Chapter five

Warnings: slash (rating: M, but nothing too explicit) and a fair amount of the infamous four-letter-word starting with 'f'...;-)

Author's note 1: There are a lot of loose ends to be tied now, but to avoid having to get into too much detail (the chapter is already a lot longer than I'd originally intended…) I just presumed that Gerald picked up a lot of missing links by reading Darren's mind, e.g. the known facts (and rumours) concerning the destruction of his domain.

Author's note 2: I couldn't resist putting a quote (well, not the exact wording, but I used parts of it) from the movie 'Titanic' into Gerald's mouth when he talks about Damien Vryce. Exact quote: 'But now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me... in every way that a person can be saved. I don't even have a picture of him. He exists now... only in my memory' (Rose).

Author's note 3: I also utilized Shakespeare's famous "There are more things in heaven and earth (…) Than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet).

Author's note 4: I can't remember Gerald's exact words concerning the improbable/impossible (and I don't know for the life of me where in the trilogy to look for them), so I made up my own version. Somehow I can't help wondering whether Ms Friedman got her inspiration from Sherlock Holmes… See for yourselves: "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four, Chapter 6, page 111). Can't help to recognize some striking similarities… You've got two brilliant, cold-blooded, analytical personalities with rather peculiar habits, lol! On top of it Holmes/Watson are perfect slash fodder, aren't they?

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oo

The sun had set, and shadows had fallen over a land which hadn't seen campfires and human intrusion for centuries. Muttering a whole slew of rather ingenious curses under his breath Pete Anderson had unsaddled and fed the horses, set up their tent and prepared a humble meal on the camping stove, bracing himself for what would doubtlessly be a lonely, fearful night. For God's sake, the physician thought grudgingly, whatever is going on in this wretched place one might think the two lovebirds should have run out of stamina by now. He had just helped himself to a bowl of instant noodle soup when the shadows parted and two familiar figures stepped into the light of his small lamp.

A beaming Darren was bent under the weight of two enormous stacks of books, and the tall stranger so very resplendent in his sumptuous silken robes of a bygone age was carrying about a dozen of heavy leather bound volumes provisionally tied together with a rope as well plus a bejewelled silver chest adorned all over with mythical beasts and ancient sigils, but at first glance Anderson realized who truly had found his most precious treasure in the abandoned vaults beneath the remains of the Hunter's legendary obsidian keep that day. His handsome face literally glowing with love and happiness Mitchell evidently was in seventh heaven, and meeting his friend's sparkling eyes still wide with wonder Peter Anderson instantly choked down the rapidly increasing repertoire of flippant remarks which had been accumulating inside him during his solitary vigil.

Darren's mysterious beau was undoubtedly more accustomed to concealing his feelings, the serene, flawless features seemingly utterly untouched by the petty troubles of the mundane world giving nothing away while his piercing gaze scrutinized everything from the tent to their camping gear and Anderson's face until the physician imagined he could hear the gears inside the pretty head moving, but he had made no effort whatsoever to hide the tell-tale hickey he was sporting, and regarding the bite marks close to Mitchell's throat it was pretty safe to assume that his lover certainly had been anything but indifferent on that ancient trestle table only a short while ago.

"Pete, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine." Darren Mitchell was grinning from ear to ear like the fabled Cheshire cat head over heels in love. "That's Gerald Tarrant, the first Neocount of Merentha."

"At your service." Tarrant bowed with a flourish, and for a moment Anderson couldn't help but marvelling at the consummate grace and elegance of the motion, but in the next instant his gaze locked on his friend again who was absentmindedly dabbing at the blood-caked wound at his throat, and his blood turning to ice water inside his veins the bowl of soup fell from Anderson's shaking hands when he remembered the report he had watched with his friends what felt like an eternity ago at the Coach and Horses, remembered the unfathomable revelation that the founder of the Tarrant line, the very creature who was standing just a few feet away, had also been the accursed Hunter in his unlife, a monstrous, demonic entity which had supposedly supped on the blood and fear of his helpless victims.

O holy shit, Anderson, just pull yourself together and show a bit of savvy, you dumb fool! It's hardly surprising that there are bitemarks at Darren's throat. The fiendish bastard has indeed bitten him, but not in the throes of passion as you've foolishly assumed but to feast on his blood like a loathsome leech instead. May God help us! No wonder that spawn of hell had waited until nightfall before it had dared to creep out of its sinister lair, and almost choking on his breath with sheer, unadulterated dread Anderson staggered to his feet, dead set on selling his own life and that of his poor, spellbound pal as dearly as possible.

"Are you all right, Pete? The heat is fucking oppressive, and you're quite pale and sweaty all of a sudden. Why don't you have a sip of water and rest for a few minutes?" Honest concern was showing on Mitchell's face now, but Tarrant's eyes were brimming with unveiled amusement, and the corners of his mouth curved upwards in a sardonic smile which did nothing to calm down Anderson's bloodcurdling horror.

"I think your friend will feel better when he can provide us with a helping of that delicious soup. Replenishing our energy is very well advisable if one considers that we had a rather busy afternoon today, don't you agree with me, Vryce?"

"Darren, Gerald, my name is Darren. You had better get used to that as soon as possible", Mitchell corrected with a sheepish grin, but when his famished stomach agreed to Tarrant's suggestion with a rather vicious grumble he bent to his task and rummaged through his pack to retrieve two spare bowls and spoons, and a few minutes later their strange little troupe was sitting at the camp fire, each of them nursing his noodle soup and a slice of bread in a deafening silence which spoke volumes and caused Mitchell's gaze to wander between his lover and his friend in utter confusion.

Anderson's nagging fears were somewhat mollified when the former Hunter had gingerly swallowed the first few spoonfuls of the tasteless hot broth and his white and reassuringly human teeth bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the unholy, pointed canines of the nocturnal predators omnipresent in Erna's late night horror movies were cutting through his slice of wholemeal bread, but he nonetheless had to stifle a sigh when he gazed at his besotted pal who had only eyes for the man sitting at his side, the bowl of soup in his hand completely forgotten.

"Eat, Darren! If you don't finish your main course you won't get any dessert tonight!" The sudden flush on Mitchell's cheeks and the ambiguous smile accompanying the ostensibly innocent words left no doubt about what kind of dessert Tarrant was currently referring to, and Anderson groaned inwardly, at the end of his tether. Concerning the Neocount's reassuring food habits the man presumably wasn't keen on taking a blood sample from the unlucky mortals who had the misfortune to cross his path any longer, but if the two horndogs continued to fuck each other to cloud nine every other hour late summer would turn into autumn and autumn into winter, and they would be forced to celebrate an open air Christmas in this thrice damned forest before they eventually managed to return to Kale, let alone Jaggonath. In the wake of the taming of the fae the Church of Unification had reinstated the better part of the old traditions from Earth as soon as it had become clear that the terrestrial colonists weren't running the risk of spawning faeborn Messiahs in the dozen any longer, but the more than adequate number of potential Christmas trees at their disposal was but a small consolation to the bemused physician.

Anderson had just shrugged off his annoyance and had tucked into his meal again when to his dismay a familiar, chubby figure in a garish green suit and buckled black shoes appeared out of nowhere with a resounding crack, and for the second time that abominable evening the contents of his bowl were emptied on the lush grass as the fortunately unbreakable camping dinnerware slipped from his limp hands once again. What the heck was the weird horse dealer doing here, and how on Earth and Erna could the fellow have materialized out of thin air? His hairs standing on end when his fears were returning with a vengeance Anderson gritted his teeth and steeled himself for the potential dire events to come.

"Seems the wake-up kiss and its aftermath was to your liking, my friend", Karril cackled mischievously. "Concerning your 'busy afternoon' and how you're poking around in your meagre repast you will suffer from formidable stomach rumbles tonight, but as for me I wouldn't mind being put on a diet for the next days. The combined pleasure of your blissed out young lover who apparently can't refrain from drooling over you for a second and yourself was the juiciest morsel I've had for ages."

His flush deepening to a worrisome beetroot red Mitchell buried his nose into his bowl, but Tarrant gracefully rose to his feet in a single, fluent motion and faced the horse dealer without batting an eyelash. "Just so, Karril, but there's no denying that a time span of five hundred additional years of your irritating existence haven't sufficed to improve on your manners at all, a very regrettable fact, as far as I'm concerned."

Karril chuckled gleefully. "And there's also no denying that five hundred years of napping evidently haven't managed to dull your sharp tongue, Gerald. Not that I want to complain. Life was gradually getting a bit boring without having to save your shapely ass from certain doom now and then, and it's good to have you back. By the way, before I forget I'd like to send you Saris regards. She's remained true to her aspect and is currently running the biggest chain of beauty parlours on the continent. Maybe you wouldn't consider it possible, but an amazing number of my family members have adopted a rather bourgeois lifestyle."

"Remind me at what time of Ernan history spying on your friends' most private moments became a part of decent 'bourgeois' behaviour when I've got a moment of undisturbed peace and quiet'", Tarrant retorted dryly without missing a beat, but the faint smile playing around his mouth belied the stinging rebuke, and the horse dealer snickered. "Anyway I'm deeply indebted to your sister, Karril. When my mortal body finally collapsed under the strain my hearing was the last sense to fade before darkness claimed me, and I'm very well aware that if Saris hadn't talked my ignoble descendant into sparing me dying for a third and final time and hadn't come up with that fancy notion of putting me to sleep instead I wouldn't be able to discuss the topic of suitable, polite human manners with you now. She's rendered me a great service, and so did you. I won't forget that."

"Perhaps I did you an even greater service than you presume, my friend. You don't really and truly believe I shifted my focus and wasted the last five hundred years with breeding and selling horses just for fun, do you? I've never shared your absurd fondness for those kicking and biting stubborn beasts, but visualizing your incensement I wasn't very keen on breaking the bad news to you that all of your cherished true horses had perished in the destruction of the Forest, and so I put my butt on the line and rescued a few of them from a cruel fate before those pompous crusaders torched the whole area."

"You saved some of my breeding horses when those deluded imbeciles had the nerve to raid my domain and raze a meticulously balanced ecological system to the ground whose perfecting had taken me ages and which was no less a part of myself than the flesh I wore?" Tarrant inquired incredulously, and his finely chiselled features brightened considerably at the unexpected news. "How many did escape the preposterous slaughter?"

"Getting more than eight of them out of harm's way was beyond my capabilities, unfortunately, and naturally I had to crossbreed them with a couple of unhorses to avoid inbreeding, but..."

"Have you lost your wits, Karril? Not that you ever possessed them in abundance", the former Hunter snorted derisively, "but that you had the cheek to tinker with my well-wrought breeding programme just takes the biscuit."

"Now don't get into a huff and kindly stop glaring daggers at me, my friend. With your experience in genetics you should be the first to accept that regarding the small number of surviving animals that course of action was unavoidable for a sound gene pool", Karril replied with an excusatory smile, "but although I'm lacking your horse sense in all modesty I can assure you that everything turned out well. By now you've got a formidable herd of roundabout seventy healthy and beautiful horses with shining hooves instead of three toes, and several of the mares are in foal. Even after all those years the legendary animals of the accursed Prince of Jahanna, the only creature on Erna who has ever managed to breed true horses, are still a topic of wild tavern speculations when beer and rotgut have flown plentifully, and to avoid suspicions I've wrapped the beasts into so many layers of my sophisticated illusions that a unsuspecting mortal could run right into them without ever realizing what has just kicked his dumb ass. It feels good to practice your skills every now and then like in the olden days.

"If your famous brilliant brain cells hadn't been addled by your prolonged beauty sleep and the pleasant anticipation of shagging the brains out of your cute sweetie-pie for a delicious night time dessert", the horse dealer continued maliciously, "you certainly would have already torn your rapt attention away from the undeniably alluring two-legged stallion at your side to rivet on the black true horse I placed at your disposal instead. He's the pick of the bunch, and you'll find breaking him in for a change thoroughly enjoyable."

"In fact I would find it thoroughly enjoyable if you stopped being ridiculous and cut down on your unasked-for lewd talk, Karril. I can't avoid the impression that you have indeed missed your calling and should be better off with running one of those infamous but nonetheless much-frequented establishments specializing in carnal delights instead of tampering with equines and meddling with matters over your head. Have I ever allowed emotions or physical cravings to govern my discernment after I had mastered the untoward blood madness casting a gloomy shadow on the first decades of my undead existence? You really should know me better."

Tarrant's condemnatory scowl would have caused any sane human being to blanch with dread, but Karril just roared with laughter, by no means intimidated by the adept's acerbic retort. "Oh Gerald, maybe you're the one who's missed his calling and should hire yourself out as one of the stand-up comedians so very popular with the folks addicted to the moving images they call television nowadays. Amuse yourself with throwing dust into the others' eyes to your heart's content, but in my presence you can stop bothering and drop the act. I know your heart, old friend. There's no shame in caring for somebody, a vital lesson the shining example of your priestly friend should have already taught you centuries ago. I'm sorry if I reopen old sores, but I think it's high time to apprise you of the fact that I called on Vryce shortly before he died of old age in a cloister. When I informed him of Saris' intervention on that fateful day at the Keep the dumbstruck look on his wrinkled face was worth the trouble I had in tracking him down, but at long last he grinned and acknowledged he should have considered that 'the cunning son of a bitch never failed to have an ass or two up his sleeve'. As you can presumably imagine that's an original citation, but there's no doubt that the priest still loved you from the bottom of his heart to his dying day, and knowing the truth he breathed his last in peace with your name on his smiling lips. Be gentle with the half-baked little chap who obviously adores the ground you walk, and don't you forget that he's not Vryce after all if you want to live happily ever after. And now let the bygones be bygones and pay a visit to Shaitan. The old boy is tugging at his leash like blazes in his eagerness to greet his true master."

Evidently the horse dealer's proposal met Tarrant's full approval, and when the former Hunter and Karril had removed themselves from the campfire and had sauntered over to the horses to inspect the animals and pet the black stallion's shiny coat who welcomed the adept with an excited neighing and a trusting snort into his shoulder-length hair Peter Anderson availed himself of the opportunity and tried to talk some sense into his smitten buddy.

"For the love of God, Darren, do you have any idea of what you're getting yourself into if you mess about with that bloke? Although I'm not into men I don't give a damn for your sexual preferences, and I won't deny that I've never encountered a fairer guy than your recent conquest yet who looks as if one of God's angels had vacated his accustomed place near to God's golden throne to spend his annual leave on Erna, but I very much doubt that the condition of his soul matches the beautiful facade. You know nothing about him, pal, nothing except that he's got a face to die for and that presumably a multitude of hapless folks indeed saw that very angelic countenance when they stared death in the face, praying to God that the grim reaper would finally release them from their excruciating sufferings. Tarrant used to be the Hunter, Darren, the Hunter. Do you truly want to team up with a creature corrupted to its very core and in a class of his own when it came down to spilling innocent blood in its prime? A creature which slaughtered helpless women for centuries to slake its hellish cravings for blood and terror and to please its infernal masters? The mere thought gives me the creeps, and although there's actually no point in closing the stable doors after the horse has bolted I wouldn't let him come closer than an arm's length from now on if I were you."

"Don't get all preachy, Pete, and stop talking about him like that", Mitchell cut heatedly into Anderson's ranting. "I won't hear of it! You just don't understand…"

"I don't see things through rose-coloured glasses and very likely understand better than you, Darren. Even if you're cross as two sticks with me at the moment I'm your friend, and as your friend I've only got your best interests at heart. I won't sit back and twiddle my thumbs when you're bound to get into a pretty pickle. Can't you get it into your thick head that something is very, very fishy about the whole situation? Your uncanny visions, the strange accidents befalling each and everybody who has dared to mess with the Hunter's business, not to mention the sly old dog of a horse coper who's obviously been hand in glove with Mer Beautiful for centuries now. Have you ever heard of a normal human being surviving hundreds of years? Just descend from your illusory castle in the air and face it that there's something in the wind, pal. I don't have the faintest idea about the confidences the two fellows have just exchanged, but we've been lured to this wretched place for an unknown purpose by two rather suspicious characters who still have to show their true colours, and that sits heavily on my stomach."

"I bet it's more likely that ghastly soup causing your stomach problems, Mer Anderson", a deep, amused voice butted in, and the portly physician jumped with fright at the sudden interruption. "We've already met in Kale, Gerald", Karril went on with a twinkle in his eyes, "but as we've just talked about polite manners what do you think about presenting me properly to those poor fellows who are gaping at me as if somebody had put a spoke in their wheel?"

Tarrant inclined his head in assent. "A pleasure. Mer Anderson, Darren, allow me to introduce this incorrigible nuisance called Karril, an Iezu by birth and formerly worshipped as the God of Pleasure in Jaggonath. He's an old acquaintance of myself and of… a cherished friend who died a long time ago."

For a fleeting moment a strangely vulnerable expression flitted across Tarrant's delicate visage when the haunting memories of days long gone by at long last shattered the equanimous façade, and a barely perceptible shudder passed through the lean frame of the adept who gazed fixedly into the distance as if trying to cross the sundering seas of time. "I'm very well aware that you wary of me, Mer Anderson, and although I don't make a habit of explaining myself and I'm in no way accountable to you I'd like to tell you a story as a token of my goodwill. The name of my late companion was Damien Kilcannon Vryce, a priest and Knight of the Golden Flame. He was a man of unquestionable integrity and the bravest and most loyal character I've ever had the honour to meet. Vryce saved me in every way a person can be possibly saved, sustained me with his blood and his nightmares when I was starving despite his agonizing pangs of conscience and walked through the very gates of hell with Karril at his side to rescue me from eternal torment at the hands of merciless entities whose cruelty is far beyond your imagination. For that reason alone I will be forever obliged to that courageous man, but most importantly the priest rekindled the dying spark of humanity in a soul smothered under centuries of murder and corruption, and without the him and his adamant resolve to deliver me from evil I'd be either dead for good and roasting in hell or would still hunt the night in search of suitable prey. I've never had the chance to thank him…"

Tarrant's smooth, light tenor turned as brittle as ice, and his hands balled into fists he cut himself off and drew a deep breath in a valiant attempt to keep his countenance. "In my foolish pride I never told Vryce how much he meant to me", the adept continued when he had regained his poise, "and now he's been dead for half a millennium and nothing remains of him than my memories and his immortal soul which has survived the passing of time and has taken up residence in the body of your friend Darren Mitchell, the very man who awakened me from my enchanted sleep in a rather charming manner. Evidently the ancient fairy tale from Earth contains more than a grain of truth, and only true love's kiss can indeed wake the Sleeping Beauty from an eternal slumber."

His mouth hanging agape Peter Anderson goggled in thunderstruck disbelief at the tall stranger facing him with the ghost of a smile while the negligible diminutive part of his brain still fully functional counted its blessings that 'his jaw hit the floor' was nothing but a colourful metaphor of speech. Working at the King's Hospital he had encountered and treated his own fair share of miserable folks suffering from a fractured jaw, and eating through a straw for weeks on end most certainly wasn't on the list of his favourite occupations.

"Come off it!" Mitchell's friend blurted out when his befuddled brain cells had recovered sufficiently to allow for a semblance of coherent speech. "What are you talking about actually? Reincarnation? Do you really take me for a dupable dimwit, a sucker for the myth that the essence of your priestly companion somehow prevailed over death just to hop into Darren five goddamn centuries later? You can't be fucking serious…"

Whereas raised as a child of an enlightened age which didn't know the fear of the lethal faeborn spawned my mankind's secret longings and fears any longer Peter Anderson had always been convinced that there had to be more things between heaven and earth than were dreamed of in philosophy, and with regard to the stunning family likeness between the stranger and the portraits shown in the broadcasted television documentary he hadn't doubted for a second since he had set eyes on the striking, haughty visage of Darren's lover for the first time down in the defiled storeroom of knowledge that the arrogant stranger was indeed Gerald Tarrant, the Hunter, who had bested death once again and slept the ages away due to a sinister Working beyond Anderson's imaginative power just to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. That much he was prepared to admit considering the horrid tales about the Hunter's machinations and his abysmal powers he had imbibed from his infancy, but taking the mind-boggling suggestion in his stride that the deplorable soul of an ancient warrior knight who had been lured into volunteering for placing himself on the menu of a vampire born in the Revivalist period had somehow transmigrated into the body of his closest buddy was clearly beyond his capabilities for now.

"I'm very well able to relate to your disbelief, Mer Anderson, but the blood shared between Vryce and myself created a channel between souls, a channel which apparently has survived both death and rebirth for centuries. As much as you would prefer it otherwise that kind of link never lies, and reading Darren's mind when I pondered whether to punish him for taking the liberty to kiss me it's beyond dispute that the soul in question is unmistakably the same although the priest's body crumbled into dust long ago. Admittedly the concept of reincarnation is in stark contrast to the doctrines of the Church of Unification the Prophet wrote down one and a half millennia ago, but one has to stay abreast of changes and accept the improbable if faced with the impossible, a sensible approach a prescient man with your scientific background should be well advised to agree with."

All at once Tarrant's angelic countenance hardened and his eyes focussed on Anderson's bewildered face with a killing glance that made the physician's skin crawl while slender fingers came to rest on Darren's shoulder in a gesture of tenure incarnate anything but casual. "As matters stand you would also be well advised to consider that I never make the same mistake twice, Mer Anderson, and although I don't bear you any ill will and appreciate your respectable concerns for your friend you had better make sure to remember that if you're toying with the notion of driving a wedge between Darren and me. I hope you don't mind me putting it bluntly, but Darren is mine, and the sooner you can come to terms with the inevitable the better for your well-being. Do yourself a favour and don't ever underestimate me."

The unveiled threat delivered in a voice so soft and cool that it slithered down Anderson's spine like a melting snowflake wasn't lost on the blanching physician whose survival instincts hoisted the red alarm flag in a blink, but while he was still trying to gather his wits his buddy Mitchell kindly deemed it proper to add his own two cents to the conversation before things careered out of control completely.

"Sit down and cut the crap, Gerald! Nobody's got a snowball's chance in hell to drive a wedge between us, but regardless my feelings for you I won't have you intimidating my old friend Pete. We've met at university and been through a lot of shit together, and I owe him for agreeing to accompany me on this vulk… this fucking trip into the unknown against his better judgement without hesitation. And for your part, Pete, I'd rather you just keep your shirt on and roll with the punches. I still can't quite get my head around it, but Gerald's telling the truth. Never dared to spill my guts out before, but I've had those blasted visions since I was about fourteen years old, and as it stands I'm quite relieved to find out that I haven't gone completely mental. Adjusting to the changed circumstances is difficult for all of us, and I would appreciate it if you don't make matters worse by forcing me to choose between the two of you."

"Here we go again, Mer Anderson", the former God of Pleasure giggled gleefully. "In all the years I've known Gerald his formidable priest has been the one and only who possessed both the capacity and the guts to cut his inflated ego down to size. For my part it's pleasant to know that some constants indeed remained unaffected by the profound changes wrought on Erna in the last five hundred years."

When Tarrant frowned menacingly and shot Karril a withering glare Anderson tensed with apprehension, but after a dragged-out time-span heavy with meaning the adept inclined his head ever so slightly in Anderson's direction in a gesture that could be interpreted, with a generous dosage of good-will, as tentative acquiescence and settled down at Darren's side again in a single, fluent motion which didn't fail to command the chubby physician's admiration despite his frayed nerves, but for the time being Pete Anderson was still much too occupied with marvelling at the hard and fast authority ringing in Mitchell's voice and the change to his friend's lineaments to spare more than a glimpse for both Darren's lover and the impertinent Iezu horse dealer.

For a fleeting moment the young physician's regular features had seemed to be overlaid by a ruggedly handsome, older visage, and his normally bright green eyes had acquired a disquieting shade of hazel brown in the firelight, but when Anderson blinked fiercely to clear his vision the eerie illusion went up in smoke, and he barely managed to stifle a dismayed groan. That's just great, Anderson, Mitchell's friend mused exasperatedly. First your buddy almost goes over the edge because of some uncanny visions, then he falls for a former member of the ranks of the undead who made himself abundantly clear that he is bound and determined to skin you alive if you don't keep your trap shut, and on top of your misfortune you're losing your marbles and are in for the straight jacket yourself if that arrogant son of a bitch doesn't finish you off first. What a load of bullshit…

Inadvertently his gaze wandered to his nemesis in silk robes, and the portly physician shivered. Tarrant's clear, grey eyes were glued on Darren's face, his delicate features frozen in a heart wrenching expression of yearning and desperate hunger that shook Anderson to his very core. If he had succumbed to a bout of insanity a few moments ago the former Hunter had evidently shared his madness, and maybe, just maybe, the tale Tarrant had told them had indeed not been made out of thin air after all. Before he was able to pursue that line of thought any further Darren clasped the adept's hand, lacing their fingers together, and kissed Gerald squarely on his mouth in an open display of devotion evidently unwonted for the restrained adept who blinked perplexedly, utterly taken aback at Mitchell's devil-may-care attitude, but in the next instance the bond of affection gained the upper hand over pride and dignity, and a radiant smile that took Anderson's breath away flashed over the pale visage all at once so very young and beguiling in the flickering fiery glow of their camp fire.

Very much against his will Peter Anderson sat stone-still, literally unable to move a limb or tear his eyes off the two men who were utterly oblivious to the world while undressing each other with their eyes until a deep voice jolted him from his reverie. "We're out of the picture now, Mer Anderson", Karril chuckled quizzically. "It's getting late, and you had a strenuous day. Why don't you just call it a night? As for me I suppose I'll stick around in the ether for a while and wait for the promised dessert… It would be quite stupid to pass a golden opportunity, wouldn't it?"

The Iezu's lecherous grin and the matching obscene gesture were more than sufficient to evoke unsettling images concerning the nature of the nocturnal dessert, and the physician felt sorely tempted to kick his own ass when he felt the colour rising in his face. Usually he wasn't prone to acting the prude moralizer, but memorizing the incredibly stimulating tableau on the trestle table a few hours ago his hormones still displayed a disturbing tendency to get the better of him, and Karril's knowing wink had him squirming with embarrassment. Nonetheless the horse coper presumably had a point in suggesting to leave the lovebirds to their own devices. God only knew what would come out of this strange union between the dissimilar partners, but racking his brains in the middle of the night was outright silly and wouldn't get him anywhere. Yawning demonstratively Anderson bid his companions a good night and made for the tent, already half asleep when he was crawling into his sleeping bag and completely missing out on the following animated discussion concerning the impending repurchase of Merentha Castle from its unworthy current owner.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo oo

In the small hours of the morning Anderson was yanked from his well-deserved slumber by a veritable thunderstorm passing over the former domain of the Hunter, and listening dozily to the gales of wind and the rain drumming on the tarpaulin he idly wondered why he wasn't resting in the comfortable and warm conjugal bed he shared with his girlfriend instead of freezing his buns off in a tent, but his sore behind and the jarring tree root intent on poking holes into his aching back soon enough brought him back down to earth. Muttering a curse under his breath the physician shifted uneasily inside his damp sleeping bag until he had arranged his bulk in a slightly more convenient position and closed his eyes, but his attempts to throw himself into Morpheus' waiting arms again were nipped in the bud by the sound of a zip fastener, the liquid gliding of silken robes and a hushed but doubtlessly rather fascinating dialogue.

"Keep your hands to yourself, you lecherous rake", Darren giggled impishly. "Have to get the oil from our saddlebag with the cooking gear first."

"In this case you'd better hurry up, Mitchell. I'm finding myself running short of patience."

The faint rustling of cloth caused by the ensuing disentangling of limbs was followed by the mere ghost of furtive movements utterly invisible in the oppressive gloom culminating in the telltale sound of a flask uncorked, and involuntarily Anderson pricked up his burning ears. Although he had never bedded a man himself he was no fool, and much to his dismay he very well knew where those preparations were leading to.

"Are you alright, love? If you stick out your pretty bum a bit more it would give me a better angle for pleasuring you."

"I have to admit I'm a tad out of practice, but…" Whatever Gerald had wanted to say was choked off by a surprised yelp turning seamlessly into a lascivious moan that sent a shiver of arousal through Anderson's traitorous body. Evidently Tarrant had heeded to Mitchell's advice, and the young physician had finally found what he'd been looking for.

Although Mitchell's friend wasn't able to see his hand in front of his face the ragged panting and low sighs of the two men didn't leave much to the imagination, and cursing the enervating situation in general and his involuntary eavesdropping in particular he resigned himself to a sleepless night.

The tempest was raging right over their heads now, and when several vivid flashes of lightning brightened the tent's interior Anderson blinked furiously to accommodate his eyes to the abrupt change between light and utter dark just to wonder dimly if he were trapped in a weird hallucination similar to those caused by the justifiably illegal mushrooms some of his fellow students had been much too fond of. The blood rushing to his head and a bit further southwards very much against his will the physician stared into the direction of the closely entwined lovers and held his breath.

The former Hunter was laying curled up on his right side, one long leg bent to steady himself and grant unhindered access to his lover behind him who thrust rhythmically into the arching lithe body, his face buried in the soft strands of light brown hair and his left hand caressing the pale face barely an arm's length away from Anderson's own, a face which had had shed any pretence of aloof hauteur and composure shrouded in the protective darkness of the night. The grey eyes were squeezed shut in rapture, and faint whimpers escaped Tarrant's throat around the corner of Mitchell's sleeping bag he was biting down on in a foredoomed attempt to stifle his treacherous moans of pleasure. The strive for self-control was perishing in the cradle though when the telltale sounds of flesh on naked flesh were speeding up in perfect unison with the lovers' twin breaths, and their muffled shouts of release mingled with the deafening thunderbolts.

Dear God Almighty, I just hope they have finished their bloody dessert and go to sleep now. Otherwise I will either have to spend the night outside in the rain or take some desperate measures myself", Anderson thought shamefacedly. Stifling a sigh he turned around and commenced to count sheep, but despite his best intentions it took some time and a fair amount of embarrassing rearranging of anatomical parts inside his joggers until his body came to terms with the jarring denial of its sexual cravings and he dozed off again at long last, lulled to sleep by the whispered endearments behind his back and the low rolls of thunder far away.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooo

Postscriptum: Well, this is the (rather abrupt) end now, but as I've already mentioned once before I'm very much inclined to write a sequel. Maybe something has gone terribly awry with the manned space mission, and the reincarnated Damien and Gerald have to save the world once again. Who knows? Have decided against participating in the Yuletide Treasure, because I can't face an assignment other than the Coldfire Trilogy, but maybe we could have a kind of private Yuletide giveaway. What do you think? For example those of you interested in a continuation of this story could provide me with some interesting plot bunnies (e.g. Gerald and the model scout, Darren and Gerald in a sex shop, Gerald confronts Frazer or whatever you want), and I would try to write a short ficlet in at least drabble length. This project would basically be an exchange of short (or not so short, depending on inspiration and leisure time) fanfics, and I definitely know what I would like to read from Black Dragon's Ghost…;-)

Yesterday we celebrated 'Nikolaus day' in Germany who very much looks like Santa Clause (I love the movies with Tim Allen...),but brings sweets and little gifts to well-behaved children on the 6th of December. The bad children have a very unpleasant talk with his feared companion 'Knecht Ruprecht' and his rod instead…;-). Our main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, though, when the 'Christkind' (Christchild) brings the gifts. To cut the matter short I'd intended to post a special fic centering around Gerald visiting Damien in a rather strange red attire;-) on Yule Eve as a kind of Christmas treat for my readers. Unfortunately I didn't manage to finish it in time, but I solemnly promise to post it before Christmas... What wouldn't I do to fly the Coldfire flag, lol! All other projects like Little Red Riding Hood, The Beauty of the Beast, a Star Trek crossover and my version of the Ripper story, not to mention my WIP's, have to wait until next year (well, there's still hope for 'Love is stronger...'). Working in retail at this time of the year is just madness!

Sorry for my extensive Author's notes and Postscriptum, but I thoroughly agree with Black Dragon's Ghost who called it 'part of the entertainment', if I remember correctly. I wish you all a happy Advent period, and please don't forget to write what you think about the gift exchange.