As he looked through the lower hatchway at the fast approaching bottom of the elevator shaft, Baines knew his life here was over. Above him he could hear the snarling of the creature that had crossed from a parallel dimension through the Duo-Tangent Vortex. With nimble fingers he primed the C4 and then closed his eyes. Only moments remained, but if he had to die here then so be it. He was a warrior and he would rather die taking this obscene creature with him than save his own skin.
Saliva dribbled from the open jaws onto his shoulder and he could feel the monroth's hot, fetid breath stirring his hair. He closed his eyes; his lips moving silently as he recanted a small charm for protection in these last moments even though he knew it was a useless gesture. Suddenly, with only seconds to spare, the monroth recognized its danger and tried to leap to safety but it had left it too late. Once Baines knew it could not escape its explosive death he used what few precious seconds remained to call upon all the strength left in his body to utter the recall spell - and try to save himself.
Blinding light and heat swept up around him, singeing his clothing and hair, and he cried out in fear that he had cut it too fine. His cry was lost within the roar of the explosion and the dying scream of the monroth. Then he was falling hard and fast, his body and senses spinning as the vortex grabbed hold of his physical essence and hurled him back to the place of his origin. Brilliant lights blinded him; incredible smells - both salivating and nauseating - assailed him, and then he could hear the whistle of air around his body.
Emerald green leaves covered in morning dew slapped against his face as he tumbled, and his remnants of his clothing snared on the gnarled fingers of Oak branches. He hit the ground hard with the air rushing from his abused stomach and lungs; his fear rising as he fought to draw precious oxygen back into his abused lungs. Finally, he gasped in the needed air, drawing his legs up to his chest to ease the task.
He screamed in agony as the jagged edges of bone in his broken leg ground together. For a moment all he could see was encroaching darkness but he fought against it. Slowly, he regained control of his breathing and his eyes opened. Baines gazed around the beautiful glen into which he had fallen. Butterflies with large wings of blue and gold chased each other across the tall, sun-dappled grass and the sweet song of birds filled the air, breaking the silence caused by his abrupt arrival. His heat-seared lungs and throat made him cough and he placed his hand around his throat as the raw pain filled him. Gritting his teeth, Baines pushed himself upright and, with unsteady movements, he dragged himself across the glen to where his sensitive hearing had identified the tinkling of water babbling in a small brook.
He stopped by the water's edge and scooped some of the clear, spring water up in the palm of his hand; quickly quenching his thirst. The magical powers of the water eased the burning, and he drank deeply of its healing properties before sitting back. He closed his eyes, breathing in the purity of the clean air as a fresh breeze lifted strands of his hair. His mind replayed those last few seconds on the parallel Earth and he nodded solemnly.
He remembered the searing agony when the monroth grabbed hold of his booted foot and tore him from the wall of the elevator shaft. He recalled the terrible snap of the bone breaking, and then another crack as his head hit the top of the elevator car. With fear sending adrenaline racing through him, he had scrabbled back inside the car only to feel it lurch and plummet as the monroth's weight came down hard upon its roof.
Baines splashed some of the crystal clear water over his face.
He had killed one of the monroth that had breached the worlds through the Duo-Tangent Vortex - carried by the human called Marshall - but the voracious female monroth was still on Earth and Baines could only hope that the others managed to destroy her.
His greatest fear was that the pair might have mated before they took incorporeal form and seeped into Marshall's body. If this was the case then one of the few humans left trapped in the Nexus complex might be carrying their spawn.
Baines shook his head. There was nothing he could do about that now except make his way to the Elders as quickly as possible to inform them of his failure. He dragged himself back towards the trees and search for two decent sticks he could use to make a splint. Baines pulled off the tattered remnants of his muscle shirt and ripped it into lengths. He choked back a sob as he strapped the splints tightly around the broken leg, and then he rested for a while. Eventually, he gathered up his courage and forced himself onto his feet, using another slender branch of oak as a crutch. He turned south to follow the brook as it rippled and babbled through the Great Oak Forest and hoped he would come across a windwalker or some other form of transport soon. Otherwise, it might take him days to get a message to the Council of Elders.
While he hobbled along, he reflected on the years he had spent on the parallel world that was so different from his own. The Council had sent him there after the humans on that world managed to create the first vortex. Dr. Ron Shepherd had been the intelligence behind those experiments and the Elders had charged Baines with the duty of ensuring those experiments did not endanger either world. It was only on arriving there that Baines realized the seriousness of his position, and the nearly impossible task he had accepted from the Elders.
They had sent him because he was one of the best of the Elven warriors, and the only one who had the ability to adapt to whatever the parallel world might throw at him. However, they had assumed he would retain most of his Elven powers but, in truth, the bleakness of the other world had sapped almost all of his strength.
On his world the powers of magic still held sway but there, the humans had spread across the face of the planet forcing the extinction of most of the Great Races. Witch hunts had broken the powerful Covens and, over the millennia, the loss of their blood had thinned the magic even further until only a few of the cross-bred possessed even the slightest of mystical abilities. Pollution and heavy metals had permeated every drop of water and bite of food on their world. It had weakened his power until he had no option but to work his way into a position where he might be able to help the humans should disaster befall them.
With careful planning and cautious use of his rapidly fading magic, he had managed to find a place on a Special Team created to deal with strange phenomena. The authorities called in the Team when the first vortex opened into the barren Valley of the Monroth, but Shepherd managed to slay the single monroth that crossed over. In doing so Shepherd destroyed the Nexus facility and Baines had, almost, uttered the recall spell at that time, believing that the human meddling was over. However, a vision had come to him that showed even greater danger lay ahead for humanity.
So he had bided his time and tried to blend in with the humans. He had even begun to make friends among them. He thought of the small unit that he had joined only four months earlier: McShane, Zunoski and Mancini.
Depending on them to watch his back had brought a comradeship that he had missed since leaving his world behind. There had been moments of friction between them, but greater understanding of one another came from those bouts of conflict. It did not negate the growing friendship between the four.
Baines sighed as he recalled the death of one of those whom he had started to call friend; the death of Mancini. They had faced so many dangers together but, until then, Baines had no idea the man was not so good with heights. Perhaps it was the overload of fear that had frozen Mancini's hands to the ladder. After all, the unfortunate man had only just witnessed the death of their Colonel and then found himself trapped with Shepherd and Dr. Casserly when the monroth reappeared. Baines grimaced. He had felt the monroth's approach and had slipped away to retrieve McShane's weapon, returning in time to save the others, only to lose Mancini in the vertical air shaft when the monroth attacked the defenseless man.
Baines stopped and rolled his shoulders, feeling the tightness of muscle and numbness of his senses begin to ease as the power of his own world infused him. The constant pounding in his head - which had started almost the moment he arrived on that other Earth - was also lessening. He moaned softly in appreciation. He had missed the tingle of energy that thrummed through his body and mind, setting his senses alive.
His attempt to divert his mind failed miserably as his thoughts drove on mercilessly. He started forward again, leaning heavily on the slender crutch he had improvised from the dead wood lying on the forest floor.
McShane and Mancini should not have died, and neither should have Jedburg and Lisa Myers. He wondered how many others would die because of human meddling in things beyond their knowledge and control. Why did they not learn from the first incident? Why did they rebuild the Nexus and recreate a vortex into the same parallel dimension? His world.
When the call came for assistance at the new Nexus project, Baines knew, deep down, that he might be all that stood between the monroth and humanity. On his world, ancient magic held the monroth on the desolated plains within the Valley, and they were unable to breed with impunity so their numbers were few. On the other world there was no magic to keep them from breeding and spreading across the face of the planet. It would be the end of humanity as they fell victim to the voracious appetite of the deadly creatures.
Baines shuddered as he recalled his own brush with death on two occasions. No one had faced a monroth in millennia; not since the evil warlock Caspian released one into the world. And no warrior had ever faced a monroth without the power of magic at his fingertips.
Baines felt a moment of shame as he remembered his first encounter, after it had slain the beautiful doctor. The terror of finding himself so close to the nightmare creature with no magical means to protect himself had almost overwhelmed him. He could recall the stench of its fetid breath filling the air around him. He could hear its hiss and snarl as it snapped its massive jaws together. Jagged teeth held ribbons of torn flesh from where it had sated part of his hunger on the unfortunate Lisa Myers, and its eyes had held true malevolence as if it knew that he was not human.
The same monroth had come after him later and Baines knew he no longer had a reason to feel ashamed. He had faced the monroth. He had stayed in the elevator until the last moment; the lure of his Elven blood keeping the creature too preoccupied to realize its danger until it was too late.
Baines blinked away the memory of those final moments. He did not want to dwell on the thought of his own blood mingling with Jedburg's and the monroth's at the bottom of that elevator shaft had the recall spell failed.
He stopped and gazed down at the brook that had become a stream. There was a small pool of still water near the edge and, carefully, he lowered himself to catch sight of his reflection. He stared long and hard before he pushed back the mahogany strands of hair to reveal the tips of his ears. Baines grinned, and then felt a little foolish at this sudden vanity, but he would be pleased to see his elfin tips once more, as well as the finer feathering of his eyebrows. He was tired of looking into a mirror and seeing an almost fully human face.
At least his eyes had lost the lackluster of a body choked on the pollution of that other world, regaining the crystal clarity of deep emeralds even if they were clouded with pain. His lips had taken on a pinker hue and the lines of stress were slowly easing from his face. He laughed softly as he recognized his true self in the mirror of water for the first time since he left his own world all those years ago - in spite of the more rounded ears and thicker eyebrows.
That thought turned his pleasure to dismay. They had sent him there to protect the other world but he had failed in his task. Circumstances had forced him to return before he could ensure both of the monroth had been slain and any spawn sent back through the vortex to the forbidden Valley. Now, all he could do was hope that Shepherd, Casserly or Zunoski found a way to destroy the remaining creature--and hope that none of them carried its spawn otherwise the monroth would spread throughout their world.
The beating of wings intruded upon his dismal thoughts and Baines looked up; his face lighting in pleasure as he recognized the great beast as the charge of a windwalker.
On the world he had left behind, this fantastic creature was a thing of myth and legend: a Wyvern. Its pearlescent scales reflected every hue of green and gold beneath the brilliant sunlight of this beautiful day. It came to a halt above Baines; its serpent tail scything through the air only a few feet above his head before coiling beneath it as it landed not twenty feet from where Baines sat. Huge talons scraped across the ground, gouging the earth and leaving furrows in the grass. It remained balanced between its single set of front limbs and its magnificent tail before lowering onto its huge belly and laying his head down upon its massive arms. Upon its shining back Baines could see its rider, and with a shock of recognition, Baines dragged himself to his feet and hobbled forward as fast as he could to grasp the man who was climbing down to greet him.
He dropped the crutch and pulled the tall but lean man into his arms and hugged him tightly. It had been so long since he had seen a familiar face--let alone that of the person he held most dear in two worlds--that he had trouble focusing due to the tears that filled his eyes. Baines sighed raggedly against the firm lips that took his own with such ferocity; welcoming the bruising kiss that sent licks of fire racing through his blood. He had missed the easy companionship of his mate; the loss made harder by the unwillingness of the parallel world to accept that two warriors could love one another and not be weakened by the act. Instead, he had kept his feelings for his soulmate hidden, unable to share even the smallest memory for fear they would question him further.
Baines pulled back from the embrace and dragged the hard leather helmet from his soulmate's head. His fingers carded through the locks of blond hair that tumbled free, finally alighting on the elfin tips. With gentle fingers he traced the delicate ears and then the other fine features that gave his lover such an air of vulnerability when compared to the bluntness of the human face.
Warm fingers came up to trace his own features, gliding smoothly down from high cheekbone to delicate chin. Baines looked deep into eyes that were a deeper shade of green than his own. Malloran smiled; his fern-green eyes lighting with the pleasure of their long-awaited reunion, but then the smile faded. Baines knew that very little happened by pure chance in his world so he waited for the explanation that would come.
"Old Sethryr foretold of your return. I've been riding these winds for days searching for some sign of you."
"Did he also say that I failed in my duty? The humans drew two of the monroth into their world. I destroyed one but I fear not only that the other may still live but that one of the humans may carry its spawn."
Malloran gave a wry smile and reached out to caress Baines's face.
"Both of the monroth are dead, and the parallel world is safe from the spawn. The humans sacrificed the carrier... sending him back through the vortex--"
"I--I know only that the carrier had been male and wore white clothing."
"Summerfield." Baines swallowed hard.
The doctor had been antagonistic from the very beginning; becoming worse than a hindrance to them as time progressed and had, indirectly, caused Mancini's death. In hindsight, Baines realised that all the signs that Summerfield had been infested with the monroth spawn had been there. However, his preoccupation with outwitting the creatures meant that he paid scant attention to the increasingly strange actions of the doctor.
"There is more. The spawn were released within the vortex and they exploded in all directions. When the carrier and spawn materialized, most of the seed were contained behind the barrier but more than fifty materialized in the free world."
"The Elven were prepared and managed to destroy all but nine. These others were lifted by the high winds and, because they had absorbed some essence of humanity from their host, they could not be easily detected through Elven magic."
"Damn. This is all my fault--"
"No. It is no one's fault. I should have known I would find you when old Sethryr told me to search this way and to bring you to him. He believes you may carry enough essence within you from the other world to allow him to seek out the nine. We must find them... and destroy them... before they reach maturity and seek to mate."
"Then we'd best not waste another minute."
Malloran looked closely at him before tilting his head to look at the splintered leg.
"You've injured your leg."
"Old Sethryr can fix me up."
Malloran nodded; both of them were aware that there was little more that either of them could do for Baines out here. However, he reached inside his tunic and drew out a small pouch.
"Here. Medura leaves. Chew on them and it will ease the pain."
Baines smiled wryly, knowing the leaves were as good as morphine but without the addictive qualities. He should have recalled that the windwalkers always carried Medura leaves in case an accident befell them. He picked up several leaves and popped them into his mouth and began to chew; grimacing at the disgusting, bitter taste but, very quickly, he felt the pain seeping from his body.
Malloran grinned. He beckoned the Wyvern to his side with a shrill cry for the great beast had wandered in search of small animals and birds to feast upon. As the Wyvern folded back its massive wings, Malloran strapped on his helmet and climbed into the saddle placed high upon the creature's back between the great wings. He reached down and assisted Baines up behind him, leaning back into the arms that Baines slid around his waist. Malloran turned his face, and Baines obliged him with another kiss.
"Hold on tight", Malloran whispered silkily.
Baines tightened his grip on his soulmate and, with an eager yell, Malloran ordered the Wyvern into flight. The Wyvern rose high into the sky; its green and gold wings beating the air with powerful strokes. Baines felt his spirit fly as, below him, the land passed in unmarked beauty. Gone were the columns of toxic fumes belching out of factories; gone was the sprawling metropolis whose ever-expanding suburbs encroached onto what little land remained, destroying woodland and pasture in the name of progress. Baines recalled the many parachute jumps he had made in the other world; of how he had floated down through darkened clouds of acidic rain to an Earth scarred by millennia of abuse. He sighed as he recalled how his grief for the world had distracted him as he floated down over the country they called Panama. He had landed awkwardly; wrenching his knee but, unlike in this world, the healers had insufficient skill to fully repair the damage as they had long ago spurned the use of natural remedies - and magic - in favor of their man-made drugs and machines.
Baines threw aside those memories and let the richness of his world fill him. Far below, the stream had become a great river, and it sparkled in the sunlight as if someone had scattered a million diamonds across its crystal surface. The canopy of the forest, through which the river flowed, was a rich, vibrant green but, all too soon, they left the forest behind as they traveled over rolling hills and meadows full of blue cornflower and red poppies. Looking forward over Malloran's shoulder, Baines could see the silver tipped blue mountains that ringed the Valley of the Monroth. A vast forest stretched across the lower reaches and through the deep rift that led to the forbidden valley. As they flew closer, a darkened area at the edge of the forest took form and Baines realised that this was where the Elven forces had set up its camp.
Malloran circled the camp twice before easing the Wyvern down into a large open space just south of the camp. An eager attendant took the reins while Baines and Malloran dismounted, and then led the Wyvern away to where two others of its kind were coiled in rest. Baines stared as the huge silver eyes of the Wyvern opened wide; hearing them snort softly through large nostrils as they welcomed their brother back into their midst.
Malloran grasped Baines arm and gently tugged on it, drawing it over his shoulder to give his soulmate support, and Baines could only respond with a chagrined expression. He had forgotten how amazing his world was and found himself captivated by the magnificence of the great beasts and the natural world surrounding him. Colors seemed purer and brighter; the air was fresh and clean with just a hint of a salivating aroma permeating it from the nearby cook fires. His stomach rumbled and he licked his lips in hunger but Malloran drew him onwards towards the largest of the tents.
The Elven guard drew apart as they reached the entrance, allowing them to pass unchallenged into the bright and cheerful interior. Baines grinned in pleasure as Malloran lowered him to carpeted floor in front of the high Elven lord.
The older elf dropped to his knees and reached out to cup his son's face; his eyes bright with unshed tears of joy. He drew Baines to him and hugged him tightly, but then he pulled away.
"Malloran has told you of our plight?"
Baines glanced back at his soulmate before returning his attention to his father.
"Yes. And I must take the blame for I failed to destroy the monroth and the spawn that escaped to the other world."
Quickly, he outlined his experience on the other side of the vortex; his cheeks becoming red with shame as he spoke of his fear during that first encounter with a monroth.
"You did all that was possible in a world where magic no longer has a place. None will question your courage in facing a monroth without the armor of magic to protect you."
Someone drew back the heavy curtain behind Baines and he turned his head to see who the new arrival might be. He smiled as Old Sethryr moved slowly towards him. Even though the Elven lifespan was more than twice that of a human, the sorcerer had still reached an incredible age. Sethryr looked exactly the same as he had done in Baines's earliest elfling memories from when he would sit quietly at Sethryr's feet while the old man told him legends from ancient times.
Sethryr shuffled towards the group.
"Good to see you, my boy. Now, let's begin before those monroth spawn become a real threat to the People." He frowned. "Hmmm... the essence of the other world is still strong in you. It will be days before you're fully cleansed and until then, my boy, your powers will remain diluted." He grinned and mussed Baines's hair in that familiar way that he had done since Baines was an elfling. "Still, it's good news for us as now I will know what to search for." His expression turned serious. "As long as we can find them before they are cleansed of the other world's impurities."
Sethryr turned and started to walk away. He glanced back, and his eyes widened in dismay as he watched Baines struggled to his feet with Malloran's assistance.
"Oh my dear boy. Let's set up the seeker spell and then I can mend that leg."
After another light gesture of affection from his father, Baines allowed Malloran to support him as they followed the old sorcerer from his father's tent.
Droplets of his blood were added to the potion and Baines watched closely, mesmerized by the power the frail old man exuded at times like this. He felt Malloran's hand fasten on his shoulder, and he laid his own hand upon it as a mist formed in the air between them and the sorcerer. Images came of dark forests and lowlands flitting passed so quickly beneath them. Shadows appeared that coalesced into the hideous form of the monroth as the seeker sought and discovered each one in turn.
Baines wrote swiftly as the sorcerer identified each location, passing the message to the sorcerer's apprentice to carry outside to the waiting Elven warriors. The galloping of horses receding into the distance followed within moments of the boy leaving the tent, and Baines imagined a unit of warriors hastening away to face the discovered monroth. Some would remain on horseback while others had greater journeys and would ride the wind on a Wyvern.
They had found eight of the nine monroth but the ninth remained elusive.
The sorcerer pricked another finger to draw more blood from Baines, and squeezed the pierced flesh above the cauldron while watching the droplets splatter into the mix. The mists deepened, and then the image sharpened but still it remained focused on the small Elven encampment near the edge of the forbidden valley. Sethryr let out a sigh of exasperation and shook his head in anger.
"The essence of the other world is too strong in that one and it is overpowering the spell. The seeker will not seek."
Baines chewed his lip in agitation. The power of the Medura leaves had faded but, though he was in pain, Baines was determined to be strong and forgo healing until Sethryr had tried every means possible to locate the missing monroth. It was as if the old sorcerer had heard his thoughts though, for Sethryr narrowed his eyes and sighed deeply.
"Alone it cannot mate and news of its whereabouts will soon reach us as it gives into its lust for Elven flesh. Now we must tend to your injuries."
Baines felt Malloran's grip tighten upon his shoulder in reassurance and they watched as Sethryr concocted a new potion. The sorcerer gave him a draft of herbs and he drank it in a single swallow, shuddering at the bitter taste of Medura that coated the inside of his mouth. Very quickly, the pain eased away to nothing and he gave a sigh of relief when the pain stayed away while Sethryr manipulated the broken bone back into position. Sethryr applied a sticky mess around the damaged area before standing back and washing his hands thoroughly.
A full minute past before Baines felt a tingling sensation around his leg. The sensation grew stronger; the tingling becoming warmth and then burning. He summoned his courage and tried not to cry out in pain; grateful for the strong arms of his soulmate that held him so tightly. The burning agony spread through the leg as if the bone was on fire and he could not stop a whimper from falling.
"Soon be over, my boy. Soon be over."
Waves of agony rushed over him but almost as soon as they reached an unbearable level, Baines felt the pain recede. The burning sensation lessened until all that was left was a numbness in his leg. He looked down, noticing that the sticky mess had formed a hard blackened shell around his leg and then watched as Sethryr tapped on the shell with a small metal pick. The shell cracked and Sethryr removed the pieces until Baines's leg was free of the hard casing. The old sorcerer looked at the leg, murmuring gently in approval. His hands ranged over Baines's face, touching his ears and eyes, and Baines felt a less intense heat flare in those places as his elfin features were restored to him.
Sethryr's pale blue eyes were sparkling when he looked closely at Baines, and he spoke with a voice filled with both satisfaction and affection.
"There's my young elfling. As to the leg? Good as new... so long as you take it easy for a week or two."
Baines flexed the leg muscle, grinning back at Malloran when it moved with ease. He thought back to the broken arm he sustained back on the other Earth, and how it had taken months before it had healed using their so-called modern medicine. Baines pulled on the pair of rough pants that Sethryr's apprentice handed to him and, as he stood up, he realised that the dull ache in his right knee had also disappeared. He had wrenched the knee months ago and no amount of physiotherapy had eased the ache until now.
That thought led him back to the beautiful doctor at the Nexus project. He'd used his wrenched knee as a chat up line even though he had no intention of following through. He had employed similar tactics on other occasions so no one would question his preferences.
"Don't forget to ask her to check out your prostate."
Baines had taken the remark as a joke but, at the time, he had a feeling Zunoski meant something far different. Zunoski had been with him on that day, two months back, when he saw someone who looked so much like his Malloran that it had taken his breath away. Perhaps Zunoski had figured out that his interest in Lisa Myers was but a smokescreen. Why else would he have used such a cryptic remark? Baines sighed. It was too late now to uncover the truth. If he was still alive then Zunoski was a dimension away and it was highly unlikely that their paths would ever cross again. It was a shame really as Baines knew they could have become firm friends - given time.
"Your thoughts are troubling you, boy. You must leave the past where it belongs... in the past. Go and rest now. I'm certain you and Malloran have much... catching up... to do?"
Baines grinned sheepishly at the old man's inference but he had to admit that he was looking forward to holding his lover in his arms once more. Behind him, he heard Malloran's soft, melodic laughter fill the tent, and the love he felt for Malloran seemed to fill him to bursting point. Malloran pressed a bow and quiver into Baines's hands, and Baines realised, with a start, that they were the ones he had left behind when undertaking his journey to the parallel world. He stroked the bow lovingly, remembering the day when he had carved it. His hand still fitted perfectly around it.
"You kept it safe for me."
Baines held both bow and quiver loosely and reached back for Malloran's hand, feeling the warm fingers entwine with his own, and then he led Malloran from the sorcerer's tent. He drew his lover towards his father's tent, knowing his father would have made arrangements for him to be accommodated close by. There would be fresh clothing waiting for him there but, what is more important, there would be a warm bed made of soft pillows. He grinned in pleasure. He had every intention of putting the past behind him, and reaffirm the present and future with the man whose hand he clasped in his own.
Greetings rose from familiar faces, welcoming him back, and he acknowledged them with a smile but then a figure caught his eye. Baines stopped, trying to determine what had made his hackles rise. The Elven woman was a short distance away, moving slowly but purposefully towards his father's tent. He watched her steady progress before slowly closing the distance between them, and then she turned.
Baines gasped, releasing his hold on Malloran. He ran forward, drawing the bow from his shoulder and an arrow from its quiver. He notched the arrow and yelled out to the woman in challenge.
Marshall's elfin figure dissolved as the monroth threw off its disguise, revealing the creature's hideous true form. It snarled; it's sharp teeth glistening as saliva drooled from its open mouth. Long talons curled wickedly as it threw back its large head and let out a howl of rage before charging towards Baines.
Baines held his ground, waiting until he was certain before releasing the arrow. It flew straight and true, piercing the creature's black heart and Baines watched, dispassionately, as the monroth fell dead only a few feet from where he stood with Malloran at his back. Other warriors pounced on the creature; their sharp swords sinking deep into its flesh to ensure it was truly dead.
Baines sagged against Malloran as the weight of his previous failure lifted, freeing him from the last vestiges of the guilt he had felt for not destroying all the monroth in the other world. He held on tightly to Malloran's hand as he was torn from the embrace to be lifted high upon Elven shoulders. They carried him to his father in triumph, depositing him onto his feet and pitching him into the Elven Lord's proud embrace.
Sethryr arrived with news that the Elven warriors had destroyed the other eight monroth, and that the world was safe again from the voracious, dark-souled creatures.
A short while later, Malloran tugged at his hand and led Baines towards the area where the Wyvern were basking in the late afternoon sun. The celebrations would soon begin in earnest and they would expect Baines to attend as guest of honor but Malloran felt they had their own moment to celebrate first; their reunion after years of separation.
"You heard Old Sethryr. We have some catching up to do... and I intend to do that some place where we will not be disturbed."
His smile was bright and his green eyes were dancing in joy. Sunlight turned Malloran's blond hair to spun gold, with the slight breeze lifting the strands from the boyish face, and Baines found he was more than eager to obey Sethryr's implicit command.
The green and gold Wyvern that Malloran commanded was stretched out across the ground. It snorted as its master approached. Malloran stroked the pearlescent scales beneath one silver eye and then leaned in close to whisper softly to the creature. With his hand still clasped in Malloran's, Baines did not resist the pull as his lover drew him down into the hollow between the Wyvern's huge limbs. The massive head came down to form a living roof above them, hiding them from the rest of the world yet allowing sufficient light around the edges for them to see each other clearly.
"We'll be safe here, from prying eyes... and from anyone searching for us."
Baines laughed softly, momentarily wary but then relaxing. He trusted Malloran with his life, so if Malloran trusted this great beast not to roll over and crush them, then so would he. He drew Malloran into a tight embrace. Hungry lips found his and he moaned in appreciation of the talented mouth that he had missed so sorely these past years. Agile fingers found their way beneath the light tunic he had donned since the death of the last monroth. They teased across a nipple, rubbing and pinching, fueling the flames of desire that were building within him. His own hands worked under his lover's clothing, re-acquainting themselves with every reachable inch of warm flesh.
He dragged his mouth away; his lips nuzzling along the strong jaw line and his teeth nipping at the small ear lobe before his tongue rimmed the familiar contours of elfin ears.
"How I've missed you."
He breathed the heartfelt words into the delicate shell and sighed as strong arms tightened around him, holding him close to the longed-for body. His hardened flesh rubbed against his lover's; his hips grinding against hips but Baines wanted more. He wanted to feel his lover's silken skin against his own naked flesh; he wanted to feel the warmth of his lover's body against him.
Urgent hands were tugging at his pants but were becoming frustrated with the fastenings. Baines chuckled softly and opened them before Malloran lost patience and tore the clothes off him. He was pleased that one of them still retained a little control else he would be looking for a third pair of pants in one day, having already had his army fatigues cut away from his body.
Malloran wriggled as he pulled his own clothes free from his body, often colliding with Baines within the confines of the hollow between the Wyvern's limbs as they both sought to undress quickly. They bumped into the creature's arms in their hurry but it merely opened one huge silver eye to stare down at them in bemusement before returning to its sun basking.
Baines pulled Malloran's naked body into his arms, glorying in the feel of the warm flesh against the whole length of him. He laughed at their desperate antics and kissed the nape of Malloran's neck. His hard shaft pressed into the cleft of his lover's ass and he moved his hips rhythmically, experimenting with the sensations that licked a path of fire through his body to ignite every nerve ending.
"Want you so bad."
"Then take what you want. It's yours... I'm yours."
"I can't. I haven't got--"
"In the pocket of my tunic. Sethryr pressed it into my hand as we left his tent earlier."
Baines grinned and gave silent thanks for the old man's foresight. He scrabbled through the pile of discarded clothing and found the item in question, scooping out two fingers of the warm grease. With careful strokes, he teased the tight opening, his fingers moving gently in and out as he waited for a sign that his lover was ready to accept more. Beside him, Malloran moaned out his pleasure; drawing back his top leg to give Baines greater access to his body. It was the sign Baines was waiting for and he slicked the remaining grease over the length of his engorged flesh. With infinite care, he thrust into the relaxed hole, savouring the heat of his lover's tight channel surrounding him. Baines bit down on the ivory flesh at the juncture of neck and shoulder, drawing a small cry from Malloran as he marked his lover in possession. He moaned his own pleasure as Malloran's hand reached back to stroke his flank from waist to mid thigh as Baines thrust deeper into his welcoming body.
They moved together, slowly, all the urgency fleeing from them as they reveled in knowing each other intimately once more.
The hand left his flank and Baines followed it, wrapping his hand around the strong fingers that had sought out Malloran's own aching flesh. They rocked together, hands sliding in synchronization with the deep, even thrusts. Baines could feel the pleasure building, could feel his blood boiling and his limbs melting as every sense spiraled towards ecstasy. He gasped as the wave of sensation engulfed him, jetting his essence deep inside his beloved's body. Hot juices coated his hand as Malloran came moments later.
Their movements slowed, becoming languid as the rush of pleasure seeped from their bodies leaving them happily exhausted. Malloran turned in Baines's arms and they kissed leisurely, bestowing ragged sighs of contentment upon each other. Warm lips pressed against his gently perspiring forehead.
"If you ever go away again you must promise to take me with you."
"If it's within my power to do so, then I promise you, I will."
He smiled as Malloran accepted his promise, lying back and pulling his lover tightly against him. The large silver eye of the Wyvern blinked down at him and Baines felt his smile become a grin of elation. All those years of fear and loneliness - for himself and for his lover - melted away as he held Malloran in his arms once more.
Finally, he was home.