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The Chase

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It was quite crowded that evening in the Koenig Manor, and Scott had trouble finding Jordan. The older man was obviously trying to avoid him, but he would have none of it. In the ball room, the party was buoyant and cheerful. Most people had a glass of champagne and some delicious canapés made by the excellent Mrs O’Toole, and they were chatting in little groups. Scott turned around a young man with short platinum hair who was talking intently with a Japanese businessman, under the careful watch of a muscular man with dark brown hair that curled on top of his shoulders. As he was walking past a table, catching a few scones on the way, he felt someone watching him. He looked at the corner of the room and saw a hooded figure that seemed to be observing everyone and everything. The figure was alone, immobile in the shadows, and even though Scott couldn’t see his face he could have sworn the man was smirking at him.

'Totally creepy, and definitely not human', thought Scott.

The last was easy to deduce. Most people at Alric’s party tonight were not human.

It was a party that Alric organized every year. He would invite people from all the different species that lived in the region, so that they would all meet and discuss in a friendly setting. He said it was good for inter-species relations, and that it reminded everyone that Winter Haven was a place where all species were welcome as long as they could live in peace with each other. It was the first time Scott and Ethan were participating in this party, and they had spent a good part of the evening trying to figure out the species of every guest. They all looked human, but most of them were more than what they seemed.

Scott had a feeling though that some of them might reveal their true nature later in the evening, during the little game he had planned for the guests with Alric’s permission.

'Alric doesn’t know all the details of what I’ve planned though', thought Scott with a grin.

The young werewolf zigzagged between some other guests, trying to get to the other side of the ball room. He glanced at a couple — Stephanus and Cole — that was kissing under a mistletoe with a pang of jealousy. He should be doing the same with Jordan, could have spent the whole evening doing just that, but of course the man had decided to help the staff instead.

As he was reaching the end of the room, he finally caught sight of the Brit man. He was carrying a tray of glasses and… was about to walk under a mistletoe! Scott raced though the last meters and caught Jordan by the arm, nearly knocking over all the glasses.

"Oh look! We’re under a mistletoe! What a coincidence", said Scott with a large grin.

"Scott! Be careful can’t you see I’m carrying champagne?!" The werewolf rolled his eyes.

"Ah well, let me help you with that"

Scott grabbed one of the glasses on the tray and gulped in down in two large swallows. He was reaching for a second one when Jordan stopped him.

"Wait stop! Just how many have you had already?"

"Hmm. Not enough to forget that you’re serving the guests instead of… servicing me."

Scott felt quite drunk though. But maybe that was because Jordan’s scent was filling his nostrils and that was the headiest of smell. He reached towards Jordan and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"Jordaaan. Mistletoe. You’re supposed to be kissing me back."

Jordan sighed.

"We’ll do plenty of kissing after I’m done, I promise. But I really must help the staff tonight, they’re short-handed. All those who are not aware of the existence of magical creatures have been given the night off."

After a glance to the ceiling, he added: "Who put that many mistletoes anyway? They’re like EVERYWHERE. It’s really hard to move about with couples kissing in every doorway."

Scott beamed. "Pretty awesome right?! Ethan and me took care of the decoration."

"Why am I not surprised…", commented the Brit with another roll of his eyes.

Scott let go of Jordan's arm with regret, and took a step back.

"Well if you don’t have time to fool around, I guess we might as well move on to the next part of the evening. The FUN part!"

Scott jumped on a table — making Jordan wince, probably because it was covered in a pristine white tablecloth — and raised his voice to catch all the guests’ attention.

"Ladies and gentlemen! Humans, demons, vampires, elves, witches, werewolves, shifters… I hear we even have dragons tonight??"

Scott scanned the room as the guests started to gather around him, as if trying to distinguish a snout and scaly wings in the crowd.

"Our host Alric left me in charge of entertaining the guests tonight, and so I've planned a little event! A sort of game. With a prize to win!"

He marked a pause, to build the suspense. The guests looked curious. He spotted his grandfather sitting near the hearth, giving him a thumbs up to encourage him.

"The goal will be to catch this." he continued, producing a small silvery object from his pocket.
It was a pendant of a crescent moon, attached to a silver chain.

Scott nodded at Gray who was sitting by Ethan’s side, and she jumped on the table beside him. The she-wolf was the only one who knew about his plans for the evening. Scott crouched down and petted her ears. They hadn’t always gotten along, but their relationship had significantly improved since Scott had become a wolf himself.

"Gray here will be the one carrying this moon pendant. Catch her, and you can get the pendant and claim the reward for yourself."

He attached the little crescent moon around Gray’s neck.

Then he stood up and faced the crowd once again. Gray was standing proud, the silver pendant glittering at her neck.

"And for the one who manages to get the pendant, the reward will be…"

Scott took a deep breath, enjoying his moment before he dropped his little bomb.

"… A KISS FROM ALRIC!", he shouted with a large grin.

Immediately, he heard Ethan gasped.

"Wait what? NO! I did NOT agree to this!", protested his best friend vehemently.

But it was too late. Gray was already jumping from the table.

"Gray! Come right here, give me that pendant!!"

The she-wolf though just sent him a playful wink and raced through the crowd and toward the door.

"Gray, you traitor! Come back here immediately! I’m NOT sharing Father’s kisses!"

Ethan started to run after Gray, but he was stopped in his track by Arcturus and nearly bumped into him.

"Oh my, I’m afraid I will fight you on this one, dear grandson. I cannot let such an opportunity pass."

"Arcturus! Let me pass! Father is MINE !"

"You will have to beat me first", replied Arcturus with a playful smile.

Ethan narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists.

"Ah well, I guess a duel between us had to happen one day or another. I’m ready to fight you for Father’s affections."

As the two elves started a stare-down contest, with magic sparks glittering between their fingers, Scott raised his voice again.

"You two can have your duel if you want. But remember, you’re not the only participants here!"

And with that, he transformed into a wolf and ran towards the door where Gray had left.

"Scott! Why? I won’t let you…!" shouted Ethan.

"Scott, where are you going?", protested Jordan, suddenly forgetting about helping the staff.

But then other guests started to join the game.

"A kiss from the all-mighty, pristine Alric! How delightful! I’m game!", exclaimed Emrys as he turned into his wolf form as well and raced after Scott, leaving an amused Nate behind.

"Well I can hardly refuse a chase to Big Kitty, now can I?", said Bane as he himself turned into a massive white tiger and followed after the others.

"STOP! Everyone stop! No one else gets Father’s kisses!", protested Ethan, but no one was listening to him. All the guests started to join the chase one by one. Alric himself seemed to enjoy himself quite a lot, apparently not annoyed one bit to have been designed as the reward, and he went to sit outside with Grandpa Joe so they could enjoy the starry night while waiting for the winner. Soon only Arcturus remained, blocking Ethan’s way.

"Very well", said the elven prince. "Then I just have to defeat you first, and then everyone else".

___

Scott was running wildly in the forest after Gray. The cold wind was blowing on his face, bringing the scents of pine and fresh snow to his nostrils. It was really freeing to be able to run so fast he felt like flying, and once again he thought he was quite lucky to have been turned into a werewolf, even though the circumstances of his turning had been horrifying to say the least. He could hear others running behind him and and he cast them a glance. There was a white wolf and an enormous Bengal tiger. He could also hear other people and creatures in the distance.

'Looks like the guests all decided to participate to my game!' thought Scott with a smile. That promised to be a crazy and fun chase.

Gray knew this forest better than any of them, so it wasn’t easy to keep track of her. She was zigzagging between narrow trees, diving below giant roots, and disappearing inside bushes that looked impenetrable at first glance. She was covered in dirt and snow, but obviously enjoying herself.

When she reached the frozen lake though, she marked a stop, and appeared to hesitate about her next move. Scott was coming right behind her, while Emrys was a few feet on his left and the tiger approaching fast on his right. Apparently deciding she had no other option, Gray bounced and landed on the ice of the frozen lake… only to immediately fall on her behind and slide across the ice at great speed. Her body was rotating a bit as she glided down the lake, in a sort-of elegant but mostly comical way.

Emrys tried to run after her on the ice but his desperate attempts to stay on his four legs were futile. His limbs were sliding uncontrollably in different directions and no matter how many times he jumped and tried to find his balance, the slippery ice destabilized him right away. He ended up landing spread-eagle on his belly, in a very undignified manner.

Scott also tried his chance and jumped onto the lake. But he was going too fast, and no amount of flapping his hairy arms in the air saved him from falling hard on his back.

When he looked ahead, he saw that Gray was already far away on the lake, and that the Bengal tiger was going after her. The feline was apparently having no problem racing across the ice, with elegant and perfectly balanced movements. At this rate, he was going to catch Gray first. Scott managed to crawl his way back to shore and started a sprint along the shore. With his werewolf speed, he could still catch up with them.

He only managed to run a couple minutes though, before a familiar figure jumped on him and tackled him on the ground. Scott didn’t need to look to know who that was; he would recognize the scent and the touch anywhere. He fought back a bit just for good measure, and they rolled a few meters in the snow before they stopped, Jordan panting heavily on top of his body. Scott licked happily at the other werewolf’s snout, but Jordan snarled in reply, obviously angry at him.

'Good', thought Scott.

They both changed into their human forms. Scott tried not to think too much of Jordan’s naked sex pressed hard against his thigh.

"Hello J! Such a coincidence to meet you here, I thought you were busy helping the staff."

"Scott, why? You… you impossible boy."

"Ah? What have I done this time?"

"I will NOT let you defile Alric like this! As if anyone could force him to kiss anyone! You did not even ask for his permission!"

"Oh. Is that why you’re angry? Because I disrespected Alric?"

"This is no trivial matter! Alric is a KING, for god’s sake. He has a respectability to uphold. You can’t just offer anyone to… to…"

"Are you sure you’re not just jealous?", interrupted Scott with a smirk.

Jordan stilled.

"I have no reason to be jealous of Alric kissing anyone. I’ll let you know that I have kissed Alric many times in the past."

"I wasn’t… wait what? You did??"

Jordan only replied with a cryptic smile.

"When? How? Hey but wait, it wasn’t supposed to go this way! You were supposed to be jealous that I ran after Gray to get a kiss from Alric, not the other way around!", protested the young man.

"Aha. Your true plans are revealed."

"Well. I think they were pretty obvious anyway."

Scott flushed a bit and turned his head on the side.

"So. Hum. Are you going to…"

Jordan interrupted him by pressing his lips hard on Scott’s and kissing him with passion.

'Finally', thought Scott as he melted under the kiss that stole his breath away.

"Better?", asked Jordan when they finally separated, their lips still almost touching.

Scott was panting a bit, light-headed from the show of affection and clutching hard at the Brit’s biceps. He wasn’t going to give up so easily though.

"Slightly better. But… now that I think about it, you ruined all my chances to win that kiss from Alric, and I’ve heard that elven kiss are heavenly and really hard to top… do you think you think you can make up for… hmmmm."

Jordan interrupted him with another kiss, and at the same time he brought his thigh against Scott’s semi-erect cock, giving it much welcome friction.

"Yeah", conceded Scott with a hoarse voice. "Much much better."

____

Stephanus and Cole were running side by side in the forest, towards a point where they had seen a large number of birds fly away from the trees earlier. It was their only indication for now as to where Gray or other guests might be, and they were taking their chance. They had not met anyone else since they had entered the forest. The Incubus was a bit annoyed that the snow was ruining his shoes and the bottom of his pants, but the prize was worth it.

"So… do you think Alric would agree to a threesome if we catch the moon pendant together?", asked Cole with a large smile.

Stephanus felt his face heating up.

"Why… why do you think that? He wouldn’t. Probably. I mean no, I’m sure! He’s not the kind of man to cheat on his partner, and he’s obviously very serious about Ethan."

Stephanus was not commonly embarrassed when he talked about sex but somehow, imagining anything sexual related to Alric was still too much for his nerves.

"I’ve renounced touching Alric a long time ago, anyway."

"And yet here you are, chasing after a kiss from him!", laughed Cole.

Stephanus was blushing heavily now.

"That’s… it’s not the same!"

"No?"

"It’s just a kiss! There is no harm in that, a kiss is like, a very little thing!", argued the Incubus, though in truth he knew that a simple kiss from the Elf King would be more intense than the fanciest sexual relations he could have with any human. "And you can talk. You’re running after Gray too!"

"I most definitely am", confirmed Cole. "Even though I never thought of Alric in a romantic way, I AM curious. Elves are said to be awesome kissers, aren’t they? And someone very dear to me taught me there was no shame in experimenting everything life had to offer."

"Someone very dear to me. Ah. I rather like the sound of that."

The two demons exchanged a look filled with affection and tenderness. Suddenly, Stephanus was more interested in kissing Cole everywhere he could than chasing after Gray. To show Cole than Incubi kisses were far better than any other.

"I hope I’m not disturbing you two", a voice interrupted them.

Stephanus jumped. He had not heard anyone approaching! He still couldn’t feel anyone’s presence nearby, he only felt…

Cold.

The Incubus dropped on his knees as Nate appeared from behind the trees. Cole, as usual, didn’t bother to show even an ounce of respect, adding to Stephanus unease.

"Hey Nate! What’s up?" Cole welcomed the young man.

"Why, I’m chasing after a kiss. My dear Stephanus, you really should lose this habit of ruining your pants every time you see me. I know you care for those clothes. Please stand up."

The Incubus rose up awkwardly. His knees were covered in snow and dirt now, which was annoying, but whatever Nate said he doubted he could ever not kneel in front of his Maker. Thankfully his jacket (one of his favorites, which he had chosen especially for the occasion of Alric’s party) was still pristine white, as he was taking great care to avoid all branches while walking in the forest.

"We’re also looking for Gray. You haven’t seen her, by any chance?", asked Cole.

Nate had a strange smile.

"I do know where to find Gray."

"Oh? Cool! Could you, hum, point us in the right direction?"

"I’m afraid I cannot let you go after her."

"No?"

"You see, if I let you chase Gray, I will lose my opportunity to get my kiss. And I really want that kiss. So. I’m politely asking you to renounce this chase. You will gain nothing from it."

Stephanus was properly terrified. He was never sure whether the Nate in front of him was going to act more like a teenager or like the supreme being he really was, but right now it looked more like it was the second option, and he was NOT going to stand in The Unnamed One’s way.

"Of course! We’ll go back to the Manor right away, we…"

"Absolutely not!", interrupted Cole. "I’m not giving up that easily! Whoever catches Gray gets Alric’s kiss, that’s the rules! If you want the kiss, you’ll have to fight for it Nate!"

Stephanus felt like the temperature had just dropped 10 degrees. His knees were shaking from the cold and from the shock that Cole was standing up against The Unnamed One.

"I see.", replied Nate after a silence, in a voice that sounded somehow both sweet and deadly. "So you dare defy me, my General?"

Stephanus was sending frantic looks at his lover, mentally telling him to stand down, even though Cole couldn’t hear him. But the Incubus didn’t dare speaking up. Instead of yielding though, Cole changed his stance, from casual to combative, spreading his feet a bit for better stability and lowering his center of gravity.

"You do realize the consequences of your choice?", asked Nate again.

"Wars have started for less than an Elven kiss", stated Cole, whose face now reminded Stephanus more of the terrible Bringer than of his sweet and kind lover. The tension between the two was palpable.

"Indeed they have", confirmed Nate in a murmur.

For a second it looked like the world had stilled.

Neither Cole nor Nate were moving an inch, no insect or small animals could be heard, and it seemed even the wind had deserted the place.

And then Nate and Cole both sprang into action at the same time. Nate jumped on his right to catch a large amount of fresh snow in his hands and threw it straight at Cole, who had run behind a high pile of snow to take cover and to get a large amount of munitions. Nate’s snowball missed him by an inch, and he countered by throwing three snowballs in quick succession. Nate’s next snowball though landed right on his chest, making him stumble just enough for Nate to touch him again with his next two missiles. The young man’s large grin though was cut short when one of Cole’s projectiles exploded on his face. Momentarily blinded, Nate had to take a moment to remove the snow from his eyes, nose and mouth. His face was dripping wet and his hair was disheveled and covered in snow. During those few second, Cole had changed position so that he could have a better angle to attack Nate, but his next snowballs missed his friend and he had to drop face down on the snow to avoid the missiles coming at him (which was a stupid strategy, thought Stephanus, as he would get even more wet and dirty that way).

"Stephanus, give me a hand!", called Cole.

"What? Certainly not! This is madness.", coldly replied the Incubus. He would NOT participate in such a childish fight, and EVEN LESS against the Unnamed One.

"Stephanus, come ooon!"

But the Incubus stayed immobile and impassible, refusing to take a side. Though he had to admit he felt sorry for his lover when Nate managed to aim at a pine branch just over his opponent and all the snow that was piled up on the branch fell heavily on Cole, finishing to soak him completely.
Stephanus continued to watch as the two young men went on with their fight, laughing and screaming like excited kids when a snowball touched them. It was really a strange sight, when one knew what those boys really were.

And then suddenly, a snowball landed on Stephanus perfect, beautiful jacket.

Stunned, Stephanus looked down at his chest. Bits of snow stuck there on the fabric, melting quickly, as a large dark spot of wetness was already visible, making the fabric ripple.

The two boys had gone silent, waiting anxiously for the Incubus’ reaction. Cole especially bit his lower lip, resisting the temptation to laugh and also to flee far away as he was the one who had thrown the snowball, although he had not meant to touch Stephanus.

The Incubus took a large inspiration. And then his eyes locked on Cole’s.

"Prepare to suffer", was all he said before he crouched down and started to gather snow in his hands.

______

Hidden beneath a thick bush, catching her breath, Gray scanned the forest around her for the presence of a pursuer. Everything was silent around her now. Maybe she had finally managed to lose them…

She was still a bit out of breath, after being chased down by so many creatures. The white tiger and the vampire especially had been hard to shake off. The tiger was really fast, and neither the slippery ice nor very deep snow had been efficient to slow him down. Gray had needed to take advantage of her smaller frame and go through all the narrow passages she could see, rushing below low branches and darting through narrow gaps in the trees. This had forced the Bengal tiger to slow down or take a detour several times, and it seemed that Gray had finally managed to outdistance him.

The hooded vampire had been even harder to shake off. The man wasn’t running after her, no… he was literally just teleporting himself from one spot to another, covering dozens of meters in a blink of an eye! It was very unsettling, especially as he kept appearing in unexpected places and he had startled Gray more than once. It was a bit unfair that he could move so quickly and effortlessly, but to be honest with herself Gray had to recognize it was also extremely fun. She hasn’t had such a good chase in a long time. She suspected that the vampire could have caught her a long time ago, but was taking his time and playing with her.

Maybe even now, as everything was quiet around her, he was hiding somewhere very close to her, ready to jump on her and take the silver pendant…

She had stayed immobile and rested for a good ten minutes though already, and it was time to move. So she extricated herself from below the bush, and started running again, more quietly and silently this time. She had to keep her strength for when the pursuers would find her again, as she had every intention to make this game last as long as she could and show all the other creatures that no matter their size and special abilities, they simply could not compare to a Fell wolf when it came to a good chase.

Gray was so focused on her sense of smell and hearing to detect potential pursuers, that it was only way too late, when she was already in the center of a large clearing, that she noticed the unnatural cold. She stopped dead in her track, trying to pinpoint where exactly the cold was coming from. She recognized it. Without a doubt, it was…

"Hello, Gray." said the Unnamed One in a casual tone, as if he was simply a good friend running into her by chance and not the scary, all-mighty creator of all demons hunting down on an easy prey. Well actually she wasn’t quite sure which of the two he was. He was sometimes spooky, sometimes friendly; Gray suspected he was responsible for a lot of bad things, but he was also responsible for the existence of her dear Ethan, and she was forever thankful for that.

She wasn’t going to let him have the pendant so easily, though. She wasn’t sure how he had found her, since he was just sitting there in the shadow of a pine tree, seemingly waiting for her with a big smile on his face and lots of snow in his hair, but she could still run away.

"I was waiting for you, yes", the demon confirmed her suspicions. "I knew you’d be here, at this precise location, at this precise time. All I had to do was wait here, and I would get my inestimable kiss."

His green eyes fell on the little crescent moon attached to her neck.

"Seeing the future is pretty handy, if you ask me. I see that you’re considering running away from me, but no matter what you do, now that we are both here at this exact moment… I will get my kiss."

Gray tensed her muscles. It didn’t matter that the demon thought everything would go according to his plans. She would not let him steal a kiss from Alric; Ethan would be really pissed at her if that happened.

As she was preparing to bounce to her left and escape as fast as she could, she heard the distinctive sound of another wolf running towards them. She turned her head just in time to see the white wolf charging at her. She just had the time to recognize Emrys before a tall black shape suddenly appeared right in front of him. Emrys didn’t have the time to change his course… and so he crashed into the newcomer, knocking him down on the ground. A bit of a confusing mess followed, as Emrys and the other man rolled on the snow, trying to disentangle from one another.

Emrys changed back to his human form to better express his annoyance at the other man, with a choice of words that would make a sailor blush. The other man though wasn’t listening to Emrys’ angry fulminations, he was just laughing joyfully as if it there was anything amusing about having a huge wolf slam into you.

"… and what kind of half-witted creature would throw themselves in the path of a fucking charging witch wolf anyway?!"

"Oooh, this is so much fun, I believe this is my second worst phasing experience ever."

"Fun? You call this FUN?! I could have killed you! Wait it’s worse than that I think I actually got a bruise because of you.", declared Emrys in an outraged voice. The fact that he couldn't see the face of the other man under his hood was very annoying, too.

"Oh really? Sorry about that, it really wasn’t myx intention to appear just in front of you. Phasing isn’t an exact science, I can’t really see where I’m going so you know… accidents happen."

"You’re a fucking menace that’s what you are! Now get off me!"

Only then did the Nomad seem to realize that he was laid on top of the other man. Emrys couldn’t see his face, even though they were just inches apart; beneath the hood he could only see darkness. He distinctly heard him take a deep whiff, as if the man was scenting him.

"Oh. It’s you.", cryptically said the hooded figure as if he had suddenly recognized the witch.
Emrys stiffened.

"Do I have the displeasure of knowing you?"

"We just met at the bar the other day, didn’t we?"

The Nomad inclined his head and Emrys could almost feel his eyes scanning his body and checking him out, which made him acutely aware that he was completely nude under the other man. Clothes never reappeared when he changed into a wolf and then back to human.

"Ah, but I suppose that must have been a few years ago already." continued the man pensively. "You looked much younger last time. You already looked delectable then, but now you look… perfect.", he said in a breath.

'Vampire. This man is a vampire!', suddenly realized Emrys, blaming himself for not realizing it before.

And it wasn’t just a vampire, it was the exact same one he had encountered in a bar, all those years ago. He remembered he had fled as quickly as he could and had set wards around his house for months, in case the predator had wanted to come after him.

But now that same predator was just on top of him, his warm, muscular and —to be honest— very attractive body pressed against his own; and he was naked.

"I was chasing the she-wolf to get a kiss from Alric, but I’m quite happy with the wolf I found. You’re a witch, I presume?"

"I am. And a very powerful one at that, I’ll let you know.", added Emrys with a haughty voice, even though this assertion was somewhat challenged by the fact he couldn’t move an inch with the vampire holding him there. The Nomad chuckled.

"I wouldn’t doubt that. I can almost smell it."

"Smell it?"

"Yes. Your power. From your blood."

The Nomad lowered his head and drew his face close to Emrys’ neck, scenting him deeply.

"It’s quite a heady scent. Dense and intriguing. I could smell it better if you were actually bleeding though."

Emrys couldn’t help but flush at the proximity of the other man.

"Ah well, it’s too bad I’m not bleeding then."

"Yes. Too bad indeed…"

Emrys could feel the vampire’s breath on his skin now. He sensed it moving along one of his scars, and came to a stop right above his pulsing carotid artery.

A familiar voice then rose from behind the Nomad.

"You guys do realize I’m RIGHT THERE, right?"

Emrys looked up and saw Nate walking towards them. His face broke into a broad smile.

"Oops! Looks like hubby’s here. I’m afraid the flirting needs to stop now, Mr. vampire."

The Nomad stilled for a few seconds, and Emrys wondered whether that was because he was considering biting him anyway, or because he was surprised he had not felt Nate approaching. But then he drew his head back and turned to face the younger man, though he was still on top on Emrys.

 

"Hello Nomad. Long time no see!", greeted Nate with a casual voice.

"Ah. It is you."

"I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I believe you are seated on top of my boyfriend." It was faint, but a threat was definitely present in Nate’s tone of voice.

The Master Vampire looked at Emrys again, and drew his gaze along his naked body again, but this time more with curiosity than desire.

"I see. This is the one, then. Demetrius did tell me…", he whispered almost inaudibly. A second later he was standing up, and even backing a few feet from Emrys with his hands raised in an appeasing manner.

"I have no intention of challenging you", he said to Nate. "Not over this man, anyway. I’d be sure to lose."

"That is most certainly wise, Nomad.", confirmed the young man.

The vampire let out a chuckle.

"Anyway, my day isn’t lost yet. I can still catch the she-wolf, and get a kiss from Alric. Maybe even a taste of exquisite elven blood, I hope."

Gray had fled the clearing as soon as Emrys and Nomad had appeared though, and she was nowhere to be seen now.

"I’ll be on my way, then."

And with that the Nomad disappeared.

Left alone, Nate and Emrys stayed quiet for a while, not moving, just looking at each other with love and affection.

"Aren’t you cold? You should probably get up. I’m sorry I don’t have spare clothes for you."
Emrys raised an eyebrow.

"The Unnamed One came unprepared? That’s a first. And here I was beginning to rely on your omniscience to always bring me clothes when I needed some."

"Ah, but maybe I forgot them on purpose, because I wanted to keep you naked a little longer."
The young man was definitely enjoying the view of his lover, lasciviously spread on the snow, his cock twitching to attention when caressed by Nate’s gaze.

"Why are you covered in snow, anyway?", asked Emrys, noticing the snow in Nate’s hair and on his clothes. "You look like you had a snow-fight or something.", he added with a grin.

Nate smiled.

"There is something I want, and I couldn’t let Cole get in the way."

"Oh? You have something specific in mind?"

As he was speaking those words, Emrys drew his right hand to his stomach as if to scratch himself, then let his fingers slowly trail down towards his crotch. He could feel Nate staring, but his answer surprised him.

"A kiss."

"Oh. Well that’s easy… wait you don’t mean by Alric do you? Were you chasing Gray too?"
Nate laughed.

"Are you going to play the jealous boyfriend? When you were so fast to run after Gray yourself?"

"Wait but it’s not the same!", protested the witch, sitting up. "I just wanted to annoy Alric and Ethan a bit! You can’t blame me for that.", he stated, as if bothering the Elven King and Prince was a perfectly reasonable activity.

"And what am I to make of the fact I found you lying naked with a vampire?"

"It was an accident! Look, I even got a bruise." Emrys pointed at the spot on his chin that was rapidly turning purple. "Besides, there is no point pretending you’re jealous. I already know you trust me one hundred per cent.", he added with a cocky smile, though his eyes were filled with love. That trust was absolute, and went both ways.

"Well. I suppose that’s true."

"I loved how you went all territorial over me with this vampire by the way. It was very sexy."

"And I loved how you called me hubby.", answered Nate, his face turning very red as he said that. "Even though we’re not actually married.", he added, now looking down at his shoes, his confidence from earlier completely gone.

Emrys’ face turned suddenly serious. Slowly, he went on his knees and moved so that his face was just under Nate’s. He met Nate’s gaze, his heart rate increasing quickly. The young man was staring at him, unblinking, looking anxious and hopeful at the same time.

"That’s easy to correct", simply said Emrys with a quiet smile.

Nate let out a breath.

Emrys watched, transfixed, as a broad smile brightened his lover’s face. He wanted to make Nate smile like this everyday, for the rest of his life. Nate’s smile then turned into a soft laugh.

"Did you just propose to me while stark naked and with your ass covered in snow?"

Emrys pretended to be offended by Nate’s chuckles.

"Oh I’m sorry, are you making fun of me? It was…"

"Yes."

"… quite a decent proposal, certainly much better than average…"

"Emrys."

"… and I like to think I get bonus points for originality! But…"

"Emrys, yes!", said Nate again, answering the question Emrys hadn’t actually formulated.

The older man took a few seconds to realize what Nate was telling him. And then his face lit up.

"Oh. Oh well…" He rose up on his feet, and took his lover’s chin in his hand with a caress. "That’s a promise, then.", he said.

And then he sealed his promise with a kiss.

The kiss Nate had been after.

______

Well away from there, near the edge of the forest, Big Kitty was running after Gray. He had lost the she-wolf for a while but now he had found her again, and this part of the forest was less dense, allowing him to move faster and more freely.

‘Chase. Catch.’, thought the tiger spirit cheerfully.

‘Try not to lose her this time. She’s smart.’, advised Bane inside of him.

The tiger huffed. Of course he wasn’t going to let his prey escape. The she-wolf was no match for him.

He was actually closing the distance with Gray. It wouldn’t be long before he caught up with her.
Inside the tiger’s body, Bane was happy to let his soul companion have fun like this. Even though he was letting Big Kitty out much more often than before now, they always had to be careful not to be seen. Here in Alric’s forest though, there was nothing to fear. It was magically protected.

In front of them, Gray was running as fast as she could, not willing to give up. It was hopeless, though. The tiger spirit was almost on her. Just a few more seconds and…

That’s when Big Kitty heard the meowing.

It was coming from his right. It was faint, but there was no mistaking it: it was the sound of a young feline of some kind, and that feline was hurt and wailing in pain. Needing help.

Big Kitty hesitated half a second — he was so close from finally catching Gray! — but then the creature whined again and Big Kitty was overwhelmed by his protective instincts. He had to help it! He stopped dead in his tracks and went where the sound came from.

‘Kitten! Hurt!’

The young feline wasn’t very far. It was a very small kitten with white fur and big blue eyes that were pleading for help. Big Kitty couldn’t smell blood, but from the squeaks of distress the little kitten was making, it was obvious that it was suffering.

‘Hurt! Protect!’ The tiger spirit approached and carefully started to lick the kitten, to both comfort it and try to find where the hurt was. There didn’t seem to be any bruises though…

At that moment Big Kitty heard a horse running straight toward them. When the horse didn’t slow down nor change direction, the Bengal tiger instinctively curled over the little kitten to protect him. But the horse jumped over them — so high it looked like it was almost flying — and continued straight forward, in the direction where Gray had fled. Nyssandra was riding the horse.

"Good job Kitten!", she shouted.

Big Kitty was a bit confused; but when the small kitten turned into an enormous cat resembling a snow leopard and looked at him with mocking eyes, it became clear that the tiger spirit had been played. The cat wasn’t hurt at all: it had put on an act to distract Big Kitty and stop him from catching Gray — so that Nyssandra could catch her instead.

The huge cat winked at him playfully, then started running after his mistress. Not willing to concede defeat so easily, Big Kitty rushed after them with a growl.

______

Some place far above, unnoticed by all, a dark figure was watching the funny procession as Big Kitty and Kitten were running after Nyssandra, who was herself riding after Gray. It was content to just observe for now, waiting for the right time to act.

He would let them try a bit more… and then he would come and crush their hopes.

______

Nyssandra was determined to catch Gray first. Not to get a kiss from her brother, but to make sure no one else would claim one. She had to protect her brother’s honor! Also Ethan would be pretty jealous if Alric were to kiss anyone else but him, and she was happy to help her nephew by not letting anyone else catch Gray while Arcturus was delaying him.

Her horse Ironshoulders wasn’t as fast as Teufel, but he was very agile and easily avoided or jumped above all the obstacles the forest offered. Gray was just as quick though, and it was hard to close the distance. Nyssandra leaned forward, her hands in Ironshoulders’ mane, and started singing softly in elvish, her words carrying magic. As the notes drifted in the wind, enveloping them, the brown horse’s pace quickened. She could hear Kitten and Big Kitty not far behind her, but she would definitely be the one to catch Gray!

The forest around them was getting less and less dense, which made it easier to see Gray up ahead, even though the night was getting darker. Soon the trees became small bushes and ferns, then gave way to a dirt road. On the other side of the track there was a river which even the cold winter had not managed to freeze over. Gray turned to the right and continued her race, now following the road. Nyssa and Ironshoulders followed after her, getting closer. There was nothing to protect Nyssandra from the cold wind now and it was blowing on her face and making her long hair fly behind her. But the excitement prevented her to really feel the cold. The wind was really loud in her ears too, and she could barely hear Ironshoulder’s hooves hitting the ground. She could hear a humming sound though…

She frowned, unsure of what the source of the sound was.

She didn’t have to wonder long though as the humming quickly became a roar of engines, and a motorbike carrying two men caught up with her. She recognized the young businessman Dane Gareis and his bodyguard.

"Hey Nyssandra!", called Sean. "If you don’t mind, we’re going to catch that wolf first!" And with a press of the pedal, he overtook her and Ironshoulders.

______

Dane was holding onto Sean’s muscular torso as his bodyguard was driving their motorbike way above the speed limit. He was grateful for Sean’s tall and large body which was protecting him from the harsh, cold wind. The older man was also radiating a very pleasant body heat. Dane pressed his body a little closer to Sean’s, enjoying fully the full-body contact even through their many layers of clothes.

The young businessman had denied other people’s touch for so long, but now he craved Sean’s touch all the time. As if his body had to make up for the long years of touch-starvation.

He was still hesitant about touching people other than Sean though — which is why his bodyguard had been surprised when he had made the suggestion to try and catch Gray earlier. But he felt like it was important for Sean and him to try and even to succeed into getting that little moon pendant; not because he wanted a kiss from Alric in any way, but because this game was more than about a kiss. It was a competition. All those supernatural species were participating, showing off their speed, strength and cunning to the other species… and there was just no way Sean and Dane would just wait behind and watch! They were the only humans that Alric had invited at the party, so it fell upon them to represent humankind in this competition. They had to show all those magical, powerful creatures that despite initial appearances humans were worthy opponents, that could rise up to any challenge.

They knew they had no chance in catching up with werewolves and tigers in the forest; so they had taken their motorbike to the road instead and hoped that Gray would come this way at some point, if she wasn’t caught too soon. And luck had been on their side.

It wasn’t just Gray that had showed up on the dirt road though: on her heels were Nyssandra on a horse, and behind her a huge white cat (or was it a panther?) and a Bengal tiger. Dane had gaped in wonder at those two magnificent creatures, no doubt magical. If he’d been the one driving, he would have probably stopped a bit to just admire the two animals — thankfully Sean was keeping a cool head, and he had sped up to overtake the two felines, and then Nyssandra.

Now there was no one between them and Gray. They could win.

"Go in front of Gray and block her route!" shouted Dane to be heard by his bodyguard.

Sean gave a nod and led the bike on Gray’s right, blocking the way to the forest. The Fell wolf was running as fast as she could but she was becoming more and more tired of this long chase. She was no match for a motorbike, anyway.

The two humans went ahead of her, then Sean pressed hard on the brakes while turning the bike to block the road. The wheels squeaked and screeched and finally they went to a stop. Dane quickly jumped from the bike to catch Gray, who had come to a full-stop to avoid crashing into them. Not far behind, Nyssandra and the two big felines were racing towards them. There was no time.

Dane launched himself towards Gray to try and tackle her on the ground, but the she-wolf managed to evade him by plunging on the side. She looked so exhausted though that Dane doubted she would be able to dodge his next attack. As the young businessman prepared to jump on her again though, another man just appeared from no where in front of them. Dane was so startled by the sudden apparition that he stumbled and would have completely lost his balance if Sean had not steadied him with a firm hand on his lower back.

"Thanks for stopping that wolf!", said the newcomer, whose face was entirely hidden by a hood. "That was a great help."

He moved toward Gray, who didn’t know where to run next. But then a strong blast of air pushed him backwards, a few feet away from the Fell wolf.

"Oh no you won’t, Nomad!", said Nyssandra who had just come close enough to send her magic at the vampire. "The moon pendant will be mine!"

Before any of them could make their next move though, a huge shadow flew over the group, masking the pale light of the moon and stars. It was a gigantic dragon, twenty feet tall, with gold and black scales. The dragon descended rapidly, his wings batting the air, and caught Gray with his claws. With a few more flaps of his wings, the dragon ascended far above them, where none of them could reach him. Gray yelped when she was lifted off the ground, spooked. The dragon was holding her safely though so she could not fall.

"Shimada!", called Dane. "Come down! That’s totally cheating!"

The Japanese businessman made a thunder-like sound in reply, which Dane supposed was probably how he laughed in dragon form. But he didn’t care to come down and started to fly in direction of the Manor instead.

Left behind on the road, Dane, Sean, Nyssandra, Kitten, Big Kitty and the Nomad watched as the dragon flew away with their prey.

The two humans, the elf and the two felines looked resigned. There was no way they could match the dragon’s speed. They had lost. The Nomad though was still looking alert, his eyes fixed on Shimada. He looked like he was hesitating, and then came to a decision.

"Ah, who cares about risks! There is no way I’m gonna let such an opportunity pass." With that, he broke into a run down the road toward the Manor, then looked up… and disappeared.

"Where did he go?", asked Sean, surprised.

"Look!" Nyssandra pointed at the dragon who was flying away from them.

Dane had to narrow his eyes to distinguished what Nyssandra was looking at, but then he saw it. There was no mistaking it.

A human-sized figure had appeared on the dragon’s back.

_________

Shimada was so surprised when the Nomad just appeared suddenly on his back that he almost let Gray slip from his claws. The vampire had dared to… ride him!

"Woohoo! I did it! I’m riding a dragon.", shouted the Nomad like an excited kid. "Thanks for the ride Mr. Dragon. Can you believe I’ve lived for millennia, and never flew on dragon’s back before?"

Shimada grunted. He wasn’t sure if he was more pissed at the vampire for presuming he could sit on his back without permission, or more in awe that the being managed to teleport with such precision on a moving target that was flying far above him at great speed.

In any case, he was limited in his possible reactions. He would love to shake off the intruder but he couldn’t take the risk while carrying the Fell wolf; and he couldn’t even yell at him, that would only come off as groans and snorts until he changed back to human form. So there was nothing he could do until he landed. He would have to take care of the vampire after that.

It wasn’t a very long trip to the Manor with his speed, but those few minutes felt like ages with the Nomad doing all kind of crazy things while on his back. The creature just couldn’t stand still! The Nomad had only contented himself with just feeling the wind on his hooded face for a little while, and then he had started to examine different parts of Shimada's body. His scales, the membrane of his wings, the strong muscles of his neck… the vampire was touching, caressing and scratching at everything. It didn’t look like he was doing this to annoy Shimada; the dragon was getting the sense that the vampire was simply immensely curious. Like he had discovered a new treasure and needed to admire, examine and understand every part of it. He was punctuating every "discovery" of the dragon anatomy with little exclamations of wonder. It was quite annoying really, especially since the gold and black dragon couldn’t do anything about it without endangering Gray. It had been ages since Shimada had last carried someone on his back, but he didn’t think he’d ever carried someone so restless and bold.

Finally, they arrived to the Manor. There were several guests on the front courtyard and Shimada didn’t want any of them to steal the moon pendant from him, so he landed on the rooftop instead. He let go of Gray just a few seconds before landing, so he wouldn’t crush her. The Fell wolf immediately ran toward the edge of the roof, but it was a long way down to the ground and she couldn’t get down — not without getting severely hurt. As Shimada had hoped, she didn’t risk it.
The roof creaked a bit when he landed his heavy body, but held on. As soon as he landed the Nomad jumped from his back, which would have been a relief except he went straight for Gray, and Shimada refused to let the vampire take the prize before him. He considered throwing a few flames at the vampire, but Alric probably wouldn’t approve of his roof being set on fire, so he quickly changed back to his human form instead, ready to fight the Nomad with his bare hands.

"Wait!" he called, hoping the Nomad would stop, and he actually did. "We have unfinished business here. You dared getting on my back against my will. This will not be forgotten easily."

The Nomad turned to face him, and immediately whistled as if in wonder.

"Your dragon form is fascinating, but I have to admit your human form is just as stunning."

The Japanese business man glared, hands on his hips, but that probably wasn’t conveying his irritation nor the seriousness of the situation properly, as he was stark naked.

While they were both distracted, they didn’t notice right away the subtle change in the breeze… the air was shifting and twisting as if it was being distorted… and then a magic portal appeared in front of Gray. Through the portal, Shimada saw Ethan, looking pretty pissed.

"Gray!", called the young elf. "FINALLY you’re here! Don’t you dare run away from me again. I’m sure Scott and you find all this very funny but I certainly don’t! Just give me this damn pendant already!"

The elf was very quick, and he managed to get a hold on the Fell wolf. Immediately, the portal started to close on them. The Nomad was even faster though — so fast Shimada almost didn’t see what was happening — in an instant he was on them, and he ripped through the silver chain that was holding the moon pendant, just as Ethan and Gray were disappearing.
And then they were gone.

______

Ethan hold onto Gray as he closed the Portal behind them. Finally, he had her!

He still couldn’t believe Scott had played such a dirty joke on him — offering Alric to kiss anyone that would catch a pendant, as if his father was some kind of prize to give away… He was sure Scott didn’t have any bad intentions. His best friend probably only did that just for the fun of it, believing that Ethan would win anyway (and he did! He had Gray!) — and probably also to make Jordan jealous.

Well, he certainly had made Ethan jealous. He still couldn’t believe that so many people had gone after Gray. Not only Arcturus, but also Nate and Emrys, Bane, the Nomad, Cole and Stephanus, Dane and Sean, Shimada and others. He had even seen his aunt Nyssandra go! (though he was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt — she may have gone to stop others from catching Gray)

He was still mad at Arcturus for delaying him for so long, and at Gray for playing the game instead of just giving him the damn pendant in the first place; but anyway, that was in the past. He had Gray now. No one else would be able to claim a kiss from his father. Not even the Nomad who got so close from them just as they were getting through the Portal…

… and that’s when Ethan realized that the moon pendant wasn’t attached to Gray’s neck anymore.
He ran his fingers through his familiar’s fur to be sure, but there was no mistaking it: the pendant was gone.

"The pendant?! Gray, where is it? Did the Nomad take it?" There was an ounce of panic in his voice. He didn’t want to share Alric. He trusted his father completely and knew that even if Alric did play the game and accepted to kiss the winner, that wouldn’t mean anything to him. He knew that his father loved only him, whatever happened. But still…

That’s when he saw it.

The moon pendant, its chain broken, reflecting the moon’s light in the grass just in front of him. It had fallen from Gray’s neck, but the Nomad didn’t manage to catch it. It had simply fallen as Gray and him went through the Portal, to land at their feet.

Ethan felt an immense sense of relief as he extended his hand toward the pendant. It was ok. The pendant was…

"Heeeey Gray!!!", exclaimed Ethan as the she-wolf caught the pendant between her jaws. "Give that to me!"

But Gray ignored him — again — and ran toward the Manor’s courtyard. They were very close, as Ethan had opened the Portal there to get to his father as fast as possible. He hurried after her but already Gray had met up with Alric and Grandpa Joe who were sitting in front of the Manor, savoring champagne and waiting for whoever managed to get the moon pendant to arrive.

Gray put her head on Alric’s lap, and dropped the pendant there.

"Aha. It looks like we have a winner", declared Alric, petting Gray behind her ears.

And as Ethan stared with a discomfited but also amused expression, the Elven King kissed Gray on her brow.

The she-wolf made a happy sound, wagging her tail. Ethan could feel her contentment through their bond. She felt like she had totally deserved the prize, as she had managed to get away from the claws of werewolves, witches, demons, tiger spirits, vampires, humans, elves and dragons. She was, undeniably, the strongest and brightest of them all.

Ethan couldn’t really argue with that, and he was pretty relieved that it was Gray who had gotten the kiss and not someone else, even though he would have preferred to get it himself. A loving look from his father however told him that he wouldn’t have to wait very long to get a kiss — and more.

They would wait for the party to end, and for the guests to leave.
And then Alric would be completely his for the rest of the night… and forever after.