Elf Boy's Friends - Volume XIV

by George Gauthier

Chapter 2


"Ah, home sweet home away from home!" proclaimed forest ranger Brandon at the end of a four day hike as he and his colleagues approached the cabin deep in the New Forest from which they operated when patrolling on the far side of the woods from their base at Elysion. Brandon was a half-elf, a tall raven-haired archer armed with a powerful recurved bow. With him were his fully human cousins the brothers Garret and Lorn, two sturdy blond youths who carried modern air guns.

The rangers' uniforms covered most of the body — full trews and shirts with long sleeves that could be rolled down to protect their arms from thorns, thistles, brambles, and such. They also wore ankle boots and a camouflage cum rain cloak. Brimmed caps with a protective liner made of cork and steel completed their ensemble.

By contrast with army greens, the color scheme of their uniforms was inspired by Sir Willet Hanford's pioneering research on camouflage — brown with large green and black splotches and slashes.

Since the rangers were law enforcement officers and not soldiers they wore little armor, just leather cuirasses to protect the chest which were segmented for flexibility and ventilation. Sexton wore a vest made of brontothere hide dyed to match the camouflage of his uniform plus splint armor vambraces to protect his forearms and wrists. Splint armor was made by riveting longitudinal strips of steel to a boiled leather foundation.

There to greet them were a pair who had arrived the day before by a different patrol route. First was the elf-boy cum empath Sir Dylan of Reading who preferred the long-bow, the traditional weapon of the elves. He could hardly wait to shed his uniform and relax sky clad. Even more than other races, elves had little use for clothing and none at all for nudity taboos. After all, why should elves, the most comely of the races sprung from the humans of Old Urth, conceal the willowy physiques and glabrous skins which were their heritage? Raven-haired, tanned and toned and with the killer cheekbones, and green eyes typical of his race, Dylan was a vision of youthful male beauty, none of which was lost on Brandon whose eyes lit up at the sight of his boyfriend in a state of nature. Brandon had not seen him in weeks having been rotated to temporary duty in an adjacent patrol area.

Dylan was kneeling by an injured lynx and tending to its wounds. It seems that the predator had incautiously chosen a porcupine for its prey and wound up with quills driven into his paw, a crippling and potentially fatal injury. Dylan had invoked his psychic powers to block the pain and make the animal hold still while he worked the quills out then applied an astringent to prevent corruption of the wound. The lynx's natural healing powers would do the rest.

"This handsome fellow is one of my familiars, which is why I did not simply let nature take its course," Dylan explained to the others.

Dylan was a beast master, one gifted with control over animals, hence the distinctive leather bracelet on his right wrist, a gift from his mentor Padraig, a Medkari in the Vale of Asshur who had trained him. A magical gift like power over animals manifested spontaneously, but those so gifted still had to learn how to use their powers to best advantage.

The other ranger in residence was Lord Madden Sexton, a brown haired ruggedly handsome and powerfully built human looking to be no more than thirty though chronologically he was already into his fourth century. Sexton had a physique like Finn Ragnarson's only scaled down to six feet and two hundred fifty pounds of muscle and bone and sinew. Armed with an air gun, a brace of throwing stars, and close combat weapons, Madden was a tough customer who could hold his own in a brawl or in close combat, or as a soldier and military commander. Originally from the eastern continent of Karelia Sexton was a shapeshifter whose alternate form was that of a wolverine, which, for its size, was the fiercest denizen of the forest.

Rising seven thousand feet above the lowlands to the east and west the mountains enjoyed a climate considerably cooler than their location in the tropics would suggest. Both rhododendrons and azaleas flourished at altitude adding seasonal color highlights to the verdant landscape. Set in a clearing created by felling timber to build it, their rustic cabin offered three bed chambers, a common room, and a small kitchen with a back door opening toward the privy. Projecting eaves sheltered the front porch and its rattan chairs from sun and rain. Stoutly built for protection against hungry bears, the cabin featured doors which could be both barred and braced while the unglazed but screened windows were too small to admit anything as large as a bear.

As usual Sexton dropped his kit in the room with eastern exposure; the brothers Garret and Lorn took the room in the middle, leaving the west room for Dylan and Brandon, who had been lovers since the day the boys had met at their original ranger station, an old hunting lodge at the foot of the Eastern Mountains, just outside the hawthorn hedge which marked the boundary of the New Forest.

Dylan also had a relationship of long standing with Jemsen and Karel. Their bond was based on more than just a strong physical attraction to youthful male concupiscence. All three were kindred souls — outdoorsy sorts as scouts, hunters, and forest rangers. Dylan admired and respected the twins for their intelligence, good humor, courage, and loyalty. You could hardly have better friends than Brandon and the twins, plus the Klarendes clan and, more recently, the Snow Elves, who as auxiliary forest rangers, were junior colleagues.

Three centuries older than his protege Madden Sexton had taken a wholly platonic liking to Dylan, eventually coming to regard him as the kid brother he had never had. Comrades in arms, mentor and protege had fought shoulder to shoulder against poachers, brigands, orcs, trolls, and even a mosasaur, a reptilian sea monster. Dylan was grateful for the older man's guidance as he himself matured from a callow youth unsure of himself or what he wanted to do with his life to a solidly grounded young man with a public service career he could take pride in and with a circle of friends and acquaintances anyone would envy.

Despite his wealth and aristocratic rank and titles Madden Sexton did not mind acting as camp chef, partly because he enjoyed cooking but also because he did very much mind eating the execrable cooking of his comrades, who, stout fellows though they might be on other counts, could hardly boil water without burning it. While he worked in the kitchen the others worked on their gear. They field stripped their air guns and cleaned and oiled them, honed their blades, and applied a waxy water-proofing compound called dubbin to both boots and backpacks.

Chores done Brandon stripped and joined Dylan for a swim in the nearby creek. Their swimming hole was a pool forty yards long, ten across, and up to to eight feet deep, which made it just fine for the purpose. Brandon and the Dylan liked to float on their backs and either chit chat or meditate. Their willowy bodies were slightly denser than water so they had to scull their arms and legs to stay afloat. Despite that handicap, both were good swimmers and very much enjoyed the water not least for the grab ass games young males are so fond of if only as a good excuse to get their hands on each other's hard bodies.

One thing lead to another, and soon the lusty lads were engaged in noisy, energetic, and acrobatic sexual congress. First Dylan topped Brandon who got down on all fours for him then the boys switched places with Dylan lying on his back and with his legs thrown over Brandon's shoulders, a position which let them make love face to face. Brandon knew that the elf-boy's nipples were one of his most sensitive erogenous zones. Licking and nibbling the aureoles and the nubbins soon had them as erect as Dylan's throbbing cock which Brandon stimulated manually, using leakage from the slit for lubrication. Brandon's thumb rubbing on Dylan's sweet spot got him so excited he could not hold back but erupted explosively, splashing his gism on chest and face. Brandon tormented Dylan continuing to thumb the sweet spot as the elf-boy writhed, shuddered, and moaned in painful pleasure,

A little while later the boys were ready to go at it again but had to break for supper.

"We'll pick this up tonight in our room," Brandon assured his elven lover.

The next day, as arranged, the druid Dahlderon contacted his fellow elf Dylan via Mind Speech to check that the rangers had indeed arrived at their cabin. With their presence confirmed, Count Taitos Klarendes had his pilot fly the autogyro up from the manor at Elysion ferrying supplies of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and sundry other items the rangers would need while they operated out of their remote ranger station. Why pack all that stuff in on your back for days at a time when the rangers could have it delivered in hours by air?

Dry staples were kept in the pantry, but perishables were stored in the spring house, a boxy one room structure built over the outlet of a cold spring to preserve foods such as meat, fruit, or dairy products. Like the cabin this spring house was strongly built against the depredations of bears. Once the supplies were put away Maddon Sexton spread a map on the table and laid out their patrol routes and waypoints.

"This time, with only five of us we cannot send out three two man patrols as usual. So Brandon, you will pair up with me leaving Dylan with the brothers who always patrol together anyway. That gives each party something of a heavy hitter if we run into trouble."

They all knew what the senior ranger meant. Sexton might not be a heavy a hitter in the sense of an elemental wizard, but he was the most formidable of the forest rangers by virtue of his strength, fighting prowess, and enhanced speed and senses in either form. His own shape shifter magic had merged with that of the New Forest to give him tripled strength thanks to denser muscles, bones knit with tensile fibers, and more robust tendons and ligaments, making the wir as powerful as most Frost Giants. His hearing was as acute as that of an owl, his sight as keen as an eagle's, and he could see into the infrared to sense the body heat of a foe or a predator lurking in the dark or behind concealing shrubbery. Three centuries of training, practice, and combat experience had raised his fighting abilities well above the norm.

For ranged weapons Sexton had an air gun and throwing stars, some tipped with poison others with a soporific drug. In close combat he could wield hatchet, kukri or a fearsome flail of a type called a morning star, a spiked ball connected to the haft of the weapon by a short chain. Alternatively he might transform into a wolverine, a carnivore so ferocious that it had little to fear even from a slash bear. Like all shape shifters Sexton was very hard to kill since he could recover from any injury which was not immediately fatal.

Dylan was formidable in his own way thanks to his abilities as a beast master by which he could call on bears, lions, wolves, and avian raptors to rally to him to protect him and to fight for him. He also could reach out psychically and look through the eyes of a particular animals such as a wolf or eagle for personal reconnaissance. A second magical gift, his empathic sense, meant that persons of ill will could not deceive him nor defeat his interrogation. Even those who refused to talk could not help but reveal the answers to questions put to them. Finally, Dylan was a champion archer.

As for the other rangers though all three had excellent fieldcraft and were good shots with their air guns, they had only minor gifts useful in combat. Lorn and his brother Garret could throw electrum sparks, a gift which had manifested late and only recently. Brandon could see in the dark or rather in dim light like a cat and could now Call Light. Modest though these three gifts were, they did give them an edge against the ungifted or animal predators. Electrum sparks burned and delivered an electrical jolt which could distract a foe at a critical instant in a fight. Sparks also had an incendiary effect. Calling a globe a light around the head of a foe or hostile beast would scramble its brains.

As Sexton continued with their briefing he noted:

"This is basically a normal patrol, but keep your eyes open for anything unusual, something which might finally explain the long chain of mysterious killings and disappearances over the last four years, though most happened on the western side of the mountain range."

Diligent investigation by the constabulary had discovered a common modus operandi among crimes committed over a very wide area. Travelers, hikers, campers, and hunters had been killed on both sides of the Eastern Mountains, mostly on its steeper western slopes which had many resorts, hunting lodges, sawmills, and mines, but also, to a lesser extent, in the wildlife preserve of the New Forest where the victims included a pair of forest rangers killed some months earlier.

Though some of the deaths were made to look like animal attacks, forensic investigation proved that the victims had actually been killed by strangling cord or dagger, often after being stunned by a blunt instrument of some kind, a club perhaps. The victims and their campsites had been looted of valuables as well as gear of practical use, all of which indicated a human agency was involved perhaps working with animals trained to attack. Trackers had been baffled by the measures the killers took to hide their trail which often ended on stretches of bare rock or looked as if had evaporated into thin air. Tracking by scent was of no use because of noxious chemicals left behind to foil trackers.

Moreover, comely youths and lasses had been carried off alive, very likely to be sold or kept as sex slaves. All such kidnappings were more geographically concentrated than the scenes of straight-out robbery and murders which suggested a center of operations on the other side of the mountains from the area of the forest preserve patrolled by Sexton and his colleagues.

Sexton continued:

"Little is known for sure about the perpetrators. Most of what I am telling you is as much guesswork as deduction. A lack of evidence leaves the field open to speculation. Some believe that these killings were the work of shape shifters; others suggest that a rogue beast master is at work commanding panthers or leopards to attack travelers; while others suppose that the depredations are the work of ordinary brigands perhaps wearing gauntlets fitted with steel claws or wielding an unusual weapon.

"Most victims were solitary or traveling with only a single companion, though killers have targeted large parties including an overnight camp where they slew eighteen travelers. They also attacked a pack train and killed all nine mule skinners. Their animals themselves were driven off. So far no one has survived to tell the tale. The fiends take care to leave no witnesses.

"If we run into them we will not engage but only track them to their lair then get word back to the constabulary or the druids. Lord Dahlderon will be checking in daily with Dylan and me for just that purpose. It's too bad the New Forest is not yet full self-aware the way the Great Southern Forest is otherwise it could communicate their exact whereabouts to the druids or even attack them itself." Brandon observed. At present the New Forest can do no more than signal its uneasiness along with a vague sense of location, as they once did guiding Aodh to an illegal and environmentally destructive mining operation and another time to guide the Snow Elves to that gang of trappers who tried to kill them."

"Still an inkling just might be enough for Dylan and me." Sexton continued.

"The New Forest might not be fully awake, but it can communicate, however vaguely, with those sensitive to psychic communication: druids, shape shifters, healers, and empaths. Otherwise we are on our own except for those who might hear our signal horns. A word of warning, the threat might come from above. One explanation for the failure of trackers is that the attackers took to the trees to throw off pursuit, either by using climbing gear or possibly in animal form."

"Animal form, eh?" Dylan said. "That suggests a cat."

"Why?" Brandon asked. "Bears can climb trees too."

"True, but only to clamber up and down. To use the forest as an aerial highway and so cover ground takes the nimbleness of one of the big cats, say a jaguar or a panther."

"That's good thinking, Dylan. So let's all of us look up at the trees and not fixate on what is at ground level." To drive that point him Sexton made eye contact with each in succession till he got an affirmation either verbally or with a nod.

"Foliage won't conceal them from my eyes since I can see their body heat." Sexton assured them. "As for you Dylan, your animal friends will warn you, won't they?"

"Indeed. For this patrol I'll be using a trick I have been practicing, to enlist squads of squirrels as arboreal outriders to alert me and keep me and Garret and Lorn from walking into or maybe under an ambush."

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