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Rusalka

Penywise Aug 22nd, 2014 (edited) 11,289 Never
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  1. Map:
  2. http://puu.sh/ks6lU.jpg - Full
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  4. http://puu.sh/ks6Bl.jpg - Middle
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  8.  
  9. The gravel crunches gently underfoot as you walk the beaten, dusty path. Generally, gentle doesn't bear much onomatopoeic resonance with gravel, but when you're not particularly heavy, gentle gets a descriptive pass. You’re not wearing your boots either. When shit goes down, you figure, you'd rather be wearing boots. Not that shit tends to go down in your general vicinity. Not much of anything tends to go down around you. Least of all women. You catch yourself before a little chuckle. It’s probably for the best that you don’t laugh at yourself, alone in the woods.
  10.  
  11. It's not too much of a stretch to say that most people tend to avoid you. This is part of the reason you're walking down the lonely road, fishing rod in your left hand and metal pail of assortments hanging limply from the right, with absolutely nothing better to do. The gentle crunching, partly because you're wearing your beaten down, leather-padded shoes, the type you use for hunting and stalking through under-growth, the exact type that would cause gravel to crunch gently, if crunch at all. At least, you muse, the odds of shit going down are pretty slim. You didn't think you would miss your boots.
  12.  
  13. You smell the ocean. You pause a moment, and tip your head to the side. You must have lost yourself in your thoughts, and come further along the path than you realised. You shift your shoulders a bit, and change which hand is holding which. The other part responsible for the gentle crunch of the stony gravel is your somewhat runty frame. You wouldn't be playing ballgames with the country boys at least. Or, rather, when you did, you played wing. You’re still stockier than some of the daintier city nobles who roll through every now and then. There was a wiry strength to you. Not tree trunk strength, but more a reed-ish strength, braided, wound and bound like some form of knotwork. You lack the pulling power of the oak, but in return it takes plenty of power to pull you. Well, apart, at least. With your long, flowing black hair and angular, not hawkish features, you could probably pass off for a girl with enough makeup. And enough shaving.
  14.  
  15. You survey the woods to either side of the path with your steel grey eyes. You don't find being around people easy, and they are probably part of the reason why. It’s an unusual colour for these parts, more commonly seen in the countries north, and it unsettles people when they look into them. You yourself find it hard to trust people who don’t look you in the eyes. It’s a little thing, but the ripples bleed into everyday life. Because of this, you’ve been mostly alone.
  16.  
  17. You keep a steady gaze, and swing it from side to side, not focusing on anything, but rather taking in the whole picture, honing in on individual signs of movement. A rustle in the undergrowth. Too small to be anything taller than your knee. Not worth hunting, not when there’s a bowl of rabbit stew frozen back home. You keep this up for a couple of seconds, some waving trees, a few shadows playing charades in the distance. The usual. It's always been pretty deserted around here. The stray birdcall. Not much else, honestly. Your mind wanders towards what you'd planned for the day. A few hours fishing, before heading back home, reheating some leftovers and curling up to read something. Reading, being a fond hobby. Your father was an enigma. He left unto you many things but the most inexplicable of those was literacy. That and his library. A man you knew little about taught you the runes to rival the knowledge of a young noble, amidst a bevy of other strangely specific skills, such as a weak magic, channelled through runes he personally carved into your flesh.
  18.  
  19. The smell of the ocean had grown stronger, small molecules of salt sticking in your nose. You no longer feel the gravel beneath your feet, but rather the giving sensation of sand. It’s another few meters until the tree-line fades into smaller, hardier shrubs which can withstand the salty spray, and harsh, cool winds. You shrug off your jerkin, shoes and socks, folding the latter, and tucking them out of the reach of the sands. You breathe deep the ocean and mist for a few seconds, and wiggle your toes, feeling tiny rivulets of sand run down and over them.
  20.  
  21. You have a favourite spot. If there were a pier it'd be the end of it, but as nature would have it, there's a narrow sand bank knee-deep that heads out a good way until it peaks with a lone outcropping of rock. That's where you like to sit and fish. It's therapeutic, you get to lose yourself in the roar of the ocean, and it gets you food. Sometimes. If you really like the fish you caught. Usually you end up throwing them back in, even the big ones, if you’re not particularly hard up for food. The chase is better than the catch, as any an old tale would tell you. You begin to wade out to the rocks, waves buffeting the bottom of your bucket, an echo-y metallic slap ringing out every few seconds as you forge ahead. You make it to the rocks and settle yourself into the seat you fashioned for yourself some time ago. You once headed out at low tide with a sledgehammer and smashed out a chair from the rock. It was fun, even if the result were uncomfortable to say the least, but it got the shape right, and its more than bearable if you lay down a thick towel first.
  22.  
  23. Time passes, and your eyes flash open with a start. You wipe a cool trail of drool from your chin, and work out the kinks from dozing off on this rock.  You're not sure just how much time, but the sky, once clear, has now clouded over. You begin to grow more and more conscious of the sound of a sweet voice, singing at a level that lay just below the coursing of the saves. You pass it off as your imagination at first, but it steadily grows louder and... more disjointed, as it interacts with the now-choppy waves. A gentle sound but with your mind honing in on it completely, it seems to dominate every octave. You spare a few glances out across the beach and see no one. In fact, the mist has grown significantly thicker, so much so that you can barely even see the shoreline, a mental map all the remains of the sandbar you used to reach the rock. You feel your blood pumping harder as this information registers and your mind instantly searches back to old wives tales. Your lonesomeness, you are now acutely aware of and it provokes a cold, clammy sweat. The spiny claws of trepidation snake their way up your back.
  24.  
  25. You can’t escape the feeling that something is out there, and it doesn’t help that just now you notice how vulnerable you are, on a rock out in the middle of the ocean surrounded by angry waters. Alone. Sure you could just walk back to land but that wasn't really the point. You figure you're the only human out here by miles. Best to play it safe.
  26.  
  27. You decide to pack your shit and get moving, the hairs on the back of your neck standing ramrod straight and making all the decisions for you. Tired, slumbering muscles groan as you scramble to your feet and grab the bucket by your side. You reach for the rod too, but your hands are cold and numbed by fright. It snags between two rocks, and slips from your grasp, unnoticed. You haul ass out of there, and you're not three steps from the rock before you catch a glimpse of a large shadow moving in the shallows. You’re not alone. For the first time, you wish you were. The mist gets heavier and hangs in the air. Your mind reels, the air assaults you like a miasma, adrenalin surges and your heart is just about at your throat, thrumming in urgency.
  28.  
  29. You trudge through the heavy waves, the icy chill slapping at your chest, when your foot slips, and the sand bar beneath you disappears entirely. With the beach obscured in mist, you struck a path, and it failed you. You plummet as waves crash over you, and as you gasp, the fury of the ocean surrounding you, you wonder how it is you didn’t notice such vicious waves sooner. The bucket is torn from your hand, wrenching a finger out of joint, dislocating it, sending waves if white hot pain coursing through your mind. You gasp, and take in a lungful of water, so cold it blurs. You kick at the water, but you’ve been so turned around, you no longer know what direction is up, and the water only gets darker as your lungs alight in need for breath.
  30.  
  31. The shadow in the water lurks, hidden by passing, dark green waves, and the need to breathe soothes. Death wraps its gnarled hands around your throat, but it isn’t a choke, but a soothing massage, as it eases you in to oblivion. You taste blood as you grit your teeth in frustration, and take a chunk out of your tongue. It saves your life, as the sharp awareness lances through the fog of your mind, and beats back the darkness. There’s a pale green light under the waves, and a blast of air where there should be none jets you out of the ocean.
  32.  
  33. There’s a moment of weightlessness as you look at the rune burnt into your hand in amazement before the ground rushes to meet you. You cut your forehead open on the jagged edge of a shell embedded in the sand, and heave as you vomit, staining the sand in a mix of blood, ocean and rabbit stew.
  34.  
  35. You lie there, snot, bile and spit dripping from your mouth and nose, gasping for breath and throwing up long after there was anything left to throw up, and you force your diaphragm to clench tight and try to master the spasms, so you don’t tear the lining in your stomach. Stomach acid burns in your throat, and you hock up a lump of it and spit. You conjure a fistful of pure water out of the air, and pour it down your throat to try and wash away the taste. The end of your strength. You look to the hand that had the green rune on it, and you see the last of it fade. You knew they were there but you’d never seen them do that before. The most you’d even been able to do with it were blast cobwebs away with wind, or create a flame barely strong enough to set alight the kindling.
  36.  
  37. You wince in dread, and look at your mangled finger on the other hand, the one that was holding the bucket. You grit your teeth, and grab the finger, eyes stinging in tears as you wrench the bone around and feel it pop back into place.
  38.  
  39. “Nnngh!” You cry out and double over, and stay like that until the afternoon breeze flies in, and saps the last of your warmth. You start shivering, utterly drenched, far worse that you’d prepared. You could have dried soggy pant legs with your power but this? The eerie song fades, slowly receding under the waves like some sort of nightmare, 'till no more was heard of it. It's the dead of winter, and the water was freezing. You're nowhere near the southern territories and you're pretty sure sharks don't like the cold. Or was that snakes? Just what was that shadow?
  40.  
  41. Whatever. You need to get home and get warm before you freeze to death. The clouds have vanished, leaving a clear sky once more, the sun's already dipping below the horizon and you're drenched with tide and sweat. You’re thankful for the warmth the sun manages to seep into you now, but once it goes, without the clouds to trap it’s heat in, you’ll die. You trudge to where you left your clothes, and you wrap the warm cotton socks around your cold, damp and clammy feet, brushing off the sand as you do so before slipping them into your shoes. Next is the jerkin and then you're gone like a half-frozen ghost in the fog. You get about halfway to your home before you realise you left your fishing rod on that rock. That was your favourite rod too. And it wasn't cheap. Fuck. Well at least in all your years fishing there you've only ever seen one other person, so it's likely to still be there when you go back... Fuck.
  42.  
  43. You stumble through your rickety front door, kick your shoes off, and head to the laundry room. Standing barefoot on the cold, tiled floor you begin to strip naked, shivering and blue as you do so. First your shirt, you peel it off like some kind of second skin. It drops onto the floor with a heavy, wet thud. Next, your blackened leather pants. You're blue fingers fumble around your belt clasp. Once it's lose you pull it through all the loops and fling it behind you, over your shoulder and out of the laundry. It lands on your hardwood floor with a barely-registered thunk. You drop trou and your pants fall to the floor. You head into your bathroom and focus your fading will to the palm of your hand. Your metal tub is still full from the last bath earlier in the day, and you place your palm to the metal side of the tub. It glows a slight red for a moment before the metal begins to distribute the heat as evenly as your already sapped power can manage. You step in, but it’s barely even lukewarm. Still, it’s warmer than you, and you steal what head you can. Soon the water goes cold, and taking that as your cue, you step out, dry yourself with a fluffy towel, and clothe yourself in your sleeping gown, and many other layers of clothes. You steal a bite, needing to fill your stomach after to fully emptying it, and figure the digestion will help keep you warm. You make your way into bed and crawl in under the sheets. As soon as you lay down, you're dead to the world. Your subconsciousness strays towards choking mists and fangs in the deep. The shadows twist and encroach upon your lone, sleeping form, and your body curls up under the heavy blankets.
  44.  
  45. Strands of sunlight filter in through the slits in your curtains and play upon the grooves and crevasses in your bedding. A couple lay upon your face, and that only happens with the midday sun. You feel like you’re slept for ages, and blinking your eyes groggily you conclude that the time must be somewhere around 11a.m. Rolling around under the shifting blankets, you argue with yourself as you do every morning, the merits of getting up and out of bed. Mentally, you list out the pros and cons. It's what normal people do. Fuck normal people. You have shit to do today. That's a lie and you know it. You're hungry. It can wait. Usually the debate ends here. The next time it starts up again the other side usually wins because by then, you're bored of laying down for hours. But this time it's different. You left your gear on the beach. Your brain stops spinning. Any rejoinders you'd mentally penned down fail you. Well shit.
  46.  
  47. Whatever. What are the odds of that creature still being there, besides now that you've slept on it, and there isn't that weird keening lullaby playing on the mist, it occurs to you that you’d never seen it before. It’s prey got away, and there was only one of it, so it probably doesn’t consider this place its new feeding grounds. Hopefully. So chances are, it’s gone. You kick your legs over the edge of the bed, and sit upright, hands braced on your kneecaps. Pulling your shoulders back, you let out yawn, lace your fingers together, and splay them, feeling the joints crack and pop. Rubbing at the sleep in your eyes you stand up and limp towards your kitchen. You must have slept funny because you don't yet have full feeling in your right leg, instead of walking it just thumps along flat footed.
  48.  
  49. By the time you're before your pantry cupboard you've stopped walking like a crippled troll, and have the roll back in your step. You feel around for the jar of dried leaves, and pull it down, placing it next to your sink and your jar of sugar. You pour the dry, flaky leaves into a half-sphere of fine metal mesh, the other half working on a spring system to clamp the two shut, like tongs that open when you squeeze them together. With the tea leaves trapped inside, you conjure more water and dump it into a metal mug, heating it up through your fingers and then you dump the contraption into the boiling water, and watch it infuse.
  50.  
  51. Whilst waiting for the eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes to finish frying on the pan over the fire, your mind wanders back towards yesterday. You'd never felt that kind of primal fear before. There was a good reason of course, you nearly died, but you were scared before that. Before anything had even changed, there was that song. That shadow had to have sung it, there was nothing other than you and the fish. It was like something was actually trying to unsettle you, coating your mind in pure fear, the kind of fear that lives on in future generations. The fear that your ancestors felt, huddled in caves in the failing firelight, praying for the sun. You consider why, as you eat. If it was just trying to make you lose your wits, it succeeded. You were in the water and vulnerable and yet it didn’t go for you. It just lurked as a reminder. Was it trying to scare you away? You stare out a window as you chew.
  52.  
  53. Should you try to kill it? Could you kill it? It was skilled enough to have you thrall to its magic before you’d even realised it, and you aren’t exactly new to illusory magic either.
  54.  
  55. With the sun that your ancestors prayed so dearly for sitting high in the sky you figure it's as safe a time as any to head back. You dump your eating utensils in the sink, run some water over it, get dressed, grab your jacket and head out. You look at the sword hanging up on the wall, and think twice. If you take it with you, you’re taking it to a fight. And you don’t know if it’s one you can win. So you leave it. Needless to say, you're wearing boots.
  56.  
  57. You're on the path, just before it and the woods open up to the beach. Cautiously, you slow your pace and opt to stay just behind the tree line as you look over the scene. Hey, you don't have to be old to be wise. When you look out to where you were sitting yesterday, you see the silhouette of your rod jutting out. That's weird. It shouldn’t be standing. Is someone using it? As you watch, you see a woman emerge from the waves, and pull herself up onto the rock, on the face opposite the one you're looking at. There’s a lot of emphasis on her arms as she pulls herself up the rock, as though her legs were lame. But they couldn’t be. How else would she get out to that rock? She flicks her sodden black hair back over her shoulder, and uses her arms to shift her body weight around so that she's nestled in the seat you carved out of stone. You're treated to a rather lithe looking midriff, as she twists back on herself to reach for the fishing pole, the sunlight glinting off her side as she strains to cross the distance. You think you see the tip of her tongue poking out in concentration from between her teeth. Her index finger hooks the line and she pulls the rod into her, voicing a cute little “Ha!” of victory. In one fluid motion, she twists back around to face out to the ocean, and casts the line out to sea.
  58.  
  59. Amateurish is the first word to come to mind. She’s lucky she didn’t hook herself with the way she threw the line. Predictably, it doesn’t sail as far as it should, but sort of falters, and dips between the waters a few feet from her. She look happy about it, though, like she didn’t know it should have gone far deeper.  
  60.  
  61. Cute, but you don't really like the fact that she's just up and using your shit, wrongly at that, so you make your mind up to go speak to her. The horror of the last visit fades under the opportunity to show off before a woman, who clearly doesn’t know what she’s doing. That and you’d like your stuff back. She might just take off with it when she leaves for wherever she came from.
  62.  
  63. “Ah, I should probably tell her this place isn’t safe, too.” You mutter to yourself, as you slip your boots off, and shrug your jacket. Today is far warmer than the last time you were here, and hopefully that’s true of the water, too. You look at her thin, delicate back ,as you approach and you see yourself upon that rock. You didn’t realise how vulnerable you were, complacent in your solitude. You’re barely a few meters in, this time finding the sandbank exactly where you expect it to be, when you hear her start to sing. It's beautiful, if a little sad. And, oddly enough it reminds you of the haunting lament on the mist last night. Can't be, though, right? A thought crosses your mind, and you glance out across the open beach, looking for shadows. There’s a massive one a hundred meters away, but it looks to be a collection of seaweed. It’s just you and her, and the song. The last seemed to scare you away this seems to be luring you in. A healthy element of fear slips in, and you don’t approach her as easily as you would have, steeling yourself for surprises.
  64.  
  65. You'd already taken another five steps without realising it, a pull as sure as the tide itself. The readiness you prepared falters, any misgivings or suspicion you held towards this beautiful creature sloughs off of you, leaving you feeling flushed and excited. Creature? You try and think back to what prompted that word, but the further into your own mind you delve, the deeper you sink into what feels like a light pinkish miasma of bewilderment and lust. You plough forwards through the waves, towards the girl. You fix to your face a wry grin, and when you're within acceptable speaking distance, you let your presence be known to the singing girl.  You're now close enough to see most of her, except for her lower legs, which are hidden behind a small outcrop.
  66.  
  67. “Uh, hey, miss?” you begin, she hasn't turned to face you yet, so your eyes naturally begin to wander over her form. Tight, yet malnourished. Her breasts are large and luscious, yet they hang on an almost gaunt frame, ribs pushing out against her chest Your eyes follow the line of her curves, still considerable despite the way her hip bone shows partly through, down from the hips and along her “...tail?” She lets out an “Eep!” and dives into the water. “Hey, wait!” You call out, and reach an arm after her, scrambling onto the rock. Her head pops out from the water 'till she's submerged up to the chin, hands gripping the raised rock before her, hiding her mouth like a child would draw a blanket in a storm. You reach the tallest part of the rock and look down at her. The waters are slightly murky, but you can still make out the shadow of her long, fish-like tail, pushing at the water, keeping her steady. It’s a familiar shadow.
  68.  
  69. “What are you doing here?” she commands of you, sharply.
  70.  
  71. “S-sorry I didn’t mean to startle you I just wanted to tell you that it wasn’t safe to fish here. But… I guess I don’t need to tell you that, do I?” It’s funny, what a pretty face can get you. You find yourself at a calm ease looking down at her beautiful features, and it’s like the panic of the last night was something small. Insignificant. Like this girl had simply hid behind a chair, popped up and said ‘boo.’
  72.  
  73. You eye her, suspicion ensorcelled away from your mind, driven by curiosity and wonder. Hair that you once thought was black is actually a deep green, the pallor of her skin now very apparent to you. She has three vertical slits either side of her neck. Gills, you assume, that complement her delicate looking collar bones. Hair covers her breasts but you can still make out the fact that they're a rather appreciable size. Anticipating an 'eyes up here' statement, your gaze flashes back up to her face. It's as beautiful as her voice, if not more so. Enticingly dangerous looking too. You note rows of shark-like teeth, a cute button nose and slitted pupils. She has rather elfin ears, and you can't help but notice that she's eyeing your throat as you move it in an attempt to formulate words. As your brain is making all these clever and observant deductions, your mouth just runs with it before you even realise it.
  74.  
  75. “What am I?”
  76.  
  77. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so blunt. Are you a mermaid of sorts? You look a little different from any other I’d seen. And I’ve never seen them here. Or in any waters nearby, in fact. Isn’t it too cold?”’
  78.  
  79. She averts her eyes and holds her arms to herself, “Yeah. A little.” Her gaze drifts up to meet your own. She shews the inside of her lip, and swallows back a mouthful of saliva, before parroting your words. “Mermaid? Of sorts. Why are you here?”
  80.  
  81. You shift, and swing your legs over, so that you’re sitting, rather than holding yourself up. “I forgot my rod.”
  82.  
  83. “If the look on your face was any measure I scared you away from here rather well last night. Is a rod really worth coming back?” You consider the shadow in the water you saw.
  84.  
  85. “So, I was right. What purpose does scaring me away serve?” She looks down and away.
  86.  
  87. “Reasons. That's not the point,” She pulls herself up on the rock and comes face to face with you, and angry frustration in her eyes, and a darker hunger hidden beneath, “Why are you back? The song I sung should have left an impression on you, subconsciously at least. You shouldn’t have wanted to come back even if your life depended on it.” That leaves you scratching the back of your head.
  88.  
  89. You shrug, “Maybe you’re not so good as you thought you were.”
  90.  
  91. She looks at you, to the rod, and back to you. She holds it out, “Here. Take it and g-” her stomach gurgles. You quirk your eyebrow at that.
  92.  
  93. “Are you hungry? Maybe that’s why your magic was weaker?”
  94.  
  95. “What? N-no,” she flusters, a blush spreading across her face, “take it and get out of here.”
  96.  
  97. You reach for the rod. “What exactly do uh, mermaids ‘of sorts’ eat anyway?”
  98.  
  99. “Flesh.” Abrupt. She seems to realise this “Ah, like fish. And stuff. Anyway, you have your fishing rod back, so you can go now.” She turns away from you, and you miss her wrapping her arms around her stomach, as though she were trying to hold down hunger itself. You do muse, however, that maybe being hungry makes her grumpy, and you’d like to talk to her a little more. She interests you. Maybe she’ll help make this beach a little less lonely?
  100.  
  101. “If it’s fish, I caught a few some weeks back. I could bring it here and cook it up.” She sends ripples out as she twists in the water, and she clutches at the rock.
  102.  
  103. “Really?” She asks, turning back to you. Something flashes in her eyes, and her manner shifts. “I-it’s been hard hunting lately.”
  104.  
  105. “Yeah, so it's been a while since you last ate, right?” She nods at you silently, lips pursed, but you can tell she’s only half listening now. She must be starving. Again, eyes locked around your shoulder.
  106.  
  107. “O-okay then,” you smile at her “I'll go grab some, I'll be back soon as I can.”
  108.  
  109. She gives a soft moan, the kind a hungry man makes when he's told to expect a delicious steak. “I'll wait here for my meal then.” She leers at you, a lopsided thing which speaks volumes.
  110.  
  111. You grin back and turn to leave. As you do so, a thought occurs to you. Did she mean you? A little tension creeps into your shoulders. It eases the further away you get from her and by the time you're on the shore, you look back at her and wave a temporary goodbye. She’s atop the rock now, and her hair has fallen from her breasts. You stumble as your gaze is stolen by them, and you almost her wave goodbye.
  112.  
  113. You step into your home and don't bother taking your boots off. As you make a beeline towards your icebox it occurs to you that you're going out of your way to give a meal to a girl you barely just met. Meh, you don't eat much and she's cute. She doesn't seem uncomfortable with looking you in the eye either and it’s the most human, uh, non-human contact you've had in a while. Now that you think about it, it could be that you're still under the effects of her song. Oh well. You head to your draws and pull out a leather satchel. You grab two decent sized mackerel from the icebox and place both within the bag, and fold the bag over itself. You shut the door behind you, and set off. The fish should partly thaw on the way back, hopefully.  
  114.  
  115. The sun is shining high in the sky and a after a quick, squinted glance to where it sits, you read it to be around an hour past midday. As you walk back, bag of thawing fish jostling off of your leg stiffly with each step, images of walking the same path, at the same time, musing about mermaids brings you back to yesterday. As you make it to the beach, you shake loose your stiff shoulder, causing the bag you're holding to shake and bounce. You look out to the rock, blinking out the sea spray, and frown.
  116.  
  117. Looks pretty bare. Maybe she left? Nope. You see her head bopping around just behind the rock. It's waving side to side like she's singing a melody to herself. You can almost imagine her kicking her legs to the rhythm. If she had them. Your boots sink slightly into the sand as you walk, small droplets of ocean bead on your forearms and the wind blows at your hair. You suppose she could swing her tail. You reach a nice dry spot on the beach, and unbuckle your boots. Kicking them off, you nestle them under a small outcropping of rock, the lip just far enough off the ground to admit the height of your boots.
  118.  
  119. You stand with your back to the ocean, and wiggle your toes in the sand. You hike up the bag from where you dropped it in the sand, and begin walking out towards the rock. The sand grows firmer underfoot as you walk and before long it's slipping out from your feet as you walk forwards, like sheets of graphite. You remember sprinting around on this stuff as a kid and falling all over the place, racing against friends and playing games. Must suck not having legs. The cool water laps at your toes as you step into the waves. You cast a glance out to the rock and notice that you can't see her head any more. A small outcropping of rock must have risen, obscuring her from your view.
  120.  
  121. You continue walking, and the sandbank you're on dips further into the sea, till you're trudging through water at knee-height; the deepest the  narrow sandbank goes. As you walk, you lose yourself in the comforting roar of the ocean, the cool water which swirls around your pumping legs. You fail to notice the shadow in the water ghosting you.        
  122.  
  123. The closer you get to the rock, the more it reveals itself to you. Is only rises out of the water by a meter or so, so now that you stand before it you can see enough to know that she is no longer sitting on the other side of it. You pull one leg out of the water and place it on the face of the outcropping. You lean forwards till your knee is brought up to your chest, and reach for a part of the rock which acts as a sort of handle. You pull yourself up the rock and you push off it with your foot. Your waterlogged pants pull at the waist but your belt holds them in place firmly.
  124.  
  125. Standing atop the rock and scanning the water, you can quite clearly see that she is no longer here. The now thawed fish sits in its bag dejectedly, as your arm hangs limp from the shoulder. Pessimistically you assess the situation, your smile and optimism, gone.
  126.  
  127. She bailed on you. The first ‘sort of’ human ‘of sorts’ you'd spoken to in days, the first girl in weeks and the first really cute one you'd spoken to in months. You slump your shoulders and sigh, long and deep, looking up into the barren sky. With your head up you fail to notice the shadow slip op onto the rock behind you. There’s a blunt pain in your head before it goes dark. Unconscious now, you fall forward into the sea, splitting your head open on the rock as you tumble.
  128.  
  129. She looms above your sinking unconscious form, watching the stream of blood disappear into the water. She bends down to pick up the bag of fish. Pulling one out, she shears into it with her razor sharp teeth, devouring it, stripping flesh from bone. It doesn’t even take a full moment before she’s finished the next, a chunk of white flesh on her chin. Absently, she wipes at it, and sucks the juices off her finger.
  130.  
  131.  “Now then, time for that meal you promised me.” She leaps into her water, pushing off her tail, and dives into the depths, despite your form having already faded form the surface. She comes across you quickly, your head slumped down, chin pressed against your chest, closing your airway. She hooks an arm around you, and pulls the two of you to the surface. A little water dribbles from your mouth and nose, but you start breathing normally as she drags you through the ocean. Were you able to, you'd lament leaving your boots behind on the beach.
  132.  
  133. You come to, feeling rather groggy. The light is dim and your eyes have trouble adjusting to the low levels. Slowly, the endless, swirling expanse before you solidifies, and you realise that you're lying flat, staring up at the roof of some kind of cave. You yawn and make to wipe the sleepiness from your face when you realise that your arm isn't responding. There’s a jangling in your ears and you strain again and it's not until the third try that you realise some one's chained you up to a thick pillar. The bed is both soft and hard at the same time, like someone draped a blanket over a rock. Which would also explain the soft sensation on your bare back. It doesn't explain why you're missing your shirt though. Pants are still on. That could be good or bad, depending.
  134.  
  135. It seems that this cave is ancient, and over the millenniums stalagmite joined itself to stalactite. Then someone draped a set of handcuffs around them and locked you into the other end. Someone. Well, the only person you'd spoken to in days would be that mermaid. The roar of the ocean reaches your ears, softened and echoing. You can't be too far from the ocean. In fact, it wouldn't surprise you if the cave opened up into it. Sighing, you try to pull yourself up into a sitting position, but the chain linking cuff to cuff isn't quite long enough, so you're forced to sit with your back up to the thin stone pillar. Not the most comfortable, but now you can see your surroundings.
  136.  
  137. The cave is roughly the size of a cottage, you would guess it to be 20 meters by 20 meters, roughly. The sort of den your ancestors would have huddled in. and you were right, the entrance to the cave has water pooled around it, gently lapping. You figure that the mouth at high tide, at least, is completely submerged. Meaning that whoever brought you here had to swim through the mouth to get here. It’s becoming more likely that your new friend is the one who abducted you. Looking around, you see a few holes in the roof to the outside world. Moon beams shine down through them, and bathe the stony floor in light. Your bed is off to the left of the room, and it faces the exit. Well that's just cruel and unusual. Thoughts of being locked up in here for years, salivating at the tantalising freedom before you brings a morose atmosphere down upon you.
  138.  
  139. Hopefully you're not here for long. This seems to be some one’s home, and it’s only a matter of time until she returns to, well, you're not too sure what mermaids ‘of sorts’ do. The oldest tales speak of drowning sailors, and since you're neither drowned nor remotely even wet, for that matter, it seems like you're left in the dark here. Besides any mermaid will tell you that those are just lies. There's a small fire-pit to your right; the centre of the room, though its burning so low you didn't even notice it for its illumination or for its warmth. Shivers are starting to set in as you sit upon the cold stone, and you consider how you might wrap the blanket around you, with your hands chained behind your back. Just as you begin trying to catch your foot on the edge of the blanket, you notice a disturbance in the pool by the entrance.
  140.  
  141. Moments later, the mermaid bursts forth, with a rather large fish lodged in her maw. It reminds you of a seal catching fish, but you resolve to never tell her that. She over shoots, and slams into the floor, hard. The impact dislodges the fish from her mouth, and winds her forcing a gasp, but she dives for the fish anyway, before it becomes sullied upon the floor. It gets juggled on her fingertips and flipped a few times before she grabs a sturdy purchase on the wet, slimy thing, and clutches it to her chest, with a grin of triumph “Ha haa~”
  142.  
  143. “Hunting must be hard, right?”
  144.  
  145. “Ah!” She exclaims, and twists to you, realising that you caught her blunder, and colours a deep red. She flicks her deep green hair in a harrumph, and spots the low fire. “Shit, I didn’t realise how long it took, you must be freezing, right?”
  146.  
  147. You shrug, making the chain jiggle “Not the first time.” She wiggles over towards the wood, like a lamia but with movement much less easy. She tosses the fish to you, and it lands at your lap with a thud, eliciting a grunt. The thing was not only big, but stocky too. “Where'd you get this one from?”
  148.  
  149. “I had to go deeper to find fish that couldn’t just sense me. Even still, it took too long.” She says, prodding the fire she'd built up again. She makes her way over to you, and takes the fish from your lap. She sets in on what looks like a cast iron pot and hangs the pot over the fire with the aid of a stand. You both stare into the fire and it isn't ling before the fish starts to sizzle. After a few minutes of silence, watching the fish cook, you shift to try and bring some blood flow back into your arms and speak up, softly.
  150.  
  151. “What are you going to do with me?” She is silent for a minute before she answers.
  152.  
  153. “Eat you.” There’s that bluntness again. Your heart falls as you realise that this is where it ends. Alone in a cave with a monster. She catches the pale look on your face and laughs, “Not whole. Just bits and pieces.”
  154.  
  155. You wince. Well. It was a good life. You give the chains another tug, to no avail. “You can kill me first, right?”
  156.  
  157. She grimaces and turns away. “I’m not going to kill you.” Her tone is firm, final.
  158.  
  159. Fright makes you bite back in spite “You know that eating people usually kills them, right?”
  160.  
  161. She sighs, and turns to you, looking at you with level eyes. “Do you know what a Rusalka is?”
  162.  
  163. You shake your head as you look at her.
  164.  
  165. She starts to talk, looking you in the eyes, not averting her gaze a single time, as if this were her confession to you. You find yourself hooked on every word. “A sort of water nymph, or spirit. I died at some point, a long time ago, but my life is still a bit hazy. But like all my kind, I died violently in the water, and that twisted me into a form of vengeful spirit. I lived for a while with my sisters. Back then we had two legs. We would dance and sing and call to us with song, young men. We would seduce them and drag them down to the depths with us. There we'd take our vengeance on the living and devour them like sharks in a frenzy. Then one day it all ended. Pain twisted my body, deformed my lower-half into a fish’s tail, those of my sisters, too. Whatever it was, it killed our vengeful bloodlust, robbed us of our ability to walk on land, but it failed to kill the hunger. My sisters and I drifted apart after that.
  166.  
  167. I suppose you don’t care though. What that means to you is my blood heals. I could eat you ‘till you die of old age.” She laughs scornfully, and clenches her fist hard enough to make her knuckles go white. “Poor you, right?”
  168.  
  169. This sinks in for a moment. Possible escapes play out in your mind. The chain is too thick for you to be able to melt. Too strong to blast to pieces with wind. You mutter the first thing to come to mind. “Most expensive rod I ever bought.” She looks at you, surprised, before her pretty face splits into mirth. She laughs a while, rich, and pealing, like chimes ringing under the waves.
  170.  
  171. “Yes, it was.” Her smile slips into a frown as she pick at a scale on her tail, “Well, you’ll never meet a rusalka cruel enough to actually do that. I’ll only keep you for a bit. Eat my fill and move on.”
  172.  
  173. The two of you don't speak for a while until she announces the fish to be ready. She takes it out of the pan, seemingly oblivious to the heat and bites its head off. She crunches on it for a few minutes before she grabs it by the neck and tears the fish in half, lengthways. She scrapes the two halves clean and eats her half, spine scales and all. She makes her way towards you, fish in hand and your heart freezes, but you can’t move, constricted as you are. She pulls herself into your lap, not as heavy as you thought she would be, and your heart pounds so hard you’re sure she can hear it. You eyes widen involuntarily, as her fingers dig into the fish.
  174.  
  175. She tears loose a portion of the tender flesh with her hands and moves to bring the juicy morsel to your mouth but you flinch to the side and look down and away. You don’t see the pained look that comes across her face. Her voice comes out hard, cold. “Open.” You open. She places the morsel in your mouth, her fingers brushing your lip. This is the closest you’ve ever been to a woman and your body knows it. You’re drawn to her soft lips, and your body doesn’t care that they hide sharp teeth to shear your flesh from bone. You hearing is absorbed in her soft, quiet breaths. She smells sweet.  
  176.  
  177. Hot, oily fish dissolved in your mouth, it's delicious and a part of you hopes that it's not only the fish you taste. You spectate a losing battle between your mortal fear, and the allure of the beautiful woman feeding you. She continues to feed you this way until all that's left of the fish is skin and scales. It's not the most filling of meals that you've ever had, but it combined with the now raging fire brings some warmth back into your body. She downs the scales and the skin, crunching on them with her teeth.
  178.  
  179. You watch her quietly, not trusting yourself to speak. She finishes, and looks to the wound on your forehead, already protected by a thin, hard film of dried blood. She leans into you, bare breasts up against your own chest. She's not as slimy as you thought she'd be, but she is rather cold. Almost clammy, but not quite. She smells like ocean spray. Smooth like marble, you feel powerful muscles just under the skin, muscles used to surge through the tides, the hard bones just beneath her skin that speak of hunger. She puts a thumb to your wound and frowns in an oddly motherly concern, before directing her eyes to yours.
  180.  
  181. “You'll be my first, you know.”
  182.  
  183. “First?”
  184.  
  185. Her tail wiggles nervously, “First since... this,” her it slaps against your calf for emphasis. “It’s been so long, but I’m at my limit, and… I don’t want to hurt you, but… I’m so hungry.” She looks to you, “I’m… sorry.”
  186.  
  187. “No, I… I get it. You’ll heal me right? I,” You swallow hard, and she hands on your every word, “I guess it’s not like I actually lose anything. I might be okay with it. Probably.”
  188.  
  189. She turns her head away, her voice wavering “You don’t have to do that. Scream, and hate me if it makes it easier. I’ll leave soon. But…” she bites her lip and you see her eyes begin to swim, tears glinting in the light cast off the flames, “…Sorry.”
  190.  
  191. She takes a deep shaky breath and lowers her lips down by the base of your neck, and you feel her whole existence sigh. Her lips come to your throat and her teeth press against the skin, but she doesn’t bit. Pushing away, her eyes come level with yours and you see the tears streaming down, “I’ve never done this before. H-how do I just eat some one? Before it was so different, it was just… but now it’s… I hate it. Why do I have to hurt people? I don’t want to do it anymore… But I’m so hungry.” She’s on the verge of breaking down, and your own soft heart lurches as seeing such a beautiful girl cry so sadly.
  192.  
  193. You swallow, this isn’t something you ever wanted to see. You want to help. You’re so close, and you can help. It’s just a little pain. You were bit by a dog once. It hurt, but it wasn’t that bad, right. Just a little pain. It’s nothing compared to hers. Such bitter self-hatred. Your voice comes out soft, as you say the first thing to come to mind.
  194.  
  195. “How about we start with a kiss?”
  196.  
  197. Her eyes go wide as she freezes, motionless bar the cold tears sliding down her cheeks and falling onto your chest. “Y-you want to…k-kiss? Me?”
  198.  
  199. You blush a little, “W-well… it’s a start, right?”
  200.  
  201. She leans in, so close your noses touch. “Are you… sure?”
  202.  
  203. “No.”
  204.  
  205. “…Me neither.” You gasp through your nose as she seals your lips with her own. She’s soft. You realise this, intimately. Her chest is soft, her stomach, soft, even if her ribs dig into you. Her hair, slightly damp. Soft. You go to embrace her, but the chains stop you. She notices, and barely hesitates before she scythes through the metal with her claw-like nails. Now is your opportunity. You could run. You could push her away. You wrap your arms around her, and hold her close, and she moans as she melts in your arms, the closeness and acceptance that you both craved, fulfilled in a single, divine moment. The kiss tastes sweet, and you know you’ll never taste anything sweeter.
  206.  
  207. After a long moment, she breaks the kiss, hunger barely restrained in her voice. “W-what now?”
  208.  
  209. Your own breath comes raggedly, “Kiss me again. B-but this time, try… biting my lip? Maybe once you taste blood you won’t think about it, and just kind of… do it, I guess.”
  210.  
  211. “I-I’ll try.” Her lips hover just before yours, “I'm sorry,” she whispers. She puts her forehead to yours, her damp hair draping about you both, an intimate curtain. “And… thankyou. I promise I’ll look after you.” She kisses you again, slowly, hesitatingly. She bites your lip gently, but it's more than enough to shear open a deep cut. You hiss into her as the taste of blood floods your mouth and she begins to kiss you in earnest, her long tongue entwining with yours, and exploring your mouth. More than twice do you feel it dip through the open wound in your mouth. She withdraws; the tears washed away, a droplet of blood drips from the side of her mouth, her eyes awash with a primal need. You don't know why. But you know she needs you. You know she is on the brink of something, and you feel that somehow you're able to bring her back. You don’t know why, but you want to. You want to do it for her.
  212.  
  213. And maybe... maybe this was what you were waiting for too? You should be kicking, screaming, fighting for your very life before this beautiful demon tears you asunder, but you don't. You dip your head in for a quick peck on her lips, and nod. Perhaps you were lonely. Maybe a tiny part of you was so desperate that you needed someone who physically could not cope without you? Perhaps you just wanted your dick wet?
  214.  
  215. As though that opened a floodgate, you see the same shift in her nature that urged her to attack and take you. Her arms tighten around your back, nails digging in and carving bloody trenches in the flesh, her tail twists about your leg and she surges forth, and that primal nature, it thanks you, the only way it knows how. With an open maw, razor sharp teeth tearing into your shoulder. Nerves alight with flame in your brain, and you scream, muscles and tendons straining against her back as she rends to shreds the flesh, teeth sinking in, holding you in place like the talons of an eagle before she plunges in with her beak. You scream again and crush her to your chest as fibres sunder and nerve-bundles fray as her impossibly sharp teeth dig inches deep and lock. You feel her tears mix with the blood dripping down your chest as you cries carve into her psyche.
  216.  
  217. In between colliding tsunamis of hot white and red, you feebly imagine this to be how a beartrap feels, sharp fangs embedded in your flesh, clamping in place exerting pounds of pressure. In your delirium, your brain attempts to deal with the information through association. Flashes of relevance burn through your mind, the time you were twelve and had your forearm shatter under the jaws of a starving, stray wolf. The time you were six and nearly had your windpipe crushed under your own weight as you tried to slip through a gap in your old neighbour's fence and lost your footing. The time you were fifteen and collapsed under the weight of a felled tree which swept you away in a flash flood as you were camping.
  218.  
  219. The picture real slows as your abused nerves still, frozen in shock. That or your brain simply began to reject further stimulus, electing to bring you back into the now, ancient defence mechanisms trying to wrench your body from the source of the pain. Your torso convulses and bucks, trying to shake off your predator, yet your arms cling to the woman tightly, only managing to jostle its head and slice up your flesh even further. Buried to the nose in your shoulder, she gives you a second to brace yourself, using the time to nuzzle into your wound. You're aware of her two pert nipples becoming hard, a wave of motion surges up your leg as her tail constricts and she begins to grind on you, her aroused pussy rubbing its slickness across your thigh. And then she pulls herself up and back. The steady leak becomes a torrent as blood spurts forth.
  220.  
  221. When you wax, you do it fast. It's a quick swipe and an instant of pain. This wasn't it. Slow. Tortuously slow, her teeth clamp further down and pull at the flesh, so deep her bottom line of teeth carve gashes into your collarbone. The cave reverberates with your screams and the wet sound of tearing flesh. Blood washes down your chest and makes you slick with it as she pulls, and pulls. Sinew tears from the chunk in her maw as she retreats, you feel it being torn from within you until, like an elastic band, it reaches its limit, and snaps back into your gaping wound, eliciting another scream, another wave of pain as the last few sinewy, tenuous links joining flesh to body separate with a sickening smack. She leans back, hands tracing from your back to her own flesh. One snakes its way down to her pussy, two thrusting fingers plunge their way into her delta as she gyrates atop you, the other cupping one of her generous breasts, pinching and pulling at the nipple. Her eyes are glazed over. Vacant. She isn’t herself.
  222.  
  223. You’re laying with a beast. It doesn’t talk, just expresses itself in raw, primal passion. She swallows her giant mouthful of you as blood spills from between her lips. Dimly, you track its progress as it distends her throat, you can almost hear it drop into her gullet. Blood, sweat and the remnants of tears cascade off her as her body seizes up. She rams her fingers in once more before girl-cum torrents over your leg, washing a clear swathe through the blood.
  224.  
  225. Breathing heavy she slinks her body back down atop you, long tongue lancing out and tracing the line of your jaw. Your mouth hangs open, limp, gasping raggedly for breath, and frantically, she locks her lips around yours, her tongue diving deep down to the back of your throat as she kisses you, the taste of gore stimulate your gag reflex, the walls of your throat constrict tight around her fleshy tongue. She retracts it, licks your nose and dives in for a second mouthful, arms slipping around your waist and crossing over on your back, fingers finding the gashes she left in you last time, and digging deeper. The pain causes you to curl your back, straining to get away from her fingertips. This pulls your shoulders against the rock pillar, frayed and torn muscles and blood vessels protruding out, straining muscles becoming more pronounced. She uses this and clamps down once again, deeper than ever before, using the gaping hole to grab leverage on the flesh just below the shoulder and just above the breast. The grinding continues amidst the sloppy mess of blood and sweat as her face is utterly buried in your exposed anatomy.
  226.  
  227. Your ribs become bare as her orgasmic laughter vibrates and bubbles out from your shoulder as she prepares to tear loose another chunk. And another. She’s so deep that you can see your own heart beat now, and you feel something pull from deep within you, and then you feel something rupture as she cleaves her way through a major artery. Blood spurts weakly out from your chest, the shock and blood-loss starting to get to you.
  228.  
  229. Your lungs rattle, and you nearly drown in blood as you gasp out the word, “St…op…”
  230.  
  231. The beast that took her looks down at you, and vanishes within her. She comes back to herself, and freezes, looking at your chest and ravaged shoulder in sheer horror. She opens her mouth to scream but a strangled gasp is all that comes out. Her hand covers her mouth, and she barely manages to whisper “Why,” before she’s lurching across you, and vomiting onto the floor. Blood and flesh splatter across the floor as she empties her stomach, her face so messy it’s almost like she weeps crimson. Her hair is stained in gore, and the last of it splatters on the stone floor. She looks at the wasted meal, and sobs in anguish.
  232.  
  233. She turns back and cradles your head, and you haven’t the strength, to do anything but look vaguely in her direction and smile. Your chest convulses as you cough up blood, your body trying to stop itself from drowning. You’re dying. That’s a real shame, you know that? Didn’t even get to have sex.
  234.  
  235. She takes her wrist into her mouth, and tears a chunk out of it with her teeth. Blood splatters from the wound, directly into your chest, and you feel a soothing warmth as the pain fades, leaving just the wet warmth of lifeblood. It seeps deep into your severed arteries and veins and vessels and begins repairing them. Growth accelerates wherever the blood touches, and she bathes you in it. You feel your consciousness fading as the warmth seeps into your shoulder and then into your mind.
  236.  
  237. It's a fitful sleep. You half-wake at some point, to find her laying by your side, face buried into the curve between shoulder and neck, sobbing apologies all the while. You manage to lay a hand on her tear-stained cheek before she shushes you back into oblivion.
  238.  
  239. You finally come to, what seems like an eternity later. She's laying across your chest, the red-tinged and tender flesh the only evidence of the horror you just shouldered. One of your arms draped across the girl now sleeping aside you, the other resting on your lower abdomen, that's not exactly to say that you're now free, however. Her arms encircle your chest in a way that, were you not laying flat on your back, would make you the little spoon. You give a slight wiggle and she stirs in her sleep, hugging you closer and worming her way further into your side, confirming your suspicion that you can't slip your way out without fully waking her. Curiously, however you don't really feel any urge to. Laying here on the obviously fresh blanket upon the rock-bed, you feel strangely at ease.
  240.  
  241. A soft breeze rolls in through the cave, in sync with the ebb and flow of your cannibalistic lover’s quiet breathing. Lover. You roll that word around in your head, tasting it. It tastes a little sweet, but it mostly carries the dubious flavour of wild fruits, of which you are uncertain as to whether or not they are toxic. To belabour the metaphor, it's not 'till you commit to digesting that you know for certain whether or not eating so much was a brilliant idea. Lover. You guess that's what she is. How many couples could say they did what you just did. Is there even a base for 'tied up and eaten'? None the less, the though still leaves you feel buoyant.
  242.  
  243. You lay there for a few more minutes, thinking about your situation, softly patting the head of your murmaiderer. And it occurs to you that you left your house unlocked and various valuables laying out in the open. You consider going back home, but for some reason you feel more at home here then you ever did alone in your small house. It feels comfortable and your mermaid probably can't spend all her time on land at your place. You just met, now you’re moving in with her? You look to where she threw up, only to see half the mess. You look back to her, messy with gore, blood stained chin.
  244.  
  245. She didn’t eat the off the floor, did she? Pitiful. You know exactly why your first thought was to live here. You’re not leaving her alone. You don’t want her to be alone anymore, nothing but her and the hunger within. She doesn’t deserve to eat off the floor.
  246.  
  247. Looking around though, the cave is pretty bare. And quiet, you wouldn't mind bringing a few pieces of civilisation. You think back to that old grandpas guitar of. You figure it's a waste not to bring it, if worst comes to worst you could use the wooden thing like a chair. You'd need to find some way to waterproof it if you were to take them with you though. Your belly rumbles as you spy your rod laid against the cave side.
  248.  
  249. You slowly slide your way out from under the girl. True to suspicion, she rouses, but you put her under again with some whispered words and a reassuring pat on the head. She pulls her arms in under herself and wriggles further into the blanket. Standing between the bed and the firepit, you take a moment to breathe deep and stretch. Rolling your shoulder as you do so, marvelling at the complete lack of pain that you should be feeling. You lightly step across the cave-floor, not wanting to disturb your company, and scoop up the mess on the floor. Making your way over towards the pool, you notice it's receded quite a bit. You toss your flesh into the water. Tide must be out, you muse to yourself as you slip under the water. You feel your way around and find a lip in the cave wall. Diving under it, you're met with a relatively wide tunnel that could take two mean shoulder to shoulder, and after a few seconds of kicking through it, you find that it opens up into the ocean. When you surface you're not even especially in need of breath, the whole ordeal taking fifteen seconds to complete.
  250.  
  251. You kick off from the cliff face which only looms a meter or two above you, and take note of your surroundings. The face of the wall is marred by tree-roots breaking through the clay, soil and rock, some looping through and back into the rock, as though sheets of the cliff has fallen off into the oceans, revealing the ageless veins. Back-pedalling in the waters you search to top of the wall for some kind of visible landmark. You spot an ancient, gnarled tree split into a “y” shape down the middle, roughly above where you surfaced not too long ago. Memorising the landmark, you swim further out to see, to get a grasp on exactly where you are. The waters are calm today, and you don't find yourself fighting the waves all that much, indeed, were you to lay on your back chances are you'd flip yourself right-side a few minutes later and find yourself in much the same position. About a kilometre and a half out from the cave and it's cliff face, you spot your rock. Is comes into view around the rounding shoreline and you count yourself lucky that the direction you started swimming in was the right one.
  252.  
  253. Still out in relatively open waters, you've a relatively clear view of both rock and gnarly 'Y' tree. Tracing the distance with your eyes, you gauge it to be around two kilometres from the beach you know to the hole in the cliff. As you tread water, considering the logistics of hauling some creature comforts into the cave, you spot a shadow drifting amidst the waves, alike, but different to the one sleeping in the cave. It reminds you of a jungle cat stalking its prey. You'd heard some time ago about rogue sharks plaguing these waters from time to time, but this would make the first time you've come into contact with one. If it is indeed some kind of shark. What are the odds of it not being a shark, right?
  254.  
  255. You consider for a second that maybe it's your new friend having a bit of fun at your expense, but then a giant shark-fin breaches the water's surface. Sharks don't really advertise themselves like that, preferring to strike from below. You spin in the waves to face it head on, figuring that you could punch it in its snout of something. You just tossed some meat into the ocean so odds are even it's either curious or hungry. The shadow dips under the waves, and you feel your breath catching in your throat in anticipation. Before any form of suspense can set in, however, the water erupts dramatically, with the figure of a shark bursting forth, close enough for the water to splash you considerably.
  256.  
  257. It has tits. Quite nice tits. Dusty cogs whirr in your head as you slowly piece together the fact that sharks don't actually have breasts, and by the time you've made this astounding deduction, the creature has already drifted closer to you.
  258.  
  259. She, and you feel kinda confident in claiming that it's a she, is coloured a delicious brown, with light scars running up and down her body creating a neat contrast to the shadows playing off her rippling abs. Her arms and shoulders, whilst well-toned, aren't as bulky as you would assume from a creature that, typically cannot stop swimming. Her purple eyes lock onto you, her expression similar to a bird of prey spying its first meal in days, jeering at you almost. Sandy white hair spills down her shoulders and waves about her in a cloud, buoyed on by the lapping waters. She opens her jaws, flashing teeth that send shivers down your spine and make your newly regenerated pectoral muscle twinge in some kind of cerebellic flashback. “You’re a bit far from land, aren’t you, boy? Or were you hoping to meet someone?” Her admittedly attractive face splits into a feral leer as her tongue slips out to lick at her giant, serrated incisors as she waits for your response.
  260.  
  261. You shrug as best you can when your arms are making large sweeping motions through the water. “Just floating around for now. You?” You answer honestly. She does thrusts her chest just a little farther up from out of the water, though, far enough so that you can see where her brown skin meets the dusky grey of her lower half, powerful tail creating currents within the ocean, the swirling waters revealing flashes of white along her underbelly before the water clouds over once more.
  262.  
  263. “Ah, I suppose I just smelled some food in the neighbourhood and decided to stop by for a bite.” She wades closer in, webbed hands training up her rippled body, smiling wider. In an attempt to be disarming, you assume, if rows of sharp teeth could be disarming. Speaking of, you notice a calm thumping return to your heartbeat, as if recognising this as a monstergirl and not your run of the mill shark is actually reassuring. She's getting close now, and yet you still feel content to just observe what she does. You suppose you've had enough being eaten alive for a while, besides, it's like being mauled by a wolf and coming across a poodle directly after. Or so you think.
  264.  
  265. She's less than a few feet from your face when she stops her advance. She sniffs the air, a look of confusion playing across her features for the briefest of moments. Abruptly, she glides up to you and takes another whiff, tongue sliding out as if to taste the air around you. Her tail smacks against your leg lightly a couple of times due to your close proximity but neither of you seem to care. She retreats a few inches and studies your face intently. You gaze back into her eyes for what feels like a long time, “And did you find any?” You speak up.
  266.  
  267. Her brows furrow and she wades her way back, “I think I'll keep looking,” the confidence of an apex predator now lost from her tone. She turns to swim away, the motion already carrying her a few feet from you. She looks back over her shoulder towards you, scanning the area. A look of concern? Your eyes lock one last time and for a fleeting moment you think you see something there. Was that... pity? You remain in the same spot for a moment, thinking over that odd encounter and what it might mean. She appeared to smell your latest “tryst” on you and that put her off somehow? You're not too sure what that last look was for either but in context, it can't be anything good. You swivel around to look back towards the area where the cave was, frowning, before you begin to kick back towards your beach, returning home, temporarily.
  268.  
  269. *       *       *       *
  270.  
  271. I lay on my side with my eyes closed as I wait for him to leave, my heart shattering, but ultimately it's infinitely preferable to inflicting more pain onto him. At the sound of a soft splash of water I sit up, holding myself up with my arms braced behind me. Looking around, I see he hasn’t even taken his rod with him. His shirt is still pooled on the ground, forgotten in his haste. Probably couldn't care enough to take them with him when he left.
  272.  
  273. “He sure said some nice words.” I look down at the red stain on the floor. Recalling myself eating flesh off the ground makes me want to throw up, and a mouthful of it comes up, but I swallow it back down. I don’t blame him, after I lost myself like that. I can feel it. A palpable bond within myself. It stretches thin as he leaves, but remains, wrenching at my heart. Will it be like this after every meal? Or was it just him, who held me so close? Complicated. Unnecessary. I don’t want it, I never wanted any of this. I raise a hand to my face and slowly draw it down lengthwise, the thin film between thumb and fore finger stretches against my nose.
  274.  
  275. Of course they'd leave if you don't keep them in place. Maybe this is for the best. I tried it. It didn’t work. Who would stay with me willingly, anyway? I sigh deeply. I’ll need to leave soon. How long until he returns, armed and accompanied. I pull the blanket around me and flick my tail off the side of the bed, and put my weight on it, wobbling slightly as I stretch, stifling a yawn or two. The idea physically repulses me now, but a tiny part of me years for the days where I'd dance on land, tear throats and be done with it. Simpler times.
  276.  
  277. I hadn't eaten at all since those days. I held out, avoided people, and tried to cope with the lust and hunger all alone once my sisters and I parted ways. I hobble over to the firepit and lay myself down before it, stoking the old flames. As I throw more dry drift-wood onto the flames I think back to last night, and I recall the kiss he gave me. Quick. Chaste. His words. Heat flushes my cheeks and I try to shake loose the thoughts, but they cling as surely as seaweed. Why? Lethargy sets in, equal mixes of satisfied predator and guilty conscience. Frolicking in the waves just doesn't seem right at the moment. I slide back over to the now roaring fire and lay before it, staring into the flames.
  278.  
  279. I realise as I lay still, that this is the least restless I've been in a long while. Maybe there's something to be said for allowing myself to feed every now and then. Still, a heavy worry settles in my heart as I think about him. What if the wound opens? He should be here, with me, so I can look after him. And it occurs to me, that I never marked him. Infact, I never even considered it. I scratch at my head, trying to muddle through the conflicting emotions. I didn't want him to leave nor did I want him to stay. No, rather, I didn't want him to stay at his own expense. I never gave him the mark, washing myself of him, nor did I keep him chained. I bury my face into the blanket. A mistake. It still smells like him. Us. I push my face further into the blanket, and hold it tight against myself. Wetness caresses my cheeks and soaks into the fabric. I squeeze my eyes shut to stem the flow, and let his warmth carry me away.
  280.  
  281. His scent cuts through my sleeping consciousness, rousing me. But there's a metallic tinge to it. And it's strong. There's no hunger, thought I thought there would be. Blood. Just a cool fist of fear lodged in my throat. Pushing myself up and out of the blanket I look to the pool to see a spreading  
  282. swathe of blood saturate the water. Mere moments later his head thrusts through the water, the forest of his lengthy black hair hanging limply to his form. The first thing I notice is how pale he looks. The second the deep gouge in his shoulder there the skin tore, exposing the still healing wound. A wry grin splits his face when he sees me and he tosses up a ball of something. “Mind giving me a hand for a moment?” he asks, gesturing the re-opened wound of his shoulder, the source of all the blood. I nod but I barely register what he says, two warring sentiments crusading throughout my mind. He's back. He's hurt. And a third comes unbidden. It's my fault.
  283.  
  284. *       *       *       *
  285.  
  286. You don't bother to shake the hair from your face as your eyes lay upon her form. Good. She's here. You weren't sure how much longer you'd last anyway. She's wrapped up in the blanket that you two shared and there are red rings about her eyes. You flash a tired grin for her convenience, and toss up the boots you'd collected from the beach and wrapped in a cloak of swirling wind.  “Mind giving me a hand for a moment?” She remains still for a moment and you to just stare at each other, you with an expectant expression on your face. Something clicks in her and all of a sudden she's a whirlwind of movement, rushing up towards you, surprising you a little. You step up out of the pool to meet her, weary legs collapsing just as she reaches you. She catches you and pulls you into a tight hug before listing you and moving over towards the bed. “H-he's back” you hear her mutter. You make a closer inspection of her red-ringed eyes and your brow furrows.
  287.  
  288. She lays you down and her hands all over you, looking for injuries asides from the obvious one on your shoulder. “Why are you back? I-I thought you left?”
  289.  
  290. “I want to live here. I want to look after you.”
  291.  
  292. “Look after me?” She frowns as she bites open her hand, and bleeds into your shoulder, “You should worry about yourself… why did you return.”
  293.  
  294. You look at her, a wry twist at the corner of your mouth, “You’re smiling, you know?”
  295.  
  296. “E-eh?” she brings a hand to her face, and feels the curl in her lips.
  297.  
  298. “Before that,” you continue “I've got a few things floating about outside, could you grab them for me and bring them in? Sustaining the magic is kinda taxing.” She nods and heads out, diving into the water and through the tunnel in one graceful movement. She returns a few moments later, two orbs of wind bundled in her arms. She lays them on the floor and you release the enchantment, revealing an ancient looking guitar and two more fish as the winds scatter. You breathe out a sigh of relief as she sashays over to you.
  299.  
  300. “So… why?” You grin ruefully at her as she lies down next to you, hand tracing over the tears in your skin, where the dermis sundered and barely-joined muscles tore. You wince a little at her ministrations, but settle back none the less.
  301.  
  302. “Well, I woke up, and looked around and noticed how thread-bare this place was. And well... I-I like you. And I would like to spend more time with you.” The two of you maintain eye contact as you talk. You see a blush slowly spreading through her cheeks, but otherwise, no change to her worried visage. “A-and well,” You hiss through your teeth as she begins to dip her hand into your shoulder, spreading her blood throughout your own. “You clearly can't come see me, so I figured I'd just bring some things with me to come see you. Did... did I jump the gun?” You nervously watch for her reaction as she tends to your wound. She pulls her bloody hand away from your shoulder, and licks it clean before cupping your cheek. She leans down and lays a kiss upon you.
  303.  
  304. “No. I think the same. Besides, I can’t look after my lover if he isn’t here.” She said it. She smiles down at you, and you avert your gaze out of embarrassment, your heart fluttering and skipping beats.
  305.  
  306. “I just... I mean I'm not over the moon at the whole eating thing, but...” you struggle with what you want to say, all too aware that the two of you barely know each other, every second word reeking of boldness. “I like being around you and it's just that, going back to my lonely old place, knowing that there was some one here for me just wouldn't sit right. It's not like you can come see me, right? And besides, y-you'll...” you trail off, your voice going soft, “you'll get hungry again, won't you? I want to be here for you. A-And…”
  307.  
  308. “And?”
  309.  
  310. “I don’t ever want you to have to eat off the ground again, either.”
  311.  
  312. “Y-you saw that huh…”
  313.  
  314. “No, but I saw you vomit, and I saw only half of it this morning. I just mean, eating off the ground, starving yourself, you deserve better than that.”
  315.  
  316. The smile tugging at her lips sobers a little at the thought and she leans down to lay at your side, hands idly tracing over your chest. “Thank you.” Hastily, she adds, “But I promise to look after you in between, cook for you, clean. Love.” Her journeying fingers begin to trace lower, nails trailing faint red lines, reminding you of the deep gouges that can furrow. They fail entirely to distract you from the very real understanding that you're offering yourself up as prime long-shank of the rarest variety. It'll take a little adjusting, you figure.
  317.  
  318. You're pulled back into the moment by her hand down your pants. You gasp, “Y-you don’t have to push yourself if you don’t want to you know.”
  319.  
  320. “You don’t want me to?”
  321.  
  322. “I do but, but only if you want to.”
  323.  
  324. She fondles you for a moment, watching you intently before realising that you’ve mostly failed to react, dick barely twitching. She withdraws her hand regretfully, “It hurts still, doesn't it?” She gestures again to your shoulder. Dejectedly, she adds “It's okay if you can't see me that way yet, you’re right. No need to push ourselves.” She moves to pull away from you, to let you rest.
  325.  
  326. “No, it’s not that.” You catch her before she can leave, pulling her in closer. “I mean, it’s just that, pain and arousal they are both sort of exclusive of the other, you know?”
  327.  
  328. She puffs a laugh out from her nose “I guess.”
  329.  
  330. You lean in to kiss her lips and she gives off a soft moan as her tongue coils around yours. You take her delicate wrist in hand and slide her fingers down lower. Dainty hands glide over your abdomen as they descend towards your belt. You both work it, one holding still the buckle, the other pulling the thin leather through the loop. The belt comes free and you work your pants down, shuffling and rubbing up against the rough blankets. Your member now sits free, bobbing slightly with the quickening thrums of your heartbeat, growing harder and larger as your lover stares at it.
  331.  
  332. “Been a while?” You ask pointlessly, staring into her eyes, as she looks at your prick hungrily. Not that sort of hunger. You hope. She gulps and nods, leaning closer towards it. She reaches a hand out and hesitantly wraps it about your girth. She gives it a few pumps, her grip not too tight but not too loose either. A few beads of pre form at the tip and they wobble with the soft motion of her hands, to lose their purchase and slide down the base of your dick, slipping between her fingers easily, making her hand slick, easing the friction. Creating a light smacking sound as she brings her hand into your groin, gliding it down the length of your rock-hard cock. You struggle to speak up, words caught in the back of your throat. Blocked by the heart that feels as though it's pumping a lot further up that anatomically possible. “It's been a while for me too...” She doesn't really respond, focused on her task. You swallow your pride and nervousness, “About nineteen years, actually.” That caught her attention.
  333.  
  334. You wince as she looks at you incredulously, “But you live out of that human town, how have you not been...” She colours slightly, and fidgets, breaking the stride in the rhythm that she'd formed “You know...” she pumps a little harder for emphasis.
  335.  
  336. “Raped?” You offer, “Um… Luck, I suppose.” You yourself begin to fidget under the intensity of her gaze “Not living in the town, too. I mean it’s not like I was saving myself or anything, I was just… you know. Not interested in just any stray in heat. That’s weird, right? It just never felt as… natural as it does now.”
  337.  
  338. Silence… “You want me to be your first?” Ah shit, now you're getting flustered. You go to look away, but she puts a hand to your cheek. Not particularly forceful, but your gaze it rooted to hers none the less
  339.  
  340. You try to play it off with a bit of humour, “Be gentle with me?” You're rewarded with her smile, her visage slowly twisting to something more lascivious.  
  341.  
  342. “I'll be gentle,” She says, flashing you her teeth as she leans in. But it's not teeth or pain which floods your mind as you sit there with your eyelids jammed shut. A warm wet sensation snakes its way around your dick. You peek out through one eye to see her grinning at you, teeth flashing in the firelight as her long tongue wraps around you. It reaches the base and her head descends down your dick, squeezing and writhing about you in a pulsating rhythm. Her lips close around your cock fully, wrapping over her wondrously long tongue.
  343.  
  344. She begins to bob up and down slowly, completely devoid of any teeth scrapage. For each stroke up, her tongue pumps down, providing you with a myriad of sensations, each one sending sparks into your mind, making your core tingle. Wet slurps resound around the cave with the odd lewd smack as she hilts you deep within her. Again and again. Pre begins to flow freely, lubing up the roof of her mouth and the back of her throat, it feels as though its being wrung out, constricted by the flesh wrapped about your dick. You zone out, torn between staring into her soulful eyes and watching the bulge in her gullet travel back and forth, you become aware of a tell-tale clenching in your gut.
  345.  
  346. Not wanting to give in to the thrusting waves of pleasure, not wanting to end the nirvana, you begin to think on the arcana you know, simple mundane mind exercises to calm yourself, your learnings now stained in a pink hue of lewdness as you desperately try to distance yourself from the sensationsas the crash and course to meet you. She seems to key into your dilemma and you feel her tongue working faster and harder, as her pace quickens. You're about to give in then and there, to throw your composure aside when you feel a sharp prick at the base of your shaft. You let out a sharp gasp. It pulls you back from the brink, but now you're torn between the pain and the urge for release. The pleasure intensifies as if the tiny drop of blood released at your dick works as incentive for her to taste your relief deeper. It feels better, and yet thanks to the pain demanding your attention you're no closer to cumming. The pain fades, drowned out in the tide as her ministrations pick up in desperation. You gut clenches again, harder, tighter as your dick flexes within the prison of her tongue. She senses it coming and slams your dick down her throat, pressing her face deep into your groin, hugging your hips, her tail swishing from side to side. The pressure on your dick slackens in time for you to erupt deep down her oesophagus. She gulps it, greedily, and wrings her tongue about your length, trying to suck each last drop dry as she retreats.
  347.  
  348. She pulls herself off your dick and sits back with a satisfied smile, looking down on your glazed expression. “Was it good?” You nod and shut your mouth which had been gaping open, limply. She laughs, “I'm glad. But I'm afraid that'll be it for now” She caresses your injured shoulder tenderly, concern etched across her face “We don't want to open that up again so soon, you've lost a fair amount of blood.” She glances at the fire and begins to withdraw, “I'll throw a few more logs on the fire, can't be going co-” You cut her off as you pull her down to you by the waist. Your lips meet hers none too gently and the impact splits the cut in your lip that she left last night. Blood washes into her mouth and she sinks into your embrace completely. You both lay back onto the bed and your arm shoots out.
  349.  
  350. She watches your actions out of the corner of her eye, as she swirls her tongue in her mouth, tasting you, allowing you to taste yourself on her. Curling your fingers in centric patterns you begin to manipulate the air about you. The fireplace roars in tandem with the air-currents. You direct strong gusts to carry pieces of the dry-wood and drop them into the fire. An explosion of embers fly up into the roof of the cave and seek the holes in the roof. The fire is now all-but dead, caught between having too much stimulation and nothing to burn, too much to burn and not enough flame to burn it, so you flex your palm outward and conjure a gout of flame to rekindle the pit. You smile into her mouth, impressed with your own novice mastery.
  351.  
  352. She breaks the kiss, a tiny bead of your blood hanging from her lip. You wipe it off with a finger as she starts to talk, “I've been meaning to ask you, how are you able to manipulate magic so well? I thought you needed to live within the large cities to have access to knowledge and potential like that.”
  353.  
  354. You shrug as you hold her. “My father was a strange man. I know nothing of him, asides from what he left to me. He taught me to read and write, he taught me to wield a blade and he taught me this.” You wiggle your hands by way of explanation. “You see I'm not actually a mage per se,” She looks at you questioningly, but you close your eyes and concentrate. She lets out a cute little gasp as blue patterns and runes begin to show, shining and emblazoned upon your skin, depicting many things. You point a few out.
  355.  
  356. “These are tattoos my father carved into me when I was young, you point to two twin dragons coiled around each other, “This one is for warding off deception and betrayal, like an instinct as to who to trust and who not to trust.” She nods as if this made sense to her, you point to another, “This one is Kenaz, fire. There are other runes for other elements, but my favourite is Laguz. It’s mainly water, but I like using mists, it's gotten me out of a few sticky situations because it can sometimes confuse people.”
  357.  
  358. She laughs at you, “I think I have you there,”
  359.  
  360. “I think you have me there too,” you admit, ruefully, recalling the first night you met her when she conjured the mists to scare you away. You can't suppress the shiver of the memory.
  361.  
  362. “Sorry for trying to scare you,” she says. You pat her head, marvelling at just how soft her hair is. usually its damp from the ocean.
  363.  
  364. “It brought me to you.” You kiss the top of her head, “Then,” you continue, “There's Thurisaz for concentration and Tiwaz,” You fondly trace the pattern swirling in the centre of your lower abdomen, “for strength an hardiness. There are others for various other things, but that's the general gist.”
  365.  
  366. “Where did your father learn these runes?” She asks.
  367.  
  368. You try and think on it for a moment, as if the answer would magically come to you. “No idea,” comes your response, “I don’t really know anything about him. I spent a long while growing up with my mother where my father would disappear for months at a time. I say mother but I don't really know who my mother is. I'm pretty sure she's human though,” You laugh, “but I grew up with a woman I consider to be my mother. She was an elf, used to tell me she lost her head in a fairy circle, only to have some fairies pick it up and give it back. She was a Dullahan. No one in town knew though, she uh... she knew how to keep her head. When my father wasn't around it was her who taught me the sword ...I loved her as I would have any real mother, but she left with father for the last time a few years ago, and it's been just me ever since. Honestly I've long given up on seeing either of them again...” you trail off, and lie down, using her lap as a pillow, getting comfortable.
  369.  
  370. “And then I lived alone for a while,” you continue, “It was lonely, I guess, but I had things to occupy myself with. I knew a guy, and could get paid for helping out the guard in the town with a thing here and there. Spent some time reading, playing guitar, then I started fishing and that’s all I was doing,” you grin up at her “then I met you. And I know we only just met but I just feel so comfy here.” You finish, sorta lamely. It seems to satisfy her though.
  371.  
  372. She smiles as she watches the flames flicker, sitting in silence. You watch as thoughts pass over her, and her smile changes into a sad, reminiscing one. “W-would... you like to hear about me?” You nod your assent, and wait for her to continue. She looks at you a while before speaking, as if to remind herself of what she now has. She opens her mouth, finally, and begins her tale.
  373.  
  374.  
  375. *       *       *       *
  376.  
  377.  
  378. I stare through the mug I'm cleaning, going through the motions on autopilot, the din of the inn fading in and out as mind operates on another plane entirely, distracted from time to time by the lights playing off the facets of the gem fixed to the ring on my finger, my mind a swirling mass of joy, giddiness and anxiety. I've been cleaning the same mug for ten minutes, lost in the memory of earlier today. A giant stupid smile plastered across my face.
  379.  
  380. It's just after midday in my mind and the inn is empty asides from one or two travellers, I replay seeing him practically skipping through the door. He looks around for a spell before his eyes light on where I stand. He bounds towards me and I take a step back, surprised at his enthusiasm, “H-hey, Sweetheart, what are you doing here at this hour? Did something happen?”
  381.  
  382. He laughs at me and grabs for my hands, cupping both between his. I feel a little blood flush through my cheeks and my words fumble over themselves, “w-what is it?”
  383.  
  384. “What is it, she says,” a giant bright grin splitting his face, “I've got some news for you babe, amazing news, no, great news!” I look at him questioningly, an eyebrow quirked. He laughs again, “No, not now.” He looks around the room, “When do you get off?”
  385.  
  386. I count the hours I've already worked. I've been at it longer than I thought, “A couple minutes, actual-” he pulls me with him,
  387.  
  388. “Good, skip a few. Hurry hurry,” he says as he runs out towards the back of the inn with me in tow, “I can't wait to show you.” Show me? My heard starts pounding harder as we round the corner of the inn and come to a small garden behind it, the one with a monolithic oak tree standing guard above it. He leans up against the tree, huffing and laughing.
  389.  
  390. He collects his composure and stops laughing, his sudden change throwing me off and I pull my hand into my chest nervously. Just what is he planning? I only get more flustered when he bends down to one knee. It can't be. He's not... his hand reaches around to his back pocket. He pulls out a small box and my knees go weak. I open my mouth but nothing comes out, I just stand there. Gaping. Like an idiot. He stares back into my eyes, seriously. He presents the box to me and I hesitatingly reach my hand out. I fumble with the lid as I open it. The further the lid cracks open, the more errant rays of afternoon sunlight that are caught on whatever is inside. It must be. The first
  391. boy I ever fell in love with, the first man to propose to me. It is. A small humble diamond sits within a silver band. “Will you marry me?”
  392.  
  393. Will you marry me. The words I'd always dreamt of but never dared to hear for myself. “Y-Yes of course I-” He springs up to embrace me, “Of course I will,” I finish. I reach a hand up to his face and lay my palm against his jawline, “I love you.”
  394.  
  395.  The owner of the inn, the man who practically raised me, taps my shoulder, startling me out of my daydreams, a wry smile on his face, “C'mon now. I pay you by mug not by hour. Cleaning the same thing for fifteen minutes don't count.” I nod and laugh,
  396.  
  397. “Sorry I just got a little distracted,”
  398.  
  399. “I understand.” He responds, a warm friendly smile, set upon a massive backdrop of white and grey beard. I place the mug down with a sigh, followed by the smile I'd long since given up on trying to chase away. The inn wasn't particularly packed tonight so I could probably knock off early to meet up with my husband-to-be. My heart does a little flip whenever I think about it. I'm almost sick with anxiety to see him again. It was when I was absorbed with these thoughts that the Inn door opened, and in walk a troupe of armed men. At first, looking at their garb, I assume bandits, but then the most gaudily dressed man I'd ever seen walks in behind them. He was the youngest noble of the town, a cruel and immature boy. Why did he have to come here? Why today? The smile fled.
  400.  
  401. The atmosphere grows so tense that a knocked mug could set everyone off. His four bodyguards find a table off to the side and they all file in one after the other. The last was the noble, who was a pasty white with muscles rippling beneath his thin purple silk shirt. His blonde pompadour wobbles precariously with each exaggerated movement. It threatens to fall off completely as he throws himself into the remaining chair, kicking it back and stomping both feet onto the table in one flowing movement. Settled, he looks around with a disdainful smirk, before setting his gaze upon my chest. The innkeeper tenses behind his counter, a look I'd long since grown familiar with. He'd actually crushed the counter once before. It took a few days of woodworking to reinforce the bar with solid steel. As it was I could hear it creaking in protest. One by one the regulars leave until it’s just myself, the innkeeper, the noble and his entourage.
  402.  
  403. “It is a great honour, Nobleson. How may I serve you?” The innkeeper asks, as cordially as you like.
  404.  
  405. “Huh? How do you think you can serve me? Moron.” Comes the rude reply, “Bron, go grab us some drinks.” One of the larger bandits stands up and makes his way to the bar. “You there, wench.” The noble continues to drawl, “Come here and serve me another way. How about you use that pretty mouth of yours?”
  406.  
  407. I make to reply when the innkeeper interrupts, “Her place is here, behind the counter. My apologies, lord,” he grinds out through gritted teeth, “but perhaps some of the woman in the square at this time of afternoon might strike your fancy?” The noble huffs an impudent “hmph” before settling into his chair, drawing his shoulders up closer to his head and crossing his arms. The circle of henchmen close in and they begin discussing things in hushed tones. A few looks get thrown my way. I spend the next few minutes cleaning mugs and dishes meekly, not making any eye-contact, barely looking up. All the serving is done by the innkeeper. It continues like this for a while until the two biggest of the four guards head outside. Not long after a large commotion spills in through the front door of the inn. Looking around, my eyes that those of the innkeeper meet. A short non-verbal conversation is exchanged and he steps out from the bar to check it out. I look around nervously, to see if anything was amiss, when I notice the three remaining men leering at me. It occurs to me that until the commotion outside is resolved, it's just them and I. My heart begins to pound a little harder and I clutch my new ring into my chest, protectively. An action hidden behind the height of the bar.
  408.  
  409. The noble leans further back in his chair and stretches out, trying to gain a head to look at me above the bar. He nods his head to wards one of the remaining men, “Oi, wench. Get over here and offer me your 'service' like I told you to.” The noble snarls, masking the approach of the other man.
  410.  
  411. “I-I'm s-supposed to remain behind the bar, m'lord,” I stammer, head down, focused on my work “s-sorry.” I add quietly. The wine out the back. I should go and make sure that we have enough for the week. Yeah. Then I could maybe hide for a little bit. I stand up, not looking ahead, but behind. I twist to make my way towards the cellar when my wrist is caught, startling me out of my skin. I trace the firm grip up from my wrist and make my way up a tattooed and brawny bicep, my eyes meeting the leering grin of one of the guards.
  412.  
  413. “S-sorry, but I need to check the stock...” I speak through the tresses of my hair, scared to look, “could you please let me go?”
  414.  
  415. He leans in closer, “Din't hear ya missy, what was tha-”
  416.  
  417. “-Shut up and bring her here.” The man clicks his tongue before dragging me by the wrist towards the table the noble sits at. Before I can shout any protest, a strong hand cups my mouth, muffling any screams. I'm dragged to the floor and a shadow looms over me. Frantic, I look for escape but see none. A deer in the torchlight. The shadow begins talking by the rush in my ears drowns out all else, a caged animal, fighting for flight. I only catch the tail end of what he's saying.
  418.  
  419. “-n honour, really. To be used by me. You know this could have been a lot more pleasant, if you'd have just come over and played nice. But I had to go to the trouble to get you all alone, a pretty little thing in a backwater.” He finishes unbuckling his trousers and his erect shaft slips out. “You're mine you know? I'm the son of the man who owns these lands and all the treasures in them. You're mine to be used. A treasure to be enjoyed.” He pulls out a knife and runs it across the face of my blouse, cutting the material in a ragged line. The fireplace showers light across by bare breasts as the man roughly reaches to cup one, rolling it around in his soft, womanly hands. Not at all like the hands of my lo-... My eyes dart towards the ring on my hand and I scream and strain into the hand blocking my mouth, a tide of anger, sorrow and guilt washes over me as I struggle against the burly man holding me down, and kick at the noble between my legs.
  420.  
  421. Glancing blows which only earn me a slap in the face. I turn my head to the side, towards the door to the streets, waiting for the Innkeeper or any one to come and save me. The last guard is standing watch as the noble and his other lackey begin to have their way with me. My vision is blocked by a filthy, hairy stomach. A towering erection consumes my vision, dwarfing the pitiful thing in between the noble's thighs. I jam shut my mouth as the man moves himself closer to my lips. I feel a light tapping between my thighs and two smooth hands strain to hike my legs up and part them as I begin to thrash again. The larger man's prick butts against my closed lips, the hand that was once stopping my cries now latched onto my nose. A wicked looking blade it thrust under my chin, nicking the soft flesh slightly, drawing a small bead of blood. This catches my attention.
  422.  
  423. The man bends closer to my face and threatens gruffly, “Scream, I cut. Bite. I cut.” My struggle for breath meets defeat and I open my mouth to gain the air I'd been barred from through my nose. He takes this opportunity to jam his cock down my throat, rough and frantic. He winces a little as he grinds his shaft against my teeth on the way in, the pressure of the blade at my throat prompting me to spread my jaw even wider. He grips a handful of hair and pulls my head back, making the angle he has to thrust into a little straighter. Lodged in my throat, I gag around his girth, spluttering into his musky groin, stray hairs irritate my nose. He pulls the knife from my throat, not wanting the bulge to accidentally force the knife the slice into my neck anyway. I suppress my gag reflex, suffocating on my own vomit is the last thing I want to die from, as he begins to pull my head down onto his cock, skullfucking me.
  424.  
  425. With my head thrust back, him pumping his cock deep down my throat, my eyes squeezed shut and stinging tears laying trails I fail to feel or notice the noble between my legs finally insert himself. He thrusts in once, and his prick slips out. The second thrust butts up against my clitoris and sends under-ripe sparks of sensation coursing through my body. “Bitch isn't even slightly wet,” he leans forward and slaps my cheek as it bulges around his buddie's cock. A few salty strands of spit and pre spill from my lips, glazing my chin. “Oh well.” He thrusts far and deep enough to butt against my hymen, tearing it. I close my eyes tightly,  and wait for it all to be over, switching off as the two men pump into my limb body, sating themselves.
  426.  
  427. Then the noble pulls out from between my legs, still cumming, and splashes thick strands across my belly and breasts, marking me. I just stare up into the ceiling, slowly registering everything as information, doing my best to not think or feel upon it. He buckles his trousers back up and holsters his blade, signalling for his men to get ready to head out. The man by my head trails his thick, callused thumb across my cheeks collecting strands of his cum, before sliding his thumb across my lips and into my mouth, jamming his thumb flat against my tongue forcing me to taste himself. With his thumb in my mouth he curls his other fingers about my chin and pulls my head down, kissing my forehead before straitening up and leaving, leaving me laying there, naked, filthy, in a pool of torn cloth and cum, the flickering fire highlighting the lines of sperm, wastefully smeared across my sullied skin.
  428.  
  429. I pick my weakened body up and pull out a chair, sliding into it, bowing my head and just sitting before the fire. Moments after the noble and his men leave the Innkeeper walks in with my husband to be in tow. My fiance takes one look at the puddle of clothing and seed on the floor, the trail of it which dripped from me as I made my way to the chair, my torn and sex-glazed form, and spits on me. He should have known I was a whore, he says. “I listen to you bitch and moan about your life, with fake smiles, and what do I get? I finally spend my money on some cheap ring and you go fuck a crowd of dicks before I get to lay so much as a finger on you.” He turns and storms from the inn, fists balled. I watch him leave, with a blank expression, listening to the tirade and accepting it as information. Things that had happened, and then ceased to happen. Events. I turn to the innkeeper expecting a similar betrayal. Maybe he wanted to fuck me silly too.
  430.  
  431. He just stares at me for a moment, and then gathers a cloth and bucket of water. Silently, bar the crackling of the fire, he cleans me. I'm surprised. He runs the cloth over my belly and breasts, purging away the corruption which had settled itself into my skin. I stare into his eyes as he works to clean me, at last he dumps the cloth in the basket and brings a warm hand up to my cheek. “Cry.” He says. And I cry. I slip out of the chair into his kneeling form and he cradles me like a child. I cry and tell him everything as I cling to his broad chest and stare into the flames, as if to burn the images from my mind as soon as I relate them. No one disturbs us, the appearance of the noble and his men must have scared away the customers. He lifts me when I'm done crying and carries me to my bed. I thank him and give him as firm a hug as I can muster before I escape beneath the covers, to hide away in the lands of dream for a precious few hours. I watch him leave my room, still enough to look like I'd already slipped into slumber. He turns around at the door and looks at my sleeping form, a cold, mechanic murder in his eyes.
  432.  
  433. When I wake up the next afternoon, the entire inn is locked down, the Innkeeper is gone, a meal sits before me on the table closest by the fire, and the Innkeeper's axe which he kept mounted upon the mantle as a memento of former days, is missing.
  434.  
  435. I sit down before the meal and pus the food around, realising how little appetite I actually have now that I'm faced with the prospect of swallowing.  A loud knock comes from the heavy oaken door, startling me. I accidentally drop the cutlery with a clatter and stand up to receive whoever was at the door. I turn back and pocket the knife. I walk to the door and open it just a crack, hand already gripped tight around the weapon concealed within my clothes. Before me stands a man who looks a mix between a homeless-man and a war veteran. He carries with him a belt lined with throwing knives and a longsword strapped to his back. He offers me his hand through the ajar door and I take it hesitantly, “Afternoon to you, missy. I'm a friend of the Innkeeper who owns this here place, and he asked me to hang around here and do a bit of work while he was away.” He eyes my pale face and looks down at my trembling hand in his and sighs.
  436.  
  437. He pulls his hand from mine and pulls out a necklace from under his shirt, identical to the one which hangs from the innkeeper's neck. “We were old buddies, just think of me as a long term customer.” He finishes. Hesitantly I nod and open the door a little wider to allow him in. He takes a vantage point in the corner of the room which allows him a vide view of almost every part of the inn, and settles down to a chair, eyeing the bare mantel. When I ask him if he needs anything he smiles and asks for a meal and a mug of ale. It was a bit lonely eating by myself so I finish the last of my meal in his company. He grew on me rather easily, and I saw a bit of the innkeeper in him. I forgot my lack of appetite talking to him, and slowly opened up, laughing at all the in-jokes my surrogate father let me in on.
  438.  
  439. The next day I opened the inn for business, slowly customers returned to their usual schedules once word spread that the inn which was closed for a few days was open again. A few were surprised that the Innkeeper wasn't there but they were used enough to me for it not to bother them. No one mentioned or belied any knowledge as to why it was closed for those few days. I guess my ex was too mortified to tell people about what he saw, and a few days later it was found that the noble's son would be unable to tell people either. Apparently a burglar stole into the mansion in the middle of the night, stole a few trinkets and decapitated the noble in his sleep. They didn't find the weapon, but the guards who investigated decided that it must have been a large axe witch had dealt the blow. A few maids spoke of how when they first found the master, the bed was nearly cloven in twain. I tried not to laugh when I heard, going to the effort to silently break in ad steal something as a cover to then blow it by cleaving the noble in twain, something a burglar wouldn’t do, was just like the innkeeper.
  440.  
  441. The veteran sat in his position throughout all of this, lending a hand on busy nights or when I wasn't up to serving the patrons myself. He would also act as an impromptu bouncer, ushering out the drunker patrons and denying the unsavoury. One night a young man claiming to belong to a large gang of bandits strode in, with much the brash attitude of the late noble. Maybe he felt my distress, maybe he simply didn't like the man. Within moments of the man's loud-mouthing, the veteran's sword was out of its sheath for the first time since I'd seen it, and at the man's throat. My own itched a little, watching the exchange, but the young man agreed to leave eventually. I treated the veteran to free drinks that night. A few days after word spread about the noble, stocks at the bar began to run a little low. A day later the Innkeeper was back with a wagon of ale and mead. Upon seeing his old friend, they embraced like brothers.
  442.  
  443. The bar was restocked and the axe mysteriously found its way back to the mantle after a week or so. Neither of us mentioned what had happened in the time that he was away, but it was better that way. Things gradually returned to normal. My body was weaker for the ordeal though, I would find myself sick in the mornings, and hungry often. This gave me a little more time to reflect and help out behind the bar, out of the way. I'd not seen my fiance since that night, though I heard he'd taken more and more to the inn on the other side of town. Some said he'd been accruing debts and gambling most night when he wasn't drowning in alcohol. I didn't feel much for him. Not long after the noble's death, his father passed away too, leaving the sovereignty of the realm to the Nobleson's wife, or, more accurately her young son. She was a hawkish dragon of a lady who regarded her spawn jealously, the lands closest to the mansion suffered heavier taxes and worse living conditions, hired help quit the premise and slave servants were more common. Amidst these changes, the sicknesses in the morning grew worse 'till I saw my reflection in the water one day and realised that I saw showing the earliest stages of pregnancy.  
  444.  
  445. I stare at my breakfast, a light meal of a single chunk of bread, some cheese, an apple and a rash of bacon. The weight in my belly urges my hand towards to food before me, but when I place it to my lips, my mouth goes dry and it's hard to swallow. I sigh and slump my shoulders, once again wondering what to do about my current situation. I feel a set of eyes on my back, one of the patrons that came in early in the morning. Cloaked in the shadows of the room he sits alone. I didn't take him seriously at first because no one can look that cliché and ominous, and actually harbour any serious ill will, but he's been starting at me for the better half of an hour now, which is finally beginning to put me on edge. It's not just he and I; there are others at the bar. But this man in particular pays attention to me. I cram all the food I can fit into my mouth and force myself to swallow by washing it down with a cup of milk. It's hard and it feels like it sits at the base of my throat, but I manage to wash it down.
  446.  
  447. I stand and make to gesture towards the veteran who's taken to loitering around, when the object of my discomfort stands and leaves. The veteran quirts his eyebrow at me and I shake my head. Problem solved. I walk up the stairs to the second floor and do the rounds, wash-basket in hands. I push the basket against the wall with my hips, freeing my hands to knock on the door. I rap against it, waiting a few seconds for a response. I receive none, so I push the door open and put my hands back around the basket which was wedged between the wall and I. I enter the first room from the flight of stairs and find a shrivelled up husk of a man laying on his sprawled bedsheets, already crusty with solidified pools of cum. A trail leads to the windowsill, and smeared on the already grimy glass is the evidence of his bout, formed into words, reading 'Thanks for the tribute~ <3'.
  448.  
  449. Succubi. Would have been a big deal years back. These days it warrants a note stabbed into the notice board along the busy street. The world is changing. I walk over to the bed and put the basket down.  The man lays before me, completely nude, and on impulse, I reach a hand out and feel his neck, looking for a pulse. It's there. Looks like she didn't fuck him dead, or drain too much. Reacting to my touch, his eyes open groggily. Fear dawns on him as he stares at the silhouette of a woman.
  450.  
  451. His muscles go into overdrive and he practically kicks himself off the bed, falling on his ass on the hardwood floor. The shock shakes loose his sleep and he sees that I lack the things that scare him most. Wings, horns and a tail.
  452.  
  453. Wide eyed, he gasps at me, “Allfather's shrivelled testes, don't frighten me like that.”
  454.  
  455. It dredges a smile up from within me, “Hard night?”
  456.  
  457. He sighs, and looks to the offending window, the lock broken, not protecting him an ounce from mistresses in the night. “Yeah, hard indeed.”
  458.  
  459. “You didn't see the notice?”
  460.  
  461. “Saw what notice?” Gears turn in his head as he stands up, “Hey. This would have never happened if your inn equipped better locks. I think a discount on the price of the night is only fair, don't you?”  
  462.  
  463. I think for a moment. “Not sure a lock will stop a succubus, but if you’re really that worried, you can talk to the owner. Big bearded guy down stairs, looks like he could drop-kick a bear.” Already knowing his answer, I move to strip the sheets and toss them into the basket at my hip.
  464.  
  465. “Uh… nevermind. I guess the night wasn’t that bad.” He heaves another sigh, and treating his hips tenderly, begins to collect his stuff to move on. I bow slightly as I leave, and basket laden; I descend the stairs to the main floor. I pass the innkeeper on the way out the back to do the washing, and flash him a little smile, to which he grins back in return. The inn was built all but a few hundred meters from the town's river and main water supply. I kneel by the bank and begin the arduous task of washing out the sheets, wrinkling my nose at the smell of the succu-victim's linen. The minutes pass as I repeatedly thrust my hands into the murky, off-white waters, grabbing handfuls of cloth and squeezing them against the washboard, a bank of suds slowly spreading out from where I work. The shadows grow shorter as I work. I put the side of my wet hand to my forehead and push back a lock of hair as I look to the sky. The sun is nearly halfway up.
  466.  
  467. I place all the soaked cloth into the basket and walk them back towards the inn, angling for the small yard to the back. The next few minutes are spent pegging the washing to the line before I head back in to ask the innkeeper for a break. When I mention that I want to go visit the apothecary, his eyes briefly flick towards my belly before he nods and hands me a few coins.
  468.  
  469. I step out onto the street, and the wind blows at my loose clothing. The last thing I want is something form-fitting. I make my way down the side of the street, heading towards the apothecary to see if he has any sort of concoction which may cause an abortion. I'm still undecided on the whole thing, but it'll be good to have just in case. It's not the baby's fault, and to think about it logically, he'd have handsome and noble blood. He could lead a potentially great life provided I raise him with the right virtues and get him a position within the noble families. Then again she could take after me and work as a barmaid, as I do. Surrounded by uncouth, drunken men, taken as I was.
  470.  
  471. I can rationalize all I want. I still don’t want it in me anymore.
  472.  
  473. I shiver under my heavy clothes as I walk down the dark alleyway which leads to the apothecary, unwary of the eyes that follow. I enter the musky room, lit only by incense candles, a small chime peals out, alerting the owner of a customer. He emerges from a dimly lit room in the back, holding mushrooms. He's a short fellow with close-cut greasy black hair and strong arms, with a recognisable pot-belly. As far back as I could remember, his shop had always been dull, dank and earthy. Rumours say he has a quarter the blood of a gnome in him. It may be true, it may not, the fact is he grows with his abode, herbs unseen anywhere else in these lands and many shady characters have slipped into his store in the dead of the night.
  474.  
  475. It's not my custom to do trade with such questionable people, but he's a nice person, knows his stuff, and more importantly, is the only apothecary in the village. He looks up from his bundles mushrooms and gasps, “Oh, how pleasant to see you! It's been months. Has the inn run out of spices? I'll be with you in just a moment.” He moves towards his lab and dumps the fungus into a crucible and starts cutting and smashing and pouring various fluids into the mix. Soon, fumes begin to rise which make me feel ill even from where I'm standing, meters away. “There you are sir, as per usual, don't touch this with bare skin, don't ingest it, if you get any in your eyes consult your nearest cleric.” Sir? A shadow materialises from the corner of the room making me cry out in surprise. A large cowl shades his face as he glides like a wraith towards the small man.
  476.  
  477. He reaches into the void of his cloak and pulls out a few gems and various coins. He drops them on the bench, takes the vial that now houses the concoction and returns to the shadows, without a trace. The door never opens, but a cloying presence I hadn't noticed until now leaves. The little man sighs wiping his brow with the back of his hand before wiping his hands clean of any remnants on a cloth. “Strange fellow. Comes in every month at exactly the same time for more poison. I don't ask, he don't tell. I've never even heard him speak, nor has he ever paid the right amount. Just dumps various gems and coins, takes the bottle and leaves. Doesn't seem too concerned about what he's paying with either. I once found a button mixed in with the coins.” He sighs again, deep and heavy shaking his head. “Oh well, I usually sell the gems for quite a bit of profit and I feel like the man'd just as easily take my life as he would my services, so I make it my business not to complain.”
  478.  
  479. He makes his way to the back of his counter and places the gems into a strongbox, the coins in a jar and pulls out the button he was talking about earlier. It looks to be made of some kind of metal, but it's completely black. He flicks it with his thumb and it begins spinning in place. “I had some one check it out. Turns out it was pure obsidian, more valuable than any of the coins he gave that day” The man laughs and drops the coin back into the jar.
  480.  
  481. “So how can I help you?”
  482.  
  483. I shift in place, awkward and suddenly embarrassed. “Wellineedsomethingforanabortion” I mumble.
  484.  
  485. The man cups his ear innocently, “Sorry, what was that?”
  486.  
  487. I blush a little deeper, thankful that the dim lighting doesn't reveal much. I clear my throat before looking around, peering into the shadows and begin again. “I need something for an abortion.”
  488.  
  489. The man nods quietly and says he has just the thing. On second hand maybe dealing with a shady character like him is for the best. No questions, no explanations. Just something to end a life. Something strangely powerful about that, like this humble store sits upon a ley-line of power. I busy myself with fantasies until he returns. Power. I wonder how many of those small vials like the one he sold today have toppled kingdoms. Robbed God-kings of their divinity. Suddenly, the purpose of what I aim to buy seems very small.
  490.  
  491. He returns, a tiny jar in his hand, no taller than the width of three fingers and thick as about half the length of a single finger. “Take this before bed, and make sure that you're free the next morning to make a mess. I recommend bathing in the river immediately after you wake,” he hands it to me but pulls the bottle back just as my fingers touch it, “It'll hurt,” he says, staring into my eyes, “But I guess it's better than the other possibility.” He hands it to me and steps back.
  492.  
  493. “H-how much?” I ask, and he holds up a single finger.
  494.  
  495. “For you, just a single coin. One of my customers came in a while ago, wanting to re-sell, a little peeved that the target for the poison he bought had been done in by some sort of furious axeman. I think I understand.”
  496.  
  497. I thank him and hand him the most valuable coin I have on me, and bid my farewell, jamming the sturdy flask into one of my pockets. The door shuts behind me, the peal of the bell muffled behind the wooden door. I begin traversing the twisting maze-like path of alleyways back to the main street when two shadows materialise around a corner. I put my head down and continue walking at the same pace when a gloved hand grips my shoulder, and slams me into the wall.  
  498.  
  499. In the dim light I can make out the colours of the town guard's uniform. “And what were you doing down here, whore? Shouldn't you be spreading your legs down by the inn?” A sneering man I'd never seen before reaches into my pockets and pulls out the vial, studying it.
  500.  
  501. I was winded when he slammed me into the wall, but I'd recovered enough to gasp, “Wh-who a-are you? What do you want?”
  502.  
  503. A rough hand is placed on my belly and begins caressing the forming bump, “M'lady found out about your bastard-spawn, wants us to teach you a lesson, can't go threatening her dear son, see.”
  504.  
  505. “Hey, hey, what's this?” one of the men grabs my hand and lifts it up, the ring glinting in the dim light, “The whore was married and she jumped on the noble's cock? Haha, I don't think you deserve this, slut.” He slides the ring off my finger and pockets it. I open my mouth to protest, “H-hey that's my-”
  506.  
  507. He takes a step back and my eyes go wide as he winds his fist back and slams it into my gut, spit flies from my mouth as my body tries to breathe and exhale at the same time, diaphragm in spasms. The vice like grip on my shoulder releases and I fall forwards from the wall. My knees nearly touch the ground when the man follows up with his booted foot, catching me in mid-air by the same place he thrust his fist, bending me over his leg, suspended like a feather caught in an updraught. I open my mouth wide but no sound comes out as the impact flows through me, with such force and impact it's a surprise my spine doesn't shatter.
  508.  
  509. My hands and knees hit the pavement with a wet thud and a warm wetness begins to spread from between my legs. I kneel on all fours before them, trying to gasp for breath but nothing happens. Strands of spit cling to my lips and I feel something wrench from deep inside me. A hand falls on my shoulder and slams me back into the wall, the shock triggering something and allowing my burning muscles to co-ordinate enough to allow a torrent of fresh air in. Immediately after, my stomach surges and all that I'd eaten today and yesterday spewed out, splashing the feet of the men and spilling down my chin and neck. Drenching the front of my clothing.
  510.  
  511. “Aww man, look what the filthy bitch did to my shoe.” One of the men grinds his foot into my stomach again, causing me to scream out in agony, my hands claw at his boot, trying feebly to push him away. My stomach surges again and a tide of red washes out and over me mixing with the bile already soaking into my clothes. My head swims with sensations, the taste of copper, bloodied stomach acid, the fire between my legs and the gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, my consciousness begins to fade and the foot pushes into me one last time to push the owner off and back.
  512.  
  513. Darkness rings my vision and my head slumps to the side, dimly I hear the drone of conversation before I black out completely, “Whatever, it's not like she asked us to kill her. Better lay off before we have a body on our hands.” Darkness.
  514.  
  515. I come to what feels like an eternity later, and the first thing that hits me is the smell of blood and bile. I struggle to me feet, but double over in pain the moment I try to stand straight. Clean. I need to get clean. I run through the labyrinth of alleys, doubled over, strands of hair covering my face. I'm sure I looked like a madwoman. Filth leaked from between my legs as I ran and my stomach felt hollow. It was dark, which was some small comfort. Few people. I dashed past houses towards the lake, head down, running purely on instinct and memory. My mind shuts off as I focus on the pain in my stomach and the pumping of my legs, tears stream down my cheeks in torrents as I cough and sob.
  516.  
  517. Bushes part as I burst through them. For a moment I’m suspended above the river, and then the icy waters rushes to meet me as I plunge into its depths.  I struggle to find my footing, and my head finally breaches water. I draw a deep breath and wade closer to the shore until I can stand comfortably, and I scrabble about my feet for a stone.
  518.  
  519. I find a particularly smooth rock and begin scrubbing my clothes with it, madly, trying to cleanse the filth stuck to it. I wipe at my face, the deluge of tears making it hard to see. I give up trying to clean the clothes and throw them off me and ashore. I run my hands over my body, trying to rub loose the caked on blood and acid, but nothing works. Screaming in frustration, I grab for a rock, the filth must be under my skin. I scrape at my stomach and shoulders, peeling the skin in my haste, a graze that spreads. My knees give out from under me and I fall into the water, sobbing and heaving, no longer bothering to breathe, struggling to think, falling deeper.
  520.  
  521. A tentative voice calls out, drunkenly slurring, “Wh-who'sh there!?” My heart stops. I know that voice. My ex stumbles through the trees and looks around, eyes finally finding me sitting in the shallows. I guess he's still technically my fiance. I haven't seen him since that day so we'd not had the chance to break it off. My chest tightens when I see him, I sit before the betrayer, naked and filthy.
  522.  
  523. “Oh.” he begins quietly. “Itsh the whore. You out fuckin' summun?” His tempo picks up as the words grow more furious and vehement, “Huh? Answer me shlut, What're you doin' out here naked? Didsha tellim you loved him?” He takes a swig of the bottle in his hand before screaming into the trees, “DID SHE TELL YOU SHE LOVED YOU?” I flinch and start to move deeper in to the water, retreating. He stops yelling and looks at me, the water has washed me clean for the most part and all he sees is the steams of moonlight shining off my milky-white skin, drenched hair falling about the sides of my breasts, framing them.
  524.  
  525. “Come to think of it I never got to toucsh you b'low the neck huh? You never even did anything for me when I proposhed, just ran off witsh that stupid look on your fashe and fucked that noble.” Be begins to stride into the water, I try to scrabble back, but the stones slip from under me and my feet sink deep into the floor of the river, I fall on my arse and the water sits up to my chest. He staggers up to me and falls to his knees, straddling me. I wince at the alcohol on his breath and turn my head. He slaps me hard enough to make my head ring.
  526.  
  527. “Sho if you aint here with any one, why are you here?” He hisses. His hand shoots out and grabs at my breast, kneading it painfully. I raise my hand to push his away and it stares at it, dumbfounded.
  528.  
  529. “No ring,” he mumbles, before looking me in the eye and smacking me again, “What, wasn't my ring good enough for you? Did you sell it? Did you give it to the guy you screwed?” He stops groping me and brings his hands up to my neck, he grits his teeth and snarls as he begins to squeeze, strangling me. His words ring in my head, “I wish I never fucking met you, whore, wish I-” His words cut off as he pushes me under water, hands in a deathgrip about my neck.
  530.  
  531. He knees me in the gut, stoking the flames of dormant agony and I scream under the water, but all that comes out is a stream of bubbles. My head burns as his distorted visage yells at me from above the river's surface. I kick and thrash but after all the abuse I can do nothing but meekly squirm, muscles long pushed beyond the brink of exhaustion. My struggles fade as the cold fingers of the river curl around my waist. The blackness of the depths encroaches about me and I can no longer see beyond the disturbed waters to the murderer throttling me. I sigh within myself, welcoming the end I never asked for. The ringing and the burning in my head fades as a soft, lilting harmony fills my being. My legs stop kicking, my arms fall back from his, and I accept oblivion.
  532.  
  533.  
  534. *       *       *       *
  535.  
  536.  
  537. Darkness. It's dark. Why do I know that? It shouldn't be anything. Some one is stroking me. Stroking my hair. Almost... lovingly. I try to open my eyes but the lids are heavy, it's like trying to pull apart stone. I moan as I start to rouse but the hand insistently holds my head down, brushing the hair out of my face, hushing me, soothingly. I open my mouth to speak but nothing comes out. After a few more attempts I manage to croak out some sounds. The person stops hushing me and waits for me to talk. “I-I thought I was d-dead,” I manage to groan. The person picks me up and pulls me into her bosom, a cold embrace which fills me with warmth. “You are,” she whispers to me, before I fall back asleep in her arms.
  538.  
  539. The gentle lapping of the riverside slowly fills my consciousness. A warm breeze blows across my bare flesh and the hollow slap of water against the hull of an abandoned boat floats in the air. It's winter, so there is no obtrusive buzz of insect life. I focus on the sounds and smells before opening my eyes, relishing something I'd truly taken for granted. Death. I know it sounds like something from a fever dream but something within me tells me that it's true. I need the water now. And it's not so bad. I run my hand over the lush, springy grass, listening to the tens of tiny waves breaking upon this miniature shore. My belly rumbles. There is... something else. A tension within me.
  540.  
  541. I sigh, a cool steel settles in my gaze as I stare into the sky ‘Well if that was life, I can only look forwards to death.’ Or at least, that's what I wanted to say. I came out more like “Well i- ow, fuck!” I roll over onto my belly and pick myself up, resting on my knees, and hold my hands up to my mouth, blood spilling between my fingers. Ripples spread outwards behind me as a head breaches the surface.
  542.  
  543. “Oh, you're up? That was quick. Hungry yet?” the talker notices my bloodied hands, cupping my mouth. “Tried to talk and cut your tongue up huh?”
  544.  
  545. I look around to the person addressing me and look at what can only be blatant plagiarism of a painting or statue of Freyja, blessedly, equally as nude as I am. I nod “Mmhmm” tears form in the corners of my eyes as my vision wavers. Ow. She laughs and places a wet, webbed hand upon my head, ruffling my hair. I look to my own hands and see that they too have a thin film of webbing laced between the fingers.
  546.  
  547. “It'll take you a little while to get used to the teeth, at the very least. ‘Bit longer for the rest.” A surprisingly normal, human tongue flicks and wrings around a line of shark-like teeth as she walks closer, smiling warmly.
  548.  
  549. “You're the person who found me?” I ask, remembering that warmth.
  550.  
  551. “No,” she shakes her head, “that was my, our sister.”
  552.  
  553. “Sister?” I ask. I'd never had family so I think I'd know about any sisters.
  554.  
  555. “In a sense,” she leans down and picks me up into a hug, “I'm Skadi, lets get along~”
  556.  
  557. I hug her back, nervously, unsure of this sudden affection, waiting for it all to crash down around me. Despite that, I manage to smile brightly, “I'm Ranuinne, it'll be my pleasure.”
  558.  
  559. “Ah~ look at you two getting so close.” A third voice joins us as a wave of golden-red hair rises form the water. A woman of similar beauty to Skadi, with thick graceful eyebrows and hair that seems to cling to her with wetness, like some kind of gold-wrought seaweed, curling in intricate networks across her hourglass figure, almost cupping her large breasts. She rises from the water, three large fish struggling within her arms. She drops them before us where they thrash about, futilely, spraying droplets of water off in all directions, where they collect and slide down the blades of grass, soaking the already rich soil. “It's good to see that you're up, Ranuinne. I thought you'd sleep a little longer”
  560.  
  561. “Thank you, but I don't remember telling you my name,” I prod, cautiously.
  562.  
  563. She laughs, “You wouldn't. You were mumbling in your sleep,” Ah, so she was the one who found me in the water, “I'm Hlinna, I see you've already met Skadi.” She prods a fish with her toe, “brought a snack. Eat up and we'll go for a bit of a swim.”
  564.  
  565. Skadi bends over to pick up a fish, naturally accentuating the curve of her hips and ass. Watching with a slight pang of jealousy, I superstitiously sneak a look at Hlinna's body in comparison. Skadi seems to own a more Romanesque beauty, with slightly smaller breasts, but wider hips with thick thighs which curve up into a perfect bubble-butt, the kind that you could knead for hours, fingers all but sinking in, firm flesh twitching, watching her squirm and moan, as she begs for... Ehem. I tear my eyes away from her ass to the one of the three fish, obviously belonging to me. I watch the other two get devoured like pittances before an apex predator. I pick up my own fish and it's twice as thick as my forearm and just as long. I briefly wonder as to what I'll be eating if this is only a snack, and open my mouth further than I'd thought possible. I lean back and I dangle the fish over my mouth, perhaps showing off my own curves, in a display of competition, and bite down hard. Too hard. My new teeth shear effortlessly through the quarter of the fish I had in my mouth and clash into each other painfully.
  566.  
  567. I take the next bit a little slower and feel my teeth plunging past the scales into the giving, white flesh. The brine of the river is still in the fish and it adds a refreshing tang to each mouthful. The fish was, a drop in the ocean, so to speak, and I feel pulverised by an all-encompassing hunger, of the likes I'd never known. I dive into the river with my two sisters, flexing my new instincts and senses like muscles I didn't know I had. I taste flesh in the water from miles away, hear pebbles shifting under the insistent pressure of the river, I smell the coming storm in drops of rain which had merged with the river, miles up.
  568.  
  569. I feel more at home under the waves than I ever did on land. I spot the murky silhouettes of my sisters further up and glide up to them, shearing through the currents like a longship, my face splitys into a wide toothy grin as I come to terms with the extent of my power within the waves. A powerful flick of the wrist is enough to send me lancing towards the other direction. I catch up to my sisters, and they turn to look at me, cautioning silence. We're close to the shore and there seems to be a wooden pier, reaching a few meters out into the river. The three of us circle around a lure, bobbing in the water and talk amongst ourselves. I don't bother to ask how that works.
  570.  
  571. Skadi turns to Hlinna, “Would you like to take this one, show Ranuinne how we do things?”
  572.  
  573. Hlinna nods, and takes a bite of the lure, tugging down on it playfully, bending the hook in on itself with her powerful jaws. When the fisherman pulls back, it doesn't hook her, but she plays along, breaching the surface with the line inbetween her lips, thrusting her bosom forward as she throws her hair back, line dangling from her wicked grin .
  574.  
  575. “Yaah~ you've caught me <3,” came the over-dramatic cry, slightly muffled by the water, I struggled to keep my grin from my face, Skadi didn't even bother, holding her sides as she rolled about in the water, laughing. Hlinna kicks her under the water to get her to stop disturbing the surface, and we sit as she baits the fisherman, “Aww, but it's such a beautiful weather for a swim. Aren't you uncomfortable in those clothes? Sitting in the hot, sticky sun all day, nothing to do but hold your rod, waiting for a girl like me to nibble on the other end?” She pouts up at him from the water. Her less than subtle flirtations have great effect on the man who's probably never seen some one as beautiful as Hlinna, completely naked before, and he begins nodding stupidly, shucking off his clothes as he comes closer to the edge, “I-I'd love to, pretty girl like you, can't believe my luck” he babbles.
  576.  
  577. Skadi and I wade back a few meters and Hlinna ducks under the water, completing a triangular sort of formation, leaving a wide, open area for him to dive into. Predictably, he does, and the instant the man touches the water a deep-seated, ancient anger, hatred and rage surges up from within. I see this change reflected in Skadi and Hlinna as their faces twist and distort into ugly, ferocious scowls. The idiot looks around with an uncomprehending grin on his face as the two beauties dive-bomb him underwater like birds of prey. They each grab and arm, and tuck their knees into their chests, planting their feet solidly on the man's torso, pulling him to face me. The muscles in their beautifully feminine legs writhe as their grip on the man's arms becomes like iron. With a soft, dulled, popping and tearing, they extend their legs in tandem, tearing the man's arms from his body.
  578.  
  579. I barely register the tiny strands of veins, vessels and tissue from the sundering disperse within the frenzied waters as I rush intuitively to play my own part. The man's face twists from ignorance to mortal horror as he is suddenly assailed. Pushing off the water as though there were a solid stone wall behind me, I plummet into the man, teeth bared, and swoop in upon him like the reaper, tearing his throat out as I pass him. Feeling the man-flesh slide down my throat for the fir-... I guess second time. A gout of blood follows me like an after-image as I wheel back around to face him. The two sisters have already started on what's left of his neck, latching on at both sides of the remnant, almost meeting at the middle in a gory, bloodied kiss.
  580.  
  581. I launch forwards and latch onto the man's broad back, my lithe legs wrapping about his waist, I rip into his shoulder and back muscles, tearing out ligaments and tendons, revelling in the resounding wet snapping which seems to echo throughout the water, like some depraved sonar. Mirth and glee bubbles up in my throat as I chew and I start to laugh madly around my mouthful of food. My sisters join me in laughter as we swarm about the man, like a shiver of sharks in a frenzy, tearing large chunks out of his sides, stripping his thighs bare.
  582.  
  583. We leave his half-eaten carcass floating in the water, suspended in its own matter and blood as we flee deeper into the river. I tackle Hlinna and drive her into Skadi, laughing as my arms wrap around them in the most heartfelt hug I'd ever given anyone. Skadi laughs and hugs back, sandwiching Hlinna's gory body between us, legs entwining breasts presses up against eachothers, nipples shamelessly hard, and I can't hold the hysterics at bay.
  584.  
  585. “What is it,” questioned Hlinna as she looks at me, queerly, wondering if I'd gone off a few too many deep ends.
  586.  
  587. I struggle to collect myself  to answer, “I was just thinking...” I pant, “How funny it was... that he still... got his dick wet.”              
  588.  
  589. We drifted across to a sandbank, one where the water sat only half a meter high. We chatted and Laughed together, my sisters and I, as the gentle waves of the rive buoyed us about. We spoke at length, time passing like moisture dripping from a stalactite, inexorably slow, as though the streams of time parted around us, much like the current did as we half sat half floated on the bank in the middle of the river.
  590.  
  591. We spoke at length, of our lives. I heard of my sisters past, their woes and horrors that made mine feel like a stubbed toe on a rainy sunday. I felt very unsure of my existence at that moment. Whether or not I truly deserved it. My life, which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn't so bad, did I truly deserve to return as some kind of avatar of vengeance?
  592.  
  593. I slowly began to tune out the conversation around me, slumping into myself, before a warm embrace pulled me from my own morose musings. Hlinna's slender arm slipped around my waist. I hadn't noticed her shifting closer to me. I lean into her hug as she moves a hand to cup the side of my face, forcing me to look her in the eyes. She just looks at my sad expression for a moment, staring through my eyes to read my innermost thoughts.
  594.  
  595. She bends my head down, and rests her forehead against the crown of my own head. “Hey,” she begins, “There is no scale for suffering. We aren't men. We have no dick length to compare here, suffering is suffering and we've all been through it.” She moves her head back from my own and puts both hands to my face, again forcing me to look into her eyes.  
  596.  
  597. Her golden orbs pierce my own deep obsidian. Her gaze feels as though its wrenching my vision apart to grasp my soul with an iron fist. I'm sure my eyes are as wide as they'd ever been. I'm not sure if some enchantment was at play, but I'm sure she could have told me to kill myself in that moment and I would have agreed without hesitation. Such was the strength of her will. Her immense intend vanished within not a moment, however, and I no longer felt under her scrutiny, but in my minds eye imagined myself as a fledgling, shivering within the heated and comforting embrace of its mother. I look at her in supplication, and her words burn themselves into my mind, a blazing text slashes and burns its way into my heart, purging all doubt, cauterizing anxiety.
  598.  
  599. “You belong here. You deserve this. You are our sister, and for the simple reason that you exist, we love you.”
  600.  
  601. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried.
  602.  
  603. We settled at some point that by way of induction, we were to exact vengeance upon those who hurt me in live, so that I could sever the ties with them in death, and simply live the days with my sisters happily. That night I dream, of hands violating me, as they push me down under the water. Rough fingers spread my labia wide and spear down into my throat. Digits like wrought iron clamp about my throat and throttle the life from my eyes. A shadowy figure stands before me, unbuckling its belt. I wake screaming as the shadow flings me into the waters. I plummet to the depths, breathing easier than I ever could on land. The figure dives in after me, revealing Skadi as she slides up to me and throws her arms about me in a tight embrace.
  604.  
  605. “Better?” She asks as we float together. I nod, dimly, and bury my head into her shoulder, tears fading into the river, as though they never existed. After a moment, I pull away from her.
  606.  
  607. “Enough,” I glare at her, or rather, through. “No more. We hunt, now.” Skadi bites her lip, warding off a smile and nods seriously.
  608.  
  609. “I’ll wake Hlinna.”
  610.  
  611. We slink down the river in something of an arrow formation; I take the lead, fuming all the way down towards the town where I died, the memory of my vulnerability leaving a bitter taste. Just as we near the stretch of the river that I used to wash linens in, I hear a drunken rambling. The shadow figure of a man ambles down the riverbank a bottle hanging limply from but two fingers, clinched about the neck of the bottle. Fate, or perhaps destiny, or even the capricious hand of karma, something favours me tonight. Like a shade I ghost my fiance’s footsteps, making utterly sure that we were alone before I slowly rise from the waters.
  612.  
  613. “Fuckin’ kick me outta your bar… pieces of shit all of them,” he rants. Moon light dances off my curves as the water slides off me and back into the water.
  614.  
  615. The man turns to investigate the noise, and in turning to the moonlight I can see his face clearly. Hollow, sunken eyes ogle me. He takes a hesitant step forward and begins to mumble at me, a shaky hand stretched outwards.
  616.  
  617. “R-Ranuinne, is t-that you?” Fervent reverent, words spill from his filthy mouth as he stumbles through the water towards me, “I-I’m so sorry, I was drinking and I-I just don’t know what came over me one moment I saw you… and my heart just ached and… and then it was filled with just this… rage a-and I-I just.”
  618.  
  619. I smile at my ex-fiancé, and open my arms as an invitation, not saying anything. I can tell, I can see in his eyes, how genuinely sorry he is. “It’s okay,” I placate, “It’s alright, I’m here now.”
  620.  
  621. His snotty, tear stricken face brights up as he falls to his knees in the waist deep waters at my feet. He cries into my legs, and my skin crawls. “It’s okay, It’s okay,” I croon, over and over again. Gin-gerly I place my hands at his chin and slowly guide him up to a standing position. I flash my rows of teeth at him in a feral grin an let my tongue loll out lewdly, I watch his face pale before my fangs and delight inside. He stumbles back a few steps and begins to say something, to scream, but I lean back and strike him square in the throat, feeling my fingers curling around his windpipe shattering it in my fist. He falls back into the water with a surprised squeak, mouth opening and closing, trying to beg, plead, anything, but no sound comes except for the gurgle of swelling blood.
  622.  
  623. He rolls from his arse onto his hand and knees, trying to crawl away, gain enough ground underfoot to stand up and flee, but his feet keep slipping on the loose pebbles of the riverbed. I follow up be-hind him with my claw-like nails and dig deep into his ankles, with both hands. He lets out a breath-less screech as I pull out his tendons, hamstringing him. Feet disabled, I deliver a powerful kick into his side, feeling his ribs fracture underfoot. I’m sure a few punctured his lungs, but as it is, I already crushed his windpipe, so it made little difference. He lands with a splash in the water, fully sub-merged. He tries to prop himself up out of the water, even though he hasn’t the means to breathe the precious air just beyond, but I plant a foot square on his chest and lean into it, keeping his head inches below water.      
  624.  
  625. I stand over him, a foot upon his chest, and watch as the life slowly fades from his panic stricken eyes. My sisters stand up out of the waters, impressed with the spectacle. “You’re not going to eat him?” Queries Skadi, I laugh.
  626.  
  627. “What, this piece of shit? No.”
  628.  
  629. The three figures loom over him as his limp struggles finally cease, his brain shuts down, unable to function without the oxygen, spending its last moments in burning agony, pleading for breath. A satisfyingly pathetic ending.  
  630.  
  631. I take a deep breath and smile in satisfaction, turning my blazing eyes to the town before me, just beyond the river, determined to visit upon reality what is reflected in my eyes. The night is young yet.
  632.  
  633. You’d think that as a creature of the rivers and lakes and other such bodies of water, I’d be somewhat iffy around fire. In hindsight, the ease in which I set my life aflame still sort of scares me. I was like a machine. The architectural craze of thatched roofing probably contributed more to the slaughter than my sisters and I ever could. Not that we didn’t play a large part.
  634.  
  635. I dropped the torch onto the pile of hay I’d build about the base of the inn I once called a home. The hay burst into flames in a giant plume, incinerating fiercely and dashing itself in the wind in the next moment. Fitting. The flames extinguished in the breeze, but not before the fire caught the lip of the eve of the roof. I circled around to the window aside the bar and rapped on it sternly, catching the Innkeeper’s attention. He turns to face me, a gauntness evident in his spirit, and pales at seeing my ghost. ‘Run’ I mouth, before turning on my heel and striding away.
  636.  
  637. The winds are strong today. I’d like to believe that it is some sort of divine being, lending his aid to my vengeance upon this shithole of a village, but most likely it has nothing to do with me. I’d be more inclined to think that the wind were just a product of some one else’s shit luck. Perhaps some one trapped. Are they burning or are they suffocating? There is a lot of smoke in the air.
  638.  
  639. I walk through short alleys and come to the main street where my sisters are already twirling around, shredding flesh. A bleary eyed man, roused from his slumber by the smoke and screams, blunders through his door, standing on the threshold before me, gaping at the scene before his eyes. Skadi stands crouched in the middle of the square, drenched up to the elbows in gore. Her elbows work as she pulls meter upon meter of intestine out of the gut of a fallen man. Malicious glee gleams within her eyes as she fashions the rope into a lasso, and flings it at a woman who runs past, screaming.
  640.  
  641. Her cries are cut short as she is yanked bodily off her feet, and hauled towards Skadi’s maws. I smell the acrid scent of piss before I see it stain the man’s crotch. I wrinkle my nose and extend my arm as I walk past him, my nails snag on the skin of his throat and I pull him with me. He stumbles a step or two before the tension proves too much, and the flesh within my hand tears free, a gout of blood dribbles from his now ruptured windpipe, and bathes the front of his chest, as he falls to his knees, surprise painted all on his face.
  642.  
  643. Hlinna walks up to Skadi as I arrive, and plants a hand on the crouching woman’s head, giving her hair a slight ruffle as she watches me approach, silhouette bathed in the orange glow behind me. Skadi looks up at us, the entirety of a woman’s cranium lodged in her jaws, comically. Like a father who lodges an entire orange into his gob to amuse his children. I snort a bit of laughter at the sight, and Skadi grins at me behind her mouthful.
  644.  
  645. Hlinna appraises my handiwork, a bloodied hand upon her chin, “Not bad, not bad at all. You set many fires?”
  646.  
  647. I shrug, “I lit a fair few working at the inn, but more than that, if I recall correctly it had been some time since it last rained,” I grab at an errant lock of hair, flowing in the breeze, “this wind helps too.”
  648.  
  649. Hlinna nods, sagely, as she continues to rub Skadi’s head, almost pushing it from side to side. “Hm hm. That would do it. So, where to now?”
  650.  
  651. I gesture towards the part of the town the alchemist lived in, where I was accosted by the guards, and we all headed down the winding alleyways. The flames had long since roused the village into a state of panic, so most of the way was deserted. I stand before the thick door, Skadi behind me, Hlinna long since gone down one alley or another in search of more prey. I ask Skadi to wait whilst I finish personal business, before I enter the shop.
  652.  
  653. The man stands behind his counter, a small crossbow in hand. It dips slightly at my entrance.
  654.  
  655. “Hmph. I thought it was your voice I heard.” He looks me up and down, his eyes reflect not a person but merchandise. “Quite a mess you’ve made for yourself. I seriously hope that you didn’t come to kill me. I’ve been out of rusalka teeth for quite some time, you know? Invaluable things.”
  656.  
  657. I step towards him, and raise a trembling hand, palm open and up, “I’m not here to kill you, no matter how much my new blood sings for it.” I reach a hand out and claw at his chest, fingers splayed. It opens a large, bloody gash, shallow none the less. “Well I said that, but now you’re dead.” I look over my shoulder, before continuing. “Got anything in your bottles to prove it?”
  658.  
  659. He cocks an eyebrow as I continue, “It doesn’t look like this place would burn very well. Too dank and damp. Sleep here for while. By the time you wake the fires should have died down enough to let you escape.”
  660.  
  661. “Hey, Ranuinne You done in there? I’ll give you a hand.”
  662.  
  663. “Hurry!” I hiss at him and the alchemist nods. He reaches under his counter and pulls out a bottle, flicking the cork off. ‘Cheers’ he gestures, before downing the thing, and collapsing in a pool of his own blood. Skadi enters but a moment later and look over the corpse.
  664.  
  665. “What,” she looks at me, “you not hungry?” she licks her lips at the plump corpse, but I place a firm palm to the centre of her chest, halting her.
  666.  
  667. “Sniff around. Nothing in this place is safe. Goes for the man too.” Her nostrils flare and a moment later she blanches, screwing up her face and poking her tongue out.
  668.  
  669. “Blegh. Thanks for the heads up, sis. If you told me that I wouldn’t have come in,” she grumbles.
  670.  
  671. I laugh as I grab her hand and tow her out of the building, “That’s why I said to wait outside. C’mon, lets go find Hlinna.” Skadi nods and lets me lead her out. I cast one glance behind me to the ‘corpse’ before I leave. We find Hlinna back in the square, five guards tied up at her feet, kneeling.
  672.  
  673. “What’s all this?” I ask, and she gestures towards the men.
  674.  
  675. “Line up. Recognise any faces? These guys were the first onto the scene. Burning for glory, so to speak, so odds are the guys who beat you for the itch’s favour are amidst this lot.”
  676.  
  677. I peer closely at the men, and recognise two amongst the lot, both men being on the far left. I turn around and give Hlinna a hug, before striding over towards the two men.
  678.  
  679. Standing behind the two quivering forms, I jab my hands into the back of their necks, nails slicing deep and allowing me to bury my fingers down to the palm. Hands bathed in warm blood, I give an ecstatic shiver. I look into Hlinna’s eyes as I twist my wrists and scythe away at the sinew and flesh, gripping the base of the skull from within the neck and tearing it clean from the torso, single-handedly.
  680.  
  681. I take a deep sigh as I hold the heads like gory puppets. I wiggle my four fingers around so that they pierce deep into the cranium, and wedge my thumb into the flesh of the lower jaw. “With this,” I begin in a deep, manly voice, opening and closing my hands, and by extension, the mouths of my two impromptu hand puppets, “I am avenged.”
  682.  
  683.  
  684.  *      *       *       *
  685.  
  686. The fire plays with your shadows as your lover leans against you, your back to the pillar, hugging her from behind. You wince, not for the first time, at her vivid retelling. “And then?” You ask.
  687.  
  688. She shrugs. “And then we went into the water. Lived there. Died there. I mean where else could we go?” Her face turns to wistful. “It’s like the water accepted us, you know?”
  689.  
  690. You rest your chin on her head, as you ponder her tale. “So where are your sisters?”
  691.  
  692. “Ah. Well a few centuries back this new girl appears and remade a bunch of monsters in her ideal image, so we lost that blood lust, and were given regular lust instead. After that I just couldn’t get into it, y’know? The killing and the hatred, it just washed away with the tide. It wasn’t the same for my sisters, though. Maybe it was because they were older. Or stronger. But they retained their thirst for carnage. Wether through instinct or just sheer will, I don’t really know. But it’s like they began to feel the need to compensate. Their savagery grew, as if to say ‘Hey, no, wait. I still really do enjoy this.’ It just struck me as sort of sad. Not to mention I had to forgo eating around them. My stomach is delicate, you know? Killing is one thing. Stripping finger-width rashers of flesh from a living person was just.” It’s her turn to shiver, the light spasm making her seem as frail as a leaf in autumn.
  693.  
  694. You lean down to lay a kiss upon the nape of her neck. She doesn’t jump or anything, but the ghost-like sensation of your light touches urges another shiver, shaking her out of whatever gloom she’d been occupying herself with since she began the tale. You trail kissed up the back of her neck to her ear, and bite down softly on the pinna. “So, your name is Ranuinne.”
  695.  
  696. “Oh. I completely forgot to introduce myself,” She twists in your arms to face you, “Yeah, I’m Ranuinne, nice to ah…” She awkwardly holds her hand out, “meet you, I guess.”
  697.  
  698. You take her hand, the formality of the motion brings a wry smile to your face, “I’m Theinnleid. It’s a little long, honesty.” Your eyes flick to the fires once more. “Ranuinne.” You pull the woman closer to you, as if to smother the aching in your chest. “I think it’s a lonely sounding name.”
  699.  
  700. She doesn’t respond for a little while and you begin to wonder if she even heard you. You’ve lived alone for a few years, so outside of talking to yourself you don’t speak up often. Because of that you find your voice coming out a lot softer than anticipated at times. That said, you don’t particularly feel the need to repeat yourself. She responds just as you’re about to put the matter to rest. “Yeah. I suppose it was.”
  701.  
  702. The two of you sit together in relative silence, the passing of time betrayed only by the lapping of waves and the gentle crackling of the fire. Idly, you reach a hand out and begin to play with the flames. Your fingers dance slowly, minute changes in position and gestures paint tales on the canvas of oranges and reds. You carve out a small blue figurine in the raging backdrop. Without even consciously thinking about it, the small blue flame begins to re-enact parts of the tale you were just told. Similarly to how if you were to just scribble and think of things, eventually your scribbles would subconsciously begin to resemble your train of thought.
  703.  
  704. The little blue light rages about the fire, darting to and fro, standing still and quivering. Eventually the little blue flame is joined by two others, and they race about the firepit, devouring the duller red flames until the whole thing is just a mess of raging blues and whites. Naturally, magic is impressive, but it can’t very well just create something from nothing. Thanks to your manipulations the wood in the pit incinerates rapidly, and soon your lightshow splutters to a halt, the three blue flames starving for fuel. You turn your head aside as the fire dies, and apologise to your lover, “Sorry, I got lost in thoughts and ate up all the wood,” a smile creeps its way onto your face as you consider your situation, “Well, I guess if you don’t want to freeze we’ll just have to sleep together.”
  705.  
  706. She laughs, “I guess we will. It’s on you to gather wood tomorrow though.”
  707.  
  708. “I think I can manage that.” You say, deciding to let the innuendo lay. Throughout this interaction the two of you are distracted from the fire as it slowly dies. You miss the simmering miniature blue figurine in the dull red embers, lingering impossibly, silently watching you as it slowly disperses.
  709.  
  710. Ranuinne watched your display intently. Once the fire, and by extension the need to watch it, died she settled back into a more comfortable position, head resting in the crook of your neck, chest rising and falling in tandem with your own pace. She picks up one of your hands from around her belly and holds it out before her, a gesture similar to the one you used to manipulate the fire. She twists her arm around yours, her fingers interlace between your own, her palm up.
  711.  
  712. “You know, you can do some surprisingly delicate things.” You shrug,
  713.  
  714. “What do you take me for?”
  715.  
  716. “Dunno.” Hands still locked together, she brings your arm back around her belly hugging your arm as you hold her. “At first I took you for food, I guess. But when you came back, a lot of latent emotions rose. Feelings I’d thought I’d forgotten. I’m not even sure if it’s you particularly or if it’s just because you’re the first man I’d spoken to in such a long time. Pathetic, isn’t it?”
  717.  
  718. “I don’t really think so. I think I’m in a similar boat. I mean, sure you’re beautiful but I don’t really think it was love at first sight.” You think in the dim light you see the tips of her ears grow slightly redder, “Even now I get the sensation that I’m just using you for self-validation. And there’s also the fact that you’re the only woman I’ve enjoyed the company of in a long while. But even now I get the feeling that there’s something deeper to it.”
  719.  
  720. She twists to look up at you, and there’s a smile on her face, “I like that you see me as a woman and not some kind of dangerous monster to tame and brag about. Very well then, shall we agree to settle for each other, ‘till ‘something deeper’ binds us together?”
  721.  
  722. You lean down, close to her face, her big eyes gaze back into yours, slightly lidded. The girl must be getting tired. “Yeah.” You place your lips against hers, your mouths open slightly, her soft lips locking to yours. Your tongue slips out and probes around her mouth, carefully avoiding the serrated edges of her teeth, avoiding any cuts which may trigger a type of frenzy, thoroughly killing the mood.
  723.  
  724. You’re not sure if she caught onto your intentions, but soon her significantly longer tongue wraps around yours, allowing the two of you to sink further into each other without worrying about any lacerations. Gasps and wet smacks fill the air as you kiss. Her arms find their way around your chest and she takes a giant breath through her nose as she pushes herself into you. You lean back, in search of a more comfortable position, never breaking contact. The eyes you’d alternated between closed and gazing into hers now dart around for the edge of the blanket.
  725.  
  726. One hand wrapped about the back of her chest, the two of you continue making out, with her ontop of you, tail coiled about your leg possessively. It lacks the length and flexibility of a snake’s tail, but gets the point across just the same. You flop a hand out and grope blindly in the general direction of the corner of the blanket, and a moment later you catch something triangular feeling. You pull up on it and throw it into the air. The blanket rises in a neat arc, and drops down on the both of you with a flop, covering you both completely.
  727.  
  728. You break the kiss and roll back the blanket covering your heads, she slides off you and rests on her side, clearly tired. She grabs your hand and pulls you into her so that you’re lying together on your sides, you slide one arm under her as she guides the other hand to rest on her breast, cupping it. She wiggles back into you and it’s your turn to rest your chin into the crook of her neck and shoulder. The two of you lay like that, waiting for sleep. Your mind whirs, and it’s awhile before the battle of attrition concludes, and slumber claims you. Just as it does, a sweet mumble ushers you into your dreams, “This is much nicer… than sleeping alone.”
  729.  
  730. You wake bleary eyed, to a strong beam of sunlight baking your face. You never really considered this before, but from the angle of the hole in the ceiling and the way the light splashes in, it makes for a decent wake-up call in lieu of birdsong, which generally doesn’t carry down into the cozy alcove. To make rough estimations based on your gut feeling and the way in which the sunlight lays across the floor that it’s most likely around seven or so in the morning.
  731.  
  732. You make your way out of the cave and spot a familiar looking figure. The girl makes to slink away before you raise a hand out of the water you’re treading, clearly indicating that you’ve noticed her. You suppose even monsters have common curtesy.“Yo,” you open with, brightly, “How’s the hunt?” The shark girl puts on a complicated expression, before relaxing her face in apparent resignation. “Hoh, you look like you just decided something.”
  733.  
  734. “Well,” she begins slowly, “I was just thinking that it’s not really pleasant knowing you, but then I figured that this is the second time we’ve run into each other like this, so I might as well get used to it.”
  735.  
  736. Not sure how you feel about that. Leaving any form of lingering silence here would be pretty awkward, so you decide to forge on ahead, “I guess sharks are only really subtle when they’re going in for the kill huh? Well I appreciate the honesty, I suppose. I did ask for it.”
  737.  
  738. She shrugs, “It’s not like I dislike you, but…” Her eyes flick to the cliff behind you, roughly around the area which secrets the smallish entrance to the cave.
  739.  
  740. “I take it she’s something like the black sheep of the sea?”
  741.  
  742. Her eyes widen in surprise, “Yeah… that’s actually a pretty good way of putting it I guess. Her kind in general, really, just don’t quite fit in. I mean, nothing personal,” She lifts a browned, scarred arm, bicep twitching slightly as she rubs her hand across the back of her skull, “I’m alive, y’know? We all are. She is technically, I guess, but she doesn’t smell like it.”
  743.  
  744. You rub at your chin, thoughtfully. Something like a base instinct conflicting in a primal sense, rather than on a conscious and personal level. “Well, she’s not bad. I like her. Clearly. Quite a bit, really if I think about it.” She offers you a non-committal shrug, ‘to each their own,’ “Anyways, you mentioned ‘getting used to it,’ are we something like neighbours, then? I haven’t really seen you around before.”
  745. Her brows knit in confusion, “Why would you have?”
  746.  
  747. “Eh, well I’ve been fishing out on a rock by the beach out that way for a few years now. Haven’t seen you once.”
  748.  
  749. “I see,” she nods, arms crossed in the water as she slowly circles you, as she’s done so for the past few minutes. Really it’s making you a little dizzy, but you remember hearing once that sharks can’t stay still. You decide not to mention it, and merely turn ever so slightly in the water as you tread, but your legs are getting tired.
  750.  
  751. “So any way, yeah I never really extended my hunting grounds that far down. I might’ve had I known someone so cute were waiting for me day in day out.” She flashes a flirtatious smile at you, her sparkling white teeth, a striking contrast to her golden-brown skin. It would seem she’d gotten over the unease of your association with the Rusalka.
  752.  
  753. You smile back at her, “I appreciate the sentiment, but it seems someone beat you to the chase.”
  754.  
  755. “So it would seem,” she eyes your body as you sit, fully surfaced bar the feet which kick softly at the waves, “how are you, by the by? You don’t look particularly chewed up.”
  756.  
  757. You chuckle a bit at the contrast between the subject matter and the cordial, almost neighbourly tone she used to breach said subject.
  758.  
  759. “Not too bad I suppose. Can’t complain. I’ll probably have to bring home some dinner tonight though,” you allude trying to imitate some of the vague conversations you’d seen around town, “And you? You don’t seem like you’ve been doing much chewing. There a shortage of cute fisherboys?”
  760.  
  761. “S’pose so. I kinda just followed the warm currents when I got here, but it’s sorta becoming rarer by the day to run across anyone out here.”
  762.  
  763. “Maybe you should consider settling down?” you sound like your grandmother. You don’t have a grandmother.
  764.  
  765. She laughs at that. It’s not as graceful and light as Ranuinne’s but it’s the sort of brash laugh you’d expect from a boisterous drinking partner. “Yeah, okay. Mum.”
  766.  
  767. You smile a little ruefully, “Didn’t mean to pry.” She shrugs her shoulders a little bashfully
  768.  
  769. “I don’t really mind it. So what are you up to?”
  770. You kick at the water to rotate your gradually diminishing block of ice and look up towards the cliffs, “Need to grab some firewood. Running a little low. After that I guess I’ll head into town and grab some ingredients for something like a soup.” A though occurs to you, “Wanna join?” She looks like she’s about to refuse, so you decide to push her into it a little, “C’mon, she’s not that bad. I think she’d like you. Besides it doesn’t seem like you’ve got other engagements, right?”
  771.  
  772. She nibbles at her lower lip a little before accepting your invitation. “Great,” You beam, “I guess I’d better go grab that firewood and announce a guest. Unrelated question, are you pretty strong?”
  773.  
  774. “Uh… I- I guess, why?”
  775.  
  776. “Oh, see that cliff? I was just wondering if you’ like to save me a bit of a walk and hurl me up there?” She raises and eyebrow, but she did just see you fashion a frozen seat for yourself out of what was originally fairly warm sea water. Maybe she thought you could manipulate the wind or something to ease your fall. To be fair, you probably could have, but that’s a lot of effort, and as she grips your hand and flings you bodily skyward, you decide to merely barrel through the trunk of a particularly feeble and dry looking sapling. You split it in twain with your chest and hear an ominous splitting noise, one you associate with the splintering of wood.
  777.  
  778. “Fuck, are you alright?” comes the cry a few meters down and a few more out. You stand up and dust off your soaked pants, before walking to the edge of the cliff,
  779.  
  780. “I’m cool,” you call back, waving an arm idly in her direction. She just shakes her head “Oh, hey,” you call just as she turns to leave, “I forgot to grab your name. I’m Theinnleid, you?”
  781.  
  782. “Sonja,” she calls back, hands cupped around her mouth in an attempt to carry her words to you.
  783.  
  784. “See you tonight then, Sonja” you wave a last time and head off into the woods.
  785.  
  786. You do a little mental inventory as you walk through the undergrowth. You think you have a few potatoes at your home, so if you were to head into Stonevale all you really need is meat stuffs and perhaps something additional, like carrots or something. You decide to pick up a few different types of land-meat, too. Figuring it would be something of a delicacy for the deep-sea carnivore. That reminds you, what exactly would Ranuinne prefer? Well, asides from you. You recall her story and search through it, but don’t remember her talking about any favourite foods in particular. Bummer. Guess you’ll have to wing it.
  787.  
  788. You work well into the morning, collecting fallen wood and stacking it up upon the edge of the cliff, just above the cave. You repeat the motions a good twenty or so times, arms completely full with faggots of wood each time. Having felt that you’d stockpiled a decent amount for a while, you head back to your stash on the edge of the cliff. Placing a hand to your brow, looking out at the sun which is high in the sky, you’d guess it to be around eleven in the morning. You pull your gaze from skyward towards your feet, and look for the hole in the roof which lets in all the sunlight. Something like that is hard to miss, so understandably it doesn’t take you long to find.
  789.  
  790. You grab a few of the larger logs you picked up, and drop them through the hole. They land with a startlingly loud back, and a muffled, echo-y “Kyaaa!” floats up to your ears. “Theinn? Is that you? What are you doing?”
  791.  
  792. “Yeah, it’s me,” you call back to her, “I’ll just dropping down some of the firewood I collected for us this morning I’ve got some news for you too, so I’ll be down in a moment,” you don’t really think you need to tell ber, but you decide to err on the side of caution, either way, “Don’t go near the gap in the ceiling.”
  793.  
  794. No matter how many logs and bundles of sticks you drop down, you never hear the sound of wood hitting wood, and it’s not till you’ve finished your task and dived off the edge of the cliff and enter the cave that you find out why, she’d been neatly stacking the wood up against the side of the cave as you worked. Thankful for not having to organize the mess, you call out to her as you rise from the waters.
  795.  
  796. “Hey, morning,” You walk up to the edge of the bed where she sits, and lean down to give her a quick kiss on the mouth.
  797.  
  798. “So what did you want to tell me?”
  799.  
  800. “Ah, yeah. I’ll be heading into town shortly to gather a few ingredients for a big soup that I wanna cook up, and I’ve invited a guest. Sorry for not asking you beforehand.”
  801.  
  802. She shrugs, “I don’t really mind, but I only really need one husband, you know. I’ll try be nice to him, but that’s not really the sort of company I care to keep.”
  803.  
  804. You laugh softly, “Well that’s good, because he is a she,” you peer into her face to observe her reactions, “and she is a shark.” You expected some kind of possessive jealousy, but she just claps her hands in excitement.
  805.  
  806. “Ah! Her! I’ve smelled her around before, and I wanted to say ‘hi’ but I never managed to catch her.”
  807.  
  808. “What,” you joke, “no jealousy, not worried about her whisking me away?”
  809.  
  810. Her reply is sharp and to the point, “Do you want to leave me?”  
  811.  
  812. “N-no…”
  813.  
  814. She smiles, happy and trusting, “Then what does it matter?”
  815.  
  816. You let out a sigh, “Now I feel kinda bad for joking about it,” you laugh a little awkwardly, and run your hand through your hair. You wince as it catches on something in your hand and tears at the skin a little.
  817.  
  818. She frowns at your out-of-the-blue reaction, “Something up?”
  819.  
  820. “Yeah, think I might have gotten a splinter in my hand”
  821.  
  822. She pats next to her and commands you to sit, “Let me look at it”
  823.  
  824. You do what you’re told and sit your ass down as she takes your hand in hers and gingerly guides it to her mouth.
  825.  
  826. “U-uh. You’re going for the splinter, right?”
  827.  
  828. “Yesh and no,” she says from around your hand as she latches on to the area vaguely around where the pain is. You brace yourself for more. You feel her warm, wet tongue slithering about the palm of your hand, and stifle your squirming. You didn’t realise your hand was this ticklish. It begins to circle around where she guesses the splinter to be and you feel a sharp pain as her teeth dig into the area. She pulls her head back and spits out a bit of your blood, mournfully watching it splatter on the floor. Amidst the spot of blood you can clearly see a long and thin splinter of wood, glistening in the crimson around it.
  829.  
  830. You thank her and go to pull your hand back only to find it in an iron grip. “Not done with you, yet,” she grins sadistically, and places one of your fingers in her mouth, beginning to slowly fellate it. You give her a stern glare.
  831.  
  832. “Tch. To think that you’d go so far as to bite the hand that feeds you.”      
  833.  
  834. She laughs a little and her sadistic expression turns to one of apology, “Sorry,” she whispers quietly.
  835.  
  836. Your own mock expression softens and you pat her head soothingly. She smiles up at you from around your hand and bites down, teeth sinking down to the bone. She doesn’t apply much pressure as she pulls back at the flesh of your hand, so were you able to even think beyond the searing pain, you wouldn’t have been worried about her breaking something. The thought that does occur to you, though, is that it doesn’t hurt as much as it did the last time. Perhaps this is something you could get used to? Her teeth catch under the flesh and your skin and muscle begin to peel back, rather than tear completely, various sinews and tendons snap, a familiar sensation, on a handy, smaller scale. Her serrated fangs scarring the bone beneath, sending brain numbing jolts of agony up through your arm. She pulls her head off your hand with a wet smack, and tendons, gristle and bone glisten out in the sunlight bathing the interior of the cave.
  837.  
  838. Tears sting your eyes as you fight back the sensory information. Millions of nerves scream inside your head like, thousands of petulant hermits. ‘I’m outside. Fuck you. I don’t belong outside.’ Slowly blood soothes the effect of the biting air on the exposed nerves and the white hot anguish simmers down to an enflamed red. Her eyes glimmer a blood-lusty red as she lunges for your shoulder once more. Perhaps some primal part of her feels that feeding from that spot in particular is more intimate than any other spot, you settle down onto the bed and wrap your arms around her waist, as she embraces you in kind.
  839.  
  840. She moans passionately into your shoulder as she bites down on your shoulder, blood flooding into her mouth, some of it escapes the seal her lips has on you, and dribbles out the side, running don your chest. You feel her nipples stiffen against your chest, as her nails knead your back almost like a cat’s. Had the blood destined to go to your dick not been flowing from your shoulder, had your mind not been bathed in flashes of white pain, you would have found the sensation of her grinding against you highly arousing. As it is, all you can do it hold her tight and wait for her to eat her fill.
  841.  
  842. At some point in time which you barely register, she stops biting into you and settles herself into merely nuzzling your wounds. She brings her wrist up to her mouth and bites down on it, she then moves it above the gaping hole in your shoulder and lets her blood mingle with yours. You watch in amazement as tendons, veins, fibres and vessels find one another and begin to tie themselves together, slowly mending the wounds. She never leaves your side throughout the whole process, her cheeks stained in blood, and blushing furiously, as she struggles against her warring desires to mount you then and there, and to nurse you to health before engaging in anything too lewd.
  843.  
  844. She calms down after a little while, and the last object of her healing is your mangled hand. For this, she brings her own hand to her mouth, and runs her teeth down each finger, splitting her hand open with the precision of a scalpel. With her hand bleeding like this, she takes your gory hand into her own, and locks the fingers. Strange sensations and curiously erotic wet slurps come from your hands as she clenches and releases her grip on your hand, pumping her own blood into the mess of your flesh, accelerating the healing process. The two of you sit there for a while, before you head out towards Stonevale. You both pant, lightly, waiting for the intensity of the moment to settle down, as you rest, hand in hand.
  845.  
  846. An idea crosses your mind, “Hey, Ranuinne. What exactly are the properties of your blood?” you lift your arm, for emphasis, her hand in your own bloodied hand. Though looking closely under the drying blood, you see fresh, pink flesh showing through, a testament to the powerful regenerative properties.
  847.  
  848. She knows the way you think well enough by now to understand that you aren’t asking her to state the obvious, so she stays silent a moment, and thinks deeply on the subject of her blood. After a while she speaks up, “Two things come to mind, excluding the obvious,” you nod, just as she expected you to. She looks a little happy to be able to accurately guess your thoughts. Perhaps she sees it as proof of your intimacy, “the first is that it heals even me, so shallow nicks aren’t a problem, so much so that I often don’t even notice them. The second being discovered through a particularly deep gouge from when I lost my balance whilst collecting firewood, and fell. A broken branch from a dried up and dead tree stabbed into me, but when I pulled the wood from my side, I noticed a tinge of green begin to return to the tip of the branch. Sucking off the blood, to make sure the branch was free of any of it, I also noticed a few beads of sap begin to seep from the break.”
  849.  
  850. Your mind reels at the implications of this. Could her blood possibly revive the dead? You’ll definitely have to test this out soon, but its past time for you to head towards town. You consider taking a vial of her blood to show the apothecary who lives there, but you don’t have any flasks on hand. You begin to curse your lack of foresight when you spot the guitar you once carried underwater in a vortex of atmosphere, and an idea comes to you. You head to the pool at the entrance of the cave, and kneel before your lover’s curious gaze.
  851.  
  852. You spread your fingers wide and begin to manipulate the magic your father carved into your flesh, feeling the runes spark into life. Ranuinne gasps softly as a light glows softly from your back. The ice rune between your shoulder blades in particular sends a not entirely unpleasant chill down your spine. On a day as cool as today, however, you wish you were wearing a shirt. You stopped wearing them since they are only likely to get either soaked or bloodied. This line of thought does remind you, however, to swing by your home on your way through.
  853.  
  854. It’s only a temporary measure, but you focus the wind in your hands and plunge it into the water. A moment later you withdraw a water-laden vortex, hollow in the centre and in the shape of a vial. You freeze the moisture, and are left with a vial made of ice, enough to hold just under a mouthful of liquid.
  855.  
  856. “What are you going to do with that?” Ranuinne looks at the faux-glass flask
  857.  
  858. “Sorry, but do you think you could bleed a little into it? I know someone back in town who’d appreciate such a sample”
  859.  
  860. You stoop down and pick up two stones, you crush one into dust using wind, and blast the other with the vortex of fine sand-like particles. You don’t achieve anything as astounding as a blade, but you do wear down one edge of the stone to a fine point. Ranuinne holds her hand out and you run the edge of the stone down her palm. A few drops of blood drip into the ice flask, but the wound heals before you manage to collect a respectably amount.
  861.  
  862. “Wait, how do you manage to bleed into me, then?”
  863.  
  864. She looks at her healed hand with a slightly puzzled expression, like she’d never considered it before. “Well I’ve always used my teeth, I guess?”
  865.  
  866. “Hrm. Do me a favour, bite into your hand but don’t get any saliva into the wound.”
  867.  
  868. She does as you say and the wound closes quickly, as before.
  869.  
  870. “Now do the same but lick the wound as you do so.” She follows your orders again and stares fixedly at her now bleeding hand.
  871.  
  872. She looks up to you, a mild concern in her eyes, “What does this mean?”
  873.  
  874. “Nothing too serious,” you assure her as you collect her blood in the vial, “Look here,” you say, and lick her hand clean. The wound closes over quickly, just as you thought it would.
  875.  
  876. “W-what did you do?”
  877.  
  878. “Nothing. Rather, licked the wound I guess.” You stroke your chin in thought, trying to remember the word you’d read a long while back. “Ah, anticoagulants, I think they were called. A type of naturally occurring substance which stops clotting of the blood and allows it to flow freely. Mosquitoes have it. I’d wager a bet to say that your saliva does a similar thing, but rather than stopping blood from clotting, it renders your healing null.” Her eyes begin to glaze over as your torrent of words flows, unimpeded, “I mean, think about it from a purely biological standpoint. You require a constant source of food, right, but you take your meals from living creatures, and if we consider the fact that at some point it was found that your blood held healing properties, from an evolutionary standpoint, it would behove you to have some kind of trait to allow generous blood flow before your own wounds close over, thereby diminishing the risk of your food-source bleeding out due to you being unable to minister the right amount of blood, depending on how deeply you’d fed on your prey. Perhaps some time ago your kind actually lacked this ability and this increased the dangers of having your food source die out, perhaps due to people learning to avoid you, having associated your kind with death. Therefor it would be reasonable to conclude that a significant number of your species would have died out from starvation, bar those who developed this mutation  which allowed them to feed upon a single man for an extended period of time, due to significantly decreased risk of having him bleed-out after every meal.”
  879.  
  880. You thrust your chest out having flawlessly delivered your hypothesis, and turn to your audience. Your audience gazes back at you, with blank expressions. “Ah, sorry. You didn’t really catch any of that huh?” You smile a little ruefully. This is the sort of thing your alchemist friend in town would have smuggled out from the most recent imperial archives. If anything it was inconsiderate of you to just rattle your thoughts of like that. You make to apologise again, but before you can get the words out, she interrupts you.
  881.  
  882. “N-no it’s not that, and yeah some of the ideas there went a bit above my head, but something is bothering me.”
  883.  
  884. “Yeah?”
  885.  
  886. “Wouldn’t that imply that we are born? You didn’t forget that we were essentially dead spirits, right?”
  887.  
  888. “…”
  889.  
  890. “…You did, didn’t you?” A slow smirk begins to crack on her face,        
  891.  
  892. “…N-no. OhboylookatthetimethanksforthebloodIloveyougottagobye” This is how you beat your hasty and graceful retreat in the face of your lover’s unrelentingly smug grin.
  893.  
  894. You place the flask in a small bubble of air as you swim away towards your house. Actually freezing a cap or cork onto the thing would prove troublesome when you decide to distil it into a more fitting container back at your place, so you carry it upright before you  as you swim, refreezing the water and only the water every now and then. As you emerge from the cave you notice your neighbour isn’t loitering about. Perhaps she’s found herself some prey. Bummer. You could have used the extra shark-power.
  895.  
  896. The water isn’t so warm that you’re worried about your flask melting, but you are gravely concerned about contaminating the crimson liquid within. After what seemed to be an eternity of swimming, running and refreezing you arrive at your place, and notice that at the very least, it hasn’t been ransacked yet. You head to your room, and gather a few items, not least of which, a clean flask topped with a cork. You decant the blood into the real vial, and sigh, finally able to relax your concentration. You always were bad at endurance magic. The ice magic holding the water in place and the air carrying it release simultaneously, and you wish you’d had enough foresight to step back, the water falls down the front of your pants. Fuck. You glance around sheepishly, and thank that no one seems to be around. At any rate, these pants are old and smell of the ocean.
  897.  
  898. You kick them off and find some suitable dress clothes. As you fish about for clothes and a decently sized backpack to carry things with, your eyes constantly flash to the sword you keep at the head of your bed. An ominous itch clings to the back of your neck as you glance at it every now and then, but you resolutely leave it there. It’s a large thing, left to you by your father, and you don’t like how much cock it adds to your surety. Nor do you like the way people size you up, seeing it slung across your back, either. You make your way into the pantry and pick up a small sack of potatoes and throw in a few carrots, as well as some glass jars of different spices. You throw the sack into your backpack, and slide the vial into one of its many pockets.
  899.  
  900. You pull up some socks, and slip your feet into your favourite pair of boots, and stomp around a bit to get reacquainted with the sensation, having been barefoot for so long. Dressed and equipped, you make your way towards the town as a trot, the contents of the nearly empty pack bouncing slightly with your gait.
  901.  
  902. Your house is only an hours run out from the town, three ours walk at a constant pace. The town is situated to the west of the forest which your house lay upon the border of, and is moderately large, with a few unusual facilities, but it’s barely a city. A sizeable fiefdom, perhaps? Either way, It’s fairly well off, and though one could call it a ‘country town’ it’s got well maintained, wide roads, high walls and plenty of traffic. An hour later, just as you begin to feel the greasy sheen of sweat on your back start to drip, your gait slows as you approach the walls. The gates are usually open, and the guards posted there only really bother you if you’re toting a large cart or wagon behind you. They tend to leave solidary travellers along, and personally, you prefer it that way.
  903.  
  904. That said, this time ‘round, you recognise one of the guards posted at the gates, rather, he recognises you, not that it’s particularly unwelcome.
  905.  
  906. “Oi, Theinn!”
  907.  
  908. “Broderick! Long time.” You approach the guard with an arm out, and clasp his hand in a firm grip, your hands above your chests, arms bent at the elbow. You pull him into a half hug which is more just thrusting your shoulder into his, and smack his back twice or thrice, as he does the same.
  909.  
  910. “Man it’s been ages since I saw you last, what’ve you been up to?”
  911.  
  912. “Not much man, not much, just in town to grab a few provisions,” you throw your shoulders forward, hoisting your pack up your back and letting it fall again, its contents rattling.
  913.  
  914. “Getting a little light there?” The man laughs,
  915.  
  916. “Unlike you,” you retort, smacking the back of your hand on his slightly rounder belly, provoking another laugh from the fellow.
  917.  
  918. “And whose fault do you think that is? What else am I to do with all the coins you aren’t stealing from me in cards, huh?”
  919.  
  920. You laugh and apologise, unable to steal any coins from him this time either. The man sighs and bids you farewell as you stride into the town. A good guy, you’d known him since you were a child, and he’s only a few years older than you. The town itself is fairly lively at this time of day. Usually such human villages tend to shun monsters, girl or otherwise, in preference for their own kind, but the man who runs the place is tolerant, and it’s far from the sphere of the Imperial Order’s influence. Because of this, you can see a few wings and tails mixed in with the throngs of people.
  921.  
  922. You make your way towards a familiar all-purpose store off to the side of the square, to watch one of the shrewdest women you know, swindle honest folks out of their hard-earned money. Delilah Isn’t interested in general goods or anything like that, not specifically, at any rate. To the greedy Tanuki, however, the more things you can sell, the more money you can swindle honest customers. As you approach the stall, you catch her eye just as she waves off a customer, who, no doubt hates the fact that she’s the only one who he can turn to. Monopoly. That’s her spiel. She scowls at you as she sees you approach. She doesn’t really hate you. At least, you hope she doesn’t. You think that she just hates what you represent to her profits.
  923.  
  924. “You again.” She states, surly.  
  925.  
  926. “Hey they, Delilah, what’s it like in the town today?” You offer as bright a greeting as humanly possible, and it flicks a switch in her mind, like you knew it would.
  927.  
  928. “Hey there! Yeah, it’s pretty great, today is a good day for business, you know? Come over, have a look and let me know if you see anything you li-.” Her saleswoman rep cuts short as she realises you threw her into your pace again. “Buy something or get lost.” She pouts a little.
  929.  
  930. You laugh, to her chagrin, “That’s what I’m here to do.” You point out a few cuts of meat and a whole rabbit hanging from one of the racks, “I’d like those please, and if you’d be so sweet as to wrap them up for me? And how fresh are those vegetables there?”
  931.  
  932. “The rabbit will be three silver coins and fifty coppers, five coppers for the hunks of beef, twenty-five for the chicken and seven for the chunks of venison. The vegetables come as a bulk deal this month due to good harvests so… one silver for a kilo of various kinds.”
  933.  
  934. “Three whole silver coins, and fifty coppers? Come now Delilah, you know I could take five paces from the walls and nail my own, right? One silver.”
  935.  
  936. “So do it, take your one silver and scram. I’m gonna need that three fifty.” She huffs.
  937.  
  938. “Hey, don’t be that way, Delilah. You know I come to you for only the best,” A slight blush spreads on her cheeks which she turns away to hide from you, “besides, this rabbit doesn’t look like its local. I know I’m paying for quality here, but I’m not about to give you any three fifty.”
  939.  
  940. She thinks for a moment, and relents, “Two fifty.”
  941.  
  942. “One silver and seventy five pieces of copper.” And so it begins.
  943.  
  944. You leave with a rabbit bought for two pieces of silver, and various other meats, all wrapped separately and neatly with care, plus a bundle of harvest. As you grin at Delilah and wave goodbye, she waves back with the most sincere smile you’d seen yet. Onto your next visit.          
  945.  
  946. You stand before the graveyard, hand clenching reflexively behind your shoulder as you lament leaving your sword at home. A foul wind blows from betwixt the moss bitten gravestones. Hellish apparitions of past abominations flutter across your mind and clench your heart in an icy talon. To think such an otherwise idyllic town would house such a ghastly graveyard. The sun itself shies from shining its light upon the horrors which dwell all but six feet under.
  947.  
  948. The gates to the necropolis before you open, gothic spikes yawning wide like the maw of Satan herself. It bids you enter, but you cannot move. Intense fear settles into your joints like concrete and you can do naught but shake at the knees. The hustle and bustle of the town, audible all but a few feet away, comes to you only as a muffled din, sound itself abandons you, lest you turn back from the eldritch abode.
  949.  
  950. Figures writhe and twist within the long shadows cast upon the cool, disturbed soil. Fog sways in and about the scattered crops of nightshade, caressing the velvety petals and leaving behind dewy droplets of moisture which drip from the hanging flowers, like the slavering fangs of a lurking monstrosity. Mustering all your willpower you place one foot before the other, the effort required to move diminishing with each step. The call of the undertaker lures you onward. At the centre of the graveyard lay a mausoleum, grand and foreboding in its appearance.
  951.  
  952. “Usually strong, large, thick doors denote a sense of security. It can inspire a sense of safety, or woe depending upon which side you stand. One could be lead to think, ‘Oh good. Nothing will get through this. I’m safe.’ On the other hand one could experience thoughts of ‘I’m not safe until I am on the other side of this door,’ or, ‘I won’t get what I want until I can get to the safe people beyond this door.’ These are all examples on how doors can affect one’s outlook. The bandit never looks favourably upon the door which bars him from his prey, just as the noble never shuns the door which protects him from the bandit outside.
  953.  
  954. That is a door. What you stand before is most definitely a door. It has hinges. It opens. But its sole purpose seems to have been flipped on its head. Standing in what is objectively, the wrong side of the door, you feel no desire to put yourself behind it. In fact you feel safe in knowing that you stand on the wrong side of this particular door. You suppose that there are some like this. Doors designed to offer safety, not to the person who seeks shelter behind it, but to the person who seeks shelter from the one behind the door. The purpose of this door is not to protect the one within. With the roles reversed, indeed one would feel more dread being on the other side of this door. It is from the outside which one stands in safety and thinks, ‘Oh good. Nothing will get through this. I’m safe.’ This door is not to keep others out. It is a door to lock something firmly within.
  955.  
  956. None the less, idiot that you are, you find yourself knocking. The sound of your fist rapping on solid steel resounds indefinitely and indefatigably. A small slot sits within the door, at around chest height. It slides open and you bend down to peer into the depths of the shadows. You find the purple eyes of a corpse staring back. Face to face with the eldritch horror, a source of immeasurable dread, you work frantically to halt the petrification of your own heart. Increased heart rate is not necessarily a bad thing. It pumps oxygenated blood to your muscles harder and faster than before. It allows for the flow of more adrenalin. In the face or life and death this allows you to gain the edge on your adversary, to out run it, or out fight it.
  957.  
  958. In the face of such deep and fathomless abstract terror however, the prideful heart of a living being merely resigns itself. After the initial flutter of your failing heart, you wrestle your pulse back into your control, and face down the pitiless and bottomless well of evil which plagues this good town’s gravesite, instilling fear and inspiring post-traumatic flashbacks in any unfortunate enough to not simply drop dead of fright the moment they perceive it.
  959.  
  960. Doubtless, wings of imagined, divine light streak from your back, as the winds of heaven itself bids you face the faceless fiend.”
  961.  
  962. Those purple eyes study you intently, as if to strip you of everything which is not of scientific worth, “Note five hundred and seventy, three: Subject seems to experience delusions of abstract terror. Mental vigour seems to deteriorate as Subject is no longer able to differentiate thought patterns from spoken word. Subject begins spouting its unrefined thoughts; its pupils are dilated in evident fear, and it seems to be experiencing sensory hallucinations. Of said hallucinations, the sense of a wind being blown upon the back, and wings of light are prominent.”
  963.  
  964. You frown at the purple eyes from beyond the door, indignantly. “My pupils are NOT dilated in fear, girl.” You emphasise the last word.
  965.  
  966. The purple eyes narrow. “Note five hundred and seventy four. Subject displays evident and casual disregard for its own life by provoking a specimen of superior capabilities.”
  967.  
  968. The horror’s purple eyes soften, and if not for the door separating you both, you’re sure you’d see a light smile upon her dead lips. The horror, you see, is a young teen. And she is, more accurately, a Lich. One you know well, one called Elanore.
  969.  
  970. “The Subject still needs to speak the password.”
  971.  
  972. You groan, “Do I have to?”
  973.  
  974. “The Subject must.”
  975.  
  976. You sigh, “Really?”
  977.  
  978. “The Subject goes through this every time. Just do it.”    
  979.  
  980. “ammdelicapecplanus”
  981.  
  982. Clear mirth sparkles in her eyes, though her voice is as level as always, “The Subject mumbled and spoke too quietly for the password to be discerned.”
  983.  
  984. You sigh deeply once more, and resign yourself to your fate. “Amo delicatus planus pectora”
  985.  
  986. “The subject is admitted.” She says in her perfectly calm and neutral tone, which is completely undermined by her throwing the door open and jumping at you in a giant hug, arms and legs wrapped around you. A childishly girly act, completely fitting of her appearance as that of an adorably cute girl roughly around fourteen years old and yet goes completely against the centuries of self-proclaimed maturity she insists that she possesses.
  987.  
  988. Instantly, you throw your arms up to the sky and turn your head away, “Why do you never wear any clothing?”
  989.  
  990. She considers the question as she clings to you, completely naked, sunlight caressing her subtle curves and silken skin, tinged the slightest shade of blue. “I suppose the answer is because I don’t want to.”
  991.  
  992. You sigh, silently berating yourself for forgetting this particular quirk. She surprised you with it, this time and as a result you didn’t have the time to mentally prepare yourself. She smells faintly sweet and her breasts, though not fully formed, are rounded pleasantly and just large enough to fill a hand, peaked by a small, almost dainty nipple, like the snow-capped peak of a soft hill. Incomparable to Ranuinne’s generous mounds, but entirely pleasant within their own right.
  993.  
  994. Needless to say, said breasts are pressed firmly against you and your heart is beating so hard you’re certain she can feel it through her own chest. With the surge of arousal comes a sense of guilt.
  995.  
  996. This time her voice is plainly coloured in a playful sort of seduction, “Subject is exhibiting clear signs of arousal; Vasodilation around the cheeks, enlarged pupils indicative of a strong sexual arousal, a quickening of heartbeat, shortness of breath and,” her voice catches within her throat, and with her legs wrapped around your waist she starts to move her hips against yours in small circles, grinding against your stiffening dick through the fabric of your pants, she leans into your ear to complete her observations, “and a healthy erection. Theinn,” She whispers, more sultry than she has any right to be. “Do I turn you on?”
  997.  
  998. She leans back, arms still wrapped around your neck and studies your face, an academic sort of concern starts to cloud her eyes, “So why does the Subject seem to be so uncomfortable?” You grab the girl’s hands and pull them from your neck, at the same time she unhooks her legs from their purchase and puts feet to ground once again, questions still plainly written in the girl’s eyes.
  999.  
  1000. “Well, I’ve got something to tell you and something to show you, so let us get inside before anything else. Would you care to fix me a cup of tea, please?” You glare at her, “Just tea. I think last time’s experiment proved conclusive enough.” She smirks and winks at you, before pattering off towards her kitchen.
  1001.  
  1002. “Just tea it is.”          
  1003.  
  1004. You sit facing each other, and despite how comfy the lounges are, and how delicious her tea is, you can’t help but feel under scrutiny. “So? Explain yourself. As interesting an anomaly as your rejection is, I’m not immune to emotion. You’d better have a good reason.”
  1005.  
  1006. “Rejection? I just didn’t want you molesting me at the doorway.”
  1007.  
  1008. “Then I may molest you now?”
  1009.  
  1010. “…No.”
  1011.  
  1012. “Then it’s rejection, so stop beating about the bush.” She cuts in curtly.
  1013.  
  1014. You sigh at the woman you’d come to see as a sort of adoptive elder sister, despite having surpassed her in physical appearance a few years ago. It was your father who introduced you to her, and he himself had known her for some decades. Your relationship with her was a complicated mix of elder-sister, aunt, family friend and family doctor. It was her you turned to after your father and adoptive mother left, her cool embrace that sheltered you throughout the darkness, before you grew enough to stand before the night. Your father gave you the runes, but it was her inquisitive mind which taught you how to apply them. Honestly you owe this girl a whole lot that you’re not sure you could ever repay. Despite her using you as a lab-rat for her lewd hypothesises. Not that she’d ever actually made love to you, she’d always flexed her tremendous willpower and stopped herself just short of crossing the line she’d quietly designated for herself. Perhaps she just wanted you to cross it yourself. Not that you had the capacity for rational thought after some of her experiments, but again, her restraint is something you can only be immensely grateful for. You’d said once to Ranuinne that you’d somewhat ‘defended’ your virginity, with the intent of giving it to someone you chose, but the girl in front of you could have taken it whenever she wanted. And a part of you wouldn’t have even minded that.
  1015.  
  1016. You tell her about the girl you’d met and come to love, and the Lich just takes all this in silently. You don’t tell her about the details of her past, and you try to gloss over her eating habits, but the girl clearly knows what a Rusalka is.
  1017.  
  1018. “And where is she now?” Her voice is deadpan, more so than usual, and you sense ill intent to her words.
  1019.  
  1020. “…Why do you ask?”
  1021.  
  1022. “You’re my Subject. And she’s trying to take you from me, so I’ll just have to make her my Subject as well.”
  1023.  
  1024. “Ela…” you raise a hand to your forehead and pinch as the bridge of your nose.
  1025.  
  1026. “Don’t ‘Ela’ me, Theinn.” She snaps, and then sighs, “Look I’ve known you since you were cute enough to stumble into my desk and knock transformative potions all over yourself… and I can see clearly enough just how much this girl means to you but…” Rare enough, she seems to be at a loss for words. She starts to mumble, “I’m a woman too, you know.” You don’t hear her. She speaks too quietly for that, but you see a distinctively expressive pout on her face.      
  1027.  
  1028. You don’t know why she feels the way she does about you, but you have an inkling of an impression as to how she does truly feel about you, and even if it doesn’t make much sense to you, you knew that your news about Ranuinne would only make her upset. Hence the blood. You take a softer tone, “Look never mind all that,”
  1029.  
  1030. “’Never mind,’ he says,” she mopes
  1031.  
  1032. “I’ve brought you a present.”
  1033.  
  1034. “’Brought you a’- wait, you did?” Surprise sneaks into her voice.
  1035.  
  1036. You hate having to touch her where she’s all tender, like just now, but when you do, it takes her a good while to bring up her clinical mask once more, and her emotions and feelings seep deeply into her expressions and words. Frankly, it’s adorable.
  1037.  
  1038. “Yeah,” you smile as you reach into your backpack, “Rather, we did. It’s a vial of Ranuinne’s blood. I thought you might like to study it.”
  1039.  
  1040. “Why? I know well enough the properties of mermaid blood. Unless you require another demonstration?”
  1041.  
  1042. You scowl at her, “No. I also, know well enough.” her only response is a saccharin, out of character ‘Teehee ~’
  1043.  
  1044. “But this is different. Go grab a petri dish and a cutting of some kind of herb, long dead if possible.”
  1045.  
  1046. Generally she’d take great offence to you ordering her around her own laboratory. Call you some form of uppity whipper snapper, but you anticipated that her curiosity would quell any protests. She returns a moment later with a gnarled twig resting neatly within the dish, and you uncork the vial, instructing her to observe closely.
  1047.  
  1048. “Now do you recall the characteristics of this stick when it was alive?”
  1049.  
  1050. “Yes, I assume you want to show me something, so I chose a twig from a tree which only grows deep within the caverns of the shadow realms. The sap holds bioluminescent qualities.” Perfect, almost too perfect. You guess that she’d already inferred your intentions after you asked for a dead specimen.
  1051.  
  1052. “And here I was hoping to surprise you completely, too.” She puts a hand on your head and ruffles your hair affectionately.
  1053.  
  1054. “Centuries too soon, Subject.”
  1055.  
  1056. You drip a single droplet of Ranuinne’s blood onto the tip of the twig, and a moment later, the end of the thing begins to glow, miraculously, as fresh sap begins to collect at the tip of the twig. “Amazing,” she gasps, “I suspected something like this, but to see it… splash another single droplet on, I’ll be back.” You do as she says, and a little more of the twig moistens and colours, as if it were sucking moisture and nutrients out of the very air itself.  
  1057.  
  1058. Elanore returns a moment later, with a pot of fresh soil, and jams the regenerated tip of the twig deep into the soil. You let out a breathless “wow” as the twig takes to the soil immediately, and the whole thing grows into a glowing miniature tree, complete with fresh sprouts before your very eyes.
  1059.  
  1060. “Ah,” she begins to clarify for you, “that wasn’t the blood. This tree in particular is said to have powerful adaptive abilities. It’ll regenerate to its full size from a cutting in just a month, and a fresh cutting will take to soil within seconds, as we just saw. What’s astounding about this is the fact that the cutting I received was well and truly dead by the time it arrived, so truly your girlfriend,” She says the word with a bitter look on her face, “Has quite amazing blood at the very least. I’ll need to test this on an animal, right away.”
  1061.  
  1062. “Way ahead of you,” You say, as you reach into your bag again for the rabbit you bought today. Worst comes to worst, you can just kill it again once it revives, though… it was already skinned before you’d bought it, being kept uncontaminated in some kind of magic ice-box. You hope this particular experiment fails honestly, now that you think about it. At any rate, Elanore leans down over your back, and watches intently as you pour a single drop of the vial into the rabbit’s mouth, and… Nothing. She sighs and you can feel her lungs deflate above you. You’re not sure why a corpse needs to sigh, but she does it often. Maybe she just practiced moving the muscles for the visual effect.
  1063. “Maybe hoping for some kid of resurrection miracle was too much. At the very least, it returns life to plant matter, or at least, it did for the cutting. This definitely bears experimentation.”
  1064.  
  1065. You smile at her as you hand the still mostly full vial to her, “Feeling better now?”
  1066.  
  1067. She smiles brightly back as she takes it, a slight blush on her cheeks, “Yeah.” She returns to the kitchen and puts the glowing plant on one of the benches. You follow her as she prepares another cup of tea for the both of you, and you chat idly about her latest experiments. Once the tea is brewed, you turn around to look at the glowing marvel as you sip your tea. The bench is arranged in a U shape, and you stand next to Elanore, leaning against one end of the bench as you both observe the plant on the other end. And a question occurs to you, this plant must actually do something otherwise she’d never have wanted it. You ask what that is.
  1068.          
  1069. “Gives you a bigger dick.” She delivers, bluntly. “For a time, anyway.” You cough and splutter, spitting the last of your tea across the new tree, which only glows happily at the new nutrients, and begins to absorb it, right away.
  1070.  
  1071. Elanore waves at you from behind the half-open door as you turn to leave the graveyard, her farewells sailing well over your head and distorting the further it travels, tailing off in mournful howls in the wind. You walk around town and notice that the cheerful atmosphere it had in the mid-day has greatly died now that it’s in the long hours of the afternoon. Shops have closed, and homes once filled with laughter now seem more reminiscent of forlorn fortresses. The number of guards and the speed of their rotations have both greatly increased.
  1072.  
  1073. Well fuck. Are we at war? You’re nearly barrelled over by a guard carrying bundles of weapons and torches, halting your spill by hopping, skipping and humping. Teetering on a foot with arms spread wide, you pivot to berate the moron who tried to run you down.
  1074.  
  1075. “Oi, whatch what where yer’ fuckin’ goi - Wait, Broderick? Wha-”
  1076.  
  1077. “Theinn! The fuck you still doing here?” He cut you off, a fear in his eyes reminiscent of a soldier on the front lines.
  1078.  
  1079. You laugh a little nervously at his outburst, “Hah… W-what’s wrong man? Are we at war?”
  1080.  
  1081. “Huh? War? You…” a grim shadow falls upon his face, sending you into your own little panic, “You didn’t.”
  1082.  
  1083. “I didn’t what? Why does it look like the whole town’s gone into hiding?” He stands silent like a statue, waiting, as you rattle on, growing more frantic in the face of the man’s grim visage “And what’s your rush, why all the tor-” Your heart drops deep into your gut and you feel like crying.
  1084.  
  1085. “I- I did.”
  1086.  
  1087. “You moron.” Your shoulders slump
  1088.  
  1089. “I moron.”
  1090.  
  1091. “Honestly, how do you manage to forget the full moon. Wanna crash in the barracks tonight?”
  1092.  
  1093. You answer on autopilot, higher-though had succumbed to futility. “No, I have something of a dinner appointment.” You words shock you into alert realization. Double fuck. You’re about to have dinner with two man-eating predators. At times like these, when you’re at your absolute worst, your blood surges. Looks like dinner tonight will be very interesting. This burning bravado, you can only imagine coming from your father. It’s the kind of confidence that inspires a man to pick up his sword and face down certain death, with a cocky smirk on his face. You used to think a lot about him. If he was alive or dead. Maybe it’s a little cruel, but you almost hope that he died. Because you can picture perfectly how he died. Sword in hand, chest battered and bleeding, leaning against the back of his wife, as he laughs in the face of a hoard of descending demons.
  1094.  
  1095. Something like that anyway. And maybe it’s something he gave to you. This berserker blood. Because as you stride down the path to the cave, in your mind’s eye you’re naked, dick erect and proud, arms spread wide as you stride into the dragon’s den. Come and fucking get it.
  1096.  
  1097. Your machismo shatters upon entering the cave, to find Sonja and Ranuinne sitting together by the fire, chatting pleasantly. It’s a good thing that you’re no master of Ars Magna. You quell the fire in your heart and cease the whirlwind about your backpack, and place it on the floor. You really can’t imagine how you’d transport things without that handy ability. Your back pack could have been soaked through and through.
  1098.  
  1099. The two women are sitting around the fire cradling clay cups, with a deep green colour to it. You greet Sonja and Ranuinne hands you the third cup, you take it as you place yourself on the floor, and it’s still quite warm to the touch. Must have been brewed recently, you notice the metal crucible laying a foot from Sonja. She probably just filled it with fresh water and brought it to boil. The fire roars a little more intensely for a brief moment, as if in greeting. You notice the expectant looks from both woman, and so you take a sip.
  1100.  
  1101. It’s warm and sweet, its texture is sort of thick, like a mix between syrup and honey, but the flavour is nowhere near as overbearing as such a concoction would have been. You lower the cup from your lips and just as your about to speak, the sweet coating washes off your tongue and gives way to a potent alcoholic aftertaste. You’re surprised you didn’t get a whiff of the alcohol when you first brought it to your lips. After that single taste a slight cloud of buzz settles in your head, the tension and weigh of the backpack and the journey carrying it lifts off your shoulders completely. You start to feel a little hot around the collar.
  1102.  
  1103. The two girls watch as a slight blush comes to your cheeks as you close your eyes and lean back. Your hair falls down as you tip your head back and tickles the top of your hands where they support you against the ground.
  1104.  
  1105. “Th-Theinn, are you okay?”
  1106.  
  1107. Sonja scoffs, “Hey, you’re not a lightweight are you?”
  1108.  
  1109. You smile up at the ceiling, in return to the concern and gentle teasing, “No, that’s not it, though I could quite happily get well drunk off of it. This reminds me very much of the spiced wine my father used to make for us. It brought back some happy memories, that’s all.” Ranuinne puts her hand on yours, reassuringly. You bring your head back up and smile at Sonja, “That was delicious,” You look pointedly at the grinning shark girl, “What was in it?”
  1110.  
  1111. “It’s made from a type of seaweed that my mother taught me to keep an eye out for. As you can taste it’s got a bit of a sweet flavour, but it’s also mildly alcoholic, but because you serve it heated, it hits you fast. It tea, technically, but it infuses so well it practically dissolves.”
  1112.  
  1113. ‘That’s it?’ Your eyes say.
  1114. Her she watches your next move intently with mirth raging her eyes. As does Ranuinne. It would seem that they’re both in on… something.
  1115.  
  1116. You stare her down as you take another sip, “It’s good.” It was a strange scenario. Judging by the excitement gripping your heart and the hot blood rushing to a place which would make it very awkward to stand, that clearly wasn’t ‘it’.  Either the plant naturally has aphrodisiacal qualities, or she’s spiked it. At any rate, you both knew it was drugged. What mattered was this; would you be a little bitch about it by pointing that fact out, or would you drink the liquid sex like a man and carry on like nothing had happened? You up end the rest of the cup’s contents down your throat and heave a large sigh. “I mean… It wasn’t bad. I suppose.” Sonja raises an eyebrow.
  1117.  
  1118. Sonja had slapped you. Now it was your turn to return the gauntlet. You stand up, not bothering to hide or disguise the slight swelling of your groin as it strains against your pants, and you walk over to your backpack, and pull out a bottle. A bottle of what? A bottle of vodka, that’s fucking what. Ah, but this isn’t just any bottle of vodka. You wipe the evil grin off your face before you turn around and sit down by Ranuinne’s side, sliding a hand about her waist, but not before taking a good handful of her ass first. She jumps and colours a little, but have no mind to keep quiet just how much their tea was affecting you.
  1119.  
  1120. Regally, you plonk the bottle down before you, dwaring the attention of both girls. “But this? My father always told me that this was a real drink.” A lie. Your father would never advocate this. “Here, try a bit.” You hand the bottle to Sonja first, a knowing look in your eye which puts the girl on edge. But she started this. This vodka was brewed from primarily fermented potatoes. But there weren’t bitch potatoes. These were demon potatoes. It’s said that in the darker realms of the land, where demons carry away men and turn them into cum faucets, wild crops of potatoes, warped by fell energies and primal lust, grow in abundance. This particular bottle was actually Elanore’s private concoction. You grabbed a bottle before you left. She received a crop of such potatoes a while ago, and the skeleton she made collect the potatoes gathered them from the mouth of a Salamander’s den. Due to this, the potatoes have a sharp, spicy flavour to them, and they’re always steaming hot, you can’t even freeze them. Interestingly though, they never spoil. She’d actually served them to you once before. The flavour was intense, and when you bit down into the steaming potato it practically crumbled in your hand, crumbs of soft and fluffy potato instantly filled your mouth, and if not for how moist the potato was, you’d likely have needed a drink to wash it down with.  
  1121.  
  1122. From there, Elanore’s own brand of insane alchemy comes into play. According to her, she ground to dust the horn of a Bicorn, and dissolved it into the hot alcohol, along with generous portions of Girtablilu poison, and, fuck knows how she got it, but a shard of crystallised Dark Matter essence. The Girtablilu poison is said to be the most powerful, but it also carries with it potent paralytic properties. The Dark Matter essence is hence required to instil the vodka with the endless vitality of an Arch-Incubus. Usually drinking something like this would give you boners for life, but the whole thing was distilled across five-hundred bottles and now rests in the Lich’s cellar. Well. Four-hundred and ninety-nine.
  1123.  
  1124. Swallowing her apprehensions, the girl takes a swig and passes it to Ranuinne, who takes a swig and passes it to you. You take your own swig and wait eagerly for the reactions.
  1125.  
  1126. Sonja is the first to comment, “Hey, that stuff isn’t half bad. It’s got a real kick to it, doesn’t it? It’s almo-” You see the wave of lust crash into her like a tidal wave. Oh boy. The girl goes through a full-body flush, her now reddy-golden skin contrasting beautifully to the white scars under the firelight. Her purple eyes actually glaze over for a moment, and you might have seen her drool a little, but that was probably just your mind perfecting the image.
  1127.  
  1128. Your observations are interrupted by Ranuinne all but collapsing on you. You turn your head towards her to see what’s up, but she’s clearly in no position to answer. In an even worse state than Sonja, her skin is all but fever-warm, so flushed that the heat she radiates is noticeable even before the fire. She’s breathing heavily against you and rubbing herself against your body, moaning softly like a cat in heat. She buries her head into your chest and starts licking you, as if marking you as hers. She pulls herself into your lap and wraps her tail around you, and starts kneading your shoulder with her teeth, more gently than you thought possible for her.
  1129.  
  1130. Perhaps that drink was a little too much? It can’t be that bad, right? You lift the bottle to your lips and drink as best you can with Ranuinne jostling your arm with her nuzzling. It’s a sensation that’s hard to describe. You swallow the warm, spiced liquid, and feel as it makes its way down to your stomach, blazing a trail of warmth through your throat, your mind goes light and blank. The burn is befitting the vodka, and it washes throughout your entire body, making your blood writhe in agitation. Your toes and fingertips warm up and begin to tingle as the heat courses in, slowly suffusing throughout your limbs, soaking from the arteries outward.    
  1131.  
  1132. The warmness in your stomach spreads through your core and down to your loins. You make a hasty decision before the blood rushing from your brain to your dick robs you of rational though, and spring to your feet, throwing Ranuinne off you. You grab her hand before she can fall, and circle round the fire and haul up the dazed Sonja. A woman in each hand, you practically drag them both into the pool at the mouth of the cave, and out into the ocean. The sensation left behind as you enter the water, which by contrast feels as ice, is reminiscent of the feeling after a mouthful of chilled water, except it lingers, quelling the flames left behind by the vodka.  
  1133.  
  1134. The water clearly has similar effects on your two aquatic dinner-partners, if their reactions are any measure. Ranuinne raises a hand to her head and shakes it a little as if to knock loose the estrus which had laid claws into her mind. Sonja dips below the surface of that water, and emerges a good minute later, rubbing bleary eyes.
  1135.  
  1136. “That was some good shit,” Sonja says, cupping a breast and snaking a hand down below the waterline where you can’t see “Why’d you shock us out of it?” You shrug, glad for the cool water which helps in subduing your raging erection, giving back to you the precious commodity of rational thought. “I thought we all might end up doing something I wouldn’t regret, and result in something I’d regret very much, and as fun as it was having Ranuinne hump me, I feel that’s something we can do after I cook dinner. At the very least.”
  1137.  
  1138. Ranuinne blushes heavily under the streaking moonlight, “Yeah, that was… nice. But you were right to throw some water over our heads,” She flashes you a piercing look, “you would have regretted it,” she looks over at Sonja who is lost in her own private bliss, the sound of her frantic schlicking, drowned out by the waves, and mumbles the end of her sentence, “the result, at least.”  
  1139.  
  1140. Sonja, whose hand hadn’t stopped all this time, shudders in the water and thrashes ever so slightly, presumably having taken the edge off of the drink you’d given her. She turns her barely open, heavy-lidded eyes to you, “She’s right, you’re cool and all, but I’m not into stealing men.”
  1141.  
  1142. You’re a little surprised at that. You point to the moon behind her shoulders, “So, self-restraint? That’s why you’re so chill right now?”
  1143.  
  1144. She laughs at the moon with scorn, “What, that?” her hand runs over her perfectly defined abs, fingers tracing each scar like the trophies of battles long past. “Only the kids go crazy on a full moon.”
  1145. You turn to Ranuinne and she confirms what the shark said, “I can’t speak for her, but my kind at least, gets a little horny when the full moon is out, but asides from that, we don’t exactly turn into impulsive rape machines, not unless you’re really young, a hundred years or so.”
  1146.  
  1147. You scratch your chin at this. “So the young ones, would they also target large towns, as opposed to, say,” you flash Ranuinne a grin, “lone birds?” Sonja looks between the two of you, a little confused, as Ranuinne smiles at you.
  1148.  
  1149. “Was the town you visited was fortifying itself, defended enough for war?” You nod, “Well the full moon isn’t all that, but I guess from a human’s point of view, a newly turned Ushi-Oni on a rampage in the middle of night could be pretty frightful.”    
  1150.  
  1151. You look into the moon, absorbing that information, before you turn to Ranuinne and take her hand in yours, “Well, whatever. Let’s get started on dinner, yeah?”
  1152.  
  1153. You build up the fire around the base of the pot which could be more accurately referred to as a vat, and thread a decently thick stick through the looped handles of the pot, balancing it on two stakes driven into the ground and split partway down the middle. Some mages spend decades studying their crafts but when it comes to magic, it was the only way your father would let you do your chores. He’d ask you to sweep, but you weren’t allowed to physically touch the broom, he’d ask you to boil up a pot of tea for him, but you weren’t allowed to use anything but your own will-power for fuel. It was hard, and it was gruelling, but as you hold the vegetables in mid-air, and slice them up with razor thin strands of wind, you’re honestly thankful for his Spartan tutelage. That’s not to say that you could take over as a mansion’s caretaker and maintain the place purely on magic. You only really have enough endurance for tasks as involved as this, once a day. Any more than that and you’d be stretching yourself uncomfortably thin, running empty if something dramatic were to occur.
  1154.  
  1155. Though it certainly does come in handy as a party trick. Ranuinne is somewhat used to it, but Sonja’s face lights up and she claps like a child, with her mouth open, stunned in clear admiration. You thrust your chest out in pride, and boast boisterously, “Hah. This much is nothing.” Ranuinne zeroes in on the bead of sweat which slips down your forehead to your cheek, and slides her way up to you with all the grace of an eel. How she manages it on land, you’ll never know.
  1156.  
  1157. “Nothing, is it?” she wipes the sweat off your face, the care in her expression brings a blush to your face, not entirely unrelated to her close proximity,
  1158.  
  1159. “A-any way,” you stammer, and gesture to the vat of soup hanging precariously over the firepit, “that’ll take a little while, so how about some music?” As you slip away from her embrace, her hands slide off your body reluctantly, a slight frown in her eyes. You make your way to the cave wall where your guitar leans against it and sit back down next to your girl, resting the guitar in your lap, as you begin to re-tune the thing.
  1160.  
  1161. It’s a few minutes of strumming and twisting, but you’ve got it to sound in tune to itself at least, and you’re pretty sure that as a whole it’s close to standard as you can remember. Near enough is good enough when you’re playing solo, you suppose. You pick up a pebble and blast it with a bit of wind with sand mixed in, this time to create a half-centimetre thick rounded triangle. You wedge this between thumb and forefinger, and begin to puck at a few strings, messing around until you find a pleasant melody that you can repeat with minor variations. You didn’t expect it, but Ranuinne harmonizes her voice to your guitar and sings a tune you’d never heard before. There isn’t really any magic to her voice, and yet it’s more mesmerising than any charmed, enchantment or seduction crafts you’d come across, or ever likely would.
  1162.  
  1163. From the lilt and inflection, you’d guess that she were singing something in Elvish. The fire sways rhythmically to the imagined beat of your harmony and you watch small flue flames dance and play. You remember that this is how your mother used to sing. A sense of clam and familiarity washes over you, and you nearly forget to even play, fingers gliding over the strings, barely even touching them, the properties of your guitar take on those more akin to a harp, and the melody changes to be sweeter. Perhaps there is magic to her voice?
  1164.  
  1165. A long blue flame sits on a burning log and watches you play intently as the others frolic about it, uncaring. A small, shimmering leg hangs from the side of the log, the other crossed on its lap as it watches your fingers move. Tiny, miniscule digits flicker as she pantomimes your actions, and this gives you an idea. You stop playing to pull out a blue vial. The very atmosphere seems to groan in disappointment at the abrupt end to its fun, but you carry on. You upend the vial into your mouth and feel a magic vitality coarse through your veins. You close your eyes and consider the steps and sensations necessary to do what you want to do, and as you formulate, small flames flicker out of existence one by one, having grown bored and left. The one on the log doesn’t move from its position, however, and continues to watch you intently, as do Ranuinne, who was clearly enjoying singing, and Sonja who seemed to have been completely enthralled.
  1166.  
  1167. You open your eyes and clear your throat, “Sorry for the interruption.” You gesture towards your guitar and it floats in a cloud of gently stirring wing, small slivers of air pluck at the strings in much clearer a tone than you’d have been able to get with your crude plectrum and mortal hands. The same melody begins to fill the cave once more, this time carrying with it a clearly magical intonation.
  1168.  
  1169. Ranuinne picks up where she left off, and Sonja just starts agape as she does with all your magic constructs. ‘Now then,’ you think to yourself, and look back to the blue flame on the log. With the magic controlling the guitar set on something of a loop, draining only minimal amounts of energy from you, your hands and mind are free to act on your idea. You sit down before the flame on the log, which seems to be still as a statue and as restless as the waves at the same time, and begin to craft your runic sorcery. You close your eyes.
  1170.  
  1171. In your mind’s eye, you envisage a guitar, of the same shape and body as your own.
  1172. You hear a primal, elemental communication questioning in the back of your mind, but you push it aside for now. It’ll see. With the skeleton down, you picture six strings, how they would connect to the guitar, how they would resonate with the wood, how tight they would be and yet how slickly your fingers could move across them. With the guitar firmly in your mind eye you point a finger to the flame. Fire wreathes and wraps around it and it looks about almost nervously, as though it felt its domain of rule being encroached upon, but you continue none the less.
  1173.  
  1174. A moment later, a miniature, fiery replica of your guitar rests on the flame’s lap. The thing is now a fact of the fire, so you relax your mind a bit, confident that it won’t simply scatter back into embers. A gift. The same twinge of primal communication is felt on the periphery of your consciousness, but you can’t make out anything other than a sense of gratitude. The flame picks up the guitar and begins to copy the movements it clearly memorised when watching you and a strange energy fills the song, as the air-guitar is no longer playing solo. It even throws in its own quirks, a playing style with more emotion that you thought an element had any right to bear, playing music louder and more beautiful that an instrument so small had any right to produce. None the less, it brings a smile to your face, as the miniature flame takes the form of a lady with flowing red hair, and strums away at the guitar.
  1175.  
  1176. The three, rather, four, of you continue like this, until the broth finishes cooking, and the song draws to a natural close, your guitar stops playing, Ranuinne finishes singing, and the little flame takes its guitar in hand and fades back into the broiling mass of inferno.          
  1177.  
  1178. The elven language is said to be as magical and primal as it is ancient, so the natural question of whether or not Ranuinne called those fire elementals tonight comes to mind, but you decide against asking. After all, it’s not really something that matters. Besides, the flame you gave the guitar to instilled a strange sense of familiarity with you. You doubt it’s the last you’ve seen of that one in particular. What you do end up asking, however, is where Ranuinne learned Elvish.
  1179.  
  1180. “Ah, that? I don’t actually know Elvish, but Hlinna taught me this song. We used to sing it pretty often…” she trails off, looking a little wistful. Perhaps all the joviality and company got her feeling nostalgic? You dish out the soup, and receive the expected praise. As you’d assumed the meats you’d used were quite foreign to Sonja, and she seemed to appreciate them. You’d never thought you’d meet some-one who’d consider rabbit a delicacy.
  1181.        
  1182. The three of you eat in relative silence, apart from a few satisfies moans of approval, and then spend the next hour digesting and chatting. Ranuinne and Sonja talk about the ocean like farmers would talk about the weather and you can’t really keep up with their conversation, so you decide to simply lay in Ranuinne’s warm lap and stare at the ceiling. This is about the tenth day you’ve known her, most of your time spent by healing and talking and gathering the necessities for life. Maybe it’s hasty. But you’ve come to rely on each other, and the fact that you can so comfortably lay on a cave floor, in the lap of the woman you love with a full belly of food, tells you that your heart isn’t wrong.
  1183.  
  1184. As you entertain these thoughts, Ranuinne’s hand drops to your head and slowly strokes your hair as she converses with the shark woman. It seems like she’s content to have you here too. Sonja brews three final cups of tea to, as she says ‘Wash down the evening,’ and leaves once you’d all partaken of the drink, with a none too subtle wink in Ranuinne’s direction. You sigh and fall into bed, and Ranuinne follows not a moment later.
  1185.  
  1186. She’s oddly hot though, and squirms against you almost as though she were uncomfortable.
  1187.  
  1188. “You lied to me didn’t you?”
  1189.  
  1190. “Y-yeah…”
  1191.  
  1192. “Your kind can’t really handle to full moon that well, no matter how old you are, huh?”
  1193.  
  1194. “Y-yeah…”  
  1195.  
  1196. You roll her over and take keen note of the small tears glistening in the corner of her eyes. They glow a little orange as they reflect the fire which by now is beginning to smoulder lowly. You put your forehead to hear and give her a soft kiss on the lips. “Was it because we had guests?”
  1197.  
  1198. Her answer comes as the same half-moaned affirmation, “Y-yeah…”
  1199.  
  1200. “Sorry, I mean, I invited her and everything. I really should have remembered that it was a full moon tonight.”
  1201.  
  1202. She smiles at you and the welling in her eyes threatens to overflow, along with her restraint. “No, d-don’t say that. I had fun tonight. I like her.”
  1203.  
  1204. You smile and pat her head. She buries it into you and holds you close. You stay that way for a while before her squirming becomes too much for even her,  
  1205.  
  1206. “U-um hey.” She speaks up, softly.
  1207.  
  1208. “Yeah?”
  1209.  
  1210. “C-could you… touch me?” Ohoh?
  1211.  
  1212. “But Ranuinne, I am touching you.” A wicked smile comes to your lips
  1213.  
  1214. “N-no!” She splutters, “I-I mean d-down t-there?”
  1215.  
  1216. “Hmm? Down where?” you move her hand and begin to rub it in small circles above her belly.
  1217.  
  1218. “L-lower.”
  1219.  
  1220. “Lower, is it?” you move your hand lower, completely skip over her genitals and start rubbing her tail “Here?”
  1221.  
  1222. She gives you a light punch, her face completely red, “D-don’t make me say it.”
  1223.  
  1224. “Say what?”
  1225.    
  1226. “N-Nevermind!” she yells, and turns away from you.
  1227.  
  1228. You grin evilly in the firelight. Minutes pass. She squirms. Your hand traces light circles on her abdomen. She squeezes her hands into tight little fists. You see the muscles in her turned cheek moving and can almost picture her biting her lower lip. Despite her earlier protest, her squirming becomes needy grinding, as she rubs her behind against you.
  1229.  
  1230. You lean down to her ear and nibble at it. The girl gives a mix between a gasp and a squeak and goes rigid, “Ranuinne~. Where do you want me to touch?”
  1231.  
  1232. Oh man, she is so close to crying. “T-touch my p-pussy… please.” Her plea finishes in a whimper. Enough? Is that enough torture for the girl? Haha.
  1233.  
  1234. “With whaat~?”
  1235.    
  1236. You can even hear her grinding her teeth in lust and frustration, “Do not bully me further!” she spits out between clenched teeth, and takes your hand and thrusts it into her vagina. You laugh as she goes weak, melting into you, and take back control of your hand. You begin to trace small circles on the walls of her pussy with two fingers in clockwise motions as you rub her clit, counter-clockwise. She turns to face you, binding your legs with her tail, looking tearfully into your eyes before burying her quivering head into your chest.
  1237.  
  1238. “You’re too mean.”  
  1239.  
  1240. “Not my fault. If you don’t wanna be bullied don’t be so adorable.”
  1241.  
  1242. “Child, I am hundreds of years older than you and I-Hiiyaa!!” You cut off her pompous tirade by pinching her clit, masterfully conjuring that adorable squeal.
  1243.  
  1244. “Hey. Come to think of it, we haven’t actually… done it. Have we?” She turns away from you at that, but you tug on her shoulder, making her face you again. “How come?” hurt lingers just beyond your eyes, “do you not li-“ She puts her finger to your lips, not letting you finish.
  1245.  
  1246. “F-for us, if we let a man in then… tantamount to marriage… a-and the ritual is well…”
  1247.  
  1248. Joking aside, you grab her shoulder and force her to look you in the eyes. “I love you. Everything about you, I love teasing you and I love being with you. At first it was convenience, I’ll be honest. You were the only girl around me, and you were happy to speak to me, feeling stirred in my chest, but more than anything I wanted to make you something of a dump for my sexual and emotional frustrations.” She begins to nod, as if to tell her self ‘of course, I expected it. Why would I expect otherwise?’ her glistening eyes held a frail happiness, ‘this still is more than I deserve.’ “But I failed,” you continue, “You struck me far deeper than I could ever fathom and I grew to love you. It began as a genuine interest and blossomed into something that I still can’t believe is entirely real, but… if loving you brings me a little pain,” You stretch your arm out and grip the bottle of vodka in wind, you pull it towards you. You bite at the cork with your teeth, and spit it out, desperate to be able to return her love with your own, even if for now you need a crutch to cope with the pain, “then I’ll just have to suck it up. Because I love you more than anything else in this world. I would kill for you, I would bleed for you, and I would die for you.”
  1249.  
  1250. The last of the bottle vanishes down your throat, and the unholy lust surges up in you. She’s speechless. Tears slip down her bright red cheeks as she just mutters “Oh…” over and over again. Still not completely over the sudden confession, in a complete and utter daze, her body moves on carnal instinct. She bites down on your jugular, and you cry out in mortal agony, the concoction of liquid sex keeping you hard, but doing absolutely nothing for the pain. She looks at her handiwork, making sure that you are in fact, bleeding to death.
  1251.  
  1252. She leans back and opens her wrist with a twist of her head, razor sharp teeth eviscerating the skin about her wrist, and her deep, rich red blood flows from her veins. She hesitates before returning to your throat, and speaks in an echoing absoluteness, “With this…” She buries her face and drinks deeply of your lifeblood, her cheeks bulge with the sheer volume.
  1253.  
  1254. She leans back from your wound and slathers it in her own regenerative blood, closing the gaping, blood-spewing gash. You didn’t move an inch other than to arc your back in pain, the severity of this ritual dawns on you. Your absolute trust and willingness to have your life utterly in her hands. The black ring encroaching on your consciousness halts with the cessation of your bleeding to death, and she slides herself down your body to your straining, rigid erection.  
  1255.  
  1256. She opens her maw and envelops your cock in her mouth, your life blood splashes out around your dick, covering it completely in a glistening layer of red. She wastes no time in plunging the essence of your very life into the deepest part of her, you feel yourself thrust through her hymen, her strength failing her as she falls atop you, brought to wracking orgasm by mere entry. She looks into your eyes, tears cascade down her cheeks, mingling with the blood and forming trails of crimson emotion.
  1257.  
  1258. The hauntingly definite words ring throughout the cave once more, “With this, we are one.” Less a declaration of unity, more a divine truth. As she hilts you within herself, she tears into your shoulder with feral haste, and digs deep gouges in your back with her efforts to hold you closer to her. You clutch at her tightly, right back, and as she nuzzles into the wounds she herself opened, you can’t help but weep with her.
  1259.  
  1260. As, after all. You are one.  
  1261.  
  1262. You breathe and moan as one, writhing together, the forms of two twisted lovers entwined. Blood, cum and love saturate your thighs as your wife grinds you pound for pound, your flesh aches with the agony of being torn, but your surging heart demands more. With Ranuinne still firmly impaled on your shaft, you manoeuvre so that you’re sitting upright on the edge of the stone bed, legs over the side and feet touching the floor. Moving in perfect synch with the intentions of her love, Ranuine holds you tight as she moves her tail under your leg and then back up and around your hips, locking the two of you together in an eternal embrace, this was you can hold her tight as she thrusts you even deeper into her.
  1263.  
  1264. Her hands cross over on your back as she alternates between biting you and licking your wounds. You return the favour and push her back far enough to dip your head into her bosom and playfully bite a nipple, rolling it between your teeth, she gasps and cums hard, finders raking as your back as she enters minor spasms, her walls clench and twist painfully around your cock, milking it for all its worth and the stimulation proves way too much. You’d tease her about her sensitivity, but you can’t think past the need to rut and love, likewise, she’d admonish your teasing were she not panting heavily into your neck, bubbles of blood forming around the corners of her mouth as she breathes into you, mixing her blood with your own. Hastily, you move your hands down to embrace the curve of where her ass meets her tail, and you slam your hips forward into her cunt, plunging as deep as humanely possible. Your cock pushes through her cervix, and its head lodges itself deep into her womb.
  1265.  
  1266. Your orgasm is long and colossal in coming. It feels as though your first load of the night were being drawn directly from some deep, bottomless, carnal abyss. She screams into the cave as your cum fills her womb, and you grab her by the back of the head, and force her down into a savage kiss, already sliding back, with a hand planted firmly on her ass, ready to force your way in. She gets the drop on you. She digs her nails into your back, causing you to arch away from the pain, and inadvertently, cram your dick right back into her sodden womb. She grins around your lips, and uses your moment of shock to adjust her tail and give her enough slack to force you back into her.
  1267.  
  1268. Content to let her take control, you decide to focus your attentions on her generous breasts, rolling and kneading the nipple in your teeth, changing from time to time as you massage the overflowing mass of tit flesh. They are just small enough to fit entirely in each hand, despite critical levels of overflowing, and your hands all but sink completely into her bosom.  You keep one hand firmly in place and trace one down her spine, and bring it to rest on her rump. You spread your fingers wide and grope as much as her ass as you can with a single hand. Impossible. Your fingers sink just as deep. How is she so fucking soft?
  1269.  
  1270. The need to breathe overwhelms you, and you break the kiss, taking deep breaths of air as she rides you, moaning wildly into the night. For all you molest her, her hands never leave you, and she clings to you tightly, as if fearing to let you go. Her ass swings back and forth as she impales herself on your cock with reckless abandon, the lewd smacking fills the cave and drives away the sounds of the ocean just as surely as the fumes of pure sex beat back the smell of sea-spray. She leans down to your ear, long tongue lolling, jostling back and forth with the motion of her thrusts, “Fuck me Theinn, love me deeper, harder!” she all but growls, and you find yourself kissing her again, growling deeply into her throat.
  1271.  
  1272. You wrap your legs about her hips and move back slightly to retain the balanced sitting position, and clench, pulling her closer towards you, until every inch of you meets her, hilted entirely, her sex to yours. The wet thrusts come to a halt, and all she can do is bite down on your shoulder, hard, to stifle her scream of pure ecstasy as you push deeper into her, grinding against her cervix, rather than thrusting straight through. Scared to ruin the beautiful moment with your own bestial grunts of lust, you return the favour, and bite down hard into her shoulder as you thrust deep into her womb again, and fill it once more with ropey strands of your hot affection. She shudders against you, as her orgasm forces out the excess, your pearly white cum smears both your thighs, but neither of you really care. You hold her there tight for a moment, stroking her hair, telling her that you love her, before dumping her on her back, and kneeling over her sprawled form.
  1273.  
  1274. Like the tail of a cat, her bottom half twists itself around your ankles, as you ram yourself into her, hard. You grab her hands in yours and pen them besides her head, and look down at the beet-red visage of your new wife, her face half curtained by errant locks of hair. She squirms a little as her fingers interlace with yours.  She strains to lift herself high enough to kiss you, her lips pressing deeply into yours. To ease her burden, you yourself begin to push down, until she’s lying flat against the bed again. You leaning over her, buried to the base, pinning her down by her hands, she begins to squirm quite a bit.
  1275.  
  1276. “Th-this new position… it’s kind of embarrassing…” You kiss her again, and lick the tip of her nose as you withdraw,
  1277.  
  1278. “Deal with it.” You command, and you begin to slowly drag your dick out from within her depths, making her moan in a manner both forlorn and arousing. She traces her beloved cock’s retreat down from her belly-button past her abdomen and finally comes to rest at the tip of your dick, her mons pubis, all that separates your dick from her hand, as you rest at the opening of her delta, letting her wallow in her newfound sense of emptiness, before filling her cunt to the brim once more.
  1279.  
  1280. With your weight on her hands, she can’t, or, rather, doesn’t want to surge forward and bury her teeth into you. Because of this, every loud moan, squeak and squeal echoes through the cave adorably, as you thrust in and out of her. The walls of her pussy clench and massage at you as you glide your dick past her most sensitive depths, enveloping it in sensations forbidden, threatening to shatter your mind into blissful oblivion. Waves of lust seep into your brain through your nose, the sweet scent of her juices, the rich copper of the blood you drew from her shoulder, the heady musk of her sweat as it beads upon her breasts, and scatters as they jiggle under the force of your pounding, the sight of her face contorted beautifully in euphoric rapture, the way her deep crimson blush brings out the tiniest freckles which would be otherwise invisible, the slight frown which plays upon her brow as you pull out of her, and the cute as fuck crinkle in her nose as she scrunches her face up when you force your way back in. The sounds overlap as they rebound off the walls and coalesce in your mind as such that all you can hear, see, taste and feel is Ranuinne.  
  1281.  
  1282. Her eyes flash open as a bead of your sweat drips from your nose and drops square on her forehead,
  1283. “A-are you close?” she asks timidly, “I-I want you to cum inside, okay? F-fill me.”
  1284.  
  1285. You nod, breath catching in your throat at her unexpectedly submissive side, “I-I’m close.”
  1286.  
  1287. A snarl curls her lips, “Revenge”. Using her dextrous tail, she grips your ankles tighter than before, and her pussy clenches down hard as she bucks against you. The hellish grip would have caused nothing but anguish had she not already been so thoroughly lubricated by your seed and her own copious wetness. The feeling of her overpowering and owning your orgasm so thoroughly only serves to make it that much more intense, as you spill yourself deep inside her. By this point she’s so full of your accumulated cum a small bump is showing on her belly, where her womb would be if not for the quivering layers of muscle, flesh, fat and skin, stretched taut by the prodigious volume of cum only possible through that vodka you downed earlier. You need to thank Ela, long and deep.
  1288.  
  1289. She shudders in her own orgasm as her back arches off the ground, womb utterly inflated, so much so that a small torrent of cum leaks from the seal of her lips. Her tail slides up your legs until it’s encircles your waist completely, and she’s overbalanced you, pushing you onto her loosely coiled up tail, as she rides you, rocking back and forth, grinding your cock hard against her cervix again, “Ahh, fuck. This really is the best.” She looks you in the eye and lets her tongue lewdly drop to its full length, more than enough to wrap around and pull at her own nipple, making a mess of her breasts in sweat and saliva, “How is the view from down there, boy?”
  1290.  
  1291. Awe and love are etched clearly on your face and you can’t even think to answer with anything other than sheer, complete honesty. “It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful, I love it.”          
  1292.  
  1293. Her blush strains the force of reality itself. You think you just saw the invention of a new shade of red, “Sh-Shut up! It’s payback.”
  1294.  
  1295. You nod, dumbly.
  1296.  
  1297. With her simply criminal dexterity, she leans down to your chest and trails her tongue down the crevices formed between your abdominal muscles, drawing small figure eights, before flicking against your nipple. She bridges the gap left between your flesh and her mouth and bits your nipple. There’s a brief sensation of a pin-prick but she doesn’t bite it clean off, thank fuck. She kisses just above your heart, “I can feel it,” she whispers, “Your heart… it beats so strongly for me.”
  1298.  
  1299. She shakes her head, vigorously, trying to knock loose the thoughts caused by her fluttering heart, trying to recall that feeling of dominance. It causes her tongue to wag and it accidentally gets cut up against her serrated teeth, eliciting a cute yelp. “R-right, I have to bully you now.” She says that, but her words are muffled by the hands cradling her tongue. It’s not long until she’s back into it, though, and she pulls you into a deep, familiar kiss, her long tongue entwining about your own and plunging deep down your throat, causing you to gag a little at the sudden intrusion. She massages your shoulders gently, and lulls you into letting her have her way with you. She tongue fucks you for a solid few moments before withdrawing, just before asphyxiation took your boner away from her.
  1300.  
  1301. She leans back into her ever-constant gyrating, cupping a tit and licking her lips with her lewdly large tongue, staring down at your dazed expression all the while, “Ufufu~” she laughs softly to herself, “My husband is too adorable.” Her words don’t really match to her personality, but she seems to be having fun, so you leave her to her little roleplay, and focus on not cumming your mind out before you forget to breathe. She pins your arms down by your side, in a similar fashion as to the way you pinned her, except, with her pinning your arms straight against your side, the centre of balance is thrown off, and to keep it she has to lean heavily on your chest, her hands clenched around yours. Which she does, teeth first, embedded deeply into the usual place. But there’s no rending and tearing. She bites and rips and sucks and nibbles, it is fundamentally different to when she feeds normally, as if it weren’t really flesh she sought to draw out but something more, something more primal.
  1302.  
  1303. You don’t bother to try and do anything silly like conjure a physical manifestation of your love for her. No grand gestures like magically burning the words ‘I love you <3’ into the air. What’s the point? It’s all hers anyway. Your spirit, your flesh, your essence and your life. All hers. You decide to settle back into the bed, and look up at her through the angle provided by the width of her tails holding your ass up off the ground as you lay upon them. You time her grinding correctly, and begin to throw in thrusts here and there, watching as her beautiful tits surge forwards against your chest with the momentum, as she bites and nibbles at your shoulders and neck. You keep this position up for what seems like hours, her exploring your body inside and out, you thrusting and building up tempo, only to have it shatter under orgasmic nirvana. You lost track of how much you came, and how deeply you came inside of her, but her belly has a bit more jiggle to it that it ever did before.
  1304.  
  1305. It is astounding, how tightly her battered pussy still clings to your cock, how enthusiastically her walls quiver with each thrust, how desperately her womb sucks at you, how the proof of your love doesn’t leak out from within her. Over time, her grinding becomes slow, fatigued, and it seems that as the sun rises, you’ve both fucked yourself into a twitching, glowing post-orgasmic pile of cum, pussy juices, and whispered praises and sweet-nothings. You’re not sure how it came to be like this, but Ranuinne is to your back, arms around your midriff protectively, hands still entwined in their embrace, snoring kinda loudly. You turn and twist in her arms so that you can face her as she sleeps, and deliver a small kiss to her lips before you yourself fade into slumber, the last thing you see, is her content smile.
  1306.  
  1307. In the months that follow, asides from the addition of plenty of long, passionate sex, not a whole lot changes in your day-to-day life Ranuinne is more intimate, and refers to you more often as ‘Husband’. The dread phenomenon where marriage ends the phase of courtship seems to pass the two of you by, oblivious, as the small little gestures, hugs and kisses continue. The start of the relationship was hasty, and it left the both of you confused and hesitant. When you’d lay in her lap, you’d blush and tense yourself to spring away the moment that she tells you to fuck off. Now the two of you could remain together for hours at a time, content to move not even a muscle. In addition to the added sex, her care for you when you’re recuperating seems, on the whole, a lot more balanced. What you thought was great turns out to be downright heavenly, as though this is truly how being with a Rusalka ought to be, your time of recovery, mixed both sexually and physically. The fucking is never as wild as it was the first night, but it felt more sincere, thanks to that. Your moans held the appropriate amount of exhaustion, and you don’t have the vitality of an incubus, fucked up on manticore venom.
  1308.  
  1309. On the surface that mightn’t seem as good, but it forced you to find new ways to pleasure her, to bring her to orgasm with and before you, so as not to waste your own. The sex is sort of dynamic, sort of not, she makes you dominate her on a whim, at times, but more often than not you relax yourself into her guidance. She never mentions it, but you get the feeling that she appreciates your efforts, and that only pushes you to try harder, you thrusts lose a bit of edge in urgent savagery, but pick up finesse, you learn the parts of her which turn her into a gibbering mass of shaking flesh in your arms, and assault them mercilessly. The smile of contentment that she had after your first night, doesn’t quite compare to the glow that she has now.
  1310.  
  1311. You have no idea how, since some days you spend the entirety of it recuperating, but your physical health has actually increased. You can swim faster, dive deeper, jump higher, and even life heavier things. It may be thanks to the amount of Rusalka blood flowing through your veins, but you’ve even started a sort of self-regeneration. Nothing so serious as to impede feeding, but if you cut yourself on a tree branch, the wound will be gone within an hour. The feeding itself grows more infrequent. Initially worried that she’s starving herself as not to hurt you, when you ask her she denies it outright. It seems you’ve grown ‘tastier’, in her words, and get fills herself faster and fuller off less. Curious things to mention to Ela. You have a few theories yourself, first of which being that your vitality has somehow increases, and on top of the flesh itself, her diet has been supplements with your own energies, enhanced by the constant sex between the two of you. You don’t really feel yourself as an incubus, but it is said that they do come from a unity between man and monster, and though you still tire as any man would, it is far later than any man could.
  1312.  
  1313. Mildly concerned over you sedentary lifestyle, Ranuinne allows you to haul all the weapons of your home into her cave. Asides from the practicality of having an axe for firewood and a sword for defence, this means that the two of you also spend a good bit of time sparring. You hone your rusted skills on what is, after all, the most common weapon these days, fang and claw. Sonja joins in often and she noted one day that Ranuinne’s style is both deadly efficient as it is brutally savage, she said that it reminded her of a shark’s, but her words cut short there, as she couldn’t quite put her finger on the last element of her prowess. You think it’s got something to do with the fluid grace of her movements. The two of you agonised over it till you came to conclude that it was just Ranuinne. Sparring with her was deadly real too. You’ve lost track of how many times she’s killed you, only to heal over a vital wound with her blood. You’re a little worried that this might desensitise you to your own death, but your body reacts just the same when confronted with her teeth lunging at your throat; in a desperate gamble for life. A part of it feels like you can’t leave Ranuinne behind in such a simple manner as death.    
  1314.  
  1315. Your homely little cave may serve as a breaker for the floes of time, but time itself does not stop moving. You realise that six months later as you walk towards the city walls. Not much has changed, but they feel a whole lot more… impenetrable.
  1316.  
  1317. “Ah, Theinn, you bastard. You’ve grown. Now you’re taking money from us without actually being there!”
  1318.  
  1319. Broderick’s call is a lively as ever, and yet you cannot put off the sense of fear and unease about his eyes. The two of you clasp hands and hug, but you can’t ease the unease. “What do you mean? Is something up? This whole place feels… wrong. I’ve only been gone six months.”
  1320.  
  1321. “Aye. We placed bets on to whether or not you were dead. We even sent a messenger to your home only to find it abandoned. Where’ve ya been?”
  1322.  
  1323. You evade the question, sensing honest to not be the best approach here, “Went walkabouts. But what’s happened?” you gasp, “Shit it’s not the full moon again is it?” You fucking hope it is, there was something that you wanted to try an-
  1324.  
  1325. Broderick lets out a heavy sigh, “Nah. Worse.” He gestures behind him and you see the bars and locked doors and scared faces. “Full moon’s not for another fortnight. This is just how it is now. Look, man,” He puts his hands on your shoulders and looks at you pleadingly, “None of us know who the fuck yer parents were, but we all remember that day yer dad brought down a dragon with nothin’ but his sword an’…” he leans down in a whisper, “I haven’t told anyone else this for fear of yer’ conscription but I still remember the day you took on that ambush party of minotauruses. We need you out here man.”
  1326.  
  1327. You sigh deeply, steeped in regret, and gently slide his arms off your shoulders, “I’d love to man, but I have my own to protect. Can’t leave ‘em to come here. And they can’t come here with me.”
  1328.  
  1329. Broderick slumps in defeat, “I figured that’s how it would be. Sorry for botherin’ you with all that, I… were all just a little scared. Guess I aught to explain why, huh?” He points to a broken part of the wall with humans swarming all over it like ants, trying to fix it. “Wurm did that, two nights ago. We’ve been trying to fix it, but a raiding party of succubi slipped in last night and claimed a good fifty men. Heaviest blow we’ve taken yet. On top of that, ten women were turned and only seven were reclaimed by our priest. We had to kick out the other three. Demon Queen is moving and we can’t do shit to stop her. And our town wasn’t the only hit. Hamlets here and there have been hit one after the other in a line heading south towards us after the passage town of Korsvag to the northwest was taken. People have already started leaving this place in droves, headed south to Thule. Particularly the monstergirls. Too much fear these days for folks to act civil, and they can’t head north, not with the Order whipping the Imperial Capital into a frenzy. Their only hope is to buy passage south from Kust or Stenholm. And as for Korsvag… If they end up taking it back…” He shakes his head, “I never thought my generation would be the one to see the Great Gates of Durnir fall.”  
  1330.  
  1331. You pinch at the bridge of your nose. Fuck. To think so much changed after a mere six months while you were away. Your eyes widen in sudden realization and you pull Broderick down towards you, and whisper into his ear, “Ela?”
  1332.  
  1333. “Aye,” he whispers back, “You know how that graveyard always feels like hell? It feels completely normal now. I think she’s gone into hiding. It’d say she’d left but I still catch signs of movement. She’s being careful to not be noticed.” You relax your grip on his shirt.
  1334.  
  1335. “Good,” you sigh in relief. Broderick waves you through. The stall where Delilah would cheat honest men out of their honest money lay abandoned and broken, streets lay dusty and empty asides from the stray dust devil kicked up by hasty boots. You make your way down to the cemetery, and realise that indeed, the foreboding aura has vanished. You step into the grounds and feel completely alone, no eyes to watch you, no shadows to taunt. Just a plot of ground with some corpses buried in it. You wince and rub at the back of your neck. You really don’t like this. You make your way to the mausoleum and knock on the door once, and then once more. Silence.
  1336.  
  1337. You look around you and, when you’re certain that you’re alone, you flick open the little sliding panel, and shout into it, “Ela, it’s Theinn.” Clatters and dropped plates can be heard deep from within, and the girl all but flies up to the door in the next instant, throws it open and jumps at you. She’s wearing clothes for once. It instantly puts you on edge.
  1338.  
  1339. “Theinn! I’m so glad you’re okay!” A-alright then… You pat the girl’s head reassuringly and stare back at the corpses littering the room. Or, loitering, in this case.
  1340.  
  1341. “Ela, who are they?” One of the corpses steps forwards. It looks to be an elf. A real fuckin well-developed elf in an elegant and regal violet dress which has to be a few sizes too small, judging by how her enormous breasts are all but spilling out over the top of it. She even looks a little familiar, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. You give up and assume that this girl conforms to your ideal of ‘beautiful’, and as a beautiful girl she’d obviously share similar features to other beautiful girls that you’d seen. You allay the small kernel of familiarity in the back of your mind and decide to play it as though she were a truly fresh face.
  1342.  
  1343. Lily hops down as the woman extends a hand, and you reach for it, kissing it on instinct, “Delighted to meet you, Theinnleid. I’ve heard so much. I am Roseline Enelye, Queen of Ithilien. But please, call me Rose.”
  1344.  
  1345. “Q-queen? Sorry, I-” In a panic you go to kneel, only for her to laugh beautifully and put a restraining hand on your shoulder,
  1346.  
  1347. “Relax. I get enough of that at home.”
  1348.  
  1349. “R-right. Sorry.” You blush embarrassedly, and avert your eyes, making rose cover her mouth with a hand, eyes twinkling, and utter a soft laugh.
  1350.  
  1351. The lot of you head further in, and Elanore, in a rare display, is openly smirking at you. You hiss under your breath at the Lich. “Why didn’t you tell me there was a freakin’ queen here.”
  1352.  
  1353. “What, and give you a chance to prepare yourself? No way.” Glaring now, you turn your eyes in front of you, trying to be courteous, but unable to help you gaze from locking in on the elf’s rear. It’s just as ridiculously large as her bust, jiggling with each high-heeled step, straining tight against her dress. Just begging to be groped and slapped. Your hand clenches and unclenches reflexively by your side as you remind yourself that you’re sworn for. Ela glares at you, taking keen note of your reactions, and turns to pout at the Wight, delivering a hard slap on her ass, making the woman yelp adorably as her ass flesh ripples from the impact. A few of the Queen’s party shuffle awkwardly, unsure how to react to this egregious lèse-majesté.
  1354.  
  1355. You sit with the Wight, the Lich and a particularly rugged looking Ghoul, dressed in an impressive set of purplish-black dragon-scaled light armor and a billowing black cape, an imposing long-sword at her hip. She’s backed by two lesser zombie-girls for… no real reason apparently. It’s not because zombies are brilliant marshal artists, you know that much. Maybe she finds them cute. A table separates the three lounges, the ghoul and her zombies on one, the Wight on another and you an Ela on the last.
  1356.  
  1357. Ela hands out the last cup of tea and sits herself down in your lap. You take the change to ask in a whisper what a queen is doing in her home. She answers in a beam. “She’s my army, of course!”
  1358.  
  1359. “I…see… Who should I be praying for?”
  1360.  
  1361. “The Demon Queen.” Well. You don’t hear that every day.
  1362.  
  1363. “Wait, she’s a monstergirl, you’re monstergirls, shouldn’t you be on her side?”
  1364.  
  1365. Ela shakes her head, still sitting on your lap, the atmosphere she exudes is that of a revolutionary. “The Demon Queen doesn’t wish for co-inhabitancy, she wants utter dominion. Which, by itself wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the fact she treats the undead like dirt and men like cum-dispensing dildos. And, well, let’s just say that there’s a whole lot wrong with letting a bitch like her in charge of everything.
  1366.  
  1367. Besides, she’s started moving in a major way, her forces come north, corrupting and conquering, converting or raping all envoys Rose sends. Words aren’t working, so all that’s left is magic and might. I and Roseline, will gather a few chosen dead and set off to begin our own alliance. Part of that is what we’re doing tonight. Planning a joint fortification in the mountains that will serve as a forward operations base, research and training facility for the upcoming confrontation between the Imperial Capital and the demon armies of Lyonesse to the west.” She sighs sadly, “Which will be a long one.  While they’re engaged, we hope to strike the flanks of both, so to speak. The kingdoms of men are just as much a threat with their beliefs as the kingdoms of demons, though, the Kingdom of Thule to the south is slightly less fanatic than the Imperial Capital to the north.
  1368.  
  1369. Combining Rose’s authority and leadership with my mastery of the necromantic arts, we plan to raise a long since dead city far to the North mountain ranges. Its resurrection will make the base foundations for the fortification. Though it was said to be quite an impressive citadel in its day.  Hopefully we won’t need to change much. But then again, it did fall at some point, so it’s not perfect. We hope to meet with a prominent vampire noble from the northern icelands and see if we can get he-”
  1370.  
  1371. “Excuse me, Lady Elanore, but is it wise to speak so loosely?” Ela is interrupted by the Ghoul on the opposite side of the table, the one that held herself with authority but had yet to speak. She clenches her fist in irritation, “I do not like that you would talk so freely of our plans with a mere human boy, despite how close the two of you may be.”
  1372.  
  1373. “He can be trusted”
  1374.  
  1375. “Even so, he is just a man how can you be so sure he won’t spill what he heard here, even under duress? His presence alone is cause for worry; I permitted it until now but as Field Marshal, I can’t tolerate any more compromise to-”
  1376.  
  1377. “Hey, I can keep a secret.”
  1378.  
  1379. Her eyes widen in rage and she leaps to her feet, knocking the table and unsettling her cup of tea, tipping it over. “You dare cut me off?! Do not presume to speak to me so casually, cur!” The Wight sighs deeply and Ela looks a little taken aback, but you face the raging Ghoul expressionlessly.
  1380.  
  1381. Removing Ela from your lap, you weep a silent tear for the spilt tea. Her anger slips into a sneer. “I don’t know how close you are with Elanore here, but men should know their place. Perhaps I ought to teach it you a little more thoroughly.”
  1382.  
  1383. Her claw slices through the air to clutch at your shirt and haul you to your feet, but before it can reach you from across the table, you catch it by the wrist, and twist as you stand, with such force the joints at the elbow pop, and her arm twists with your wrist. “That was really good tea you spilled, you know. Ela made it personally.” Reaching forward, you grab behind her neck, and slam her face into the table, a large crack filling the room. You grind it into the damp patch, her scaled suit of armor clacking at the sudden movement.
  1384.  
  1385. You think you hear some response from the girl, but it could have just been groans. “I would have thought you’d have been a little more grateful. Reflect on it, and do a better job of holding your tongue next time,” The fingers holding her neck squeeze as if you really could just reach through the skin and muscle, “or I’ll hold it for you.”
  1386.  
  1387. You release her neck, and sit down, but she remains slumped over the table, holding her ruined arm and moaning, stunned with the force of her face colliding with the table. You kick her head off the table and she falls back into the couch, dazed. Ela sighs and apologises to the Wight, who just shrugs, “It’s my fault for not disciplining her correctly. I’m more worried that she might have fallen for him now.” She turns to you, “Try not to hate her, she’s just proud. Spends too much time in the barracks around the soldiers, not enough in court with the other nobles.”
  1388.  
  1389. You hear her groan as her eyes roll, “But they’re always so stuffy…” Clearly it was a talk they had so often, her response became a natural reflex.
  1390.  
  1391. “No, I over-reacted. Sorry.”
  1392.  
  1393. “Then, try not to break her nose next time.” Rose rolls her eyes, muttering to herself, “Well, not like it’s the first or last time either.”
  1394.  
  1395. Climbing back into your lap, Ela turns to you, “So any way, Theinn, seeing as how you’re already here, how would you like to join us?”
  1396.  
  1397. You rub the back of your neck awkwardly, “Broderick asked me a similar thing earlier, and I guess my answer is still the same, even if it is you. I have to look after Ranuinne. Just…” you cast a worried look onto Elanore, “Don’t get captured or killed. I don’t know what I’d do if that were to happen.”
  1398.  
  1399. She nods, “I won’t, I promise.”
  1400.  
  1401. Ela turns back to the Wight, “At any rate, the vampire should be here soon, she or a representative.”
  1402.  
  1403. Roseline nods, lost in thought, and conversation dies down. Ela rests the back of her head against your chest and closes her eyes while you busy yourself with swirling the dregs of what’s left in the cup. You catch Rose staring, but she averts her eyes with a blush before you can say anything. Soon you get tired of watching the remnants of tea run from side to side, and you rise from your seat, displacing Ela and ask if anyone would like more tea. Everyone declines, so you leave the room. Alone now, you walk into the kitchen and stand before the kettle, watching as the water heats.
  1404.  
  1405. You hear stone grate on stone, then a quiet thud on wood and your head flicks to the cupboard in the other side of the room on reflex, the door slowly swinging closed again. Wearily, you grab one of the knives out of display, and stalk to the cupboard, when you shudder, hairs on your neck rising. The only thing stopping you from jumping and spinning around when you feel a soft pair of breasts press into your back is the presence of cold steel at your throat. “Put the knife down, slowly.”
  1406.  
  1407. “Ah…You wouldn’t happen to be that envoy would you?”
  1408.  
  1409. You can hear her brow furrow. “How did you know that? Who are you?” You put the knife on the bench and turn around with your arms up,
  1410.  
  1411. “Just a friend of Ela’s. Sorry, didn’t mean to pull a knife on you, I just heard some strange noises. What were you doing in the cupboard?” She sighs and lowers the blade from your throat, her eyes searching through the gloom.
  1412.  
  1413. “Cupboard?” she looks back to where she came from, and quirks an eyebrow as the cupboard she just left, She walks over to it and opens it for you, revealing a false back leading down into the dark.
  1414.  
  1415. “I guess this is the right place then. Those directions were useless, I was wandering around down here for hours. I mean I don’t need it, but there isn’t even light down there.”
  1416.  
  1417. In the darkness, individual features begin the reveal themselves, one by one. Warm-looking, caramel skin, long, sandy white hair, a small, cute nose and a spattering of ruddy freckles, highlighting the slight blush on the intruder’s face, the kind that comes not from arousal but exercise. Her figure is light and lithe. She wears a loose fitting shirt with a deep cut over a distinctly feminine, if small chest. Over the shirt is a leather jerking, the pants she wears of a similar leather. You turn your gaze up and into her emerald eyes.
  1418.  
  1419. “I feel like I should apologise.”
  1420.  
  1421. “Not like you designed the tunnels.” She pauses, “You didn’t did you?” You shake your head ‘no’. “Could you take me the rest of the way?”
  1422.  
  1423. “Sure, just let me finish making this tea.”
  1424.  
  1425. ***
  1426.  
  1427. “Apologies, I lost my way down the tunnels. This man found me and offered to lead me here. I am Anya, Dhampir cousin to Mistress Lara Bathory, of Fuil. It is a pleasure to finally meet you all.”
  1428.  
  1429. You sit next to Ela and gesture to the refilled cup to tea, “Good thing I got thirsty.”
  1430.  
  1431. As the girl explains her position, Ela climbs back onto your lap, like a cat claiming her rightful position. This seems to distract Anya somewhat, and throughout her explanations of political intrigue, she occasionally eyes you, curiously. ‘Who exactly is this man?’
  1432.  
  1433. You listen with a sort of detached interest. The seminal plans of this rebellion concern you, as far as Elanore’s participation, but in terms of your personal involvement, you’re not so attached. In short this vampire countess Lara’s position is as such, she is at odds with Elanore’s co-inhabitancy with the ‘cattle’ as Anya so delicately put. You got the sense she was ordered to use this word in particular, because she sort of stammered saying it, the delivery not as natural as it would have been had they been her own thoughts. However, despite disagreeing with Elannore, she if fully against the Demon Queen’s goals of domination, and has no particular ambitions for herself other than maintaining the status quo of her town.
  1434.  
  1435. So essentially, it would suck to be a human living under her wing, but seeing as you aren’t near her ‘princessipality’ you’ll be fine. You personally have a few objections but it’s not like you’ll ever meet this ‘Lara’ or have any traffic with her. Right? What Lara brings to the table is limited to her family, though that is no small limit. She offers a corps of well-trained, ancient vampires to serve as assassins, spies, and scouts. Lara essentially will make up the eyes and ears of the rebellion.
  1436.  
  1437. Elanore opposes this attitude, quite strongly in fact, not that it’s apparent to anyone but you. She demands at least that any human within the Necropolis be allowed the right to leave should they so wish, how she governs her own town, while distasteful, is her business. Anya nods in agreeance, in at least a personal capacity, and promises to pass on Ela’s concerns to Lara, but cautions against Ela from expecting too much.
  1438.  
  1439. That said, it isn’t as though Lara can afford to completely ignore Ela, who will form the brains and heavy artillery of the rebellion, making use of her years of experience and immense magical muscles. Though limited in terms of personnel, Ela has also created for herself some powerful allies at her disposal. Literally, created. Amongst those she notes a colossal giant of reanimated flesh, Celia. She’s kinda cute in a humongous, bumbling way. You met her once before. After the giant zombie came someone, or a group of someones you’d never heard about. The last of what Ela offers being a loyal undead dragon flight, which breathe not fire, but blight and undeath. With this you figure, this alliance has both eyes ears a brain, artillery and wings. You look expectantly towards the Queen.
  1440.  
  1441. Roseline has no particular position on humans. Cattle, friends, or otherwise, and merely opposes the Demon Queen. As such she remains neutral on the issues of human rights, adopting a policy of domestic autonomy within her Kingdom. What Roseline offers is legions of undead, and her own indispensable charisma and the leadership required to control them personally. Ela would have her own estate within the necropolis, but Rosaline would preside over the citadel as a whole, sending elected officials to manage its affairs. Lara won’t be contributing any resources in its construction, and doesn’t want to lay claim to any part of it, she will however, lend a number of her household to help garrison it.
  1442.  
  1443. With Rose’s contribution, the undead rebellion has its arms, and considerable arms at that. When pitted against the demonic forces of the Demon Queen’s, it may be shy a few thousand, but given the nature of the undead, this rebellion has the strength to cover the land in corpses. Cute, moaning, shuffling, bloodthirsty corpses.
  1444.  
  1445. Throats begin to run dry at this point, and so you offer to brew a cup of tea for all. Ela and Anya gladly accept. The now conscious Ghoul avoids your eyes, a zombie from behind indicates that yes, she would like one, and Rose rises to help you. You begin to insist that she remain seated and let you serve her, but she swats aside your protests easily.
  1446.  
  1447. You grab the old tinderbox and use it to light a flame in the slow-burning selkie oil. No need to use magic for everything. As the two of you stand in silence waiting for the water to boil, underneath the luminance of the now room-dominating tree which Ranuinne’s blood helped revive, you can’t help but notice how astoundingly beautiful Rosaline is, and that’s not just in figure, as full and soft as it is. Her pure white, slightly blue tinged skin all but glows under the light of the tree, and her dark violet dress is barely able to hold in her too-perfect womanly form. Perhaps it’s due to her elven heritage, but she stands a good head and a bit above you, something which only adds to her alluring grace. You’d heard that Wights grow more beautiful and powerful the older they are, and the more energy that they absorb but this…
  1448.  
  1449. It’s ridiculous. You have a woman you love dearly and yet gazing upon Roseline instils a clenching forlornness in your chest. A beauty incomparably far from anything you’ve ever known, immeasurably pure and complete. You’re usually alright with words, but they fail you now. You think of Ranuinne and whilst she doesn’t necessarily fail to this woman in terms of the mortal flesh, it’s more the difference between goddess and maiden. Both are beautiful in their ways, but the maiden can never compare to the divine beauty of the goddess. You sigh and turn your mind and heart from such instinctual regret, and instantly feel the loneliness in your head shift.
  1450.  
  1451. She grins playfully “Ah, so you managed to resist it. I was right about you. You are interesting. I hope this Ranuinne knows what she has.” Ah.
  1452.  
  1453. “A charm?”
  1454.  
  1455. “I like to call it charisma.”
  1456.  
  1457. “Your husband must be a very lucky and… robust man.” Good, establish the fact that she’s probably already in a relationship. Stop your dickbrain from making decisions for your headbrain. She averts her eyes and fidgets awkwardly.
  1458.  
  1459. “A-haha, yes, husband. It would be quite strange for a woman of my age to not have one wouldn’t it? Yes, my husband is quite um… sturdy.”
  1460.  
  1461. “What’s his name? He must be a great hero, to be the husband of such a beautiful queen.” She blushes when you call her beautiful, and her eyes dart around. You feel yourself relaxing. She’s easy to talk to, for a queen. You can almost forget that she’s royalty.
  1462.  
  1463. “Y-yes… He was a great hero. The strongest. His name was, uhm… Light…Stone…Bough. Uh, Light Stonebough.”
  1464.  
  1465. “Wow, that’s an impressive name. You used past tense?”
  1466.  
  1467. “Ah, yes, he passed quite some time ago.”
  1468.  
  1469. You gasp, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t think-” She laughs and puts her hand on your forearm, and moves a little closer to you,
  1470.  
  1471. “It’s quite alright. And please, stop speaking so formally, Theinnleid. Call me Rose.” She traces a finger up your chest and lifts your chin so that your eyes meet hers, “I’m sure we could come to be quite… close.”
  1472.  
  1473. You smile at her, “Certainly, Rose. I’m sure that my wife would love to meet you, and please, call me Theinn.”
  1474.  
  1475. Rose takes a step back, “Ah, I’ll be busy. That said, the two of you are more than welcome to visit my city. So, there is no way you will fight for me?”
  1476.  
  1477. You smile a little and shake your head, “As much as I’d enjoy being your knight in shining armour, I am but one man, and I already have my own to protect.”
  1478.  
  1479. Rose nods, as if she expected this answer. “That is a shame, but you mustn’t discredit yourself. Not only is it rude to my sister who taught you, but it’s rude to me who taught her.”
  1480.  
  1481. “Ah, I didn’t mean it that way, it’s just tha- wait, sister?”
  1482.  
  1483. She grins mischievously, “Yes, that is the appropriate amount of surprise. Your mother, Evelynn, was my sister, and you,” she approaches with a wraithlike grace and pulls you into a hug, holding you tightly to her cool chest, “Are my cute little nephew. We meet at long last, Theinn.” Her breasts spill over your shoulders as she holds you close and ruffles your hair, you try to back away but you’re pressed firm against the bench by her weight.
  1484.  
  1485. “Y-you’re my Aunt, then?” Your arms flail out in the open, trying hard not to touch anything problematic.
  1486.  
  1487. She only holds you tighter, with a strength you didn’t think possible for a woman of her frame, “Yes, I’m sorry for being such a bad Aunty.” You notice a wetness run down your cheek. She’s crying. Not sobbing, not moaning, just silently weeping as she holds you. Surprised and taken aback, you’re nearly swept up in her emotion, as you hold the bigger woman.        
  1488.  
  1489. “W-what’s the matter?”
  1490.  
  1491. She sniffles before straightening up a little, and explaining herself. You wipe the tears from her eyes as she does so, causing her already flushed face to redden further “S-sorry. For Elves, family is a vastly important thing, and for Evelynn and I… well, that persisted well into death. A-and then I lost her. And suddenly I’m by myself. I’ve been so alone for so long and when I finally meet her adoptive son, I show him… this.” She gestures to her wet, tearstained face.
  1492.  
  1493. Gears slowly turn in your head, “So then, the last I ever saw of Mother and Father was before a fight… Did they fall together in a fight against the Demon Queen?”
  1494.  
  1495. Roseline smiles sadly and runs her fingers through your hair, “Yes, it was against the Demon Queen herself that they fell, and it is because of that I fight. Personally, at least. Officially, it’s because of the way she responded to the envoys.” A few moments of silence descend, and you spend them awkwardly aware of the woman still clinging to you, gently rubbing her cheek against the crown of your heat, like a cat rubbing her scent into you, obviously content to just stay there, at least for now.
  1496.  
  1497. You wonder how Evelynn would want you to react to her flirty older sister who is bigger in all the ways an elf has no right to be. You think back to your own mother’s figure and realise that compared to the wood-elves you’d seen, and that one dark elf, even she had a fuller figure than the rest. Perhaps undeath changes their body in some ways. You sigh inwardly and direct your brain towards the matter at hand, rather than escaping in idle thought. You can’t deny that you feel a connection with this woman, and your instincts about her are particularly strong, so you can almost guarantee that she is your mother’s sister. And… well… that’s where you have to stop thinking, right? She’s family. Protect her.
  1498.  
  1499. You push Rose bac far enough to meet her gaze, “We only just met, and I can’t help but wonder where you’ve been all these years if you cared so much for my mother,” Roseline bristles a little at that, but remains silent, accepting the truth of it, “and I don’t really understand what kind of responsibility a queen has, but I guess it’s a lot, and it touches me that you would send armies just for them. I mightn’t have been related to my mother by blood, but I loved her as one, so you are just as important to me as Ela is. So I take back what I said. Don’t get hurt. I don’t want to lose any one else.”
  1500.  
  1501. Rose looks at you for a while, wide-eyed, before the tears come again, and she all but throws herself into your embrace, crying for real now, her ridiculously large chest heaving and bouncing with each monumental sob. “Th-thank you so much.” You tighten your hold on the lonely elder woman and She sighs into your chest, muffled. “You’re so warm.” You get the sensation that this woman has been cold and alone for far too long.
  1502.  
  1503. Long minutes pass, before the shrill whistling of too much steam through too small a hole signifies that the water has boiled for long enough. Gently, you push the woman back, and once more wipe clean her tear-stricken face softly with your thumbs, familial care and concern scrawled largely across your face. Ela always chided you for wearing your heart on your sleeve. The action feels slightly awkward as the big girl stands almost a head taller than you, but it also feels sort of fitting. You briefly remember running to Evelynn as a snot-nosed kid, crying because of something or another, and your mother would comfort you in much the same way.
  1504.  
  1505. A warm smile graces Rose’s lips, “You have her kindness through and through. I’m sorry I couldn’t look after you sooner, but Ela assured me she would care for you, and a ruler doesn’t make for much of a single mother.” Roseline straightens herself up, and with each brush and shift of her dress you feel the air of composure seep back into her until before you stands not the lonely woman, but a Queen.
  1506.  
  1507. You watch sadly as the lonely woman disappears behind the ironclad armor of the confident Wight. A sigh nearly escapes your lips, but then the girl pauses in putting her helmet on, and flashes you a weak, uncertain smile, before even that changes into the leer of an older woman, sizing up her prey. You caught that last smile, though. As if it had said ‘I’ll show this side to you alone, at any time.’      
  1508.  
  1509. The two of you busy yourselves with pouring the various teas, and head back towards the conference, with Rose taking the lead. She turns to look at you with lusty eyes, before entering the room, “I must say, though…” she bites her lower lip softly, “Do come and visit your aunty some time.”
  1510.  
  1511. Your cheeks begin to burn hot, and though you think you prefer the scared and lonely older woman begging for some warmth, you can’t deny the things that this one does to you. You’d slap yourself if your hands weren’t full. You already have a wife, damnit. Rose laughs softly as you stand there, blushing, and enters the room. You follow suit, the remnants of a red tinge still on your cheeks, something Ela notes keenly, and shoots the Wight a funny look. Using her ridiculously voluptuous body to shield her expression from the rest, she turns and pokes her tongue out at Ela.  
  1512.  
  1513. You do the rounds, and deliver the cups of tea. Anya thanks you politely and the Ghoul flushes red and avoids your hands and eyes. You sit down with your own, and slowly the conversation rises, continuing on from where you left of as though nothing had happened.
  1514.  
  1515. A few hours later everything draws itself to a natural close, and the members gathered around Ela’s home slowly disperse. Anya fades into the shadows with a goodbye, and there is a bit of a commotion as Rose and her cohort prepare to leave and before long you and Ela stand together facing Rose and the Ghoul.
  1516.  
  1517. Rose speaks first, “Be safe, Theinn. Don’t do anything dangerous.”
  1518.  
  1519. “Same goes for you too, Rose. Be well.”
  1520.  
  1521. The ghoul squirms before looking up at you, “U-um, s-sorry for being so rude.”
  1522.  
  1523. You scratch the back of your head, “Yeah, I’m sorry too. I hope we can start again some time.”
  1524.  
  1525. The girl clearly loses herself in the memory for a moment, and you note her breathing growing heavier. Shrugging you offer your hand for the girl, fully expecting her to take it and shake. You didn’t expect her to lick it, but whatever. Rose hauls the girl away by her collar and apologises before waving good bye for the day.
  1526.  
  1527. Ela heaves a heavy sigh, “Long day. Hey… did Rose say something?”
  1528.  
  1529. “Hm? Oh. Yeah. Turns out she’s family.”
  1530.  
  1531. “Ah, so she told you.”
  1532.  
  1533. “Why didn’t you?”
  1534.  
  1535. The girl shrugs before clambering onto your back. “Carry me in, Subject.”
  1536.  
  1537. You offer nothing asides from a sigh, and grip the girl’s legs from behind the knees, and carry her in.
  1538.  
  1539. She shrugs all her clothing off, and breathes a deep and satisfied sigh. She never did like clothing. She throws herself into the lounge and squirms about it like a worm before finding the most comfortable position. She shifts each limb methodically until each one has reached optimum comfort.
  1540.  
  1541. The end result is the girl lying face down on the lounge, ass up slightly. “What?” She scowls at you, and wisely, you decide not to say anything. Instead you ask if she’d like something to drink. The girl declines though, and so you sit yourself down on the other end of the lounge, legs hanging off the edge, lying so that the Ela’s behind cushions the back of your head. The girl has a surprisingly comfortable rump. You make to ask her ‘what now’ but something tells you the girl is already asleep. You’d think that undeath would have a cure for mental exhaustion. Turns out it doesn’t.
  1542.  
  1543. The Grim Sleeper comes to claim your soul.
  1544.  
  1545. You stand on the borders between two lands, one of swirling mists, and one of flame. Behind you is a giant mountain range and judging by the cool winds bathing the back of your neck, what lay beyond is fields of ice. Colossal figures rage in the distance, and smaller replicas rush in between their legs like ants, hacking and tearing with tooth and claw. Instinctively, you drop to a crouch and throw your hand up and behind you, but you’re met with sheer nothingness where the hilt of your blade would be. Fuck.
  1546.  
  1547. Scanning the surroundings with your eyes, you see battalions raging across the field, and very little cover. To your left in the land of mists you see a dense forest, and to the right fields of lava. One you can’t hid in and the other you’d rather not. You decide to stay put, crouched and unmoving, and survey the area. Armies of red, white-blues and earthy greens clash, and it is a moment before you realise that it isn’t merely their armor which is painted that colour. In the back ground, wreathed in clouds a colossal giant of earth crushes the arm of a swirling mass of flames, and from the shattered armor spews an inferno of raging combustion. It bathes the arm of the earth giant, and the giant stumbles backwards, crushing friend and flow alike. The flaming monstrosity laughs, and the raging inferno solidifies back into an arm, complete with a new, burning blade, which is uses to unleash a flurry of blows upon the earthen golem.
  1548.  
  1549. You cast your eyes down and see similar conflicts, and slowly the wheels in your head turn over and you realise that in your dreams you’ve slipped into the elemental planes. You count the months in your head and recall that it should be the start of winter. Whirling around behind you, indeed, you see a cavalry of mist and ice cleaving through the ranks of fire and earth. They push onto the field and the ebb and flow of battle changes, giving more to the armies of ice, and taking from the flame.
  1550.  
  1551. In time they are beaten back by the raging inferno, but in the end, the banner of fire never fully recovered the lost land. Winter slowly encroaches on their front lines. You’d never been to the elemental planes before. Nor had you met anyone who had, nor had you recently devoted much time to elemental magics, so that only really leaves one explanation. You were summoned here.
  1552.  
  1553. Looking around, no one notices you, though, so you can only assume that they couldn’t be bothered to send a guide. Well… then fuck em’. Your eyes burn as you watch the scene before you, and berserker blood boils and rages within your veins, urging you onwards, your muscles twitch like a hound yearning for the chase. You don’t even have to search within yourself for who you choose to ally yourself with. You scour your immediate area and find a fallen group of flames. You bound towards their corpses and lay your hands upon flaming bloody steel. The rune on your forehead blazes with an intensity which could never be matched on the mortal realms, and as you wreathe yourself in a swirling inferno, and cloak your blade in fire, more than a few heads turn at your presence.
  1554.  
  1555. You don’t even think. You can’t even think. You just rage, a child in the play pit, an artist given a sword and told to paint the place red. Your soul becomes as a furious wolf as you clash with the winter flanks. You bellow your mortal warcry as you cleave into the forces of Winter. Feral magic courses through your veins and with your free hand you unleash gouts of molten fury, and conjure up hounds of pure rage. As you plunge deep into the ranks of winter, screaming in soulful glee, a few fire elementals pour into the wedge you’d single-handedly created, and the flames make a slow grab for their lost land.
  1556.  
  1557. A few clearly feminine forms stroke and caress their newfound friend, and laugh gleefully as they plunge their weapons into the necks of ice. A large creature of ice bars your progress, twice your height and bearing down on you, she, and you’ve noticed that each elemental here possesses a female form, lunges at you with a claymore made of hoar frost. You parry it, but your blade shatters, and the claymore follows through and connects with your cloak of flame. You’re flung back meters, and there’s a collective gasp, as heads turn to follow your trajectory.
  1558.  
  1559. You land hard on your back, and bounce a little with the impact. The air has been knocked clean out of your lungs and you laugh breathlessly. You clench your hand into a fist and pound down on your sternum, shocking your diaphragm back into working order, and take the burning hand which was offered to you. Using the elemental’s strength, you bound to your feet and rush headlong towards the smirking ice behemoth. She takes another swing at you, but her last knocked some decent sense into you. You slide under the blade and pounce on her, planting your feet firmly on her chest and gripping the hilt of her sword. A little room around the two of you clears as the elements watch this new and interesting game.
  1560.  
  1561. Grinning, you lean in and kiss the frozen lips of your adversary, and laugh as in her shock, she releases her blade. You bound back from the woman, bounty firmly in your hands, and as your flames rage, the giant claymore melts and vaporises instantaneously, and in your hands you hold a swirling mass of steam. Taking half in each hand you form two large, crude looking axes. A few bystanders let out breaths of awe as you take the weapons of winter and craft them to your own burning passions. Making use of the momentum of the moment, you spring off your left foot toward the shocked block of ice woman, and hack at her knees with your right weapon.
  1562.  
  1563. She screams as she falls to her knees, and you turn back on yourself, swinging your left hand up as you do, axe and all. It collects with the girl’s throat nicely and shards of ice splinter forth as you decapitate her. Cheers and cries of outrage ring clear throughout your makeshift arena as you stand above her corpse, her frozen head still rolling, but you didn’t earn room to gloat. The forces rush into the area immediately after, and resume the ever raging war.
  1564.  
  1565. You aren’t the only hero in this battlefield, and large commanders sit astride beasts of fire and ice. The earthen presence fades from the field as the forces battle for supremacy of autumn, before winter comes to claim all. As a whole, the flank you launched yourself into falters, but the bulk of the winter army slowly creeps forward, and though your bloodlust never dies, somewhere in the back of your mind you realise you’re fighting a losing fight. You grin madly.
  1566.  
  1567. Forces thin around you, and horns blare as a large force of frozen steeds crash through your lines. You’re on the verge of leaping at one of the horse’s legs to bring the rider down when one of the flames which has been by your side since the beginning tugs on your hand. She names herself Sig, and in the eye of the storm you get a good look at your comrade. She glows various shades of orange, with blue highlights in her flickering hair. Her body is streamlined and perfect, each curve flows into the other, not overly large, but just the right size to incite heat and a warm passion. She leads you to a clear part of the battlefield, and gathers her flames, turning into a large canine of indistinguishable inferno. She kneels before you, and the perpetual grin on your face never falters as you leap astride your new mount and charge into the frozen cavalry.          
  1568.  
  1569. Some other flames follow and soon you find yourself head of a pack of burning wargs, hunting for icy prey. The axes you stole what seems an eternity ago fare much better than the molten blade form before, sharing some resonance with winter itself. Bolts and spears of ice shatter upon the broad side of your axes, and they cleave clean through the frosty armours of your enemy. Your wolf rounds on its prey and you leap from its back, causing it to yelp in surprise. Flying at the ice woman on the horse, an axe in each fist, you swing your arms down on the girl’s head unevenly, the first blow makes the helmet crack, the second drives the wedge down to her teeth. Blood gushes from the wound as she slumps in her seat, and your mount slides under the horse and tears its throat out, bathing its fallen comrade in torrents of crimson. Hopping off the horse, you leap for your wolf, and it catches you in its stride, the two of you moving in perfect synchronisation. The momentum from the leap swings the wolf to the side and you use the force to fling your axe out and decapitate another horseman. The horse falters as your mount stabilises and leaps back into the fray.
  1570.  
  1571. The blood on your skin boils and simmers, coating you and your ride, making your fists sticky in it. And yet you plunge on. Lances plunge deep into your chest and shards of ice bristle across your skin. You keep thinking ‘this is it’. You embrace your fatality with a rabid glee, and yet the end takes a real fuckin’ long time in coming. Your minor wounds are healed nigh-instantly thanks to your new-found regeneration, and the more serious ones are cauterised by nearby allies.
  1572.  
  1573. Blows become harder to dodge, spears harder to deflect, and the masses of foes grow too thick. You and your pack plunged too far. Too deep, and now you’re surrounded on all sides by cool impassionate glares of ice. You’re fine to meet your death here, but you look around and see fear creeping into the eyes of your pack. You led them here. The pride of a warrior surges up within you and you decide that you bled and sweated together. This is no longer about your warmongering. You’ll get them out.
  1574.  
  1575. Your boiling blood cools as you think of a way out, and you look to your weapons and your mount and realise that you’d just been manipulating the elements all this time. You call your flames to you, and the runes all over your body glow a hot red as you absorb the elementals of your pack into you. Your skin cracks and smoulders, but you keep their power in, only to release it in the form of giant, magnificent flaming wings. Upon the wings of the phoenix, you leap and soar out of the fray, taking a good few shafts of ice for your troubles.
  1576.  
  1577. Bloodied and exhausted, your wings carry you into the blazing camps entrenched along the borders of the field, and you all but drop into their midst. Your flaming wings disperse into the members of your pack and you note with relief that each original one is there. A flame kneels besides you and you recognise her as the flame which pulled you aside and turned herself into your comrade. She smiles at you and bathes your wounds in cleansing flame as the others start carting in food and drink. Bonfires rage as your pack dances and feasts in burning passion, and you’re swept into the midst of things.
  1578.  
  1579. Many burning figures come up to you and congratulate you on your feats. “A truly magnificent scene,” One says. For hours you drink and chat until true night descends upon the camp, and in time you’re left sitting alone with Sig. You sigh deeply, and drink deeply of the spiced mead which was offered you. Now that the high from the battle and feast has worn down you realise that you’re well and truly exhausted. You lean up against a large log which lay close to the fire, and Sig sits by your side, leaning into you. She breathes softly, the gentle rising and falling of her chest a pleasurable pressure on your own.
  1580.  
  1581. Being plunged into this dream, everything was a rush, but now in the calm silence of the night it seems indefinably slow. You close your eyes and start to sleep, until you start to hear the familiar sound of a guitar. Looking around you notice that Sig is holding a flaming guitar of identical make to your own. And she’s playing the tune from that night ages ago with Ranuinne and Sonja. Your tired hazy mind links a few facts together and comes to the conclusion that this girl was the elemental which you’d made the instrument for.
  1582.  
  1583. “Ah. So you’re that small flame.”
  1584.  
  1585. Sig snorts, “’Small’ he says. I’m pretty tough you know.”
  1586.  
  1587. “That so? So uh… what’s going on? Why am I here?”      
  1588.  
  1589.  “Simple. I called you here in your sleep.” Sig leans up to kiss your brow. The moment her lips touch your forehead, the rune there glows pleasantly. “Through this. I’ve watched you for a while now. You’re a very interesting mortal.” Sig laughs a wild, passionate laugh, “I didn’t think you’d just leap in screaming like that, are you crazy or what?”
  1590.  
  1591. “You knew I’d choose your side?”
  1592.  
  1593. “Duh.” Sig states plainly, as though she expected no other outcome. “You are of flame, and you gave me this gift, after all. I’ve been watching you from behind the flames for some time now. I want you to be my husband. That’s why I called you here.”
  1594.  
  1595. “I…uh… what?”
  1596.  
  1597. “Lets fuck.” … “No wait. That’s wrong. What was it… Ah! ‘Be one with me.’”
  1598.  
  1599. “L-look,” you fluster, “you’re hot and all, but I’m already spoken for.”
  1600.  
  1601. Sig pierces you with a glare, “Do not lie to me. I can feel that you aren’t bonded.”
  1602.  
  1603. “N-no… I am. To Ranuinne. That rusalka which was there the night I gave you that guitar.”
  1604.  
  1605. Sig looks dumbfounded for a moment, “You… you don’t think that the union between man and element is the same as the one between man and mortal?”
  1606.  
  1607. It’s your turn to look confused. “It’s… different?”
  1608.  
  1609. Sig frowns and then points to your brow, “Elementalist. How’d you get that?”
  1610.  
  1611. You roll your eyes up, “My father gave it to me.”
  1612.  
  1613. Sig mutters to herself, something about kids these days and the education system. “Whatever, not like it matters. Be mine.”
  1614.  
  1615. “You’re sorta forcing this on me pretty hard,”
  1616.  
  1617. Sig cuts in, genuine distress on her bright orange features, “Y-you don’t like me?”
  1618.  
  1619. “I don’t even know you. And I didn’t catch that first part, but if your only proof of that it this, then I also have this one.” You lift your tattered, war-torn shirt up and reveal the cool rune nestled between your shoulderblades, just below the base of your neck.
  1620.  
  1621. Sig scowls and even hisses a little, “Why do you have that too?”
  1622.  
  1623. You shrug, “Dad again.”
  1624.  
  1625. Sig pouts. “You’re not normal.”
  1626.  
  1627. You shrug. “Got this one too,” the rune on your hand lights up and fans the flames of the fire a little before fading.
  1628.  
  1629. “W-wind too?! Are you after some kind of harem?”
  1630.  
  1631. “H-hey it’s not like I asked for it. A-any way, I love Ranuinne, so no.”
  1632.  
  1633. Sig grumbles a little about things not going to plan. “Look, it’s different between elements and mortals. I don’t mind your fish, but you so much as talk to those Water sluts and I’ll weld your dick permanently inside me.”
  1634.  
  1635. “That doesn’t even make sense. And I already said tha-mmfph!” Sig cuts your protests short by climbing onto you, and kissing you deeply as she pins you down. You try to overpower her, but here in the elemental planes, without your magic runes you’re helpless, and you’ve kind of juiced yourself out earlier today. The fire rune on your forehead blazes hot and painful. Really fucking hot, like less an old tattoo and more a fresh brand with needles stuck in it, which inject molten lava throughout your body. The air you breathe in burns and scalds your lungs and you can feel the lining in your lungs drying up and blistering off. Your blood boils, and you can all but feel your capillaries swelling and bursting under the heat. You kick and struggle to get away from the girl burning you, but she locks on tight, and forces her tongue between your teeth. You hear her in your mind, repeating soothing thoughts, telling you that the pain will soon end. Your consciousness stares back at her presence, like a frightened and hurt child. In your mind’s eye, she leans down and holds you in her arms. Her tongue is hot as it wraps about your own but her saliva is strangely cool. Your brain locks onto the one sensation which isn’t burning pain and you all but sink into her smouldering kiss, her pillowy lips against yours.  
  1636.  
  1637. The more you focus on the girl’s soft lips, the faint spicy smell of her hair and the absurd amount heat that she sinks into you from her body, you find the pain of the fire growing less and less. Soon enough the burn settles completely, and all that remains is the sensations of the girl atop you, her smooth thighs, digging into your sides, her breasts against your chest. Her slender arms wrapped behind your neck. You feel oddly connected to the girl, and as the rune on your forehead settles down you get the sense that something complete and final just happened.
  1638.  
  1639. The need to hold you down fades, and you stop struggling to get away, completely enthralled by her lips and the way her thighs curve into her ass, into her hips, into her waist. You lose yourself as you trace your hands down her blazing hot body, and as your hands slide under her to cup her breasts you come to your senses and fling her off.
  1640.  
  1641. She lands hard on her ass and doesn’t even get a moment to recover before you’re yelling, “What the fuck was that?!”
  1642.  
  1643. The girl licks her lips, “Mmm, such a fierce face,” and then winces, “But you don’t have to be so loud.” She starts crawling up to you on all fours and you try to back away, until you realise you’re already pushed up against the log. She’s already on you and you eye her warily.
  1644.  
  1645. She even looks a little hurt. “No need to revile me so much. I just did what was natural.” She smirks, “You were pretty close to taking me, too.”
  1646.  
  1647. Your blush is the only answer she needs as she wanders her fingers all over your chest, “You feel me now don’t you.” She takes your hand and places it to her heart for added effect. She’s right. You can feel her in you, her essence mixed with yours. “I said you weren’t normal. With a normal Elementalist, the connection wouldn’t be this… deep.”
  1648.  
  1649. You find your words, “W-what did you just do to me? What’s an Elementalist?”
  1650.  
  1651. She smiles and rests her hot forehead to yours, “I just made you mine. Like I said I would. Don’t worry. The bond we share is entirely different from the one you share with the fish. Realms apart, even. That’s what an Elementalist is, I guess. A Bonded One. You saw others on the battlefield. Those commanding the armies were elementalists. Old, powerful ones.”
  1652.  
  1653. “Please stop calling her a fish. Her name is Ranuinne. Does that mean I can’t use water anymore?”  
  1654.  
  1655. She scowls, “And what do you want with water?”
  1656.  
  1657. “Well it’s pretty handy, right?”
  1658.  
  1659. “I guess it hasn’t changed. But fire is way better! You can melt things, and cook things and-”
  1660.  
  1661. “Can’t drink fire.”
  1662.  
  1663. “Tch.”
  1664.  
  1665. You regard the woman straddling you with all the hurt of a man molested. She smiles, “It won’t affect your relationship with the fi- Ranuinne. You’ll see.” She cups your face and leans in. “I’ll talk to you later.” As her soft lips touch yours, you’re jostled awake by Ela.
  1666.  
  1667. “Theinn. Wake up.”
  1668.  
  1669. You rub bleary eyes an groan. “Mmph what time is it?” You go to sit up, but your muscles don’t listen.
  1670.  
  1671. “Want some ice for your head?”
  1672.  
  1673. “I didn’t hit my head. Did ?”
  1674.  
  1675. Ela snickers, and points to your crotch, “I meant for that head. And here I’d thought you’d gotten used to seeing me naked enough. Wanna do some experiments, Theinn~?”
  1676.  
  1677. Sure enough you’ve a raging erection. You think you hear a quiet laughter from the back of your mind as you blush red. Great. You’ve picked up a flaming trickster.
  1678.  
  1679. You try to lift your hands in the air, “It wasn’t me” they still don’t work.
  1680.  
  1681. Ela tilts her head, “What wasn’t.”
  1682.  
  1683. “Sig did it.”
  1684.  
  1685. The tilt becomes more severe, “Who is Sig? Theinn, are you sure you didn’t hit your head?”
  1686.  
  1687. You sigh. “I… had a dream.”
  1688.  
  1689. “Dream, is it? Tell me about it.”
  1690.  
  1691. Ela sits quietly above you as you tell her your tale, your erection slowly dying. Ela stares into your brow as you finish, and hands you a lump of stone.
  1692.  
  1693. “Subject, heat this up. I want to see that rune.”
  1694.  
  1695. “I-uh… I can’t move.”
  1696.  
  1697. Her eyes narrow. “You said you were fighting, right?”
  1698.  
  1699. “Uh…yeah.”
  1700.  
  1701. “Did you get hurt?”
  1702.  
  1703. “Uh…yeah.” She sighs and puts a hand on your forehead.
  1704.  
  1705. “You’re lucky you’re not in a coma.”
  1706.  
  1707. “Uh… why?”
  1708.  
  1709. “What you visited was the elemental plains, and when you visit, you don’t do it physically, you do it spiritually. Now if you bleed and you’re not bleeding blood, what is it you’re losing?”
  1710.  
  1711. It dawns on you and she nods, “That’s right, you’re losing your essence, your energy. Just like when you cast too many spells. Your exhausted, that’s why your body won’t listen to you. It wants rest. Hang on, I’ll go get something to fix you. Idiotic Subject.”
  1712.  
  1713. “Thanks Ela. Love you.” She doesn’t say anything, her step doesn’t even falter, but you don’t miss the red tinge the tips of her ears take on. After a few peaceful moments of lying down and doing nothing, Ela returns with a small crystal flask filled with a mouthful of bright blue, faintly glowing liquid.
  1714.  
  1715. “Here. Drink this.” You just look at her, and she smiles wryly. “Right.” She grabs some pillows and props you up so you’re half sitting half lying. Then she straddles you, and grins mischievously at your helplessness. She pops open the crystal stopper on the flask, and upends it. Then, holding it in her mouth, she grins and puts her thumb to your lips and takes your chin between thumb and forefinger. Opening your mouth, she puts her lips to yours, the liquid spilling out into your mouth in the process. Your throat goes to spasm and splutter, but her cool, soft hands massage your throat as she makes out with you, taking your tongue in hers and guiding it around the depths of her mouth, making sure every residual drop of the potion enters your own body.
  1716.  
  1717. And then she sits on you for a while longer, her tongue in your mouth, her lips pressed against yours. Gently she rolls her hips against your chest, where she straddles you, moaning softly as she chases down the blue potion with her own saliva, swapping hers for yours. Before long your body suffuses with strength enough to begin listening to you. As if sensing her playtime is up, Ela breaks the kiss. You sit up. “How are you feeling?”
  1718.  
  1719. “Tired, but at least I can move now.”
  1720.  
  1721. “Good. Now, heat up that stone.” She hands it to you, and climbs off your lap to kneel next to you on the lounge. You obediently do as she says, and as the rock starts to glow red, your rune shines to the surface.
  1722.  
  1723. Elanore peers into it and slaps her hand around the table, groping for her notebook. A moment of hesitation halts her before her fingertip begin to glow a faint purple and words scrawl themselves onto the pages. She takes notes in her immaculate handwriting. Pages turn faster than you can finish reading and she sits back after a long while, nodding to herself.
  1724.  
  1725. “Yeah, it seems that you’ve bonded quite strongly with that element. She’s more a part of your soul than anything now. It’ll make resurrecting you irritating, as I’ll have to pry her from your soul before I do anything.”
  1726.  
  1727. “I see I se- Wait, resurrecting?” Ela peers into your eyes, a mild surprise dwelling within her purple orbs,
  1728.  
  1729. “Theinn, you didn’t think I’d ever let you simply remain dead, did you?” Welp.
  1730.  
  1731. “I hadn’t thought about what would happen to me when I died honestly.”
  1732.  
  1733. “Obviously. And you won’t have to. Because I’ll never let you stay dead.”
  1734.  
  1735. “W-what if I want to?”
  1736.  
  1737. “Too bad. I’m a Lich. I resurrect what I want.” That’s reassuring. Kinda.
  1738.  
  1739. You think it over, deeply. Minutes tick by. “Very well. When I die, if you bring me back, then I make it your responsibility to make me not regret it.”
  1740.  
  1741. “Y-you mean you’ll let yourself be mine?”
  1742.  
  1743. “If and when I die. I don’t plan to die for a long while yet.” Maybe the girl didn’t hear the last part, maybe she was happy anyway, because Ela all but leaps at you, knocking the wind out of you and sending you falling off the lounge. She holds you tight, arms and legs locked around you.  
  1744.  
  1745. “Promise?”
  1746.  
  1747. “Uh, yeah. For now I’m still Ranuinne’s, but if and when I die and if and when you bring me back, I promise to be yours on the condition that I don’t regret being brought back.”
  1748.  
  1749. “Theinn… I…”
  1750.  
  1751. “Yeah?”
  1752.  
  1753. “N-no, it can wait until then.” The girl wipes her face on your chest, before looking over your body for some reason. You’re about to ask, her what she’s doing, what can wait until when? But she leans in and seals your lips with another kiss. Your eyes open in surprise and a pale purple light bathes the two of you. The kiss itself is chaste, and not particularly lewd. No tongue. But when she pulls back she’s blushing hard.
  1754.  
  1755. “What was that about, Ela?”
  1756.  
  1757. She looks down and away, fidgeting, still atop you. “I just… couldn’t think of anywhere else.”
  1758.  
  1759. “Anywhere else to what?”
  1760.  
  1761. “Put the seal.”
  1762.  
  1763. “The seal?”
  1764.  
  1765. “For your body. Now it’ll come to me the instant you die, before your soul even leaves, and I can bring you back.”
  1766.  
  1767. “The lips huh… I’m getting branded a lot more often than I’d like. Taking cues from Sig, huh?”
  1768.  
  1769. Ela blushes deeply and she doesn’t move to deny you. Your words hit you hard. Maybe you’re right. Maybe she was taking her example from Sig. Come to think of it, she’d known you the longest, and lately, after meeting Ranuinne mainly, you’ve come to understand that the girl cares deeply for you, even if you don’t get why. And yet, Ranuinne comes along and steals your heart, Sig shows up out of nowhere and lays claim to your soul. Maybe she thought she could plant her flag on the land of Theinn and claim your body at least.
  1770.  
  1771. The thought even makes you a little sad. If possible, when the time comes, you want to be more than just a body to her. “Hey Ela. One last condition, even though all’s said and done.”
  1772.  
  1773. She raises an eyebrow, “Hm?”
  1774.  
  1775. “If and when you do bring me back. Bring all of me, yeah? Mind soul and all. You deserve more than just a body.”
  1776.  
  1777. “Theinn…” big tears well up in her eyes. You really do excel at making the girl cry. You raise a hand and pat the girl’s head,
  1778.  
  1779. “Enough of that. Looks like you can’t go getting yourself hurt now, huh?” Ela sighs.
  1780.  
  1781. “Looks like.”
  1782.  
  1783. “Do me another favour?”
  1784.  
  1785. “Yeah?”
  1786.  
  1787. “Look after Rose for me?”
  1788.  
  1789. “Oh? Rose, is it now?”
  1790.  
  1791. “Enough of that too. She’s just my aunt. Sort of. With a great rack. And a giant ass. And a waist I could just hug forever.”
  1792.  
  1793. Ela chops the side of her hand down onto your skull. “Silence, Subject.” You grin back at her, glad to have moved things alone from the too-serious mood from before.
  1794.  
  1795. “Besides, I still have Ranuinne. Rose’ll have to wait till its dead to take it. And then I think you might have something to say about it anyway."
  1796.  
  1797. “Rose is a big girl, Theinn”
  1798.  
  1799. “I know it’s just…” you shrug, “don’t wanna lose any one else, y’know?”
  1800.  
  1801. Elanore pulls you into a hug, it’s a little awkward, having her sitting on your lap as she holds you, but its comforting none the less. You find yourself breathing a little steadier as the girl holds your head to her chest. It lacks the pleasant thrum of a beating heart, but is just as warm all the same. In replace of blood, a lavender tinged power flows through her veins, and it soothes your mind just being near her.
  1802.  
  1803. You bid your final goodbyes for the evening, and as you turn your back on the mausoleum you see that it’s already well and truly into night. Perhaps it’s because of the council, or even your dream, but watching the townsguard rushing from place to place with burning torches and swords, you’re infected with a kind of second-hand fear. The world really is turning into a darker place while you’re oblivious, spending all your days with Ranuinne. You trudge through the night, limbs heavy, already imagining curing up with the woman you love.
  1804.  
  1805. You collapse into Ranuinne’s arms, mumble something about being home, and fall asleep right way. More than a little flustered, the girl picks you up and dumps you into bed, before following. The two of you lay facing each other, she holds you close, arms wrapped around your head as she holds you to her bosom like a mother, her tail resting on your hips..
  1806.  
  1807. You wake up to the sound of frying fish, out of habit, you raise your hand to block out the early morning sun, without realising that the early morning sun, simply isn’t there. You spot Ranuinne picking at the frying fish, taking tiny bits and nibbling to test the taste. “What time is it?”
  1808.  
  1809. “Mm? Ah, you’re finally awake. Sun went down a few hours ago. You stumbled in here absolutely exhausted and mumbled something before crashing, so I figured it would be best if I didn’t wake you but… um...”
  1810.  
  1811. Ranuinne’s eyes struggle to maintain contact with your own, returning to your neck and shoulders each time, only to flee once more like moths drawn to the flame. You recognise that look by now.
  1812.  
  1813. “Hungry? Lemme have some of that fish and it’s a deal.”
  1814.  
  1815. She laughs, “I cooked it for you anyway. It’s almost done, so eat up, and tell me about your day, then I’ll have a bite.” It’s funny, how that sentence no longer raises red flags in your mind anymore. Astounding, how infinite the human potential to adapt is.
  1816.  
  1817. “Sure thing. Could you go for the left shoulder, though? My left. I think I bruised it.”
  1818.  
  1819. She rubs her belly with a mild expression of worry. “I can try, but I’ve told you before, I get really full off you now. Even if I’d not eaten in a week, you’re so rich I’d still only need a few mouthfuls.”
  1820.  
  1821. You shrug. “Not to force you or anything. Just if you can, that’s all.” Ranuinne nods and smiles before turning back to the now-fried fish. She lies the fish down on a plate and brings it over to you along with a fork. The fish is so deliciously tender that simply resting the edge of the fork on the fish is enough for it to sink down halfway through. Ranuinne just sits and watches you, smiling at every grunt of appreciation. ‘The fish is good at cooking fish.’ You snort at the abrupt intrusion, and a bit of the fish you were chewing drops off your chin and back onto the plate. The rest gets caught in your throat, and you flail in the direction of your backpack. Ranuinne rushes over to it and finds within a glass bottle of milk. You’d bought it earlier before meeting Ela it was cheap but it didn’t taste like stealing money from a tanuki. You wash the pearly white liquid down your throat and gasp for air.
  1822.  
  1823. “A-are you okay? Did something taste wrong?” A worried expression flashes across her face and it reminds you of the concern a waitress shows when met with a dissatisfied diner.
  1824.  
  1825. “No, it’s delicious. Sig said something and it caught me off guard.”
  1826.  
  1827. Ranuinne tilts her head in a way which reminds you of Ela, “Sig?”
  1828.  
  1829. Right, you still need to introduce her, “Uh yeah, she was one of the things I need to tell you about.”
  1830.  
  1831. Her eyes narrow, “She?”
  1832.  
  1833. ‘It’s probably easier to just show her, elementalist.’
  1834.  
  1835. The rune on your brow glows and you feel a subtle weigh settle on your shoulders. The firepit starts to shift and flicker, more so than usual, startling Ranuinne. You put a reassuring hand on her arm, and tell her to just watch. Sig makes a flashy show of stepping out of the fire, posturing pompously despite being the size of a small fairy.
  1836.  
  1837. Ranuinne leans over and whispers into your ear, “What’s that?”
  1838.  
  1839. “That’s Sig.”
  1840.  
  1841. “Uh, hi. I’m Sig.” Sig offers her name and Ranuinne replies hesitantly.
  1842.  
  1843. “Ranuinne…”
  1844.  
  1845. Sig gets to explaining the nature of the covenant she took from you, and what it means, and Ranuinne just shrugs at the end of it all, “I don’t get a lot of the magic side of it all, but, I guess it is different, some how. It’s like comparing apples and oranges… Or something. She doesn’t feel like a threat, really.” You turn back to the Ignis, missing the way Ranuinne looks at you, a certain doubt buried in her eyes. She shakes it loose and smiles triumphantly, “Besides it’s not like you can fuck her. She’s fire. Now if she were water, that would be anoth-”
  1846.  
  1847. “No!” Sig balls her fists, “I’m way better than those liquid hussies who get all uppity because they’re one of the only two elements who can fuck men, and yeah! S-sure! So what if they feel better than mud pussy!? It doesn’t change the fact that the spend so long fucking, like such a pack of sluts, that they say even succubi can’t hold up to ‘em, and y-yeah, so what if swallowing is kinda their thing, and they can directly control how much blood rushes to your dick, and can take it as deep as they want?! Big fucking deal if they are the wettest of the elements, a-and-mmmf” You use your magic to seal her lips, the poor girl got so irate she inadvertently started to argue against her own case. You figured it was more merciful to stop her from digging her own grave any further.
  1848.  
  1849. You cringe sympathetically “Enough Sig. I get it. They can fuck men, they feel better than ‘mud pussy,’ they fuck so much not even succubi can rival them, they swallow, are wet, make your dick bigger, and take it deep. I get it. I’m sorry. You can stop now.” What does fire even do when it blushes? Grows colder? At any rate, having realised her mistake in madly babbling on, she blushes, and even after you unseal her lips she doesn’t say anything. The girl has a real complex about those Undine. You wonder if all elements are the same, if the Glacies hold a deep-seated inferiority to the passionate and expressive Ignis.  
  1850.  
  1851. Sig is immensely restless, as is the nature of fire, and she doesn’t pay much attention. So it’s pretty funny messing with the girl. Tapping into her vast power, you melt the uppermost layer of the floor she’s walking on. She was right, too. You definitely feel stronger when it comes to fire and heat. It’s not like you’ve grown more masterful or anything, it just feels like you’ve developed more magic muscle. Sort of. With the floor melted beneath her, Sig loses traction with the ground, and ends up walking on the spot, still talking like nothing is amiss.
  1852.  
  1853. At least, not until Ranuinne begins to fail in keeping in her giggles. Sig glowers at you and steps off the molten ground, and sits in the fire instead, though that means that she only fidgets worse, tapping her foot in time with the beat in her head. She even throws a couple large logs onto the fire and uses them as a seat. With her out of the way, you explain to Ranuinne all about the rebellion, leaving out the specifics out of respect to its leaders. Ranuinne is a little shocked to hear that there is a rebellion forming, but is happy none the less, and expresses her wishes of good luck to your friends, which brings you to Roseline and how she’s related to your slain mother, though you leave out any lengthy descriptions of the Wight’s preposterous posterior, her regal rack.
  1854.  
  1855. Then you talk about your dream, and Sig fills in for parts that you can’t recollect. Mainly most of the battle. You ask Sig what would have happened to you if you’d died in the dream, “Your soul would have been obliterated and turned into energy for the sustenance of the elemental realm.” Well… Good thing you didn’t die. Ranuinne grabs your arm and wraps her tail about you possessively. Tells you not to do it again. You smile and nod, knowing full well you can’t ignore whatever it is that’s in your blood. She puffs her cheeks out at your lack of a response, but drops the issue anyway. This understanding and yet caring attitude warms the heart and makes you grin and pull the woman into a hug, nuzzling against the top of her head with your cheek, ruffling her almost perpetually damp hair which smells of the ocean.
  1856.  
  1857. You ask Sig about the elemental realms and what that fight was all about. Ranuinne traces small circles over your heart as Sig begins her explanations. Your initial assumption that the war was something of a real-time reflection of the seasons was pretty accurate, but you’re surprised to learn that anything that happens within the elemental realms is also reflected outside of it. You thought for a moment that perhaps you were the reason tonight were warmer than usual, but the elemental snorts. “No. What you did was fun and impressive for your first time, sure. But it was a drop in the ocean so to speak. Real, trained elementalists could control the seasons. Your actions didn’t even cause a ripple. Nice thought though.”
  1858.  
  1859. You grow sullen. You thought it was pretty cool. The next thing that you mention is the pact you made with Ela. You expect Ranuinne to get worked up over it, jealous even, as any lover would at hearing that her beloved signed his body away to another woman, but she just shrugs. “So I don’t let you die. Sounds simple enough.” This girl… You can’t help but laugh a little as Ranuinne clutches to you.
  1860.  
  1861. “What was funny about that?” she frowns,
  1862.  
  1863. “Hah. Nothing. I love you, you’re unbelievable.”
  1864.  
  1865. “Y-you too…” She looks up to you from your chest, big eyes shining in the firelight, her damp hair frames her face perfectly, and her soft lips glisten. You can’t help but lose yourself in staring at her and as if driven by some kind of instinct, you slowly lean down and place your lips upon hers. One of your arms moves around to her back to hold her against you as the other brushes the hair from her face. The two of you sit there for what seems an eternity, lost in each other, barely breathing. Until Sig clears her throat awkwardly.
  1866.  
  1867. The two of you part reluctantly, and Ranuinne blushes a little at the show, whereas you only sigh. Stupid fire. Speaking of, that brings you to the bizarre suicide you witnessed that night, and with that you’ve wrapped everything up neatly, including why you stumbled in mumbling about ‘the burning man’.
  1868.  
  1869. Ranuinne takes a moment to absorb in all the news that she heard. Sig promptly loses interest, and shrinks herself down in size until she’s roughly the height of your hand, and practices zipping around, coming to a halt just above your shoulder as she gets used to her manifestation on the mortal realm. Your own miniature fairy.  As for whether or not you can mentally bear her extended presence, well… That’s another matter.
  1870.  
  1871. Perhaps you’re being a bit unfair. It’s not like you don’t like the girl, you guess it’s just that her personality differs so greatly from yours. Well, that and she forced herself upon you so suddenly. The two of you complement each other in various ways, sure, but there are also glaringly large differences. You dislike loud people, for example. You think that the louder someone is, the less they truly have to say. Compensating for lack in quality with a surplus in amplitude. But’s it’s different with her. She just says anything and everything.      
  1872.  
  1873. ‘You know that through our connection your thoughts aren’t necessarily your own?’ Sig looks at you and communicates through your mind.
  1874.  
  1875. ‘Yes they bloody well are, a man has his right to free, private thought, Orderite.’
  1876.  
  1877. ‘Orderite?’ You tell her to keep out before you think as hard as you can about loud, indistinguishable white noises.
  1878.  
  1879. ‘ASJRHEREZSZRILKJTDGMDFVZZSSZZZZDSNTYUZIEUSFDGHKDGHXVBMVUIRYFND’
  1880.  
  1881. She winces a little, vocalising her displeasure, her avenue to your mind temporarily closed off, “Ow! Okay, I get it! I’ll keep out.” She throws her hands up in surrender. Ranuinne looks between the two of you, brought out of her thoughts by Sig’s sudden yelling. You point to your head,
  1882.  
  1883. “Apparently she can see into my mind.”
  1884.  
  1885. “Is that usual?”
  1886.  
  1887. Sig scratches her tiny chin, her warmth soaking into your shoulder from where she is perched, barely avoiding contact, “Pretty usual. Rare to see it so early though.”
  1888.  
  1889. You kick your feet up onto the side of the bed and lie down in Ranuinne’s lap, dislodging the little fire spirit. Ranuinne’s hands subconsciously move to your head, and she starts combing her fingers through your hair. It’s a soothing action. It calms your mind, helps you think clearer. You cross one foot over the other and Sig sits just above your chest. “And have you seen people with runes before?”
  1890.  
  1891. She leans back and dangles her feet through the air, “I think so. I dunno. It was ages ago, come on man.”
  1892.  
  1893. Ranuinne gasps in revelation, “Ah, I remember someone like that! There was this old guy who ued to swing by the tavern every now and then.”
  1894.  
  1895. You let out a long groan, “Is it a dead art, then?” Sig swivels around so that she’s laying belly down, and she props her head up with a small fist resting under her chin,
  1896.  
  1897. “It makes you wonder where your dad learnt it.”
  1898.  
  1899. You shrug, and squirm around a bit, and pull your long hair out from under you and let it fall off the side of the bed, “Dunno. The man was a mystery to me. He just rocked up, taught me obscure shit, drank with some old men and buggered off again to kill something.”
  1900.  
  1901. “Old men?”
  1902.  
  1903. “Yeah, I dunno, drinking buddies or something. They all had this tattoo, too, some giant Warhammer with two wavy daggers crossed behind it.” You turn to look up at your lover, “Sound familiar?”
  1904.  
  1905. She shakes her head, “Sorry.”  
  1906.  
  1907. The two of you remain silent, having said all that needs to be said for now. You roll around to face Ranuinne’s midriff, and wrap your arms about her waist possessively, sighing contently. The peaceful, lazy atmosphere is too much for Sig, who bids her farewells and steps back into the fire, leaving the two of you to lounge around.
  1908.  
  1909. “I love this…” Ranuinne says eventually,
  1910.  
  1911. “Mmm,
  1912.  
  1913. “These comfortable lazy days that just seem to blend, one into another. It really does feel like we have an eternity for our love. Just you and I…
  1914.  
  1915. “Mmm,
  1916.  
  1917. “Your news about the rebellion shocked me. I’d forgotten that the world would keep turning whilst we were hidden away in this cave”
  1918.  
  1919. You chuckle, “Well, that’s what the world does, isn’t it?” She takes your hand in hers,
  1920.  
  1921. “I wish that we could just stay like this forever.”
  1922.  
  1923. “Mmm.”
  1924.  
  1925. “…”
  1926.  
  1927. “…”
  1928.  
  1929. “Are you even listening to me?” You laugh into her belly and roll over to talk to her, yawning at great length.
  1930.  
  1931. “Sorry. I’m still just really tired” you yawn again, “and you keep eating all my oxygenated muscles.”
  1932.  
  1933. “Speaking of…”
  1934.  
  1935. You sit up next to her, “Yeah, speaking of, one of us needs a few bites.” You lean over and nibble at her neck, trailing bites and kisses up to her ears, where you spend a while licking and teething her earlobes. She giggles lightly and pulls your head in for a kiss, and you release her ears from between your teeth reluctantly, as she directs her tongue to write and wrap around your own, your lips connecting. Her lips are salty from the sea and slightly oily from the bites of fish that she fried not too long ago and every now and then your tongue escapes her hold, to lick at her lips.
  1936.  
  1937. Cowgirl is generally your go to position these days. The two of you have tried as many as physically possible considering her tail, but nothing gets her wetter than riding you into the ground as she takes little nibble here and there, guiding the action. Tonight is no different. As she pushes you down, you feel around the roof of her mouth with your tongue, and deliberately slide it lengthways across her razor-like teeth, cutting open the flesh of your tongue, and letting the muscle bleed into your lover’s mouth. She wrings it with her own tongue, and the hot, rich, coppery fluids pump out and down into her throat, her tongue tugs at yours with each swallow.
  1938.  
  1939. Your immense vitality rears its head and Ranuinne slides your throbbing dick into the welcoming walls of her tight cunt with practiced ease, moaning softly as she rides you to the hilt, your cock head butting up against her cervix.
  1940.  
  1941. “I know you’re tired, lover, but I hope you can hold out for a long night. Or will I have to forcefeed you some of my blood, to really get yours pumping?”
  1942.  
  1943. You reach a hand up and caress her breast, pinching and pulling at her nipple, teasing the sultry seductress, “If it’s for you Ranuinne, I can sleep when I’m dead.”
  1944.  
  1945. She looks down as you, a hand on your chest, balancing herself, the other ove your shoulder, resting on your back. She purrs deep in her throat, “I love it when you call my name. From now until you have my permission, it’s the only word I want to hear from you.” With that, she rises, dragging your cock from within her depths until you’re almost out, and then she plummets down, impaling herself upon you, her walls wringing and contracting about you, making you gasp breathlessly. You suck in air through your teeth, and wrap your arms about her upper back, using one hand to push her head down to where your shoulder meets your neck, where she meets you eagerly, sharp teeth sinking in deep. You cry her name all night.
  1946.  
  1947. ***
  1948.  
  1949. You wake with some aches, but over-all feeling pretty good. You shiver a little in the cool morning breeze, and Ranuinne holds you tighter, seeking your warmth. It’s easy to forget that she probably feels the cold more. Probably because she rarely ever complains. Ranuinne is curled around you and one of your arms is pinned to your side within her hug. She’s got a little bit of your blood dried onto the tip of her nose. Smiling to yourself, you decide not to broach the issue. Instead you settle down and enjoy another lazy morning’s sleep in. It’s been a year and a half since your trip to the town, where you found out that Ela and Rose were heading a rebellion. You’ve established a pretty sweet routine of waking up late in the morning, greeting Sig, and spending the rest of the day just relaxing, loving and living. Sig used to be out and about more often, but she’s come to you less and less, as you quite simply, don’t really do much. You fish with Ranuinne for food, invite Sonja over about once a week, and you maintain a vegetable plot around the back of your house now. You visit it about once a fortnight, to stock up. It took a good week digging trenches to redirect some water from a nearby stream towards the plot for irrigation purposes and in the end it turned out pretty well. You let the garden grow wild, as the soil proved bountiful enough for both your needs, and the needs of any local animals. Besides, it also serves as a bit of a lure. Rabbit soup has become a frequent friend to your pallet.
  1950.  
  1951. It’s a domestic life, a far cry from what your parents trained you for but… you know what? You’re happy with that. Very happy with it. The only thing it lacks is a little Ranuinne flopping around, causing trouble. It’s a real shame that as what is, essentially, a ghost, she can’t have children, but for the moment that doesn’t really bother you. The two of you have spoken about it, and honestly, you loved Evelynn like a real mother, so you could easily come to see an adopted child as your own. Ranuinne agrees with you, but she also feels that there’s no real rush, which, you suppose is true. Who knows? Maybe you can go visit Ela. Talk to her about tinkering some fertility into the dead fish.
  1952.  
  1953. Streams of sunlight fall upon your bare muscles from the hole in the cave, suffusing heat into them slowly rousing your blood to action, if nothing else. You sigh, as your body drags you up, head and all. Just by sitting up you’ve woken the woman next to you, and she gives a cute yawn, and stretches her muscles out. She curls upwards, flat on her belly, the opposite of how a cat would stretch. You’re treated to a nice show, as her muscles strain and quiver as she stretches. She has a soft, small layer of fat on her belly, enough to kill most of her definition, asides from the larger muscles which line her abdomen, so when she stretches like this, they’re all pushed up against her skin, and you can see each deliciously sculpted cog to the machine that is your lover.
  1954.  
  1955. She flops back down, unceremoniously, and rolls over onto your chest, “Moornin’~”
  1956.  
  1957. “Morning. Have you put on weight?”
  1958.  
  1959. She pokes her belly, a far cry to the chizzled and gaunt rack of muscle she was when the two of you met. “Yeah. A little.” You smile,
  1960.  
  1961. “You look healthy. Want me to make breakfast this morning?”
  1962.  
  1963. “Ah? What have you got in mind?”
  1964.  
  1965. “This thing my mum taught me. Takes like five minutes to make. I’ll need to grab some flour from the house, though, so hang out here, I’ll be home soon.” Ranuinne nods at you sleepily, and lies back down. You pick yourself up and flop into the pool at the entrance, sinking into the chilly ocean. It shocks your brain into finally being wide awake, and you pull and kick at the rocky floor of the cave, directing yourself towards the hole to the outside world. You place your hands at the lip of the short tunnel and hold your breath until a wave washes in. On its way out, you flex your muscles in preparation to launch out of the hole and into the wider ocean, and grin like a kid.
  1966.  
  1967. Only to deliver a fierce headbutt right into Sonja’s sternum. The sharkgirl gasps wordlessly, doubling over in pain as you whir around to see what you just pulverised. You meet Sonja’s bewildered face, wryly twisted into a grimace, “Yo. Good morning to you too.”
  1968.  
  1969. “Ah. Sonja. I didn’t see you there. Yo.” She laughs, straightening up.
  1970.  
  1971. “So what are you doing rushing around so early in the morning? You and Ranuinne fight or something?”
  1972.  
  1973. “Naw, I’m about to grab some stuff for breakfast. Hey you should stay. I’ll grab some for you too.”
  1974.  
  1975. “Huh? Ohh, no I was just dropping in, I don’t want to impose or anyth-“ Sonja goes rigid, something in her instincts sending warning signs. Maybe it’s the way you’re smirking right now. “A-ah.. so y-yeah I’d hate to be a bother s-so…” Ranuinne’s razor sharp nails wrap around the girl’s throat, the other hand cupping one of the brown girl’s perpetually bare breasts, as the girl appears from under the waves, silently like the briny reaper herself.
  1976.  
  1977. “Too baad~”
  1978.  
  1979. The shark is pulled under by the alpha predator. She extends a hand out to you, pleading silently for mercy, but finds none. You turn your back on the scene and start swimming for your unused home-come-storehouse. The two of them have grown quite close lately, and it makes you happy to see Ranuinne with a friend other than you. Doubly so that it’s a friend as strong and loyal as Sonja. You swim to your beach and look fondly upon the rock which sits alone out in the waves, proud as ever.
  1980.  
  1981. Stepping up onto the soggy, giving sand, you shake all the ocean off of you, and it cascades down, receding back to its place. You search the shore for the log where you hid your dry clothing and boots. Yup, still there, undisturbed. Before Ranuinne, you really were the only other person here, huh? The thought makes you feel a little sad inside. You’re glad that you have someone now. Shaking your head, you head over to the hollow log and pull out your stuff. You shake your shirt and boots clean of whatever, dirt dust and bugs have accumulated inside, and throw them both on. A large, hairy spider scuttles away in a huff and you offer a genuine apology for sticking your giant human hand in its home.
  1982.  
  1983. Boots and shirt on, you head to your house, walking in a lazy, relative silence and pick out a few choice ingredients. Having gathered them, you set out to take what you don’t already have. Honey. Now, how do you get honey? You ponder it for a moment before you remembered that you saw signs of a bee-girl hive deep in the forest towards the northeast. Now, how to collect their honey without having to trade in dicks? You remember reading somewhere that the girls were quite fond of Alraune nectar. You scratch your head deep in thought. You briefly recall stumbling across such a glade, somewhere to the south .
  1984.  
  1985. Now… how to actually collect the nectar again, without having to trade in penis and penis accessories? Well they are plants… You gather to you a short, thick sword, a net and a thick piece of fabric to serve as a facemask, to protect you from any nefarious spores. The sword is just for hacking at undergrowth and protection. You don’t condone violence against plants. Not the titted variety, at any rate. The last two items you collect are two clear, empty glass jars. Breakfast will be a while in the making.  
  1986.  
  1987. Well that was the plan, but upon venturing south, you find vast patches of diseased forest. What a pain. Securing your face-mask to you, you reach out for Sig. ‘Oi, Firetits.’
  1988.  
  1989. ‘What, boring Elementalist?’
  1990.  
  1991. ‘Wanna have some fun?’
  1992.  
  1993. ‘Fun?’
  1994.  
  1995. ‘Yeah. Come out.’
  1996.  
  1997. ‘… There’s no fire for me.’
  1998.  
  1999. ‘Oh, right.’
  2000.  
  2001. Fire may be pure destruction, but it’s also at a bit of a handicap when it comes to on-the-spot situations, as opposed to the other mancies. Maybe you’re even to necromancy in that regard. Geomancers, aquamancers and aeromancers all have their elements at ready disposal. Well you could just brute force her out of your brain along with a chunk of your energy for the day, but it’s a little wasteful. You scuttle the undergrowth for a quick moment to find a flat plane of drywood, and a stick as well as some dead leaf mulch. Jamming the stick in the middle of the mulch you sit down on the soft, spongey ground and clap the stick between your hands, spinning it rapidly. A minute of this has the friction grow so hot, the mulch begins to smoulder.
  2002.  
  2003. ‘Door’s open. Get in before it closes.’ Suddenly the mulch bursts aflame, taking with it the stick and the chunk of wood you were using as a base, leaving a tiny fairy of flame in its wake.
  2004.  
  2005. The tiny girl steps through. “So? What’s going on?”
  2006.  
  2007. “What, I can’t take my pet for a walk?”
  2008.  
  2009. “I’m not your pet.” You point behind you,
  2010.  
  2011. “Anything you can do about this? I mean, it’s not our job, but we do live here.”
  2012.  
  2013. Sig cottons on, “Ah. Gross.”
  2014.  
  2015. You take your sword out, “Yeah, gross,” and swing it at a nearby infected tree twice, swinging up then down, slicing out a small wedge. It flicks into the air and you catch it, then toss it at the fire elemental.
  2016.  
  2017. She grows proportionally with the wood you just they at her, and gags, “Eughh. Gross,” She turns on you and pokes her tongue all the way out, like bad taste was something visible. “It tathtes tewwible!” You reach into your pocket and pull out a small chip of Oak. You lob the wood into the girl’s open mouth, but really, anywhere would have the same effect.
  2018.  
  2019. “Wash it down with this. Better?” she smacks her lips,
  2020.  
  2021. “Yeah. But I’ve never tasted anything like that before. This is no natural sickness.” You thought as much. The place didn’t exactly smell like roses.
  2022.  
  2023. Sig thinks for a moment, and then tells you to head back to the healthy part of forest. Curiously, you do as she says, and watch as she stands on the healthy ground, silently for a few moments. Which, for her, might as well have been an eternity. You hear a stirring in the bushes, and whirl around, enchanted sword at the ready, only to come face to face with a Dryad, one of this forest’s protector spirits.
  2024.  
  2025. She looks down her nose at you, a haughty distain on her face. You lower your blade and turn away. She clearly does not want to be here. “Well? You called? I assume you have something important to tell me. I have many matters to attend to of late.”
  2026.  
  2027. “Yeah, why are you dying?” Wait, what? Your ears perk up.
  2028.  
  2029. The dryad sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “Humans, why else? Someone has holed themselves up in a tower to the south and is corrupting this forest. Honestly, it’s taking all I can just to keep it at bay.” You scratch your chin. This could work in your favour. It does explain her shitty attitude though.
  2030.  
  2031. “Hey, Dryad. If I burn the infection in this part, and send someone to cut it out from the root, will you give me some honey?” The wood spirit covers her privates, “Not that kind. Actual bee-girl honey.” She frowns at you, silently.
  2032.  
  2033. “You can do that?” she asks, eventually. You scratch your head “Yes and no. I know some people, but it would take a bit to contact them. Unless…”
  2034.  
  2035. “Unless?”
  2036.  
  2037. “Do you have any way of quickly getting to the town to the west? It’s about a days walk there and back from here.”
  2038.  
  2039. “Personally? I can visit any tree, fairly quickly. My range is this forest but… if it’s near I can make it.”
  2040.  
  2041. “Oh! Even better. Well in the town there’s a graveyard, right. In that graveyard lives a Lich and she has this glowing tree in her home. See if you can make contact with her, explain the situation, say Theinn sent you.”
  2042.  
  2043. “…I’ll see if I can find it. Thank you.” She turns to the nearest tree, and walks right into it, melding with the bark and disappearing.
  2044.  
  2045. “I guess now we just wait. Might as well start burning things, stop the disease from spreading.” You grab Sig from out of the air with your power, and ignoring her protests, you throw her into the trees where she smacks into it with a fiery splat, dispersing. The tree catches and in moments is engulfed in flame. Its branches arc out with fire and catch on other trees. The conflagration spreads, and Sig reforms, much larger now that she has more fuel.
  2046.  
  2047. “Give me a little warning next time.” You call flame to your hands, and lob balls of the stuff haphazardly,
  2048.  
  2049. “Go work on the perimeter so the fire doesn’t spread and cause more damage than the disease.”
  2050.  
  2051. Once Sig has got a burning ring of fire, separate to the inferno glaze caused by you, you leave the girl to her devices, let her play with her bush-fire and return to outside the inferno. You plop yourself down on the ground and focus your mind on the fire, slipping partway into the elemental realm, something Sig has been coaching you to do for the past year. Your consciousness hones in on the raging flames close to it, and you accelerate the combustion of your ring of fire, Literally burning it out, pouring your power into the flames so that they burn up fuel faster than the little flames can find more.
  2052.  
  2053. Eventually, your ring of fire dies down into a smouldering circle of ashes, diseased forest on the inside, lush, green verdancy on the other. With this you’re fairly confident that the flames won’t jump to eat at the healthy woods, and so you lean back, breathing slightly heavily. It takes half an hour, but Sig eventually saunters up to you, her giant breasts jiggling with each hip-swinging, ass-wobbling step. She looks like she just chugged and metabolized gallons of Holstaurus cream. Her belly looks sort of soft and pudgy, her thighs are nearly as thick as your torso, and she’s gained a good few feet in height. You don’t even need to mention the portable, soft, bouncing mountains she calls breasts. But you take great pleasure in doing so any way. And it would probably be safer for the children if you don’t mention how puffy her vulva has grown.
  2054.  
  2055. As time passes and the last of the fire burns itself out, unable to bridge the break, and unable to find fresh fuel, Sig too shrinks. You watch a little sadly as her pants-strain-inducing form shrinks down to the size you’re, unfortunately, accustomed to, and she perches on your shoulder again. A few moments later, the Dryad returns, an earthen pot of honey cradled in her arms. “I spoke to the girl, she assured me that human agents would deal with the rogue sorcerer. You have my thanks. Here.”
  2056.  
  2057. She holds the pot out to you, and you take it, tucking it under your own arm, then wave the dryad goodbye as she slips back into the trees.
  2058.  
  2059. It took a bit but you finally have the honey the flour, the milk and the sugar for breakfast. All that’s left is to pick a few berries from your plot out the back of the house. Sig burnt herself out at some point on the journey back home. Probably got bored.
  2060.  
  2061. Perusing through your plants and vegetables before you, is a perfectly verdant Alraune. A twig cracks underfoot, and she spins to face you.
  2062.  
  2063. “Eeek!” she squeezes her eyes shut and throws her arms up to ward off any attack. When nothing happens, she peeps out at you from one eye. You sigh and move on to the plot of strawberries. A good few of the berries have been pecked at, but there is still a surplus there for you. You start picking a few, and then busy yourself by looking for where you saw that blueberry bush. Tendrils keep creeping up on you, but you persistently smack them back.
  2064.  
  2065. “U-um… Mister~? Would you like some nectar?”
  2066.  
  2067. “No thanks.”
  2068.  
  2069. “O-okay…” She says sadly, downcast.
  2070.  
  2071. “Are you the reason all my plants are doing so well?” At the topic of greenery the girl lights up.
  2072.  
  2073. “Yup! There is so much water here and the soil is so tasty! So I just sat down here and everything started to grow better.” Figures. Well… whatever.
  2074.  
  2075. “Then… thanks I guess. Anything I can do for you in turn?”
  2076.  
  2077. She licks her lips, “You could let me have some of your nectar” You turn on your heel and leave. “Ah! W-Wait, that was a joke, there is something else I’d like!” you stop walking, indicating that you’re still listening. “W-well… It’s kind of lonely here… so some company?” Aww, she feels lonely.
  2078.  
  2079. ‘Hey, how did you call that dryad?’
  2080.  
  2081. ‘I just yelled for a bit.’
  2082.  
  2083. ‘… could you do it again?’
  2084.  
  2085. ‘Sure.’
  2086.  
  2087. A moment later the bushes rustle. “Yes?”
  2088.  
  2089. “Hey. This girl just said that she appreciated all your hard work and wants to be friends with you… close friends. She’d like you to have some nectar as thanks.” This gets the first reaction you’d seen from the stern, secretarial Dryad, a bright green blush clouds her cheeks, “A-ah, really?” She turns from you and shyly heads over towards the excited plant-girl.
  2090.  
  2091. You leave the two lovers to let their relationship forcibly blossom. Now with all the ingredients collected, you make your way back to the cave, to find a very flustered shark, blushing bright red, in the arms of a very smug and comfy looking Rusalka. You try to keep a straight face at seeing the muscled and scarred woman in the lap of a smaller girl. You settle yourself down before the fire, and set up the apparatus. Which is a stick. You reach for a bowl and douse it in boiling water, killing whatever germs may reside upon it.  You pour in the milk, flour and sugar and begin to roughly knead the dough. It’s not really supposed to be smooth or anything like that, so you push and punch it until it clings together, but only barely. You pull out a clump of the stuff and stab it with the stick, shaping the rough dough to the shape of the stick, and put it into the fire. A minute later, the thing is a crunchy golden brown on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside. You slide the damper off the stick, and fill where the stick was with fresh, golden honey, and hand it to Ranuinne to taste.
  2092.  
  2093. “This is delicious! Where’d you get the honey from?”
  2094.  
  2095. “Bees.” You finish the second one and hand it to Sonja, who says much the same thing.  
  2096.  
  2097. You make one for yourself and look at the two girls sitting together. Sonja took your spot, but it is your spot, and therefore the taker of your spot is also your spot. You sit down before Sonja and lean back into her bosom. She’s surprisingly warm for a cold-blooded creature. You sigh, exhausted by your pyromancy, and accept the muscled girl’s embrace, her large tits providing comforting support against your back, and you find yourself taking a quick nap. Judging by Ranuinne’s slow, steady breathing she came to a similar conclusion. Sandwiched by you and her, Sonja sighs, and resolves to put up with being a pillow for you and your lover to cling to.
  2098.  
  2099. “Arrgh! I can’t take this any more! It’s been an hour!” The restless shark who can never stop moving wriggles in an attempt to throw the two sleeping forms off her. You fall to the side, and slump down onto the ground while Sonja slithers away to the other side of the cave. Ranuinne pulls you into her and resumes her sleeping position, but you’re wide awake now. Cradled by Ranuinne’s arms, you strike up a pleasant conversation with the shark girl.
  2100.  
  2101. The two of you talk and laugh for hours, and then the shark announces that its remained still for too long, and would like to go for a hunt.
  2102.  
  2103. “Well I’d see you out, but…” you make a shot of trying to rise, only to have Ranuinne cling to you in her sleep. Sonja laughs quietly.
  2104.  
  2105. “No probs. Later!” With that she dives into the pool at the entrance, long gone. You sigh, “Now what?” You squirm a little, but that only urges your lover to cling to you tighter, like quicksand. You decide to just sink into her, and close your eyes.
  2106.  
  2107. When you wake up, Ranuinne is fast asleep. Sliding your hands under her rump, where it rests on your lap, you pick her up, keeping her tail off the floor as best you can, and drop her down onto the bed, covering her with blankets.
  2108.  
  2109. Admiring the adorable form of your wife, wrapped snugly in blankets, you smile a little and decide to catch a breath of fresh air outside. You slip into the pool at the entrance, silently. The moon is high in the sky, silver slivers dance across the waves. You swim to the cliff, and climb up it, eager to catch the strong breeze as it flows in out from the ocean. Your hand finds purchase on the wall, and your muscles move effortlessly, kicking, pushing and pulling you up the cliff face. You reach to top and grip the trunk of a small tree which grows off the edge. Holding it tight, you haul yourself up and twist, turning to sit on the ledge with a plop. Sighing, you lean back, hands sinking ever so slightly into the soft, fertile soil. Your sigh is even, breath steady despite the slightly stronger beating of your heart.
  2110.  
  2111. You spot two heads bobbing in the water, watching you. It’s hard to make out in the darkness, but one seems to be a redhead and the other blonde. You’re momentarily stunned. People. Here? You look around and see nothing else but those two heads floating in the vast ocean. They can only be looking at you. That’s… kinda creepy. A normal person would have called out to you by now.
  2112.  
  2113. Could they be more monstergirls? You ponder that briefly but shake your head. No… Sonja once said that Ranuinne exudes this ‘aura’ of badness. She struggled to explain it at the time but you think you sort of understand. It’s like the sensation your run of the mill succubus would feel when facing off against a Lilim. There’s that but Sonja is also highly territorial. Asides from Ranuinne who Sonja probably defers to as an alpha, you don’t think that the girl would tolerate any one else stepping onto her territory.
  2114.  
  2115. So that begs a couple of questions. The first being why are they here? The second being, Where is Sonja? And the third being, If they are here, what does that make them? You think to the sea monsters of yore and throw yourself a couple names, trying to pin one on these girls. Kraken? No… Kraken have huge bodies, those girls are far too close to each other for that. Their tentacles would get knotted for one. Sea Bishops? Plausible, but you never pinned them for such common door-to-door missionaries. In the legends they would roam the deep seas, collecting men and mer to them, performing rituals. Besides, though reviled as monsters, even the most extreme and biases of Order texts noted them as having kind and pure hearts. Bishop itself is a term of reverence, and one coined by humans. These two give off far too blood thirsty an aura. They make your skin crawl. Something irritating in the back of your mind tells you that this is a familiar feeling.
  2116.  
  2117. Sahuagin? No… You wrack your mind but can’t come up with another blood-thirsty, water bou… No. Rusalka? The familiarity in the back of your mind rushes to the forefront, it’s the same sensation from the first night you met Ranuinne. You think back to her tale. Hlinna and… Skadi, was it? Yeah… One with goldish-red hair, the other blonde. You recall Ranuinne saying that they sort of just drifted apart. You wonder what they’re doing here. Under the moon light you can just barely make out some glaives shining in the night. Well, nothing wrong with being armed, but you wonder what such fearsome creatures would need with weapons in the first place. Your survival instinct kicks in, and stealthily, you slide your tinderbox out from your back pocket and light a bit of grass on fire. ‘Sig. People I don’t trust. Keep yourself burning and be ready for action.’
  2118.  
  2119. “Can I help you two?” You call loudly, probably louder than necessary, but you wanted to alert Ranuinne to visitors. You hope your voice carried over to the hole in the cave ceiling, in the quiet of the night.
  2120.  
  2121. Dramatically swinging your arms out to push off the ledge, you make sure that the two think, at least, that you’re unarmed. You plunge into the water, and come up a few meters from where they float. The red head has a restraining arm on the blonde, who is giving off much more blood-lust.
  2122.  
  2123. “You looked like you wanted to ask me something?”
  2124.  
  2125. “Oh you noticed us from all the way up there? To think I was caught staring so shamelessly.” She flashes you a sultry smile which shows way too much teeth. You don’t notice her grip on the blond tightening. “In fact I’m looking for someone…. like us.” She doesn’t realise that you know what they are, but the secret would get out the moment Ranuinne revels herself, so you might as well be honest here and now.
  2126.  
  2127. “A Rusalka then?”
  2128.  
  2129. “…You know what we are? You’ve met one before then?” She seems to be searching for something on your chest. A brief confusion plays upon her beautiful features when she doesn’t find whatever it is.  
  2130.  
  2131. “If it’s a Rusalka, then I can introduce the two of you to my wife, Ranuinne.” That visibly shocks the two of them. A childish one-upmanship pats you on the back. You hide your smirk as you turn around. “This way.” ‘Sig, never mind. Probably nothing.’
  2132.  
  2133. The two of them don’t move as you swim towards the cliff, but talk a brief moment between themselves, it’s muffled by the waves, but you make out at least, the word ‘soon.’ That anxiety comes back, for another reason. You spin around, not wanting to catch any more, and urge them on by waving your hand. The two follow.
  2134.  
  2135. You emerge from the pool, hiding a look of deep concern, and plastering on the smile of a cat who just dragged in two trophies for Master. “You’ll never guess who I met.” Hlinna and Skadi walk up behind you,
  2136.  
  2137. “Ranuinne!!” They shout simultaneously… Wait, walk? You do a double take at their beautiful, long legs. Didn’t she say they lost their legs…
  2138.  
  2139. “H-Hlinna? Skadi? W-why? H-How?” Well, you’re not alone. Maybe those two are special somehow? You move aside and let the two girls reunite with their sister. It would be heart-warming, the way they hug, laugh and cry. They seem perfectly fine, it’s just that something feels… off.
  2140.  
  2141. You sit by the fire, Hlinna holding onto Ranuinne, her body-language speaking volumes of ownership, “Soo, Ranuinne. This man says he is your husband? When did our girl change so much?” Hlina playfully pokes at Ranuinne’s sides.
  2142.  
  2143. “Y-yeah, his name is Theinnleid. I met him two years ago.” You lean over the fire and offer your name and hand to the girls,
  2144.  
  2145. “Theinnleid. It’s a pleasure to meet the two of you, I’ve heard so much.” Hlinna takes your hand with a coy wink, and Skadi just looks at it.
  2146.  
  2147. “The pleasure is mine.” You can’t help but recoil a little bit. Skadi says nothing. Your hand hangs awkwardly in front of her for a moment, before you retract it, introductions over. “Well… I was about to prepare dinner, would you to like to stay?” Hlinna smiles and nods. Damn.
  2148.  
  2149. Ranuinne talks as you busy with preparations, “So how are you two able to walk again?”
  2150.  
  2151. “Ah! That’s actually why we came to get you! You see,” she giggles a bit, “the Demon Queen gave them back! Personally!”
  2152.  
  2153. “R-really? W-why?”
  2154.  
  2155. “She made us vice admirals!”, chimes in Skadi. Fuck.
  2156.  
  2157. “N..no, I mean, why have you come to ‘get’ me?”
  2158.  
  2159. “Ah! Actually, we had a mission in the area, but every one we sent disappeared. So Skadi said ‘Fuck it! Lets to do it ourselves.’ Then we came here, and we both sort of just… felt you. So we started looking by the water. Never thought you’d be stuck here, in some hovel though! Honestly.” Hlinna’s smile is that of a troubled mother, you can hear the unspoken words, ‘what will I do with you’. “Come back with us. We can offer you so much more. The Queen will personally give you back your ability to walk! And the men that are there… You haven’t fucked until you’ve had some beast grind his cock against your sternum from the inside.” Hlina visibly quakes in arousal.
  2160.  
  2161. You cook silently and do nothing but listen, as Ranuinne asks question after question, the hows, where and whys. Hlinna is understandably evasive about the majority of it, but she does let on one thing, the demon lord gave her some serious power. Well it’s not what you’d hoped she’d let on, but now you know that she’s powerful enough to control and manipulate her magic spread over an entire fleet. Ranuinne seems in awe of this power which dwarfs hers, “H-how?”
  2162.  
  2163. “Don’t you know?” she licks her lips in a way which makes your blood freeze, “You are what you eat. And the Queen lets us eat oh so well.” You turn from the fire and the girls around it, and fiddle with some cookware. You’re certain that your eyes would show something had your back not been turned. You stomach does a little flip, and you find yourself hoping that Ela and Rose will be alright. Seems like the queen has some pretty heavy artillery of her own. It doesn’t surprise you. Any one who goes against the Order would have to have some serious power of their own. But knowing about it and meeting it in person are two completely different matters.
  2164.  
  2165. It makes you sick to think that the rebellion is throwing its own hand into the ring.
  2166.  
  2167. Ranuinne blushes at her sister’s teasing and scoots a little closer to you, “No. I love Theinn, and I’m happy.” You can’t fight the smile that comes to your lips. You’re happy to hear it, but Skadi isn’t if her leering scowl is anything to go by.
  2168.  
  2169. She puts her hand on your shoulder, and smiles up at your, reassuringly. Your heart melts, the worries sloughing off it like black slag.
  2170.  
  2171. Hlinna’s eyes narrow and before the conversation turns in ways you don’t want it to, you pre-empt it by announcing that the food is ready. Like proper guests, they thank you and dig in. It’s just a simple soup, but you’ve made it so often it tastes pretty damn good. The tension in the air makes your shoulders stiff, and you find it hard to swallow, casual glances thrown your way. It feels like you’re the one in the pot. A silent dinner passes.  
  2172.  
  2173. Hlinna leans back, legs crossed, arms straight against the ground, “Mmm… that was nice. I hate to impose, but do you have anything to wash it down with?” you think for a second, you do have some tea tucked away, that you’d been saving for guests. You suppose that this counts.
  2174.  
  2175. You smile, “Sure thing.” You uncross your legs and stand, the hearty warmth of the fire sinking into your back. You think a herbal tea woul-
  2176.  
  2177. ***
  2178.  
  2179. “W-what do you think you’re doing?! L-Let go of me!” Ranuinne’s desperate cries rouse you from your slumber and on instinct you lurch forwards towards whatever is threatening you and yours, only to be held back by hard iron. Chains. You’re chained to that pillar which came to be the head-rest of the bed. Like that first day. You squeeze your eyes shut and shake loose the fog from your head. Slowly the scene before you comes clearer, Skadi is pinning the entirety of Ranuinne with just one arm, Hlinna kneeling before her.
  2180.  
  2181. She turns to you, “Ah, looks like he’s finally awake. Not bad for a human, but still pretty pathetic, don’t you think?” she runs one hand up from Ranuinne’s tail, all the way up her lithe body to her chin, “It’s why you’re so weak. Because he is pathetic. Come with us, you’ll see the difference.” You grit your teeth, and hiss at Sig from within your mind, only to receive silence. You look around and see thin tendrils of enchanted mist clinging to the walls, the fire pit, long since extinguished.
  2182.  
  2183. Hlinna walks over to you, “Ah, what’s this? Tried to call for your little pet? Sorry, she won’t be coming.”
  2184.  
  2185. “Leave Ranuinne alone!” You growl. You receive a blow that sends you rocketing back into the pillar for your efforts. As you settle yourself down, you feel a slick wetness from your scalp.
  2186.  
  2187. “Theinn!”
  2188.  
  2189. “Don’t talk back, worm. I must say though, you have heart, for a human. Bit stupid though.” She leans down towards you and grins, teeth flashing wickedly, “Ranuinne isn’t the one in danger here. I’ve travelled a long way, and I’m hungry.”
  2190.  
  2191. “Don’t touch him!” Ranuinne growls at her sister, her own teeth flashing, arms straining in her captor’s iron grip. Hlinna turns on her,
  2192.  
  2193. “My, what a fierce face. I hate hurting you, but it’s for your own good. It’s his fault you’re too weak to do anything.” Her face softens in motherly care, the way a mother softens in apology just after chastising a child, “I wasn’t lying to you. You really are what you eat. If the men back at the citadel are prime steak, then you’ve been grovelling here, with this man, feeding on worms.”      
  2194.  
  2195. She takes Ranuinne’s face in both her hands, a pained expression contorting her face, “Do you really think that’s something I can stand to watch? You’re my sister, I love you. I can’t have that.”
  2196.  
  2197. “Then please, I love him, please please don’t hurt him.”
  2198.  
  2199. “Aww, c’mon, what does it matter? We used to share everything. You do it.” With that she releases Ranuinne, and moves back to you, grinning. She runs a hand up your thigh, before slicing through the fabric of your pants, laying you bare.
  2200.  
  2201. With a hand which can tear you to shreds, something you’re painfully aware of, she fondles your balls. Despite yourself, your dick twitches to the physical contact and stimulation, blood steadily pumping into it. “Mmm, at least this part isn’t so bad. Not the biggest, but it reacts quickly enough.” Your pride smarts a little at her clearly derisory tone. You glare at her.  
  2202.  
  2203. “Oho, what’s this fire? Your cute wife is begging me not to hurt you and here you are showing me eyes like that.” She leans her face into yours,
  2204.  
  2205. “Do I have to teach you to be a good husband an-Aak!” you cut her smug voice off with a swift headbutt to her face, your forehead colliding with her nose and upper lip. Her teeth cut your brow up but you smirk when she turns her head aside to spit blood, an eye shut under the weight of sticky red.
  2206.  
  2207. She returns with a backhand that splits your lip, then she steals your lips in a forceful, bloody, messy kiss. “Mmm, so much passion. Ah, but we have all night, I hope you last.” With that she leans her head down towards your privates . You turn your head away, but instead of the warm, wet sensations of your cock being forcefully taken into her mouth, her lips touch your inner thigh, teeth clamping down. You cry out as she tears a large chunk of your flesh away. Any blood or arousal directed towards your dick is lost in that instant, overwhelmed by the pain. Ranuinne only ever fed from your neck, shoulders and chest. Intimate places where she could hold you close in comfort as she fed her sin. Loving acts that you came to grow used to. Even appreciate in your own way.
  2208.  
  2209. So you weren’t prepared for the raw, callous pain visited upon you, as your crimson slickness spreads down your leg. Ranuinne’s tender care served as something of an inhibitor for the pain. You told yourself that she genuinely cares for you, so it’s okay. This woman grins like a wolf and smiles at your pain like a vulture before carrion. The full actuality of the situation bears down on you and you feel your flesh being torn in a way that’s all too real. All too painful.
  2210.  
  2211. “Hlinna!”  The woman turns to face Ranuinne, the source of the yell, a chunk of your flesh still hanging from her mouth,
  2212.  
  2213. “Mmpf?” Tears run down Ranuinne’s face as she struggles in vain against Skadi’s grip, helpless as your muscle tears from bone. Hlinna swallows, and sighs. “Well… if you like him so much I guess we can take him back with us too. Make him… better.” She lays her hand flat on your chest and tears a chunk off your bicep.
  2214.  
  2215. “No!”
  2216.  
  2217. Skadi chuckles low, “Hey now, he’s your man. We won’t touch him. Not there at least, but we might as well get some mileage out of him, right? Incubi are good, but I don’t dislike the taste of mortals.”
  2218.  
  2219. Hlinna looks over you, “Hrm, I tied you up, but… it’ kinda… inconvenient.” A wicked smile touches her lips as a thought crosses her mind, and deep down you can feel the hatred these creatures once held for humanity. She grabs the back of your hand, behind the pillar, fingers locking with yours, “But we can’t have you moving around too much. You might lose more blood that way. I’m doing this because I care you know? You can’t be my dear sister’s husband if you bleed out, now, can you?”
  2220.  
  2221. She plants her free hand on your elbow and pulls back with the other hand. Intense pain and agony alights in your mind and throws your consciousness into disarray. As she slowly increases the pressure, the first things to go are your muscles and ligaments, rending and tearing as your arm is hyperextended. As the damage gets worse you can feel small muscles twitching and going into spasms. The pressure reaches the core of your elbow, and a wave of nauseous cold washes over you as the bones grind against one another before giving a sickeningly audible crack.
  2222.  
  2223. Your mouth opens in a breathless scream, and in the shock you forget to breathe. As you gasp for breath, with the fresh, copper tinted air, comes a fresh surge of agony, as she moves onto the next arm. She leans over your body and pulls you into a deep kiss, her arm slips behind your back and her hand grabs hold on your elbow. She kisses you deeper proportionately to how hard she pulls back on your arm and by the time the joint in your elbow is decimated, she’s thoroughly tongue-fucking you. “Mmm. I think it’s okay to let you loose now.”
  2224.  
  2225. She swings her leg over you in a straddle, and stands bent over with her legs straight, bent at a 90 degree angle. Giggling softly as she leans over you, her hair curtains your face. She reaches around the pillar and crushes the chain links within her hands, allowing your broken arms to flop down, limply. You slump down, arms hanging limply, breathing shallow. “That hurt a little.”
  2226.  
  2227. Hlinna pulls out throws it towards Skadi where she’s still restraining Ranuinne with one hand. “Wrap her up and have a bite.” Skadi’s only response is a fierce grin. She catches the broken chain in mid air and wraps them around Ranuinne’s wrists, and crushes the chains, bending then into another, locking them with brute force. You take advantage of the fact that she’s taken her eyes off you to slip a knee through her legs and up to your chest. You’ll fucking fight tooth and nail to get out of this. You kick out, planning to connect nicely with her gut, but she catches your foot mid-way.
  2228.  
  2229. “My, I can not leave you alone for a second, can I? Do you want my attention that bad?” She wrenches sideways with your ankle in hand, snapping it clean. You stifle another groan of pain as your foot hangs limply in her hand. “What’s next I wonder? What if I do this?” Ankle still in hand, she plants a foot on your knee and kicks down, snapping it in two, held together only by skin and flesh, bones sundered. You scream and thrash, your remaining foot connecting with her wrist and setting free your broken leg. You use the momentum to swing your leg back and into her leg but it’s like kicking a stone wall. She stands, resolute. “Oho? You’re a beast aren’t you? A cornered wolf baring his fangs. I think I like this boy. Weak, but he makes up for it in spirit.” With that she stomps don on your shin, shattering the bone.
  2230.  
  2231. You’re immobile.
  2232.  
  2233. And you’re in agony. Hlinna climbs on top of your arm, and jams your fist inside of her. She hunches her back like a cat as she tears chunks of flesh off your arm as she thrusts herself down onto your limp arm. Skadi, finally free of restraining Ranuinne saunters over, and plants herself right on top of you, her hips resting on your head. She grinds her pussy on your face as she goes to work on your abdomen, tearing chunks out at a time, slowly burrowing her way deeper into you with each mouthful.
  2234.  
  2235. You’re forced to breathe through your nose as the two girls lay on and into you. Not that it really improves anything, Skadi’s juices smell intoxicatingly sweet. And she’s soaking wet as she gyrates atop you, her soft, thick thighs slick with her juices. You keep your mouth obstinately shut, but the wetness of her lips coats yours and you find yourself tasting her despite yourself.
  2236.  
  2237. Trapped in that soft, sweet fleshy prison, you find your private hell. Your eyes stare listlessly into the cave ceiling as you’re devoured, and with the fire extinguished, the darkness of night devoid of moonlight seeps into your bones. It closes in on you like an abyss and you call out for Ranuinne, but no sound escapes your throat, let alone passes your lips. You try to fade to blackness, but each time the dark ring encroaches on your terror, another bite is taken and it brings your screaming back to reality.
  2238.  
  2239. Skadi moves down your legs, and begins tearing large strips from your thighs. Unable to grab a clean hold so far down you, she resorts to just laying her teeth into you and pulling back, tearing long chunks from your legs.
  2240.  
  2241. Ranuinne lays alone weeping and crying your name, trying to wriggle just a bit closer to you, and all you can do is squeeze your eyes tight, bitter tears of impotent rage slipping through. Skadi’s hips rise from your head allowing you to draw air in through your mouth once again. And again. Soon you’re hyperventilating as another shuddering lance of pain pierces through your body. Weakly you turn your head, and meet Hlinna’s smiling eyes. She’s already tearing chunks out of your shoulder and looking down your arm, you see the fleshy mangled remnants sliding slickly against Hlinna’s body, her breasts spilling out to either side of the arm. The pressure on your hand tightens and blearily you see orgasmic bliss wash over her face and she grinds on your wrist, your entire fist inside her.
  2242.  
  2243. Skadi hops off you entirely and walks to Ranuinne. She picks her up by the body and props her up on your chest, “Your turn sister. You’ll need to bleed into him too, if you don’t want him to die of blood-loss.” She gestures to her own body, already coated in the stuff. Skadi then shatters the chains around Ranuinne’s wrists.
  2244.  
  2245. Nodding through her tears, she obediently opens her wrists and begins treating you with her blood, healing the deep cuts and tears, the crimson liquids mingling with the tears she spills into you. She falls to your chest. Hlinna looks at the weeping Ranuinne and sighs. “This is no good. We need to make you enjoy this.” Her hand glows a brief pink and she slides her fingers into her pussy, in gentle swirling motions. She seems to shudder in an easily won orgasm, and shimmies herself up your body to rest on your mouth, kissing you with her lower lips, replacing Skadi. She leans back as she grinds on you and starts to massage your throat, “Drink.”
  2246.  
  2247. Her copious fluids spill out around your mouth. You try to keep it shut, but she pinches your nose, and as soon as you’re forced to open up for fresh air, torrents of her demonic pussy juice pours down your throat and suffuses your body with an unholy warmth. Despite your feeble mental protests, you feel yourself stiffening. Your hard cock pokes Ranuinne in the belly, and she gasps in surprise.
  2248.  
  2249. “Skadi. Put her on his dick, and move for her.” Grinning wide, Skadi complies, despite Ranuinne’s protests.
  2250.  
  2251. “N-no! Not like this… p-please…”
  2252.  
  2253. “You’re such a sweet girl, Ranuinne. It’s okay to be a little bit more selfish you know? Feel good for once.” Skadi picks her up by the arms and slides you into her, before straddling you, and holding Ranuinne tight, arms wrapped lovingly about the girl’s chest. She leans down on Ranuinne’s back forcing the girl up against your chest, and Hlinna grinds her way back down to your arm where she resumes her pace in fist-fucking herself.
  2254.  
  2255. Skadi starts moving her hips, thrusting against Ranuinne lathering kisses upon the girl’s neck and shoulders, making her ride your dick by proxy. Face to face with Ranuinne, she starts apologising, again and again, breathlessly even as she’s ridden into you by Skadi. “Sorry sorry sorry sorry… I’m s-so sorry.”
  2256.  
  2257. She cups your face in her hands and puts her forehead to yours, cumming, her walls wrapping snugly around your girth as she wrings you dry. Her hot breath spills over you as she shudders, her arms slipping under you to pull you into a hug. The Fel influences of Hlinna’s juices work to bring your own orgasm with haste, and you cum deep into her womb. It splashes back to paint her inner walls white with your sperm as you shudder into her.  
  2258.  
  2259. You open your mouth. “R-Ranuinne. I’m c-cold. It’s really nng,” Hlinna makes her way further up your arm, and buries her maw deep into your chest, crushing individual ribs between her jaws, bone splintering. She revels in the spongy sensation of your arteries, tonguing the cord before shearing through it with her teeth, and pulling back on it like pasta until it snaps, and the blood-tube hangs from her lips. With satisfied slurps, she sucks it up ad it disappears. You groan breathlessly, face a mess with tears, blood and girlcum. You shudder and cough, thick stream of blood dribbling past your lips. Ranuinne looks deep into your lifeless eyes, her own reflecting the horror and pain. You look into the eyes of your love and see only the fathomless abyss, yawning in her black pupils. An unnatural cold sweeps over you and you begin to jibber. You lift a broken arm and let it lay lifeless across her back, trying to draw her that much closer. “It’s dark, Ranuinne. I-I don’t…” tears spill freely down your cheeks and you babble half-mindlessly at your wife, “don’t leave me, please, it’s cold and it hurts. I-I need you. ” She interrupts your tortured words with a deep, loving kiss.
  2260.  
  2261. The soothing warmth of her embrace brings you the peace of heart to finally fade out into blackness. In your final moments, you see her break the kiss to smile at you, and caress your cheek fondly. “I love you. Goodbye Theinn.” Your mind jolts to a halt, Ranuinne’s tear-stained, wavering smile the last thing you see. A part of you etches the image deep into your soul.
  2262.  
  2263. *       *       *       *
  2264.  
  2265. Grains of sand lash at your cheek and you grimace at the pounding in your head. You take a deep breath and inhale the ocean breeze. Strange. It’s not usually so strong in the cave. Cave… you jolt up, wide awake. Where’s Ranuinne?! You look around the cave and see only sea sky and woods. This isn’t the cave. The bed beneath you is sand and as you look around in sheer dumb incomprehension one thing wrenches at your attention. Upon the fresh, pink skin of recently healed wounds sits a mark seared onto you in open, scarred flesh.
  2266.  
  2267. Just over your heart, lay a branding. Why is that there? What does it mean? I looks like it only just stopped bleeding. Which is strange, seeing as how the rest of your body is fine. Slowly your memories of last night… wait, was it even last night? Just how long had you been lying there? Slowly, you sit up, sand cascades off you, like some long lost monument in the desert, being hauled up once more. The broken bones… you flex each limb exploratorily. They all work. No matter how good her blood is it should at least have taken you a few days to fully heal from that ordeal.
  2268.  
  2269. Your heart pounds so hard you feel it might burst, and your head aches. You think about all the things that could have happened to Ranuinne, and the adrenalin slowly trickles into your blood stream, telling you to move, no, find her. It all sends you rather dizzy and your rational mind tells you that you need to cool off, literally, before something blows. But she’s gone. The last memory clicks into place, and you recall perfectly her teary eyes as she whispers that last goodbye. And you’re alone again. As evidenced by the vast, empty ocean. Cold wins cut you to the bone and you’re not even shaking. Everything seems so big around you, and you’re lost in the abyss with no one to cling to. Eyes watch you from the treeline, formless, fathomless shadows. ‘It’s been some years, child.’
  2270.  
  2271. Where is the woman who once kept them at bay?
  2272.  
  2273. ‘Gone.’ There’s nothing stupid like ‘she never loved you.’ The thought never even crosses your mind. And in a way, that hurts more. ‘She loved you, child. She probably still does. Probably always will. But she isn’t here. You will always be alone.’ Even the horrors fade until it truly is just you, shivering in your crushing lonesome. ‘Sig?’ …
  2274.  
  2275. Standing shakily, you trudge into the sea until the cool wetness of the ocean laps at your skin, and you keep  trudging until you’re floating, suspended fully, by only the breath in your lungs. You release the air and sink down, stepping further. A peaceful, fitting end. You spend a long time under the water, the burning sensation of your lungs but a passing notion, as you decide to just slip away. It doesn’t help. The ocean is just as cold, dark and empty. You turn around and watch the streams of moonlight grow fainter.
  2276.  
  2277. A shadow ascends from below, and it wraps a strong arm around you, before launching upwards, you in tow. It throws you ashore, and you bounce and roll with the impact, before spitting up lungfulls of ocean.
  2278.  
  2279. “What the fuck was that?! I can’t find either of you for a solid week, and when I do, this is what I find?!” Sonja roars at you, fright and pain etched clearly on her face, right. Like a needy child, you cling to Sonja and shake. The girl is taken aback and reaches a hesitant hand towards you, ruffling your hair, “W-what? S-sorry for yelling at you, I-I’m not really angry so…”  
  2280.  
  2281. “She’s gone…”
  2282.  
  2283. “Huh?”
  2284.  
  2285. This is pathetic. You take a deep breath and calm yourself, before apologising to Sonja. The girl blushes, “I-I don’t really mind…” then you explain what’s happened.
  2286.  
  2287. “Oh…”
  2288.  
  2289. “You mentioned a week? Has it been that long?”
  2290.  
  2291. “Yeah.”
  2292.  
  2293. “C…Could you come check the cave with me?” It’s weak of you and you both know it, but she only smiles at you and puts a warm hand on your shoulder.
  2294.  
  2295. “Sure.”
  2296.  
  2297. The two of you swim in silence. It’s slow going, you’ve no vigour or passion. Your movements are like those of a man visiting a graveyard, merely to confirm the presence of the gravestone. Sonja just tails behind you, silently. For a long time you tread water just outside the cave, you’re scared to go in and it’s not the memories of the rending flesh that paralyse you, It’s the yawning empty darkness that has you frozen to the spot. You don’t want to be in there, where it’s dark, and where the memories of your love are the freshest. Sonja sees your deadlock, and brushes past you, entering the cave first.
  2298.  
  2299. You smile a little to yourself. She really is a good friend. You enter soon after, and take in the blood soaked mess of the bed. It even runs in tiny rivers throughout the cracks in the floor. Sonja has gone pale, “Th…This is what is looks like, huh?” You shake your head lightly, a faraway mood touches you both.
  2300.  
  2301. “Not usually so messy. By how much blood there is, they probably kept going for a few hours after I passed out.”
  2302.  
  2303. Sonja cringes, a little of the detestment that most monsters have for the Rusalka rises. “Sheesh.”
  2304.  
  2305. You shrug, “I’m the one who fell in love with her. This is just what that meant. But this… it was never meant to be like this.”
  2306.  
  2307. “What will you do now?”
  2308.  
  2309. “I don’t really know. I guess I-” you stop short when you spot a corner of pristine white on the blood-red bed. Curiously, you stoop down to pick it up. A letter. To you. The runes are magically inked into the paper. It reads:
  2310.  
  2311. *       *       *       *
  2312.  
  2313. “My love, Theinn. I never thought I’d meet you. Dying in that village, coming back and razing it to the ground. That was the end for me. Or so I thought. I wasted the rest of my years with my sisters, until the current Queen rose to power. Then things changed. But they didn’t change enough. Scared of hurting the humans that I no longer cared to hunt, I drove myself out, and away. It was cold. It was lonely. And it was dark.
  2314.  
  2315. And then I met you, and the first thing I tried to do was push you away, bu-…” tears have stained the paper here, and the words are illegible, “-se of a fishing rod. I didn’t believe it. Whatever, I thought. He wants to get eaten so bad I’ll eat him. The last thing I could do to scare you away. Maybe it would end there, I thought. When you left me, if you returned at all, I fully expected to be met with pitchfork and angry villagers. And I was okay with that. But when you returned what you gave me was your heart, and a few earthly possessions. And a scare.” Your eyes blur and you miss the end of that line, so you read over it again,
  2316.  
  2317. “B-----ou returned wha---heart…” you frown, sure you remember reading more last time. You go to rub your eyes and find your face soaked in tears. Oh. You lift the page so that your falling tears don’t stain Ranuinne’s words. “And a scare. Then you said that you’d been alone for a while, and I was the first to talk to you. I don’t believe you, you know. I’m sure there were other girls out there for you. But, having already fed on you, I felt this obligation to help you heal, so I asked if you’d settle for me. You said “Lets.” And then you told me that you loved me. Honestly, that was a happiness I’d not even known in life.” The cave is silent as you read, Sonja holds her breath, your falling tears are all that can be heard.
  2318.  
  2319. “You made my living dreams come true, a man to love and to hold, who would care for me. There was no priest, no gathering. But in my heart I felt that we well and truly became one. And it made me so happy to see that reflected in your eyes. The following two years were something I could scarce believe I’d deserved. And I know now that I didn’t.
  2320.  
  2321. When my sisters came, and I was powerless to help you, my love, I began to see the same coldness, the same darkness and loneliness in your eyes that I once felt. You clung to me as the only light in the dark, and an enormous guilt fell upon my shoulders. I did this to you. They were here because of me.
  2322.  
  2323. And then you passed out. And… gods, Theinn. They turned you into a corpse. I begged and I screamed, but they just smiled at me and said “It’s alright isn’t it?” I held your unconscious head to my chest and they ate everything else. Without them noticing, I bled. Into you, on you. With you. I bled so much, but it wouldn’t wash away my sins. I tore my heart open and gave it to you, wringing my lifeblood from it, spilling it all into you, but they just put it back in. “Don’t be stupid.”  
  2324.  
  2325. And that was when I truly realised just how powerless I was to protect you. To even stand with you. How I didn’t deserve it. I couldn’t even give my life for you. You started healing, and I wept with joy. They said that we were leaving now, and I begged for the time to write this, and lay you down where you found me. When I do, I’ll put a mark on your chest. It’s said to be a powerful thing, the parting mark of a Rusalka. It will protect you from others like me. They say that when a man who truly loves his Rusalka is torn from her, the mark will weep crimson tears in place of the heart. So don’t be scared. I know you’ll bleed for me. But please, please don’t come looking for me.
  2326.  
  2327. I am a coward. I leave you to the cold and yet I myself am scared to be alone. My sisters will take me with them. But my heart and soul is with you. All they take back will be a corpse.
  2328.  
  2329. If you’re reading this, I love you Theinnleid. With all of my being. So… sorry. Live a long and happy life. I won’t ask you to forget about me. What we shared was too deep, but I do ask that you try to live without me. Be careful. Be safe. And be happy.
  2330.  
  2331. Yours eternally, Ranuinne.
  2332.  
  2333. P.S. Please don’t come after me but… If you do, I’ll be waiting for you.
  2334.  
  2335. P.P.S. Say goodbye to Sonja for me.”
  2336.  
  2337. Tears have stained the bottom of the letter, none of yours. The last line is faded, nearly illegible, the paper is warped,
  2338.  
  2339. “P.P.P.S. I love you with everything I have.”
  2340.  
  2341. *       *       *       *
  2342.  
  2343. “…”    
  2344.  
  2345. “Theinn?”
  2346.  
  2347. “Yeah?”
  2348.  
  2349. “You’re bleeding.”
  2350.  
  2351. “Yeah.”
  2352.  
  2353. “… what did it say?”
  2354.  
  2355. “Goodbye. One for you too.”
  2356.  
  2357. “Oh.”
  2358.  
  2359. You fold the note up, and walk over to your backpack where it lay against the wall, and place the note inside. You turn to your guitar, and pick it up. Sonja watches as you place it length ways across the bed. You return to your backpack, and slip your arms through, slinging the thing to your back.
  2360.  
  2361. You turn to Sonja, and see that she’s crying. You offer a weak smile. “Look, I can’t stay here. And I have a lot of thinking to do. I guess this is goodbye for me too.”
  2362.  
  2363. She sniffles and wipes away at her snotty nose with the back of her hand, “Aww, fuck.” Sniff “I ha-hate goodbyes.” You crack a weak smile at the muscly shark and pull her into your arms,
  2364.  
  2365. “You’re a strong girl. Adorable too, when we meet again, you need to introduce me to your man.”
  2366.  
  2367. Sniff, weak laugh, “Sure, when I find him.”
  2368.  
  2369. You rub her head once and then twice, before breaking the hug, and calling to you a barrier of wind so that your bag doesn’t get soaked. You dive through the pool at the entrance one last time.
  2370.  
  2371. You walk away from the beach, before stopping, remembering the towel you laid into the stone you’d hewn. Dropping your bag on the sand, you’re hit by a wave of nostalgia as you walk down the sandbank to the solitary outcropping of rock, the tides ferociously batting at your knees. Your heart twists as you lay foot on the place where you met her first. The tears come freely again, and you laugh a little, before falling to your knees, wailing out into the deaf ocean. Waves crash against the stone and drown out your anguished cries. You scream and beat and rage at the steadfast rock until your energy is spent, fists bloody, throat hoarse, chest heaving just to draw breath. You stand up, draw the deepest breath you’d ever drawn, slap a false smile onto your face, and tie down your heart and emotions. The weight of your pain makes your feet feel unsteady, but five minutes is enough. You’ll cry when you find her. You stoop down and collect the ratty, sea-beaten towel and head back to your house.
  2372.  
  2373. ‘THEINN’ You hunch your shoulders and wince at the sudden outburst, faltering in your step on your way down the beaten path, ‘WHEREWEREYOUAREYOUOKAYWHATHAPPENEDTOTHOSEWOMEN?’
  2374.  
  2375. ‘Be quieter.’ There’s a pain in your skull as Sig forces her way out into the mortal planes, despite the door being closed. Frantically you look for something to set on fire, but it’s too late. You scream as she tears open a hole in your mind. She kicks the door down and taps into your power directly to manifest herself.
  2376.  
  2377. She jumps at you in a hug, and you recoil, being burnt is the last thing you need right now, but her arms wrap around you anyway. It takes all your will power to force the flames away from you and your clothing, though you get roasted by the heat anyway.  
  2378.  
  2379. “W-What? Are you doing?” She nuzzles into your cheek forcefully, pushing herself right up against you.
  2380.  
  2381. “I was so scared! First there was those woman and then they were the enemy and then you got knocked out and then they tied you up and then they killed the fire and then I couldn’t see you or hear you and then our bond broke and the-” You slide your hands up to her chest and push as hard as you can, breaking the lock her hands had around your neck and flinging her away.
  2382.  
  2383. “Calm yourself, woman. As you can see, I’m fine. But I won’t be if you burn me to a crisp. Now what do you mean our ‘bond broke’?”
  2384.  
  2385. “Oh. Sorry. And it didn’t really break just disappeared. I rushed over as soon as I felt it again. I asked around and that only happens when your partnerdiesandyouweregoneforawholeweekandeveryonesaidyouweredeada-mmpfh” She starts crying harder with the faster she talks and you have to seal her lips with a finger to get her to stop. You kneel before her, as she sits on the ground where you flung her away.
  2386.  
  2387. “Look, I’m fine, okay? Sit down,” you smile wryly, “shut up, and let me talk.” You sit next to her in the middle of the road and tell her about that night, and what you found today. She reaches a hand out to hold your face but stops short. She sighs and whispers, “I wish I could touch you… Y’now, without burning you.”
  2388.  
  2389. “Just having you here with me is more than enough. I don’t think I could handle being alone anymore. Well, enough of this moping. Can’t stay here. Memories too fresh.” You hop up and begin walking. Sig shrinks herself down as to not consume so much energy and hovers about your head, a mysterious smile on her lips. Maybe she just likes being alone with you? Again, you’re reminded of the people around you, and it only strengthens your resolve to get Ranuinne back.
  2390.  
  2391. You stand before your house. It looks… gross. You’ve a lot of happy memories from your childhood. Playing with your mother, learning to swing a sword. Your father teaching you the runes. But you never liked this house. None of that happened inside. Your father sat with you in his lap, a large tome testing on your legs. But that was under the shade of a tree outside. In the past two years you’d slept sounder than ever before. What exactly about this building was it that you disliked so?
  2392.  
  2393. “Sig.”
  2394.  
  2395. “Yeah.”
  2396.  
  2397. “This house. What do you think of it?”
  2398.  
  2399. “… I don’t like it. It feels like it feeds from a foundation of loneliness. I can’t really put it into words. It has a dark aura.”  
  2400.  
  2401. Hmm. She’s pretty spot on there. Well… your father is gone. As is your mother. You’d spent years there all alone, and then you spent a whole two years away from it… it’s an eyesore.
  2402.  
  2403. “Lets burn it.”
  2404.  
  2405. “What? Isn’t this your home?”
  2406.  
  2407. “…Not really. It’s been the house I grew up in, but home? Nah. It’s too sad to just watch it rot away. Might as well go out in a blaze of glory, eh? Besides, I want Ranuinne back, and I know it won’t be easy. It’s sort of cliché, but I like the idea of not having something to return to. To only move forward, with nothing to even look back on.”
  2408.  
  2409. “I guess that makes sense.”
  2410.  
  2411. The sound of sweet moans reaches your ears, and you tile your head, a little puzzled. And then it hits you, “Wait, they’re still at it? Well… I was going to have to warn them about the fire anyway so…”
  2412.  
  2413. You walk to the garden at the back of the house and sure enough, the Dryad is still molesting the Alraune, who is blushing fiercely and squirming against the woman’s hands. Nectar everywhere.
  2414.  
  2415. “Ah, so… is it ‘Still’ or ‘Again’?”
  2416.  
  2417. The Dryad turns to you, a heavy flush engulfs her body and she’s breathing heavy, “Ah, it’s you. It’s…”  she looks to the plant girl, who is biting her lower lip with watery eyes, and kisses her deeply for the most awkward minute of your life. Isn’t this rape? “’Still’, I suppose.” She turns back to you, “Do you need something?” She clutches to the plant girl protectively, like a dog guarding its meal from scavengers.
  2418.  
  2419. “Yeah, actually. Make yourself scarce, I’m burning this house down, I’ll try not to let it spread but…” You shrug. Anything could happen.
  2420.  
  2421. “I see. Are you doing this so that a new home can grow from the ashes of the old one?”
  2422.  
  2423. “… I guess. Yeah, that’s kinda nice. But the new one will grow somewhere far away from here, so feel free to use the ashes for yourself in the meantime.”
  2424.  
  2425. The Dryad’s eyes sparkle pervertedly, “Ufufu, perhaps I’ll grow myself an Alraune harem.”
  2426.  
  2427. “Please use the ashes for something productive.” You sigh deeply and walk back around to the front of the house. “Sig. If you wouldn’t mind waiting?” Stepping through the door, a wave of familiarity hits you. You look around, and give it all one last goodbye. You unsling your backpack and head into your parents room. Father had two swords, both enchanted in nature, to be moderately stronger and lighter than other swords. One was one handed, the second was nearly as tall as you and required two hands. It was the claymore that your father took to his last battle, and in doing so, he left his one-handed sword to you. Ulfberht. It was the name of the sage who crafted it, and it lay upon a mantle above the bed of your parents, a few inches longer and a few inches thicker than the average sword.
  2428.  
  2429. You jump onto their bed and sink down a bit into the mattress. Bouncing slightly as you walk atop the bed, you come to the mantle and lift the sword from its place, sheathe and all, and strap it to your back. It’s a nice weight. You look around trying to think of anything else you might want or need. For the next half hour you weigh everything and its importance against your journey. Bandages. Vials. Anything that you can see being mildly useful. You bag now pleasantly heavy you turn to leave when you spot an antique in a cupboard.
  2430.  
  2431. A gold and bronze contraption which creates flame. If you remember correctly it was given as an heirloom to your father for saving a dwarf once. Perfect. You take it from the cupboard and open it up, finding it nice and full of a clear liquid. You look around you one last time and… Looks like you’re good to go. Seems sort of anticlimactic, doesn’t it?
  2432.  
  2433. You close the door behind you one last time., “Got everything?”
  2434.  
  2435. “Yeah.”
  2436.  
  2437. “Hey, cool sword.”
  2438.  
  2439. “Thanks, it was dad’s.” You pull the lighter from your pocket, “Well, Sig? Ready?”
  2440.  
  2441. “Are you?” You grin,
  2442.  
  2443. “Yeah.” You push down on the trigger for the mechanism and a brilliant blue flame spits out, hovering over the opening. Sig flies her tiny form into it, and the soon the flame begins to change to conform to her figure. You release the trigger and the flame stays, this time, a pure thing, an element of true fire, not just a creature summoned through the mind. Sig zips into your home and disappears for a moment, closing the door behind her.
  2444.  
  2445. You wait around, and then the windows shatter, and smoke billows out. A full bodied Sig incinerates the front door, and saunters towards you. The interior of your home bathes you in a warm, orange glow.        
  2446.  
  2447. “Pretty, isn’t it? Wanna know something? This is the warmest that this place has ever made me feel.” You walk up to your front door and put down your backpack. From within it you pull out the towel that you once used to sit upon. On the rock, where you met Ranuinne. The last memento of your past life. The last shred of your memories from the past two years. And a promise. A promise for the future. You lift the ratty thing in your hands, and then hurl it into the flames. You watch it turn to cinders in the inferno.
  2448.  
  2449. Sig looks at you, a complex expression on her face, “Do you want me to sit with you as you watch it burn?”
  2450.  
  2451. You slip your thumbs under the straps of your bag and rearrange how it sits, before turning on your heel. “Nah.”
  2452.  
  2453. Something collapses from within your home and the roof tumbles, sending out a blazing wave of hot air and embers. The boiling breeze rustles through your hair, as if in parting. You do your old abode the respect of not turning back. You follow the small dirt path through winding hills, slowly edging your way closer to the town under the cover of moonlight. It’s a full moon tonight. Your hand itches and you find your arm twitching upwards, as if to grasp at the hilt of your new word with each shifting in the breeze. It’s a quiet night tonight. Too quiet.
  2454.  
  2455. “Yeah… there’s no doubt about it. The world has changed while I’ve been lost with her.” ‘Sig. I’ll need you to leave me now. Come only when I call, got me?’ ‘Okay.’ The flame by your side vanishes and you’re shrouded in darkness. Much better. You scent the air and it carries with it the smell of blood and semen.
  2456.  
  2457. The sound of wet smacking comes to your ears from beyond a large hill to your right. You crouch low in the shade and creep over the lip, and you’re met by a scene of carnage. Men with limbs shattered by sheer brute force, all of them mounted by a particular goblin, some of them ridden despite being long dead. It brings back memories of the cave and you feel a boiling anger surge up in you.
  2458.  
  2459. Goblins from the look of it. Seems they ambushed a five man patrol party. You must be close to the town. You scan the scene looking for giant tits. There, in the centre of the pro-active orgy. The leader, the Hobgoblin. Silently, you slide your sword from its sheath, glad for how well-oiled and preserved it has been. A cold calm settles over you. It puts you in the moment, taking you from your worries. You fill your lungs as you crouch, then release. You crawl to the tip of the hillside but with the light of fallen torches lighting the clearing, you who are on the light’s perimeter are practically hidden in the night. You suck in another deep breath, and leap. One step lands you within their ring, the next takes you sailing past the Hobgoblin. As you pass the startled beast, your blade flicks out and collects the girl’s head. You skid to a stop a pace or two past the decapitated goblin girl, still in the process of burying her prey’s shaft in her snatch. She sinks down and slumps atop him, head rolling back and down between the man’s legs. You twist in place and bury your sword in the girl nearest to you, down to the hilt.
  2460.  
  2461. She just looks at her leader, open mouthed, stunned eyes slowly drifting to the blade through her chest, then up your arm to you. Your straight face is the last thing she sees as the life fades from her eyes and she slumps backwards, sliding off your blade with a wet slickness.
  2462.  
  2463. Understandably, it takes but moments for the rest to scatter, their leader and sister instantaneously felled. You start to scavenge, collecting anything which might help you. One man had a bandolier of throwing knives with a single vacant space. Poor bastard only had time enough to get one shot off. You scan the ground and find it buried in the dirt. He even missed. Sighing, you strip if off him, and strap it to your own hips, before moving on to the next.  
  2464.  
  2465. You strip the dead of whatever jewellery they had on them, and take whatever coins they have. You are acting as a courier. Might as well get paid. You sit in the dirt and under the moonlight you sketch the details and heraldry on their shields into a journal. Tearing the pages out, you fold them into small envelopes and slip the jewellery inside before sliding the slips of paper into your pockets. Then you inspect the two women, not expecting much. So you’re pleasantly surprised to find the hobgoblin with a pouch of herbs and potions. Well not that they are likely to be of high quality. You pack it all away into the bags you carry with you. Your back stiffens. You wipe your blade clean on a man’s clothes and get up slowly. It’s a hunch but you feel like someone is watching you.
  2466.  
  2467. You take one of the throwing knives, debating within yourself. You could call out, but that would let other people know you were here. You could just ignore it but it could turn out to be dangerous. You curse inwardly. Flaring your hand, a small ball of fire coalesces in your palm, and you propel it out into the dark to your side, watching it as it flickers out into the distance, passing a standing figure in full resplendent plate, and long white hair. You slide the knife back into its place and draw your sword.
  2468.  
  2469. A soft, feminine voice coos, “Fancy trick for a thief.”
  2470.  
  2471. “And just what am I supposed to be stealing?”
  2472.  
  2473. She laughs lightly, “From what I saw, isn’t a better question ‘What aren’t you stealing’?” You point your sword at her as she steps into the ring of light, her own weapon at her hip. She seems relaxed in a way that tells you you’re not even considered a threat. You put the thirty five inches of steel between you and her anyway. Makes you feel safer. She looks at it with a quirked eyebrow.
  2474.  
  2475. “Do you always threaten women with swords?”
  2476.  
  2477. “Only the suspicious ones.”
  2478.  
  2479. “Ah. Do I look suspicious?”
  2480.  
  2481. You lower the blade if only slightly, “Nah… come to think of it, fully armoured women wandering around alone at night are pretty normal these days.” You sheathe the sword, and make to leave, “Carry on then.” You turn then suddenly the distance between the two of you vanishes and you feel her gloved hand clasp lightly onto your shoulder.
  2482.  
  2483. “Give them to me.”
  2484.  
  2485. “They aren’t yours.”
  2486.  
  2487. “They aren’t yours either.”
  2488.  
  2489. “Well then it’s a good thing I don’t plan to keep them. If you don’t get your hand off my shoulder though, I’d be more than happy to keep that.” She sighs a little frustratedly, and lets you go.
  2490.  
  2491. “Grouchy. Look, you don’t come across like a thief. Tell me what you plan to do with them.” You pinch the bridge of your nose and sigh before turning to face her.
  2492.  
  2493. There’s a pretty, disarming smile on her light pink lips. The moonlight dances in her hair and you notice various things about the woman, now that you’ve decided to be personable. The armor does nothing to hide the definite feminine curves of her body. In fact it seems that the armor was made specifically to fit her. You know it sounds a little weird, but truly a rare sight out here. Most sets of armor are cobbled together from the fallen. She’s clearly quite wealthy. But more than that, from her elegant cheekbones to her delicate jaw, to the playful look in her ruby eyes… She is beautiful too.
  2494.  
  2495. “I know a guy with the Stonevale guard. If those men had any business being here, he’ll know who and why, and return this stuff to the right people. If he doesn’t, well it’ll be his problem, not mine. And you? What did you plan to do? Why are you even out here?”
  2496.  
  2497. She casts a regretful look to the ground, “Truthfully, I heard they were in the area. Thought I might lend them a hand but I was too late.”
  2498.  
  2499. You shrug. “These things happen.”
  2500.  
  2501. “That they do.” She lets out a heavy sigh. “Well, if you’re heading to Stonevale, the least I can do is see you there safely.”
  2502.  
  2503. “I’d rather not have too much company right now.”
  2504.  
  2505. She smiles, “I’d still like to see you there safely, and meet this guy you spoke about.” It’s a pretty smile, pretty and disarming. You lose the energy to resist, shoulders slumping in defeat. Maybe a little extra company couldn’t hurt.
  2506.  
  2507. “On one condition.” She gives a wry smirk, and humours you,
  2508.  
  2509. “Oh, and what’s your demand?”
  2510.  
  2511. “Let me smell you.” She falters a step back, and blushes.
  2512.  
  2513. “Did you fall for me or something? We only just met, what do you mean, ‘let me smell you’?” Her voice is shaky, incredulous. You only roll your eyes.
  2514.  
  2515. “Do we have a deal?” She looks sheepishly to the side.
  2516.  
  2517. “O-okay. But just smell okay? I’m only doing this so you’ll let me see you there safely. If you do anything weird, I’ll stab you…” Her next word is mumbled, but you still make it out, “pervert.”
  2518.  
  2519. “Calm down, I just want to make sure you’re not some monster.” You murmur the half-remembered incantation you learned years ago and lean forward into her neck to take a sniff.
  2520.  
  2521. “Do I look like a monster?”
  2522.  
  2523. “Vampire maybe. Succubus. They can change their forms. All I know is you don’t smell like one.”
  2524.  
  2525. “What were you mumbling before?”
  2526.  
  2527. “Hm? Oh, nothing. Lets go.” You turn and resume waking, the armoured girl following on your heel, much quicker and more fluidly than her armor should have allowed.
  2528.  
  2529. “You don’t trust monsters, then?”
  2530.  
  2531. You laugh, “My wife is one.”
  2532.  
  2533. She grins playfully, “What are you doing sniffing innocent women at night, then?” You spin, and glare at her.
  2534.  
  2535. ‘Calm down, Theinn. She doesn’t know’ You open your mouth to say something, then think better of it.
  2536.  
  2537.  “Umh, did I… hit a nerve? Sorry.”
  2538.  
  2539. “No, it’s alright. I’m looking for her, actually.”
  2540.  
  2541. “So, if you’re fine with monsters, why did it matter to you if I was one, hypothetically speaking.”
  2542.  
  2543. You shrug, turn and keep walking. “Normally I wouldn’t, but I haven’t been out for a while. Apparently the world is getting more dangerous for men. The first thing I see is a pack of goblins abusing a group of soldiers. Put yourself in my shoes.”
  2544.  
  2545. “So what are you doing out here, really?”
  2546.  
  2547. You turn back and give her a confused look, “Heading in to town?”
  2548.  
  2549. “No, I mean, really. I didn’t know there were more of us out this way.”
  2550.  
  2551. “…More of what?” She looks around, verifying that the two of you are alone, before she pulls on the hem of her undershirt, revealing a warhammer backed by two daggers just below her collarbone. You can only see the top half though, the rest hidden under where the plate starts.
  2552.  
  2553. “More Greyguard.”
  2554.  
  2555. “Greyguard?”
  2556.  
  2557. “Aw come on, you saw our sigil. Stop playing. You knew our incantation. You uttered it before smelling me.”
  2558.  
  2559. “Oh. That. I was taught it by one of my father’s acquaintances, I don’t know this Greygard.”
  2560.  
  2561. “Ah…You don’t say…” Still somewhat confused, you turn around, shaking your head softly, and keep walking when you hear the gentle whisper of a sword being drawn. Too late to react, something round and hard smacks into the back of your head with enough force to feel like it split open. Your eyes roll back as you fall.
  2562.  
  2563.  
  2564. ***
  2565.  
  2566.  
  2567. “Did you cast it?” You blink, the world slowly focusing.
  2568.  
  2569. “Yes, the barrier is in place. We can speak freely here.”
  2570.  
  2571. “Good. Ah, seems like he’s waking up.” Pain and groggy voices are the first things you register. Your head feels like its exploding and imploding simultaneously. Each heart beat is a mind rocking crash of pain. Two blurry figures approach, one much larger than the other. The smaller, thinner figure takes your chin in hand and tips your head up. Slowly, her face comes into focus, two blurry images overlapping onto one clear one. It’s the woman from before. “Alright. He’s with us.”
  2572.  
  2573. “Did you have to hit him so hard?”
  2574.  
  2575. “He might be working with them.”
  2576.  
  2577. “He might be innocent.”
  2578.  
  2579. “Then explain how he half-knew one of our incantations?”
  2580.  
  2581. “I can’t do that, Teresa. Only he can. And to do that, he needs his brains un-scrambled, okay?” The larger man steps up to you, and smiles down at you. “Sorry about that, but we need to find out a few things. I cast a spell on you that will make you answer every question fully and honestly. Not the nicest or most legal spell, but necessary. Oh and while you’re not tied down, you are paralysed, so don’t bother trying to resist. Well, first things first, I am Muradin Arcenhammer, and this fine woman is Teresa Nadasdy. Then, let’s begin with your name.”
  2582.  
  2583. You don’t even try to resist. You can’t. The answer springs to mind and you blurt it out as quickly as it comes. “Theinnleid.”
  2584.  
  2585. “Just Theinnleid?”
  2586.  
  2587. “Yes.”
  2588.  
  2589.  “Okay then, Theinnleid, let’s start with your story. Teresa says you were looking for your wife. Is that true?”
  2590.  
  2591. “Yes.”
  2592.  
  2593. “What happened to your wife?”
  2594.  
  2595. “I’m not sure. When I woke up on the beach I only had her letter and a branding.”
  2596.  
  2597. The big man frowns. “Teresa. Take off his shirt.” She nods, and approaches you, leaning down to take your shirt by the hem and lift it up. It takes your arms with it, and they flop down as the shirt comes free of you. The two of them inspect the sigil cut into your chest. “Hmm, I see. And what were you doing before that?”
  2598.  
  2599. You can’t clench your fists in rage at this forced retelling, can’t even change your current expression into one of anger from the slack one you wear. “Trying to scream as Ranuinne’s sisters ate me and Ranuinne was forced on me as she cried and begged her sisters to stop.” The two are stunned, and blink synchronously. A moment of silence falls as they try to piece what you just said.
  2600.  
  2601. “Who is Ranuinne?”
  2602.  
  2603. “My wife.”
  2604.  
  2605. “And what do you mean when you say her sisters ate you?”
  2606.  
  2607. “I mean they tore into me with their teeth, pulled off large chunks and swallowed.” The woman, Teresa, winces.
  2608.  
  2609. “Why?”
  2610.  
  2611. “For fun.” The man seems to almost have forgotten that you’re answering every question he asks.
  2612.  
  2613. “What kind of monster still does that?”
  2614.  
  2615. You answer the rhetoric promptly, “A Rusalka.”
  2616.  
  2617. He nods in sudden realization, “That would explain the brand then. Definitely… Wait, you mentioned sisters?”
  2618.  
  2619. “Two, Rusalka by the names of Skadi and Hlinna.”
  2620.  
  2621. “What? Skadi and Hlinna? Describe them.” His tone is terse, sharp and sudden.
  2622.  
  2623. “Skadi has blonde hair and green eyes. Hlinna has red hair and blue eyes. Both are about the same height, have slightly webbed hands and can change their tails into legs.”
  2624.  
  2625. Teresa frowns, “Blonde hair, green eyes, red hair, blue. It matches the descriptions.”
  2626.  
  2627. “It does. Theinn, did they say what they were doing here?”
  2628.  
  2629. “They came on a mission looking for information on a rebellion, and happened to sense Ranuinne.”
  2630.  
  2631. “The same as us…” Your desperation doesn’t show; a silver lining in this paralysis. You can only hope they don’t ask you about the rebellion. “Theinn, explain what happened exactly.”
  2632.  
  2633. “I was getting some fresh air when I noticed two heads in the water below the small cliff above our cave. I spoke to them and they said they were looking for a Rusalka. I took them to my wife where they met up and spoke about becoming vice-admirals for the demon queen, and spoke about taking Ranuinne away to her citadel because she was weak and living in a cave wasn’t befitting her. I prepared food, we ate and when I turned around, Hlinna knocked me out. I came to moments later chained to a rock pillar in the cave, and Ranuinne was pinned down.
  2634.  
  2635. Hlinna took a few bites into me, Ranuinne started crying and then Hlinna broke my arms and legs so I couldn’t escape, and instead used the chains to keep Ranuinne in place. Then the two tore flesh from me and told Ranuinne that if she wanted to keep me she better quickly heal me. They freed her and she bled into me, healing my wounds. Hlinna then cast a spell to make me aroused, and Skadi thrust Ranuinne onto me, making her ride me as they tore more flesh from me, and Hlinna fisted herself on my broken arm. Then Ranuinne apologised, kissed me and I blacked out.”
  2636.  
  2637. Under paralysis you can’t move, your fists can’t flinch, you can’t lash out in anger, your voice can’t waver under sobs, but nor can you wipe the tears that stream down your face, or the blood which seeps from your branding. Teresa wipes it for you.
  2638.  
  2639. “Gods. Then what happened?”
  2640.  
  2641. “I woke up alone on the beach a week later, branded. Attempted to drown myself, was stopped by Sonja-”
  2642.  
  2643. “Who is Sonja?”
  2644.  
  2645. “A friend, sharkgirl, who went with me to the cave to find it bloody, and find the note from Ranuinne.”
  2646.  
  2647. “Where is the note?”
  2648.  
  2649. “In my bag.”
  2650.  
  2651. “… Are you okay with us reading i-”
  2652.  
  2653. “No.” You answer quickly, before he can even finish the question.
  2654.  
  2655. “I… see. Then what happened?”
  2656.  
  2657. “I left Sonja, headed home, and was interrupted by Sig partway.” The big man frowns curiously, far more interested in your story now than discerning any treachery. Not that you could give any, anyway.
  2658.  
  2659. “Sig?”
  2660.  
  2661. “A fire elemental that bonded to me.”
  2662.  
  2663. “Ah, an elementalist too. Then what?”
  2664.  
  2665. “I went home, collected what I would need, and burnt the rest.”
  2666.  
  2667. “Why?”
  2668.  
  2669. “I wasn’t going to return, and I didn’t want anyone else taking it.”
  2670.  
  2671. “Good a reason as any I suppose. Then what?”
  2672.  
  2673. If you should shrug, you would, “Met the group of goblins, then Teresa.” The big man sighs and finds a seat, falling into it with a slump,
  2674.  
  2675. “So that brings us to Teresa’s report and now. Alright then where did you learn that incantation.”
  2676.  
  2677. “An acquaintance of my father’s taught it to me as thanks for looking after him while he was hung over. Said teaching me how to recognise evil was the least he could do.”
  2678.  
  2679. “And what was your father’s name?”
  2680.  
  2681. “Roland. Was all I knew him as.” He frowns.
  2682.  
  2683. “Roland, Roland… why is that name familiar? Oh! Of course! I’d forgotten that he used to live in this area before he and his wife disappeared. Yes, it’s coming back to me now, they had a child called Theinn.
  2684.  
  2685. Teresa speaks up, after being quiet for some time, “Who is Roland?”
  2686.  
  2687. “He’s a man who often worked with us on various missions. A strong and able warrior. And I have an idea of who might have taught you one of our incantations. Well Theinn, not only has your story checked out, but you’ve also provided us with valuable information. I apologise deeply for the misunderstanding, and I understand if you’d rather never see us again after this, but your father was a great asset to the Greyguard. I hope you could be too. Teresa, I have to draw up a report. Look after him.”
  2688.  
  2689. She nods as Muradin leaves. He stops just at the door as if remembering something. “Ah, Right.” He waves a hand as he exits and suddenly the compulsion and paralysis leave you. You slump down into your chair far too mentally and emotionally drained, both from the splitting migraine and telling your story aloud. Teresa fidgets awkwardly, and the room is silent. You scrunch your face up in pain.
  2690.  
  2691. “Are you okay?” You move your head from side to side,
  2692.  
  2693. “No, I have a killer migraine. Thanks for that.” You add the last part a little bitterly, and she winces as she approaches,
  2694.  
  2695. “Here, come sit on the bed. I’ll give you a massage.”
  2696.  
  2697. “…Okay.” She helps you up and helps walk you across to the bed, each of your limbs feeling like they were cast of solid iron. You sit on the edge, and she climbs in bed behind you, sitting so that her legs are wrapped around you and hanging off the edge. Were you to sit straight, your back would press against her breasts.
  2698.  
  2699. “Get comfortable, rest your elbows on your knees.” You comply, and a few minutes of silence pass between the two of you as she works her fingers soothingly into the muscles around your back, shoulders, neck and skull, each place she touches sapping just a little bit more of the pain. “Look. I did a shitty thing by you, and I’m sorry. I mean, if you were a threat I would have killed you on the spot. But, well, you weren’t, and yet you still went through all that.”
  2700.  
  2701. “You were just doing your job, I get it.”
  2702.  
  2703. “Yeah, but that’s no excuse is it?”
  2704.  
  2705. “Guess not.”
  2706.  
  2707. “I just… Feel bad, y’know? I know all this shit about you that you never would have told me otherwise, all because of my actions. Would… would you like to hear about me?”
  2708.  
  2709. “If it’ll make you feel better.”
  2710.  
  2711. “…Well I said I was human, but that’s not really true. I’m closer to one now, but I was born a Dhampir into a side family, born to serve the main clan. For a time I lived in a town to the north, Fuil, and worked in the shadows. Then I met a man, and he convinced me to turn away from that kind of life, helped in a ritual to try and purge me of my vampire blood. It worked for the most part. I maintained my strength and speed, but I can still feel slivers of blood in me. We lived together until he died of old age, but lately the blood has been getting stronger. Your incantation, had you said it properly, would have sniffed it out in me.
  2712.  
  2713. That’s my secret I guess. My higher ups know, but no one else does. I wonder how they’d react?”
  2714.  
  2715. “Do the Greyguard dislike monsters?”
  2716.  
  2717. “Oh no, there are a few who serve even. It’s just, vampires and the like aren’t looked as kindly as a unicorn or valkyrie for example. Greyguard is mostly holy to neutral kinds of girls. Vampires are rare.” You grunt noncommittally, her fingers lulling you into sleepiness, the throbbing, splitting pain of your migraine abated under her care. “Theinn? You still with me?” You slump further forward and your elbows slip from your knees. Just before you keel over the edge of the bed, Teresa wraps her arms around you and catches you, pulling you back onto the bed and lying you down.
  2718.  
  2719. The smell of wood fire fills your nose just as you’re about to slip away fully. The bed disappears to a warm glade with a roaring bonfire in the middle. You’re lying on a patch of springy clovers, and as you take all this in, you feel a hot body press up to you from behind, thin, lithe limbs encircling you in a heated embrace. You tense and go to react when a soothing voice stills you, “Shh, Theinn. It’s me.”
  2720.  
  2721. “S-sig? Wha-” She kisses the nape of your neck, and a molten heat floods you. It’s by no means unpleasant, and all your accumulated stress, worry and anguish seems to melt before it’s onslaught. Before long, your own eyelids are too heavy to keep open.
  2722.  
  2723. “I just thought you might like to sleep like this for tonight.” She pulls you a little closer, and holds you a little tighter.
  2724.  
  2725. “Thanks.”
  2726.  
  2727. ***
  2728.  
  2729. When you wake up, the sounds of Stonewall filter in through the partially opened window. At some point you fell asleep, and the blankets were drawn over you. You remember briefly Sigs warm embrace, and you feel like you’d slept for weeks. Blinking and rubbing the sleep out of your eyes with the back of your hand you look around the room to find Teresa on a chair, one leg hanging over the edge, the other bent up, her foot planted on the edge of her seat. Her hands are linked around the bottom of her shin, knee up to her chest, and her head is bowed. Most her long hair is behind her and over the bac of the chair, but a few loops have fallen to partially obscure her face.
  2730.  
  2731. A thin line of drool connects to the corner of her mouth.
  2732.  
  2733. You kick the sheets off, and swing your legs over the side of the bed, feeling energetic and refreshed. Your quiet movement is enough to wake the warrior, and she wakes with a start, the thin line snapping. She loos up, startled for a moment, then her brain catches up with her body and she recalls where she fell asleep last nice. Noticing you, she smiles. “Ah, you’re finally up.” You point to the corner of your lips. She frowns in confusion for a moment, then colours a deep red as she wipes her face clean with the back of her hand.
  2734.  
  2735. “So, what happens now?”
  2736.  
  2737. She shrugs, “I don’t really know. It’s not… usual to let outsiders have knowledge of us. But… I don’t think we’re going to hold you or anything. I’ll check with Muradin first, but chances are you’re free to go.”
  2738.  
  2739. “Hmm. So… why are you here?”
  2740.  
  2741. She raises an eyebrow. “And why should we tell you that?”
  2742.  
  2743. You shrug, “Well, my father was your ally, so… I guess that makes me your ally too. Despite, uh, the rocky start. And I need information to find my wife. Need the power to get her back. And, well, any information you’d found about any demonic activities in the area could prove useful.”
  2744.  
  2745. At the precise moment, Muradin walks in with a boisterous, larger than life laugh, and stoops to fit under the doorframe, “Ha! Fair enough, lad. Never met him personally, but it never hurt to tell your father what was happening. Sometimes things happened to just solve themselves with him around. Fate, almost. Were actually seeking trails of a monster led Rebellion against the Demon queen, which is rumoured to have origins in these parts.”
  2746.  
  2747. Your eyes narrow, “Why?”
  2748.  
  2749. “To talk, only. My order, the Greyguard has split from the main body of the Order. Our Master came to realise that an all too human corruption has slowly spread throughout the shadows of the capital city. Secretly he summoned an angel, only to see that the corruption of the church had even spread into heaven’s ranks. He led us away, and our order has since become a third party. We’re seeking other such third parties as to bolster our forces, create allies for ourselves, and found a budding nation based upon our own values. Separate from those of the Order fanatics and the hedonists under the Demon Queen.”
  2750.  
  2751. “Your order doesn’t revile monsters?”
  2752.  
  2753. “I’m not sure about revile, but, true, once we were inseparable from the fanatics of the Order. We just did the… wetter work. And, well, it wasn’t exactly unheard of to make use of the more human monsters. Who knows monsters better than monsters? But, being able to see things in shades of grey, as it were, we weren’t resistant to the changes our master proposed. That’s all not-too-recent history though. Now, in the pursuit of new goals, the Grey keeps many allies, whereas the Order does not. They seek human supremacy just as the Queen seeks inhuman dominion. This is where we differ. A third option, so to say.
  2754.  
  2755. Anyway, we gained intelligence of this Rebellion and out Master found themselves aligned with the ideals linked with it. So Teresa and I were dispatched to this region to hunt down members of this Rebellion in order to open lines of negotiation.”
  2756.  
  2757. You stroke your chin, thoughtfully. “Hypothetically, what if someone had information?”
  2758.  
  2759. He grins like he anticipated the question “Someone, hypothetically speaking, would be well rewarded for helping us.”
  2760.  
  2761. “Then, I know two heads of the rebellion personally, though one I only met recently and I know the whereabouts of the last.”
  2762.  
  2763. Muradin grins, “Like father, like son, eh? What are their names?”
  2764.  
  2765. “One is Elanore Achera, a Lich who, to my knowledge, resides within the mausoleum of this town’s graveyard. I can take you there. She is closest aligned to the ideals of your organisation. The second is Queen Roseline Enelye. She holds no position in the matter, but feels unease towards the Demon Queen’s advancement north. The last is a vampire named Lara Bathory,” Teresa’s alabaster complexion pales even further at that, but she remains silent, despite looking like she wants to say something, letting Muradin speak.
  2766.  
  2767. “A meeting? This is more than anticipated. And what would you like for this?”
  2768.  
  2769. “Training. As much as possible.”  
  2770.  
  2771. “Training?”
  2772.  
  2773. “As it is, I’m not strong enough to take Ranuinne back. Don’t have any information on where to find her either. You guys seem to be a good place to start, for both things.”      
  2774.  
  2775. The big man smiles gently, “We’ll take you in, lad.” You nod,
  2776.  
  2777. “Thank you. I appreciate it greatly.”
  2778.  
  2779. Theresa smiles wryly, “Well I guess that’s that. We should go and see this friend of yours, but before that. If I’m to train you, I need to know your full power and potential. Get a real grasp of who you are. For that you’ll need to come at me with all you have. Don’t worry, I can take it.”
  2780.  
  2781. “At any rate, we have a schedule to keep. So while you two go and do that, I’ll be here working on the report. Come get me when you’re ready to meet the Lich.”
  2782.  
  2783. “How much more is left?”
  2784.  
  2785. He searches the back of his mind with his eyes, “Just about finished, I’ll need to touch it up here and there in light of new information, but I’d say that in a week or so, we’ll be able to leave for headquarters.”
  2786.  
  2787. You cast a furtive glance around the room the two have been staying in. Books laid out across the tables, clothes scrawled across the crumpled bedsheets, and dusty backpacks leaning against the wall. It all looks very ‘lived-in’. Or they could just be messy people. “How long have the two of you lived in this inn?”
  2788.  
  2789. “Technically? The ledgers say we were never here. But… about six months?” Muradin turns to Teresa questioningly, and she nods. He continues, “gathering information. Monitoring.”
  2790.  
  2791. “So was it you guys who were getting rid of the incubi Ranuinne’s sisters sent?”
  2792.  
  2793. Muradin’s brows furrow. “Us? No. We’d have more information if that were the case.” He chews at his bottom lip as he considers. “I don’t doubt the Rebellion had a part in it, I guess we’ll find out later today. Well, off you two go. I’ve work to do.” You and Teresa nod, and the ex-vamp heads over to one of the bags of gear she’s got leaning against the wall. She pulls out two rather boring looking swords and hands one to you.
  2794.  
  2795. “I already have my own.”
  2796.  
  2797. “For practice.”
  2798.  
  2799. “Oh, right.” You take it and follow her out, you parting with a wave and Teresa with a goodbye.
  2800.  
  2801. The place they stay at is two of the back rooms of a relatively large inn. You head down a corridor lined with similarly small rooms, and descend a flight of stairs into the din of the tavern, a lot quieter than it should be, but still somewhat noisy, filled mostly with local labourers and Order goons. You turn to say something to Teresa only to find the woman nowhere in sight, a drab girl in plain cloth standing behind you, only.
  2802.  
  2803. She tilts her head as you stare at her. “Oh! U-uh, sorry. I thought… ah, did you see where that girl with the silver hair went? She was walking behind me like five seconds ago.” She gives a light, beautiful laugh, one that stands out utterly with her drab appearance.
  2804.  
  2805. “Lose someone? I’m not sure I saw her. Try describing her?”
  2806.  
  2807. “Uhm… Slightly taller than me, long silver hair, red eyes.”
  2808.  
  2809. “Was she pretty?”
  2810.  
  2811. “I… guess?”
  2812.  
  2813. “Oh? What about her ass? Did you like it?”
  2814.  
  2815. “I suppose. Tight, athletic but not flat, from what I saw of it.”
  2816.  
  2817. “Hmm, hm. I might have seen her. One last thing, how were her breasts?”
  2818.  
  2819. “Lacklustre.” The girl slugs you hard in the shoulder, with enough force to knock you back a step and leave the arm dead.  
  2820.  
  2821. “Ow!”
  2822.  
  2823. “Jerk.”
  2824.  
  2825. “…”
  2826.  
  2827. “…”
  2828.  
  2829. “How are you doing that?” The girl’s green eyes give way to a familiar red for a flash of a moment and she smiles cryptically.
  2830.  
  2831. “Secret, but if you really wanna know, it has to do with our markings. I showed mine to you, just below my collarbone.”
  2832.  
  2833. “Oh yeah.”
  2834.  
  2835. “You’ll see it soon enough, let’s get some food for now. Never helps to fight on an empty stomach. Doesn’t help to fight on a full one either, so don’t pig out.”
  2836.  
  2837. The two of you find a table and sit in silence, waiting for some kind of waiter or waitress to come. It doesn’t take long, and you request two cups before breakfast is served. They arrive nearly immediately, and you fill them with conjured water. “Ooh, handy.”
  2838.  
  2839. Due to the nature of drawing moisture and magic from the air, it’s only room temperate, but it tastes crisp and clean regardless. You take a long draught and try to ignore Teresa’s staring, but it doesn’t take long for that to fail.
  2840.  
  2841. “What?”
  2842.  
  2843. “Just thinking how weird it is you’re joining us now. I mean, not that I mind. Just didn’t think me smacking you upside the head would lead to this. How is that by the way?”
  2844.  
  2845. “Better. Gone, really. Your massage did wonders.”
  2846.  
  2847. She grins, “Any time.”
  2848.  
  2849. “I’ll take you up on that.”
  2850.  
  2851. “Hey, it ain’t free. Give and take, Theinn.” The waitress returns carrying plates, and you dig in some pockets for coins, paying for bother her and yourself. “I can pay you know.”
  2852.  
  2853. You shrug and grin, “Give and take.”
  2854.  
  2855. The food is decent, if a bit old given by the softness of the tomato, disguised by being fried and the toughness of the mushroom. Probably why the food was so cheap, the guy must be trying to get rid of it. This probably goes some way into explaining why the periphery chairs and tables are stacked together and aside. Seems he’s looking to rake in as much profit as he can before leaving.
  2856.  
  2857. “Hey.”
  2858.  
  2859. “Hm?” Teresa looks up at you, a bit of tomato juice clinging to her chin.
  2860.  
  2861. “Before our match thing, I wanna visit that guy I mentioned last night.”
  2862.  
  2863. “The one with the guard?”
  2864.  
  2865. “Yeah, him. Are the things I collected still in my bag?”
  2866.  
  2867. “Yeah, we didn’t touch anything.”
  2868.  
  2869. “All right then” You drop the knife and fork in the middle of the now clear plate, “I’m done so I’ll just head up and grab it. I’ll be back.”
  2870.  
  2871. “I’ll be waiting.”
  2872.  
  2873. The two of you walk until the large outer gates of the town are in clear view, rising above the houses and town centre stalls. You watch the guard checking all who enter as you approach. He’s got the sigil of the Order and you can see others at the gates checking carts and wagons. There are even a few on the walls. Place is swarming with them, really.
  2874.  
  2875. “How did I you get me in here anyway?”
  2876.  
  2877. “Smuggled you in.” Right. You turn from the gates and the troupe of men zealously searching everything leaving and entering, and head for the entrance to the gatehouse at the left. Cut out of stone, it’s a rather plain entrance that leads to a short flight of stairs that take you up to a small room for the guard to hang out in. It’s empty except for a worn out looking man offhandedly arguing with a zealous looking young Orderite.
  2878.  
  2879. “-Have to be stricter. Search the houses, the demonic taint could already be within these walls!”
  2880.  
  2881. “And I told you, this is my city. Make a single move and I’m kicking the lot of you out, got it?” The Orderite looks about to start up again, when the worn out looking man notices you, and a grin splits his face.
  2882.  
  2883. “Theinn you sneaky bastard. When did you get in?” He stands up, ignoring the other man, and rounds his desk, arms wide and open.
  2884.  
  2885. “You’re looking old, Broderick!”
  2886.  
  2887. Broderick looks to the girl behind you, “This yer’ wife?”
  2888.  
  2889. You laugh. Probably harder than you needed to. “Naw man. I met her today. Got somewhere private we can talk? I’ll fill you in.” He takes his leave of the other man and takes you and yours outside.
  2890.  
  2891. “Gods it’s stuffy in there. So, what’s happened?” You match hi stride as he takes an impromptu patrol and you tell him all that’s happened.
  2892.  
  2893. “Shit man. You were with a monster all this time? You know that’s not something I really care about, but you’re a smart man to not mention it. Look around, Theinn. Place is human and Order central. Nothing but ordinary humans, far as the eye can see. Shit is getting tense. Just the other day a corps of elven archers offered us their bows. Took all I had to convince them to fuck off before the Orderites got all smitey. The world is becoming a dark place, Theinn. At least, all the shit that’s happened down south is starting to reach here too. Honestly, how did you survive? Were you hiding in a cave or something?”
  2894.  
  2895. “More accurate than you’d think. Also, I came across a patrol.” His eyes widen before they take note of your grim face.
  2896.  
  2897. “Fuck. I thought something was up when they didn’t return last night. Catch what did it?”
  2898.  
  2899. “Goblins. I took the head of their leader and scattered the rest. Here.” You reach around your pockets for the envelopes you’d stashed, and you have them to Broderick, “Each envelope has any details or decorations on their shields sketched onto the front, and any personal effects I found on the bodies are inside.”
  2900.  
  2901. Broderick sighs and it’s the first time you see a few strands of white clinging to his beard. He’s only a few years older than you. Must be hard. “Thanks, man. Saved us a lot of trouble, didn’t have enough men to search for them.”
  2902.  
  2903. “No probs.”
  2904.  
  2905. “So what now? Are you going to go looking?”
  2906.  
  2907. “I don’t even know, man. I found some people, they might know some things. I’m thinking I’ll head off with them for a bit.”
  2908.  
  2909. He offers his hand for you to shake, “Well, whatever comes of it, I hope you find her. Good luck. And hey, come see me when you leave, yeah?”
  2910.  
  2911. The two of you part and give your goodbyes. Broderick takes the envelopes and writes down where you found the corpses, and promises to send along your condolences to the families of the deceased. You and your companion fade into the throngs of people on the streets.
  2912.  
  2913. “He seems alright.”
  2914.  
  2915. “Yeah, he’s a good person. So, now what?”
  2916.  
  2917. “There’s a park this way, nice and secluded. We can train there.”
  2918. ***
  2919.  
  2920. You find a nice clear spot in an empty park, and stand before Teresa in a relaxed stance, a space of ten meters separates the two of you. She’s taken out the blunt, boring sword from the scabbard at her side, and you take out your own.
  2921.  
  2922. “You can use magic. Nothing too big, no calling that element of yours. And don’t rely on magic too much. I’m more interested in your physical capabilities.”
  2923.  
  2924. You nod, “And you?”
  2925.  
  2926. She shrugs, “I can’t really use magic.”
  2927.  
  2928. As you face Teresa, the sun filters in through the leaves of the trees, splashing the world in hues of muted yellow, the odd thick ray penetrating the cloud cover. You tense and loosen your muscles, lean your head back and take in a deep breath. You sway a little as the oxygenated blood flushes throughout your body, rushing to your brain and making your senses crackle with awareness.
  2929.  
  2930. Your fingers tighten around the leather grip of the sword and on your next inhalation you taste the scent of steel on the wind. The early afternoon air invigorates you and tiny droplets of rain sprinkle every now and then, not even enough to be called a shower. It reminds you of sea spray.
  2931.  
  2932. Pulling your gaze from the clouds, you roll your shoulders once more. Loose and attentive, you adopt your stance, one foot slightly before the other, your blade pointed out and down, relaxedly. It’s an unperceivable, minute change to the way you were standing. Your free hand is resting on your forward thigh, fingers twitching slightly. If one had the power to envisage magic, they’d see it arcing from your fingertips, swirling about your palm like miasmic fog, tensed and waiting to lash out. Wind bends around you, unnaturally. Steadily, you gaze towards Teresa, and take it all in.
  2933.  
  2934. This is just a simple spar and so neither of you are heavily armed or equipped. Not that you own such things, but Teresa has forgone her armor. In its stead is a loose fitted shirt with a deep cut in the shape of a “V” the shirt is white and tucked into her trousers, small chords hang from the front in case the owner wanted to tie together the gap, reducing the depth of the cut of the neckline. She chose not to.                
  2935.  
  2936. You can imagine it now, blades locked, you push down against her sword, the breeze catches at her shirt and it shift just enough to allow the bright pink of her nipple to steal your eye and distract you from the fight. Her breasts are befitting of an athlete, not giant, but similar in size to Ranuinne’s, streamlined and purposeful, they match her womanly features.
  2937.  
  2938. Her trousers are somewhat tight, but from how easily she moves in them, the leather must have come from a fairly flexible hide. It’s tanned a light brown, and the legs are tucked into simple riding boots, a shade darker than her pants. Despite the fact that you’d done your best to clear your mind and focus, your eyes still trace the lines of her leg. Her stance is similar to yours in that she’s facing you almost side on. Because of that you’re treated to the lusciously distracting curve of her ass, as your eyes wander across the alluring form of her thighs.
  2939.  
  2940. You breathe out and shake your head slightly, she grins a little smugly, “Begin.”
  2941.  
  2942. Her pants ripple as the muscles of her thigh bunches underneath the leather, and anticipating a leap, you take a hasty bound back. A moment later she’s on you, and has slashed at the air which you’d previously occupied. You’re barely on your feet before she’s swung her sword a second time, the blade follows up, rising to meet your throat diagonally, from left to right. You catch the underside of her blade with your sword, and use it to flick hers up and away from you, as you duck under her swing, and slip behind her guard. You plant your free hand against the warm small of her back, and release a blast of wind, throwing her off balance and making her tumble away from you.
  2943.  
  2944. She lands the roll well, and is up again, but she doesn’t leap for you a second time, and instead waits for you to make a move, readying a counter. Your face is impassive, your enjoyment betrayed only by the faint lopsided curling of your lips. You unleash a short gout of super-heated flame, and kick a large clump of dirt at her, gouging the earth. The dirt flies through the small inferno and she’s showered by shards of Fulgurite, which you propel using wind. She raises her forearm to protect her eyes and turns her head away from the blast of heated shrapnel. You take advantage and rush at her, barrelling into her with your shoulder, and cleaving the air as you follow up with a swing of your blade, hoping to strike at her unbalanced form.
  2945.  
  2946. She just barely manages to get her blade before yours, and wards off the attack. She kneels, getting a stable position on the ground, and she pushes back, with her free hand on the flat of her blade. She rises from her kneeling position and pushes you over. She’s stronger than she looks, and you’re all but thrown a few feet back, you think  for a moment to pursue, but madly hacking and slashing isn’t your forte and would leave too many openings. You take a step back, recover your footing, and await her next move.      
  2947.  
  2948. It’s like a game of cat and mouse, tit for tat. She makes her move, you prepare your counter. You move against her, she prepares her response. In terms of combat potential, you realise that she has more burst speed and power than you do, but you’re more evasive and versatile. It’s a rather even match, all in all.
  2949.  
  2950. Your mock battle continues for about an hour, all in all. If you had to pick a moment you lost, it was half way through where an errant vapour attack soaked her white shirt. You splashed her with conjured water, and followed up with another spurt of flame. The combined attack left a cloud of vaporised water hanging in the air, and it clung to her blade in dewy droplets. You struck her with a few hammering attacks, and as designed, her grip had grown slick, it’s traction lost for the most part. You kicked her wet hand and her blade slipped clean. You were about to press your advantage when she collected your ankles with a sweeping kick and sent you to your ass.
  2951.  
  2952. By the time she’d recollected her blade and wiped her hands dry on her shirt, the cool morning air had already set a chill into her wet shirt, and the transparent white cloth clung close to her stiffened fleshy pink nipples. Since before then she’s slowly been solidifying her superiority, countering you better than you were able to counter her, pushing you further than you could push her. It started fairly even, but as par the course of attrition, the gap between the two of you began to show itself more and more, and slowly, inexorably, she wore you down. The wet shirt was the final nail in the coffin as you found yourself more and more distracting yourself with the idea of nailing her coffin.
  2953.  
  2954. After the hour, after a particularly spectacular parry, your blade is sent flying, and you’re brought to your knees, her blade to your throat. You can’t help but grin at her smug smile, and you take her offered hand as she calls an end to the bout.
  2955.  
  2956. “Well fought, Theinn.” Teresa smiles at you, but you can’t help but feel a little guilty as her blood cools, and she begins to shiver slightly in the cool morning air. “It was a good fight, a century more practice and you could win against me. Maybe.” She says all that with a slight clattering of her teeth, and you shrug off your jacket, and place it on her shoulders. It’d be best to get inside before a chill sets in. “Who taught you?”
  2957.  
  2958. “Well, my mother taught me swordplay, but I could never match her strength, so I just leaned my own ways of avoiding it. Then she’s switch it up by emphasising on speed rather than strength, so I had to learn how to react to that as well.”
  2959.  
  2960. “You need more practice. You can tell you don’t swing your sword that often.”
  2961.  
  2962. You frown, “I train.”
  2963.  
  2964. “I mean live combat.” Oh.  
  2965.  
  2966. “Your versatility in your use of magic is a good advantage though. It’s not that strong but you adapt it to what you’re doing nicely. I’ll have you fight Muradin next. Now then. This Lich of yours. Lets go grab Muradin, and head off.” The two of you head back and change out of your clothes, tossing them aside into a basket to be collected, and put on cleaner less sweaty stuff. You grab Muradin who was just about at the end of his wits with writing, and the three of you head out.
  2967.  
  2968. “It’s the mausoleum at the graveyard. Here, I’ll lead the way.” Already, the sun was on its way down.
  2969.  
  2970. The inn lay on the opposite side of town to the graveyard which is nestled in the far back of the town’s perimeter, and as such when traveling from the inn, one has to cross the main road ad continue up it for a few minutes. This is a particularly dangerous crossing seeing as how the central road is usually rather busy. One is liable to fall under the wheels of a horse drawn carriage if they aren’t attentive.
  2971.  
  2972. As you leave the park, carts laden with armaments rush past, the drivers scowling at every little thing. Nestled amongst the weapons are various religious paraphernalia. You see holy books nestled amidst the swords, the rack of spears lean against crates of bottled holywater. It make you a little sad, but the town you’d once grown up with was now firmly within the claws of the Order. Teresa and Muradin accompany you in their disguises, something you learned that both of them could do, and you usher them along once the road clears of its traffic. The plain brown-haired girl, Teresa tows her elderly grandfather Muradin along by the arm. His particular transformation surprised you, though to the credit of the disguise, you couldn’t guess his real stature. It’s uncanny, and takes a conscious effort of will for you to not laugh in that moment. You instead adopt the attitude of a husband that’s tired of his father-in-law’s bullshit.
  2973.  
  2974. “Hurry, hurry. I swear if we’re late because of you…”
  2975.  
  2976. “Yes, yes. Honestly, kids these days. Always rushing.” You throw some urgent hand movements at the geezer, and you feel the gazes of the watching Orderites pass. A man is stationed every 50 meters up the street, and you see them preparing for the night. Counting the days mentally, you realise that the full-moon will be coming soon. The full moon came and went so now the raids will be more organised, less fuelled by raw lust. Which, arguably, puts them in a worse position, at least during the full moon, they only had to contend with raw bestial strength. After the moon passes, the sly cunning of smarter creatures comes into play. Honestly, you’re just glad that the last dragon in the area was slain centuries ago according to legend. Otherwise it would take more than swords and torches to defend this place.
  2977.  
  2978. Again, today, the graveyard is lacking its ominous and foreboding aura, and feels like a mere plot of land where you dump rotting flesh. A graveyard can’t help but come off at foreboding, so that this one appears so unassuming is suspicious in and of itself. Not that anyone else overanalysed it as much as you’re doing now. Clearly so, as you see signs of Ela’s recent activity hidden around. So no one’s noticed, and so she’s continued to act. The freshly disturbed soil above graves. Looking around, you see one of those graves once belonged to a rather talented swordswoman who settled down with a husband, rather than continuing her training. A little down the line you see the grave of one of this town’s resident mages. She was old and frail even when you were a kid. You look around. No guards posted, no one is even observing you. You’d always known to never underestimate your opponent, but could it be? Failing to notice such blatant disturbances, could the Order simply be stupid? Maybe they are more occupied with threats from outside the walls, and not within.
  2979.  
  2980. You turn to your acquaintances, the two of them looking around, as you walk, and Muradin comes to a halt before the mage’s final resting place. “Hmph. If anything, it looks like you’re friend has been busy. Teresa see there?” Muradin points to the mage’s grave. Theresa looks at the grave and her eyes widen in shock,
  2981.  
  2982. “That name, could she be related to our Akemi?”
  2983.  
  2984. “Possible. It certainly isn’t a common name.”
  2985.  
  2986. “Oi, what are you doin’ to my grave? My cute granddaughter bought that for me, so if you wreck it, I’ll be pissed.” The three of you turn to face the voice, a rough-looking young woman in what looked to be the garb of a spellcaster, with the sleeves torn off at the shoulder. Her lair is long and spiky, her biceps just a little too large.
  2987.  
  2988. She gasps in realization. And her face falls into worry. “Oh, crap. She said I should lay low… What do I do now?” Hah.
  2989.  
  2990. The two Greyguards turn to the voice and pale as though they’d seen a ghost, Teresa is the first to speak, “A-Akemi?”
  2991.  
  2992. The young woman frowns. “How do you know the name of my granddaughter?”  
  2993.  
  2994. “G-granddaughter? But h-how? No matter how you look at it, if you had a daughter she couldn’t be older than a decade.” Muradin stammers,
  2995.  
  2996. “Fufu, Mistress is great huh? Age is nothing before her!” She puffs her chest out in pride.
  2997.  
  2998. “Well, miss…?”
  2999.  
  3000. “Call me Hirako.”
  3001.  
  3002. “Would you mind telling Ela that Theinn is here? With uh… friends.”
  3003.  
  3004. “Why did you hesitate there?” Teresa pouts,
  3005.  
  3006. “N-no reason.”
  3007.  
  3008. “Sure, I guess.” The zombie disappears within the mausoleum and after a time, the giant iron door swings open, and she pops out, ushering the three of you inside, where you’re met with the eternally fifteen Ela in the usual manner, creating an interesting standoff. Again, Ela is wearing no clothes. Both pure paladins panic and blush a deep crimson. The two are unable to meet the Lich in the eyes without being distracted, or look at her anywhere for that matter, demanding that she put on some clothes. Ela delivers a monotonous ‘Don’t wanna.’
  3009.  
  3010. “Teresa, Muradin. This is Elanore. She doesn’t wear clothes. Ela, these are my… friends…”
  3011.  
  3012. “…So she’s not a child?”
  3013.  
  3014. You scratch your cheek, “Technically not.”
  3015.  
  3016. Muradin’s blush shines through his cheeks, a veritable red, “Hm, Ah, well. If that’s their, uh… culture, then we must respect it.” You roll your eyes. “Well, anyway, lets just get to it.” Muradin walks to the lounge, and sweeps his arm out, gesturing for Ela to follow, waiting for her to sit down first. You walk past him, and sit down on the lounge opposite of Muradin’s vigil. You take your seat and recline into your usual comfy position, with Ela, sitting on your lap. Teresa raises an eyebrow at this, but says nothing, as she takes her seat opposite the two of you. Muradin is the last, sitting next to her. He begins right away, sitting forward so that his elbows rest on his knees.
  3017.  
  3018. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance I am Muradin Arcenhammer, a researcher, analyst and mage.”
  3019.  
  3020. Ela frowns, eyebrows furrowing deeply, as if remembering something distasteful “…Achera, Elanore Achera.” A small crowd of nearby zombies and ghouls gather out of curiosity.
  3021.  
  3022. “Miss Achera, then. Are you familiar with an organisation called the Greyguard?”
  3023.  
  3024.  “I am.” He raises his brows in a slight surprise.
  3025.  
  3026. “That makes this simpler then. The head of our order sent me on a mission in this region to investigate into rumours of a forming Rebellion.” Ela makes no move at the mention of the Rebellion, but you notice a few armed undead come to stand at the entrances and exits of the room. “I was sent with orders to investigate, and if at all possible, make contact. Through sheer luck, we came into contact with Theinn, who led us here. Before I go any further, you are one of the heads of the rebellion, yes?”
  3027.  
  3028. “… I am Elanore Achera, third head of the Rebellion, yes. Now show me your tattoos.” Teresa pulls down on the hem of her shirt, revealing the tattoo which sits above her breast, and taps it with three fingers, her face shifting to that of a plain girl. Tapping it again with a closed fist, she returns to the ruby eyed, silver haired beauty. Muradin does the same, proving them to be both genuine article of their order.
  3029.  
  3030. The man begins somewhat wryly, “Lately, you monsters, you pure evil that our order was created to combat, It’s been you ‘monsters’ our Greyguards have been protecting from humans. The Imperial City, the Order. It has changed deeply, even the most biased, the most hating of our Order has been forced to accept that for ourselves. Walk down an alleyway now, and you’ll see parties of men crowded around a cowering zombie, or a starving werecat. Stripped nude, beaten and raped and then thrown into the gutter with a knife in the back for the crime of existence.
  3031.  
  3032. Innocent human women accused by cowards are burnt in public spectacle, all crime can be simply waved off by pointing the finger at the nearest monster. Prisoners locked in stockades and left in the open for any man to have their way, imprisoned for the crime of existence. It’s become mandatory for every citizen to throw a stone. As if by justification, fliers were handed out depicting the fates of human settlements overrun by monsters.
  3033.  
  3034. The source of this is corruption. Our master found this out some time ago, and has decided that we are no longer just the hidden knife of the Order. We would become our own organisation and to do that, we needed allies. Then we learned of you, a rebellion that sought to live side by side in harmony. An alliance of monster and men. A Rebellion against this new brand of despicable common sense.
  3035.  
  3036. We want to lend our swords. Our blades will line the path to harmony.” Muradin smiles, a little bashful at his own rhetoric. “Well that’s what we want anyway.” The man pulls a scroll from a bag hanging from his hip, and lays it down on the table.
  3037.  
  3038. “As detailed within this scroll, made on the off chance I made contact, is what my order proposes. The aid we can provide and the aid we’d expect in return” You tap ela’s thigh in a gesture to make her get off you, and stand, both paladin’s eyes turning to you questioningly.
  3039.  
  3040. “Thirsty? I’m gonna make some tea.”
  3041.  
  3042. “Ah, splendid idea. My throat is dry. Lets have a short break, we can use the time to think about things.” He smiles wryly, “A Lich did just have two paladins propose an alliance, after all.”
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