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Tsukumogami

Penywise Jun 13th, 2015 (edited) 4,639 Never
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  1. He coughs into his hand and feels a chunk of the gunk lining his throat come up with it. A wan smile crosses his features as he hocks and spits it out. Throat infections are a bitch, but that’s one less frog in his throat. It splats against the wind blasted stone, dark and yellow. He shudders as a particularly sharp gust of frigid wind forces itself down his throat like shards of ice and tears at the freshly uncovered patch of throat. He brings his glove back up to his mouth and breathes through it.
  2.  
  3. “This really doesn’t do it.” He grunts in irritation and stands up, heading over to one of the corpses littering the ground. It looks to have hammered into its helmet to make room for the single, small horn which juts from the left side of its forehead. An incubus. Far gone, too, sighs of corruption don’t readily show unless there’s a lot of it. He gropes around the creature’s gear for the softest cloth he can find, the thicker the better. It has nothing, so he moves on to the next. Thinking his luck is hopeless, he moves on to the last and finds a big strip of some exotic kind of wool. He brings it with him to the fire, chain links rustling as he thumps down onto the ground and inspects it under the flickering light.
  4.  
  5. He gives it a sniff and winces. Tainted. He mutters a chant and watches as white, soft light weaves across the fabric. Then brings it back up for another tentative sniff. His muscles relax as he loses himself in the scent of ancient church pews and the blessed wax of the candles he used to pray before. It brings a smile, half of reminiscence, half of the naïve boy he once used to be. He folds the cloth over until it’s a wide triangle of thick breathable fabric and he ties it around his face, hooking it over his nose to drape over the mouth. He takes a breath and finds that it’s cut down on the bite of the wind significantly. His lips curl in a smile. Good. It’ll be sunset soon, he’ll need it.
  6.  
  7. The demons were camped up against the face of a stunted mountain range, overlooking a small forest he was planning on crossing. On the other side it should only be a small walk to the start of the path that will get him over these mountains and further north without too much trouble. Hopefully the trees of the forest cut down on the wind and he can find a cave to sleep in.
  8.  
  9. He brings his gloved hands up to the fire and feels its warmth seep in through the gaps in the plate, heating the leather. “I think I’ll stay here until this fire dies and then start moving.” He glances across the small party he ambushed and laid waste to. A naked succubus slumped against another man, a ridiculously sized cock still in her asshole, a bolt through her forehead. Two sentries and the incubus, who was the most skilled. The last, the man under the succubus, already neutralized thanks to the demon whore likely fucking him unconscious, if the slight bulge in her belly is any indication. At least he passed peacefully. He had to burn some tents to cover the area in the smell of smoke and char, as opposed to blood and cum.
  10.  
  11. “I wonder if I too am starting to lose my humanity.” He grumbles out loud, completely to himself. He’s not sure why, but ever since he walked off that battlefield with nothing but armor scavenged from corpses and the family sword passed down to him, he’s felt compelled to voice his thoughts aloud. It made him feel less lonely.
  12.  
  13. He was a fledgling paladin closer to a squire, guarding a noble on an advance expedition to the north to support the region, an expedition which split its forces into five groups and sent them to the major towns and keeps. A paltry homage to a forgotten alliance, the northern kingdom long since fallen to a scattering of independent fiefdoms. Too many men and not enough information. A combination of local militia, mercenaries and soldiers marched north and liberated a town which had fallen to the demon host. The frames of homes were soaked in filth and corruption and everything not stone had to be burnt, leaving only the walls and some of homes, now stripped bare of furniture. He remembers refusing profusely, even at one point coming close to drawing his blade ‘Our cause is just. Burning the homes of the innocents is not.’ He feels a twinge of embarrassment, before the morbid realization that he’s the last alive to remember that scene anyway. That will be the nature of this war, once its fingers curl around the kingdoms to the south. Take back what was lost, then burn it down.  
  14.  
  15. Detachment came easy when he saw his best friend brained on the bladed tip of a demon’s spade-tail. That was on the planes outside of the city. It was an obvious trap in retrospect, empty the town of but a paltry garrison, and wait for the enemy to stroll in, bombard them with long ranged magic. At some point amidst the burning and melting men, the decision was made to charge the enemy. Or maybe a single man fled for the gates and the others fled with him, turning it into a charge. Either way, already weak from the march and bombarded with area-sweeping magic, the demon forces of ten thousand met with the main force of thirty thousand men. It was a rout. Then the order to retreat came and their ten thousand followed the remaining five still living. It was a slow death.
  16.  
  17. The main force headed south with a smaller number heading north, harrying his expedition for a week. This was when he saw most of his fighting, backing up at the rear, entrenching himself with a handful of others, buying time and falling back. It was also when he saw the most death. The horrors in the empty town were heavily cloaked in smoke once it began. A small mercy.
  18.  
  19. They harried his fleeing forces north to the nearest keep, a two weeks march away. It was likely their main objective. The stronghold was one of the last great ones in the north. It was easier to go around than through, if sport was their only game. But in the end, that’s all it was. He could tell that in the men being dragged into their ranks and raped before both armies, in a muddy, bloody orgy.
  20.  
  21. They chipped away at his numbers on the first three nights, the toll steadily rising each night. The fourth had no encounter and the fifth saw the end of the expedition. He’d caught a club to the head early in and fell unconscious. When he woke, it was to the weight of the slain. Pushing aside the bodies and standing up, all he saw around him was death. For the numbers left, there was a significant lack of corpses. He didn’t know if the thought comforted him or not. Pillars of smoke lingered in the trees a few kilometres away from him, the main force having taken camp. Twisting cries and laughter echoed through the woods. He scavenged then for armor that was easily worth more than his entire household and thanked the gods that he fell on his sword, protecting it with his body and it wasn’t lost to him. Enchanted to remain always sharp, it was probably the only thing that he owned which was worth the suit of armor he now wore. He plucked a thick cloak from an officer and strode north.
  22.  
  23. So he walked, ahead of the main force to warn the keep. That death knocks at their door and not the reinforcements they were promised. For a force of their size, it will take another three weeks to get there, as they move with much less structure than his expedition did. Alone, he can make it in a week and a bit. It wasn’t much, but he learned firsthand how important information was. It could save lives.
  24.  
  25. Except that was a year ago. When he arrived, the gates were already open, the streets awash in sexual fluids. It explains why they sent such a small force to a previously impregnable fortress. It was already theirs. He wasn’t even surprised, really. As he pulled his cloak tighter around him, there was a soft ringing in his ears as the warmth left his body, like the chime of shattered crystal. He turned away from the scene and headed north to find his death.
  26.  
  27. He sleeps much less now and the constant fighting has put him in a state of hyper awareness. Adrenalin courses easier, he react faster, hits stronger, can run for longer, but all this strength cannot come without a cost. He could only be pulling this power out of his very own life, shaving years off its length as he burns it up now. Not that he’d need all of it. That, or it’s something far more insidious. He found his first white hair on his beard yesterday. He was only in his late-twenties.
  28.  
  29. He trudged north day by day, but death evaded him. If he wanted to lay down like a dog, he could have done that years ago, he could have even stripped himself bare and swung his cock as some pretty demon lady. But a certain pride forbade that. So he fought. As demons swarmed the lands, he ran and he hid and he killed. He wouldn’t die in disgrace. He wouldn’t die in a battle, where magic reigned, there the fallen were dragged through muck and cum. Fighting the demons? That wasn’t his fight anymore. His death is a personal affair.
  30.  
  31. There’s even a bounty on him now, as civilisation and a modicum of ‘law’ returned to the conquered towns and regions in between the instances of futile struggle and conquest. He doesn’t really know what the last group he killed was, really. Bandits perhaps? It didn’t matter. They weren’t him. And up here, everything not him is an enemy.
  32.  
  33. He feels himself twisting. Thoughts growing darker. Perhaps it is only the hate which keeps him connected to the holy powers, even if the link at this point is only tenuous. All that’s left to him are simple cleansing spells, to halt the corruption. There will come a day when the gods will no longer allow him to purify the water he drinks from streams. He has started relying on more mundane means, such as the compact cross bow he looted. A good thing perhaps. It’s not wise to advertise the power to undo corruption. Not since he snuck into a town to steal some food and saw a paladin being raped and turned as public spectacle. It cost him a bolt and he didn’t manage to get as much food as he could before having to escape, but at least he managed to end the man’s torment and end their fun with one shot.
  34.  
  35. He sighs as he feels his pants stir at the sight of the still enticing flesh of the demon woman. He stands and leaves before the fire has finished burning. He looks pointedly down at his crotch “Don’t make me cut you off.” The worst part of it is that their influence seems to seep into the very land, infecting all. If he can’t find death, his next pressing matter is finding land where ‘they’ aren’t. So that he might cleanse and recover. Purge his body of the poison it breathes in while there’s still a chance.
  36.  
  37. And that just drags his gaze further north. Where tiny towns lay and a withered kingdom sleeps. He grabs his scabbard and pushes the blade up with his thumb, feeling his mind calm as he gazes at the metal. Still clean, still sharp. Still pure. He wondered why it was a family heirloom. But after a year of constant use and no maintenance, it’s still sharp, clean and isn’t nicked or even scarred. Must be special. It’s the only thing that’s kept him out of their hands, and he trusts it with his life, sleeps with it under his head. The solid scabbard was somehow comforting.
  38.  
  39. *   *   *
  40.  
  41. He pulls his hood up as he enters a snow-painted forest and flakes of frozen moisture cling to the hairs of his beard, soaking it, freezing it. He treads as silently as he can, having picked up an instinctual knack for treading on the quietest of places, avoiding twigs and leaves where best he can. He squats low as the bushes ahead rustle and salivates as a hoof strikes the ground. He reaches for the small pull-leaver crossbow and sighs in disappointment as the buck pushes through the cover of branches and shrubs and snorts, its smouldering eyes unblinking, large demonic horns scoring the trees. He slowly lowers the weapon before creeping away. Beasts that far gone are often maddened with rage and lust. And eating their meat can only be a bad idea. Besides he’s not sure he can bring something like that down with a single bolt. He knew a guy who could have nailed it through its eye. Maybe he should have asked him for a few pointers.
  42.  
  43. As he steps through the undergrowth and into a glade, his lower back stiffens. Here we go. In a motion, he slides his sword from its scabbard and turns around as he swings it out. There’s a cry of pain as he slices through a thick tentacle. “OW! Asshole. That hurt!” It takes him a moment to find her, half hidden as she is, in a flower. The Alraune glares at him, holding her severed tentacle, the others waving about behind her like snakes, rearing to strike, some barbed like rose stems. Her own flower is a blood red. A stark contrast on these white washed woods.
  44.  
  45. Two more lash at him, incredibly quick, but not quick enough. He dances back as one sails past, clipping his cheek on a thorn, the other he slices through. He flicks the blood, sap, whatever off his sword and he takes his small crossbow in hand, knocks a bolt and fires a shot off, aiming for her breast. Two easy targets, really, but he’s hoping to strike her heart. A vine blurs and the bolt it snapped in half. He winces. “I needed that.”
  46.  
  47. She holds her severed limbs up, “I needed these!”
  48.  
  49. “Then what are you throwing them at me for?” She just glares murder at him and he studies her. Entrenched pretty well, countless plant-whips to flay him open upon, or worse, entangle him. Quick enough that his bolts won’t get through. He doesn’t have any fire on him either. This is a needless, costly fight. He tells her as much.
  50.  
  51. She sinks into her flower, “Fine! Fuck off! You’re not worth it anyway. Stupid human.”
  52.  
  53. “Right.” He backs away from her, regretting this conclusion, but it’s not a fight he can win easily. Maybe if he knew some fire magic. Once he feels safe enough, he turns his back on her and keeps walking, his boots sinking deep into crunchy snow. He walks until the dark claims most of the trees, the sun rapidly sinking. The days were short here. Luckily, he spots a small cave, something that looks closer to a den. He lifts his sword and advances slowly, listening for any noises.
  54.  
  55. He approaches and there’s no sign of life, despite the den having been dug out well. It’s deeper than it appears. Good a place as any, even if it smells earthy. There must be a reason a creature would invest such effort into gouging a home into the earth only to abandon it, but he’s too tired to think on it right now. He shrugs off the backpack he’d been living out of this past year and pulls out a roll of fur. Not the largest thing, but it does the job. He lays it on the ground, takes off the larger pieces of armor and curls up in his cape, quickly falling asleep, almost as soon as he closes his eyes.
  56.  
  57. He starts when he wakes, realizing he’s not alone. It takes him a moment to register the blood-soaked, naked woman lying on her side, next to him, watching him, but once he does, his eyes go wide in a panic as he reaches for his blade, only to find it missing. He backs up until he hits the wall of the den, but the bloody woman doesn’t move, instead watching him impassively with sharp, polished steel eyes.  
  58.  
  59. He opens his mouth to speak, but the words don’t work for a moment. Of the plethora of thoughts, the most pressing one comes to his mind first, “What did you do with my sword?”
  60.  
  61. She blinks and her elven ears flick. “I am your sword.”
  62.  
  63. “What?”
  64.  
  65. “I am your sword.”
  66.  
  67. “No, I heard you,” he frowns, “But what do you mean by that?” he looks her over. Asides from all the blood, most of it matting her longish silver hair, she doesn’t look or smell that tainted. The most monstrous feature about her being her elfin ears, but asides from that, nothing. Except for perhaps her body. It’s curvy and lithe to a criminal degree, breasts large pert and perky, hips wide and thighs slim, delicate. But that’s not monstrous enough to raise his ire. He’d even trained with elven paladins. But beyond her lack of monstrous quality in this tainted land, she feels familiar. And as driven by instincts as he now was, his are telling him to trust her.
  68.  
  69. “Your sword, is me?”
  70.  
  71. “This is going nowhere. Next question. Where did all that blood come from?”
  72.  
  73. She points to the giant wolf corpse he only just now notices. Fuck. Its head is severed, the rest of its body is fine. He is a little startled at its enormity and obvious demonic taint. And more than a little concerned that it, the woman and its murder crept up on him whilst he slept completely unawares. He must be more tired than he thought. Then another enters his mind. That wolf wouldn’t have played around. It would have crept on him while he was dead to the world, and crushed his skull between its jaws. That was his ticket to a quick death. And now his sleeps will be even lighter. “You killed that?” She nods.
  74.  
  75. He looks over her, noting her utterly bare body, devoid of anything that could sever a fel wolf’s head from its body. “How?”
  76.  
  77. “I cut it.”
  78.  
  79. He stares at her for a long moment, before sighing. He’s not so used to speaking, he struggles in choosing simpler words that will force answers to the questions he asks and not such broad responses as ‘I am your sword’ Even if he already has an idea of what’s already happened. “Show me how.” She raises her hand, and a familiar blade slides out of her wrist, but transparent nearly to the point of invisibility. Though he feels she’d deliberately making it easier to see. She makes a cutting motion.
  80.  
  81. “Like this.”
  82.  
  83. He calms down and tries to come to terms with the fact that his sword is now a woman. “You’re not going to leave if I ask nicely, will you?”
  84.  
  85. “I will not.” She sits up too explaining herself for the first time this encounter and leans in close, her blood slicked hand coming to rest on his chest. Her face is centimetres from his, “I am your sword. I would leave, if you truly wished, but you have no other and I will not leave my master unarmed. I have always been with you. I will always be with you.”
  86.  
  87. Her devoted intensity takes him back a little and he moves her hand from his face. Gently. No need to provoke a girl who can pull swords out of her wrists. “Don’t touch me. And you say that, but I don’t have a sword anymore.”
  88.  
  89. “I can change back if need be.”
  90.  
  91. “You can?”
  92.  
  93. “Do you want me to?” It’s a woman now, but the instincts to clean and maintain his sword stay with him, as strong as ever. And, well, at least she listens to him.
  94.  
  95. “No. We’re leaving. It’s a shame we don’t have time to skin that wolf. I’ll have to find you clothes elsewhere. But we should leave before the corpse draws attention to us.”
  96.  
  97. “Yes.” She nods and gets up,
  98.  
  99. “What happened to the scabbard?” She points to it, on the floor of the den. He bends down to pick it up, and hooks it to his belt. He’ll need that for when she changes back. Rolling the fur up and stuffing it back into his pack, he shoulders the bag and walks past the wolf.
  100.  
  101. “I can carry that, master.” The morning is dark, but there’s a dim light given by the rising sun.
  102.  
  103. He grunts, “No need. And stop calling me Master.”
  104.  
  105. “Understood.” He walks until he finds a stream and he follows it north until it deepens.
  106.  
  107. “Do you feel the cold?”
  108.  
  109. “No, M- uh… sir?”
  110.  
  111. He scowls as he scratches the back of his head. “Call me Gram. Wash yourself here.”
  112.  
  113. Her ears perk up as she smiles for the first time. “Yes, Gram.” She hops into the water and bathes for a few minutes, running her hands across her blood-crusted form. The solid clumps take in the moisture and soon the blood washes away, leaving behind a faint red tinge. The man fills a skin with water. Holy words along the side glow faintly, as the enchanted skin purifies the water. He quenches his thirst and stands up, to nearly brain himself on his sword’s breasts. Blushing, he takes a step back and grumbles as he takes his cloak off. His pants grow stiff again. He’ll need to spend a few hours pushing the taint back.
  114.  
  115. “Don’t sneak up on me. Wear this.”
  116.  
  117. “Sorry, ma- Gram. And…” She takes the cloak hesitantly, “I said I don’t get cold?”
  118.  
  119. “Just wear it.”
  120.  
  121. Her ears droop, slightly “Yes.” And she pulls the cloak around her shoulders, conscious of stealing warmth from him, yet happy as she snuggles into the thick fur that smells like him.
  122.  
  123. “Come on. We have a long way to go.”
  124.  
  125. She hurries up to meet his stride, “Where are we going?”
  126.  
  127. “North.”
  128.  
  129. She follows him in near silence as he trudges through the forest, dead leaves surrendering under boot, crackling damply on the snow, so frigid and arid that despite being surrounded by oceans of frozen flakes, no moisture seeps in through the dead pores. The girl skips forward a step and wraps her arms around her master’s arm, altering her gait to not throw his off balance.
  130.  
  131. He stops and looks at her with a certain incredulity. She just looks up at him, innocently. A long moment passes before he just sighs and continues walking, girl in tow. He misses the grin that comes to the girl’s face as she rubs her cheek into his arm.
  132.  
  133. They walk through the frozen day like this, the girl’s ears flicking to attention every now and then. She’d disentangle herself from his arm and dance off through the snow, disappearing from sight. It confused him at first, ‘till she returned dutifully, a fleck of blood on her cheek.
  134.  
  135. He just shakes his head as she returns and brings a gloved hand up. She scrunches her face up as he wipes the blood off with a thumb and leans into his hand like a cat. He smiles, lost for a moment and ruffles her hair, running his gloved fingers around the base of her ear. She blushes and squirms, as his fingers trace up, teasing at the sensitive inside of her long elfin ears.
  136.  
  137. “Ahn~” A quiet moan escapes her lips, and he freezes, his eyes coming back to the moment. He drops his hand from her head, and turns sharply, stomping away. She looks after him, hurt, ‘till she takes note of the clenched fist held tightly by his side. With a sad smile, she chases to catch up and clings to his arm once more.
  138.  
  139. They continue walking for a few hours, until the forest thins. The sword’s ears flick once more and her sharp gaze lances to a snow leopard monstergirl snoozing on one of the sturdier boughs of an old tree. The sword goes to dart off, but Gram catches her by the shoulder. Finger to his lips, he keeps walking in measured, silent steps. Out of the snoozing cat’s earshot, he answers the asking gaze of his sword.
  140.  
  141. He shrugs, “I used to own a cat.” The time from before clicks and the sword grins, tugging on his arm,
  142.  
  143. “Nyaa~ Ow!” He flicks her forehead,
  144.  
  145. “Quit it. Anyway, there’s a town in the distance. Give my cloak back.”
  146.  
  147. She surveys the landscape and true to word there’s a town, the tips of what looks to be a cross in the distance. She can just make out the roof of a chapel rising over the hill.
  148.  
  149. “Won’t you attract more attention, with such a pretty naked girl by your side?”
  150.  
  151. He scoffs, “No.” She feigns hurt and he rolls his eyes, “Not in a monster infested town, at least.” She takes that with a measure of content, but shivers anyway as an icy wind rolls in, looking at him, teeth chattering.
  152.  
  153. He fixes the cloak to himself, looking ahead. His eyes rolls to his side, to take in the shivering sword. Sighing,  he grabs the edge of his furred cloak, and extends his arm, inviting the girl to take shelter inside the thick furs with him. She hides her smile as she ducks into his cloak, and wraps her arms around his chest, his arm coming over her shoulder, the cloak draping over her, sheltering her from the wind.
  154.  
  155. “I thought you said you didn’t get cold.” She blushes, found out, but he doesn’t push her away. They walk until they come to a wide road, at which Gram halts and squints into the distance. He frowns, and unclips his cloak, “On second thought, you wear this. And wear it tight.” She nods hesitantly and wraps the cloak around herself. No sooner than she drew the cowl, the pair were stopped by an approaching knight on horseback. Gram feels rather than sees his sword’s gaze harden and cool and puts a restraining hand on her shoulder, he hisses in a whisper, “Were you always so sharp?” The times he used her nigh indiscriminately flash through his mind, “Don’t answer that.”
  156.  
  157. “Halt!” The man draws his sword, and Gram’s grip on his own tightens to keep her sheathed. But the sword isn’t pointed at Gram. “Draw the hood.” The girl frowns, until Gram nods, and she takes the hood off. The knight peers at her, frowning, taking note of her pointed ears. “The cloak t-”
  158.  
  159. “She’s naked.”
  160.  
  161. “Excuse me?” The knight turns to Gram.
  162.  
  163. “Saved her from an incubus.” The knight frowns a moment longer, before sheathing the sword.
  164.  
  165. “She doesn’t look like she has wings. Keep the elf’s ears hidden.” Wheels turn in Gram’s head.
  166.  
  167. “You’re looking for monsters, then?”
  168.  
  169. “Aye. Succubi mostly.”
  170.  
  171. “Where am I?”
  172.  
  173. He hikes a finger towards a road-sign in the distance, “You’re at the ‘frontier’ town of Hearthgale.”
  174.  
  175. Gram’s frown deepens, “Hearthgale? But that’s nearly two whole kingdoms over.”
  176.  
  177. The knight raises an eyebrow, “Where are you from, man?”
  178.  
  179. Gram shrugs, “Escaped Northpath Keep as it fell, to the east.”
  180.  
  181. The man whistles, “That’s a long walk lad. And that place fell a year ago. From here to there is an eighteen month walk, what are you, a horse?”
  182.  
  183. He shrugs, “I just kept moving, kept killing. I thought I was going north.” The knight scratches at his scrubbly beard.
  184.  
  185. “I guess you got yourself caught on the south side of the mountain ranges. They tend to lead men west.”
  186.  
  187. “Hmm… What do you mean by frontier?”
  188.  
  189. The knight points to the south, “Town over that way is a demon infested whorehouse,” and east, “Town over that way is a demon infested whore house.” He points north and west, “Lands out this way were taken by the Strohmbelt kingdom, and remain human.”
  190.  
  191. “Strohmbelt…” the knight grins as if he could read Gram’s mind,
  192.  
  193. “What, you didn’t hear? New leadership. Short guy with a real tiny moustache under his nose. Speaks like a devil. So keep your lady’s ears hidden. Buncha fanatic nuts out this way. Well. They’re the only nuts to have successfully pushed back the demons so I’m not gonna complain. Too loudly.”
  194.  
  195. “Frontier, huh… How long until they actually make it here?”
  196.  
  197. The knight shakes his head and adjusts his sword, “Week’s march, scouts say. Any way, you better get moving. Come night fall all the merchants are fucking off out west. They’ll sell you a house for a coin.”
  198.  
  199. “Sunset, eh? There’s only a few hours until then. Better get moving I suppose. Thanks for the information,” He extends his hand, “sir…?”
  200.  
  201. The knight takes it, “Ruthor.”
  202.  
  203. “Gram.” They nod, and part ways. Gram turns to his sword, “You best change back.” The girl nods, and disappears into her cloak. When he pulls it off her, in her place is his cherished blade. He slides it into his scabbard and pulls the cloak around his shoulders again, walking quickly to town.
  204.  
  205. It’s a respectable size, with a large wall around it, sat atop a large, steep, rocky hill, the road rising steeply nearly fifty meters before dropping off entirely, like a corps of mages blew the ground under it out. Connecting the road to the town is a drawbridge, down, with respectable traffic. Cloaked and alone, he passes through the check with relative ease, his story of being a mercenary easy to believe with his armor and attitude. The walls are lined with men in full, resplendent plate that reek of a holiness so staunch it makes him queasy.
  206.  
  207. He heads quickly to the market square, brushing shoulders with hurrying individuals, the raucous sounds of the town cascading over his ears. ‘Where to?’
  208.  
  209. ‘How long have you been able to do this?’
  210.  
  211. ‘Since always?’
  212.  
  213. Gram grunts mentally, ‘Clothes. Can’t have you naked. Then weapons.’
  214.  
  215. ‘Weapons?’
  216.  
  217. ‘Need a new sword now that my old one turned into a woman.’
  218.  
  219. ‘Why do you need another sword? Aren’t I enough?’
  220.  
  221. ‘Two fighters are better than one. Stop talking.’ He steps into an alleyway and takes his cloak off, the acrid scent of urine staining the stones beneath him. He looks to the ground in disgust for a moment before stepping back into the street and grabbing a crate. He takes it back into the alleyway, and pulls his sword out. ‘Change’ when the smoke clears, he’s holding a naked woman inches from the crate, like a child, hands grabbing her chest, under her arms. The tips of her toes touch the crate as he lowers her, and she balances for a moment as if seeing if the thing can really hold her weight.
  222.  
  223. Gram wraps her up in his cloak and takes a knee, “Hop on.” The soft sensation of the athletic woman’s shapely breasts seem to almost radiate through his armor. Her sweet smelling hair rolls past him and down his shoulder as she climbs onto his back and brings her head next to his, rubbing her cheek to his like a cat. “Quit it,” he grumbles as he hooks his arms under her legs and carries her out of the alleyway and into the store next to them.
  224.  
  225. A small man scurries around, packing things into boxes and pulling down shop decorations. Gram watches as the man disappears into a backroom and returns a moment later with an axe, his eye brow raising in curiosity as the little man starts hacking his mannequins apart, after salvaging the cloth from them.
  226.  
  227. The man grunts as he cleaves an arm. He doesn’t turning to his customers, but he feels their curiosity, “Gotta do this at least, lad. Otherwise the demons will roll through and I’ll have a harem of porcelain harlots crawling all over my dick.” He groans as he straightens his back and takes in Gram and his woman. “Need something?”
  228.  
  229. “Clothes.”
  230.  
  231. “Any particular kind?”
  232.  
  233. Gram twists his head to his sword. The girl shrugs. “Something easy to move in.”
  234.  
  235. Gram grunts, “Sturdy. Good for combat.” He stops to think a moment. “Good for cold.” She winces.
  236.  
  237. “I have just the thing. A moment.” The two stood there, the sword resting her chin on Gran’s head, ears drooping somewhat lazily. Gram for his part just stood there. A practical man thrown into the flames of war, taught that any needless moment could lead to death. Resulting in him just standing in the doorway somewhat awkwardly despite chairs offered, the girl on his back. Not that her weight was much to bear.
  238.  
  239. The little man returns some time later, arms full of clothes. He lays them all out on a bench, sturdy looking dark brown, knee-high leather boots, white woollen hosen, A pair of short trousers barely a handspan in length, looking to be of leather make, similar of colour to the boots. A loose white shirt, and a leather vest. The leather all seems to have been cut from the same type of animal. It makes for a rather complete costume.
  240.  
  241. Gram lets the woman down. “Go try it on.”
  242.  
  243. “Ah, right this way miss,” The old man takes her by the arm and leads her into a back room. Gram sighs as he sees her tense up, ‘Don’t cut him.’ He stands at the door way and points off to the left, “First door.” He watches long enough to see her into the right room, before turning back.
  244.  
  245. “How much for all that and a cloak?”
  246.  
  247. The man scratches his wispy beard, “I’ll give it to you for twenty coins. That’s good material, and even if I was going to have to leave it behind, it’s an insult to the craftsman if I sell it for anything less.”
  248.  
  249. “Fifteen. Bastard is probably bedding demon whores as we speak.” The old man frowns,
  250.  
  251. “You’re a bitter man, son, you know that?”  
  252.  
  253. “I do now I guess. Deal?”
  254.  
  255. The old man smiles a bit wryly, “Seventeen plus the cloak.”
  256.  
  257. Gram grumbles, “Deal.” He takes one of the cloaks hanging off the wall, about the woman’s size.
  258.  
  259. “What do you think?” He turns to see the sword parading her new clothed look, his cloak hooked over her arm. The boots fit her snugly, they even seem a size smaller. Gram passes it off as the magic associated with the woman. The hosen cling to her shapely legs tightly, rising to meet the short pants clinched around her hips with a belt, short enough that the bottom half of her ass would be showing if not for the Hosen. The loose shirt hangs from her, her bust pushed up by the leather tunic. It’s a fetching fit, which hugs her curves whilst remaining easy to move in and moderately protective. And almost needlessly provocative, but Gram has a feeling that’s more the girl’s fault and less the clothing’s.
  260.  
  261. “Looks practical. Let’s go.” Gram drops a handful of coins on the counter as he leaves, the girl behind him. The old man watches the two leave before sighing and counting his coins. Twenty.
  262.  
  263. The sword draws her hood and follows close behind as Gram starts towards the more industrial looking side of town, following a particularly thick, black pillar of smoke. He stops, and sighs. The sun is falling, an hour or two until the merchants close up shop. The same cold wind blows at him, and the cobblestones are slick with condensation. The wind smells like ice and cut grass. Long, thin clouds stretch across the sky, large glacier mountains in the far distance glint faintly, obscured by the atmosphere. He’s getting closer to the North. The true north where not even the demons dwell. Men don’t enter and only memories and spirits live there. His death cannot be anywhere else.
  264.  
  265. ‘Are you okay?’
  266.  
  267. “Yeah.” Gram kicks a loose stone, it bounces from its place and knocks once or twice on other pebbles before rolling to a stop in a gutter. He strides off towards the smoke, heading down alleyways and small streets until he strikes a particularly wide stretch of road. He follows the smoke down with his eyes and a sign hangs from the building’s roof on chain links, creaking slightly in the wind. A sword and a shield. The girl behind him pouts to herself as he pushes the large door open and a wave of heat rolls out.
  268.  
  269. Gram holds it open and looks back behind him. “You want to come in?”
  270.  
  271. She frowns and avoids eye contact, ‘No.’ but steps in anyway. Gram rolls his eyes and follows after her, shutting the door.
  272.  
  273. ‘I didn’t realise swords could get jealous.’
  274.  
  275. ‘I’m a woman too, you know.’
  276.  
  277. “I guess.” One of the assistants turns at Gram’s apparent, unprovoked vocalisation. He smiles a little awkwardly and goes back to his business. Gram browses for a while, looking at the gear on sale, a surplus of it, it would seem.
  278.  
  279. “There’s a lot of gear here. Did you get commissioned or something?”
  280.  
  281. The youth looks up, “Uh, yeah. They wanted this for the defence of the town but even with the reinforcements rolling in by the day, it doesn’t look like there’ll be enough people to buy them. So we’re selling as cheap as we can before Strohmbelt decides to simply take them.”
  282.  
  283. “You and the rest, huh.” Gram puts his thumb to the crosspiece of a sword and pops the blade out of the scabbard, inspecting it. It’s a fine, quality steel. Decent enough craftsmanship. As he inspects it, the girl leans low and sniffs at the steel.
  284.  
  285. ‘What are you doing?’
  286.  
  287. ‘Checking it.’
  288.  
  289. ‘For what?’
  290.  
  291. ‘Magic. Anything that would indicate it would turn into a girl and replace me.’  He takes it to the assistant.
  292.  
  293. ‘No shield?’
  294.  
  295. ‘I don’t need to protect myself.’
  296.  
  297. ‘Then why are you getting another sword?’
  298.  
  299. ‘I can’t kill demons with a shield. Well, I guess I could but it would be a pain.’
  300.  
  301. “Ah, the boss made this one. Good choice. That’ll be fifty coins.”
  302.  
  303. “Thirty.”
  304.  
  305. “I-W-what? Do you have any idea what a sword is wo-”
  306.  
  307. A deep voice sails in from the workshop behind the shop. “Sell it to him.”
  308.  
  309. “Tch. That’s thirty.”
  310.  
  311. Gram reaches in for his bag of coins, soon to be significantly lighter than when he first entered town. He counts out thirty, puts them on the counter, takes his sword, and nods a thanks to the scowling attendant.
  312.  
  313. He steps out onto the street, having strapped the second scabbard to his hip.
  314.  
  315. “Where to now?” Gram yawns,
  316.  
  317. “A decent meal and a decent bed.” The two head towards the main street to find an inn.  A listing collection of resigned clouds crowd the sky, cloaking the land in a dull muted grey that seems less angry and more forlorn.
  318.  
  319. It was weather entirely accurate for the location. All the dark grey clouds needed were a tinge of red and it would be weather not unlike the rout over a year ago. An ill omen to be sure. Soldiers rush about, in and out of obvious taverns. Gram heads to where the traffic is lightest, a smaller two story building that looks more like a restaurant with a few rooms slapped on top.  
  320.  
  321. They enter the open doorway and it immediately leads to a corridor going right. Outside is cold and the hallway isn’t much better, but a near sweltering heat washes over them as they enter the main dining room. The swift shift in temperature has him feeling fluffy headed until he acclimates.
  322.  
  323. The room is full of soldiers well and fully armed, each table headed by a well-to-do man without any armor, but more gaud to his style than any of the plated soldiers. Gram would have thought they were officers if not for the rambunctious way that they lead the festivities. It went a little beyond putting yourself on the same level as your men and it seems that the leaders were the worst of them.
  324.  
  325. ‘A little different from your nobles, Gram.’
  326.  
  327. He shrugs and not a head turns as he heads over to the owner. ‘If Strohmbelt is the only kingdom to provide actual resistance, they have to be doing something right.’ The grizzled looking man looks up at Gram’s arrival.
  328.  
  329. “What’da’ya need?”
  330.  
  331. “Room.”
  332.  
  333. “Only got one.” His eyes shift to the sword, “Only one bed too.”
  334.  
  335. “Fine.”
  336.  
  337. “Ten coins for a night.”
  338.  
  339. The girl watches the terse, nearly grunted exchange with a kind of detached, academic interest. Gram pulls out a fistful of coins, fifteen. “Food.” The man pushes five back,
  340.  
  341. “Included.”
  342.  
  343. “When?”
  344.  
  345. “Now.” The owner tips his head to the seats at the bar and pockets the money, leaving. Gram takes the suggested seat, his sword following suit. He eyes the soldiers, all too aware of his sword’s now praeternatural beauty. But still, not a head turns his way.
  346.  
  347. He offers a gruff mumble. “Disciplined lot.”
  348.  
  349. “Probably why they still control this town.” Gram stares at his sword. “What?”
  350.  
  351. He shakes his head as the owner returns, “Nothing.” He wasn’t used to someone responding to his utterances. The man drops down two bowls of broth with spoons floating within it and a platter with huge chunks of bread upon it and two mugs of mead. The bread was smeared liberally with soft butter, the corners of which were beginning to melt. Lofty vapours rose from the wooden bowl carrying on it scents that spoke of oft frozen earths where only the hardiest and most rustic of potatoes and vegetables grow. Meats from animals so solid and hardy it may as well have been ice. Nothing but brutal beatings and being melted in molten waters could turn them tender and palatable.
  352.  
  353. The first real meal he’d had in… who knows how long. He digs in, tearing a chunk of bread off the bulkier lot and dipping it in the swirling broth. He watches the butter melt into it and reaches across to his sword, planting his hand on her head just as she goes to lower her hood to eat. ‘Don’t.’ Her ears flick in mild rebellion, twitching under her hood and Gram can’t help but wince at the glare boring into his back.
  354.  
  355. He takes a mouthful and puts on an appreciative moan before grabbing the mug of mead and twisting in his seat. The liquid rolls smoothly down his throat and he uses the action to take a leisurely look about. His eyes fall across the officer staring at him. The man offers a half-grin and raises his mug, but his eyes were far from smiling. Gram twists his face up into what may have vaguely passed for a smile and raises his own mug. ‘Shit.’
  356.  
  357. He turns back to his meal and lifts a spoon of the dark broth to his lips, sighing in genuine satisfaction as it chases a way the chill in his body. “Owner.”
  358.  
  359. “What?”
  360.  
  361. “Garlic.”
  362.  
  363. The man nods and heads back into the adjoining kitchen. ‘What?’
  364.  
  365. ‘Leaving won’t be easy.’ Gram nods a thanks as the owner returns with a fistful of peeled cloves and drops them in both bowls. He fishes one of them out of the murky depths and cuts it with his spoon against the side of the bowl. It sinks back out of sight and he doesn’t find it again until he bites down and is surprised by a sharp, potent taste.
  366.  
  367. The two eat in silence until the bowl is empty and the last scrap of bread has been used to mop up any remaining soup. Gram washes it down with the remnants of his drink and stands, leaving the bowls and platters behind. To the right side of the room is a flight of stairs that leads up and curves in on itself to reach the second floor. The owner hands him a key with a number on it and he takes it with another nod.
  368.  
  369. Together they head up the stairs. The key is attached to a small and worn wooden plaquette by a frayed string and a rune is carved into the wood. He tops the flight of stairs and looks around. There is a room directly ahead of him and a corridor to his immediate right. It ends at an open window and is lined with doors, each assumedly leading towards a small private room.
  370.  
  371. The door to the room dead ahead looks quite lavish and there are signs that each door heading down the corridor seems to have received less and less maintenance the further along you go. They head down the line of doors and Gram isn’t especially surprised to see the rune on the plaquette correlates to the rune on the furthest door down the hallway. The owner did mention it being the last room. And Strohmbelt doesn’t seem the type to spare expenses.
  372.  
  373. He grabs the door handle and rattles it, testing the bulky metal warded lock. The door remains resolute. Satisfied, he unlocks the contraption and pushes his way into the room. It swings inward to reveal a small spartan space with a window looking out, but not nearly large enough to be any form of entry or exit.
  374.  
  375. There’s nothing in the room but a bed, a chest of drawers and a table tucked into a corner with two chairs. The bed is in the middle of the room with the window to the left of it and the drawers to the right. Gram drops his pack atop the breast high chest of drawers and begins to strip his armor off.
  376.  
  377. “Are you sure you want to do that? You’re leaving yourself pretty vulnerable.”
  378.  
  379. Gram answers, not even looking at her, “It’s fine. You’ll protect me, right?” He busies himself with stripping off plates of armor and removing gambeson. He doesn’t spot his sword’s rigid posture or the smouldering heat turning her face and the tips of her ears pink.
  380.  
  381. “R-righ… protect you… I will protect you.” Gram ignores her quiet mumbling and takes a seat on the edge of the bed. His last encumbrance is his new sword. He slides the scabbard under his pillow, leaving him in nothing but his pants.
  382.  
  383. He tips his head back and takes a deep breath before resting his elbows on his knees and bowing over his clasped hands. A low, harmonic melody spills from his lips, so quiet that you would have to put your ear to his mouth to discern the words.
  384.  
  385. A pleasant kind of warmth radiates from him and he sits there for a handful of minutes before sighing. “This is getting harder and harder. I can barely even shake this infection.” His sword steps to the other side of the bed and sits down. Her light presence barely even moves the mattress.
  386.  
  387. “How long do you think you have?”
  388.  
  389. “At this rate, if I can’t slow it down or get further away from this place… just under a month. We leave first thing tomorrow.” Gram throws back the blanket and slides in.
  390.  
  391. “But humans re-took these towns. Can’t you just stay here?”
  392.  
  393. Gram shakes his head, “Too much residual energy. Not an issue for the uncorrupted, but when it’s already inside you, it doesn’t help matters.”
  394.  
  395. She sword slides into bed, ‘You can’t just… let it happen?’ Gram closes his eyes and rolls onto his side, pretending he didn’t hear the unspoken thought. He feels her wiggle up closer to him under the sheets. Whatever magic the sword possesses must have done away with the clothes, because he stiffens as he feels her bare breasts press against his back.
  396.  
  397. ‘Get off me.’
  398.  
  399. Now it’s her turn to go rigid ‘B-but… every night we’
  400.  
  401. ‘Get off me.’ The pleasant softness retreats as she wiggles away from him reluctantly. She makes a quiet, anguished whine that plucks at his heart and he scrunches his eyes shut in an attempt to stave off the powerful emotion and urges forced onto him. To love, to take her and bed her until the sun rises.
  402.  
  403. He bites down on his lower lip until it bursts and blood fills his mouth. Yet again a low, harmonious melody begins to spill from his lips, until the sheets reek of the soothing and familiar smell of candles. Surrounded in that scent, his eyes close.
  404.  
  405.  
  406. *   *   *
  407.  
  408. A hiss like a blade being drawn from a scabbard rouses him. His body tells him he couldn’t have been asleep for more than an hour and a half. He opens his eyes instinctively and finds himself looking up at the roof, having rolled onto his back at some point. He sees a familiar silhouette to his side. Thankfully it was dark enough that the instant his eyes were open wasn’t enough to alert her of his wakefulness. He closes them again and strains his ears instead. The sword was his, being drawn from under his pillow. Light footsteps patter their way to the window and he supresses a shiver as it’s opened and a gust of frigid air fills the room.
  409.  
  410. “I… Only I may sleep with Gram… I am the only one he’ll ever need. Another sword…” Gram winces as he hears her shear the weapon into slivers and shreds, partly at the shrill noise of steel being torn like paper, partly at the wasted coin “Is useless. I am all he needs.” Every word strikes at his heart and mind in a way that rouses the mire of black lusty corruption within him that he so desperately sought to quell. He should be getting up and even if he can’t bring himself to tell her to leave, he should at least be scolding her rash, selfish actions.
  411.  
  412. But then, this was the first time anyone had spoken about him this way. The first time he’d seen some one act out at the height of a self-serving selfishness and still had it be all about him. The shearing continues until it sounds like all that’s left is a thumb sized edge and the rest of the hilt. She tosses it out the window and it bounces off the pavement outside with a loud clack.
  413.  
  414. She stalks back over to his prone form and gently peels back the sheets. His heart leaps into his throat as she straddles him. ‘And you know that, don’t you?’ Her fingers trace little circles on his chest before drawling lines up his throat and along the line of his jaw. She cups his face with her hands, ‘You know that I am all you will ever need. You don’t really want anything else.’ She bites down on her lower lip as she speaks to what she thinks is his sleeping mind. She places a hand on the head of the bed to brace herself and her other hand begins to slide lower down her lithe body.
  415.  
  416. Gram fights the urge, the urge to do a whole lot of things. ‘I am yours. Use me. Fight with me, let me cut down any one who will threaten you,’ He can almost taste the lust surging within her body. With his senses and concentration pushed to the max, he can hear the wet, sticky instant her thin fingers part her folds, ‘and then ravish me.’
  417.  
  418. He flinches as he feels a warmth drip onto his lower belly. It wasn’t a full body jump, but more than enough to let her know he’s awake. He opens his eyes slowly, only to see hers scrunched up, her face a dramatic mask of need and lust. ‘That’s all I want.’ He closes his eyes quickly, afraid of being found out, afraid of startling her and drawing this incident he ought to be resisting with all his strength to a close.
  419.  
  420. His fists ball tightly by his side as she leans low and he can feel her hair fall about him like a soft-smelling curtain. Her hot breath rolls across his face before a warm, wet tongue licks across it, ‘I don’t care what you become. Just as I was once always yours, you will now always be mine, no matter what form you take.’
  421.  
  422. She shuffles back and grinds her hips against his. Her tongue flicks off his jaw and he doesn’t feel it again until her lips wrap around a nipple and she gives it a lick, her fingers splayed out across his broad chest, ‘Forget this stupid deathwish and just spend all your time with me, I don’t care what you become.’
  423.  
  424. There’s already a healthy stream of her lubricant dripping across his stomach and her thoughts become a jumbled mess as her fingers work deeper and faster into her sopping womanhood. Her hips quiver as she sprays the proof of her need all over him and her walls clench around a phantom cock whose sensations shed only known in her dreams. The entire affair was as dead silent as could be if not for the moaning, roaring cacophony sent into his mind. Her hips fall limply across Gram’s. ‘I just need you.’ She lay across his half-naked body and buries her face in his chest. Twin streams of wet warmth pool upon it until they roll down his side in salty rivulets. ‘Just don’t leave me.’
  425.  
  426. She gasps as she feels a hardening bulge prod into her lips from below and she whips her head up to look at his open and glassy eyes. Her face is a mess of drool and tears, fear and love. Her eyes widen and her pupils thin to points, “I-I-”
  427.  
  428. Before she can even register what’s happened, she’s upside down with her hair splayed out about her and her legs spread, knees up to her chest. More than a little stunned, she just stares at Gram’s vacant eyes which bore into the sword’s womanhood as if trying to penetrate her with his gaze alone. Her hole is positively dripping with lewd lubricants which are also smeared across her inner thigh. Her lips are puffy and parted slightly in an overly inviting manner, the hood of her clit rolled back with the light pink, solid bundle of nerves prodding out cutely. A wanting target for molestation.
  429.  
  430. The sword blushes heavily and the deep crimson only grows darker, spreading further as he lowers his lips to hers and takes a sniff of her arousal. She shivers at the contact and only manages a half-whine at the embarrassing and compromising position. But she can’t even manage that much, the whine turning into a gasped whimper as Gram lays a kiss upon her clit and flicks it with his tongue. A jolt of electricity arcs up her spine and her legs open wider. Her abs clench and her large tits jiggle as she shudders.
  431.  
  432. He draws his tongue lower down her hot and slick slit, tracing a circle around her entrance with his tongue before pushing it in. Her insides were just as wet as outside, but far warmer. A variety of tastes greeted his tongue, tastes of a feminine sweetness and a sharp hint of metal. She moans as his tongue parts her lips and the tip of his nose rubs against her clit. She reaches a hand up to grab his head and encourage him to go deeper, but he lets a leg go to catch her wrist. Her leg flops over his shoulder and hooks around the back of his head naturally, forcing his face to her twat regardless.  
  433.  
  434. He feels the tendons and muscles around her wrist bulge and shift as she clenches her fist and offers sweet whimpers as his tongue stimulates her most sensitive spots, aided by a corrupted instinct within him and the moaned nothings blaring in his mind clearer and louder when he gets closer to her favourite spots. With her free hand she reaches for a breast and sinks her fingers in, mauling the soft giving flesh and pinching at her bright pink nipples.
  435.  
  436. She gropes her breast harder and Gram can feel the insistent pressure on the back of his head by her calf increasing as she nears her second climax, ushered quickly upon the still-quaking heels of her first. He slips his tongue out and focuses his attention on toying with her clit, sucking and stroking at it until she squirts.
  437.  
  438. His eyes widen in surprise as her back arcs, going from bent over to rigid and straight, head and shoulders buried in the mattress. Her hips quiver and her girl-cum spurts out over his face and drips down his chin. Images of content and clarity wash into his mind from her as her own mind reels through an afterglow so potent it more than justifies being her first. His gaze sharpens as he comes to himself and he picks up a corner of cloth and wipes his face clean on it.
  439.  
  440. He stares coldly down the curvaceous valleys of her body, “Change.”
  441.  
  442. “Y-yes.” The confused and swept up sword returns to her more functional form and he grips the hilt and holds the sword up. He holds it there in silence before bringing it to his chest and rolling onto his side, ‘Wake me when the sun rises. Don’t turn back.’
  443.  
  444.  
  445. *   *   *
  446.  
  447. ‘Gram. Wake up.’
  448.  
  449. His eyes flash open and his heart clenches at it flushes his body with a rush of blood and adrenalin, a hair trigger response that has saved his life more than once. The room is dark, dark as night but as he looks out the window he sees the tinge of the sun begin to rise. “Oh, sorry. Was that too abrupt?” He looks around, slowly relaxing as he comes to wakefulness.
  450.  
  451. “No, that was fine. Thanks.” His eyes dart around the room. “We need to be quick. Dress me.” The sword, half buried in bedding nods as Gram stands and begins to throw on his underclothes. She gets up and heads to the pile of armor, selecting a slab of metal and returning. Crouching low, she approaches and straps on his greaves and cuisse before heading back to the pile of armor and returning with his plackart then breastplate, fixing them to his padded underclothes.
  452.  
  453. The rerebrace follows, then his thick cloak, once owned by a now forgotten commander. The pauldrons go over his shoulders as he slips his fingers into thick, padded leather gloves. The sword then approaches with his vambraces and gauntlets, affixing them last. She stands and watches him belt his scabbard to his side and draw the hood sewn into his thick cloak over his head.
  454.  
  455. He holds his hand out, “Sword.” She nods and takes his hand, returning to her more functional form. His fingers curl around her hilt and he slides her into his scabbard before grabbing his pack and heading out the door.
  456.  
  457. Each wooden portal along the corridor is closed and even as he strains his ears, he can’t hear anything more than the occasional snort of a snore. He looks out the window down the end of the hallway for another angle of the skyline and guesses that he has an hour before it rises. He aims to be out of town before then.
  458.  
  459. He treads down the stairs as lightly as he can with all his gear and practically sails through the main room, thick cloak flapping behind him. It’s utterly empty and devoid of any light asides from the softly glowing embers in the fire place. The room has been left remarkable clean considering the people who were in it only last night.
  460.  
  461. The relative warmth of the room vanishes as he steps into the corridor leading outside. He exits out onto the street and measures his pacing a little better, keeping his hood drawn low and his eyes down. Ducking into the first alley he can, he strikes a course north, traversing through the dark town by shadow, only his hasty, echoing steps heralding his passing.
  462.  
  463. He dips down alleys and across small streets, heading further towards the northern side of town, not stopping until he exits the last alley and comes upon the town gates, just before him.
  464.  
  465. Unfortunately, between he and the gates is an encirclement of men. Familiar men, led by the captain he locked eyes with last night. They stand at the gates as its guardsmen, but are obviously waiting for some-one. The soldiers all stand there in full plate armor, stern and professional, the only difference between them being in helm designs, not in the overall shape, but variations in visors and detail. All have swords strapped to their hips but a few carry spears as well.
  466.  
  467. All turn to Gram and immediately shift their positions to begin encircling him, spreading out. Gram counts nine in total. It seems that ‘someone’ they were waiting for was him. The captain stands in the middle, helm nestled in the crook of his arm. His eyes are a piercing blue and carry a mirthful kind of confidence. There’s a thick handlebar moustache upon his upper lip that adds a sense of authority to his youthful countenance.
  468.  
  469. He calls out to Gram. “Good morning, sir. You’re an early riser. On your way out?”
  470.  
  471. Gram mutters under his breath, “Not early enough, obviously.”
  472.  
  473. “I don’t see your companion. Where is she?” Gram doesn’t answer, keeping his hood drawn and his eyes locked on the half-circle of men. “No? No matter, I can always ask her myself.”
  474.  
  475. “Ask her what?”
  476.  
  477. “Why, the same thing I’m about to ask you.” He pulls out a small fist-sized orb and holds it up. Sunlight streams through it, clear as the day it reveals. “Do you know what this is?”
  478.  
  479. “…Glass?”
  480.  
  481. The man laughs, “Close, but not quite. It’s a special kind of quartz mined in the mountains far north of here. Mages go absolutely crazy for it, because you see it has the unique property of soaking up magic. Have you ever seen magic, sir?”
  482.  
  483. “More than I care to.”
  484.  
  485. The captain offers a grim smile, “I feel your pain. Depending on who casts it, it can be devastating, impressive, merely effective or in some cases downright pitiful. With a catalyst like this however, it almost invariably ends up somewhere near devastating, depending on how much magic it’s soaked up of course.”
  486.  
  487. “Your point is?”
  488.  
  489. “Mages aren’t the only ones to covet this mineral, sir. Strohmbelt quite likes it too. You see, demons and their ilk exude a kind of filth that this little ball of crystal just loves to soak up. And it turns a dark, deathly black when it does.”
  490.  
  491. The half-circle of men still stand in a professional yet relaxed manner, but now that the conversation has drawn to its point, a few hands rest lightly on the pommels of their swords and fingers tighten around spears. “Would you mind holding this for a moment?”
  492.  
  493. “If I don’t?”
  494.  
  495. The captain shrugs sadly, “You die. War isn’t really the best time to take chances now it is?”
  496.  
  497. “And if it turns black?”
  498.  
  499. “Well, that depends on how black it turns. If it’s just a little, that’s pretty usual for this area. But if it’s more than just a little, then I’m afraid you’re just as dead. Catch.”
  500.  
  501. The clear crystal orb sails through the air and lands neatly in Gram’s hand. A wash of inky black swirls out from where his fingers touch the fist-sized crystal and collects in the centre, spreading out until the whole thing is black, except for an inch or two on the outside that remains clear.
  502.  
  503. Swords draw. “Oh my, how unusual. This is my first time having a conversation with one as tainted as you are. Even if it was a touch one sided. Usually you lot are far less… lucid.” The captain slides his helmet on, “I’d much rather you didn’t fight back, sir. But there’s little chance of that now is there?”
  504.  
  505. It was… weird having his corruption shown to him like this. A visible representation of the time he had left. The circle of men were now poised and waiting for him to make his move. “I have a few questions. May I?”
  506.  
  507. “If it will ease your mind before you die, ask away.”
  508.  
  509. “How long do I have?”
  510.  
  511. “It depends on how good a fighter you are. Two, three minutes?”
  512.  
  513. “No, I mean how long until the corruption takes me.”
  514.  
  515. “If you weren’t to die here? A month, if that.”
  516.  
  517. “Is it possible to come back from it?”
  518.  
  519. “… If you were to make it very very far from here, very quickly I would say that over time it… may be possible. Though I must confess I am not especially knowledgeable on this matter, as it is far safer to simply end you here. Now, if you don’t mind, my tolerance is wearing quite thin. I really would like to kill you now.”
  520.  
  521. The half circle closes in and Gram takes a step back, resting his hand on his blade. ‘Please, Master. Allow me. I will prove that I am all you need.’
  522.  
  523. Gram draws his magic blade and places the tip to the ground, his hand on the pommel. ‘I told you to stop calling me master.’
  524.  
  525. The sword disappears in a cloudy puff of misty smoke and reveals a kneeling woman, her head under Gram’s hand. She smiles as he gives her head a little pat then straightens her expression. ‘Stand back, Gram.’
  526.  
  527. “Sword spirit. Watch yourselves lads. No telling what she’s capable of.”
  528.  
  529. She takes a few steps forwards and the men close in on her. Only two of them pay any attention to the less threatening, less mobile figure of Gram. Of the nine men, the captain and two others stand back. Four move in to surround the woman with spears and of the remaining two focused on Gram, only one is armed with a spear.
  530.  
  531. He looks at their arms and armor, somewhat lamenting his lack of a helmet, having had his last one caved in by a thick slab of demon tail some time ago. Might as well take one from these boys. A spearman to the right of Gram’s companion lunges in and she deftly weaves away from the point, stepping into the thrust and slicing at his helmet horizontally with her fingers mimicking a blade. If he squints, Gram can make out the glimmering hint of a spirit blade. It slips into the soldier’s wide eye-slit easily and she slashes across his face, slicing his eyes. The man drops his spear and clutches at his helmet screaming, falling on his knees.
  532.  
  533. Of the helms available, Gram decides he definitely wants one of the ones with two defined, separate eye slits. The other men don’t let their fallen friend’s efforts go to waste, looking to skewer the woman from the side and behind, but she moves too quickly for them to be able to capitalize on her openness.
  534.  
  535. The three men are in a wide cone before her, one to her right, left and one before her, the kneeling blinded man now positioned to her back. She launches into their thrusts, twisting aside of the spear to her left, deftly avoiding it. He severs the head of the spear to her right and knocks aside the one immediately before her before plunging her blade though the man’s gorget.  
  536.  
  537. He lets out a strangled gurgle as blood seeps through the split plate and she uses his body as a shield, slipping behind him to avoid the follow up thrust from the remaining spear. The area rings out with a metalling ting as the tip bounces off the armor. The soldier’s sword is drawn with a quick and quiet hiss and she throws it at the spearman. The soldier behind her draws his own sword, charging in from her blind spot. The spearman’s footing is disrupted as he simultaneously attempts to dodge and parry the flying sword, flinching on instinct. Capitalising on his broken posture, with an unnatural grace she slips in and punches his armpit, sinking a good twelve inches of blade in deep, puncturing the lung.
  538.  
  539. All this happens fairly quickly, but Gram doesn’t see how she dispatches the last man, his own two foes rapidly closing in from the left and right. Perhaps a little too eager, the spearman lunges with enough force to skewer, but not enough to control or direct the head’s movement in an accurate manner. Unfortunately for him, Gram’s body’s state of hyper awareness and his year of constant, never ending battle puts his physical prowess above the spearman’s.  
  540.  
  541. He jumps forwards, batting the spear aside with his left hand and grabbing the soldier’s wrist, pulling him forward. Unbalanced, the spearman isn’t in any position to avoid or deflect the slap that comes more like a sledgehammer, with Gram’s entire body weight thrown in behind it. Fingers splayed and curling around the man’s helmet, the blow shakes him to his core, coming just short of actually denting the helmet. The sheer force is transmitted through the padding inside the metal with very little loss and the impact rattles his brains concussively, making his knees go weak and sending him quickly into a mire of unconsciousness.
  542.  
  543. Gram snatches the spear from the falling man and spins in place, swinging the spearhead up in an uppercut motion, bringing the shaft to bear just in time to knock the coming sword blow away. With his spear raised and the other man parried, Gram is in a prime position to switch his grip around and thrust down into the unarmoured flesh of the inside of the man’s thigh. The spearhead buries in deep, staggering the soldier, but he doesn’t get long to contemplate the pain as Gram lets the spear go and wraps his hands about the man’s helm, wrenching it to a side and breaking his neck.
  544.  
  545. The armor clanks as it collides with the ground and Gram looks to the unconscious man. The soldier’s sword is at his belt and he could kill him with it, but the man is basically out of commission. He turns his gaze back to his companion to see how she’s doing.
  546.  
  547. The fourth man lay upon the ground bleeding, as do the two that hung back with the captain, leaving the capable man alone. He draws his own sword, a thin rapier and takes up a stance, not even reacting to his fallen comrades.
  548.  
  549. Gram wrenches the spear out of the dead man’s leg with a splurt of blood and hefts it up, holding it more like a javelin. He leans back and brings his arm up behind him, ‘Duck.’
  550.  
  551. The single thought of warning is all his sword gets before he throws the spear. She dips under it as it strikes the captain’s chest, deflecting off his armor and slipping under the pauldron, digging into the shoulder of the arm wielding the rapier. From her crouched position, the sword brings her two fists together as if clutching at the hilt of a large blade and brings it up in a slicing, drawing motion.
  552.  
  553. A motion that should do literally nothing to the armoured foe. Gram’s eyes widen as the metal screams and the spirit-blade splits it like paper. The captain is just as unbelieving, even as blood begins to pour from the clean slice in his plackart. Gram watches in awe as the captain’s torso begins to slide before separating from his lower half entirely.
  554.  
  555. His sword stands there, covered in the spurting blood and beams a prideful smile to Gram, as if to say “See?”
  556.  
  557. ‘I told you I was all you needed.’
  558.  
  559. He shakes his head softly and stoops down to a pluck the helm off a corpse, ‘Leaving me to fend off two soldiers unarmed is your idea of protection?’
  560.  
  561. Her eyes drift to the two men some distance away and the blood drains from her face, “G-Gram, I’m sorry, I-” He plonks a hand onto her head, not the most congruent of scenes, considering she was a few inches taller than him.
  562.  
  563. “Let’s fight together next time.” He drops down onto a knee and lings his pack off his back. He opens it up and rifles through, fishing out the cloth he’d need to venture out of town and into the frigid elements. He ties it about his mouth and nose and peels back his hood before sliding the helm over his head. The inner padding deadens his hearing and he takes a moment to get used to the limited sights and sounds. He draws the hood over his helm once more and rises.
  564.  
  565. ‘You don’t need to be so eager. Anyway, that fight will have drawn attention. We’d best move. Come.’ He sets off at a purposeful stride and holds his hand out. The woman takes his and before he even notices, he’s holding onto the hilt of his sword. He takes it over to the captain and wipes the blood off on his cloak before resuming his quick walk out of town. He walks hastily, moving into a light jog as he hears a clamour begin to rise behind him. The road north veers right and some hundred meters to the left is a forest. It’s only a short run to the trees but a distant shout lets him know that he’s already been spotted.
  566.  
  567. Nothing comes of it though, until he breaches the tree-line and a solitary bolt slams into a trunk to his right. He looks back, seeing neither dogs nor horses. Just a few straggling, distant silhouettes shining in the rising sun. The odds of pursuit are low. “Come out if you like.”
  568.  
  569. He barely finishes the sentence before his steps are joined by another set, “Where are we going?”
  570.  
  571. “Directly north. I got caught on the southern side of a mountain range, but if I remember the maps correctly there’s a whole network of abandoned dwarf cities and tunnels under these mountains. And there should be an entrance somewhere near here.”
  572.  
  573. “Abandoned?”
  574.  
  575. “Presumably, but the assumption is based on a loss on contact more than any kind of confirmation.”
  576.  
  577. “If they aren’t abandoned?”
  578.  
  579. He grimaces, “Then we’ll have an even bigger problem and we’ll have to – Wait. Why am I explaining this to you?”
  580.  
  581. She shrugs, understanding the driving point behind his question intuitively. “I don’t remember everything in the past. Just the things we did together. What you know isn’t necessarily what I know.”
  582.  
  583. “Hmh. Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. With black dwarves likely below, and frost dwarves above, it’ll be a pain in the ass either way.” He stops in his tracks, considering. “We might actually try to go over. Less corruption up in the mountains than there is below them.” He chews on the inside of his lip bitterly, “Frost dwarves won’t like that though.” He sighs, trudging on, “And then there are the giants.” He affects a chirpy smile at odds with his tone, “I suppose with any luck I won’t even make it past the mountains.”
  584.  
  585. The sword trails behind him with a wide smile on her face, listening to the monolog. He turns, as if her mirth irritated him, “What?”
  586.  
  587. “You’re talking more.”
  588.  
  589.  
  590. *   *   *
  591.  
  592. The woods are in a damp state, with smatterings of snow dashed about. On their quiet walk they pass many streams, some running, some frozen. The air is crisp and fresh, no doubt much of its bite is lost as Gram breathes it in through his mask. The forest is rife with sounds and the odd flicker in his peripheral as critters scurry about.
  593.  
  594. His eyes flick to a squirrel as it bounds from branch to branch. It knocks loose a tiny drift of snow and he catches it on the back of his gloved hand before it can fall onto his companion’s head. He stops walking as he brushes the snow off his hand before it melts into the leather and cloth.
  595.  
  596. ‘I like this.’
  597.  
  598. ‘This?’ He looks to the sword, but she doesn’t reply immediately, instead looking around. At the grasses, the patches of clovers with their clumps of frosted blades. The boughs, some laden with snow, some not. The bushes interspersed with icy wildflowers. She turns to look up at the grey-splashed sky, even as snowflakes float down, the rare few slipping between the cracks in the canopy and listlessly sinking to the leafy floor.
  599.  
  600. His eyes flick to the sword’s slender neck, as she tips her head back to gaze skyward, tracing along the graceful lines of her throat, sliding up the length of her jaw before coming to rest on her full, kissable lips. He watches the soft things open slightly, as she takes in a deep breath, and close as she it breathes out through her nose. Images of the tavern bedroom flick through his mind along with a notion of where he’d like to place her lips.
  601.  
  602. ‘This half-frozen forest. I’ve grown used to snow. I enjoy the look of it, even, but I like the green of the woods peeking out from under it.’ She turns to Gram, ‘I imagine there isn’t so much green once we cross these mountains.’
  603.  
  604. Surreptitiously, he avoids her gaze and clears his throat before walking again, ‘I imagine there isn’t.’
  605.  
  606. A twig snaps under heel, but it does little to disturb the tranquillity of the woods, carried along on the birdcalls and insect noises – though perhaps not so much of the latter as there would be in the summer. What does interrupt though, is a distant chorus of howls, carried on the wind that blows through. Unsettlingly unified and chilling in their effect, stirring the more primitive parts of his mind, urging him to be more aware.
  607.  
  608. The faint din of the woods deadens to a complete silence, broken only by the steady footfalls of the two interlopers.
  609.  
  610. ‘Wolves.’
  611.  
  612. Gram frowns, ‘I don’t think so.’ The birds start again, confident in their safety.
  613.  
  614. ‘Why not?’
  615.  
  616. ‘Too perfect. Wolf howls are more scattered than that, a pack doesn’t start howling in perfect unison.’
  617.  
  618. ‘Then?’
  619.  
  620. ‘Probably werewolves. Hunting I’d say.’
  621.  
  622. ‘For?’
  623.  
  624. He scoffs, ‘Food. I doubt there are too many men around here. They’d be closer to the towns if that were their aim.’ They continue trudging in a comfortable silence, interspersed by the odd exchange, though the telepathic nature of these exchanges ensures the silence remains unbroken throughout.  
  625.  
  626.  
  627. *   *   *   *
  628.  
  629. He watches her nibble at the juicy hare meat, suspended in mid-air. A bead of grease trickles out of the soft flesh and slides down the almost transparent knife edge before dripping off onto the soft, spongey grass below. A small but warm fire crackles between the two of them, the same he used to cook the meat his sword fetched. A snack and a short rest before they continued for another few hours before finding somewhere to sleep.
  630.  
  631. She gives a happy little hum as she chews. Her gaze shifts over to Gram and she shoots him a look of appreciation with her silver eyes, ‘It’s good,’ She hands the rest of the meat to him, ‘but I don’t really need to eat. Here.’
  632.  
  633. He takes it, missing the intense observation and bites into the flesh where she did, tearing further into it. She turns away, hiding a faint pleasure, ‘So, what’s so bad about these black dwarves?’
  634.  
  635. ‘Dwarves are bad in general. Short. Tough. Strong. Well-armed and well armoured. Pain in the ass to fight, especially considering that above their thick skin and dense muscles is at the minimum three to four layers of dwarven steel.’ He fishes around for a water-skin and takes a long draught before handing it to his companion.
  636.  
  637. ‘Is that any better than normal steel?’
  638.  
  639. ‘Significantly better. In fact, if what my grandfather said was true, you’re made from it.’
  640.  
  641. Her eyes widen in a mild surprise, ‘Oh, really? Tell me about dwarves. What makes them so bad?’
  642.  
  643. Gram gnaws at his lip and tilts his head before he resumes munching on the meat, ‘Where to begin? Dwarves don’t expand in any direction other than down. So if you’re fighting one, nine out of ten times that means you’re underground, in their tunnels and in their home turf. I never actually fought any, but in training they teach you the basics of what to expect when fighting most races. Dwarves are tough and powerful, with enough force behind their axes to split steel and the shields they carry are far thicker, bigger and heavier than what most men can carry.’
  644.  
  645. She watches him attentively as he eats; a happy smile on her face as their conversation carries across from consciousness to consciousness. ‘Each shield is held in their right hand and has a notch to the top right of it. It’s to brace their comrade’s ‘rifles’ in a shield-wall formation. A kind of tiny canon that shoots small balls of lead that tear through most forms of human armor. The only way to really combat it is to rush in close before they can shoot off too many volleys. If you’re lucky you’ll have a mage who can make your armor harder than the projectiles and they just bounce off harmlessly.
  646.  
  647. If you’re not so lucky, they’ll have a real canon placed somewhere in their tunnels. No amount of magic can stop one of those. And when you make it to their lines, you have to fight some one half as tall as you and twice as strong, who knows her way around an axe. Some even have small handcannons and those are a bitch in a tunnel.’
  648.  
  649. ‘Wait, why are you fighting in a tunnel to begin with? Are all their cities just tunnels?’
  650.  
  651. ‘No, but the only way you’re getting into a dwarf city is through small tunnels. The main entrances have fortresses around them that are impossible to siege.’
  652.  
  653. ‘Why?’
  654.  
  655. ‘There’s no real way from stopping dwarves from smuggling in supplies. Too many tunnels, you’d need to surround the entire mountain range. So you have to invade into their tunnels, which is their territory and once your line of men meet their line of shields, momentum is lost entirely. There isn’t much that can sway an overlapping dwarven line of shields. And while each one of your attacks bounces off harmlessly, an axe flicks out, felling a man, or one of their small canons go off.
  656.  
  657. And if your line looks weak, a bunch of glory-seeking dwarves will leap out with huge hammers and axes and shatter it entirely. If you actually manage to push them back far enough, the tunnels open into wider caverns and there you can begin to make use of numbers, formations and tactics.’
  658.  
  659. He throws the bone away and rises, stretching. ‘Sounds like you like dwarves.’
  660.  
  661. He looks away, a heat rising to his cheeks, ‘I supposed I did.’ The tales he heard growing up, the magic weapons and the wars against dragons fostered a heroic image in his mind. Touching on the old obsessions of his young self seemed… wrong at this point in his life.
  662.  
  663. ‘Attacking dwarves sounds hard. How do you know all this?’
  664.  
  665. ‘It’s all theoretical. Books. Because of what a pain in the ass it would be, it’s easier to forge alliances. An old military general once visited a dwarven hold. They let him watch them train. He wrote an entire book on theoretically attacking a dwarven hold. I think it’s partly because of that book that no one’s ever tried.’
  666.  
  667. ‘So what about black dwarves?’ He places a hand to his neck just under where it meets his skull and pushes. A cluster of cracking pops ring out through the surroundings. He pulls a face and does the same in the opposite direction. Crack.
  668.  
  669. ‘Pretty much the same but ten times as stealthy. A little less technologically impressive but stronger at corrupt magic and where they fail technologically speaking, they more than make up for it with corrupt magical augmentations to their machinery. Generally speaking there’s no real physical difference between a dwarf and a black dwarf except for their namesake, the black sclera around their pupils. Rarely though you’ll get extreme variations in skin tone and even rarer yet, you’ll get their version of a succubus, which is basically the same as any other succubus only shorter, stronger, bustier and without wings.’
  670.  
  671. He stoops down and picks up his helmet, brushing off any wetness and grass before slipping it onto his head. ‘With the demon invasion of the north the chances are that the tunnels under these mountains are either empty or full of black dwarves. And if it’s the latter, we’ll have to go over. Too much corruption.’
  672.  
  673. She imitates his actions, rising and stretching in an almost catlike flexibility, standing with her legs straight and rising up on the tips of her toes with her arms stretched out. She leans back as far as her balance would let her with her eyes squeezed shut and little groans escaping as bits and pieces of body crack and pop.
  674.  
  675. Her silhouette cuts an overly distracting figure for Gram, her round butt made exceptionally perky by the tip-toed stance, the woollen white curve of her smooth yet well-formed thighs, rounding into a bit of underbutt before disappearing under her tight shorts.
  676.  
  677. The hem of her shirt has ridden up to reveal her toned belly and cute navel, while her wide and backward-stretched arms has her bust pressing, straining against her jacket. The sight invokes images of barely-constrained eroticism, and elicits within him the long forgotten urge to pluck at the frays and unravel her before him.  
  678.  
  679. Shaking his head slightly to dislodge the impulses, he walks past her, collecting her hood as he does so and pulling it over her head. Her cloth-covered ears tent the hood and flick in protest.
  680.  
  681. They leave the small fire to burn and leave the lush green of the small glade behind to resume their walk through the forest.
  682.  
  683. ‘How long until we make it to the mountains?’ They cross another stream, and climb a small hill where half the path had eroded into a small cliff. In single file, they traverse it carefully.
  684.  
  685. ‘A few days walk.’
  686.  
  687. ‘And to cross them?’
  688.  
  689. ‘Depends.’ A fallen tree blocks the path and there are a few others about, the upended root systems probably responsible for some of the erosion at parts. He jumps atop it and turns back to offer a hand to his companion.
  690.  
  691. ‘How long if y-’ her thoughts grind to a halt, as figures begin to appear from behind the trees and shrubbery. Silently, unannounced. If they’d wanted to they could have crept far closer. The thought puts Gram on guard and instinctively he puts a hand on his companion and steps forward while nudging her behind him.
  692.  
  693. The figures become clearer, leaving the cover of tree-trunks and leaves, grey wolven ears pointed forward attentively and large, deadly looking claws lingering on the gnarled tree-bark as they pass. It’s a group of four, presumably the same werewolves they’d heard earlier in the day. They’re all naked to the last and display proudly not only the physique of an apex predator, but also the feminine curves and wicked beauty you’d expect of a werewolf.
  694.  
  695. The four stand before Gram and his sword, at a large distance away, the biggest stepping forward followed by three more. The one in the back sports a grimace under her long jagged hair and holds a paw to a bleeding wound gouged out of her side.
  696.  
  697. He shifts uncomfortably, half torn between facing off against the werewolves, half wary of his companion’s deadly stillness. Her hood is still drawn and low, but her gaze is characteristically sharp and he can tell she’s a sudden movement away from springing into action.
  698.  
  699. The morning’s ambush was necessary, a matter of fact. But spilling blood here? Uncharacteristic as it was for a paladin, ex-or-otherwise to spare consideration for a monster, unnecessary bloodshed was unnecessary bloodshed. And these werewolves weren’t tainted. He takes his hand from her shoulder, and plants it on the crown of her head, making her gasp slightly as he rubs it before focusing his attention on the wolves.
  700.  
  701. Grey fur with smears of whites and pale browns unify them, along with long grey hair. The four appear to be related, sisters at the least, though the way they wear their hair varies. Two have a rugged, spiked style, the second biggest wears her long wavy tresses loose, but they naturally fall down her chest and curl at the tips into small drills.
  702.  
  703. The last and biggest wears her hair pushed back and of the four only her sizable, firm breasts are completely bare, unhidden by grey locks. Her piercing blue eyes study Gram’s defensive body language and she lets out a short, staggered whine.
  704.  
  705. He doesn’t react, prompting the big wolf to frown in a moment of confusion before a realization hits her and she begins something which sounds like a growl before turning into a clearing of her throat.
  706.  
  707. “Peace.” Her voice is quiet and rough, her more human vocalizations clearly unused for years now. “We hunt.” Her ears twitch and her eyes drift, as if searching for the words in her mind, “Demon pig. No… B-boar. Big. Danger.” Her accent can only be described as wolfish, if that were even a way to describe an accent, though there are hints of Strohmbelt in there too. Her eyes flick momentarily to the sword and there’s recognition and respect in her gaze. “Care.”
  708.  
  709. The Alpha turns, sniffs and makes a slight gesture to her pack, before heading off at a light jog, mindful of her wounded sister’s pace. He watches them leave, not relaxing until their padded footfalls are outside of earshot. Though, with how quietly they stalk the woods, he stops hearing them sooner than he sees the tip of a big bushy grey tail disappear behind the trees.
  710.  
  711. He takes his hand off his sword’s head and turns to her, ‘Told you.’ He looks at her smiling, slightly flushed face and an expression of confusion crosses his features, though his face was all but entirely hidden under mask and helm. ‘What?’
  712.  
  713. Her smile widens and she shakes her head gently, long ears flopping under her hood with the motion. ‘Nothing. So,’ they resume walking, ‘You were right. Werewolves.’
  714.  
  715. ‘We should be careful. If the tainted boar they’re hunting managed to escape from four werewolves and wound one, her warning might have been an understatement. And I doubt it’s entirely unhurt either. I don’t want a crazed boar charging us any time soon.’
  716.  
  717. ‘Scared?’
  718.  
  719. He shakes his head ‘I hate wasting food and tainted meat is a pain to purify.’ He hesitates. ‘By the way, why didn’t you… well…’ He shakes his head, ‘Never mind.’
  720.  
  721. She feigns hurt with a painfully belying playfulness in her gaze, ‘Do you think me indiscriminate?’ He declines to comment, and she lets out a soft “hmph”, ‘She stood far enough away. I…’ a lovely – if demented – expression that Gram doesn’t notice due to the depth of her hood passes her features. ‘Appreciate the gesture, but you really should be more careful. A werewolf’s entire body is her weapon, she was a step out of the range where I wouldn’t be able to react fast enough to protect you. I…’ she frowns, as if chiding herself internally while simultaneously reaffirming her feelings, ‘I am here to protect you. You don’t have to shield me.’
  722.  
  723. “Hm.” He doesn’t offer anything more than that noncommittal grunt, instead opting to walk in silence, thinking upon her words. A new sound pushes its way into their peaceful walk, a constant, rapid flowing of water. The game trail they follow spreads out almost deliberately and careful scrutiny reveals the odd, tiny patch of cut stone, uncovered by dirt, grass and moss.
  724.  
  725. The artificial nature of the path only becomes that much more apparent as the trees thin out. The shrubbery gives way to the bank of a stream and the path crosses the flowing water, held aloft by a carved stone arch.
  726.  
  727. The two jolt to a stop as their eyes are drawn, following the sounds of a pained grunting to a hulking black mass, dripping blood on the damp and pebbled silt. It stands at the size of a horse, but twice as bulky, muscles rippling under a thin layer of coarse fur, lines of brutal bristles lining its back.
  728.  
  729. ‘Fuck.’
  730.  
  731. Gram goes to take a step back, but the boar snorts and turns, sensing their presence. Its left tusk is broken and its right bloodied. Curving wickedly, the tips are positioned to gore in the messiest manner possible and the beady, smouldering crimson eyes seem to carry just that intent.
  732.  
  733. ‘Have you ever hunted boar before?’
  734.  
  735. ‘Once. I was too young to do anything but watch though.’ It snorts and lowers its head, stubby tail sticking up, stepping to the side almost contemplatively. ‘There were ten men on horseback including me and a pack of dogs. Frescoes show mad boars charging into spears, but in reality, the dogs did all the hunting and the host ended it with a knife.’
  736.  
  737. ‘We don’t have dogs or spears.’
  738.  
  739. ‘You cut clean through that captain’s armor this morning. Swords don’t work that way. You don’t work that way.’
  740.  
  741. ‘Of course I do, you just never tried to slice through plate armor.’
  742.  
  743. She was right. It was common convention to aim for the soft, unarmoured spots. That’s how he was trained. Who would think to cut into plate armor?
  744.  
  745. ‘I’m joking, it was magic.’
  746.  
  747. ‘Oh.’ He locks eyes with the smouldering crimson, and the two beasts square one another up, ‘Well the thickness of demon boar hide and bone is said to rival that of the hardest steel. Think you can cut it?’
  748.  
  749. ‘Of course, but I think you should try cutting it. You’ve not used me as anything other than a sword yet.’
  750.  
  751. She changes back and he scowls visibly as he takes the woman turned tool by the hilt, ‘You want me to use magic?’
  752.  
  753. ‘I’ll be using the magic.’ He lowers himself to meet the boar’s coming charge and grips his sword two handedly. The blade seems to coat itself something, in a vague glimmer reminiscent of the same shimmering when she attacks in her human form. He doesn’t get long to admire the visual effect though, as the boar announces its murderous intent with a deep grunt.
  754.  
  755. He positions himself sidewards, ready to move to the boar’s side, the one with the broken tusk. Its speed is entirely unnatural and combined with its mass it could easily charge through any manner of formation of men, shields or otherwise. He reacts, less thinking and premeditating, more moving instinctively as his eyes follow the approach of the hulking black mass.
  756.  
  757. It lowers its head further yet as it reaches within a few metres, ready to thrust its tusks up and gut the fool before it, but Gram moves quicker, lunging forward and swinging his sword in a low, diagonal slice. His eyes flash open wide as the sword misses, cutting thin air. His heart leaps into his throat and his body dumps adrenalin into his system as the boar passes and he stumbles forward, unbalanced before spinning to receive the returning blow that was sure to come.
  758.  
  759. It takes his mind a moment to process the chunk of bloody skull flying into the air and smacking wetly onto the bank. ‘Are you alright?’
  760.  
  761. He fights to ignore the overwhelming hammering of his heart, “Yeah, it just shocked me. I thought I missed.” His thoughts tumble out of his mouth unfiltered and it takes him a moment to calm down. He looks down at his sword. “There was no resistance at all, like cutting through air. I’m not sure I like that.” He lets it go and it returns to the form of his feminine companion.  
  762.  
  763. She turns to the fallen carcass of the beast. It lay on its side, staring wildly with its skull open, two thirds of its brain missing, splattered on the silt. He takes a breath and shakes his head, returning to the inner dialogue. ‘I could have just stood there and held you out. Let it cut itself in half.’
  764.  
  765. ‘Probably.’ They both turn, reacting to a new noise as the bushes part and four figures burst out, ready for a fight. There’s an almost comical deflation as the werewolves take in the sight of the felled beast.
  766.  
  767. The leader steps up, frowning, “You met it first. How?”
  768.  
  769. Gram shrugs, “We were just walking.”
  770.  
  771. The big alpha shakes her head and sighs, “Mad boar, running in circles. Very well. Good kill.” There’s a bit of whining from the younger wolves as their Alpha turns to walk away, but they follow, if grudgingly.
  772.  
  773. “Wait, we can’t take this.”
  774.  
  775. She turns back, “Your kill, you must eat.”
  776.  
  777. “We’ll take a leg, you take the rest.”
  778.  
  779. The wolf stands there for a moment, thinking, and nods. “Thank you human.” He watches as she walks over to the boar and wraps a claw about its leg. With a nauseatingly wet noise she tears the limb from the beast effortlessly, as you’d tear the leg from a roasted chicken. Then, she turns to her sisters and without a word passing between them, the two unwounded move to lift and carry the boar away.
  780.  
  781. The big wolf with the slicked back hair returns to Gram with the huge chunk of meat in hand. “The heart. Do you want it?” He takes the torso sized leg and shakes his head.
  782.  
  783. “No.”
  784.  
  785. Her eyes drift over Gram and his sword, “You are both unhurt. Skilled hunter. It is… rare in a man.” She looks to the sword and meets her icy gaze for a moment before turning back to Gram, “Shame you are taken. Farewell.”
  786.  
  787. With those words of parting she turns, her tail wagging lazily as she follows her sisters back into the woods, leaving the two behind with only a smear of blood and a disembodied leg.
  788.  
  789. Gram looks skyward, weighing the remaining hours of sunlight. There weren’t many. ‘We’ll camp here tonight.’
  790.  
  791.  
  792. *   *   *   *
  793.  
  794. It was a sizable thing, as tall as he was and about as thick around as his bicep. It had died fairly recently and was mostly desiccated, though it may take a bit to burn. Gram drags its remains to the stream, leaving behind a trail of crispy birch leaves.
  795.  
  796. The sound of the running waters grows louder, the shrubbery and trees growing thinner, until he steps out onto the silty bank of the stream as it cuts through the woods. A sense of danger takes him and he reacts to the sharp gaze sent his way, turning his head towards the girl sitting on his laid out bedroll. The leg of ham lay near her, cut into long and thin strips, no more than a quarter inch thick. Laid out and piled up upon a flat surface of clear snow she’d packed together, a lardy mound of fat lay off to the side.
  797.  
  798. She sits cross-legged, his pack on her lap and her chin resting lazily atop it. The sharpness of her gaze lasts but the fraction of an instant, long enough for the blundering silhouette to take a more familiar form, at which point her long ears perk up and she tilts her head to a side.
  799.  
  800. “A whole tree?”
  801.  
  802. He walks it over to her and drops it with a wooden thunk and the hissing rustling of dead leaves. “It’s not like I have to worry about it blunting you.” He begins scraping at the sand with his hands, making a small but widening pit.
  803.  
  804. She puts the pack down on the bedroll and stands, yawning tiredly as she makes her way over to the tree and starts with the trunk, slicing it into logs, starting small and thin before cutting them larger.
  805.  
  806. Gram for his part tears off a thin, small branch and begins to build a tiny fire, beginning with a layer of easily burnt dry leaves and thin, spindly sticks. Happy, he heads to his pack to fetch his tinderbox.
  807.  
  808. Before long the tree has turned into a stacked pile of wood, next to a pile of kindling – quick work, considering the sword’s hasty efficacy. As the last log is placed atop the irregular pentagon of stacked timber a flame licks out of the fire pit, igniting the dried leaves and setting the sticks alight. Gram adds to it, until it’s a roaring fire and he can begin stacking decently sized logs atop.
  809.  
  810. The fire calms, burning weakly and low at the bottom, but it isn’t long until the tell-tale smoke begins to billow out and the bottom-most logs ignite.
  811.  
  812. Finally, with a growling stomach, he turns his eyes to neatly cut pile of meat. Sighing in trepidation before the most tedious and time consuming job of all, he makes his way over to the pile of meat and sits down heavily, beginning a low monotonous chant while touching the strips of raw flesh individually.
  813.  
  814. A slow drip of black with the consistency of tar begins to ooze from the flesh before dropping down, sizzling and evaporating upon the silt with such volume that it was almost like holding up a drenched cloth.
  815.  
  816. This carries on for another handful of minutes, until each strip is purified and the assembled meat is a notable few shades pinker. Pure enough for consumption at any rate. He stands, leaving the strips on the compacted snow and heads into the woods, stopping only momentarily.
  817.  
  818. “Start cooking some of them up. There’s a pan in my pack. Look for the bundles of cloth, there should be some vegetables I looted a week back.” He leaves her behind to rifle through his things and disappears behind the bushes.
  819.  
  820. She digs out the pan and the balls of cloth, finding foodstuffs inside, half a cabbage, a loaf of hard bread, an onion and three quarters of a wheel of hard cheese. She pulls it all out and assembles it, putting the pan atop the fire and grabbing a fistful of the cut and shaved off boar fat and dropping it down on the pan. She finds a wooden spoon pressed up against the side of the pack and pulls it out, using it to push the animal fat around the pan, coating it in the spitting grease.
  821.  
  822. She singles out the cabbage and onion, cutting up a quarter of the former and half of the latter, ensuring to slice it as thinly as she possibly could, with as microscopically thin a blade as she can manage. By the time she’s done, the incisions are so fine as to be invisible and not an ounce of the vile vapours have antagonized her eyes. She gazes imperiously down upon the onion. That tidbit and the culinary processes in general are lessons learned vicariously, almost a genetic memory, a side effect of her nature as an old, sentient tool.
  823.  
  824. A convenient one at that. As the pan begins to spit, she scoops up the cut vegetables from the makeshift chopping board of ice and drops it into the melted fat, causing the pan to hiss and an aroma to rise as the vegetables begin to fry. She takes out a metal mug from the bag and heads over to the stream to fill it with water before returning to place the mug in the fire, to boil any impurities out of it.
  825.  
  826. She dices the strips of meat next and drops them in once the vegetables grow soft, frying the meat in its own fat until it browns lightly. Gram returns holding a few long, straight branches and loops of vine, just as she carefully pours the boiling water into the pan, the hot metal mug held by faint knives coming out of her fingertips like claws. Steam billows out of the mug and mixes with the small puffs of her breath.
  827.  
  828. “Smells good.”
  829.  
  830. She beams at him, with a smug grin, “I know, right?”
  831.  
  832. “Where did you learn to cook?”
  833.  
  834. She shrugs, “Always.”
  835.  
  836. He begins digging another pit in the sand after laying down his bounty. Once he finishes Gram erects the five branches in a triangular shape, holding out a length of vine for his sword to cut and wrapping it about the top to secure them together.
  837.  
  838. Then he holds out another section of vine, this time long enough to wrap around the small tent thrice and with the last, he wraps the longest length of vine between the poles, creating a tight network of intersections. By the time he has finished with the structure, the sun has set, though the moon provides more than enough light to go by, as does the fire burning nearby.
  839.  
  840. The sword checks on the broth and declares it ready, serving it up in small wooden bowls, stashed away in the pack. He walks over to his bedroll and removes his helm and gauntlets, setting them aside and pulling his face mask down before fetching a bag of salt from his pack and rubbing the grains into the strips of meat liberally. Only once he’d finished does he take a break to eat, coating them to the last before he accepts the offered food.
  841.  
  842. “Mmm, it’s good”
  843.  
  844. She smiles happily as she drinks from her own, ‘I’m glad you like it.’ They sit next to each other on the bedroll and consume the soup, sharing the loaf of bread and tearing free small chunks to soften in the broth.
  845.  
  846. He lifts it to his lips and takes another drink, noticing partway the soft sensation of her weight leaning against him. He stifles a grumble and shifts a bit to the side, only for her to pursue, even reaching across him at one point to fish out the wheel of cheese, apologising disingenuously as her breasts press up against his arm. He sighs and sets about to ignore her temptations and is moderately successful until she leans in after finishing her meal, and sniffs him.
  847.  
  848. “W-what.” A heat rises from his collar.
  849.  
  850. “You should bathe.”
  851.  
  852. His face turns sour “Why?”
  853.  
  854. “Because you smell. Strongly.”
  855.  
  856. “Does it bother you?”
  857.  
  858. “No. But every animal within half a mile has your scent. That bothers me.” She appeals to a sense of pragmatism and he sighs in defeat as he finishes his bowl.
  859.  
  860. “Fine. Just let me finish this first. Thanks for the meal.” He sets his bowl aside and stands, scooping up a handful of the meat strips before heading over to the framework of the hut-to-be and hanging the strips of raw meat upon the tightly wrapped lengths of vine, until every inch has been draped in meat, leaving only scraps which his sword promptly cooks up and begins to snack on.
  861.  
  862. “Hey”
  863.  
  864. ‘Yes?’ She turns to him, a grease-dripping strip hanging from her mouth. She chews as she awaits his response, the strip slowly but surely being sucked up, each jaw motion making the tips of her ears wobble.
  865.  
  866. “Go cut some branches. Ones with lots of leaves.” He turns back to the ‘hut’, digging a deeper pit with his hands before filling it with kindling then larger logs. This time he does without his tinderbox, instead taking the already roaring fire and lighting a stick before taking it over to the small structure, coaxing the leaves to catch and burn its way to the thinner twigs.
  867.  
  868. Before long a healthy flame has built and more importantly, a smoky flame. His companion returns at this moment, arms burdened by a large bundle of branches, dense with leaves. He thanks her and lays the branches upon the structure, walling it off from the cool elements and trapping the smoke inside to treat the meat for the journey ahead.
  869.  
  870. With that finally out of the way, he turns his eyes to the moon-lit stream. ‘Well, I’ve bathed in colder. Do me a favour and put a few logs in the fire. Don’t want that going out while I’m still wet.’ He walks up to his bedroll and begins to undress, beginning with the armor and then the padded underclothes, the gambeson and hose, to finally his linen underclothes.
  871.  
  872. It was this final layer that most of his sweat had soaked into and it was only this layer that he had a spare of in his pack. He hesitates a moment before removing this final layer and stepping into the stream fully nude, awkward at the idea of revealing himself to a woman, his tool of bloodshed or otherwise. And then a belated thought had struck him. She was well aware of their time spent together prior to her sentience. He looks over to her and she catches his gaze, accurately piecing together the gears turning in his mind. It doesn’t even take a fraction of a moment and then she grins lasciviously.
  873.  
  874. Stiffly he disrobes, burdened with a newfound embarrassment, frowning his way into the stream where contact with the chilled waters makes him hiss involuntarily, sucking a lungful of air in through his teeth.
  875.  
  876. He crouches down first, clothes in hand and soaks it through, reaching through the waters for some stones to rub along the cloth and dislodge the dirt. He does this for a few minutes until satisfied and returns to the fire momentarily to prop up some branches to hang the sodden cloth off before returning to the water. He forces himself to walk further in, until the waters reach his knees, where he drops down and submerges himself up to the chest.
  877.  
  878. Scooping handfuls of water, he runs his hands over his body, scrubbing away his skin with callused fingers, occasionally drifting over the odd ridge of scarred flesh. He does this until his skin feels fresh and clean and he rubs his hands together before cupping water and splashing it over his face.
  879.  
  880. The water drips off his beard, turning the surface into a mess of ripples, its moonlit reflection distorted further as he dunks his head in and rubs his face before running his fingers through his hair and rubbing at his scalp.  
  881.  
  882. With an arc of flicked water he resurfaces, water sloughing off his head. Briefly, his view is obscured by a long brown fringe, but his vision clears again as he slicks his soaked hair back and studies his reflection in the water. It was the rugged face of a man who’d been through much, with solid grey eyes staring back at him. He frowns slightly as he runs his hand over a wild and ragged beard. Were his eyes always that colour?
  883.  
  884. He freezes, as he hears barefooted steps from behind. Light steps, the kind of gait so graceful as to barely stir the water as she enters it, steps turned to splashes. He keeps his head straight, but she wades in deeper than he, easily coming into his field of view, stepping in until the water laps at her hips.
  885.  
  886. She ducks under for a second, leaving a cloud of floating silver on the surface, before emerging again. His breath catches, even as a moment of self-awareness at the cliché passes his mind.
  887.  
  888. The sight is simply too beautiful for intrusive and reflective thought. His gaze follows instead the water cascading off her, like gems reflecting the moon light. The crystal droplets running down her brow collect on every ridge and peak. Her cute, slightly upturned nose, her upper lip, running along her diamond-shaped jaw before joining to drip from her chin.  
  889.  
  890. She lets out a shuddering sigh, as the cool water washes over her. That motion causes her bountiful, perky breasts to jiggle, calling Gram’s attention immediately to the pale pink nipples cresting her shapely mounds. He realizes now that this is the first he’s seen them bare, and not covered in wolf-blood, not obscured by the dark of a tavern room, but lit, her pale white skin radiating with the glow of the moon.
  891.  
  892. She turns to him and tilts her head quizzically, “Yeah?”
  893.  
  894. He answers her in thought, not trusting his voice right now. ‘I was just thinking it’s been a while since I last shaved. Would you mind?’
  895.  
  896. She beams brightly and begins to wade through the water toward him, ‘I’d love to.’ He closes his eyes and thrusts his jaw out, awaiting something, but definitely not expecting her to kneel before him and straddle his lap.
  897.  
  898. He opens his eyes lightly, “What are you doing?” She shifts in his lap until comfortable, conjuring a shimmering, barely visible straight razor as she does and settling her soft butt in the cradle of his crossed legs.
  899.  
  900. She takes hold of his chin and tilts his head so that the moonlight shines on his face, “How else were you expecting me to do this? Hold still.” She rises up – breasts at eye level – and begins to draw the blade along his jaw, its magnificent sharpness and its wielder’s steady hand shearing off the coarse hair without so much as the hint of a nick.
  901.  
  902. Gram keeps very very still, trying not to look at the twin mounds before him, trying to ignore her sweet feminine scent and the softness of her thighs as they press against his. Trying and failing. She settles back down in his lap, working on his chin, neck and upper lip.
  903.  
  904. She frowns and leans in close as she sculpts his beard, shaping the bits she doesn’t shave off. It is an action that only enflames Gram’s situation as her breasts press up to his chest and her scent becomes that much harder to ignore. Puzzlingly, he finds himself honing in on the gentle thrumming of her heart and the oh-so-quiet sounds of her breathing. It’s soothing, in as much as something incredibly arousing can be.
  905.  
  906. She hesitates for only a moment before carrying on with her work – albeit with a heavy blush. That’s the only recognition she gives to the stiffening length of manhood rising between her legs and pressing into her butt. Gram goes stiff, in the other sense of the word, so stiff he forgets to breathe. ‘Relax.’ Her thoughts come to him, soft and warm with a hit of chiding. ‘I’m almost done.’
  907.  
  908. She rises off him, to do the other side of his jaw and he takes a deep breath, loosening and wincing as he feels himself grow harder when her breasts are brought to eye-level. Again, the hair falls from his face in clumps and drops into the water below to be washed away by the current. But he doesn’t have long to linger on the falling lengths of coarse hair, as she settles back down again, gasping quietly as she rolls her hips on instinct against the hard length of cock.
  909.  
  910. “Don’t.”
  911.  
  912. “Sorry.” She settles down and scoops up a handful of water, washing his face clean of the errant hairs clinging to his wet skin. He catches his reflection in the ripples and admires her handiwork, his beard short, shaped and neat for the first time in as long as he can recall.  
  913.  
  914. “Thanks.”
  915.  
  916. “It looks good on you.” She slides off him and he breathes a small sigh of relief.
  917.  
  918. “Mh.” She watches him grunt noncommittally and her breath catches as he stands, still erect. He looks down upon her and lingers, as if there were something on his lips, but eventually decides to say nothing, stepping out of the stream and towards the warm fire to thaw out.
  919.  
  920. She trails after him, frowning as she deliberates over the way to approach him. The memory of his tongue on her lips leaves her knees week and she yearns to do the same for him, but wrestles with the understanding that he’ll push her away if she comes on too strong.
  921.  
  922. “I can’t calm myself.” She blinks, taken aback by his words, not realising the long minutes she’d spent thinking. “Usually I can,” He turns back, erection jutting almost painfully in his fire-lit silhouette, “Ignore it, but you…”
  923.  
  924. His companion smiles as she steps up to him and pulls him into a hug, ‘It’s okay. This is why I’m here.’ He shivers as the tip presses in between her thighs.
  925.  
  926. He grits his teeth, “I can’t, you’re a…”
  927.  
  928. ‘Shh.’ Slowly she sinks, trailing her hands down his chest until she’s eyelevel with his throbbing mast, not diminished in the slightest by the cool night air – partly due to the radiating warmth of the fire. ‘This is my fault, so I’ll take care of it. Besides you can’t be pent up when there’s corruption all around and sluts looking to steal you from me. It’s a practical matter, practical.’
  929.  
  930. He doesn’t say anything but he doesn’t stop her either as she leans forward, moving only to shudder as her warm breath rolls over the pre-slickened tip of his dick. ‘Why don’t you want me touching you? Do you not find me attractive?’
  931.  
  932. He grits his teeth “Of course I do, bu-” His breath hitches as the soft lips he’d fantasized about not so long ago kiss at the tip of his shaft’s crown. He winces as his balls clench and he spurts out a little pre-cum. ‘But you’re not human. It’s wrong.’
  933.  
  934. ‘At this point in your life, Gram, when you teeter on a blade’s edge between death and corruption, is the dogma they forced into you that important?’
  935.  
  936. ‘Of course i-’
  937.  
  938. ‘I’m not a monster either.’ She cuts into his refusal as it forms and flicks her tongue out to lick at the underside of his head, wrapping her slender fingers around the base and gently pressing her thumb against the bottom, angling it up. ‘So it’s okay, right? They never taught you to fear angels.’
  939.  
  940. ‘You’re not an angel.’
  941.  
  942. ‘I’m your sword, did they teach you to fear that?’ He shoots her a look, her sharp sarcasm taking him out of his apprehensions just a bit. Her eyes twinkle at his expression as she parts her lips, rolls out her tongue and takes the head of his cock into her mouth. It throbs angrily between her fingers and she gets a mouthful of his taste, the salty excitement sliding down her throat delectably.
  943.  
  944. She beings to bob her head slowly, making her way down two centimetres at a time and taking one centimetre back, making it half way before the head rubs up against the back of her throat. She draws back, sucking hard enough to make him groan before releasing him with an audible pop, and lashing along his length with her tongue. She moans quietly for effect and it turns into a light giggle as he twitches in response.
  945.  
  946. ‘You don’t know why you’re afraid. You only know that they told you to be scared. And you’re frightened that you want it.’ She takes the head of his cock in her mouth again and flashes him a sharp, chiding look,  which would have had no effect with dick between her lips had she not pressed her teeth to the sensitive flesh in warning, ‘So stop thinking, shut your brain up, and let me take care of this.’
  947.  
  948. He tightens up, clenching his fists hard enough to make his knuckles white before releasing it all and letting the weight slough off his shoulders. Slowly, he reaches out and brushes his fingers though her hair and over her long elfin ear before gently taking a handful of the smooth, silky strands and catching the cartilage between thumb and forefinger.
  949.  
  950. She smiles around the girth wedging her jaw open and in tandem with his guiding hand, descends on his cock once more, tongue swirling around the tip and cheeks hollowing to lick and caress her beloved’s tool, making lewd slurps as she swallows it. It grinds against the back of her throat at the half way point again but this time she pokes her tongue out between cock and bottom lip, angles herself upwards, sucks in a huge lungful of air through her nose and forces herself up the length. Greedily she swallows until the tip of his cock slides into her throat with a notable distention.
  951.  
  952. She moans at the feeling of her throat-pussy being stretched and filled and aches to bury a fist between her legs, or better yet the magnificent slab she’s currently sucking on, but with a supreme and firm will she focuses purely on his pleasure. For now.
  953.  
  954. He lets out a groan as she continues until two thirds of his dick are hidden behind her plush lips. She stops there and looks up at him, expecting praise the comes in the form of an ear rub and his second hand descending to pat her head before it takes the back in a soft grip and he uses his hold to thrust himself deeper down the passage of her warm and tight throat. It writhes pleasurably as she swallows inch after inch.
  955.  
  956. Her hands go from flat on his thighs to wrapping about his hips in a hug and she lets out another low moan that vibrates along his length so pleasantly, he’s spurred to firm his grip on her silky, still-wet silver hair and hilt himself in her throat. She tightens in surprise, though there’s no shortage of deliberate intent to the cock-milking machinations of her snug neck-onahole.
  957.  
  958. She moans again though it’s closer to a weak, blissful whine as his balls clench upon her chin and his loins lurch in anticipation to blow his first ever load down the throat of a woman. Down the throat of his woman. With her nose pressed up against his crotch she nuzzles in and swallows a few times, wringing and milking the girth crammed inside her. She feels the first spurt of cum distend his cock on its way down to blow inside her gullet and smear her stomach with his molten, pent up white seed.  
  959.  
  960. She begins to push back against his grip, wanting to at least taste his load. Almost regretfully he lets her slide her throat off his cock, loosening his grip while ejaculating thick, nigh endless loads of cum. Enough to fill her mouth with the last few waves of climax and enough to shoot a last, weak rope on her face.
  961.  
  962. He looks down at her, as she opens her mouth into a wide grin, swishes his seed about with her tongue and swallows, opening her mouth again to show to him before collecting the cum on her face with a finger and licking it off.
  963.  
  964. Gram just shakes his head softly. “That was…”
  965.  
  966. She grins smugly. “I know. Go to bed, I’ll take first watch.”
  967.  
  968. “But,”
  969.  
  970. She pierces him with her gaze. “You don’t have anything to say, Gram. Think on it a little longer and if in the process of thinking you get ‘worked up’ again, I’ll be here for you.”
  971.  
  972. He nods and dresses himself as much as he cares to before lying down on his bedroll and succumbing to the weight of satisfied exhaustion. ‘Remember to keep the fires burning.’
  973.  
  974. ‘Mh.’ He closes his eyes just as the effort to keep them open grows too weighty. For the first time in a long while, he sleeps soundly.
  975.  
  976. *   *   *   *
  977.  
  978. ‘Hey. Gram. Wake up, it’s time to switch.’
  979.  
  980. Roused, he stifles a yawn and looks up at his companion, nodding in affirmation before rising and stretching, feeling his bones creak and pop, envious of those in homes sleeping through the night on soft pillows. He turns to his pile of armour and gears himself, watching her as she stacks more wood onto both fires, yawning tiredly as she does so. They weren’t burning so low as to need it, but it would offer him an hour or two before they needed tending to.
  981.  
  982. He slides on the gauntlets last, leaving the helm aside for later and considers his flat bedroll a moment before sitting back down and crossing his legs.
  983.  
  984. His sword looks at him curiously, but he only pats his thigh, pooling his cloak in his lap as a makeshift pillow. Cautious of his open consideration, she lays down with her head resting on his thigh, on her back at first until she rolls over to face him.
  985.  
  986. He pays her no heed as she closes her eyes and instead looks into the flames encroaching greedily upon the untouched logs. His hand makes its way to her silver tresses and he strokes her hair absentmindedly as he looks to the dark perimeter outside the fire before returning to the flickering flames.
  987.  
  988. As he watches the light dance, a thought crosses his mind and a name passes his lips.    
  989.  
  990. “Katlein.”
  991.  
  992. A happy smile comes to her as she slips into a sound sleep.
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