I woke up at 6am slightly groggy, but my mind filled with the aroma of sex that lingered from my dream. Outside was a beautiful clear blue sky. I needed to go for a run and clear my head; a habit I had picked up after I left the hospital, which seemed like a long time ago. In actuality it had only been six months.

I paused outside the closed door of the rumpus room. Kevin and I hadn't spoken since we had that strange...argument yesterday, and I felt unsure if I should wake him. Taking a deep breath, I walked on past.

I felt guilty. Why? Because when my warrior returned, I saw in vivid detail what he and Sam had been doing. It had invaded my dreams and I had revelled in the taste, touch and scent of sex.

Smooth olive skin kept sliding into my mind and leaving me breathless with desire. Torrid lips and sensuous hands had me moaning and shuddering. The first time had been full of intensity, bordering on violence. The warrior had bit into Sam's shoulder as he/we was ridden. Yet, it was Sam that had been consumed even though my warrior had taken the submissive role.

I saw through my warriors eyes as Sam was consumed by lust and passion. It empowered him like never before. I was used to Sam being quiet and unassuming, but his drive had given him a charismatic quality that was irresistible.

The first round had only taken the edge off Sam, and round two was a little more leisurely, but only by a small margin. The third had been filled with deep silences and lengthy eye contact. The fourth and fifth had been because it was fun to do it.

Shaking my head, I took deep breathes and waited for my hard on to calm down a little. I bent down and touched my toes as I started warming up for my run. I chuckled quietly as I recalled the reason I had started running in the first place: Kevin, and all the emotional turmoils he had elicited in me. Today, it was Sam and all the desires that were still so vivid in my mind.

I started a slow jogging pace. I hadn't cheated on Kevin. Even he could testify to that statement. But, the warrior was a part of me, and, wasn't `enjoying' the ride that was so close to cheating. I mean, I had revisited those memories more than once. I blushed at the sticky residue left in my boxers as a reminder.

Gaining more speed, my shoes hit the gravel with a fast and steady cadence. Poor Kevin had been given a lot of flack at school. Going from one of the most popular kids to one of the most controversial had left Kevin scarred. Although he never admitted it, and refused to talk about it, I could sense his emotions swirling around him. I refused to invade his mind, but emotions were things that my empathy fed on. I couldn't help but pick up his turmoil.

My frown deepened as I recalled a whispered comment the other day. A teacher had wondered if Kevin had ruined his chances at a scholarship because of all the controversy. It wasn't fair. I snorted at that thought. Life wasn't fair; that kind of belief belonged in fairytales. Nevertheless I was incensed on Kevin's behalf. I was building up a good rant. My pace increased with my ire.

I could feel my stride lengthening and I had to breathe deeply to maintain the rhythm of my body. I looked to my right and was surprised to see a young boy of 8 riding in the passenger side of a car. My mouth dropped as I realised I had kept pace with the car without consciously thinking about it. He had his face pressed against the window watching me keep up with the car that was going 60km/h in a residential area.

I slowed down, knowing that if I stopped suddenly I would topple head over heels. I finally took note of where I was and was surprised all over again. I was halfway across the city. Looking at my watch I realised I had been running for only ten minutes. To my left was the winding road up to Oleander ledge.

Oleander Ledge was an extinct volcano used as a look out point. I felt the incline gradually increase the further up the road I went. This place was also used for auto racing by the local teenagers. Naturally if they got caught, well, they were likely to spend the night in a jail. Too many accidents had happened over the years and most nights the cops cruised past just to keep an eye on the place. Still, it didn't stop the locals from trying to race down these bendy corners when the coast was clear.

The view was spectacular this early in the morning. The air was crisp and clear and everything was in sharp focus. I reached the top and sat on one of the benches that were strategically placed around the car park. My body felt pumped, and I absently wiped the sweat off my forehead.

My shoulders slumped as a realisation came to me. I had to give Kevin space. Something sharp pierced me deep inside at the thought. I loved him and needed him by my side. The taste and touch of him made me shiver, and he had filled my world for so long that he was an integral part of me. But, this wasn't about what I needed. This was about what he needed. That was the crux of the matter.

There was a blinding flash to my right, distracting me from my concerns. I covered my eyes briefly, and when I was able to see better, a Fae stood in front of me. He had finely chiselled features, cold pale eyes, and pure silver hair. He looked down his aristocratic nose at me. An idle thought flashed through my mind. He could pass as an extra on the set of the Lord of the Rings.

I chuckled before the warrior within me warned me to be on my guard. That's when I felt it. The Fae's power of glamour felt very similar to my own empathic talent. Yet, my own power recoiled against his like two vipers hissing and lashing at each other. I could almost feel his glamour trying to convince me that the man standing in front of me was some one to worship; some one that I should be on bended knee and thanking him for gracing me with his presence. He had such an air of charisma it oozed off him.

I didn't like it and the warrior within snarled his agreement. I was not some inferior little servant. This was my realm and he had to realise that I was a Power to deal with. Wrapping my power around me, I stood up and stared back at him. I watched as his eyes narrowed slightly and I detected his posture change, becoming more defensive.

I felt a smile tilt one side of my mouth. I opened myself up to my empathic tree and felt its roots connect, not only to the entire world and all the lives within it, but the universe itself. The Fae gasped, but I had to give him credit. He didn't back away. My power swirled around me, feeling like static against my skin.

"What do you want?" I asked

I watched as the Fae hastily built back up the persona he had tried on me earlier. "The Summer Queen requests your presence immediately."

I sighed. In some ways I was actually grateful that she wanted her boon sooner rather than later. I already had things planned just for this scenario. I connected telepathically with Pounamu informing him about what was happening. Within moments he was standing beside me. In his hands was his Chalice.

"What are you doing?" the Fae asked

I turned and looked at him. "This is none of your concern. It has nothing to do with the boon, and I will respond to your Queen once I have established things here first." There was a firm tone in my voice that brooked no arguments. I could see him wanting to retort, but my eyes turned hard as I stared at him. He swallowed what he was going to say and bowed his head instead. The Warrior within warned me that he had acceded too quickly, so I kept a wary eye upon him.

I didn't want this oddly nosy Fae seeing what we were doing and, before I thought about the repercussions, I wrapped a nether barrier around him. It cut him off from my realm and left him in a void space, between earth and chaos. There was nothing to anchor the senses while stuck in this limbo. This was the power of the nether-barrier. It was the only thing that prevented the denizens of the chaos realms from running rampant in our world.

I hadn't realised that my barrier had that effect on people. When I wrapped it around myself it felt like a warm cloak and the world looked fine to me. I had no sense of vertigo, or that the world had suddenly disappeared into an empty grey area. Apparently, because of my influence, anyone with me never felt any of these side effects either.

It was one of the New Zealand Maori who had first informed me of this phenomenon. I had used it against him earlier this year. It had been a test to decide if I was worthy of having some of their most powerful warriors join me in rescuing Leila from the Chaos realms. The Maori was their leader, Jay. He was what is called a Tohunga Karouwa; a man with the power and knowledge of the ancestors who held that title before him.

I thought back to Sam, and a small flare of guilt flashed through me as I remembered the nether-realm barrier I had placed around him. I hadn't really thought about how he would feel. I just wanted the most expedient way of keeping him quiet. It was an unsettling thought at how...cold hearted I was becoming.

Pounamu held his chalice out to me. Inside was my blood, constantly swirling. This was the connection Pounamu and I shared. With my blood flowing in his chalice, Pounamu and I were able to maintain the nether-barrier against any chaos denizens, including the God of Lies, my cursed ancestor. But today the chalice was going to be used for something entirely different.

We were going to create a doppelganger to take my place here in the real world. He, or it, would also be used against me if the Queen bade me do something that could jeopardise my duties as a guardian, or if I had to do something that could be damaging, indirectly, against my family. We were going to try something to prevent me from being compelled to hurt, but just in case it didn't work, well...

I knew that the Queen of Summer would not have accepted any bargain I had made except the one I had proposed. My precognition had assured me of that. So I had to make plans for the worst-case scenario. I had been slightly peeved that my precog hadn't been able to tell me what I would have to do for the Queen. Her power over her destiny was absolute and my talents were not able to see anything further than my proposition to her. So, if I were forced to turn against the world, my doppelganger had my skills, memories, and power. But there was one more thing he had; he would become me if I were killed.

Pounamu and I had toyed with the idea of using the doppelganger to go in my stead to serve the Summer Queen, but it was too risky. The doppelganger would need a constant supply of empathic power, the kind that drew from the environment and from the spark of life in all living things. Mother Earth had explained to me how my empathic power could draw from such a source. It was actually a mixture of my healing talent combined with empathy. She had informed me that just as my healing could give life, it could also take it. Combine it with my empathic talent to touch the hearts of every thing, including fauna and flora, and I had a powerful Molotov cocktail of energy to draw from.

Within the Fae realms, I could not channel their universal energy or what they used as the spark of life. It was too alien for me to tap into. However, I could draw upon their emotions such as lust or hatred to help fuel my powers, but their emotions felt awfully tame in comparison to humans. With the doppelganger, he would have faded by the time the bargain had been sealed.

Now that the time had come for me to do what the Summer Queen had asked of me, I was a little nervous. There was also the binding contract that was placed upon me. I knew with absolute certainty my doppelganger would not have made it through that. However, we may have a way to break its constraints so that I could complete the boon without being forced to go against my moral or ethical code.

I stared at Pounamu. He had taken great pains to ensure this would work. He actually had to get permission to do what we were about to do from Mother Earth. After all, Pounamu had the talent of being in two places at once; the Chalice and his `human' persona being the perfect example. He was going to use the same skill with me.

I opened my palm and held it out to him. He let go of his Chalice and it hovered in front of us as he gently grasped my hand with his left, and pulled out a sharp knife with his right. I closed my eyes so I couldn't see the blood. Ever since my warrior had taken over in the chaos realms, the sight of blood turned my stomach. I had allowed the chaos that was a part of my blood inherited from my ancestor, the Lord of Lies, to take over and my warrior had thrived on eating his enemies. Blood was one of the triggers that could excite my warrior to a fever pitch. I so didn't want that to happen.

I felt the knife cut into my skin and I had to hold back my healing skill to allow the blood to flow. Pounamu pierced his own skin and melded our bleeding hands together. I peeked through one eye as our bleeding hands were placed over the chalice. I felt something burn on my middle finger and Pounamu held my hand tighter as the burning sensation seared into my skin. I watched as my skin bubbled around my middle finger into the shape of a ring. It burned and I gritted my teeth to keep me from shouting from the pain.

Pounamu closed his eyes and began chanting. A chill raced up my spine as I felt my blood respond to the strange tongue he was using. I felt my warrior stir and I held onto his leash a little more firmly. Goosebumps raced over me as more of my blood, and Pounamu's, dripped into the cup. With each drop of blood, it was as if I could hear whispered pieces of my past slither from my veins into the cup. I gasped as I felt my tree of talents sway in an unseen wind, deep inside me. There was the sound of branches snapping and I shuddered as a superimposed version of my tree ripped away from the original. Thankfully, by this time, the piercing pain had eased around my finger.

I opened my eyes and stared into the same astonished hazel eyes as my own; my doppelganger. Around my middle finger was a ring made of jade. This was my connection to him. The chalice vanished and Pounamu slumped to the ground. Before I could reach him, my doppelganger grabbed hold of him first. He lowered Pounamu to the ground and placed his hands over the prone body. I watched fascinated, as colours swirled beneath his hands and flowed down Pounamu's body. It was strange seeing an identical me using my talents and skills instead of the real me `doing' the healing.

I raised my hand, watching as the cut in my palm healed over. Turning my hand over, I stared at the ring on my finger. I could feel the connection with it as if it was a part of me. Like a piece of my soul resided within this stone. It was a strange sensation. Not a bad one, just different.

Pounamu raised his head and stared at me. My doppelganger moved away as I lowered myself to the ground and held Pounamu while he tried to rise.

"Thank you, dear friend," I whispered.

He smiled wanly at me. What he had offered me was priceless and I knew that I owed him, big time. Staring at the ring on my finger would remind me of what he had sacrificed. Pulling the ring off I felt a sense of great loss but, where I was going, having something like this on my person could mean my doppelganger would be discovered and we couldn't allow our plans to be discovered so easily.

I raised Pounamu's hand and placed my ring on his finger. I stood up and turned away. The urge to go back and take the ring back was intense, but I was supposed to be the master of emotion; I had to control my own urges. I had to! Thinking about Pounamu's sacrifice made it easier to achieve such a thing.

What we had done together was a bastardised version of Pounamu sharing his life essence with his chosen partner. It was the type of bond that not only bound their lives together, but it was also the ritual to create life, to create another Pounamu in the world. He had given up that life altering experience in order to help me. Once the bond was formed it could not be broken; your souls were permanently linked.

But, because I was human, without the same primal blood that flowed through the Maori people, we could not bond the way it was supposed to. Mother Earth had given permission for the ritual to go ahead, and had helped alter the rite to ensure that Pounamu would be able to break the soul bond. But he would always have a scar on his soul because of me. Would he be able to have this experience again when he met his true soul mate? No, and that burned deep inside to know how much he had given up just for me. Before Pounamu left with my doppelganger, he handed me an armband made of pure iron.

I turned back to where I had wrapped a nether barrier around the Fae. Although no one else could see him, I could. He was huddled in on himself and his eyes glowed eerily as he panted heavily. I pulled the barrier away from him, unravelling it. He dropped to the ground, heaving in great breaths of air and clawing the earth as if it was the only steady thing in his universe. My gut instinct told me that I had made a very dangerous enemy but I would rather have that than allow him to know what had just transpired.

He stared up at me. Cold fury radiated from his eyes. I felt my warrior stir within, relaxing my shoulders in preparation for an attack. "You will pay for your insolence," he rumbled.

I stared back at him. I felt the warrior come to the fore. All doubts and fears disappeared as I stared down at the Fae. "I might pay for it, but it won't be by you."

Something flickered in his eyes before his mask of cold fury returned. I had shaken him and he knew that I knew. He gritted his teeth and I felt him pull open a portal into the Fae realm. He raised his hands indicating for me to go first. I could almost see the glee in his face as I walked toward the portal.

I stopped directly in front of him and stared hard at him. "You do know that if I end up in the wrong place within the fairy realms I will inform your Queen that her bargain for safe passage was revoked because of her messenger."

For a face so pale, I was distantly surprised to note how much paler it became when I mentioned the terms and the Queens name to him. Thinking back on our agreement, I smiled. I had worded it so that anytime I needed to travel within the Summer Lands, I had safe passage. In the Queen's greed to have me at her beck and call, she had allowed herself to see the delicious red apple without checking if there were worms.

However, it was not diplomatic to boast about the fact I had one over the queen. She was a power to be reckoned with. Even if she were within my own realms I knew with absolute certainty she would kick my ass. Her power rivalled that of Mother Earth. After all, the two Fae Queens of Summer and Winter were the font of power for their realms. Piss them off at your own peril; I sure as hell would try not to.

I stepped toward the portal and heard the Fae behind me mutter one word. The Portal shifted energies and I strode forth into the unknown.

Sunlight hit me in the face and I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the glare. I looked around and realised that I was in the summer palace. I was on a balcony that overlooked the ancient forests and a crystal clear waterfall to my right. To say it was picturesque was an understatement. But I knew that within those forests lay creatures that could lure you into the leafy shadows and that you would never be seen again. They may be beautiful but they were deadly, and too many fairytales had depicted the Fae as kind creatures. They were no such thing. They were elemental deities and as such were as mercurial as the elements from which they derived their power.

My Fae escort appeared beside me. Two French doors opened behind me, leading into the castle. I stared into the dim room beyond and felt something within me hesitate to move that extra few steps through those doors. The Fae looked at me and turned his head toward the doors as his way of telling me to move my ass. I squared my shoulders and prayed that my pounding heart couldn't be heard as I went over the threshold.

I felt a sense of vertigo as I moved through the doors and felt the familiar sense of a portal being used. I stumbled as I appeared in the centre of a crowd of Fae. I looked down at the marble floor and watched as veins of gold glittered and shone with an inner light. It reminded me of rivers of lava except in a rich golden hue.

The room was eerily silent as I stared up at the dais in front of me. The Summer Queen was petting the head of a young man who looked only about 18, if that. I knew he was human. His emotions shone like a beacon against the pale comparison of the surrounding Fae. There was curiosity and a touch of lust in his face as he stared at me.

The Queen's face looked regal and pure. However, what she wore was a contradiction to that innocent looking face. It was a gossamer piece of clothing that left barely anything to the imagination. Then again, the Fae were nature deities; nudity was not something that they had a problem with. She was the Queen of Light and Illusions so, for all I knew, her clothes were most likely illusions cloaking her flesh.

Over the past month I had been honing a particular skill I had, called scanning. It was the ability to read an opponent's strengths and weaknesses. I could tell what skills they had magically, and even how their emotional, mental, or physical state was. It basically told me about their stats. After all, knowledge was power, and as the old saying goes, `know thy enemy.' Well, this skill helped me get into my enemy's mind without him being any wiser. As usual, my version of scanning was different from those of my family who had this skill before me.

I had scents and colours that helped me interpret the information I was receiving. I didn't know how I knew what each scent represented; it was an intuitive approach and not an exact science, much to my annoyance. However, because I was using physical senses to interpret the information instead of depending on invasive telepathic skills to read the information out of my enemies' heads, I had not come across anyone who had detected me using the talent.

So it was time I used my scanning ability. With my first hit, I regretted it instantly. I had to control my face as the smell of rotting flesh wafted over. No intuitive leap of understanding came with that smell to indicate what type of abilities she had. There were no colours to indicate her state of mind or soul. It was a bottomless well of emptiness. All it told me was that her power was old; old and stagnant. I felt the blood drain from my face as I realised what this meant.

As the Queen, she was the font of all their power. She was their pinnacle and through her the rest of the Summer Fae derived their power. It meant that she, and therefore the glittering throng, was not changing with the seasons. Judging by how potent the rot was, they had not replenished the lands for a very long time. I nearly swallowed audibly because I had a piece of information that could get me killed if I didn't keep my mouth shut about my discovery. After all, if her power was stagnant, it meant the Fae were dying.

My face must have registered that I was thinking hard because Titania stared at me. It was not the Fae way to ask what a person was thinking. However, since I was human I think she was going to ask regardless. "Is there something amiss?" she asked.

"No, I am merely overwhelmed by your presence and those who accompany you," I lied glibly.

Her eyes narrowed, but she refrained from speaking. A look of almost smug satisfaction crossed her face before she stood up. She swayed seductively towards me, and I felt her glamour trying to wrap around me. I shuddered as her full personality washed over me like a tidal wave. Yet I refused to back down and I saw a small frown mar her beautiful face as she came up to me. My legs wanted to buckle and crawl towards her. I dug my nails into the palm of my hands to help distract me.

She stopped and her frown turned to one of anger. "Come here, Guardian!"

"No!" I said through gritted teeth. "I am here to pay my debts, nothing more. If you wanted a slave then you only need look toward the bottom of your dais. I'm sure the human there will be more than happy to satisfy any whim you have."

She stormed towards me. I had to raise my head up to maintain eye contact. She was well over six feet tall. "You're also human, boy."

I felt my warrior stir and I drew on the darkness in my soul that was part of my heritage from the Lord of Lies. "Not entirely."

Before I knew it, I was being slammed onto the marble tiles. She was so fast even my warrior didn't have time to register it. Pain blossomed in my left cheek and I felt blood seep beneath me. She kicked me in the stomach and I felt nausea overwhelm me.

I pushed my healing through me, but it felt awfully sluggish. Nevertheless, the nausea faded as well as the cut below my eye. It took my hearing a little while to make out what she was saying. For the first time, I felt her anger and rage push against me with pure intensity.

I latched onto her emotions and drew from it. She screeched and I felt her emotions treble. I wrapped a telekinetic shield around me and lifted myself off the floor. She gripped her hands and spread them out. Shards of light shot out of her hand. I wasn't sure where all this anger was coming from, but I wasn't going down without a fight. I hardened my shield and gasped as the shards of light came straight through. I flung my hand out attempting to wrap a nether barrier around me. Her shards of light pierced my power and shredded it. But it gave me enough time to avoid her bolts of light.

I looked around and was disconcerted to realise none of the Fae had stepped in to intercept. It meant that whatever this was, the Queen had instigated some kind of ritual battle. She threw bolts of light at me again. This time I was a little more prepared. I gripped her hand telekinetically and twisted as hard as I could. I heard a crack and watched dispassionately as her hand twisted at an unnatural angle.

There were rustles and murmurs from the crowd. But I was too busy trying to keep the queen in my line of sight. She made no response to the pain her hand was obviously causing her. She stared at me, and I saw my death in those eyes. She moved at the speed of light. Even with her emotions running through me to help power up my own gifts. I was no match for her speed. Her bolts of light were going to pierce me sooner or later.

An aura of light surrounded her as I attempted to break her arms and legs. My telekinesis slid across that protective barrier like oil. There was nothing for me to grip, and she gave me a feral smile as she circled me. Her healing wasn't as fast as mine, but I watched as she shifted her hand back into position with an audible crack. I wasn't sure how this had escalated to the point I was at right now, but I had a small measure of comfort knowing that my doppelganger would carry on once I was gone.

The Queen snarled and I watched as light coalesced from her entire body and went racing towards me. It expanded and I knew that this time there was no way I would be able to avoid what was coming. My number was up and I braced for the impact.

 

monkurchakar

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