This one comes from near the middle of the second section, a teeny bit of a spoiler, maybe…but only a really teeny part of the redemption…
Meeting his glance with an expression blending trust, acceptance and a touch of resignation, Clay gave Aron a twisted smile. “This is not my area of expertise. I defer to you.” Reaching out, he clasped a hand through Aron’s belt. “Let’s do this.”
Aron began the words of the spell. At the correct instant, he stepped forward into the center of the damaged pillar, which seemed to evaporate as he entered it. He felt the tug on his belt as Clay perhaps stumbled or paused briefly and then the swirling darkness of between swallowed him. It seemed to go on and on. Winds and energies buffeted him every which way. The darkness was absolute, but rushing sounds eddied through the void—wails and growls, shrieks and grinding roars. There should be an end to it, soon…now. Already!
The next breath, he sensed pervasive wrongness. He realized his chief error at once, perhaps a compound one. First, he had not fixed a destination firmly in his mind and second, he belatedly recognized this was not an ordinary gate. If not the actual master, it was a controlling part of a vast multi-gate complex, one with many entrances and exits, one which existed in multiple dimensions, linked to a vast network of portals.
Sensations became too fragmented and uncertain for him to know whether or not Clay still held to him. He reached, as through burning wet sand, while the particles of space grated against his skin. Did he find his partner’s hand? He thought so. Then he visualized prying it free from his belt, clasping it for a heartbeat in his own. He built a mental image of the one place he knew better than any other. Then, with a shove of pure, concentrated energy, he sent Clay speeding toward that place.
Aron knew he might never see his lover again, but if fate were kind, he would believe Clay survived, safe in a gentle and beautiful place, and perhaps could eventually go from there to his own home. Aron had done the best he could.
Next, he struggled to focus the fraying remnants of his mental energies to send himself somewhere else. It could be a fool’s errand or he might strand himself in the void, but he had to try. Even though he was not likely to survive the effort, he must attempt to disable this interwoven web of space-time paths and gates if it could be done. Even if there were others, with such a task accomplished, the sacrifice of his life would be well made.
* * *
Falling and falling, burning, freezing, torn asunder, lost in darkness without end. The last molecule of identity and sentience that was Clay Chiles clung to its own reality. Finally, he tore through some protective energy membrane and landed hard on solid ground. He felt an instant of awareness before the stress of breaking free stole his consciousness.
When he came to, he moved experimentally, checking to be sure he’d emerged in one piece with nothing critical broken. His tentative mental reach for Aron found a void. Keen anguish came with his partner’s absence. Where is he? What happened?
The separation clawing at his soul, he had to open his eyes. The anxious face of someone bending over him filled his blurred vision. The face looked almost too familiar, so very like the one he saw in the mirror each morning when he shaved… Had he come awake to a doppelganger?
“I think I know you or at least who you are. How did you get here, son?”
The voice sounded as deep as a bottomless well, yet was soft and carried a trace of music, despite the bass tone. Nothing at all like his own mid-range Texas twang, for all the face’s similarities.
“W—who are you?” He had to force the words out through a dry mouth and a throat clenched with shock and distress.
Gentle hands caught his shoulders and drew him to a sitting position. “You may not know me, but I’ve watched you across space and time every day of your life. My name is Balinor and I believe you are the one called Clayton Chiles. By rights, you should have grown to adulthood as Claignor ath Balin of ClanBalindel, moving at will between Earth and Elvenheim as I once did, as Arondel does. I am your sire.”