by Kaerutobi Ike (蛙跳び池)
illustrated by neomeruru
Brynn’s eyes idly tracked the wisps of fire in the chimney as they danced. He liked this: the warm light of a fire to keep any chills at bay, a room with walls that kept the wind and rain outside where it belonged, even a bed so that he could finally enjoy a solid night’s rest. That being said, he didn’t mind the nights spent on damp ground or hard floors, with a blanket to serve as his mattress and a coat the only thing to keep him warm, but he sure had a newfound appreciation for the comfort that a real mattress provided. Something soft to rest on while he enjoyed the loose feeling that had spread throughout his limbs after his bath—another luxury worth noting. There wasn’t much more he could think to add that would raise his feeling of overall contentment more than it currently….
Well, one thing maybe.
He didn’t dislike their travelling companions—though saying it like that made it sound as if Sean and Brynn were a single unit that just so happened to be travelling with four other guys, as opposed to Brynn’s having taken with five strangers—but there was something to be said for some alone time, for space in which to expand thoughts. For time to actually be himself, too, even if there was nobody else there to witness it. The whole persona of Tom Thumb the Monster Slayer that Brynn had created when he first started out travelling the Kingdoms was beginning to weigh on him. At the same time, it was the only thing allowing Brynn, the young nobleman freshly graduated from the renowned Prince Academy, to freely wander through the land without notice. Granted, it wasn’t as if he would truly be considered graduated, and as such worthy of becoming king, until he saved a princess and brought her home to marry, so maybe it was all moot either way.
Brynn shivered just thinking about it. Girls were more trouble than they were worth. That his imaginary bride-to-be needed to be saved at all just summed it up, in his opinion. He much preferred his current life of roaming and adventure, travelling in the company of men he admired, laying each night at the side of one he felt tenderness toward. Sometimes Brynn gave serious thought to renouncing his old life completely and becoming Tom for good. He could leave the Kingdoms, go where no man had ever heard of Brynn of Foretaucerf, where no man would expect him to ever wear a crown. Maybe he could change his name again. Tom Thumb was such a dumb one. Brynn had never realised he liked his own name at all until he wasn’t able to use it. Now his ultimate fantasy was to hear Sean use it.
With a snort, Brynn rolled on his belly and buried his face in the pillow. There was this, too: the ultimate flaw of his escape plan. He could find a new place to live, assume a new life, but he would never find companions as worthy of friendship as the mercenaries of the Falcon’s Talon and, no matter how long and how far he searched, he doubted he could find another that would mean as much to him as Sean did.
Just then the door squeaked open and the man slipped inside, as if summoned by his thoughts. Brynn couldn’t help smiling against the soft cotton of the pillow. This was the effect that Sean had on him. Let the man enter a room, and already Brynn felt lighter, happier, as if Sean’s presence was a light to send back all shadows back into the darkness where they belonged. If this was how tenderness felt, he dared not think of the effects of love.
Footsteps neared the bed and a hand brushed against Brynn’s naked skin in a gentle caress. “Sleeping already?” Sean asked, softly enough that he wouldn’t wake Brynn if he were really asleep, but teasing all the same, in case he weren’t.
Sean was forever teasing. Brynn had despised him for that in the beginning, but now? He couldn’t get enough of it. He wouldn’t ever tire of the subdued laugh in Sean’s voice when he mocked gently, the way his lips quirked into a wry smile that made him look oh-so-daring and proud. The attention in itself felt like a reward.
No, the world didn’t have another Sean to offer. Even if it did, Brynn wouldn’t take any other than this one. So Tom was here to stay.
Brynn hummed his pleasure and pushed back more firmly into the caress. He reached for Sean’s tunic and used it to pull him right next to the bed; where he could roll on his side and turn closer into right on top of him. Sean let himself be manhandled with delighted laughter and helpfully positioned himself where Brynn wanted him: one leg bracketing either sides of Brynn’s waist, raised up on his knees and elbows to keep himself just out of kissing range.
“Someone is in a good mood tonight,” he commented, close enough to Brynn’s lips that his breath tickled, but moving away whenever Brynn rose up to kiss him. “Mhm, happy and eager. I like that.”
Brynn tried to find it annoying. By all rights, he should have found it annoying, but he just couldn’t bring himself to feel anything other than fondness.
“I want to kiss you,” he said.
The warmth in Sean’s eyes never wavered, but Brynn saw something else rise up from their depths at his words and take hold there too. Sean’s smile softened. “I want to kiss you too,” he replied, low and intimate, as if they were sharing a secret.
The kiss was a different kind of tease. A barely there press of lips, much too chaste for something shared by two men with an empty room all to themselves. Brynn felt his heart swell and a yearning for things he couldn’t name rose up inside and threatened to drown him. The emotion was so intense, it blacked out all his other senses for a heartbeat. When Brynn came back to himself, Sean was once again out of reach for kissing, looking down at him with worry.
“Tom? Everything okay?” he asked, clearly worried.
“Yeah. Just … just thinking.” Brynn pushed the feeling aside for later exploration and reached up to remove the foot or so of distance that Sean had put between their bodies. “Come back here. You’re too far away.”
Sean obeyed and lowered himself until his weight was resting on Brynn. “Don’t exhaust yourself with the thinking, okay?” he said against Brynn’s neck before he set off on a quest to lick and kiss all the skin he could reach. Brynn was happy to let him. The feel of Sean’s weight on him was grounding. There was an interesting contrast between the feeling of soft lips and wet tongue at his throat, the rough cloth against the rest of his body. He wished he could dress Sean in velvet and silk for this. Or leather maybe, soft, smooth leather, cut into a soldier’s uniform in Foretaucerf’s green and silver. Sean could keep it on while they got each other off. Maybe….
Brynn couldn’t hold back his moan as Sean nipped the joint between his neck and shoulder, a spot where Brynn’s nerves seemed to be linked straight to his cock. “Aah, there! That, keep doing—nnh!”
It hadn’t taken long to figure out that Sean liked him clinging and helpless, which was fine by Brynn. He could do clingy, and being blown out of his mind? Oh how he could do that too. Sean’s dedication to the task made surrendering to him even sweeter. He was a generous lover, and made Brynn want to return that generosity in turn. He was also selfless to a fault: never feeling like he was owed anything, never taking anything for granted, pleased whenever Brynn turned the tables on him to give back a little of what he had received, like it was unexpected, a gift, and never something that he was owed. It made Brynn want to give more.
His thoughts were interrupted when Sean kissed his cock and licked down to his sack and back up again. And then there was a wet heat taking him in, and all he could do was enjoy the sensation, the warmth and pleasure pooling low in his belly, and the way his whole body seemed to sing for this—with this—in a way that no word could describe, not while doing it justice.
He reached down to tangle his fingers in Sean’s hair, an act that both helped and didn’t. Having something to grab on to gave him something other than the sensations wracking his body to focus onto, but his grip always made Sean hum around him as Brynn inadvertently pulled on the strands of his hair, which just served to break his concentration further. He could also reach forward, feel where Sean’s lips were stretched around him, caress Sean’s cheek and feel the man try to nuzzle into his hand, all without stopping his sucking and licking.
With a room for their own, there were possibilities to consider that Brynn hadn’t let himself dwell on while they were on the road. Pictures gathered in books and allusions made by the other boys at the academy were crystallizing into a deep feeling of want down in his gut. Not just for pleasure, but for intimacy, for the feel of Sean in his arms, all around him. As close as he could have him and then closer still.
He let out another moan, louder this time. The picture had formed in his mind and it wasn’t about want anymore. He needed this. Needed….
“Come here,” he said, manhandling Sean up, closer to him. He gathered him in his arms. Sean, faced with so much eagerness, hummed in approval and let out a chuckle when Brynn devoured his mouth in a rough kiss.
“I want–” But Brynn’s mind was a white sheet and he didn’t know how to ask for what he wanted. A tragedy in and of itself, or so it felt. The more he wound himself up trying to convey what he wanted to Sean, the less he could put two words together.
Sean never lost his countenance, his eyes glinting with amusement as his hands stroked Brynn’s side. “Slow down, Lover. You can have anything you want, no need to get yourself tied into a knot.” Sean placed another of those chaste kisses upon Brynn’s lips. “You know I can’t resist you, yeah?”
Brynn knew. And it was all kind of unfair. Unfair on Sean, because he gave Brynn so much and Brynn hadn’t even given him his real name. And unfair on Brynn, because he wanted these words for himself—wanted them so much—but Sean was telling them to Tom. Nevertheless, he wanted to give this to Sean. If he couldn’t give himself, then his body was the next best thing. He wanted Sean to find his pleasure inside of him. He wanted this as another tie between them, something else that would make it impossible for them to be untangled from one another.
“In me. I want you in me.”
“Ah,” Sean looked surprised and pleased, but instead of saying yes right away he let out a nervous laugh. “I don’t think you really know what you’re asking there, Tommy,” he said.
Brynn was embarrassed to hear his “yes I do,” come out as a desperate whine. He forced himself to sound calmer. “It’ll be so good. Come on Sean, you said ‘anything’. I want to feel you move inside me.”
Sean’s hands clenched reflexively on Brynn’s sides. His eyes looked down, where Brynn was still hard and wet from spit and want against him. Brynn knew he was tempted. But then Sean looked at his own clothes, and at their packs near the door ready for an early departure the next morning. Brynn watched them too and knew what Sean’s answer would be.
Sean dropped down and stifled his groan of frustration against Brynn’s shoulder. “Oh please, don’t change your mind, just— We can’t now but please, please, as soon as we can stop for more than a night,” he begged against Brynn skin. “You’ll hate my guts tomorrow if we do this tonight.”
Brynn rolled his eyes inward. Fucking bad timing. And now he felt stupid for even asking this.
Sean didn’t let him feel stupid for long. He pulled his clothes off with a rage, stealing kisses in between articles of clothing as if he could see the doubts rise in Brynn and wanted to fight them by keeping him from thinking altogether. His first act once naked was to kiss Brynn so thoroughly that he lost his breath.
“Hold that thought okay?” Sean said again. “Don’t change your mind. And in the meantime….”
He went back down on Brynn and the blowjob that followed reduced him to a mindless state where all he could do was beg and writhe while he tried not to make too much noise or choke Sean with his dick.
His orgasm left him wrung out and hoarse. Sean gave him a minute to regain some of his breath before he was kissing him again. It was a kiss still full of hunger, a kiss to remind Brynn that, while he was sated and tired, Sean was still aroused, both by Brynn’s pleasure and the promise that now hung between them like a tangible weight.
“How do you want to come?”
Sean ground himself down firmly against Brynn. “Like this is good,” he said. “Just like … ha, I love your skin. Have I told you that before?”
Brynn felt a fond smile tug at his lips. “Don’t let that stop you from saying it again.”
Sean smiled back at him. Between panting for air and groaning he continued, “I love how you sound now, too. Reminds me how—nhn— how you begged for me. I love when you do that. When you lose yourself. When you’re—shit, ah, can’t think.” His thrusts were losing their rhythm, his speech turning into more grunts than words. He pressed himself closer to Brynn and, burying his face in his neck again, gave one last hard thrust against him and came.
They hugged each other, used a corner of the blanket to wipe themselves clean, and fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Their destination was, admittedly, one impressive tower. A monument to the art of stacking stone to impossible heights. Brynn wondered, though, if it was actually possible to add that many gargoyles, turrets, and various other ornaments without using some form of magic.
The group was examining the entrance from a nearby thicket, still reeling from the absence of something as basic as guards. “From the look of this thing, you’d expect a dragon or at least an ogre or two,” said John.
“Maybe there was a shortage of ogres and dragons?” answered an unconvinced Jean.
“Budget cuts?” Marion offered.
“Or,” Sean interrupted, “something nastier inside.”
Thane hummed in agreement. “Then we’ll have to be even more careful,” he said. “We take the healing kit and all the weapons we can safely carry. Something else?”
“Yes.” Sean’s eyes were riveted on the tower, a grim expression on his face. “Why did we even agree to do this?”
“Alcohol, I believe,” Thane answered, voice light but with a bitter smile on his lips. He went to his horse to retrieve a leather satchel that contained a few useful herbs and a lot of bandages.
The whole group groaned at his words. Brynn winced, remembering a case of rolling stomach and piercing headache to put all his other hangovers to shame. No wonder they had agreed to this quest. By the state they had been in the next morning, the night must have been a never-ending flow of ale. Brynn thought he also remembered something stronger, but couldn’t put a name to it. Maybe he didn’t really want to know.
They had woken up to a map attached to a piece of paper sporting Thane’s signature and a promise to rescue some girl from a tower. A fee in case they decided to break said contract had been written on too, and they just didn’t have that kind of money. Hell, Brynn knew a few kings who didn’t possess that kind of money. Contrary to popular belief, monsters didn’t drop treasures once slain.
Just thinking of that night brought back the ghost of his headache. Thane’s return forced him to drop the subject, for now. Still, there had been something about the merchant he wished he could remember.
Their captain was arguing with Sean that the bounty would be worth the adventure. “Between the loot and the reward for the girl’s rescue, whatever’s behind those doors will be worth it,” he said. “That tower screams ‘rich’ to me, and even if it isn’t filled with gold and gems, surely there are things in there we can sell regardless.”
Sean nodded reluctantly. Jean and John did so with more conviction. Only Marion was still frowning. “What’s your problem then?” Thane asked him.
Marion looked up in surprise and Brynn thought he might not have been listening at all. Almost immediately, Marion was frowning again. “It’s not about the bounty. I just wonder if we’re not about to go in there for nothing. We were hired to ‘free’ a young woman, but what if we’re going to kidnap one instead? Or what if there is none? I mean, all we have to go by is that guy’s story.” He looked up to gauge Thane’s reaction.
Thane considered what had been said and just as quickly dismissed it. “Nah. We’ll be fine.”
Brynn managed to catch Sean’s eye and gestured that he wanted to talk and that they should go near the horses. The six of them were tied in a nearby clearing. There was a deep, rapid stream to one side and several thorny bushes around them; Thane had assured that they would be safe until it was time to get them back. They were also out of sight from the rest of the group and far out of the line of sight from anyone coming from or going near the tower.
As soon as they reached the clearing, Brynn turned around and pulled Sean to him. Bringing their lips together, Brynn tangled his hand in Sean’s hair and looped the other around Sean’s neck. He pressed them close together and hummed in appreciation when Sean took control of the kiss and bit his lower lip with a growl. As soon as Sean’s hands started roaming, though, he pushed the other man away.
Sean was panting and watching Brynn with hungry eyes. “What was that for?” he asked.
Brynn smiled, stepped backward toward the edge of the clearing. “Just making sure you’re not forgetting anything,” he said before leaving at a jog to rejoin the others.
Compared to its grandiose exterior, the inside of the tower was boringly normal. Once past the entrance door, the group walked into a long hallway of stone that had doors every six feet on both sides, the end of the hallway was another stone wall. The stone floor was covered with sawdust. It was clean, undisturbed, and just the littlest bit surreal.
“So, I guess the servants are really nitpicky about the cleaning?” joked Brynn, in an attempt to lighten the suddenly gloomy atmosphere. The only answer he received was from Jean, who looked at him and said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
As they made their way deeper into the hall, examining the doors for clues as to which one they should open, Brynn thought he heard something, like the faraway echo of falling rocks.
They opted for the third door on the right on account of the bronze handle’s looking duller to Marion, who maintained that it was a sign this door was frequently used. No one else could see it, but they didn’t have anything else to go on, and they couldn’t remain in the hallway forever.
The room looked as boring as the hall. It sported a table—whose use no one was able to guess—with several chairs both around and away from said table, and three trunks neatly aligned against the wall furthest from the door. This room had no other doors and no windows, no tapestries hanging on the wall, no chimney or stove, nothing to indicate what it was for and Brynn doubted it was used for meals, because that table couldn’t seat more than four people at a time, if that.
And then, out of nowhere, six goblins attacked them. The group dealt with them faster than anyone could say “surrender and you won’t be hurt!” And then, well, as John oft said, “They’re dead so they don’t need the stuff.” So they searched the bodies while Sean opened the trunks and rummaged through the rags they contained.
They left the room twenty copper richer than they had entered and still clueless as to where they were supposed to go.
Sean and Brynn were the last to leave the room, and just before they did, Brynn felt Sean lean forward and press his lips on the corner of his jaw. “I’m still thinking. Are you?” he murmured, pushing Brynn out of the door, almost tripping him into Marion.
After the fifth door that they’d tried, Marion swore that the hallway was getting longer. His irritated, “Don’t you feel like we’ve been walking for hours?” was met with five grunts of pained agreement.
Brynn was a bit more verbal in his agreement. His feet had been throbbing for the last hour, but he hadn’t dared to complain in case it was just him being soft. He was used to riding a lot, but this never-ending walking was new. Maybe normal people walked miles every day for all he knew. Sean’s pained face was almost welcome when it assured him that was not the case and that Brynn wasn’t being a spoiled prince.
“So what is it?” John asked tiredly. “Is the tower magic or something?”
As if on cue, a strong wind blew over them and blew out their torches. A voice that sounded as if it was coming from the very walls drowned them into mad laughter.
“Fools! You will never see the light of day again! This tower will be your tomb!”
Brynn heard the others pulling their swords out of their scabbards and pulled his own just as whoever was to his right lit a torch. The group starred with fear into the darkness surrounding their little island of light, but nothing happened.
Brynn breathed a loud sigh of weariness that was echoed by Sean. Jean was grumbling a promise to go haunt the merchant if anything happened to him. Thane was rubbing his palm against his forehead like a man suffering from a headache. “I suggest no one says that again.”
Normally that would have been the moment when someone did, but Brynn was glad when everyone just tucked their swords back and lit a few more torches.
“Let’s go through that door.” Thane gestured tiredly toward yet another in the infinite hall.
Marion and Sean went after it with an axe they had recovered in another room for just that purpose. Though they were slower than they had been two doors ago, they still managed to open the way in less than a minute.
With the pretence of helping him put the axe back across his pack, Brynn stepped behind Sean and squeezed the back of his neck, rubbing his thumbs against the scarred skin there as a gesture of comfort.
The door led to another part of the Tower, through a set of rooms that had looked more lived-in. No one was able to understand why, if the castle had real habitants, they hadn’t met anyone thus far. They didn’t find anyone they could ask anyway, from there on all the people they crossed paths with—and the term “people” was used loosely here—either attacked them on sight or fled before coming back with others to attack them on sight. None of them ever admitted defeat with surrender, either, so each skirmish ended in death.
“It’s really weird how they don’t seem to be able to surrender,” Sean commented while wiping the blood of a half-bear half-human creature off of his sword. “Am I the only one finding it weird?”
“No, it’s definitely strange,” Brynn agreed. He was going through the pockets of his own victim, a half-human half-something-with-horns. Thane had ordered them to look for keys. So far they had had no luck on that front. Everyone in this place seemed to be carrying coins or small gems, however. It was far from the usual, but it wasn’t as if they were complaining. Brynn transferred the three silvers and a blue stone to his own pocket and stood up to follow the others.
They found their first real opponents in the armoury.
The creatures—and there was no mistaking them for people this time—were huge, with corded muscles bulging under their green, scaly skin. Their small, beady eyes glinted red like rubies and they spoke in a whistling tongue as they harangued each other, no doubt ordering the death of the intruders.
They fought with large, curved blades—the like of which Brynn had never seen. Their weapons were carved with gold swirls and ornamented with precious stones, as were their clothes, large trousers of a cloth shimmering like silk and jackets ornate like girl’s dresses. For the first time, Brynn found himself hoping they would also fight to the death: their death. Those swords were worth a fortune, no doubt.
Before he could get to them though, he had to take care of the creature waving one at him. These things had serious skills. Brynn was no novice, but he had to compensate for a slight limp and no knowledge of how his opponents moved and fought. He paid in blood to learn that their movements were much faster than their heavy musculature had lead him to believe. Just a shallow cut on his thigh, sure, but a cut that stung and almost earned him a much deeper one in the neck.
After some consideration, Brynn lured the creature closer to where Sean was fighting his own beast. Brynn hoped that having someone so close would hinder the creatures while giving the advantage to Brynn and Sean, who were used to fighting next to another. The advantage wasn’t big, but it was enough.
With his usual mastery, Sean sneaked his blade under one of his opponent’s attacks and turned the blow aimed for him into a chance to plunge his weapon right where a human’s heart would have been. Whatever god had created their opponents must have given them a similar physiology, for the creature hissed a gurgling cry and fell.
Now battling two-against-one, Sean and Brynn were able to dispatch the second creature in a reasonable amount of time. After that it was a question of not injuring the others while getting rid of their opponents for them.
John’s opponent proved almost harder on his own than Sean’s and Brynn’s put together. They’d cornered him and Sean was able to wound his fighting arm so thoroughly that the creature let his weapon fall with a grunt of pain. Not waiting to see if this one would be the first to surrender, John gave the final blow and then went to help Jean, while Sean and Brynn helped Marion.
Marion’s opponent was much easier, in great part because soon after Brynn and Sean’s arrival the creature suddenly tripped over its own feet and all but fell onto Brynn’s sword with a cry of anger that sounded like it hissed, “Fumble!” It was weird enough for Brynn to take notice, but not any weirder than this entire place, so he quickly forgot about it.
Thane managed to kill his opponent without help or injury and that soon took everyone’s attention. Brynn had to talk himself into walking to his captain to congratulate him on his skills and his luck. Thane smiled modestly and congratulated him back on his quick thinking, because, of course, Thane wouldn’t be too busy fighting giant lizards to keep an eye on his troops. With an internal shrug Brynn reminded himself that he should feel lucky to be under the orders of such a talented captain. The quick hug Sean gave him as soon as they could sneak out of view for a few seconds made that immensely easier to accept.
The creatures’ swords were heavy, but no one wanted to leave his share behind, so all of them were brought along.
They had given up on ever knowing what was in the upper levels, so everyone stared long and hard when they encountered their first staircase since entering. If Brynn’s calculations were to be trusted, and everyone’s rumbling stomachs were a good indicator that he was, it was fast approaching evening.
No one made a move to climb the stairs. Thane was alternating between looking towards them warily and looking back where Brynn and the others stood. Brynn had no plan of going up those stairs if he wasn’t ordered to.
When Thane spoke his voice was calm, edged with steel. “We’re going up. Everyone keep an eye out for a good place to eat some and sleep a couple hours. Let’s go.”
He was the captain, so on they went. Everyone climbed the stairs without a word, looking as nervous as Brynn felt. It wasn’t until he cleared the very last step that he finally stopped expecting something nasty to explode in their face or rush at them or the gods knew what. Thane was looking back at the stairs with a blank expression. His lips were moving but all that Brynn could make out were a couple mumbled words: “…really anticlimactic.”
Brynn was surprised to see tables, two chimneys, a wall covered in pots, pans, an enormous cauldron, massive wooden spoons, knifes as big as his forearm, and at least ten barrels lined up against a wall.
What a kitchen was doing on the second floor, right at the top of the stairs, he had no idea. But he was beginning to think that whoever was responsible for this place hadn’t built it using common sense.
John muttered something about dinner and opened some cupboards. After a few moments he shut them with a disappointed grunt. “Skinflint, no food. We’re in a frickin’ kitchen, how can there be no food?” He opened the cupboard to his left and then then one to his right, looking even more frustrated.
Brynn thought of joining him, but then the sound from before returned: that rolling wind, like gravel, or bones. Just when Brynn thought he might be able to put a name to it, Jean reopened one of the cupboards that had so frustrated John and let out a cry of victory. “Food!”
There was an incredulous shout coming from where John was trying to get a lid off of one of the barrels. He let go of the spoon he was using as a makeshift crowbar and walked back to the cupboard where Jean was holding a bowl of dried fruits.
“Where did you find that thing? It wasn’t in there when I looked,” said John with much vehemence.
“Right, and my grandma’s the Queen of Troirives. It was just right there. On the shelf. I can’t believe you missed it. Talk about a bowman’s sight being sharp.”
“There was nothing,” John insisted. “Come on, that cupboard was completely empty“. Brynn reached them just as John finished the gesturing toward the interior of the cupboard. It was empty. Now.
Jean shrugged and popped one of the fruits in his mouth. “Suit yourself. I’ll go eat the food that wasn’t in that cupboard over there. Actually, I’ll re-check those cupboards while I’m at it. Wouldn’t want to miss anything else.”
There was enough in those cupboards to feed a band of hungry mercenaries. John ate his share with a scowl and whined about the food’s not being there when he checked until Thane ordered him to shut up.
Brynn was also frowning at his food but for different reasons. He had his doubts about whether raiding this place’s kitchen was such a good idea. On one hand, it seemed stupid to poison your own reserves of food. On the other hand—on the other hand was everything that had happened so far.
A gentle nudge against his leg forced him out of his thoughts. Sean sent him a pointed look and then gestured with the piece of cheese he was eating toward Brynn’s still full platter. “Not hungry?” he asked.
Brynn watched him take another huge mouthful of cheese and chew happily. He looked well. So did Marion, who was using bread to sponge jam out of his own bowl. Thane was already finished and watching the hallway from the kitchen’s door. None of them looked like they were suffering from anything.
Sean nudged his leg again, then sneaked a look around and moved his foot higher and just like that Brynn forgot all about his worries thoughts of food and tried and focused on trying to swallow down a meep of surprise in such a way that he almost choked himself.
He attracted everyone’s attention with his coughing and Sean dropped his foot back on the ground. Marion thumped him in the back a couple times and that felt even worse than the coughing. John immediately forgot that he was supposed to mope and joked about Brynn’s sensitive stomach. Of course, Sean couldn’t let that pass without adding his own layer of humiliation.
But that was okay; he wouldn’t be the Sean Brynn loved if he hadn’t. Besides, there was such warmth in his eyes while he poked fun at Brynn that the words themselves didn’t even register. Brynn regretted not being able to drag Sean into a dark corner to enjoy some alone time. By the sly smile and the sudden wink that he received, he could tell Sean knew and felt the same way.
The full stomach made his aching feet more tolerable when they resumed their walking. Sean, jokingly using him as a crutch by leaning heavily against him, was doing wonders for Brynn’s overall mood. Everyone was so busy laughing at Sean’s antics and looking for a decent place to rest that no one noticed how Sean’s head resting against Brynn’s cheek was anything but a joke, how Sean’s arm had sneaked around Brynn’s waste to hold him closer in a way that could never be described as just friendly.
This walking arm-in-arm thing was something one could grow accustomed to.
The joke had to stop at some point though, so Brynn rubbed his cheek against Sean’s head one last time before pushing him away with a small shove of his shoulder. Sean moved away with reluctance but was quick to crack a joke and quicker still to resume his place at Brynn’s side, not hugging him close like before, but their shoulders still bumped together every other step, and that was also nice. Which was why Brynn was surprised when Sean was the one who proposed they split to go look for a campsite.
“I’m not really sure about this,” Thane said scratching at the stubble growing on his chin. Jean raised his hand and waved it to get their attention. “I’m knackered, anything that gets us sleeping sooner gets my vote,” he said.
Thane’s frown darkened. “This is not a democracy.”
“But the idea has merit,” Marion said. When Thane turned disdainful eyes his way, he added, “and tired men make stupid mistakes. When they bother to obey orders at all.”
Thane rolled his eyes and whispered, “mutiny”, but out loud he ordered them to split. “Go in pairs”, he added, “if anything happens, shout and try to come back here. If you find anything, come back first and we’ll check it out later. Be back in ten minutes regardless. Anyone who isn’t here when I get back, I’ll kill myself.”
At once, John and Jean turned to go left and Sean made to join Brynn near the door he was planning to try. He was interrupted by Thane calling him. “Sean! Since you’re such a genius, you can walk with m—”
“Tom!” Sean interrupted joyously, unaware of the way Brynn winced and immediately tried to not look guilty. “I know.” Sean continued, “Wouldn’t want anything but the best for our Thumbiest recruit. Come on then, O Beast-Slayer. Let’s see if this old fox can teach a youngster like you a trick or two.” Without waiting, he grabbed Brynn’s arm and dragged him away before Thane could utter another word.
Brynn waited until they had turned a corner and walked far enough before he pulled his wrist out of Sean’s grasp and hissed, “I told you already to not call me that.”
Sean snorted and grabbed back. “Like half the country doesn’t already.” He whispered, though if it was to avoid attracting a monster’s notice or just Thane’s wasn’t clear. “I bet the next town we step in’ll have us getting stopped at least twice by people asking if the handsome guy is, that guy, you know, Tom Thumb the Beast-Slayer. You know what Tom? They’ll even do the whole whisper and conspiratorial look. Why, the girls giggle almost every time and sometimes even their mums get all giggly. You’re a legend!”
Brynn pushed down an horrendous image of a fifty-something woman’s playing with her hair and giggling at him, and latched on to the second reason why he was angry in the first place. “I also told you to tone down the age remarks.”
Sean shrugged. “Be happy I didn’t call you kid this time. Because you are one.”
“And what does that make you, grandpa?”
They were walking through an empty room now but all Brynn registered about it were the two doors and the fact that it was currently devoid of creatures who might attack for no reason.
“Just because you’re not that much younger than me doesn’t make you any less of a kid.”
Brynn knew that Sean was mainly arguing for the sake of arguing by the way Sean kept looking around for signs of danger and not at Brynn. When he was really serious about a conversation he always looked the person he was talking to in the eyes. “I don’t think that sentence even made sense,” Brynn said, going for teasing.
Sean stopped walking to slowly look over his shoulder. “Ooh, I know that tone.”
Brynn smiled what he hoped was a wicked smile. Sean had a knack for them, but, when Brynn had tried it once, on a pane of glass that didn’t even reflect him properly, a little girl had appeared behind the window and smiled back at him. He just couldn’t practice wicked with a little girl watching him.
He must have pulled it off this time, because Sean smiled his wicked smile and let go of Brynn’s arm. Still moving slowly, he stepped forward until they were standing toe to toe. Leaning forward, he breathed against Brynn’s ear, once, twice, he whispered: “I can’t wait to see how you’ll look when I’m deep inside you.”
Brynn couldn’t stop the moan that escaped his lips any more than he could stop the blood from rushing to his cheeks or his cock from twitching in his britches. Sean jerked his head back as if he’d been burnt. His eyes were at least as wide as Brynn’s, but soon he was chuckling a small, disbelieving laugh, and moving close to Brynn’s ear again.
“You been thinking about it too? Can you imagine the face you’ll make when I breach you for the first time?” Brynn shivered and moaned again. Sean stepped even closer. “Do you think you’ll still be of a mind to make smartass comments then?” he asked. “When I’m pulling you back onto my cock again and again. When you can feel me stretch you, move inside you.”
Sean paused and Brynn couldn’t remember how the whole speech thing worked, let alone what language he spoke. All he managed was a grunt, halfway between a plea and an encouragement.
“I can’t stop thinking about it.” Sean sounded winded. “When you asked me yesterday, I wanted to then, wanted so badly to take what you were offering. To be that close to you—inside you while you moan under me and can’t think of anything but have me closer, deeper.”
Brynn was acutely aware of his body and used all of his strength to stop himself from shoving Sean to the floor and demanding the other man make good on his promise right here. He concentrated on the heaving of his chest as he panted, the way he was clutching at Sean’s arm. Sean wasn’t immune to the atmosphere either. Brynn could feel the way his whole body thrummed with that same contained energy that filled Brynn. How his muscles were taut, it made Brynn realize how little it effort it would take on his part to get Sean to throw caution to the wind.
Brynn inhaled a shaking breath and forced the words out. “I—I can’t wait. I mean. It’ll be— I’m looking forward to that.”
Sean yanked Brynn towards him without warning, bit at his mouth and kissed him without delicacy or skill, just want and a need to let that want out in any way he could. Brynn let himself be manhandled against the wall, let Sean press him there with all of his weight. He let Sean’s big hand cradle his head and keep him close. Let Sean burn that energy with kisses and possessive caresses.
Sean was kissing his face now—soft kisses to his cheeks, his nose, his forehead, his eyelids. One to Brynn’s neck that turned into a small nip and, suddenly, Sean was back to himself again, laughing and teasing. Looking up with bright eyes full of mischief and a fond smile.
“I can’t wait either,” Sean said. “Which means we should find the others now and get our heads in the mission. Get it done at some point. Get out of here.”
Brynn smiled back at him, leaned forward towards Sean and kissed him, chaste and sweet. “Let’s do that,” he said.
After five hours of rest—which was actually four hours sleep, one hour on lookout duty—they opened the door to the small room they had set camp in to find that the hallway had been replaced by stairs. Thane glared down at them as if their presence was a personal insult and curtly ordered everyone forward.
The stairs led to a room containing gnolls, and that room opened on more stairs, this time descending. That led them to a cave where they were attacked by badgers who tried to kill and eat them, a task which they almost succeed in completing. There were two of the beasts and Brynn knew he would have nightmares about them for the rest of his. Because six-foot-long badgers—each weighing five hundred pounds, easy—bearing claws as big as a hunting knives tended to leave that kind of psychological trauma. Or that was Brynn’s feelings on the matter, at least.
By the time they ran out of stairs, Dire Badgers didn’t look that traumatic anymore. Not after the Frost Elementals, the jelly-thing-with-tentacles, the glowy-ball-of-doom, and the Red Dragon. And even that was slowly taking a backseat while the pain of various scratches, sprains, burns, strained muscles, overused feet—and the growing headache as the gravel-stones-bones-balls-rain-whatever kept rolling in his head again and again and again and…. Right. Pain. “Can we give up now and get out?” he asked to his left where Thane leaned heavily against a wall.
Thane’s head lolled on his neck in a vague shake. “Don’t think I remember where the exit even is. Do you?”
“I feared you might say that. Sean?” Sean had a wet rag over his shoulder where the dragon’s venom had gotten on him, nearly melting the skin completely off. Sean’s back, especially the back of his neck, was already an interesting mess of scarred skin, so Brynn hoped that this scar wouldn’t be the one to finally make Sean self-conscious about his body.
Not that there was anything to be self-conscious about.
Sean was looking down at his boot, or at what used to be his boot before the dragon had gotten to it. Now it looked more like stripes of shewed leather. “I think Jean made a map?” he offered distractedly.
But Jean shook his head when Brynn looked to him. “I stopped trying after the stairs moved.”
Next to Jean, Marion opened his good eye. “Whole place keeps moving around anyway.” Jean nodded at that. “And right now the wizard must be driving us right to another creature from hell.”
John was sitting on Jean’s other side and he looked like a man who agreed wholeheartedly. “I don’t think we’re getting out until the guy decides we are.” he said. ” Remember, ‘this tower will be our tomb’.” He held his arms up and wiggled his hands dramatically, drawing out the final word, but his heart wasn’t in it. None of their hearts were really in it anymore. Too many monsters, too many rooms, too much damn walking.
“We need to keep moving,” Thane said at last. He pushing away from the wall and stepped toward the next door with an air of resignation that Brynn rarely saw on him.
Brynn held a hand out for Sean, who took it with gratitude. “I have a pair of socks in my bag,” Brynn offered. “Maybe you can wear them and we can tie some of this leather around your foot? Would that work?”
Sean smiled. “My saviour. What would I do without you? You wouldn’t happen to have brought your white stallion with you too, would you?”
Brynn battled very hard with himself to not give in to his first impulse, which was to kiss Sean.
The second was to punch him on his good shoulder, which he gave into gleefully.
When Brynn’s feet felt like they were about to fall off of his legs, they reached the most massive set of double doors out of all the massive sets of double doors they had already passed. These weren’t just big and reinforced with steel, they had ugly gargoyles guarding them on each side and the wood was carved and gilded in gold. They also bore large scribbles of unknown meaning, maybe even magical in nature, though at this point Brynn sincerely didn’t give a fuck. If they didn’t open on the crazy overlord of this forsaken place, he was going to refuse moving one more step further.
Marion stepped forward and pushed the door open. Despite his being the biggest man in their group, he had to push with his whole body to move the door while everyone else stood at the ready. John already aiming through the opening with an arrow.
The room didn’t disappoint. Rich tapestries, chests filled with stones, gold, fineries. A corner was occupied by a large table that disappeared under an alchemist’s work-station. Another corner held a library filled to bursting with dusty books. Brynn saw titles in all the languages he had ever encountered in his days at the academy plus a lot he’d never seen before.
A bed big enough to accommodate ten people stood near a bay window. Through them, Brynn could see treetops and the sun setting behind the faraway mountains that bordered Hautmont. The sight of the sun was welcome after two days of being trapped in the darkness of the tower.
While Brynn took in his fill of sunshine, Thane rushed towards the bed. Brynn noticed then that there was someone lying there. A feminine someone. Her dress was much too rich for a servant and her hair was bound in an intricate braid that glinted like gold in the dwindling rays of sunlight. Brynn guessed she was the dumbass in distress they had come to save.
Before any saving could take place, a wall of light appeared between Thane and the girl. It flashed when Thane touched it and suddenly Thane was flying backwards into John and Jean. They did their best to catch him but wound up landing ass-first on the ground, with Thane sprawled across the two of them like a disjointed puppet.
It was at this precise moment that the wizard decided to make his grand entrance.
At first, Brynn thought that the man had been in the room from the beginning. He wasn’t that remarkable and it was entirely possible that he had been hiding somewhere. He was, in fact, so common and forgettable, that he might have been standing in the middle of the room from the beginning and they wouldn’t have noticed.
“Fools! You may have made it this far, but this is where your quest ends!” the man said in a way that suggested he was forcing his voice to sound deeper than it actually did.
Brynn could feel the laugh in Sean’s voice when he asked the man, “And who are you?”
“I am the Dungeon Master! Fear me, poor mortal, for you have stepped into my domain and you will never step out again.”
All Brynn could think was that there was no way that this clown would stop them from doing anything. He had experienced what true fear was with the badgers. He’d felt even more fearful with every creature that had followed. But this man? He was a joke!
Sean must have felt the same because he lowered his sword and stepped towards the wizard without missing a beat. “Listen, I don’t care about this place and I’d really like to be gone, so if you could just free the lady so that we can take her back to her father, then we’ll be out of your hair in no time at all.”
“I know why you are here!” The wizard answered with his nose in the air. “And no matter how noble your birth, or strong your love for her, you cannot save her. Your quest will fail!”
Sean was three feet away from the wizard now, having been slowly advancing while the wizard spoke, but the surprise made him stop in his tracks, and suddenly he threw his head back and laughed. “Oh! Oh, gods, no! It’s not like that at all,” he said between bouts of laughter.
Flabbergasted was not the usual look for a wizard, but this one managed it very well. “What? What do you mean ‘not like that‘?” he asked. Then the wizard frowned and took them in—really looking at them—for the first. “That doesn’t look right. Who are you?”
“Mercenaries. Or, in this case, rescuers-for-hire.”
If at all possible, the wizard frowned harder. “There must have been a mistake. Who was it that told you to come here?”
“Some merchant in a tavern,” Jean said from where he was finally getting around to helping Thane up.
“There must be an explanation then. Were you accompanied maybe? That must be it. Did you notice someone else? A tall, strong man? Noble-looking? Possibly wearing fine clothes, maybe even a crown or a circlet of some sort?”
Now everyone looked as confused as the wizard did. John and Jean made funny faces at each other. Sean and Marion looked askance at Thane. Brynn, though, had a feeling that he knew exactly what this whole thing was about. And he was trying very hard to not do anything that might attract attention to himself. As for Thane, he was holding himself very straight now, and it felt as if he was trying his very best not to let his eyes off the wizard for even a second. “We came alone. No one amongst us fits this description.”
The wizard looked chagrined for a moment before suddenly becoming very annoyed. “Well if none of you are of importance, then I have no time to waste with you. Die!”
The air vibrated around the sorcerer, the room filling with a strange music, a pitch much like that of ringing glass. Yet, underneath it, was that noise—rolling and clicking, that frustratingly elusive noise. And suddenly, Brynn recalled tiny cubes carved out of bone, adorned with numbers. Rolling on a table. Dice.
A ball of fire appeared and when the wizard mimed throwing it, the ball flew forward to where Thane, Jean, and John were standing. They barely had the time to dive out of the way before the flames exploded, forcing them to make contact with the blue barrier around the bed.
As soon as the fire had appeared, Brynn, Sean, and Marion had taken hold of their weapons. Sean was the first to move. He ran to the wizard and tried to strike him, but before he could reach him another blue light surrounded the wizard and the only effect Sean’s attack had was that his sword bounced on the luminous shield in a shower of sparks.
The wizard laughed madly. “Poor mortals! Your puny weapons cannot harm me! You are doomed!” As annoying as it was, the wizard had a point.
Marion was circling the wizard now, with Thane joining him. Brynn turned his head slightly to avoid drawing attention to himself and saw that John was also back on his feet and aiming an arrow at the wizard. He couldn’t see Jean.
The wizard made a complex gesture and then mimed throwing something on the ground in front of him. A large pentacle lit up on the floor through cracks that hadn’t been there before. Brynn heard the dice louder than ever. They sounded as if they were coming from the pentacle itself, and a thick dark mass, something like liquid shadows, started to form inside the pentacle.
“Please,” he heard Sean mutter, “let it be something other than another bloody dragon.”
Tough luck. The shadows formed into a feline body with wings and a long neck that ended in a small head sporting fin-like ears. All at once, all the shadows broke away like glass, revealing the white scales of a frost dragon. Brynn heard six voices swear in unison—his included—as the creature let out another roar and stepped out of the pentagram.
Brynn took cover behind a piece of overturned furniture before he could think about it an action that saved his life. The spot he had inhabited a mere second ago was engulfed in a beam of white light so cold that Brynn could even feel it from his new position, like opening a door in a blizzard.
“Tom!” Sean cried, hopefully nowhere near the range of the dragon. “Tom, are you okay?”
“I’m fine!” Brynn shouted back. “Don’t worry.”
He was going over everything he had ever learnt about frost dragons. Their odds of survival didn’t look good. The best chance they had at success would be to go after the wizard and hope his death would recant all of his summons and spells. Brynn risked a glance over his makeshift shield, taking into account everyone’s position.
His gaze was met icy blue eyes and frost-white teeth. The dragon snorted and inhaled a deep breath, preparing itself to release another blast.
What saved Brynn this time was an arrow. It bounced off the dragon without doing any damage, but it was enough to turn the creature’s attention elsewhere. Frozen in place metaphorically rather than literally, Brynn was unable to move until Thane barrelled into him, pushing him behind a pile of treasures. The pain of the brief chill he experienced before the dragon’s attentions were pulled away finally filtered in through the shock and he scrambled to put another layer of protection between himself and the dragon.
Thane was barking orders at his side, mostly having to do with taking cover. Suddenly, someone yelled, “Sean, look up!” and that had Brynn out from behind his new hiding space and sprinting toward where the dragon was growling at Sean.
He immediately spotted something that stopped him in his tracks. The blue light was no longer shielding the wizard. Apparently distracted, the man was now holding a small pouch in one hand while playing with something small and colourful in the other. At his feet—nearly invisible—was a white die.
Deciding on the spot that that there must be a connection between the die and the strange sound that had been haunting him since they’d entered the tower—and was still going strong, even now—Brynn veered course and charged straight at the wizard. Not having much time for finesse, Brynn tackled the wizard to the ground, spilling the pouches content in the process.
What must have been a hundred dice spilled out onto the ground, recreating in reality what had only been in Brynn’s head until now. In some bizarre twist of fate or great feat of magic, all of the dice landed on the same number.
The wizard let out a scream of rage unlike anything Brynn had ever heard coming from a human being and at the same time, the dragon roared so loudly Brynn had to clamp his hands on his ears.
This lasted but a second and then all the noise died down nearly as quickly as it had roared up, and when Brynn looked back at the wizard, he found that he and the dragon were gone. The room looked much smaller than it had when they’d entered and many of its treasures had vanished as well. The library was reduced to a few shelves, the bed to a common straw mattress, the alchemy workbench to a few phials resting on a rickety table. Only the girl still looked as she had before, a fact that didn’t do anything to diminish Brynn’s disappointment over the disappearance of the gold.
The group still had in their possessions the swords of the snake-like people, and when asked, the girl agreed to follow them back to her father. No one understood why she looked so disappointed after they’d all replied with a solid “no” when she asked if they were of royal background, and Brynn didn’t care to share any of his suppositions on the matter.
The way out of the tower was—thankfully—far easier than the way up it. They went down two flights of stairs and found themselves right outside the door they’d entered through.
Lounging in a bed two days later, feet resting up on a pair of spare pillows, Brynn was able to look back on the tower incident with a more favourable eye. “And the gnolls. Do you remember the gnolls?”
Sean made a face. “Yeah, especially the way they smelled. Uhg, even if I never see another gnoll for the rest of my life, it’ll be too soon.”
Brynn laughed, because Sean’s expression of disgust was hilarious, and because Brynn’s limbs were still loose from the bath, and his belly still full from the meal before said bath, and also because there was no reason not to—like having to keep quiet because monsters might overhear them. Speaking of which. “And those promises you made? Do you remember them as well?”
Sean’s eyebrows lifted up in surprised confusion, but then he caught on and one of them lowered while his mouth stretched into a suggestive smile. “I don’t recall my words being promises,” he said.
Brynn reached out for Sean’s arm and dragged the other man towards him until he was on his knees, hovering over Brynn’s lap, their faces a few inches apart. “Oh, but I beg to differ. They felt like promises to me.”
Now Sean’s eyes were twinkling with mirth, and lust, and even a little fondness. “Mhmm, I suppose. Should I make good on them?”
Brynn leaned forward for a kiss but stopped an inch away from Sean’s lips. “Maybe you should.”
There are references to table top role playing games in this story. I didn’t come up with the gnolls, dire badgers, goblins or dragons who can all be found in ‘Dungeon and Dragon’ bestiaries (there are several but all of those might be in the first one). For the snake people I didn’t really look in any book for inspiration. They probably do exist in one game or another though.
Hack and Slash is a method of gaming that consists in… well hacking and slashing enemies without asking question nor wondering if the death of your opponent really achieves something.
A ‘fumble’ can happen when you have to roll a dice to check whether you succeed in doing something. We have all kind of funny shaped dice for that in role playing. The fumble is the worst result you can get on a roll. Not only do you fail, but something terrible happens to your character.
The person who is the game’s referee is called a ‘Game Master’. You absolutely need one to play and he is all-powerful during the game. In the game ‘Dungeon and Dragon’ the ‘Game Master’ is called ‘Dungeon Master’.