Bastien Brume had lost the knack of being alone.
Back in the world above, he could spend days in a maze of leaves without needing to see or speak with anyone. He'd lived in a peace as impenetrable as armor, resigned to his unknown Fate, sure that nothing could touch him until he fulfilled whatever he had been born to do. It was a peace very much like death.
This had been a form of happiness.
He only realized this when he lost it.
Now, he was lonely. It was like being thirsty, with no hope for water. Like being lost, with no home to come back to.
For a few moments, he sat alone in that forlorn, little mushroom bed, which still held the imprint of where he and Thistle lain together. He clutched at his pendant until the carving in the ivory marked itself into his palm. He waited, and was still, and breathed, desperately hoping for his numb peace to return.
Instead, there came an itching to his soles, a profound disquiet to his limbs. Before he knew it, he found himself running, trying to trace the steps of those feet that had so recently walked away from him.
He passed many weird and beautiful sights. He did not see any of them.
He found his way back to the throne room, but the blood-red chair loomed over no one. Thistle wasn't there. But the chains remained, of course, those inescapable, singing chains, and he only had to follow them back out into the darkness.
Down the chains went, past the mirror-obsidian passages and musical crystal-threads. Onward and downward they went, past the breeding pools of the giant eels, past the depths where even the blind insects wouldn't go. Deeper down they went, and Bastien kept on following them, even though the world grew colder, the air staler, the light dimmer and dimmer until there was none and Bastien had to pick up the chains and follow them by hand.
Soon, he could hear the sound of slaughter, the bellowings and snarlings of Gris Neath's demon army. He had reached the battleground with the Unnnameable Nones.
There was light of another sort here, a strange, sourceless illumination that painted everything in shades of black and gray. And there, at the edge of battlefield, stood a single streak of white.
The wild energy that had taken hold of him suddenly let him go. All the aches and pains of his battered body assaulted him at once. His feet ached. His legs trembled. He wanted to call out, but his throat was too dry.
He staggered up next to Thistle, gripping his own arms, not just because of the cold, but to keep from reaching out. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. Forgive me. I'll do whatever you want. It was all inadequate. He said nothing.
He followed Thistle's gaze to the center of the melee, but even there, he found himself bemused. There was the dark god in his armor, and all around him were his demons, but he couldn't understand what they were fighting. In the dark light, it seemed as if they were swimming in undulating streams of shadow. Still, they roared their battle cries; still, their swords and axes and spears clamored as if they were tearing through metal and flesh.
"Do you want me?" Thistle asked him suddenly, a strange note in his voice.
Something about that tone made Bastien's skin prickle with dread. Instinct reminded him that Thistle was a demon; Thistle couldn't love him; Thistle ate people like him. But Bastien nodded. "Yes." For it was true.
Thistle smiled sweetly, his teeth glinting in the un-light. "Then will you challenge the Lord Beneath for me?"
Bastien felt the world swirling around him. He had no hope of defeating the dark god, but neither could he back down and lose Thistle this way. Perhaps it had always been coming to this, from the first moment he glimpsed the white youth chained to the blood-red throne. The jaws of Fate clamping were clamping down on him. He surrendered. "Yes."
And all of a sudden, he was on the battlefield, looking up at the metallic bulk of the Lord Beneath. The demons were arrayed in a circle around them. The colorless, uncanny light was bright on them both. There was no sign of the shadows, or of the great, endless battle the horde had been fighting.
The dark god saluted his bride. "Draw your weapon."
Bastien steadied himself. "I have none," he said.
Gris Neath threw his head back and laughed. "Liar! Twice already, you've harmed me and mine with that cursed thing around your neck. All pretenses end now. Show me its true power."
Bastien touched his pendant and lowered his head to hide a self-deprecating smile. The most powerful magic he'd ever accomplished was to grow his Aunt's roses to the size of cabbages.
He stole a look at Thistle and closed his eyes against the sight. There was a look of glazed, eager avidity to the youth now, a hunger so intense it looked like lust. Still, Bastien couldn't help but love him, even for that.
So here was his Fate. A quiet, unremarkable one, but fitting for such a quiet, unremarkable fellow as Bastien Brume.
He lifted his gaze to his husband and allowed the god to see his lopsided smile. "I'm ready," he said, and lost himself in a peace as white as a lightning strike.