Over four hundred years ago, civilization fell in a cataclysm of nuclear fire. Nature itself changed, shifted, wounded by ancient wars, still struggling to find a new balance. The human survivors exist with no laws, no government, barely any degree of civilization, in a world altered beyond recognition. All knowledge is kept locked away in the University for the benefit of a select few. The limited technology relies heavily on steam power, where it exists at all. Even the weather is enough to kill the unprotected at times.
In this world, where people struggle to survive one day to the next, two young men cross paths in the dark of night. Ari, raised in the near-paradise of the mountains with their clean air and safe water, ran afoul of a man with a big gun and an ultimatum. No longer welcome in his homeland, he wandered the world, searching for a new life. Grief, born in the black sand desert to a people universally known and hated as the Reavers, was the sole survivor of a vicious massacre and has been haunting the edges of the desert ever since, balanced on the knife edge of survival.
One thing keeps him alive: hope that somehow, someday, the world will be a better place. And when he meets up with Ari and finds an unexpected connection, suddenly his hope--his Dream--becomes more than just a wishful thought.
It's a simple plan, after all. Just take over the world. Two young men, alone, against an entire world of anarchic chaos. Their assets? Brains, fighting skills, and horses. Never consider the cost of failure. Never think about the impossible odds. And most especially, Grief must never, ever let Ari know the hidden truth within his heart, or the world might just end all over again.
Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Word Count: 181600
Languages Available: English
The longing hit me full force as I brushed my horse's neck, by the light of a carefully secured lantern. I let the brush fall and buried my face in the warm animal, taking some small comfort from the contact as the waves of wanting and despair washed over me. I felt lost in a sea of blackness. I wanted Grief so badly, denying it didn't make it go away. It only made it worse. I'd caused both of us so much pain. . . He might not want me the way I want him, but I know he needs me. And all I can do anymore is hurt him.
How horrible can one person possibly feel? I don't know how I could feel any worse than this and still live.
I got so lost in my own private hell that I didn't even hear him approach. My first clue that he was there was feeling his hand on my shoulder.
"Ari, what's wrong?"READ MORE
"Nothing," I said, turning to face him in a quick, jerky motion. And if my voice came out strangled and ragged, well, at least he didn't say anything about it.
"Horseshit," he replied conversationally. "You forget, I can feel how upset you are, if not why."
"Just. . . thinking."
His hand dropped from my shoulder and he leaned up against the stall wall. "So share your thoughts with me. Perhaps I can help."
I grimaced. "Sure. Whatever you say. Here," I said, desperate to deflect the conversation from what would really help me feel better, "what do you know about the Grove? I mean, when I told you I saw you there, you acted like it meant something."
He cocked his head to the side, a flicker of surprise coming through the echo. "The Grove? Well, if something happens there, it's generally a pretty good indication of what happens, or has happened, or will happen in the real world."
"And what if what happens in the Grove is utterly opposite what happens in the real world? The trees keep telling me I'm being an idiot, over something I can't see any way to change!"
There. That should do it. Perfectly true, but vague enough he wouldn't know it involved love.
"Hmm," he said, rubbing his chin with one hand. I kept myself from watching the motion with an effort. Don't think about how my fingers are burning with need to be the ones touching his face, tracing his jawline, letting my sensitive fingertips explore. . . No.
"I don't know," he said, after a moment. "The Grove is always right. I've never heard of it getting anything wrong. Sometimes the trees miss something important that's going to happen, but they've never projected wrong information before."
"Huh. Well." I thought back to the good Grove dreams, where we held each other in burning passion. "Now I'm really confused."
"So am I," he said, barely loud enough to hear. He shot me a wounded look from the bottom of his soul.
"Grief. . ." I reached out and touched his shoulder. "Enough about me. What's on your mind?"
"You," he said, with a wilted grin. "Remember? I came out here to find out what's making both of us so miserable."
I drew back inadvertently. So much for changing the subject. And his eyes showed a tiny flicker of pain.
Pain. When I moved away.
"What if I said. . ." I took a deep breath, sneaking a look at him out from beneath lowered lids. "What if. . . Ah, hell." I rubbed a hand over my eyes. The trees don't make mistakes, eh? Then why do I only feel curiosity coming from him, not any desire to hold me and kiss me? "Look, the Grove says something about you, but. . . hellfire!"
"Me?" He looked startled. "What would the trees have to say about me?"
"That you feel horribly alone, for one thing," I managed to say, around a sudden constriction in my throat. My voice sounded hoarse as a raven's caw.
That caught him offguard, and in the brief unguarded moment I saw the same intense pain we'd shared in the dream. It filled his eyes, his beautiful dark eyes, and I reached for him without thought. I pulled him close against me and held him, just like I'd dreamed so often, with one major difference. The echo held not the slightest hint of desire. Roiling, turbulent emotions, yes. But no desire.
"You're not alone," I said, fighting to keep my hands from crossing the boundary of friendship. "You will never be alone. I'm still here."
"Maybe not alone, but not. . ."
My breathing faltered as his arms went around me. Crap, I know something's leaking through the echo, but what can I do? I can barely think. This is Grief, here, in my arms. My inner walls threatened to crumble and let him see all the love held inside. No, no, got to try—
I tried to pull away, but his hands clung to me. I felt a conflict raging within him.
"I feel so broken," he whispered into my ear. I shivered.
I lost some of my self-control. My hand crept up and found his hair, slipping into his ponytail for the first time. He moved against me and I tensed, ready to spring away and act like nothing happened. But no, he shifted closer, closer, until I could feel every long, lean inch of his body pressing against me, barely separated by the thin layers of bagsilk we wore.
"That's how it feels when your whole world dies, and yet you live on," he said. So close, so intimate. . . His breath tickled my neck, raising goosebumps. I could almost feel his lips move against my skin as he spoke. "Broken, empty, alone."
"Not alone," I insisted, my strangled voice barely audible. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. I may be an idiot, but I'm still here. For you."
I could have kicked myself.
"Not alone, no. But not. . ."
He shook his head and started to pull away. I almost panicked.
No, no, don't let go!COLLAPSE
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