Chapter 10

A Patreon exclusive story by Meraki P. Lyhne

 

They’d danced and trained from ten thirty to three, hurried back to grab a shower and a fresh set of clothes, then run off, in heels again, to find Ramudon. Matadon felt excited or nervous. He hadn’t decided yet.

As they went, Matadon noticed a change in his son’s gait. He looked confident and slightly cocky. “Are you nervous?”

Aaron shrugged. “A bit.” Matadon appreciated noticing the change in body language, considering it would help him support Aaron better. “I mean, my first meeting with my brother didn’t exactly leave a positive impression on any of us, I guess.”

“He can be hard to impress.” Matadon stroked Aaron’s back. “The trick with him is avoid trying to impress him. Be authentic.”

“Okay.”

How could someone with such confident swagger—in this case to hide nervousness—be so insecure? Matadon understood more and more what Lord Roardon and his mate Susan had said about Aaron needing someone stable in his life, which was why Matadon felt so grateful for having noticed the change in his son’s swagger. Maybe he should take Lord Roardon and Susan up on that chat? But first, he wanted to see if he could figure out his son’s needs for him on his own. The fact that Aaron had feared Matadon’s foul mood being because he’d spent the night with his lover meant Matadon needed to pay closer attention, and communication had to be key.

What did Aaron fear? That could be something to ask whether Lord Roardon and especially Susan had a suspicion about because Matadon didn’t think he’d earned that level of trust yet. As the mother of the boy who’d grown up so close to Aaron, hopefully she had insight from having watched Aaron grow up, yet Matadon also knew that most of the problems for Aaron had started after Aaron had been moved far away from his childhood friend. Maybe Aaron had opened up to her anyway? Or his childhood friend, who’d then talked to his mom? It was possible.

They entered the café they’d been in earlier, easily spotting Ramudon and a human woman standing by a table, chatting. Aw, his son was in love. It was clear by the way he curled his finger around a lock of her long blonde hair. He was such a Care Bear when in love. Also, she wore clothes, meaning she wasn’t there to feed anyone.

Ramudon looked up, a smile stretching his face. Upon seeing that Matadon wasn’t alone, it felt. Ramudon gaped, staring wide-eyed, then facepalming himself.

Matadon’s gaze shot to his youngest son, and the swagger façade fell for a moment.

“How did I not see that?” Ramudon came to them, studying Aaron. He looked at Matadon and back to Aaron. “You move the same! How did I miss that?” Aaron looked at Matadon, who merely grinned at him and winked. Yeah, their twin dance had a great chance of success if that alone made Ramudon connect the dots. “You’re…you’re my Halfling brother, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Aaron said.

“Wow.” Ramudon laughed and hugged Matadon tightly. “You found him! You got him.” Ramudon turned to study Aaron some more, not letting go of Matadon. “Wow! I did not see that coming.”

“Me neither,” Aaron said. He seemed a bit shellshocked.

“I bet. I’m Ramudon, your oldest brother.” He let go of Matadon and pumped Aaron’s hand. “This is Natalie.” Matadon suppressed a smirk at his oldest being awkward, while his youngest seemed a bit overwhelmed and guarded. “We got a table.” Ramudon showed the way, thus not seeing Aaron’s wide-eyed glance at Matadon.

This time, Matadon couldn’t hide the smirk, but he focused on finishing the introduction that Ramudon seemed too flustered to by introducing himself and Aaron to Natalie. She seemed to know Ramudon enough to be able to find his awkwardness humorous.

They sat, Matadon and Aaron on one side, and Ramudon and Natalie across from them.

Ramudon kept staring at Aaron. Openly. “Man, you’re really beautiful.”

Aaron broke down, snickering. “I’m not even sure what to respond to that.”

“As in the Cubi cultural responses?” Matadon asked.

“Yeah, that’s not a normal human hi, long lost brother.” Natalie leaned across the table to whisper loudly and conspiratorially with Aaron. “I got ya’.”

Aaron snickered—probably at Ramudon’s less than impressed expression at his girlfriend’s humor, but Matadon liked her.

“Last I was in the human world, the States were being born as a Nation. I fought in that war.”

“Ambushed,” Matadon said. He’d been terrified and killed three humans, trying to get to his then Mingler son. Two Sires had succeeded, getting there first, but all the Cubi ambushed had survived.

“Yeah, that was not fun.”

“Compliment something humans would find too vain to point out,” Natalie said.

“Oh, uhm…” Aaron looked at his brother.

“You don’t have to.” Ramudon waved his hand. “I get how that would be awkward since you came here not long ago.”

“Well, with all of El—Nol-Elakdon’s Viking warriors, I’ve really come to appreciate neatly kept beards, and I’m…really digging yours.”

Ramudon lit up. “Thank you.” He stroked his short and trimmed beard. “I actually got it because I also thought some of those Lords looked fucking hot.”

Natalie chuckled. “And I agreed.”

Matadon did, too. He thought his son looked handsome and mature.

A Grand Mistress to their tsble with a tray, looking around. It already had stuff on it, and Matadon sat straight to peek.

“See, I ordered the wrong stuff for us because I was surprised!” Ramudon told the Succubus.

“Oh?”

“I didn’t know my little brother would join us.” Ramudon looked at Aaron. “I ordered dad’s favorite wine.”

Matadon smiled, honored.

“Yeah, I’m not a wine guy,” Aaron said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be. This is on dad.” Ramudon scowled at Matadon.

“What would you like?” the Grand Mistress asked Aaron.

“Can he have alcohol?” Ramudon asked Matadon.

“One, sure.”

“A beer, please,” Aaron said.

“I’ll get you one.” The Succubus put glasses and the bottle on the table, then blushed at Natalie’s glances and sweet smile. Yeah, that human could flirt. The Succubus dashed off.

“How long have you two…” Aaron motioned between Ramudon and Natalie.

Ramudon halted in pouring the wine and looked at Natalie with unmasked emotion, making Matadon wish that Dawdon was there with Aaron. Bowdon’s face poked at Matadon, but he was confused, so he shoved it away, recognizing that he couldn’t have been that disappointed at a missed opportunity for a midnight fuck if he wasn’t falling for the Guard Lord that he hadn’t had nearly enough time to get to know to fall for.

“About a year. We met on the escape.”

“You saved some of us,” Natalie said.

Active feeder of Succubi, Matadon read on her neck. Ramudon was an active feeder of men. They probably had fun feedings often.

“Yeah, that run was intense.” Aaron slumped back.

Matadon gaped at apparently not knowing something that cause that haunted look in Aaron’s eyes. “Son?” Matadon half turned to look at him.

Aaron smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Not my story to tell.”

Ramudon looked like he wanted to run head-first at something.

“Aaron ran with our King,” Matadon whispered. “That’s all I know.”

Guard Lord Afdon placed a beer in front of Aaron, then stepped away. Ramudon and Natalie looked puzzled for all of two seconds, then focused on Aaron again.

“I hid him,” Aaron whispered. “When the military stormed the hotel we hid in, he could hide with me—a human stripper, known by the hotel security, so he went undercover as one with me. To escape.”

“Shit,” Ramudon said. “You saved our King’s life?”

“Nah, Guards and…” Aaron shook his head. “No, we barely saw the action, and I didn’t understand any of it. I hadn’t seen him in almost ten years, and two hours after I arrived, he and I fled with a Guard Lord. I had no frigging idea what was going on. And then he asked me to come with him. He promised me a better life.”

“You weren’t happy?” Ramudon asked.

Aaron slowly shook his head, looking slightly haunted. “I don’t dare think about what life would have looked like if Daniel hadn’t hauled me out of there. If Seldon hadn’t asked Afdon to track me down as a surprise to reunite me and Daniel.”

“That would be Tunra-Nol Lord Seldon and Guard Lord Afdon,” Matadon said. “Remember titles, Aaron. It kinda clarifies who we’re talking about.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”

“But we’d have come for you in about a year. The Grand Council watch over our Halflings.”

“But they don’t intervene.”

“Only if a direct threat is sensed toward the child,” Matadon said.

“Like…I remember about eight years after Dad returned from procreating, there was a rumor running about a Halfling who’d been orphaned,” Ramudon said. “I paid attention because I knew of you. The mother was human, and the human dad in the picture felt sure it wasn’t his. When the mom died in a work-related accident, the Cubi went in and took the child. In the nick of time, too, considering the human father figure had begun beating the cub from frustrations and grief that all he had left of his wife was a bastard. As it was rumored.”

Matadon had heard it, too, and he’d been frightened on Aaron’s behalf for so long. There were week’s-worth of entries in the diary about fear.

“Is the child okay?” Aaron asked.

“Yes, she’s doing fine.” Ramudon smiled. “She was placed with her Cubi father in my House.”

Aaron nodded, thinking. “So, she’s my age?”

Ramudon nodded. “Her father is a Lord who dosed me three times over a few years. We hung out once, and she taught me to play a card game I can’t remember the name of.”

“Who’d have come?” Aaron asked Matadon. “For me, I mean.”

“The caretakers and hunters. Minglers are stationed to watch over you and stay close to you. You might even have known them. Hunters are trained for the human world, but hunter is a wrong word. It translates a bit differently. Tracker, I guess?” Matadon looked at Ramudon, who nodded. “They’re Guards, guarding the people of the Kingdom.”

“I think we go with the word hunter because hunters take actions, trackers merely track,” Ramudon said.

“In other words, I’d have been kidnapped?”

“No, you’d have been told and asked to come along. But yeah, kidnapped if you said no. As I said, it’s an evil necessity that we don’t like, either.”

Aaron snorted, looking troubled. “And I end up getting kidnapped by the King himself.”

“Do you resent him for that?” Ramudon asked.

“Absolutely not. He’s changed a lot, but he’s still my best friend. And he kept his promise. We promised to share our fame and fortune.” Aaron held up the Untouchable crest. “And he’s definitely doing that thoroughly.”

“So are you,” Ramudon whispered.

“What do you mean?”

Ramudon smiled. “You’re famous here, and you dance with him.”

“True.”

“Oh, I just forgot.” Ramudon looked at Natalie. “We might have to change our dinner plans, considering my baby brother still eats.”

Natalie smiled. “I’ll make something else.”

“We could eat here,” Aaron suggested.

“No. Not homey enough. Had Dad told me…” Ramudon sent Matadon his most convincing disapproving stare, which merely made Matadon chuckle. “I’d have been better prepared.”

“We should bring the wine, then.” Matadon drank from his glass.

They packed up and walked to Ramudon and Natalie’s apartment, chatting, when Matadon notices someone playing the guitar somewhere nearby. It was Hispanic inspired, that was for sure.

Matadon stopped Aaron and pointed. “You hear that?”

A smile spread as Aaron apparently remembered the story about sudden dancing in the hallways. “Let’s do that!”

“Come on!” Matadon and Aaron hurried ahead and rounded a corner. A big space opened up and connected five hallways. A few naked humans had taken up a spot to play some music. The song ended, and the three chatted for a moment. Aaron hurried to them and talked for a minute.

“What’s going on?” Ramudon asked.

“I’m teaching him the concept of Cu’Boka.”

“Oh.”

Aaron returned with a smile on his face and a different swagger to his gait. Music started up. It fit what they’d been learning from Miguel. “Market research.”

“You lead,” Matadon said.

Aaron held out his hand, and Matadon took it, letting his son drag him to the middle of the space.

The first cheers to their dancing were easy enough to recognize. Ramudon and Natalie. More joined in, clapping, and the musicians added more gusto to their performance as well. The human female with the musicians stepped around, moving her hips, and Matadon nodded his head toward her.

Aaron gave a sharp nod, and led their dance closer, then pulled her into the dance, and the three of them free styled from then on. Matadon was not well-versed enough in that dance style to keep up, so he gracefully backed out to let Aaron lead the woman. Instead, he joined Ramudon to watch Aaron live and what magic he brought to a crowd.

Guards stood visible around them with their backs to the center that Aaron dominated and claimed as his to move on. All but one. Guard Lord Bowdon had his intense gaze trained on Aaron, once in a while flickering to take in the surroundings.  

 People didn’t seem to notice them as Aaron and the woman put some sexiness into the moves, and Cubi, mostly, whooped louder.

The song ended far too soon, and Aaron hugged the woman. It all seemed so care-free. Matadon enthusiastically joined in on the clapping. He was so proud of Aaron and the crowd he could move.

Ramudon pulled Matadon in by the shoulder. “Man, he’s good.”

“You knew that, considering you’ve probably seen him around here.”

“Oh, I have. My little brother is famous.”

Matadon knew the score, though. Ramudon was a proud brother now, and Aaron wasn’t merely someone who hadn’t earned his respect yet. What famous meant became apparent a moment later when Aaron was asked for autographs by a few young Cubi, and he spent time chatting and being goofy. He showed a few moves, too. Matadon’s fatherly pride rose. His son was made for the spotlight, and he had the personality to carry it. The grace. He’d never imagined that in his diary, and to witness it put a lump in his throat.

“I have to admit I thought him arrogant the first time I saw him,” Ramudon said.

“He noticed. When you did the floor of the studio. He was nervous on our way to meet you.”

“Damn,” Ramudon growled. “I’ll fix that.”

“I think arrogance is the façade he hides nerves behind. We’ll mostly be at the studio. Drop by.”

“Do you schedule it on the app?”

“Yes. And now that we’re at it, I—”

“Don’t know how to use it, I get it.” Ramudon held out his hand, so Matadon handed over the phone for Ramudon to give himself the access he wanted.

“How do I find feeding pads?”

“You’re not the only one grumbling about that getting lost. It’s under humans.”

“Ah.”

Matadon glanced at Bowdon, but the fierce focus of the Guard Lord was still trained on Aaron who was teaching a few more steps.

Aaron returned to them, grinning. “This was fun.”

Matadon nodded eagerly. “Oh, yeah.”

“Might need to have Miguel teach a class, too.”

“And the musicians?”

“They’ll text me. I roped them into the Great Hall thing we talked about earlier.”

Matadon chuckled. Okay, so Aaron was single-mindedly focused and dedicated to his passion. That was not a bad thing.

“Do you dance everything?” Ramudon asked.

“No! But I’ll never limit my art. Do you build everything?”

“No, I see your point.” Ramudon turned and put an arm around Aaron’s shoulder, pulling him in. “But making everything look so easy kinda says something about your talent.” Ramudon stalked forward, catching Matadon with his other arm. “And Natalie makes what smells like the best chocolate mint ice cream in the world.”

“I make all the best ice creams in the world,” she corrected him.

Ramudon laughed. “Yeah, but I like the scent of mint best.”

“Aw, man, you just poked at my fear,” Aaron said. “When I have to stop eating.”

Matadon enjoyed their bonding time, hoping for a future where Aaron grew close to siblings and gained a stronger foundation of support than he’d apparently grown up with.

There were a lot of things Matadon didn’t know about his son’s past that he needed to, or he wouldn’t be able to help him. Even though he’d told Aaron that his strength was being aggressively patient, it didn’t count his kids. Matadon was impatient in figuring out what he needed to learn in order to support Aaron because it was the one job he feared failing at the most.

 

 

A somewhat quick feeding in a stall on dosed energy, a Guard Lady’s undivided attention to feed her for an hour at bedtime, and no Bowdon coming to his room left Matadon in another fowl mood the next morning, so he focused on ideas for the spa and scouring his mind for possible Cubi to look up. He wrote it all in the small notebook that Aaron had picked for it.

Matadon had journaled a bit that morning in one of the new notebooks, yet it hadn’t cleared his mind as much as it added a few questions to the list of stuff he needed to figure out. Like whether he really wanted to pursue Bowdon to have a lover. It was clear the Guard Lord wanted him, but how badly? Was it just fun sex or did he want more?

Not knowing his own or Bowdon’s thoughts was part of what kept distracting Matadon. He even thought he should just follow Aaron’s dedication to dancing and focus solely on that and the spa. Not knowing whether Bowdon was watching didn’t bring the giddy feeling it had at first. It caused a bit of stress instead. What if he was? What if he…just didn’t want to tell Matadon he wasn’t interested anyway?

But that kiss after the late shift? Matadon understood a late shift, sure—especially for a Guard. Maybe it was just fun sex. With how much the man consumed Matadon’s thoughts, it was more to him.

Journaling hadn’t offered up an answer, and moping into his coffee didn’t help, either, so Matadon shoved the thought away and thought about the entry in the journal for Aaron.

He’d written a passage in that, too. He was so proud of the boy. How smart Aaron was. Business savvy, even.

Once others rose from bed and came to the kitchen, Matadon packed away the spa project and helped out, enjoying their company—especially the boy, Jonas, who was apparently also new to the House, yet his dad, Hardy, was the US representative like the naked Leon was the Canadian one. He was a kind man.

Aaron joined half an hour later, and the day commenced.

Matadon and Aaron worked on the spa until eleven, danced until three, had gotten no closer to a dance group name by four, and hung out with Dawdon, Geradon, and Freydon until seven. By then, Matadon left them to do their thing, and he went to feed.

That became the rhythm for the next week, interrupted only by Ramudon stopping by the studio to watch them dance, and Matadon visiting Geodin some evenings.

 

 

Matadon’s nerves rose as the recital drew closer. The date had been set, and tomorrow, it would be announced in the news. Where Aaron had gotten his single-minded focus from had been clear, judging by a few comments from both the team and Aaron himself, while Matadon plowed through all he found difficult, practicing it everywhere and at any time, which had included in the kitchen while helping with dinner.

Dawdon and Geradon were at the studio today, taking pictures of them practicing for the article the next day. A video camera rolled most of the time but that was for Matadon and Aaron to go over later to fine tune everything and structure the lessons.

It was going in the right direction, and Matadon was sure he’d get the Chinese dance down to do it justice, while his confidence in the group’s strength for the bboy part grew. Miguel had a flare for holds, while Aaron impressed him with his toprock and popping. Of course someone with that much body control could quickly pick up the tensing and untensing of localized muscle groups. He did with belly dancing.

Matadon had picked that up fast enough, too, and Aaron had moved past the part of finding sexy dancing in front of Matadon embarrassing.

The door to the studio opened, and Guard Lord Bowdon entered with Guard Lady Bennidin—the head of the Guard Core.

“Aaron, Lord Matadon, and Dawdon,” Bennidin said. “Your presence has been requested by the Grand Council. Immediately.”

Matadon grabbed Aaron’s hand and hauled him toward the door. Dawdon didn’t need an incentive to run after Aaron. Sweaty and in bare feet, they hurried after the Guards.

“What’s going on?” Aaron asked.

“An urgent meeting,” Bennidin said. “Our King is on conference call.”

They kept further questions to themselves, which the Guard Lady’s tone prompted. Entering into the Grand Council chambers, the beautiful King’s face took up a big screen at the end of a long table. Matadon knelt, then swatted Aaron’s leg to remind him where he was, and Aaron quickly did.

Thank you,” Nol-Beaudon said. They stood again and looked at their King. Matadon tried not to stare, but it was the first time he was near his King. “I see recital training is going well.

“Yeah, we found your replacement in the routine.” Aaron pointed to Matadon.

Good.” Those golden eyes locked onto Matadon. “I’ve had fun following you and Aaron through texts and pictures and videos. I’m happy to see that you’re growing close?

Matadon smiled at Aaron. His son looked like agreed. “We are, Nol. Thank you.”

And you’re as dedicated and diverse a dancer as Aaron, I see.

“We cover some of the same, but we have our repertories.”

And teach each other well?

“Yes, Nol. I truly appreciate your interest in it, but I don’t mind if you move past it and onto the reason for this meeting.”

But it is the reason, Lord Matadon.” Nol-Beaudon’s gaze roamed the Grand Lords and Ladies. Other Lords and Ladies were present, too, along with a few green and blue eyes—faces Matadon didn’t recognize. One stood out, though. Master Harrodon, and Matadon smiled at son of the King of the North. “Please relay the information.

“Yes, Nol.” A Lady stepped forward. “My name’s Guard Lady Lopdin. During the escape from the Great House of Dahlidin, our mainframe was damaged, and we’ve lost data. We’ve been looking for backup files, and we know for sure than some data has been lost. Couple that with many Cubi having to run and hide in the human world, caretakers were put at risk, too.”

Matadon got a bad feeling. Had he not stood next to his son, dread would have closed around him.

“I lead the hunting teams,” the Lady continued. “I’ve flown in for this meeting because we think we’ve located six of the Halflings we lost track of.”

Matadon looked at Geodin, knowing her well enough to see past her official game face. She was worried.

This is where dancing comes in,” Nol-Beaudon said. “Like you and I stuck together on an instinctual level, Aaron, the Halflings in the human world do, too. These six have been located from doing just that, but we believe there are more. Nol-Plydon’s scientists have built upon new research my scientists have developed over the past year, and we can now test for the Cubi gene without a blood test. But my hunters can’t get to these confirmed and suspected Halflings. They’re nearing the age of Empowerment, and we need to secure them for their health’s sake. Only you can get to them, Aaron. Only you hold the skillsets needed.

“Me?” Aaron burst.

“Your talents and intimate knowledge of how the human world works in dance is paramount for the success of our mission,” Guard Lady Lopdin said. “We need you to help us figure out how to get close to them.”

“They’re in the human world, right? You’ve never had problems kidnapping people.”

“Aaron,” Matadon whispered.

“What?”

Nol-Beaudon chuckled. “Actually, we do. The competence of our hunting teams just makes it look easy.

The Guard Lady smiled and dipped her head. “The problem to be solved is to limit the spread of our resource, and it seems all six and more suspected Halflings will all be joining in on the same talent show.”

“Oh.” Aaron seemed like that brought the mission into a field he didn’t feel incompetent in.

“We need your help to understand what goes on behind the curtains. We need insight to be able to strategize and get all of them at the same time before their need for hormones rise too high and put them at risk.”

“I can definitely help with that. Daniel and I have worked a lot with that.”

Which is why I suggest that you’ll be the lead on this with Guard Lady Lopdin.

Aaron nodded. “Which show?”

The Grove and Move.

Matadon loved that show. It was new. Two seasons, but those shows had pulled out the most diverse and skilled dancers.

“I’ve only had the chance to see one episode,” Aaron said.

“I’ve binge watched them more than once,” Matadon said. “If I may, I’d like to support my son in this.”

Nol-Beaudon looked like that had been part of the plan all along.

“How do we help?” Aaron asked. He looked at Matadon. “You and internet research is…a no-go.”

Matadon snorted.

You join the talent show, Aaron,” Nol-Beaudon said.

Aaron gaped at the screen. “That crown squeezed your brain!”

Matadon gaped at his son, but their King laughed.

Nol-Beaudon’s eyes turned human green, and he sat forward, grinning. “Come on, Aaron, we both know you can do it.

“Not with a Lord on stage in the human world! I—what if—”

Fear. Matadon recognized fear, making him wonder about the details of the escape that Aaron had retold mere snippets of when meeting Ramudon and Natalie a week earlier.

That won’t happen! Your entire Guard detail will be on you and Lord Matadon, and you’ll all be backed up by the Hunting Guards.

“What don’t I know?” Matadon asked.

Cubi were captured by the human military during our escape,” Nol-Beaudon said. “My lover and dad were…

“Raped,” Geodin finished.

Matadon covered his mouth and looked at his son, realizing that the fear his son felt was for him because he couldn’t hide his eyes.

We have a far better relationship with humans now, and officials will know that we are present to secure the health of Halflings, but that’s it. We are still a hidden people, and we can move among them if we stay hidden. The safety of my people give me that right, but we need to find more. The new test is as easy to use as a pregnancy test since a certain hormone rises high enough to be tested the closer we come to our need for Empowerment. Only Royals can detect it in our people without it, but it was part of what prompted the idea.

Geodin came over with a little box. She opened it and handed Aaron and Dawdon a stick each. “Please wet this with your saliva.”

“Yes, Grand Lady.” Dawdon immediately did as asked.

Aaron repeated, but he seemed troubled, so Matadon put a hand on his shoulder while Aaron sucked on what looked like a litmus test strip.

“May I see?” Geodin asked. Both boys held out their strip, and the lightest of the sandy shades had turned light purple. “Both test positive for the Cubi hunger hormone which is normal at the onset of puberty.” She looked at Dawdon. “And yours is growing stronger. You are older.”

“How do we get others to suck on a strip?” Aaron whispered to Matadon.

“You don’t.” Geodin looked sneaky. “You offer them water in a bottle with the threads laced with this. It’s harmless upon ingestion, but the saliva testing positive will tinge the remaining water in the bottle purple along with their lips. It fades within a few minutes. It’ll give you long enough to spot them, though, and take down their names for the hunting teams standing by.”

“What happens then?” Aaron asked.

“We log their information, Aaron. We need to reclaim the data we lost.”

“Oh. Yes, Grand Lady.”

“Does the color grow stronger the closer they come to the need for Empowerment?” Matadon asked, holding out his hand for a litmus test.

“Yes.” Geodin handed him one. “Master, if you would?”

“Yes, Grand Lady.” Harrodon stepped up to his cousin and accepted a piece of litmus, then put it on his tongue. He held it out for them to see a lighter shade of still strong purple, in a colored field further up the scale than what had changed on Aaron and Dawdon’s.

Geodin put a litmus strip on her own tongue for just a second, then showed them an almost black piece.

Matadon copied to test a theory. His darkened every field, too, but merely turning them different shades of purple. “It tests the power of the Cubi gene.”

“Yes. Which brings us to another challenge. Your main backup will be very powerful Guards, yet you’ll be accompanied by Sires and Dames to stand by should a Hallfling need to be Empower as an emergency to secure their health. You and Master Harrodon can do it, but this?” Geodin held up her black strip. “Grand and Guard Lords and Ladies are too powerful, and that high a level of uncontrollable lust would leave an unsuspecting mind too fearful of the dose in the future.”

And possibly kill Changelings. Matadon knew that much.

“Yes, Grand Lady.”

“Can we test for the Washed?” Aaron asked. “I mean for feeding.”

Yes. We developed that, too,” Nol-Beaudon said. “Those litmus tests are red and come in the boxes your team brings.

Matadon’s mind worked overtime. He had no doubt that Aaron could fit perfectly into a scene like that—especially since he’d seen how he worked with fame in the House of Nol-Beaudon. He worried about his own abilities to back up Aaron because yeah, his purple eyes didn’t belong on a human stage. He could help him train.

What do you say, Aaron and Lord Matadon?

Aaron looked at Matadon, and his young age shone through. Then he smiled. “I think the twin dance will make an impression.”

I agree,” Nol-Beudon said.

Matadon gaped. “But my eyes.”

“I’ll get contacts.” Aaron shrugged. “Yellow ones. Or something that pops well with purple.”

With the costume ideas you sent me, it could totally work.

“We’ll make fake human papers and put in a medical condition that allows you to always have a bottle of the litmus dissolvent with you,” Guard Lady Lopdin said. “As medication to treat dry eyes caused by [Elaktis EYE DISEASE].”

“When and where is this?” Aaron asked.

You have five weeks to prepare here, then you’ll be accompanied to Las Vegas,” Nol-Beaudon said. “From there, it’s all on your skills.”

“No pressure, huh!”

Nol-Beaudon grinned. “Come on, Aaron. We know you got the groves and moves, we know where you inherited them from, and we know you know that scene very well. You’re the best man for the job, and you get a competent team to back you up.” Matadon noticed both he and Aaron stood taller at the praises. “One final detail. Dawdon, you’ll be going with Heimli as his apprentice and Geradon as Master Harrodon’s apprentice. And Aaron. Freydon will also accompany you, but he’ll be dancing with another team. You have to pick that team of Minglers with him, train them, and prepare them for the possibilities that they might become my public Beauty Influencers.

Aaron didn’t answer, and Matadon looked at his son. He couldn’t guess at all the emotions that crossed his features. “Yes, My King.”

Nol-Beaudon smiled. “Thank you. Go show the world what we got.

 

 

Matadon’s body felt strangely heavy as he and Aaron walked back to the studio with Dawdon, Geradon, Master Harrodon, and Guard Lady Lopdin.

Aaron’s swagger indicated he was nervous, but he also had that truly confident one.

“How do you feel about this?” Matadon whispered.

“Like…” Aaron thought for a moment, then smiled and looked at Matadon. “Like I found my Cu’Boka.”

That simple little sentence made Matadon feel loads better. It upped his own confidence in the mission. He’d be there for Aaron as he took on a task that great for their King. Matadon didn’t doubt he held the capabilities to aid in it. Not with a team of Guards and Cubi skilled in moving among humans.

“I worry about Vegas, though,” Aaron said. “My mom’s there.”