Isolation can affect a man in many ways. He can either feel apart from his world, merely looking in from the outside, or by contrast, he may feel at the very center of it with events revolving around him and beginning to coalesce. Kris had been at the edge looking in for his entire life, but the balance in focus was about to shift.
He had no recollection of his own mother’s touch. His mother—one of the last living dragons of the prior cycle—had died not long after his birth. He hadn’t even been old enough to feed himself. Only two of the monks at the monastery where he was born could accomplish the task. It wasn’t until he was a teenager that he learned those two men were different from all the others. They were dragons, like his mother, but they had been cursed never to manifest their true forms.
They became his caregivers, and later, his teachers. He learned the marks on his body had been given to him by his mother when he was just a newborn. The large dragon shape that graced his torso and the inky scales on his thighs looked as fresh and vibrant as they had the day they’d been applied, even twenty-five years later.
The significance of his status became apparent very early on. His teachers maintained their distance from him, their proximity only dictated by the type of lesson required. Early lessons could be taught from a few feet away. Later in his youth, their combat lessons required closer instruction, yet they were always careful to avoid contact. On the rare but inevitable occasion when they did accidentally touch him, the experience was never pleasant—the sensation akin to the time he’d grievously burned his palm on the kitchen stove. The other monks who lived at the monastery never touched him.
In spite of the experience, touch became something he craved, even if it was merely the casual touches that the monks he lived with shared between each other. He’d always experienced some pleasure and comfort from his own touch, but it wasn’t until he was twelve years old that the light stroke of his hand on his stiff prick became a substitute for what he believed he was missing. The slide of his palm against his hardened flesh could be a balm to his worries, but it never lasted.
Kris knew there had to be something transcendent that happened beyond the end of the touching. He would stroke himself for longer minutes each night, the pleasure escalating more each time. He felt like there was some threshold he should cross as a result, but never could quite get there, like the door was perpetually locked. His caregivers never overtly discouraged it, but Kris soon discovered unpleasant side effects. He always ended up cranky and out of sorts once he finally gave up out of frustration.
Eventually his teachers explained that his unique situation prevented him from finding satisfaction, and that by learning the discipline they and the other monks had to teach, he would be able to endure the frustration—maybe even find some peace from it. They also explained that when the time came, he would get to experience that Nirvana, and that it would be the most soul-defining experience of his life.
Kris dutifully threw himself into his training, the understanding of what his teachers explained as his destiny driving him forward.
While the monks were decidedly celibate, his two teachers only pretended to be. It was a surprising discovery to learn that what his teachers, Zak and Darius, truly abstained from was not sex at all.
Late one night Kris found himself unable to sleep, waking up with an irritating erection. Such occasions became easier to deal with the older he got. At eighteen, he’d learned that a long walk around the stone paths of the compound would usually allow his mind to calm and focus on other things besides the vivid, erotic dreams that came to him while he slept. He always woke craving touch, but knowing if he gave in to the temptation, he’d only be left frustrated.
When he padded on slippered feet around the corner of the bath house that night, he was surprised to see the soft glow coming from within and hear the murmur of voices through the window. It was uncommon for anyone who wasn’t sitting in meditation to be awake at that hour.
He’d paused at the edge of the window, remaining in the shadows. Moist, aromatic air drifted out, the scent of lemongrass tickling his nostrils. Through the steamy air within, he could see the two men, naked in the bath and wrapped in a tender embrace. His teachers never touched in public. They were as polite, quiet, and reflective as any of the human monks, but that night, Kris witnessed the truth of their relationship.
His own erection returned when Darius, the older of the two, climbed out of the stone bath and sat on the edge of the small, rectangular pool. Zak came closer, combing his fingers through his wet hair, and rested his hands on his lover’s naked thighs on either side of his jutting erection. They kissed, Darius gripping Zak’s jaw and tilting his head back with both hands.
Kris was first overcome by irrational envy. To feel the lips of another person on his own, to feel such tender, intimate emotion, was something he dreamed about, but had never known in life. He almost turned and stalked off, but couldn’t quite bring himself to stop watching.
Zak slipped his hand down and gripped Darius’s cock by the base, slowly and surely stroking it while they kissed.
Darius murmured a soft affirmation and leaned back, tilting his hips upward for the other man. Zak slipped his mouth over the tip of his lover’s shaft and engulfed him between his lips while continuing to stroke with his hand. Kris knew the steady build of pressure well. He could feel it now because his own hand had unconsciously slipped beneath the waist of his pants and begun stroking and squeezing his cock. He knew better, but couldn’t help himself.
Darius panted and moaned, raising one hand to the side of Zak’s head, encouraging him to quicken his tempo. Within a moment, the man’s torso tensed and his hips thrust hard into his lover’s grip. Kris paused his futile stroking and watched, wide-eyed at the transformation that overcame his teacher, one he’d aspired to but never yet achieved—the intense concentration followed by an explosive release and then satiation while Zak licked his lips and smiled like a smug cat polishing off its kill.
“My turn,” Zak said.
Kris’s erection throbbed almost painfully. He abruptly stopped stroking and turned to go back to his room to suffer in solitude. It took days for him to recover from his self-abuse. When he finally did, he’d confessed what he’d witnessed to his teachers and asked why they weren’t celibate like the other monks.
“Dragons follow different laws,” Darius told him, and proceeded to explain the exchange of power that occurred during that moment of sexual release; it was that energy that allowed the two dragons to maintain their human forms without descending into madness. “Your time will come.”
Kris begrudgingly accepted his teacher’s explanation, but steered clear of the bath house during his evening walks after that.
Soon his training was finished, and his teachers told him it was time. They explained that once his journey was complete, he would return to the monastery for one final task, but that after that, his life free and unburdened by the restrictions of his youth. He gathered his things and left the monastery for what he thought was the last time, uncertain but excited about what the future would hold. The solemn responsibility of his role occupied his mind less than the thrill of discovering what lay in store for him afterward.
In a Singapore hostel after a year of traveling, he’d had the first dream. A beautiful woman with sleek auburn hair and a fierce expression appeared, accompanied by a group of other young, attractive people. “Show me your secret,” the woman said to him just before kneeling to pleasure him with her mouth. He woke drenched in sweat and panting, his cock hard and hypersensitive, but he believed the dream was a sign that he was closer to the end.
A week later, he found the six explorers in a small bar near the hostel. It had to be them, he decided, but sat quietly at the bar trying to listen to their conversation, waiting to see what would happen next.
One of the women from the group approached the bar and sat beside him. She wore cargo shorts that displayed long, tanned legs. Her expression caused a jolt of recognition to shoot through him. He knew her from his dreams.
In what seemed a desperate plea, she asked the bartender in Mandarin if he knew where she could find a jungle guide. The sullen man merely eyed her chest and made a rude comment about finding a tour guide somewhere else.
“Well, fuck me for having tits,” she muttered.
“I can take you there,” Kris said in a low tone when the bartender was out of earshot.
The woman turned an eager look on him and Kris was struck by her determination. “Do you know the place? They call it Keseronokan Kuil.”
Kris smiled to himself. Pleasure Temple. Of course they called it that.
He’d never been inside it, but his teachers had told him what lay within. He knew of the ritual to awaken their brethren and his part in it. Knowing the power of the temple had been the focus of his training for the last few years before he left the monastery.
Kris had spent five years of his youth training in the jungle that surrounded the temple the woman spoke of, which was merely a legend to most of the natives. His teachers had taken him to the edge of the surrounding jungle, given him supplies, and told him when he found the temple, his teachers would find him. It took him a month the first time. Then two weeks when they made him take the second trip, even though every path he’d followed before seemed to have been destroyed—consumed by the jungle entirely. Those five years of his training were mostly spent learning the outlying landscape and the different points of access to the temple itself. His teachers would always send him to it via different routes.
Like the hidden temple was the pole to his tether, soon he would always feel himself drawn to it, being led back to it, even if that weren’t his original destination. It finally got to the point where he could find the place in his sleep, and he had one night. He’d woken up with his hands resting against hard stone and an even harder pressure throbbing between his thighs, uncertain why he was there and with no recollection of having made the journey.
Now he would finally begin his last journey into that jungle.
“It would be my pleasure,” he said to the woman with a wide grin.
“Terrific! I’m Erika, the leader of this motley crew.” She tilted her head to the large table where the others sat. Three men and two other women, all young and attractive, watched eagerly.
“Kris,” he said, ignoring Erika’s proffered hand, but waving amiably at the others, who all smiled and waved back.
Once the trek began, he was unprepared for the shock of being exposed to the brash attitudes of the Westerners who had hired him. He remained on the periphery of the group and they tended to give him space, which was expected, but he often found himself in conversation with them and discovered he enjoyed their camaraderie.
He was particularly fascinated by the level of sexual energy they all possessed—something he rarely encountered growing up, but that he could sense from them as prevalent as the sounds of the jungle.
Only two of them seemed to be giving in to it: Erika, the group’s leader, and Eben, the older of the two blond men in the group. Erika seemed to be the instigator on the nights when the pair coupled. The rest of the group would head into their own tents rather than sit and have to communally bear witness to the sounds coming from the tent the couple shared that night. Some nights Kris might even hear furtive sounds from the others as they each saw to their own needs in the dark, the noises of the jungle obscuring the noises from all but Kris, who had learned to discern the sounds of carnal pleasure from the cacophony of the wildness that surrounded them.
He understood the frustration of being witness to a pair of lovers, doubly so having no outlet himself. In the seven years since the night he’d first seen his teachers together, he’d learned better mental discipline, so he was able to appreciate the dynamics of the party he now served as guide to without becoming overly aroused. Not even the very graphic noises coming from Erika’s tent in the evening bothered him, nor did the generally uninhibited behavior of most of them.
Whenever they reached a suitable bathing spot, women and men both stripped to nothing and dove in, with the exception of the pretty blonde, Camille, who preferred to wait until the men were gone before tentatively slipping into the water in her very demure underthings.
Kris also preferred to bathe alone, choosing the early mornings to take advantage of the cooler water that would help slake the burn of carnal need that he’d been afflicted with most of his life. After regaining control of his libido, he always felt revived and even more excited to lead them closer. He didn’t dwell much on what might lay at the end of his journey, preferring to focus on the task at hand. Instead, he let his subconscious revel in the gradual approach and play out his fantasies while he slept.
One such morning, he’d finished bathing and lay naked, drying in the morning sun on a large stone near the pool they’d found the evening before.
Soft splashing reached his ears, and he opened his eyes to see a single figure, partially obscured by a mossy outcropping several yards away. He raised up on his elbows and watched while the dark-haired Hallie dove beneath the water and came up again, water sluicing over her very naked breasts. Heat flushed his cheeks and he swiftly averted his eyes, but the image of her sleek globes, wet and tipped with hard, pink peaks, had already burned itself into his brain. He gave in and looked again, too tempted not to.
Kris tried to decide if he should announce himself, but before he could, Hallie swiped her hands over her face and opened her eyes.
“Oh, shit! Sorry, Kris. I … ah … didn’t …” she stammered, and then broke out into an embarrassed laugh.
“I can go,” he said, but made no move to get up. Hallie swam a little closer, taking him in. He glanced down his torso, relieved to see his cock was mostly behaving, in spite of how enticing her glistening breasts appeared in the morning light.
“Wow,” she said. “That’s a big one. I’m impressed.”
His eyes shot back up. She stood a few feet away, her lips quirked in a sideways smile. “I meant your tattoo,” she said, filling in his stunned silence.
Of course she meant his tattoo, but a different part of him responded to the mistaken compliment.
“Though the rest of you is impressive, too,” she added. Her gaze swept over him again, lingering on his groin.
“Thank you,” he said, choosing to ignore the throb of his hard-on in favor of studying her reactions. This was the first time he’d been naked and aroused in a woman’s presence. It wasn’t like he could do anything about it, but what would she do? Would she keep her distance the way every other human he encountered seemed to?
“You should come back in for a bit,” she said, her voice a low purr that reminded Kris of how his teachers occasionally spoke to each other when they thought he wasn’t listening. Once he’d discovered their relationship, that tone had always been a signal for Kris to leave the two men alone.
Oh, what he wouldn’t give to be able to accept her invitation and see it through to her desired conclusion.
Pushing aside his regret, he replied innocently, “But I just dried off. Maybe you should get out and join me here. The sun feels nice.”
Hallie seemed to ponder his suggestion and started toward the rock he reclined on. A few feet away from him, her determination faltered and a cloudy look passed across her face.
She raised both hands and buried her face in them. “What the fuck am I doing?” she asked in a muffled voice behind her palms. “I’m sorry, Kris. I can’t.”
“Can’t what? Get out of the water?”
“No, I can do that. Just not to do what I was about to.”
“Which would be …?” He continued playing dumb, even though he knew precisely what she’d been considering, because that was what had gone through his mind too, in vivid detail. He quickly quashed the thoughts before they caused more trouble than they already had.
With that, the palpable tension wilted and Hallie sighed. She swam the last few feet to the rock and hoisted herself up beside him, close enough that the cooler temperature of the water radiating off her skin was tangible to his heightened senses. She stayed just far enough to avoid touching him outright.
“Something completely inappropriate and unprofessional. That’s what I was about to do. Jump your boner … er … bones. Sheesh, I’m a mess.” She glanced sidelong at his lap. “You don’t look much better, come to that.”
“If I ignore it, it’ll go away,” he said, sitting up and giving his stiff prick an irritated look.
“True enough,” she said. “If only all of life’s little annoyances worked that way.” After a contemplative pause, she changed the subject. “So, Mr. Jungle Guide, how soon until we reach this fancy dragon burial ground, or whatever it is?”
“It’s a temple, not a grave. The dragons there are very much alive.”
“Ah. These dragons Erika’s so hot for. Don’t tell me you buy into her crazy ideas.”
“Not exactly.” Kris had taken the measure of the group’s leader and realized that in spite of Erika’s adherence to science, she was very much an acolyte of dragon lore. Her ideas about what to expect were only half-correct, however. She definitely wasn’t expecting the ritual he was diligently leading them to. He hoped he’d be able to convince her of its value once inside the temple.
“ ‘Not exactly’ … You don’t believe her? Or … Please do explain, because us sane people are a little outnumbered at the moment.”
“Do you believe in Fate, Hallie?”
Hallie didn’t answer for several beats, and Kris looked over at her. Her expression had grown even darker and she rested one hand lightly over her abdomen. In a shaky voice, she said, “If you had asked me that a year ago, I’d have said no, but now? Yeah, I think I do a little bit.”
“Good, because tomorrow we’re all going to meet our Fates. All seven of us.”