Ledger Nano X - The secure hardware wallet


Penywise Jun 13th, 2015 (edited) 10,085 Never
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  1. He coughs into his hand and feels a chunk of the gunk lining his throat come up with it. A wan smile crosses his features as he hocks and spits it out. Throat infections are a bitch, but that’s one less frog in his throat. It splats against the wind blasted stone, dark and yellow. He shudders as a particularly sharp gust of frigid wind forces itself down his throat like shards of ice and tears at the freshly uncovered patch of throat. He brings his glove back up to his mouth and breathes through it.
  3. “This really doesn’t do it.” He grunts in irritation and stands up, heading over to one of the corpses littering the ground. It looks to have hammered into its helmet to make room for the single, small horn which juts from the left side of its forehead. An incubus. Far gone too, signs of corruption don’t readily show unless there’s a lot of it. He gropes around the creature’s gear for the softest cloth he can find, the thicker the better. It has nothing, so he moves on to the next. Thinking his luck is hopeless, he moves on to the last and finds a big strip of some exotic kind of wool. He brings it with him to the fire, chain links rustling as he thumps down onto the ground and inspects it under the flickering light.
  5. He gives it a sniff and winces. Tainted. He mutters a chant and watches as white, soft light weaves across the fabric. Then brings it back up for another tentative sniff. His muscles relax as he loses himself in the scent of ancient church pews and the blessed wax of the candles he used to pray before. It brings a smile, half of reminiscence, half of the naïve boy he once used to be. He folds the cloth over until it’s a wide triangle of thick breathable fabric and he ties it around his face, hooking it over his nose to drape over the mouth. He takes a breath and finds that it’s cut down on the bite of the wind significantly. His lips curl in a smile. Good. It’ll be sunset soon, he’ll need it.
  7. The demons were camped up against the face of a stunted mountain range, overlooking a small forest he was planning on crossing. On the other side it should only be a small walk to the start of the path that will get him over these mountains and further north without too much trouble. Hopefully the trees of the forest cut down on the wind and he can find a cave to sleep in.
  9. He brings his gloved hands up to the fire and feels its warmth seep in through the gaps in the plate, heating the leather. “I think I’ll stay here until this fire dies and then start moving.” He glances across the small party he ambushed and laid waste to. A naked succubus slumped against another man, a ridiculously sized cock still in her asshole, a bolt through her forehead. Two sentries and the incubus, who was the most skilled. The last, the man under the succubus, already neutralized thanks to the demon whore likely fucking him unconscious, if the slight bulge in her belly is any indication. At least he passed peacefully. He had to burn some tents to cover the area in the smell of smoke and char, as opposed to blood and cum.
  11. “I wonder if I too am starting to lose my humanity.” He grumbles out loud, completely to himself. He’s not sure why, but ever since he walked off that battlefield with nothing but armor scavenged from corpses and the family sword passed down to him, he’s felt compelled to voice his thoughts aloud. It makes him feel less alone.
  13. He was a fledgling paladin closer to a squire, guarding a noble on an advance expedition to the north to support the region, an expedition which split its forces into five groups and sent them to the major towns and keeps. A paltry homage to a forgotten alliance, the northern kingdom long since fallen to a scattering of independent fiefdoms. Too many men and not enough information. A combination of local militia, mercenaries and soldiers marched north and liberated a town which had fallen to the demon host. The frames of homes were soaked in filth and corruption and everything not stone had to be burnt, leaving only the walls and some of homes, now stripped bare of furniture. He remembers refusing profusely, even at one point coming close to drawing his blade ‘Our cause is just. Burning the homes of the innocents is not.’ He feels a twinge of embarrassment, before the morbid realization that he’s the last alive to remember that scene anyway. That will be the nature of this war, once its fingers curl around the kingdoms to the south. Take back what was lost, then burn it down.  
  15. Detachment came easy when he saw his best friend brained on the bladed tip of a demon’s spade-tail. That was on the planes outside of the city. It was an obvious trap in retrospect, empty the town of but a paltry garrison, and wait for the enemy to stroll in, bombard them with long ranged magic. At some point amidst the burning and melting men, the decision was made to charge the enemy. Or maybe a single man fled for the gates and the others fled with him, turning it into a charge. Either way, already weak from the march and bombarded with area-sweeping magic, the demon forces of ten thousand met with the main force of thirty thousand men. It was a rout. Then the order to retreat came and their ten thousand followed the remaining five still living. It was a slow death.
  17. The main force headed south with a smaller number heading north, harrying his expedition for a week. This was when he saw most of his fighting, backing up at the rear, entrenching himself with a handful of others, buying time and falling back. It was also when he saw the most death. The horrors in the empty town were heavily cloaked in smoke once it began. A small mercy.
  19. They harried his fleeing forces north to the nearest keep, a two weeks march away. It was likely their main objective. The stronghold was one of the last great ones in the north. It was easier to go around than through, if sport was their only game. But in the end, that’s all it was. He could tell that in the men being dragged into their ranks and raped before both armies, in a muddy, bloody orgy.
  21. They chipped away at his numbers on the first three nights, the toll steadily rising each night. The fourth had no encounter and the fifth saw the end of the expedition. He’d caught a club to the head early in and fell unconscious. When he woke, it was to the weight of the slain. Pushing aside the bodies and standing up, all he saw around him was death. For the numbers left, there was a significant lack of corpses. He didn’t know if the thought comforted him or not. Pillars of smoke lingered in the trees a few kilometres away from him, the main force having taken camp. Twisting cries and laughter echoed through the woods. He scavenged then for armor that was easily worth more than his entire household and thanked the gods that he fell on his sword, protecting it with his body and it wasn’t lost to him. Enchanted to remain always sharp, it was probably the only thing that he owned which was worth the suit of armor he now wore. He plucked a thick cloak from an officer and strode north.
  23. So he walked, ahead of the main force to warn the keep. That death knocks at their door and not the reinforcements they were promised. For a force of their size, it will take another three weeks to get there, as they move with much less structure than his expedition did. Alone, he can make it in a week and a bit. It wasn’t much, but he learned firsthand how important information was. It could save lives.
  25. Except that was a year ago. When he arrived, the gates were already open, the streets awash in sexual fluids. It explains why they sent such a small force to a previously impregnable fortress. It was already theirs. He wasn’t even surprised, really. As he pulled his cloak tighter around him, there was a soft ringing in his ears as the warmth left his body, like the chime of shattered crystal. He turned away from the scene and headed north to find his death.
  27. He sleeps much less now and the constant fighting has put him in a state of hyper awareness. Adrenalin courses easier, he react faster, hits stronger, can run for longer, but all this strength cannot come without a cost. He could only be pulling this power out of his very own life, shaving years off its length as he burns it up now. Not that he’d need all of it. That, or it’s something far more insidious. He found his first white hair on his beard yesterday. He was only in his late-twenties.
  29. He trudged north day by day, but death evaded him. If he wanted to lay down like a dog, he could have done that years ago, he could have even stripped himself bare and swung his cock as some pretty demon lady. But a certain pride forbade that. So he fought. As demons swarmed the lands, he ran and he hid and he killed. He wouldn’t die in disgrace. He wouldn’t die in a battle, where magic reigned, there the fallen were dragged through muck and cum. Fighting the demons? That wasn’t his fight anymore. His death is a personal affair.
  31. There’s even a bounty on him now, as civilisation and a modicum of ‘law’ returned to the conquered towns and regions in between the instances of futile struggle and conquest. He doesn’t really know what the last group he killed was, really. Bandits perhaps? It didn’t matter. They weren’t him. And up here, everything not him is an enemy.
  33. He feels himself twisting. Thoughts growing darker. Perhaps it is only the hate which keeps him connected to the holy powers, even if the link at this point is only tenuous. All that’s left to him are simple cleansing spells, to halt the corruption. There will come a day when the gods will no longer allow him to purify the water he drinks from streams. He has started relying on more mundane means, such as the compact cross bow he looted. A good thing perhaps. It’s not wise to advertise the power to undo corruption. Not since he snuck into a town to steal some food and saw a paladin being raped and turned as public spectacle. It cost him a bolt and he didn’t manage to get as much food as he could before having to escape, but at least he managed to end the man’s torment and end their fun with one shot.
  35. He sighs as he feels his pants stir at the sight of the still enticing flesh of the demon woman. He stands and leaves before the fire has finished burning. He looks pointedly down at his crotch “Don’t make me cut you off.” The worst part of it is that their influence seems to seep into the very land, infecting all. If he can’t find death, his next pressing matter is finding land where ‘they’ aren’t. So that he might cleanse and recover. Purge his body of the poison it breathes in while there’s still a chance.
  37. And that just drags his gaze further north. Where tiny towns lay and a withered kingdom sleeps. He grabs his scabbard and pushes the blade up with his thumb, feeling his mind calm as he gazes at the metal. Still clean, still sharp. Still pure. He wondered why it was a family heirloom. But after a year of constant use and no maintenance, it’s still sharp, clean and isn’t nicked or even scarred. Must be special. It’s the only thing that’s kept him out of their hands, and he trusts it with his life, sleeps with it under his head. The solid scabbard was somehow comforting.
  39. *   *   *
  41. He pulls his hood up as he enters a snow-painted forest and flakes of frozen moisture cling to the hairs of his beard, soaking it, freezing it. He treads as silently as he can, having picked up an instinctual knack for treading on the quietest of places, avoiding twigs and leaves where best he can. He squats low as the bushes ahead rustle and salivates as a hoof strikes the ground. He reaches for the small pull-leaver crossbow and sighs in disappointment as the buck pushes through the cover of branches and shrubs and snorts, its smouldering eyes unblinking, large demonic horns scoring the trees. He slowly lowers the weapon before creeping away. Beasts that far gone are often maddened with rage and lust. And eating their meat can only be a bad idea. Besides he’s not sure he can bring something like that down with a single bolt. He knew a guy who could have nailed it through its eye. Maybe he should have asked him for a few pointers.
  43. As he steps through the undergrowth and into a glade, his lower back stiffens. Here we go. In a motion, he slides his sword from its scabbard and turns around as he swings it out. There’s a cry of pain as he slices through a thick tentacle. “OW! Asshole. That hurt!” It takes him a moment to find her, half hidden as she is, in a flower. The Alraune glares at him, holding her severed tentacle, the others waving about behind her like snakes, rearing to strike, some barbed like rose stems. Her own flower is a blood red. A stark contrast on these white washed woods.
  45. Two more lash at him, incredibly quick, but not quick enough. He dances back as one sails past, clipping his cheek on a thorn, the other he slices through. He flicks the blood, sap, whatever off his sword and he takes his small crossbow in hand, knocks a bolt and fires a shot off, aiming for her breast. Two easy targets, really, but he’s hoping to strike her heart. A vine blurs and the bolt is snapped in half. He winces. “I needed that.”
  47. She holds her severed limbs up, “I needed these!”
  49. “Then what are you throwing them at me for?” She just glares murder at him and he studies her. Entrenched pretty well, countless plant-whips to flay him open upon, or worse, entangle him. Quick enough that his bolts won’t get through. He doesn’t have any fire on him either. This is a needless, costly fight. He tells her as much.
  51. She sinks into her flower, “Fine! Fuck off! You’re not worth it anyway. Stupid human.”
  53. “Right.” He backs away from her, regretting this conclusion, but it’s not a fight he can win easily. Maybe if he knew some fire magic. Once he feels safe enough, he turns his back on her and keeps walking, his boots sinking deep into crunchy snow. He walks until the dark claims most of the trees, the sun rapidly sinking. The days were short here. Luckily, he spots a small cave, something that looks closer to a den. He lifts his sword and advances slowly, listening for any noises.
  55. He approaches and there’s no sign of life, despite the den having been dug out well. It’s deeper than it appears. Good a place as any, even if it smells earthy. There must be a reason a creature would invest such effort into gouging a home into the earth only to abandon it, but he’s too tired to think on it right now. He shrugs off the backpack he’d been living out of this past year and pulls out a roll of fur. Not the largest thing, but it does the job. He lays it on the ground, takes off the larger pieces of armor and curls up in his cape, quickly falling asleep, almost as soon as he closes his eyes.
  57. He starts when he wakes, realizing he’s not alone. It takes him a moment to register the blood-soaked, naked woman lying on her side, next to him, watching him, but once he does, his eyes go wide in a panic as he reaches for his blade, only to find it missing. He backs up until he hits the wall of the den, but the bloody woman doesn’t move, instead watching him impassively with sharp, polished steel eyes.  
  59. He opens his mouth to speak, but the words don’t work for a moment. Of the plethora of thoughts, the most pressing one comes to his mind first, “What did you do with my sword?”
  61. She blinks and her elven ears flick. “I am your sword.”
  63. “What?”
  65. “I am your sword.”
  67. “No, I heard you,” he frowns, “But what do you mean by that?” he looks her over. Asides from all the blood, most of it matting her longish silver hair, she doesn’t look or smell that tainted. The most monstrous feature about her being her elfin ears, but asides from that, nothing. Except for perhaps her body. It’s curvy and lithe to a criminal degree, breasts large pert and perky, hips wide and thighs slim, delicate. But that’s not monstrous enough to raise his ire. He’d even trained with elven paladins. But beyond her lack of monstrous quality in this tainted land, she feels familiar. And as driven by instincts as he now was, his are telling him to trust her.
  69. “Your sword, is me?”
  71. “This is going nowhere. Next question. Where did all that blood come from?”
  73. She points to the giant wolf corpse he only just now notices. Fuck. Its head is severed, the rest of its body is fine. He is a little startled at its enormity and obvious demonic taint. And more than a little concerned that it, the woman and its murder crept up on him whilst he slept completely unawares. He must be more tired than he thought. Then another enters his mind. That wolf wouldn’t have played around. It would have crept on him while he was dead to the world, and crushed his skull between its jaws. That was his ticket to a quick death. And now his sleeps will be even lighter. “You killed that?” She nods.
  75. He looks over her, noting her utterly bare body, devoid of anything that could sever a fel wolf’s head from its body. “How?”
  77. “I cut it.”
  79. He stares at her for a long moment, before sighing. He’s not so used to speaking, he struggles in choosing simpler words that will force answers to the questions he asks and not such broad responses as ‘I am your sword’ Even if he already has an idea of what’s already happened. “Show me how.” She raises her hand, and a familiar blade slides out of her wrist, but transparent nearly to the point of invisibility. Though he feels she’s deliberately making it easier to see. She makes a cutting motion.
  81. “Like this.”
  83. He calms down and tries to come to terms with the fact that his sword is now a woman. “You’re not going to leave if I ask nicely, will you?”
  85. “I will not.” She sits up too explaining herself for the first time this encounter and leans in close, her blood slicked hand coming to rest on his chest. Her face is centimetres from his, “I am your sword. I would leave, if you truly wished, but you have no other and I will not leave my master unarmed. I have always been with you. I will always be with you.”
  87. Her devoted intensity takes him back a little and he moves her hand from his face. Gently. No need to provoke a girl who can pull swords out of her wrists. “Don’t touch me. And you say that, but I don’t have a sword anymore.”
  89. “I can change back if need be.”
  91. “You can?”
  93. “Do you want me to?” It’s a woman now, but the instincts to clean and maintain his sword stay with him, as strong as ever. And, well, at least she listens to him.
  95. “No. We’re leaving. It’s a shame we don’t have time to skin that wolf. I’ll have to find you clothes elsewhere. But we should leave before the corpse draws attention to us.”
  97. “Yes.” She nods and gets up,
  99. “What happened to the scabbard?” She points to it, on the floor of the den. He bends down to pick it up, and hooks it to his belt. He’ll need that for when she changes back. Rolling the fur up and stuffing it back into his pack, he shoulders the bag and walks past the wolf.
  101. “I can carry that, master.” The morning is dark, but there’s a dim light given by the rising sun.
  103. He grunts, “No need. And stop calling me Master.”
  105. “Understood.” He walks until he finds a stream and he follows it north until it deepens.
  107. “Do you feel the cold?”
  109. “No, M- uh… sir?”
  111. He scowls as he scratches the back of his head. “Gram. Wash yourself here.”
  113. Her ears perk up as she smiles for the first time. “Yes, Gram.” She hops into the water and bathes for a few minutes, running her hands across her blood-crusted form. The solid clumps take in the moisture and soon the blood washes away, leaving behind a faint red tinge. The man fills a skin with water. Holy words along the side glow faintly, as the enchanted skin purifies the water. He quenches his thirst and stands up, to nearly brain himself on his sword’s breasts. Blushing, he takes a step back and grumbles as he takes his cloak off. His pants grow stiff again. He’ll need to spend a few hours pushing the taint back.
  115. “Don’t sneak up on me. Wear this.”
  117. “Sorry, ma- Gram. And…” She takes the cloak hesitantly, “I said I don’t get cold?”
  119. “Just wear it.”
  121. Her ears droop, slightly “Yes.” And she pulls the cloak around her shoulders, conscious of stealing warmth from him, yet happy as she snuggles into the thick fur that smells like him.
  123. “Come on. We have a long way to go.”
  125. She hurries up to meet his stride, “Where are we going?”
  127. “North.”
  129. She follows him in near silence as he trudges through the forest, dead leaves surrendering under boot, crackling damply on the snow, so frigid and arid that despite being surrounded by oceans of frozen flakes, no moisture seeps in through the dead pores. The girl skips forward a step and wraps her arms around her master’s arm, altering her gait to not throw his off balance.
  131. He stops and looks at her with a certain incredulity. She just looks up at him, innocently. A long moment passes before he just sighs and continues walking, girl in tow. He misses the grin that comes to the girl’s face as she rubs her cheek into his arm.
  133. They walk through the frozen day like this, the girl’s ears flicking to attention every now and then. She’d disentangle herself from his arm and dance off through the snow, disappearing from sight. It confused him at first, ‘till she returned dutifully, a fleck of blood on her cheek.
  135. He just shakes his head as she returns and brings a gloved hand up. She scrunches her face up as he wipes the blood off with a thumb and leans into his hand like a cat. He smiles, lost for a moment and ruffles her hair, running his gloved fingers around the base of her ear. She blushes and squirms, as his fingers trace up, teasing at the sensitive inside of her long elfin ears.
  137. “Ahn~” A quiet moan escapes her lips, and he freezes, his eyes coming back to the moment. He drops his hand from her head, and turns sharply, stomping away. She looks after him, hurt, ‘till she takes note of the clenched fist held tightly by his side. With a sad smile, she chases to catch up and clings to his arm once more.
  139. They continue walking for a few hours, until the forest thins. The sword’s ears flick once more and her sharp gaze lances to a snow leopard monstergirl snoozing on one of the sturdier boughs of an old tree. The sword goes to dart off, but Gram catches her by the shoulder. Finger to his lips, he keeps walking in measured, silent steps. Out of the snoozing cat’s earshot, he answers the asking gaze of his sword.
  141. He shrugs, “I used to own a cat.” The time from before clicks and the sword grins, tugging on his arm.
  143. He flicks her forehead, “Quit it. Anyway, there’s a town in the distance. Give my cloak back.”
  145. She surveys the landscape and true to word there’s a town, the tips of what looks to be a cross in the distance. She can just make out the roof of a chapel rising over the hill.
  147. “Won’t you attract more attention, with such a pretty naked girl by your side?”
  149. He scoffs, “No.” She feigns hurt and he rolls his eyes, “Not in a monster infested town, at least.” She takes that with a measure of content, but shivers anyway as an icy wind rolls in, looking at him, teeth chattering.
  151. He fixes the cloak to himself, looking ahead. His eyes rolls to his side, to take in the shivering sword. Sighing,  he grabs the edge of his furred cloak, and extends his arm, inviting the girl to take shelter inside the thick furs with him. She hides her smile as she ducks into his cloak, and wraps her arms around his chest, his arm coming over her shoulder, the cloak draping over her, sheltering her from the wind.
  153. “I thought you said you didn’t get cold.” She blushes, found out, but he doesn’t push her away. They walk until they come to a wide road, at which Gram halts and squints into the distance. He frowns, and unclips his cloak, “On second thought, you wear this. And wear it tight.” She nods hesitantly and wraps the cloak around herself. No sooner than she drew the cowl, the pair were stopped by an approaching knight on horseback. Gram feels rather than sees his sword’s gaze harden and cool and puts a restraining hand on her shoulder, he hisses in a whisper, “Were you always so sharp?” The times he used her nigh indiscriminately flash through his mind, “Don’t answer that.”
  155. “Halt!” The man draws his sword, and Gram’s grip on his own tightens to keep her sheathed. But the sword isn’t pointed at Gram. “Draw the hood.” The girl frowns, until Gram nods, and she takes the hood off. The knight peers at her, frowning, taking note of her pointed ears. “The cloak t-”
  157. “She’s naked.”
  159. “Excuse me?” The knight turns to Gram.
  161. “Saved her from an incubus.” The knight frowns a moment longer, before sheathing the sword.
  163. “She doesn’t look like she has wings. Keep the elf’s ears hidden.” Wheels turn in Gram’s head.
  165. “You’re looking for monsters, then?”
  167. “Aye. Succubi mostly.”
  169. “Where am I?”
  171. He hikes a finger towards a road-sign in the distance, “You’re at the ‘frontier’ town of Hearthgale.”
  173. Gram’s frown deepens, “Hearthgale? But that’s nearly two whole kingdoms over.”
  175. The knight raises an eyebrow, “Where are you from, man?”
  177. Gram shrugs, “Escaped Northpath Keep as it fell, to the east.”
  179. The man whistles, “That’s a long walk lad. And that place fell a year ago. From here to there is an eighteen month walk, what are you, a horse?”
  181. He shrugs, “I just kept moving, kept killing. I thought I was going north.” The knight scratches at his scrubbly beard.
  183. “I guess you got yourself caught on the south side of the mountain ranges. They tend to lead men west.”
  185. “Hmm… What do you mean by frontier?”
  187. The knight points to the south, “Town over that way is a demon infested whorehouse,” and east, “Town over that way is a demon infested whore house.” He points north and west, “Lands out this way were taken by the Strohmbelt kingdom, and remain human.”
  189. “Strohmbelt…” the knight grins as if he could read Gram’s mind,
  191. “What, you didn’t hear? New leadership. Short guy with a real tiny moustache under his nose. Speaks like a devil. So keep your lady’s ears hidden. Buncha fanatic nuts out this way. Well. They’re the only nuts to have successfully pushed back the demons so I’m not gonna complain. Too loudly.”
  193. “Frontier, huh… How long until they actually make it here?”
  195. The knight shakes his head and adjusts his sword, “Week’s march, scouts say. Any way, you better get moving. Come night fall all the merchants are fucking off out west. They’ll sell you a house for a coin.”
  197. “Sunset, eh? There’s only a few hours until then. Better get moving I suppose. Thanks for the information,” He extends his hand, “sir…?”
  199. The knight takes it, “Ruthor.”
  201. “Gram.” They nod, and part ways. Gram turns to his sword, “You best change back.” The girl nods, and disappears into her cloak. When he pulls it off her, in her place is his cherished blade. He slides it into his scabbard and pulls the cloak around his shoulders again, walking quickly to town.
  203. It’s a respectable size, with a large wall around it, sat atop a large, steep, rocky hill, the road rising steeply nearly fifty meters before dropping off entirely, like a corps of mages blew the ground under it out. Connecting the road to the town is a drawbridge, down, with respectable traffic. Cloaked and alone, he passes through the check with relative ease, his story of being a mercenary easy to believe with his armor and attitude. The walls are lined with men in full, resplendent plate that reek of a holiness so staunch it makes him queasy.
  205. He heads quickly to the market square, brushing shoulders with hurrying individuals, the raucous sounds of the town cascading over his ears. ‘Where to?’
  207. ‘How long have you been able to do this?’
  209. ‘Since always?’
  211. Gram grunts mentally, ‘Clothes. Can’t have you naked. Then weapons.’
  213. ‘Weapons?’
  215. ‘Need a new sword now that my old one turned into a woman.’
  217. ‘Why do you need another sword? Aren’t I enough?’
  219. ‘Two fighters are better than one. Stop talking.’ He steps into an alleyway and takes his cloak off, the acrid scent of urine staining the stones beneath him. He looks to the ground in disgust for a moment before stepping back into the street and grabbing a crate. He takes it back into the alleyway, and pulls his sword out. ‘Change’ when the smoke clears, he’s holding a naked woman inches from the crate, like a child, hands grabbing her chest, under her arms. The tips of her toes touch the crate as he lowers her, and she balances for a moment as if seeing if the thing can really hold her weight.
  221. Gram wraps her up in his cloak and takes a knee, “Hop on.” The soft sensation of the athletic woman’s shapely breasts seem to almost radiate through his armor. Her sweet smelling hair rolls past him and down his shoulder as she climbs onto his back and brings her head next to his, rubbing her cheek to his like a cat. “Quit it,” he grumbles as he hooks his arms under her legs and carries her out of the alleyway and into the store next to them.
  223. A small man scurries around, packing things into boxes and pulling down shop decorations. Gram watches as the man disappears into a backroom and returns a moment later with an axe, his eye brow raising in curiosity as the little man starts hacking his mannequins apart, after salvaging the cloth from them.
  225. The man grunts as he cleaves an arm. He doesn’t turning to his customers, but he feels their curiosity, “Gotta do this at least, lad. Otherwise the demons will roll through and I’ll have a harem of porcelain harlots crawling all over my dick.” He groans as he straightens his back and takes in Gram and his woman. “Need something?”
  227. “Clothes.”
  229. “Any particular kind?”
  231. Gram twists his head to his sword. The girl shrugs. “Something easy to move in.”
  233. Gram grunts, “Sturdy. Good for combat.” He stops to think a moment. “Good for cold.” She winces.
  235. “I have just the thing. A moment.” The two stood there, the sword resting her chin on Gran’s head, ears drooping somewhat lazily. Gram for his part just stood there. A practical man thrown into the flames of war, taught that any needless moment could lead to death. Resulting in him just standing in the doorway somewhat awkwardly despite chairs offered, the girl on his back. Not that her weight was much to bear.
  237. The little man returns some time later, arms full of clothes. He lays them all out on a bench, sturdy looking dark brown, knee-high leather boots, white woollen hosen, A pair of short trousers barely a handspan in length, looking to be of leather make, similar of colour to the boots. A loose white shirt, and a leather vest. The leather all seems to have been cut from the same type of animal. It makes for a rather complete costume.
  239. Gram lets the woman down. “Go try it on.”
  241. “Ah, right this way miss,” The old man takes her by the arm and leads her into a back room. Gram sighs as he sees her tense up, ‘Don’t cut him.’ He stands at the door way and points off to the left, “First door.” He watches long enough to see her into the right room, before turning back.
  243. “How much for all that and a cloak?”
  245. The man scratches his wispy beard, “I’ll give it to you for twenty coins. That’s good material, and even if I was going to have to leave it behind, it’s an insult to the craftsman if I sell it for anything less.”
  247. “Fifteen. Bastard is probably bedding demon whores as we speak.” The old man frowns,
  249. “You’re a bitter man, son, you know that?”  
  251. “I do now I guess. Deal?”
  253. The old man smiles a bit wryly, “Seventeen plus the cloak.”
  255. Gram grumbles, “Deal.” He takes one of the cloaks hanging off the wall, about the woman’s size.
  257. “What do you think?” He turns to see the sword parading her new clothed look, his cloak hooked over her arm. The boots fit her snugly, they even seem a size smaller. Gram passes it off as the magic associated with the woman. The hosen cling to her shapely legs tightly, rising to meet the short pants clinched around her hips with a belt, short enough that the bottom half of her ass would be showing if not for the Hosen. The loose shirt hangs from her, her bust pushed up by the leather tunic. It’s a fetching fit, which hugs her curves whilst remaining easy to move in and moderately protective. And almost needlessly provocative, but Gram has a feeling that’s more the girl’s fault and less the clothing’s.
  259. “Looks practical. Let’s go.” Gram drops a handful of coins on the counter as he leaves, the girl behind him. The old man watches the two leave before sighing and counting his coins. Twenty.
  261. The sword draws her hood and follows close behind as Gram starts towards the more industrial looking side of town, following a particularly thick, black pillar of smoke. He stops, and sighs. The sun is falling, an hour or two until the merchants close up shop. The same cold wind blows at him, and the cobblestones are slick with condensation. The wind smells like ice and cut grass. Long, thin clouds stretch across the sky, large glacier mountains in the far distance glint faintly, obscured by the atmosphere. He’s getting closer to the North. The true north where not even the demons dwell. Men don’t enter and only memories and spirits live there. His death cannot be anywhere else.
  263. ‘Are you okay?’
  265. “Yeah.” Gram kicks a loose stone, it bounces from its place and knocks once or twice on other pebbles before rolling to a stop in a gutter. He strides off towards the smoke, heading down alleyways and small streets until he strikes a particularly wide stretch of road. He follows the smoke down with his eyes and a sign hangs from the building’s roof on chain links, creaking slightly in the wind. A sword and a shield. The girl behind him pouts to herself as he pushes the large door open and a wave of heat rolls out.
  267. Gram holds it open and looks back behind him. “You want to come in?”
  269. She frowns and avoids eye contact, ‘No.’ but steps in anyway. Gram rolls his eyes and follows after her, shutting the door.
  271. ‘I didn’t realise swords could get jealous.’
  273. ‘I’m a woman too, you know.’
  275. “I guess.” One of the assistants turns at Gram’s apparent, unprovoked vocalisation. He smiles a little awkwardly and goes back to his business. Gram browses for a while, looking at the gear on sale, a surplus of it, it would seem.
  277. “There’s a lot of gear here. Did you get commissioned or something?”
  279. The youth looks up, “Uh, yeah. They wanted this for the defence of the town but even with the reinforcements rolling in by the day, it doesn’t look like there’ll be enough people to buy them. So we’re selling as cheap as we can before Strohmbelt decides to simply take them.”
  281. “You and the rest, huh.” Gram puts his thumb to the crosspiece of a sword and pops the blade out of the scabbard, inspecting it. It’s a fine, quality steel. Decent enough craftsmanship. As he inspects it, the girl leans low and sniffs at the steel.
  283. ‘What are you doing?’
  285. ‘Checking it.’
  287. ‘For what?’
  289. ‘Magic. Anything that would indicate it would turn into a girl and replace me.’  He takes it to the assistant.
  291. ‘No shield?’
  293. ‘I don’t need to protect myself.’
  295. ‘Then why are you getting another sword?’
  297. ‘I can’t kill demons with a shield. Well, I guess I could but it would be a pain.’
  299. “Ah, the boss made this one. Good choice. That’ll be fifty coins.”
  301. “Thirty.”
  303. “I-W-what? Do you have any idea what a sword is wo-”
  305. A deep voice sails in from the workshop behind the shop. “Sell it to him.”
  307. “Tch. That’s thirty.”
  309. Gram reaches in for his bag of coins, soon to be significantly lighter than when he first entered town. He counts out thirty, puts them on the counter, takes his sword, and nods a thanks to the scowling attendant.
  311. He steps out onto the street, having strapped the second scabbard to his hip.
  313. “Where to now?” Gram yawns,
  315. “A decent meal and a decent bed.” The two head towards the main street to find an inn.  A listing collection of resigned clouds crowd the sky, cloaking the land in a dull muted grey that seems less angry and more forlorn.
  317. It was weather entirely accurate for the location. All the dark grey clouds needed were a tinge of red and it would be weather not unlike the rout over a year ago. An ill omen to be sure. Soldiers rush about, in and out of obvious taverns. Gram heads to where the traffic is lightest, a smaller two story building that looks more like a restaurant with a few rooms slapped on top.  
  319. They enter the open doorway and it immediately leads to a corridor going right. Outside is cold and the hallway isn’t much better, but a near sweltering heat washes over them as they enter the main dining room. The swift shift in temperature has him feeling fluffy headed until he acclimates.
  321. The room is full of soldiers well and fully armed, each table headed by a well-to-do man without any armor, but more gaud to his style than any of the plated soldiers. Gram would have thought they were officers if not for the rambunctious way that they lead the festivities. It went a little beyond putting yourself on the same level as your men and it seems that the leaders were the worst of them.
  323. ‘A little different from your nobles, Gram.’
  325. He shrugs and not a head turns as he heads over to the owner. ‘If Strohmbelt is the only kingdom to provide actual resistance, they have to be doing something right.’ The grizzled looking man looks up at Gram’s arrival.
  327. “What’da’ya need?”
  329. “Room.”
  331. “Only got one.” His eyes shift to the sword, “Only one bed too.”
  333. “Fine.”
  335. “Ten coins for a night.”
  337. The girl watches the terse, nearly grunted exchange with a kind of detached, academic interest. Gram pulls out a fistful of coins, fifteen. “Food.” The man pushes five back,
  339. “Included.”
  341. “When?”
  343. “Now.” The owner tips his head to the seats at the bar and pockets the money, leaving. Gram takes the suggested seat, his sword following suit. He eyes the soldiers, all too aware of his sword’s now praeternatural beauty. But still, not a head turns his way.
  345. He offers a gruff mumble. “Disciplined lot.”
  347. “Probably why they still control this town.” Gram stares at his sword. “What?”
  349. He shakes his head as the owner returns, “Nothing.” He wasn’t used to someone responding to his utterances. The man drops down two bowls of broth with spoons floating within it and a platter with huge chunks of bread upon it and two mugs of mead. The bread was smeared liberally with soft butter, the corners of which were beginning to melt. Lofty vapours rose from the wooden bowl carrying on it scents that spoke of oft frozen earths where only the hardiest and most rustic of potatoes and vegetables grow. Meats from animals so solid and hardy it may as well have been ice. Nothing but brutal beatings and being melted in molten waters could turn them tender and palatable.
  351. The first real meal he’d had in… who knows how long. He digs in, tearing a chunk of bread off the bulkier lot and dipping it in the swirling broth. He watches the butter melt into it and reaches across to his sword, planting his hand on her head just as she goes to lower her hood to eat. ‘Don’t.’ Her ears flick in mild rebellion, twitching under her hood and Gram can’t help but wince at the glare boring into his back.
  353. He takes a mouthful and puts on an appreciative moan before grabbing the mug of mead and twisting in his seat. The liquid rolls smoothly down his throat and he uses the action to take a leisurely look about. His eyes fall across the officer staring at him. The man offers a half-grin and raises his mug, but his eyes were far from smiling. Gram twists his face up into what may have vaguely passed for a smile and raises his own mug. ‘Shit.’
  355. He turns back to his meal and lifts a spoon of the dark broth to his lips, sighing in genuine satisfaction as it chases a way the chill in his body. “Owner.”
  357. “What?”
  359. “Garlic.”
  361. The man nods and heads back into the adjoining kitchen. ‘What?’
  363. ‘Leaving won’t be easy.’ Gram nods a thanks as the owner returns with a fistful of peeled cloves and drops them in both bowls. He fishes one of them out of the murky depths and cuts it with his spoon against the side of the bowl. It sinks back out of sight and he doesn’t find it again until he bites down and is surprised by a sharp, potent taste.
  365. The two eat in silence until the bowl is empty and the last scrap of bread has been used to mop up any remaining soup. Gram washes it down with the remnants of his drink and stands, leaving the bowls and platters behind. To the right side of the room is a flight of stairs that leads up and curves in on itself to reach the second floor. The owner hands him a key with a number on it and he takes it with another nod.
  367. Together they head up the stairs. The key is attached to a small and worn wooden plaquette by a frayed string and a rune is carved into the wood. He tops the flight of stairs and looks around. There is a room directly ahead of him and a corridor to his immediate right. It ends at an open window and is lined with doors, each assumedly leading towards a small private room.
  369. The door to the room dead ahead looks quite lavish and there are signs that each door heading down the corridor seems to have received less and less maintenance the further along you go. They head down the line of doors and Gram isn’t especially surprised to see the rune on the plaquette correlates to the rune on the furthest door down the hallway. The owner did mention it being the last room. And Strohmbelt doesn’t seem the type to spare expenses.
  371. He grabs the door handle and rattles it, testing the bulky metal warded lock. The door remains resolute. Satisfied, he unlocks the contraption and pushes his way into the room. It swings inward to reveal a small spartan space with a window looking out, but not nearly large enough to be any form of entry or exit.
  373. There’s nothing in the room but a bed, a chest of drawers and a table tucked into a corner with two chairs. The bed is in the middle of the room with the window to the left of it and the drawers to the right. Gram drops his pack atop the breast high chest of drawers and begins to strip his armor off.
  375. “Are you sure you want to do that? You’re leaving yourself pretty vulnerable.”
  377. Gram answers, not even looking at her, “It’s fine. You’ll protect me, right?” He busies himself with stripping off plates of armor and removing gambeson. He doesn’t spot his sword’s rigid posture or the smouldering heat turning her face and the tips of her ears pink.
  379. “R-righ… protect you… I will protect you.” Gram ignores her quiet mumbling and takes a seat on the edge of the bed. His last encumbrance is his new sword. He slides the scabbard under his pillow, leaving him in nothing but his pants.
  381. He tips his head back and takes a deep breath before resting his elbows on his knees and bowing over his clasped hands. A low, harmonic melody spills from his lips, so quiet that you would have to put your ear to his mouth to discern the words.
  383. A pleasant kind of warmth radiates from him and he sits there for a handful of minutes before sighing. “This is getting harder and harder. I can barely even shake this infection.” His sword steps to the other side of the bed and sits down. Her light presence barely even moves the mattress.
  385. “How long do you think you have?”
  387. “At this rate, if I can’t slow it down or get further away from this place… just under a month. We leave first thing tomorrow.” Gram throws back the blanket and slides in.
  389. “But humans re-took these towns. Can’t you just stay here?”
  391. Gram shakes his head, “Too much residual energy. Not an issue for the uncorrupted, but when it’s already inside you, it doesn’t help matters.”
  393. She sword slides into bed, ‘You can’t just… let it happen?’ Gram closes his eyes and rolls onto his side, pretending he didn’t hear the unspoken thought. He feels her wiggle up closer to him under the sheets. Whatever magic the sword possesses must have done away with the clothes, because he stiffens as he feels her bare breasts press against his back.
  395. ‘Get off me.’
  397. Now it’s her turn to go rigid ‘B-but… every night we’
  399. ‘Get off me.’ The pleasant softness retreats as she wiggles away from him reluctantly. She makes a quiet, anguished whine that plucks at his heart and he scrunches his eyes shut in an attempt to stave off the powerful emotion and urges forced onto him. To love, to take her and bed her until the sun rises.
  401. He bites down on his lower lip until it bursts and blood fills his mouth. Yet again a low, harmonious melody begins to spill from his lips, until the sheets reek of the soothing and familiar smell of candles. Surrounded in that scent, his eyes close.
  404. *   *   *
  406. A hiss like a blade being drawn from a scabbard rouses him. His body tells him he couldn’t have been asleep for more than an hour and a half. He opens his eyes instinctively and finds himself looking up at the roof, having rolled onto his back at some point. He sees a familiar silhouette to his side. Thankfully it was dark enough that the instant his eyes were open wasn’t enough to alert her of his wakefulness. He closes them again and strains his ears instead. The sword was his, being drawn from under his pillow. Light footsteps patter their way to the window and he supresses a shiver as it’s opened and a gust of frigid air fills the room.
  408. “I… Only I may sleep with Gram… I am the only one he’ll ever need. Another sword…” Gram winces as he hears her shear the weapon into slivers and shreds, partly at the shrill noise of steel being torn like paper, partly at the wasted coin “Is useless. I am all he needs.” Every word strikes at his heart and mind in a way that rouses the mire of black lusty corruption within him that he so desperately sought to quell. He should be getting up and even if he can’t bring himself to tell her to leave, he should at least be scolding her rash, selfish actions.
  410. But then, this was the first time anyone had spoken about him this way. The first time he’d seen some one act out at the height of a self-serving selfishness and still had it be all about him. The shearing continues until it sounds like all that’s left is a thumb sized edge and the rest of the hilt. She tosses it out the window and it bounces off the pavement outside with a loud clack.
  412. She stalks back over to his prone form and gently peels back the sheets. His heart leaps into his throat as she straddles him. ‘And you know that, don’t you?’ Her fingers trace little circles on his chest before drawling lines up his throat and along the line of his jaw. She cups his face with her hands, ‘You know that I am all you will ever need. You don’t really want anything else.’ She bites down on her lower lip as she speaks to what she thinks is his sleeping mind. She places a hand on the head of the bed to brace herself and her other hand begins to slide lower down her lithe body.
  414. Gram fights the urge, the urge to do a whole lot of things. ‘I am yours. Use me. Fight with me, let me cut down any one who will threaten you,’ He can almost taste the lust surging within her body. With his senses and concentration pushed to the max, he can hear the wet, sticky instant her thin fingers part her folds, ‘and then ravish me.’
  416. He flinches as he feels a warmth drip onto his lower belly. It wasn’t a full body jump, but more than enough to let her know he’s awake. He opens his eyes slowly, only to see hers scrunched up, her face a dramatic mask of need and lust. ‘That’s all I want.’ He closes his eyes quickly, afraid of being found out, afraid of startling her and drawing this incident he ought to be resisting with all his strength to a close.
  418. His fists ball tightly by his side as she leans low and he can feel her hair fall about him like a soft-smelling curtain. Her hot breath rolls across his face before a warm, wet tongue licks across it, ‘I don’t care what you become. Just as I was once always yours, you will now always be mine, no matter what form you take.’
  420. She shuffles back and grinds her hips against his. Her tongue flicks off his jaw and he doesn’t feel it again until her lips wrap around a nipple and she gives it a lick, her fingers splayed out across his broad chest, ‘Forget this stupid deathwish and just spend all your time with me, I don’t care what you become.’
  422. There’s already a healthy stream of her lubricant dripping across his stomach and her thoughts become a jumbled mess as her fingers work deeper and faster into her sopping womanhood. Her hips quiver as she sprays the proof of her need all over him and her walls clench around a phantom cock whose sensations shed only known in her dreams. The entire affair was as dead silent as could be if not for the moaning, roaring cacophony sent into his mind. Her hips fall limply across Gram’s. ‘I just need you.’ She lay across his half-naked body and buries her face in his chest. Twin streams of wet warmth pool upon it until they roll down his side in salty rivulets. ‘Just don’t leave me.’
  424. She gasps as she feels a hardening bulge prod into her lips from below and she whips her head up to look at his open and glassy eyes. Her face is a mess of drool and tears, fear and love. Her eyes widen and her pupils thin to points, “I-I-”
  426. Before she can even register what’s happened, she’s upside down with her hair splayed out about her and her legs spread, knees up to her chest. More than a little stunned, she just stares at Gram’s vacant eyes which bore into the sword’s womanhood as if trying to penetrate her with his gaze alone. Her hole is positively dripping with lewd lubricants which are also smeared across her inner thigh. Her lips are puffy and parted slightly in an overly inviting manner, the hood of her clit rolled back with the light pink, solid bundle of nerves prodding out cutely. A wanting target for molestation.
  428. The sword blushes heavily and the deep crimson only grows darker, spreading further as he lowers his lips to hers and takes a sniff of her arousal. She shivers at the contact and only manages a half-whine at the embarrassing and compromising position. But she can’t even manage that much, the whine turning into a gasped whimper as Gram lays a kiss upon her clit and flicks it with his tongue. A jolt of electricity arcs up her spine and her legs open wider. Her abs clench and her large tits jiggle as she shudders.
  430. He draws his tongue lower down her hot and slick slit, tracing a circle around her entrance with his tongue before pushing it in. Her insides were just as wet as outside, but far warmer. A variety of tastes greeted his tongue, tastes of a feminine sweetness and a sharp hint of metal. She moans as his tongue parts her lips and the tip of his nose rubs against her clit. She reaches a hand up to grab his head and encourage him to go deeper, but he lets a leg go to catch her wrist. Her leg flops over his shoulder and hooks around the back of his head naturally, forcing his face to her twat regardless.  
  432. He feels the tendons and muscles around her wrist bulge and shift as she clenches her fist and offers sweet whimpers as his tongue stimulates her most sensitive spots, aided by a corrupted instinct within him and the moaned nothings blaring in his mind clearer and louder when he gets closer to her favourite spots. With her free hand she reaches for a breast and sinks her fingers in, mauling the soft giving flesh and pinching at her bright pink nipples.
  434. She gropes her breast harder and Gram can feel the insistent pressure on the back of his head by her calf increasing as she nears her second climax, ushered quickly upon the still-quaking heels of her first. He slips his tongue out and focuses his attention on toying with her clit, sucking and stroking at it until she squirts.
  436. His eyes widen in surprise as her back arcs, going from bent over to rigid and straight, head and shoulders buried in the mattress. Her hips quiver and her girl-cum spurts out over his face and drips down his chin. Images of content and clarity wash into his mind from her as her own mind reels through an afterglow so potent it more than justifies being her first. His gaze sharpens as he comes to himself and he picks up a corner of cloth and wipes his face clean on it.
  438. He stares coldly down the curvaceous valleys of her body, “Change.”
  440. “Y-yes.” The confused and swept up sword returns to her more functional form and he grips the hilt and holds the sword up. He holds it there in silence before bringing it to his chest and rolling onto his side, ‘Wake me when the sun rises. Don’t turn back.’
  443. *   *   *
  445. ‘Gram. Wake up.’
  447. His eyes flash open and his heart clenches at it flushes his body with a rush of blood and adrenalin, a hair trigger response that has saved his life more than once. The room is dark, dark as night but as he looks out the window he sees the tinge of the sun begin to rise. “Oh, sorry. Was that too abrupt?” He looks around, slowly relaxing as he comes to wakefulness.
  449. “No, that was fine. Thanks.” His eyes dart around the room. “We need to be quick. Dress me.” The sword, half buried in bedding nods as Gram stands and begins to throw on his underclothes. She gets up and heads to the pile of armor, selecting a slab of metal and returning. Crouching low, she approaches and straps on his greaves and cuisse before heading back to the pile of armor and returning with his plackart then breastplate, fixing them to his padded underclothes.
  451. The rerebrace follows, then his thick cloak, once owned by a now forgotten commander. The pauldrons go over his shoulders as he slips his fingers into thick, padded leather gloves. The sword then approaches with his vambraces and gauntlets, affixing them last. She stands and watches him belt his scabbard to his side and draw the hood sewn into his thick cloak over his head.
  453. He holds his hand out, “Sword.” She nods and takes his hand, returning to her more functional form. His fingers curl around her hilt and he slides her into his scabbard before grabbing his pack and heading out the door.
  455. Each wooden portal along the corridor is closed and even as he strains his ears, he can’t hear anything more than the occasional snort of a snore. He looks out the window down the end of the hallway for another angle of the skyline and guesses that he has an hour before it rises. He aims to be out of town before then.
  457. He treads down the stairs as lightly as he can with all his gear and practically sails through the main room, thick cloak flapping behind him. It’s utterly empty and devoid of any light asides from the softly glowing embers in the fire place. The room has been left remarkable clean considering the people who were in it only last night.
  459. The relative warmth of the room vanishes as he steps into the corridor leading outside. He exits out onto the street and measures his pacing a little better, keeping his hood drawn low and his eyes down. Ducking into the first alley he can, he strikes a course north, traversing through the dark town by shadow, only his hasty, echoing steps heralding his passing.
  461. He dips down alleys and across small streets, heading further towards the northern side of town, not stopping until he exits the last alley and comes upon the town gates, just before him.
  463. Unfortunately, between he and the gates is an encirclement of men. Familiar men, led by the captain he locked eyes with last night. They stand at the gates as its guardsmen, but are obviously waiting for some-one. The soldiers all stand there in full plate armor, stern and professional, the only difference between them being in helm designs, not in the overall shape, but variations in visors and detail. All have swords strapped to their hips but a few carry spears as well.
  465. All turn to Gram and immediately shift their positions to begin encircling him, spreading out. Gram counts nine in total. It seems that ‘someone’ they were waiting for was him. The captain stands in the middle, helm nestled in the crook of his arm. His eyes are a piercing blue and carry a mirthful kind of confidence. There’s a thick handlebar moustache upon his upper lip that adds a sense of authority to his youthful countenance.
  467. He calls out to Gram. “Good morning, sir. You’re an early riser. On your way out?”
  469. Gram mutters under his breath, “Not early enough, obviously.”
  471. “I don’t see your companion. Where is she?” Gram doesn’t answer, keeping his hood drawn and his eyes locked on the half-circle of men. “No? No matter, I can always ask her myself.”
  473. “Ask her what?”
  475. “Why, the same thing I’m about to ask you.” He pulls out a small fist-sized orb and holds it up. Sunlight streams through it, clear as the day it reveals. “Do you know what this is?”
  477. “…Glass?”
  479. The man laughs, “Close, but not quite. It’s a special kind of quartz mined in the mountains far north of here. Mages go absolutely crazy for it, because you see it has the unique property of soaking up magic. Have you ever seen magic, sir?”
  481. “More than I care to.”
  483. The captain offers a grim smile, “I feel your pain. Depending on who casts it, it can be devastating, impressive, merely effective or in some cases downright pitiful. With a catalyst like this however, it almost invariably ends up somewhere near devastating, depending on how much magic it’s soaked up of course.”
  485. “Your point is?”
  487. “Mages aren’t the only ones to covet this mineral, sir. Strohmbelt quite likes it too. You see, demons and their ilk exude a kind of filth that this little ball of crystal just loves to soak up. And it turns a dark, deathly black when it does.”
  489. The half-circle of men still stand in a professional yet relaxed manner, but now that the conversation has drawn to its point, a few hands rest lightly on the pommels of their swords and fingers tighten around spears. “Would you mind holding this for a moment?”
  491. “If I don’t?”
  493. The captain shrugs sadly, “You die. War isn’t really the best time to take chances now it is?”
  495. “And if it turns black?”
  497. “Well, that depends on how black it turns. If it’s just a little, that’s pretty usual for this area. But if it’s more than just a little, then I’m afraid you’re just as dead. Catch.”
  499. The clear crystal orb sails through the air and lands neatly in Gram’s hand. A wash of inky black swirls out from where his fingers touch the fist-sized crystal and collects in the centre, spreading out until the whole thing is black, except for an inch or two on the outside that remains clear.
  501. Swords draw. “Oh my, how unusual. This is my first time having a conversation with one as tainted as you are. Even if it was a touch one sided. Usually you lot are far less… lucid.” The captain slides his helmet on, “I’d much rather you didn’t fight back, sir. But there’s little chance of that now is there?”
  503. It was… weird having his corruption shown to him like this. A visible representation of the time he had left. The circle of men were now poised and waiting for him to make his move. “I have a few questions. May I?”
  505. “If it will ease your mind before you die, ask away.”
  507. “How long do I have?”
  509. “It depends on how good a fighter you are. Two, three minutes?”
  511. “No, I mean how long until the corruption takes me.”
  513. “If you weren’t to die here? A month, if that.”
  515. “Is it possible to come back from it?”
  517. “… If you were to make it very very far from here, very quickly I would say that over time it… may be possible. Though I must confess I am not especially knowledgeable on this matter, as it is far safer to simply end you here. Now, if you don’t mind, my tolerance is wearing quite thin. I really would like to kill you now.”
  519. The half circle closes in and Gram takes a step back, resting his hand on his blade. ‘Please, Master. Allow me. I will prove that I am all you need.’
  521. Gram draws his magic blade and places the tip to the ground, his hand on the pommel. ‘I told you to stop calling me master.’
  523. The sword disappears in a cloudy puff of misty smoke and reveals a kneeling woman, her head under Gram’s hand. She smiles as he gives her head a little pat then straightens her expression. ‘Stand back, Gram.’
  525. “Sword spirit. Watch yourselves lads. No telling what she’s capable of.”
  527. She takes a few steps forwards and the men close in on her. Only two of them pay any attention to the less threatening, less mobile figure of Gram. Of the nine men, the captain and two others stand back. Four move in to surround the woman with spears and of the remaining two focused on Gram, only one is armed with a spear.
  529. He looks at their arms and armor, somewhat lamenting his lack of a helmet, having had his last one caved in by a thick slab of demon tail some time ago. Might as well take one from these boys. A spearman to the right of Gram’s companion lunges in and she deftly weaves away from the point, stepping into the thrust and slicing at his helmet horizontally with her fingers mimicking a blade. If he squints, Gram can make out the glimmering hint of a spirit blade. It slips into the soldier’s wide eye-slit easily and she slashes across his face, slicing his eyes. The man drops his spear and clutches at his helmet screaming, falling on his knees.
  531. Of the helms available, Gram decides he definitely wants one of the ones with two defined, separate eye slits. The other men don’t let their fallen friend’s efforts go to waste, looking to skewer the woman from the side and behind, but she moves too quickly for them to be able to capitalize on her openness.
  533. The three men are in a wide cone before her, one to her right, left and one before her, the kneeling blinded man now positioned to her back. She launches into their thrusts, twisting aside of the spear to her left, deftly avoiding it. He severs the head of the spear to her right and knocks aside the one immediately before her before plunging her blade though the man’s gorget.  
  535. He lets out a strangled gurgle as blood seeps through the split plate and she uses his body as a shield, slipping behind him to avoid the follow up thrust from the remaining spear. The area rings out with a metalling ting as the tip bounces off the armor. The soldier’s sword is drawn with a quick and quiet hiss and she throws it at the spearman. The soldier behind her draws his own sword, charging in from her blind spot. The spearman’s footing is disrupted as he simultaneously attempts to dodge and parry the flying sword, flinching on instinct. Capitalising on his broken posture, with an unnatural grace she slips in and punches his armpit, sinking a good twelve inches of blade in deep, puncturing the lung.
  537. All this happens fairly quickly, but Gram doesn’t see how she dispatches the last man, his own two foes rapidly closing in from the left and right. Perhaps a little too eager, the spearman lunges with enough force to skewer, but not enough to control or direct the head’s movement in an accurate manner. Unfortunately for him, Gram’s body’s state of hyper awareness and his year of constant, never ending battle puts his physical prowess above the spearman’s.  
  539. He jumps forwards, batting the spear aside with his left hand and grabbing the soldier’s wrist, pulling him forward. Unbalanced, the spearman isn’t in any position to avoid or deflect the slap that comes more like a sledgehammer, with Gram’s entire body weight thrown in behind it. Fingers splayed and curling around the man’s helmet, the blow shakes him to his core, coming just short of actually denting the helmet. The sheer force is transmitted through the padding inside the metal with very little loss and the impact rattles his brains concussively, making his knees go weak and sending him quickly into a mire of unconsciousness.
  541. Gram snatches the spear from the falling man and spins in place, swinging the spearhead up in an uppercut motion, bringing the shaft to bear just in time to knock the coming sword blow away. With his spear raised and the other man parried, Gram is in a prime position to switch his grip around and thrust down into the unarmoured flesh of the inside of the man’s thigh. The spearhead buries in deep, staggering the soldier, but he doesn’t get long to contemplate the pain as Gram lets the spear go and wraps his hands about the man’s helm, wrenching it to a side and breaking his neck.
  543. The armor clanks as it collides with the ground and Gram looks to the unconscious man. The soldier’s sword is at his belt and he could kill him with it, but the man is basically out of commission. He turns his gaze back to his companion to see how she’s doing.
  545. The fourth man lay upon the ground bleeding, as do the two that hung back with the captain, leaving the capable man alone. He draws his own sword, a thin rapier and takes up a stance, not even reacting to his fallen comrades.
  547. Gram wrenches the spear out of the dead man’s leg with a splurt of blood and hefts it up, holding it more like a javelin. He leans back and brings his arm up behind him, ‘Duck.’
  549. The single thought of warning is all his sword gets before he throws the spear. She dips under it as it strikes the captain’s chest, deflecting off his armor and slipping under the pauldron, digging into the shoulder of the arm wielding the rapier. From her crouched position, the sword brings her two fists together as if clutching at the hilt of a large blade and brings it up in a slicing, drawing motion.
  551. A motion that should do literally nothing to the armoured foe. Gram’s eyes widen as the metal screams and the spirit-blade splits it like paper. The captain is just as unbelieving, even as blood begins to pour from the clean slice in his plackart. Gram watches in awe as the captain’s torso begins to slide before separating from his lower half entirely.
  553. His sword stands there, covered in the spurting blood and beams a prideful smile to Gram, as if to say “See?”
  555. ‘I told you I was all you needed.’
  557. He shakes his head softly and stoops down to a pluck the helm off a corpse, ‘Leaving me to fend off two soldiers unarmed is your idea of protection?’
  559. Her eyes drift to the two men some distance away and the blood drains from her face, “G-Gram, I’m sorry, I-” He plonks a hand onto her head, not the most congruent of scenes, considering she was a few inches taller than him.
  561. “Let’s fight together next time.” He drops down onto a knee and lings his pack off his back. He opens it up and rifles through, fishing out the cloth he’d need to venture out of town and into the frigid elements. He ties it about his mouth and nose and peels back his hood before sliding the helm over his head. The inner padding deadens his hearing and he takes a moment to get used to the limited sights and sounds. He draws the hood over his helm once more and rises.
  563. ‘You don’t need to be so eager. Anyway, that fight will have drawn attention. We’d best move. Come.’ He sets off at a purposeful stride and holds his hand out. The woman takes his and before he even notices, he’s holding onto the hilt of his sword. He takes it over to the captain and wipes the blood off on his cloak before resuming his quick walk out of town. He walks hastily, moving into a light jog as he hears a clamour begin to rise behind him. The road north veers right and some hundred meters to the left is a forest. It’s only a short run to the trees but a distant shout lets him know that he’s already been spotted.
  565. Nothing comes of it though, until he breaches the tree-line and a solitary bolt slams into a trunk to his right. He looks back, seeing neither dogs nor horses. Just a few straggling, distant silhouettes shining in the rising sun. The odds of pursuit are low. “Come out if you like.”
  567. He barely finishes the sentence before his steps are joined by another set, “Where are we going?”
  569. “Directly north. I got caught on the southern side of a mountain range, but if I remember the maps correctly there’s a whole network of abandoned dwarf cities and tunnels under these mountains. And there should be an entrance somewhere near here.”
  571. “Abandoned?”
  573. “Presumably, but the assumption is based on a loss on contact more than any kind of confirmation.”
  575. “If they aren’t abandoned?”
  577. He grimaces, “Then we’ll have an even bigger problem and we’ll have to – Wait. Why am I explaining this to you?”
  579. She shrugs, understanding the driving point behind his question intuitively. “I don’t remember everything in the past. Just the things we did together. What you know isn’t necessarily what I know.”
  581. “Hmh. Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. With black dwarves likely below, and frost dwarves above, it’ll be a pain in the ass either way.” He stops in his tracks, considering. “We might actually try to go over. Less corruption up in the mountains than there is below them.” He chews on the inside of his lip bitterly, “Frost dwarves won’t like that though.” He sighs, trudging on, “And then there are the giants.” He affects a chirpy smile at odds with his tone, “I suppose with any luck I won’t even make it past the mountains.”
  583. The sword trails behind him with a wide smile on her face, listening to the monolog. He turns, as if her mirth irritated him, “What?”
  585. “You’re talking more.”
  588. *   *   *
  590. The woods are in a damp state, with smatterings of snow dashed about. On their quiet walk they pass many streams, some running, some frozen. The air is crisp and fresh, no doubt much of its bite is lost as Gram breathes it in through his mask. The forest is rife with sounds and the odd flicker in his peripheral as critters scurry about.
  592. His eyes flick to a squirrel as it bounds from branch to branch. It knocks loose a tiny drift of snow and he catches it on the back of his gloved hand before it can fall onto his companion’s head. He stops walking as he brushes the snow off his hand before it melts into the leather and cloth.
  594. ‘I like this.’
  596. ‘This?’ He looks to the sword, but she doesn’t reply immediately, instead looking around. At the grasses, the patches of clovers with their clumps of frosted blades. The boughs, some laden with snow, some not. The bushes interspersed with icy wildflowers. She turns to look up at the grey-splashed sky, even as snowflakes float down, the rare few slipping between the cracks in the canopy and listlessly sinking to the leafy floor.
  598. His eyes flick to the sword’s slender neck, as she tips her head back to gaze skyward, tracing along the graceful lines of her throat, sliding up the length of her jaw before coming to rest on her full, kissable lips. He watches the soft things open slightly, as she takes in a deep breath, and close as she it breathes out through her nose. Images of the tavern bedroom flick through his mind along with a notion of where he’d like to place her lips.
  600. ‘This half-frozen forest. I’ve grown used to snow. I enjoy the look of it, even, but I like the green of the woods peeking out from under it.’ She turns to Gram, ‘I imagine there isn’t so much green once we cross these mountains.’
  602. Surreptitiously, he avoids her gaze and clears his throat before walking again, ‘I imagine there isn’t.’
  604. A twig snaps under heel, but it does little to disturb the tranquillity of the woods, carried along on the birdcalls and insect noises – though perhaps not so much of the latter as there would be in the summer. What does interrupt though, is a distant chorus of howls, carried on the wind that blows through. Unsettlingly unified and chilling in their effect, stirring the more primitive parts of his mind, urging him to be more aware.
  606. The faint din of the woods deadens to a complete silence, broken only by the steady footfalls of the two interlopers.
  608. ‘Wolves.’
  610. Gram frowns, ‘I don’t think so.’ The birds start again, confident in their safety.
  612. ‘Why not?’
  614. ‘Too perfect. Wolf howls are more scattered than that, a pack doesn’t start howling in perfect unison.’
  616. ‘Then?’
  618. ‘Probably werewolves. Hunting I’d say.’
  620. ‘For?’
  622. He scoffs, ‘Food. I doubt there are too many men around here. They’d be closer to the towns if that were their aim.’ They continue trudging in a comfortable silence, interspersed by the odd exchange, though the telepathic nature of these exchanges ensures the silence remains unbroken throughout.  
  625. *   *   *   *
  627. He watches her nibble at the juicy hare meat, suspended in mid-air. A bead of grease trickles out of the soft flesh and slides down the almost transparent knife edge before dripping off onto the soft, spongey grass below. A small but warm fire crackles between the two of them, the same he used to cook the meat his sword fetched. A snack and a short rest before they continued for another few hours before finding somewhere to sleep.
  629. She gives a happy little hum as she chews. Her gaze shifts over to Gram and she shoots him a look of appreciation with her silver eyes, ‘It’s good,’ She hands the rest of the meat to him, ‘but I don’t really need to eat. Here.’
  631. He takes it, missing the intense observation and bites into the flesh where she did, tearing further into it. She turns away, hiding a faint pleasure, ‘So, what’s so bad about these black dwarves?’
  633. ‘Dwarves are bad in general. Short. Tough. Strong. Well-armed and well armoured. Pain in the ass to fight, especially considering that above their thick skin and dense muscles is at the minimum three to four layers of dwarven steel.’ He fishes around for a water-skin and takes a long draught before handing it to his companion.
  635. ‘Is that any better than normal steel?’
  637. ‘Significantly better. In fact, if what my grandfather said was true, you’re made from it.’
  639. Her eyes widen in a mild surprise, ‘Oh, really? Tell me about dwarves. What makes them so bad?’
  641. Gram gnaws at his lip and tilts his head before he resumes munching on the meat, ‘Where to begin? Dwarves don’t expand in any direction other than down. So if you’re fighting one, nine out of ten times that means you’re underground, in their tunnels and in their home turf. I never actually fought any, but in training they teach you the basics of what to expect when fighting most races. Dwarves are tough and powerful, with enough force behind their axes to split steel and the shields they carry are far thicker, bigger and heavier than what most men can carry.’
  643. She watches him attentively as he eats; a happy smile on her face as their conversation carries across from consciousness to consciousness. ‘Each shield is held in their right hand and has a notch to the top right of it. It’s to brace their comrade’s ‘rifles’ in a shield-wall formation. A kind of tiny canon that shoots small balls of lead that tear through most forms of human armor. The only way to really combat it is to rush in close before they can shoot off too many volleys. If you’re lucky you’ll have a mage who can make your armor harder than the projectiles and they just bounce off harmlessly.
  645. If you’re not so lucky, they’ll have a real canon placed somewhere in their tunnels. No amount of magic can stop one of those. And when you make it to their lines, you have to fight some one half as tall as you and twice as strong, who knows her way around an axe. Some even have small handcannons and those are a bitch in a tunnel.’
  647. ‘Wait, why are you fighting in a tunnel to begin with? Are all their cities just tunnels?’
  649. ‘No, but the only way you’re getting into a dwarf city is through small tunnels. The main entrances have fortresses around them that are impossible to siege.’
  651. ‘Why?’
  653. ‘There’s no real way from stopping dwarves from smuggling in supplies. Too many tunnels, you’d need to surround the entire mountain range. So you have to invade into their tunnels, which is their territory and once your line of men meet their line of shields, momentum is lost entirely. There isn’t much that can sway an overlapping dwarven line of shields. And while each one of your attacks bounces off harmlessly, an axe flicks out, felling a man, or one of their small canons go off.
  655. And if your line looks weak, a bunch of glory-seeking dwarves will leap out with huge hammers and axes and shatter it entirely. If you actually manage to push them back far enough, the tunnels open into wider caverns and there you can begin to make use of numbers, formations and tactics.’
  657. He throws the bone away and rises, stretching. ‘Sounds like you like dwarves.’
  659. He looks away, a heat rising to his cheeks, ‘I supposed I did.’ The tales he heard growing up, the magic weapons and the wars against dragons fostered a heroic image in his mind. Touching on the old obsessions of his young self seemed… wrong at this point in his life.
  661. ‘Attacking dwarves sounds hard. How do you know all this?’
  663. ‘It’s all theoretical. Books. Because of what a pain in the ass it would be, it’s easier to forge alliances. An old military general once visited a dwarven hold. They let him watch them train. He wrote an entire book on theoretically attacking a dwarven hold. I think it’s partly because of that book that no one’s ever tried.’
  665. ‘So what about black dwarves?’ He places a hand to his neck just under where it meets his skull and pushes. A cluster of cracking pops ring out through the surroundings. He pulls a face and does the same in the opposite direction. Crack.
  667. ‘Pretty much the same but ten times as stealthy. A little less technologically impressive but stronger at corrupt magic and where they fail technologically speaking, they more than make up for it with corrupt magical augmentations to their machinery. Generally speaking there’s no real physical difference between a dwarf and a black dwarf except for their namesake, the black sclera around their pupils. Rarely though you’ll get extreme variations in skin tone and even rarer yet, you’ll get their version of a succubus, which is basically the same as any other succubus only shorter, stronger, bustier and without wings.’
  669. He stoops down and picks up his helmet, brushing off any wetness and grass before slipping it onto his head. ‘With the demon invasion of the north the chances are that the tunnels under these mountains are either empty or full of black dwarves. And if it’s the latter, we’ll have to go over. Too much corruption.’
  671. She imitates his actions, rising and stretching in an almost catlike flexibility, standing with her legs straight and rising up on the tips of her toes with her arms stretched out. She leans back as far as her balance would let her with her eyes squeezed shut and little groans escaping as bits and pieces of body crack and pop.
  673. Her silhouette cuts an overly distracting figure for Gram, her round butt made exceptionally perky by the tip-toed stance, the woollen white curve of her smooth yet well-formed thighs, rounding into a bit of underbutt before disappearing under her tight shorts.
  675. The hem of her shirt has ridden up to reveal her toned belly and cute navel, while her wide and backward-stretched arms has her bust pressing, straining against her jacket. The sight invokes images of barely-constrained eroticism, and elicits within him the long forgotten urge to pluck at the frays and unravel her before him.  
  677. Shaking his head slightly to dislodge the impulses, he walks past her, collecting her hood as he does so and pulling it over her head. Her cloth-covered ears tent the hood and flick in protest.
  679. They leave the small fire to burn and leave the lush green of the small glade behind to resume their walk through the forest.
  681. ‘How long until we make it to the mountains?’ They cross another stream, and climb a small hill where half the path had eroded into a small cliff. In single file, they traverse it carefully.
  683. ‘A few days walk.’
  685. ‘And to cross them?’
  687. ‘Depends.’ A fallen tree blocks the path and there are a few others about, the upended root systems probably responsible for some of the erosion at parts. He jumps atop it and turns back to offer a hand to his companion.
  689. ‘How long if y-’ her thoughts grind to a halt, as figures begin to appear from behind the trees and shrubbery. Silently, unannounced. If they’d wanted to they could have crept far closer. The thought puts Gram on guard and instinctively he puts a hand on his companion and steps forward while nudging her behind him.
  691. The figures become clearer, leaving the cover of tree-trunks and leaves, grey wolven ears pointed forward attentively and large, deadly looking claws lingering on the gnarled tree-bark as they pass. It’s a group of four, presumably the same werewolves they’d heard earlier in the day. They’re all naked to the last and display proudly not only the physique of an apex predator, but also the feminine curves and wicked beauty you’d expect of a werewolf.
  693. The four stand before Gram and his sword, at a large distance away, the biggest stepping forward followed by three more. The one in the back sports a grimace under her long jagged hair and holds a paw to a bleeding wound gouged out of her side.
  695. He shifts uncomfortably, half torn between facing off against the werewolves, half wary of his companion’s deadly stillness. Her hood is still drawn and low, but her gaze is characteristically sharp and he can tell she’s a sudden movement away from springing into action.
  697. The morning’s ambush was necessary, a matter of fact. But spilling blood here? Uncharacteristic as it was for a paladin, ex-or-otherwise to spare consideration for a monster, unnecessary bloodshed was unnecessary bloodshed. And these werewolves weren’t tainted. He takes his hand from her shoulder, and plants it on the crown of her head, making her gasp slightly as he rubs it before focusing his attention on the wolves.
  699. Grey fur with smears of whites and pale browns unify them, along with long grey hair. The four appear to be related, sisters at the least, though the way they wear their hair varies. Two have a rugged, spiked style, the second biggest wears her long wavy tresses loose, but they naturally fall down her chest and curl at the tips into small drills.
  701. The last and biggest wears her hair pushed back and of the four only her sizable, firm breasts are completely bare, unhidden by grey locks. Her piercing blue eyes study Gram’s defensive body language and she lets out a short, staggered whine.
  703. He doesn’t react, prompting the big wolf to frown in a moment of confusion before a realization hits her and she begins something which sounds like a growl before turning into a clearing of her throat.
  705. “Peace.” Her voice is quiet and rough, her more human vocalizations clearly unused for years now. “We hunt.” Her ears twitch and her eyes drift, as if searching for the words in her mind, “Demon pig. No… B-boar. Big. Danger.” Her accent can only be described as wolfish, if that were even a way to describe an accent, though there are hints of Strohmbelt in there too. Her eyes flick momentarily to the sword and there’s recognition and respect in her gaze. “Care.”
  707. The Alpha turns, sniffs and makes a slight gesture to her pack, before heading off at a light jog, mindful of her wounded sister’s pace. He watches them leave, not relaxing until their padded footfalls are outside of earshot. Though, with how quietly they stalk the woods, he stops hearing them sooner than he sees the tip of a big bushy grey tail disappear behind the trees.
  709. He takes his hand off his sword’s head and turns to her, ‘Told you.’ He looks at her smiling, slightly flushed face and an expression of confusion crosses his features, though his face was all but entirely hidden under mask and helm. ‘What?’
  711. Her smile widens and she shakes her head gently, long ears flopping under her hood with the motion. ‘Nothing. So,’ they resume walking, ‘You were right. Werewolves.’
  713. ‘We should be careful. If the tainted boar they’re hunting managed to escape from four werewolves and wound one, her warning might have been an understatement. And I doubt it’s entirely unhurt either. I don’t want a crazed boar charging us any time soon.’
  715. ‘Scared?’
  717. He shakes his head ‘I hate wasting food and tainted meat is a pain to purify.’ He hesitates. ‘By the way, why didn’t you… well…’ He shakes his head, ‘Never mind.’
  719. She feigns hurt with a painfully belying playfulness in her gaze, ‘Do you think me indiscriminate?’ He declines to comment, and she lets out a soft “hmph”, ‘She stood far enough away. I…’ a lovely – if demented – expression that Gram doesn’t notice due to the depth of her hood passes her features. ‘Appreciate the gesture, but you really should be more careful. A werewolf’s entire body is her weapon, she was a step out of the range where I wouldn’t be able to react fast enough to protect you. I…’ she frowns, as if chiding herself internally while simultaneously reaffirming her feelings, ‘I am here to protect you. You don’t have to shield me.’
  721. “Hm.” He doesn’t offer anything more than that noncommittal grunt, instead opting to walk in silence, thinking upon her words. A new sound pushes its way into their peaceful walk, a constant, rapid flowing of water. The game trail they follow spreads out almost deliberately and careful scrutiny reveals the odd, tiny patch of cut stone, uncovered by dirt, grass and moss.
  723. The artificial nature of the path only becomes that much more apparent as the trees thin out. The shrubbery gives way to the bank of a stream and the path crosses the flowing water, held aloft by a carved stone arch.
  725. The two jolt to a stop as their eyes are drawn, following the sounds of a pained grunting to a hulking black mass, dripping blood on the damp and pebbled silt. It stands at the size of a horse, but twice as bulky, muscles rippling under a thin layer of coarse fur, lines of brutal bristles lining its back.
  727. ‘Fuck.’
  729. Gram goes to take a step back, but the boar snorts and turns, sensing their presence. Its left tusk is broken and its right bloodied. Curving wickedly, the tips are positioned to gore in the messiest manner possible and the beady, smouldering crimson eyes seem to carry just that intent.
  731. ‘Have you ever hunted boar before?’
  733. ‘Once. I was too young to do anything but watch though.’ It snorts and lowers its head, stubby tail sticking up, stepping to the side almost contemplatively. ‘There were ten men on horseback including me and a pack of dogs. Frescoes show mad boars charging into spears, but in reality, the dogs did all the hunting and the host ended it with a knife.’
  735. ‘We don’t have dogs or spears.’
  737. ‘You cut clean through that captain’s armor this morning. Swords don’t work that way. You don’t work that way.’
  739. ‘Of course I do, you just never tried to slice through plate armor.’
  741. She was right. It was common convention to aim for the soft, unarmoured spots. That’s how he was trained. Who would think to cut into plate armor?
  743. ‘I’m joking, it was magic.’
  745. ‘Oh.’ He locks eyes with the smouldering crimson, and the two beasts square one another up, ‘Well the thickness of demon boar hide and bone is said to rival that of the hardest steel. Think you can cut it?’
  747. ‘Of course, but I think you should try cutting it. You’ve not used me as anything other than a sword yet.’
  749. She changes back and he scowls visibly as he takes the woman turned tool by the hilt, ‘You want me to use magic?’
  751. ‘I’ll be using the magic.’ He lowers himself to meet the boar’s coming charge and grips his sword two handedly. The blade seems to coat itself something, in a vague glimmer reminiscent of the same shimmering when she attacks in her human form. He doesn’t get long to admire the visual effect though, as the boar announces its murderous intent with a deep grunt.
  753. He positions himself sidewards, ready to move to the boar’s side, the one with the broken tusk. Its speed is entirely unnatural and combined with its mass it could easily charge through any manner of formation of men, shields or otherwise. He reacts, less thinking and premeditating, more moving instinctively as his eyes follow the approach of the hulking black mass.
  755. It lowers its head further yet as it reaches within a few metres, ready to thrust its tusks up and gut the fool before it, but Gram moves quicker, lunging forward and swinging his sword in a low, diagonal slice. His eyes flash open wide as the sword misses, cutting thin air. His heart leaps into his throat and his body dumps adrenalin into his system as the boar passes and he stumbles forward, unbalanced before spinning to receive the returning blow that was sure to come.
  757. It takes his mind a moment to process the chunk of bloody skull flying into the air and smacking wetly onto the bank. ‘Are you alright?’
  759. He fights to ignore the overwhelming hammering of his heart, “Yeah, it just shocked me. I thought I missed.” His thoughts tumble out of his mouth unfiltered and it takes him a moment to calm down. He looks down at his sword. “There was no resistance at all, like cutting through air. I’m not sure I like that.” He lets it go and it returns to the form of his feminine companion.  
  761. She turns to the fallen carcass of the beast. It lay on its side, staring wildly with its skull open, two thirds of its brain missing, splattered on the silt. He takes a breath and shakes his head, returning to the inner dialogue. ‘I could have just stood there and held you out. Let it cut itself in half.’
  763. ‘Probably.’ They both turn, reacting to a new noise as the bushes part and four figures burst out, ready for a fight. There’s an almost comical deflation as the werewolves take in the sight of the felled beast.
  765. The leader steps up, frowning, “You met it first. How?”
  767. Gram shrugs, “We were just walking.”
  769. The big alpha shakes her head and sighs, “Mad boar, running in circles. Very well. Good kill.” There’s a bit of whining from the younger wolves as their Alpha turns to walk away, but they follow, if grudgingly.
  771. “Wait, we can’t take this.”
  773. She turns back, “Your kill, you must eat.”
  775. “We’ll take a leg, you take the rest.”
  777. The wolf stands there for a moment, thinking, and nods. “Thank you human.” He watches as she walks over to the boar and wraps a claw about its leg. With a nauseatingly wet noise she tears the limb from the beast effortlessly, as you’d tear the leg from a roasted chicken. Then, she turns to her sisters and without a word passing between them, the two unwounded move to lift and carry the boar away.
  779. The big wolf with the slicked back hair returns to Gram with the huge chunk of meat in hand. “The heart. Do you want it?” He takes the torso sized leg and shakes his head.
  781. “No.”
  783. Her eyes drift over Gram and his sword, “You are both unhurt. Skilled hunter. It is… rare in a man.” She looks to the sword and meets her icy gaze for a moment before turning back to Gram, “Shame you are taken. Farewell.”
  785. With those words of parting she turns, her tail wagging lazily as she follows her sisters back into the woods, leaving the two behind with only a smear of blood and a disembodied leg.
  787. Gram looks skyward, weighing the remaining hours of sunlight. There weren’t many. ‘We’ll camp here tonight.’
  790. *   *   *   *
  792. It was a sizable thing, as tall as he was and about as thick around as his bicep. It had died fairly recently and was mostly desiccated, though it may take a bit to burn. Gram drags its remains to the stream, leaving behind a trail of crispy birch leaves.
  794. The sound of the running waters grows louder, the shrubbery and trees growing thinner, until he steps out onto the silty bank of the stream as it cuts through the woods. A sense of danger takes him and he reacts to the sharp gaze sent his way, turning his head towards the girl sitting on his laid out bedroll. The leg of ham lay near her, cut into long and thin strips, no more than a quarter inch thick. Laid out and piled up upon a flat surface of clear snow she’d packed together, a lardy mound of fat lay off to the side.
  796. She sits cross-legged, his pack on her lap and her chin resting lazily atop it. The sharpness of her gaze lasts but the fraction of an instant, long enough for the blundering silhouette to take a more familiar form, at which point her long ears perk up and she tilts her head to a side.
  798. “A whole tree?”
  800. He walks it over to her and drops it with a wooden thunk and the hissing rustling of dead leaves. “It’s not like I have to worry about it blunting you.” He begins scraping at the sand with his hands, making a small but widening pit.
  802. She puts the pack down on the bedroll and stands, yawning tiredly as she makes her way over to the tree and starts with the trunk, slicing it into logs, starting small and thin before cutting them larger.
  804. Gram for his part tears off a thin, small branch and begins to build a tiny fire, beginning with a layer of easily burnt dry leaves and thin, spindly sticks. Happy, he heads to his pack to fetch his tinderbox.
  806. Before long the tree has turned into a stacked pile of wood, next to a pile of kindling – quick work, considering the sword’s hasty efficacy. As the last log is placed atop the irregular pentagon of stacked timber a flame licks out of the fire pit, igniting the dried leaves and setting the sticks alight. Gram adds to it, until it’s a roaring fire and he can begin stacking decently sized logs atop.
  808. The fire calms, burning weakly and low at the bottom, but it isn’t long until the tell-tale smoke begins to billow out and the bottom-most logs ignite.
  810. Finally, with a growling stomach, he turns his eyes to neatly cut pile of meat. Sighing in trepidation before the most tedious and time consuming job of all, he makes his way over to the pile of meat and sits down heavily, beginning a low monotonous chant while touching the strips of raw flesh individually.
  812. A slow drip of black with the consistency of tar begins to ooze from the flesh before dropping down, sizzling and evaporating upon the silt with such volume that it was almost like holding up a drenched cloth.
  814. This carries on for another handful of minutes, until each strip is purified and the assembled meat is a notable few shades pinker. Pure enough for consumption at any rate. He stands, leaving the strips on the compacted snow and heads into the woods, stopping only momentarily.
  816. “Start cooking some of them up. There’s a pan in my pack. Look for the bundles of cloth, there should be some vegetables I looted a week back.” He leaves her behind to rifle through his things and disappears behind the bushes.
  818. She digs out the pan and the balls of cloth, finding foodstuffs inside, half a cabbage, a loaf of hard bread, an onion and three quarters of a wheel of hard cheese. She pulls it all out and assembles it, putting the pan atop the fire and grabbing a fistful of the cut and shaved off boar fat and dropping it down on the pan. She finds a wooden spoon pressed up against the side of the pack and pulls it out, using it to push the animal fat around the pan, coating it in the spitting grease.
  820. She singles out the cabbage and onion, cutting up a quarter of the former and half of the latter, ensuring to slice it as thinly as she possibly could, with as microscopically thin a blade as she can manage. By the time she’s done, the incisions are so fine as to be invisible and not an ounce of the vile vapours have antagonized her eyes. She gazes imperiously down upon the onion. That tidbit and the culinary processes in general are lessons learned vicariously, almost a genetic memory, a side effect of her nature as an old, sentient tool.
  822. A convenient one at that. As the pan begins to spit, she scoops up the cut vegetables from the makeshift chopping board of ice and drops it into the melted fat, causing the pan to hiss and an aroma to rise as the vegetables begin to fry. She takes out a metal mug from the bag and heads over to the stream to fill it with water before returning to place the mug in the fire, to boil any impurities out of it.
  824. She dices the strips of meat next and drops them in once the vegetables grow soft, frying the meat in its own fat until it browns lightly. Gram returns holding a few long, straight branches and loops of vine, just as she carefully pours the boiling water into the pan, the hot metal mug held by faint knives coming out of her fingertips like claws. Steam billows out of the mug and mixes with the small puffs of her breath.
  826. “Smells good.”
  828. She beams at him, with a smug grin, “I know, right?”
  830. “Where did you learn to cook?”
  832. She shrugs, “Always.”
  834. He begins digging another pit in the sand after laying down his bounty. Once he finishes Gram erects the five branches in a triangular shape, holding out a length of vine for his sword to cut and wrapping it about the top to secure them together.
  836. Then he holds out another section of vine, this time long enough to wrap around the small tent thrice and with the last, he wraps the longest length of vine between the poles, creating a tight network of intersections. By the time he has finished with the structure, the sun has set, though the moon provides more than enough light to go by, as does the fire burning nearby.
  838. The sword checks on the broth and declares it ready, serving it up in small wooden bowls, stashed away in the pack. He walks over to his bedroll and removes his helm and gauntlets, setting them aside and pulling his face mask down before fetching a bag of salt from his pack and rubbing the grains into the strips of meat liberally. Only once he’d finished does he take a break to eat, coating them to the last before he accepts the offered food.
  840. “Mmm, it’s good”
  842. She smiles happily as she drinks from her own, ‘I’m glad you like it.’ They sit next to each other on the bedroll and consume the soup, sharing the loaf of bread and tearing free small chunks to soften in the broth.
  844. He lifts it to his lips and takes another drink, noticing partway the soft sensation of her weight leaning against him. He stifles a grumble and shifts a bit to the side, only for her to pursue, even reaching across him at one point to fish out the wheel of cheese, apologising disingenuously as her breasts press up against his arm. He sighs and sets about to ignore her temptations and is moderately successful until she leans in after finishing her meal, and sniffs him.
  846. “W-what.” A heat rises from his collar.
  848. “You should bathe.”
  850. His face turns sour “Why?”
  852. “Because you smell. Strongly.”
  854. “Does it bother you?”
  856. “No. But every animal within half a mile has your scent. That bothers me.” She appeals to a sense of pragmatism and he sighs in defeat as he finishes his bowl.
  858. “Fine. Just let me finish this first. Thanks for the meal.” He sets his bowl aside and stands, scooping up a handful of the meat strips before heading over to the framework of the hut-to-be and hanging the strips of raw meat upon the tightly wrapped lengths of vine, until every inch has been draped in meat, leaving only scraps which his sword promptly cooks up and begins to snack on.
  860. “Hey”
  862. ‘Yes?’ She turns to him, a grease-dripping strip hanging from her mouth. She chews as she awaits his response, the strip slowly but surely being sucked up, each jaw motion making the tips of her ears wobble.
  864. “Go cut some branches. Ones with lots of leaves.” He turns back to the ‘hut’, digging a deeper pit with his hands before filling it with kindling then larger logs. This time he does without his tinderbox, instead taking the already roaring fire and lighting a stick before taking it over to the small structure, coaxing the leaves to catch and burn its way to the thinner twigs.
  866. Before long a healthy flame has built and more importantly, a smoky flame. His companion returns at this moment, arms burdened by a large bundle of branches, dense with leaves. He thanks her and lays the branches upon the structure, walling it off from the cool elements and trapping the smoke inside to treat the meat for the journey ahead.
  868. With that finally out of the way, he turns his eyes to the moon-lit stream. ‘Well, I’ve bathed in colder. Do me a favour and put a few logs in the fire. Don’t want that going out while I’m still wet.’ He walks up to his bedroll and begins to undress, beginning with the armor and then the padded underclothes, the gambeson and hose, to finally his linen underclothes.
  870. It was this final layer that most of his sweat had soaked into and it was only this layer that he had a spare of in his pack. He hesitates a moment before removing this final layer and stepping into the stream fully nude, awkward at the idea of revealing himself to a woman, his tool of bloodshed or otherwise. And then a belated thought had struck him. She was well aware of their time spent together prior to her sentience. He looks over to her and she catches his gaze, accurately piecing together the gears turning in his mind. It doesn’t even take a fraction of a moment and then she grins lasciviously.
  872. Stiffly he disrobes, burdened with a newfound embarrassment, frowning his way into the stream where contact with the chilled waters makes him hiss involuntarily, sucking a lungful of air in through his teeth.
  874. He crouches down first, clothes in hand and soaks it through, reaching through the waters for some stones to rub along the cloth and dislodge the dirt. He does this for a few minutes until satisfied and returns to the fire momentarily to prop up some branches to hang the sodden cloth off before returning to the water. He forces himself to walk further in, until the waters reach his knees, where he drops down and submerges himself up to the chest.
  876. Scooping handfuls of water, he runs his hands over his body, scrubbing away his skin with callused fingers, occasionally drifting over the odd ridge of scarred flesh. He does this until his skin feels fresh and clean and he rubs his hands together before cupping water and splashing it over his face.
  878. The water drips off his beard, turning the surface into a mess of ripples, its moonlit reflection distorted further as he dunks his head in and rubs his face before running his fingers through his hair and rubbing at his scalp.  
  880. With an arc of flicked water he resurfaces, water sloughing off his head. Briefly, his view is obscured by a long brown fringe, but his vision clears again as he slicks his soaked hair back and studies his reflection in the water. It was the rugged face of a man who’d been through much, with solid grey eyes staring back at him. He frowns slightly as he runs his hand over a wild and ragged beard. Were his eyes always that colour?
  882. He freezes, as he hears barefooted steps from behind. Light steps, the kind of gait so graceful as to barely stir the water as she enters it, steps turned to splashes. He keeps his head straight, but she wades in deeper than he, easily coming into his field of view, stepping in until the water laps at her hips.
  884. She ducks under for a second, leaving a cloud of floating silver on the surface, before emerging again. His breath catches, even as a moment of self-awareness at the cliché passes his mind.
  886. The sight is simply too beautiful for intrusive and reflective thought. His gaze follows instead the water cascading off her, like gems reflecting the moon light. The crystal droplets running down her brow collect on every ridge and peak. Her cute, slightly upturned nose, her upper lip, running along her diamond-shaped jaw before joining to drip from her chin.  
  888. She lets out a shuddering sigh, as the cool water washes over her. That motion causes her bountiful, perky breasts to jiggle, calling Gram’s attention immediately to the pale pink nipples cresting her shapely mounds. He realizes now that this is the first he’s seen them bare, and not covered in wolf-blood, not obscured by the dark of a tavern room, but lit, her pale white skin radiating with the glow of the moon.
  890. She turns to him and tilts her head quizzically, “Yeah?”
  892. He answers her in thought, not trusting his voice right now. ‘I was just thinking it’s been a while since I last shaved. Would you mind?’
  894. She beams brightly and begins to wade through the water toward him, ‘I’d love to.’ He closes his eyes and thrusts his jaw out, awaiting something, but definitely not expecting her to kneel before him and straddle his lap.
  896. He opens his eyes lightly, “What are you doing?” She shifts in his lap until comfortable, conjuring a shimmering, barely visible straight razor as she does and settling her soft butt in the cradle of his crossed legs.
  898. She takes hold of his chin and tilts his head so that the moonlight shines on his face, “How else were you expecting me to do this? Hold still.” She rises up – breasts at eye level – and begins to draw the blade along his jaw, its magnificent sharpness and its wielder’s steady hand shearing off the coarse hair without so much as the hint of a nick.
  900. Gram keeps very very still, trying not to look at the twin mounds before him, trying to ignore her sweet feminine scent and the softness of her thighs as they press against his. Trying and failing. She settles back down in his lap, working on his chin, neck and upper lip.
  902. She frowns and leans in close as she sculpts his beard, shaping the bits she doesn’t shave off. It is an action that only enflames Gram’s situation as her breasts press up to his chest and her scent becomes that much harder to ignore. Puzzlingly, he finds himself honing in on the gentle thrumming of her heart and the oh-so-quiet sounds of her breathing. It’s soothing, in as much as something incredibly arousing can be.
  904. She hesitates for only a moment before carrying on with her work – albeit with a heavy blush. That’s the only recognition she gives to the stiffening length of manhood rising between her legs and pressing into her butt. Gram goes stiff, in the other sense of the word, so stiff he forgets to breathe. ‘Relax.’ Her thoughts come to him, soft and warm with a hit of chiding. ‘I’m almost done.’
  906. She rises off him, to do the other side of his jaw and he takes a deep breath, loosening and wincing as he feels himself grow harder when her breasts are brought to eye-level. Again, the hair falls from his face in clumps and drops into the water below to be washed away by the current. But he doesn’t have long to linger on the falling lengths of coarse hair, as she settles back down again, gasping quietly as she rolls her hips on instinct against the hard length of cock.
  908. “Don’t.”
  910. “Sorry.” She settles down and scoops up a handful of water, washing his face clean of the errant hairs clinging to his wet skin. He catches his reflection in the ripples and admires her handiwork, his beard short, shaped and neat for the first time in as long as he can recall.  
  912. “Thanks.”
  914. “It looks good on you.” She slides off him and he breathes a small sigh of relief.
  916. “Mh.” She watches him grunt noncommittally and her breath catches as he stands, still erect. He looks down upon her and lingers, as if there were something on his lips, but eventually decides to say nothing, stepping out of the stream and towards the warm fire to thaw out.
  918. She trails after him, frowning as she deliberates over the way to approach him. The memory of his tongue on her lips leaves her knees week and she yearns to do the same for him, but wrestles with the understanding that he’ll push her away if she comes on too strong.
  920. “I can’t calm myself.” She blinks, taken aback by his words, not realising the long minutes she’d spent thinking. “Usually I can,” He turns back, erection jutting almost painfully in his fire-lit silhouette, “Ignore it, but you… do things to me that I can’t ignore.”
  922. His companion smiles as she steps up to him and pulls him into a hug, ‘It’s okay. This is why I’m here.’ He shivers as the tip presses in between her thighs.
  924. He grits his teeth, “I can’t, you’re a…”
  926. ‘Shh.’ Slowly she sinks, trailing her hands down his chest until she’s eyelevel with his throbbing mast, not diminished in the slightest by the cool night air – partly due to the radiating warmth of the fire. ‘This is my fault, so I’ll take care of it. Besides you can’t be pent up when there’s corruption all around and sluts looking to steal you from me. It’s a practical matter, practical.’
  928. He doesn’t say anything but he doesn’t stop her either as she leans forward, moving only to shudder as her warm breath rolls over the pre-slickened tip of his dick. ‘Why don’t you want me touching you? Do you not find me attractive?’
  930. He grits his teeth “Of course I do, bu-” His breath hitches as the soft lips he’d fantasized about not so long ago kiss at the tip of his shaft’s crown. He winces as his balls clench and he spurts out a little pre-cum. ‘But you’re not human. It’s wrong.’
  932. ‘At this point in your life, Gram, when you teeter on a blade’s edge between death and corruption, is the dogma they forced into you that important?’
  934. ‘Of course i-’
  936. ‘I’m not a monster either.’ She cuts into his refusal as it forms and flicks her tongue out to lick at the underside of his head, wrapping her slender fingers around the base and gently pressing her thumb against the bottom, angling it up. ‘So it’s okay, right? They never taught you to fear angels.’
  938. ‘You’re not an angel.’
  940. ‘I’m your sword, did they teach you to fear that?’ He shoots her a look, her sharp sarcasm taking him out of his apprehensions just a bit. Her eyes twinkle at his expression as she parts her lips, rolls out her tongue and takes the head of his cock into her mouth. It throbs angrily between her fingers and she gets a mouthful of his taste, the salty excitement sliding down her throat delectably.
  942. She beings to bob her head slowly, making her way down two centimetres at a time and taking one centimetre back, making it half way before the head rubs up against the back of her throat. She draws back, sucking hard enough to make him groan before releasing him with an audible pop, and lashing along his length with her tongue. She moans quietly for effect and it turns into a light giggle as he twitches in response.
  944. ‘You don’t know why you’re afraid. You only know that they told you to be scared. And you’re frightened that you want it.’ She takes the head of his cock in her mouth again and flashes him a sharp, chiding look,  which would have had no effect with dick between her lips had she not pressed her teeth to the sensitive flesh in warning, ‘So stop thinking, shut your brain up, and let me take care of this.’
  946. He tightens up, clenching his fists hard enough to make his knuckles white before releasing it all and letting the weight slough off his shoulders. Slowly, he reaches out and brushes his fingers though her hair and over her long elfin ear before gently taking a handful of the smooth, silky strands and catching the cartilage between thumb and forefinger.
  948. She smiles around the girth wedging her jaw open and in tandem with his guiding hand, descends on his cock once more, tongue swirling around the tip and cheeks hollowing to lick and caress her beloved’s tool, making lewd slurps as she swallows it. It grinds against the back of her throat at the half way point again but this time she pokes her tongue out between cock and bottom lip, angles herself upwards, sucks in a huge lungful of air through her nose and forces herself up the length. Greedily she swallows until the tip of his cock slides into her throat with a notable distention.
  950. She moans at the feeling of her throat-pussy being stretched and filled and aches to bury a fist between her legs, or better yet the magnificent slab she’s currently sucking on, but with a supreme and firm will she focuses purely on his pleasure. For now.
  952. He lets out a groan as she continues until two thirds of his dick are hidden behind her plush lips. She stops there and looks up at him, expecting praise the comes in the form of an ear rub and his second hand descending to pat her head before it takes the back in a soft grip and he uses his hold to thrust himself deeper down the passage of her warm and tight throat. It writhes pleasurably as she swallows inch after inch.
  954. Her hands go from flat on his thighs to wrapping about his hips in a hug and she lets out another low moan that vibrates along his length so pleasantly, he’s spurred to firm his grip on her silky, still-wet silver hair and hilt himself in her throat. She tightens in surprise, though there’s no shortage of deliberate intent to the cock-milking machinations of her snug neck-onahole.
  956. She moans again though it’s closer to a weak, blissful whine as his balls clench upon her chin and his loins lurch in anticipation to blow his first ever load down the throat of a woman. Down the throat of his woman. With her nose pressed up against his crotch she nuzzles in and swallows a few times, wringing and milking the girth crammed inside her. She feels the first spurt of cum distend his cock on its way down to blow inside her gullet and smear her stomach with his molten, pent up white seed.  
  958. She begins to push back against his grip, wanting to at least taste his load. Almost regretfully he lets her slide her throat off his cock, loosening his grip while ejaculating thick, nigh endless loads of cum. Enough to fill her mouth with the last few waves of climax and enough to shoot a last, weak rope on her face.
  960. He looks down at her, as she opens her mouth into a wide grin, swishes his seed about with her tongue and swallows, opening her mouth again to show to him before collecting the cum on her face with a finger and licking it off.
  962. Gram just shakes his head softly. “That was…”
  964. She grins smugly. “I know. Go to bed, I’ll take first watch.”
  966. “But,”
  968. She pierces him with her gaze. “You don’t have anything to say, Gram. Think on it a little longer and if in the process of thinking you get ‘worked up’ again, I’ll be here for you.”
  970. He nods and dresses himself as much as he cares to before lying down on his bedroll and succumbing to the weight of satisfied exhaustion. ‘Remember to keep the fires burning.’
  972. ‘Mh.’ He closes his eyes just as the effort to keep them open grows too weighty. For the first time in a long while, he sleeps soundly.
  974. *   *   *   *
  976. ‘Hey. Gram. Wake up, it’s time to switch.’
  978. Roused, he stifles a yawn and looks up at his companion, nodding in affirmation before rising and stretching, feeling his bones creak and pop, envious of those in homes sleeping through the night on soft pillows. He turns to his pile of armour and gears himself, watching her as she stacks more wood onto both fires, yawning tiredly as she does so. They weren’t burning so low as to need it, but it would offer him an hour or two before they needed tending to.
  980. He slides on the gauntlets last, leaving the helm aside for later and considers his flat bedroll a moment before sitting back down and crossing his legs.
  982. His sword looks at him curiously, but he only pats his thigh, pooling his cloak in his lap as a makeshift pillow. Cautious of his open consideration, she lays down with her head resting on his thigh, on her back at first until she rolls over to face him.
  984. He pays her no heed as she closes her eyes and instead looks into the flames encroaching greedily upon the untouched logs. His hand makes its way to her silver tresses and he strokes her hair absentmindedly as he looks to the dark perimeter outside the fire before returning to the flickering flames.
  986. As he watches the light dance, a thought crosses his mind and a name passes his lips.    
  988. “Katlein.”
  990. A happy smile comes to her as she slips into a sound sleep.
  993. *   *   *   *
  995. Gram stretches and walks another lap around the perimeter before returning to the fire and putting the last remaining log on top. Smoke continues to billow out of the top of the hut and he watches it filter through the first rays of the morning sun.
  997. Katlein stirs on the bedroll behind him and he ponders her name again, rolling it about in his mind and tasting it. She lets out a groan as she stretches out, arms and legs spread eagle before falling slack and rolling her head to the side.
  999. A light smile comes to her lips as her eyes fall across his. “Katlein, huh?”
  1001. “Do you not like it?”
  1003. She shakes her head, “I like it. But why?”
  1005. He turns away, “Practicality. If you don’t have a name what do I call you?”
  1007. “Yours.”
  1009. “That’s not exactly a name I can shout out.”
  1011. She grins smugly, enjoying toying with the newly cracked exterior, ‘It’s not like you have to shout.’ Her thought comes to him as a slow whisper, inaudible if spoken aloud considering the distance between them, but in his mind he can almost feel her lips brush his ear. ‘I think you just wanted to name me…’
  1013. He ignores her provocation and the resultant chuckle, opting instead to dismantle the hut. He brings over a bundle of cloth and a bag of salt, setting them aside for later before tossing the branches out of the way and over towards the tree-line.
  1015. He takes one strip and breaks it in two, offering one half to the looming shadow behind him to munch on and tasting the other half himself. It tastes as one might expect.
  1017. He lays the cloth out and sprinkles salt over it before laying the strips of dried mead along it, sprinkling on more salt and so forth until all that remains of yesterday’s shrunken and portable quarry is covered in salt and wrapped up in cloth as to keep the air from it. He plucks a section of vine from the hut and wraps it about the package securely.
  1019. Then, all that’s left it is break the hut over the lowly smouldering fire and eating a breakfast of bread, meat and cheese before departing for the mountains once more.
  1022. *   *   *   *
  1024. After another two days they come to an unnaturally wide looking trail and stop for another of their brief breaks, spying out a fallen log to rest upon. The past two days were uneventful in every essence of the word compared to the first. The woods were quiet, though not unnaturally so. They kept on the move after only sporadic breaks, the preserved meat staving off their need to hunt for fresh game, foraging along the way for nuts, vegetables and fruit.
  1026. There were no surprise interactions between the two of them and the denizens of these woods, no confrontations with mad beasts. No deeper understandings about the relationship between the two of them unlocked. Indeed it would have seemed to her that the brief hint of progress that night had regressed entirely, if not for the small gestures and the hint of warmth in his voice as he calls her name. As of yet, his manhood hadn’t demanded attending to, nor was she eager to force the matter.
  1028. He looks back, seeing an obvious path twist through the trees before bending out of sight and then turns the other way, seeing the same path continue forwards, the two of them having stumbled upon the road before realizing it. Stiffly, as to not dislodge Kat’s head as it comes to rest upon his shoulder, he digs into his pack and unwraps the package of salty meat before taking out two pieces.
  1030. One, he takes for himself to chew on. The other he holds up to Kat’s lips where she snaps at it. ‘What is it?’ She looks at him as she chews, curiously, noting his change in demeanour as he lifts his helm’s visor, pulls down the face mask and pops the meat into his mouth.
  1032. ‘We’re close.’ As if to demonstrate, he stands and takes a few steps back to the middle of the road and crouches down. With a light scraping, he brushes at the snow and then digs in the dirt, a task made somewhat harder by the thick leather gloves. He slides two fingers in knuckle deep and spreads the earth, revealing a very finely cut stone road, bordered in knotwork. He brushes his glove clean against his cloak and rises, ‘It’s probably not too long until we reach the foot of the mountains. Best to be a little more alert from now on.’
  1034. He stands in the middle of the road, chewing until the last salty strip of dried meat has been softened and swallowed. With that he pulls his mask back up and flips the visor down. Kat finishes soon after, slipping off the log to join him as he makes his way down the path.
  1036. The forest floor to gives way to patches of paved road and the trees begin to thin. Snow blankets the surroundings more than it did deeper in the woods and soon it gets to the point where snow is piled up either side of the road. That the road had been cleared was not a good sign.
  1038. Before long the trees ahead begin to thin and both Gram and his sword can make out the face of tall mountains in the distance. The path begins to climb and the rate at which the tree-line thins out increases drastically until they are out of the woods entirely and at the gouged out foot of a mountain. They stop just short of stepping out into the open and get off the road, observing from the tree-line.
  1040. The path continues going until it reaches where the foot of the mountain range would be, if not for the large tunnel hewn into the rock. There are fortifications built into the mountain and to the left is a large bunker-like structure that protrudes out and rises high, higher than the forest canopy with a ring of ballistae at the lookout.
  1042. Had it been a more major entrance there would have been a ring of cannons positioned to rain explosive lead down on the enemy and more than one of these outpostings. The structure was half hewn from the mountain with what was revealed at the top being a dome shaped roof with gaps to look out from. The rest of the structure was like a short, squat and fat tower, cylindrical in shape and descending down to the ground. There was no obvious entrance into it from the outside, so the way in was likely somewhere in the tunnel.
  1044. There was only one more fortification carved into the mountain range, some hundred meters higher from where they now stood, a parapet jutting out of the face of the mountain lined with ancient looking ballistae facing decidedly skyward, less to protect this tunnel and more to stave off some horrid winged threat.
  1046. The ballistae look ancient and unused and the whole place has snow piled countless meters high, though that wasn’t high enough to cover the small mounds of chains resting beside the machine.
  1048. The metal was linked to the end of the bolts and the only guess Gram had to its purpose was to possibly ensnare winged beasts. The place looks abandoned but there’s also enough evidence to suggest recent activity.
  1050. ‘Let’s stay here and wait a bit. I’d rather not linger here too long, but there’s no telling if something is watching the entrance. We’ll sneak in at nightfall.’ Gram settles down against the trunk of a thick tree and tips his head back, drawing his cowl low enough to block out the mid-afternoon light. He’s about to close his eyes and settle in when Kat’s soft weight settles in his lap.
  1052. She wiggles about and gets comfortable, sliding the last piece into place as she grabs his arms and draws them aroud her neck like a muffler. ‘Keep watch and wake me when the sun sets.’ She nods slightly and he closes his eyes and settles in to a quick nap.
  1055. *   *   *
  1057. ‘Gram’. He jerks, smacking his head against the tree trunk, helmet thankfully absorbing the blow. The first thing he notices is the fact that the sunlight had given way to darkness.
  1059. ‘Any movement?’
  1061. ‘None’
  1063. ‘Place might be abandoned after all. Ideally I’d camp here for a few days and keep watch but I don’t have the time for that.’ He turns to Kat, ‘You best change back, it’s easier to spot two moving shadows than it is one.’
  1065. He gets up and shakes the stiffness out of him, hearing his bones and joints creak and pop. By the time he’s done, his sword had already returned to her rightful place and he draws the large hood over himself, cloaked nearly completely.
  1067. He makes his way down the decline carefully. As pointless as it might seem to abandon your outer defences, there was no telling if the inside of the tunnel was equally destitute. That was, after all, the point of this little scouting endeavour. He moves at a moderate pace, not dashing through the dark but not crawling through it either, sticking instead to the left of the passage and hugging the high rising wall.  
  1069. ‘What will you do, if it’s not empty?’
  1071. ‘Run, if I can, fight if I can’t.’ He trudges silently along, reflecting on his thoughts. ‘I don’t want to die underground.’
  1073. ‘We can always just go over.’
  1075. ‘It’s worth checking out. If these tunnels are empty, we’ll pass this mountain range that much quicker.’
  1077. ‘Is it worth the risk?’
  1079. ‘Going over is just as big a risk. Treacherous climbs, freezing weather and who knows what’s in those mountains. Besides, I don’t want to freeze to death.’
  1081. He can almost feel the look she’s giving him. ‘Awful picky for a man with a deathwish…’ a moment of quiet passes between them before he speaks.
  1083. ‘I don’t really want to die at all to be honest. It’s just preferable to losing my mind and turning into…’ Images of the past year crosses his mind, of degenerated and foul demons running rampant over the northern lands. ‘Into that.’
  1085. The mouth of the tunnel turns from an oppressive wall of blackness, to the interior of the passage, lit some way in the distance by torches. That fact alone is enough to warrant caution, but dwarven braziers were said to burn indefinitely.
  1087. The closer he gets to the mouth of the tunnel the more unsettled he feels. The sensation quickly makes its way from an unsubstantiated hunch to a linking of tangible observations. He crouches down and runs a finger along the floor as the grass-laced road turns to the clear stone path of the tunnel. It quite obviously still sees frequent – and recent – foot traffic. Something he would have seen for himself had he simply allowed for more time.
  1089. As he turns, he breathes a sight out through his nose, which ends in a frustrated click of the tongue. “Fuck.” A dim glow began to filter in through the treeline, too large to come from any single torch. The place was clearly still populated, so the tunnel was not an option. Walled in on either side by rising walls of stone, there was nowhere to hide around the mouth of the tunnel either.
  1091. ‘If I turn, I want you to end me.’
  1093. ‘Sorry Gram, but I won’t do that.’
  1095. Ignoring her words and acting swiftly on the only recourse left, Gram hurries to retrace his steps, climb the incline and vanish between the trees once more. He makes it only a handful of steps.
  1097. “Now where are you going?” He spins, drawing his sword as he does, just in time to receive a heavy slug-like impact to his left shoulder. “Woah now. Trust me, you won’t want to be shot twice. So keep your movements nice and slow.”
  1099. He keeps the tip of his blade levelled at his assailant, half torn between watching it materialize from the shadows of the tunnel and checking his shoulder. No wound, no dents in the armor, no pain. But he can feel something worming into him.
  1101. It appears from the shadow, about half his height and clad head to toe in armor with a large one handed axe hanging off its hip. It wears a helm, fashioned after a fearsome warrior with a metal beard that ends above the chest. The actual beard extends down beneath the helm and reaches down to its stomach. Though there’s something off about it, it looks too… soft.
  1103. Menacingly, it holds out a metal pipe, fitted with a wooden handle and it takes Gram a second of churning the dusty gears to recall the firearms dwarves are fond of. He takes a step back on instinct. “Oh, you recognise this? Not many of you lanky surfacers do.”
  1105. “I’ve read about it.”
  1107. “Then you know trying to avoid it is pointless.”
  1109. “I also know that if you shot me with it, I wouldn’t have a shoulder anymore.”
  1111. With a hand, it reaches up to its helm and lifts it off. The overly soft ‘beard’ reveals itself to be the long, silky hair of a woman, parted around the back and pushed forward over the shoulders, loosely gathered in the facsimile of a beard. The line of her jaw is smooth and delicate, lips plump and… receptive. But what catches Gram’s attention most of all is her eyes.
  1113. Not because they are beautiful – though they are – but because the sclera around her emerald green eyes are pitch black. Though stoic faced – and hidden behind his helm regardless – he groans inside. The black dwarf grins and the barrel of her gun alights in deep purple runes “Personal modification. You’ll be feeling it soon.” Her eyes drift to the blade pointed at her. “That’s some fine dwarven steel.”
  1115. “Isn’t it?” The glow in the distance has given way to a procession of black dwarves, leading a line of bound men. They walk in as orderly a fashion as a line of bound men can while being felt up by amorous dwarves. The leader breaks from the rest and heads for the two standing off, though it’s evident that Gram is the one trapped.
  1117. “What do you have here, Moira?”
  1119. “Ah, Brenda. Welcome back.” The dwarf levelling her weapon at Gram nods respectfully towards the other dwarf. It’s a respect born on many levels, to Grams eye at least.
  1121. There is a respect of birth. There are many things signalling the black dwarf’s elevated position. The way she swaggers, partly. The bust that not even dwarven plate can truly contain, partly. And then there are perhaps the two most evident symbols of the plated black dwarf’s superior blood. The long, thick, armor plated tail, ending in a sharp spaded tip and the twin horns jutting out of her helm, entirely natural. These dwarven succubi were to dwarves as hobgoblins were to goblins. Or a noble to a slave.
  1123. On top of that there is a martial respect. Her armor is both resplendent and worn. Even to Gram’s eye he can tell it had seen much battle. Runes are carved into the dwarven steel and something tells him that even his magic blade would struggle to cut through their runic protection. Unlike human armor, he can see very few gaps in the dwarven plate to take advantage of, save the lower portion of her helm, which leaves her mouth and jaw unguarded.
  1125. Despite this, her full feminine lips have never been split and her soft cheeks sport no scars. It speaks to her prowess that despite being unarmoured she’d remained unscathed. The pommel of a sword has never cracked her teeth. Her long white hair isn’t fashioned in the shape of a beard and instead flows down her back wildly. Caressed by the wind it would be a nightmare to brush if it didn’t appear to silky and smooth. Her eyes glow, a faint purple.
  1127. More than just her armor, the ease at which she carries her poleaxe suggests a respectable level of mastery. It is a large and thick weapon with a metal shaft, as the dwarf craftswomen were wont. The beard of the axe is long and wickedly curved. On the other side of the weapon is a thick mallet that looks as though it would be more at home in a butcher’s shop, used to brutalize and tenderize dragonflesh. Tipping the poleaxe is the head of a spear. A dreadfully efficient weapon, spear axe and mace all in one.
  1129. And then there is a deeper respect. The two women knew and appreciated each other well on an intimate bases and the slight gestures they share that carry volumes.    
  1131. “I found a man skulking about.”
  1133. The dwarf-succubus turns to you, looking you over. “Do you want him?” Her eyes drift to Gram’s shoulder, “Ah, you’ve already got him.” She takes a step towards him and takes the shaking of his sword to be nervousness, but as she reaches out to touch him, he takes a clos, measured step back, keeping the tip of his sword between the two figures.
  1135. “Hooo~ He moves well. Do you want him tenderized?”
  1137. “No, I like ‘em hard. Don’t worry about him, he’ll be back. He seems like the righteous sort right? He’ll be back.”
  1139. The succubus’s lips curl into a sneer, “Really? That? You’re cruel Moira. If I take him instead at least he won’t suffer.”
  1141. “Tehe, I’ll share you know?”
  1143. “Listen, boy. My friend has struck you with a powerful enchantment. It will burn through your body, corrupting it, scorching ever fiercer until you quench it between the legs of a woman. Your body will weaken and your mind will break, quickly turning you into an incubus.”
  1145. A cool sweat runs down his back as he listens to her words, and his mind works quick, gripping the hilt of his sword hard and sending calming thoughts to her. Not revealing herself to be a tsukumogami seems crucial right now.
  1147. “You have two options. Run from here and play out my friend’s sadistic little game, or come with us and let us ease the pain, and break the spell one spurt of cum at a time.”
  1149. He lets her proposition linger between them, taking slow steps back before sheathing his sword and making the dwarven succubus sigh. “Very well boy. But let it be known that you won’t find any women willing to spread their legs within these woods. Not unless you walk for days and you don’t have that kind of time.” She takes her helm off, her horns growing magically transparent as she does so before it’s removed entirely and her horns return to normal.
  1151. She smiles at Gram beautifully and floats a kiss his way, wisps of pink magic forming into a heart that disintegrates before it meets him. “We’ll be seeing you shortly.”
  1153. He turns briskly and walk, marching almost towards the woods, headed for the mountain path. His mind seethes, and once they’re out of eyesight Kat returns to her womanly form, frowning worriedly.
  1155. “Gram calm down.”
  1157. His words are sharp and terse. “That was foolish of me, to be caught so easily.”
  1159. She catches his hand as he marches along, and pulls him to a halt. “Hush.” She puts her hands on his shoulders and gently pushes him up against a nearby tree, removing his helm as she does so and stripping off her cloak, “Undress yourself, quickly.” He stares at her, only finding the words to speak as she’s half way through pulling off her top.
  1161. “What are you doing?”
  1163. “What else? You must bed me.” He catches her wrists as she’s about to undo the button of her pants.
  1165. “Wait, you’re moving to quick. This isn’t the first time I’ve been through this. We’ll get a move on quick and find somewhere to rest early. I’ll purify myself then and I’ll weather this until it goes away just like always. It’s like being given a weak poison.”
  1167. Kat shakes her head, “I can feel it, this isn’t like that. You must fuck me, please.’ Her eyes are pleading.
  1169. He pushes her away lightly and shakes his head stubbornly. “No, I-I’m not ready yet.”
  1171. She shows him an expression he’d yet to see from her. Far from her usual calm and happy expression, Gram sees anger spark in her eyes. “That corruption you’re so terrified of is on your heels. I only want to stop it because I care about you. Personally, I’d be fine if you looked at me and only me, spent every hour of your life fucking me.” She steps in close and points a finger at him, voice growing deadly quiet. “If all your stupid concerns and righteous teachings squirted out inside my womb I’d cum from the joy of it alone. But that’s not what you want. And what you want is all I care about. So let me help you.”
  1173. He sets his jaw and sterns his impression to that of stone. ‘You’re raising a fuss over nothing.’ Stooping down, he collects him helm and fits it in his head again, taking a brusque pace towards where he memorized the path to be.
  1175. He leaves Kat behind, and she glares daggers at him from behind, toying with the idea of running him through before he can react, rupturing his spirit energy and taking him forcefully. With an irritated click of her tongue she stifles the image and her own arousal, catching up to him quickly after collecting her clothes and dressing as she moves.
  1177. ‘Child.’
  1179. *   *   *   *
  1181. He stifles the expression of urgent expectation on his face and waits for Kat to kneel down. A shimmering blade drops down from about her wrist by a foot and she plunges it into the soil like a hot needle through butter. Frustration flares within him for a brief moment before he forces it down. The dwarf’s spell was steadily eating away at him, granting him a keen awareness of the passage of time that sat heavy upon his back. Enough of it had passed to make the lack of progress begin to fray at his nerves.
  1183. She draws her blade back and shakes her head. They’d wasted the day searching for the passage into the mountains, found six paths wide enough to be plausible, yet none of them were paved with stone below the layers of grass and soil.
  1185. Though, his faith in this method of searching was shaken already. There was one path that qualified – but they’d followed it all the way up to a sheer cliff. There was no passage there, there wasn’t even anything on the cliff face to suggest some ancient form of lift, which would be the only reasonable explanation for a road running right into a dead end.
  1187. Unfortunately, the sun was setting and it was the only lead they had. At the very least, the area by the cliff was wide enough to camp in. ‘Gram,’ Kat’s thoughts flowed down the same stream as his, ‘Let’s return and make camp. Perhaps tomorrow’s light will reveal something.’
  1189. ‘Yeah. I guess.’ He turns and trudges off. The fact that Kat is able to sneak up beside him speaks of his distracted state of mind. And it does more than speak for it as she takes his gloved hand in hers, presses her chest against his arm, and gives his cheek a kiss in hopes of pulling him from his dejectedness. Her brief dissatisfaction at his obtuse stubbornness had already faded, taken over by a conscious effort to wear down Gram’s resistances towards her.
  1191. It works for the most part, though the effectiveness of the gesture is hampered somewhat by the fact that her lips didn’t meet his cheek, but the cool steel of his helm. That fact does little to reduce the sincerity of the gesture however and his mood lifts somewhat, before something else takes it as a go-ahead to lift and the moment is quickly soured.
  1193. With a small huff, he slings his pack off his back and hands it to her. “You go ahead, I’ll gather up some-”
  1195. She grins as her hand roams dangerously low about his plackart, “Wood?”
  1197. His lips are pulled into an awkward grimace, “Fuel for the fire.”
  1199. She takes the pack and slings it over her shoulder, her long ears flicking a little as she shoots him a glance over her shoulder, “Don’t be too long.”
  1201. He watches her walk away with her hips swinging purposefully, not realising until she’d vanished behind a tree that he’d held his breath. He raises his visor and empties his lungs. For an imagined moment he fancies that his breath smells sweet, like fumes from the magic burning through his body.
  1203. He fills his chest once more with a mighty lungful of chilling air. With Kat gone, he feels a little freer. A twinge of guilt afflicts him with the thought, but it’s neither his nor her fault, it doesn’t take a prodigy to figure that it’s harder to resist the effects of such a curse in the presence of a pretty, sexy, soft woman with cute ears and…
  1205. Better to clear his head by doing a few menial tasks. By the time he returns to camp, two large bundles are in hand, wrapped about by some found vines. More than they required. The packs are laid side by side, the fire set up all but for the burning wood and his… their bedroll laid out, Kat lying down on her side upon it, back to him.
  1207. He approaches her yet she doesn’t react despite his heavy and undisguised footsteps, unmoving but for a light rocking of her hips. He’s almost at the point where he can see past her back before she rolls over, hair a little messy and her eyelids fluttering, a hand under her pants and between her legs and another groping her breast through her top. Her previously unfocused gaze hones in on him, “Can you give me a hand?”
  1209. He instinctively takes a step forward before stopping himself and snorting coldly. He tosses one of the bundles of branches at her, landing on her stomach with a solid impact. He doesn’t bother to look as he takes the other to the fire-to-be and puts his helm aside before sitting down to prepare the fire.
  1211. Kat’s figure looms behind him, and she drops her weight down onto his back. It’s a fact he’d learned some time ago, but armor is supremely effective at defending against the softness of a woman. The fact that he can’t feel the two soft orbs squishing up against his back is a great strain off his composure. Not that the woman behind him is too appreciative of that though. She places her lips to his ear and gives it a little nibble as her fingers reach around to part his lips. He stiffens as the slick digit pops into his mouth and he tastes something reminiscent of their brief stay in the inn with Kat.
  1213. She pulls her finger out with a giggle once she’d wiped it clean on his tongue.
  1215. He leans his body back until the weight hanging off him vanishes, Kat falls onto her butt. “I know what you’re trying to do. You think I can’t handle a little weak temptation?”
  1217. She shuffles up to him and wraps her arms and legs about him, nuzzling up to his back once more, “I think this might be a little new to you.”
  1219. “With all I’ve been through, you think trying to seduce me is something those monsters never thought of?”
  1221. Kat smiles, “They all end up with a sword through the chest or a bolt between the eyes before getting too far though don’t they? I think you might actually be surprisingly weak to it?”
  1223. He ignores the implicit admission and huffs anyway, “Get off me, and start preparing dinner.”
  1225. “Okay~” At the price of a quick kiss on the cheek, he successfully chases her off, focusing instead on lighting the fire, though distracted enough to burn his finger slightly as he shifts smouldering sticks atop one another. He sits in a moment of silence, staring into the flickering flames before huffing a sigh and standing.
  1227. Kat is already slicing up some vegetables by the time Gram’s head and hands are free of padding, leather and metal. He considers going further, but looking at Kat’s hungry expression and considering protection for protection’s sake, he decides to remain equipped.
  1229. Dinner passes quickly and they divvy up roles, Gram taking the first watch. Unfortunately Kat requisitioned the use of his lap, robbing him of the freedom to stand and walk around. So his eyes do the wandering for him, staring a while at girl’s hair and elf-like ears, before moving on to the flickering fire. After a time though, something moving in the distant gloom catches his attention from the periphery.
  1231. Idly he turns to look at it, a wiggling shadow on the rock wall, as long and thick as his arm. The thing scurries along the stone before vanishing behind the boulder. He stares for a moment before lazily turning away.
  1233. At that moment, a cloud is split by a blade of moonlight, descending from the firmament. A twinkle of gossamer catches his gaze again and he frowns. Bathed under the light of the moon, the boulder disfiguring the otherwise flat wall seems to be ringed in webbing. Gently, he sets aside Kat’s head and reaches out for a stick, holding it in the fire for long enough for the end to catch alight.
  1235. Cautiously he makes his way to the boulder, hair slowly beginning to stand on end.
  1237. “Magic.” Kat’s light voice pipes up from behind.
  1239. “Mmm.” He thrusts his burning stick into the ‘boulder’ and the image shifts along with the auditory hallucination of a shattered chime. It quickly melts into nothingness, revealing a webbed passage and eight glowing, intelligent eyes.
  1241. A large centipede hangs from the fat spider’s chelicerae like a strand of pasta. Half the size of a full grown man, the arachnid sits in its webbed tunnel smugly, eyeing the duo with some curiosity.
  1243. Gram meets its gaze – as well as two eyes can meet eight. “We need to pass through here,” Crunch. Crunch. He fails to keep the nauseated grimace off his face as the centipede vanishes into its predator’s mouth. “So you can get out before we burn this web or you can try your chances at getting out while it’s on fire.”
  1245. The spider sucks up the last of its meal and rises, reproach glittering in its eyes as it’s faced with the tyrannical ultimatum. It obediently climbs out of the passage and scurries up the cliff, quickly disappearing into the dark.
  1247. He shakes his head softly. Such intelligence in a beast can only come from centuries of soaking up the latent corruption. A few centuries more and it could even be reborn as an arachne – and a powerful one at that. Would it be so obedient then? Pushing the matter aside, he tosses the torch into the tunnel and returns to the camp to begin packing up.
  1249. *   *   *
  1251. “Impressive, isn’t it?” Kat’s voice echoes down the just-cleared passage as she trails ahead casually, arms up and hands linked behind her head.
  1253. Gram’s breathing begins to show the first signs of labour and while his body trudges along mechanically, his head begins to fill with stifling cotton, the last few hours of travel having proven unkind. In lieu of this – or perhaps unwilling to waste the effort to speak – he forgoes a verbal response. ‘What is?’
  1255. “These carvings, still pristine despite centuries of disuse.” His eyes follow the knotwork bands etched into the geometrically perfect walls, roof and floor.
  1257. “Mm.” Just as he mumbles this ‘response’, the faintly glowing exit comes into view and a frigid stream rolls through the both of them. They’d walked through the tail end of the night, but the early morning sky they’re met with isn’t a welcome sight. Dim and grey, strong winds blow snow about the mountain path, constantly prodding the eddies that swing to and fro before vanishing, the floating snow falling for a brief moment before another gust pushes it along.
  1259. “Ah.” Kat falters a moment, before calling out a warning, “Watch it. The stone here is frozen over.”
  1261. “Mm.” The skies grow darker yet and the two of them draw their hoods deep over their heads.
  1263. Kat stops and frowns before looking back at gram, her sharp eyes focusing on his as if her gaze could pierce the gloom of his helm, “We should stop here and rest, wait for the storm to pass.”
  1265. He trudges past her, faltering for a moment as the winds buffer him about, before he lowers his shoulders and pushes on defiantly.
  1267. ‘I don’t have the time to idle.’ Kat sighs softly, ‘hearing’ his response.
  1270. *   *   *   *
  1272. Heavily – and somewhat crunchily – his boot falls down on the ancient snow-covered stairs, even the faint chink of metal on metal hidden under the noise of the howling wind. Both their hoods are drawn and snow piles atop their heads and shoulders. The smell of frozen earth lingers about them both and every now and then he stumbles against the wind, blown back by the force of it, foot slipping off one icy step onto the one before it.
  1274. Progress is a laborious slog.
  1276. She trudges behind him dutifully, lighter than him, but keeping her balance better. A good part of that is due to his larger frame taking the brunt of the wind. Her composed face and the light tufts of steam caused by her breaths are stark contrast to the streams billowing out of Gram’s mouth. He pants raggedly and his whole face is a bright red, as if he had just run for days on end without stopping. As, if he were afflicted with a severe fever. The dwarf’s magic seethes about within him, sitting heavy in his heart and loins.
  1278. It’s only his iron discipline that stops him from trying to ravish his companion. That, and a small amount of self-preservation – not that she’d do anything but welcome it, mind, but that stripping your clothes off in this environment is a quick invitation to a frozen death. A small thing to bolster his rational, justification for the excuse.
  1280. Snow swirls around them, falling from the sky, falling from the ridges around them and stirred up off the ground before being blasted off the face of the mountain, piling up here and there as it blows into corners and crevices. An icy chill seeps in through his armour and he sincerely thanks the layers of cloth wrapped about him; the mask covering his mouth and nose, saving his throat from being torn with icy winds; the thick padding all over his body, under his helm, under his armor; the clothes underneath.
  1282. From the base of the mountains, wreathed in trees the path begins and twists about the edge of the mountain. As they reach a height where the forest below turns into a mere sea of green, the path cuts into the mountains and the rock walls rise high on either side.
  1284. Gone is the concern of being swept off the path and falling down the mountain, but as if to smirk at their efforts, the way is buried under thick blankets of snow, reaching waist height. At least the wind would have blown all this away. The only solace is the fact that the path cut by the dwarves is peerless in its sturdiness and despite being likely thousands of years old, none of the steps are cracked and broken and as of yet they haven’t had to resort to climbing over rocks and rubble, sapping their strength in this already inhospitable environment.
  1286. Together they round another curve and stumble slightly as they’re met with a returning gust of wind, tunnelled into a thin passage and raging endlessly. The howl which had been distant screams right by their ears, and the force of it knocks their hoods back. Despite his failing strength, he braves it all the same, so it comes as a small salvation that half way along the stony corridor is a room carved into the rock, right as his strength leaves him.
  1288. Before he can even stumble, Kat is beside him and shouldering his weight, wrapping her arms about him. Her soft strength is a source of infatuation and irritation. That he can’t help but want to push her down, that he can’t help but be conscious of her gentle scent which was comforting yet sharp – calling to mind the halls he trained in and the first time he held her. It makes him frustrated.
  1290. She helps him move towards the alcove, as he would have fallen before he made it and bled the remainder of his vitality out on the frozen stone. Yet he still feels irritated, can’t she tell she’s only making it worse? With corrupt energies running amok in his heart and head, emotions flare wildly and irrationally but worst yet is that all these emotions are his, just the ones he usually keeps in check with an iron fist. He can’t blame any of this on that succubus’ magic, she didn’t light the fire, she didn’t decide what makes it burn, she just fanned the flames. That was the most sinister aspect of it, and were he his old self, the realisation would have left him aghast.
  1292. They make it inside and immediately the sound of the screaming wind leaves their ears. The wheezing of his ragged breathing is audible again, making her frown with worry. Gently she relieves him of his pack and crouched down to lean it by the wall off to the right. The room was small, only about three metres by three, but it was big enough for the two of them to spend the night. And they would. There was still some hours-worth of travel left, but she wouldn’t let him leave until he was better. Thankfully, there was an old pile of wood ready to burn in the brazier in the middle of the room.
  1294. She stands and turns only to have her shoulders seized and to be pinned up against the flat stone wall. Her heart throbs a little quicker as Gram holds her in place and leans close, close enough that if she were to push her head forward she could meet his visor. His grip on her shoulders is strong, almost painful, but no other move comes.
  1296. It’s hard to tell what emotion rules him now, his face an indecipherable metal helm. Is he angry? Are those eyes glaring at her? She slowly reaches up and lifts it from his head. His face is more feverish than she could have thought, eyes glassy and looking at her lips, though not really focused. The metal falls with a forgotten clunk, the face mask slipping silently soon after, as her thin fingers work at the knot behind his head.
  1298. Face and ears red, mouth slightly parted and breath laboured. She looks into his hazy eyes, trying to guess his motive. The stale-mate lasts for a while, as long as either of them cares to count as time hangs between them, suspended.  
  1300. Gram leans forward further, his eyes still locked on her lips. He’s close enough now that she can feel the heat radiating off him, and finally his lips touch. Her chin, and then her shoulder as he collapses.
  1302. She catches him easily before he falls any further than her soft bosom.  
  1305. *   *   *   *
  1307. He’s naked but warm, lying on his bedroll. And feeling very very good. The thought of hypothermia crosses his mind, but as the crackle of fire reaches his ears, he knows he hasn’t stripped himself down in delirium to welcome an icy death.
  1309. There’s a comforting weight on his chest and the feel of silk. That same warm yet sharp scent surrounds him, but stronger this time and mixed in with an indescribable sort of heat. Like a blade of lust thrust into a forge and melting into something sticky. A softness presses into his chest and rises in tandem with his own. A slender leg rests over his. But by far the most demanding sensation is the smooth yet firm grip around his erect and slick member.
  1311. He tries to lift his head, but he is too weak to do even that. The weight on his chest stirs, and Kat’s face comes into his line of sight. “You’re awake. Good, I was about to begin without you.” She smiles, “But I held myself back, I was a good girl.”
  1313. “Don’t…” He closes his eyes slightly as her fingers brush through his fringe.
  1315. “Shh. None of that. You can’t even move.”
  1317. “I-If you…” His feeble voice is easily silenced by her finger upon his lips.
  1319. “I’m not going to listen to you anymore. Not until you learn to be honest with me.”
  1321. “I’m-” Again, he is cut off, but by her lips this time, soft and fragrant, gentle. It lingers for a long while. Her tongue doesn’t slip through his teeth or anything; it’s just a chaste first kiss, a thin lid on the deep longing bubbling within.
  1323. “Don’t make me gag you.” She steals his lips again, this time delving deeper, focusing on the kiss. She explores his mouth attentively, even as her hand dextrously strokes and twists his throbbing cock. Her thumb glides across the glans with each up-stroke, stimulating the sensitive cluster of nerves and smearing pre-cum over his crown in preparation.
  1325. It feels almost bigger than she recalls, thicker too, her fingers can barely meet when wrapping around it. It is as if all his vitality had gathered into his towering manhood, no doubt an effect of the dwarf-slut’s magic.
  1327. She breaks her second ever kiss with a heart-melting ‘phuaa~’, a string of saliva linking them for the briefest of moments. Kat looks down into his eyes, her own tinged in hazy shades of molten love, but there’s a sharpness lurking behind the veiled affection.
  1329. Her grip about his cock tightens, “I’ll break this curse. You’ll fill me with your seed and I’ll finally be yours completely. And you’ll be mine. I’d sooner see you limbless than have this magic make you crawl to any other woman.”
  1331. He swallows through a dry throat, his mind whirring as Kat’s words ring through his head. The threat can be ignored, though it makes him feel a little warm inside, but a greater conflict rages in his heart. Her words fall into place as he realizes that without him noticing, the duty to carry on left behind by his fallen comrades became a burden and then a curse. A part of him urges for him to throw her off, so that he can continue his self-destructive journey, mired in the guilt of the lone survivor. And it hates the part of him that doesn’t want to do that anymore.
  1333. The conflict within rages all the more because he lacks the agency to do anything about it. She pulls herself back and swings her leg over his hip properly, straddling him as she sits up and wiggles back until she’s sitting on his legs, Grams dick throbbing against her soft, toned belly angrily, the only part on his paralysed body capable of functioning.
  1335. “Shhh,” She smiles down at it and brushes her fingertips over the quivering head reverently. Her expression is one of fanaticism. She wants it in her, on her, around her. To taste it, feel it, smell it – wants it fucking and painting all three of her holes at once.
  1337. She makes a little promise to herself as she lifts her hips up and rubs the head along her soft and soaked nether lips. A promise to remember this impossible, insurmountable feeling and work towards it bit by bit and day by day. To worship it every morning as he wakes up, all throughout the day when his lust rears its impatient, demanding head and long into the night to lull it to sleep.  
  1339. From the true birth of her consciousness, her nature impelled her to exercise restraint as she watched over him sleeping in the wolf’s den. But truthfully each moment she held back her urges, every time he brought his forged, stupid stupid, stubborn will to bear was unspeakably painful, to an extent that not even she understood until this moment, when she was but a torn wall of flesh from being united with her beloved.
  1341. She steadies herself by planting her hands on his solid stomach and brings her weight down. The pressure isn’t enough to surmount her virginal tightness and for a moment Gram’s cock bends. The round tip butts up against her vice-like entrance then slips off, flicking against her clit and making her seize up as a quiver of pleasure runs through her.
  1343. She tries again, holding her weight up with only one hand this time and using the other to keep the tip of his cock angled toward her entrance. Slowly Kat rotates her wide hips, grinding her labia pleasurably against the hot, pressing crown. With each gyration she brings her weight down on the long and thick shaft. Then with a tearing flash she is penetrated, Gram’s dick immediately thrusting in a quarter of the way.
  1345. Her mouth drops open as her eyes go wide, a spear coursing from her breached lips, right up her spine to her brain, wreathed in a fading pain but comprised entirely of carnal glee. “A-ahhn… H-hehe,” Her face twists for a moment, reflecting that passing instant, but quickly relaxing into a giddy smile, “N-Now I’m not your sword, but your sheath instead.” Gram doesn’t react to her dumb joke, opting to groan instead, trying to thrust up into her, but unnaturally weak. The conflict within subsided the moment he was joined with Kat, the part of him that wanted this sheepish in its victory, knowing that regardless of his inner turmoil the choice was never his to make.
  1347. With acceptance comes the deep yearning he’d bottled up and smothered all this while. He tries to reach out to her, but fails before his arm can even stretch up. In this moment, everything that he was, everything that he stood for was as if it were nothing. All he knows is that the woman he wanted to hold, the woman he was united with was too far away.
  1349. As if sensing his distress, or simply experiencing the same desire, she catches his hand before it falls, entangles his fingers with hers and lies down on his body. “Shhh, I’m here.” She takes his other hand and guides it to her hip. Biting the bottom of her lip apprehensively, she slowly lifts a leg up and stretches it out back behind her, the lowering of her hips sinking the girthy shaft deeper into her tight and soft untrodden passage.
  1351. Then she does the same with the other leg, hooking it about one of Gram’s as she does so, and moaning slightly at the fulfilling feeling of her pelvis grinding up against his. Breathing a sigh and allowing herself a moment to get used to his size inside her, she lets her hips rest still and plants wet kisses on his chest. Her lips move upwards as she does so, one kiss perfectly placed upon a nipple.
  1353. As Kat licks and kisses the spot where his shoulder meets his neck, she begins to move her hips, rocking them. The deep, short and slow motions have barely half an inch of cock to taste the outside air before he’s buried inside again. He can barely find the energy to even groan, but his grip tightens on her hand and hip. His body isn’t stirred to movement because of the shallow motions, however. They are something like an additional stroke of pleasurable nuance.
  1355. It’s the writhing, milking contractions of her inner muscles that melt and mould his brain into something that would better fit a rutting beast. Each rock back seems to cause a rolling ripple to stroke up his length in the opposite direction. Kat moans a soft “Mmm~” each time, a sweet accent to punctuate the sound of them lying together, a sound that penetrates their symphony of light kisses and heavy breaths.
  1357. Shamefully, as her pelvis rubs up against his, a small, black part of him emphasizes with the lust-addled demons he puts down. He can see why they get lost in this sensation. Her kisses make their way up his neck and soon her sweet smelling breath is rolling over him, as she rubs her cheek against his. The twin hard tips of her nipples rub along his chest, messing with her rhythm and making her eyes flutter and her bosom press into him more insistently. He almost loses sight of her tight, drooling slit in the softness enveloping him but her hand slips under his head and she holds him up to look at her. They share a kiss as his eyes roam.
  1359. Her position has her upper body tilted, one large breast smooshed up against his chest and another jiggling with her motion. Her toned core rubs more or less flush with his left side and he can feel her milking insides through the clenching of her abs. Gram can see her lips parting around the width of his cock and with each rolling motion where she drags a bit of his prick out from within her depths, he can also make out the peeking flash of light pink as her inner walls cling to his withdrawing shaft.
  1361. Kat begins to pick up the pace, both within and without, her increased vigour intensifying her sensations as the thick shaft scraping at her womanhood does so more roughly. Her breaths grow shorter yet, stilted and mixed in with soft whines and moans. Immersed in her firm softness, surrounded by her sweet, sharp scent and enveloped in the breathy noises of pleasure she makes, it doesn’t take long for a pent up urge to release to build up inside of him.
  1363. Sensing Gram’s impending climax, she lurches forward to claim his lips forcefully, tongue darting between his teeth to ensnare his. For his part, he only manages a little more strength in the fingers clutching at her hips as his eyes close shut in a weak flutter and his balls tighten to pump the first load of sticky seed into her warm and wanton womb.
  1365. This orgasm isn’t like the others.
  1367. Yes, he trained as a paladin. Yes, chastity was a part of his service. There was nothing against a paladin bedding a woman faithfully, taking her for a wife and siring a son, but until such a woman was found, frivolous activity was severely frowned upon. But none the less, he too was once a young, hormone addled man. So as he seems to cum a thick metal chain, attached to a solid and giant anchor that dredges a trough through his very soul, he knows it isn’t normal.  
  1369. But rather than leaving him with any adverse effect, he actually feels stronger for it. Lust enflames his body further and it pushes him to retrieve his deepest reserves of strength, enough for him to push back into the unilaterally invasive kiss, retrieve lost ground and push his tongue into her mouth. His heart begins to pound by his ears, worryingly loud, screaming at him to make the most of this moment as if it were fleeting, liable to shatter and be blown away in the wind. Blood courses through his body, forced along by his thundering heart, and he feels the soft walls squeezing about his cock tighten, virility rushing to his swelling member.
  1371. Kat cries out as he moves his hand down from her hip to grope her ass and he sits up as he does so, bringing the two of them into a sitting position. She stiffens under the sensation of his cock spreading her wider for a brief moment as he lets her hand go and instead embraces her back with the hand not currently occupied with molesting her rear, not once interrupting the kiss as he does so. That moment passes quickly, as she softens in his returned embrace and her pussy grows wetter, making a mess of the region where their hips meet, soaked in response to being to thoroughly filled.
  1373. She embraces him in turn planting the balls of her feet on the ground and bouncing in his lap, relishing the feel of his roc-solid manhood ploughing into her depths and ramming up against her cervix. Each time her weight brings her slamming home, her pussy clenches around him, working up an immaculate rhythm if Gram didn’t wilfully ruin it by planting an open handed smack on her tight jiggly butt, making her squeeze down around him as she’s trying to pull out.
  1375. The crown of his cock grinding against her walls harder yet makes her moan throatily into their lip-locked fray and sends a shiver throughout her body. Gram – sensing her climax – puts his other hand on her ass and begins to actively lift her up off his dick before bringing her back down, seeking to send her to new heights to make the fall that much sweeter.  
  1377. She breaks the kiss, wraps her legs about his hips and rubs her cheek up against his, placing her lips by his ear, only in her ecstatic fervour it’s closer to a headbutt. He focuses hard on her quiet words though, ignoring the rattling of his brains and almost every other sensation. It’s spilled from her feminine lips hastily, run together and nearly illegible, like it was never intended to be human speech but the primal affirmations of affection. The purrings of a Kat.
  1379. “Iloveyouiloveyouiloveyousomuchiloveyouiloveyouiwouldcuttheworldforyou!-Ah!.”
  1381. He thrusts up as he pulls her down, slamming himself home so vigorously his balls clap against her ass. Hilted in her again he takes a moment’s respite to trace his fingers along the slender form of her shuddering back, a sharp contrast to the nails gouging his own and the heels digging in to his lower back. She stops breathing by his ear as the aftershocks of her orgasm rush through her system and then it returns in the form of gasps.
  1383. Just as her muscles relax as she comes down, he pushes her onto her back and pulls out of her over-stimulated cunt before slamming back home.
  1385. “More!?” It has an instant effect as almost every muscle in her body tightens once more to receive the pounding. The legs locking his hips up against hers make pulling our far enough to slide back in especially hard, though the struggle isn’t without its intrinsic value. He seals her lips once more, and holds her so tightly her large pliant orbs are nearly squished up to his chin.
  1387. The small alcove resounds with the wet clap of his balls slapping into her ass with each deep dicking he gives her but the effects of her previous assault are still keenly felt. He’s not too far from flooding her womb a second time and her milking ministrations mixed with mewling moans only work to hasten his coming climax.
  1389. He pulls an arm out from under her to slip it between his chest and hers, groping a handful of firm yet giving breast. Molesting the soft flesh is made hard as she arches her back, pressing her bosom against him more demandingly, yet he still manages to catch a nipple in between the passionate kissing and deep thrusting. Any attempt she might have made to give as good as she got in the kiss melts as he rolls her sensitive bud about his fingers and offers it a little pinch when she gets too rebellious.
  1391. Gram’s left hand gropes Kat’s breast and his right roams the expanse of her tight, jiggly ass. There’s little need to prop himself up, with his knees planted firmly on the bedroll between her thighs and her arms around him. She gladly takes his weight atop herself and offers her body to be explored and taken by him for the first time.
  1393. He humps into her shaking hips a few more times, hounded insistently by the baying calls of climax as it nips at his heels. With a final mighty thrust and a last resounding smack of balls on ass, he plunges into her depths, the tip of his cock pressing against her cervix and making her tense each time she feels him twitch and throb. His seething loins tighten and in powerful pumps he begins to shoot thick spurts of seed into her womb, filling it to capacity quickly and rounding her tummy slightly before it flows back through the almost sealed passage of her pussy.
  1395. With the inordinate amount of cum comes the last of the dwarf’s curse, causing a deep sense of satisfaction to fill him. But with that sense of satisfaction comes a hefty toll of tiredness.
  1397. Slumping into her arms, his head naturally finds its place at Kat’s bosom and she relaxes her vice-like grip about his hips and lets her legs slip down to a more comfortable position. He relinquishes his squeezing grip on her tits and ass, and wraps his arms around her instead.
  1399. Similarly, she embraces his head and begins stroking her fingers through his hair as she relishes in the feel of him going soft inside her.
  1401. ‘You shouldn’t have saved me.’
  1403. ‘There’s not a thing that could convince me I didn’t do the right thing.’
  1405. ‘I made this decision before long before you even existed.’
  1407. ‘Well, I’m here now.’
  1409. ‘What if I don’t want you to be?’
  1411. She smiles at the silly notion and hugs him tighter, ‘You do want me, but at this point – even if you didn’t – nothing could separate me from you.’
  1413. His lips curl into a light smile, ‘You said-’
  1415. ‘I lied.’
  1417. His own grip on her almost becomes painful as he squeezes his eyes shut, ‘I thought I had to die.’
  1419. ‘That’s idiotic.’
  1421. ‘I thought I was tainted.’
  1423. ‘I don’t care.’
  1425. ‘I thought I had nothing.’
  1427. ‘I am not nothing.’
  1429. ‘I… was angry and scared at the way you seemed to cut into my resolve. The way you made everything I’d decided seem so stupid.’
  1431. ‘I am your sword. I will cut all your foes.’
  1433. He pulls out of her and rolls over onto his back, lifting a hand up before him, studying the countless cuts and marks that line it. ‘Without this… for what reason have I kept walking? If not for this… why didn’t I fall with the others?’
  1435. She reaches up and grabs his hand, pulling it down to rest between her breasts, encased in her own two hands. He turns to look at her and she offers a meltingly feminine smile, “You had your own reason for walking. You didn’t fall because you wanted to fight it. This, the corruption, everything. It’s just… now you don’t have to fight it alone.”
  1437. He offers a weak smile and wiggles his hand from her grasp before wrapping it about her and drawing himself close, “Convince me I’m allowed to feel this happy.”
  1439. She pushes him onto his back and swings a shapely leg over Gram’s hips to straddle him, her graceful fingers reaching back to curl around his soft shaft, stroking him to full mast once more. “You have to. Do you think I’m interested in being happy without you?” Her lips twist in a teasing smile.
  1441. His eyes close in pleasure as she brushes the head of his still-sensitive cock through her slick and smooth folds. “I guess not.” A light smile tugs at his lips.
  1443. *   *   *   *
  1445. Her hips shake weakly as her last climax rumbles through her with its aftershocks. A weakened knee has her hips lurch to the side, pert butt jiggling with the motion. Gram’s softening cock is still balls deep in her pussy, twitching as it dribbles the remnants of his climax into her passage. The whole room is awash with the scents and echoing sounds of sex, the floor under Kat’s legs a less than wholesome mix of fluids. Gram’s form is still behind her, slumping over her and exhausted from fucking her against the stone wall for the past hour. Weakened legs and shaking thighs no longer able to support their weight combined, she drops down to her knees, letting out a long and low orgasmic moan as Gram’s cock is pulled from her depths, the head scraping along her over-sensitive walls all the way.
  1447. They collapse to the floor and she giggles as she feels his lips and tongue, kissing and nibbling at her neck and jaw. With a purr of satisfaction, she pushes back against him, nuzzling him in imitation of her sobriquet’s namesake before turning and placing her hands upon his thighs, mouth opening to take in and clean his semi-soft prick. ‘Again?’
  1449. Gram draws in a hiss through his teeth as her warm and wet tongue swirls about the tip of his member but he manages to shake his head. “We’ve already been here for two days and half of today. My strength is back and my head is clearer than I can remember.”
  1451. She hugs his hips and swings him around until his back is resting against the still-warm wall. Kat’s lips press against the base of his shaft, and her steel eyes look up at him, unflinching even as he swells in the passage of her throat. “That and we’ll run out of food soon.”
  1453. Kat mumbles, a pleasurable hum vibrating through his manhood as her meaning filters into his mind. ‘I feel like I could live off this alone.’ Her soft and graceful fingers curl about his sack as she sucks away, kneading and encouraging the balls within, the sudden wave of pleasure making Gram appreciative of the wall he’s leaned up against.
  1455. After a moment he gathers his wits and snorts, “Well I can’t.”
  1457. He eyes the flopping ears as Kat’s heat bobs back and forth and reaches out to snag one between finger and thumb, rubbing it fondly as he thinks. “Where did you say you saw those rams?”
  1459. ‘The path opens up to the top of the mountains a little way up. Saw them by a stream.’
  1461. “And there’s that stronghold you saw too… Let’s hunt a few, sell some of the meat and skin for supplies.”
  1463. ‘You don’t want to cross these mountains as soon as possible?’
  1465. He frowns, but it’s hard to maintain any semblance of a grumpy face with his cock nestled within wet and squirming throat-pussy. So his expression merely flickers before he closes his eyes and tips his head back, fingers squeezing Kat’s sensitive ear. “I’m not sure. But we need supplies anyway. Might as well check the place out.”
  1467. ‘Hmm…’ Their conversation falls to a lull as the intensity of the sensations besieging his dick increases. Kat’s pace quickens, until she simply takes the length of his cock down her throat and holds it there, lips to his crotch as she works to milk it.
  1469. Still somewhat over-sensitive from the round mere moments ago, under such intense ministrations it doesn’t take Gram long to cum another time, the man groaning softly as his fingers thread through Kat’s silky hair. His manhood twitches and throbs, but only every second or so is accompanied by the spurt of hot seed, balls well and truly drained.
  1471. She sucks and swallows it all up to the last drop, sucking even as she draws his cock from the depths of her throat, sealed lips sliding up the length of his shaft until they come off the head with a pop.
  1473. A string connects his tip to her lips, breaking soon after under the weight of saliva and sperm. She swallows her mouthful blissfully and returns to place a kiss at his urethra.
  1475. “All clean.” She announces proudly before licking her lips, betraying her endless appetite. A small sense of foreboding shivers its way up Gram’s spine. He resumes the talk, distracting her from her thoughts.  
  1477. “Let me hunt them. It’s been a while since I got some exercise.” He rolls his eyes at her look, “You know what I mean.”
  1479. “Well… I suppose I can’t have these muscles going soft.” Kat puts on a bewitching smile as her fingertips dance across Gram’s chest.
  1481. He reaches for her chin and gives her a quick kiss before heading towards his clothes. As he dresses himself bit by bit, Kat scurries around packing things away and extinguishing the fire they’d re-ignited earlier in the morning.
  1483. Packs on backs and with his crossbow in hand Gram hesitates before stepping out into the ever-howling wind. The deliberation lasts only a moment before he pulls his hood over his helm and spares one last look back, glancing over Kat before scanning the rest of the room. He’d never have thought a room so small could have such monumental impact on his life. With head bowed, he steps out into the raging winds, walking the path with steps far stronger than the ones which failed him mere days ago.
  1485. He strides confidently, following Kat’s directions. Thankfully her earlier scouting was thorough and she leads him past a small mountain stream along the way to refill their waterskins. High up in the mountains, the wind eases off. It is as present as ever, but the lack of high reaching mountain walls to tunnel and hone it means everything isn’t blasted and desolate.
  1487. Small shrubs grow more common the further they walk, growing despite a thin film of ice coating the foliage. Tiny frozen flowers pop up here and there as she leads him to a semi-secluded area, with a running stream and a little more green than other places, overlooked by high walls and sheltered from the winds.
  1489. The enclosure is empty and so Gram picks a secluded spot to wait, crossbow in hand, obscured by bushes. He and Kat pass the time chattering telepathically, until movement disturbs the both of them. Neither move, but their attentions go from lax to honed in on the gathering of white, long-furred, huge-horned goats as they amble in to lap at the frigid flow.
  1491. It’s a gathering of three, a larger one with formidable horns and two smaller – yet not quite juvenile. Gram aims his crossbow with glacial speed and calmly squeezes the trigger. Their ears twitch, swivelling in Gram’s direction as they detect the sound of bowstring snapping into place. It’s not until the largest falls to the ground with a bolt in its chest that the two others react, but by then Kat had already sprinted out from her cover and stabbed another through the side of the head, stopping it in its tracks right as it prepares to flee.
  1493. She can’t make it to the other though and it begins to run, bleating, but it isn’t faster than Gram’s swift, well-practiced movements. With a grunt of effort he slaps the next bolt in place and hauls the string back to the latch before firing. The same thwack dully sounds out, as a thick bolt is sent flying, this time striking an ankle, right as weight was about to be put on it.
  1495. Its leg flies out from under it, knocked forward comically with the momentum of the bolt. With the sensation of stepping out onto air, the animal losses it’s balance and tumbles, quickly struggling to its hobbled hooves, but the brief moment is all it takes for Kat to descend.
  1497. “So,” She watches as Gram pulls the bolt from the Ram’s chest, careful to not damage it, wiping it clean as to use it again, “Thought on it yet?”
  1499. He rises, wipes his gloves off on his leg and takes a deep breath, pulling a face. “Yeah.”
  1501. “And?”
  1503. “I’m still thinking. A lot’s changed.” He looks at her and gives a soft smile, “In some ways it’s hard to keep up.” She returns with a coquettish look before heading over to skin the three animals. “The first thing that comes to mind is that we’re travelling too light. Couldn’t really be helped in the past, but now there’s not a sword dangling above me.”
  1505. “So what do you want to do?”
  1507. “Scout out that settlement you told me about. We’re not running anymore so we should think about what it takes to live comfortably. I’m fine sleeping in caves and hunting for my next meal, but you deserve better.”
  1509. “I don’t mind…”
  1511. “I’m not being hounded anymore, there’s no need for that.”
  1513. Kat pauses her dismembering momentarily, frowning, “Do you think you’ll have to deal with it again?”
  1515. “I doubt it.” He sits down on one of the skins and gazes at the stream. “According to the legends, there’s nothing further north but ruins and ghosts. Maybe if we head east, we’ll run across the corrupt but their eyes aren’t on Strohmbelt for now. As for these mountains, the water here is pure, air clean. They said the taint in the land always sunk down, corrupted waters and the soil, flooded cave systems forming dungeons. Even with the black dwarves under us, we’re too high up to be affected.”
  1517. They packed the meat and valuable organs away and bundled up the skins. All in all it was a few hours’ work despite Kat’s deft speed. “Let’s see if we can sell some of this and get some information while we’re at it.”
  1520. *   *   *   *
  1522. Kat leads Gram back the way they came, back tracking until they make it to a path, completely covered over with snow, but despite the harsh wind, the odd brazier outlines the way, dim fires flickering feebly within each. If not for this, they’d have lost their way countless times. Despite the apparent uncertainty of the path – something that would have vexed Gram greatly were he still afflicted and hurried – the day itself is beautiful. Clear blue skies, with a bright and warm sun. Of course, the warmth is elusive, almost imaginary. Hell, it could be entirely psychological, with how biting the wind is. All the same, their mood is bright as they walk together. The road takes a steep incline up, and to the left Gram spots a small overhang, the underneath protected from the wind. It looks appealing to him so his footsteps slow down. Noting this, Kat turns back questioningly.
  1524. “What is it?”
  1526. Gram tips back the cowl and raises his visor, looking at Kat. “Let’s take a rest.” Seeing the easy smile on his lips she nods obediently and they head off the path to one of the few places sheltered from the wind. There, they lay down their packs and Kat fetches some of their rations, things that can be eaten without the aid of a fire. Unfortunately, a few of the foodstuffs like the cheeses closer resemble ice.
  1528. Gram sits and removes his helm, with Kat coming up to lean against him while munching away, but he doesn’t take any food yet, instead reaching for his water-skin. Channelling a little of his spiritual strength into it, the faded words along the side flash strongly and when he removes the stopper a feeling of cleanliness wafts out. He’d had the leisure to do this a few times now over the past few days it took him to recover. It’d certainly sped up the process of clearing his mind and body.  
  1530. He takes a deep swill, the water sending a chill burning through his body. He lets the last mouthful sit in his mouth for a time, enjoying the taste before swallowing the last of it and putting the skin away. Stretching, he leans back and closes his eyes for a spell, not moving as Kat slides into his lap, resting her head against his chest and wrapping her arms about him. It’s not long before his fingers find their way to her soft hair and sensitive ears.
  1532. After a time they both stir, rising almost reluctantly. From trainee squire til now there hadn’t been a moment of rest. Maybe it’s the lack of a sense of urgency, but even as his feet regain the path and he heeds Kat’s directions, he finds his mind wandering, daydreaming of the time when he’ll be able to waste his day idly.
  1534. They trudge on for another few hours, the only change in the pure white and frigid scenery being the moving of the sun as it arcs across the sky. The howling winds remain ever present, carrying upon it the scent of crisp mountain plants.
  1536. It’s not long until they find themselves on the path to a small valley high up in the mountains. It ends in a sheer rock face with something more comparable to a castle carved into it. From this distance it’s hard to make anything out other than the face of the castle, innumerable dots carved into the layered valley steps and two monolithic walls cutting off access into the valley. There’s a small amount of traffic by the large gates, but these figures vanish into the white snows almost immediately.
  1538. The entire installation gives off a tense vibe, as if it were closed off in preparation for a coming enemy. A fair bit of Gram’s relaxed attitude evaporates and Kat sharpens in response.
  1540. “Hmph, well, they don’t look too inviting.”  
  1542. “It wasn’t like this a few days ago.”
  1544. “Well, we’ve probably already been seen. Might as well continue. It’s a little too open out here to camp for the night anyhow.” Kat nods at his words and follows him towards the monolithic walls.
  1546. Despite having laid eyes on the structure, it’s still a little over an hour’s slog through the howling snow. Gram’s previous conjecture proves itself to be true, as eyes were on him long before he reached the gates. After all he wasn’t robed in the white furs of the local beasts and thus stood out as a mass of dark on a white backdrop.
  1548. The snow gradually clears, not by manual means but gathered and pushed aside as if by some colossal hand, revealing an ancient stone road. They walk down it, until the piles of snow grow to a size closer akin to walls. So close to the gates now, Gram can make out a few figures, most gazing attentively over the snowy reaches, high up in watch towers on the wall. A few walk the length of it on regular patrols but only a minority have their eyes on him. They are too distant to make out any emotion, but he senses a hint of curiosity all the same.
  1550. There’s one figure on his level, by the gate and near a small portal – a large door for when it’s only individuals looking to enter and exit. She’s short – as dwarves are, but her skin is an uncommon blue-ish white. As is her hair, though that’s more blue than white. It doesn’t take Gram much thinking to reason that this settlement must belong to the mountain-dwelling Frost Dwarves. Explains the dwellings carved into the mountainsides.
  1552. He frowns though and glances up again to one of the taller figures on the walls. Dwarves and orcs together? Sure there’s no broader racial animosity between them like the dwarves and the elves, but to see them together is strange all the same.
  1554. As he comes closer to the short armed and armoured girl she calls out in a cold voice. “Halt. State your business.” Her eyes narrow as she takes in the helmed and fully covered Gram, “And show your face.”
  1556. He lifts his visor and pulls down his face mask, grim countenance coming into view. “Here for trade.”
  1558. The dwarf frowns at his words and ducks in through the small door, followed soon after by another two dwarves, one who looks like she’s simply there to flex muscle, the other looking more like a superior. This woman’s voice is harsh, as if torn by the inhalation of a thousand tiny blades of ice. She speaks in what sounds like little more than a whisper, but the underlying chill sinks into Gram’s mind. A nerve at the base of his spine twitches, as he fancies that she could whisper across a screaming blizzard.
  1560. “What are you trading?”
  1562. “Some furs and meat we gathered along the way.”
  1564. “Show me.” She makes some gestures, pointing to the ground before her, while waving over the third woman. Gram follows her orders silently, dropping the bulging pack to the ground for the third girl to rifle through, revealing some wrapped up meats and bundled furs. The icy superior gives Gram a searching look before gesturing to the third girl again to open the doors.
  1566. “Enjoy your short stay. Keep out of trouble; you don’t want to see me again.” With that she turns on her heel and stalks back inside.
  1568. Gram watches her leave, thinking as Kat re-packs the bag and slings it over her shoulder before turning to him. ‘What do you think that was about?’
  1570. ‘Well obviously there’s something going on here. Not even some of the towns I passed were this vigilant and that’s when there were demons on the horizon.’
  1572. ‘Could it be demons?’
  1574. Gram frowns, searching his own intuition for that particular answer. After a long moment he shakes his head and sighs, ‘No, I don’t think so. Let’s look around for now.’
  1576. They enter through the smaller door and step out to a path off to the side of a large road. It’d probably even be in use were the large gates open and traffic flowing but as it is now it’s littered with stalls, foot traffic and temporary lodgings. The lodgings are out of the way though. Not visually offensive, which may speak for any number of things. The majority of people here are pale orcs, with only the odd dwarf rushing about from building to building.
  1578. Everything is a pale shade of blue, making it hard to tell if the buildings were made of stone or ice. The layer of snow coating things only adds to the difficulty. Braziers are scattered throughout, surrounded by rings of clear space, the ground wet with melted snow. Everything seems to be engineered in ancient dwarvish fashion, the gutters, roads, walls and even shingles a display of geometric perfection.
  1580. Elaborate carvings frame doors and windows, but decorate most luxuriously the boards sticking out from certain large buildings. Even without understanding the runic language used, the meanings of certain buildings is made clear. Along this large street are a handful of shops, with a large inn in the middle, a few smaller ones dotted about, busier than the larger one in fact, lower floors dedicated to smaller bars.
  1582. A few moments of searching reveals a butcher or something that looks like it could be one, the stylized picture of a cleaver embedded in a leg of some kind as clear a sign as any. Gram heads there first with Kat in tow - hoping to lighten his pack, fill his purse and find some answers.
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