Jolan's Path - Chapter 160
The following story is fictional and is intended for an adult audience. It is not meant to suggest anything about the sexuality of Justin Timberlake or any other celebrities included in this story. This story is fiction, meaning not real. It's all for fun. If you are under age, it is illegal in your country, or you don't like stories about gay sex, please stop reading this now.
Jolan did a full body stretch, the young man standing outside of his large tent, his grey eyes scanning all of the encampment surrounding him.
It was early morning, the plains before the mountain covered in its shadow, the sun hidden behind its largeness.
was stirring, fires showing, people milling around.
Josh and Justin walked out of the tent, Jolan's grey eyes going to both men.
Their sons were in their arms, Jolan smiling at all four.
"Where is our missing tiger, my angels?"
"Chace is just finishing dressing." Josh said, Jolan smiling at him, the young man walking up to both men, kissing each on the lips, then his sons' foreheads.
"Good morning, my angels." he said, all four smiling.
"How long have you been up, Jo?" Justin said, Jolan sighing softly.
"Since dawn's shadow crossed the lake." he said, Justin's arm going around him, Josh looking at him.
Hayden climbed into Jolan's arms from Justin's, the boy kissing his father's lips.
Dada. I love you."
Jolan smiled, kissing his son's cheek, Logan smiling at Jolan as well.
"You didn't sleep much, Jo. It was after two when we all fell asleep." Josh said, Jolan smiling at him.
"A lot on my mind, Joshua. The last gathering is upon us."
The two men nodded, Chace finally walking out of the tent.
"Good morning, Chacey." Jolan said, the man walking up to him, kissing his lips.
"Good morning, Jo. You were gone when we awoke." he said, Jolan smiling at all five.
"I couldn't sleep, the quietness gave me some time to gather my thoughts. The camp is now coming alive with movement." he said, Chace looking at his watch.
"It's only eight, Jo. You can't have slept much?" he said, Jolan seeing the worried love on his face.
"The magic refreshes me, my angels." he smiled, all three men smiling at him.
Justin's eyes caught movement behind Jolan; Domo and Vera were walking towards them, Elijah and Krayos behind them.
"Good morning, Grandfather." Jolan said as he turned around, the older man smiling at him.
"Good morning, Jolan. A sunny day lays ahead of us, once the sun rises above noon and the mountain's shadow retreats." he said, Jolan smiling at him, looking towards the palace.
"In the shadow of darkness the past awaits us. The present holds more relevance today, Grandfather."
Domo nodded, Jolan smiling at Vera then Elijah and Krayos.
"How finds the Archanian and Badenwolf nations this morning, Eli?"
Elijah smiled at his cousin, Krayos' arm around the young man.
"Father and the Elders were deep in discussions all last night, Jo. This morning finds the clan restless. Being in such a place of drawing magic has put us all on edge. Father wishes you to visit him after breakfast is finished. As does Reinhardt."
Jolan nodded, smiling at everyone.
"I shall walk to their camps after breakfast, Eli."
The young man smiled, nodding at him.
"The Sages have a large breakfast prepared for all of you, Jolan. You shall taste the beauty of our Sumsarian cuisine. My own mother's recipes have filtered down through the clan." Domo said smiling.
"If it is
as delicious as your own, Grandfather, then the day starts with happiness."
Dominoso smiled widely, Jolan kissing his cheek.
"Come, my grandsons, and great-grandsons. The meal awaits." he said, all four men smiling, the kids giggling.
"Lots of sausages, Grampa?" Hayden said, the older man laughing, Hayden climbing into his arms.
"For you my boy, tons!"
Everyone smiled, Jolan walking between Vera and Domo, the others following behind, Josh's blue eyes meeting Justin's and Chace's as they walked together, Logan now in Chace's arms.
"He's rather quiet this morning, Jus. And calm. I saw a soft glow in his eyes when he turned around. And I awoke around five and he wasn't with us."
Justin's eyes widened a bit, looking towards his husband, Josh's arm going around him.
"I think our Jo took a walk last night. He returned around six-thirty, I saw his shadow outside. I didn't want to bother him, he looked deep in thought when I looked out the tent's door."
Justin nodded, Josh having been awake when Justin had awoken.
"It's an important day to him, Joshy. It's the beginning of the end of all of this."
Josh nodded, kissing Justin's cheek, his eyes catching a lot of people watching Jolan walking ahead of them.
Jus. The last day of gathering truth. Then tomorrow brings the final day."
"He hasn't told you anything of what's to happen?" Justin said, Josh shaking his head in the negative.
"Only that magic and love shall be at his side, and that tomorrow's dawn will begin the truth."
Justin nodded, looking towards his man.
has he told me, Josh. I think whatever's going to happen will be unbelievable.
But I feel his calmness, he's centered and he's focused. That speaks volumes to
Josh smiled, Justin kissing his cheek, then Chace's, Logan smiling up at him.
"No worries, Poppa. Dada goings to be okay!"
Justin and the other two men smiled, the four following Jolan to breakfast.
Jolan smiled, sipping on a cup of warm coffee, his grey eyes taking in the tables surrounding him.
He and his family and friends all sat at three tables in the center of a large canvas-roofed cafeteria.
Around them sat over a thousand people, the morning's meal close to ending.
At Jolan's table sat the six Sages as well as three of the four Dragosan brothers.
Calen was still at the Badenwolf camp, their Prince dining with his brethren.
The conversation had been rather light, all eyes glancing at Jolan with quiet concern.
Justin sat with Josh and Chace, Hayden in his lap, Logan in Chace's, the two boys stuffed full of food, both laying back in their father's laps with contented faces showing.
Domo smiled at the boys, his blue eyes looking towards Jolan.
"My great-grandchildren have felt the warmth of their first Sumsarian breakfast. It shall
carry in their hearts always."
Jolan smiled at his grandfather, his eyes going to a smiling Hayden and Logan.
"They're stuffed on the richness of love, Grandfather."
Domo smiled, his eyes going to Zaleen, his Sage brethren seated on both sides of Domo.
The large black man's eyes went towards Jolan, the young man staring at him with calm determination.
"What is the itinerary for the day, Sages of guidance?"
"The clan's assembly begins at noon, Giver. The One Council appears when the sun tops the mountain's peak and the Plains of Bladorra shine in its brightness. All shall see in the light of truth the clan's yearly homage." Craig Sumsare said, seated at Domo's right, Domo softly nodding.
"In the light of truth you have bowed your heads in forgiveness for many years. That homage ends today, guiders of wisdom." Jolan said, their six sets of eyes slightly widening, Domo looking at each of them.
"Tomorrow our hopes shall be realized, Jolan. You shall free us of our sinful past." Craig Sumsare said, Jolan's eyes focusing on him, the other tables surrounding them listening.
"I am not here to free your souls, my friends. I am here to destroy the evil running through all of you. Today's meeting is the beginning of that."
"That evil that marks us red to you of magic abilities is ancient, Giver. The One Council says that the Sun Child is the deliverer of that freedom." Zaleen said, his brown eyes staring at Jolan.
Jolan sat his cup down, folding his hands in front of him, everyone's attention on his calm face.
Sun Children's magic is the deliverance of all of us. It is the beacon of love
that shall free the world. Today's meeting is the coming together of my family.
One voice joining all of us. And then two other clans of greatness shall join
with that voice. My father was the Uniter of all of you. He brought all the
Sumsarian children under the umbrella of the One Council's guidance."
Jolan smiled at his father, Joel smiling back with love at his son.
"That guidance ends today. Today I unite all three factions of my family. Today I guide you all to the end of this, to the truth awaiting all of you."
"Jolan. . .you. . .you cannot be serious! The One Council will not stand for such blatant separation!" Zaleen said, now on his feet, the other four Sages on their feet as well, Domo now rising up as well.
Jolan remained in his seat, his friends and family staring at him with awed shock.
His calmness was shocking all of them.
"Leave the Once Council to me."
All six men of wisdom looked to each other, Maurice De Laurentins staring at Jolan.
"The Once Council? You mean the One Council." he said, Jolan staring at all six.
"Once they were valid in their guidance, their giving wisdom keeping all of you on the path you followed to this destiny. One council to guide you to your destiny. You have reached your destiny. Today he leads all of you forward."
The Sages looked confused, returning to their seats, Zaleen staring at Jolan, the man still on his feet.
"Word reached us this morning that someone was walking the palace grounds last night. Ethan--our northern guard--caught glimpses of someone there. It is sacrilege and impossible for anyone to walk there. Our queen's magic wards off all of evil or mischievous intent."
Jolan stared at the man, rising from his seat, the man returning to his.
"The queen's protective cover of magic has ended. Her loving protection is gone. The palace of Bolta Cerului is open to danger now. Evil could now rain upon the Rooftop of Heaven." Jolan said, everyone looking at him in shock, Craig Sumsare on his feet again.
"Why now, so close to the day of our deliverance would the barrier disappear? Her love had protected all of us for so long! It. . .it cannot be!" he said, emotion in his voice, his eyes on Jolan's calm face.
"It is, my friend. I walked the front terrace last night." Jolan said, Justin and Josh's eyes on their soulmate.
"You. . .you walked there? For what reason, Giver?" Lei Zhong said, staring at Jolan.
"To stop the wanderings of a confused soul. To guide him back upon his path. And to voice my own wishes." Jolan said, smiling at everyone.
"A confused soul?" Eli the Sage said, Jolan nodding.
"Today is a day of change for all of us. For someone lost even more so. Today sees the joining of everyone. It is my destiny, and it is yours." Jolan said, the six Sages staring at him with concern, Zaleen standing again.
"Today is our day of reckoning, and of forgiveness, Giver. Other clans do not invite welcome here today."
Jolan's eyes met his brown, a soft glow showing in their silvery centers.
"I am the Caitre Din Dragoste, the Giver of Love. Today I give that love to all souls that walk these plains. Today begins the final trek upon the path. Evil comes and goodness joins. I shall see all done. With or without your approval or the Once Council's."
Zaleen's eyes turned to Dominoso, the older Sage staring at his grandson.
"Your grandson walks a fine line of destiny, Dominoso. We acknowledge his greatness, but his words trouble all of us. Change is not good if it is forced upon the devoted." the man said, his dark eyes now staring at Jolan.
"I am not forcing anyone to adhere to anything I show or give, Sages of wisdom. You all have free souls and giving hearts. The choice shall always remain yours. Have faith in my giving love." Jolan said, the man walking around the table, leaning down and picking up Hayden from Justin's rising arms.
"I have two other clans of my love to visit before the assembly. Walk with love everyone. Your love guides my soul." he said, his three soulmates rising from their seats, Dominoso rising from his, staring at his grandson.
"I shall return soon, Grandfather. I'm sure my words will reach all souls upon these plains." Jolan said, the young man smiling, walking through the tables, his friends and family watching him walk out of the cafeteria, his clan rising to their feet, watching their Giver of Love leave.
Justin's eyes looked back, seeing so many people staring after Jolan, his blue eyes meeting Jolan's.
"You kind of laid down the law back there, my love. Was that wise?" Justin said, Josh's eyes on Jolan's face as well.
waits for no one, my loves. They have to realize that they have no choice now.
The path is set, they're walking into their destiny. And I have to make my
"Your choices, Jo?" Josh said, Chace looking at Jolan as well.
loves. The Sumsarian nation is at a crossroads. It is time he took his place
upon the path. The clan of Moldavia shall walk into the future and join with my other
two families of love and courage. He shall be at its helm."
Josh looked at Justin, his eyes returning to Jolan's calm face.
talking of a 'he', Jolan? Who are you talking about?"
Jolan stopped, his eyes meeting all three men's blue pools, Hayden and Logan smiling at their father.
"I am not
the leader of the Sumsarian nation, nor the leader of the other two clans. I am
setting myself apart from all three. They must walk forward as one, guided by a
soul of great worth and courage. My Uncle Calen and my cousin Reinhardt are two
such courageous souls. The third will be just as worthy."
"You mean you're going to reveal the leader of the Sumsarian nation?" Chace said, Jolan nodding at him.
Chace. It is part of my destiny. I love my grandfather with all of my heart, and
I respect the five of his guiding brothers. But a clan needs a leader, a man
above all with a courageous soul, with a giving hand of truth and judgment. I
saw the man last night."
"You were at the palace, weren't you? Why did you walk away from us to go there?" Justin said, Jolan smiling at his husband.
not walk away from your love, Jus. I took that love with me. I walked there
The three looked at each other.
"Tolmar? What has he got to do with this? Other than the One Council, I mean. Is he to be their leader? He's a ghost, isn't he?" Chace said, Jolan looking at him.
"Tolmar is what he is. Queen Alveena was there last night as well. It seems they of the guiding love feel a presence within that ancient palace. It drew both of them, as it drew me. But I was there with a purpose."
"What purpose was that, Jolan? " Josh said, Jolan smiling at him.
"Queen Alveena's magic is gone. It is up to myself to protect what lays there until after the confrontation tomorrow. Then the doors of Bolta Cerului can finally reveal their secrets. And I can find peace and happiness. For that, above all else, I'll use my magic as I must."
Josh's arm went around Jolan and Hayden, the boy smiling at Josh.
your peace and happiness, Jolan. We love you for wanting us always."
Jolan smiled, kissing all five of the cheeks of his family.
all five of you. I'll risk everything to have your love."
All five smiled, Jolan's eyes looking towards the Badenwolf and Archanian camps.
two clans of love await. I am anxious to begin the final revelations. I need to
see my Uncle and my cousin, and their Elders."
The three men nodded, following Jolan across the Plains of Bladorra.
A few hours later, Jolan walked back into the encampment of the Sumsarians, his three loves at his side, the kids running ahead of them.
Jolan smiled, meeting Chris and Joey near their tents, the six having walked through the staring eyes of Jolan's Sumsarian brethren.
"About time you got back, Jo. The camp's been talking nonstop about your words this morning. The Sages have got their backs up. You left them in a stewing, simmering pot." Joey said, Jolan smiling at him.
"I left them with
the coming truth, Joe. It's up to them how they want to view it. My path is set.
I walk into their gathering with my own truths."
Joey nodded, his eyes meeting Chris', the man softly shaking his head no.
"It's okay, Chris. Your humour would lighten the gathering darkness right about now." Jolan said, smiling at him.
Chris smiled back at him, folding his arms.
"The mood's pretty severe with the Sages, Jo. Can I give you some sage advice?"
Jolan smiled, nodding.
Chris put his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"A sage on that stage could write a page on rage. But I think you'll put them in a cage, with lots of roughage. That I'll wage. . .er."
Jolan burst into laughter, Joey following him, Justin and Josh shaking their heads, Chace laughing as well.
"That's bad, Chris." Justin said, smiling at Jolan's laughing face.
"Bad, but well needed. Thanks, my friend." Jolan said.
Chris smiled, kissing Jolan's cheek.
for a walrus, right?"
Jolan laughed again, nodding and patting his back, walking towards their tents, everyone following.
Jolan walked into his tent, finding his two uncles and his father--along with Dominoso--waiting for him.
The four stood, Jolan smiling at them, Dominoso walking up to him.
"You've opened a wasp's nest, my grandson. The other Sages are riling up the clan with your words. The camp feels that a confrontation is coming between you and the One Council. Everyone is viewing today's meeting as a cataclysmic event." Domo said, Jolan smiling at his grandfather.
wasn't my intention, Grandfather. I was only stating the truth to them."
Simus walked up to Jolan, their grey eyes meeting.
"You just told them that the One Council's wisdom has ended, and that they were now alone in their protection, Jolan. How can they not feel threatened, alone, and scared?"
Jolan sighed, his eyes going to the tent's doorway.
"They are not alone, Uncle. They have two nations of courageous brethren at their door. And they will only be threatened if they stand and do nothing. We are all scared of the unknown, Uncle. But there hides in all of us a courage, a love and a faith in the world getting better. One walks among them with a valiant heart. It is my duty today to draw him forth. The gigantic size of his courageous soul shall instil in all of them a greater courage. And three judges of guidance will see that also."
Simus' hand went to Jolan's shoulder, his uncle showing his love in his eyes.
Council will not so easily be turned aside, my nephew. Tolmar's resolve is as
great or maybe greater than yours."
"I will handle him, and his comrades, Uncle. I have more words and truths within me."
Simus nodded, staring into his nephew's grey eyes.
"I'm sure you do, Jolan. I'm sure you do." he said softly, his eyes going to Joel.
your son, Joelius. He guards his soul with your same tenacity."
Joel smiled, walking up to Jolan.
"My son guards his secrets with magic and love. Today promises to be a great day of discovery, I can sense it in the air. I'll watch with love, my son. I shall have your back."
"As will all the Dragosan brothers." Simus said, Morgan nodding at his brothers.
Jolan smiled, kissing his father's cheek.
"I have no worry of danger, Father. I have love and truth on my side."
Joel smiled, his eyes meeting Justin's and Josh and Chace's.
"Yes, my son. There is great love surrounding you. As well as magic."
Jolan smiled, Morgan walking up to him.
and I shall stand with you, Jolan. We feel the greatness of your hidden truths.
I am a Dragosan as are my brothers and our children. We stand by all of our clan."
Jolan smiled, Morgan kissing his lips.
a part of today's truths, Uncle. It's time your heart was totally healed."
Morgan looked surprised by Jolan's words, his brothers staring at both of them.
Jolan smiled, kissing his uncle back.
"Yes, Uncle. Paths once taken can be walked again. Let your heart open to that truth."
Morgan stepped back, staring at Jolan, his Dragosan brothers staring at Morgan.
"What do you mean, Jolan?" Simus said, Jolan smiling at him.
"Your older brother's heart will see its truth before the day ends, Uncle. I welcome its radiating love."
Morgan smiled at Jolan, his wide smile infectious.
"Mysteries. A heart of so many mysteries." Morgan said, Jolan's smile changing into a grin.
am, Uncle. My love is laced with it."
Everyone smiled, Jolan softly sighing.
"I'm a bit tired, I need to rest for a little while. Wake me when the hour chimes eleven, my loves." he said, walking over to the bed, Hayden jumping down onto it, Jolan laying down beside him, his son snuggling against him.
sleeps with you, Dada. Logan too!"
Chace smiled, walking over and depositing his son down on top of Jolan's chest.
The smaller boy giggled, snuggling between Hayden and their Dada, everyone smiling at the three.
They all quietly walked out of the room, Justin's smiling face the last to disappear behind the tent's doorway.
Jolan sighed, Logan climbing up on top of his chest, Hayden joining him there, Jolan's arms going around both.
"We feels the wuv, Dada. We's know it's coming. He nice!"
Jolan smiled, kissing both on their foreheads, the boys smiling and snuggling against him.
my angels. His love shall be freed."
The three smiled, Jolan closing his tired eyes, his boys doing the same.
Justin's eyes scanned the immense crowd, no sign of Jolan's presence yet seen.
He, Josh and Chace were guided to the viewing stand on the right of the palace's front steps, their family and friends following them.
Josh carried a bag with him, setting it down between his legs when he sat down.
They sat as a group, all their eyes taking in the multitude sitting--and standing--before them.
On the left side of the steps the Sages and their families were seated, the authority of the Sumsarian nation sitting together.
Domo sat with his other five contemporaries, his eyes on Jolan's family.
The annual Sumsarian assembly of the clan was minutes away from beginning.
The nation had moved from the encampment, walking the short distance to the area in front of Bolta Cerului's palace.
Justin's eyes had scanned the palace, its ancient stone buildings and statues seemingly drenched in silence, shadowy against the sun now shining down upon everyone.
The sun had crested the mountain's peak, its rays above them radiating the area in its warm brightness.
The nation was waiting in a semi-circle around the front stone platform in front of the palace, a large slab of marble at least twenty feet square, elevated about six feet above the nation, white marble steps rising to it.
This platform sat before the long steps leading upwards onto the third tiered front terrace.
The marble slab between the two sets of steps had been empty, its sullen greyness matching the ancient palace behind it.
Justin knew that the One Council would reside on top of that platform.
Domo had told them of the gathering's protocol, a meeting of devotion and forgiveness.
Dominoso would start by offering the yearly blessing, the three councillors then speaking their own words of guidance and wisdom.
The Sages would give words of encouragement, and give news of the year's events..
And then Dominoso would hand over the floor to his grandson.
The Caitre Din Dragoste would speak to his nation, his words judged by the three upon the marble dais.
Justin's eyes went to the marble dais, a large three-tiered table now standing at its edge, the table empty.
Josh leaned over to Justin, Justin's eyes meeting his.
"No sign of Jolan. I assume he'll walk in by himself." Josh said, Justin nodding.
"You know how our Jolan likes to make an entrance. I think we're in for some pageantry and some visions of wonder, Joshy." Chace said on Justin's other side, the other two nodding.
The kids were back in the tent, Auntie Gee and Kelly staying with them all.
Justin's eyes were scanning the crowd, several reporters seen around.
Jennie and Jonathan sat behind Justin, Lynn and Melina on both sides of them, the four Dragosan brothers at their sides.
The rest of Jolan's friends were behind them, the viewing stand filled to capacity.
Cardinal Giovanni and Reverend Francis seated with them as well.
Calen's grey eyes took in the gathered crowd, several eyes looking towards them.
Jolan had insisted that his uncle be there, the Sages voicing words of concern, Jolan remaining determined.
"He is my family, of blood and love." he'd said, the Sages giving in to his demand reluctantly.
Jolan's three Archanian cousins remained with their clan, Jolan silent on what was to come.
"I sense a lot of gathering tension around us." Chris said, sitting behind Calen, Joey and Britney beside him, Lance beside Joey.
"You can cut it with a knife." Joey said, Lance nodding, his eyes scanning everywhere, looking towards the palace.
"The palace's architecture is amazing, so detailed and magnificent. It must have taken King Dragos years to build it. The location itself a great hindrance." he said, Calen looking back at him.
"It was built in only five years, Lance. King Dragos had the best stone carvers and artisans construct it. The best of the times built it. It is a marvel of architectural engineering. From what Father said, the inner beauty is even more amazing." he said, Lance's green eyes meeting his.
"You've never been inside?" he said, Calen shaking his head in the negative.
"No one has entered the inner sanctums since King Dragos' time. His death sealed it away from everyone, Queen Alveena closing it off. From everyone save our lost queen and my giving nephew."
Everyone nodded, their wondrous eyes going to the palace.
inner truth will shed a light one day upon all of us."
Calen's eyes met Jennie's blue pools, the young woman having spoken.
"What inner truth lays there, Jennica?" Simus said, the young woman smiling.
"The Sumsarian treasure lays there, Uncles. I'm just not sure exactly where it is or what it is, but I sense Jolan knows wherein it lies."
The two men's eyes widened in surprise, Jennie's eyes meeting everyone's.
"Jolan's soul knows much. I truly believe he knows all that's going on here. Today he begins that truth." she said, Jonathan's arm going around her, she smiling at him.
"And what of you, our Sun Child?" Calen said, Jennie smiling at him.
"I stand at my brother's side, Uncle. His love and magic will draw out many truths." she said, Justin's eyes meeting hers.
"The greatest truth is your love, Jennie. Yours and his." he said, Jennie smiling widely.
"That is the greatest truth indeed, Justin." she smiled, Justin smiling back at her, the conversation quieting.
Justin eyes went back to the clan before him, his eyes catching Bernard Sumsare walking to his seat beside his brother and niece, Justin smiling.
He and Jolan had met both men just before Justin had gone to his seat with his soulmates, all four smiling at the two men walking up to them when they'd entered the gathering place.
Both Swiss Sumsarians had engulfed all four of them with tight loving hugs, Ernest Sumsare showing great emotion, his daughter Greta smiling at all four.
"To look upon you here in the heart of my brethren--and in this magical place--gives my heart great joy, Jolan." Ernest had said, Jolan smiling at the large innkeeper.
"To see your and your brother's faces here gives me even greater joy, Ernest." Jolan had said, both Swiss men beaming with happiness.
"Our Swiss clan is all here, Jolan. We have followed your love to the dawning of the coming age of greatness. We stand with you in all circumstances." Bernard had said, Jolan smiling at all three of them, his eyes moving behind them, smiling at familiar Swiss faces behind them.
"I feel loved by all my Swiss brethren. Your endearing love has followed you here. I feel its warming goodness."
All three had smiled, Domo walking up to Jolan and his three soulmates, the man smiling at the Swiss men.
"Hello Bernard and Ernest. And your daughter Greta. It has been a long time." he said, the men and woman smiling.
grandson is the light of love that we have long waited for, Dominoso. Our Swiss
hearts rejoice at this day."
Domo smiled, looking at Jolan.
"The meeting is soon to begin, Jolan. Justin and all of your family and friends need to be seated. Come with me, Jolan. You shall wait behind the stands until your time." Domo smiled, Jolan smiling at him.
"Alright, Grandfather. My time is indeed at hand. I'll see all of you later." Jolan had said, smiling at his soulmates, and his friends and family.
That was the last Justin had seen of his husband, Jolan walking away with Dominoso.
His eyes looked towards the older man, Domo talking with the other Sages.
Justin's eyes glanced at his watch, reading eleven fifty eight.
Josh's lips meet Justin's cheek, the two looking into each other's eyes, Chace looking at both.
"It's time, Justin. Our Jolan walks to his destiny." Josh said, a tear showing in his blue eyes.
Justin nodded, his eyes going to the marble dais.
The crowd went silent, all the eyes of the nation on the three-tiered table on the marble dais, three souls of quiet refinement now seated at it, magically appearing out of thin air.
Tolmar sat at the table's center, Degas on his left, Belos on his right.
Dominoso Sumsare rose from his seat, walking from the left viewing stand to the center of the gathering, his eyes looking up from the bottom steps of the dais.
"Welcome to our devotion, welcome to our joining faithfulness, oh ancient ones." he said, going to one knee, the nation standing, going to one knee as well, Justin and his family and friends staring at all of them in quiet silence.
The three men on the dais remained silent, their eyes taking in the kneeling adoration of the Sumsarian clan.
"Arise nation of destiny." Tolmar said, Domo rising to his feet, the clan rising as well, everyone staring at the One Council.
"Another year passes and the nation of Sumsarian destiny joins again, Dominoso Sumsare, leader of our North American clansmen." Belos said, staring at his descendant.
"Welcome again, ancestor of my soul. To look upon your faithfulness radiates joy into my heart." Domo said, the man on the right side of the table nodding his head in recognition.
"Where is your grandson, Dominoso? His path challenges at all ends." Tolmar said, his eyes scanning the nation, people looking at each other, a sense of concern showing on their faces.
"He is here in Bolta Cerului, great ones." Domo said, Tolmar's eyes meeting Domo's.
"I know that all too well, Dominoso. As I know of his wandering intrusions." Tolmar said, his eyes going to the Dragosan clan and then Justin.
"The children of Vilos attend as well. Good. Today will be a vindication of all who walk this path. It is time that truth rings forth." Tolmar said, the four Dragosans staring at him.
"Begin the accolades, Dominoso. A prayer for forgiveness and atonement." Degas said, Domo turning and looking out upon his clansmen.
gather as always in front of the sacred Rooftop of Heaven, our ancestor's
tribute to God's love. Let us pray for deliverance, for forgiveness and for hope
that life will be ascertained. That our damaged souls will one day rise in
healed love. My own soul believes today is such a day."
Domo turned back, looking at the One Council, then back again at the clan.
He folded his hands before him, going to one knee again, the nation joining him.
"Heavenly Father of light and goodness, deliverer of truth and love. We your children of lost guidance, of pained existence seek your heavenly forgiveness. For our nation walks in sin, in lost hope and unworthiness. We bow before those that seek to guide us, to give us the path to righteousness and truth. We, the red-marked of evil's intent, seek only truth and healing love. Guide us this day as you have every day to the salvation of our destiny. We walk in your light, guided by those seated above us, servants of our lost Queen's giving love. Let us walk on a short path to salvation, that hope in all of our souls. What say you children of Sumsarian devotion? What say you to God's love and forgiveness?"
The nation's hands went to the heavens, their crying voices steeped in emotion.
"Forgive us, God! Guide us with your love! Goodness lays within our souls! Draw out the evil, cleanse us with thy love!" they cried, the people in Justin's viewing stand watching in quiet reverence.
Tolmar stood up from his seat, the nation's eyes going to his deep blue pools.
"Arise children of Sumsarian birthright. God hears your prayers. The time is almost at hand." he said, the nation rising to their feet, Domo rising to his, staring up at the councillor above him.
"Sit in silent reverence, children of Queen Alveena's lineage. Listen to the wisdom and guidance you shall hear today." Tolmar said, returning to his seat, the nation sitting down again.
Domo bowed to the three, the other five Sages moving to his sides, Tolmar looking down at all six.
the word of the continents of servitude, Sages? How finds this year better than
last?" Degas said, folding his hands before him, he and Belos staring down at
all six men.
Tolmar's eyes were on Justin and the Dragosans, Zaleen Trentos beginning to speak, the Sages giving their speeches of devotion and acceptance.
They talked for over half an hour, the One Council listening to their words of hope and praise.
Craig Sumsare was the last to speak, telling the council and the clan of the year's hardships and resolutions.
"A year unlike the last hundred. The path comes to an end." Belos said, looking in Dominoso's blue eyes.
"For the nation it comes to fruition, ancient ones." Domo said, the three councillors nodding.
"So the destined truths say, Dominoso." Tolmar said, looking down at him.
"We have heard the prayers and the devotions. Now comes the time of exposing the truth surrounding us." Tolmar said, standing up again, staring down at the six Sages.
all knowing, all listening, and all guiding. Where is he who dares to confront
us? Bring forth your grandson, Dominoso Sumsare. It is time Jolan Dragos saw the
truth of his destiny."
Domo bowed before the three, his head turning towards the Dragosan clan.
truth and love wish to speak, ancient ones."
Tolmar's eyes went to the four Dragosan brothers, his head nodding.
"Walk before us, children of Vilos. Speak for the last time for him whom you've raised above all others." Tolmar said, staring at no one.
Morgan, Simus, Calen and Joel Dragos rose from their seats, walking forward to the lower steps of the palace, all eyes of the nation upon them.
Morgan looked up at the One Council, his brothers surrounding him.
"I am the
Warrior. I have fought long for all the nation of Sumsarian birthright."
Morgan said, the councillors remaining silent.
"I am the Uniter. I have united the clan together as it once was." Joel said, staring upwards.
"I am the Illuminator. I have illuminated their souls with their history." Calen said, staring at Tolmar.
"I am the Seeker. I have sought out every Sumsarian life. They all stand here now before you."
The three councillors nodded, Simus' body turning, staring out at the Sumsarian nation.
"We are the children of Vilos Dragos, child of creation of King Dragos' lust for immortality. Our father--greatest of the courageous of Queen Alveena's worth--bestowed within us our devotion to your salvation. The time is at hand, children of her worth. We have fulfilled our oaths. We have accomplished our tasks. The path now stands for only one. For he whom was foretold, for he who shall give all. I name him today as he of the greatest love. The Caitre Din Dragoste walked among you. Let us bow to his greatness. Walk into the center of life, Caitre Din Dragoste. Walk to your destiny."
The four Dragosan brothers went to their knees before the One Council, Domo kneeling behind them, the nation going to its knees as well.
Joel Dragos rose to his feet, staring up into Tolmar's deep blue eyes.
"I name him as my son. I name him as their destiny. Come forward, Jolan Dragos. The path ends for all of us."
Joel turned, looking out upon the Sumsarian nation.
"Walk forward, Jolan Dragos. Give us our salvation."
The gathering was silent, no sound heard.
Joel's eyes looked out at all the kneeling nation, no sign of his son's face showing.
brothers were scanning the large mass of people, their silence joining
Joel's eyes searched the crowd, no sign of his son anywhere.
He traded looks with his brothers and Domo, Domo walking out in front of the nation.
"Walk into the light of your family, Caitre Din Dragoste. Come forward, my grandson." he said, no movement shown.
Justin and his family and friends were looking everywhere as well, people in the crowd murmuring, the One Council above the Dragosans looking around as well.
"Your son tries the patience of this tribunal and his clan for the last time, Joelius Dragos. Where is he?"
Joel looked up into their judging faces, seeing their determined stares.
The gathering silence was broken by the sound of fluttering wings, people in the crowd screaming and pointing, all eyes going to the western sky, a vision of winged beauty showing before everyone.
Eleven winged warriors of the Archanian race were flying towards the palace from the Archanian encampment.
"We are being attacked!" people screamed, Domo raising his hands.
"Calmness, my brethren! It is only a few souls! There is no immediate danger!" he shouted, a sudden movement to the back of the crowd voicing more screams.
The mass before Domo and the Dragosans separated, dividing into two sides, another vision of surprising magic showing itself between them.
Walking towards the front of the palace were six Badenwolf souls.
Their beastly apparitions were taken in with shocked wonder by everyone, all the nation on its feet in haste.
The six Badenwolves walked down the opened aisle, heading for the front steps of the palace, the large wolf at the pack's lead casting its eyes around.
Calen stared forward at his son--Elijah the Sulfenwolf--advancing towards him.
The clan took in the wolfen brethren walking down their center, eleven flying men suddenly flying over their heads, the Archanians descending gently down upon the ground in front of the steps, the Dragosans and One Council staring down at them and the now Badenwolf warriors stopping beside the Archanian winged warriors.
eyes looked up at his father, Calen's love and pride seen in his grey eyes.
"I am Elijah Fontaine. I am the Sulfenwolf of the Badenwolf nation. Standing with me are the five Elders of the Badenwolf clan. We walk today into the midst of your clan summoned here in friendship by he who guides you. We offer our friendship and courage to you in this the hour of your truth."
The Sages stared at Domo, all five walking forward from their seats, joining Domo on the steps.
Elijah stared at all six, Domo staring down at the young man.
Quinton Banyon moved to Elijah's wolfen side, the other four Elders showing their wolfen heritage.
Tolmar stood behind the Dragosans, staring down at everyone.
"Wolfen magic is not welcomed here before the One Council. You would be best to walk out of the clan of Sumsarian birthright. How come you by your souls?" the man said, Calen turning and staring up at the councillors.
"They have those souls by the greatness of our Great Wolf's love. As do I."
Calen's form changed before the One Council, Tolmar's eyes widening, the other two councillors on their feet.
"It. . .it is impossible! His Badenwolf soul is healed! What magic is this?" Belos said, Tolmar staring down into Calen's now yellow eyes.
"It is the magic of my nephew's love, Great Ones." Calen said, moving down the palace steps, walking to his son's side, Elijah staring at him with love, the five Elders bowing to Calen.
"I am the Prince of the Badenwolf clan. And I am the father of the Sulfenwolf."
The three councillors stared in shock, the Sumsarian nation staring in stunned silence as well at the man who'd once guided them with his knowledge of their history.
"You have another son?" Tolmar said, his face covered in shock, staring at the muscular wolfen apparition standing at Calen's wolfen side.
"I have four sons of courage, worth and valour. I consider myself the proudest father of any nation." the man said, his yellow eyes going to the winged clan standing at his right, his three Archanian sons smiling at him with love.
Reinhart Bachmann walked forward, staring up at the One Council.
"I am Reinhart Bachmann, I am the leader of the Archanian nation. Behind me stands the other three sons of Calen Dragos and the seven Elders of our clan. We are the Archanians, the winged warriors of magic and truth. We land here today in friendship and courage at the request of our winged warrior of love and truth. For the Wingshola we would walk into any clan, be it of friendship or of anger."
The three councillors stared at the winged warriors, Tolmar zeroing in on the three young winged men standing behind Reinhardt, their eyes on their father, his smiling face filled with love.
hidden from us and the Sumsarian people the truth of your sons' identities, Calen
Dragos. Archanian children and Badenwolf? Why were we not informed of this
Calen walked forward, his wolfen face staring at the three looking upon him, his brothers standing before them, their eyes filled with love for their brother and his sons.
"My children are not sacrilegious, Tolmar. They are sons of worth and courage. My nephew of greatness opened their souls to their inner truths. They stand before you with their courage showing. I am Badenwolf and my children are my soul." the man said, his growling voice heard by all surrounding him.
"What is the purpose of this vision before us? Why are these two clans on this plain, here before the nation of worth? This is sacred land to the Sumsarian nation."
Reinhardt moved forward, Elijah moving as well.
"There are three nations of worth here, Councillor of misjudging worth." Reinhardt said, Elijah now at his father's side.
not welcomed here. This is the assembly of the Sumsarian nation. Who is this
Wingshola you spoke of? Or this Great Wolf? Are your masters hiding
in shadows devising tension and chaos before the devotion to tomorrow's
Elijah walked forward, Reinhardt at his side, the two walking forward up the steps before the One Council.
"The Great Wolf has greater courage than all of us. For his soul is of infinite patience for allowing this council to continue." Elijah said, his rugged voice filled with calmness and courage, his father smiling at him.
The three councillors looked down upon the young wolfen beast, Tolmar's eyes flooding with anger.
Reinhardt walked up beside his wolfen friend, his blue eyes staring up at the three of judgment, his wingspan fluttering behind him, the Sumsarian nation standing in silence, staring at both apparitions upon their sacred palace steps.
"Our giving, loving Wingshola needs not hide in shadows to give his love and guidance to all of us. We honour his greatness with our total devotion to his greater destiny." Reinhardt said, the three councillors looked at each other, Tolmar standing again.
"Bring forth these leaders that dare to draw your nations forward against the other clan."
"We do not draw against, we are here of our own volition. We come with courage and hope. Such is what this clan needs. Evil runs through them and we shall fight with them to free that evil." Elijah said, his father looking at him with pride.
"Boastful words from a young fool. Step back and leave us. No beastly visions will shake fear into hearts already flooded with evil." Tolmar said, Elijah's head raising, a deep howl filling the day's brightness, everyone staring at the beast shrieking before them.
People turned, hearing a thunderous sound coming from behind the clan, its humming greatness filling the ground and air.
screamed, everyone turning and staring at a large mass moving towards them.
It filled the plains behind the clan, and the air above them.
Hundreds of Archanian winged warriors filled the sky, swooping in all directions, the grounds surrounding the clan encircled now by troops of Badenwolf wolfen warriors.
The clan of Moldavia was immediately surrounded, the winged warriors landing before the Badenwolves, their wingspans widening.
Tolmar stared at the appearing forces, the man's hands going into the air.
"Step back from your showing bravado! You have no right to be here and you cannot threaten the clan of destiny. Step back or I and my brethren of magic will send you back across the waters!"
Calen walked forward, his brothers going to his side.
the Dragosan clan, we are of magic as well. Our nephew has spoken truth to us.
The time of your hold on our Sumsarian brethren has gone, Tolmar, Belos and
Degas. The nation of Sumsarian birthright stands at its destiny."
"Your nephew is wrong in his assumptions, Calen Dragos. He hides from his destiny." Tolmar said, anger showing on his face, his hands going together before him, a soft glow coming to his fingers.
"Advise your hidden leaders to remove unwelcomed clansmen of wolfish anger and winged courage. I only state this once." Tolmar said, the three clans staring at the man standing above them behind a three-tiered table.
Reinhardt and Elijah joined the four Dragosan brothers, all six staring at Tolmar.
"We stand in wait for destiny." Elijah said, a loud howl filling the silence, the Badenwolf clan howling, the Archanian clan flapping their wings together with thunderous sound.
Justin and his friends and family stood in bated silence on the right side of the front steps of the palace, taking in the changing intensity of the last few minutes.
The rumbling din of the gathering clans was silenced by one sharp flash of lightning streaking across the sky above them, its bolt of streaking light rushing across the Lake of Life.
The lightning bolt hit the hill on the far side of the lake, the same hill where Jolan had twice met his grandparents.
A smouldering cloud of smoke and flame rolled off the hill, the three clans staring towards it, the plains bathed in silence.
"Destiny is upon all of you."
Everyone's heads turned, their eyes scanning towards the voice of baritone loudness and calming determination that had flooded the silent area.
Their eyes raised past the One Council, rising up the steps behind the marble dais, a lone figure standing upon the palace's front terrace.
The three councillors of the One Council turned around, their eyes taking in the vision before them as well.
On the front terrace of the palace of Bolta Cerului stood a tall muscular wolfen beast of sensual beauty, a white crown emblazoned on its brown fur covered-chest, two intense yellow eyes of glaring love staring down at everyone.
The beast raised its head, a loud howl resonating across the Plains of Bladorra, that voice silencing all staring at its vision of truth.
The Great Wolf stood upon the stone terrace of the Sumsarian palace, its strength and beauty silencing everyone.
"I am three of soul, I am three of life. And I am one of courage. It is time that life seizes destiny." Jolan Dragos said, his wolfen self walking off the terrace, his physique changing as he walked towards the three clans.
All eyes widened when a beast of hairiness changed before them into a vision of winged beauty and grace.
The winged violet-eyed vision before them took flight, its wings expanding from behind it, sweeping off the terrace, flying over the One Council, the Archanian descending upon the front steps of the palace in front of his uncles and his brethren cousins.
The vision changed again, the winged warrior becoming a muscled, smooth bodied man, Jolan Dragos standing before his brethren in only a small loincloth, all three clans staring at him in shocked wonder.
Josh stood up from his spot in the viewing stand, Chace and Justin looking at him.
The man moving from his seat, a clothed bundle in his hands which he'd carried to the stands in a now empty bag.
He walked towards the palace steps, walking up to Jolan, unfurling the bundle in his hands.
Jolan's now grey eyes stared at the man, a soft smile crossing his face.
"Thank you, my familiar of love." he said, Josh smiling, and handing Jolan a unfurled white cotton cloak, Jolan slipping the cloak over his almost nude body, Josh walking back to his friends and loved ones.
Jolan fastened the cloak around his body, his grey eyes staring out at the three nations before him.
"I am three of magic and I am one of love. I am life and I am destiny." he said, his eyes turning back to the One Council.
"Your magic. . .no one. . .it isn't possible!" Degas stuttered, Belos' face showing as much shock and emotion as his fellow councillor.
"All is possible when you have the magic of destiny."
Jolan's grey eyes raised, his and Tolmar's eyes meeting.
"I have spoken truth, councillors of guidance. Your time of guidance is at an end. The mysticism and magic of your devotional destiny has ended. The clan of my forefathers has ended its path. Destiny is upon all of us." Jolan said, turning around again and walking to the bottom step, staring forward at the Sumsarian clan.
Ernest and Bernard, Jordan and his wife, and others of Sumsarian birthright stared at the man before them, their souls taken over by the awed wonder of the magic showing before them.
"I am the Wingshola. I am the Great Wolf. And I am the Caitre Din Dragoste. To all clans I am the same. I am magic and I am love. It is time for the old pacts of history to vanish. For now comes the final pact of your joined souls."
Tolmar stood again, his eyes staring down at the man standing before him.
"The Pact of Archania can never be destroyed, Jolan Dragos. It is ironclad in its destiny. So said she who made it."
Jolan's eyes stared at Tolmar.
of Queen Ravenia's pact and its history. But you know not of me."
Tolmar's face flushed with anger, Jolan's grey eyes softly glowing.
His vision changed, the Archanian soul within him showing again, his height rising, Jolan having removed the cloak again, his wide wingspan flowing behind him.
"I am the Wingshola, created by Queen Ravenia herself from the Tree of Truth. I am a creation of that magic, the same magic that created the Pact of Archania. I ask now that two souls of Badenwolf and Sumsarian worth please step forward."
Ernest Sumsare moved forward, his daughter Greta staring at him with surprise, the man moving to Jolan.
Quinton Banyon stepped forward, the wolfen Elder standing beside the Sumsarian, Ernest's blue eyes looking up into his yellow, Jolan staring at both.
"Two souls indeed of worthiness. Do you both know the truth of the Pact of Archania?"
Jolan. A pact of Badenwolf devotion in return for the royal blood of the Sumsarian
lineage." Ernest said.
"Devotion for death. Honour for humility." Jolan said, both men nodding.
Jolan's hands moved forward, his fingers extending forward, their beauty changing into wooden stalks, his fingers looking like tree branches.
part of the Tree of Truth. The pact was created by the rejoining of a
broken Branch of Justice. My fingers are of the same wood, of the same
tree. It is time that pact was destroyed. To
do so one only needs to break my fingers."
The two men widened their eyes in surprise, stepping back in shock.
destiny and I am truth. Remove the pain and humiliation from your lineage. The
Pact of Archania must end for destiny to come."
The two men looked at each other, Ernest's eyes meeting Jolan's violet.
He saw there the unchanged love of the man of greatness that emotionally overcame him time and time again.
Ernest reached forward, taking one of Jolan's fingers in his large strong hand.
me, Giver. To give you pain would crush my soul."
"Your soul is already clouded with evil's pain, my Sumsarian brethren. I feel your worthiness."
Ernest teared up, his fingers tightening around Jolan's, an audible snap heard by everyone, Jolan's face suddenly laced with pain, his violet eyes glowing.
Ernest stepped back, a wooden branch in his palm, one of Jolan's fingers gone.
Jolan opened his eyes, their violet centers looking into Quinton Banyon's yellow eyes of wolfen emotion.
"And you of my wolfen brethren?" he said, Quinton moving forward, his hand going around another of Jolan's fingers.
"My soul pains with your loving devotion, Great Wolf." he said, squeezing Jolan's fingers, another snap heard, the wolf's eyes closing, stepping back, its hand opening, a branch in his as well.
Jolan's eyes closed for a moment, then reopened, his face showing no emotion.
"The pact is broken. For the clans of Badenwolf and Sumsarian, justice has been vanquished." Jolan said, his hand going into the cloak's pocket, his form changing back to human, the man turning back to the One Council as he pulled the robe on again.
of Dahlia Lantos and King Athos has ended. Now comes a greater pact. A pact of
triangular devotion. I am the man to see that done."
Tolmar folded his hands before him, his eyes softly glowing.
"You stand here in great disrespect, lost one. Lost to our vision for so long. Lost to all your clans. And now here you walk into this assembly and think you have the greatness to control all of them."
Jolan looked up at the council, closing his white robe over his body again.
"I have the greatness of destiny in my soul, councillors. It is time you walked your final path."
The three men looked at each other, all three standing up.
"You stand here and threaten us? Our magic could destroy you, disillusioned youth. You are as bombastic as this other wolfen upstart. I tire of you young fools. This ends now." Tolmar said, Jolan staring at him.
"Yes, Tolmar Sumsare. It ends now."
Jolan's hands raised with lightning speed, the One Council immediately covered in a white light, everyone standing around them stepping back in surprise, audible gasps and screams heard from all three nations.
The white light only lasted for a few moments, then dissipated immediately.
The table remained, the three standing behind it staring out at everyone.
Jolan Dragos' grey eyes looked up into Tolmar's eyes, his eyes now showing no glowing attributions.
"Your destiny begins as well today, Tolmar. For I know the truth of your soul."
The man looked surprised, his hands going to his chest, then moving outward, a look of stunned reality showing on his face, the same look showing on the other two councillors.
"You cannot reach that which no longer can be summoned by you. Your magic is gone. Today you are real again. Today and for the final path the three of you walk as true Sumsarians. From the Draught of Life immortality thrives, from the Draught of Magic within myself mortality returns."
The three councillors sat down in stunned silence, Jolan's eyes turning back to the Sumsarian nation before him.
"The Once Council has ended. Its once given guidance finished. Destiny is before us." Jolan said, the man walking down the steps, walking in front of his Sumsarian brethren, Ernest's large frame at his side.
"I am the Caitre Din Dragoste. I am the Giver of Love." Jolan said, his eyes looking around at his clan of blue-eyed brothers and sisters.
Badenwolf nation has its Prince and Sulfenwolf, its leaders of worth an courage, my
uncle and cousin,
friends and giving men. The Archanian nation has its leader of worth and courage,
Reinhardt Bachmann, a cousin, friend and giving man."
Jolan's eyes softly glowed, the nation of Sumsarian might staring at him with silent awe.
time my Sumsarian nation finds its leader. I have felt his soul throughout the
night and day leading to this meeting. He is here among you."
Jolan turned, looking back at his father and his three Dragosan uncles.
Jolan turned back to the Sumsarian nation.
"I call before me a mother of courage, a mother of love and strength. Camilla Sumsare, walk forward to me."
Behind Jolan, Morgan Dragos gasped, Jolan remaining still, the crowd before him beginning to part.
His grey eyes took in a woman walking through the crowd, her black hair hanging in curls upon her shoulders.
She walked into the opening, Jolan's eyes glancing behind her, a soft smile crossing his lips.
She stopped in front of him, her eyes staring into his, then looking behind him.
Jolan smiled at her, her face showing soft emotion.
"What. . .what do you ask of me. . .Giver?"
nothing, child of love and courage. I only ask for your forgiveness."
She looked confused, staring into his grey eyes.
"Forgiveness? Forgiveness. . .for what?"
"For opening the path to his greatness, and to his truth." Jolan said, the man turning from her blue eyes, staring into two other blue eyes of the person who'd followed the woman through the crowd.
Jolan Dragos sank to one knee, his head bowing in respect.
"I bow to the worthiness of your guiding love, Arias Sumsare. Behold the leader of your nation, Sumsarian brethren!" he said, his voice carrying across the plains, all eyes going to the man standing behind Camilla Sumsare.
Arias Sumsare stood behind his mother, his blue youthful eyes staring down at the man who'd saved his life last night.
Jolan's grey eyes met his, the older man smiling at the younger.
"Walk forward to destiny, our true Sun Child."
End of Chapter 160
And a child shall lead them.
Did anyone see that coming?
A meeting beginning with ominous lines of battle drawn between the three nations.
And now Jolan reveals a new player in the game.
What lays ahead?
Only one way to find out.
Read on, my walkers on the path.