward his family members. Individuals he found were equally familiar as they were foreign.
It was a strange realization. Though, he supposed, with his years long habit of keeping to himself, maintaining his distance, and keeping secrets, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The life that he long shared with them was, in summary, nothing short of a lie. A lie that he planned to shatter today.
Standing before the people that he called his family, he was certain. Today, he was going to reveal the truth, regardless of what they might think and regardless of how they might react. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, a resounding bang rang through the room, and before he could utter a single word, a bumbling figure burst through the crowd. His cousin.
He knitted his eyebrows together and pursed his lips in irritation. His cousin had better have a good explanation for barging in like this. He waited for the man to recollect his breath, knowing very well that if he didn’t, the man would interrupt him regardless. Finally, after a seemingly exaggerated wait, his cousin straightened, and pushed his way onto the stage. He huffed in frustration, as he watched his cousin take his time to turn and tastelessly grinned at the rest of the family.
“I have an important announcement.” His cousin declared over the microphone. “Whatever you all do, don’t take Kyle’s words seriously.”
Really? He glared at his cousin, who seemed totally unaware of his death stare. In just a few words, his cousin probably stole any remaining believability of anything he planned to say. He clenched his fist. The next time they had a gathering like this would be months down the road. He wasn’t sure if he could last that long.
He stared down at the dark veins stretching across his hand. Veins that were invisible to the average person. He would have a few months at most. A successor had to be chosen. He wasn’t familiar with the younger generation in the family. Without sharing his concerns, he couldn’t think of a better way of recruiting an heir to the role. Not that anyone would voluntarily sign up for such duties anyways…
Still, he needed to have them understand the significance of the position and the importance that the line continues. He pressed a hand to his forehead in frustration. If not for this idiot… It looked like he had no alternative but to show them, and search outside of the family if they ended up seeing him as a lunatic.
Straightening, he met eyes with his cousin, who curtly shook his head. The man briefly glanced at the vein-covered hand before catching his eyes again. He took a step back, as he caught intelligence and purpose shining from his cousin’s once dumb eyes. Eyes that warned him against speaking, while silently challenging him to do so. Suddenly, he felt his annoyance and displeasure wash away. He could only nod, before the man returned his attention back to the crowd with an apparently foolish laugh.
It didn’t seem like the rest of the crowd caught their brief exchange. To them, he was still the dumb country boy that didn’t deserve their attention. Though he disagreed with much of his family, up until moments ago, he had shared the sentiment. In all the years that he knew the other man, he’d never once considered the possibility that he was but an actor playing a role. There was no doubt about it. His cousin knew.
He turned his attention to the ground, briefly losing himself in his thoughts before he was interrupted by a sudden hand on his shoulder.
“I’d like to share with everyone that Kyle and I are officially a couple today.” His cousin announced.
He jerked his head up, aghast. Scanning the crowd, they were equally as startled by the statement. However, many quickly recovered.
“Congratulations!” He could hear some shouting.
Now, any considerations toward trying to share the truth, any possibility of ignoring his cousin’s words washed into the drain. He had nothing against relationships, but as a freaking priest in the magical world, romantic relationships couldn’t be further from his mind. With the world sitting over his shoulders and his death looming behind him, he never granted such matters even a passing thought. His cousin had to come up with a better excuse, if he wanted to be convincing. Furthermore, the family would never accept someone in a relationship as the Priest of Ishnara, a position that they so strongly venerated.
There was no way that any of them would believe him now. At least, not unless he convinced them that his cousin was lying, a task that he did not look forward to. Even more so, he wasn’t sure how they would react to such a liberal relationship, especially when maintaining their lineage was important toward ensuring that a suitable candidate to the Priestly role was eventually born. Pressing his hands against his forehead and silently groaning, he looked up.
Much to his surprise, the family was accepting? More than a handful of people offered him smiles of support. Others offered their hands for a congratulatory handshake. He shook his head. This was definitely not the reception that he’d been expecting. With their response, he wondered if he’d been overthinking things. With this much openness, they probably would’ve accepted his claim without question. Furthermore, they might actually grant him more support in his search for a successor than he expected.
He opened his mouth to speak, before being interrupted by his cousin again.
“Kyle is a bit shy about this matter.” The lout declared, earning himself a glare. “If you don’t mind, we’ll be taking our leave for now.”
“No problem! No problem at all! We totally understand!” Shouted a family member that he didn’t recognize, as his cousin dragged him away from the party and took a sharp turn that placed them conveniently behind a wall.
“What were you thinking?” He demanded, keeping his voice only barely above a whisper. “You know how important an heir to the Priesthood is!”
“Of course I do.” His cousin answered. “But you don’t need one yet.”
“I’ve been cursed.” He scoffed, lifting his arm so that the dark veins stretching about his hand were in open sight. “I know you can see them, and you should know exactly what they mean. I have less than a year left… I don’t have much time to teach the craft anymore!”
“With your current abilities. Yes, I’d say that’s true.” His cousin replied, his lips splitting into an eerie grin. “But why do you think I’m here?”
A chill washed over him, and instantly he began to regret his decision to trust his cousin. Although he wasn’t close to most of his family, he hadn’t considered the possibility that any of them would be working against him. But his cousin’s expression made him question whether he’d been wrong to assume. He took a slight step backwards. Although his cousin and the rest of these people were family, he had a limited working understanding of them.
He cursed under his breath, and clutched his wrist as pain swept through it. Gasping, he returned his attention to his cousin. If it came down to it, he could no longer depend on his magic to save him.
“What do you want?” He brought himself to ask.
“What do you think?” His cousin asked, closing in on him.
Before he knew it, the man had him pressed against a wall. He’d never been the best fighter, and his cousin apparently had agility and speed beyond what the man’s frame and build would’ve otherwise suggested. He struggled in the man’s grip, trying to free his wrists. At least with free hands, he’d have a chance of turning the tables, however slim that chance was. However, his cousin evidently had superhuman strength as well.
A second glance told him that there was magic behind the man’s physical prowess. So it turns out that the other man was far more than he initially let on. Though candidates to the Priesthood often came from his family, the actual number of those that could wield magic without any adverse consequences were rather limited. By the looks of it, his cousin was one of them.
There was no way he’d be able to escape without the aid of magic. Worse, from the challenging gleam in his cousin’s eye, he could see that the man knew it too. Out of desperation, he tried to summon the earlier spell again. Immediately, a burning pain tore through his arm, robbing him of his much needed strength.
“Looks like someone’s going on Santa’s naughty list this year.” His cousin sneered.
“So, you wanted to be the successor?” He asked between breaths, ignoring the comment and reining in his defiance. With his current condition, he had no choice but to admit that his options were severely limited.
“I see someone’s getting smarter.” His cousin whispered into his ear.
“Fine.” He said in a ragged voice. “I’ll take you as my successor.”
Given a choice, he wouldn’t have chosen his cousin. Though the man’s ability to sustain a spell for such a long duration certainly impressed him, the man’s questionable moral compass made him a less than ideal candidate. However, his cousin’s magical endurance, a critical trait necessary to fulfill the duties demanded by the Priestly role, was undeniable. He’d never met anyone, without formal training, capable of lasting so long without external support. Furthermore, he couldn’t deny that he was in desperate need of a talented student. For the world’s sake, the priestly seat could not afford to be vacated.
“But that’s hardly enough.” His cousin whispered by his ear with a mocking laughter seeping into his words. “You can hardly expect me to be satisfied with so little.”
“Then what exactly do you want?” He breathed, seething at the other man’s audacity. He already offered the most coveted position within the family. With such a role, the man could easily rise in the ranks and gain anything else that he wanted with time. Furthermore, his cousin was currently nothing but a bumbling country lad. Nothing good could come to such a man from overstepping his place, especially when the act of becoming the priest alone could place so many hungry eyes on him already. It was the reason for his own personal choice to remain incognito for all these years. Footsteps that he couldn’t see the other man following.
“Why don’t you take a guess?” His cousin answered, seemingly pleased by the conversation’s trajectory.
“I’m not playing any of your games.” He responded, before flinching as his cousin blew a breath of air into his ear.
“Oh? That’s too bad.” His cousin answered, leaning into him. “Because you already are.”
Feeling feverish, he didn’t respond. In a better state, he would’ve punished his cousin for such transgression. However, with the curse rapidly draining away the remainder of his energy, his only priority was ensuring the continuation of the Priesthood. He had to last long enough to pass down his knowledge and skills. Even if it was to this greedy and arrogant cousin.
He felt himself slipping. The earlier attempt at magic accelerated the curse’s effects on him far more than he anticipated. In effort to regain stability, he turned his attention inward. Before he did anything, his concentration was interrupted by a warmth pressed against his lips. A sense of rage coursed through him. Didn’t his cousin realize that there was nothing to gain from disturbing him?
He opened his eyes, stunned by what he saw. His cousin was kissing him? Instinctively, he pushed the other man away. Wait. He lifted his hand into view. His arm regained strength. Furthermore, if he wasn’t wrong, the curse seemed weaker?
“What did you do?” He asked. Even with all his experience and while using his abilities under the benefit of full concentration, he couldn’t get the curse under control so quickly, not to mention reduce its strength.
“I’ll tell you if you thank me.” His cousin answered with a grin.
“Thank you.” He said, remembering his manners. Successor or not, his cousin had just done him an invaluable favor, an immeasurable contribution to the Priesthood and to the overall survival of the world.
“You’re welcome. I was only claiming what you owed me.” His cousin replied with a smile.
An answer that was as much an answer as it wasn’t. He smiled. Another skill that would come in handy as the Priest. If the other man didn’t want to share, he didn’t have a reason to push him.
“If you can promise me that you will only use the Priest role to help the people, and that you will remain diligent in fulfilling the duties required of the role, I’ll satisfy a single request in addition to taking you as my disciple.” He declared. A single request as reward for his cousin’s contribution, intentional or otherwise, wasn’t too much. Furthermore, if a single request could keep his cousin bound to the morally good and hold the man accountable to his future roles as a Priest, it was a worthy exchange. “I’m going to enunciate, in advance, that your request must be within the realm of possibility and within my power to fulfill, it must not lead to direct or indirect harm of any sort, and it cannot violate the rules or affect the duties associated with the Priesthood.”
His cousin grinned, a smile that somehow made him uncomfortable. Ignoring the chill that ran down his back, he met the man’s gaze and crossed his hands over his heart, a traditional gesture that both limited his access to spells and demonstrated his sincerity.
“In that case…” His cousin began, widening his grin. “You’re mine.”
“What?” He asked, straightening in confusion.
“My declaration before the family wasn’t entirely a ruse.” The man answered. “I have the ability to suppress your curse, and probably cure it in the long-term, but in return, I’d like a deeper relationship than one of a predecessor and successor, one deeper than a teacher and a student.”
“I’m a Priest.” He said, cutting his cousin off. “Romantic relationships are beyond me.”
“Oh I never said anything about romance.” His cousin answered with a grin. “I’d like to be your soul mate.”
“How’s that any…” He began, before being cut off by the other man suddenly rushing at him and firmly planting a forehead against his.
Unfamiliar memories flooded his mind, before he realized that they belonged to his cousin. Image after image passed by. As he suspected from the man’s previous actions, his cousin wasn’t a bumpkin. Furthermore, he was a man that was specifically trained by one of the few pockets of the family that knew of his identity. A man of the sword. A protector. One that blended into the shadows and secretly played their role. How could that be? That line had a tendency of weak magic… but the abilities that he witnessed from the man earlier…
The images transitioned from the man’s past with his family to a scene where he was alone. Facing off a group of enemies, his sword burst alight. Shock, fear, and elation. The emotions the man experienced at that moment. The first time he accessed magic.
This is what I mean. A thought echoed into his mind, capturing his attention and taking his mind off the memories. His cousin. Then just as quickly, he found himself back in reality.
“What was that?” He asked.
“I’m here to help you, and I hope that you can trust me.” His cousin replied. “An actual link would permanently bind the two of us together. Our memories and thoughts would be shared. This should fall within the limitations of your terms.”
“Very well.” He agreed. This may help with his efforts to teach his cousin the skills necessary for Priesthood. Besides, there wasn’t much to share anyways. Not with the time he had left. “We can form such a bond.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt lips press against his. The memories from earlier returned to him, joined by a random collection of thoughts and feelings. Even while they were still fragmented, he suddenly knew the other man more than he knew anyone else besides himself. Suddenly, he couldn’t think of a more suitable successor.
“You can take a look at your hand now.” His cousin said as they pulled apart.
Apparent knowledge came to him then. Knowledge that didn’t belong to him, and felt as vague as random suspicions that entered his mind. Knowledge that he doubted. Still, he looked down. The veins were gone. He turned his attention inward, the curse was gone. A bout of laughter rumbled in his mind, before he found himself staring at a laughing cousin.
“I needed to form a soul mate bond, before I could fully purge the curse.” His cousin explained, confirming the knowledge that previously entered his head, out loud. “You have many years to come and many potential successors to take on, but you’ll only ever have one soul mate.”
“And one direct successor.” He said, eliciting a look of surprise on his cousin’s face. So, the man couldn’t reliably read all of his thoughts yet either. “Long life to not, you’ll be my only direct successor.”
He smiled. This was more than he could ask for. A satisfactory successor. Unlimited time to teach him. A possibility of working together. His gaze caught the other man’s eyes. He had a bright future ahead of him, and he couldn’t wait to see it play out.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Storyteller’s Vault” Publication.
You’ve decided to come out at a family dinner this week, but to your surprise, you’re not the only one coming out.