Afron glanced up as the giant torfruk swooped overhead, momentarily blocking out the sun and casting a dark shadow over half of his caravan and making the horses toss their heads and snort. Damned birds. Nothing more than rats with wings, really -- just as ugly, foul, and hard to catch.
"We must be near the carcass."
He grunted and nodded at his lieutenant. Torfruks only fed on fresh kills -- and usually only on kordons. If they could find the body of the behemoth, there would be a good amount of meat to take back to the tribe.
Afron sighed. By the ancients, how he hated this! He was a Chieftain, a strong leader in charge of an army of men just as strong. Barbarians like him, mostly, but there were some outsiders -- a motley handful of humans, minotaurs, the largest dwarf he had ever laid eyes on, and a dishonored and exiled elf. Brave men, all of them. They deserved to hunt, not be reduced to scavenging; picking the bones of a bird's leftovers.
But food was scarce in winter. They were lucky today's weather had turned off without swirling winds and snow squalls. Next to Afron, the elf, Chebalo, sat up straight in his saddle and cocked his head.
"What is it?"
Chebalo's eyes went round. "Ogres!"
The word hadn't had time to leave his lips before the first of their enemy dropped from the trees above. The forest erupted into a cacophony of chaos -- grunts and shouts, metallic clanging, furious neighing, stomping of hooves, the ogres' fanatical snarls and screams.
Afron counted twenty ogres, perhaps half as many again, as he pulled his sword, Bloodslinger. The polished metal glinted in the sun for but a moment and then he slashed it across the belly of an ogre, soft flesh giving satisfying purchase as he pressed the attack. He pulled a dagger from his waist and stabbed the thing in the eye for good measure.
He threw back his head and gave a shout of victory before reentering the fray. Slashing, stabbing, kicking, and clawing, Afron fought on as more and more of the enemy surrounded and pounced on them from above. He slammed his foot into the chest of one ogre and spun his horse away, finished another off with his sword.
Tingling heat flooded over him and a buzzing filled his ears as he shivered, light-headed, under a great wave of dizziness. Ahead of the fighting -- just beyond the line of trees -- a ring of light appeared, shimmering and undulating until it formed the shape of a person. He steered his horse toward it, away from the fighting, and blinked several times, unable to believe his eyes. Makara. Afron couldn't help but smile. Soft, creamy skin, sweet pink lips just parted, perfect body covered by a robe, but that didn't matter. Afron didn't need the visual -- he knew that body completely, every crease, curve, and dimple. Knew how to make it sing. And it sang for him now, not any audible sound, but one Afron felt in his heart and soul, in his bones. Ridiculous that he should think of such things with a battle raging just paces away, but there was nothing for it. The vision took him, claimed his mind and his will.
The light grew brighter over Makara's heart, turning from yellow to orange to red, and then to a fierce sparkling white. It morphed and changed, finally settling into the outline of a star. Warmth enveloped Afron and he glanced down at his body to see a mirror image of Makara's star on his own chest. Over his own heart.
A sudden dawning made his legs and arms shake and a thick lump of guilt lodged in his throat. Makara was his Heart of Stars. He'd known it, suspected it in any case, for the pain of leaving Makara had grown each time, to the point he'd considered buying Makara outright and dragging the man along with him. Yet he hadn't. He'd done nothing but take, never giving anything back but a handful of coins. He'd denied his true feelings for Makara -- after all, what kind of chieftain fell in love with a whore? He had been wrong, though. So very, very wrong.
Makara had hinted he'd felt the same, though he'd never given voice to the feelings. But the way he arched to Afron's touch, the way he called Afron's name, and held tightly to Afron even after the throes of passion had subsided... and the way he hung his head as he watched from his window when Afron left each time... Afron closed his eyes and looked away, unable to bear the knowledge of what he'd put Makara through time and time again.
When he opened his eyes again, the vision of Makara had faded from view, as had the light and warmth from Afron's body. He shook himself hard to dispel his grief. He had to get to Makara. He had to fix this -- had to make things right before it was too late. If it wasn't already. Makara had said their last time together had been their last.
To be continued...