Clouded Purity

by Cynus

Chapter 18

"No!" Prism pushed Gha yle away from him and screamed in her face, his eyes filled with wrath and anguish. "How many times must you make me watch him in pain?"

"You already know the outcome. Why does this affect you so much?" Ghayle asked.

"All the pain changed him," Prism said. "He lost himself in the wake of his father's death. He lost himself when he tried to end his own life. He lost himself when Khalis stole part of him."

"That is part of life," Ghayle said. "We kill and die every day, to do less is stagnant existence, not life. Life requires struggle. Life requires death and pain."

"Khalis promised Grim a better world. I didn't know those words, but clearly he lied, he injured Grim for his own designs, because of your failings!" Prism roared.

"My failings?" Ghayle asked calmly.

"Yours," Prism confirmed. "Are you not the guardian of this world? Was it not your responsibility to protect us? To guide us so this never happened?"

"Should I intercede on behalf of the fly caught in the spider's web?" Ghayle asked. Prism stared at her incredulously, and she continued. "On an island in the Carbras sea, a tree drops sticky spines to the ground. The Kippu bird lives in its branches, but occasionally they venture to the ground for food. The spines stick to its feathers, and if the bird attracts too many, the spines keep it from flying, and it starves on the forest floor, then its body nourishes the tree."

"So what?"

"I have no more right to destroy the tree than the bird, no more right to kill the spider than the fly. Life consumes life. And what happens when life grows out of hand, uncontrolled? What happens when the predator consumes all its prey, or destroys its habitat?" Ghayle asked.

"I don't know."

"It dies, crushed under the weight of its own existence. When the system is thrown out of balance, the system fights back to restore itself. My duty is to the cycle of life, Prism. I could only encourage the peoples of the world to respect that cycle, I couldn't stop them from abusing and breaking it. They threatened to destroy the system that kept them alive, and so I preserved that system, lest all perish," Ghayle said. "The demons may be the spiders, but they are no less a part of the system than the fly."

"So you justify our deaths by claiming we were lower on the food chain?" Prism asked.

"Yes," Ghayle said without a trace of shame. "I serve the world, not its people. I serve that which gave birth to us all. Do you believe that you, or Grim, or anyone else is better than the world? The demons came, by will of the world; they are the world's immune system, come to destroy the illness that threatens the body."

"Grim would've never destroyed the world," Prism said. "Why did he suffer?"

"He offered hope. Hope was necessary to satisfy Naxthul's will."

"That's all the answer you need, isn't it?" Prism spat. "You served the will of your precious demons."

"I do not have to justify myself to you. You do not have my perspective. You did not see what I saw," Ghayle replied. "The purpose of the demons is twofold, Prism."

"To destroy us and to . . ." Prism said. "What? Taunt us?"

Ghayle shook her head and replied, "To show you what you could be. To show you what survival means. You cannot learn the weight of life without experiencing the threat of death. Grim learned it from his experience. Didn't you?"

Prism stepped out into the temple grounds again, heading toward the eastern side where the food stores were distributed. He encountered Master Vinh shortly after leaving the building, and the Master fell into step beside him.

"How's he doing?" Master Vinh asked after a moment.

"Not great, but I think he's improving," Prism replied. "I think if I can get him to eat, he'll do better. He hasn't slept in two days, and he hasn't eaten in at least as long, so he's got to be running low on energy."

"Shame," Master Vinh said. "There's some bread and dried meat in the training grounds. I'd check there."

"Thanks, Master Vinh."

"Of course."

He took only a few steps before tremendous fear and awe washed over him. Glancing upward, he tried to sense what had triggered Grim's change in attitude.

"Prism, is everything all right?" Master Vinh asked.

Even as the question left Master Vinh's mouth, Grim's fear magnified tenfold, and Prism clutched at his throat as if he were suffocating. The initial sensory overload left him, and he pushed past Master Vinh and back into the Temple without a word.

He collapsed on the stairs as an immense pain struck his groin, overwhelming him for a moment before he recovered enough to regain his balance. He reached Grim's room between intermittent sprints and staggers, fighting wave after wave of pain from Grim.

Khalis retracted his tentacles as Prism entered the room, alarmed at the interruption of his organ harvest. Grim screamed in pain as the tentacle left his mouth, a hoarse and dying sound which struck Prism to his core. Blood spilled out from between his legs, as Grim's already depleted energy stores attempted to fix the wound.

"Get away from him!" Prism shouted, charging Khalis and tackling him to the ground. Khalis proved far too slippery to be caught so easily, and he slithered from Prism's grasp like a snake escaping through a crack in the wall.

Prism's movements managed to place him between Khalis and the window, however, and he intended to do everything he could to keep this strange, winged creature inside the room until reinforcements could arrive. Someone must've heard him shout, and Master Vinh had witnessed Prism's sprint.

Khalis' morphic hands shifted in Prism's view, sharp claws protruding from each finger. His wings shifted as well, giving him extra mass to manipulate into four more arms, two additional on either side, each tipped with the same vicious claws.

"What are you?" Prism asked, his eyes widening with horror. Khalis offered no explanation, no justification for maiming Grim or for his monstrous appearance. Instead he simply pounced on Prism, clawed hands aimed to rake Prism's flesh.

Prism fell backward but planted his foot on Khalis' chest and kicked him toward the far wall. Two of Khalis' claws found purchase in Prism's flesh and cut deep furrows into his calf and shin. The wounds burned with more than simple pain, a virulent poison transferring from the claws to Prism's blood.

The nanites closed the wound, but the burning remained. Prism rose to his feet, his wounded leg leading as he delivered a spin kick to Khalis' face. The blow hardly seemed to phase the demon at all, and only served to displace it. Prism followed the blow with another kick, then a quick succession of blows to Khalis' face, but again, the damage seemed superficial at best.

Khalis showed Prism how little he cared about the strength of Prism's attacks, stopping Prism in mid-swing by striking forward with all six hands, punching him with fists as strong as horse's hooves. The force of the blows threw Prism backward, where he collided with the lantern hanging beside the door.

The lantern fell from its hook, the glass cracking from the blow and leaking oil across the floor next to Prism. He rolled away as the flames ignited, groaning at his broken ribs and bruised abdomen as he struggled to his feet. Fire spread out from the lantern, catching on the old wood of the temple.

Khalis strode forward, intending to finish Prism off. He stepped into the flames and recoiled, wailing sharply as his leg ignited. As Khalis attempted to stamp out the fire, Prism strode forward, taking the opportunity to kill the beast before him.

"You don't like fire, do you?" he taunted. "I'll burn you to death!"

He moved to tackle Khalis again, intending to roll them both into the flames when Khalis transformed into a giant serpent. His body wrapped around Prism's legs, constricted, and pulled Prism off his feet. Prism slammed hard against the wooden floor, expecting Khalis to continue his strange attack.

Instead, the demon transformed again, releasing Prism as he became a giant eagle. He hopped through the window and disappearing into the night before Prism could even rise to his feet.

Giving up on the demon, Prism rushed to Grim's side. "Grim!" he shouted as he surveyed the damage. The wound had yet to close, Grim's energy stores too drained to allow him to fix the damage. Grim's genitalia remained mutilated, a mess of blood and tissue.

"Prism, I'm dying, I . . ." Grim reached for Prism, and Prism took his hand without hesitation. Fear, pain, and desperation flooded Prism through their physical and mystical link, reverberating and increasing through them.

He felt a question in Grim, the Fedain's instincts seeking for energy wherever they could find it. "Take whatever you need from me. I'm here," Prism said, clutching Grim's hand. "I'm not going anywhere. Please, Grim. Hang on until someone can get here to heal you!"

"I can feel you . . ." Grim said through gritted teeth. "I need your energy."

"All that I have is yours," Prism replied.

And Grim succumbed to his survival instinct, reaching deep inside Prism for the lifeforce that powered his body. Grim opened his own cells, letting them fill with the energy from his physical link to Prism's skin. Prism's body convulsed as Grim fed, until finally Grim had taken enough to heal and restore his mutilated body.

The energy drain took its toll on Prism, and he collapsed over Grim's naked body, losing consciousness.

Grim was lost in a sea of pain until Prism gripped his hand. He hadn't meant to cause Prism harm and didn't immediately realize he'd done so. Before he'd collected his senses, someone ran into the room, shouting. It took Grim a moment to recognize Sharis.

"Fire! Come quick! Someone! There's fire in the temple!"

More footsteps headed toward them, others who'd already heard the screaming and the sounds of struggle. Sharis occupied the room next door, and had arrived first. After raising the alarm about the fire, he turned to Grim and gasped in horror.

"Lord Grim! What has happened, what are you doing?" Two monks rushed in and smothering the flames with their robes. Another one came in, and Sharis caught his arm, pointing at Prism and saying, "Take this man away for assaulting the noble personage."

The scene unfolded while Grim was too stunned to fully comprehend what was happening. Two strong men pulled Prism away from him as several others joined the first monks in smothering the flames. They'd nearly contained the fire by the time Grim finally had the presence of mind to question the situation. "What is happening, Sharis? Where's Prism?"

"We took him away. I believe he tried to hurt you," Sharis said.

"Sharis you fool!" Grim screamed. "He saved me!"

"Prism was an abomination, Lord Grim. Don't worry, no human will corrupt you ever again," Sharis replied. "I'll ensure Prism atones for his crimes against you."

He turned on his heel and left, leaving Grim to sort out his nakedness and his weakness alone. His leg burned as fiercely as his penis had minutes before. He inspected his skin and detected no source for the strange ailment.

The longer he searched for it, the duller it became, as if it was moving away from him. Prism. Poison spread through Prism's blood, and the nanites weren't enough to heal it. He had to reach Prism and—and what? He had almost no energy left, and what little he did have, he stole from Prism in the first place.

The answer came to him on frantic feet as another person entered the room. Veil rushed in and immediately embraced him, crushing him against her with no regard to his present nakedness. "Oh god, Sharis told me what happened. Prism attacked you!?"

"No, no!" Grim said quickly. "That isn't true at all! I was attacked by a monster, Veil! Prism saved me. Please, you have to go stop them before they do something to him."

Veil could sense his emotion through their skin to skin contact, and Grim knew she could feel the truth of his words. She pulled away, but Grim held onto her a moment longer and said, "he's been poisoned. His leg. Please, heal him?"

Veil nodded and tore away from Grim without another word, chasing down the men who held Prism. Grim searched for his clothing and dressed, moving past the monks trying to enter the room to inspect the damage.

He followed his link with Prism, trying to reach him before Sharis' threat caused any more problems. His exhaustion and hunger kept him from doing more than stagger, and the distance between them only continued to widen. The pain in his leg dulled and disappeared, whether from the distance or Veil reaching Prism.

Before he made it much farther, Veil returned, catching him just before he collapsed in the corridor. She called to someone for water and food, as Grim slipped in and out of consciousness.

When he awoke, he lay in another bedroll, Veil sitting by his side and mopping his brow. As his eyes fluttered open, she smiled and offered him a drink of water. He took it eagerly, glad to have something wetting his throat at last.

"Prism?" he asked after a moment.

"He's safe, for now," Veil said. "But I don't know if it will end well. Sharis told the Masters, and anyone who would listen, exactly what he saw. Since that amounts to Prism over your naked body and a fire burning in your room, many different conclusions have already been drawn. Most are not favorable."

"Nothing happened between us," Grim said. "Not what they think, anyway. The one at fault here is the Sendar."

"Sendar?" Veil asked. "What's a . . . oh, you mean the race you're always talking about from your history books? Are you sure you didn't imagine things? You were feverish when I came to you."

"I'm sure," Grim protested. "It came in through the window and attacked me. It . . . it took my testicles."

"What!?" Veil asked. "You had them when I saw you."

"I healed myself," Grim said. "But he definitely took them. That's what the screaming was about."

"According to Master Vinhkroludar, Prism ran inside before you started screaming. Are you sure you didn't hallucinate, and he really did try to harm you?" Veil asked.

Grim gave her a dark look. "Of course I'm sure. Didn't you see the blood on my sheets?"

Veil considered the point with a thoughtful frown. "Yes, but that could've come from Prism's injured leg, too, couldn't it?"

"You felt the poison, didn't you?" Grim asked. "Where did that come from?"

"That was an interesting poison, true," Veil said. "It's one of the most difficult things I've ever had to heal. I'm surprised the nanites didn't work, but I think it's because the poison stays in the bloodstream and continues to attack nearby cells. I had to guide it out like I would small pieces of shrapnel."

"Have you ever seen anything like it?" Grim asked. "How did he get poisoned?"

"Maybe it happened beforehand? Maybe that's what made him go crazy in the first place?" Veil suggested.

Grim growled and sat up straight, glaring. "Why won't you believe me?"

Veil sighed and took his hand. "When I touched you earlier, I felt your belief in the words you said, but I also detected deceit, guilt, anger, and violence associated with Prism. He did something to you. He must've hurt you in some way."

"Close the door," Grim said, the color draining from his cheeks. Veil looked at him strangely, but Grim insisted, "Close the door, Veil. I need to tell you something."

Veil shrugged and rose, walking to the door and making sure to shut it completely before returning to his side. "What happened? The truth this time. All of it."

Grim hesitated, his eyes welling with tears as reality sank in. "I hurt Prism, not the other way around. I committed violence against him. The violence, guilt, and deceit were all mine."

"What?" Veil hissed. "You're telling me you broke your sacred Fedain trust and hurt another being?"

Grim nodded, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I didn't mean to. It just happened. Prism came to me after the Sendar got me, and I grabbed his arm and took energy from him to heal my wounds. Prism was on top of me because I almost killed him."

Veil shuddered at Grim's declaration, staring at him as if a monster had replaced her brother. "How could you, Grim!? What would Father say? What would Mother say? You've broken the one rule all Fedain must always obey, or we'll lose the trust of the people. How am I supposed to look at you the same? How do you expect me to handle this?"

Grim sobbed, the full weight of his actions on his shoulders. "I'm so sorry, Veil. I couldn't help it. I had to . . . it was the only way I could live, and he offered his energy to me, so I took it. I took almost all of it."

"Maybe Sharis is right, and Prism is an abomination who corrupted you," Veil spat. "You let his violent ways influence your decisions. He should pay for his crimes."

"He should not pay for mine, Veil," Grim said, grasping his sister's arm. "Please, don't act on vengeance for me. This was my failing, I did this. I'm the one who sacrificed my own purity for a chance at life."

"I don't even know you, anymore," Veil said. "I could forgive you of anything else, of loving a human, of acting beneath your station, but this? Father would be ashamed of you."

She tore her arm from his grasp and left him sobbing. He would never be the same again, and he'd now lost everyone he cared about, Veil to tradition and Prism to the prejudice of culture. What path was left to him now?

Grim waited until Prism regained consciousness before seeking him out again. He'd forced himself to eat a small portion of food, but it only energized him slightly. He doubted he'd feel better until Prism was free and he had some certainty about the future.

He descended to the Temple cellar, where a single monk stood guard before a storeroom door. Before Grim could even ask the question, the monk stepped in his way and said, "You can't see him, Lord Grimfaeth."

"Why not?"

"By order of the Masters, he is not to be seen before the trial by anyone who may be called as witness," the monk explained.

"Trial?" Grim asked. "What for?"

"He's to be tried for breaking his oaths, and for violating human laws of propriety," the monk replied.

Grim uttered a guttural growl. "He's not guilty."

"That is not my call, Lord Grimfaeth," the monk replied. "My duty is to prevent potential witnesses from influencing the testimony of other witnesses."

The door behind the monk opened, and Kaeral stepped through, closing it quietly behind him. He met Grim's eyes, his own widening in surprise. "Grim! What are you doing here?"

"I'm trying to see Prism, but he won't let me," Grim said, pointing at the monk.

Kaeral turned to the monk and said, "I'll take him from here." He stepped past the monk and wrapped his arm around Grim's shoulders, guiding him back toward the stairs. "Come on, let's go get something to eat. You look terrible."

"I can't leave yet," Grim protested. "I need to see him!"

"Well, he's not going to let you through, so . . ." Kaeral glanced at the monk, then returned his gaze to Grim. "Unless you're going to try and force your way past, I'm afraid you're out of luck."

Grim hung his head in defeat and let Kaeral lead him from the cellar and out into the training grounds. The people outside avoided the unusual pair of Gor and Fedain. "What am I supposed to do, Kaeral?" Grim whispered, not wanting the few people remaining to hear him. "How are we going to save him?"

Kaeral grimaced at that question. "He will face the Masters. He refuses to escape. Believe me, I asked."

"Why? If he stays, they'll kill him! They already believe he's guilty. My own sister believes I'm lying about what actually happened," Grim said.

"Does it help that I believe you?"

"You don't even know my story."

"I know Prism's side of it, and I'm sure you'll corroborate it," Kaeral said. "You were attacked by a demon of some sort."

"He called himself Khalis," Grim said.

Kaeral's eyes widened. "He spoke to you? Prism didn't say he could speak."

"Yes, he said some strange things, too," Grim said. "Right before he . . ." he trailed off with a shudder, unable to talk about what happened to him.

"He hit you where it hurts," Kaeral said, nodding in understanding. "Prism didn't want to say anything, either. Don't worry, I've no intention of making you relive it."

"Why are you so nice to me?" Grim asked.

"Prism was one of few bright spots during a trying time of my life, so any friends of his are friends of mine. Plus, my wife likes you. You're the only Fedain she likes, actually," Kaeral replied.

"Your wife? Do I get to meet her? Prism never mentioned you were married," Grim said.

"She died," Kaeral said with a sad smile. "But she always spoke fondly of you and your father. She doesn't care as much for your sister, though Veil's still better than most."

Grim winced at the mention of Veil's name. "My sister and I no longer see the world the same way."

"Did something happen?"

"She . . ." Grim started but quickly bit his tongue. Publicly talking about what happened would only jeopardize his position even more. He shook his head and added, "No, it's nothing."

"Doesn't sound like it," Kaeral said, resuming his guiding arm around Grim's shoulders and pulling him close. "Come on, let's get you some food. We're going to talk about what happened, and you're going to tell me everything."

"I am?" Grim said, stepping out from under Kaeral's half-embrace. "No offense, Kaeral, but I don't know you."

"Nonsense," Kaeral said, grinning. "Listen, Grim, Prism might not be able to touch you, you and your sister might have some difference of opinion, and you may be getting dirty looks from every human watching us, but think for a moment . . . how many of those eyes are looking at me instead? Do you think your sister and I would agree on anything? Do you think I miss the hugs I used to get from my best friend? You know me, because I'm you. Now, how about we skip the whole 'you're a Gor so you can't possibly understand my nobleman Fedain problems' and we go talk to each other? Pleasantries are for simple people, but I know you, you're a rogue just like me. All the best people are."

"I've never thought of myself that way," Grim said.

"Then we've already made progress," Kaeral said, clapping Grim on the bicep and squeezing affectionately. "Once we get some food, we'll go to your room and you can tell me all about it."

Kaeral's easygoing manner was enough for Grim to at least welcome his company. Grim had no one to talk to, without Prism and Veil in his life, and he would take this opportunity to meet with Kaeral, just to avoid being alone.

They gathered some food from the monks—a simple beef stew with crusty bread—and headed back inside the Temple to Grim's new chamber. As they passed by Grim's former room, Kaeral's ears twitched as if he sensed something, but the Gor made no comment.

"Let's talk about Prism first," Kaeral said after they both ravenously finished their respective bowls of food. "He says he's planning on telling the Masters everything, because of something you said. You told him his integrity is what is keeping you alive?"

"It is," Grim said. "He always keeps his word. He promised me we'd be together, that there's hope for the future. Holding onto that is what's keeping me going."

"He doesn't, you know," Kaeral replied. "Keep his word, I mean. He does his best, but there's a difference."

"What do you mean?"

"Can you honestly tell me that becoming your familiar, and making you his, is in the spirit of the fourth oath?" Kaeral asked. "Or did he find some way to rationalize it just to make you happy?"

"Blood . . ." Grim leaned his head against the wall, exhaling slowly as he processed the implications of that question. "You're right."

"And you wanted to believe it, so you let him go along with it," Kaeral said. He caught the alarm in Grim's eyes and hastened to add, "Oh, I'm not trying to accuse you of wrongdoing, I'm just helping you find perspective."

"So, maybe there really is no hope then?" Grim asked.

"Ridiculous, of course there is." Kaeral laughed. "You believed in his integrity even when he failed. That's the point, you idiot."


"Prism loves you, and he sacrificed himself for you time and time again. You can trust that there's hope for the future, because inevitably, he'll fight for you; he'll choose you every time," Kaeral explained. "It's not his integrity which makes you trust him, it's his love for you."

Grim nodded, recognizing the logic behind those words. "And now he's going to admit to everything because of his integrity, because I told him his integrity was the most important thing."

"No. He's doing that because he loves you, too." Kaeral shook his head and whistled. "Man, you could've benefitted more from the time you spent here, you're so bad at perception, it's scary."

"The insults are great, Kaeral," Grim said dryly.

Kaeral grinned as if Grim had just paid him the greatest compliment he'd ever received. "I'm told it's a gift."

To Grim's surprise, he smiled back. "Enlighten me then, what am I missing?"

"He'll confess to everything which occurred between you, because he'll try to protect you. That's the oath which matters to him most. The one he made to your father," Kaeral explained.

"What oath?" Grim asked, eyes narrowing.

"You don't know?"


"He promised your father he would protect you, even to the sacrifice of his own life," Kaeral said.

Grim covered his mouth with both hands, sinking dread washing over him. "Oh no, he's going to get himself killed!"

"I don't think so. It's possible, but Prism is too lucky for that to happen. Besides, if anyone tries to execute him, we'll just have to rescue him, regardless of any protests he makes," Kaeral said.

"I'll hold you to that."

"It's what friends do," Kaeral replied, nodding in acknowledgement of Grim's words. "It's what family should do, too. So, what's happening with you and your sister?"

"I . . ." Grim started, but his guilt returned full force. He buried his face in his hands and refused to meet Kaeral's gaze. What he'd done to Prism was enough to make him want to hide in a corner and never come out.

Kaeral moved from his position across the room and sat beside Grim, putting a hand on Grim's arm. "Come on, it's just you and me, Grim. Whatever it is, I'm not going to tell anyone. I won't even tell Prism if you ask me not to."

Frightened tears filled Grim's eyes. "Don't. I don't want him to worry."

"Okay. I won't," Kaeral promised. "What happened?"

"I . . . hurt Prism," Grim said. "The reason he was unconscious was because I stole his energy. I didn't even know our energy transference could work in reverse, but I stole his energy to heal myself."

"When you lost your equipment?" Kaeral asked, pointing at his crotch. "Were you able to repair all the damage?"

Grim sighed and nodded. "You don't like to beat around the bush, do you?"

"Nope. Straightforward with my friends," Kaeral replied. "Misleading is for enemies."

"We're friends?" Grim asked.

"Yes, moron," Kaeral said, bumping his shoulder against Grim playfully. Grim still appeared unconvinced, so Kaeral changed positions and wrapped both arms around Grim, hugging him in a tight embrace. "Of course we are."

"I have never been hugged by a Gor before . . ." Grim said, returning the warm embrace. "I expected it to be a bit more aggressive."

"You're a little racist after all, aren't you?" Kaeral said, laughing as he continued to rock Grim in his arms. "Well, I've never been friends with a Fedain before. I expected you to be a bit stuffier."

"Fair point. Sorry for . . ." Grim sighed and said, "I always thought I was good at treating people with respect."

"You are, but we all have prejudices we need to overcome," Kaeral said, pulling out of the embrace at last. He wiped a tear from Grim's cheek.

Grim laughed at how natural the gesture seemed. Kaeral was trustworthy after all. "Speaking of that . . . as you know, Fedain aren't supposed to hurt people."

"True. People aren't supposed to hurt other people," Kaeral said.

Believing Kaeral had misheard him, Grim made his statement more specific. "No, I mean Fedain are culturally bound by pacifism."

"Only in their heads," Kaeral said, shrugging. "Humans aren't supposed to hurt other humans, either. Their laws are just different in severity. In Fedain culture, you've committed an offense worthy of exile and complete loss of rank and status. In human culture, what you did would probably earn you a fine or a short-term imprisonment if the harm was unwilling, and we both know Prism willingly gave you his energy. The consequences are different, even if the rule is the same. 'Don't hurt people or we'll hurt you', that's how the law works."

Grim eyed Kaeral skeptically. "I'm not sure I can take advice from a man who killed someone without remorse the second time I ever saw him."

"You mean when I saved you, your sister, and Prism from a guy who planned to kill you?" Kaeral scoffed.

"Saving a life is no reason to take a life," Grim replied, quoting the dogma Sharis and other priests had taught him his whole life.

"Except when protecting a Fedain?" Kaeral asked, rolling his eyes.

"No, even then! I've always hated having people protect me. I used to ditch my escorts all the time," Grim protested. "I know the problems in our country came from enlisting human soldiers to do our dirty work."

"Well, I agree with you there," Kaeral replied, chuckling dryly. "But if you think you've made it through life without causing harm, you're a bigger idiot than I thought. Every action you've ever taken had a chance of hurting someone, even by accident. You brought Prism to the palace, and he told me yesterday that he had to kill someone to rescue your sister. That's just one example. I could give you a thousand more. Do you eat meat? Have you ever thanked the military for protecting you? Did you pray for the soldiers attempting to murder you to lose to the ones protecting you?"

"I suppose I did," Grim said. "But none of those are the same as me causing the harm myself."

"That's your Fedain culture talking," Kaeral replied with a wry smile. "You and your sister are a product of it. You harmed Prism to save a life—yours in this case—and Prism knew and willingly offered himself to that." He placed his hand on Grim's arm again, gently squeezing it for encouragement. "We define our own purpose in life, but all of us have the right to fight for our existence."

Grim snorted. "That's your Gor culture talking."

"Maybe so," Kaeral said, chuckling, "but Prism defended you out of love, he offered himself to you out of love, and he continues to fight for you out of love. Maybe it's wrong to harm another no matter what, but if there's even one good reason, it's that one." He squeezed Grim's arm one more time before letting go. "And, as a friend, I think it's only fair to tell you that I'd kill anyone who tried to harm you, too."

Grim met Kaeral's determined eyes and ventured one more question. "You don't think I'm an abomination?"

"I think you're the guy who captured my best friend's heart, and if I had a thing for guys I'd kiss you out of appreciation for making him so happy," Kaeral said. "I'd kiss you anyway if it would make you feel any better. I think people put too much emphasis on tradition."

"I still think killing is wrong," Grim said.

"So do I," Kaeral said. "But I also think that it being wrong doesn't mean it's never necessary."

"Will you be at the trial?" Grim asked.

"Definitely," Kaeral replied, standing and extending his hand to Grim. "And it's starting soon, should we go together?"

Grim didn't hesitate at all, and he put his hand in Kaeral's with a grin, letting the Gor pull him to his feet. "It would be an honor, my friend."

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead