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Rusalka Volume 2: Greyguard

Penywise Dec 28th, 2014 (edited) 6,774 Never
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  1. Map:
  2. http://puu.sh/ks6lU.jpg - Full
  3. http://puu.sh/ks6yP.jpg - Top
  4. http://puu.sh/ks6Bl.jpg - Middle
  5. http://puu.sh/ks6nF.jpg - Bottom
  6.  
  7. _   _   _   _   _   _   _  
  8.  
  9. “Theinn. I take mine black with no sugar. Now, Elanore I can’t help but notice…” You move away from the table and Muradin’s conversation gradually fades into the general din of the room as he converses privately with Ela over various forms of Arcane fluffery, gesturing enthusiastically to particular pages in the large tome at his side. Teresa squirms in her seat before announcing to no one in particular that she’ll give you a hand. And so she decides to follow you into the kitchen where you set about preparing the teas. Though, she’s quickly enamoured with the glowing tree which now serves as a curtain between the kitchen and the rest of the rooms. You fish around for enough cups and manage to find the last in the back of a cupboard.
  10.  
  11. You turn towards the vat of selkie oil and place the kettle atop the grate, pointing at it, and letting a tongue of flame lick the oil, igniting it and heating the grate and kettle. “Next…. Lets see… If I recall the sugar was…” you start to mumble to yourself as you scan the benches and dig through drawers, “I swear it was… Hey,” you call Teresa over, “Help me find the sugar.”
  12.  
  13. “Here.”
  14.  
  15. “Thanks, Teresa.” You take the jar handed to you and set it down near the other cups. “Where was it?”  
  16.  
  17. “Huh? I haven’t found it yet.”
  18.  
  19. “Then who was…” Your skin crawls in sinister unease. You wheel on the spot and from the shadows of the bare wall slowly materializes an unholy, evilly white skeletal form. Shredded rags hang from a bony arm, still outstretched from where it handed you the jar of sugar. A second arm oozes out of the shadows, and gropes at the wall for a purchase, gnarled fingers curl around one of the stone blocks which form the wall and it begins to push itself out bodily. The pale luminescence of the tree glints off the calcific horror and reflects onto your own face as the blood drains from it, the world dims and a rushing, screaming wind rings in your ears.
  20.  
  21. The further the skeleton pushes itself out of the wall, the more your composure slips, swallowed in eddies of clutching unlight, and in a breathless scream you sink back a step, accidentally bumping into Theresa, who had her back turned the entire time, and was blissfully unaware of the abomination lurking just behind her, slavering in the darkness, fangs glinting in an uneasy leer.
  22.  
  23. Your legs buckle and you fall on your ass with a loud smack, the back of your head hitting the side of the counter, but the pain bleeds out, dimmed as your mind rages in an attempt to deal with the situation, unneeded emotions and sensations pushed to the side. Your mouth opens and closes silently, as your wide eyes gaze sightlessly at the abyssal dread, you forget to breathe but your heart pounds doubly fast. Mortal instincts scream at you to run, fight, disappear, die, anything, but you’re rooted to the spot, incapacitated in your terror as the reaper looms nearer.    
  24.  
  25. Teresa turns at your commotion after being knocked aside by you, but any words she might have had freeze and shatter at what she sees. Her years of combat experience leave you shamed, when even in the midst of her abject sorrow, her shaking fingers still manage to clasp at the hilt of her blade, far more than your own jabbering form could accomplish. But even she is so spooked that the blade rattles and merely slips from her grasp, sliding back into its scabbard.
  26.  
  27. Her pretence of bravery before the skeleton shatters there and with a fait squeak, she drops to her knees behind you, clutching at your thrumming chest, and she buries her head into your neck, hiding herself in the futile hope that that which she cannot see, cannot see her in turn.
  28.  
  29. Your brain gives up on internally processing the unencompassable fear, so vast that is spills from your mind to your tongue and in the silence of the scene, the words drip off your tongue like death
  30. itself in jerky stutters, “S-spooky s-s-scary s-sk-skeleton…”
  31.  
  32. The girl in question has fully emerged from the wall and you can see that she’s some sort of construct made of bone with random bits of flesh, like a torso, a right shoulder and the right side of her face. And a left hand and forearm for some reason. Half of her face looks down at the two of you with listless resignation, “Humans… Every. Single. Time.” She puts her bone and hand to her hip and hipbone and leans over the two of you, directing her sigh towards Teresa. “Honestly, girl, aren’t you, at least, a paladin?”
  33.  
  34. Teresa starts to whine into your shoulder, not daring to look up, “B-but you’re all just so spooooky!”
  35.  
  36. “…Honestly, you do realise that even you have a skeleton, right?”
  37.  
  38. You can’t see her eyes go wide, but you can feel Teresa cling to your chest tighter, she even wraps her legs about your waist, you feel a dampness spread across your shoulder and you’re not too far from crying yourself, “T-there’s a Skeleton inside me?! T-theinn! Get it out, get i- Oh no. What if it’s controlling me?!” She unwraps herself from around you and scoots back, kicking at the ground, “Get away from me, Theinn! I might actually be a skeleton trying to get out! I could have been a skeleton this entire time!”
  39.  
  40. The fleshy half of the skeleton’s face reveals a complex expression, somewhere between a frown and a smile. “You realise he has a skeleton, too?” Teresa looks at you with hurt and supreme betrayal in her eyes and you can’t help but fluster at that innocent look,
  41.  
  42. “S-she’s lying, it’s not true! I-it… can’t be…A skeleton… inside… never.” You shake your head but deep down you know. The truth sinks to your core, and bites at the bone. Really, what she says is true. You are a skeleton just waiting to be born. To be free of this prison of flesh. The skeleton points at the kettle, which you just notice now have been screaming for the past few minutes.
  43.  
  44. “Water’s boiled.”  
  45.  
  46. Ela pops her head into the kitchen area, “Theinn, is everything okay? That kettle ha- Oh, hey there Hel. Wha…” you see Ela slowly begin to process the scene before her, the cowering paladin and the cowering you. She frowns as Hel, “You’re not spooking my guests are you?” the skeleton shrugs, making its bones rattle eerily,
  47.  
  48. “Not on purpose. I was on my way back to report something, saw this guy looking for the sugar I sto-uh, borrowed a few days ago.” Ela rolls her eyes,
  49.  
  50. “Theinn, Miss Teresa, this is Hel, a minion of mine, and an Arch-Skeleton,” Teresa whines at the word ‘Arch’, and you can’t help but nod in agreeance. Skeletons are bad enough as it is, they don’t need titles like Greater or Grand, much less Arch.
  51. “What does the Arch mean?”
  52.  
  53. Ela steps past the two of you and starts pouring the teas, “Hm? Oh, well most skeletons are temporary, and fall to pieces if not supplied with magic every now and then, right? I made Hel here completely self-sufficient.” You more or less knows the ranking. Greater skeletons can take on elements, Flaming skeletons, Ice skeletons, Lightning skeletons. Grand skeletons can summon lesser skeletons and take on essences like shadows and poisons.  
  54.  
  55. Hel nods to her mistress’s words. With the fear somewhat abated you’re able to get a good look at the skeleton…girl…thing. Tattered rags conceal a less-than-protective, pitch black breastplate and bikini bottom, her pale, dead flesh peeking where the fabric of the rags she wears like a shawl is torn. A ragged bonesword swings from her hip, the pommel tipped with a decorative skull with two onyx eyes, the bone blade shimmers in darkness and has been worn down to a rending edge. As for her feminine form, it’s hard to tell with her ragged, torn and flowing shawl, but that by itself tells you that she isn’t ridiculously endowed. You’d guess an athletic build.
  56.  
  57. “So? What it is?”
  58.  
  59. “Ah right, Hel reporting, Mistress. Korsvag to the south west of Bergen has been utterly overrun by the Demon Queen’s forces, and they’ve taken the gate between the high and lowlands. A few other communities along the great road between here and Bergen have been hit. Although, whether this is a random pillaging or something more is unknown. At this rate some real force will be here at this town within three to four months, through we’ll see an increase in activity in the meantime as little as a month from now.”
  60.  
  61. Ela nods, lost in thought. After a moment, she hands a cup of freshly brewed tea to Hel, “Keep an eye on the situation. I’m worried about Bergen; send someone to keep an eye there too. Good work, Hel.”
  62.  
  63. The Skeleton salutes, “Yes Mistress. Be safe, Mistress.” And with that, she winks at you, and turns on her heel, walking towards the stone wall drinking her tea, where her form dissolves into the darkness. With the Skeleton gone, you can breathe easy, significantly less spooked, something which is reflected in Teresa too, as she gradually regains her composure. She turns to you, a blush on her face, and in recalling the way she clung to you, you can’t help but have your own face flush with embarrassment.
  64.  
  65. “Those skeletons, huh?” Teresa nods at your words before turning away to hide her face, and busies herself with the teas. Ela rolls her eyes at you.
  66.  
  67. “They’re just misunderstood. Most of them just want to socialise.”
  68.  
  69. “I really don’t think we should.”
  70.  
  71. No longer listening to you, Ela frowns, lost in thought. You and Teresa finish brewing the teas, and head back in with Muradin, awaiting Ela’s return so to speak. Suddenly, the mausoleum and graveyard seem a little more active than before, with people rushing about to do things in an eerily efficient manner. If it’s like this usually, it makes a little more sense that Ela would be able to operate right under the Order’s nose. She blinks, and reaches for her cup to take a sip. “sorry about that.”
  72.  
  73. “Not at all. Then, lets continue.” The negotiation talks resumed, and, with Ela’s assent, the talks strayed to the logistical. In short, the Greyguard Order could lend to the rebellion a force of 4,000. A small number in the face of an undead army, but massive if you take into consideration the fact that this was, in the end, a secretive organisation, purportedly spread far.
  74.  
  75. In return for these experienced troops, and the aid they would lend, similarly if the Greyguard finds itself under attack, the other forces of the Rebellion would come to its aid. As for how such a hidden force would find itself under attack, well that was the first order of business. Similar to the Necropolis, they Greyguard ask for help in constructing their own base of operations, separate from the one sequestered within the Imperial City. The location decided upon is the mountain ranges to the southeast, the mountains surrounded by the forest there which extend fingers to wrap around where you used to live. You’re a little surprised to hear that they decided upon the location after scoping out the area and killing the local warlock, thanks to your tip. You briefly wonder how that Dryad is doing with her Alraune pet.
  76.  
  77. This would put them within arm’s reach of Thule, and via its shipping routes, the lands to the south. The scroll then goes on to talk about various other, nit-picky minor things, like trade routs, the cost of timber and discounts on metals, and so forth. The Greyguard tried to disguise the fact that the area they want to build in is rich in silver, something Ela already knew, but in turn, Ela tried to hide the fact that lumber for her faction is cheap in labor. The talks went back and forth for a good few hours between Ela and Muradin, before she finally declined in signing her name to the scroll. There were still things that needed to be sorted out, and so Ela organised through Muradin a line of communication with their Master, to work those things out. Furthermore, Ela needed to talk to both Rose and Lara. The Greyguard’s goal was still two thirds from realisation, though they came much further along than Muradin thought that they would.
  78.  
  79. With the long, boring tedium out of the way, Muradin couldn’t help but grin, all in all a job well done. The mountain stands, and plants his palms to his lower back. With a loud groan he stretches himself out, spine creaking and cracking in protest, and you can’t help but stare a little greenly at his rippling abs, a sentiment not limited to yourself, although, for some other sets of eyes it’s not envy which is the presiding sin. You sigh and poke at your own abdomen. Muradin catches the movement and laughs at you, loudly.
  80.  
  81. “Haha! What, lad, jealous? Not to worry, once you start training with us, it’ll be pain and regret etched into your abs, you’ll see.” Yeah. That reminds you. Soon you’ll be leaving this place behind for who knows how long. Teresa smiles at you,
  82.  
  83. “Though the first thing we’ll have to teach you is how to not make your face so easily read. Don’t worry, like we said, it’ll be a good week before we’re ready to set out. And from there, a few months until we reach the imperial city. Honestly, you’ll be wishing things could happen sooner.”
  84.  
  85. You smile, a little flustered at her efforts to cheer you up, “Yeah, that’s true.” Elanore looks a little surprised, a clear confusion across her face.
  86.  
  87. “So you’re leaving then? What about Ranuinne? Did the two of you not work out?” The smallest sliver of hope bleeds into her tone, and you can’t help but wince. That’s right, she doesn’t know yet. Why you’re with these paladins, why you’re here now, why you’re leaving. It’s all to scour information, to grow large enough to reach where Ranuinne has been hidden from you. To face the demons who took her, and to take her back. You sigh and prepare yourself for a long discussion. You turn to the two paladins,
  88.  
  89. “You guys might as well head back to the inn, I’ll spend the night here,” During the talk it had long since become sun-down, “I have some things to explain to Ela. I’ll join you some time before you leave.” Teresa looks like she wants to say something, but Muradin claps her on the shoulder and wheels her ‘round,
  90.  
  91. “Not to worry, lad. Don’t be late.” The two paladins take their leave, being guided out of the Graveyard by a zombie, and you sit down before Ela, and open your mouth.
  92.  
  93. Ela stops you though, and looks around. “Not here, come into my room.” Silently, you nod and follow her, your footsteps heavy. You follow her down corridors, navigating the mausoleum, before you come before her bedroom door. She pushes the heavy thing open, and ushers you inside. The room is circular, and sort of small, except it has a huge ceiling. On one side of the room is a bookshelf and a desk. The desk itself is strewn with scrolls and maps, a testament to how hard she’s working for the Rebellion. On another other side of the room is her bed. The two of you take a seat on her lavender scented blankets, and you sit in silence, for a moment, putting your thoughts into order. Again, you open your mouth.  
  94.  
  95. But nothing really comes out. You just sit there for a while, mouth open, trying to speak, and nothing happens. Ela just waits patiently for you. Sitting here, truly thinking about what it is you’ll be doing, you realise that there’s some kind of resistance. There’s a door in your mind and it reads ‘Do not open. We’ve been through this and there’s no need to look back here.’ But, Ela is your trusted friend, a sister to you, really, so you owe her that much.
  96.  
  97. Forcing the words out from between your teeth you begin to tell her about the night Ranuinne’s sisters came. At some point you realise Ela’s moved a little closer to you, and is facing you attentively a reassuring hand on your arm, a soothing look of concern on her face. You take a shuddery breath and continue with your explanation, but it’s hard focusing with Ela’s lavender scent wafting up and invading your mind. Your throat grows dry and you wrap up the explanation as quickly as possible.
  98.  
  99. “But then I realised that first of all I wasn’t really alone and secondly, all I need to do is get her back.”
  100.  
  101. Ela looks at you with sheer disbelief painted across her face. “‘Then I realised’?” Her eyes interrogate you, and you shift away from her a little uncomfortably. Inexplicably, you start sweating bullets,
  102.  
  103. “Y-yeah. Did I say something weird?” You feel something deep within you start to shift.
  104.  
  105. Ela climbs onto your lap, and sits on your legs, facing you, trapping you there, intimidatingly close. She bores into your eyes with her own, “Theinn. You’re preparing to hunt THE Demon Queen to find your girlfriend of two years after a few moments of despair. None of that strikes you as weird? Just how much do you need this woman?”
  106.  
  107. “N-not really, I love her.”
  108.  
  109. “Theinn… where do you think they took her?”
  110.  
  111. “Well, they said they were her vice-admirals right? So probably back to whatever palace or castle the queen has.”
  112.  
  113. “Where do you think that might be?” You start to get irritated.
  114.  
  115. “I don’t know! That’s why I need to learn.”
  116.  
  117. “Guess.”
  118.  
  119. “Guess? I… Well she’s moving north, so somewhere south, I guess?”
  120.  
  121.  
  122. She sighs sadly. “You understand nothing. No one knows where the Demon queen is except for her highest generals who would sooner die than speak, never mind the fact that her generals are so ridiculously powerful that even getting them in a position of interrogation would be like trying to dry the oceans. Theinn do you understand? You could spend centuries gathering information, and still come no closer to finding the Queen or Ranuinne, it would take you a millennia of gathering powers for you a human to even challenge her generals.”
  123.  
  124. “Then it takes a millennia.”
  125.  
  126. “Theinn, you’d sooner go mad, I think you’re already losing it, you don’t just ‘realize’ that you need to fight the demon queen.” Her words sting.
  127.  
  128. “So, what, you’d have me abandon her!?”
  129.  
  130. “I would!” Her shout echoes around the circular room, shutting you up. The reverberations resound in the silence, and she begins more softly, “I would. But…” you flinch as she starts to run her fingers across your chest, going lower “You clearly wouldn’t.”
  131.  
  132. “What are you doing?”
  133.  
  134. Ela smiles up at you sadly, “Look at the way you squirm. You won’t even let me touch you. Me. It could be centuries Theinn. Do you honestly think you could last centuries, yearning for a lost lover, surrounded by women, and celibate? Look I don’t know if you’ve realised it, I don’t know if you’ve even felt anything, but you’re broken and hurting, real deep down. Because you’re scared of being alone. And now? You’ve got nowhere to return to, no one to return to.”
  135.  
  136. You don’t want to accept it, you don’t want to look at it, but you know all the same that she’s right. The horrors of the night are closer, cold words echo in your mind. ‘It’s been a long time child.’ But still you resist, “L-look, no I’m fine. Hah, look I’m a man now, not some rowdy teen. I think I can go a while without having my dick rubbed.”
  137.  
  138. “What would you know of it, Theinn? You can’t just bottle it all up. It’ll take years upon years to find Ranuinne, you can’t keep the hurt inside all the time. You need to learn to let it out.”
  139.                
  140. “I don’t get it.” Your shoulders hang limp in defeat. Ela wraps her arms around you,
  141.  
  142. “I know. You will.” She raises a hand to your forehead, and a subtle, sweet lavender power flows through. Your vision fades, and you collapse in her arms.
  143.  
  144. *   *   *   *
  145.  
  146. When he comes to, the boy takes a deep breath. A scent stirs his ancient memories. Surrounding the boy is a flowing ocean of green-grey grasses. Screaming winds encircle him, and the sky is overcast, dark and grey. The world is lit by a cold sun. A soothing hand descends, and brushes as the errant strands of hair catch on his face. The boy turns his head to look up at who the owner of the hand is. His eyes follow up the fabric of a light dress, his gaze passes through a valley of softly rising cleavage, and finally falls upon the beautiful face of an elven maiden, her neck hidden behind a scarf. The boy blinks and frowns.
  147.  
  148. “Mum?” The wind is so loud that he has to shout over the din.
  149.  
  150. She smiles at him, and leans down to kiss his temple, a dull pain erupts, and he stifles a wince. “Better now? You dropped your guard. It’s been an hour.” He sits up slowly, and gingerly rubs at his head, the woman’s words sink deep into his mind, boring through the winds. The boy looks down at the lap he’d just spent the last hour resting in.
  151.  
  152. “Ah, sorry about that, Mum.” His words are instantly caught by the wind, and carried off. Silently, he moves his lips, but the woman shows no sign of having not heard him. She throws him another gentle smile,
  153.  
  154. “I don’t mind.” She hefts a sword that was lying on the ground next to the two of them, “Shall we?” The boy shakes his head, “Father wants me to study the runes today as well.” The boy’s mother puts on a face of heart-wrenching loneliness. An explicably sad expression. Voices in the wind whisper their tendrils through the grasses, they coil about the boy’s ankles, and wrap them to his thigh. His wrists bind together.
  155.  
  156. Grass grows up the despairing form of his mother. Blades of grass slice her clothes open and slither their way into the holes, writhing under her dress in waves like a flowing ocean. The tips of the grass tentacles peek up from the top of the woman’s clothes, the wind blows furiously and the scarf is caught. Billowing, it floats away, revealing the clean cut in the dullahan’s throat. The grey-green tentacles of grass dive into the cut, and burrow into the woman’s skin, tracing lines up towards her face like veins.
  157.  
  158. Twitching and jerking her head like a puppet, the woman faces the boy, and talks in howls.
  159.  
  160. “Why? Why don’t you just stay with me?”
  161.  
  162. The boy screams as the grass pulls his mother under, and before long, there is nothing asides from the wind, the grass, and the scarf caught in the wind, slowly disappearing into the distance. Tears fall from the boy’s face and dissolve the strands of field binding him, but he doesn’t move. Static-y shadows dance around him in a circle. The boy doesn’t see the one in the distance, watching in concern. Its eyes move to the scarf.
  163.  
  164. After an eternity, the field of green begins to move and sway unnaturally. From the long strands of the endless bleak meadow emerges the form of a man, large and muscular. Comprised entirely of shadow, featureless bar a mouth which is grinning energetically, the shadow holds a book, drops a large hand onto the boy’s head, and sits down with him, cross-legged.
  165.  
  166. The wind is still loud and the smiling shadow can’t be heard, but its feelings held within the smile are more than enough to bridge the gap. It thrusts the book into the boy’s lap, and points energetically towards mystic characters, long lines of foreign figures. He watches as the shadow’s mouth moves, commits the signs to memory. ‘Fehu.’ ‘Tiwaz.’ The figure stands abruptly. Black water wells up from the ground, and the boy sinks into it, like a mire. He reaches a hand out for the shadow, his fingers curl around the pant leg, but tear free, the shadow turns its back on the boy, a grim line of determination for a mouth. The boy’s grip comes apart like mist.
  167.  
  168. His mother resurfaces from the black waters, soaked, head nestled in an arm, resting against her hip. It stares resolutely ahead. The Dullahan’s hand finds the hand of the shadow, and together the walk off into the distance. The child screams and yells, but in the end it’s all stolen by the wind. His outstretched arm overbalances him, and he falls forward into the ocean of grass, his long hair is soaked, it tangles up in flowing knots.
  169.  
  170. Deeper he sinks, until even the dull, cooled rays of the sun cannot reach him, air escapes from his mouth in bubbles, yet he doesn’t feel the burning urge to breathe. Alone and silent, he curls up into a ball under the weight of the waters. Long, thick strands of grass brush up against him. An ocean of kelp and black water.
  171.  
  172. The current picks up. Deep resonant bass erupts from the depths, causing waves which bat the boy around. He holds himself to himself. Tighter, and bobs back and forth with the beat as shadowy figures swim around him, carrying on with their life. He peeks an eye out over his forearm, his gaze catches on the emerald eyes that glare at him through the shaded kelp. A school of shadow swims past, one or two linger on him here and there, but ultimately, all leave him behind.
  173.  
  174. A part of him wants to follow, but his muscles are frozen.
  175.  
  176. The school leaves, the thrumming bass of life quiets, and the boy is left to his own devices. Slowly, he uncurls. With frightened eyes, he tries to peer through the dark murk, but it’s futile, there’s nothing and no one. The child tries to move through the deeps, he flings his arms out and kicks down, to tread water. But the water is far too heavy, far too difficult to build momentum. Tears of impotent frustration leek from his eyes, and the boy relaxes, resigned to simply drift alone.
  177.  
  178. Minutes bleed into days fade into weeks blend into years stretched infinitely far, clustered in rarefaction. The current is so dead, the waters so unmoving, it’s as if the ocean itself were frozen in time. The tears he cries well up and stick to his face, unfalling, like crystalline sorrow. He slowly sinks further down, and the darkness swallows all, no ray of sunlight, nor beam of moonlight reaches him. No bioluminescence casts upon him a soothing glow. Even the concept of time leaves him behind. Finally, he starts to leave himself.
  179.  
  180. The weight of feet that will ever run grows too much. Bones creak and splinter, shattering finally, shards of bone rending across tendon and flesh. Like some kind of gory red taffy, his feet fall away, leaving behind stumps of shredded, tattered meat.
  181.  
  182. The hands that glide through the water, never to close on anything begin to split. The boy doesn’t even scream as the nail is peeled from nail-bed, the skin parts, revealing glistening white bone. Burdened by the weight of holding nothing, his arms break from the elbow, the rusted joints crack. Ulna and radius slide from their sheath of flesh.
  183.  
  184. The boy’s head falls back, tissue at the neck strains and splits, small lines run up and down, splintering. His head is held up by only the sturdy disks of the spine, terse ligaments and the trachea, shyly poking out through the torn folds of muscle. A tiny light flickers at the edges of his perception, it races to him, desperately, before the boy completely falls to pieces. A small tear in the trachea floods the boys lungs with water, and his eyes lazily trace the trajectory of the light which flickers through the kelp-like grass, even as his lungs burst, and his chest tears open.
  185.  
  186. The light gets closer, clearer, it’s coming to him, for him. He eyes this oddity with a level curiosity, as his head finally separates from his corpse. The light darts for his head, and he can see it clearly now. A woman, crying, with tears of blood, reaches out for him, kicks furiously at the water, her long deep-green hair streaming out behind her.
  187.  
  188. In a cradle, she collects the boy’s head, and pivots on the spot, kicking for the invisible surface. He looks up at his beauteous saviour, and admires her jawline, a jaw set in a determination to raise him up to the surface. In the girl’s arms, the child looks to his sinking corpse, already falling to pieces in a briny, red mist.
  189.  
  190. The girl turns his head, and smiles down at him as the two of them drift upwards. Gently, she lowers her lips to his, and kisses the child deeply. Before raising him above the ocean of grass. Coughing and spluttering, the child scrambles up to his knees, and leans out over the ocean. He stretches a hand out but the girl just smiles sadly, and turns away. But the boy understands now. She didn’t save him for no reason. It wasn’t for no reason that there was a saviour, and it wasn’t for no reason that she was his saviour in particular.
  191.  
  192. The girl seemed to turn her back on the boy, and sink down into the murk, but the boy waited, his eyes burning eagerly. When he got cold, waiting at the edge of the ocean, clothes seeped in chilling waters, a flame appeared before him. When he despaired, a shadow snuck up on him, and held him close, as he waited for his light in the dark. And in time, she returned. Shyly, she peeks around the blades, and colours when her eyes meet his. With this, the boy laughs, and balls his fist. She was waiting for him. He dips his hands in the fire, collects it, and used it to slick his hair back. His eyes are clear. The shadow clinging to him, offering it its meagre coolness, bleeds out into the ocean, and reveals another girl, an older, younger girl, who’d been there alone far longer than he.    
  193.  
  194. Above the languid waters, the wind still howled. The boy didn’t think that would ever change. But the people he would surround himself with… the boy grabs the hand of the girl next to him.
  195.  
  196. Maybe they could be a breaker for the screaming.
  197.  
  198. *   *   *   *  
  199.  
  200. You don’t open your eyes. Not for a while, anyway, and simply enjoy the sensation of Ela stroking your hair, the feeling of her thighs beneath your head. “Hey Ela.”
  201.  
  202. “Ah, is my Subject back? What were the results?”
  203.  
  204. You think for a moment, “Was that you?”
  205.  
  206. “Was what me?”
  207.  
  208. “The girl in the dream.”
  209.  
  210. “I don’t know what you saw, Theinn. I only made you see it. So?”
  211.  
  212.  I’m still scared of being alone, and in the dark. Really, just having a hallucination sort out all of my deepest fears is too much to hope for.”
  213.  
  214. “That’s true.” Ela gives a defeated sigh.
  215.  
  216. “But I think I understand something now.” You open your eyes, not surprised to find the Lich’s amethyst eyes peering into your own. You sit up.
  217.  
  218. “And? Wha-” You seal Ela’s lips with a deep kiss. Her eyes fly wide open, and then half-lid and then begin to weep. The two of you stay like that for what could be anything. Minutes, years, time has no place here. For you, at least, this moment will last forever.
  219.  
  220. You release her lips, and rest your forehead to hers, “I understand that we’re all scared of that, in our own way.”
  221.  
  222. Her arms wrap around your neck, and she whispers in a shaky voice, “Inconclusive he says. This is a great result.”
  223.  
  224. Something from your hallucination irks at you, you decide to ask anyway. “Hey, Ela.” She kisses your nose,
  225.  
  226. “Hmm?”
  227.  
  228. “My mother’s scarf. Would you happen to have it?” Her expression freezes.
  229.  
  230. “I… do. How did you know?” She trails off as she separates herself from you, and walks over to her bookshelf.
  231.    
  232. “Hallucination. After my mother disappeared, it was the only thing which lingered. I thought that maybe it was a message or something.”
  233.  
  234. “Strange. Your mother gave it to me before she left.” From a rather ornate looking locker on the self, she pulls out the nostalgic white scarf, and hands it to you. You can’t help but choke up and shed a tear as you hold it. Seeing this Ela climbs into your lap, and wraps her arms around your head, her usually expressionless face turned into a look of care and warmth. You spread the scarf out, and wrap it about the girl’s neck. She leans against your chest and scrunches her shoulders up, snuggling into the scarf.
  235.  
  236. “Can you do me a favour?”
  237.  
  238. “Of course.”
  239.  
  240. “When next you see Rosaline, can you give her this scarf?” Ela looks surprised for a moment, and then laughs softly, stroking the white fabric about her neck,
  241.  
  242. “She’d love this wouldn’t she?” but clearly a thought to the contrary crosses her mind, “No.”
  243.  
  244. “Why not?”  
  245.  
  246. “No giving gifts to lonely old Cakes for you. This Subject already has its researcher, and she doesn’t need competition.”
  247.  
  248. “Please?”
  249.  
  250. “No.”
  251.  
  252. “For me?”
  253.  
  254. “N… Fine.” Ela pouts, “But you better make it up to me. You give that woman an inch and she’ll take a mile, I’ll never hear the end of it, and then she’ll be stealing you for balls and functions, a-” You cut off Ela’s tirade by sealing her lips. With your own, of course. Grinning, you push her down under your weight.
  255.  
  256. “I can think of a few ways to make it up to you.  They may or may not involve balls.”
  257.  
  258. “Mmh, far cry from the boy who used to run away, red-faced, ‘tail’ tucked between his legs at the word ‘experiment’. You a man, Theinn?” You run your hand up the inside of her lissom thighs, and line love bites up and down her neck.
  259.  
  260. “And who’s fault was that, ‘Big sis’? I trusted you, y’know? Did you know you gave me a tick? I sniff every drink handed to me, now.”
  261.  
  262. “Stupid, most drugs are odourless, besides…” she frowns, “I never did anything bad.” You slide your hand further up, and trace light lines across her womanhood with your fingers, teasing her lips, and circling around her clit. She opens her mouth, a glazed look in her lavender eyes as her clit hardens, your ghost touches starting to have effect. You seal her lips with your own and dip your tongue into her mouth, writhing and twisting around hers, coaxing it to play. Dimly, automatically she begins to react, her tongue weakly meeting yours. Can’t have her zoning out now, you give a light pinch to her button, and roll it between your fingers. Like a circuit, between your fingers and her clit, it snaps closed, and current courses through her body.
  263.  
  264. She gasps into your mouth, and clutches weakly at your arm. You break the kiss with a wet smack, trails of saliva rope between the two of you, and across her teeth. Her small, pink tongue runs a line across her lips, and she gulps, “Yeah,” you begin to tease, “But you always wanted to, didn’t you? It was all you could think about, wasn’t it?”
  265.  
  266. She begins to say something, but you cut her off by slipping two fingers inside her sodden snatch. Her first word bleeds into a soft moan, “Be honest, that’s why you never wear anything, isn’t it? Not because of some undead sensibility, not ‘cause you don’t need ‘em, but because you were just waiting for the day I’d bend you over and take you, isn’t that right?” She quivers as ecstasy rushes down her spine. Her cunt juices itself around your fingers, and you feel a small pool of her nectar collect in your hand. She nods faintly, and bites her lower lip, probably completely oblivious to her own assent, but you ignore that, slide a third finger in, and spread her lovetunel wide. Your hand grows slick with her excitement, happy, you pull it out, and bring it up to your face. Her eyes narrow, honing in on a bead of her own wetness as it slides down your index finger.
  267.  
  268. You bring your hand up to your mouth, and lick it clean, collecting as much spit and girl-cum in your mouth as you can, before leaning down and drizzling it into her open mouth. You follow the stream down until your lips meet hers. Her small arms wrap around your head as the two of you swap spit and tie tongues. The inside of her mouth is cool, well, was cool, it’s starting to warm up. That’s what you get when a hot-blooded man jams his tongue in it, but the inside of her mouth tastes of her lust, smooth and icy sweet with a tangy aftertaste. Refreshing like the tea she’s always drinking. You forge ahead, snake up her body, and turn to the side of her head. You take one of her ears between your teeth and nibble, before continuing your teasing in a low, husky whisper.
  269.  
  270. Ela is a smart woman, you could rail a succubus from behind and she’d never ask for more, but Ela’s dear to you, and you know her well. She needs something more for her mind to hang onto, to cling to, to wrap its legs around and scream with her body. So you keep filling her head with images,
  271.  
  272. “No. Close, but that’s not it, is it?” she gives a squeak when you blow into her ear, “You wouldn’t complain, of course, if I were to sneak up behind you as you were absorbed in your research, bending over your alchemy station, round little ass swaying oh so slightly as you study some reaction. You wouldn’t struggle if I were grab your shoulder, slam a hand down onto your soft ass, ram myself in to the hilt, and pound you into the table so hard your thighs show bruises the next day.
  273.  
  274. In fact that sounds quite good to you, doesn’t it, you lewd little Lich. But what you really want is to see is me on my knees, clutching at your knees with teary eyes a burning red face and painfully erect thanks to one of your ‘experiments’, hands hiding my shame. That is the real reason you never wear anything, isn’t it? Makes it all the more easy for you to bury my head into your pussy, demand that I work for my relief. Why kill the mood by wasting all that time disrobing when it’s all there for me to lust for, right before my needy eyes?”
  275.  
  276. Ela’s blush has transcended dimensions, and she’s breathing a little heavily. A translucent trail runs from her lips and while you’d like to imagine that your pillow talk was so damn smooth she’s drooling, in all likelihood, it’s just excess fluids from the kiss. She swallows, and her glazed eyes drift over to yours.
  277.  
  278. “Mmm, you talk big. But your pants are still on.”
  279.  
  280. “…”
  281.  
  282. “Oh.” Ela grins and pushes you off her small frame with a strength which by all rights, shouldn’t be there, and she sits up as she does so. You slide off the bed and stand before her,
  283.  
  284. “Honestly, you talk a lot, but you’re still useless,” She hooks her fingers into your belt, and tugs at the leather, sliding the strap through the loops, “Doesn’t matter how old you get, you’ll still need your ‘big sis’, won’t you?” You nod dimly as you let her disrobe you.
  285.  
  286. “That last scenario.”
  287.  
  288. “Yeah?”
  289.  
  290. “It was really fucking hot.” You glance down to where she sits on the corner of her bed, and she busies herself by sliding your trousers down your legs. The bed-sheets beneath her pussy are soaked in her juices, a dark moistness slowly spreads out.
  291.  
  292. “I can see that.” She takes your cock in hand at it springs free from its confines, and strokes you gently, coaxing your dick to hardness.
  293.  
  294. “So, you opened that sexy mouth of yours, and made me this way,” Her grip on your dick tightens, “And now I’ll have you take responsibility.”
  295.  
  296. You gulp, “H-how?”
  297.  
  298. She grins. Leers, really. It’s downright perverted. She’s got the body of a child of fourteen years of age, so it’s easy to imagine her blushing, wearing cute dresses and doing various other innocent things. It’s far too easy to forget that under all that supple, cool flesh, lay the ancient mind of a master of Death itself. An Arch-Necromancer. Within this cute girl, lay the perverted machinations of an ancient Lich. “Why, I’ll have you take your words,” her eyes flash wickedly, “And make my wet dreams cum true.”
  299.  
  300. “U-um… B-but it’s our first time… doing it, you know? Shouldn’t we do something normal and pure, a-and then slowly work our way into the hard drugs and mindbreak?”
  301.  
  302. “…”
  303.  
  304. “What are you? An Alp?” You blush as her words sting you. And it was all going so well, she was under you, her head in the clouds. All you had to do was put it in. Seal the deal. Except now she has the upper hand. You mentally kick yourself for not preparing magic disappearing pants. She points behind you, “See that glass bottle over there? The perfectly mundane one with clear liquid which smells faintly of a freshwater spring?”
  305.  
  306. You look to where she’s pointing, and sure enough there’s what seems like an ordinary bottle of chilled water. It even has a glass turned upside down lying next to it. Well it looks normal, but when you recite the chant that Teresa so delicately taught you, your vision is all but torn to shreds by a sharp, menacing black aura. You look around for its source, and the blackened unholy miasma emitted by the Lich behind you pales in comparison to whatever’s in that bottle. In pulsating waves, it throbs with dark blasphemy.
  307.  
  308. “W-What the fuck is in that thing!?” you feel nauseous, so you shut off the effects of the chant, and the world returns to its usual hues, the bottle returns to its sinfully unassuming appearance.
  309.  
  310. “Fufu, and what? Ruin the surprise? No. Go over there. And drink.” You swallow, hard. Each step feels like another pen stroke to the signature signing off on your own death warrant. You arrive before the table, and just stare at the bottle.
  311.  
  312. “Well?” Ela goads you from behind. A shaky hand reaches out. The bottle’s got a stopper at its tip, and it works on a latch system. You wrap your fingers around its neck, and pop free the stopper, flicking the latch open. You sniff at the lip of the bottle when strong hands grip your chin and hand. You go to struggle, but there’s the taste of magic in the air and your muscles don’t obey you. Ela forces the bottle past your lips and pulls down on your jaw, opening your mouth wider, “Shh,” she whispers into your ear, “Don’t fight it, just swallow or you’ll choke.”
  313.  
  314. True to her word, you start to cough and gag. The hand on your chin drops down to massage your throat, and you pull your gag reflex under control, and swallow the liquid Ela’s forcing down your gullet. She jostles the bottle back and forth in your mouth, pumping free its sloshing contents. As you watch the last of the bottle empty in your stomach, her magic binding you releases, and you drop to your knees. She tosses the bottle aside, uncaringly, and wraps her arms around your chest, cooing soothingly.
  315.  
  316. “Wah-waht wash that,” You slur, and rub at your abused throat, as a molten fire spreads through your body, and your vision swims. The toned and powerful muscles of your body fail you and you sink back onto the ground, knees folded behind you.
  317.  
  318. “New concoction, like the other, but oh so different. Makes you hornier than a Lilim and Kyubi combined, but weaker than a newborn. You’re my cute little plaything now.” As she speaks, her hand wraps around your still flaccid cock, and begins to pump, up and down. You try to push her away in your denial of the situation, but your arm just weakly nudges her, and you slip forward into her embrace, where she catches you.
  319.  
  320. You whine quietly, “B-before a-anything else. J-just for tonight okay? You can’t have me forever.”
  321.  
  322. Ela rubs your back as she molests your awakening prick, already flush with blood, and growing harder, “I know, Theinn. I’ll help you find her. But right now, you’re mine. All mine. At last.” Her voice catches and you see her eyes begin to swim with moistness. Slowly, weakly, but surely you begin to raise your hands, and cup Ela’s face and pull her head down into a desperate kiss. Your heart is up in your throat and it hurts your soul to be so deeply connected to her, but it’s a good kind of pain.
  323.  
  324. Hard to explain, really but it aches like the deep-seated ache of a mending bone. Hot and chilling at the same time. A dull throb. It’s just a little, but you weep as you feel your tattered heart come together and mend. Just slightly. Minutely. You break the kiss.
  325.  
  326. “Ela. It hurts.”
  327.  
  328. Concern crosses her face, “Where?”
  329.  
  330. You laugh weakly, “Lots of places but…” your hands brush against hers, as they’re wrapped around your shaft, “Feels like I’ll burst.” She stands, her small height looms over your kneeling form as you tip your head up to look pleadingly into her eyes. Red faced. Watery eyes. You clutch at your shame.
  331.  
  332. As she looks down on you, a strange quiver runs down her spine. Her thighs jiggle as they grow slick and wet with her juices. You watch with rapt attention as the lips of her pussy contract around a phantom cock it can only dream about, plunging into its depths, filler her with its need. “Theinn.” She calls your name, huskily. You wrench your gaze from her cunt and look up into her eyes. They bore back into yours with a fierce clarity and authority, framed in an utterly expressionless face. Only her eyes bear any hint as to her true emotions. ‘You know what to do’ they seem to demand.
  333.  
  334. You nod meekly and wrap your arms behind her, planting both hands on her ass cheeks and pulling her towards you. In return, her hands find their way to the back of your head, her fingers slip between your long strands of hair as she thrusts your face into her honeypot. She starts to grind your head into her vulva in small concentric circles.
  335.  
  336. Your lips part, and your tongue slips out, plunging into her quim. She moans quietly above you. You try to bring some technique into it but ultimately it proves futile; she just keeps mashing your face into her twat, and you can’t really keep up any form of rhythm of pattern. You give up and just settle on letting her take her pleasure from you, plunging your tongue deep into her cunt, lapping up her nectar and taking advantage of the rare opportunity to flick your tongue around her clit.
  337.  
  338. Your dick bobs with each pounding of your heart, and the odd, weak whimpers slip their way past your lips and into hers. Your cock is painfully hard, veins absolutely gorged with blood and lust. Ela’s potion’s work, doubtless, you’re so hard it even feels as though you’d grown an inch or to. Somewhere in the back of your mind, a wicked grin forms. You can’t wait to split her apart on it, watch her reap what she sows.    
  339.  
  340. Lost in your thoughts and her taste, you miss the litany of stifles moans and cries coming down from above. Without warning, your tongue it trapped in her depths as her pussy contracts around it, writhing and milking, it holds you in like a vice, begging for you to dump your load deep in her womb. But it’s just a tongue. As if realising this inherent biological flaw, her brainwracking orgasm subsides, and a wave of girlcum splashes across your face. She takes a few shaky steps back, and collapses on the edge of her bed.
  341.  
  342. “Oh... Oh gods, that was…” She notices your glazed and dazed sloppy mess of a face. “Theinn,” she crooks a finger at you, “Come here.” Obediently, before your mind can really react to the order, your body shuffles you over to her.
  343.  
  344. She takes your face in her two cold, soft hands, and an icy tongue flicks out, and starts cleaning you, lapping up the mess she left behind. You open your eyes once she stops licking you clean, and she’s looking down on you, lovingly, the kind gaze she’s always had when she looks down on you. When your parents would leave you alone with her as they quest. When she’d wake you, screaming from your nightmares. When she’d treat your scrapes as you worked yourself to the bone for your mother in sword practice. It was always there, that loving gaze.
  345.  
  346. “It hurts doesn’t it?” You nod. She slides off the bed and pats the spot she once occupied. “Sit.” Comes her command. “I’ll make it feel better.” You comply, and sit at the edge of the bed, your weakened muscles glad for the respite. She kneels before you, and pushes your knees apart. You dick stands at attention for its mistress. She leans forward until her nose is pressing up against the base of your shaft. It looms over her, and her eyes cross as she traces it upward. “Wow… it’s gotten really big. I wonder if that was the concoction.” She wraps both her small hands around it, but over half its length remains. Her fingers don’t even reach all the way around it. “I-I’m not sure I can even take it all…” But one glance at your pained, distant face steels her resolve.
  347.  
  348. She bends your dick down to her mouth, and you whimper a little at her frigid breath. Shards of electric sensation spike their way up your dick and freeze your spine, your abdomen spasms as you repress a shiver. She takes your head into her mouth with an ‘Om’ and runs her tongue around it, stroking your glans from inside her mouth, and tonguing the coronal ridge. Her tongue completes a few more rotations before settling at the bottom of your dick. She takes a deep breath through her nose, and begins to push her head down onto your cock, spreading her own throat wide.
  349.  
  350. Your hands clench at the air reflexively. Had your strength not been sapped by downing the entire bottle of that concoction, you’re sure you’d have wrapped your hands around her head and pushed her down. As it is, you twitch and moan and entrust the easing of your erection to Ela.
  351.  
  352. Slowly, but surely, the head of your cock distends her throat as she pushes herself further down your shaft. It’s an inexorably long journey as the chilly walls of her throat convulse and writhe about you as she thrusts your dick through the passage of her mouth-pussy. Slowly, the friction heats her throat up into a hot wet fuckhole. For each two inches, her tight throat pushes your dick an inch back, and it continues like this, the slow ebb and flow of fellatio, for what feels like an eternity.
  353.  
  354. The best thing about an undead blowjob is the cessation of biological imperatives. Breathing. The gag reflex. Devoid of both, Ela devours your cock. Your balls broil with flaming lust, and as her lips meet your groin, she moans around your hotly throbbing cock. You cum, deep down her gullet, in cascading waves of white her throat balloons to cope with the alchemically enhanced torrent and she hacks around your dick, rivulets of your seed runs out her nose and down her chin.            
  355.  
  356. She stays like that for a while, lips sealed around the base of your throbbing cock as your torrent of cum turns to a stream to a trickle and finally stops. Throughout it all, her throat pulsates, milking your through your orgasm. Her tongue starts to circle your dick in crescent motions. Slowly she retreats, licking back up your shaft, leaving it slick, glossy and clean in her wake. Your head pulls at her lips before slipping out with a wet pop. She wobbles her way to a standing position, and takes an unsteady step backwards.
  357.  
  358. “Puha… I need to blow my nose… my brain is full of cum…” As she sways drunkenly on the spot, she weaves a small square cloth of magic thread, blows her nose into it and dissolves it into thin air. “Mmh, better. Still,” She climbs into the bed, and pushes you across to the middle before straddling you, “You’re love is all I can smell. All I can taste. I could get addicted to you, Theinn.” You look up at her, and take in her visage. The bright red blush on her cheeks, the heart pupils throbbing in her eyes, her heavy breath, the beads of sweat glistening all over her body, illuminated by mystic candle light.
  359.  
  360. “Did that feel good?”
  361.  
  362. You try to speak, but you’re too disoriented to make your voice work. You nod.
  363.  
  364. “Then I made the hurt go?” You nod, and she beams a brilliant smile at you, and grinds back against your still rigid cock, her lips parting around it, making it slick with her juices as she grinds up and down.
  365.  
  366. “Want to go again?”
  367.  
  368. You nod. She straightens up, and grinds back, kissing your dick with her lower lips, before it comes to rest before the opening to her love-tunnel. She pushes against your cock, it’s head nearly twice the size of her small, tight, glistening pussy. Your dick bends under the pressure, but it continues to build until with an ecstatic scream, it penetrates deep into Ela’s cold and sopping wet fuckhole.
  369.  
  370. The tightness is nearly crushing as she impales herself deeper on your mast. Her hands drop to her belly and she traces your dick’s progress with a flat palm. A pointless endeavour, as your dick creates a visible bulge thrusting up into her gut. You’re two thirds of the way in when you meet firm resistance. Ela screams as she grinds your cock against her cervix, and babbles nonsense,
  371.  
  372. “Oooh, fuck. Deeper,” She raises her hips, leans down into your chest, and smacks her round as down against your groin with bruising force, “Fuck my womb. Churn me up good and mix my insides up with your cock.” Her hands play across your chest, and clench, like a cat’s, her nails dig deep into your chest and she gasps inwardly as your cock finally batters its way through her cervix and slides home into her womb. Insensate, she climaxes, splashing your legs and soiling the bed-sheets with her copious girl-cum. Her eyes roll back, and her tongue lolls out. Drooling onto your chest, she just moans.
  373.  
  374. “Oooh, fuck. Maybe that potion was a bad idea after all.” She slaps your cheeks until your groggy eyes focus on hers, “Next time, I’ll have you pound my fucking brains out, but for now, while you’re like this, I’ll do the moving okay?” You nod, and muster enough strength to plant your hands on her ass, fingers sinking in as she raises it. Her pussy squirts its cold, sweet lubricants as she slams her ass down, packing her womb and stomach full of cock meat. Up and down, you lose all concept of time as Ela fucks herself stupid on your dick. Your shaft plugs her insides completely, you can feel the lining of her ass twitch as you plumb the depths of Ela’s womanhood. The heat and friction builds as your head scrapes against her inner walls as Ela’s undead vitality and stamina keeps her lost in a tireless eternity of ecstasy.
  375.  
  376. You lose track of how many times you’ve cum. You’ve lost track of how many times she’s cum, Her belly bulges from the sheer amount of cum you’ve packed into her womb, trapped by the thickness of your cock and the tightness of her erratically quivering walls. Each thrusting, lewdly wet smack of her hips against yours sets it jiggling. Every now and then a spurt manages to leak out, and before you notice, your thighs are all but swimming in the combined love juices. Ela is tireless, and you find yourself thanking her for foreceeding you that bottle of whatever it was.
  377.  
  378. Eventually hours pass, and Ela finally stills, not from physical exhaustion, but mental, having fucked herself into a sloppy, drooling, unconscious ahegao mess. You have no idea why you’re still with this mortal coil, but you assume that it must be a side effect of the potion. But it’s surely wearing off, fast. Your cock still hard and buried womb-deep in Ela, you fish around for the quilt, catch it’s side, and drape it over the two of you. You’re asleep with Ela in your arms before the blanket even settles.        
  379.  
  380. When you wake up, the first thing you notice is blood. Lots of blood, the bed is soaked in it. Your first thought it Ela, but she’s snuggled up to you, perfectly fine. You check yourself, but underneath your blood-caked chest, there’s no open wound.
  381.  
  382. You scrunch your brow up and scratch at your head when it hits you. Didn’t Ranuinne’s note say something to this effect? You would have thought that this were something the two of you would have noticed during, but the last thing you remember was Ela’s eyes rolling back into her skull, so she was out of it. And you were pitifully numb and weak everywhere except for your groin, so it’s not surprising you didn’t notice it. You shake Ela’s shoulder gently, waking her. She stirs on your chest, before waking up blearily, “Mmmh, morning.”
  383.  
  384. “Morning, got a bucket?” Lazily, she waves a hand and a glowing facsimile of a bucket materialises. You flex your own hand and a stream of fresh water pours into it. The fire rune on your forehead tingles in irritation.
  385.  
  386. Ela watches what you’re doing with a passing interest before her waking mind finally locks onto the fact that the two of you are covered in blood. “Oh? You dying? I said I’d help you find her, but as soon as you die Theinn, you’re mine and mine alone.”
  387.  
  388. “I don’t think so,” you hold your hand out to her, “Cloth please.” One materialises in your hand and you dip it into the bucket, soaking it, before raising it to your chest and cleaning yourself.
  389.  
  390. “Not going to do me?” Ela pouts as she thrusts her own bloody chest towards you.
  391.  
  392. “Oh, I’ll do, you but I won’t clean you just yet.” She shields her breasts from you and lifts one leg over the other, hiding her womanhood
  393.  
  394. “Iyaaa~” she exclaims in a near deadpan voice, “So early in the morning, even after last night? You beast.”
  395.  
  396. You shake your head, “Nah, I want to try something. I have a feeling.”
  397.  
  398. “Oh, okay.” She spreads her legs wide, revealing her pussy. She materialises a clipboard and her finger engraves the date and time with magic, “Let me take notes in that case. I’m always ready to fuck, but I’m not lubricated yet.”
  399.  
  400. You grin, “And here I thought you were always sopping wet. No worries, I can handle it. I have  suspicion that I need to set the mood first anyway. What time is it?”
  401.  
  402. Ela gives a short ‘Oh, is that so’ before checking the time scrawled in magic, “Ah, I was wrong. I should have said ‘Good night,’ as it’s just turning seven post meridiem.”
  403.  
  404. With your chest swabbed clear, the brand over your heart slows clearly. Ela draws it onto her clipboard, and studies it. You lower your head between her legs and begin to stimulate her lips and clit with your tongue, methodically. “Peculiar design, isn’t it. Quite archaic if I understand some of those sigils clearly. Was Ranuinne a researcher like me?”
  405.  
  406. You mumble around her muff, “No, village girl.” The low vibrations of you practically speaking into her vagina must have socked awake some nerves, because Ela’s lubrication starts to flow modestly.
  407.  
  408. “That will be sufficient. Village girl, eh?”
  409.  
  410. You nod as you jerk your penis to an erection, “I’m putting it in.”
  411.  
  412. After a short stint of resistance, the head of your penis penetrates her vagina, Ela stifles a moan. “There’s less resistance than last night.” Ela bites her lip and nods,
  413.  
  414. “I think the potion I gave you had something of an enlargement effect, minute, but enough to really stretch me out. Nothing noticeable, but it’s like you’ve reshaped my pussy. I’m sure you’ll find my cervix and womb more welcoming too. I’m your personal cum dump now.”
  415.  
  416. You give her a light flick to the forehead with a finger, “You’re a lot more than that.” Her words ring true though, as you give a soft grunt, and pop through into her womb, Ela gasps before continuing, “I just wanted to try that line.”
  417.  
  418. You shrug, “I’m going to move now. Try not to moan or enjoy it too much.” Ela nods, and scribbles down some notes before materialising a tome from thins air and begins reading quietly.
  419.  
  420. For your part, she’s tight and feels just as amazing as she did last night, so you distract yourself from the deed by thinking about your upcoming journey. “Honestly this whole joining the Greyguards thing feels a little harebrained the more I really consider it.”
  421.  
  422. Ela shrugs as she reads, “They have access to knowledge even I don’t have. And if it’s demons you’re fighting, then their skills, powers and support will prove essential. Besides having you on the inside serves the Rebellion’s purposes. Having a loyal person in another faction’s camp is a powerful thing. You have access to influential members, can pass on information they may not otherwise share, can twist morale in favour towards the Rebellion. Well, not that I think it’ll come to that.” She puts her hand on your thrusting hips and stops you.
  423.  
  424. You check your chest. Nothing. “Well? What now? This is your experiment.”
  425.  
  426. “This time I’ll make love to you. And I’m not your agent. Bigger things to worry about.” She grins as she wraps her legs around your waist,
  427.  
  428. “I think this was your real objective, lover. And even if you have bigger things to do, they’re nothing you’ll need to do within the short term. So you can help me.”
  429.  
  430. “I said we were making love now. Is logistics what gets you going?”
  431.  
  432. “More like logis…dicks.” You give her a flat look which she returns just as evenly. “Ah, whatever.” She tosses the book aside, and it vaporises before it even hits the floor. With her free arms, she grips your head and pulls you down into a kiss. You’re taken aback by her sudden and complete turnabout in attitude. She even starts thrusting you into her, using her legs to push your hips forward.
  433.  
  434. Emotionless airs tossed aside, you sink into her embrace and return the kiss. You caress her developing chest, frozen in a state of growth, timeless in undeath. Her breasts are small, cute hills, a few cup sizes from flat. Her pert, perky nipple pokes against your palm, and you wrap your fingers around it, rolling, pinching and pulling. She gasps into your kiss, and her back arches, her inner walls milking you so familiarly.
  435.  
  436. You can’t help but chuckle, “You cum so easy. If only I’d known sooner, I could have teased you as relentlessly as you teased me.”
  437.  
  438. She smirks at you, “That’s why I didn’t let you know sooner.” You devote yourself to her pleasure, to pushing her mind across the brink into blissful oblivion, and a warm wet sensation spreads across your chest.        
  439.  
  440.  “I’d ask if you’re lactating but I’m not sure your body could do that.” The two of you untangle, leaving behind a fresh crimson smear on Ela’s breasts.
  441.  
  442. “I could if I wanted to. Does it hurt?”
  443.  
  444. You look at your own bleeding chest and frown, “Yeah, but not painfully. It’s clenching. Hard to explain, but it feels less like I’m bleeding but more like I’m just... weeping.” Ela raises hand, and wipes away the blood. Like tears, it’s only a matter of moments before it wells up again, and begins falling in crimson streams. She conjures a flask and holds it to your breast, letting it fill up. She closes it with a similarly conjured stopper and sets it aside. Your red life-blood sloshes inside. She raises herself up to your chest and licks it, tasting you.
  445.  
  446. She jots a few notes down and cuts open your wrist, and tastes that blood too. It heals over, shortly, thanks to all of Ranuinne’s blood coursing through your veins, permanently fused to your system. “The blood from your heart, it tastes sweeter more vital, more powerful, than the ordinary blood from any other wound.” Ela frowns. She thinks in silence for a while.  
  447.  
  448. “Theinn, look at me.” You stare into her eyes as she commands, “Refrain from fucking vampires, okay. I know what happens, happens but if you can avoid it, do it at all costs. I shudder to think what someone like Lara would do to you, were she to taste this.”
  449.  
  450. You laugh a little, “Don’t worry. Next to Ranuinne you’re the most important person in my life. Regardless of who comes after, they’ll never take me from the two of you.” Sticky, hot blood be damned, you pull her close and sully her skin with your weeping heart, “I love you, Ela.”
  451.  
  452. She buries her head into your shoulder, her icy cold tears in stark contrast to your boiling blood, “Yeah, I love you too, Theinn.” The two of you consummate that love for hours.
  453.  
  454. Clean, with vigour returned to your muscles, your only complaint is the stiff pain in your pelvis. Ela looks utterly satiated, though, as she gazes at your blood in the vial. “I can’t wait to play with this.” She mumbles.
  455.  
  456. “Isn’t it strange that it only bleeds when I‘m making love? Sex for the sake of sex, and nothing happens. Isn’t it strange?”
  457.  
  458. She shrugs, “I’ve heard of curses and enchantments which rely on emotional intensity before. You can probably assume it’s something like that. Not the strangest thing to ever happen”
  459.  
  460. “Yeah but only sex?” you pull her into your arms and stroke her hair in emphasis, “I mean I love you, I’m being affectionate, but no bleeding.”
  461.  
  462. Ela blushes and struggles in your arms, trying to silently push you away, She gives up as her physical strength fails her, and mutters in a smaller voice, “I have things I need to do, I can’t just fuck you all day and night, much as I want to.” You chuckle and give her a kiss on the forehead before standing.
  463.  
  464. “Sorry. I’m going to take a walk, and then I’ll… dunno, check in with the other two.” As you turn to leave, Ela grabs your hand, a sad look in her eyes,
  465.  
  466. “Hey, don’t leave without saying goodbye, okay? It’s not like we’ll never see each other again, but you definitely have to come and say goodbye, oaky?”
  467.  
  468. You smile and pull her off the bed by the hand, and into your arms. Bending down a little, you give her a long, passionate kiss, making her squirm in your grip. Mercifully, you neglect to tease her about the wetness soaking into your trousers as she grinds ever so slightly against you. You break the kiss, “I’d never.” You give her a light smack on her behind, “I need to say goodbye to this too, anyhow. Anyway, I’m going now.” She nods,
  469.  
  470. “See you later then. I’ll have someone see you out.”
  471.  
  472. You’re led through the graveyard by a silent ghost. As you approach the gates to the cemetery, she speaks for the first time. “Be wary of the twisted humans who call themselves “holy”, sir. They have a curfew. And…” She bows deeply to you, “Thank you for making mistress happy.”  You laugh,
  473.  
  474. “It was my pleasure.” You wave to the girl as she slowly disappears on the spot. And then you’re alone. You breathe deep the cool night air, and stretch. “Now then… I guess I’ll go see if Broderick is still around.” You start to walk towards the high walls of the town, dodging the lights and avoiding detection. After a time it gets tedious lurking in the alleyways for a chance to dash around a corner, so with a light clacking of roof tiles, you take to the roofs, covering ground much faster, with far less risk of discovery.        
  475.  
  476. You halt when you see the place practically crawling with Orderites. You’ll have to see Broderick tomorrow when there’s no curfew. You briefly considered asking him to join you in the Greyguards, but you know it to be useless. The man is far too loyal to this town. He’ll defend it to his death. You smile sadly to yourself, knowing full well that soon, in a few months or a few years, he’ll do precisely that.
  477.  
  478. Well, that’s the best case scenario, his death. Worse case is some monster gets to his mind and he spends the rest of his days a cum pump as he participates in the defilement of his own home town. You sigh, and shake your head loose of the grim thoughts. “What a world, where death is the better, kinder fate.”  Mumble slips your lips, going largely unheard, but when a head turns your way, you still step back from the edge of the roof and out of sight.
  479.  
  480. Wood shingles groan s you sit down on the roof . You look up at the south-western sky and stargaze for a while. ‘Hey Theinn, what’s that?’ From the very bottom of your vision, a flickering, wavering, bobbing light distracts you, drawing your attention. It peeks out in the landscape beyond the walls. Were you not atop some one’s roof, and able to peer over the distant walls, you’d never have noticed it. You frown. That’s torch light. Monsters don’t fear the dark. Monsters love it, hunt in it. Torchlight is a human comfort. You stand, and slip off the roof with a muted thud. Quickly and quietly you begin to walk towards the torch in the distance, and then begin to run, a dark foreboding feeling in your gut. A few voices call out to you as you sprint across roads and alleys, but you move so quick that pursuit, if ever there were was any, fades into the darkness.    
  481.  
  482. ‘I think something is up.’ You lightly converse with your flaming familiar as you run.
  483.  
  484. ‘Fun.’
  485.  
  486. You make it to the wall and kick off it, jumping upwards. It’s old and stone and has plenty of footholds. Just as you lose the momentum from your upwards jump, your fingers curl around a particularly solid stone, and you pull yourself upwards, scaling it with ease, and when the patrol walks past you, you kick your legs over, cross to the other side, and begin climbing back down the wall.
  487.  
  488. ‘So how long were you around for?’
  489.  
  490. ‘Not long.’
  491.  
  492. ‘That was fast.’
  493.  
  494. ‘W-well it’s the truth so I didn’t have to think about it, right?’
  495.  
  496. ‘You know, they say that only a liar can answer so swiftly.’
  497.  
  498. ‘Please. I have better things to do that watch you make love to a corpse.’
  499.  
  500. ‘I never mentioned making love to Ela.’ Your feet touch the ground, and you start bolting towards the torch in the distance, a rough estimate of a kilometre away. The lands to the south-west heading towards the demon realms are flat, grassy plains, and you can see quite far.
  501.  
  502. ‘So you were watching’
  503.  
  504. ‘…’
  505.  
  506. ‘I’m not particularly angry.’
  507.  
  508. ‘B-but I was… peeking. Isn’t that perverted?’
  509.  
  510. You struggle not to laugh out loud, your mirth coming out in short barks as you breathe, diaphragm shaking with each pounding step as you sprint across the grassy plains, the torch in the distance growing closer, larger. It’s starting to look less like a small, blinking light and more a bonfire. ‘Yes. It is very perverted, but if we’re bonded, you can’t help seeing what I do, so it’s not like I mind. Anyway, we’re close.’
  511.  
  512. You wish you had the leisure to sneak around and scope things out, but time isn’t so forgiving. You draw your sword as you run, the torchlight growing clearer. It’s a carriage, flaming by the side of an abandoned road. It’s tipped on its side with its base torn off and next to the wreckage is the corpse of a woman, impaled on one of the carriage’s axles, stood up by the carriage’s wheel at the base. Her dress is long and only torn at the breasts thankfully, but the spike of the axle protrudes from her mouth a good five inches, from where it is pierced through her back.
  513.  
  514. Next to the flaming wreckage is the body of a man being ravaged by two midnight feathered Harpies. The man is on the ground, with his back lying against a small boulder, one of the birds is slapping her thick, jiggly round ass against the man’s pelvis, the other is hugging the boulder, grinding her twat against the man’s face.    
  515.  
  516. You sprint towards them, kicking up dust as your feet pound at the compacted dirt, and the one fucking the man has only enough time to turn her head before you run her through with your blade, tackling her into the ground. The one masturbating herself with the man’s head launches off the rock with an avian scream, and launches up into the sky. From the ground, you shoot condensed bolts of flame into the sky after her, like burning darts, but she masterfully avoids them, at home in her domain.
  517.  
  518. She circles a few times before fucking off into the night. The girl beneath you begins to stir. Not willing to keep her around with a sword rammed through her chest, you wrench it out of her, and swing it down at her neck, cleaving easily through her soft flesh and thin, aerodynamic bones.  
  519.  
  520. The man you saved starts groaning, and you turn your attention to him. He is old. Ancient almost. His long, whispy white hair is stained in liquids you’d rather not identify. His pants are soiled in cum and he has a deep gouge across his stomach, he holds it weakly, but the glistening wet of intestinal flesh can be spied. He coughs blood before smiling up at you,
  521.  
  522. “T-thanks for saving me stranger.” You kneel before him to hear his soft words.
  523.  
  524. “I haven’t saved you at all. I’m sorry, your wounds, they are deep, if only I’d noticed the wreckage sooner…”
  525.  
  526. He coughs more blood, “Wreckage you say? M-My wife is she…” He starts to turn his head to look, but you catch it, and force his weak head back to face you.
  527.  
  528. “It’s best you don’t look, sir.”
  529.  
  530. Death crosses his face, and bitter tears flow freely “I… understand… this is all my fault. This stupid quest for immortality, insisting that we travel through the night…”
  531.  
  532. “Immortality?” Normally you’d pass this off as the insane babblings of a broken, dying man, but something about the way he speaks feels too real.
  533.  
  534. He smiles weakly, “Sounds insane, right? But it’s real. And I was so damned close. Foolish, look at me. I’m so old and frail, what would immortality do for me now?” He pats his belly, “Besides, it only grants agelessness. These wounds of mine… will kill me.”
  535.  
  536. “Close? How so? I know only of the apples of Idunn, and they by no means are permanent.”
  537.  
  538. “Ah… a colleague? Well… yes, the apples are only temporary…” He coughs more blood, “B-but, distil the juices of the apple into an extract, the still burning feather of a phoenix and the blood of a hydra, and… What I came here for, the blood of a Rusalka; together these all will create an elixir which will give eternal life.”
  539.  
  540.  
  541. “These ingredients, old man. Do you have them here, right now?”
  542.  
  543. “A-aye, lad, all but the blood. Why?”
  544.  
  545. “Well… My wife Ranuinne was a Rusalka were together for two years, and in that time, she bled into me nearly every night. And now… her blood rests within my veins.”    
  546.  
  547. He just stares silently at you, agape, after a long while he speaks an unspeakable softness in his eyes, “T-that… might just work. Ah, what a nostalgic name, R-Ranuinne… Did you make that sad girl smile, lad?”
  548.  
  549. “Y-you… ah… I see. The alchemist from her story. Yes. I made her smile.”
  550.  
  551. The old alchemist stares at you, old eyes misting. “This… is no chance encounter lad.” He reaches a hand out and places it on your forearm, pleadingly. “Help me complete the potion. Help me finish this foolish old man’s life work, before he dies… I-I understand lad if you say no, and I won’t hold it against you. A-and I understand that I’m foisting immortality onto you, but I beg you. If you do not help me… so… so much will have been for nothing.”  
  552.            
  553. Moved, you cover the man’s hand with your own. “I will help you. Sig.” She steps out of the flames of the burning wreckage, and walks over to where you kneel with the old man.
  554.  
  555. Sig kneels before the man too, uncharacteristically sombre.
  556.  
  557. “This will hurt, old one.”
  558.  
  559. “Ha! I don’t fear pain.” Sig nods and runs her hand across his stomach, scorching closed the wound which was seeping blood, sapping away his life.
  560.  
  561. “The fire of your life, old one, will only burn for another hour. Make it quick.”
  562.  
  563. “Then, Great Flame. There is a box within my carriage, resistant to the elements. The fire, should not have touched it. I beg you retrieve it.”
  564.  
  565. Sig points at the man, and turns to you. “See, Theinn? This man is polite. He knows how to address people. I’ll fulfil your request, old one.” It’s your turn to roll your eyes as Sig leaves.    
  566.  
  567. “Lad… how is she?”
  568.  
  569. You chew your lip and grimace, “Not good. Some of her sisters came around. Foolishly, I invited them in, and… things got messy. Ranuinne decided that because her sisters came for her, it was her fault they hurt me, so she left. I’m on a quest to find her. Take her back.”
  570.  
  571. “Ah… I came here pursuing rumours of the Demon Queen’s vice-admirals, t-two Rusalka. I see… so something like that happened. F-fate… is strange. Surely, lad, you’ll need countless years beyond your lot to find the Demon Queen. Before she ascended to power this century, she was legendary in her… her elusiveness. Some myths even speak of her inhabiting her own reality. Scarce and vague are her rumours, even rarer are her facts. Apparently, you could count, amongst the billion of lives on this world, at best two hands worth of entities which even know her name.”
  572.  
  573. “No matter how vague and insubstantial. If they exist, I must find them.”
  574.  
  575. “I… understand lad. I’ll give you the time you need. What is your name.”
  576.  
  577. “Theinnleid. My father never gave me a last name. And you?”
  578.  
  579. “My name? It doesn’t belong in this time. I’m just a fool who chased a fool’s dream for far too long.”
  580.  
  581. You nod, silently, and Sig returns, a box secures in her flaming hands. The old man takes the box into his lap and pops the lid, not even hissing a complaint at its scorching heat, being carried by a flame elemental. Inside is a shining golden liquid inside a flask, and a frozen feather of flame. Both are inexplicably beautiful. The master alchemist takes the feather in hand, whispers a chant and it crumbles into dust, collected in his fist. He pours the dust of the feather into the flask and asks for your hand.
  582.  
  583. He whispers another chant and traces a line across your wrist. An instant later, an incision opens up across it, and the old man holds the flask of the golden liquid and phoenix feather under it, and drops of your crimson blood infuse with the elixir, turning it into the crimson gold of the setting sun.
  584.  
  585. Intently, he stares at it and swirls the flask around gently, as he recites incantations in a tongue you don’t recognise. After half an hour, half the man’s remaining life, he stops, and hands it to you. You take it, gravely, and nod. “Well, no time like the now.” You pinch your nose, and down the potion, expecting anything in terms of taste, and you absolutely mustn’t spit this man’s life work. It’s a needless effort though, it tastes quite pleasant. Like spicy sweet apples with a tangy aftertaste, like fermented fruit. You down the legendary concoction, and nothing happens.
  586.  
  587. “So… uh, I don’t know if it worked... If this stops aging, how will we know, except for… you know, agin-Nng!” You double over in sudden pain as you immolate from the inside. It feels like something is exploding inside of you. A blast contained within your fragile, fleshy innards. As if on reflex, your body throws you back, spine bent to ninety degrees, arms flung wide. You open your eyes and mouth wide, and golden beams stream forth, fading after a fashion into the night sky.
  588.  
  589. “…”
  590.  
  591. “Owww.” You rub at your head. “That hurt like a bitch… I guess that worked then. See anything different?” The old man grabs your head and turns it to face the fire and peers at you.
  592.  
  593. “Depends, lad. Did you always have that inner ring of brilliant gold in your iris?”
  594.  
  595. “Uh… no. My eyes have always been a solid grey.”
  596.  
  597. “Well, now you’ve got a brilliant, lustrous ring of gold around the centre of your otherwise grey iris, ringing your pupil. Congratulations, you special snowflake.” You groan.
  598.  
  599. “This doesn’t prove anything though…”
  600.  
  601. “… Hrm. Great flame, you said the fire of my life had little left to burn. So you can see it? Look into his.”
  602.  
  603. Sig scratches at her fiery hair, seemingly lost for a moment. “Uh… Sure. Theinn, look me in the eye.” You turn to face her and she gazes into your face intently, and her eyes go wide. With her flaming face so close to yours, you can clearly see her pupils dilate. Slowly, her face loses its tension, and her jaw drops open, and then it turns into something of a victorious smile. “Its…” she blushes a furious red, and backs up fast. She clenches her fists in her lap and refuses to look you in the eye, practically steaming.      
  604.  
  605. “Sig? What is it? What did you see?”
  606.  
  607. “I-I don’t want to say…” The old man seems positively heartbroken.
  608.  
  609. “Sig!” You scold, raising your voice to her for what, as far as you can remember, is the first time. She flinches like she’d been slapped. “This is important! Spit it out!”
  610.  
  611. She fidgets where she sits, “I…Uh…Wellitwas...”
  612.  
  613. “Sig,” you interrupt, more softly, “No mumbling. Clearly.”
  614.  
  615. She sighs in defeat. “It was beautiful. A raging inferno that could just burn forever, something I would gladly get lost in. I could just wander in your soul forever I… I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
  616.  
  617. The old man laughs and sighs in the same breath, a breath full of evident relief. “Haah. Well, lad. I guess it’s safe to say. Barr a sword through the brain, you’re immortal now. Congratulations.” He takes one last shaky breath and gives you his hand to shake. You clasp it with manly vigour, “It looks like…my life… wasn’t…a waste.”
  618.  
  619. He breathes his last, and the hand clasping yours goes slack, and drops from your grasp. You sigh, and stand, stretching.  
  620.  
  621. “Well. That’s that, I guess. Now it doesn’t matter how long it takes me. The day is mine. I’ll find her, and I’ll look no different to how I was when she left. And as for the man who gave me this gift…” You look down on his corpse with a complex expression.
  622.  
  623. You stoop down, and collect him in your arms. Sig watches silently as you prop him up against his burning caravan and, kneeling, you place a hand on his chest, and fire gushes forth from your palm. Before long, it catches on his clothes, and you take a step back as his corpse goes up in a burst of intense flame. From a distance, you feed a little of your magic into the fire, intensifying it to where it roars a bright hot blue.
  624.  
  625. You feed more and more power into the fire until the caravan collapses and even still it burns, embers rising high into the night sky. For a time between an instant and an eternity, you simply watch it all burn. Your vision blurs as it all turns into ashes, and embers, but still you make it burn, reducing all to a fine powder. At some point the last of it disintegrated, and you sway on your feet as the sudden halt of the drain on your strength ceases, and pulls at your consciousness in backlash.
  626.  
  627. A strong breeze kicks up, and the ashes stir, lifting and floating away in a cloud, scattering across the land, and as the final remnant is lost in the wind, you lose the strength to keep Sig materialised, and she flickers into nothing. Your balance fails you. Strong arms catch you, and as your consciousness darkens, a feminine voice whispers, “That was a beautiful send-off.”
  628.  
  629. ***
  630.  
  631. You wake with a shiver, as a chilly draught of arctic wind passes across you. You go to rise, but become aware of a comforting weight on your chest. Looking down, you see a Teresa, rugged up in a fur cloak, lying across you, head nestled in your neck. She’s awake and looking into your eyes.
  632.  
  633. “Don’t give me that look. It was this or watch you freeze to death. And don’t pretend that…” She shifts against you, pushing her breasts into you and deepening the valley of cleavage in her loose shirt, “Don’t pretend that this isn’t the more pleasurable alternative.”
  634.  
  635. “…Body heat is shared more effectively if you’re naked, you know.”
  636.  
  637. She grins, “Damn.”
  638.  
  639. “I thought this was summer. Why is it so cold?” You question. She shrugs.
  640.  
  641. “Freak weather system? Maybe the winds pushed away all the warm air in the area, and the change in pressure brought in gusts of colder winds from the north? What am I, a sylph?”
  642.  
  643. Another shiver wracks you, and you wrap your arms around ruby eyed ex-seductress. She’s soft, and warm, and smells like soap. Nice soap, not crushed charcoal and pig fat like the peasants use.
  644.  
  645. “As a dhampir, were you alive or undead? Did you always have body heat?” She frowns at you,
  646.  
  647. “I’ll answer you that if you answer me this. Did you always have that golden ring in your eyes? I saw that carriage burning in the distance, but you noticed it a while before I did. When I got there it was all over, and a brilliant flash of golden light beamed upwards out of the area. Looking, all I saw was you, some corpses and a fire elemental. Good instincts by the way.” Her hands reach up to caress your face, one spreading your eyelids wide to get a good look at your eyeball.
  648.  
  649. “Ah. Well, a part of that was just my blood telling me that there was a fight to be had. I’m nothing so noble. And as for the golden light… I guess I’m immortal now.” She just cocks her head to the side. Might be best to explain how. You spend a moment recounting the event.
  650.  
  651. “Immortal huh…” She lifts her leg over you and straddles your hips, lying atop you now, your face in her hands, eye opened wide and a tiny bit irritated by the air getting to it as her fingers spread the lids apart and she stares into the gold.  
  652.  
  653. “A-anyway, you’re being rather forward for a paladin.” She races your jawline with a delicate finger, one of her thighs slipping between your legs. To stroke at your stirring maleness
  654.  
  655. “Born a monster. Being so close to a man I like flips something within me. What’s your excuse?”
  656.  
  657. “So you and Muradin?” She laughs,
  658.  
  659. “Gods no, he’d break me. Besides that man wouldn’t lust for a woman any less than a mountain. And even if he did find a mountain of a woman to match him, the man is so absorbed in his books and his fists he’d never notice. Not really my type.”
  660.  
  661. “And I am?”
  662.  
  663. “You’re cute. Yeah, there’s baggage, but we all have some these days.”
  664.  
  665. “Just cute?”
  666.  
  667. “We met, what, a day and a bit ago?” She smiles wryly, “Forgive me for not knowing you inside and out.”
  668.  
  669. “Fair enough.”
  670.  
  671. “You seem nice though. That was a sweet send off for the old man.”
  672.  
  673. You shrug, “I owed him at least that much. So… you seem pretty free, pretty laid back, really. Not what I expect from a paladin at all. I thought you guys would be much more… grim, preachy and purge-happy. I don’t really have much exposure to the order out here apart from missionary types. Is the rest of the Greyguard order like this?”
  674.  
  675. “Um… you could say that. If evil is black and holiness is white, I guess we’re an off-white shade of grey. We take our morality seriously but we’re a lot more lax and laidback as compared to the ‘paladin’ paladins of the Order. It’s a maturity thing really. The way we’re trained, the outlook we’re taught to have. You realise that you can’t have the holy book shoved up your ass every hour of the day. You learn that it’s important to hold strongly to your ideals, but you shouldn’t let your ideals dictate what, and who, you do.”
  676.  
  677. “… So basically you gradate from the Order as a paladin, and the welcoming gift to joining the Greyguards is a ribboned box of common sense?” She shrugs.
  678.  
  679. “What is common sense? You’ve never been to the Imperial Capital, have you?” You shake your head ‘no’. “Then you just don’t understand. That place… It saps reason. Fear rules and it takes active nurturing of a particular mindset to be able to cut through it with rational logic and reasoning, traits the common populace and the church actively discourage. All that crazy shit they spout? That is their common sense. That said though, for some of us, it’s easy to lose faith in the light, and stray towards the darkness. This is reflected in the jobs and personalities within the Greyguard. All Greys learn the arts of subterfuge, stealth, use and manipulation of knowledge and combat, but whereas for some that simply means learning to throw poisoned daggers alongside slinging holy fire and hurling warhammers, for others that means a life of devotion to the shadows. Quick wits, quick hands and short blades that sort of thing. For some it’s not a belief in the holy light which drives, merely an adherence to the ideal of the Greyguard. So alongside the paladins, and the more combative warrior types, you’ll also meet a few rogues.”
  680.  
  681. “I see… so some members simply cannot uphold the detached ideals from the Church which they came to associate with the holy powers, and so your order had to cater to other forms of training, other classes of trainee rather than strictly hard-line, morally ambiguous paladin types plus knives.”
  682.  
  683. “Exactly, but even the most dastardly of our rogues holds to our tenets and would help old women across the street… maybe, so it’s not as though the rogues of our organisation are any less devoted to our cause than the paladins.”
  684.  
  685. “So these holy powers. Can I learn to use them?”
  686.  
  687. “Depends. What do you intend to use them for?”
  688.  
  689. “Pushing down old people, stealing candy from children, that sort of thing.” She leans down and bites your ear, making you yelp.
  690.  
  691. “Answer seriously.”
  692.  
  693. “But that wa-” Bite. “Oww, okay,” She releases your ear. Stupid ex-vampires. No matter how pure her blood, her canines retained a portion of their knife-like length and sharpness. “I’ll answer seriously, but just so you know, you probably shouldn’t bite me like that.”
  694.  
  695. “Why? Does it make you excited?”
  696.  
  697. “Yes, but that’s not why. You obviously still have some recessive vampiric traits, even if your blood has been purged clean. If you drink my blood, what with its regenerative properties, and now its immortality, who knows what could happen. Worst case scenario, you could turn back into a vampire.” Your warning goes right over her head.
  698.  
  699. “B-biting turns you on? Pervert.” You blush.
  700.  
  701. “I-I may have developed a blood fetish.” It’s her turn to blush. In fact it’s like her whole body blushes, the heat she’s radiating doubles, and only now do you become aware of her stiffening nipples. Though, due to what you just said or to the occasional gusts of frigid arctic winds, you don’t know.
  702.  
  703. “T-Teresa?” Her eyes glaze over as she gazes deeply into you, biting her lower lip so hard that it finally bursts, a thin trickle of blood leeks out the side of her mouth. The sudden pain and the wet coppery taste of blood shocks her out of her daze and she turns her eyes from your own. She coughs, awkwardly.
  704.  
  705. “T-there are some things you shouldn’t tell a Vampire. That’s probably one of them. You’re lucky that it’s been centuries since I’d last drunk blood, or I’d have jumped you here and now.”              
  706.  
  707. “Would they accept you? If you did that, and returned to being a vampire?” She stares at you in surprise for a moment, before laughing,
  708.  
  709. “Pfft, of course you wouldn’t know. No one’s told you yet. Actually, there are plenty of monsters within the Greyguard. I mean, a vampire would be pretty unusual, but… It’d be pretty hypocritical to join up with this Rebellion for co-inhabitancy and exclude monsters from our order I guess.”
  710.  
  711. “Huh… I was expecting to be surrounded by humans for the next few years.”
  712.  
  713. “Well… you will be. More or less. We’re heading to the oldest facility, and it’s dead in the centre of the Imperial city. Most of our monster girls don’t like being there.”
  714.  
  715. “A vampire would be unusual?”
  716.  
  717. “Most of our members are from the more noble species. Dhampirs like I once was are less strange, I suppose what with being half human. But you won’t find succubi or zombies. Most of our non-human members are creatures like elves, centaurs, valkyries, dwarves, we even have an Arachne, but she’s a bit of a rarity.” You quirk your eyebrows,
  718.  
  719. “Interesting. You guys don’t swear to celibacy, do you?”
  720.  
  721. “Why? Wanna spend the next few years of your training fighting and fucking?”
  722.  
  723. You feign hurt, “Hey, I was just asking.” She teases,
  724.  
  725. “I thought you said you had a wife?” A wave of guilt washes over you.
  726.  
  727. “W-Well, yeah but… she got taken by the Generals to the Demon Queen,” Even to your ears it sounds like a pitiful excuse. You know your fear is your weakness, but a better man would firmly shoulder his isolation. Self-pity and loathing begins to set in and her joking smile drops as she sees the expression on your face, “I-it’ll take centuries to find her, let alone gain enough power to actually challenge even just her generals. A-and I’m not sure I can bear to do it all alone. By myself, closing my heart off an-”    
  728.  
  729. “Theinn, enough.” She buries her head in your chest, and gives you a stern hug, “I… I went too far. I’m sorry. No one can be expected to live alone like that. Especially not for as long as you’ll have to. ” Her words feel a little too real, like she spoke from experience. You’re smart enough to realise she’s probably not only talking for you. You return her hug, and close your eyes, abandoning yourself to her arms for now.
  730.  
  731. “Yeah. You’re right.”
  732.  
  733. “Going back to the question, do you even believe in what the holy powers stand for?”
  734.  
  735. “Not really.”
  736.  
  737. “Then chances of you learning them are slim to nil. Still, there’s a lot more we can offer for you, such as combat training and other forms of magic. Information, too.”
  738.  
  739.  The two of you lie there for a while, in silence. Quivering every now and then as another lick of icy wind runs between your still forms.
  740.  
  741. “Oh! I completely forgot.” Teresa half sits up and starts to fumble around her pockets,
  742.  
  743. “Hm? Is my manly chest that distracting?”
  744.  
  745. “Mmm, totally.” She takes a deep whiff, “Especially now, as it smells of blood, sweat, steel and ashes.” You get the feeling that her goading isn’t entirely insincere.
  746.  
  747. “Seriously, though,” She goes back to patting around, and pulls out a fancy envelope, “You’ve received a pretty important invitation.”
  748.  
  749. “An invitation?”
  750.  
  751. “From a fairy.”
  752.  
  753. “A… fairy you say?” you feel her forehead with the flat of your palm, “Are you okay?”
  754.  
  755. She smacks the envelope into your nose, “Just read it, smartass.”
  756.  
  757. It’s emblazoned in gold filigree, a waxy red seal of three leaves arranged in a triquetra with a ring of ivy in the background. You turn to Teresa, “Do you recognise this seal?” She shrugs,
  758.  
  759. “All I know is that the fairy who handed it to me to give to you, as you were asleep, was a Leanan Sidhe. I had to beat the fiery haired minx off with a stick, or you’d have woken up with her next to you, and not me.”
  760.  
  761. “Jealous?”
  762.  
  763. “You can thank me for waking up unmolested.”
  764.  
  765. “Not sure I want to.”
  766.  
  767. “Just read the damn thing.”
  768.  
  769. You slip a finger under the fancy seal and crack its wax, popping the top of the envelop open, you slide out the letter of invitation.
  770.  
  771. “To our dearest Theinnleid Hvethrungr.
  772.  
  773. We of both the Seelie and Unseelie courts invite you to our annual mixer in the realm of Tir Na Nog, in the lands of Mag Mell, in coronation of your recent ascension into immortality. It is already in full swing, so please arrive, post-haste, I would absolutely hate for you to have missed any more than you have already done so, (as I wish to take this opportunity to become better acquainted with you. I have already gone to great pains to organise a fine wine from the year you were born in ironic celebration of the day your age no longer mattered.) We all eagerly await your arrival, I Aine, more than that frigid harlot, Maeve. If you greet her first, I may cry.
  774.  
  775. Suspiring not so patiently, Aine, daughter of Egobail, of the Seelie Courts of Summer.
  776.  
  777. P.S. That final farewell to the Old One was exquisitely passionate and beautiful. But beware, though your current power is that of a babe’s, it holds untold potential, and inexplicable grace. You’ve caught more eyes than just my own.
  778.  
  779. P.P.S. My servant informs me that as one who was until recently mortal, you may fall under a misunderstanding. I don’t quite understand her words, but I shall relay them as per her request. “The Fae have little concept of time. This party you are invited to in particular has only just started and yet has raged for a century already. Should you turn up a quinquaginta of years after the arrival of this invitation, it would be as though you were a mere five minutes late.”
  780.  
  781. “Hvethrungr?” Teresa pouts, “You told me you didn’t have a last name.”
  782.  
  783. “…I didn’t. My father never gave me one. I never asked for one… Hvethrungr. I wonder if it’s an actual last name, or just a title… Wonder what it means…”
  784.  
  785. “It sounds pretty fitting. Foreboding, but fitting. So… you’re caught the eye of the Fae…” She scoffs, “Hah, good luck with that one.”
  786.  
  787. You grumble, voice laden in sarcasm, “Thanks for the moral support. They didn’t even tell me how to get there.”
  788.  
  789. Teresa shrugs, “By the post-post-scriptum, it’s not like you don’t have time to figure it out how. Every stylish man is at least a little late. Keep this Aine waiting, get her nice and wet for you.” The sarcasm is equally thick in her voice as it was in yours.
  790.  
  791. “That jealousy is a very blatant trait of yours. Besides, even if their understanding of the concept of time is lacking, I’m sure their biology has a reliable body clock. If I leave it for… I’m guessing this word means something more than a decade and less than a century, if I leave it that long she might have already flooded this Mag Mell, and swept away the rest of the party goers.”  
  792.  
  793. Teresa chuckles at the imagery, and slowly sits up, “Well. You’re up and heated, with plenty of energy to boot, so we might as well head back.”
  794.  
  795. “You don’t wanna stay like this a little longer?”
  796.  
  797. “I do, but I’ve got things to pack. Come help.” You sigh, and with a colossal effort, bunch your muscles up together, and prepare for the long journey to your feet.
  798.  
  799. “Fine, I guess.”
  800.  
  801. You spend the next few days with Muradin and Teresa, sparring. Muradin has taken his studies into the realm of Meteomancy, and has begun to train you in wide-scale barrage avoidance techniques by punching magically charged storm clouds into the sky. Both agreed it’s for the best that they keep quiet about your immortality. Teresa wanted to hide it from Muradin, too, because of his penchant for studying phenomenon, but in the end you reasoned that he’d notice the change in your eyes anyway. Rather than blocking or dispelling, under the enchanted spears of lightning, he taught you avoidance, in the form of a small, sturdy ward spell.
  802.  
  803. It’s pure magic, so it takes you a little while to get used to it. You have to think harder to maintain it than you do with your rune magic. You thought briefly that perhaps there was a rune for general arcana. Like Wyrd, Urethr or something, but in the end you come to the conclusion that it’s just too different a language. Rune magic won’t help you here.
  804.  
  805. The ward you were taught acts as a form of buckler, and covers an area no larger than a foot in radius. In this way you dart about beneath the looming, blackened stormclouds, and bat away streaks of lightning, making them strike other spears of electric discharge, clearing an even larger area for you to move in. It’s a method which is still taking a while for you to get used to, but you notice other things. Mainly your eyes. It’s like they’re getting wider. You’re able to follow more strikes of lightning with your vision, predict where they’ll land, you’re even getting an instinctive feel for which way the bolts will deflect if you hit them with your ward. It’s not without price though, you’re sparring with the muscle wizard nearly all hours of the day. Your regenerative blood is the only thing keeping the muscle fatigue at bay, healing the tears and strains of worked flesh with only a brief respite.
  806.  
  807. You’d worry about the wizard’s expenditure of mana if he weren’t laughing so loudly as he punches the sky. It’s become something of a dance, smacking bolts of lightning into one another, dancing from spot to spot in the open ground before deflecting the next blow. After days of this, he begins to slowly modify the bolts of lightning. Smaller, finer, sharper with a coat of frozen rain. Like a sea of arrows they fall on you. The purpose for this added peril is to practice weaving your rune magic into the somewhat blank slate of the ward.
  808.  
  809. With swirling maelstroms of wind contained within the ward, the now physical shafts of ice easily penetrate your magic barrier, only to be violently turned aside by the contained gusts of wind. Muradin explained it as certain wards for certain purposes. As Lightning is just sheer power it’s not really a physical form. Negligible mass. It’s a similar scenario with flame, and whilst not specifically tailored for it, your ward could still deflect gouts of flame. A more intentional ward would also defend you from the heat, stopping you from roasting within your own barrier. But depending on the situation, sometimes it may just be enough to deflect the actual fire.
  810.  
  811.  Ice on the other hand, requires another type of ward to combat the mass of the sculptured shards of frozen water. For that matter, a similar ward is needed to deflect water, wind and earth. Neither ward is easier to use than the other though. The wards to deflect physical and magical mass are thicker, larger, denser and heavier. They require more power be funnelled into them. The wards to deflect pure magical power of the types of lightning, fire, and less elemental, sheer arcane, whilst lighter, more manoeuvrable are also vastly more volatile, and loss of control or overloading can lead to disastrous backlash.
  812.  
  813. Logically speaking, it’s similar to the real thing. A large, metal bulwark of a shield will block more, but is heavier, and requires more strength, stamina and power to move it around and hold it up. A buckler, however is far easier to use, and at the same time much more intricate. You won’t block a Warhammer with it, and that sword may never touch you, but if you slip up, in an instant that blade will be biting your flesh. You definitely find that the smaller, more intricate ward definitely suites your more fluid and agile combat style, though. Not that you neglect to learn the basics of the larger ward, capable of blocking even physical attacks.  
  814.  
  815. It’s fun really, but to Teresa’s exasperation, all the intricate, complex training turns into a bout of fisticuffs, as you rush Muradin headlong with wards focused around your fists, swirling with wind. The man is by no means a glass cannon, and he packs a wallop. It’s all you can do to keep the whirling barrier around your fist so that the connection doesn’t shatter your bones. Hurts like a bitch, but it only takes a minute for the fractures in your ribs and sternum to heal, when he finally does get in a solid hit. And with that you get some endurance training too.
  816.  
  817. Fighting and sparring is how you spend the last few days in the area you grew up in. And sleeping. Sparring really takes it out of you. For some reason, though, Teresa insists that you share her bed. You were fine to roll up a blanket or cloak and sleep on the floor, but she insisted fiercely. Which is strange, considering how every night she just clings to you like an oversized pillow. It’s… It’s not not nice, but you honestly expected her to try something. But, even if she never took the opportunity to grope you, you always woke up with an arm around her belly and a hand latched onto her breast. Similar to how you used to wake up next to Ranuinne. So it’s not like if anything were to happen between the two of you, you’d be blameless. You apologised as first, but she brushed you off, telling you that she sleeps better having someone next to her. You can understand that.
  818.  
  819. It was a cold morning, the day you left. It was early autumn, but the various magically charged shenanigans bumped the schedule up a bit. Frigid winds were all the more common. You sling your cloak around your shoulders, pull it tight and draw the hood, rubbing yourself all over, trying to sink some kinetic heat into the cloth. A black bird cries overhead, and you cock your head up towards the sky. It’s ringed black, with foreboding clouds closing in. The purely natural fury of tempest. You squint into the wind, and turn your head aside, the flapping of your cloak providing a constant, low cacophony amidst the backdrop of mutters, clanking weapons and booted heel on ancient cobblestone.
  820.  
  821. When you arrive at the graveyard, the mage Zombie is sitting out in the open on her gravestone. With a characteristically lethargic motion, she turns her head to look at you,
  822.  
  823. “This place… it won’t last much longer.”
  824.  
  825. You put your hands in your pockets. “I guess that’s the way of things. Are you leaving soon?” She strokes her headstone fondly,
  826.  
  827. “Yeah, just about. Mistress has already started evacuating us… your eyes are different.”
  828.  
  829. You scratch your chin, the bristle of beard-hair filling the silence. “Yeah.” She extends her hand,
  830.  
  831. “Mistress shouldn’t be too busy, not for you at least, so jut head on in. Well then, for whenever next we meet.” You take her hand in yours,
  832.  
  833. “Thanks. Well, then. For whenever when.” With that you leave the gloomy corpse behind. The large steel-wrought door to the spacious mausoleum is slightly ajar, with signs of movement ringing throughout the corridors, sporadically. Tentatively, you push the door open, and poke your head inside. Girls rush from place to place, carrying boxes, crates and bundles of scrolls. A few stop to look at you, but go back to their duties shortly. Ela appears, rounding a corner, nude as usual, her long hair in a ponytail.
  834.  
  835. “Ah, Theinn!” She walks up to you, and you greet her with a kiss.
  836.  
  837. “Hey. It’s like an anthill in here, what’s with all the activity?” She looks back at her people scurrying about.
  838.  
  839. “Well… We’re leaving. This place isn’t safe anymore.” Her face doesn’t match her bright and progressive words.
  840.  
  841. “Will you use the tunnels?” She grins, and takes your hand,
  842.  
  843. “No, come follow.” She leads you with a relatively quick pace, pony tail bobbing above her round ass as her hips swing from side to side. You enter through a few rooms and head down a flight of stairs to what you thought was the cellar. Now that the floor is gaping open and propped against the wall, you’d have to reconsider. There’s another flight of stairs through the floor which leads to a long corridor with two medium sized rooms off the side of the corridor.
  844.  
  845. She doesn’t lead you around a corner though, and you follow the path into the room at the tip of the corridor. It smells faintly of sea spray and you taste salt in the air. There’s a massive circle on the floor of the room, the source of the muted electric blue light you saw. Footsteps echo from behind, and you turn back to see a troop of zombies carrying crates of scrolls.
  846.  
  847. “Job done, Mistress.” Ela smiles as she turns,
  848.  
  849. “Good work, girls. Do you remember where to go?” They all nod synchronously and without needing orders, each walks to the centre of the circle. Ela stands just outside the circle, and holds her hand out, channelling magic into the magic written on the ground. “See you soon.” There’s a flash and the zombies disappear, in their wake a roll of atmosphere from wherever they just came from. Ela looks a little sadly at the empty circle, and answers your unspoken question. “Ithilien. That’s where they’re off to.”  
  850.  
  851. “You’re finding it hard to leave aren’t you?” She cringes before nodding.
  852.  
  853. “This has been my comfortable home for way over a century. A lot has happened here.” You squat down, and give the girl a tight embrace,
  854.  
  855. “Yes, but you’re on your way to carve into this world your own place. A place for you and yours, without the Order, without monsters and men in conflict.” She accepts the hug,
  856.  
  857. “I know. And you? You’re coming to say goodbye too, aren’t you?” You straighten, and place a hand on the pommel of your blade.        
  858.  
  859. “Yeah. I’m off. This is goodbye, for now. It’ll be a few years for me, but you’re a Lich, so…” You grin, “blink and I’ll be back.” She smiles at your words, and shakes her head,
  860.  
  861. “Any second without you lasts three. But you won’t come back to me if you don’t know the way.” She conjures a sheet out of the air, and hands it to you. It’s a map detailing how to arrive at the yet-to-be-built Necropolis.
  862.  
  863. “This is…?”
  864.  
  865. “Memorise it. That’s where you’ll find me if all goes to plan, if not, you can always visit Rose in Ithilien. The map itself will disappear if someone else tries to read it though. Do you… have a little time to spend with me?” She tips her head coyly, cutely.
  866.  
  867. You grin wryly, sadly. “No, sorry. I’ll play with you a while from now, at your new home, ‘kay?” She nods.
  868.  
  869. “Alright then. Goodbye for now.” You give her another short kiss and turn to leave, when she calls out to your back, blushing.
  870.  
  871. “Theinnleid. I love you.” You smile back at her as you leave.
  872.  
  873. “I love you too, Elanore. See you later.” You close the big iron door, and slump down against the other side. “Fuuu~” your sigh is enough to drag an anchor across mountains.
  874.  
  875. “That hard?” Teresa’s blackened silhouette shines against the sun. You look up at her.
  876.  
  877. “Yeah. That’s one love I won’t see for a few years. Guess I’m back to zero.” She walks down the stairs to the mausoleum, and takes your face in her soft, womanly hands.
  878.  
  879. “I could… replace her. I mean, if you just need someone to fuck, I know it can get, well… pent up.” You look into her eyes. Swimming with self-conscious hurt despite her big words, as if a cheap replica were all she was good for.
  880.  
  881. “Would you really be okay with that, though? Just a replacement hole?”
  882.  
  883. “No…”
  884.  
  885. You smile wryly. “Exactly. You could never replace her. You are you. But, you don’t need to rush anything. For a while, you’ll be teaching me, remember? What, did sleeping together get to your head or something?”
  886.  
  887. “Ha. I guess. Yeah.”
  888.  
  889. You grin playfully, “So forget about rushing anything.” She takes heart in your words.
  890.  
  891. “Right, then. We’re ready to leave, so let’s go.” You can’t help but smile.
  892.  
  893. “Right.” The two of you head off, taking only a handful of steps when Teresa stops in her tracks as if considering something.
  894.  
  895. She turns back, “Do you mind if I continue to sleep with you, though? I-I just like waking up next to someone, that’s all. ”
  896.  
  897. “Sure.” She grins coquettishly and gives you a light kiss to the cheek,
  898.  
  899. “Mmh, let’s go now. For real this time.”
  900.  
  901. “Right.” Teresa steps back from you, and taps her tattoo, turning her silver plate into commonplace rags. The ruby eyed, silver haired woman bleeds into an utterly unremarkable village girl. You grimace a little, unconsciously.
  902.  
  903. A few moments later, you’re sparing the town one last glance, before you set out on the road, shoulders burdened by the bags containing your life. You walk shoulder to shoulder with Teresa, Muradin further ahead. You wondered if he’d say anything, since the two of you were walking together so comfortably, but he just grinned in his usual way, and urged the two of you to hurry.
  904.  
  905. You slip your thumbs through the straps of your bags, and shift the weight. The moment the three of you were alone on the open roads, they dropped the disguises. Quietly, asides from the scuffling tret of shoes, Teresa breaks the silence between the two of you. “Do you know much of how monsters decide their lovers?”
  906.  
  907. “Not really.”
  908.  
  909. “Well I’m not sure how it is for human women, but for monsters like I once was, it’s sort of an instinctual feeling. Like some kind of pull you can’t resist.” You think back to how you met Ranuinne. How it felt inevitable that you’d get deeply involved with her.
  910.  
  911. “Yeah. I can see that. So?”
  912.  
  913. She blushes slightly, and turns her head aside, “I’m kinda feeling it. Like, really feeling it. I want you.”
  914.  
  915. “I… thanks?”
  916.  
  917. “You don’t believe me?”
  918.  
  919. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just… isn’t it hard to see these feelings as completely genuine? I for one, think you’re absolutely beautiful. How do we know I’m not purely driven by lust? How do I know you’re not? I mean just a bit over a week isn’t really long enough, is it?”
  920.  
  921. “Hmm…” She takes a deep breath, and looks up into the sky as she walks. “I don’t think it’s like that. I have no proof of course. Besides, it’s not like you mind me dumping my years of loneliness on you, right?”
  922.  
  923. “Ah… not really.” She hooks an arm through yours,
  924.  
  925. “Riight~?”
  926.  
  927. “So… What now?”
  928.  
  929. Muradin calls over his shoulder, “Ah, we’ll be meeting our escorts and mounts, we agreed on a point a little while from the town seeing as how we predicted the heavy increase in Order personnel. Two centaurs. None for you because you weren’t really a planned addition.”
  930.  
  931. “How long will the journey take, do you think?”
  932.  
  933. “Hmm, a month or two of travel. Depends on whatever issues we come across.” Quite a ways to travel. Muradin points to a large, solitary tree, swaying in the bleak, clouded winds, standing atop a hill far in the distance. “That’s the rendezvous point.” Looking at that tree fills you with a sick apprehension.      
  934.  
  935. There are days you have to wonder if you’re part soothsayer. If one of the runes your father engraved onto your flesh held some passive foresight. The more likely answer is that subconsciously, you observe patterns, and your mind realises the likely outcome before you consciously acknowledge the fact. Taste the wind, smell its direction, and feel the drops in temperature. Somehow come under the impression that it’s a good idea to take the laundry inside. That’s how it usually works, without your notice. You’ll be brewing a cup of tea when the first drops of chilling northern rain splatter against the glass windows, panic, and then realise, ‘Gee, it sure is good that I thought to bring the washing in.’
  936.  
  937. All of that is rather logical though. The tree on the hill is downwind of you, there’s no way you could have smelt the blood. You were once told that you were connected strongly to the flows of fate. Some would call it destiny. If anything, it’s similar to riding in a carriage blind, on a path you’d once tread, and yet had forgotten about long ago. Something in the back of your mind informs you, there’s a sharp turn here.
  938.  
  939. Surreptitiously, you draw a throwing knife anyway, and crouch a little lower. Your actions aren’t missed by your companions, and they too adopt a heightened awareness. You’re glad that they trust you so easily. But instead of attack, as you round the top of the hill, the three of you find corpses. A large, muscled centaur rests against the back of the tree, hidden from the view the three of you had whilst climbing up the hill towards the tree. She’s bleeding from a deep gash in her tauric stomach, her hand clutches at the bloody mangle of a shattered arm. Panicky, she turns her head to the sound of three approaching individuals, her horse ears swivelling, perking up with intensity before falling flat.
  940.  
  941. “Oh. It’s you guys. Hey.” She can’t wave, but she inclines her head, and looks at you curiously, not expecting a new face. You smile and wave.
  942.  
  943. “Gods, Senna! What happened here? Where is May?” Muradin rushed over and kneels before the felled horse, running his hands over her wounds, bathing it in a bright, hot light. She grunts, weakly, as flesh mends and bones set.
  944.  
  945. “Renegade ‘paladins’. ‘Bout ten. We tried to talk it out first, and it looked like they were listening, but one of them shot a bolt at May’s foot. The one I was talking to got a good swing at me with his claymore. And, well, you know me. Not the most nimble, I danced back, but it still got me good. From there it was basically an all-out skirmish. Half of them split, carried May off, the rest came to deal with me. It’s good to see you Muradin.” Her eyes flick over you again, “Who’s he?” With Muradin busy healing, Teresa answers,
  946.  
  947. “New Recruit. Which direction did they carry May?”
  948.  
  949. The centaur points over yonder, “Off that way. Nice to meet you, I’m Senna.”
  950.  
  951. “Theinn,” you cast your gaze out across the foothills to the north east, and see an outcropping of trees, scattered about large boulders. Wisps of smoke peek over the treetops. Seems they’ve settled down into a camp. “Nice to meet you too.” Muradin turns to the pair of you,
  952.  
  953. “Captain Teresa, take the recruit and retrieve May. Hurry. I’ll stay here and tend to the wounded.” Recruit huh? Not Theinn? These must be orders of an official capacity. You turn to your superior for direction, but she’s looking at Senna.
  954.  
  955. “Which direction did they head to?” The wounded girl points towards the outcropping of tree and stone that you noticed earlier.
  956.  
  957. “Captain.”
  958.  
  959. She winks at you, “Yes recruit?”
  960.  
  961. “I spotted smoke trails coming from the trees in that direction, likely from large campfire.”
  962.  
  963. “Good eyes, recruit. We’ll head there first. Follow me.” She dumps her bag, and sets off towards the trees at a steady run. You follow suit.
  964.  
  965. “So why do you think they took May, but left Senna.”    
  966.  
  967. She thinks for a moment, as she runs, her silver hair streaking out behind her as her ruby eyes pierce the glare of the sun, “Rape, probably.” You nearly choke on her bluntness.
  968.  
  969. “R-rape? Is she particularly helpless? What species is she?”
  970.  
  971. “Ah, centaur, but she’s had a… difficult past. She joined us after we saved her from the den of a powerful rogue incubus… I won’t get into the details because it’s not my place, but it left her… susceptible to advances, and well, the things he did to her left her with some side effects. Even if her mind says no, you could say that her body is practically begging for it, all twenty five hours of the day, every day.”
  972.  
  973. “Uh… Captain, there are only twenty four hours to a day.”
  974.  
  975. “I know. Her uh, womanhood seems to make up for that hours difference with oversaturation. I-I mean, overcompensation.”
  976.  
  977. “What if it’s already too late?” She shakes her head, the two of you have covered roughly a fifth of the distance to the nearby trees.
  978.  
  979. “It won’t be. Girl like her, she’s a jewel. You don’t toss the heart of the mountain out to the rabble. Whoever the boss is, he’ll want to savour her first. May said they identified as paladins, so who knows? Maybe we’ll find her just as the creep finishes his sermon.” She scowls, “Sometimes it seems like that type gets off on lectures more than actual fucking.”
  980.  
  981. “So what’s the plan for when we do get there? Talk them down? Negotiate?”
  982.  
  983. She snorts with laughter, “I’m a paladin, not a saint. We slit throats until we’re discovered, and then you use that fancy magic to cause a distraction, and I slit some more throats in the confusion.”
  984.  
  985. “Uh, no I don’t think that’s how a paladin would act, either.”
  986.  
  987. “Ah, you’re not disillusioned, are you?”
  988.  
  989. “Heh. Not at all.”  
  990.  
  991. The first of the low lying bushes brush against your hands as you pass them. You’re close now. The two of you slow to a steady, silent jog. The scent of smoke and the faint sounds of jeering laughter carries past the both of you, and you hide behind a large rock. The camp is a small opening, built around a large cave system. Ringed with a large, spiked wall, there’s one opening, three people scattered around a moderately sized campfire in a triangle formation, with one man’s back to the entrance, and three lookouts, two on either side of the entrance to the torch-lit cave, and one on a raised platform, tiredly scanning the area with his eyes.
  992.  
  993. The lookout on the platform is armed with a crossbow, the two standing guard are armed with a claymore and morning star. Of the three by the fire, one closest to you has his kite shield leaning against his side, and a sword sheathed at his hip, the other two are holding ancient looking halberds, and leaning against them as they sit. You drop your head back behind the rock.
  994.  
  995. “Six people, three by the fire, one on lookout, two guarding the entrance, lightly armoured, mostly leather with some spatterings of leather and chainmail. Oh my, less renegade paladins, more simple bandits… How are you with those knives?”
  996.  
  997. “Average at best.”
  998.  
  999. Teresa grins at you, “Looks like I’ll have to give you some private lessons, then.” Her hand snakes around your waist before you can react, and she pulls out two of the knives, “You take the campfire. First, we’ll sneak around to the front entrance, get a clear line of sight to the two guys on guard.”
  1000.  
  1001. You nod, and the two of you creep through the underbrush. The two men guarding come into view, and with a nod from your commander, you spring from your cover, and sprint for the camp, quietly drawing your sword. The two knives whizz past your head, one of them nicking a small slice into your ear. You grit your teeth, supressing the pain. The knives carry on past you, and fell the two standing guard by the entrance, the dark glint of steel protruding from their necks. The three men at the camp turn to face their fallen comrades, incomprehension sprawled out across their faces. The lookout sees your approach and gives a sharp cry, but the man closest to you has time only to turn around, before you ram your sword through his chest.    
  1002.  
  1003. You barge his corpse away from you, and into the second man, before spinning towards the third. He’s got no stance, his mouth agape, and his eyes focused on the comrade you just threw, his only weapon forgotten at his feet. By the time you’re on him, he’s regained enough composure to stoop down and grab for his weapon, but it’s too late, and you ram your sword up through his chest as he’s bent over. The third man lunges forwards toward your open back with a thrust, the barbed spearhead glinting wickedly at you.
  1004.  
  1005. You don’t have enough time to pull your sword out of the third man, so you release your grip on your weapon and twist your body as far away as you can. The axe-head of the halberd still slices deep into your side, but you’ve wrapped both hands around the handle of the long weapon, and twist, throwing your weight behind it, unbalancing the last man and pushing him into the fire. His eyes go wide as he finds himself on his ass, and in the firepit, a cloud of embers erupting around him. You plant your boot on his chest and wrench the polearm from his grip. Spinning it around in your hands so that the pointy end faces downwards, you stick it in other guy.
  1006.  
  1007. “Are you alright?”
  1008.  
  1009. You wince as you pat down the already-healing wound on your side. “Mh, ‘Tis just a flesh wound.” You walk over to the groaning man still holding your sword, yank it out, kick him over, and stab him through the throat. You walk over to the first person you stabbed, and finish him off, too. Both men put out of their misery, you wipe the flat of your blade against one of their sleeves.
  1010.  
  1011. Teresa watches you, having long ago dealt with the bowman. She grins mischievously, “What, no hesitation at all? So cold.”
  1012.  
  1013. “What are you talking about? We met just after I killed like, five goblins.”
  1014.  
  1015. “That’s a little different. Humans are born with an ‘Us and Them’ mentality. Usually it’s hard to kill your own species, the first few times, at least.” You walk over to the two guards, and collect your throwing knives.  
  1016.  
  1017. “This isn’t the first time I’ve ever killed a man.”
  1018.  
  1019. She tilts her head towards the cave. ‘Shall we?’
  1020.  
  1021. You nod. The two of you enter the mouth of the fairly well lit cave. You left six corpses behind you. Five at the tree. That’s eleven down, there can’t be many more. This group doesn’t look to be any more than thirty men. You channel rune magic through you as you walk down the descending tunnel, and a cool, dark mist begins to slowly fill the area about the two of you. Enchanting the light to dim, masking your silhouettes through the swirling shadows. The cave mouth opens into a narrow corridor, before spreading out into a large common area. There was one lookout just before the tunnel opened out, but Teresa dealt with him quickly and silently, slitting his throat with one of your throwing knives, guiding his gurgling corpse to the ground just as silently. You look out for any disturbances, but no alarm was raised. Peering out across the largish common hall, you make a few observations.
  1022.  
  1023. Firstly, the floor is deep, like a cliff, the footpath the two of you walk on drops off, suddenly, for a good fifteen meters before hitting the common space, which has a few tables, tents and firepits scattered around, with a large fire burning in the middle of the room. The smoke reaches up into the ceiling and disappears down some obscured airway. The footpath itself doesn’t end, but instead takes a sharp turn to the right, and follows the walls of the cavern down, at gentle decline. About halfway along the length of the cavern walls, the path meets the floor of the cave. Along the path are a few torches, but no one is really paying attention. Of the remaining men, you can count fifteen, scattered in small groupings about the floor.
  1024.  
  1025. Beyond the cavern is another tunnel. The apparent leader of the group, is a priest, or something you guess to be a priest. His blonde hair is cut into a tonsure, his white and yellow habit is stained with blood, dirt and other various liquids. In front of the largest group of six men, he stands before them as the seventh, and rants before them in a sermon, waving his morning star around with fervent fury. A centaur with ripped clothes kneels besides the man, slumped as if in a drugged daze, more than a few of the men are leering at her.
  1026.  
  1027. The six men look bored, and are talking amongst themselves as they laze across the wooden logs structured in an imitation of a church’s pew arrangement. The second largest group of five is crowded around a table gambling, closest to the large fire in the centre of the room and the smaller group of three has a harpy between the three of them. Visible to the two of you, the area is somewhat dark, secluded behind a few tents and tables. The girl hangs limply as the three men pump away at her holes. Asides from sidearms and the odd halberd, greatsword and battleaxe lying around, all the men are unarmed.
  1028.  
  1029. The group of three is technically closest to the two of you, but by the time you’ve followed the path to the floor, the group of five is the closest, meaning you’d have to scale down the sheer drop to attack them. Teresa has two of your knives in her hands and is grinning madly. How did she even get those? You sigh in defeat, her message is clear. She’ll stick knives in the two men thrusting into the girl’s mouth and rear. You’ll quietly finish off the man pounding into her womanhood, who is hidden beneath the girl’s limp, avian body.
  1030.  
  1031. You peer over the edge of the pathway, and sketch out a pathway in your mind. Putting action to thought, you climb quietly down the stones, blessedly not kicking any loose. With a muffled thud, your feet touch down on the floor, and you creep towards the four-way, blade at your side, any noise of your approach muffled by the grunts and moans. You peer up the rock wall, and nod to Teresa. You can only see a vague shadowy outline, but you trust that her ruby eyes can make you out quite well.
  1032.  
  1033. A moment later, two blades whistle through the air, and pierce through the throats of the two targets. They slump over the girl as they bleed out, and the man underneath grunts, as he tries to push the weight of three people aside, hissing and swearing quiet complaints at his comrades. If he’s going this far to be quiet, it seems that they weren’t allowed this little rendezvous. You lunge forward with your blade, and stab through the side of his throat, letting him choke to death on his own blood. With a free hand, you grab the wrist of the bird girl, and yank her from the pile of corpses. Teresa steps off the edge of the drop and lands behind you with a thud. She collects the throwing knives once more, and crouches next to you.
  1034.  
  1035. “Poor girl. She’s barely conscious.” The girl rouses as you take your cloak from your shoulders and wrap her up in it. She’s smaller that you thought. Young too, her body looking to be barely shy of adult maturity. As for the filth, you can only hope that the water repellent enchantments work on uh… juices too. Blearily, she looks up at the two shadows in front of her. She seems to understand that you’ve helped her, though, because she lays a weak talon across your forearm, and whines out a quiet thankyou, before slipping unconscious again.
  1036.  
  1037. “Lets leave her here. I think she’s on the same shit they have May on. We can come back for her later.”
  1038.  
  1039. “Right. None of these men seemed close to finishing so we have a few minutes to think on out next move.”
  1040.  
  1041. “What do you think, Captain?”
  1042.  
  1043. Teresa peers out at the remaining groups. “That Ignis of yours. Summon her from that centre fire after we’ve both thrown our knives, I can throw two, hopefully you can take one out with one. Aim for the group of five, that will leave you with three to two I’ll take the other group. You send your elemental with me, she can act like a decoy. I doubt any of these guys know magic, so she should be safe. Normal blades won’t hurt her.”
  1044.  
  1045. ‘Roger’
  1046.  
  1047. “She said Roger.” You sulk, “Why did you count only your throws as sure kills?”
  1048.  
  1049. She smirks “When aren’t they? Right then, lets get a little closer, and then on my count of three, throw and summon. I’ll take the two on the furthest left, you take the one on the furthest right.” You nod, and the two of you creep close, stepping around chairs and debris. The one on the right is facing the two of you, so you have a clear shot at his heart, lungs and throat.
  1050.  
  1051. “One.” Teresa winds both arms back, you swap the sword in your dominant hand for the knife, and pull your arm back.
  1052.  
  1053. “Two.” The two of you steady your arm.
  1054.  
  1055. “Three.” Two men fall, one clutches his shoulder in pain, and you hiss in irritation. An instant later, the cave rumbles, and men scream as a giant flaming demon erupts from the fire pit, and rushes towards the group of six. The priest runs down the other side of the room and down into the tunnel, screaming various accusations. You’re on your feet and closing the distance before the first scream. Sig’s appearance is accompanied by your blade sailing through the air, and cleaving through the torso of the man you stuck with the knife. As his chest falls from his waist, you grab the knife in his shoulder, and spin around, flinging the blade into the forehead of the next man.
  1056.  
  1057. You leap over the table separating you from the last bandit, sword poised. He kicks back against the table, and brings his other leg up to kick you in the face, but you bat it aside with your free hand, and plunge the sword deep into his chest. It’s deflected aside at the last moment as he draws a dagger from somewhere and diverts the blade aside. Your shoulder stil barges into him though, and knocks the both of you on your asses. He’s quicker to react, and on his back next to you, he swings his arm down in an arc aiming to stab your chest with his knife, he rolls over as he does so for added momentum. You catch his wrist and reverse the grip on your sword, smacking him in the face with the pommel, stunning him for a moment, you roll away and to your feet, and the time it takes you to do that has him recovered.
  1058.  
  1059. The two of you face off for a brief instant before you thrust your hand out and a glob of molten flame jets forth. He ducks his head to the side though, and lunges for you with his left arm out, holding the knife. You go to swing your sword horizontally, but he’s too close for you to actually hit him. You lock up, and the blade sinks into your gut down to the hilt. Gritting your teeth in pain, his momentum carries you both to the floor, and the man atop you grins sadistically as you feel a hot fire spreading in your gut. You reach up and grab his head. His eyes widen in surprise for an instant before you twist, snapping his neck.
  1060.  
  1061. You stand up, and dust yourself off. Channelling your flame, you yank the knife out of your gut and bring your fingertip to the wound, cauterising it shut. It still hurts like a bitch, and it’s deep, so this one will take a little to heal.
  1062.  
  1063. “Tch. Second serious wound.”
  1064.  
  1065. “You know some would say that’s unfair. Wound like that would have been a serious problem for a lesser man.”
  1066.  
  1067. “Yeah…well… I got magic fish blood in me, so I’m no lesser man. Catch the priest?”
  1068.  
  1069. Teresa shakes her head, wiping her sword clean on some dead guy’s shirt, “Nope. He ran down that tunnel. I think we should see to May first.”
  1070.  
  1071. “Right. Was Sig any help?”
  1072.  
  1073. “Yeah, great help, just dove right in splashing fire everywhere. Disorganised the shit out of them.” You look at the girl, crouched by one of the corpses, poking it with a flaming finger.      
  1074.  
  1075. “Oi!” You chide, “Don’t touch that. You don’t know where it’s been.” The three of you walk up to May. Teresa manages to coax the drugged up girl into standing but you see what a mess they made of her front right hoof. It’s hanging limply, connected by only tendons, ligaments and flesh, crossbow bolt still lodged in the shattered bone.
  1076.  
  1077. “Fuck, she can’t walk like this. And I can’t use healing magic.” You agonise for a short moment, but then something in the back of your mind makes you recall a conversation with a horse breeder talking about how their legs are basically their lives. You nudge Teresa aside.
  1078.  
  1079. “I’ve got this.”  Flexing your fist, you cut across the width of your wrist and pump some of your blood into the girl’s wound, the incision already closing. Enough blood got to it, and you guide her back down to the floor. Her leg starts to heal before your eyes.
  1080.  
  1081. “Allright,” Teresa turns to you, “Lets get that priest.”
  1082.  
  1083. The three of you jog down the tunnel. It’s pretty long, but when you come to the end of it, you’re met with a smaller room, which is covered in religious paraphernalia. At the back of the room is a gilded, golden cage, and the Priest is screaming hysterically next to it, holding an ornate key. Inside looks to be a doll with a bored expression.
  1084.  
  1085. “BLASPHEMERS, HERETICS! Your reign of black ungodliness ends here, demonic fiends!” You cast a confused look at Teresa who shrugs. The tree of you take a step forward, “N-NO! NO CLOSER! Don’t take a single other stel o-or I’ll smite you! Monster Fraterniser!” He flings his morning star at you, and the mace rotates lazily through the air. You swerve to the side and it sinks deep into Sig’s prodigious chest, her stature swollen from the large firepit which spawned her. The mace melts within her smouldering bust.
  1086.  
  1087. “BEHOLD, filthy HERETICS, this Doll!”
  1088.  
  1089.  
  1090. “What about it?”
  1091.  
  1092. “Aha! Trust the heretic to not see, he cannot know! For within this Doll is the SOUL… OF AN ANGEL! And it will smite you into furious hellfire.” Spit flies from the lunatic’s raving mouth and you turn questioningly to Teresa. She shrugs again and steals yet another of your knives, and raises it to throw.
  1093.  
  1094. “AAAAHH, N-NOT YET! GABRIELLA SAVE ME!” He jams the key into the cage, and twists. The cage glows a brilliant gold, and the door blows open, sailing across the room, and striking the opposite wall with a metallic clang. With jerky, mechanic movements, the Doll finds its bearings and steps out of the cage. Angelic is one way to describe it. Him, Her, you can’t tell. Androgynous in its perfection, well, except for the modest breasts which are a dead giveaway, spiky golden hair cascades down its shoulders. It stands just as tall as you do, and has black and golden filigree carved all over its arms and two golden stud piercings each ear.
  1095.  
  1096. Golden eyes observe the three of you, seated in a sea of black sclera. Apart from its dark golden arms, the rest of its skin shines a pure, holy porcelain white. Its figure is obscured by white rags. Its bored expression is twists into a sharp glare. Its movements become more fluid as it steps up besides its insane master, as if remembering how best to move. It feels powerful. Very powerful. And dangerous. You get into a little more of a serious stance.
  1097.  
  1098. “AHHHAHAHAHAHA, You’re all going to BURN now! GABRIEL, use ‘that’ use your secret technique, passed down to you by God herself! I COMMAND you smite these filthy barbarian heathens in her holy name! Use it, use it now, that infallible strength, your finishing move!”
  1099.  
  1100. …  
  1101.  
  1102. The three of you stare at the Doll. The Doll stares at the three of you. The priest pants heavily, tenting his robes, eyes swimming with madness. The Doll shrugs, extends a hand, and grabs the priest’s nape. The man doesn’t even have the time to scream before the Doll’s fingers curl around his spine, and tear it out through the back of his neck.  
  1103.  
  1104. And every one goes back to staring. After an eternity, the Doll’s golden eyebrow twitches, “Geez. I really hated that guy. Kept me locked up in that pervert cage of his for years. Never even touched me. Just got off on his sermons. Holy this, holy that. I’m hungry. Can I suck your dick?”
  1105.  
  1106.  
  1107. “Why?”
  1108.  
  1109. “What do you mean, ‘Why?’... Isn’t that how it works?” Not like you have any idea. You shrug, and turn to Teresa, who sighs.
  1110.  
  1111. “Whatever. I’ll go check on May.” Teresa leaves.
  1112.  
  1113. “…Sooo… Gonna let me suck your dick?”
  1114.  
  1115. “No.”
  1116.  
  1117. Sig scowls and turns to you, “Can I melt it?”
  1118.  
  1119. “…No.”
  1120.  
  1121. The Doll stares at you with a dead-pan expression “Why’d you hesitate?” You sigh, and begin to look around the room for any kind of treasure. The madman did have a magic cage after all. Maybe he has some other trinkets. You talk to the figure peering over your shoulder as you do this,
  1122.  
  1123. “What even are you? What happened to ‘soul of an angel?’” the Doll smirks arrogantly,
  1124.  
  1125. “Don’t tell me you listened to that moron.”
  1126.  
  1127. You roll your eyes. “So? What are you, then?”
  1128.  
  1129. “Soul of an angel.” It grins at you sarcastically. You vent your irritation through passive aggression, and grab a small golden figurine from the top of a chest of drawers, and toss it into Sig’s molten depths, where it melts into vapour. “Uh…” a bead of perspiration runs down the doll’s forehead, “to be more precise, I’m something of a cross between a Living Doll and a Golem. A Living Golem. Anyway, I’m more Golem I suppose, in terms of battle capabilities but on the mundane side of things I’m closer to a Doll, and as such I’ve got urges closer to a succubus, and on the up side, I won’t deconstruct without a source of life-force, or essence, like a usual magic construct. But I do get significantly less powerful as time goes on. To the point where even that cage was enough to hold me. My name is Phyle, by the way. I’ve noted a distinct lack of arousal at my appearance so perhaps I should clarify that I do indeed have a vagina. A soft, warm, wet one.”
  1130.  
  1131. “And?” You walk up to a gilded wooden chest, and begin fiddling around with the lock.
  1132.  
  1133. “And what?”
  1134.  
  1135. “And why are you telling me this?” You take out a knife and slide it under the hinge of the chest, levering it’s ancient screws loose, you give up, and gesture for Sig to melt the lock.
  1136.  
  1137. “Well… I’m literally starving. Was hoping you could feed me.”
  1138.  
  1139. You hang your head and sigh. “You want power right? “
  1140.  
  1141. “Yup!”
  1142.  
  1143. “You’ll quit bugging me of I do?”
  1144.  
  1145. “Yup!”
  1146.  
  1147. “…I don’t trust you.”
  1148.  
  1149. “But I need it.”
  1150.  
  1151. “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” You dig through the chest. It’s full of holy paraphernalia, vials, books, some gems. You pocket anything which looks valuable.
  1152.  
  1153. “I’m not asking for money! Power, power! I’ll die if I don’t get some.”
  1154.  
  1155. “I thought you said you’d just get weaker.”
  1156.  
  1157. “Geh.” You close the lid on the chest and walk back over to the drawers and start pulling them out, one by one and rifling through the contents. You don’t find anything particularly useful, so you head over to the bed tucked away in one of the ends of the room, and carefully pull it all apart to see if the madman hid anything away. Sig looks at you, ‘We’ll I’ll take my leave. Good hunt.’
  1158.  
  1159. ‘Later.’
  1160.  
  1161. “Ya know, I haven’t even heard your name yet. Theinn? I think that’s what the fire said. Where did she go by the way?”
  1162.  
  1163. You head to the other side of the room, towards an ornate looking glass case with shining baubles and a gilded sword within. You punch it open, shattering the glass with the pommel of your sword, and inspect the golden blade.
  1164.  
  1165. “Gone huh. Just… Just me and you…”
  1166.  
  1167.  
  1168. “I’ll be quick, I promise. Wait, you can do magic right? Just push a little magic into me. Just a tiny bit.”
  1169.  
  1170.  
  1171. “You have no idea what it was like in there, trapped for years, slowly starving, listening to a fucking imbecile raving about holiness, enduring the stares of those filthy bandits…”
  1172.  
  1173. Blade looks valuable. Even if it isn’t you could sell it to someone, pretending that it’s actually worth a lot. Satisfied, a heavy, jingling bag of coin, gems and smaller loot at your side, you turn around and head down the tunnel, Phyle following, hounding you.
  1174.  
  1175. Teresa look over at you, and the golem following at your heel “W-what happened? You didn’t actually let her suck your dick, did you? If you were so desperate, I could have…” You sigh deeply.
  1176.  
  1177. “Nah she just won’t leave me alone.”  Teresa frowns at the doll.
  1178.  
  1179. “I’m starving. Literally.”
  1180.  
  1181. “The bandits have food.”
  1182.  
  1183. “Noo, I need energy.” Teresa gives a quiet little ‘ah’ of understanding.
  1184.  
  1185. “You probably have some kind of setting to obey who ever supplies you with mana, right?” The golem freezes at being caught flatfooted.
  1186.  
  1187. “U-uh… there might have been something like that…”She looks down and pokes her fingers together. “I’d have to reread the manual…”Teresa studies the golem thoughtfully, then reaches into a pocket and pulls out a small blue vial.
  1188.  
  1189. “Drink.” It arcs through the air and the golem nearly fumbles the catch in her haste. “From my organisation to you.”
  1190.  
  1191. “T-thank you!” She pops the stopper off the bottle and downs the liquid.
  1192.  
  1193. “Are you sure it was wise? Now she won’t go away.”
  1194.  
  1195. Teresa shrugs. “We can use a machine that doesn’t sleep.”
  1196.  
  1197. You turn back, “I’ll collect the other girl. Meet you by the path.” You toddle off into the darkness alone, to retrieve your cloak and the sleeping avian.
  1198.  
  1199. She flinches back when you touch her, and it takes a moment of you patient waiting for her to remember that she was saved from gang rape not long ago. She stares at you for a while, before some recognition clicks, and she wraps her wings around your back, burying her head into your shoulder. You accept the embrace and collect her in your arms, cloak and all. Holding the bird in a princess carry, you return to the other three.
  1200.  
  1201. ‘Theinn, this girl has a bunch of toxins in her system. I could burn them out, if you like?’
  1202.  
  1203. ‘Wait, you can do that?’
  1204.  
  1205. ‘Yeah, easy.’
  1206.  
  1207. “Hey, don’t be scared. You’ve got a few drugs in you still, my friend will help you, okay?” You peer into the folds of your cloak. She’s out cold.
  1208.  
  1209. ‘Do it now, I guess’ Sig rematerializes from a nearby torch, a tiny version of herself, and glides over to the sleeping harpy. The fairy sized flame extends an arm, and puts it on the girl’s forehead, just shy of contact. A warm glow suffuses throughout the area, and the sleeping girl smiles, cuddling closer to your chest, her hazy groggy breaths becoming clearer, less laboured.
  1210.  
  1211. “Warm…”
  1212.  
  1213. Sig grins, and gives you a small thumbs up as she fades back to her home realm.
  1214.  
  1215. ‘She’ll be fine now.’
  1216.  
  1217. ‘Thanks.’
  1218.  
  1219. You look as the sleeping girl in your arms, and can’t help but smile. If this is the result of your new life, you don’t mind the little cuts you get fighting for it. As you approach the group, you see Teresa forcing something through May’s lips. The liquid within seems hard to swallow if May’s grimace is any measure to go by.
  1220.  
  1221. “What was in that?”
  1222.  
  1223. “Restorative tincture. Should help deal with some of the drugs. Here, I’ll give some to that girl too.”
  1224.  
  1225. Sig laughs in the back of your mind, “Uh, no thanks. I had something similar. She’ll be alright.” Teresa cocks an eyebrow.
  1226.  
  1227. “Well… if you insist. Lets get out of this shithole.”  
  1228.  
  1229. It’s a slower walk, going up the pathway and out to the surface world. May is wobbly on her hooves, she looks a little shaken, having the drugs within her system forcible shut down and forced out. Too soon to excrete it any other way, her body’s solution is to simply sweat it out. The large girl drained two water skins along her journey. Likewise, the girl in your arms showed similar signs of improvement, gradually becoming more conscious and aware of her surroundings. When you asked if she’d rather walk on her own two legs, however, she blushed a little, and shook her head ‘No.’ Well, whatever makes her happy.
  1230.  
  1231. The midday sun is at the zenith of its strength, but the sky is still clouded. The winds that meet your liberation from the depths are cold, but refreshing and the dulled light sketches a palette across the landscape pleasing to the eyes. From there it’s a fairly pleasant trudge across the foothills to the tree sitting indignantly upon the hill. Your cloak flaps against your thigh, and the wind carries on it the scent of ocean and fresh grass. A bout halfway across the hills of grass, a particularly strong gust of wind picks up, blowing your lengthy hair out behind you. Your passenger begins to squirm.
  1232.  
  1233. “This… Is a nice wind.”
  1234.  
  1235. “Do you want to be let down?”
  1236.  
  1237.  
  1238. “Yeah.”
  1239.  
  1240. You lower to a kneel, and set the small harpy on her talons. She takes an unsteady step, and turns. You’re still kneeling, facing the young bird. Eye to tired eye. She shrugs your cloak off her shoulders, and wraps it around yours. In doing so, her wings fold around your head, and she pulls you into her chest, nuzzling her cheek against the crown of your head. She tries to speak but her voice catches a little, “Th-Than…ks…” She releases your head, and a single tear rolls down her cheek, and lands on your nose, splashing off it into a million droplets. Crying. Well she’s been through a lot. It’s understandable. She lowers her head, and gives you a chaste kiss on the cheek, before turning away, and unfolding her wings. She gives a hop, and jumps into the sky, small flecks of dirt being knocked around as her powerful wings beat.
  1241.  
  1242. “That was a nice scene.”
  1243.  
  1244. You chuckle as you watch her soar higher. “Yeah. If the rest of my life results in moments like these, I think I’ll be happy.” The harpy climbs higher into the air, soaring.
  1245.  
  1246. Maybe a little higher than probably necessary… Your heart stops. “She… NO!” Miles into the sky, the girl folds her wings, and plummets down. You kick off the ground in a sprint, the wind rune on your hand blazing with a strong, faintly green light. You shoot across the hilly ground, gales propelling you forward, urging your back onwards, your legs pump desperately as you cover meters in single bounds, but it’s useless.
  1247.  
  1248. You’ll never forget the small smile on her lips as she disappears behind the hills.
  1249.  
  1250. The crunch of bone and flesh carries past your ears, and your legs collapse, one after the other, sending you tumbling into the earth. You bounce and roll as your body copes with the sheer speed and momentum of your desperate, futile dash. With grazed palms, and skinned knees, you pick yourself up, and crawl over the lip of the hill. Immediately, you wish you hadn’t. You fall back to your knees and wince, squeezing your eyes shut, turning your head away. Red gore and glistening white glare at you from behind your eyelids.
  1251.  
  1252. The sound of footfall reaches your ears. The others have caught up with you. Well, you can’t just leave her like this. Swallowing dry dread, you make to rise, but a cold hand forces you down by the shoulder. “I’ll handle this.”
  1253.  
  1254. You look to Phyle, “…How?”
  1255.  
  1256. “The mountains. I’ll take her there, and incinerate the body. Toss her ashes to the winds.”
  1257.  
  1258. You nod weakly, “Then I’ll return in a few hours.” A flash of gold passes you, and descends down the hill. It scoops the corpse up, holds it close to its chest, and leaps away, leaving a small crater behind. Covering leagues in a single bound, Phyle’s faintly luminescent silhouette vanishes in the direction of the distant mountains. Teresa helps you up, wrapping her arms around your shoulder and pulling you to your feet.
  1259.  
  1260. You’re not sure when you returned to the tree on the hill, but the sun was setting, and there was already something of a camp set up. Muradin had hunted some rabbit, and it sat crackling on the fire. Tents were set up, and the two centaurs reunited, with caring hugs. May fusses over Senna’s bandages, who smiles and bats her friend’s hands away. Teresa sits next to Muradin, and discusses what transpired in full. For your part, you drop the bag of loot you’d collected on a stone near the fireplace and take yourself away somewhere quiet.
  1261.  
  1262. You wrap your hands around a low hanging bough of the tree, and swing your legs up and over it. It’s thick, and it’s big and there’s a gap in the canopy which gives you an unobscured view of the landscape and the horizon. You scrabble up the branch until your back is firmly nestled against the trunk of the tree, a leg hanging off the side of the branch, the other stretched out across its length. A cold wind blows as the night prepares to set in, and when you move your cloak to wrap it tighter around you, a single feather falls out and lands in your lap. Your gaze rises from the feather to the distant setting sun, and you find yourself thinking of Ranuinne, nor for the first time. Nor the last.
  1263.  
  1264. ***
  1265.  
  1266. Either you did the smart thing, and climbed out of the tree before you drifted asleep, or you did the dumb thing, and fell asleep in the branches, resulting in you falling out of the tree some time during the night. Because when the stirrings of nearby conversation wakes you, you’re definitely lying on the ground. Curiously, you decide to try your hand at voyeurism, and lay as though you were still sleeping.
  1267.  
  1268. “… was pretty annoyed when I practically forced a pact on him, but in the end he just likes sulking.” Is that… Sig? How and when was she summoned? You groan as the rune on your head singles in some sort of phantom pain, yet lacking the warmth of a full manifestation upon your flesh. “Do you regret it? I mean you probably thought you could get an easy supply, but it looks like these guys intend to work you pretty hard.”
  1269.  
  1270. “Eh… my creator didn’t have me do much other than clean. He made me perfectly capable of fighting, too. I didn’t really want to kind of give myself to an entire organisation, but what’s done is done.”
  1271.  
  1272. Slowly, you open your eyes.
  1273.  
  1274. “A-Ah! Theinn!”
  1275.  
  1276. “How did you get out?”
  1277.  
  1278. “I’m not a pet you know.” You grunt, roll over, and close your eyes, trying to catch the last few drops of sleep that were taken from you by the conversation, but the smells of frying meat, the sounds of spitting oil stop you. You’ve always wanted to talk to one of those nightmares about why the realm of slumber is such a strange and different place. How can you sleep for hours, and wake up exhausted? Nap for ten minutes, and rise refreshed? You know for a fact that slipping into sleep for just a few moments more would have you up and energetic.
  1279.  
  1280. With bleary lethargic eyes, you face the cold morning sun. You block the stunted rays that pierce the clouds and fade into gloom as they reach the ground with the back of your hand, and gaze into the sky, nostrils flaring. You fill your lungs with the smells of grass, ocean, frying oil and mist.      
  1281.  
  1282. You know, come to think of it, it was a morning similar to this where you discussed sleep to Ela. Drunk, hung-over and hyperactive all at the same time, you walked off the unholy concoction with Ela in hand, lazily roaming about the graveyard. Of course, you clothed her first, in an ancient, ragged cloak. It wouldn’t do to have a villager report a young man walking hand in hand with a naked girl in a graveyard. That sort of thing simply isn’t okay.  
  1283.  
  1284. Curious as to whether the undead slept, you asked her, legs dangling from a particularly large gravestone. Her response was yes. The dead could choose to dream. You rise, shake clear the crystal, beaded drops of dew clinging to your cloak, and gaze out across the planes towards the distant, snow-capped mountains at the west. It’s not ‘till she flicks your forehead that you notice Teresa’s presence. “Don’t keep that face. You’ll sour breakfast.”
  1285.  
  1286. “Ah… right. My bad.” You throw your head back, and run your fingers through your long hair, teasing out the knots. It’s still smooth, but it’s starting to smell of smoke and steel. Might want to find a nearby stream to wash it in. Your eyes wander from the dark grey skies, and it’s not till you look down your nose that you see Teresa is still staring at you. Slowly, you straighten yourself. There’s a glint to her eyes as she looks at you. You can’t help but feel a little embarrassed.
  1287.  
  1288. “I-is there something on my face?”
  1289.  
  1290. Her cheeks grow a little red as she looks at you. She smiles softly, “No, it’s nothing. Come eat.”
  1291.  
  1292. Her hair flutters around her in silver streams as she spins on the spot and walks around the trunk of the tree towards the campfire, a curious smile on her lips. Odd, now there’s one on yours. Whatever. You put a palm on the damp wood of the tree-trunk as you pass, and the fire comes into view. Everyone is huddled around it; May is leaning against Senna, who is arguing with Muradin over who needs more food, a mountain or a horse. Muradin, in turn, is engaging in a super-sonic high-speed slapping war of attrition with Phyle. Who is, in turn, cooking your breakfast, one-handedly.
  1293.  
  1294. “Enough, Monolith. You’ve had your share.”
  1295.  
  1296. The mountain just laughs, loudly. “‘Muradin, “The Monolith” Arcenhammer’ I like it. Teresa told me all about you, Golem. That bacon is mine. I order you as yo-”
  1297.  
  1298. “Muradin, Theinn hasn’t eaten yet.” She smiles wryly, “Play nice.”
  1299.  
  1300. “Teresa, you know what they say about early birds.”
  1301.  
  1302. She turns back, “He has a point, you’ll need to get up sooner than that if you want food next time.”
  1303.  
  1304. You grimace, “Not so long ago, midday was early. What kind of ungodly hour is it now?”
  1305.  
  1306. Muradin buts in mirthfully, “Seven.”  His laughter fails to disguise the pain in his voice as he cradles his broken, throbbing, red hand. He mumbles a healing chant when he thinks no one is looking. You take a spot between Phyle and Teresa, directly opposite May. Your eyes meet, and she pales, burying her head into Senna’s side. Senna looks confused, looks down at May, looks across at you, and you see the explanation click in her mind.
  1307.  
  1308. “Ah, haha, sorry. She doesn’t handle men too well.” You point to the hulking isle of man.
  1309.  
  1310. “Why does he get a pass?”
  1311.  
  1312. “Ah, well he’s less a man and more a geographic feature.”
  1313.  
  1314. Muradin’s beard twitches in indignant pride, “How foul. I am most certainly a man.”
  1315.  
  1316. “Erroneous logic aside, Theinn, your breakfast is ready.”
  1317.  
  1318. “Ah, thanks, Phyle.” She hands you a wooden plate of food, with a little bow. You take the plate, and begin eating, but she remains in her bow. You stab into a piece of tender bacon with your knife, and begin tearing pieces from it, staring at the girl’s spiky crown.
  1319.  
  1320. “…You do understand the precedent, correct?”
  1321.  
  1322. You swallow your bacon, roll up an egg, and cram it into your mouth before the golden yolk can spill. “Umf,” Swallow, “Not really, no.”
  1323.  
  1324. “Under clause thirty seven of section one hundred and twenty one of the Principles of Fair Exchange as detailed in our contract, breakfast is in turn rewarded with head pats.”
  1325.  
  1326. “You just made that up.”
  1327.  
  1328. “Yes.”
  1329.  
  1330. You sigh, wipe clean the grease one of your hands on a leg of your trousers, and pat the girl’s head, working your fingers in between the spears of cuticle, massaging her scalp. She lets out a dopey grin, and you swear if she had a tail, it’d be wagging. You return to your meal.
  1331.  
  1332. The mushrooms were fleshy and rich. They tasted forest-y. The tomatoes she collected weren’t the large fleshy kind you find in market stalls, but the small, round juicy ones you find in the depths of the forest. Fried over stone, the skin was blackened, the flesh soft, and the insides boiling. With the smallest of pressure, the quietest of crunches, your teeth easily sink into the flesh of the tomato, causing it to pop, hot juices filling your mouth. The bacon’s texture was that of tender, boiled meat, whilst having the crisp of being fried, and utterly saturated with juices and spices. Honestly, it was some of the tastiest you’d ever had. You could get addicted to this. Even the orange juice was tart with a sweet aftertaste.
  1333.  
  1334. You lean back, having devoured your breakfast fast, “Ahh, maan~” you mumble, “I sure could use a drink.”
  1335.  
  1336. “Now those are the manliest words you’ve spoken yet.” He pulls a few cups from nothing, already full with mead.
  1337.  
  1338. “I see… so ‘That’ existed after all.”
  1339.  
  1340. The man nods sagely, “Indeed. The steps to manhood are for and high for you yet, lad.” Senna perks up her nose twitching, ears swivelling like satellites.
  1341.  
  1342. “I-is that mead I smell?”
  1343.  
  1344. Muradin smirks, “Only the finest, lass.”
  1345.  
  1346. She starts to smack her lips, eyes hollow bar the heart-shaped pupils dominating her face, “G-gimme. Gimme now.”
  1347.  
  1348. “Hold your horses.” He punches the cups which also fill with mead, and hands them over, one for him, one for May, one for Senna and one for Teresa, who refuses.
  1349.  
  1350. “Please, we have a mission to return to the Capital. This is serious, we don’t have a moment to spare.” Already having taken a few swigs yourself, you leer at Teresa,
  1351.  
  1352. “C’mon, it’ll take months. We have time. All we’ll be doing is walking anyway. We can do that drunk.”
  1353.  
  1354. “Well, maybe I-”
  1355.  
  1356. “Muradin! Spiced, for the lady!”
  1357.  
  1358. “Coming right up!” He punches a stream of mead into the air, which lands precisely in the cup you hold out, spilling nary a drop. You gaze at the spiced mead, and send a smidgeon of your power through it, warming it up nicely, just short of boiling. You hand it to her and she nearly gags on the molten fumes. She looks really hesitant.
  1359.  
  1360. “A-are you sure? I get really… weird when I drink.” Aww, she probably gets clingy and cute.
  1361.  
  1362. “Don’t worry, it’s just us and the open road. What’s the worst that could happen?” Hoo boy.
  1363.  
  1364. An hour later, the camp is packed up, the fire snuffed, and yet the party hasn’t moved a single spot. You dodge the flying backsword, as Teresa stomps her tantrum into the earth.
  1365.  
  1366. “C’mooon, fight me, you pussy!”
  1367.  
  1368. “Now really isn’t the time to-oof” She barrels into you, digging her shoulder into your sternum, unholy speed, but drunk and unbalanced. The two of you fall to the ground, where she straddles you, shirt loose, hair awry, cheeks flushed. She leans her face down close, and gazes deep into your eyes.
  1369.  
  1370. “Girl.” A fist flashes from your left, and your battered face is flung to the right.
  1371.  
  1372. “Pansy.” A fist flashes from your right, and your battered face is flung to the left.
  1373.  
  1374. You put a hand up to her chest, and blow her away with wind magic, putting a little too much power into it, feeling your head swing with pain and alcohol. Fuckin’ bitch has it now. You sprint to her falling form, with wind assisted speed, and slam a knee into her gut, following with a solid blow to her back as you link both hands together in one fist, and smash down with all your might. Her body heaves like she wants to throw up, but nothing comes out. She collapses to the ground.
  1375.  
  1376. “Hah. Had enough yet?” Again, the flash. Your legs disappear, and you’re on your ass. She’s on top you already, slaming her fists, elbows and skull into your face. Magic exhausted, all you have left is stamina. You find a gap through her flurry of blows, and deliver a solid fist to her face, splitting a lip. She rocks back a little in her straddle, before using the momentum to deliver a vicious headbutt.
  1377.  
  1378. “The fuck kinda brawling bitch are you?”
  1379.  
  1380. Smack. “Queen brawler bitch to you, faggot.” Smack. You kick a leg out from under her, and push off the ground, using the last of your strength to roll her over. It’s awkward as fuck, but it succeeds, and with you on top, you ball your fists and start punching, winging your fists with a pendulum motion, left right left right. You don’t have much left. If she gets another one up on you, it’s over.
  1381.  
  1382. You aim to finish it with a solid headbutt, but she thrusts her head out of the way at the last moment, and flips the two of you over. You’re fucked. It’s over. With a raging hellfire in her eyes, she winds her fist back, and you don’t even make to defend yourself. You meet the coming sledgehammer with a smirk. Power spent, she falls flat across your chest. Darkness consumes.
  1383.  
  1384. ***
  1385.  
  1386. Dust and a bit of hair sticks up your nose. You scrunch your face up, and jerk it away, sneezing. You go to rub your head, but your arms art tied to… something. Something hot. Something muscly. And bristly. Another hair pokes your nose and you sneeze again.
  1387.  
  1388. “Bwuh?”
  1389.  
  1390. You hear a horse-like snort of amusement. “‘Bwuh?’ he says. Looks like the princess is awake.” You struggle in your bonds, still in a sleep-haze.
  1391.  
  1392. “H-hey, quit squirming! We’ll stop just up ahead, so-” Power. “N-No wait!” with the clumsy actions of a sleepwalker, your sleep-addled mind tries to burn through the ropes. And shred it with wind. And freeze them. All attempts fizzle out. Your brain doesn’t really work. “Geez, that’s why I told you to…” The voice fades out of your ears. There’s just one deep message booming throughout your mind. Don’t like being tied up. Perhaps it’s your affinity with flame. Perhaps Sig gave you a hand. You give a final, primal kick at the shackles binding you at the pillar, and the ropes incinerate into ashes. With the ropes holding you in place gone, you roll off whatever it was you were on, dumping you hard on the ground. You roll and dust kicks up as you smack your head against the solid dirt. Groaning, you sit up, and stretch your arms and legs out. That last thwack jolted your mind into awareness. Your forehead tingles with the vestigial power running through the rune there.
  1393.  
  1394. You’re greeted to a few curious faces as the centaur you recognise as Senna trots up to you with Muradin in tow.
  1395.  
  1396. “Now isn’t that a great piece of runework? Fascinating, really. I wonder just how many are etched into that flesh of his? It truly is refreshing to see such an old art.”
  1397.  
  1398. “Owaah~ Never seen anything like that before.” You turn your confused gaze towards the bearded man. Who grins down at you.
  1399.  
  1400. “Your crown of flames, boy. It’s showing.” You rub at your head. Feels like it’s going to burst. You try to distribute the power a little more evenly, but it seem as though you’d drawn a little too much. You struggle to ‘swallow’ it all and it sits heavy like stomach acid.
  1401.  
  1402. “Here, take a swig.” You take a swig. Water. Spring. You were hoping for something harder. You swallow it greedily.
  1403.  
  1404. “Now why’d you do that? I said we’d stop just up ahead. You insane, kid?”
  1405.  
  1406. You grunt, “I don’t like being tied up.”
  1407.  
  1408. Muradin nods, as though he’d already figured it out. Hey keeps it to himself though. “Senna! He’ll need a ride a little while longer, sorry to trouble you.”
  1409.  
  1410. The horse girl shrugs and stoops down to offer you her hand, “Eh, no skin off my back. But if you fall asleep, try not to drool, yeah?” you take her hand and she all but throws you up onto her back.
  1411.  
  1412. “I make no promises.”
  1413.  
  1414. “Heh.” You have enough presence of mind to firmly plant two hands on her equinian back as you swing your leg over. Could have ended badly, otherwise. You warp your arms around the girl’s waist, and lean against her back.
  1415.  
  1416. “Hmm, comfy.”
  1417.  
  1418. “Woah, don’t fall asleep, there. You’ll fall off again.”
  1419.  
  1420. “Princess carry me. Also, your fur is prickly.”
  1421.  
  1422. Her back straightens a little under the indignation, “I’ll have you know it’s very hard keeping your coat clean under circumstances such as these.”
  1423.  
  1424. You snicker, “I could scrub you down, if you like?” but she really is hot. It’s like falling asleep next to a fire. You nuzzle into the back your resting in, and it just so happens that as you turn your head, May’s passenger mumbles in her sleep, a drunken blush still spread across her cheeks.
  1425.  
  1426. “So? What way does the road lead us?”
  1427.  
  1428. “North. There’s a town on the way, Bergen. We’ll stay a week there, restock on some supplies.” Muradin rumbles his answer from in front of you
  1429.  
  1430. “North huh…” You wrap your legs around the hips of the busty centaur and lie down across her back, arms crossed. Your eyes roll back along the sky and you catch wisps of black smoke along the horizon. Twisting, you turn to face back the way you came, and trace the smoke down.
  1431.  
  1432. “Uh… hey. I think Stonevale…”
  1433.  
  1434. Senna nods, but doesn’t look back. “Yeah. Got hit.”
  1435.  
  1436. “What do you think happened to it?”
  1437.  
  1438. Muradin fills in, “Of what we saw last… They had too many men for the monsters to simply take it. Not enough to actually hold it. Odds are? Place is pretty trashed. It’ll take a fair bit of manpower to restore it. On the upside, Stonevale is ancient. It’ll survive.”
  1439.  
  1440. “So… Ela was right.”
  1441.  
  1442. “How prepared was she?” Senna asks curiously.
  1443.  
  1444. “They were leaving when I went to say goodbye.”
  1445.  
  1446. “Figures. What’s she like?”
  1447.  
  1448. “Ela? She’s… Ela. Known her for as long as I can remember. She’s less a commander of the Rebellion for me, and more a sister. In terms of leadership? I guess she’s up there with Roseline, but not as involved as Lara.”
  1449.  
  1450. “Muradin.” Phyle cuts in, squinting eyes, usual golden irises backed with the shadow of a reticule. “Paladins, a league from here. About twenty approaching, along with a carriage.”  
  1451.  
  1452. “How can you be sure they’re paladins?”
  1453.  
  1454. “I spent long enough in that cage to practically smell paladins by their dogma.”
  1455.  
  1456. Muradin grumbles, “Carriage, eh? Likely escorting a rather influential priest. Order. Quickly, hide yourselves. May, wake Teresa, she can play hung-over later.” His back shifts into the old and frail one of the elderly.
  1457.  
  1458. “Hey there, passenger, unless you want a piggy-back ride, it’s time to hop off.”
  1459.  
  1460. Curious as to whether Senna will turn into a girl or just a straight up horse, you slide off her back. She reaches around to her back, and slides her fingers down the shirt. Tapping somewhere on her shoulderblade, a grey smoke seeps out, obscuring her completely. It disperses, and out wobbles a rather un-noticeable looking girl in equally non-descript clothing.
  1461.  
  1462. “Huh. I was wondering if you’d turn into a horse. What was that smoke?”
  1463.  
  1464. She takes uneasy steps forwards, arms outspread, and wavering. You take her hand and offer her your shoulder. “T-thanks. Man I never got used to two legs. No idea how you guys do it. I’d rather turn into a horse to keep my balance, but then again I can’t exactly infiltrate places as a horse. Um, what were you saying?”
  1465.  
  1466. “The smoke?”
  1467.  
  1468. “Ah, right. Well the whole transformation spell, it’s a bit of a step up for monsters. The smoke is just a side effect of that. Elves and vamps and the like have it easier because they’re already rather humanoid, but for some of us other girls, like the centaurs and unicorns it’s a whole other issue, see?” She whips her hair to the side and pulls down on the back of her shirt, revealing the tattoo on her shoulderblade. It’s vastly more intricate and delicate looking that the standard hammer motif. A runic circle rings it, with etchings you’ve never seen before in layers, coiling and twisting.
  1469.  
  1470. “Wow.”
  1471.  
  1472. “Yeah. Though for logistics sake, the body and the clothes transform at the same time. I mean… the clothes would get all messed up, and you’d need to hide spares all over the place otherwise. And you’d be surprised how many times I’ve shaken pursuit by simply turning a corner and walking back out again as a human girl. Wouldn’t work so well if I had centaur sized clothes falling off me, now wouldn’t.”
  1473.  
  1474. You consider the logic behind that as you take your cloak off, “No, I guess not. That’s a really convenient magic. Is every one forced to get one? Phyle, come here.” You call to the golden girl as you continue your conversation. When she sidles along with your pace, you drape your cloak around her shoulders and draw the hood, concealing her spiky golden hair and most of her form, including her torn white robes. You draw the cowl low as to obscure her black-ringed eyes, and pat her head once you’re done.
  1475.  
  1476. “It’s not mandatory or anything, but almost every one chooses to get it. Hurts like a bitch, but it’s better than having your face known to the enemy. Why? Don’t you want one?”
  1477.  
  1478. “Nah. Maybe I’ll learn to be extra sneaky if I don’t have a spare face to fall back on.” You rub the mark Ranuinne carved above your heart, “Besides… I already have a few brands. Any more and I’d feel like they start to lose meaning, right?” You smile softly, “This is more than enough for me.”
  1479.  
  1480. Senna looks at you strangely before shrugging, and turning her gaze ahead, satisfied enough apparently. You watch May as she tries to wake her passenger. Shyly, she tries to prod her awake. It’s the actions of an acquaintance. Usually you’d have no qualms with kicking your friend awake, but you get all timid when it comes to rousing someone you don’t know that well. Clearly the two aren’t that close. Her timid consideration goes to waste however, as being so preoccupied with trying to gently rouse her sleeper, she doesn’t look in front of her, and trips, sending the two tumbling in a mess of limbs. It’s nothing short of divine providence that May doesn’t accidentally break an ankle.
  1481.  
  1482. You plunge a hand into the cloud of groans and dust, and touch something soft. Hoping it’s not what you think it is, you give it a squeeze and feel bone underneath. Ah, a shoulder. You wrap your hand under it and haul whoever it is up to their feet. They are light, so it’s Teresa. She stumbles a step and you catch her before she can fall again.  
  1483.  
  1484. “T-Thanks.”
  1485.  
  1486. “Don’t worry about it. Welcome back to the land of the living,” You grin, “How’s your head?” May chose to change rather than bother picking herself up with her four legs. The girl stands, emerging from the cloud of dust on two legs. Teresa looks around at all her disguised companions, and follows suit immediately, even though she doesn’t know the reason why. You can’t help but feel a little eager for the training you’ll soon undergo. Once she’s done morphing before your eyes, the boring girl turns to you,
  1487.  
  1488. “Why are we hiding?” You open your mouth to answer, but Muradin cuts in first.
  1489.  
  1490. “Convoy of Orderites ahead. Theinn, lad. Come up front. I look frail and weak, the rest of us look like women. You could pass for a mercenary, or some kind of guard, so you take the lead. Every one, single file to the side of the road.” People follow his orders instantly, asides from Phyle, who isn’t really his to order around. She tails you, almost hiding behind your back, well obscured. You travel for half an hour in this line, steadily walking, watching the convoy of iron clad paladins come closer.
  1491.  
  1492. Close enough for you to make out the colour of their eyes through their slitted helms, you resist the urge to lay your hand on the pommel of your sword. Instead, you bow your head as you pass. The smell of steel and horse assails you as the troupe of men and the horse-drawn carriage passes. There’s twelve men in total, all armed in shining plate, toting warhammers, longswords, shields and claymores. Four walk next to the caravan, two to each side, six lead, and the last two trail behind, mounted. The carriage itself is a dark, right wood, finely polished with ornate metal frames lining it here and there. There are two large windows either side, curtained off with a thin fabric, and sturdy looking metal grating, preventing peasants from tossing in trash or other such hazardous material.  
  1493.  
  1494. Out of the corner of your eye, you spy moving silhouettes from within the caravan, their shadows shone upon the curtain thanks to the sunlight beaming in through the opposite side. Two figures, a man reclining against the seat, and a woman atop him, her back arched, palmable, perky breasts swaying with her motion. Her wings are large and splayed out wide in the throes of orgasm, a long thick tail sprouts from just above her ass, and loops around, plunging into the indistinct shadow of her silhouette. The man has his hands wrapped around the girl’s throat, strangling any cries of ecstasy, though faint wet slaps can be heard as the priest thrusts up into her. Urged to confirm it, you begin to utter the chant Teresa carved into your heart, when Muradin gives you a discreet, sharp jab to your back. You turn around to look at him, and he just grimaces, face green.
  1495.  
  1496. The air feels thick, dark and cloying as the group of men pass. A few eyes flick your way, but your companions disguises pay off. You’re the only one those eyes linger on. Your party waits until they can no longer her the clank or armor, or heavy footfalls. Muradin, still looking sick, spends a moment catching his breath by the side of the road. He pulls out a waterskin, and takes a swig then wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and takes to his waterskin once more rinsing his mouth of the taste. “We’re far enough now lad, if yer gonna chant, do it now.” Every one busies themselves returning to their more natural forms, and comforting skins. You question the effectiveness now that they are so far away, but recite the chant to yourself none the less. As your senses open to the pungent highlights of ungodliness, you feel a powerful wave of nausea wash over you. Looking down at the road, it’s rotten black, with putrid ichor filtering in between the cracks in the ground. The air smells of week old cum left to bake in the sun, rotting flesh and sulphur. You gag and wretch, but focusing your mind and breathing in through your mouth abates the sensation. You couldn’t fathom it had you recited the chant right next to them as you had planned. You find a new respect for Muradin’s self-control.
  1497.  
  1498. “That’s fucking disgusting. And that was in with the paladins?” You close your mind off to the senses of the divine and heretical. The instant you do so, the road regains its bleak, dirty tone, the scent of fresh grass wipes clear the stench of evil.
  1499.  
  1500. “Aye, lad. Something that smells that disgusting at even such a range is powerful indeed. The man looked to be in control, but it is not so. She was likely leading them to some other force. Or maybe he’s a stray Succubus who fancied a pure harem. Who knows? I recognised some of the regiment. I’ll have to report this, too. They might be headed for Thule.” He speaks a little louder, addressing every one else, “We’ve walked most the day, and I need to write for a bit, so lets find a play to set up. If I recall, there’s a homestead not long in this direction,” he points a finger out across the fields, “They should lend us a roof, if we pay. We’ll stay there for the night and set out early tomorrow.” Teresa and May nod, taking off. Senna seems more happy to simply be back on four legs, and follows though it’s clear she didn’t really. Listen. You, Muradin and Phyle fall in behind them.
  1501.  
  1502. “Phyle, could you tell?”
  1503.  
  1504. “I could sense the uh… ‘signature’ of their power. The undead tend to feel a little colder. She burnt pretty hot, so I concluded that she were a demon of some kind.” You frown, noticing how she didn’t mention smell.
  1505.  
  1506. “She didn’t stink to you?”
  1507.  
  1508. “Not particularly master. I didn’t mind her perfume, actually.” No particular repulsive smell?
  1509.  
  1510. “I think I know what you’re thinking lad, you’re wondering if the smell is actually there, right?”
  1511.  
  1512. “Yeah.”
  1513.  
  1514. “More or less, it isn’t. The chant we use is a bit specialised compared to the one taught in the order, but it’s derived off the same school of scrying. The core root of the spell or ‘enchantment’ is ancient, and propagandized. Where as your friend here can sense the type of power, our chant can do much the same thing, except it wouldn’t have much of a psychological ‘effect’ if that were all. So the first priests and paladins tampered with it so that the identifying properties of the chant were repulsive. Our particular chant operates on all senses, but the average one just gives you a feeling for which side of the fence the creature is on. That wretched stench is more or less just a filter of propaganda. It can’t do, after all, for paladins to discover a succubus in hiding, only to find that in their senses she smells as pretty as roses laced with aphrodisiacs, and has looks to make a goddess burn in envy. It’s a little easier to kill something if it repulses you. The place is just up ahead, behind this hill.”
  1515.  
  1516. Every one nods, happily, eager to rest. The group rounds the hill, and lays its eyes on a scene of brutal carnage. The farmstead in the distance had been trashed, and the barn next to it is burning. You all break out at a run, drawing weapons, the anguished cries of animals coming in clear. The closed barn doors begin to shake, as screaming cows ram into it. You’re within a few hundred meters from the farmstead and the adjoining barn, when the doors shatter open in an explosion of flame and ember. A single cow stumbles out of the fire, before collapsing on its side, flesh melting off. The last screams trail off, and bring with it the scent of roasted meat.
  1517.  
  1518. With the barn well and truly ablaze, there’s little to do over there, so you all head for the trashed farmstead. The door has been split in half, and lay flat, separated from its hinges. A horrid wretched wailing comes from within the house, alternating between banshee screams and forlorn sobbing. You look around your companion’s grim faces, warily, and slowly sheathe your weapon. There’s nothing left here. Teresa walks past you, swiping one of your knives as she does so. She sheathes her sword, but keeps the knife in her hand. You look around you as you follow Teresa inside. Furniture is shattered and smashed, with litter and debris scattered all about. Holes are kicked into the walls and things are torn up apparently just for the hell of it. The screaming is clearer now, and bounces around the walls of the home. A deep dark chill sets in your spine, and your mind is brought to images of the wailing banshee. You turn into the room which holds the screaming, and grimace.
  1519.  
  1520. This room must have once been the living room, because there’s a bunch of chairs toppled over around a large, long oak table. Tied to the table is the naked corpse of a young girl, barely old enough to be classified as a young adult. Bruises and cuts litter her body, her thighs, belly, face and the valley of her cleavage swims with blood and cum, pools of it forming in spots. Her bellybutton, the slightly concaved flesh just below her sternum.  She lay spread eagled on her back, rope tied to each limb and anchored around the legs of the table, a rusted axe is embedded deep in her gut, the handle old and splintered. Her throat has been slit, and the handle of a common knife protrudes from out of her savaged womanhood. Dried fluids stick to her hair and plaster it against the ancient wood. You wrinkle your nose at the scene, and your head starts to swim and pound. You can tell by the way that she looks that quite a number had their way with her. Before or after butchering her, you’d rather not know. Unconsciously, you make to turn away when Teresa stops you.
  1521.  
  1522. “Don’t look away. Don’t close your eyes. This.” She spits on the ground, an uncharacteristically strong reaction from her, “This shit is why we’re here.”
  1523.  
  1524. You nod, and swallow your bile. Wrenching your gaze from the girl, at the head of the table is a man sitting on a chair with his hands bound behind him. Stripped from the waist down, his flaccidity is glazed in drying white juices. He’s received a similar treatment, though it’s clearer that he hasn’t been passed around, so to speak. He does look slightly drained though, like whatever fucked him, drew out his lifeforce in equal measures to the seed dripping off the lip of the chair. Gaping wounds exist where his eyes once were, his throat split into a wide bloody smile, tongue pulled out through the hole, dangling, a grim mockery of an ahegao.
  1525.  
  1526. Perpendicular to him, an older woman lay bound to the corner of the table, looking to be in her mid-thirties. Bend over the edge of the table with her arms tied behind her back and her ass raised, her head is turned to stare at the lifeless corpse of what you assume is her husband. Those who took here were considerably less sadistic, and though her belly is gravid with seed, the only marring on her body is a deep puncture in her back. If you were to slide your sword into it you’d see that it slips neatly between ribs, and pierces deep into the heart. A merciful death, regardless of what lead up to it. Her holes are plugged with random items, a cup crammed in her anus, a wad of tablecloth rammed in her lower lips, sealing the evidence of the rape deep within her, if not for the pools surrounding her.
  1527.  
  1528. Finally, your eyes turn to the source of the screaming, so loud it feels like your head will split. It’s the girl on the table. She stands before herself, looking down at her own violated corpse, and the dead bodies of her family. Her fingers claw at her incorporeal, translucent form, thin streams of light blue ectoplasm trail from the gouges she claws down her arms, and drips to the wooden floor, wicking away. The ghost stares wide-mouthed and wide-eyed at the carnage brought to her home and screams, posture slightly hunched over as she hugs herself, tearing deep trenches into her flesh. Tears stream down her face, and though she gazes fixedly at her own corpse, her eyes see nothing, glazed and closed off. Dead eyes. Her scream lasts an eternity, neither stopping to draw in breath, nor stopping for the sake of her torn throat.
  1529.  
  1530. “I-Is there something we can do for her?”
  1531.  
  1532. Muradin appears behind you, and shakes his head, sadly. “Alas not, lad. She’s no normal ghost, but a Banshee. Undisturbed, she’ll stay here screaming for years before the power slowly accumulates and reforms her shattered mind. It’s a loathsome existence. I’ve never met a content Banshee. It’s best we let her spirit rest, and exorcise her here.”
  1533.  
  1534. You frown “Are you sure that’s alright? What if she wants to live, despite it all.”
  1535.  
  1536. The man shrugs, “Ultimately, the decision lay with me. For her to already have risen as a ghost, and to be so warped by power that she’s already turning into a banshee, it’s likely that she can cause some serious damage. Put her down here, give her soul rest, and I can circumvent that. She may find her happiness centuries down the line in a pool of innocent blood. But at that point, it isn’t worth it.” He steps behind the screaming girl, and puts his hand on top of her head, it glows a faint bright light, and doesn’t fall through her head like you’d expect. “It’s up to us to make the hard choices. To do the dirty work. If we had the world at the tips of our fingers, we could easily bring your Lich friend to come care for her, but you have no way of contacting her, and we don’t have the time to send a runner.”
  1537.  
  1538. “I… I guess this is the best then. But it still feels… wrong somehow.” Muradin nods, and gently strokes the girl’s hair, the intense aura of luminance around his hand growing brighter.
  1539.  
  1540. “That’s because it is. Don’t misunderstand Theinn. I’m not putting down the cursed undead because it’s my holy duty as a man of god. This isn’t a glorious act. This girl, Banshee or otherwise, is still a girl. Make no mistake, you’re witnessing me commit murder here. It’s just what we do.” Her screams and cries drop in volume until it’s just strangled sobs. A little consciousness returns to the girl’s eyes, and she slowly becomes more aware of her surroundings. For the first time she wrenches her eyes from the corpses of her family and herself, and looks into the faces of every one present. Finally she turns her face towards Muradin and as the holy power in his hand rises to a crescendo, and though her face is still wet with tears, she manages a warm, calm smile. Muradin smiles back at her as white light begins to shine from her eyes and mouth, and the ghost fades into oblivion. A beautiful murder.
  1541.  
  1542. “Now. Lets do something about these corpses.”
  1543.  
  1544. ‘I say we burn them.’
  1545.  
  1546. ‘You say that about everything.’
  1547.  
  1548. ‘Well, what are you gonna do, bury them? If it were me, I wouldn’t want to be dumped into the ground to rot with a belly full of cum. I’d want you to purify me of that kind of taint with cleansing fire.’
  1549.  
  1550. ‘…You may have a point, Sig.’
  1551.  
  1552. “I say we burn ‘em.” Teresa rolls her eyes, and Muradin ponders it,
  1553.  
  1554. “A grave would be more traditional for country people like this though…”
  1555.  
  1556. “Yeah, but look at them. Do you really think they want to be buried like that?”
  1557.  
  1558. “… You do have a point.” Muradin scratched his beard, “Alright, you take care of it then. I’d like to spend a bit of time to sanctify this household. It’s been through a lot. The last thing we want is this place becoming haunted.” You shrug, already feeling fatigued from the walk, and expending so much power earlier today. You burn the ropes tying the girl’s corpse to the table, and close her legs, bring her arms into her chest and lay her on her side. With her in the centre of the stained and torn tablecloth, you free her father, and lie him down next to his daughter. The mother is only bound with her hands behind her back so you decide not to touch her ropes, and carefully manoeuvre her in with her family, taking supreme care not to dislodge the plugs holding in her… cargo.
  1559.  
  1560. With the family piled up on top of the table, you wrap the table cloth around them in a tight bundle, and tie it together with the freed ropes. You pick up the bundling of adults with relative ease. Not the heaviest thing you’ve ever lifted, but definitely more than a normal man could lift. Times like these make you wonder what your father actually planned for you, carving such versatile and powerful runes into your flesh.
  1561.  
  1562. You heave a wary sigh as you carry the corpses to the burning barn. ‘You seem pretty drained. Are you alright?’
  1563.  
  1564. ‘Yeah I just need a nap.’
  1565.  
  1566. ‘You know how in exchange for a drain of your power, you can throw out fire and stuff, right?’
  1567.  
  1568. ‘Uh… yes?’
  1569.  
  1570. ‘Did you know the reverse was true?’
  1571.  
  1572. ‘What?’
  1573.  
  1574. ‘Give me a moment.’
  1575.  
  1576. You stand before the burning barn, bathing in the head, and drop the corpses at your feet, waiting for Sig to do whatever it is. The fires begin to burn down and you grow worried for the existing fuel, ‘You know I need that fire to burn things, right?’
  1577.  
  1578. ‘Ngh, hang on.’ Ngh? Is she exerting herself? In the next few moments the fire dies out completely, centralising in the middle of the barn. You begin to feel your grip on Sig loosen. As the last wicks of flame disappear, a positively vibrant Sig manifests. She walks toward you, looking fit to burst. “Mmh, it’s been a while since I’ve been this… full. You know if you just spend all day starting forest fires and letting me soak up all that delicious flame, I’d become quite something. Any way, you spend power to burn shit, right? Well, if I soak up fire like I just did,” She puts a fingertip to your forehead, it burs a little bit at first, but her touch cools quickly, “I can do this.” Sig shrinks before your eyes, regrettably, Going from supremely mature, to flat chested, to thin hipped, to flat assed and finally to a look more befitting that of a small child. You, on the other hand, experience an influx of sheer primal energy, and a lot of your previous weariness is burnt away. It’s not a complete gain, if you consider the power wasted earlier today and the power spend on maintaining an elemental, but for the time being, it feels very much like a refreshing glass of pure power, and whilst a net loss, leaves you much more spritely than previously.
  1579.  
  1580. Sig shrinks herself further, and flies about your shoulder with an appearance more fae than childish, redistributing her proportions to miniature maturity. “Now, just build a pyre or something. You’ve enough power to incinerate them and then some to spare.”
  1581.  
  1582. “Convenient, aren’t you?”  
  1583.  
  1584. “The convenientest.”
  1585.  
  1586. You set about gathering bales of unburnt hay, buried under smouldering ashes of the hay before it, licked by flame. Teresa pops up silently, and begins gathering large planks and chunks of wood which haven’t been ravaged by the flame. You build a small pyre, and lay the family atop it.
  1587.  
  1588. “… Should we say some words?”
  1589.  
  1590. Teresa shrugs, “I mean, we didn’t know them.”
  1591.  
  1592. “Right…” You use your power to set aflame the bundle of hay you’d gathered, and are poised to drop it atop the pyre. “Well… it really sucks that you all got raped and murdered. Hope the afterlife is better.” With those less than graceful words, you drop the torch atop the family, and the fire immediately catches on the dry-ish tablecloth. You cram one of your hands into your pocket, the other you point at the fledgling fire and begin to channel a little bit of power. You concentrate your flame in particular on the family, and the tablecloth begins to burn a bright blue, the rest of the pyre eventually catches as a matter of due course, and within a few minutes, the family is burning nicely.
  1593.  
  1594. You sigh, not as drained as you could have been, but drained none the less. Teresa wraps an arm around yours, “Lets head in.”
  1595.  
  1596. You head into the house, and see the two centaurs setting up in the largest room, unrolling bedrolls and pots and pans, something which calls to mind sleeping arrangements.
  1597.  
  1598. “Uh… Teresa.” She looks at you, questions in her eyes. “Could you sleep with me?”
  1599.  
  1600. A heavy blush spreads across her cheeks, “Theinn, I… But isn’t it…”
  1601.  
  1602. You chuckle at her misunderstanding, “No, literally sleep with me. I just think I might sleep a little sounder next to you.”
  1603.  
  1604. She smiles, “Sure.”
  1605.  
  1606. Muradin speaks as he exits the house ans approaches the two of you, “So I had a hunch. I confirmed it as I walked around this house purifying it. Those paladins from before are the ones that did this. The chair the man sat on reeked of that succubus from earlier. This too, will have to go in my report. That aside, this place has been cleansed. If someone else makes it a home is up to fate, really. Places which have been through a lot of emotion tend to be prone to receiving strong holy sanctity. This could even prove to be a decent safe house for us. Well… whatever. Let’s settle down.”
  1607.  
  1608. Senna chimes in, holding a burlap sack “Hey I found potatoes.” It may take some time to get used to this laidback attitude of ransacking the belongings of the dead. You shrug off your unease, attributing it to inexperience.
  1609.  
  1610. “Hey, toss them here, I’ll show you something cool.” Curious, Senna passes you the bag of potatoes. ‘Sig, can you see if that family has burnt yet? If they have, soak up the leftover fire and bring it here, I don’t want to pass out cooking.’ Fairy Sig nods, and zips out of the house. A few moments later she returns, roughly the size of a toddler.
  1611.  
  1612. ‘Here you are. I’ll head off, I’m getting sleepy.’ You nod your assent as the drowsy Sig passes along the last of her essence into you and flickers out of reality. Revitalised enough for this task, you set to wooing your audience. Runes on your body begin to glow as you funnel magic through them, and upending the bag of potato, you gather all of them up in a swirl of wind. You then blast them with a high pressure gout of water. The water is caught in a net of air, and as you filter it off, so too do the dirt and parts of the skin flake free. With that done, you use the air to slice all of the potatoes into cubes, and add fresh water to the mix. You isolate each potato in a pocket of air, and boil the water around the potatoes, steaming them thoroughly for a few minutes. Removing the water you call to your companions, “Throw in some seasoning and see if they had milk.”
  1613.  
  1614. A few moments later, May returns with a bottle of milk, everyone else is poised with their seasonings. “Alright, pour it all in.” The bubble of air is mixed in with a portion of pepper, milk and herbs. The whole homogenous mix floats around with the cubes of steamed potato for a moment before you conjure hundreds of blades of wind. Like a tornado, you set the loose with in the bubble of air, and they slice through everything like billions of saw blades and before your eyes, the mix is turned into a fluffy, aerated mess of seasoned mashed potato. Someone hands you a bowl and you drop the mix into it, landing it with a solid splat.
  1615.  
  1616. “Uwaa~ This is delicious.” Various complements float around about your cooking prowess, and the rest of the night is spent in relatively mild merry making, as if to wash the house clean of its recent blackness, and remind it of what happy times look like. You joke and drink, and before long, every one bar Muradin turns in. Muradin, along is left to write up his report.
  1617.  
  1618. You yawn and stretch. Teresa tugs on your jacket, “Take this off, let’s crash.” You oblige her, and strip off your leather jacket, and all your other gear, belts, dagger bandoliers, and more. Before long you’re in your pants and a comfy loose shirt, one of Teresa’s. She takes you by the hand and all but drags you over to her sleeping roll. Pushing, aside the furs, she slips in and beckons for you to come closer to her. Grinning tiredly, you slide into the same bedroll as she, and settle yourself in close to her form, laying an arm across her hips. You’re close enough to feel her breath on your face. She grins, a little, and gives you a chaste peck on the cheek. “G’night.” She says.
  1619.  
  1620. “G’night,” you reply, and close your eyes. You hold her closer, and settle in, eager to find some decent rest.  
  1621.  
  1622. ***
  1623.  
  1624. A soft wind blows as you find yourself lying down  atop a hill in a familiar sea of green grass, head nestled in some one’s lap. Gentle hands run through your hair, caressing and massaging. You look up, your own eyes falling on Ranuinne’s. Though tears stream down her beautiful face, it isn’t distorted and scrunched up like the face of a crying person. Her smile, in fact, is warm and calm.
  1625.  
  1626. “So… this is a dream huh?” The brand on your chest aches.
  1627.  
  1628. Her lips part, and she grins widely, flashing you her pointed teeth. “Yeah. Sorry, I don’t have anything for you like slaying dragons and rescuing princesses.” A few of her tears fall, splattering against your cheek.
  1629.  
  1630. You don’t know what kind of face you’re making, but you know that not all the wetness on your cheeks is hers. “That’s alright. To be with you like this… Is dream enough for me.”
  1631.  
  1632. “Then lets… lets stay like this for a while. This and nothing else, until the dream fades.”
  1633.  
  1634. You twist as you lay, and wrap your arms around her, burying your face into her belly, and she pats your head. You lay with her until the dream fades.
  1635.  
  1636.  
  1637. *   *   *   *
  1638.  
  1639. The sound of my soft breathing fills the luxurious room, and as I open my eyes, they fall across the Stud from last night. A cock as immense and grand as his body was delicate. The perfect mate for a predator like me. I sigh as I swing the legs my sisters returned to me off the side of the bed. I moisten my fingers with my mouth, sucking, tasting the coppery dried blood. With the blood wet, it’s easier to wipe my hands clean on the bedsheets. I can’t help but scowl, feeling sickened as I look across at the sex machine sharing my room.
  1640.  
  1641. “You’re still here?” But it’s useless. I tore his throat out myself, just like all the others that came before him, trying to bed me. Before the Demon Queen took away our bloodlust, my sisters wouldn’t stop to so much as talk to a man. Rending and tearing. I never realised my sisters were such whores. With the bloodlust gone, they glut themselves on cum, instead. They think every problem can be solved by cramming a dick in it. “Pathetic. I was even asleep. They didn’t think to clean you up?” How many had it been? I lost count after ten. I put my arms under the delicate and handsome prettyboy’s body, and lift him up. Carrying him, I take him over to the balcony, and drop him over the edge. I hoped they’d get the message when each boy returned, savaged everywhere except the cock. My sisters were right. I had starved myself for too long. If they want to feed me, I guess I shouldn’t complain.
  1642.  
  1643. Maybe I’ll have eaten enough soon to tear this place to the ground and simply leave. The boy bounces with a satisfying splat, his already gored body becoming twisted and broken. Tall enough to ensure I can’t escape without shattering my legs. Not that I’m afraid of that, but I can’t run anywhere after that. They’d just bring me back up here, patch me up, and I’m back to square one. Not high enough to successfully dash myself on the ground below. My gilded cage within the hidden castle of the Demon queen. But even if I did escape, then what? I can’t go back to Theinn. Not after what happened to him because of me. Not after I abandoned him like that. I sigh, feeling the tears begin. I long ago gave up on trying to stop them, so now I just wait until I run out.
  1644.  
  1645. “No… if you go back to him, it changes nothing. As a Rusalka you’re indispensable. That’s why we’re trying so hard to corrupt you, to bring you to our way of doing things. The Queen wants you to join us. And we want you as a Sister. Look, I said it before, I’m sorry… I didn’t realise what he meant to you. I just thought he was another cock, y’know? I fucked it bad, and I know you’ll never forgive me. And that hurts. But if you want to go back to him, it’ll be a warpath paved in blood. We aren’t letting you go, Ranuinne. And you’ll never kill us all. You’ll get all the underlings, sure. I bet you could even take out Skadi. But I’m much stronger than you, Ranuinne, and I’m not even a drop in the ocean compared to Her. So just… give up. It hurts me to see you like this, honey. So just give up. It’s useless to resist. Just jump on the next cock we send you, and let it all go. He’s only human. It’s time you moved on. He’ll only live another, what? fourty years? Then what? What if he’s already moved on?
  1646.  
  1647. Well… I’ll get someone to clean up the mess. The Queen has sent me off to look after the latest town we took, so I won’t be able to see you for a bit. It was the one that you guys live near. Anyway, I’ll see you when I get back.”
  1648.  
  1649. Hlinna drops from the balcony, and disappears as suddenly as she appears. I don’t know how, and I don’t really care. She does this a lot. Shows up, gives a lecture. Fucks off. I stopped trying to fight her after the first few times. She’s simply better than me. It’s easier if I simply let her words float over me.
  1650.  
  1651. “Fourty years huh…” As I lean against the balcony railing and look out across the sky, I think back to the dream I just woke from. After I tore the boy’s throat out and fed on his rancid flesh, I fell into a deep sleep. And when I was next aware of myself, I was wandering in a giant field of swaying green grass, coloured bleakly by the grey sky. I wondered what I was doing there, when I stumbled across Theinn’s sleeping form. My chest tightens as I recall it. He looked to cute and defenceless. His shadow stood above him, beating back abominations I’d never seen before, with black blade and shadowed spells. The shadow struggled vainly to defend the sleeping form of Theinn from the abominations which hid in the darkness, but he was failing. I went to help, but I didn’t even life a finger. I didn’t have to. They all shrunk from my presence, and scurried away. The shadow looked at me, and said something I couldn’t hear, before pointing at me, and then at himself.
  1652.  
  1653. He then knelt on top of Theinn’s head. His knees sunk through his flesh, because he was just a construct of the shade, but he got his point across. I took his place, and after a few pleasant moments of having Theinn rest his head on my lap his eyes opened. I was scared. Scared of what he may say, after being through so much because of me, to only be tossed aside. But he just smiled, and said ‘ah, a dream.’ Like my simple presence was enough to make his dreams come true.  
  1654.  
  1655. If this was his dream I thought, it was a shame I had nothing to make it up to him, nothing to give. But I was all he wanted. And that made me happy, because he was my dream too. And then we stayed like that until the dream ended. More tears fall on the back of my hand. I’m crying again. Still.
  1656.  
  1657. “Fourty years, huh…” His eyes. They were different from what I remember. He didn’t look too shocked to see me. Like he expected to meet me again. But then, that wasn’t really him, was it? Of course the Theinn in my dreams is walking forward to the day we’ll meet again. Because that’s what I really want. I want him to come find me, so why did I run away? Haah~ So stupid.
  1658.  
  1659. “I wonder where he is. What he’s doing now. I hope he’s with that friend of his. I think she could make him happy…” But my heart hurts. I know I don’t want that.
  1660.  
  1661.  
  1662. *   *   *   *
  1663.  
  1664. “Theinn! Theinn! You’re bleeding!” Teresa’s concerned hisses rouse you from the dream. You’re not particularly disappointed. You knew the dream would have to end, you were just happy to see her again. She’s a lot more beautiful that you remember. Well…. That’s not entirely true. That wasn’t actually her, just your minds image of her. She’s exactly as beautiful as you recall. Still… it was nice.
  1665.  
  1666. You blink your eyes. Teresa is above you, scared concern written all over her. Well… that’s to be expected, when someone inexplicably begins to bleed. You smile up at her, “Is it long until we have to get up?”
  1667.  
  1668. “A-A while, yeah, It’ll be a few hours until sunrise, b-but that’s not the point! Where is your wound? We need to bandage it quickly!” You laugh softly and pull Teresa into your arms, holding her close to your chest as you rub your cheek against the crown of her head.
  1669.  
  1670. “Don’t worry. I just had a good dream is all. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow, but now I really can’t bear to go to bed alone. Stay with me?
  1671.  
  1672. “W-what?” You mumble, still disoriented and sleep addled, halfway between the waking world and the dream,
  1673.  
  1674. “I need you, need you to keep away the dark.”
  1675.  
  1676. “O-Okay.” She’s still clearly scared, but your complete lack of concern seems to calm her. Or at the very least, lull her into a false sense of security. She may even recall the fact that rusalka blood runs in your veins. She settles down in your arms, and kisses your neck, her teeth brushing against the skin. “But you don’t get to leave me alone, either.” You close your eyes and fall back asleep as her arms wrap around your chest.
  1677.  
  1678. The sweet scent of your bedmate fills your mind as you open your eyes. There’s a breast, right before you, and as the sensations flood your body in their awakening, you begin to register the soft rear that your hands are cupping. The two of you are naked under the covers and a bloodsoaked layer of gauze is wrapped tight around your chest. Teresa is almost straddling you, one of her legs pushes between yours in such a way that your morning glory pokes up through the cleft of her womanhood, the hard bud of her clit poking into your shaft. There’s a blush across Teresa’s sleeping face and her hips wiggle ever so slightly from time to time, her long since exorcised instincts kicking in.
  1679.  
  1680. This particular pose and the way your cock rests against her feels a little too unlikely to have occurred naturally, and you have a hunch about the culprit.
  1681.  
  1682. “Fufu, I see you have ‘Risen’.”
  1683.  
  1684. You sigh, understanding that likely the primary objective was to clean the blood and put pressure on the wound. Her marionettistry was likely just a mischievous afterthought. She kneels by your side, and looks down at you.
  1685.  
  1686. “Was this necessary, though?” You gesture to the naked pile of cuddle that is Teresa.
  1687.  
  1688. “You don’t like it?”
  1689.  
  1690. “…I don’t dislike it… How was patrolling?”
  1691.  
  1692. “Boring~”
  1693.  
  1694. “Well, good job none of us woke up dead.”  
  1695.  
  1696. “No, I’d say you look plenty alive.” She trails a finger down your chest. As it slides down it collects the edge of the bandaging, and tears straight through it. As the wrapping falls away, your chest is a little pink from the blood staining it, but otherwise, clean.
  1697.  
  1698. “So, master, how come I found you bleeding?” It’s only when Teresa’s ass twitches as she begins to sit up that you realise you’ve yet to release it. And it would still be a shame to do so. You wonder just how long you can get away with it. Luckily for you, she has other things on her mind, as the memories of last night rush in as she rises.
  1699.  
  1700. “I’d like an explanation too.” She blinks a little as her eyes adjust to the morning light, but she otherwise seems set on interrogating you. You shrug, it’s not like its something you particularly need to hide from either of them.
  1701.  
  1702. “It’s the brand of the Rusalka. My wife gave it to me before she was taken away. It’s a sign to ward off others like her. But it bleeds whenever I experience powerful emotions of love. I thought it was just when I actually made love, but last night I had a really vivid dream of her… it was almost like she was actually there. I guess that’s the reason for it…” you turn a sceptic eye to Theresa, “Unless you did something to me when I was asleep?”
  1703.  
  1704. She rolls her eyes, “I assure you, you wouldn’t have remained asleep had I done so… speaking of questionable things, why am I naked? And why are you?” She winces as she feels you pressing against her, “and why is it ‘there’?” You shrug and point to the girl with long golden spiky hair,
  1705.  
  1706. “Ask her, though she probably wouldn’t give you an answer.”
  1707.  
  1708. “Well, whatever. Let’s get dressed, wake the others and head out. It’s nice having a tireless automaton doing the patrolling. This is the first time I’ve woken up so rested.”
  1709.  
  1710. “Mmh, that probably has less to do with how long you slept and more to do with who you slept with.”
  1711.  
  1712. She grins, “Oh, you think so? Pass me that shirt over there,” You stretch back and snag the corner of the shirt with a finger. She continues as she slides it over her head and over her perky breasts, the disappearance of which you lament, “Maybe we should keep this sleeping arrangement, then?”
  1713.  
  1714. You grin back as you fish around for your pants and shirt, “It may be.”
  1715.  
  1716. The sun beats down, an uncharacteristically hot day for the cooler season. Though you see black clouds in the far distance, the sky directly above is a bright blue. Your party treads along in near silence, asides from the odd private observations passed between the pack-bearing centaurs. It surprised you that they’d take the burden, but Senna took great pride in her sensibility.
  1717.  
  1718. “I’m fucking strong as shit. I’ll haul anything if it helps. Not like those prissy nobles who would never even let anyone else on their back.” Her grin was as wide and brash as her words, but it made a certain sense to you. You could see her having a pride in simply being useful. It reminded you of the casual distain of the lower classes towards the upper classes back in the village. They’d look at their filthy hands which raised the food which fed noble and privileged bellies, and they’ know that they were the lifeblood of those who lead their pampered lives. You assume it’s a similar thing.
  1719.  
  1720. Anyway, asides from the odd word shared between them, the party was mainly quiet. You were headed to the next town along the line and it would be a good two weeks until you arrived.
  1721.  
  1722. ***
  1723.  
  1724. You sit down on the bare rock, taking the third and last breather for the day. Teresa comes and sits on the other side of the rock, and leans her back against yours. A few uneventful days passed since leaving the farmstead. The majority of it spent walking in silence, setting up camp just off the road. Unfortunately, banditry in the area was rising and on more than a few occasions you had to beat back the occasional band.
  1725.  
  1726. After the first week of walking, Senna spotted a lake in the distance, and together the lot of you took the chance to bathe, except for Phyle. It was good to feel somewhat clean for the first time in a fair few days. The lake was surrounded by trees, and unfortunately, as the sun set and the lot of you set up camp by the lake, you found that you weren’t the only ones to share the canopy.  
  1727.  
  1728. The peril of going off the road became readily apparent as, back to back, your group fought off a pack of werewolves. Even with your own ‘enhancements’ you were barely a match for their strength and speed, and took mostly a back role as the others engaged. Growls and snarls filled the clearing as spell blade and claw flashed in ferocious intensity. Then the bush behind you burst as a wolf sought to take you for her own. Unfortunately for her, she underestimated your skill a little too much, figuring that because you weren’t fighting, you were weak. And while that were true, relatively, you were a few steps above the common man, and you ran your sword down her flank as you dodged her leap, drawing in the same motion.
  1729.  
  1730. With a bit of a limp she turned to face you, snarling and growling, but you were saved any lengthy confrontation by Teresa’s word piercing through the wolf’s chest. The night was quiet after that, but you got little rest, opting to stay up and keep lookout with Phyle. The next day you were basically sleep walking, but thankfully it was entirely uneventful, and you crashed early. A few more days passed without incident after that, and you took to walking off for an hour or so as you crossed unfamiliar land. Sightseeing so to speak.
  1731.  
  1732. Once when wandering alone, you were waylaid by a band of P’Orks. It was a short scuffle in which you only earned a few broken ribs, glad for their preference for blunt objects, but you came out of it at the end a few purses of loot richer. They also held some dry meats, which gave every one something to chew on as they walked. The band was only six orcs, two of which ran after you felled four. Still, you’ve a long long way to go. Ideally, that amount should have been nothing to you. You’re sure that to Teresa is wouldn’t have been much of an issue. Hell, Muradin would have probably just punched them into ice or something.
  1733.  
  1734. Teresa’s back vibrates gently against yours as she begins to speak. “How are you ribs?”
  1735.  
  1736. “Better. The bones set within the first hour and basically healed overnight. The bruising took a day to go down, superficial a wound as that was.”
  1737.  
  1738. “So your body takes priority on what to heal? That’s neat. But be more careful, yeah? It still put you out of commission for the day. You’re far from indestructible, and even if it takes you only five minutes to heal from a wound, all it takes is five minutes for a skilled warrior to end a fight.”
  1739.  
  1740. You sigh, pride aching, “Yeah… I know. It’s not like I was being arrogant or reckless or anything I just… didn’t know how to avoid the hit. It came at a really bad time, out of one of my blind spots.”
  1741.  
  1742. “I see… Well, a large part of that is experience. Get into a few more fights and you’ll learn to minimise your blind spots as much as possible.”
  1743.  
  1744. “Yeah, my bad. It’s a little easier to avoid larger creatures. It’s the smaller ones that slip inside my guard.” You recall that time a few years back you successfully fended off against a minotaur ambush. Strong, sure, but the axes swung nearly lazily though the air, a large difference to the blunted club which appeared at your side from behind without you even noticing.
  1745.  
  1746. This is nice. You lean your head back and rest it on her shoulder. “I’ll show you a trick tomorrow morning that you can use to still get a powerful swing whilst stepping backwards. It’s mainly just using your momentum.”
  1747.  
  1748. At that moment Muradin stands up, and announces the brief respite over, and the lot of you get to marching. After falling asleep tonight, it would only be one more day of walking ‘till the next town.
  1749.  
  1750. When you do stop, the sun us already setting. Your group finds a clearing within a thicket by the roadside, and a small campfire is lit in the centre of the clearing. You and Teresa set up at the opposite side of the camp to the others. The fact that the two of you were sleeping together caught a few glances at first, but seeing as how neither of the centaurs caught the scent of sex, the rest assumed it was more a comfort thing. It wasn’t even an issue by the second night and by the third it was assumed, even if Phyle showed some jealousy. Well, it’s not like you see has as anything other than a somewhat dependable appliance anyway, so you’re unsure of whether or not there’s actually any potential being stolen away there for jealousy. The night passes much like the others did, a few tales, a few laughs and a drink or two, before settling in.
  1751.  
  1752. Or, it would, had you not awoken to Teresa gently shaking you in the middle of the night. You open your eyes, and find her face to face with you, as you lay on your side. One elbow is trapped under her, the forearm extending out from under her to lay the palm of its hand flat against your chest. She is close. So very close. She slowly retracts the arm she was jostling your shoulder with, and instead fixes her eyes on your neck, for some reason unable to meet your eyes.
  1753.  
  1754. “Is every thing okay?”
  1755.  
  1756. “Y-yeah… I just wanted you to look at me…”
  1757.  
  1758. But she shakes her head after a moment, “No, that’s not right… W-what do you think of vampires?” Under the dim glow of the fading firelight, flickering whimsically, the gemstones in her eyes shine an incandescent red.
  1759.  
  1760. “I don’t mind them.”
  1761.  
  1762. “Even if they bite?”
  1763.  
  1764. You blush a bit, “Actually I think I already told you that’s a bit of a turn on now…”
  1765.  
  1766. “O-oh… right…”
  1767.  
  1768. You scratch the back of your head, “Y-yeah…”
  1769.  
  1770. “So… if I became… you know… you wouldn’t mind?”
  1771.  
  1772. “…There’s something to this, isn’t there?”
  1773.  
  1774. There’s a brief moment of silence in which she looks up towards the sky before continuing, “Since that night you started bleeding, I’ve been having… cravings. The kind I haven’t had since that ritual.” You lay in your silence and wait for her to say it, even though you’re fairly certain of what she’s talking about. “Craving…” She turns from the stars and looks at you, her ruby eyes locking onto yours, “…You. Your blood. And I’m starting to think that maybe that ritual only supressed it, the blood given to me by my mother. I think it’s still there. Waiting to take control and return me to what I was a long time ago…” She purses her lips and frowns, waiting for your response.
  1775.  
  1776. You lift a hand and brush some of the hair behind her ear, “But that isn’t what you’re worried about, is it?”
  1777.  
  1778. She smiles a little weakly, “No… I can feel it even now… the urge to sink my fangs into you. I-If I lose control, or if something happens where I need blood… what then? I’m a little scared… That everyone would turn away from me.”
  1779.  
  1780. “I wouldn’t. And since it seems that this is partly my doing, I’d even try to take responsibility. And for the record, I personally wouldn’t even mind it if you did sink your teeth into me.”
  1781.  
  1782. “You wouldn’t turn your back on me? Like the others?” Others? “Even if I fed on you?”
  1783.  
  1784. “Wouldn’t be the first time. But I’d like to make something clear.”
  1785.  
  1786. Her brows knit, “Yeah?”
  1787.  
  1788. “I like you. Obviously we don’t know each other that well, but you’re interested in me, and I’m interested in you, and we’re both scared of being alone right? At the very least, it’s a mutual benefit, though I think there’s more to it than that.”
  1789.  
  1790. “Right…”
  1791.  
  1792. “But I love Ranuinne. And that won’t change. So I think it is best to make some things clear now. I wouldn’t turn on you, but should something happen, and I’m the only person you can lean on and turn to, what then? And when I finally find Ranuinne?”
  1793.  
  1794. She hides her face into your chest and thinks for a moment. “I guess I could just grow to like her as much as I like you?”
  1795.  
  1796. “I think she’d like you, but if she doesn’t? Then what? This may sound cold, but if I’m forced into a ultimate decision, I’ll choose her, no matter what. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’d let her push you away anyhow so it’s not like I’d let it get to that point its just… Sorry.” You sigh deeply. “I know I’m being a little unclear, it’s just…” Your words trail off as you steadily grow less able to articulate your feelings.
  1797.  
  1798. “A little?” She grins teasingly, despite your wincing. Her expression grows a little more serious, though. “Then I guess at that point, I’d just have to step aside, but I would do my best to not let the situation develop that far. I understand that if I wanted you that bad I should have found you first. And I mean, I’d do my best to get her to like me, but… If it can’t be helped… It can’t be helped. I mean, you’ll likely always be ‘someone’ to me. We’re already comrades, soon you’ll be a subordinate and a student, and I may even make you a lover soon…ish... Or food… but the point is, similar to how you wouldn’t just abandon me, I wouldn’t turn around and do the same to you but if it meant standing between you and she, as opposed to standing with you and she then… I think I’d try and move on…I think. Hard as that may be.”
  1799.  
  1800. “Thanks. That’s… really reassuring. I hope it never comes to that, though.” You give her a peck on the lips. As close as she is, it’s only a matter of craning your neck forward, “For your sake, that is.” Your lips settle into a self-assured smirk, “I doubt you’d find another guy as great as me.”
  1801.  
  1802. She giggles, “Ah, narcissistic now, are we?” She moves a little closer, and slips one of her legs between yours. A hand comes to rest on your hip. “Well…” She returns your kiss, “you’re not wrong.” The two of you kiss a last time, more intimately and passionately than before, more of her body touches yours. She breaks the kiss, and pushes her face up against your shoulder and neck and takes a deep breath, taking in your scent. Ranuinne’s favourite place, you briefly remember. Satisfied, both her arms slip about your torso as she settles in for the night. You return her embrace, and close your eyes.  
  1803.  
  1804. ***
  1805.  
  1806. Light flashes before your eyes, reflected off the ex-dhampir’s blade, and cuts through your concentration like a knife. You scowl, squinting, “Ah, hang on. It’s hard to see what you’re doing with the sun in my eyes like this.” You circle around Teresa, until the sun is to the side of the both of you, irritating neither you nor her. She repeats the steps a few more times, showing you how to maximise the movements in your body to build up the most momentum and force, to deliver a devastating slash even whilst moving backward. Like this, you could hop to either side as you leap back, and you see now how easily you could have avoided the pain of a few broken ribs. You find yourself wondering if you really payed enough attention to your mother’s lessons at swordplay.
  1807.  
  1808. “Alright, you two. Done yet? We’re leaving.”
  1809.  
  1810. Teresa sheathes her sword, “Well, keep going over those moves in your mind, and see if you can execute them the next time you have to draw your sword.” You nod and slide the blade into the scabbard sitting at your hip. You noticed it before, but the action isn’t as smooth as it could be. Might be time for some maintenance.
  1811.  
  1812. That day it only took the morning for your party to reach the next town. Walking up a particularly large hill, the land below drops away steeply, and in the far distance you can see the village. A blackened gold elbow digs into your ribs, the owner looking stoically ahead, conspicuous in her forced inconspicuousness. “What?”
  1813.  
  1814. Her mouth is a pursed facsimile of seriousness. Despite this, she manipulates only the corner of her mouth so speak to you. “I heard your little chat.”
  1815.  
  1816. “So?”
  1817.  
  1818. “So why didn’t… you know…” She pantomimes gripping a shaft, and pumps it into her mouth a few times, pushing her cheek out with her tongue.
  1819.  
  1820. You groan, “It was hardly a fitting time. Besides, we weren’t exactly alone, were we?”
  1821.  
  1822. She whines, “Aww, but its not like you’ll ever get me off. Peeping is all I have!”
  1823.  
  1824. You roll your eyes, it’s not like you don’t already have one of ‘those’.
  1825.  
  1826. Her lips push together in a golden pout, and the angelic flesh of her cheek puffs out, “I could just take you, ya know.”
  1827.  
  1828. “If it comes to that, it comes to that. But be prepared for the backlash. I’m not exactly alone and vulnerable here. And I never plan to be.” You point to Teresa and Muradin, and finally to your own skull, which holds a direct line of contact to an Ignis. One who has, on at least one occasion, proven herself able to fore her way into the word without you summoning her. Even if it did make you feel like Zeus.  
  1829.  
  1830. “I-I was just kidding…”
  1831.  
  1832. “That so?”
  1833.  
  1834. More and more, the details begin to make themselves clear the closer you come to the town. Larger than the one you grew up near. .There is a weathered name-plaque, engraved into an ancient signpost by the side of the dusty road. It reads ‘Bergen’. Frowning, you hone your eyesight. Well, not really. You don’t have anything convenient as far-sight. But you squint a lot, despite it only making things blurrier, trying to make out even the slightest detail.
  1835.  
  1836. As the hour passes, the town becomes clearer. The place was awash with activity, despite it not being particularly bustling. In fact, you’re surprised to see so few people rushing around to do so much. Granted, at this distance, they look like tiny ants. Actually, that’s rather fitting. Tiny ants of a dishevelled anthill. There’s something strange going on here.
  1837.  
  1838. Though its overall population would appear to be a fifth of the population of the other village, it’s size is actually nearly thrice of it. Even the core of Bergen itself is roughly twice the size as the village within the walls, then there are many homes and farms and other such buildings scattered about, befitting a major town that joins three different capitols. It could even be called a city. Bergen is the hub that links Thule, the imperial Capitol and Lyonesse together, their roads converging here.
  1839.  
  1840. So it is supremely fishy to see its residents so reduced.
  1841.  
  1842. Your party passes the first few homes, all of which have shattered windows, some with broken doors, others barred completely. If not for the activity you observed before, you’d even say that this place were a ghost town. Your footsteps resound hollowly, as you crunch the dusty ground, and asides from the occasional groan of the nearby houses, its dead silent.    
  1843.  
  1844. They begin somewhat far and few between, with large pieces of once-cultured land surrounding but gradually the abodes grow closer together, the lands surrounding shrink and all that’s left is a few homes with front yards, though the flowerbeds are dry and dead. The buildings begin to form coherent alleyways and streets, the dusty road giving way to the odd cobble stone here and there, and before lone you find the heel of your boot coming down on paved road. It’s likely that once the homes grew dense enough, they slapped a wall around it and called it a city, progress from then starting within and slowly spreading out.
  1845.  
  1846. The place is deathly dark with unnatural shadows stretching from the buildings, claiming vast tracts of land. It’s only slightly past midday, and the sun may as well already be setting. A soft wind blows down the high-ways and by-ways, carrying on it the stench of decay. Rotten wood flakes off the corners of the houses, and some of the mortar crumbles when you touch it. “This is some hectic dilapidation,” you find yourself uttering. But that doesn’t make much sense either. This place clearly isn’t entirely abandoned. It’s like the process of decay had accelerated for just these homes. You occasionally hear glass breaking and muffled yells from far away, but even so you can’t quite locate it. The sounds come from all around and nowhere at once. It’s more than enough to unnerve you. You don’t draw your sword yet, but your power seethes just below the skin, coursing through your blood like adrenalin, aching to explode out. There’s a similar tension amongst your party.
  1847.  
  1848. There’s a loud crash to your left, and a half-naked girl in tattered rags comes sprinting towards you, appearing from the darkness of an alleyway. Her skirt is torn, her upper thighs bare. Her jaw is dislocated, something you can see at a glance, and dried blood clings to her chin. The fabric of her shredded dress which would have covered her stomach flaps open, and on her soft skin there are days old stains there, from fluids both white and red. Her nails are torn to reveal blood-red claws and she has a crazed not-look in her eyes. Two men brandishing swords also emerge from the darkness. They scream for the lot of you to run, but most of it is drowned out by your mind screaming louder. You hand flies to your chest and your fingers curl around one of your knives before you can even think to do so.
  1849.  
  1850. Is she mad? Is she simply scared? Or is she something else entirely? These thoughts will have to come later. What was it? “It’s coming right for us!” The blade of the knife sinks deep into her chest, striking the heart, but that doesn’t faze her. She still charges you, and tackles you to the ground, she takes a moment to orient herself, just long enough to straddle you as the two of you fall. She raises a claw, and your heart thrums noisily ad the reaper’s scythe leers at you. She swings her arm down, but you catch her wrist before those evilly glinting talons can do any damage. She’s strong and you have to grit your teeth to overpower her. Luckily, she didn’t put much force into the blow, relying on speed and momentum to shear through your clothes and flesh.
  1851.  
  1852. You’ve one of her arms locked with your own, and before she can swing the other down at your face, you thrust the flat of the palm of your hand under her chin, and blast her head with a surge of molten flame. Her skin melts and chars, and whilst it doesn’t blow her head clean off, the blast combined with your strike shatters her spine , rocking her head so far back it would be a decapitation bar a few strips of flesh stopping her head from coming off completely. Instead it dangles down her back, staring the way she came, as if to glare balefully as the men who pursued her down this path and into the jaws of death.
  1853.  
  1854. Her body still twitches slightly atop you, and Muradin kicks it aside, Teresa extending a hand out to help you up. You take it thankfully, and walk over to the corpse and retrieve your knife. As you pull it out, the two men arrive and before any one can say anything, they both point blades as you.
  1855.  
  1856. “Don’t move. Raul, check him.”
  1857.  
  1858. You quirk an eyebrow, “Check me for what?”
  1859.  
  1860. The man who must be Raul does a quick pat down, and lifts your shirt up here and there, “Nah, she didn’t scratch or bite him.”
  1861.  
  1862. “Are you going to explain yourself, or do I need to start melting bones again?” Issuing your threat, you sigh a little exasperatedly as a man you don’t know suddenly feels up your body.
  1863.  
  1864. The man who ordered the search puts his hands out, palm up. A gesture of supplication, “Sorry man, nothing personal. Get scratched by these ghouls and zombies and you’ll get a rather nasty plague. Look around. This shithole is the result. Turns you into a corpse, thing is, the chicks get up again. The guys just rot, it’s strange, but if you ask me, the dead guys are spreading it better than chicks like her.” He nods to the corpse, as he returns one arm to his side, but leaves the other out in the air, turning it to the side, obviously gesturing for you to take it. You leave him hanging. “Uh, the name’s Nathan. Nice catch by the way, I thought you were a goner. How’d you do that fire thing?”
  1865.  
  1866. You shrug. It’s not really like you’re the one in charge here or anything. You tip your head to the big guy and the conversation continues on from there. “So, ah… What brings you here?”
  1867.  
  1868. “We came to buy supplies and catch a night’s rest, but it seems it’s a bad time?”
  1869.  
  1870. “Nah, not at all. There are twice as many supplies as people. I bet you’ll catch a bargain. Let’s uh… lets walk as we talk.” He sheathes his blade, and begins to guide your group into the city, Raul vigilantly keeping track of his surroundings as you go.
  1871.  
  1872. “So what’s going on here, and what was that business with Theinn about? Just how did Bergen come to this state? We passed through only a few months ago.”
  1873.  
  1874. “Right, uh, again, apologies.”
  1875.  
  1876. You offer an easy smile, “It’s not like I’m particularly fussed.”
  1877.  
  1878. “Well, it was quick, I can tell you that much. A few months ago this new plague started up. We thought it was just a normal disease, until the women who caught it got up again and continued to spread it. But as I said before, it was the guys who spread it more. Unless you were completely protected, even just trying to bury them would get you infected. The only one who was able to bury our dead was the priest.”
  1879.  
  1880. “Why hasn’t any oen come from the Imperial Capital?”
  1881.  
  1882. The man shrugs, helplessly, “Who knows. All our runners got turned back at Annwn. They said word would get to the Imperial Capital, but so far, nada. And that’s of those who didn’t straight up disappear.
  1883.  
  1884. “How did it start? What was the first night like, and how long has it been this way?”
  1885.  
  1886. Nathan’s brisk pace slows a little as he focuses on recalling his memories, the patter of his footfalls slipping into a more automated rhythm. “Uhm… well the first night wasn’t really the first ‘night’. The disease began to spread about a week before hand, and it was only the men who got it. And then the first girl got sick, some farmer’s daughter. And she got sick like, really fast.”
  1887.  
  1888. Muradin strokes his beard thoughtfully, “So the women experience an accelerated case of the sickness?”
  1889.  
  1890. “Uh, yeah, I guess. And that was the first night, if you want to put it that way. She got up and bit one of the apprentices from the church who came to bless the family or something. She died but she didn’t get sick, getting up again almost immediately after I hear. But when I first saw it, it took a few minutes for this plague to set in. Anyway, an alarm went up and they locked the city down. This was about… sunset. Ah, hang on. This is one of the places.”
  1891.  
  1892. “The places?” both men draw their swords. They look to eachother, and play off a short game of Scissors Paper Rock. “Fuck,” Nathan swears as Raul takes the win, grinning. “Yeah, scouts like us sometimes find homes that the undead have holed up in. If they’re here, it’s for a reason. Some of us think they’re being controlled. Sometimes we find linen, foodstuffs, weapons, it could be anything, really. We kill them and take back supplies for the survivors. Win, win.”
  1893.  
  1894. “Ready, Nathan?”
  1895.  
  1896. The man scowls a little at his luck, but nods, poised like he’s about to sprint into the home. Raul runs at the door and jumps up into a flying kick, Nathan not far behind him. It shatters the rusted locks, and the door flies inward, Nathan rushing into the room after it. Raul lands on his ass, but picks himself up soon after, running into the house and darting off to the left. There’s the sound of a struggle, and not long after the two men drag out the corpses of three women. “Hey, help us search this house. Only the men can pass on the disease passively. As long as the girls don’t scratch or bite you, you should be alright.”
  1897.  
  1898. ‘Even if something did happen, I could probably just burn it out of you before you get too sick.’
  1899.  
  1900. She has a point. But still simply leaving corpses out in the open brings with it other problems. Even if the sickness either converts women, or festers in men, a corpse is a corpse, and not necessarily something to be left out in the open, lest you have a penchant for inviting bacteria and parasites. Not that your response this time is to simply ‘burn it’ as you are wont. Frankly speaking, you don’t feel that it has much to do with you, but you can lend a hand to salvage. True charity doesn’t exist after all, there is always something in return even if it is just gratitude, self-satisfaction, or some kind of masochistic perversion.  
  1901.  
  1902. It takes a few minutes of searching until May trips over something, and falls into and through a thin wall, causing countless scrolls to fall out and scatter, rolling every which way. You’re closest, so you grab her wrist and help her right herself, despite the way she locks up at having been touched by a man. Putting the centaur’s irrational fear of you aside, you stoop down and unroll a scroll, skimming over its contents. Various magical theories and hypothesis, alchemical applications, magic circle schematics, things which are, frankly, a bit above you. Muradin seems interested though. You hear a disappointed sigh from behind you.
  1903.  
  1904. “Shit. This happens sometimes too. Judging by your reactions, some of this is good stuff, but ultimately useless. We can’t eat this. We can’t fight back the dead with this… It’s happened a few times. Caches of useless shit. Paintings, I think it was, last time.”  
  1905.  
  1906. “Paintings?”
  1907.  
  1908. “Oh yeah. They were beautiful, but who are they gonna feed? So we left them where they are.” You frown.
  1909.  
  1910. “Where are they now?”
  1911.  
  1912. “Hm? Ah… One of the houses off…” He points into the distance, “That-a way.”  He turns from you and continues his discussion with Muradin, a consistency that fades into the background and slips under the stream of your consciousness, lost in thought as it is. Your brow furrows as you consider the possibility of offering the art to a cadre of Leanan Sidhe in return for the town’s protection. The party starts to move again as you think. But then again, zombies and the like don’t really have the drive to be so aggressive, not unless they’ve got some kind of group mentality effect going on… In which case it’s likely someone is directing them. Kill that person and they should scatter, compulsion broken, to do whatever it is they do. You think you recall hearing that a renegade, fresh undead is likely to return to the vestiges of their memories in their past life. They might have a vague remembrance of where they once lived, and find their feet taking them there.
  1913.  
  1914. They could simply scatter, but then again… It seems like the undead in this area vastly outnumber the living. If you could convince the remaining survivors to shack up with them, it could see the blossoming of a new town under the undead faction, which would see something of a base close to the front lines for Ela and the Rebellion. In which case you could take a few paintings and offer them to the Fae yourself, as a gift. You haven’t forgotten the invitation laying somewhere within your pack, and you’re sure they could garner you a few favours. Surely one among the Fae would have information on the Demon queen and her generals.  
  1915.  
  1916. Just as you come to this conclusion, you reach the gates to the inner city, a large rusted portcullis which likely hadn’t been lowered since the last war. Not before recent events at the least. A second, less bulky one exists a few paces behind. You can see clear, shining metal along the sides of the first gate where it scrapes down against the grooves on either side, the grime of centuries shorn clear by recent and frequent use. Looking around, the wall which the gate is affixed to displays many a sign of amateur repair. A ring of spikes lay broken about the feet of the wall near its more fragile places, most snapped in two. A few spikes remain whole, and there are some gouges left in the earth where they’ve been torn out entirely. You’d guess it didn’t take them long to realise spikes against the undead weren’t the best idea. Their corpses would just clog it up.
  1917.  
  1918. A few people here and there enter and leave the city via the gates, carrying bundles. Bundles of weapons, farm equipment, foodstuffs. The rare monster passes here and there. Perhaps once upon a time this place had a stronger presence of religious fanatics, but now the lines between man and monster have been thrown out in favour of the distinction between the living and the dead. The current atmosphere is less than favourable towards the undead, something which, if you held any hope of converting this place for the Rebellion, would require a drastic shift in paradigms. Its something for you to discuss with the others later though.
  1919.  
  1920. Raul and Nathan say their goodbyes and split apart. One remains to chat with a man leaning against the inside of the portcullis, head below one of the murder-holes. Not somewhere you’d feel the most comfortable, but to each their own. Soon your party is mostly alone.
  1921.  
  1922. “So,” You find yourself asking, voice surprisingly loud in the quiet of the town, “What now?”
  1923.  
  1924. Muradin shrugs, “We do what we planned to do. The only thing that’s really changed is that we might have to smite some evil at night. Alright, lets split up.” One of his big fingers extends and points towards a large establishment, obviously an inn. “We’ll stay there. I’m extending it too. There’s something off about this whole situation and I want to see what we can do about it. Meet there after nightfall.” Every one nods and the party slowly splits.
  1925.  
  1926. The two centaurs walk away hand in hand as they go to explore some part of the town. Muradin has already stomped off, leaving just you and the ex-vampire. Phyle had long since scuttled off to somewhere else. “You’ll be in my room, of course. No problems?” Teresa asks, staring at her feet, suddenly bashful without her comrades and outside of her capacity as your superior.  
  1927.  
  1928. You grin, “None at all.”
  1929.  
  1930. “Good…I’ll see you later, then.” With that she hurries off for a few steps, before turning back, face reddened, hidden behind her silver hair. She retraces her steps until she’s next to you again, and goes to give you quick kiss, her arms behind her back. You smile around her lips when she goes to take a step back, and wrap your arms around her, pulling her into you, cutting off her escape. You kiss her a little deeper than she dared, and break it after a moment, taking in her cute and surprised expression, ruby eyes wide.
  1931.  
  1932. “Until later, then.” She grins and nods before walking away a second time, her stride a little bouncier. You look around you, at the emptiness of the immediate vicinity. It puts you off a bit. ‘Just you and I now.’
  1933.  
  1934. ‘I guess.’ You can almost feel the pout in her tone
  1935.  
  1936. ‘What?’
  1937.  
  1938. ‘Nothing.’
  1939.  
  1940. ‘Jealous?’
  1941.  
  1942. ‘N-no!’
  1943.  
  1944. ‘…’
  1945.  
  1946. ‘…Just a bit.’
  1947.  
  1948. You look at where the centaur couple walked off to, and without any other direction, decide to head the other way, ‘Well, what’s the flow of time like where you’re at?’
  1949.  
  1950. ‘Depends really. Some times a year here is a day there. Other times… the reverse.’
  1951.  
  1952. ‘Well, we have plenty of time. Maybe I’ll visit.’ You start walking and the more open streets give way to slim alleyways, cobbled pathways sprawling out between abandoned homes. Your footsteps echo, your pace, your breathing, the soft and steady thrumming of your heart and the occasional scurry of rats the only sounds. The place is wreathed in the shadow of the setting sun, and smells a little damp.    
  1953.    
  1954. You strike one of the stone walls with a throwing knife, and capture the spark, moulding the heated metal into a humanoid shape. You repeat the process until you have a solid ball of molten metal the size of your thumb nail. You look at the chipped throwing knife and frown. Might as well use it all. You focus the power within you to coat the knife in a bubble of atmosphere, and feed fire into it, growing more and more intense. Before long the leather grip is all but vaporised, and the blade bends under its own weight, gloopy globs of liquid steel falling, caught by the raging furnace winds.
  1955.  
  1956. Metallurgy isn’t a magic familiar to you, but since what you’re doing technically falls under your primary element it’s coming to you surprisingly naturally. Almost like the runes etched into your very flesh provide the circuit, meaning that you need only a vague idea of what you want to do, and a fuckload of power to make it happen. Still, if magic is a sentence, you’re missing portions. Adverbs, pronouns, past and present participles. These you have to fill in. Right now you’re speaking some kind of broken not-quite language, and it’ll take a lot of practice for you to become used to it. You’re not some genius, after all, despite the apparent ease with which you’re shaping this metal.
  1957.  
  1958. Soon enough the blade is reduced to a homogenous blob of steel, and you begin to twist and fold it until it’s a roughly humanoid shape. A vessel. ‘Hey Sig. See if you can possess this.’
  1959.  
  1960. There’s a quick drain on your power, and then a pleasant release as Sig manifests herself within the metal doll. It cools as she settles in, and then begins to grow a hot white as she shapes it to her personal liking. Once she’s done, the doll is about eight inches tall, and glowing a faint yellow around the joints, allowing for conventional movement of the joints. A similar light shines from her knuckles and within her head, something you can see when she opens her mouth. You weren’t sure it would work, but it’s cool to see that it does. You’d wager you could craft a similar vessel for a wind spirit, provided you give the joints of the doll enough freedom to move. Having an Ignis do it is sort of cheating, as she can just heat the metal and control it that way.
  1961.  
  1962. She moves her limbs and extremities experimentally, ‘Cool. So… what’s the point?’
  1963.  
  1964. “No point. Just wanted to know if I could do it. Think you could inhabit a weapon like this?”
  1965.  
  1966. The doll thinks and shakes her head, ‘You probably don’t have enough control. It can’t all be just me. I’d try to do something and the whole thing would just fall apart.’
  1967.  
  1968. Well… It was a fun little experiment. You stand still as the little vessel climbs up your arm and sits on your shoulder. “So why don’t you actually speak?”
  1969.  
  1970. ‘I…I made vocal chords but they’re so small my voice would come out as very high pitched and silly.’
  1971.  
  1972. You snort a laugh, holding the rest of it back out of respect for your companion. You feel much more at ease now that the stone walls and streets don’t echo your own solitude back at you. You’re walking through what would be polite to call slums, yet far from feeling over-lived in and over-inhabited, the homes feel gaunt and empty. The occasional rat passes and a particularly large one tracks your movement with its beady red eyes, a splash of crimson on its white coat. An iron spike fence bars you from one property, and just within lay something of a rotten flowerbed. You see a wilted rose stem, petals still intact in its decay. You pull your pants up. They bunch up uncomfortably around your groin, but you deal with it as you place two hands firmly on one of the spiked poles.
  1973.  
  1974. Sig hangs tight to your clothes as you flex, and jump up and to the side, anchored to the fence by your hands. Your legs swing up and over the gate and you wince at the awkward position of your wrist as the rest of your body follows your legs up and over. You release at the last moment, and scrape the palm of your hand against a jagged piece, unintentionally. A deep gash is torn into your hand and a few drops of blood splash onto the ground. You hiss, sucking air in through your teeth as you watch with a pained interest as your hand heals up and the dead grass soaks up the blood you spilt onto it, rejuvenating and coming back to life.
  1975.  
  1976. You stoop down to the rose and ask Sig to cut it for you. Her hand turns into a molten razor and simultaneously cauterises as she shears, leaving you with a dry, dead stem of thorns with a wilted rose affixed to the end. The perfect gift for Teresa, you feel, even if you don’t fully understand what you’re trying to imply with giving her a dead rose and returning it to something beautiful by feeding it your blood. Still, you want to watch her face as she watches it revive.  
  1977.  
  1978. Smiling slightly to yourself, you’re tucking the rose away somewhere safe, when you hear the rushed footsteps of pursuit. Your first thought is zombies, and you unsheathe your blade. You’re not entirely wrong either, as a girl tries to round the corner, but trips up on her own speed, slamming into the corner. She gasps as her shoulder dislocates, but sprints down the alleyway anyway. Your eyes are drawn to an angry, gory red gash at her neck. She’s quite lively for a girl with a slit throat, and moving fairly well despite it. Sig slips into a pocket and curls her vessel into a ball, before leaving it, the hot metal cooling into place, leaving a metal figurine curled up into a foetal position. You’re about to cut off the girl’s pursuit like you did to the one before when you notice something in her eyes. Fear. Panic. Pain. Something which no zombie feels, certainly not when there’s a larger brain to the mass directing them as you assume to be the case.
  1979.  
  1980. There’s an angel in grey right behind her. Except she’s far more warlike than any angel has a right to be. Her steel grey hair is braided and she’s wearing a light chainmail tunic, tied to her shapely hips via a thick leather belt. Faded black leather pants clad her legs, disappearing under a pair of knee-high boots. Pretty casual wear really, except for the chainmail. Practical, something you could easily see Teresa in. There’s a buckler strapped to her forearm, and a sword in the other hand. It feels as though it’s just a sidearm to her, though, as you could easily imagine a girl like this swinging around a large claymore. Her wings are as grey as her hair, large and vast even held close to her body like they are. Valkyrie.
  1981.  
  1982. She skids a little as she rounds the corner, buts she handles her speed well, moves practiced and precise. You can see she’ll catch the girl soon enough, and if her expressionless face which reeks of cold murder is anything to go by, it’ll be a summary execution as soon as she does. There’s only one reason an undead like that would display such individuality and with that in mind, you leap inbetween the two of them. The girl gives a startled cry as you land, but the valkyrie hops back, wings beating forward, killing her previous momentum almost entirely.
  1983.  
  1984. “Move. You’re in my way.” Cold to the point. Her blade is already pointed at you. Not that that’s really surprising, your own is already drawn.
  1985.  
  1986. “Hold on a moment. She’s not like the rest.”
  1987.  
  1988. “The undead of this town are targets of elimination. Anything which opposes my mission, a target for elimination.” Well, that’s that. She lunges for you, pushing off with not only her legs but her wings too. You narrowly avoid the lunge, batting her sword aside with your own, sending a loud metallic ring resounding throughout the area. You kick her forward, trying to topple her. Looking ahead you can see that the girl from before has already made a run for it. The valkyrie sees this too, and rounds on you, taking you a little more seriously. Not that her face is any different. Still cold, pretty and expressionless. She swings at you again, a holy wind lifting her wings and adding force to her strikes.
  1989.  
  1990. As you sway to avoid her swing, your blood beings to sing, inexplicably excited as crossing blades with this divine creature. You follow up with your own strike, but it’s intercepted easily with her shield. Your hand jars as your swing is stoped in its tracks, the flash of her sword returns and you bock it by conjuring an explosive blast of wind. It hits her wrist and throws her strike off, though you aren’t completely saved, as her buckler rises to smash you in the face.
  1991.  
  1992. You fall back, face throbbing, ears ringing. You shake your head trying to knock loose the shock. She charges at you again, and your only response to the onslaught in your disoriented state is to unleash a gout of flame. Her buckler glows as she puts it up before her, and the fire explodes through the stone alleyways, singing and charring but thankfully not actually setting anything alight. Some kind of barrier protects her as the inferno curls around an invisible wall.
  1993.  
  1994. The fight continues loudly for a few more minutes, a desperate trade of blows in the thin and confining alleyway. Her impassive face slowly gives way to a savage smile as the two of you go at it. And then the game of tit for tat ends abruptly as you slip up for but an instant, and she drives her sword through your chest. The two of you fall to the ground as she follows through, burying her blade into you, down to the hilt. It’s cheap and it’s unexpected, but it’s your win. Taking advantage of the moment she lapses in victory, you roll on top of her and put one of your throwing knives to her throat.
  1995.  
  1996. Unfortunately for you, she has no problem with releasing her blade, and almost faster than you can see, she catches your wrist. “Give it up, boy. You fought well, but you die here.”
  1997.  
  1998. “Not quite.” She frowns, but before she can say anything else, Muradin and the rest rush into the network of alleyways, likely alerted by the sounds of the little skirmish.
  1999.  
  2000. “Kara? Theinn? What is this?” It takes a moment for the wheels to turn.
  2001.  
  2002. “You know her?”
  2003. “You know him?”
  2004.  
  2005. You both speak in unison, and Muradin frowns deeper, “Both of you, stand down.” You nod and withdraw your knife, but she looks at Muradin and the sword buried in you with blank confusion. Well… her face was already blank, but you assume that there’s confusion.
  2006.  
  2007. “But he’s dead…” You pick yourself up off the girl, and whimper slightly as you pull yourself off the sword she skewered you with. You feel faint as blood falls from the wound, soaking the ground, but you pinch either side of the hole together and soon enough the surface of the wound has healed, at least ensuring no more blood-loss. It’ll take longer for the internal injuries to heal together, though. She just eyes all this with extreme and intense suspicion as she picks herself up and cleans her sword of your blood.
  2008.  
  2009. “So? What happened?” You’re sure you’re just imagining it, but it seems as though he carries within his voice the tone of a parent chastising two fighting children.
  2010.  
  2011. The Valkyrie, Kara delivers her side of things. “I was sent out here in response to reports of a disturbance in Annwn. I traced it back to this town, and dropped in to see what I could do about the situation. I was patrolling when I came across one of the undead plaguing this town. I attempted to exterminate it, before this citizen got in the way. I told him to step aside, he said “She’s not like the rest.” His sword was out and he seemed set on standing in my way so I acted to eliminate him.” It makes you feel a little odd being spoken about in the third person as though you weren’t even present. And the fact that she has to report to Muradin probably means that he’s above her in rank. The mountain sighs, nods, and looks to you.
  2012.  
  2013. “He’s actually a new recruit, or will be as soon as we take him back.”
  2014.  
  2015. “Fights well for a recruit.”
  2016.  
  2017. You shrug, “She’s not wrong. I did all that. The girl was scared. Hurting. Zombies don’t do that. I figured she must have had some innate necromantic talent, and that’s how she was able to resist the compulsion on all the other zombies, and retain a portion of her individuality. I dunno, seems worth looking into.”
  2018.  
  2019. Muradin leans back as he considers your words, and scratches his beard. “Well, we have a bit of time to figure this out. The Innkeeper said that he had more food and rooms than he did people to eat and fill them.”
  2020.  
  2021. “So, who is that?”
  2022.  
  2023. “That’s Kara. I’m sure there’ll be no hard feelings between you two.” You peer at her from around Muradin’s immense frame. Sure enough she’s just looking at you as blankly and dispassionately as you thought she would be.
  2024.  
  2025. “I’m sure we’ll get along fine.”
  2026.  
  2027. All of you head out of the maze of alleyways, and into the wider streets, crossing most the city. Not that it really matters, it’s barely more inhabited than the city proper. There are a few merchants here and there, and a small bit of traffic along the main road. It’ll be a pain to find that girl now, so you all decided to leave it to tomorrow. Kara seems easy enough to get along with. Didn’t need any convincing to make her forget about trying to kill the girl, either. A bell peals as the sun dips below the horizon, and you see people rush to close down their shops and flee to somewhere more fortified. A loud crash from the gate confirms your suspicions. Lockdown. The portcullis stands resolutely, barring entry or exit for the night.  
  2028.  
  2029. The Inn is much more lively than the rest of the town. Crowded, almost. This may even be the town. You look out across the patrons, and see Phyle at the far end of the bar, waving at you. You smile and nod back. So that’s where she went. You keep looking and in the back of the inn you see the stairs which lead up to the second story and, presumably the rooms. Though the Inn is busy it isn’t absolutely packed. You find a large table, and every one sits. Or, folds their legs under them. You watch the buzz with a passing interest. This would seem to be something of a rally point. Armed locals gather, share and inspect weapons, and head out in groups of three, carrying torches.
  2030.  
  2031. Your musings slip past your mouth, “It’s an organised militia, isn’t it?”
  2032.  
  2033. A local overhears you and grins, “Well, we’re used to it. It’s been this way for a while.” One of his mates calls him away, and he joins the group as the third member and heads out. Before long, the activity is cut by half, leaving only your party, a few locals and one or two travellers. You have to wait only a short moment before some kind of goat-girl approaches to take your orders and discuss room arrangements and payment. You all chip in a few coins and pay for a few week’s rest and food. It’s ridiculously cheap. You guess that’s what happens when you have more products and services than customers. As she leaves, it clicks that she must be one of those Baphomets, but if memory serves, they all preferred to hold a more… youthful appearance. This one looked to be in her mid-twenties.
  2034.  
  2035. By the time you’re done considering what sort of circumstances could have led to her appearance, she’s already returned with every one’s food. She blushes slightly as you stare at her, and bows to everyone, wishing them a good meal. Teresa kicks your shin from under the table. She brought out bowls of soup, dried meats, bread, mead, nuts fruits and cheeses. A pretty well rounded meal, all in all, really. You eat your fill, chat and laugh with your companions. Kara mentions how she was impressed with your sword play, and asks how you manages to heal from a wound that fatal. You explain a little about yourself, your quest, and how you learned the sword. She nods in understanding, as you clear each of her questions, one by one. You in turn ask about her, where she learned it.
  2036.  
  2037. “Tribes up north. Learned the basics up there,” she points to the sky, “I started to lose my way. I was somewhere between holy and fallen. Somehow or other I found myself heading north. The people I met there took me in, taught be to raid with them, and I picked up on their fighting style over the years.”
  2038.  
  2039. You nod as she speaks, and down another mouthful of soup, chewing on a particularly succulent chunk of lamb. With a satisfied sigh, you lean back, and listen as the conversation begins to die down. After an hour, the two centaurs leave. Kara and Muradin send for a few drinks and you and Teresa make something of a voiceless decision to only have a few before turning in yourselves. You ask why Muradin doesn’t just conjure the drinks, but he says something about it being an insult to the establishment. Which you sort of do and don’t get.
  2040.  
  2041. Much later that night, you help Teresa up the stairs, the both of you fairly well fed and well drunk. You look at the old key in your hand and the wooden plaque attached to it. It reads sixteen, and you follow the rooms down until you reach the door with the matching number. The key slides in easy and you push the door open. Teresa passes you and flops onto the bed, rolling around and messing the sheets up, before struggling to remove her clothes. You look at the room. There’s a window which overlooks a good portion of the town, a table, two chairs and a chest by the bed. It’s only  
  2042.  A few large paces long by a few large paces wide, but it’s big enough, considering.
  2043.  
  2044. She thrusts her booted feet at you, grinning drunkenly, “Help.” You pull the boots from her feet and she wiggles her toes at you. You give them a light slap, and she giggles before swinging her legs down and using the momentum to sit up, her silver hair falling about her shoulders.
  2045.  
  2046. “I got you something.” You say as you pat yourself down gently, looking for the rose and pull it out of where you placed it, safely nestled between layers of clothing. She looks at it a little dead-pan.
  2047.  
  2048. “Are you trying to be poetic or something?”
  2049.  
  2050. You laugh at her reaction, and gesture for patience as you take the wilted, dead rose over to where you left your sword. You draw the blade just enough to cut your finger open, and splash some blood onto the dead petals of the flower. Teresa watches in amazement as it sucks it up and returns to life, blossoming a beautiful radiant red to rival the crimson of your own blood.
  2051.  
  2052. You hand it to her, and she takes it gently, as if scared to break it, her face fixed in awe and wonder. “I haven’t tested it or anything, but since I drank that extract, I think it should bloom like that forever, or until it’s destroyed. Cool huh? Don’t uh… Don’t tell anyone else I did that.”
  2053.  
  2054. “It’s beautiful.”
  2055.  
  2056. “It’s yours.”
  2057.  
  2058. She looks up at you, a complex array of emotions across her face “What are you trying to tell me?”
  2059.  
  2060. You sit down next to her, and brush some of her hair behind an ear, “I’m not entirely sure, but I think… I think what I want to say is, no matter what you are, or what you do. I think you’ll always be as beautiful, timeless and precious as this rose. Vampire, human. It doesn’t matter to me. So… I think you should worry about it less.”
  2061.  
  2062. She holds the rose to her chest, and leans in for a kiss, which you gladly return. A tear falls upon your hand, where it rests against her face, and your lips meet. Out of the corner of your eye, you see her reach back and place the rose upon the window sill. The worry of crushing it out of the way, she pushes you down and begins to disrobe both you and her, not once breaking the kiss. Her tongue wraps around yours, and she breaks away only to slide your shirt over your head. She removes her own before leaning back into you, her nipples already hard in the cool night air brought in by the open window. You slide both hands up her belly and cup them, massaging her chest as she leans against you, kissing and licking.
  2063.  
  2064. Her kisses trail lower and lower, and she slides off the bed and kneels before you, fiddling with your belt and trousers. Her warm, wet tongue slips into your belly button, and you struggle not to giggle at the sensation. You never even knew you were ticklish there. You lift your ass, and the belt slides free. With it out of the way, she slides your pants down and throws them aside, freeing your already erect manhood. It jumps and twitches as each lustful beat of your heart fills it with more blood. She helps it along with a few pumps, and licks up and down the shaft, trailing kisses. Fully erect now, she pushes your shaft up and out of the way, and brings her lips to the skin of your testicles. Kissing and sucking, she takes one of your balls in her mouth, her tongue running circles along your genitals.
  2065.  
  2066. You groan quietly as she breaks free with a lewdly wet pop, and trails her kisses up your shaft, until her lips are resting just above your cumslit, trailing streams of hot breath down your cock, mixing in with the flows of precum. Her eyes flick to yours for the briefest moment, and she smiles wickedly before parting her lips to take you into her.
  2067.  
  2068. Her tongue runs rings around your head as she bobs back and forth, taking more of you into her mouth each time. Soon you’re so deep her tongue can’t circle you anymore, and instead she presses it flat against the base of your shaft, rubbing the warm, wet muscle against your cock as she slides it in and out of her throat. The head turns to deepthroat, as she slides your length out of her convulsing gullet only to drag in long drags of air, before diving back down onto your prick. Her hands slide up your body until she’s holding onto your abdomen and using it for leverage, to better fill her throat-pussy with your cock. Understandably, you don’t last long.
  2069.  
  2070. She hilts herself on you, nose pressing up against your crotch, eyes locked on yours, grinning lustily as you pump your load deep into her stomach. At a loss, your hand moves of its own accord and pats her head. Her eyes widen in surprise before a rich vibrating laughter send sparks of pleasure to your brain. She sucks as she pulls off, and her lipstick to the head of your cock for the briefest moment before coming free with a funny little pop.
  2071.  
  2072. She crawls up you, and plants a kiss on your lips. It occurs to you that she’s pretty much taken direct control of the situation since the start. You’re okay with that. She rolls off you, and bounces slightly on the bed on all fours, wiggling her round, heart-shaped ass in your face. You give it a light smack as you hold it still, and roll her tight leather pants down. She laughs as she thrusts back, and you nearly get your nose buried in a mound of muff. Not that that’s a bad thing. You hold her still a little firmer, and kiss her lower lips, parting her womanhood around the tongue. She calms down, and moans softly. She falls forward as her hands dip down to remove her pants entirely.
  2073.  
  2074. The wetness fairly flows, and drips down to soil the bed-sheets. Not that they were ever going to remain clean for long. Her butt starts wiggling again as you eat her out, impatient for the real thing, and had you not known any better you’d think you were eating out a werewolf right now. Sighing, you pump your shaft and place the head of your cock to her lips. You only wanted to return the favour, but if she’s that impatient, it can’t be helped. Your abs bunch and clench as you lean down atop her and thrust yourself in, smacking her ass with your thighs as you ram yourself in to the hilt in one slick, messy motion.
  2075.  
  2076. Her gives a cry and her toes wiggle as she clenches the sheets. You breath deep the scent of her silver hair and kiss her ears and neck as you adjust to her warmth and unbelievable tightness. “Mmmmnn~ It’s been soooo looong.” She turns her head to kiss your lips side on, and whispers drunkenly, “Welcome home.”
  2077.  
  2078. Unf.
  2079.  
  2080. You place both hands on her large, soft-yet-firm ass, and thrust in, sawing your cock in and out of her depths, kissing her innermost intimacies. She practically juices herself around your shaft the fifth thrust in, adding a sloppy, lewd cadence to the pounding.
  2081.  
  2082. “Harder.”
  2083.  
  2084. You begin to incorporate more power into the thrusts. Some men leave their marks in lovebites. Seems she wants you to leave yours in bruises. You pull further back, and push her forward, far enough that just the tip of your cock parts her glistening pale cunt. And then you slam forward, yank back, and bury yourself into her womb, hard. You’d worry about hurting her, if she herself didn’t buck back nearly twice as hard. She lets out an ecstatic scream, and whilst your cock surges in pride, the neighbours don’t really need to know. You bury her face into the mattress, and keep pounding.
  2085.  
  2086. She cums again, and happenstance lays your eyes upon your dry chest. That’s what it is. That’s what felt off. That is what was lacking. You’re just fucking her, rutting like an alpha claims his bitch. You slide your hands from her hips up her body to cup her breasts, and on the next  inward surge, you, lift her up by the chest. Her ahegaoic cries ring clear again, but it won’t last long. With her leaning against your chest, the need to support her disappears, and as you fuck her, sending her walls into a quivering, convulsing pile of cumlusting incoordination, you slide one of your hands down to jill her clit, rubbing, pinching and pulling it. She tightens around you immeasurably, and the yell that bubbles up in her throat is sealed by your lips as she bends back to claim your mouth. One of her hands guide yours as you rub her clit, and the other reaches around to the back of your head, as she runs her fingers through your hair, and grips a handful of it. It hurts, but only if you turn away, keeping you effectively locked on her lips.
  2087.  
  2088. This is it, the close intimacy born of the difference between making fuck and making love, the powerful beast which devours hearts rears its head, the indomitable, insurmountable love which is like a truck. You feel the gap between your chest and her shapely back grow warm and slick with red tears. You cum deep into her womb as you bleed, but keep on pounding, sawing through your orgasm. She breaks the kiss and delicate fingers wick the blood from your chest, and you feel her tighten further as she tastes lifeblood for the first time in aeons. Your mouth chases hers and you taste the hot copper on her lips.
  2089.  
  2090. Her ruby eyes fairly glow as an otherworldly, ghostly sheen falls upon her silver hair, like shards of moonlight. Her alabaster flesh sparks against you like electricity and you feel a vitality return to your lover, as she cums for the fourth and then fifth time. She grins, and it’s only now you notice her fangs. Were they always so sharp? Her body is burning, however it seems whatever slumbers within her, hasn’t woken yet, merely tossed it fitful sleep. Thought it is dangerously close. You see it reflected deep in her blood-red eyes as she pierces your own.
  2091.  
  2092. You feel the climax approaching, and can’t help but grin as you rub your nose against hers, lightly jostling foreheads and you pound up and into her, feeling your cock slosh through the hot cum already boiling deep in her womb.
  2093.  
  2094. “You close?
  2095.  
  2096. “I’m close. You?”
  2097.  
  2098. “Close,” she bites her lower lip as she looks at you, “cum with me. Lets finish together.”
  2099.  
  2100. You nod, “I love you.” She blushes deeply, and her eyelids fly wide in surprise, but you steal your kiss before she can say anything, and grind your cock against her cervix, insistently demanding entry. Your cock thickens and widens around the torrent of cum, and her cunt convulses and clenches around it, accepting, begging for it all. You unload rope after rope deep into her. And shudder in pleasure as she milks you through her own orgasm.
  2101.  
  2102. Exhausted, you fall into the bed, dragging her down with you, still locked womb deep in her climaxing pussy. The night air feels cool and pleasant on your slick thighs, but you draw the sheets anyway, lest the night grow colder. Your arms wrap around her, and she tangles her legs in with yours, turning the two of you into a cuddle pile of messy love.
  2103.  
  2104. “Did you mean it? I-I mean I know sometimes guys just say that but…” You kiss her ears, trail it down her neck and bite and nibble at her collarbone,
  2105.  
  2106. “I never say it lightly.”
  2107.  
  2108. The positions changed some point when you were sleeping, because when you wake up, it’s to Teresa’ naked chest, one of her arms wrapped around your head, the other draped across your shoulder. One of her soft, athletic thighs rests under you and the other over you. It’s like someone took two ragdolls, and just threw them together, hoping that they would stick. The bed reeks of sex, her hair is a mess and she’s drooling, but she’s sleeping with a carefree smile all the same. You’ve been sleeping next to her these past few nights but you’ve never seen her sleep with a smile before. It’s always been this look of mild concern, which was cute in its own right, but it makes you feel good, that you made that smile.
  2109.  
  2110. As though your thoughts bled into her dreams, she holds you tighter, and nuzzles her cheek into your head. You ego insists she moans your name, but it comes out as a weird little “Mnyaahn~” She seems more vibrant than before, languishing in her afterglow, though from taking your blood, or love, you’re not sure. You notice the absence of a distinct weight that you hadn’t even realised was plaguing you.
  2111.  
  2112. Grinning, you put your lips to her neck, just above the collarbone, and suck, slowly increasing the pressure. You draw back with a pop and marvel the mark you left on her otherwise perfect porcelain flesh. You kiss the spot a few times before moving up her throat. By the time your lips fall across hers, she’d awakened and you watch, grinning with your eyes as her own open, sleepily and slowly.
  2113.  
  2114. As her mind catches up with her waking body, she begins to return the kiss, consciousness seeping into instinct.
  2115.  
  2116. “Morning.”
  2117.  
  2118. She smiles, blushes, and kisses your cheek, “Morning. Time is it?” She’s still in that sleepy phase of half-spoken sentences, eloquence not coming in until after breakfast and a coffee. It’s a sickeningly adorable trend of hers each morning, half her brain doesn’t work until Muradin pulls out this glass jar of finely ground powder, boils it in water, and throws away a thin paper which collected the sediment of the powder. It might just become your own habit too, but procurement is a massive pain in the ass he says. Though, not in those words. His source is an Apsara in a coastal town big on trade, who migrated from her home in a distant land to the east. He says it’s something which will sweep the world, but you can’t really see it, personally.
  2119.  
  2120. You take a look at the sky. Blue and cold, the sun still making the lazy climb above the horizon. “About an hour after sunrise.”
  2121.  
  2122. “Mmmm.”
  2123.  
  2124. A noncommittal groan. You can see her jumping through the hoops mentally, inventing reasons to justify not getting up. You yourself feel the same, but your mind turns back to yesterday and the girl who could be the new figurehead of this town, if guided by the Rebellion’s subtle hand. Cold scared with dislocated arm and slit throat assuming she doesn’t know how to tend to herself. You let out a bitter sigh.
  2125.  
  2126. You grab her ass and slide an arm under her chest, pulling her close in a tight hug before releasing her and wiggling your way out of the bed. You are aware that you’re overstepping your boundaries by thinking on it too hard. It’s not for you to decide, Muradin could choose to simply leave here a day later and let it be someone else’s problem. And there’s nothing you could do about it. In the end it’s not really your problem either. You only have one goal driving you. And that is to take back what is yours.
  2127.  
  2128. The fate of the town is none of your concern, nor do you particularly care. That is, you hold no significant feeling either way. But if someone were to sit you down and demand a definite answer… You suppose you’d like to try and do something whilst it’s right there for you to try and do. It’ll help Ela, and that’s all you really care about. The Rebellion itself is none of your concern and you wouldn’t space a thought to it if not for the fact that it’s Ela’s pet project, and you like to see her succeed. The ties to Roseline certainly help, but then again waging war for her sake isn’t something you’re likely to do. Besides, with legions at her call, she’s the safest of the three heads. Four now, you suppose. The leader of the Greyguard.
  2129.  
  2130. With these thoughts distracting you, you all but bowl over the grown baphomet from yesterday. You manage to catch her before she falls and drops her basket of sheets. Though it’s only a moment, you’re close to her, and as she breathes in in surprise you see a slight blush come across her face. You bend down to pick up the few bits of cloth which fell when she speaks from above. “I-I take it I’ll have some sheets to clean?” You freeze, and it’s your turn to blush. Slowly you straighten up and place the fallen cloth back into the basket,
  2131.  
  2132. “Ah… y-yeah.” You scratch at your cheek for a moment before walking off. There was no way to save that conversation. Walking down the stairs to the more common area, you spot the two centaur talking animatedly to each-other in low giggles and whispers. A step creaks as you put your weight on it, and their heads snap to you, and then back again, before loudly talking about the weather. Suspicious. Senna waves a hello, but May cannot look you in the eye. Though, you sense it’s for a reason other than the norm.
  2133.  
  2134. “Did… something happen?” You realise you bit it only after it comes out of your mouth. Senna turns on you with a not so subtle smirk, and reels in her bait.
  2135.  
  2136. “I dunno. Did something happen?” She emphasises the ‘did’, clearly asking you if you consider something to have happened. You could down play it by saying ‘nothing happened,’ but then you don’t consider making love to Teresa ‘nothing’, either.
  2137.  
  2138. “I guess so.” You take a seat with the other two, “Do I smell that strongly of it?” You recall the baphomet from this morning taking in your scent before blushing, so maybe these girls have a keener nose for it or something.
  2139.  
  2140. “…d it.”
  2141.  
  2142. “Sorry, what?” You thought you heard May say something but her red face was buried under a sea of hair. She repeats herself for your benefit anyway, but her voice is so soft you nearly missed it a second time.
  2143.  
  2144. “Heard it.”
  2145.  
  2146. “O-oh…” That’s right, they went to bed earlier, so you didn’t catch the room they went into. They must have been next to yours. It’s one thing knowing Sig is lurking in the darkness there, but knowing someone else heard the two of you is a new realm of awkward you aren’t familiar with. You never really needed to watch the volume before.
  2147.  
  2148. Thankfully, the arrival of a bed-headed Kara disrupts the mood. She yawns and nods at every one, so you raise your hand in a hesitant greeting. It’s still hard to get over the fact that she went from trying to kill you to simply just stopping, no hostility or animosity at all, thanks to a word from Muradin. People don’t let go that fast. Your current weariness is a perfect example and so you can’t help but feel her motivations and intentions are a bit alien to you.
  2149.  
  2150. She notices you observing her and says nothing, simply sitting down at the table the rest of you occupied. Perhaps her impassivity comes at a cost of an integral part of her character. Such as individuality, or something.
  2151.  
  2152. “Want a drink? Water I mean. You look like you only just stopped drinking harder stuff.” You conjure a small sphere of pure water and dump it in an abandoned cup off to the side of the table. She thanks you wordlessly and downs the cup in one gulp.
  2153.  
  2154. “Another, please.”
  2155.  
  2156. Another.
  2157.  
  2158. “Thank you. How was Teresa?”
  2159.  
  2160. “Uh, sorry?”
  2161.  
  2162. “How is Teresa?” You’re certain that isn’t what she said last time, and you get the sensation that she knows it too, though her face is as impassive as normal. You notice Senna smirking at you. Is this her personality?
  2163.  
  2164. “She’s uh… good. Should be down any moment now. Didn’t drink that much anyway.” Just as you finish that sentence, the woman herself steps down the stairs, somewhat demurely, searching. Her red eyes fall across you and she smiles, almost skipping across to you. Something stops her though, and she recalls the fact that when you’re not alone, you’re essentially her underling.
  2165.  
  2166. “Good morning everyone.”
  2167.  
  2168. “Hey.”
  2169.  
  2170. She surreptitiously sidles up with you and plants a quick kiss on your cheek when no one is looking.
  2171.  
  2172. “So what’s on for today’s agenda?” Teresa, the host elevated member there shrugs.
  2173.  
  2174. “Knowing Muradin, information first. From there we decide whether or not to act in this town.”
  2175.  
  2176. Kara speaks up, slipping in almost seamlessly as Teresa finishes. She turns to you as she speaks, “I’d like a light sparring between the newcomer and I. I feel Theinn was limited in the alleyways and I’d like to see if he can beat me in a more open field. Fighting was… fun. I want to see what you can learn.”
  2177.  
  2178. Teresa raises an eyebrow, but whatever comment comes to her mind doesn’t escape her lips. “Sure. You do that, then start looking for the girl you cut up yesterday. If Muradin gives this plot the O.K, we’ll need to see how suitable she is, first.”
  2179.  
  2180. Kara nods and catches the Baphomet’s eyes. She tottles over relaxedly, and begins to take orders for breakfast, which isn’t so different from dinner. You eat, head back into your room, retrieve your sword, strap on your bandolier and generally gear up.
  2181.  
  2182. You glance to the sky. It’s a mix of red black and angry. A far cry from the blue it was just an hour ago. People seem rushed and you hear scattered bits of conversation as you walk side by side with Kara, searching for a spot to host your duel.
  2183.  
  2184. “…Omen”
  2185.  
  2186. “….Bad times”
  2187.  
  2188. “…Been quiet lately”
  2189.  
  2190. Ill news filters into your mind as you quiet your heart and mind. Kara takes notice of your dismay and rebukes you.
  2191.  
  2192. “Pay no heed to the hysteria of the masses. This is just bad sky, and even if it weren’t you won’t end here. I’m partially severed from Valhalla but its blessings still ring clear in my mind. Your destiny is not so weak.”
  2193.  
  2194. “… I wonder.” The two of you find a piece of open, sparse area. Building materials are scattered around and you’d guess this place were cleared for a project before the town came under siege by the plague. She stands before you, fully armed, in a mix of chain and plate. You feel naked in your own leather jerkin and pants.
  2195.  
  2196. “You aren’t very armoured. Is it arrogance?”
  2197.  
  2198. You blush, “No, I just don’t really own any armour.” She drums the pummel of her sword pensively. “We’ll see to that. We ask more of the members who must rely on us, but generally speaking, the Greyguard outfits it’s recruits. At any rate. Lets begin.” The reveals the only expression you’ve seen on her face. A savage grin. “Lets try not to kill eachother.”
  2199.  
  2200. In place of the sword she had yesterday, she has a rather magnificent looking single-handed war axe. Sliding it out of its ring, she jumps at you, your sword already in your hand. You see now how ill advantaged you were fighting her yesterday. She’s straightforward and to the point. Practical and doesn’t beat about the bush. You on the other hand are evasive. You need room to move and you couldn’t do that closed in like you were.
  2201.  
  2202. But then the nature of combat is ever changing and adapting.
  2203.  
  2204. As she swings her axe down on you. You step forward and take it in your shoulder, ae biting deep into your flesh. Her eyes widen in surprise and then pain as you stab two knives into her side.
  2205.  
  2206. “I- W-What?” She leaps back and tenderly pulls the knives out, thick streams of blood following.
  2207.  
  2208. You whirl your sword mockingly and loosen your stance, allowing for more footwork, grinning easily. “Don’t think you’re fighting just any man.” Your gold-ringed eyes sparkle in playful mirth and confidence. You slip two fingers into the gash cut into your jacket and spread it wide, revealing the bloodied flesh, already mending. “I’d mot sure I can be called entirely human anymore. If I may be, it’s a loose definition.”
  2209.  
  2210. You run forward and flick your wrist, scorching and hardening the fulgurite you kick up with an intense gout of flame. She puts her shield up and wards off the flame, just as you saw her do yesterday, but as the hollow fulgurite shatters and splinters into millions of shards against the physical barrier of her shield she’s forced to protect her eyes behind it. You take advantage of the blind spot to drive your sword deep into her side.
  2211.  
  2212. Her instincts kick in and she avoids it by leaning back and swinging her hips, but it still digs into her. As per your personal style, you take a few steps back to avoid any sort of counter. Her hand glows a pale, dim white and as she runs her hand over the cut you see it disappearing. Healing magic.
  2213.  
  2214. She’s grinning as she charges you again, buckler up, axe at the ready. You know this one won’t simply be caught without some serious, limb-losing damage, and so you avoid it, swinging your sword at her with your momentum. She catches it on the rim of her buckler and sparks fly as she grinds it up against the edge of your blade, before it slips off and smashes you in the face. You lean back, and it just grazes off your forehead, except now your posture is largely unblanaced and she’s in the perfect position to launch a solid knee to your ribs.
  2215.  
  2216. As it flies up, you point your hand at her, and unleash an explosion of wind, runes shining brilliant in their pale green. You don’t focus the blast and as a result it sort of just explodes catching the two of you up in it. You roll back to your feet, skin tingling as two more runes shine to life. You draw balls of moisture out of the air and slim them out into a sheet of liquid the size of your torso, and freeze it there, a disposable bulwark which shatters as you slam it into the Valkyrie, her pink lips splitting and staining the shards of flash-frozen ice with her blood as she rushes you.
  2217.  
  2218. The impact knocks her back and she rights herself with a solid push of her wings. The force of her wingbeat blows up a small cloud of dust, obscuring your vision, ensuring that you can’t follow up with a thrust of your sword. She drops her weapon and shield, both vaporising into a grey light before your eyes.
  2219.  
  2220. “I admit I had the advantage there in the alleyway but… I wasn’t entirely free either.” You know whatever is about to happen is probably bad and so you leap at her to try and stop it, but her wings beat you back, and she lifts into the air. You sling balls of fire at her but she dodges each, and the grey light she was until now gathering solidifies into a claymore as tall as she and half as wide.
  2221.  
  2222. She lifts it above her and folds her wings, slamming the slab of metal down as she falls. It’s set to cleave you in half, and you feel a cool chill set in your spine as you watch the gleaming metal descend.
  2223.  
  2224. You jump aside and the blade glares at you as it passes, gleaming like the predatory eyes of a massive wolf. You’re an inch from death and its unsullied blade yearns to bathe itself in your blood. Earth sunders as the tip of the claymore digs deep into the ground, its wielder coming to land gently after it. Lips still parted with a savage leer, she hauls the greatsword out of the ground and at you, hurling it around as effortlessly as a child tosses a doll.
  2225.  
  2226. You side step and evade all of the swings, but she keeps hounding you. With near inhuman speed you plant a hand against the flat of the blade as it swings at you, and use the same explosive force of wind you always use to dislodge people from close quarters combat. Alas, a mere blast of wind is ineffective upon the sheer mass of the sword. It utterly fails to even budge it from its flight and you receive a nasty gash along your arm for your audacity. Her sword swings wide after cutting your arm, and she switches her grip up mid swing, punching forward with her reversed grip to smash you across the face with the pommel of the blade.
  2227.  
  2228. Your head rocks back and you feel a hot wash of blood fill your mouth. You take the momentum of your fall and jump back horizontally, the hand you plant on the ground enough to carry you up and over and back onto your feet just in time to catch the approaching chunk of metal on the flat of your blade. The sword bends dangerously, but true to its masterfully enchanted origins, the Ulfberht doesn’t shatter.
  2229.  
  2230. You channel ice magic through the blade and cool runes creep across the bent sword. A moment later it flash freezes the claymore, sapping heat from the blade and the surrounding area and channelling it into your own sword making it glow with a red rage. You scrape your blade along the side of the claymore as you step away and though most the edge and parts of the blade chip away in frozen chunks, the majority of it is still intact, and Kara seems not a bit worried at swinging around a frozen slab of murder.
  2231.  
  2232. Your hopes of breaking the blade are dashed but thankfully, you are not. You trade blows again and again, neither giving nor taking ground, but it becomes clear that despite it, the two of you are not evenly matched. Inexorably slowly, you begin to give under her onslaught. There’s no bartering. Your tongues do not parry and riposte. A single lapse of judgement could be all it takes to decide the victor. Teeth grit, and jaws set firmly as sweat and blood stain the eyes.
  2233.  
  2234. Grey light seeps along the blade and soon the edge is remade, the integrity of the greatsword reinstated, like nothing had ever happened. Blood streaks across your body leaving in its wake virgin pink flesh. Bones mend and the only signs of the struggle lay within the scars upon the earth.
  2235.  
  2236. She beats you back and down, a powerful blow has you on a knee. You fight to supress a grin. Broken and beaten to the ground, she winds back for a powerful thrust with her blade. Standing above you, she angles it down, like a fisherman spearing his defenceless prey. Death gleams as you push off the ground with the vestiges of your stamina, but once more you misjudge. Either the ground gives or your leg does, because the limb supposed to hold your weight collapses and your knees smack into the ground as Kara pins you there with her blade poking into your chest.
  2237.  
  2238. She stares deep into your eyes as your blade drops to the dust. She stares long and hard before revealing the first genuine smile you’d seen of her.
  2239.  
  2240. “It’s my win.” You smile back and take her offered hand.
  2241.  
  2242. Your eyes flick up to hers and you see a faint flush across her cheeks, exertion probably. You take a deep breath and relax the muscles in your body. You draw some moisture out of the air, and let it fall into your mouth, gulping it greedily. It’s a steep exchange in power for hydration, but it’s worth it. “Want some?”
  2243.  
  2244. “Sure.” You resist the urge to let it fall down her front.
  2245.  
  2246. An hour later the two of you are stalking through the abandoned slums. Quietly, she’s giving you pointers in minimalizing the sound of your footsteps. It takes you a while, but comes surprisingly naturally. You watch as she stalks past a stretch of land. You emulate it silently and though you can’t pick up on the signs of your own movement, the red eyes of rats follow you easily where they couldn’t she. At the very least neither of you have shadows. The red and black sky sees to that, blotting out the sun. Black water sprinkles down like ichor. You have fun half-searching half-sneaking around. Kara has disguised herself, fading into a cloud of blackness and shedding her wings. A simple black haired girl sneaks up steadily behind you, free-er and more fluid. Spooking you whenever you lose track of her. Slowly you’re becoming more used to picking out her presence from the surroundings.
  2247.  
  2248. “So what’s it like walking around with no wings?”
  2249.  
  2250. She appears behind you and whispers into your ear, breasts resting against your back, “Shhh. Not so loud. I feel lighter. This body is less suited to combat, less intuitive. But it’s surprisingly good for skulking.”
  2251.  
  2252. As if to demonstrate this, she nimbly leaps from surface to surface, pulls her self up ledges and swings her legs over walls. In a few movements as fluid as water, she ascends to the rooftops, and steps daintily over the tiles which do not rattle, hunched over and close to the obscuring line of the rooftops. You follow her up there, much less easier than she did it, and follow in her foot steps. Every second tile makes some noise. You can almost feel her wincing at each.
  2253.  
  2254. Abruptly she stops and before she can signal you to quiet you still and feel it too. There’s someone else. Silently she hops down to the ground, and you follow, landing as quiet as you can. You’re looking down an alleyway, which opens to a perpendicular alley. There’s a small window of sight and a black figure shrouded in deep billowing robes, a beaked mask of a plague doctor poking out of its silhouette. It carries with it a thick, ornamented staff.
  2255.  
  2256. Suspicious. Wordlessly you concur with Kara. Follow it. It leads you around. Stops. Taps its staff on the ground, and begins walking again. You recall the chant which opens the eyes to the stench of evil, and balk at its presence. The creature itself casts a faint white light, but it’s shrouded in a sickening cloak of blackened grave-shadow. It heads up to a house, and slowly enters, pushing the door open gingerly with its staff. The two of you rush up and lean against the wall either side of the door. You hear the sound of it tapping its staff again.
  2257.  
  2258. A masculine voice issues from the mask. “I know where you are. Make this easier on the both of us and just come out. I don’t wish for this any more than you do, but you had to go and be different. Mistress’s Orders are absolute. Look. I hate to do this so… just come out. We can talk about this, right? Maybe… I don’t know! Maybe you can learn to act like the others… Assimilate?”
  2259.  
  2260. The two of you creep into the broken home. The man stands out in the open, staff in hand, calling out to the shadows. A manhole in the wall pops open and the girl from before hesitantly creeps out, a familiarity lingers in her eyes. She knows this man.
  2261.  
  2262. “M-Mary? Oh god, Mary… It took you too?” He squats down. The staff doesn’t leave his hands. He beckons to her. “Home here Mary. How did you get that cut? You can’t speak can you? I’ll make it better.”
  2263.  
  2264. Tired and battered, she crawls towards the light of familiarity. You get the sensation that he is grinning. “I’ll make it all better…” She’s close now and he lashes out with the end of the staff, smacking her across the head, splitting it open upon the hardwood floor. Dead blood seeps out, lacking the vigour of a pumping heart. “Mistress has ordered your death. The death of any who don’t heed her call.” He slams the staff down again, and Kara starts creeping towards him, ghostly. “I wonder if you remember that day you rejected me? Went out with that other cunt.” Slam. “I enjoyed watching him scream… Maybe I won’t kill you here.” Smack. “Maybe I’ll take you back to the cells in mistress’s mansion. Make you my little fuck pet.”
  2265.  
  2266. She’s behind him now. “Actually, why wait. I can take you right now, you’re not that beat up. I’ve fucked worse he he Heghk!-” Kara places her hand on the top of his head and his chin, and twists, his neck snapping and his head twisting horizontally. She wrenches the plague doctor mask off of his head and twists her grip. She then pulls his head back around to face her. His neck twisted and broken, a full hundred and eighty degrees from normalcy, she spits up on him. Dimly, uncomprehendingly he blinks the spit out of his eyes, blinking away his life with it. He drops to the ground.
  2267.  
  2268. Dazed, the zombie girl look at her saviour and pales even further if at all possible. Mouth open in a silent scream, she scrabbles away from her captor, manages the strength to stand and runs away. You catch her in your arms. She’s shivering. Cold and frightened.
  2269.  
  2270. “Hang on, calm down.” Her frightened eyes see only madness and she goes to scratch you. You catch her wrist before she may sully your skin. You’re confident in your blood, but unwilling to invite a plague upon it haphazardly all the same. You grab her other wrist and twist her around in your grip, pinning her arms to her lap, and wrapping your legs around her hips. Your weight bares her to the ground, and you forcibly sit her in your lap, holding her in place. She quivers as Kara approaches. She closes her eyes and tucks her head away, but the death blow never comes.
  2271.  
  2272. Kara conjures a knife from grey mist and cuts you open, a shallow cut to your neck, collecting your blood on the blade. The girl jumps in surprise at the cool steel on her flesh, and then stiffens as a new sensation wracks her. She slowly opens her eyes in deep confusion. Her voice coms out raspy, but it comes out. “Y-you healed me? W-why? W-When you cut me a-and I begged and screamed and you stole my throat, w-why is this happening to me? I- I trusted him.” Her eyes fall across to the corpse, “W-what am I? Why does every one hate me so much? I-I thought I died and I come back to… to…” Her remonstrance grows broader and broader, from individual wrongs to her entire being. You soothe her, in your embrace, dip your fingers into your blood and smear it across the girl’s cracked skull.
  2273.  
  2274. Your blood works into her dead bones as she twists and cries into your shoulder. The pain of the broken skull diminishes, along with it some of the pain of merely being. You sit there and let her cry as she grips your jacket. You wipe your bloody fingers clean on your trousers, still wary of infection, avoiding direct blood to blood contact. She dries her tears and looks at you, true sight in her eyes once more.
  2275.  
  2276. “You… You saved me from her. And now you’re with her? What’s going on? What do you want from me?”    
  2277.  
  2278. You slowly release her, “We need you to help this town, with what you know.”
  2279.  
  2280. “What…do you mean?”
  2281.  
  2282. “We’ll take you to our friends. They can explain everything.” She nibbles her lip before deciding.
  2283.  
  2284. “Okay.”
  2285.  
  2286. You have to support her, as weak and malnourished as she is. Kara collects the staff, the mask and the robes, and follows after the two of you. You guide her around alleyways, and have to pick her up many times before you tire of it and simply life her onto your back. From there it’s easier and quicker. You skirt the inhabited homes and dash from side street to side street, avoiding the main thoroughfare. It would look suspicious to carry such a weak girl in a town so riddled with plague. Half an hour later, the two of you secret her into the tavern. No one is at the bar and the baphomet is cluttering away in the kitchen. You stealth your way up the staits and up into Muradin’s room, which happens to be the largest and the furthest down the corridors of the second story. Kara’s is just next to it. Predictably enough, as you nudge open the door and announce your entry, you catch the two of the sitting together, pouring over maps and discussing information. You catch the tail end of them mentioning information periodically brought in by Senna and May.
  2287.  
  2288. Two sets of eyes roll across to the entering trio and the zombiegirl squirms under their steady gazes, swaying slightly in her exhaustion now that you’ve put her back down on her feet. She still leans against you heavily, nodding in and out of consciousness, reacting more on instinct.
  2289.  
  2290. “Is this the girl?” Muradin stands up and inspects her, causing her to shrink under his gaze, seemingly unaware of the actions her body takes. Kara nods in affirmation.
  2291.  
  2292. “It’s her. She had the same wound I gave her yesterday. We found her thanks to a human in a black cloak with some kind of magic staff. These are the items in question.” She steps over to the table and deposits her cache.
  2293.  
  2294. Muradin winces. “This stuff reeks. You said a normal human was in possession of it?”
  2295.  
  2296. “Yes. He mentioned a mistress in a mansion. I guess she gave them to him. Mentioned orders to hunt down those who resist her call.”
  2297.  
  2298. He turns to Teresa, “This more or less confirms our suspicions. Girl.” He turns to the zombie, “Do you recognise any of these? Do you have some kind of inkling as to their structure and how they work?” He sweeps his big hand across to the items on the table. She follows them dimly and blinks slowly.
  2299.  
  2300. “Huhh?”
  2301.  
  2302. “This is no good. Nothing we say will stick with her, she’s exhausted and starving… we need to feed her as is… their… custom…” the big man trails off, a ruddy blush coming to his cheeks as he realises what he’s proposing. He looks to you. You look to Teresa.
  2303.  
  2304. She shrugs. “I don’t like it, but what can be done. She looks so frail. Muradin would just crush her.”
  2305.  
  2306. The big man ruffles his feathers, “I-I would not!”
  2307.  
  2308. “We need her to regain her strength, Theinn.”
  2309.  
  2310. “Y-You can’t expect me to… we don’t even know how she feels about it.” You look at her and she’s blushing slightly.
  2311.  
  2312. “I-it’s not like I’m not… hungry.”
  2313.  
  2314. “But still surely there are other men?!”
  2315.  
  2316. Teresa shuts you down again, “None that would willingly bed an undead. Not now.”
  2317.  
  2318. “B-but you and I just…”
  2319.  
  2320. She smiles a little sadly, “Theinn, I understood that I could never be your only. A Greyguard has to do… grey things. I get it.
  2321.  
  2322. Kara pushes the two of you out of the room, face straight. “Get to it then.”
  2323.  
  2324. You scowl at her. “I’m using your bed.” The door closes behind you.
  2325.  
  2326. You begin to help the girl into Kara’s room when a thought occurs to you. You head back, and poke your head through the door, looking as Teresa. “You have to come too.”
  2327.  
  2328. “I-I But.. what abou-” Kara shuts her up and begins pushing her out.
  2329.  
  2330. “Get to it then.” This time a thin smile spreads her lips.
  2331.  
  2332. “I’m still using your bed.”
  2333.  
  2334. You tug Teresa out of the room by her hand and help steady the zombie at the same time.
  2335.  
  2336. “T-theinn, I’m really not sure about this…”
  2337.  
  2338. You look steadily into her eyes and shift a little under her returned gaze, “I know… neither am I but… if you were there I… don’t think I’d mind.” She blushes as she stares resolutely ad you and nods after a time.
  2339.  
  2340. The three of you make it into an unoccupied room. You spitefully double checked that it was indeed Karas. You look around for a moment and see it’s messier than you would have expected. The bed isn’t made. Clothes are scattered about. You sit the exhausted zombie girl and begin to disrobe her. She’s quite pretty even though she’s mostly skeleton. Her breasts hang somewhat strangely. Disproportionately large against her thin bony frame, and flat. You see her sternum poking out between her breasts. She’s wearing nothing under her rags and her vaginal bones are very prominent. You almost dread the thought of her slamming her hips into you.
  2341.  
  2342. Teresa undresses you as you undress the zombie, and looking at the skeletal girl and your flaccid manhood she grins a bit. “Need a hand there?”
  2343.  
  2344. “Yeah…” you turn to Teresa and begin to strip her as she fondles your package, jiggling your balls and letting your shaft flop about. As you untuck her white, deep necked undershirt from her trousers and pull it down her shoulders to fall at her feet, a powerful surge of lust rocks your heart and with a thrum which sets your senses whirling, your cock begins to stiffen rapidly at the sight of Teresa’s perfect, perky pale breasts. She abandons your balls and begins to pump the shaft to full hardness. You gasp as a cool wet sensation latches onto your balls and pre begins to flow slickly down your shaft. Looking down you see the zombie girl all but dazed out, sucking on your balls and licking at the base of your shaft.
  2345.  
  2346. You look to Teresa and the two of you chuckle slightly. She abandons your shaft and steps away. You guide the undead woman around to the head of your cock, and her lips cover it hungrily in no time. Curling your fingers through her hair, you gently grab a hold of her head and begin pushing her deeper down your shaft, watching intently as Teresa bends down infront of you, perfectly balanced like a cat as she stands on the balls of her feet, legs ramrod straight, ass wriggling through the air as she slowly peels the tight leather trousers down over her heart-shaped rump. You groan as the zombie’s nose pokes your stomach, and her tongue flicks at your sack. The trousers hit the floor.
  2347.  
  2348. You move over to Kara’s bed and sit down with your legs spread wide. The undead girl follows you as though you had her leash wrapped around your cock. You beckon Teresa over, “Bring those delicious lips over here.” She raises an eyebrow, but straightens and walks over, wondering what you plan to do and how. When she’s close enough, you grab her hips and spin her around. Her ass plops down on your abdomen and you guide her legs in between yours and around the zombie girl’s head. She stands there awkwardly facing away from you before you lightly push down on her back, making full use of her dextrous flexibility.
  2349.  
  2350. She cottons on immediately and balances herself by putting her hands on the undead girl’s head, which in turn pushes her down on your cock. Her ass waving before your face is a tantalizing target, and you lean forward, burying your face into her already-glistening snatch. You lap at her with a fervour and bury your tongue deep within her moistened folds, feeling her womanhood yearning for you, contracting and twisting about your tongue.
  2351.  
  2352. You sit still as a statue except for your roaming tongue and softly squeezing hands upon Teresa’s milky, round rump. The ex-vamp in question does all the moving, bouncing her ass up into your face, which unbalances her, which causes her to rest her weight upon the zombie’s head, which slams her down on your cock, thus balancing Teresa, thus allowing her the thrust her cunt onto your tongue once again. It doesn’t take long and your own orgasm is heralded by the taste of Teresa’s cool girl-cum upon your tastebuds.
  2353.  
  2354. Your cock is quickly reduced to a sopping mess of spit and cum, bubbles forming in the thick streams as Teresa gets unbalanced in her climax, pushing down on the undead’s head harder and faster, slathering your cock with the stuff. After cumming the two of you fall back. You hold Teresa’s cunt close to your face as you lie back down on the bed and belly to belly, she takes your cock into her mouth, cleaning it, lapping the mess up and swallowing it all hungrily. The mere thought of her doing that spills another gout up hot pre onto her waiting and willing warm, fleshy tongue.
  2355.  
  2356. Eagerly, you prime her sopping pussy once more for the intercourse that isn’t to be hers. You slide up the bed, as you feel bony legs against yours. Your cock leaves Teresa’s warm mouth, and is engulfed in cool soft depths, slick and fairly dripping. The thermal dissonance leaves your mind blank and your prick throbbing in excitement. You feel a tongue lapping up the pussy juices on your thigh and an excited giggle.
  2357.  
  2358. Teresa raises her hips off your face and looks down as you, lust drink and grinning. “Look, she’s filling out already.” You stare down the canyon of her body, admittedly vastly distracted by the glistening of her arrantly arresting cunt, the glintingly prominent clit, the way her abs flex as she maintains her position, the sway of her generous but-not-massive breasts and the moonlit curtains of her silver hair. Eventually, you look beyond that, and finally notice that the sensation of bones smacking into your legs has disappears. A glistening puffy vulva glides up and down your cock, pale blue lips stretching around the girth of your shaft, as if it were trying to pull out her insides; mess her up.  
  2359.  
  2360. Thick, luscious womanly thighs smack meatily into your hips as the zombie bounces up and down, moaning loudly, huskily. She cums around what’s likely the first cock since her rebirth and rides through her orgasm, planting her cold hands on your lower abdomen to steady herself as she continues to buck. Her skin glows a pale unholiness as hidden potential awakens within her. Her finger glows a luscious purple as she etches heart shaped runes into her cunt, clit and the folds of her labia, and screams her ecstasy to the ceiling. Teresa silences her noisy cries with her lips and the pair kiss above, joining hands where they rest on your chest. Your sight and scent is once again trapped between Teresa’s thighs, exactly where it belongs.
  2361.  
  2362. The undead girl’s essence thrums more and more strongly, her motions and the contractions of her soft inner walls around your thick hard cock become more skilled. The latent potential rouses not just her power and mind, but a bestial lust locked away from the demure women bred in Order led towns. Her breasts, skin tone tinges a light blue in death, swell out. The disconcerting protrusion of the sternum between her cleavage disappears as both she and her bust fills out. What once let them rest chest to chest together as they made out now pushes Teresa back under the sheer mass of the burgeoning Wight’s titflesh.
  2363.  
  2364. Her cunt grows tighter in stark inversed proportions. You groan into Teresa’s pussy as the undead girl’s cunt milks you, greedily claiming for its virgin undead womb your seed. Her hips meet with yours and she swivels down, grinding your cock against her cervix, pressure mounting ‘till it spears through and lodges itself deep into her cunt. Your cock throbs painfully hard, and distends around the sheer bulk of your load as the unnatural mass passes through your urethra sending electric pleasure up your spine, lighting sparks in your brain as you blast hot, thick ropes of white lust deep into her womb.
  2365.  
  2366. With the first wave of cum you feel a strange sapping of your energy, not dissimilar to when Sig manifests herself. You pound and thrust into her even as you cum, feeling the sloppy sensations of the head of your shaft parting seas of semen. You pack her womb full of it, and her belly bulges as her elastic womb stretches to handle the capacity. Her cervix gives way and a backflow of your cum seeps down your shaft and out her cunt. A large portion of your power pours directly into the Wight’s womanhood and she casts, almost certainly on instinct, a spell to lock it all deep within, seal it inside of her. Not a drop leaves her writhing cunt.
  2367.  
  2368. “Ohhh Yesss…. Fuck this is amazing. I feel so…” You can almost see the eyes rolled back into her skull. You feel drained but you have more to give and your cock knows it. It wobbles and bounces with each soul-pounding throb of your heart. She slowly slides your cock out of her cunt, and you hear Teresa marvel as not a drop of your white seed drips out. She places your cock against her anus and digs its head into her sphincter. “Mmm, now fill here up.” Her asshole relaxes as she claims for you her other virgin passage. If anything it’s tighter than her cunt, the squeezing and rolling and massaging muscles giving you a plethora of sensations so intense you nearly blow it there. Her muscles work to push you back out on instinct and yet she sits down again and again, slapping her hand-filling ass down onto you, grinding and rolling back and forward. Inspired, you slide your hands up and actually fill them with that ass, lifting it up and down, parting its cheeks and using it as a hold to drive your cock even deeper into her, claiming her in a way no other may.
  2369.  
  2370. “Hey! I-I wanted to do that to him first.”
  2371.  
  2372. The metamorphosed woman giggles, rich and lusty, “Ara~ What a slutty thing for a paladin to say.”
  2373.  
  2374. You feel Teresa’s whole body blush in embarrassment, and the Wight relents, forcing a kiss on the pouting girl. “Sorry, I got carried away. Swap, after he cums?”
  2375.  
  2376. “…Okay.”
  2377.  
  2378. You’re barely holding on as it is. The conversation above you doesn’t help. The Wights words carry easily into your ears, carrying some kind of cumpulsion. “You heard, babe. Don’t keep the lady waiting. Fuck me raw and fill me up.”
  2379.  
  2380. “Mfmfmffgmfmgn.” As the lady commands. A line hard to convey, buried nose deep in juicy twat, but you comply with your body none the less, getting your feet under you, and thrusting up and deep into the Wight’s beautiful behind, filling the room with rude crude and lewd slaps, pumping torrents of your precum up her silky vice of a passage, making the sawing passing through her clenching rear nethers. You thrust up into her twice for each bounce down she gets in, and your onslaught has her leaning up against Teresa. They can’t even manage a proper kiss with you fucking the Wight so insensate.
  2381.  
  2382. Bodies mashed up against eachother, breasts spilling out and cheeks pressed up against eachother, you pound her ass again and again. Her breaths come ragged as you work the friction up and her asshole milks you faster and faster, powerful muscle spasms urging your own third orgasm of the night onward. She cries out in her anal orgasm and buries her moans into Teresa’s shoulder and you thrust up powerfully one last time, your balls smacking up against her ass as you hilt yourself and cum the third load, twice as large as the last.
  2383.  
  2384. You don’t see it but you feel her belly falling onto yours as you pump her guts full of your cum in incredibly thick torrents. Again, you feel such a large wash of power leave you. It’s like a burden lifting off you and you feel weightless for a time as you pump the Wight’s gravid belly with your heated, molten lust. She casts the same spell on her ass, sealing it all snugly within her before a drop may be wasted. You feel the room shudder with the emergence of this new power awakening and rearing its head.
  2385.  
  2386. A beacon in the darkness, you’re father to the birth of an unholy cataclysm. Something you’re blissfully unaware of as you rut the asshole of a girl cum zombie cum Wight. Moaning she slumps down on you and you feel, nay, hear her bloated belly slosh with your seed.
  2387.  
  2388. Teresa looks down on her worried, “A-Are you okay? That’s… a-a lot of cum. Theinn why didn’y you fill me with that much?” You’re too tired to answer. The Wight, Mary does so for you.
  2389.  
  2390. “Ah.. Oooohhhh…. I think tha’s me, love. Ah-I f-feel pregnant…” She nuzzles into your chest. “T-thank you for everything. Really. I don’t even know your name come to think of it, and you’d go so far as to…to…” you feel her wet tears burn you in how cold they are. Teresa pats the girl’s head as she cries. She soothes the Wight.
  2391.  
  2392. “Shhhh… It’s okay. We’re just here to help. If you want to help us back, that would be amazing but you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. Just be safe. That’s all we can ask for.”
  2393.  
  2394. “Mfmnfnfmn.” What she said.
  2395.  
  2396. She shivers a bit as the vibrations of your voice carry through her cunt, reminding her of the primal desires surging within her. She hops off your mouth, muscles weak from the many times you ground her to orgasm and lapped down her sweet girlcum as you rutted the Wight. The Wight herself just flops onto her side next to you and snuggles in.
  2397.  
  2398. “You… Don’t want me to eat you out or anything?” She smiles beautifully and gives you a kiss.
  2399.  
  2400. “I’m satisfied plenty. I’ll just watch. Watch and…” she rubs her wobbly belly, “digest.”
  2401.  
  2402. Teresa pinches one of your nipples, pouting. “Eyes here.” She leans down, her silver hair falling all around you, and nips at your lip, breathing heavily. “I’ll fuck you with my ass some other time. You spent so long eating my pussy out I think I’d go insane if I don’t cram it with your cock right.” She inserts the tip. “Now.” She rolls back and the Wight watches as her Dhampir partner’s toned thighs slam into your hips powerfully, taking you to the hilt. She looks jealous almost and if you had the brain power you’d tell her that her hourglass, soft, fluffy and motherly form is something women would kill for. You don’t though. It’s sort of cute how her pregnant belly jiggles with each of Teresa’s thrusts though.
  2403.  
  2404. She sinks her teeth into your nipple again, coming just short of drawing blood and you hiss back in pain. She’s pouting again. “Eyes. On me.” You roll your eyes in response.
  2405.  
  2406. “I’ve had my eyes locked on your cunt this entire time. Let them roam a little.” She isn’t happy at that.
  2407.  
  2408. “Fiine…” She pouts and starts slamming her hips into you more violently. You grin as you make out with the Wight, just waiting for her to snap. The wight has cottoned on too and is barely holding back her laughter. Break. She slams her fists down on your chest as she thrusts. “Pay. At. Ten. Tion. To. Me.” She beats at your chest lightly with her fists. You grin as you grab her hips and throw her down on the bed, climbing atop her.
  2409.  
  2410. You slide into her slick and ready love tunnel effortlessly as her womb kisses you. “You want me? You want my attention?” you growl. The Wight giggles at the little dominance play she’s shown.
  2411.  
  2412. Teresa is still upset. “Yes.” It ends in a pout you can’t take entirely seriously.
  2413.  
  2414. “I’ll devour you.”
  2415.  
  2416. “Eat me up.” Her arms and legs wrap around you as she lunges forwards into your thrust and bites down on your shoulder in a strikingly familiar manner. Her teeth sink in but stop short of piercing skin. She growls playfully as she shakes her head softly, vampiric fangs sinking just the slightest way in. With her legs she thrusts you into her, and like a beast you comply, rutting into your mate.
  2417.  
  2418. Nay, rutting into your love. The old scar upon your heart splits, and streams of your lifeblood stain Teresa’s porcelain skin. Giddy, she swirls it around her chest and breast, drawing lines of blood up to her pink nipples. The air fills with the scent of bloody love and Teresa brings a trail of it up her throat and into her mouth. She grins predatorily as she swallows, and brings her arms to lay across your back once more.
  2419.  
  2420. The Wight’s eyes open in surprise just gauging your reactions, she merely decides to watch and goes with the flow.
  2421.  
  2422. You hook your hands into her armpits and push upwards but her grip is strong and her arms won’t come free. So you tickle her. She giggles uncontrollably and squirms, cunt contracting tightly about your thrusting shaft. Just like that both her fangs from your throat and her arms from your back are dislodged. And you run your hands up her now, pinning them above her head. In fluid thrusting motions, still laughing, the two of you kiss as your mutual orgasm draws near.
  2423.  
  2424. Cold hands slip between your bodies and grope Teresa’s breasts, making the girl squeal in pleasure as the Wight flicks and rolls Teresa’s pink fleshy rosebud nipples. One of the hands scoops up a small pool of the blood and pours it into Teresa’s mouth, making her ecstatic in the taste of you. A low sultry voice whispers to the two of you as you feel the Wight begin to climb atop you, her massive tits lying flat across your back, nipples stiffly poking into it, belly squished against you and her still-slick thighs against your ass. “You two love birds mind if I join in for the climax?”
  2425.  
  2426. She covers the both of you in her newfound power and you feel a tell take hook snag at your essence. You know you’ll be cumming the rest of it into Teresa soon. Neither of you speak as you make out, but Teresa catches the Wight’s eyes and grins around your lips, nodding.
  2427.  
  2428. “Well then. Lets cum shall we?” She thrusts powerfully against you, her slick thighs pressing into your own as she pounds Teresa’s cunt through you. She keeps up the assault on Teresa’s tits with one hand and the other rests upon Teresa’s mound. You watch in awe as her hand turns a transparent, ghostly pale hue, and slips into Teresa’s womb, where your cock is currently thrusting.
  2429.  
  2430. The Wight continues to thrust into you as she wraps her ghostly hand around your cock within the Dhampir’s womb and jerks you off, escalating and intensifying the sensations tenfold. The both of you scream aloud with her ministrations, to which she responds with her own bubbly laughter. She eggs the two of you on, moaning into your ears, a needs cry which pierces Teresa just as deeply.
  2431.  
  2432. “Cum. Cum for us. Cum for her. She needs it. She wants it. Pump her full of your seed, Hero. Fuck her so full of your cum she can’t walk. Like me. Don’t you want to share a bed with two pregnant women? Don’t you want to run your hands over their bellies and know that both results are born of your loins? Cum.” She licks your ear and gives it a kiss before bending down to kiss Teresa’s forehead, rutting into you madly. Her jerks become erratic and erotic, swirling up and down, fingers circling your cock head masterfully, sometimes losing the pretence entirely and just pumping you furiously and fast.
  2433.  
  2434. “And you. I don’t blame you for feeling jealous. It must be hard seeing the man you love pumping and wasting gallons of his fertile sperm into another woman he doesn’t even love. I’m so sorry, and so so thankful. Let me return it to you. I’ll make him pump you so full it’ll fill the very core of your soul. It’ll stain you so thoroughly your dreams will be washed white with virile seed. Cum. Feel him pack your womb and then some. Like he did to me. Feel and know the difference between filling someone with love and filling someone with lust.”
  2435.  
  2436. “D-do you love me? Theinn?”
  2437.  
  2438. “I love you. I need you. I want you.” You kiss her lips as you tip the precipice, “And I have you. You’re all mine.”
  2439.  
  2440. “Will you do it? Will you spoil my soul with your love?”
  2441.  
  2442. “Red and white, Teresa.”
  2443.  
  2444. “I love you. Cum with me.”
  2445.  
  2446. The Wight licks your ear, blows into it and whispers. “You heard her. Let her feel your everything.”
  2447.  
  2448. You cry out and collapse into the pile of lovers as you pump Teresa full of your love, hips still twitching. Teresa’s cunt contracts around you, and Mary’s hand strokes your cock through your orgasm. The Wight herself shudders in some kind of magic assisted vicarious orgasm and you spill ungodly amounts into the Dhampir, and feel the same rush of your essence leaving you. But this time your heart goes with it.
  2449.  
  2450. Utterly exhausted, you marvel as the size of Teresa’s belly. Just as full as Mary’s. She wasn’t lying. You pull Teresa into your arms, and lie down with her within the Wight’s undead bosom. Her arms wrap around the two of you, and you fall into a deep exhausted sleep, feeling a strangely primal satisfaction in having the two pregnant bellies pressing up against you. Your consciousness slips beneath the undertow along with the two sleeping beauties by your side.
  2451.  
  2452. You awaken to screams and the loud roaring of fire, “Thienn, get up. We’re going. Now. Here,” Teresa hands you a potion full of a blue liquid. “If you’re still not back to your usual self after all that, drink this.” Blearily, you look at your armoured lover… How can she fit into it?
  2453.  
  2454. “What happened to your belly?” She blushes.
  2455.  
  2456. “I uh… digested it? I don’t know. Woke up and both Mary and I were back to normal…” she grins remembering, “You beast…” And shakes her head vigorously, “No. Now is not the time. Get your ass up, gear up and get out of here, recruit.” The tone of the superior is back and you can only wonder what’s brought it about. She sees the question and answers before you may ask it.
  2457.  
  2458. “Hell has broken loose.”
  2459.  
  2460. You try to rise and your muscles put up a staunch protest, cramming your bureaucracy with cries of ‘dude, what the fuck?’ Teresa smirks down at you.
  2461.  
  2462. “Yeah. Drink it. I didn’t bring it just because. I knew you’d need it.”
  2463.  
  2464. As you down the refreshing blue liquid, you cast your gaze to the sky. Still angry red and black, but with other emotions mixed in. It leaves a cool after taste on your tongue and coats your throat, inspiring you to take large drags of fresh air. It tastes of the air which rolls off of the snow-capped mountains and almost instantly vitality infuses your body.
  2465.  
  2466. She tosses you your sword and belt of knives. One lands in your lap the other you catch. You smell it in the air. The situation is dire and you can’t hide your grin. “So what’s the situation?” You hop up off the bed and strap your weapons to you. “Come down. They’re explaining it.” You duck into the room you share with Teresa, crack a grin as the smell of sex the baphomet struggled and failed to remove, and grab your cloak. You draw it about your shoulders and slide a hand between your neck and your long hair, pulling it out and letting it hand loose upon the back of your cloak. You tie the long hair of your fringe back with a strip of leather and head down.
  2467.  
  2468.  
  2469. “Compulsion from the mansion. I-I don’t know or understand much of this, but I feel something of an instinctual tug towards it. I think she felt me… coming into being so to speak.” Mary stands before Muradin, Phyle, Kara, Senna and May. Every one present is armed and armoured to the teeth. Mary lifts a hand exploratory and a ghostly claw manifests. “But I really don’t know… back with…” her red glowing eyes touch upon yours and she blushes deeply, “Theinn, it was largely on instinct. It’s still the same. I’m a lot smarter than I used to be, but I don’t understand why or how.” She points to her silken black dress which clings tightly to her form, accentuating her curves and pushing her enormous bust up and out. It almost spills from its confines. “This sort of just… appeared on me too as I was getting up so… even now that I know what you want from me I… I’m not sure I can actually do it.”
  2470.  
  2471. “Look, we’re not asking you to run this place alone. We’ll send out people to guide you, fabricate some documents for your legitimacy. Basically, you’ll be our puppet, but we’ll look after you. As for the… magic side of things,” Muradin’s face darkens. An evil shadow flits across his beard for an imagined moment and he speaks in his deep rumbling voice. “Don’t worry I… can show you. Okay. Orders are this. I’ll tutor Mary here, Kara will guard the two of us as we work. Senna, May, Phyle. Do what you can to hold back the tide at the front gate. Theinn, Teresa, assassinate the head quickly as possible. The town is split into two parties. Those fleeing and those defending. So far the hordes are approaching on the same gate we entered through. The one on the other side of town is clear and it is through there which most the people flee. Take the head out quickly and we can prevent the undead closing in on the second gate. Take her out and Mary here can take over and control the undead masses. Move out.”
  2472.  
  2473. Senna and May gallop off towards the front gate. Attention diverts from Muradin, you only just now notice that May is massively burdened with hundreds of spears. Looking across to the larger centaur you see her holding a thick bow twice as tall as a man, so large that even given her huge stature it nearly reaches the round when she lifts it up and teases the string, wound and bound and as thick as a baby’s arm. You notice now that they aren’t spears but arrows. Underneath the arrows rests a large shield, May’s sword is slung to her hip. Smaller than the massive claymore slung to Senna’s back, similar in size to Kara’s, but still significantly larger than an average broadsword.
  2474.  
  2475. You and Teresa run out after the two, headed for the opposite direction. It’s just you and Teresa now. The wind billows through your cloak and hair as you sprint through the better part of town it’s far easier than traversing the slums, but you feel edgy all the same. It’s just as empty here. The town is built on a slope. Its walls enclose it within a large circle and it’s the personification of shit running downhill.
  2476.  
  2477. Level ground has the thoroughfare and the trade districts and it bisects the city, going from one main gate to the other smaller gate which isn’t quite opposite the main gate, but somewhere near that. The main road curves. Below it is the shambled slums and living quarters of the less fortunate. Above the rest reside those of high affluence and blessed life. Ultimate irony has you standing atop their perch, seeing only death.
  2478.  
  2479. The sharp spike of smoke tears through your nostrils as you watch signal flares scorch the night, smoke only to be swallowed within the swirling red and black sky. Waves of women rabble against the main gates. Spots of pure darkness stain the otherwise homogenous mix of torn flesh and ragged clothes. The odd masked and cloaked man is within their fray but nowhere near enough to tip the scales of the disgusting reality. This plague, engineered to kill the men and turn the women could only have devoured the entire region to call such numbers here tonight.
  2480.  
  2481. The flares, they do nothing. No living eye can bear sight to it, and if they could, then they stand within these very walls, staring hopelessly towards it. Your heart pumps faster, harder. You exercise your will and try to slow it down, fearing that you only have so many beats left, but it’s futile, you can no more master the clammy claustrophobia which encroaches upon you as you could any of the other baser instincts. You look to the other gate, congested with what few fleeing citizens remain, and know that it too mustn’t be surrounded.
  2482.  
  2483.  The masses rally about the main gate as a massive figure strides through. The distance is significant, but even considering that you can easily tell the moving mass of rotted flesh and gleaming bone for what it is. With four legs which crush countless of the shambled masses underfoot, and a tail which sweeps swathes through their ranks, something akin to a behemothic, de-winged dragon approaches the main gate, dwarfing the mass of zombies, which barely reach the ankle of one of its boned claws.
  2484.  
  2485. It sashays lazily with its rotted and torn belly scraping the ground. Three furlongs out it begins to pick up the pace, and the ground begins to rumble under its massive weight. The stomps come faster and more frequent at it picks up the pace, and slowly as it runs it begins to lift its body off the ground, sprinting with its four legs kicking out slightly, headed towards the gate without any intention to stop.
  2486.  
  2487. Teresa grabs your elbow just before it collides, “We don’t have time for that, lets go!” She yanks you away and as you turn your head from the spectacle you hear the shattering of century old protection. You spare only one look behind you as you run, and are met with the still unsettled cloud of a demolished wall, the state of the line of defenders which waited just beyond obscured by the cloud.
  2488.  
  2489. It doesn’t take long before the two of you find yourselves before the grandest mansion within the town, and even you can feel the faint magical pull of power. The gates look abandoned, but you see shadows moving about within, patrolling the grounds. With chaos baring its fangs behind your backs, there seems little sense in remaining secretive. The foul powers directing the horde are all but palpable, and even the intuitive novice commoner would have an intuition as to the true culprit.
  2490.  
  2491. Taking this into account, the gates are unguarded almost in invitation, which in and of itself is strange considering that the rich would prioritise their own safety and escape before anything else, not laze around with added security as thought ruffians had suddenly become more common and daring.. The two of you sneak closer, crouched low and stepping easily through the shadows. You turn to the girl beside you. “Should I roll a mist through? It would dull their perception, assuming they’ve more than sight .”
  2492.  
  2493. “Too wasteful.”
  2494.  
  2495. “So is strolling into this obvious ambush.”
  2496.  
  2497. She grins at you, “How are you at jumping?”
  2498.  
  2499. You look to the height of the wall. Easily nearly three times the height of your average man, tipped by mean looking spikes which just beg to tear your flesh asunder. Spikes tip the wall, Spikes hang just before the lip pointing down, and you’re damn fucking sure spikes are on the other side too. They’d look quite out of place in more normal times. They fit perfect now though. She catches your look.
  2500.  
  2501. “Kara told me about how you chastised her for treating you like a normal man, earlier while you were sleeping. Not going to take your own advice?”
  2502.  
  2503. You scowl at her, and she breaks character long enough to poke her tongue out at you. With that in mind, you prepare to fuck up spectacularly. You’re loathe to assist yourself with wind magic as at this point the smallest pebble rooted in the raging stream is enough to part it and tell every one of your whereabouts. So you do this the old fashioned way, and sprint as lightly as you can at the wall nearly thrice your height. You leap as high as you can at the wall, and then just before you collide face first, you take your momentum, and kick up against the wall, transferring it upwards.
  2504.  
  2505. You throw your arm up reaching for the lip of the wall. You’re just short. Swearing in your mind, you grit your teeth and make the grab. Rusted and weathered hooks dig into your flesh, grinding into your bone and lacerating the muscles in your hand. But you hold, hand already healing around the spike adorning the wall. Using that hand, you swing your other up onto the lip of the wall and begin to pull yourself up, but you took too long.
  2506.  
  2507. As you stand on the wall you gingerly try and remove your hand from the spike. It’s like skinning yourself. Doing it slowly just emphasises each molecule of shredded skin and ligament so you yank your hand from the spike in one motion, tearing it to shreds as you part your hand from the metal it had healed around. And you only have to do it all again. You wince and suck in a breath of air through your teeth as you shake your raw red and throbbing hand. And put it on the next spike, the one atop the wall, which you’ll use to balance yourself as you haul Teresa up and over. You’ll be damned if you let her touch these fuckers.
  2508.  
  2509. You nod down at her, and grip onto the spike, leaning down and reaching your hand out for her. She runs at the wall, jumps the same way you did, and comes high enough for you to grab her by the hand and throw her over. You watch her wink at you as she sails above and lands nimbly on the ground meters below with a feline grace, the slightest ‘plat’ as her boots strike the mossy undergrowth. Your own significantly heavier footfall is heard a moment later and she turns back to you, and takes your hand in hers.
  2510.  
  2511. “You okay? That must have stung.”
  2512.  
  2513. “Like a bitch.” You grin wryly as she bends down and kisses your hand.
  2514.  
  2515. “Well, lets get to it.”
  2516.  
  2517. The two of you stalk through the undergrowth. A sort of semi forest semi garden on the massive front yard of the property. It’s only a few trees thick, but stenches the length of the driveway. You feel rather than see the people luring in the trees waiting for would be prey, and it fills you with a sense of thrill and danger, to be so under-the-noses of the enemy. You feel far more at home stalking through this kind of brush than you did learning to prowl the mortar jungle under Kara. It reminds you of when you’d go hunting. You’re hunting now.
  2518.  
  2519. You circle around the driveway and front entrance entirely, and come across a small doorway leading into what looks to be some kind of servant’s quarters. There’s the familiar glow of candle light and two bored looking shades dressed in black lazing about.
  2520.  
  2521. “So… Do you think… do you think we’ll see her after this?”
  2522.  
  2523. “I don’t know man… Just… Shut up and keep your eyes open I feel sick as it is. This was our home.”
  2524.  
  2525. “Its… still our home it’s just… It had to be done, right? Sis turned into one of them and… what choice did we have?”
  2526.  
  2527. “Just… Shut up.”
  2528.  
  2529. The conversation dies between the two presumed brothers, and silence rushes in like a returning tide. You and Teresa whisper mutedly. “Knives? Those cloaks are too billowy and with their hoods up I can’t be sure I’ll down them without raising some alarm.”
  2530.  
  2531. “Same here…knives, but don’t throw them.” She stoops down and pats the ground quietly. A moment later, she finds a stone or a pebble or some kind of petrified wood, because it makes a loud crack on one of the far windows when she throws it.
  2532.  
  2533.  “What was that?”
  2534.  
  2535. “Check it, moron. If we fuck up here we’ll never see her again!”
  2536.  
  2537. “F-fine…”
  2538.  
  2539. One of the shaded men in black wanders off towards the sound of the noise with Teresa prowling behind him. She strikes from behind, and draws a deep gash along his throat with your knife. Unsure of precision, she decided to brute force her way through the problem. When she disrobes him, the man’s head nearly falls off. She got him all right. She dons the robes and approaches the other man. You sneak around with his attention on the shadows his brother disappeared to. Teresa returns, hood drawn.
  2540.  
  2541. “What was it? Squirrel?” She’s closer.
  2542.  
  2543. “Well? If it was nothing, say it was nothing.” Closer.
  2544.  
  2545. “Fuck you man, this isn’t time to be pulling this kind of shit. Say something. This isn’t-” Closer still. He takes a hesitant step back as Teresa approaches quickly, arms folded, hood drawn, head down. She makes a beeline towards the man. And as any man who is being approached by a dark cloaked individual in the night, he takes a step back, and right onto waiting inches of cold hard blade, “-funny…”
  2546.  
  2547. You meet him the rest of the way, and drive your sword up and through his chest. You slide it out just as silently as you slid it in, and the figure crumples. You a terse few moments you wait, ears peeled. No signs of disturbance. Looking around you see some kind of maintenance shed nearby, which makes sense given the servant entry. You pick the bodies up and Teresa breaks the lock, silently opening the shed. You place both men to rot within, close the shed up and head on inside.
  2548.  
  2549. The place is nearly gaudy in its richness. Even the servant’s kitchens and laundries are posh looking. The doorway to the outside led into a little corridor, which leads to a steel door which likely leads to the main house. To the left branches off into the kitchen and to the right, the laundry where they deal with the linens. There’s a second doorway to the right, and through the lip of the room visible through your angle of the doorframe you see stairs reflected in the mirror slung there. Likely put in place to see and consequentially not bowl over any one descending the stars to what you assume to be the living quarters.  
  2550.  
  2551. There’s someone washing dishes in the kitchen, but when you go to slide a knife out, Teresa puts a restraining hand on your wrist, and shakes her head. Wether for the preservation of like or time, you neither know nor care as she leads you up to the living quarters. ‘Well, it wasn’t life,’ you figure as you watch her nail a maid in the head with a knife you didn’t realise she had taken.
  2552.  
  2553. You ask her in a low tone, “So, what are we doing here? I’m pretty sure that our mastermind isn’t that maid.” Your eyes fall across the felled cutie. She was fixing up some kind of lamp when Teresa put one between her eyes and the way the fell has her bent over the table, short skirt barely covering her lissom thighs and her picturesque round a- no man. That’s fucked. Teresa hands the knife to you. And points to the windows.
  2554.  
  2555. There’s a small balcony, “This place is four stories high. This is the second. The balconies just so happen to be close enough for us to make it to the third without drawing attention to ourselves. From there we just have to find our way to the stairs for the fourth.”
  2556.  
  2557. “Convenient”
  2558.  
  2559. She grins, “Info Senna brought in from one of the old servants here.”
  2560.  
  2561. The two of you exit through the window and onto the small balcony. It’s so small that standing on it would have your back against the window when closed. There’s just enough room for a row of potted flowers. The balcony above is only two meters higher than this one and a meter left from it. Teresa steps off the railing of this one, kicks off the wall of the mansion, and grabs hold of the railing. Slowly, quietly and carefully she pulls herself up it and pokes her head around, to make sure no one is in the room the window connects to. She nods back to you and you repeat the motions. You don’t kick off so high as she does, but you pull yourself up faster to make up for it.
  2562.  
  2563. She opened the window in the time it took you to do all that, and the two of you slip into the room. It’s an unoccupied guest room. The bed is neatly made and each surface has been dusted and cleaned, so you can’t know for certain, but you get the sensation that it isn’t used very often.
  2564.  
  2565. The door opens. It opens into a corridor, but any more than that is obscured by a silhouette. A woman with a cats ears and tail in a maid’s outfit walks in holding a basket of fresh bed linens. Fuck. You draw a blade in the blink of an eye and hurl it towards the cat, her feline eyes go wide, but she manages to put the basket up at the same time she draws her breath. She’s turning to run before the blade even hammers harmlessly into the basket she was holding. Teresa is sprinting for her but she’s too far away and the cat bolts as she lets out her alarm.
  2566.  
  2567. “INNNTTTRRRRUUUDDDEEERRSSS!”
  2568.  
  2569. Double fuck. Ball’s dropped now. You’re hot on the heels of the cat in your wind assisted sprint and you pounce on her. With a hand to the scruff of the neck you slam her face first down to the ground and channel your flames through the palm of your hand, the rune on your forehead burning furiously in your anxiety. The smell of burnt hair comes to your nose, but it’s from contact only. You’re conjuring the pure purging flame directly into her brain, and whilst it’s more costly than manipulating a pre-existing flame, it was all you could think to do.
  2570.  
  2571. Clumps of burnt hair fall away from the back of her head as you remove your hand. A foul odour wafts up from the werecat and as you roll her over you see the melted fluid of her eyes leaving a sloppy mess on her face as a similar cranial liquid leaks from the cat’s ears.
  2572.  
  2573. You lay her down and cringe the longest cringe you’ve ever cringed. And then it comes. Muffled by walls but clear and dreadful as day. “Intruders!” the alarm has been sounded. Teresa hisses through her teeth.
  2574.  
  2575. “Fucking shit! If only we had time to actually plan this bullshit first. Alright,” she turns and sprints down the hallway in the opposite direction of the yell, “This way!” You sprint after her, sword drawn. The corridor turns and continues for quite a way, but the two of you were running blind. You hadn’t collected anywhere near enough information to deal with this. This stretch of corridor you were on easily spans the length of the mansion, or at least a considerable bit of it, measuring in as a hundred or so meters you guess, estimating on sight alone.
  2576.  
  2577. Twenty five in, the two of you halt, coming face to face with men in armour. Actually… Oh fuck. Skeletons in armor. Dark shadows swirl around the bones hidden by the plate and they come armed with swords and shields. It’s a squadron of five with a Dullahan leader to make the sixth and in this corridor where you can comfortable stand four men shoulder to shoulder, that’s bad news. The two of you turn only to see an armour-clad Nightmare thundering down the corridor, similarly armoured, wielding a spear. In the middle of the way, the two of you stand back to back.
  2578.  
  2579. Two shadows follow in the mare’s wake and as they come to a stop twenty meters from you, they begin to solidify one begins to take a form at Teresa, the other still undecided.
  2580.  
  2581. “Doppelgangers. Should I be flattered, Theinn?”
  2582.  
  2583. You grin, “I dunno. Mayb-…”
  2584.    
  2585. “Theinn?”
  2586.  
  2587. “You take the skeletons.”
  2588.  
  2589. “W-what?”
  2590.  
  2591. You sprint for the second doppelganger. She’s starting to form. You don’t want to see what she’ll look like but you know, and it enrages you. You try to put out some magic, but your emotions get in your way and it comes out as a strange mix, fizzling out as you charge at the forming figure of Ranuinne.
  2592.  
  2593. You lunge for her, trying to impale her on your blade for having the audacity to take the form of your wife, but the rage clouds your eyes, and you receive a spear to the shoulder for it, pinning you to the wall. Your blade hangs limply from the arm stabbed into the wall. Teresa cries out for you, but is locked into her own fight. The three figures converge on you.
  2594.  
  2595. “Ara…” Ranuinne looks to her sister. “Two women? My aren’t we a naughty little boy? Naught little boys shouldn’t come where they aren’t supposed to…”
  2596.  
  2597. You glare as the two doppelgangers come closer and closer to you, confident in your predicament. The nightmare, standing so high, can only look down on you and leer as she twists her spear slightly, making a weak whimper slip through your lips.
  2598.  
  2599. “Mmm,” Teresa moans, “but he has good taste doesn’t he?” The two sisters come together with the forms of your lovers and begin making out in the midst of battle, sneaking peeks at your reaction.  
  2600.  
  2601. You grit your teeth and struggle in impotent rage, grunting uselessly for effect, griping at the spear like you actually had any hope of dislodging it, buried so deep in the wall. At least that’s what you wanted it to look like anyhow. Heat travels up the spear unnoticed by the gloved centaur as you grip it and with a push, you bend the melted metal as you kick off the wall, and lay your teeth into Ranuinne’s throat. She gives a gasp at the surprise of your sudden freedom, and the air hisses out as you puncture her windpipe and clamp down hard crushing the rest of it.
  2602.  
  2603. Teresa tries to form some kind of blade from the shadowy mix, but you wrench the spearhead and the rest of the melted and bent shaft out of your shoulder and slam it down into her skull, splitting it. She falls to her knees and deforms back into black mist. Whether that means she’s dead or has just returned to a less corporeal form you don’t know, but it doesn’t look like she’s eager to reform just yet.
  2604.  
  2605. You turn to Ranuinne and see her eyes bulging as she tries to suck in air through her demolished throat. Looking over her you see she formed with legs. Your pondering is cut short when the mare crushes the suffering girl’s head with a hoof and fairly growls at you. The small smoky form of a girl wafts out of the shadows, kisses the mare on the cheek and joins its sister in the obscurity of darkness.
  2606.  
  2607. “You will pay for that.” The Nightmare rears back on her legs and kicks you away. You roll and feel the heavy impact resounding throughout you, but pick yourself up none the less. The Nightmare draws a sword from her side and charges you, hacking and slashing. You parry and dodge blows but bit by bit she’s pushing you back. If it goes any further you’ll begin interfering with the real Teresa’s fight so you begin expending a bit of the power you hoped to save for the mistress controlling it all. Can’t be helped.
  2608.  
  2609. You conjure water and throw it at the centaur. She pays it no heed as she swings her weapon at you, but as you freeze the water you threw to the floor, her footing becomes significantly less sure, her moves more sluggish. She has to really pound the floor to crack and shatter the ice, which obviously creates openings in her awkward movements, otherwise said ice will fuck up her movements.  
  2610.  
  2611. Exploiting this, you leap forwards and begin to harass her, slipping your blade in between the joints of her armor and throwing flame into her face, scorching her hair. Mentally, you take note to invest in a helmet. With a visor. So some asshole doesn’t keep throwing fire in your face like you currently are.
  2612.  
  2613. Flustered and enraged with significant burns to her face and neck she swings an armoured fist at you with enough force and speed to crush skulls. You sway back and down so that the wide swing sails right over you, and you stab your sword right down through her exposed armpit and into her chest. Her legs buckle as she gasps, and you pull your sword free by placing a boot to her side and yanking back.
  2614.  
  2615. You grab a handful of her hair and she closes her eyes as your sword slices through her neck in one fell motion. The doppelgangers were there to throw you off more than anything. Your only real opponent was the Nightmare. You turn to see how Teresa is doing. Three armoured skeleton down, she’s trading blows with the last two and the Dullahan, swaying and avoid strikes, a hand clutches at her side. You rush over to help, seeing her back literally to the wall, and channelling your fire through your sword you leap for the back of one of the skeletons. Your heated sword slices through it like a knife through butter.
  2616.  
  2617. It falls in half, and the final combatants face off. Teresa and the Dullahan, you and the remaining Skeleton.
  2618.  
  2619. This skeleton knows what she’s doing, using her armor like a weapon, to put you off your guard , smacking you around with her shield and parrying blows. She’s also got a full face, which is rare amongst them. She’s closer to a zombie than anything. You parry a blow and evade the other, barging into her shield with a shoulder. She trips and the two of you fall, you on top, sword buried through her chest, she on the bottom, sword buried through your chest. She smiles like the spectre of death itself. You just grit your teeth and pull your sword out of her before placing a hand in the shattered breast plate of her armor and turning her bones to cinders.
  2620.  
  2621. You take a breather to slide the sword out and heal your wounds and watch Teresa delivering the final blow to the Dullahan. Tired and exhausted you make your way over to Teresa where she rests leaning against the wall. “I… Don’t want to do that again…”
  2622.  
  2623. “Mmh…” She looks at you and smiles faintly, looking paler than usual. She’s still cradling her side.
  2624.  
  2625. You put your hand where hers is. Crimson red, She’s wounded, deep. “How deep is it?”
  2626.  
  2627. She coughs, sitting up some blood. Looks like a punctured lung. “D-deep…”
  2628.  
  2629. “Think you’ll make it?” She looks into your eyes, bites her lip, and shakes her head no, sadly. She winces as she tries to take in a deep breath. Her voice comes out wheezy.
  2630.  
  2631. “N-Not like this…T-there’s only one thing which will save me now… I need…”
  2632.  
  2633. “You need blood. Mine.” She nods slowly.
  2634.  
  2635. “A-are…you…sure? You’ve bled…too much…I don’t… mind dying.”
  2636.  
  2637. You take her in your arms, and slowly slide down the wall. When the two of you settle, she’s straddling you, thighs to either side of your hips, resting her head on your shoulder. “I mind. Take as much as you need.” She doesn’t move. She’s out cold, but still breathing her wheezing, strangled gurgling breaths. You drag out your last knife, and cut into your throat.
  2638.  
  2639. With the incision made, you weakly force her head against your neck and hope for the best. Teresa herself doesn’t wake up, but her body reacts. She opens her mouth wider, and sinks her teeth in truly. You fade in and out of consciousness as she drains your blood. Your heart pumps harder, wanting to give her more and more, and you find your breaths becoming short and excited.
  2640.  
  2641. Dimly out of the corners of your eyes you see more foes approach, but they merely ready their weapons and watch, something warning them against approaching on a deep instinctual level. Slowly, Teresa’s crimson red eyes open. A deathly vibrancy seeps into her skin. Her shoulder length hair seems to unfold, gaining length where there previously was none. She was beautiful and bewitching before, but now something other slips into place. A certain enchanting allurement.
  2642.  
  2643. The undertow of massive latent energies surrounding this city and its necromancy surges for a short moment as what slumbered deep within Teresa reacts to your blood and reawakens in a resurgence of power likely greater than that which she was even born with. It rattles you to the core and emits a palpable pressure-wave. Nothing so great as ground-breaking, but it deeply unsettles the minds and emotions of those present. It takes but a moment for the essences within her to stabilise, but that brief blip of a power-surge has left a deep power-void, making what remains feel insignificant.  
  2644.  
  2645. Her blood-ruby eyes flick down the corridor to the enemy just standing there. But rather than move, she just simply sits there, sucking more and more of your blood. A strange golden light flickers within the crimson depths of those eyes for the briefest of moments and it isn’t until then she stops. Slowly she retracts her fangs from your throat, and a small bead of blood slips down. She collects it with her tongue, and kisses you nearly as deeply as she drank from you.
  2646.  
  2647. “Thank you for… this life.” Slowly, she rises, wounds healed, an overwhelming power emanating from her. “I haven’t felt like this…” her image blurs, or at least seems to do so in your fatigued, bloodless condition. “In an age… not since…” her hands are suddenly drenched in blood. As you rise you look to the enemy. Corpses litter the corridor where they once stood. Standing now, you take a step forward and falter. “Woah, careful there” She appears beside you and catches you before you fall, “Are you alright?”
  2648.  
  2649. You manage a weak grin, “Y-yeah… just need a moment. You’re as insatiable as ever.” You look her in the eye, deeply. She returns the stare and after a long moment you grin.
  2650.  
  2651. “Oh? See something you like?”
  2652.  
  2653. “Yeah. Teresa. Just Teresa.” You give her a quick peck on her surprised lips and limp forward. She blushes a little, and helps you along the way, each of your steps growing surer than the last, a regenerative power which can only be described as ‘unfair’ already kicking in.
  2654.  
  2655. The two of you walk through the corridor, and come out the other side into a grand hall, circular and lined with windows to the outside, giving a spectacular panoramic view of the city from the perches of affluence. There’s a swarm of commotion at the front gate but you’re much too far to make out any detail. Quite a few figures mill about, oblivious to your presence, though quite highly alert. You hear someone asking about what happened to the people sent to stop the intruders. Another flippantly responds that they sent more than ten people there. It’s a sorted matter.
  2656.  
  2657. This bodes well, and you and Teresa sneak around towards the main stairs. It’s when you’re about to ascend them that some strange premonition urges you to turn back. You look not out across to the front gate, but to the second, closer gate. You catch Teresa’s wrist before she passes and curiously she looks back, only to follow your gaze down to the second gate and utter a curse.
  2658.  
  2659. There, the now dwindling lines of evacuating people are set upon by a few thousand of the main swam of undead. To be expected, honestly. Looking back to the main gate there are piles of corpses already and the writhing dead extend for a few hundred meters, completely packed in together as they climb over one another in the simplistic urge to kill and turn. The defenders there barely hold the line, and if that group from the second gate breaks through and converges with the main force, that line will break and there’ll be nothing left to save.
  2660.  
  2661. There’s no one left. You turn to Teresa and she nods at you. “Go. Go and make sure you come right back.” You nod, and the two of you kiss for what could be the last time.
  2662.  
  2663. You slide your sword back into its sheath, and set off at a sprint. You run down the corridor which serves as something of a mezzanine. With mighty bounds and leaps, you step off the railing into the sky of the grand hall, and grab onto a hanging chandelier. It’s momentum carries you towards the giant glass panes. You leap off the mass of metal and crash through the glass, drawing attention and letting Teresa sneak her way up to the fourth floor.
  2664.  
  2665. The glass slices you, and you hear something break when you roll out of the fall, but you’ve little time to spare for such considerations. You hobble to your feet, limp into a jog and then stagger into a sprint as you make a beeline for the second gate, ignoring the sounds of pursuit. The runes governing your control over wind blisters against your flesh as you pump more and more power into it, lending flight to your strides. You crouch down, and spring up and over the wall in a bound.
  2666.  
  2667. Wind propels you out rather than down, and you find your feet connecting with the roof of the nearest home. The tile cracks with your impact with all the forcefulness of a pedestrian shoved aside as you move on, stepping from home to home. It burns through insane amounts of your vitality and you feel your body begin to fray, but none the less it is crucial you arrive there before the waves of undead enter through the second gate. For the lives of those fleeing and for the sakes of those standing to fight.  
  2668.  
  2669. Already, the stench of defeat nearly knocks you from the rooftops and streets. Men there are split into three parties. Those who flee, those who bravely stand and fight, and those who sit there, passively waiting for someone else to bleed to save them. If you do nothing, two thirds shall die, the remaining living, having shown only their backs to the direst of hours. You know that you alone have to power to change this.
  2670.  
  2671. You draw your sword as you rocket into the approaching masses of zombies and undead. A fetid claw swings down, aiming to gouge at the face of a man kneeling, waiting for his fate. Heads turn as your sword flicks between the distance and the talon goes flying, a rotted bile spewing from the now severed limb.  
  2672.  
  2673. You suck in deep breaths, sating your burning lungs as you grip the brief disruption and bleed it of all it’s worth, gathering your bearings. You stand just before the gate. A handful have already  swarmed it, but it’s nowhere near the number just beyond. You decapitate the zombie before you, her long ragged hair falling in strands at it sunders upon your blade’s edge. As the major threat the mass begins to converge on you, and it’s all you can do to cut them down with your superior reach before they’re able to close in on you.
  2674.  
  2675. You cut swathes through their haphazard ranks as bodies rush you from left and right, but sheer physical prowess along isn’t enough, and you’re forced to tap into your dwindling reservoir of power. Flame runes begin to sing across the steel of your blade, and each cut leaves smouldering embers embedded within the flesh which soon ignites.
  2676.  
  2677. Looking around, the number of people yet to have fled reach up to around fifty. One by one they slip through a safe spot, running for their life, down and out the left side of the gate, ducking into some open fields behind the rows of houses which begin a few ten meters beyond the gate in a similar, haphazard nature as to the smaller settlements outside the main gate. The field itself, if crossed, links to a smaller road which leads to the larger one, but it’s slow going. You need to draw the attentions of the masses into itself and free up time and space. As it is, the hordes have bottlenecked the line of refugees, and effectively strangled their escape. You raise your voice above the din of streams cries and moans, huffing in your exertion, and pausing every now and then the hone your attentions on a single point. That fallen corpse you mustn’t trip upon, the rushing body hellbent on eviscerating you.
  2678.  
  2679. “I’ll Make some room! Dash for it, single file, I’ll keep them focused on me!”
  2680.  
  2681. Sword and teeth bared you plunge into the jaws of death, dig your blade in, and score the roof of its mouth, bathing yourself in its blood. Exhaustion dulls your movements and you stop actively thinking. The smell of blood clouds your mind and your limbs begin to lash out in a more primal, less structured manner. You’re surrounded by burning corpses. You impale the one infront of you, lack out with your foot, shattering the skull of the one behind, swinging your fist out to balance yourself, and claiming the head of another.
  2682.  
  2683. Much like a man who’d slumbered for too long, and found himself with aches upon his first session of exercise, in muscles he had no knowledge of, so too does your body burn in places you didn’t realise existed. The glinting crimson blade reflects the glow of countless runes all alighting as you lose yourself in the inner turmoil, surrounded by fodder, and slowly being devoured by it. A fountain of blood spurts from the neck of a headless corpse.
  2684.  
  2685. Gripping that fountain in ice, you jam the newly hardened shiv of blood through the brain of another. You have moved on once more before it too can fall to its knees. At some point you lose your blade. Feeding strength through the runes carved into you, you plunge inhumanly strong hands into the chest of a zombie and freeze the blood around your fingers. With a mighty heave, you wrench your arms from her chest cavity, shredding her from the inside. Fire glints across the crimson claws and you dive back into the fray as ferociously as you may. Limbs and scraps of flesh fly as you shred, rend, tear, eviscerate and savage all that stands in your path with grim, feral determination.
  2686.  
  2687. But you are just one man. Bathed in blood with claws which reek of death, in a fuming, foaming blood-rage, you are just one man, ineffectually batting away at the surging tides of the oceans of death and exhaustion. You manage just one cognizant thought through your death-haze. ‘Take of me what you need but I must not die here.’
  2688.  
  2689. ‘I know. Sleep for a bit, my child.’
  2690.  
  2691. The world turns to black.
  2692.  
  2693. And then it burns.
  2694.  
  2695.  
  2696. *   *   *   *
  2697.  
  2698.  
  2699. I grimly look out across the squirming and writhing masses, ineffectually batting their rotted arms against the solid steel portcullis. It won’t last. I don’t see it nor do I hear it, but I feel it coming. I spare a look to May, and she nods, cute little mouth set in a line of steadfast determination. She, at the least I must protect. She slides out one of the ‘arrows’ from the bundle of logs on her back, and hands it to me, silently. A few curious eyes watch what we do, but it doesn’t change much. My muscles twitch as I battle the oncoming waves of anticipation. I see a wall of shields to either side of me. The brave and foolish who fight to protect this land.
  2700.  
  2701. It’s low at first.
  2702.  
  2703. Low and quiet, but it slowly builds itself up to a massive rumbling. I feel heavy under this armour but I feel powerful too. I can’t help but feel a little eager for this fight, dire as it may be. I heft the bow in my hand, and with near tectonic force, nock the spear and draw back on the string. Something parts the waves of zombies. I take a guess as its trajectory and take a shot. The wind screams as my arrow splits it, and it pierces through a few entire bodies on its path, leaving holes in some and collecting others. It hits something big right in the face as it emerges over the hill and into plain sight. It’s massive. Mythically massive.
  2704.  
  2705. And dead.
  2706.  
  2707. It shakes off the arrow to the face, and keeps on its walk.
  2708.  
  2709. May hands me another arrow, chants a quet change ,and the arrow begins to shine a faint white light. I knock, and the light suffuses throughout the bowstring. Again, I shift my waist to the side, and draw back as far as I may, drawing and releasing in one solid motion. Once more It slips through the grating of the portcullis and takes a few more zombies with it, on it’s path to this… thing. It takes it in its shoulder and there’s a short burst of light which staggers the thing. Looking closer now it seems to be some kind of giant lizard. Almost like a wingless dragon of the days of old, before twisting energies wrought the land with mutations. With four legs and a tail, it recklessly stomps through its own allies and sweeps them aside like dolls. I’d heard of it of course. Powerful creatures which could return to their former glories for a short period of time. Entire cities swallowed by giant sandworms. Dragons spurned by their husbands set upon a town, rampaging fire. But for such a Behemoth to be here? Now? Dead? I shudder at the idea of trying to assassinate whoever is in charge of it.
  2710.  
  2711. Knock. Draw. Release. This one sets sparks flying as it grinds against a small bit of the grating for the portcullis. Its course bends and deviates slightly, landing not in the head but deep into the foreleg of the creature. It shrugs it off, and it begins to run.
  2712.  
  2713. Knock….Draw. Release It lifts itself off the ground and it charging without any intent of stopping.
  2714.  
  2715. “All men fall back. Any amongst you who know magic, fortify that gate. Whatever this is will charge right through it, but reinforce it enough, and hopefully the hole she makes won’t be too large. You’ll need to fill it though, whilst I deal with this. You need to fill that hole in the wall with your blood. Your sweat, your tears and your courage. Fall back!”
  2716.  
  2717. The time for precision has left and you simply riddle the gate and the charging lizard full of holes, firing giant arrows faster than they may be given to you, shredding the portcullis and hopefully the thing charging it. To no avail. It rears up, swings a claw down, and obliterates the entire thing. Stone steel and mortar scream as clouds of dust kick up. The giant lizard skids to a halt, and the men fill in behind her, May leading the charge, hacking up the first of the undead waves to try and breach the hole. Their wall holds up surprisingly well, and those equipped with bows arrows , crossbows and magic stand atop the rubble, firing down, Phyle in the thick of it behind May with a weapon from a fallen man.
  2718.  
  2719. It’s just me and the Behemoth. It turns a level gaze towards the wall of men and I canter across to block its view.  It sees the bow in my hands and grins. The thing drops dead, and from within emerges a woman, giant in stature, as tall and thick as me with a tail as long as my equine half extends. She bears nothing but her wicked claws, and her glossy skin, stained in the blood of her corpse. Her physique can only be descried as perfect, with rippling muscles that somehow only accentuate her enormous bust, broodmother hips and womanly form.
  2720.  
  2721. Her voice is rough. “You. Bowman. Are you just a bowman?” A long tongue clicks out and she licks her lips as she looks me over. “I like you, bowman. Your arrows, they felt good.” Her thick tail flicks up between her legs, parting her moist, puffy lips and flicking her clit as it slides up her stomach. It slips between her giant tits, and she takes the tip of it into her mouth, blushing heavily as she makes lewd sucking noises and thrusts her hips at me. I can imagine where that thick tail is being crammed if it’s given the chance. I drop my bow, making her frown for a moment, before I reveal my giant claymore.
  2722.  
  2723. “Not just a bowman. Come then, Knight.” She wiggled her claw and hips at me enticingly
  2724.  
  2725. I say nothing as I break into a gallop, lazily whirling my giant sword, listening to the sound it makes as it rips the air apart. Within range, I swing it down, hard. She deflects it with her claw, but I dance in place, swapping out the grip for a more thrusting one, and jam the blade down into her shoulder. Second strike in, I don’t wait for her return, and continue my gallop, passing her just as thought this were merely a joust.
  2726.  
  2727. She rolls her shoulder. The wound doesn’t regenerate by any means, but it seems as though she has barely taken notice of it. “Is that it, knight? Or do you want to lose? I’ve had your kind before. I could fill you in ways you’d never even dream of.” I look at the mythological beast-come-undead and wait for her move.
  2728.  
  2729. She sighs deeply. “So we play then?” she springs off her spot with an explosive speed I barely account for, bringing up the flat of my blade to intercept the blow. The impact rocks me, and I lean back with it, bringing my front two legs up and lashing out at her face. She turns away and brings her arm up at the last moment , collecting one hoof and allowing for the other to sail past. Coming back down, I swing the sword again, and slice her deep across the chest.
  2730.  
  2731. She hops back a few paces, and fingers the wound left in her chest, scowling. “You’re good. Didn’t expect it.” I smirk and throw back a little of my own banter.
  2732.  
  2733. I bring the blade up and lick along the end, “Are you sure that you’re not the one who needs filling?
  2734.  
  2735. Her face goes blank in surprise before twisting into a grinning leer. “Yes… Yes! Haha! Fill me! Fuck me raw on the edge of your blade, paladin! It’s been a hundred years since I’ve used this form in a duel!” Dark magic begins to swirl around her and the giant behemoth from before re-emerges. The lizard girl gets on all fours. Her bones shift and crash as she expands. Flesh falls off of her, and before long, the skeletal, wingless wyrm stands before me once more. She tips her head back, and screams a roar into the skies. The men defending the town quake and it takes May’s eadership to hold them fast.
  2736.  
  2737. “Ignore it! That beast already has its predator, it’s not your responsibility! Focus on repelling the undead!” As she says that, she slams her massive shield down on an approaching ghoul as it leaps for her. Flattened and with the wind knocked out of her, May rams her sword into the monster’s bowels, gutting her before taking her head. She grips it by the hair and raises it high. “They will not take this town!” By the hair, she flings it back into the masses.
  2738.  
  2739. “Oho,” The Behemoth’s voice is deep and guttural in this form, “What a spicy one… I want to taste her.”
  2740.  
  2741. She turns from me, and so I break into a gallop, and lower myself as I dash through the creatures legs, bringing my claymore up behind me and disembowelling the thing. I come out the other side of the foul smelling creature and stare it down. “You are my prey. Do not run from me.”
  2742.  
  2743. It looks at me, and manages to smile despite the lack of flesh which would make up its cheeks. “As you will it.”
  2744.  
  2745. “Senna!” I turn as May calls to me. She flings the bundle of arrows towards me, and as it crashes into the ground and spills out everywhere, I grab one of the things and heft it like a spear, which, essentially it is.
  2746.  
  2747. The behemoth brings its claw up to smite me, and I wedge the spear into the ground. Like a bull it falls, and impales itself on the spear. The creature cries out in pain, but has no way to remove the spear now embedded in one of its legs. I run around her and grab another arrow off the ground. Hefting that one, I throw it with all my might. It pierces through the back of the creature’s head and emerges from the tip of its throat, obviously not fatal, but doing damage all the same.
  2748.  
  2749. Like a flash of lightning its tail whips out, vastly different from the almost sluggish movement of before. I try to dace away to avoid it, but it collects with me anyway. I’m knocked aside and to the ground, and I barely hear May screaming my name. Winded, and bruised, I try to take a breath, only to find a sharp stabbing pain in the side of my torso. I can still breathe, so the lung isn’t pierced, but I can’t breathe deeply. Taking a knife, I cry out as I cut down the side of the broken rib and push it back into place. I run a hand over the broken bone and fresh wound and chant a healing spell in shaky, shallow breaths. As the warmth suffuses throughout my body, I suck in a fresh lungful of air.
  2750.  
  2751. Satisfied I turn back to the fight, only to see that the Behemoth has once again turned from me. Taking my claymore in hand, I charge at her back, and stop just short of collision, forcibly slamming my hooves into the ground and transferring all my momentum into my swinging sword. With my mightiest of heaves it cleaves through the beast’s tail, severing it entirely.  The Behemoth stops in its tracks and roars out again.
  2752.  
  2753. “You… Bitch!”
  2754.  
  2755. “I told you before, cunt,” I calmly reply, “You are my prey. Do not turn your eyes from me.” The beast roars its anguish again and raises itself upon its hind legs. Coming down with a ferocious weight, it’s bony claws crash the ground, sending titanic quakes through it. The wall around the gate, already weakened by her punching a hole through it, crumbles, allowing for larger waves of zombies to rush through. They claim a few lives, but May just barely manages to stem the tide, though the line of defenders is now stretched thinner. The tides of death too seem somewhat smaller, suspiciously so. I get a bad feeling about that second gate.
  2756.  
  2757. I charge at the Behemoth through the cloud of dust it created, and it raises a claw to greet me, but far too late. I weave around it as it comes down and continue under its immense body. Swinging my sword up from down below, I hack into one of the hind legs of the creature, but the blade stops at the bone. I wrench it out and wheel back around for an overhead strike, and cleave straight through it. The creature falters to the ground, and the corpse collapses for a second time. The girl re-emerges, and pulls the spear from her old body’s foot, using it to prop herself up, now that she’s without a leg and a tail.
  2758.  
  2759. “You have…won. Her voice… In my head, I cannot hear anymore. Can’t fight now.” She shrugs, gesturing to her missing leg and tail “Useless. End me.” She grins, “Fill me up.”
  2760.  
  2761. I canter forward and drop the blade to her shoulders. She looks at me one last time, “Thanks for the fight. Thanks for winning. Shame about the tail. I could have used it to show my thanks.”
  2762.  
  2763. “Next time.” The sword goes through her neck, and the head of the lizard falls. I trot over and retrieve the bow, and a few arrows. Drawing one, I fire through the shoulders of two defenders. The arrow bludgeons into and through a handful of the moving corpses, taking with it three and knocking down two more. Hastily, I draw again, and release another arrow. It collides with a zombie mid-air, one which had leapt for May’s throat, and pins her to the crumbled wall by the chest.
  2764.  
  2765. I drop the bow and return to the line protecting the town, sword in hand. I leap over the wall of men and set into the fields of zombies, cleaving through them with my massive sword, like some kind of reaper. May approaches me with her mountain of a shield, and cuts them down next to me.
  2766.  
  2767. “There are still thousands here, but a good chunk of the mass is missing. You haven’t killed that many have you?”
  2768.  
  2769. May shakes her head as she wipes her sword clean on a corpse, “No. This is something of a bottleneck, which is why we’re able to hold it. Maybe they’re leaving?”
  2770.  
  2771. “I have a bad feeling concerning that second gate.”
  2772.  
  2773. “They weren’t there before, I don’t see why they’d be there now.”
  2774.  
  2775. “Can we afford to send a few men over to the escapees? Protect thei-” Before I finish, a large wave of power washes over me. May shudders similarly. It feels… familiar almost. A few of the men seem rattled and those more attuned to magic look behind them to the mansion. It doesn’t seem to be related to the power controlling these armies and I can only hope Theinn and Teresa kill the head before we have to worry about foes coming in from behind.
  2776.  
  2777. Ultimately, I simply set my eyes on the slaughter before me, trusting in my comrades to do their job. Teresa is more than dependable, and Theinn is strong despite being so young and new. Their relationship is… good too, so they’ll work well together. I cut clean swathes of the corpses, sweeping through their endless ranks with my sword, chanting holy hymns into it. It begins to glow with a white, slightly Greyish light and undead are smote with the slightest passing of my blade. The men behind cheer and take heart in it. The same Grey light bathes me, and I turn back to May.
  2778.  
  2779. “I think it’s okay now. Put up the wall, and let these boys take a rest.” She nods, and slams her bulwark of a shield down, and begins chanting, mixing it in with hymns and verses. I hack down any undead eager enough to try and pass me, stopping any interference. After a few minutes, the spell is completed and the wall goes up, it’s power and strength rooted in the shield. I lax my guard and one or two slip past only to come up against the wall, and begin to burn, unable to pass. Men lash at them, their blades passing through the wall effortlessly.
  2780.  
  2781. “Now, assuming nothing comes from behind, we should be good here.”
  2782.  
  2783. May smiles, “Yeah. We should be.” Murmurs rise amongst the surviving defenders.    
  2784.  
  2785. “Are we saved?”
  2786.  
  2787.  
  2788. *   *   *   *
  2789.  
  2790.  
  2791. “Damnit!” The magic she tenuously held together fizzled out prematurely, like a child’s castle of sand being smashed against a coming wave. Curses and the constant pounding of Fel rains against the glass window fill the otherwise silent room.
  2792.  
  2793. “Relax. It’s not the end of the world. Just focus on the magic. It’s like… sensations. You should understand what I mean. Each little light in your mind’s eye, each one of them feels like… fingers, yes? Finders which are yours to remove, and yours to control. But there’s something more to it. It’s like… Gah! This is the problem with necromancy. It’s too intuitive.” Muradin throws his hands up and strokes his beard aggravatingly. Frustrated at not only his inability to explain the arts, but also his intimate knowledge of it. It’s not a skill for a scholar of the Greyguard to have under his belt. “It’s nothing like pyromancy or the like where one may easily define and describe it.”
  2794.  
  2795. Mary frowns. “No, I… I think I get it… But… It’s less like a finger and more like the tail of a lizard. I feel like these lights, I could cut them off at any moment…”
  2796.  
  2797. Muradin wheels on her excitedly, “Yes! Exactly! Now try and move one, Try and cut it off, even.”
  2798.  
  2799. “I… can’t…”
  2800.  
  2801. “Right?! That’s the power of the head. You have nowhere near enough practice to overcome her necromancy. Consider this weight training. Right now she’s far too much for you, but.” He holds his fist out in front of her face. His knuckles go white and veins bulge under his immense grip. “Like any iron grip,” He grabs his pinky with his other hand, and slowly forces open his giant fist, “the right leverage will break it. Unfortunately, you alone cannot do it. This is why Theinn and Teresa will take her head. It’s on you to then pick up the scraps of her army, and stop them from going mad. Calm them down, give each one back their mind. For now, focus on one, put your everything into it, and try and move it just a little. Take your time.”
  2802.  
  2803. “Right…” Mary closes her eyes as she sits and scrunches her face up as she focuses on her task. Sighting, Muradin crosses the room and sits down next to Kara.
  2804.  
  2805. “You felt it too?”
  2806.  
  2807. “Yeah. The same feeling as when Mary here truly came into being. Something just awoke.”
  2808.  
  2809. “Lets hope it was something friendly. It felt… familiar to you too, didn’t it?”
  2810.  
  2811. “Indeed.” Minutes of silence tick on. There’s the odd crumbling, and sounds of a distant fight outside the gates, but here in the Inn it’s relatively quiet. Everyone not currently struggling for their lives had long since fled to the second gate.
  2812.  
  2813. Kara drops down to the ground floor to raid the Inn’s basement of foodstuffs. She drags down with her one of the bed-sheets and brings back a load of bread, dried meats, bottles of wine and mead, cheeses and fruits, all thrown into the centre of the sheet, prevented from falling out by having the four corners tied. As quietly as they can, the two snack as they wait.
  2814.  
  2815. “Think she can do it?”  
  2816.  
  2817. Muradin nods, “Oh yes. She has astounding potential. No matter how deep the well she uh… drank from, to go from a zombie to a Wight in one uh… sitting, is unheard of.” He tips back a skin of wine, downs it, wipes his face clean on a chunk of bread, and crams that into his mouth with some of the dried meats. Kara, meanwhile nibbles at a strip of jerky and sips on some mead. She pulls out a potato, and hands it to Muradin. With a free hand not stuffed with food, he grips the potato in his fist, and the thing explodes in a cloud of steam. He hands it back and Kara juggles it around from hand to hand, trying to figure out how best to deal with the scorching starch, before simply skewering it with a knife. Vaporous steam and condensation inches across the blade in a cloud.
  2818.  
  2819. She bites into the potato, and chews tipping her head back with her mouth open. Pillars of steam bellow out from her open mouth, and she tosses the mash around her mouth with her tongue, trying to cool it down as much as possible before swallowing.
  2820.  
  2821. She catches his eye, “’ot.”
  2822.  
  2823.  He shrugs, “Cooked.”
  2824.  
  2825. Impatient now, she takes the plunge and swallows, gasping as it scorches her throat despite her efforts to cool the mouthful. Groping around, she finds the bottle of mead and washes the scalding heat down with the cool drink. “Ngah… Owww…” she complains with tears in the corners of her eyes, and strokes her throat gingerly. Her power seeps into it, and soothes the blisters, undoing the damage done.
  2826.  
  2827. She spends a minute recovering, before opening her mouth again. “Good potatoes.” She hands a second one to him, “Another.”
  2828.  
  2829. A few more moments pass with much eating and roasting of potatoes before Mary cried out,
  2830.  
  2831. “I got one!”
  2832.  
  2833.  
  2834. *   *   *   *
  2835.  
  2836.  
  2837. A girl stands atop a hill, wondering where she is and what she’s doing. Crowds of corpses rush past her and slowly images blurry come to her mind and she works to put the pieces together. Who she was. Things she’d done. Things she wishes she could take back. She looks down as her claws, talons really. Bony things with the fleshy tips torn off, and stained in blood. She looks down at her body. Holes in it. Semen stains the rims and she recalls the camp of bandits she was sent to. She wandered naked into their midst to be raped. To rape and infect. This was the night before their raid on a neighbouring town. Infected, they spread the disease with their steel and blood. The scene comes to her mind in blurs, and she recalls feeling nothing during the act. Her body writhed and moaned, but locked inside her own mind whilst some other force acted for her, she felt nothing. One instance of many.
  2838.  
  2839. Then there was the family she was close with. Their son had a crush on her. The Will within her saw that such trickery as the infiltration from before was unnecessary here. She tore his throat out with her teeth as soon as he let her in. When his mother tried to tear him from her, she lashed out, and dug her claws in. The husband, an ineffectual sub of a man just stood in shock as his wife turned and pounced upon him.  
  2840.  
  2841. Unbidden, tears begin to fall. Why can she remember this now?  Where did this lucidity spring from? And why only her? She looks towards the masses parting around her, as if she were invisible to them, and she looks to the people she was hunting up until now. What changed?
  2842.  
  2843. She searches her mind and finds the answer. It’s hers again. There’s some one else in there, but that person simply exists. There are no orders. No commands. Her will is her own. Why? The question echoes throughout her mind and the answer takes a moment to reach her.
  2844.  
  2845. ‘Because you’re free now. You don’t have to do anything, the others will be free soon. You were just the first.’
  2846.  
  2847. ‘Oh…. What now?’
  2848.  
  2849. ‘Now, just as your life was once yours, so too is your undeath. Do what you will. I have no orders, and I’ll only forcibly stop you from continuing this madness should you bare your teeth to the living. I will remake this town. And we’ll co-exist, I know we can.’
  2850.  
  2851. ‘Sounds… lovely…’ She doesn’t want it. There’s a lone man blazing amidst the ghouls and zombies. Runes peek from under clothes, and shine with light as his beautiful features twist into a savage grin, his long black, blood-stained hair cuts through the wind. A quiet voice within her mind screams for her to kill him, but she realises that she no longer has to listen to it. Upon her hill, she watched him. She watches his sword fall, and thinks death will now come to him, but somehow he grew claws. With the pretence of civilization gone from him as the blade is kicked away somewhere, he begins to strike out like a beast, man’s technology and technique no longer bidden unto him.
  2852.  
  2853. People flee behind this one man, as though his back were large enough to protect them all. A few even linger and watch, not taking their survival into their own hands, not fighting beside him, just waiting for him to save them. But no matter how large the mountain of corpses around him grows to be, even she can tell that this man is not a god. He burns like a demon and yet he is not one. His own blood mixes with the black rain and runs in rivers.
  2854.  
  2855. The deathstroke comes as they all knew it would. Yet it fails to kill him. He stills, a hand in the air, gripping the wrist of an assailant. People hold their breath, and thank the long hair which hides his face, as his head hangs down. No one wants to look into his eyes now. The voice in the girls mind screams that he is feeble now, kill him, and yet not a body moves forward. The mass takes a collective step back. It’s nothing dramatic, the change. It’s not like it’s not something you can observe every day. There’s no spell which has been casted, no grand illusion.
  2856.  
  2857. Just a mass of predators recognising the fact that a greater beast has stepped onto the scene, and giving way accordingly. Of the runes shining across his skin, all but one fades. Indeed, it does look like his death is near. Blood drips from his face as his lips move in silent conversation, and yet everyone feels a very potent shift in the situation. The single rune upon his forehead shines out from behind his hair, intensifying impossibly with the angry red of apocalyptic hellfire. A hellish crown for the King of flame. The way he holds himself, the nature of his stance shifts, adopting into it the superior arrogance of a dragon looking down its nose upon mere worms. Those observing slowly move back. He opens his mouth and breathes in a deep breath, calmly, as if it were the first time in a long while, the breath of a man stepping out of the city for the first time in years and tasting the fresher stuff of the countryside. His eyes don’t even fall across the masses of ravaging undead. No one knows what, but something within him now is vastly different.
  2858.  
  2859. And then, the mood changes once more. Seemingly, there was nothing to herald it, just a deeply seated primal shift, otherwise imperceivable. No longer was it just lesser beasts bowing before the greater. The scene now is a very human one. One of rage, hatred, and fear. The fear and insecurity of facing down a creature immeasurably greater than you. The dark jealousy and the urge to kill it before it can harm you. The fear born of not understanding, born of fright, born of disgust. It travels through the ranks of the undead, but none the less it is the same immature fear which has led man to ruin, countless times.
  2860.  
  2861. The bravest of their number leaps out of the mass, and charges him. The crowd surges forward following that one standard bearer and halts again as the man’s blazing eyes finally fall across it. The first among them vaporises in a flash of fire, leaving behind nothing but smoke and mist. The lingering, living survivors cheer. A god has descended, and yet to the undead legion he faces, he is very much a demon.
  2862.  
  2863. He opens his mouth, and the glow of an inner raging fire shines forth. The word he speaks is both as quiet as a deathly whisper, and as loud as a soul-shattering roar, as much royal edict as it were divine portent.
  2864.  
  2865. “Burn.”
  2866.  
  2867. Hearts quake as boiling air issues outward, like the heated blast of a furnace, millions of degrees hot. The girl happily walks into it, greeting the descending sun with open arms, eager to rid herself of this cursed undeath foisted upon her. The wave scorches shadows into stone walls, incinerates wooden structures and thatched rooves and sears the earth, baking the grass into dirt and then into dust.
  2868.  
  2869. It’s over before any of the corpses have time to fall. Charred and crisped, they crumble under their own weight rather than fall. It’s not biblical. It doesn’t make for a great tale, it’s rather anticlimactic really, but it’s the most natural thing you can see. Just a giant crushing a lesser creature underfoot, barely even noticing it.
  2870.  
  2871. No one cheers.
  2872.  
  2873. Everything is simply rendered… gone. Gone is the need to fight. Gone is the need to run. Gone are the enemies, and gone are the homes they sought to destroy. Just blasted stone foundation and scorches earth all the way out, the blast thankfully didn’t extend back and behind him towards the walls of the city, it just spread outwards and forwards for a good few hundred meters. Slowly, he climbed his mound of ashes before the winds could claim it, and looked out a cross the aftermath, satisfied, as if this sight soothed him.
  2874.  
  2875. And then the fire left him, and he fell.
  2876.  
  2877.  
  2878. *   *   *   *
  2879.  
  2880.  
  2881. Stronger. Definitely stronger than ever before. I step out of the shadow, and take a man by the head, fingers covering his mouth to stifle any scream. My fangs dig in deep, and I harvest him of his life. It tastes like muddy water, but I do it because I know it’ll only make me stronger. I know I’ll never taste anything like Theinn’s blood again. So rich, so hot, so vital, and yet so… bitter. A bitter aftertaste almost entirely hidden beneath a stronger aftertaste of golden apple, curiously enough. It’s… Intoxicating, and sad, and I feel like I can never drink enough. Like it’s less the waters of life I drink, but rather the air I need.
  2882.  
  2883. Face bloodied, I look up from his corpse and out of the large window to my side. Pulling back the crimson velvet of the curtains, I look out across the city the dust has settled at the main gate, and I see the corpse of a giant lizard. There seems to be some kind of barrier in place, and Senna and May alone stand outside of it, hacking down the enemy. It looks like everything will be alright over there.
  2884.  
  2885. My real concern is Theinn, and it takes a moment of scanning, ‘till I find his small figure dashing across the rooftops in the distance. I cast one worried glance to the hordes approaching the second gate and stalk away, letting the curtain fall back into place. I’ll have to move quickly.
  2886.  
  2887. I stalk through the corridors towards the highest floor, walking calmly and yet not making a sound. I’m amazed by how quiet I am. What once took conscious effort now once again comes naturally. I walk right through the midst of a patrol, wreathed in shadow. Like a feather caught in an updraught, my blade slides effortlessly through throat-flesh. They all fall bleeding at my passing. I’m starting to remember… starting to get… excited.
  2888.  
  2889. And scared by no small measure.
  2890.  
  2891. My heart clenches as I consider the darkness as vast as night, whirring inside of me. I know, for sure, that I’m something more than what I once was. His blood awoke something within me, and the slumbering fiend… evolved. The oceans of blood I shed which I once drowned in now seem like mere puddles.
  2892.  
  2893. His acceptance, now the only thing I rely upon. I feel the dark urges being to whisper to me. The Dread Name circles my mind and calls to action past deeds, but I push it down with the Grey Order I’d since forged my mind with. That isn’t me anymore, and thought I’d never wish to betray my order, there is a faint, selfish happiness in knowing that Theinn will never turn on me, no matter what.
  2894.  
  2895. I shake my head. This musing can wait. I look around and realise I’m lost, and laugh softly, murmuring quietly to myself, “Maybe I… spent too long as a normal girl simply faster and stronger than the rest.”
  2896.  
  2897. ‘You’ve forgotten yourself’    
  2898.  
  2899. I… can’t really argue. I’m like a bird, hopping along because I forgot the use of wings. I don’t even need to search. In this dark-lit hall, I face the wall, can tear a hole in the shadow. Stepping through, I enter something of a throne room.  
  2900.  
  2901. “I remember now. This was supposed to be my domain.”
  2902.  
  2903. “It would seem that way, wouldn’t it.” My eyes flick across to a depressed looking girl, slumped down on a regal chair.
  2904.  
  2905. “You. I feel it. You’re the source of all this.”
  2906.  
  2907. “… I guess.” She sighs. I raise an eyebrow as I approach, wearily.
  2908.  
  2909. “No… traps? No last ditch defence?”
  2910.  
  2911. She stares at me levelly. “Right. Can’t let this end boring now can we. Rise my minions. Destroy this interloper, yada yada yada.” Her bored tone rings out an order as her hand waves through the air lazily.
  2912.  
  2913. Immense waves of necromantic energy flows out from her, an corpses rise from the ground, a mix of ghostly spectres, skeletons and zombies. New apparitions and slain corpses, newly revive. And, looking at the foes before me, numbering in at the least the hundreds, as they crowd the room, I realise why this girl seems so lacklustre. I dwarf her. I dwarf all of this. The blood within me, awoken and blessed by Theinn’s immortal essence dwarfs… everything. I blur in place, and everything around me falls, my blade now drenches in crimson blood. I didn’t even have to think or move. It was a reflex as natural as blinking.
  2914.  
  2915. She sighs sadly, with the nature of one looking into a grimly cast sky, “Isn’t this… overkill? Like… what the fuck? Are you five like… the bosses of whatever bullshit order you’re from or something?”
  2916.  
  2917. “I-I’m sorry?”
  2918.  
  2919. “Well? How did you find out? I planned this meticulously. That bitch even lent me a fucking Behemoth.”
  2920.  
  2921. “That Bitch? You’re… under the Demon Queen?”
  2922.  
  2923. “You… didn’t know?”
  2924.  
  2925. “Uh…” This is getting awkward now, “No, we had no details. It wasn’t even a mission, really, we just… happened by.”
  2926.  
  2927. “You. Just. Happened. By.” I see the frustration welling, and begin to feel bad for her. “Two Paladins with enough power to not only erect a shield before the main fucking gate, BUT also slay an undead behemoth, Just happen by. Some dead cunt with the power to not only resist me, but also the talent to, in a SINGLE night turn into a Wight, just happens by.” She points at you, and you see tears of impotent frustration begin to form, “A Vampire, with powers to rival the greatest of the Queens of Night, just. Happened. By.”
  2928.  
  2929. “I-I don’t think I’m that strong, it was all sealed until recently. I mean it’s your fault. One of your minions got me good and I had to drink my partner’s blood to live so…”
  2930.  
  2931. She casts magic , and tears open a portal just small enough to be a screen. It looks down. There, you see Theinn, soaked in blood, grinning madly as he tears corpses limb from limb with claws of frozen blood “This guy right? He was the one you drank from? This fucker, just happens by. What is this even? Man? Beast?” She sits up in her seat,
  2932.  
  2933. “Ooh, hang on. This might be my win, actually! Look, isn’t he getting overwhelmed?”
  2934.  
  2935. “T-Theinn!” I leap forward to sever the head of the masses, but she erects a powerful barrier, enough to even stop me. I beat against it with my fists, “Stop it!”
  2936.  
  2937. “Now now. Let me see this win before you kill me. Huh. He stopped. Well, looks li- wait, is he, what is, Summoning? Posession? No, what, A- Oh come the fuck on! REALLY? A FUCKING ARCH DEMON? And what’s this? This ranking? I don’t even know what rank that is! Who channels something so great you can’t even understand the hierarchy anymore?!” The irate necromancer slumps in her throne and sighs with disgust as the portal flashes a hellish red, and then fades to white, the picture destabilising, the last sight is of the masses surrounding Theinn as his crown blazes. Was it Sig?
  2938.  
  2939. Her barrier shatters, but I can still feel the strength within her. She didn’t run out of power, she simply lost the will to keep it up.
  2940.  
  2941. “Wait? Why did you cut it off? I want to see what happens. What possessed him? Was it Sig?” She snarls at me,
  2942.  
  2943. “What the fuck do you think happens? He wins. Who is Sig?”
  2944.  
  2945. “An Ignis… I think…So… why did you do it?”
  2946.  
  2947. “Why does anyone try to take control of a town? Power, wealth, that and the fucking Demon Queen told me to. After I spent all that effort blending into society as a necromancer.”
  2948.  
  2949. “Why make the plague kill men?”
  2950.  
  2951. “Huh? Oh that. The plague itself is magically tied to me. That was just to make it spread at a rapid rate. Once this town fell, I was set to rewrite it and recast it, overwriting the old with the new so that it didn’t affect men and only turned women. Can’t have all the cum depositories dying on us.”
  2952.  
  2953. “Is magic that convenient?”
  2954.  
  2955. She shrugs, “The complexity of the spell is… beyond human comprehension. Beyond me at least. Maybe if I stopped being human, had a few centuries of experience, I could pick at the edges. It was the Queen’s, and she basically just burned the formulas into my mind. I just had to press a magic button when the times were right.”
  2956.  
  2957. “So, this was the Queen’s plot to convert a city closer to the capital, via undeath, and you were her agent.”
  2958.  
  2959. She sighs, and stands up before walking over to me, “Yeah pretty much. So? Gonna kill me now? Be quick about it.”
  2960.  
  2961. It’s an awkward thing, having options to kill someone asking for it. I look to my sword, and then to my hand and search through my mind for the powers I could use. She just patiently waits for me. “U-Um… Your blood smells kind of… strong. Can I drink it?”
  2962.  
  2963. “The fuck you asking me for?”
  2964.  
  2965. “R-Right. Well… Uh, I’ll avenge the town now… I guess.” She shrugs as I sink my fangs into her throat, and drain her of her essence. We stand together like that for a few moments as I feel her flesh grow cold as I drain it of its heated life. I drain her so completely I actually start to feel a bit full. Done, I drop her to the floor and wince as the expression in her eyes. ‘Why me’.
  2966.  
  2967. “I guess life is just unfair sometimes.”
  2968.  
  2969. Again, I step through the shadows and emerge on the outside of the mansion. It’s a useful trick, but seems to be limited in is range, and something in the back of my mind tells me that the shadows must be linked for it to work. Though, thanks to this angry red and black sky, the shadows are long. I begin to run across the rooves, following in Theinn’s footsteps. I’d heard of vampires able to master special clothes into wings and weapons and manipulate them to fly. I can’t even imagine something like that. For all my strength, I still have a long way to go.
  2970.  
  2971. I push off a roof, and come to and neatly upon the walls of the city. Looking down, I see a blasted wasteland extending for a few hundred meters. The outer meters have rings of fire, and spots of burning material, but within the inner meters, things have simply vaporised. Shadows are blasted into walls, things which aren’t supposed to burn flicker with flame and everything else is simply gone. A mound of ash and char lay at the devastation’s source
  2972.  
  2973. Jumping down, I quickly run to the area to see Theinn standing atop it, long hair ragged, and almost entirely naked bar a few shreds of cloth hanging from him his hands are stained red, and he leans against his sword, it’s tip buried into the ash, the only thing remaining on him, pristine and whole. Truly a magnificent testament to the masterful weaponsmithing.
  2974.  
  2975. His head hangs down and I feel no strength from within him, face curtained off by his black hair. His footing slips as I rush to him, and he falls back down. I catch him before he hits the ground, skidding to a stop as he settles in my arms, his weight now insignificant under my strength. He is unconscious, but breathing. Looking around, I see not everyone has left yet, and understand why he had to push himself so far. I don’t see gratitude in their eyes though. I see fear. Frowning, I walk away carrying him, headed back towards our room.
  2976.  
  2977.  
  2978. *   *   *   *
  2979.  
  2980.  
  2981. Mary stands in the very centre of the city, waiting. “Are you sure this is the spot?”
  2982.  
  2983. “Certain. When she is dead, you’ll feel the power in this area go wild and spread out. It’s your job to catch the ends of them and hold the power down, stabilising it. From there it’s a case of simply taking each light and separating it from the pull. Just like you did before. Don’t worry, I’ll help you hold everything in place, but it’s up to you to free every one. Think you can handle it?”
  2984.  
  2985. “Y-Yeah… I think I can do this.”
  2986.  
  2987. Like a raging beast, the magic bucks and roars as its tethers are at last cut. Before it comes loose, Muradin literally grabs it in his massive fist. He strains as he magically pulls the power into him, his muscles having transcended the physical plane.
  2988.  
  2989. “Ngh. Alright, now’s your time to shine lass. I’ll hold onto this for you, it’s a lot heavier than I anticipated. You’re to first command them all to stop, and then pluck them from the spell one by one.”
  2990.  
  2991. “Okay.” Mary closes her eyes and focuses on each of the little lights. First, she issues her command, ‘CEASE ALL ORDERS. STAND WHERE YOU ARE AND MAKE NOT A SINGLE MOVE UNTIL I SAY SO’
  2992.  
  2993. The ultimatum rings out through the magical plane, vibrating the strings connecting to each mind. Corpses everywhere halt for further orders.
  2994.  
  2995. “O-Okay then. One by one I’ll start freeing them.”
  2996.  
  2997. After long tedious hours, the last light is plucked from the stream of necromantic power, and the undercurrent is allowed to dwindle and ultimately dissipate. Free from the shackles of command, Mary speaks to them through her link once again, this time not an order, but an appeal.
  2998.  
  2999. ‘Would everyone who still cares to return to this town, please gather at the main gate. Those who do not wish to stay may go. Those who… do not wish to live like this… may do what they will. I will not influence your decision either way, and I will only exercise my power should you once again bare your teeth to this town. I hope… I hope to see many of you there. Together, we will undo this tragedy.’
  3000.  
  3001. Mary slowly opens her eyes, “I’ve sent the message, but… what of the humans? Will they take to living with the once enemy so lightly?”
  3002.  
  3003. Muradin puts his hand on her shoulder, “We can only do what we can only do. Anything outside of what we can do…” he halts, considering his words, “…isn’t for us to stress over.”
  3004.  
  3005. “Right.” Mary takes a deep breath. “Well, all right then. Lets not leave them waiting.”
  3006.  
  3007. The party walks down the empty streets of the city. The smell of smoke hangs heavy in the air, spurred on by fires lit by the second gate and the signal flares lit hours ago, half of which fell when the Behemoth thundered through the main wall, and caught upon the dried dead grasses. With the magical maelstrom having disappeared, the black and red skies begin to clear, the faint rays of the rising sun gleaming a dull, gloomy light upon the gutters run black with rain and ash. A crowd mills about the front gate. The atmosphere is tense and awkward. The holy shield May erected had since fallen, but the divide is still there. Only a few of the defenders have laid their weapons down, the situation likely explained to them as soon as the two centaurs saw the hordes cease their attack.
  3008.  
  3009. Of the dead horde, many among them have collapsed, openly weeping for their sins and losses. A few awkwardly try to comfort the girls next to them, and others face the town stoically, their faces so fragile that a single expression could break the dam and unleash the torrents of sorrow that they bottle up inside of them.
  3010.  
  3011. Expectant eyes turn towards the mountain, the valkyrie and Mary. She wilts slightly under the pressure. She opens her mouth, voice growing surer after the weak start, slightly amplified with magic to carry to the ears of very one present, rise above the anguished cries of the dead, and the soft moans of wounded defenders.
  3012.  
  3013. “The one who instigated all of this, the Mistress in the mansion of the late Mayor is no more. I… now hold the power here, but that said, it doesn’t count for much. I don’t desire to rule this town. But none of that matters the real question is; ‘Now what’?
  3014.  
  3015. I think that this city is worth saving, and that the only way we can do that, is if we work together. If we move on from the atrocities of the past, and work to make a safer future for those who seek to live here.”
  3016.  
  3017. An angry man calls out from the remaining defenders, “You would have us working alongside these murdering monsters?! You, a monster yourself?!”
  3018.  
  3019. Muradin calls out in his enormous voice, answering the human with the authority that Mary the Wight, could never have, “She’s not a monster!” His voice booms in mystic enchantment and every one present I wrapt in it, “She is not a monster, just a human mage who can control the dead. If it is murder, good man. Look to your feet.” Prompted, his gaze falls down to the innumerable corpses and bodies of the once invaders littering the gate and the area around it. Muradin pleads to the men, “Look around you. Look at your enemy. These aren’t boogeymen. These aren’t demons. They are the people you love, the people you know. Their skin is deathly now, their hearts don’t beat and their blood runs cold, but they are still the same people you love. Look at them now. They were nothing but tools, and are as much victim as you.”
  3020.  
  3021. Mary picks up where Muradin left off, speaking loudly over the din of crying women,
  3022.  
  3023. “We should never forget this night, nor should we ever forgive those responsible for it, but these undead girls here, they are not responsible. The one who is responsible now lies dead, the one who was behind her still unknown, we still haven’t heard from the one who slew this mistress, but look! The sun rises upon this black night. The world will turn even if our hearts remain frozen, our homes unlived in. We can only move on. With the power of my allies, we’ll free this city from its plague of undeath! We have already made plans to move the infected to an isolated location, and process them there.
  3024.  
  3025. That’s uh… that’s it I guess. I’m sorry for the weak ending, but it’s not like I have this great speech or anything. I didn’t come here to win you over, or anything like that I’m just… the only one with the power to pull us together and I just want to make this place as good, even better than it used to be, and I know we all want the same thing. You wouldn’t have fought so bravely otherwise.”
  3026.  
  3027. The standing men look around, and each other, at those who were once the enemy, and slowly, the tension in the air bleeds away. One man takes a step back, and then another, and soon, the line of defenders have lowered their weapons, their fight won.
  3028.  
  3029.  
  3030. *   *   *   *
  3031.  
  3032.  
  3033. Your eyes flick open and your hackles rise as your subconsciousness locks onto the fact that you’re laying with something immensely powerful. Your heart catches in your throat and it takes a conscious effort for you to calm your mind down. You look down, and Teresa is moaning next to you. She groans and licks her lips, and just as you wonder what she’s doing, her belly grumbles. She tosses in her sleep next to you. You sigh in relief. You’re next to someone safe, in a room you recognise, and more importantly still alive. And there’s only one thing in this world you’d prefer to have woken up to. You’ve come out pretty well, considering.
  3034.  
  3035. ‘Thanks. I owe you.’
  3036.  
  3037. ‘You’re my elementalist. Think I’ll let you perish to some dead women?’
  3038.  
  3039. Heh. ‘I guess not. So, what happened when I blacked out?’
  3040.  
  3041. ‘The um…link was still strong, so even though you were unconscious I was able to act. I ah, possessed you, and carried on fighting using our connection and you as a vessel.’
  3042.  
  3043. ‘You didn’t set the entire place on fire did you?’
  3044.  
  3045. ‘… Not all of it’
  3046.  
  3047. ‘Is there any left to the survivors?’
  3048.  
  3049. ‘Come on! I said not all of it! There’s no point in protecting the place if I were just going to burn it’
  3050.  
  3051. ‘Ah. I didn’t realise you knew that’
  3052.  
  3053. ‘I’m not talking to you anymore’
  3054.  
  3055. You take a deep breath and feel the air spread throughout your mind and body. Sensation floods your waking mind as your brain races to catch up and register it all. You’re naked, that’s the first thing. Teresa is naked, that’s the second. She’s cold. That’s the third. Looks like after drinking your blood she truly went past being a mere dhampir. They still live and generate body heat. The fourth and final thing you care to note is the feeling of your hand flat against her round perky ass.
  3056.  
  3057. “This really isn’t too bad a way to wake up.” Her eyes flash open,
  3058.  
  3059. “You’re up!”
  3060.  
  3061. “Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.”
  3062.  
  3063. “No I was just… worried you’d sleep for much longer. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I was just checking on you. I haven’t really been able to sleep well since you fell so it was shallow at best.”
  3064.  
  3065. “How long was I asleep?”
  3066.  
  3067. “A week.”
  3068.  
  3069. “A whole week, huh? Wow. And you’re uh… hungry?”
  3070.  
  3071. She blushes, “How did you know?”
  3072.  
  3073. “You were moaning and licking your lips in your sleep, and that tummy of yours growled at me.”
  3074.  
  3075. “I-I uh… Yeah, I didn’t want to feed on you whilst you weren’t awake. I was scared something might happen but I’m… pretty hungry.”
  3076.  
  3077. You turn your head to the side, baring your throat, “I don’t mind.”
  3078.  
  3079. “Are you sure? I mean you just woke up…”
  3080.  
  3081. “Yeah I feel pretty good.”
  3082.  
  3083. “O-okay then,” she kisses you lightly on the lips, “Thank you.” Her fangs sink into your flesh, and a hot wash of blood fills her mouth. She laps it up appreciatively, and not a drop of it is wasted. You groan in pain as her fangs sink in, but then curiously it stops hurting after a moment and begins to feel sort of good. You feel a slight suction as she drinks from you, and after a little while you begin to feel light headed. You tap her head to get her to stop. She does so immediately,
  3084.  
  3085. “Ah! S-sorry, I haven’t done this in a very long time, and your blood is just so tasty that I lost myself, are you okay?”
  3086.  
  3087. You smile faintly, “I’ll be fine once I’ve eaten. How is everyone else?”
  3088.  
  3089. She smiles, a curious look with her lips stained crimson with your blood. An eerily attractive contrast to her pale skin and silver hair, “They are good. We’re about ready to leave. Today was the day, we were just going to carry you if you didn’t wake up.”
  3090.  
  3091. “Well I should probably start moving around. My uh… clothes?”
  3092.  
  3093. She shakes her head, “Burnt. Got some replacements for you on that chair. They came from some of the nicer gear found on the warriors in the mansion, as well as within its treasury. You did an amazing thing, holding that second gate. We all thought you deserved a reward.” You bite back a ‘it wasn’t me,’ and feel a bit sad about the news of your cloak, but the other clothes don’t bother you too much. Slowly, Teresa helps your naked form out of bed and you limp over to the chair, muscles protesting in the wake of their recent lack of use. There’s a tall bundle of clothes there.
  3094.  
  3095. You instinctively play down your actions, “It’s nothing that great. Just something that had to be done.”
  3096.  
  3097. “And yet you did it. You did something amazing, alone. I can hardly believe some of the reports. You deserve it,” She comes up behind you, and wraps her arms around your chest, her cool sensual skin pressing up against yours. She whispers into your ear, “And more.”
  3098.  
  3099. You shudder as a shard of pleasure streaks down your spine, “N-not now. Still recovering.” She laughs, sultry, but backs off. You look down to the clothes there.
  3100.  
  3101. The first is a comfortable looking woollen long-sleeved top, dyed black. Teresa helps you put it on, and it doesn’t itch the same way as other inferior woollen clothes. You begin to feel quite warm in it.
  3102.  
  3103. “Next is...” She reaches for the chainmail coat which was just under it, “this.” She unfolds it out holds it out for you to inspect. It’s a dark grey metal of millions of rings. You touch it and barely even feels like armour.
  3104.  
  3105. “What is this made from?”
  3106.  
  3107. “It’s a type of demonic metal which has a bad affinity with magic. It tends to disperse the power and run as a natural sort of interference. If magic is positive, this metal is like a magnetised negative. I mean, it won’t survive a blast from a Lilim, but a lesser mage would lob a ball of fire at you and it would sort of just fizzle out when it hits this armour. It’s a very durable and lightweight metal too, only slightly heavier than our blessed mithril.”
  3108.  
  3109. “Is it safe to put on?”
  3110.  
  3111. “Oh yeah, Muradin himself purified this of any potential corruption. It’s just a coat of really good chainmail armour, slightly more resistant to magic than the rest, lighter than most, harder than most. Here, arms up.”
  3112.  
  3113. You grab the ends of your woollen long-sleeved shirt within your palms, and put your arms up, grinning at the silliness as your lover dresses you. It slides down your arms and settles with a comforting weight, not scrunching up or pulling on the long woollen sleeves.
  3114.  
  3115. The next is a black leather jerkin, only slightly bloodstained. “And what is this?”
  3116.  
  3117. “Ah, nothing special here. Just some black leather. I thought you’d look cool in it.” She grins as she puts it on, and you raise an eyebrow. Well, not like you can’t carve some simple runes into it, get some kind of fire resistance happening.
  3118.  
  3119. Next is a simple spidersilk chausses, taken from the drawers of the late master of the mansion. Teresa squats down as she slides them up, and takes a long moment giving hungry looks to your cock before reluctantly deciding that now isn’t the time. She parts with a little kiss, and slides the pants into place. Above that went a pair of similarly blackened leather trousers.
  3120.  
  3121. Now geared up, she looks you over, “You look good.”
  3122.  
  3123. “I feel hungry.”
  3124.  
  3125. “A moment.”
  3126.  
  3127. “But you got to eat.”
  3128.  
  3129. “That’s different, now quit complaining. Here, gear up.” She hands you your sword and knives and their homes.
  3130.  
  3131. “You got all my knives?”
  3132.  
  3133. “Yeah, I had to hunt for a few of them.”
  3134.  
  3135. “Thanks, I thought they were gone for good.”
  3136.  
  3137. “Now last but not least is this.” She unfolds what looks to be a blanket until you realise it’s a giant cloak. Black, with runes slightly darker scrawled down the edges of it, it looks to be a type of leather tanned from the hide of some kind of hellbeast. You drape it over you and fasten the chain that holds it to your chest. A rim of soft fluffy black fur runs down the edges of the cloak, thinning out into nothing slightly before it reaches the bottom. No point scraping such fine fur along the ground. It has a cowl of the same material sown it, again with runes and a fur hem.
  3138.  
  3139. “This doesn’t look normal.”
  3140.  
  3141. “It isn’t. It’s from the hide of a giant wolf-beast which plagued this area a while ago. This cloak is quite famous, an heirloom of the family which ruled this place. They paid a passing wizard to enchant it, so not only is it great for protecting against the weather, this wizard wove a spell into it which diminishes presence. You won’t be invisible, but people won’t think to notice you as much. I thought you’d like this because you don’t want to get that disguising tattoo we all get. It’s said to be strong enough that one as famous and renowned as a king was able to pass fully equipped through the impoverished slums of the city without being seen. No one even noticed his gleaming gold plated armour. It’s quite a famous tale. Ended in the king seeing for himself the woes of his people and crafting reforms.”
  3142.  
  3143. “Wow, I heard that one. I think my mother told it to me. He even spoke to someone, and they replied as though it were just another beggar. So this is that cloak?”
  3144.  
  3145. She shrugs, “The very same if you believe the stories. All I know that it is in fact magical. You should feel the faint power it emits too.”
  3146.  
  3147. “Uh, yeah. Something like a slight throbbing?”
  3148.  
  3149. “You’ll get used to it. Like a high pitched keening, you won’t notice it after you become used to it, not unless you want to notice it.”
  3150.  
  3151. You pull her into your arms and give her a slow kiss, enjoying the feel of her naked body up against you, “Thanks, really. This is too much.”
  3152.  
  3153. She shrugs as she looks up at you “The rest of your shit burnt.  Much as I’d like to see you walking around naked, I don’t want you showing off that much ass to all the other girls. Besides you might be able to heal but it’s better to play it safe. And this stuff will keep you safe.”
  3154.  
  3155. “Right. I’ll wait here for you to get dressed then.” You take a seat and wait, watching.
  3156.  
  3157. “You’re not going to look away?”
  3158.  
  3159. “I’ve been out of it for a week. That’s a long time to spend not admiring your body.”
  3160.  
  3161. “Fufu, admire is it?” She puts her clothes on, with little twists and swings here and there, the reverse of a strip tease. A dress tease? Either way, you can’t help but feel a little sadder piece by piece as her perfect pale body is hidden under thankfully form fitting clothes.
  3162.  
  3163. You frown, “So how did I get here?”
  3164.  
  3165. She looks over her shoulder as she fixes her top, “I carried you.”
  3166.  
  3167. “Sorry.”
  3168.  
  3169. She gazes at you steadily. “I’ll carry you whenever you need me to. It’s thanks to you that it’s not so much weight, after all.”
  3170.  
  3171. “How is that, by the way? You feel much more powerful. You even gave me a scare when I first woke up. I wonder if that’s what it’s like for all the knights in the legends who fall for powerful dragons. Waking up next to a force of nature so great it could level countries. Something else to get used to, I guess.”
  3172.  
  3173. “Oh? You want to get used to waking up next to me, do you?” She grins, “Well yeah, you’re uh… exaggerating a bit, surely, but I’m much stronger than I used to be. Clearing the rest of that mansion was a walk in the park. I think I’m actually stronger than I ever used to be. An amalgamation of the vampire blood I used to rely on, and the work I’d done to make myself powerful again once it were locked away. The two together it’s… frightening.”
  3174.  
  3175. “Well… you’re on our side, so I’m not too worried. Let’s eat!” You hook your arm around her hips as you pass and drag her along with you to the floor of the inn for some food and to meet up with the rest.
  3176.  
  3177. She giggles before wrapping her arms around you. “You’re too easy going.”
  3178.  
  3179. “I have an eternity to do what needs to be done. I’d like to be faster but I accept that simply isn’t going to happen. Can’t afford to get worked up now, it hasn’t even been a single year.”
  3180.  
  3181. “Hmm, that’s true.”
  3182.  
  3183. The two of you leave the room and head down.
  3184.  
  3185. “Can I leave it to you, Senna?”
  3186.  
  3187. “Yeah no problem.” Heads turn as the two of you descend down the stairs, step by step with the faint muffled clinking of your new chainmail.
  3188.  
  3189. “Ah, he’s awake.”
  3190.  
  3191. “Yeah, sorry for sleeping so long.”
  3192.  
  3193. “Not at all, you’re right in time. Good to see you up.”
  3194.  
  3195. “Thanks Murdin. It’s good to be up. Need me for anything?” He looks to Kara. Kara looks to May. May shrugs.
  3196.  
  3197. “No, not really. We’ve just about good to go. Grab some food and by the time you’re done we should be set to leave.”
  3198.  
  3199. “How is Mary?”
  3200.  
  3201. Senna snickers, “Absolutely bogged down. The people took to her surprisingly well and she’s acting as the next head. She won’t have time to say good bye, but we’ve sent messages to Ithilien, and they arrived a day ago to pick up the undead. Can’t have a dead city so close to the Imperial Capital, especially not when their heroes are beginning to move.”
  3202.  
  3203. “So what happens to this town?”
  3204.  
  3205. “Official story is Mary, a perfectly human mage, broke the plague, and with the help of some strangers ‘dealt’ with the undead.
  3206.  
  3207. Muradin continues, “We’ll have her set up correspondence with Mrs. Elanore, and she can take things from there. We’ll leave Kara here in the meantime, so when the Order comes knocking, they won’t realize anything is up.”
  3208.  
  3209. “Sounds good. Where is Phyle?”
  3210.  
  3211. “She’s out packing by the horses. Said she didn’t need one, could run tirelessly.”  
  3212.  
  3213. “Alright then. I’m going to grab some food.”
  3214.  
  3215. You call over the goat girl, and order some meat, fruit, eggs and bread for breakfast. You take a seat whilst you wait and Teresa comes over and sits on your lap.
  3216.  
  3217. You wrap your arms around her hips, “You don’t have anything to do?”
  3218.  
  3219. She throws on a look of feigned hurt, and pouts, “You don’t want me here?” she wiggles her butt in emphasis.
  3220.  
  3221. You grin “Oh, I want you here, but I don’t mind if you have things to do.”
  3222.  
  3223. She leans into you and sighs, as though your lap were a place of great comfort to her. Were she a cat, you’re sure she’d have begun purring. She rests her head against your shoulder and plays with your ear, licking and biting it. You lean into the chair with the tall back and close your eyes, enjoying her wet, cool tongue as it flicks along the inside of your sensitive ear. You shudder as her breath tickles your brain.
  3224.  
  3225. “You’re sensitive here aren’t you?” Her whisper is low and intimate.
  3226.  
  3227. Your voice comes out strangled, raspy, “Yes. Very.” She giggles quietly into your ear, her breath rolling in like the soft breeze of Elysian. She nibbles at your ear, and your back arches as a cold hand of tense anticipation grips your spine. Blood begins to flow into your dick as she stimulates you aurally, and she backs off once she feels your erection poking into her butt.
  3228.  
  3229. “Ooh, haha. Not here honey. I think I’ll keep you nice, ready and waiting for me for later tonight once we’re actually on the road.”
  3230.  
  3231. You frown and grumble, “Tease.” But before you can dish out any payback, the waitress arrives with a plate of food, ‘on the house’, as thanks for your efforts. Gratefully, you dig in, with Teresa stealing a piece of fruit here and there, until you swat her butt playfully and she slides off your lap, giggling, to finish getting everything ready.
  3232.  
  3233. They wait for you to finish, and once you do, every one heads out to the stables outside of the second gate, thankfully spared your raging flames by a line of buildings before it, and you find four horses there, two burdened by the party’s packs, and two others with saddles. Muradin gets on his horse and it whinnies in complaint. Good thing it’s a bulky horse. You look at Teresa and the remaining horse.
  3234.  
  3235. “Don’t I get one?”
  3236.  
  3237. She laughs, “That one is yours.”
  3238.  
  3239. “Don’t you get one.”
  3240.  
  3241. She smiles beautifully, “I’ll ride with you.”
  3242.  
  3243. Sighing, you climb the horse and settle in, looking back across the city you helped save one last time.
  3244.  
  3245. Muradin calls to the party, “Well then. It’s been a few crazy days, but once more, we’re on the road.”
  3246.  
  3247. “Felt like longer.” Phyle mumbles.
  3248.  
  3249. “Didn’t it? Well, no matter. Our little expedition had no particular return date. Onward!”
  3250.  
  3251.  Muradin trots off, Senna and May behind him, with Phyle at a walk, and you nudge your own horse into action, Teresa swinging onto the saddle and landing solidly in your lap. You shift the reins so that you can rest your hands on the vampire’s hips. She’s wearing a big cloak and a low hat, blocking off as much sun as she can. She takes a while to settle in and a few hundred meters from the city you begin to feel her tight, perky butt wiggle out of rhythm with the stride of the horse the two of you sit upon.  
  3252.  
  3253. You assume that she still isn’t comfortable until you catch a glimpse of her mischievous smile. “I said I’d keep you ready and waiting for me.”
  3254.  
  3255. You bite one of her pointy protruding ears, eliciting a cute squeak from her, and keep one hand on the reins, bringing your other hand up under her top, to grope her shapely breasts and tweak her brilliant pink nipples. “If that’s how you want to play it.”
  3256.  
  3257. The short few hours ride is spent behind Muradin, Senna, Phyle and May, spent molesting Teresa, mostly. Playing with her curves that seem somehow… curvier than you recall. She seems prettier too, but it’s not a visual thing. It’s hard to describe, and undoubtedly caused by her recent changes. She takes the reins of the horse, and you take her hips, leaning into her back and resting your chin on her shoulder, rocking gently with the motion of the horse’s easy walk. Your group crests a large hill, and sprawled across your view is a breathtaking landscape.
  3258.  
  3259. Rich rivers flowing down from the mountains cascade in a waterfall into a large fjord that cuts into the land, the specklings of civilisation seen at one of its edges. Like a wedge cut out of the steep edges of the fjord, the town extends into a neat little bay. “That’s Northlight Landing. Where we’re headed, ultimately.” Teresa fills you in and obscured by long distances rise the great white walls of the Imperial Capital. Your eyes are drawn to a large and magnificent stone arch bridge with three piers which seem to spear into the riverbed. The small keeps to either end and the parapets lining the bridge make it look more like the top of a castle wall than a road. You see a handful of buildings on the far end of the bridge, likely inns or other establishments meant to garrison the force guarding the bridge.
  3260.  
  3261. But the whole place feels off, much like Bergen did when your party arrived. “Hey, shouldn’t there be more… people?” Your question goes unanswered, but you notice Teresa’s tension. She swings a leg over the horse’s head and slips down, holding onto the hilt of her sword. A little too late, you notice the same tension in Muradin and the centaur.
  3262.  
  3263. “Yes… there should be more people. And look at the ground. I’m no tracker, but some of these markings weren’t left by foot or hoof.” Deep scorings in the dirt leave a mangled story. The creepiness of the empty bridge and its dwellings only becomes more apparent the closer you get, the only sounds the rushing waters and the clop of horseshoe on stone bouncing off the walls of the gate way, echoing deep into the slits that house the portcullis.
  3264.  
  3265. Tipped tables and barrels and shattered furnishings bely some of whatever it was that left this passing bereft of life. Yet despite all this, your breath is stolen for a minute when you look out east across the open fjord, droplets of water casting a rainbow as they fly off the edge of the waterfall, and crash into the piers, making a fine mist.
  3266.  
  3267. “Pretty, isn’t it.” You nod quietly to Teresa’s words. Sad to leave such a sight, you drag your gaze forwards. The horse under you shifts uncomfortably, as it crosses the long bridge. For a short moment of passing the same echo resounds as your party passes the second portcullis, and then you’ve passed the bridge entirely, without a hitch.
  3268.  
  3269. “Okay,” Muradin addresses the party, “We’re about two or so days ride from Annwn. I guess we’ll find out about whatever happened here then. You reach a hand down to Teresa and she takes it, she half jumps, half is lifted back up onto the horse, and your party starts off at an easy canter. You pass similarly abandoned buildings and inns as you ride through the small semi-town, and before long you’re leaving it behind, the rushing waters growing further and further away until the only sounds left to you are the winds across the grassy plains and the jolting of the equipment worn by the horses and Senna.
  3270.  
  3271. After four hours of riding like this, interspersed with short breathers, all five of you come to a halt before one of the scenes you’ll remember for the rest of your long life.
  3272.  
  3273. To the left of the road, is a slope in the land, and in that slope, two armies facing off in a skirmish a few hundred strong. “I guess we found out why the bridge was empty. They must have passed Bergen at some point and taken the bridge. None of the runners they sent to Annwn mentioned it being empty.” You nod to Muradin’s words as you watch the two forces face of for a brief second. The tension is so thick you can feel it from here. Then a cry sails on the wind, followed by a roar in a cadence of mismatched voices as the more monstrous army surges forth into the calm and ordered wall of shields and spears. You spot a few wings and claws within the mess of bodies that smash into the shield wall.
  3274.  
  3275. “Some of these boys bear the crest of Annwn, others, soldiers from the Imperial Capital. To think Korsvag hadn’t even fallen when we left for Stonevale.”
  3276.  
  3277. The shield wall buckles in some places, but stands firm in others, as men are flung, and monsters are cut down. There is a strange array of armor and weapons used by the more monstrous, less unified side, and Muradin squints hard at one of the flags flying. “I… think that’s a mercenary group. I think I’ve seen that banner before. It’s one from the south, past Linnake.”
  3278.  
  3279. “Should we… do something?”
  3280.  
  3281. Teresa shrugs, “What is there to do? It’s the middle of the day, so what I can do is pretty limited. This skirmish is so messy, anything Muradin does will hit both sides. And Theinn, what do you think you can do?”
  3282.  
  3283. You shrug, “I could throw some insults.” She smirks wryly,
  3284.  
  3285. “Exactly. Nothing to do except watch, and hope they’re too busy to see us.” You swing a leg over the horse, and sit sideways in the saddle, watching as the armies skirmish. A long line of bodies forms, as the shield wall grows thinner, and on the last two lines of shields, the middle parts as a hefty minotaurus punches into a shield with a large twohanded maul, blowing the owner and the man behind him back. Men spill out of the hole and bleed into the skirmish, robbing it of its last vestiges of order as it turns into an orgiastic free for all, everyone in motion except for the mounted two behind the Order ranks, most likely nobles, and a single winged succubus upon what looks to be a demon twisted stallion up the back of the monster ranks, a tiny demon next to her.
  3286.  
  3287. “Messy.”
  3288.  
  3289. “About what you would expect from mercenaries, but I’m a bit worried about the other side. They should be more structured than this. Neither side even has any kind of ranged attacks.”
  3290.  
  3291. “You’ve got to ask what the point is. I mean, why not meet them at the bridge?”
  3292.  
  3293. “Maybe the other side got there before they had the reinforcements to hold them. How exactly will they hold the bridge without any ranged weaponry?”
  3294.  
  3295. “Then what exactly where those troops hoping to achieve without some ranged stuff of their own?”
  3296.  
  3297. Muradin scratches his beard as he idly commentates, “Most of those boys are from Annwn, which doesn’t have much in the way of bowmen. Maybe they didn’t have time to scrap up some archers? Strike while the iron is still hot, so to speak, Maybe the time it took for archers to arrive would equal the time it took for reinforcements to strengthen the gates.”
  3298.  
  3299. “I see.”
  3300.  
  3301. “Think the Order will win?”
  3302.  
  3303. “Undoubtedly.”
  3304.  
  3305. “Why?”
  3306.  
  3307. “Well, they have two Heroes with them.”
  3308.  
  3309. “T-two? Where?”
  3310.  
  3311. Muradin grins, “The two on the horses up the back.” You look to the two you noticed earlier.
  3312.  
  3313. “Those are heroes?”
  3314.  
  3315. “Just look at their gear.” One is a behemoth on a massive horse, realistically probably only slightly taller than you, but their armor covers them entirely making them look more like a mountain. On their back is a towering greatshield that looks more like a wall that a piece of armor. Maybe it’s true of the shield, as one could easily set it in the ground widthways and cower behind it. The armor itself is cut in many thick ridges designed to deflect blades and lead them astray. Under the massive and heavy plates chainmail can be seen clearly. There’s a big chunk of greave above the boot, the foot of which is wrapped in a sabaton, making it look nearly three times as big as the user’s foot really is.
  3316.  
  3317. The same can be said of the gauntlet. Chunky finger guards sit atop the armor as does a guard of vambrace. It is as though the armorer decided weight wasn’t an issue and designed a one person fortress. But the wearer looks quite comfortable in their armor, as does their horse, though whether that means the armor is light, or the horse is merely ridiculously strong, you can’t tell. Though if one were any closer, they’d see the hooves of the horse sink into the ground. Yet there’s something about the curve of the armor…
  3318.  
  3319. “Who is that… mountain?”
  3320.  
  3321. Muradin grins, “That Mountain is Hlif.”
  3322.  
  3323. “Who is Hlif?”
  3324.  
  3325. Teresa gives you a weird look, “What, have you been living in a cave these past few years?”
  3326.  
  3327. “Uh… yeah.”
  3328.  
  3329. “Hlif is one of the heroes of our generation. Hlif the Buckler of Korsvag, daughter to Sterki, Bulwark of Korsvag.” Muradin chuckles at the name then a sad realization passes over him. “Ah. I guess Hlif has taken the title of Bulwark now. She was in the capital until recently, training. I guess the taking of Korsvag would have hit a sour note with her. Perhaps she left to reclaim it.”
  3330.  
  3331. You look to the other hero, an unhelmeted man in rather plain but expensive and practical looking plate mail. Well, plain in comparison to the ornate monolith next to him. The only points that stand out about him; a giant tome chained to his hip via loops in the metal binding of the book, his pauldrons which are flat and don’t follow the curve of his shoulder. They seem to emit sunlight, with a metal sun set in the middle so its dark silhouette is shown. Lastly, a glorious looking cape, with the same sun motif splayed between his shoulder blades.
  3332.  
  3333. Apart from his armor, a large flamberg zweihander, nearly as tall as he is, lay strapped across his back. Not much detail can be seen from this distance, but you can tell at a glance it is a masterful piece. “Who’s the other guy?”
  3334.  
  3335. “Ljoshild, another Hero of our time. Though you might know him better by Sunbearer.” Your eyes widen at this,
  3336.  
  3337. “That’s him?”
  3338.  
  3339. “The very same.”
  3340.  
  3341. “Wow, I can see what you mean, those monsters are done for.”
  3342.  
  3343. “Exactly. So it’s best to stay here and watch. It’s always good to watch a Hero work. It gives a real taste of perspective.”
  3344.  
  3345. “So why don’t they fight?”
  3346.  
  3347. “Collateral damage, mostly.”
  3348.  
  3349. You nod in understanding, and watch the skirmish continue. But something happens after a few more minutes of fighting; the atmosphere shifts, men grow stiffer as monsters back away and the back ranks part as a small figure with hooves, claws, a scythe and large curled horns, up until this point hanging beck behind the monsters, takes the field. Her figure positively glows with power, and with a light hop, and a strong cleave of her scythe she rends ten corpses from life, friend and foe. She continues to cut a swathe, blasting corpses aside. This startles and draws a reaction from the two heroes, and the Bulwark lightly hops atop the saddle of her horse, and with a disgruntled shift from her horse, leaps from it, jumping high and long and plummeting into the earth on the downfall, landing before the small terror and blasting a small crater outwards, shaking the earth. The immense shield collects the scythe on its swing and metal screams as the two materials grind and dust and soil is blown high. The battle resumes with a large area of space for the hero and demon to battle it out. The second hero dismounts and draws his sword, looking anxiously across the field, wondering where he can stick his blade without causing devastation.
  3350.  
  3351. At his limit, he picks up an ordinary sword from a fallen man and sets into it. Even still his men give him wide berth, with obvious reason as he cleaves the torso from a lesser succubus in a single stroke. The mounted succubus looks torn at her dwindling numbers and the onslaught of the hero. She bites her knuckle for a moment, then decides, pulling a long scroll from one of the bags of her horse. She utters an incantation as the scroll unravels in the wind, and a magic circle appears on it briefly before the thing turns to ashes. The demon spreads her arm out and a black orb rises high.
  3352.  
  3353. “Uh… Muradin?”
  3354.  
  3355. “That…” The orb disperses into hundreds of black spears and pierces each target, not at random, felling hundreds of men in a great swathes. It appears to have been at such a cost, the succubus that casted it passed out then and there. “Wasn’t good.”
  3356.  
  3357. Few men remained, the two heroes, one of which blocked it with her shield, the other deflected it with his sword, and any men lucky enough to be behind another man when the spear fell. Even then most lay injured. A deathly silence descends on the field, in which the small demon’s voice echoes forth in a dissonantly girly voice. “Surrender humans. This battle is over.” The hero with the sword slumps in defeat.
  3358.  
  3359. “Hlif.”
  3360.  
  3361. “Yes.” She spins on the spot as the hero draws his sword, and opens her back to the enemy, shielding herself from the Sunbearer at he points his sword towards the sun and calls forth his namesake. Muradin yells as he does so,
  3362.  
  3363. “Shield your eyes, block your nose and mouth!” you do so, not a moment too soon, and suddenly the brightest light you’d ever witnessed shines, even through your hand. An immense wave of heat rolls past.  After you deem it safe, you open your eyes and for an instant, you check your surroundings to make sure you weren’t transported to a different realm. The earth is black and blasted, in a cone outwards from the hero, and except for Hlif and a heat-split yet regenerating demon, nothing is left for a good few hundred meters, no monster left living, not even the passed out succubus that looked to be the leader. Only the corpses and a handful of men who were outside of the cone were spared except those who didn’t look away, or had bared skin, or took a breath, had melted eyes, scorched skin and lungs. Off to one edge of the cone amidst a mound of corpses lay a two-shield wall, with what looks to be some kind of insect monster and a young man embracing. Their bodies relatively intact, yet with their proximity, most likely every internal organ is charred and burnt or burst. Not even the pained utter a sound as they watch the burnt flesh peel from the Baphomet and fall to the earth, disintegrating as it reveals new, fresh, if only slightly pinker, for all that.
  3364.  
  3365. The Baphomet stands alone, the last of her forces, yet perhaps something has unhinged from within her, as she only smiles wickedly, and brings her scythe back to slash at the hero with the sword. He deflects it, and Hlif smacks her with the shield, unbalancing her, for Ljoshild to slip past and thrust with his weapon. The Baphomet catches it, or rather, lets it slice into her palm and split her arm down to the elbow, but in return, she pulls him in via his grip on the sword, and angles a kick to his head, with such force that when Hlif catches it with her shield, the force along barrels her into the Sunbearer, and knocks the two of them a few feet back.
  3366.  
  3367. “Hmm, lets see if I can give them a hand…” Muradin mumbles to himself as he dismounts and rifles through his horse’s bags, and pulls out a few canteens. You’re torn between half watching what he’s doing, and half watching the fight, as the two heroes move in a perfect team against the monstrous being, struggling to take her down as she regenerates even mid combat, and casts spells to amplify her own abilities. At some point Muradin has rifled through your own stuff, and once he’d collected all the water skins, he draws the water out of them with magic, making a swirling, blobby line. At this point you’re drawn more to what he’s doing than the fight.
  3368.  
  3369. “Teresa, Holy Water.” The girl nods and fishes it out of one of the bags Senna wears, and pops the top, spilling it into the line of water. Muradin nods, satisfied, and freezes the line into a thick spear, two meters long. “Now… This should…” He takes the stance of a man about to hurl a javelin. “Do it!” With a mighty thrust, his back foot comes up as his arm swings out in a windmill, and his hip twists, shoulders thrusting forwards. The spear shoots out, and it’s only thanks to Hlif, that she kicks Ljoshild out of the way, and it has unimpeded path to the Baphomet, who is taken by surprise as the holy spear pierces her heart and through her chest. She looks down at the immense intrusion in her chest in shock, and turns to Muradin on the hill, who gives the demon a thumbs up. Quick to react, the Sunbearer is on his feet, and with his Zweihander flaming, he cleaves the head from the beast.
  3370.  
  3371. Muradin rolls his shoulder, grinning. “Well. Let’s go say hi.” Your troupe descends on the field from the elevated road, and the two heroes watch the approach wearily, Hlif resting on her shield, the Sunbearer unsteady on his feet. As you approach, his legs seem to give in but before he can fall, his sword, released from his grip, flashes in an unobtrusive light, a woman appearing where the flare fades and collecting him in her arms.
  3372.  
  3373. She strokes his hair, “There, there. You fought well again today.”
  3374.  
  3375. “Thanks… but I was useless. I… should have wiped them all out from the start. I could have prevented so much… death.”
  3376.  
  3377. Hlif shrugs, “I couldn’t have beaten that Baphomet alone. We have armies for a reason. It’s like the head priestess told us right? Sacrifices for a just cause are necessary. Besides, I’ve thrashed you so much in cards, one would hope that you’d have learned by now, that revealing your best hand so soon in is never a good idea.”
  3378.  
  3379. “But-”
  3380.  
  3381. The woman holding him puts her finger to his lips, “But nothing. What if you just threw away a few hundred lives? What is something bigger, worse, popped out of the ground right now that could only be taken out with your power, a power you’d already used? What if in saving a few hundred you doom a few thousand? What if? That’s all this is. A game of 'what if’.” She smiles brightly, “You did the right thing.”
  3382.  
  3383. He struggles internally for a moment, resisting her words, then gives in, “Thanks… I guess you’re right.” He sucks a breath in through his teeth and bites back the exhaustion as he stands up with his own strength, eyes turning to you and your approaching party.  
  3384.  
  3385. Muradin gives an easy wave as he comes near, “Well met, Sunbearer.”
  3386.  
  3387. “You… Ha.” A wry grin pulls at his lips, “If you could do that,” he hikes a thumb back to the diminutive demon, now headless, lifeless muscles slumped forwards over the spear, now melting under the light of the   why not give a hand back when I came to you about that Nokken a few years back.”
  3388.  
  3389. “Ha! ‘Tis not my place, I’m much more suited to the kind of deskwork and lorekeeping you originally came to me for.”
  3390.  
  3391. Ljoshild casts a suspicious glance to the man’s large and muscular frame. “Right.”
  3392.  
  3393. “I’m surprised you even remember me, Sunbearer.”
  3394.  
  3395. “Please, call me Ljoshild. It was… Muradin, right?” the bigger man smiles and nods, “I thank you for your assistance. We would have been doomed there if not for you.”
  3396.  
  3397. “Bah, nonsense, Ljoshild. I only did what I could. So, what exactly is going on here?”
  3398.  
  3399. Ljoshild laughs, “What, there are happenings in these lands that the Grey don’t know about?”
  3400.  
  3401. “Ha! Not at all, it’s just that we’ve been in the field for a few months.”
  3402.  
  3403. “We were in Annwn, preparing to retake Korsvag, when we started getting the runners from Bergen. Stretched thin as it is, we weren’t unable to respond unfortunately. I… wanted to go and help, but… anyway, we turned them back except for the first who we sent through to the Capital, but then one came back. The bridge was lost. We still weren’t ready, but we had to move, so we drew together what men we could and set out immediately. Our aim was to travel light, win the fight and retake the bridge, rest up there, stock up on supplies, leave half our men to garrison it, and head to Korsvag once the rest caught up.”
  3404.  
  3405. Muradin casts a sad eye over the mound of corpses, “What will you do now?” the Sunbearer sighs heavily.
  3406.  
  3407. “I…”
  3408.  
  3409. “Will go back to Annwn and gather what men you can.” Hlif answers for him, and Ljoshild turns to her, a look of confusion heavy across his brows. She reaches up, and takes the helm from her head, golden hair spilling out, cascading like a waterfall. You can’t help but admit that she is strikingly beautiful, for a human. She clearly lacks the praeternatural allure of the more monstrous breeds, but there is a certain earnest quality to her. She grins at Ljoshild in a reckless manner.
  3410.  
  3411. “But the bridge-”
  3412.  
  3413. “I will hold it.”
  3414.  
  3415. “Alone? What if the enemy returns?”
  3416.  
  3417. “I will hold it. Who do you think I am? I’m the Bulwark of Korsvag.” Ljoshild chews his lower lip for a moment of deliberation, and turns to the woman at his side.
  3418.  
  3419. “Clai. Stay here with her, keep her safe.” Clai inclines her head, but Hlif is the one who refuses the most.
  3420.  
  3421. “Y-you can’t! The Sword of Light is yours, I couldn’t possibly-”
  3422.  
  3423. “Clai?”
  3424.  
  3425. She smiles, “I’ll keep her safe, Ljoshild.” She turns to Hlif, grinning cheekily
  3426.  
  3427. “You do know how to use a sword, right?”
  3428.  
  3429. “O-of course I know how to use a sword.”
  3430.  
  3431. “Then it shouldn’t be a problem?”
  3432.  
  3433. “That doesn’t mean I can wield the Claiomh Solais!”
  3434.  
  3435. Ljoshild grins weakly, “You’ll be fine.” He turns to Muradin, casting appraising eyes across your group, lingering for a moment on you, “Could… you guys be of any help? Please Muradin.”
  3436.  
  3437. “Mmm, I guess having you owe us a debt would be a great advantage at some point. But it is not me who you will owe the debt to, but our organisation. We could call on you to do anything, at any moment. Do you still accept?”
  3438.  
  3439. “I do.”
  3440.  
  3441. Muradin turns around, “Well then. I guess we’ll be spending the night back at the bridge, people.”
  3442.  
  3443. Hlif frowns heavily as Clai stalks around behind her and drapes her arms over her shoulder-pauldrons, “Just you and me now, love.” She sighs in heavy defeat.
  3444.  
  3445. Ljoshild grins, “You’ll be in more danger than I, Hlif. You need her more.” A ray of light splits the sky and falls upon the scorched earth a few hundred meters away, a horse’s scream carried on the wind. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, with more men. I can only hope I arrive before those monsters do, but if not, good luck. If things start to look really bad, flee.”
  3446.  
  3447. “Ha, flee? You forget who I am. I’ll wait for you.” The pounding sound of hooves grows louder, the ray of light dissipating, the same horse Ljoshild rode before the fight, thundering down the way. The man grins,
  3448.  
  3449. “I know you will. All of you, stay safe.” He holds his arm out, and the charging horse passes, its reins flapping behind it, smacking perfectly into Ljoshild’s open palm, his fist closing around it, as the momentum of his horse pulls him off his feet, a small jump sending him up into an arc and onto the saddle. “I’ll be back soon, Clai!” He waves an arm out as he leaves, quickly cresting a hill and disappearing.
  3450.  
  3451. You turn to Hlif, “Can your horse do that?”
  3452.  
  3453. “Uh… no.” She casts her gaze over the charred mound of corpses. “Mine is in there somewhere. Shame too, they have to be trained and bred specially to carry… well, all this.” She gestures to her armor. “Anyway, it’s nice to meet you all, I’m Hlif, Hlif Fullr. Do some of you already know Ljoshild?”
  3454.  
  3455. “Ah, only I do. We met a few years back when he needed info on how to deal with a Nokken.”
  3456.  
  3457. You frown, “A Nokken?”
  3458.  
  3459. Teresa turns to answer you, “A water spirit, the bitchy sister of the Fossegrimen. Lives in fresh waters up north. Drowns people.”
  3460.  
  3461. “Yeesh.”  
  3462.  
  3463. She turns back and inclines her head, “Any way, I’m Teresa,”
  3464.  
  3465. “Senna,”
  3466.  
  3467. “May,”
  3468.  
  3469. “Muradin,”
  3470.  
  3471. “Theinn,”
  3472.  
  3473. “Phyle,”
  3474.  
  3475. Hlif quirks an eyebrow, “Quite the party.”
  3476.  
  3477. “Ha! Indeed. For now, let’s head back to the bridge, we can find a place to rest there, and hopefully, nothing will happen, and the Sunbearer can return bearing more men.” Muradin chuckles a little at his pun and you fight the urge to roll your eyes, instead mounting your horse, and turning it around, then reaching a hand out for Teresa. Hlif looks around,  little lost as everyone mounts up, until Senna walks up to her and pats her back,
  3478.  
  3479. “Hop on. We gotta get back quick.”
  3480.  
  3481. “B-but,”
  3482.  
  3483. “Don’t worry. I’m stronger than I look.” A little shyly, Hlif takes Senna’s hand, and the centaur hurls her up onto her back adding her immense weight to the gear she’s already holding. She grunts slightly, but reins in most her complaints at the added weight, though her expression eases a Muradin surreptitiously places a hand on her rear, behind Hlif’s back, transferring a spell of endurance.
  3484.  
  3485. “A-are you sure? I mean, this stuff is really heavy…”
  3486.  
  3487. “Hey, there’s a reason you paladins and heroes come to us when the going gets tough. Don’t sweat it.”
  3488.  
  3489. “Really?”
  3490.  
  3491. Teresa chuckles, “Let’s not over-sell it, Senna. A hero is still a hero.”
  3492.  
  3493. Clai grins as she steps up to Hlif, “That said, had things been different, there are a few of the Grey ones who weren’t too far off being heroes themselves.”
  3494.  
  3495. “What do you mean?”
  3496.  
  3497. The sword puts a finger to her mouth, “Hmmm… There are many… factors to heroism, wether the heavens acknowledge and bless you. Destiny is one. Some people are just never meant to be. Deed is another. Then there is belief. Some constrain themselves. The greatest heroes had no limit, because they didn’t believe that they were shackled by concepts such as logic. Few can shake that, few realise that a hero is just a man who knows he is free. Free from expectation, reason. Even consequence…
  3498.  
  3499. Then there are the actions you take, knowing that. You need to believe that your actions are heroic. A fragile ego is a chink in the hero’s impenetrable armor. Take Ljoshild. That child is too pure, too innocent. Should he fail to save people, he’ll begin to question himself, his actions. It is my task to fortify his ego, his belief in his own heroism. Or he will go one of two ways. He will go bad, or he will go Grey. And that’s what I meant.” She turns to the group, “Which of you could call your actions heroic?” She waits courteously for the silence to greet her. “Exactly. And for some, that alone is what stops them from being heroes.”  
  3500.  
  3501. Muradin frowns, “In a way, I envy that naiveté.”
  3502.  
  3503. The sword smiles as she takes Hlif’s hand, “With much wisdom comes much sorrow.” In a warm glow of light, intense enough to urge you look away, she disappears, already a scabbard when you look back. Hlif stares ahead resolutely, glaring almost.
  3504.  
  3505. “A Hero is always right... let’s move.”
  3506.  
  3507. Muradin urges his horse onwards. You follow, headed back to the bridge, ruminating on the words the sword left behind.
  3508.  
  3509.  
  3510. ***
  3511.  
  3512. She watches the party leave through the gloom of the forest, an arm out, stilling her more sentient forces, a mental compulsion upon the others. A ghoul crouched to her left clicks her tongue, a hand on her leather-clad knee, the other upon the hilt of one of her twin swords.
  3513.  
  3514. “Took them long enough.”
  3515.  
  3516. “Relax. The corpses are still good.”
  3517.  
  3518. “Pff, good. Right, I forgot crispy was all the rage these days.”
  3519.  
  3520. The necromancer’s eyes flicker with crackling power as she glares down at the loose-lipped ghoul, an expression of intimidation made null by the amused curling of her lips, “I can bring it back into style, if you like.”
  3521.  
  3522. “…Nah. I like my meat raw.”
  3523.  
  3524. She rolls her eyes, “I’m sure you do.” She straightens her back, and plants the butt of her staff  on the ground, it’s blunted tip sinking into the soft earth of the undergrowth. Her deep, rich purple robes flutter as she bends back, pressing an outline of her generous breasts tight against the fabric. She yawns, stretching, her gesture to hold, turned into something entirely, that would have confused her subordinates very much had they not known her.
  3525.  
  3526. “Aright, people. Let’s get this over with. I’m supposed to have a date with that cute architect who always hangs out in the library later tonight, so I don’t have time to waste around here. Corpse Harvesters, find the ones that can be used, direct the zombies to load the wagons. Sentinels, same as usual.” She casts her hand out across the killing fields, and steps out of the forest, a group of fifty ghouls heading past her, half splitting off to form a perimeter, the other half on their way to pick through the dead. Around a hundred zombies follow after at a laborious pace, twenty unburdened wagons amidst them, each one being pulled by two of the shambling corpses.  
  3527.  
  3528. The necromancer eyes the setting sun, her thoughts on the creature comforts of her temporary home in the currently-under-restoration Necropolis in the mountains, and what kind of dress she’ll wear later tonight.
  3529.  
  3530. ***
  3531.  
  3532. “How much longer, do you think?”
  3533.  
  3534. “About another hour and a half of daylight.” You look to Teresa,
  3535.  
  3536. “How oddly precise of you,”
  3537.  
  3538. She grins, flashing fangs, “Knowing exactly when the sun will set is pretty important, wouldn’t you say?”
  3539.  
  3540. You look out of the window hewn from the stone, “I guess.”
  3541.  
  3542. “Come on, there should be some kind of barracks up here.” You look back, towards the flight of stairs you just climbed, to reach the uppermost portions of one of the hour towers that guard either end of the bridge.
  3543.  
  3544. “And if there isn’t?”
  3545.  
  3546. “We’ll sleep up top, the stars are awfully pretty around here.”
  3547.  
  3548. “Where are the others sleeping?”
  3549.  
  3550. “Eh, around.” Teresa opens a door, and pokes her head inside inquisitively, bending over almost exaggeratedly “Bah, just some crappy old swords.” You slip an arm around her wide hips, and tug her from the doorway.
  3551.  
  3552. “I’d rather not sleep on some swords.”
  3553.  
  3554. She grins as she wraps her arm around your own hips, “You’re sleeping with me. I could make a bed of thorns comfy.”
  3555.  
  3556. “True, but still.” You put your hand to a door, and push. It opens to reveal a small room with a view over the fjord, and four simple looking beds, two against the walls to your left and right, two to either side of the window.
  3557.  
  3558. “Ah, perfect.” The two of you file in, and dump bags and equipment. Teresa pushes one of the beds lengthways up against the window, another bed lengthways against it, making a large square of bedding, rather than the small rectangle. With a flourish, she bows, “My prince.” You can’t help but grin,
  3559.  
  3560. “A bed fit for a queen.”
  3561.  
  3562. “How about…” The vamp turns around, putting her hands on the edge of the bed, sticking her perfect, round ass up in the air, “…you help your queen out of these oh so tight pants?” She waits for you to move, setting a rhythmic wiggle of her ass through the air.
  3563.  
  3564. “With pleasure.” You step up behind her, and reach around to her belt, undoing the clasp, and sliding it through the loops in the pants, while she moans, and grinds back against you, making your own pants rather right. Then you begin untying the front of her trousers then begin to slowly slide them down the large curve of her ass, revealing the cloth panties underneath. It’s not until you’ve gotten her pants most the way down her ass, you spot the dampness of the cloth around her puffy lips.
  3565.  
  3566. She moans and arches her back like a cat, as you run a finger down her sodden slit, and it comes bac wet. She looks over her shoulder at you, and grins lustily as you pop it into your mouth. “What did I say? Ready and waiting. A lot happened today, but we should have an hour or two of privacy…” Her inner eyebrows curl up, and the bites down on her lower lip, “Please… Take your cock out, and fuck me. I’ve been waiting all day for this. Fuck me.”
  3567.  
  3568. You fumble at your own pants, trying to free your cock as quickly as possible, “You make a convincing argument.” Your pants drop to the floor with a thud, and you grab her panties, and pull them down, marvelling at the wetness that clings to it as you pull them down, her pussy drooling. “Wow.” Her engorged, aroused and puffy lips make the perfect target, but the gap between her thighs is a more inviting one, and you slide your cock through there first, parting the lips of her sopping womanhood.
  3569.  
  3570. “You don’t need lube, Thein, I’m fucking soaked, just stick your cock in and fu-aaahn~” With a quick thrust that brings her ass slamming against your hips, you silence her, plunging in, almost to the hilt immediately, the head of your cock kissing her cervix, an inch or so of your cock remaining, but before you can ease the rest in, the lusty fluidsucker pushes back, forcing the head of your cock through her own cervix, moaning lustily all the while, “Oh, it is so good to have you back. How is it?”
  3571.  
  3572. “Just like home.” You plant both hands on her wide hips, and pull back, her womb clinging to you before begrudgingly letting you go. You pull back until her pussy pulls at the head of your cock, then slam back in, her wetness the only thing that lets you plunge through her tight, contracting cunt with such pleasurable ease.
  3573.  
  3574. You settle yourself into a quick rhythm, muscles working to pound the woman before you, and pump her womb full of seed, “Harder. I want to cum harder and faster than a virgin, Thein. Fuck me raw.” There’s no reason not to comply, so you reach forward and grab the wrists holding her up, and sweep them down under her. With her hips pressed up against hers, almost held up by your cock, her upper body flops face first into the bed, but it’s not long until you pull her arms back, and lift her up again, her perfectly shaped breasts bouncing with the motion of your pounding. You trust into her womb again, and let her grind against you wetly, as you position both you and her, picking her up, and putting her on the bed, then shuffling her right up against the wall. She puts her hands up to the wall, and looks out the window. You trace kisses along her shoulder and neck, and place your lips to her ear.
  3575.  
  3576. “If you wanna be fucked raw, I might as well put you between a rock and a hard place, right?” you slam your hips into hers, but already flush with the wall, the force can only rebound back into you, a force which you use to slam yourself back in, fucking her in short, quick, brutal thrusts.
  3577.  
  3578. “Yes!” she cries out the window, and you put one hand onto her bucking hips, and reach up under her top with another to maul a breast, pinching and pulling at a nipple, as you rut into her, “Fucking break me!” you take your hand from her breast, and turn her head towards you, your lips latching onto hers as you pummel into her womb from behind. She meets your lips greedily, and bites down, a hot wash of blood filling her mouth, and sending her into a frenzy, making her cunt impossibly tight. She fucks your mouth as you work on her lower lips, spread wide around the girth of your dick, and clutching to it with primal need.
  3579.  
  3580. You put one hand back on her hips, put the other on her mouth, muffling her moaning cries, and thrust into her like a toy, using and abusing her tight hole with reckless abandon. You break from the kiss to bite down on her shoulder and slam her hips into the stone wall particularly hard, holding her there as she cums. She bites down on your hand as her pussy gushes, the frenzied coiling of her walls bringing you to your own climax, and balls deep as you are, the only place you cam cum is directly into her womb, filling it with a heavy load of seed and then some, packing it beyond capacity, leaving some of it to splash back out of her cunt and onto the sheets below. You collapse, still cumming, and take her with you, falling back onto the bed with a bounce, the mass of limbs shifting and reconfiguring until you’re lying together face to face, Teresa’s cheeks and ears burning red, the silhouette of burning love in her eyes.
  3581.  
  3582. Your softening cock slips out, and you watch as your seed dribbles down her thighs, “Fuck, I needed that so bad.” She grins, “You can be a beast when you want.”
  3583.  
  3584. You grin back, “Says you. I had no idea you were so fucking thirsty for it.”
  3585.  
  3586. “Mmm, speaking of, mind if I have a drink?”
  3587.  
  3588. “Sure thing.”
  3589.  
  3590. “You get some rest. I’ll grab you if anything happens, okay?”
  3591.  
  3592. “Sure thing.” Teresa smiles brightly, and wiggles her half naked body closer to you, her arms wrapping around your chest, her legs slipping around yours. You hold her close, and she buries her face into your neck, takes a long sniff, and sighs.
  3593.  
  3594. “So delicious.” You feel her lips part, and you run a hand through her hair as her teeth sink in, and the crimson bounty flows into her mouth. She makes happy little moans, and you feel her nipples harden as she presses up against you, and drinks her fill. It’s not long before the post-fuck afterglow, the exhaustion of the day, the mind shattering orgasm and the blood loss begin to overtake you. Your world begins to dim as Teresa nuzzles against you contently and strokes her soft fingers down your spine.
  3595.  
  3596.  
  3597. ***
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