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  1. Four years ago you had been in the trenches of the Encounter War, knee deep in the dead and elbow deep in rain as the tarpaper-lined trenches did the only thing they were good for, retain water.
  2. Being a part of the Volunteer Corps was, funnily enough, mandatory after the fall of the Mountain Kingdom, and it was doing neither you nor your people no great deal of good.
  3. You dug trenches, fired into the charge, were overrun, and scampered back for a mile to repeat tomorrow.
  4. However, that was then, this is now.
  5. After your homeland's miserable defeat and surrender, the transition had been surprisingly smooth.
  6. Now, four years after the war, you had made something of a gentleman of yourself, having amassed a small fortune by frugality and labor.
  7. You slid easily into a comfortable role as a shipsman, commanding jib and mainsail as you slid across the water in a merchant caravan courtesy of your new overlords.
  8. The necessity of gunships had been rendered moot after the 1st Royal Fleet was destroyed by one particularly irate creature. Another of the same ilk, issued as per common kit of a ship of your size, was relaxing in her quarters below deck even as you watched the sun's routine trail pass you by.
  9. An injury to the leg and a childhood on the water had left you of appropriate qualification to serve as a subcaptain, commander of a re purposed sloop fitted to carry cargo within its wooden depths. You followed the leader, a creature of magnificent coloration and style, upon your mission to deliver a wealth of product to another fallen kingdom.
  11. It was extremely visible when you entered the domain of the kingdom, as the ocean's wine-dark tint gave way to an unusual clarity, as if the ocean itself had been pulled out and replaced with the finest glasswork. Upon more careful inspection, the beasts of the ocean who crossed the narrow stretch separating black from clear seemed to emerge more vibrant then they entered. The rocking of the ship, upon your own entrance, gave way to a calming meander. The rough scent of salt lessened to a perfume that smelled like home, of dinner and easier times.
  13. Drawing from your satchel your parchment instructions, a quick shout gathered your crew members. The composition of your ship was roughly two thirds men and one third being of the occupying type. Of that third, several were in the shape of fish, one resembling a great shark, and a spare few were in more manlike forms. A brown creature with a leaf on its head, assigned as your "negotiator" lounged, refusing to move from its comfortable position in the shade. Of the crew, your male crew members' drilled discipline contrasted sharply with the lackadaisical attitude of the beastly, almost womanly creatures. Reviewing your assignment a few moments, you began to speak.
  14. " My fellows, we are arriving after two months at sea. Prior to our docking and your designated rest time, there are some things you should know. "
  15. " You have already noticed the change in the air. Do not become comfortable. This area is ruled by the Eros Cult, and it is their signature to sieze any who should become so comfortable as to refuse to leave. Upon our docking and after unloading, you will be given a week's leave and your arrival pay. I expect to see EVERYONE back in their bunk on this ship before sundown, and I expect to see it seven times. Should you fail to appear once, I will dock your pay significantly. Twice, and I will personally haul you back in chains. Do you understand me? "
  16. It pained you to be so forceful, yet it was not allowable to hemorrage men upon every trip, seeing your native peoples so diminished by the war. Before you could dismiss your mariners, one of the beasts spoke up.
  17. " Why not let them stay? You could meet a cute girl, capt', and live the high life with her here. If the Queen starts enforcing penalties on deserters, she'll have to track down half the Navy. You know there's a Royal ship left in every port we've stopped at."
  18. The interruptor was among the smaller of the girl shaped beasts, possessing a pale skin and long blonde hair. She had, upon your introduction, referred to herself as an "elf" although the meaning behind the name eluded you.
  19. Rather then addressing her directly, you barked another command to your men.
  20. " Where will you be at sundown? "
  21. A chorus of trained veterans shouted back at you
  22. " IN OUR BUNKS, SIR "
  23. While mass conscription of all men of fighting age and above (and during the later portion of the war, old enough to use a gun) had decimated the economy and the population, every man understood duty and his role.
  24. " There will be no desertion because I allow no desertion. We have our duties. To sails! We draw to port! "
  25. You and the caravan of ships you were attached to slid easily into port and were unloaded, crates and barrels being taken off with pre-organized payment courtesy of your negotiator.
  26. After the last barrel was unloaded, you called your sailors together, gave them their pay, and unleashed them upon the city.
  28. Sitting upon the top deck of your ship, riding high in the water ever since its load was relieved, the correspondent of the city came to address you at your perch.
  29. She was a work of art if nothing else, darkly skinned and clad in elusive robes. When she spoke, her voice tickled your ears as if she were telling you that she loved you. Each syllable seemed sweeter then the last, and had you not known what she was doing you would have taken your beastly sailor's advice right there on the deck.
  30. " Ah, captain. I should welcome you to Asparada. Your services are appreciated. I am the Aspara consul, representative of my people.  The Houri and Cupid consuls are with other captains."
  31. You responded to her alluring tone with your practiced professionalism.
  32. " Thank you. Are there whore in this city? "
  33. It was a pointless question. There were whores in every city, but it would benefit you to not let her become too comfortable speaking with you.
  34. " Oh my! What a question! Well, if you must ask, there are, if you so desire. And what would fit your taste? Something light, possibly from the Houri population? Or're looking for something a bit heavier? "
  35. With this question she began to approach you and raise her hands with the most malicious intent you could imagine from such delicacy. To stop her advance, you barked at her with a quick retort.
  36. " Not for me, you brown git. My men are of weaker constitution and it would serve them to find some release. I expect to see half of them return to me at most. "
  37. Your rejection deflated the consul in her tracks, but she quickly regained her composure and began another avenue of business.
  38. " I see. So, shall you be going out on the town? Yours is the final ship I am attending, and I would hate to see you wander through Asparada lost. Of course, if you happened to expend some of your pay, our local businesses would appreciate it. "
  39. Your seat at the top deck stood next to your lunch of hardtack and stale beer, which under the scents on the air seemed even blander then usual.
  40. " I will accept your offer. It would benefit me to see what provisions this city has for our return home. Take me somewhere to eat. "
  42. Standing was difficult, as it always was courtesy of your leg. With slight assistance from your surprisingly-strong host, you made your way down to the dock, where the pleasant scent was stronger still. To comply with your demand, the consul took you by the hand and began to walk, speaking as she did so.
  43. " I can imagine that you are in the mood for something a bit more substantial then that dreadful fare you were consuming aboard. There's tajine and mansaf, with baklava if you would like something sweeter. "
  44. Her jargon flew over your head. You could imagine boiled ham and blood pudding, but none of the exotic dishes she had promised you.
  45. " Take me where you recommend. You live here, you should know what to eat. "
  46. Perhaps this was what she intended for by giving you choices you knew nothing about, as she lit up with what you could only imagine was pride as she continued pulling you in the exact same direction she had been before while speaking more rapidly.
  47. " Why, if you want MY recommendation, I should have to recommend a small cafe. There are meals available for the choosing, although I wouldn't recommend taking them for a voyage. We can discuss those in the next days. "
  49. Just as she finished her speech, she pulled you into a sandstone building through a curtained door. Within its confines were a few tables, all empty.
  50. A short table in the center of the room, receiving neither too much light nor too little, was set for two, with delicately steaming cups of brown liquid.
  51. A small brown human girl emerged and greeted you in a undiscernable tongue, which your companion spoke back at her.
  52. You were led to the prepared table and sat down upon a cushion with the sun on your back, not too warmly shining through the fabric of your salt-encrusted jacket.
  53. The girl from earlier emerged with a platter of what was surely food, although not as you knew it. It was an orange stew, brimming with unknown contents. A flat bread was provided, but its purpose unknown.
  54. Upon further inspection, the girl seemed to have the same aura of delight and ease that the consul did. Upon noticing your attention, the consul informed you shortly after taking a drink of her cup.
  55. " Are you interested in her? She's a Houri, very delightful to be around. Among monsters, easily a great wife to choose. You Will be choosing a wife, correct? "
  56. You were fortunate to have choked down the hot, bitter drink prior to her question or you would have spit it out over your meal. She continued.
  57. " After all, it is Asparada tradition to see that a single man, who must be in want of a wife, be arranged happily. It is our pleasure and the work of our god. "
  58. After a brief moment to reflect, you responded.
  59. " I have no intention of doing any such thing. It is very...nice, yes, nice of you to offer so, yet I have no intention to do so. I am married to the Royal Navy. "
  60. Her laughter was as sweet as any word she spoke.
  61. " What a sweet thought! You continue to astound me, captain. Your peculiarities grow you ever more interesting. "
  62. You chose not to contest her condescending remarks, focusing rather on the meal placed before you. You could see no method to consume the contents of the stew, no utensil or tool.
  63. Seeing no method to consume it, you attempted to eat it the obvious way- by putting your hand into the stew and grabbing some contents.
  64. As if she sensed your intention, the speed with which her light, delicate arm snapped out to grasp you at the wrist- and the iron strength with which she held it- surprised you.
  65. " Ah, I have failed to tell you- you consume saltah by dipping the bread in the stew. Putting your hands in the stew would be a grave insult. Here, let me show you. "
  66. With that she broke a piece of the flat bread and scooped up a sizeable portion of the stew onto it. Its fragrance, which had been subtle before, became more strong as your companion leaned over the table and began moving the bread to your mouth.
  67. Rather then argue, you hesitantly opened your mouth and took the bread from her, flipping your head back so as to not allow any spillage. Where you nose had drew close to both the food and her fingers, a scent similar to hers remained exclusively.
  68. The taste was delightful, spiced meat and vegetables in a heavenly broth. If you sat here forever, you could eat saltah forever and never grow tired of it.
  69. " See? Not difficult at all. Shall we eat? "
  71. You consumed your saltah with only a small degree of spillage onto your by-no-means-pristine clothes occurring. She spoke with you shortly, pointing to the descending sun.
  72. " Your men are to be at their bunks at sundown, correct? "
  73. You nodded in agreement.
  74. " Then you should be on your way. I will speak to you again later. "
  75. Returning to your ship, you saw that roughly half of your sailors were in their bunks, half of them unaccounted for. The missing were majority from among your trained mariners, with only a few of your monstrous sailors remaining gone. You pulled up the ladder to the ship and let any who were gone at sundown fend for themselves.
  77. Upon the fourth day you saw her again, but on this occurrence she arrived trailed by a small herd of pack beasts with crates and barrels.
  78. " And what is this that you intend to put on my ship? "
  79. Without your permission nor your knowledge, they were already loading their goods onto your ship.
  80. " These are the provisions that you will be returning with, along with the goods that you will be selling when you return to your home port. There are dates and dry goods for eating, wine and safe water for drinking, as well as silk and spices for trading. This is all done with the permission of your negotiator. "
  81. As angry as you were that she went around you and without your knowing, your tasks for the day had been completed before you even stepped off of the deck.
  82. " So, captain, what do you intend to do now? "
  83. Her smug look failed to hide that this was her intention, and that she was planning far in advance of you. Rather then attempt to manipulate someone a step ahead of you, you resigned yourself to playing into her hands.
  84. " I will tell you, I don't quite know any more, having completed the provisioning of the ship. I could drill my men regarding where they should be at night, but I have done so for the past days and it has done no good. Do you have any suggestions? "
  85.  If you had stared up at the exquisite towers and rounded domes of the city's great hall, you could have imagined that there was a rather significant list of suggestions that she could pull off the top of her head. Her end was unknown to you, but her intentions seemed clear as day. Her suggestion came in her typical lilting, sweet tone.
  86. " If I had to tell you the activity of Asparada, I would say to go to the baths. You can have the salt cleaned from your vestments, and yourself as well. I can tell by your smell you have a loose grasp of hygiene. "
  87. Personally, you could smell nothing but the perfumed air of Asparada, so you gave your hand to her to guide and spoke as shortly as you needed to.
  88. " I am the captain of a ship. "
  90. She led you through the winding courts to a great building that seemed larger the closer you got to it, easily dwarfing the path you went through earlier. It was of the same pale tan sandstone as the rest of the city, yet of greater magnitude.
  91. The grand main door of the building was easily ten men across and five men tall, and a great mob of monsters and men crowded around it. This mob parted, however, to allow the consul-and by proxy, you- entrance into its clutches.
  92. Inside the building the mob formed into orderly lines each running to a long desk. At this desk was a girl every few feet, and each line ran to a girl.
  93. When you and your guide approached, though, the closest line to you broke and assimilated into the lines to either side, leaving an empty lane for you to walk, and a surprised and unoccupied girl.
  94. The consul fired a barrage of syllables at her, which incited her to stand, beckoning you to follow, and walk to a side door. The consul released your hand and motioned you over to the girl.
  95. " I'll see you when you get out. "
  97. As you followed the proferred girl, she babbled on in her language and a handful of other girls joined her as she walked. Some were Houris, like you had seen in the cafe. Others were like the consul, with movements almost as elegant, as if they were taking life as a dance. Also there were others, taller and more seriously faced, with shorter hair. All were dark skinned and bore the bodies of beautiful women, though.
  98. You were led to an exquisite chamber covered in smooth stone, far different from the sandstone streets or the wooden, splintery decks that had been your home for the past months.
  99. After leading you to stand before a stone slab, the handful of girls began picking at your clothing, removing your jacket but struggling with your buttoned shirt and undershirt. After a few moments of their concerned yet unintelligible speech, you removed those for them. Your breeches were coaxed off of you, and while the girls attempted to remove your underclothes, you preserved them to save what modesty you had. The girls seemed disappointed, which was a delightful boost to your ego.
  100. After the girls had been firmly convinced that they would not be removing your underclothes you were pushed onto the slab, which was surprisinly warm and slightly wet with some sweet scented oil.
  101. Twice the number of hands descended on you as there were girls, even the reserved-looking tall ones acting enthusiastically.
  102. The cloister door opened and a small patter of feet could be heard, the soft shuffling of cloth implying your clothes had been taken.
  103. Soft cloths began to stroke your body, gently digging into the crevices of your body and leaving behind savory scents.
  104. You closed your eyes as a soft brush was taken to your face, cleansing the dirt from your pores and leaving you feeling refreshed. You left them closed even afterwards, basking in the feelings.
  105. Small hands, undoubtedly belonging to Houris, began massaging deep into your back, where muscles stiffened by military rigor began to uncoil and relax.
  106. Larger hands, possibly Asparas or the others, pushing in even deeper, to pockets of tension you didn't even know you had.
  107. When they stroked your neck, you could feel their hot breath as the girl softly murmured something you didn't understand into your ear.
  108. Your hands were taken and stroked, every finger given attention as it was cleaned.
  109. Your hair was washed, a stream of warmish-lukewarm water poured over your scalp while the mats of dirt and grime were brushed out.
  110. If you had been listening, you could have heart the cloister door open one more time and the pattering of footsteps, quietly and slowly. You weren't listening though.
  111. The massaging hands began to work their way down your legs, observant enough to avoid your undercloth region.
  112. The probing hands made their way down your good leg, warming and oiling it, scrubbing away the grime of life.
  113. Your foot was paid special attention to, delicate fingers stroking up and down as your calluses were wiped and ground, and your toenails cut to a comfortable length.
  114. As they worked their way down your other leg, though, they began to strike points where your mauled leg had never truly healed, even after the years.
  115. After the third, you could no longer contain your pain easily and let out a grunt. As quickly as you did, the myriad hands pulled back.
  116. " Where does it hurt? "
  117. One of the girls asked. Her voice tickled your ears, similar to the consul. You kept your response short.
  118. " From the upper thigh to the ankle. "
  119. A finger was traced down that exact length, as if to tempt you.
  120. " It definitely looks like it. Would you like us to try to help? "
  121. You stated your agreement and a short string of words in the strange language rang out.
  122. You could hear a patter of footsteps again, and the cloister door closing.
  123. Something warm was placed against your leg, relaxing the twisted muscles and tendons. From there, fingers began to dig into your leg, slightly painfully but mostly pleasurably. After it was done, your leg hurt less then it had in years.
  125. You were picked up and suited in light, airy robes. A cloth bag was handed to you containing your mariner's attire, without its characteristic salt scent.
  126. Led out by the girl who had let you in, the consul intercepted you as you left. She smiled moreso then usual, having known her enough through seeing her for the course of two days.
  127. " Enjoy your bath? You can walk around in those and change later, everyone does. "
  128. Pleasant buzzing filling your head, you could only agree with her. She pointed at the setting sun, and you began a fast walk to the ship.
  130. On the seventh day of you stay at Asparada, you surveyed your crew members.
  131. You had managed to lose every man aboard your ship except one, and the only remaining mosters were the shark-ish girl and the negotiator.
  132. You prompted the two remaining sailors about their attendance, to which the man replied that "he didn't have to go anywhere to look for tail. "
  133. The shark-ish girl seemed embarrassed, but any semblance of modesty dissolved when they got out of your field of view and began fucking a hole in the hold, as you would later discover them.
  134. The negotiator stated that she was excited to take her earned fortune home, especially considering that this mission was not intended to bring anything back.
  136. Standing at the helm with a grand total of two sailors and a merchant, you felt slightly defeated.
  137. Even with your rejuvenated leg, you could not lead a sloop on three sailors.
  138. It is at that moment that the consul clambered up to the deck and began to speak with you about the possibility of you hosting an Eros missionary group to your home port.
  139. She claimed that the Church would provide you with a crewful of seasoned sailors, of the Houri, Aspara, and Cupid variety, so long as they arrive safely.
  140. Without asking for your approval, girls began climbing aboard, setting out sails and attending the mast.
  141. It was when Asparada had just passed over the horizon that you realized that you were still talking to the consul.
  142. You questioned her about her presence on an outbound vessel, especially one that had left its caravan behind, to which she replied
  143. " What a shame. I guess you're stuck with me. By the way, does your leg feel any better?"
  144. You had to say, it did.
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