By sunset, they’d set up camp at the crest of the cliff and all was well until a screaming terror erupted from the thick forest.
An eyeless species of hellspawn that look like a man if he were slowly morphing into a walking insect, the transformation disfiguring his body and turning his skin into a flaky, pale outer skeleton and his mouth into a row of sharp teeth held to the jaw by rotting flesh.
Better yet, they traveled in swarms.
The soldiers at camp snapped alert and drew their weapons. One turned back and said, “Fret not, General Ahn, Lord Yao Yu. We will stomp out the fiends. Remain here and be safe!”
And the soldiers charged off into the forest, their brave shouts mixing with the shrill shrieking to create a truly abrasive noise.
Yao Yu did not know just how close the monsters were, until a glob of something sticky and yellow and pus-like shot out at them from the darkness between the trees.
He dropped to the ground to dodge the goo, bringing a grimacing Jae down with him. There they lied, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Above the incessant howl of the Shriekers, Yao Yu looked to Jae and ventured coolly, “General do you believe in the notion of soulmates?”
Jae’s dark brows knitted together. “What?”
“Soulmates. Destined lovers.”
Jae paused, mouth pulling into a frown. “Predetermined destiny is a farce,” he said finally. “To believe that a higher power controls my fate is absurd. I control my fate.”
Yao Yu hummed and turned away. After a beat, he said, “So you don’t believe two people ever belong together?
Jae looked at him, scowl intensifying. “I believe that the person I love is chosen, but not by the gods. By me.”
“He should be so fortunate.”
“He is.” Hesitation followed, and Yao Yu was surprised when Jae started speaking again. “He is… special. Important. Valuable beyond measure. Has changed my life in profound ways and… makes me feel things no other ever has or ever will.”
“General…” Yao Yu looked over to see Jae had gone the slightest shade of pink and was adamantly refusing to meet his gaze. “Make love to me.”
Jae sat up, gritting his teeth. “Making love to you is the furthest thing from my desires right now.”
“Right now, and most other nows.”
Jae’s mouth hung open and he stared at Yao Yu for a moment before the scowl returned. “Spare me. You can make love to yourself if you’re in so much need.”
“Is that an order, General?”
Jae hadn’t the time to retort, for the shrieking intensified not only in volume but in magnitude. Not long after, their men came sprinting from the forest, pale-faced and waving their arms wildly above their heads.
“WE WOKE THE HIVE! WE WOKE THE HIVE!”
Jae and Yao Yu both shot up in time to see a stampede of Shriekers tearing for their camp. Soon their party was pushed up against the edge of the cliff and facing an onslaught of fiends.
“This is it,” Yao Yu said, face so serious Jae could almost forget the venereal request he’d made moments ago. “We make our stand here. They are many but they are weak. We pace the fight, we outlast them, and we win.”
Without warning, Jae grasped Yao Yu’s shoulders and held firmly. They stared into each other’s eyes and Jae saw his reflection in the other’s pools of gold. Then he said most seriously, “I have a better idea.”
And he thrust Yao Yu over the side of the cliff.
Without hesitation, Jae turned back to the approaching horde. In the palm of his upturned hand appeared a fiery orb. Feather-like trails of flames danced from it. His other hand began to glow warm and orange.
The screaming horde was upon them.
But just as the creatures lunged, a roar shattered the air. And in the next instant, a whole swath of Shriekers was swept off the side of the cliff by a powerful, ivory-scaled tail.
Yao Yu shot up from behind Jae, long, draconic body blocking out the glare of the setting sun. But instead of batting away the second wave of fastly approaching terrors, he slammed his tail into the ground and sent Jae stumbling forward.
Jae! The accusatory call was as audible as the shrieking coming from the forest, though the dragon’s mouth moved not.
“Apologizes, my love,” Jae said wryly, “but my plan is more efficient.”
You toy with me, knowing well that I can turn whenever it suits me.
“Yes, but where is the fun in that?”
A tail knocking him down–and pushing the air from his lungs–was answer enough. He coughed on the ground as the soldiers looked back to the pair with unspoken pleas on their faces.
Did you not enjoy that, General? Oh, but where is your sense of danger! Have you no love of thrills?
“Enough!” Jae pulled himself up and the orange glow on his hands burned brighter. “To prove my remorse, I will kill a hundred of these beasts in your honor.”
No! I will not be sated until two hundred you have killed!
“Then I shall kill three hundred!”
Jae was not sure how many he was killing, but he didn’t bother to count as his flames tore through the army and turned the Shriekers into brittle ash. He fought with a flourish, conjuring arcs and torrents and pillars of fire that danced swept across the battlefield. Sometimes he would glimpse explosions of light color burning down the enemy’s forces and knew it was Yao Yu’s work.
The waves ceased just as Jae began to feel the exhaustion. He dropped to the ground and panted to catch his breath, sweat dripping down his face. Yao Yu, still large and scaly, hovered close.
Jae, he said, reverence filling his voice, I have seen the Heavens birth stars in a storm of aether, setting the celestial sky ablaze with a wash of light and color–yet not even that holds a flame to your beauty.
Jae’s lip curled. “You tease me.”
Not yet, I don’t.
He felt his lover’s strong muzzle press into his stomach, where warmth quickly pooled, then slide lower.
“May I help you?” Jae asked sharply of the soldiers who stood gawking.
One particularly brave fellow cleared his throat. “How does one make love to a dragon…?”
Jae narrowed his eyes. “Very carefully.”