Down in the Dungeon

Truth be told, like everybody else I'm getting older. And as I get older it seems more and more as if I'm spinning yarns for the younger folks who stifle yawns and wonder who the hell I think I am, with my stories of the days when Dungeons and Dragons came in a white cardboard box, when the Sony Betamax was the ultimate in video recording, phones were things that sat on a table and didn't go anywhere with you, and music came on flat, black round things covered with grooves. It's the fate of all humans to grow old and feel like time is passing them by, and as fellow humans, neither Wulf nor you nor I are immune. So it was with that in mind that I came up with this story, a reminiscence by Wulf of his younger days, and also a cautionary story for the young turks who think that they invented dungeon crawling.

Down in the Dungeon also has the distinction of being the last new Wulf story that I published, back in '05 or '06 or so, and since that time I've made a couple of changes. I'll say again that the lusty daemoness is a fond homage to a lovely would-be girlfriend of the time, who is still a good buddy and now has a very nice family of her own. Anyway, she's still in the story, and for those who (rightfully) complained that there was no big three-way orgy at the end, I've added that. Finally, I've added an epilog that suggests that Wulf has at least partially settled down, though the identity of his long-term snugglemuffin remains unknown. Readers are encouraged to speculate over in the guestbook or drop me a note if they think they know the answer.

Anyway, here's 2012's version of Down in the Dungeon, soon to be followed by the last completed Wulf tale that I have for you. Keep an eye out.

__________

I

I was sitting in a tavern the other day, as is my wont (by the time you get to be my age there isn’t much left to do besides sit in your customary watering hole and ogle women young enough to be your daughters, wondering where the hell all the time went), and I noticed a sadly familiar sight.

In a dark corner, sitting in what they thought was a secluded booth, was a band of young adventurers. They were all there — the noble fighter in brand new, freshly-oiled chainmail, the staff-bearing wizard (trying to start a beard but failing), the cunning thief in studded leather and the serene, white-clad priest. They were huddled around their table, discreetly studying a worn parchment, making notes and pointing at it excitedly.

After a few minutes of this I found that I really couldn’t stand it any longer, and strode over (actually I walked slowly, feeling a stiffness in my legs that wasn’t there when I was their age).

“I hope you didn’t get that map from an old man with one eye and a crow on his shoulder,” I said.

They looked up in horror and surprise, as if shocked that I had figured out what they were up to.

“I can see from your expressions that you did,” I continued, pulling up a stool and seating myself at the table. I glanced at the map.

“Oh, by Phaedra’s overflowing loins,” I swore. “I was with a party that bought that map from Willy One-Eye over twenty years ago. It was worthless then and it’s worthless now.”

Fighter-boy glared at me.

“And just who the blazes are you, old man, that you feel you have the right to speak to us in such a fashion?”

“You can drop the affected noble fighter talk,” I said. “It doesn’t impress me.” I gestured at one of the more attractive barmaids and gestured for a round of ale. I was sincerely hoping that she’d bend over the table when she served us — it was about the only thrill I could afford these days. “The name’s Wulf.”

That stopped them. They stared at me as if I’d just dropped a dead rat into the collection plate on Godsday.

“You’re Wulf?” the fighter demanded. “Wulf the Freelance?”

“Oh, come off it,” said the thief. “He’s a fraud. Wulf the Freelance is dead. Eaten by trolls in Necrotia.”

“I heard he took over some kingdom in Vendaya and was killed by jealous nobles,” suggested the cleric.

“No, I think he was lost while trying to climb Mount Starport, looking for the invisible gems,” chimed in the wizard.

Just then the barmaid showed up with a tray full of drinks and plopped them on the table, bending over and giving me a magnificent view of her ample cleavage.

“There ya go, Wulf darlin’” she said, grinning. “And there’s no extra charge for the sightseeing.”

The adventurers shut up again, thank the gods. I think they were at least half convinced.

“You say this is a fake?” the fighter asked. “It cost us ten crowns!”

“That’s inflation for you,” I replied, sipping at a passable ale. “It only cost us one.”

“This is the same map that you bought?” the thief asked. “How do you know that?”

“I didn’t say I bought it,” I told him. “I said my party bought it. The lower left hand corner is burned. That’s where our dwarf set it on fire while trying to read it in the dark with a candle. We wrote our contract and put our initials on the back.”

The fighter flipped the map over and squinted. Then his face fell.

“Seven of you?” he asked.

I nodded. “And one henchman but he didn’t know how to write. Dwarf runes, elf script and a big sloppy ‘W’ at the end. That was mine.”

“Big party,” commented the cleric.

“Yeah,” replied the thief. “Big parties were popular in the old days. We travel lighter these days. Only four of us.”

I shrugged. “Less meat for the orcs after they find your corpses, I guess.”

Fighter-boy sighed and looked at his companions.

“I think he’s right,” he said dejectedly. “We’ve been swindled.”

“Don’t be too downhearted,” I said. “Willy’s been pulling that scam for years. I don’t know how he keeps getting the same map back. Maybe he loots the bodies after the party he sold it to gets wiped out.” I looked at the map again. “This thing’s got some stories around it, I’ll bet.”

The wizard looked at me curiously. He seemed a decent enough sort — just a little wet behind the ears.

“So what happened when you had it?” he asked.

“Well, if you have a couple of hours and want to buy me a couple of rounds I’ll tell you,” I said, leaning back and hefting my mug. “Since I suspect that you’re not heading off for the dungeon tonight you’ve probably got the time.”

They looked at me expectantly.

“Go on,” the thief said. “I’m already two crowns poorer. What’s a few more silvers for beer?”

“That’s the spirit.” I took a long pull from my mug. “So there I was, sitting in a tavern in Richport, wondering what the hell to do with myself…”

***

Whoever named Richport was a hopeless optimist. The place isn’t just an armpit — it’s the pit of all armpits. Of course, I was stuck there myself, so I had to make the most of it.

I was a fairly young man then, fresh from adventuring in the Wilds with my wolfen lover Akumi. In addition to fond memories I had some cash in my pocket, at least — enough to maintain me in food and lodging for a few days, but not enough to book passage out of that stinkhole and back to civilization.

I whiled away hours at the tavern (it didn’t have a name — I don’t think anything in Richport had a name), considering and rejecting various plans for my future. I had managed a little petty larceny here and there to supplement my meager resources, but it seemed that everyone in Richport was a hard luck story, as broke and down on their luck as I was.

Then the Companions of the Blade showed up, and my life was turned upside down.

They made quite a stir when they showed up, striding into the tavern clad in their best adventurers’ gear, sitting down and grandly ordering drinks.

“A round of ale for the bar!” shouted the dwarf. “Compliments of the Companions of the Blade!”

That caused something of a sensation, and the ragged crowd at the tavern set up a ragged cheer as the overworked servers busied themselves distributing rotgut. The dwarf tossed out silvers as tips, and within a few minutes, everyone was convinced that the Companions of the Blade were the finest folks ever to walk on Thystran soil.

I accepted my ale with a curt nod and considered the group.

The burly human in well-worn plate armor — he was the leader. He was armed with a serviceable broadsword in a leather scabbard and I suspected that he had a couple of magical protective devices squirreled away somewhere. He was dark-haired and handsome, with a cleft chin and deep set eyes that gazed appraisingly across the room. He was certainly looking for something, but at that point I couldn’t say what it was.

The uncharacteristically generous dwarf also seemed to have ulterior motives, for his expression, buried deep in a thick brown beard, was similarly thoughtful. He whispered briefly to the fighter, discreetly pointing out the tavern’s various denizens. He was definitely all dwarfed-out, in heavy mail and gauntlets, armed with a large, double-bladed axe. A brass-and-steel goggle helmet rested on the table in front of him.

They had a priest — that was a sign that they were expecting to be out in the field for a long time and would need healing. He was male, with a gentle expression that usually indicated a peaceful soul not cut out for adventure. There was a St. Orlan’s medal around his neck, which suggested to me that he was an idealist trying to spread the Kyborist creed to the far corners of the world. This individual is better known in my trade as dragon chow.

The wizard was an elf, dark eyed and brooding, his golden hair tied behind his neck, his expression unreadable. He wore blue robes and bore a staff, but I didn’t recognize any of his insignia and so had no clue as to his school or specialty. Damned wizards. Never trusted them myself.

The other two party members were far more interesting. They were both female, of course — the first was a shapely human with fiery red hair and pale, pale skin. There was a lute slung on her back and a slender sword at her side — a bard, I’d warrant.

The second female was another elf, but this one had a distinctly exotic cast to her, with a delicately-pointed face, elaborately-coifed silver-blonde hair and wide almond-shaped eyes lined with black pigment. She had a small tattoo on one cheek, but I couldn’t make out exactly what it was. She was clad all in greens and browns, leading me to suspect that she was a ranger or a druid.

Finally I noted a seventh member of the group, a small, beady-eyed goblin who darted about among the members of the group, looking busy but doing very little. That would be the faithful henchman.

The party was pretty much complete, I reflected. Two fighters, a cleric, wizard, bard, druid and henchman. There was one obvious member missing, however…

Just as I was thinking of it, the dwarf spoke up again, confirming my suspicions.

“Greetings to all!” the bearded one bellowed, sloppily raising his mug and sloshing beer. “I am Svignar of the Hillcleaver Clan! My companions and I have come before you with a request!”

With that the establishment fell largely silent, save for the drunken mumbling of the reprobate at the end of the bar who was talking to himself about an argument he’d apparently had with his wife a decade or so previously.

“We have come seeking a seventh member of our bold party of adventurers,” Svignar continued. “Should there be anyone in this establishment with the skills of a rogue, scout, skulker or… Well, let’s face it… a thief…” The room broke out in raucous laughter and catcalls. “Then come see us! We are bound for wealth and glory, and we wish to have a boon companion with skills that we need, with whom we will share our bounty!”

I rolled my eyes. This party had “disaster waiting to happen” written all over it, despite their generosity and the obvious pulchritude of its female members. I had just gotten back from a long stint as a rogue/scout/skulker/thief and I for one wasn’t about to get dragged back into that game for a long time. No, my thoughts were on Godshome, and the possibility of throwing myself on the mercy of the magic academy headmaster and returning to my studies. Maybe Mistress Elspeth was still teaching...

Yes, I know I was being naïve. I told you that I was young and foolish.

The bar fell strangely silent at the dwarf’s request — it seemed to me that they were being as sensible as I was. Richport was full of such adventurers, and more often than not they set out from the city and never returned. Or if they did return it was in small crates or ash-filled ceramic jars.

The dwarf looked disappointed. “Come now, good people!” he shouted. “Don’t you know who we are? I am Svignar, and I have traveled Thystra from one end to the other, winning great glory and countless chests of gold. My companion Thantanus the Bold snatched the ebon crown from the very brow of Barsan the arch-lich. Our priest Beldrin is a gentle but wise student of Saint Orlan, and the wizard Havaenol is a student of the most ancient and learned elven magi. Our bard Vendra can sing to charm the gods themselves, while Lilywinter the druid commands the forces of nature!” I noted that he didn’t even both mentioning the goblin. Svignar waved a stumpy hand at the assembled heroes. “Are these not fine companions? Is there an adventuring band in all the land that would be more suited to the brave and bold heroes in this chamber?”

Once more, the answer was uncomfortable silence. I fancied that I heard a cricket chirping somewhere.

Svignar knew when he was beaten. “Ah, well,” he said. “Enjoy your ale, all. Should any of you change your minds, you can find us in the rooms above. Good day to you.”

He sat down, a disappointed expression clouding his gnarled face.

I returned to my ale. I felt for them… really. They seemed like a decent troop of well-meaning boobs, and I didn’t wish them ill. I also didn’t especially want to get involved with them, either, though if some other numbskull who fancied himself a rogue wished to do so, I wasn’t about to stand in his way.

Unfortunately, as the room’s only rogue with any real experience, I stood out like a demon on Godsday. When I set down my mug I was presented with the ugly face of Svignar the dwarf, regarding me with a smile that screamed “false comradeship.”

“Hello, young one,” he rumbled. “Care for a refill?”

I met his gaze with what I hoped was friendly but unwavering skepticism.

“Sure,” I said. “And for that you get my gratitude.” I paused and allowed the barmaid to slop another serving into my mug. “And nothing else.”

The dwarf looked nonplussed. “Great ancestors, youngster!” he said with a wide-eyed, astonished look on his face. “No one trusts anyone anymore! Can’t a man buy another man a drink without someone thinkin’ he wants something in exchange?”

I took a sip. “Well, doesn’t he?”

Svignar waved a thick-fingered hand. “Ah, youth! Just ‘cause I’m bein’ generous, you automatically assume I’m tryin’ to recruit you into my friends’ business venture!”

Another sip. “Well, aren’t you?”

Svignar frowned. I think my logic had baffled him; dwarves aren’t known for their ability to contemplate deep philosophical issues, after all.

He cleared his throat. “As a matter of fact, my friends and I was just noting that you had the air of an experienced adventurer about you — someone who knows his way around both sides of a locked door, if you know what I mean.”

“A rogue, a scoundrel, a thief, a scout,” I said. “I don’t know if I qualify for all of those things, but I’ve got some experience. I’ll admit that much.”

“Then what’s the matter with joinin’ up?” Svignar demanded. “A free ticket out of this stinking hellhole… no offense, mind you,” he added apologetically as the barmaid glared at him blackly. “Guaranteed gold and likely a magic item or two… Hells, we think that there’s a better than average chance that we’ll find Martag’s Glaive. Think about it, youngster! Martag’s Glaive!”

I shrugged and drained my ale. “Never heard of it. And the name’s Wulf, by the bye.”

“Very well then, master Wulf. What do you say to a bold adventure with boon companions? You’ve the skills we need — Thantanus can see it and the barkeep confirms you to be just the sort we’re lookin’ for!”

I put the mug down with slightly more force than normal.

“Sorry, Svignar,” I said. “I’ve had a bit too much adventure lately, and right now I’m heading for bed.” I stood and bowed briefly. “But I hope you find what you’re looking for. Good night.”

With that I turned on my heel and strode from the common room, right past the disappointed-looking adventuring party. The red-headed bard regarded me with something less than disappointment, and for a moment I regretted that I would probably never see her again, but then my calmer and more rational side reasserted itself and I negotiated the stairs, leaving the noisy common room behind, walking to my room without a backward glance.

If only we’d just left it there. I might be a famous wizard today with lots of gold and a small harem of female pleasure-sprites and sex daemons.

No such luck, however.

My room was about as comfortable as one might expect, given my financial state — a table, chair, nightstand and narrow bed with straw-filled mattress. Humble, as they say, but homey. I was just polishing off a nightcap in the form of another mug of ale when someone knocked, none too gently, on my door.

I was ready to look down toward the floor when I opened the door, but to my surprise, it was the grizzled human fighter who stood there, with a grim but determined expression.

“Rogue,” he said, without waiting for me to speak. “My dwarf tells me that you’ve skills we need.”

“I’m not sure how he knows that,” I replied. “We’ve only barely met.”

“Svignar has made inquiries. It seems that you are highly recommended.”

I frowned. This was a first. “Well, it’s good to be wanted, but if you’re here to ask me to join up with your heroic adventuring crew, I’m afraid the answer is still no… what was the name? Thannus?”

“Thantanus. I’m afraid that we’re in a bit of a bind, Master Wulf.” He looked troubled. “Our endeavor requires the skills of an experienced rogue such as yourself, and there is no one in this slime-ridden, gods-forsaken shit-hole…” He paused. “That is to say, this fine, pleasant and rustic settlement… That meets our requirements.”

I admit that my curiosity was aroused, but my recent catastrophes had convinced me that adventuring was a fool’s errand, and my attention was still firmly set on the magic academy. I forcibly repressed my growing interest and met his gaze.

“Look, Thantanus,” I said patiently. “I sympathize completely. However, I’m afraid that my destiny lies elsewhere. I tried the adventurer thing and it just didn’t agree with me. So with all due respect, I’d very much like to get some sleep.”

Thantanus nodded curtly. “It’s what I told him you would say.” He turned and walked back down the hall, not looking back. “Your kind never listens to rational arguments.”

I didn’t give the comment much thought, but instead undressed, locked the door and blew out the candle. Hopefully I’d get at least a few hours’ sleep and be able to locate transport back to Godshome in the morning.

About a quarter-hour after I’d bedded down, there was another knock on the door, this one somewhat lighter, but at the same time more insistent.

I swore, clambering out of bed (not that it was all that restful to begin with, but at least it was a bed, which was more than most people in Richport had. I was dressed only in my breeches, and was in a foul mood as I swung the door open, ready to tell Thantanus or Svignar or whoever was there exactly which hell they could go to and which daemon they could be buggered by.

When I opened the door, however, I only gaped.

She was standing there, hands on hips, gazing at me coolly. It was the red-headed bard woman, and up close she was even more appealing than she’d been at a distance. She was dressed in tight buckskin pants and a leather vest, laced up quite firmly, pressing a pair of full breasts together and redoubling her already-substantial cleavage. Her face was small and delicate, with a pointed chin and a small but shapely mouth and green eyes mirroring something that might have been amusement. Red hair fringed her face and was drawn up in a long braid behind her. She’s apparently left her lute downstairs.

My mouth must have dropped, but I tried to maintain some veneer of normalcy.

“Uh, can I help you, Miss…” I fumbled.

“Vendra,” she replied in a musical, lilting voice. Yeah, she was a bard all right. “Thantanus says that you turned down both him and Svignar.”

“Yeah,” I said slowly, trying to sort out my thoughts. “I guess I did.”

She clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. “What a couple of idiots. I just told them that they weren’t offering the right inducement.”

“Right…? Induce…?” I was mumbling now.

“Oh, come now,” she said, and with deft fingers began to untie the lacings that held her vest shut. “You’re an intelligent man.” She quickly scanned me up and down. “And, might I add, a damned handsome one. You’ll agree… You just need to hear the right offer.”

“And that offer is…?” I was beginning to see where she was going, despite my sleep-fogged brain.

She pulled the laces loose and opened up her vest. A pair of soft, pale, pink-crowned breasts bobbed free.

“These,” she said, smiling, and cradling them in long-fingered hands. “And everything that goes with them.”

I gulped, and I imagine I stared. I was much younger and less jaded then, you see.

“Hm. I think I’ve got your attention,” Vendra said, happily. “So, what do you say? Want to join in exchange for a taste of what’s under these clothes?”

I must have nodded, because the next thing I knew she’d stepped into the room, pushed the door shut and slid her hands around my buttocks, pulling me hard against her.

“Good choice, rogue,” she whispered hotly in my ear. “You’ll find my coin much more pleasant than Thantanus’”

“Gods,” I muttered. “I was going back to the Imperial Academy…”

“Throw in with us, you handsome darling rogue and you can fucking buy the Imperial Academy,” she said.

I felt a strangely familiar rush of blood away from my head and down to a far less rational organ. Vendra must have felt it too.

“Oh, yes,” she purred, and a hand slipped from my hips to my crotch, touching the rapidly-hardening bulge in my breeches. “Now there’s coin that I like to be paid in.”

She glided lithely to her knees shedding her vest as she did so, freeing her pale breasts.

“Let me take a closer look,” she said, eagerly. My single candle didn’t provide a lot of illumination, but I saw enough to keep me interested as she expertly unlaced my breeches and reached into them, fingers gently caressing my cock, coaxing it to even greater enthusiasm.

“Oh, my.” She cast her smoldering gaze upward. “You like to have your cock sucked?”

I smiled at that. “I love you bards,” I said. “You always know how to find the right words.”

“Smartass,” she replied, flicking her tongue out and running it along the underside of my shaft. “Well, I’m willing to bet you’ve never had your cock sucked the way that I’m going to suck it.”

I looked down at her expectantly, and she slipped her lips around my cock, letting it slide into her mouth, tongue caressing. She opened her mouth and pulled it out again, and it slid out, slick with her saliva. Again she swallowed it, adding more spittle, and slid it out, festooned with sticky streamers. She stroked it against her cheek, and let another gobbet of spit slide out of her mouth and drip along the hard, heated surface.

“Never gotten sucked like this before, have you, sailor?” she whispered, lips thick with saliva, bubbles erupting as she spoke.

“No,” I said, softly, feeling the tension in my voice. “No, I haven’t.”

She continued to suck, and the quantity of spittle increased as she did so, until both my cock and her face were covered with it, so much that it dripped copiously down her chin, and onto the plump roundness of her breasts.

I stroked her head as she continued to suck, slowly holding her head tighter as I felt the heat in my loins rise higher and higher.

“Pull my hair,” she whispered through a froth of saliva, more bubbles and spit streamers drooling from her mouth. “Grab my hair and fuck my face.”

I groaned and grabbed a handful of thick red hair, yanking her head back, then sliding my cock to the hilt into her mouth, eliciting a sharp intake of breath and a moan. I began to move her head to my own rhythm, pulling it back and slamming it down, feeling and hearing her moans grow in intensity as I did so.

“Yeah,” she said, muffled by my cock and a mouthful of spittle. “Yeah, fuck my face. Fuck it… Ohhhhh, yeah… Gods damn you. You’ve got a big fucking cock, you know that?”

Well, no I didn’t, and it’s really not that big, but then again what man doesn’t like to hear that?

“Like to get fucked with it?” I said. What can I say? I was much younger then and I hadn’t had time to hone my dialog.

She shook her head, spittle spraying. She had a beard of froth now, cascading down her chin and across her breasts, dripping from her swelling nipples.

“No,” she whispered. “Don’t fuck me. Just let me suck you.”

I reflected that this was probably a sensible attitude for an adventurer, given the possibilities of unwanted pregnancy, but an instant later, my mind was focused once more on the hot wetness of her mouth.

Moments later, we had both stumbled out of our clothes and ended up on the rickety bed. Vendra fell onto her back, pulling me down on top of her.

“Put it in my face,” she demanded, grabbing my shaft and pulling it toward her. “Sit on top of me and fuck me in the face.”

I leaned forward, pressing my cock against her, slipping between her lips and back into her mouth.

“Think that’s enough?” Vendra whispered, rubbing my cock against her cheeks, saliva bubbling from her lips. “Think it’s wet enough?”

I nodded feverishly, stroking her hair and forehead. “Yes, I think it is.”

“Fuck my tits then,” she said. “Put this cock between them and fuck them.”

Most of Vendra’s upper torso was slathered in her spit, and my cock slipped easily between the soft roundness of her breasts, sliding instinctively in and out.

“Wanna come?” she demanded, pressing her breasts together, squeezing my cock into a wet, slippery tunnel of flesh. “Wanna come on me?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I want to come.”

She opened her mouth and extended her tongue, overflowing with saliva, then grabbed my cock and began to pump at it with both hands.

“Come on,” she whispered and stuck out her tongue again. “Come all over me.”

I groaned deeply, feeling the rush of orgasm rising up from deep inside me.

“I’m coming,” I gasped. “I’m…”

The first wave rolled over me, and a string of semen burst from my cock across Vendra’s mouth and tongue. She grinned at me, then a second, even more powerful spasm wracked me, and an even bigger gush of come exploded onto her chin, across her lips and onto her extended tongue. Again, I convulsed and a third, even more massive load splashed onto her, across her face and forehead, spattering her red hair.

“Oh, my,” she sighed, reaching out with her tongue and taking another burst of come, sliding down her throat and mixing with the foaming saliva that covered her face. “Very nice, rogue. Very nice.” Slowly, she wiped a gobbet of my come off her face and licked it off her fingers.

With that I collapsed, sliding off of her and flopping onto my back.

“I think,” I said, struggling to catch my breath, “you can call me Wulf now.”

***

“So she persuaded you to join the expedition?” the cleric asked. “After you’d been so opposed to it? What did she say to you?”

“Oh, she presented the case very logically,” I replied, wiping foam from my lips and signaling the barmaid for another round. “She made some very convincing arguments. In the end, I realized that I needed some income if I was ever going to get out of that hellhole. So I agreed to leave with them the next day.”

The thief chuckled at that. “Oh, I’m sure her arguments were very logical.”

“Damn right they were,” I shot back, grabbing a mug off my favorite barmaid’s tray and taking another swig. “Bards are known for their impeccable logic.”

***

For all the attention that Vendra paid me the next day, she may as well have never met me, let along suck me dry and gargle with my come. She was friendly, to be sure, but as soon as we’d set out from Richport I began to realize that I’d been pretty thoroughly had.

I had to admit that the Companions of the Blade were pretty well equipped. We all had horses, as well as the requisite sturdy pack-mule, who walked placidly along behind, bearing his load of supplies without evident difficulty. Thantanus and Svignar rode in the lead, with the spellcasters in the middle. My fire-haired bard and I took up the rear, though the best we could do for conversation was pleasantries and comments on the weather. When Thantanus asked her to sing a traveling song, it was almost a relief.

The girl had good pipes, I’ll grant her. The day went quite pleasantly, with the festering sore of Richport vanishing in the distance behind us, and the green grassy sward, dotted with clusters of woods, closing in around us.

We were nearly ten leagues out of Richport by the time night fell and we began to make camp.

That night we gathered around a pleasant fire, and my new companions filled me in on their endeavor.

“It wasn’t easy,” Svignar declared, pulling a tattered parchment from a scroll case, “but we’ve managed to get our hands on this map, that shows the final resting place of Martag’s Glaive.”

I looked at the map.

“It looks pretty generic to me,” I commented. “Just a bunch of rooms and corridors. And it doesn’t even say how to get there.”

“That’s why we got the map so cheap,” Vendra said. “It’s useless if you don’t know where it’s located. I found the location of the complex in an old book we bought from a bookseller in Stoneburg. It told us how to get there, but didn’t give any information about the layout of the place. Then Svignar ran into a drunk in a tavern who said he had the map we needed.”

“Poor old reprobate,” Svignar said. “One-eyed chap. Only friend in the world was his pet crow. Ready to sell his soul for the price of a bottle. I bought the map from him.”

“How much did you pay for it?” I asked.

Svignar grinned broadly. “A crown,” he said. “A single gold crown.”

I frowned. “How did you know that this was the map you were looking for?”

“He told me,” Svignar said, a tad defensively. “He knew exactly where the place was and how to get there.”

“You know, I’ve always wondered this about old men who sell treasure maps in bars,” I said. “If they know exactly where the treasure is, why aren’t they hiring people to go get it for them? Why are they always selling the maps for the price of a drink?”

“He was desperate,” Svignar said. “Willing to do anything.”

I sighed, rolling my eyes. “With all due respect, Svignar, would you tell me something? Is there some kind of automatic penalty to dwarves’ intelligence? Is your wisdom reduced when you’re born or something? All you’ve done is squandered good gold on a map that may or may not be a fake, and didn’t even bother checking to see if the old man had pulled this scam with anyone else.”

Svignar spluttered and looked angry. Vendra looked vaguely impressed and Lilywinter looked elvishly inscrutible. The rest of the party (except Scrad the goblin, who was busy stirring the stew) looked shocked and horrified at what I’d said.

“I’ll bet a month’s haul that when we get there, the place will bear no resemblance to your map whatsoever and you’ll be out a crown. And one-eye will be drunk as a lord.” I sighed again. “Oh well — in for a copper, in for a crown I suppose. I’ve thrown in with you lot, now I guess we’re stuck with each other.”

Thantanus broke the uncomfortable silence that followed. “Look, Wulf,” he said, “I don’t know if this map is a fake or not. If it is, then we’re short a gold crown.” Here, he shot a black glance at Svignar, who quickly looked away. “But we do know the way to the complex, and if the map is wrong, we’ll need your services even more. Think of it — a completely empty dungeon, with no map to guide you.” Another glare at the dwarf. “You’d be critical to the success of our mission. Look.” He flipped the map over. A basic adventurers’ agreement had been scrawled on the back, with the names of all participants (except, I noted, Scrad) arrayed beneath it.

“You’re telling me you headed off on this venture without a rogue?” I said.

“Our friend Aldo was picked up by the constables right before we left,” Vendra said. “Our fearless leader here figured that we’d just pick one up on the way.”

“I see. You assumed that you’d be walking through the wilderness, run into some guy in a cloak who says, ‘My name is Sneaky. I see that you have no rogue in your party.’ Then you say, ‘You seem an honest fellow. Would you like to join us?’ Was that it?”

“As far as Thantanus and Svignar were concerned, yes,” Vendra said. “The rest of us just went along and trusted to their judgment.”

Thantanus turned his black gaze on her. “You made the agreement,” he said grimly. “I’m the leader of this party. If you don’t like it, you’re welcome to ride out.”

“I won’t ride out,” Vendra said. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid that Wulf is saying things that most of us have been thinking all along. In any event, he’s here now and we know where we’re going.”

“As long as your information was accurate,” Svignar grumbled.

“Oh, my information is accurate,” Vendra shot back. “Bards don’t buy maps from drunks in taverns.”

Thantanus indicated the parchment. “Are you in, Wulf?”

I nodded. “What the hell?”

Vendra rummaged in her pack and withdrew a quill pen and inkpot.

“You’re well prepared,” I said.

“Always,” she replied, slipping in a sly grin, the first acknowledgement of our interlude together.

In the flickering firelight, I inked an unsteady “W” on the paper and handed it back to Svignar.

“Don’t lose it,” I cautioned.

Svignar rolled up the parchment and replaced it.

“Now,” I said, “does anyone mind telling me about this wondrous item that we’re seeking?”

Beldrin the young priest cleared his throat.

“I think that our cleric can shed more light on that matter,” Thantanus said. “He specializes in the history of holy relics and weapons.”

I felt Vendra tense and suspected that she had rolled her eyes at the comment, but I let it go and listened to the priest.

“Ahem. Lord Martag was a great crusader for the cause of Kybor, and is said to have stood beside Saint Orlan in battle against the hosts of the chaos-lords. He is said to have wielded a mighty polearm…” Vendra snickered at this, eliciting another one of Thantanus’ characteristic glowers. “…A mighty polearm — a glaive, said to have been blessed by Saint Orlan himself and imbued with the power of Kybor. It is said to cut through the strongest armor as if it was made of parchment, and to have special power to slay the demons of the chaos horde. When Martag fell in battle, the hordes of chaos were unable to destroy the mighty glaive, nor were they able to take it back to their home plane. Instead, the interred it in a vault buried deep beneath a great massif, guarded by their most fearsome chaos warriors and warded by demons. And there it has lain ever since. Until today.”

“Thank you, Brother Exposition,” I said. “So you’re saying that this weapon is sacred to the church?”

“Yes, it is most definitely.”

“And exactly what are you planning on doing with it once you’ve got it?”

Beldrin looked at me as if I’d grown a second head. “Why, return it to mother church in Godshome,” he said, matter-of-factly. “What did you think we were going to do with it?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe send out word that you had it and sell it to the highest bidder. Or perhaps hand it over to your leader and let him wield it and become a demon-slaying superhero until someone kills him.” I glanced over at Thantanus and Svignar, their faces indistinct in the flicker of firelight. “Am I warm?”

Thantanus cleared his throat and Svignar colored, then looked away.

“I guess I am,” I went on. “So, this isn’t a quest to restore a sacred artifact to the church after all. Is that what they told you, priest? If you believed them you’re more naïve than most Kyborists, and that’s saying something.”

Beldrin looked suddenly stricken and cast a horrified glance at his companions.

“Is… is this true?” he asked, voice quavering. “That you would take the Glaive of Martag and sell it for filthy coins? Deny it to its rightful owners — the servants of Kybor?”

Now, Thantanus’ expression was openly angry. “You presume a good deal too much, rogue.” He fixed Beldrin with a reassuring gaze. “Priest, rest assured that your sacred artifact will end up in the hands of those who can truly use it. However, if we can wring a few coins out of the process, well, so much the better. Surely you can’t deny the fellow faithful of Kybor the opportunity to recoup some of their investment, can you?”

Beldrin didn’t seem all that reassured, but he held his piece and fell silent.

I looked at Thantanus and Svignar again. If they were Kyborists I was a fish-god cultist, but I was beginning to think that the warrior was right — I was indeed presuming too much and should keep my mouth shut. If they were going to steal the glaive and make a profit on it, I didn’t care if they sold it to wolfen slavers, so long as I got my cut and could make the trip home in safety.

“I believe that I was also offered the opportunity to inspect the glaive and learn more of its enchantments,” said the wizard Havaenol, speaking for the first time. “They may be of great use, and aid me in crafting new weapons for my companions.”

Thantanus nodded. “Yes, of course. I doubt that the church will object if we want to give the weapon a good going-over before returning it, do you, Brother Beldrin?”

Beldrin shook his head, looking as if he wanted to sink into the earth.

“And don’t forget,” Svignar said, obviously trying to restore some harmony to the group, “that the vault is said to be crammed to the rafters with all the other loot that the horde gathered in its conquests. It’s lain undiscovered for millennia — and now we’re the first to find it.”

“You found the location in a book?” I asked Vendra.

“I did,” she replied. “A thick volume written in the Voice of Shadows, one of the more obscure chaos-scripts. It was in first-cycle Sybarthan, which very few people speak anymore. It took me a month to decipher the first few pages, but it became quickly obvious that it was an account of the chaos horde’s invasion, along with many facts about its leaders, its battles, weapons, tactics and other things. It revealed the location of several other vaults that have since been discovered, so I came to the conclusion that it was genuine. The vault we’re looking for is located in a distant part of the Wild that has lain largely unexplored since the days of the horde.”

“I see.” My esteem for the bard was growing, and it wasn’t just because of her oral skills. “At least we’ve good reason to believe that your work is right, then.”

She nodded, proudly and emphatically. “That you can, rogue. That you can.”

The evening proceeded from there, with drinking, stories and songs (Vendra’s voice could have charmed angels; I was indeed growing more fond of her with each passing moment, even if she refused to acknowledge me as anything other than an adventuring companion). Eventually, we managed to recapture some semblance of fellowship, even though Beldrin seemed reserved and the druidess, Lilywinter, drank only in moderation and rarely spoke.

We bedded down near midnight, coals smoldering. I drew a late watch, and was on duty, wrapped in a blanket, clutching my sword as the sun rose, misty and pink, the next morning.

The others were rising, looking variously refreshed, grouchy or drowsy. Scrad was busy stoking the fire and pulling out a skillet. As I watched, he threw some cured bacon in and cracked several bluish eggs.

“Where does he get those?” I asked Beldrin, who had just finished his morning prayers.

“The eggs?” asked the priest. “I think he just forages. He’s amazing, actually. Finest henchman we’ve ever hired.”

I agreed, accepting a serving of eggs and bacon, then wolfing it down with a few swigs of water. The edge of the woods was nearby and I saw Lilywinter, the druid, gathering up some small sacks, a spade and a silver sickle, then wrapping herself in a cloak against the morning chill.

Thantanus thumped me on the shoulder with a thick finger (gods, I thought, even his fingers are muscular).

“Lilywinter’s going to gather some herbs and will catch up with us later,” he said. “Go keep an eye on her, will you?”

I nodded. I was still feeling uncomfortable with some of my new companions and welcomed the opportunity to get away from them for a while.

Lilywinter regarded me wordlessly as I trudged into the woods behind her. I was left with the impression that Thantanus usually sent a bodyguard along with her, and that she considered it an annoying necessity.

I took the opportunity to — surreptitiously, anyway — take a longer glance at the druidess. As I’ve noted, she had an even more exotically elven grace to her than the wizard, who had clearly spent a long time in the company of humans and had adopted many of our mannerisms. Lilywinter (I suspected that this was an approximation of her elf name, which was either secret — not for the likes of “mere” humans — or unpronounceable) simply felt more like an elf. Perhaps it was the way she moved, gliding along and scarcely disturbing the undergrowth around her, or perhaps it was the air of otherworldly calm and serenity that surrounded her like an aura. Vendra had been female in a thoroughly human way — wild, primitive, vivacious, bursting with untamed and almost animalistic energy. Lilywinter seemed far older, and far less of this world.

Not that she wasn’t attractive — her ethereal distance and grace simply added to her allure, as if I was walking into the depths of the forest with some kind of spirit or — dare I say it — angel. Her hair shimmered silver and gold, her skin smooth as if carefully sculpted by an artisan, her eyes delicately slanted and surrounded by lines of black that served to enhance their near-luminous blue. She wore a long green cloak that seemed to be woven out of leaves and vines, appearing to shift and blend in with her surroundings as she moved. The body under the cloak swayed and moved with a preternatural beauty. Being the horny young fool that I was in those days, I tried to imagine what her shapely ass looked like, gently moving beneath the magical garment.

Her entire body had that sensual elven quality that I would later on grow so familiar with. Tall and willowy, yet at the same time shapely and earthy, as delicate as wind but as rich and fruitful as the earth itself. I wondered where she was from and how she came to fall in with such rabble.

“I am from the Elven Isles,” she said in a gentle, lilting voice that — like her body — was at the same time strong and rooted in the earth. “My father is loremaster of Gray Keep and my mother a priestess of the Runehall. I chose to leave that place after dwelling in the forests for near to a century, for I could feel something greater in the land beyond our home. My father forbade me from leaving, for he wished me to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become an acolyte of the Runehall. I refused and he cast me out, bidding me never return. I wandered for another half-century and finally joined with this band in order to see more of Thystra.”

I gulped and must have looked surprised.

“I do not hear your thoughts,” she went on, “but I can feel them, read them if you will, in your posture and your motions.” She paused again and smiled — it was as if the shadowy forest had suddenly grown brighter. “And your gaze.”

I felt as if I had suddenly been stripped naked before the masters of the Imperial Academy.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” I said. “I meant no offense. I just thought…”

“You found me pleasing,” she said, and to my surprise her voice was light and even carried a tinge of amusement. “I have had many of your kind look at me in that way. But none with such clarity.”

I must have blushed at that. Yes, I was a horny young fool, but I was also acutely aware sometimes of my youth and inexperience. Even after my adventures with Akumi I still saw myself as a wet-behind-the-ears amateur, weary of adventure and determined to regain my place at the Imperial Academy. In my innocence, of course, I assumed that a simple apology and assurance that I would never do it again would make up for the destruction I’d wrought, but as I said I was pretty young and naïve. Today I realize that had I presented myself to the academy, they probably would have had me arrested and I’d have ended up as a eunich guard at one of the White Emperor’s palace latrines, so in the end I think I was fortunate. In those days, however, well… I had a lot to learn.

“Don’t be ashamed,” Lilywinter continued. “I’ve spent enough time among humans to understand their passions.” So much for my theory that she was just off the boat — she’d been in the world for decades, yet still managed to retain her old elven grace and detached beauty. “I’ve learned to read you and feel the depths of your emotions. Our kind neither burns so bright nor chills so deep as yours — a human’s passions surpass an elf’s by many orders of magnitude. Though we live long, we do not live as well, I fear.”

We began to walk slowly into the forest. In the distance I heard the gentle sound of a stream. Periodically, Lilywinter knelt down and gathered up herbs, digging them up with her spade or cutting them with her sickle. As she did so, she whispered softly, invoking earth spirits and gods only knew what else.

“I know any number of humans who would be happy to trade places with an elf,” I said. “Many would rather live long than live well, I think.”

She smiled again at that, carefully tucking a bunch of silver-sheened green leaves into her pouch. “I know this,” she replied. “We always want what another has, don’t we? What we have is never enough. We cannot accept that there isn’t more. The glorious want to live long and the long-lived want glory.” She sighed. “I’ve lived longer than any two humans, and I still cannot understand this.”

“What’s to understand?” I asked. “We’re both wise and stupid in our own way, your people and mine. We’ve more in common than either of us suspects.”

“Such wisdom from one so young,” Lilywinter said, more than half seriously. “I may return home one day when my father forgives me — which he will do, for he truly loves me, though for all his long life he does not truly realize it. But part of me wishes to stay here, to learn your ways. And to learn to live well.”

Now it was my turn to smile. “So the elf learns from the human,” I said. “Will wonders never cease?”

Lilywinter didn’t reply, but her eyes lit up as she saw ahead of us a bend of stream that curved lovingly around a spit of land — low, grassy and fringed with bright yellow wildflowers. The trees seemed to bow down around it, shading the stream and the spit from the sky above, so that only dappled light shone down on the rushing water.

“Perfect,” she whispered, then muttered a few words in elvish. I followed her as she scrambled down a short slope and onto the spit. As I watched, keeping a wary eye on the surrounding trees, she knelt beside a green tussock, digging into the soil with her spade. After a moment, she pulled forth a grey-white root, covered in filaments and clumped with dirt.

Mehyl,” she said. “Dragonswort to you. It aids in divination. Given the doubts that you expressed about this endeavor last night, we may need a few good prophecies before the adventure is at an end.”

I nodded. “I’m inclined to agree.” I scanned the trees again, but saw only gently swaying leaves. I felt a certain portentousness in the place, a sensation that I’d learned at the academy. It meant that there was magic here, but it was a deep and old magic, as if something important had taken place on this spot millennia ago, and that remnants of it still lingered in the trees, the grasses and flowers.

“Ah!” Lilywinter’s exclamation grabbed my attention. I looked and she was digging again. A moment later, she pulled up a greenish plant with tiny yellow flowers and cut off the roots with her sickle.

“Wormwood,” she said, holding it up.

I frowned. “I knew some blokes back at the academy who brewed up a very nasty concoction with that stuff. It tasted like syrupy green licorice tea and it made me sick as a guardsman on payday.”

She wrinkled her nose. “It has many uses. Humans have only found the crudest of these.” She looked at me, an unreadable expression in her high, slanted eyes.

“Did you couple with that slut, Vendra?” she asked suddenly. “Is that why you decided to join up with this endeavor? Tell me true. Did you lie with the Lastlander?”

I was taken aback. The mystical elf beauty had suddenly shown a flash of jealousy and very human dislike.

“I… uh…” I stumbled for the words. “I suppose you could say…”

“You have,” she said. “I can see it. Usually if a human does not deny something immediately it means that the answer is yes.” She looked away. “The Lastland slut said she could obtain your services in her own ‘special’ way, but Thantanus insisted that he give you a try first, before resorting to such base bribery.”

She seemed disappointed in me. For a moment, I was disappointed in myself.

“She did talk me into it,” I admitted. “I suppose she appealed to me on a different level than that lug of a fighter. I joined up, yes. I have my weaknesses. I’m only…”

I stopped.

“Only human?” Lilywinter asked. She drew a paring knife from her belt and began to shave off pieces of wormwood root.

I nodded wordlessly. I was only human. Yes, that was true.

“You don’t seem to like her much,” I said.

“I do not. She is like an animal, that one. All rutting and fucking.” She faltered. “That’s the human word for what she does, is it not? Fucking?”

“It isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” I said. “There’s rutting, there’s fucking, then there’s making love. Then there are other things. I guess you rut with a woman you pay silver in an alley and you fuck with someone you met in a tavern. And you make love to someone you… Someone you love.”

“We do not make such distinctions,” Lilywinter said. She placed the wormwood shavings in a small vial and mixed in liquid from another, whispering in elvish again. “Another aspect of your ways that I do not understand yet.” She looked up, handing me the vial containing the mixture. “Perhaps the human can teach the elf about fucking as well, yes?”

Again, I was taken aback and must have stared again.

“It is what you want, isn’t it?” she asked, though there was an edge to her voice that I did not like. “The way you looked at me, the thoughts that ran through your mind that I saw in your eyes as clearly as if they were still and empty water?” She held out the vial again. “Drink, human. You will like what it does.”

I accepted the vial. Suspicion flashed briefly through my mind — what druids don’t know about poisons isn’t worth knowing — but I could feel her intentions, and though there was a certain knife-sharp edge to her words and the emotions in her icy blue eyes, I somehow knew that it was not truly murderous. True, there was a faint sting of hostility and even anger in her gaze and manner, but it was a strange anger. An anger of desire and longing, mixed with a strange sense that she wanted something she could not have.

We always want what another has, don’t we? What we have is never enough.

In a strange way, I suddenly understood. I accepted the vial without reply and drank it. The taste was stringent, like fine alcohol mixed with licorice and roses, and I fought the desire to choke. Then it was down my throat, thick and sickening, and a strange warmth almost instantly began to spread throughout my limbs.

“There are times when I love your kind,” Lilywinter said. “Other times I hate them, and sometimes I even pity them. We elves learned things long ages ago that your kind can scarce conceive. We know how to make this weed become something greater — a substance that enhances and prolongs the act of love. Of rutting and fucking, if you will. Yet we do not use it. We have shunned it as base and brutal, fit only for orcs and dwarves and filthy humans.” Her eyes hardened and glared at me now, but stepped closer, her green cloak slipping to the grassy ground as she undid the clasp. “I hate you, human. But I also love you in a way that I cannot describe. I hate that you rutted and fucked with the Lastlander and that she rutted and fucked with you. Yet as much as I hate the thought of what you did, I desire it too. I want to feel it. To rut like an animal, to fuck like a human. Yes, to make love as well. All these things I want, and I hate you for being able to experience them. Yet, I want you as well. Can you understand how strange it feels?”

I could not, for all I felt now was desire, and her words — brutal and angry as some of them were — touched me and seemed to worm their way into my heart and my belly and my cock, which began to stir and harden.

“I think,” I said, as always trying to remain rational even as the demon of lust bade me let go, “that we humans can only pay attention to one of those emotions at a time. We can feel them all, but usually one takes precedence and overwhelms the others.”

Lilywinter tugged at the lacings of her shirt, exposing white skin and the swellings of her breasts. Then she untied the leather belt that held her breeches and began to pull them down. They were tight, made of supple leather, leaving nothing to the imagination, but she shed them quickly and as gracefully as I would have expected. Her hips were curved, her belly soft and slightly indented at her navel, an almost invisible trail of silvery hair pointing down to the junction of her thighs, where downy fur shone faintly.

“Is this what your kind wants?” she asked. “Your woman naked and exposed to you?”

I pulled off my own shirt and stepped forward. “I want it,” I said, the warmth growing to a burning sensation in my limbs and my steadily-hardening cock. There was a fire in my brain, too, an insistent and growing urge that I could barely identify. “I want you naked for me.”

With a single motion, she drew off her shirt, exposing sweetly-firm breasts, her nipples hardening in the air. Yes, we had a lot in common, we humans and elves. She stepped forward and a long-fingered hand caressed my groin, stroking my cock through rough fabric.

“You want to rut with me?” she demanded, insistently, eyes pinned to mine with near-manic intensity. “Want to fuck with me?”

“Yes,” I said, voice uneven.

“Say it.” Lilywinter’s voice was harsh, but alluring at the same time.

“I want to fuck you,” I said. “I want to fuck you right here.”

The words seemed to fill her, and her gaze grew less angry, though no less intense. The rage and frustration that I felt radiating from her — the anger at both me and herself, at both humans and elves for the gulf between them — seemed to change, transforming like a wizard’s victim transformed into a frog. Anger and pain and frustration gave way to more primal emotions, the kind that elves seem so ashamed of and so eager to supress. In their own way, lust and desire were next-door neighbors to anger, and now that anger had vacated, they came flooding in to replace it.

With amazing strength, Lilywinter seized my breeches and hauled them down. I felt and heard cloth rip, and hoped that it wasn’t in any place that would be too obvious. I stumbled out of my boots and felt her overwhelm me, bearing me down to the grassy sward, her mouth hungrily devouring me, first my lips, then my chin and neck, then my shoulders and chest, then kissing-biting lower until they reached my cock, now rock-hard and standing up of its own accord.

“I will fuck this,” she whispered, feverishly, her pink tongue caressing my hard cock-flesh. “I will fuck it all.”

Idly, I wondered how much experience she’d had with human, or for that matter elven, males. She certainly seemed to know what she was doing.

Lilywinter’s technique was certainly different from Vendra’s. Her tongue and lips glided smoothly up and down my cock, caressing it like silk, delicately stimulating me, where Vendra had been more like a hungry wolf devouring me. Don’t get me wrong — they were both great, but right now, with the wormwood brew pulsing through my veins, I was lost in the sensations of Vendra’s tongue, feeling them resonate across my entire body. Her touch seemed to stoke the fires burning inside me.

“Feel it,” she whispered, looking up at me. There was a glimmer of the feral energy that I’d seen in Vendra, but it was still distant and hidden behind a curtain of elvish reserve and detachment. “Feel me.”

I groaned, letting her swallow my cock again. Her fingers caressed my balls and my thighs, then wound around my prick, sliding up and down, first slowly, then faster, all the while flicking her long pink tongue across the head. Then she held it tightly, squeezing as she licked, tongue caressing my cockhead like a living thing independent of its owner.

Lilywinter made a sound deep in her throat that sounded like a rich, feral growl. There was indeed a trace of the animal in her gaze, now growing more dominant, pushing aside the reserve of civilization.

All at once she drew back like a panther poised to spring, and lept forward onto me, hands seizing my shoulders, pinning me to the grassy sward. Her face was twisted into a mad rictus, her teeth bared, and she sank them into the flesh of my neck, making my yell and wonder if I was going to get out alive. Her naked body writhed against mine, breasts grinding into my chest, belly to belly, the soft downy hair of her pubes brushing against my heated cock, rubbing it insistently. Streams of fire seemed to radiate out from it, coiling through my loins and my chest.

“Now,” Lilywinter hissed in my ear, and her hands left my shoulders, sliding down my sides. One encircled my cock while the other slipped between her thighs and spread open her cunt, allowing her to rub the head of my cock against her hot, wet flesh.

“Now,” she said again, and my cock slid inside her, enveloped in warmth and heat, swallowed up by Lilywinter’s ravenous sex. The wormwood potion raced through my veins, swirling inside me with almost unbearable sensations.

I groaned, and rose to meet her. She moved in turn, joining with my thrusts, letting my cock slide in and out in graceful and ever-quickening rhythm.

“Gods,” I said, hands grabbing at the soft white flesh of her ass (yes, it was the shapeliest and softest thing you’d ever want to grab ahold of, as I’d suspected). “Gods, you’re going to make me — “

“Shut up,” Lilywinter said harshly. “You’ll not come. Not yet. There’s more I want. More.” She threw her head back, hair flying, and her breasts bobbed before my eyes, nipples firm and erect. “More.”

She pulled away and my cock, slathered in her juices, stood in the air for the moment. Lilywinter fell into the grass beside me, eyes fixed on mine. Her hands slid down to her thighs, spreading them apart and she whispered again, so softly that I could barely hear.

“Take me. Fuck with me. Rut with me.”

Holding her gaze, I rolled atop her and took her thighs in my hands, pushing them apart, feeling my cock slide into the moistened cleft between her cunt lips. She grabbed my hips then, and pulled me toward her, my cock plowing into her, triggering a moan that was at once filled with pleasure, excitement and pain.

“Ah! Yes!” She gasped. “Hold me down and take me. Show me.”

I pressed down upon her, my hands holding her shoulders as she had held mine. She bucked and writhed wildly beneath me, hips moving violently and sensuously, slamming forward as my cock plunged into her. Inside I felt a hot tightness growing, parallel to the fevered moans issuing from her laboring lungs, and the light steadily building in Lilywinter’s radiantly blue eyes — a spark of wild energy, of mad release approaching along with orgasm.

“Ah, yes,” she gasped. “There. Don’t slow… Don’t stop…”

Her jaws gnashed, her eyelids flickered and I felt her body tense, then release, tense then release. Her cunt clamped down on my cock tight as a glove, and I felt a rush of liquid, as if a dam had burst forth between her thighs.

“That’s… what… I… want…” she continued to groan, head whipping back and forth, hair flying, eyes showing only whites. Her fingers tightened and clenched, and she seized my back, digging her nails into my flesh like claws. I cried out, but I was enjoying this too.

At length, the convulsions passed, but the fire in her eyes had only grown stronger.

“Again,” she demanded. “Again. I want more. More.”

My muscles were protesting, but I went on, sliding up to my knees and cupping her ass cheeks, pulling her hips off the ground. I leaned forward and her legs swung around my shoulders, her back curling upward, her cunt now beneath me, allowing me to thrust downward, feeling her yield before me. I held her up, pressing downward until only her head and shoulders remained on the ground, her face contorted with effort, her eyes still burning with unrequited desire.

“Is this what you want?” I demanded, holding her legs tightly against me as I thrust in and out. “Is this what you wanted me to do?”

“Yes!” It was a wild declaration rather than a reply, a shout to the world around us that Lilywinter the druidess was receiving the fine rutting that she’d desired so. I pressed on, cock sliding in and out, until she came again, crying and even screaming this time, then once more fixed me with a savage gaze. The fire burned unquenched, and the old detachment, the veil between her and the world was torn away, replaced by the gaze of an animal wild for the kill.

“Again,” she said once more, and her fingers wrapped around my cock where it thrust into her, pulling it forth and rubbing it against the puckered opening of her asshole below. “But here this time. Here. Hard. Fast. As hard as you can.”

I grunted; the effort was considerable, but I held her and allowed her fingers to guide my shaft into the tight orifice between her ass cheeks. Her juices had exploded all over everything, leaving her ass slick and hot, and as I began to thrust in, feeling initial resistance, a look of pain crossed her face.

“Go on,” she urged. “Don’t slow. Don’t stop. Give it to me.”

I slipped further, feeling her tightness resist, then begin to give way. The pain on her face increased, but she began to move against me, letting my cock slide in, then out, then in a fraction deeper each time.

“Yes.” The last sybillant issued from her lips like a snake. “Farther. Yes. This is what you do when you rut, is it not?”

I nodded. Sometimes we do, I thought. Not always, though. You’re getting special treatment.

Lilywinters’ finger slid up her sides then toward her thighs, spreading open her pink lower lips, stroking feverishly at her clit — it was good-sized and quite prominent now with her building excitement.

“Make me…” she gasped. “Make me…”

My only reply was an incoherent growl, but it seemed to be just what she wanted to hear. She exploded again, bucking and writhing, grinding her hips against me, driving my cock deep into her ass.

“Gods…” Her face was flushed and contorted, her eyes gone entirely to the animal side. “Yes…”

With that I pulled my cock from her asshole, stroking it against the moist softness of her cunt lips, and felt my own sudden rush of passion; in an instant, my cock had burst forth with a thick stream of semen, splashing across her belly, her upturned breasts and onto her face. She opened her mouth to accept the offering, and the hot white fluid splashed across her cheeks and chin and outstretched tongue.

Her voice was an incoherent collection of moans — each one was different — excited, horrified, grateful, mortified. A dozen different emotions and more flitted through her burning blue gaze as we collapsed into the grass and lay together, slick with each other’s juices.

“You showed me,” she whispered, stroking my face gently. “Show me again.”

I nodded, feebly. “Once I’ve had time to recover.”

Her caresses seemed to come from a world away, bidding me float off and vanish from the world.

“Sleep,” she whispered. “Give in to the potion’s will. Sleep in this place, and dream.”

And so I did. I dreamed of her, lying naked in the flowers, touching herself, cunt, breasts and lips, and heard her moans amplified and enhanced, filling my ears and my brain. But in the distance I saw a strange thing — a granite mountain, high and craggy, with a graceful marble entrance attached to one side, surrounded by columns. Between the columns lay darkness and, I knew instinctively, death.

It was late afternoon when I awoke, and the sun was shining slantwise through the trees. It was still warm, and the sound of the stream nearby sang in my ears.

I was still naked, and I rolled onto my side, looking for Lilywinter.

She was in the stream, back to me, standing like a river-goddess, the water half-way up her hips, surrounding the alabaster curve of her buttocks as if she was part of it — the river made flesh, forever in harmony with its birthplace.

When she heard me, she turned, hands demurely held across her breasts, her belly slightly curved above the water, a few faint wisps of her downy nether hair visible above the surface.

“You awaken,” she said. “I would have more of you.”

I was about to tell her that I was probably out of it for a few more hours, and that we really should get back to the others when I felt my cock stir, and a tickle of heat grow in my belly once more.

“And I would give you more,” I said, at the same time wondering who the hell said that kind of thing, and why the hell he talked so idiotically.

I stood and approached her.

***

Gloom grew around us as the sun fell lower, dropping into the lower branches of the trees. Lilywinter was naked, on her knees in the sand of the riverbank and I was behind her, one hand holding the soft white flesh of her hip, the other entwined in her hair, pulling her head backwards in rhythm with my thrusts. My cock, hard as a castle keep and apparently unwilling to go soft no matter how much I did to it, thrust between her thighs and into the soft pinkness of her cunt. She had come four more times, and like me seemed uninclined to stop.

Perhaps it was the growing darkness, or perhaps the strain of our mad fucking session had finally caught up with us, but as light died around us, I felt the strength begin to drain from me.

Oddly enough, Lilywinter seemed to be feeling exactly the same way. She fell forward, then rose to her knees and encircled my cock with her lips.

“Now, again,” she said. “Quickly.”

It didn’t take long. To my own surprise I released another burst of semen, and she sucked at it happily, swallowing as I came. When I was finished, she rocked back on her heels, wiping her lips, and looking at me with a tired gaze. The light had finally gone out, and the old Lilywinter was there, veiled and mysterious.

“The potion has power until the next sunset or sunrise, depending on when it was taken,” she told me. “I wished to rut with you for the rest of the day, and so we did.” She looked around, as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. “We must go now, else the others think we’ve been taken by the faeries.”

“Or worse,” I muttered, glancing at the encroaching shadow as I gathered my clothes. “I hope you know the way out of here.”

She nodded and cast a spell, causing a small globe of light to appear above her head, bathing her naked body in eerie radiance.

“I will lead you,” she said. “The way is not too far.”

To my surprise, we negotiated the woods with little difficulty, guided by Lilywinter’s magelight. No more than two hours later we trudged over the crest of a low rise and glimpsed a small fire in the distance.

“They walked all day to go around the forest,” Lilywinter said. “We cut straight through.”

The party looked at us with a mixture of surprise, relief and annoyance as we stepped into the circle of firelight.

“Gods damn you,” grunted the dwarf. “We’d feared you lost.”

“Aye,” said Thantanus. “I was wondering if we should take the trouble to go find you.”

I shook my head. “We’re fine. Lilywinter has gathered some excellent items.”

“I’m sure she has,” said Vendra, casting a black glance at Lilywinter that I was certain only the elf woman and I could see. “Done some fine gathering, she has.”

I cringed inwardly. There was obviously bad blood between the women and I wasn’t terribly inclined to get caught in the middle.

But there were more dangrous things to worry about, as Svignar brought to my attention, pointing off into the gloom.

“Behold,” he said. “Our destination. And destiny. The resting place of Martag’s Glaive.”

There, like a mound of deeper shadow within shadow, rose a great granite massif, and with mounting horror I realized that it was the mountain from my dream. There, growing more distinct as I focused on it, was the marble opening, surrounded by columns.

“It seems that they have reached the place while we blundered about in the woods,” Lilywinter said softly. “They were the fortunate ones today, I think.”

“I think not,” Vendra said softly, and once more I don’t think anyone else in the party heard her. The red-haired woman spun and stalked off toward the fire.

Wearily, feeling the strain of the day’s activities sweep over me again, I sat down and began to unpack my bedroll.

“Get plenty of rest, rogue,” Thantanus warned. “We’ll be needing your services tomorrow.”

I nodded curtly, but once more dread and fear stirred inside me.

Gods, I thought, curling up beside the fire and trying to sleep. What have they gotten me into?

 

II

So when I last left off, I think I was in a tavern, regaling a youthful adventuring party with tales of my own younger days. This was, of course, in exchange for all the ale I could drink, and I’m not sure if they thought it was a good deal or not, given that I was trying with all my might to discourage them from taking off on their hare-brained endeavor.

“And exactly what did you and the elf druidess do while you were lost in the woods all day?” demanded the thief. He seemed to suspect me of holding out some of the juicier details of my experiences. And he was right.

“What do you normally do when you’re lost?” I replied. “We tried to find our way out. In any event, we found the camp later that night, and by the next morning...”

***

Morning came way too early, as mornings have a tendency to do, as I was brutally ripped from a sound slumber by the rattle of pots and pans and the excited chatter of my companions. Of them all, only Lilywinter seemed reserved and quiet — even the taciturn Havaenol was grinning broadly, and actually discussing what he planned to do with his share of the plunder. The priest, as oblivious as ever, still apparently thought that this was a serious and reverent expedition to recover a holy relic, while the fighters, Thantanus and Svignar strapped on their armor and weapons, talking excitedly among themselves and ignoring the rest of us.

They wore the usual fighter rig, with Svig in fluted, gold-chased dwarven armor, and Thantanus in a heavy breastplate and metal-reinforced leather for his arms and legs. Svig had his signature weapon, a huge dwarven waraxe that was literally a work of art, inscribed with elaborate dwarven runes and scrollwork, while Thantanus relied on what I took to be an enchanted longsword, due to its runic inscriptions and the reverent way that he handled it.

The rest of the party was tricked out in manners appropriate to their roles. Vendra was very sexy in studded leather armor, with what I recognized as a number of protective amulets and rings that enhanced her protection. Her hair was bound up, and she carried a rapier and short bow — not much against dragons or daemons, but enough for what she normally did. Havaenol was the worst armored of the bunch, wearing only his robes and some magical protections like Vendra. But then I didn’t expect him to get into combat, and he needed to be limber if he was going to be casting a lot of combat spells.

Lilywinter was as radiant and beautiful as I remembered, but she was still aloof and looked troubled. She wore a quilted surcoat that probably provided about as much protection as a piece of parchment, but she seemed comfortable with it. She carried a sickle and a couple of spears, but her role wasn’t combat — it was marshaling the forces of nature to our aid.

Everyone seemed aware of the dangers we faced. Scrad the goblin was unarmored, but he looked as if he could run like a son of a bitch. Even the somewhat timid Beldrin wore a chain shirt and carried a shield, but no weapons were immediately evident.

As for myself, I was as prepared as I would ever be. My short sword bore some enchantments that would help it cleave armor, and my leather armor had likewise been blessed at the Temple of Phaedra. I’d saved my coppers for months in order to afford a pair of magical bracelets that would supposedly increase my protection from harm, but so far I hadn’t had a chance to try them out. I carried my throwing daggers in bandoliers across my chest, and I had a nice bag of scrolls with magical spells pre-inscribed on them. I wasn’t telling anyone about those, but they would come in handy if needed.

We had the usual assortment of potions and other miscellanea among us, with the expected coils of rope, lanterns, flasks of oil and the like... It’s all standard these days, but back then I think there was more of an art to equipping a party. Today, it’s all written in books and pre-selected at the shops... Gods, in those days dungeoneering was a real challenge. Today, it’s just like some kind of card game...

***

“Can you please get on with the story?” the thief demanded irritably, motioning for a refill of his ale. “You can meander down memory lane some other time.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Forgive an old man his foibles.”

“It’s all right, grandfather,” the cleric said, kindly. “Continue with your tale.”

Grandfather? Gods, what have I come to?

I cleared my throat and continued.

***

I didn’t say much myself, accepting meat and scrambled quail eggs from Scrad and wolfing it down as the rest of the party made haste to the dungeon entrance.

It was as I’d seen it the night before — though in the light of day it was far grander, and in some ways, even more ominous. For a structure that had stood for centuries, it seemed entirely untouched by the passage of time. A semicircular platform extended from the opening in the hillside, atop three shallow steps. It was crafted of polished, white-veined black marble. Six graceful columns were spaced evenly around it, these were of pale porphyry, supporting a dome of grey marble and lapis.

“This has been here all these years and no one’s noticed it?” I muttered as I trudged toward the platform alongside Vendra.

“I think it’s been noticed on numerous occasions,” she replied. “It’s just that those who noticed it never made it back to their homes to talk about it.”

There was a certain tightness to her voice and a distance to her expression, as if she was talking to a casual acquaintance, rather than someone she had delightedly fellated to orgasm just a few days previously, but I put it down to tension and ignored it.

The Platform led to a craggy opening in the mountain, a mere five paces deep, ending at a brass-bound portal. Beldrin and Havaenol were inspecting it closely, though I noted that they were careful not to actually touch it. I winced inwardly — for all their caution, they apparently hadn’t checked for pressure plates on the floor outside the door, a trap that I’d seen several times already.

“How’s it looking, gentlemen?” Thantanus asked, looking vaguely impatient. I had to admit that he cut a fine figure in his gleaming steel armor, while beside him Svignar was every bit the steely dwarfish warrior.

“Many magical wards,” Havaenol said. “It will take some time to neutralize them, but I think I can do it. These ware moderate-level spells intended to discourage casual intruders. I suspect that the real challenge will lie inside.”

Beldrin gestured at a series of runes scribed into the door’s brass bindings.

“These are letters in the infernal alphabet,” he said. “Proof that this structure was built by the powers of darkness.”

As if we need any, I thought to myself.

“There are likely to be mechanical defenses as well,” Havaenol said. “Once I’ve dispelled the wards, we might have the rogue inspect the portal as well.”

He said “rogue” as if he was saying “bloated, scabrous tick,” but I let it go. I got that sort of thing all the time.

I went back to the main platform to let the wizard do whatever it was that wizards do, and found Lilywinter seated on the polished marble steps. Her gaze was fixed on the green hills and forests beyond the portico, and resolutely away from the ominous entrance behind us.

I wasn’t entirely certain that approaching her was the best thing, but since Vendra had seemed distant, and I wasn’t sure whether I even liked my other companions, I tentatively sat down a safe distance from the druidess and looked over at her.

“How are you?” I asked, quietly.

“As well as might be expected,” she said, also quiet. “I’m glad I was able to experience those moments with you yesterday.”

I was dumbstruck for a moment, but managed to find my voice.

“I am too,” I told her. “It meant something to me too. I mean, don’t think I’m taking you for granted or anything…”

She cut me off with a raised hand. “Don’t worry about that. I just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed sharing passions with you. At least now I have experienced it and won’t feel regret.” She looked away from the green hills and back toward the entrance, where Havaenol was making mystic passes and mumbling. “We’re going to die in there. All of us.”

I gulped and said nothing — that’s one of those portentous lines that mystical types are always saying, and to my experience they’re usually right.

“There’s life out there,” Lilywinter went on, looking back at the greenery. “I felt it with you yesterday. I feel it there now. But what’s behind that door — I feel nothing. No. Worse. I feel less than nothing. I feel not only the absence of life, I feel its opposite. Undeath I feel. Undeath and the lifeless evil of daemons. That is where those fools are taking us, and we will all die there.”

I considered this for a moment. “So, do you think we should light out now? Head for the trees and hope for the best?”

She shook her head. “No. Our destiny lies elsewhere. Yours and mine. I felt that yesterday, too. While you were sleeping. If we leave now, our fate will be no different. We must enter, and we must face the death that awaits us.”

Maybe you must, sister, I thought, quickly standing, but as for me I’m taking my chances with the Swamp Lords or the bandit kingdoms.

Lilywinter looked up as if reading my intentions (not a terribly difficult task, actually, since I was probably white as a sheet) and seemed about to speak when I heard Thantanus’ voice bellowing from the door.

“Rogue! Wulf! Get over here. Time to earn your keep! The wizard’s gotten rid of the wards!”

Damn. Running now would bring the rest down on me, and besides I half-believed Lilywinter’s assertion that I was doomed either way. Reluctantly, each step an agony, I turned and strode back toward the doorway.

The door did turn out to have a couple of run-of-the-mill arrow traps on it, and the usual poisoned needle on the latch. I disabled them all without too much difficulty, then set to work on the lock. After about ten minutes I had managed to persuade the last tumbler to cooperate, and the door slid open, revealing a long corridor, vanishing into the massif interior and darkness.

“Fine work, rogue,” Svignar declared, hefting his axe and stepping through the portal. “Now, let’s get to — ”

I unceremoniously grabbed the bandy-legged idiot by one shoulder and hauled him back, nearly tipping him onto his back.

“Wait!” I said, urgently. “At least let me check the fucking corridor before you go charging through like the Knights of Saint Orlan.”

The dwarf looked sheepish and nodded.

“Of course. Of course. Don’t know what came over me. Off you go, then.”

I rolled my eyes and began to inspect the corridor.

It had a curved ceiling and a floor covered in alternating black and white marble tiles. As I had expected, there was a nice selection of pressure plates that set off another predictable series of traps, from hidden crossbow bolts to acid sprays and clouds of poison gas. As before, I either disabled or identified the traps, and we made our way down the corridor in relative safety, albeit with maddening slowness, lit by the party’s hooded lanterns.

“By the gods,” muttered Svignar, hefting his axe, “I’d give anything for a good scrap right now.”

And then, right on schedule, a cold wind rushed across us — from further down the corridor — extinguishing our lanterns and plunging us into darkness. Behind us, the square of light that was the doorway to the outside vanished with a deep, resonant boom.

Instantly, Thantanus bellowed in the darkness.

“Wizard! Light!”

I’ll give them credit — they had the drill down. A moment later a globe of blue magelight appeared over Havaenol’s staff, illuminating the corridor with an eerie pale glow…

…Revealing that a series of panels on either side of the corridor had slid open, revealing shallow niches, from which shambled…

Zombies. Dammit. Why did it always have to be zombies?

They were zombies, all right — undead, partially-fleshed things clad in tatters of armor and clothing, stepping into the corridor, intent on enfolding us in their rotted arms and dragging us down before we could react.

Fortunately, the Companions of the Blade were made of sterner stuff. Thantanus barked orders and they leaped into action. With a shout, Svignar waded in, his axe whirling, cleaving two zombies apart in a twinkling. Thantanus himself followed, taking out any who got past the dwarf’s deadly axe.

Meanwhile, Vendra unslung her bow and provided missile cover while Lilywinter and Havaenol hung back behind the fighters, prepping spells.

As I tumbled past a zombie and hamstrung it with my shortsword, I was once more forced to admit that the Companions were competent — I’d heard of parties wiped out by their own lack of coordination as wizards launched panic fire, archers misfired and fighters charged off in the wrong direction, leaving the spellcasters unprotected. The Companions were doing well, and so far no zombie had even landed a blow, despite their repeated clumsy efforts to do so.

Meanwhile, Beldrin the priest bowed his head in prayer and held his Sign of Kybor reverently.

“Mighty Kybor,” he intoned, “aid your servants and smite the fell undead with your divine hand!”

A pale golden glow suffused the young priest for a moment, and suddenly half the zombies collapsed into dust and ruin, and the remainder hesitated, falling back and trying to flee.

It was all over in a moment. The fighters took down the last few zombies, I hacked my victim to wriggling bits with my shortsword, and Vendra sent the last one tumbling with a single black arrow through the hip.

“Gods damn you, rogue!” Thantanus snapped as he dispatched the struggling creature with a couple of swordblows. “Why didn’t you see those hidden panels? What the hell are we paying you for?”

I felt instantly defensive. “I was focusing on the floor. I can’t see everything, no matter how much I’d like to — those things were threatening me, too, remember.”

“The entrance is blocked,” Svignar reported, trundling up the corridor. “A stone block the size of Mount Grabnor fell when the lights went out.”

Thantanus glared at me again.

“Care to tell us how to get out, now that you missed the most obvious trap in the fucking corridor, rogue?”

I glared back. “You know, Thantanus, it’s been a real pleasure meeting you. You’re the first perfect person I’ve ever known.”

Svignar broke us up.

“Don’t,” he rumbled. “We’ve plenty of provisions, and there’s fresh air coming from somewhere. We’ll either be able to clamber out through the vents, or given time I can tunnel out through the rock. I am a dwarf, after all.”

“I imagine I can get us out eventually as well,” said Havaenol. “I’ve a few spells that might work.”

I sighed. The idea of spending a week or two in this labyrinth while Svignar gouged away at the door with his dwarf-spoon didn’t appeal to me, but it might end up being the only way out.

“All right,” Thantanus growled. “What’s done is done. Let’s get a move on.”

The rest of this section of the labyrinth proved free of guardians and traps. The long corridor ended in a semicircular chamber, also floored in checkered marble, with four doors leading out.

We set up a base camp here amid the yellow glow of our lanterns. Svignar inspected the map by his lamp’s wan glow, squinting and looking perplexed.

“It shows the corridor all right,” he said, “but this room is shown as square, not semicircular, and the doors are in the wrong place.” He looked closer. “Too damned dim in here, if you ask me.”

Svignar tried to take a closer look with a candle, but succeeded only in setting a corner of the map on fire. He hastily snuffed it out, the cast an exasperated glance at Thantanus.

“I don’t know if we can rely on this damned thing,” he grumbled. “It might have been taken from someone’s sketches or description and there may be discrepancies…”

“Or,” I suggested, “the whole thing could be a fake and we’ll have to explore the place on our own.”

Svignar sighed. “Ah well. We’ve been in tighter spots before.”

“We have?” Vendra asked. “When?”

The dwarf grumbled to himself.

***

We bedded down in the chamber, assigning watches and hoping to get some rest before continuing the exploration the next day. Scrad ran around cleaning up, accepting an occasional insult or command from Thantanus or Svignar without complaint. I drew the last watch and curled up in a corner wrapped in a blanket, wondering desperately how I’d gotten myself into this situation.

I dreamed vividly that night — so vividly in fact that I found myself wondering if it was real. In the end, of course, it turned out to be far more than a dream, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

I was alone in the chamber, but the place was markedly different. It was brightly lit by torches, giving it a warm, flickering yellow-orange light. The chamber seemed freshly-made, its tiles polished, its walls of purest white. I stood in the center, facing the four doors.

“Choose, mortal,” echoed a voice in my head. “Choose your pleasure and see your fate...”

I felt a deep sense of dread as I inspected the doors, each carved with a different leering daemon-face, but then (in the kind of realization that one always has in dreams) knew that if I refused to choose, it would be worse for me.

What the hell...

I stepped toward the door on the far left, and as I did so it swept open of its own accord, revealing shadows beyond. As I watched, heart hammering, the shadows began to move and coalesce, and what came out of the door was either a vision from my dreams or my nightmares, and most likely both.

She seemed indeed to be a creature of shadow, with rich purple-black skin and lustrous black hair cascading down her back. Her face was beautiful yet at the same time cruel and alarming, like some sexy vampire-princess who wants to fuck you before she drinks your vital fluids (and believe me, after all these years I know that look all too well). Her eyes were feral, slitted gold, more like a hunting cat’s than a human’s, and when her black lips slid open in to a smile, I saw the razor-sharp teeth of a predator.

The rest of her body bespoke predatory grace and elegance, as well, gliding forward with feline sensuality and silence. She was clad in a dark blue-black silken garment, but I could see the faintest hints of a voluptuous, naked body beneath it, with flaring hips and prominent breasts, nipples swollen and pressed against fabric, as if she was a fearful yet irresistible combination of death goddess and earth mother. The two smallish bat-wings that rose, neatly folded from her back pretty much convinced me that I wasn’t dealing with a human.

“You choose well, mortal,” she whispered, her voice gentle and sibilant, yet filling the chamber with its echoes, resounding in my chest like the cries of a tormented prisoner. “You desire pleasure and the touch of another’s flesh, do you not? Yet, you also love the caress of darkness, as if those women you take as yours must be somehow tainted by shadow, graced by a tiny touch of wickedness, balanced on the edge of morning and evening. Is that true, mortal?”

I gulped and stared. I was still young, but in my heart I knew what she said was right, even though I lacked the stomach to admit it.

She moved toward me like a gentle ocean swell, her animal-eyes burning into mine.

“You do not speak, yet you know that what I say is the truth. I am Lady Malifa, and I see into the hearts and souls of men and women. I see their desires, and I give them glimpses of their destiny as I take them in my arms.”

“You...” I said, hesitantly. “You’re a daemon?”

She nodded, a long snakelike tongue flicked across her lips, and her small wings unfurled slightly. “I am what you call daemon. Not those red-skinned upstarts that have named themselves ‘demons’ — no. They are nothing. We are of another time and another place, and we brought the glorious rites of chaos and hell to this place, this world of yours. We have fought long, but you have fought as well, and that is well, for in blood and conflict we find beauty and contentment. Your champion slew many of us, yet in the end he fell, as all do before chaos. And we took his weapon, and placed it here, hoping that more mortals would come seeking it, so that we could see their souls and touch them and change them. And here I have waited, long and long, and touched many and changed many, and now you come before me, mortal. Pretty mortal. Pretty man with a pretty face.” Her hand snaked out and she touched my thigh. “And a pretty prick that is growing even as I speak to him. Oh, man. You are young and strong, and you can take many women before you leave this world, this I see.” Malifa drew back and the beast’s eyes flashed. “If you leave this place alive, of course.”

I repressed a shudder. “Will we die here?” I asked.

Malifa shrugged. “It is all the same to me. You will serve me whether you live or die. It is in chaos that I dwell, and chaos that sustains me. Chaos is conflict, is life, is death, is hatred and love. It is killing and fucking both. And whatever you and your folk do here, it will be the same to me. Take the glaive, leave the glaive. Kill each other, fuck each other, aid each other, betray each other. As the winds of change will blow, they are all my element, all my world. I see your hearts and souls here, pretty mortal man. I would offer you what you wish, and see what you shall do with it.”

With that, she moved in like a striking serpent, her arms winding around me, grabbing handfuls of my hair and pulling my mouth to hers. Of course, I didn’t resist — after all, it was only a dream, right?

Her tongue writhed in my mouth like a separate entity, intent upon my vital organs (no, fortunately she wasn’t a hideous mantis-daemon determined to lay her eggs in me, but for an instant the possibility did indeed occur to me). I thrust back with my tongue, and they intertwined like imperial wrestlers fighting for the St. Orlan’s Day trophy. One of her hands moved forcefully down to touch my groin, where — as she had so ably observed — my cock was already rising to the occasion.

“Eager indeed,” she hissed against my mouth. Damnation, was she woman or tiger, wolf or mantis, snake or spider, I wondered? Perhaps she was some kind of daemonic combination of all of them. And if so, what was I doing playing tongue joust with her instead of drawing my sword and lopping her sensual-deadly head off?

Hell, it was only a dream...

I don’t really remember her bearing me down to the tiled floor and sitting astride me, holding me down with arms that seemed far stronger than their slender form suggested. She rubbed herself against my thighs and pressed the burning center between her legs against my hard cock, sliding along it, the silk of her garments pressed tightly against her mons.

“Oh, mortal man,” Malifa whispered. “Oh, yes, your lusts and passions are indeed what I crave.”

She let my shoulders go and reached for the top of her garment, pullling it down to reveal two lushly oversized breasts, as blue-black-violet as the rest of her, hanging like fruit-laden branches above me. I felt a sudden twitch in my cock as she continued to press herself against it.

“I forget how powerful your lusts can be,” she said. “Just gazing upon the form of one such as me may make you explode with desire, will it not?”

“Yes.” I nodded feverishly. “I could come just looking at you.”

Malifa threw her head back, ebon hair flying, and she laughed, baring her monster’s teeth and letting her tongue loll out of her mouth.

“Oh, such joy I feel at the touch of a mortal,” she cried. “Such fast and bright lives you lead. Such blood, such hatred, such fear, such fucking...” With a single motion, she tore what remained of her garments away, revealing a body that was as sweet as an oasis, yet as lean and terrible as a dragon. She leaned forward, pressing me back to the floor, her snarling lips grazing mine. Her breasts were heavy against my chest.

“Live and die for me, mortal. Hate and love.”

I felt twin thrills of terror and lust, feeling fear that she would tear me asunder, and a deep and endless desire to plunge my cock inside her and fuck her until I came.

I guess that’s what she wanted.

“You feel all sensations and all desires and all fears when you are with me, my pretty mortal with your hard, hard cock. Will I love you or feed upon you? The choice is mine!”

Another rip of her dagger-tipped fingers — her nails were sharp and painted a dark bloody red — and my shirt fell away. She slashed across my bare chest with her nails and I cried out, feeling her claws rake my flesh and feeling hot blood well up.

“Pain, mortal. Pain before pleasure!”

I think I cried out, at least my dream-self did, and Malifa’s grin widened, hot and wild — part animal snarl, part death rictus. She reached down and in a single motion pulled my breeches free, then began once more to grind her silken thighs and mons against my rigid cock.

“You like it, mortal. Admit it!”

“Yes,” I shot back, feeling a delicious flash of rage and fear. “Yes, I like it.”

She pulled the silk away from her thighs and it floated down over me. The bare skin of her legs gripped at my hips and I felt hot moisture slather my cock.

“Now, we both have what we want,” Malifa hissed as my prick slid, almost of its own accord, between the wet folds of flesh between her thighs. “Inside me. Now.”

Then her cunt enveloped me, dark and hot, and I had the sensation of being fucked and devoured at the same instant.

“It is all the same,” she said, feverishly. “All the same.”

I reached up to touch her face, and she bit and licked at my hands, then moved them down to her breasts. I felt their soft flesh overflowing beneath their flimsy covering of purple silk, and a pair of large nipples growing hard, like two soft fingers pressing against my palms.

“Squeeze them,” she commanded. “Squeeze.”

I gripped a swollen protuberance between each thumb and forefinger, digging in with the same fearsome intensity that I saw in her slitted eyes. She screamed out and laughed as she began to ride me up and down, faster and faster.

“Oh, yes.” Her voice now seemed to echo inside my head and appeared to be coming from all directions at once. “Oh, yes. Yes.”

Up and down, harder and harder. My cock swam in the juices that ran down her thighs, and I felt wetness all over my belly. Her hands joined mine on her breasts, pressing and squeezing.

“That’s it, mortal. Yes.”

Immortal or daemon, she apparently still liked to come, and in my mind I reminded myself that this was, after all, a dream, so I should just give her whatever she wanted.

I grabbed her back and rolled over atop her. She squeaked with surprise — can’t predict everything now, can we, my swarthy daemoness? And I lifted her hips up to mine, leaning forward on my knees, letting her legs wrap themselves around my neck.

Malifa grinned, snake-tongue caressing her shapely lips.

“Oh, my...” Her voice was tense and keyed-up as I thrust into her and she moved to meet me. “I... never... know what to expect... from you... mortals... Oh...”

I grunted at that — as usual, I was now well past having the capacity for intelligible speech.

“Harder,” Malifa ordered. “Don’t stop. When I come, keep fucking me. Don’t stop.”

I slammed my cock in and out with greater speed and force — my muscles were aching; gods, couldn’t I even fuck in a dream and not get tired?

“That’s it. Right there... Right... There.... Uhhhh... Unh...!”

The daemon-eyes flashed with firelight, widening, then squeezing shut and her cry fell into a strangled howl, lips bared back from fanged teeth.

“Don’t... stop... Don’t... you... stop.... AAAAAAHHHH...!”

The second was even longer, stronger and louder than the first. Hell, I thought, maybe I’m sore, but I guess I can keep going...

A third orgasm racked Malifa. Her breasts strained against her garment, nipples thrusting, her hips writhed against me.

“Yes. Oh, fuck me... oh, yes...”

I felt my own orgasm coming on, burning in my loins and chest with the desire for release.

“I’m coming,” I grunted. “I’m going to...”

“No,” Malifa said, eyes once more locked with mine, ferocious and hungry. “No. Not you. Wake now.”

And in an instant I was ripped from the dream sensations, and felt myself tumbling down a deep and cold abyss, finally landing with a violent start back in my own body.

The room was dark as I sat bolt upright. My face was wet with sweat and — yes — I had a raging erection. My daemon-lover, however, was nowhere to be found.

Damn.

***

“So what did she offer you?” demanded the young cleric, sipping daintily at a cup of red wine. “Fame? Riches? Power?”

“Women?” asked the thief quietly. I returned his cynical stare. This was a sharp one.

“All of those things,” I replied. “I think the daemons of the shrine made the same offer to everyone else in the party.”

***

Lilywinter wandered through empty corridor after empty corridor. They were spotless, polished marble, the floor inlaid with white-veined green and black-veined white in a checkerboard pattern. It was as if she was the first material being to tread them in a thousand years.

“You seek many things, elf,” echoed the voice in her head. It was a strange combination of voices — male, female, human and elf, and many other things she could not identify, and it seemed to change pitch and tone with each word. “You seek wisdom, you seek peace, you seek adventure. You wonder what it is that the humans — with their short lives and feeble souls — can know that your people cannot. You wonder how they can burn so hot and so fast, and enjoy the passions ever-denied to your kin.”

“I do,” Lilywinter whispered, walking on down the corridor as if in a trance. At the end of the corridor she fancied that she could see the outline of a door, but it was as yet hazy and dim with distance.

“But you do know passions. You do feel them. You deny yourself, you tell yourself that since you are elf, you cannot feel what humans feel. Yet you have felt many things — love, pain, loss, bitterness. You even feel hatred, don’t you?”

“No,” she protested. “Those are for humans and dwarves and the lesser races. We have left behind such petty things.”

The door drew nearer, and grew more solid.

“You feel hatred, elf. Admit it to yourself.”

Now she stood before the door.

“Behind that door, elf. Behind that door you will see your hatred. Just open it and you will see the passions and how to find them again.”

“I can’t.” Lilywinter’s voice seemed small and faint.

“You can,” assured the voice. “You can open it. Reach out your hand and take what is yours.”

Almost against her will, almost as if compelled by an outside force, Lilywinter reached out a hand and touched the door. Silently, it swung open, and she beheld a memory.

Vendra the human. The red-haired wanton slut, using her body to seduce and control, to get her way, to take what she wanted. Many times, the human had taken men that Lilywinter wanted, drawing them away with her primitive human charms, flaunted her body and stole pleasure, casting men aside when she was through with them, moving on to new victims.

Lilywinter had not realized the depths of her antipathy toward the bard, but as the images of the past scrolled out before her, rage and detestation rose up in her gorge like bile.

See the passions, elf? whispered the voice. We can help you find them. There is so much more than just fear and love and lust. There is hatred, and there is vengeance.

The final outrage played itself out before Lilywinter, as she opened the door to her room at the inn only to find Vendra there before her, rutting violently with two men, a sweaty tangle of naked limbs. As Lilywinter watched, Vendra cried out passionately as one man spewed a hot stream of semen across her breasts, and the second man groaned, unleashing his own orgasm inside the red-haired woman.

Vendra looked at Lilywinter through sleepy eyes, absently trailing a finger through the sticky white semen on her breasts and belly.

“Sorry, love,” the bard said languidly. “We needed a room and you weren’t using yours.”

Lilywinter awoke suddenly, spite still rushing through her veins.

***

I hate mornings in dungeons. Hell, you can’t even tell that it is morning. The only thing that suggests it might be time to get up is an obnoxious dwarf shaking you by the shoulder and saying obnoxious things like “Up and at ‘em, rogue! We’ve got a big day ahead of us!”

Who could blame me for being in a foul mood, especially given the disturbing dream I’d had? I grumbled but crawled out of my bedroll, feeling stiff and tired despite the night’s sleep.

We ate in silence. Everyone seemed distracted, making me wonder if anyone had slept soundly.

“This is an ill-omened place,” muttered Thantanus as Scrad gathered up our utensils and stowed foodstuffs.

“Big surprise,” I replied. “Since all you lot have been talking about is how it was created by daemons.”

Thantanus only glared, but Svignar once more tried to smooth things over.

“You’re right, lad,” he said, bravely, “but we’re more than equal to whatever those damnable things can throw at us. Let’s get moving now, shall we?”

I watched as Havaenol began to cast spells, attempting to detect traces of the mysterious glaive, and tell us what passage was most likely to lead us there. Lilywinter seemed more distant than the rest, despite my attempts to engage her in conversation while the wizard did his wizardly business.

“Are you all right?” I asked quietly as Havaenol scribed a circle and started babbling to himself in old-cycle elvish.

She returned my gaze, and her eyes seemed deeper and darker than they had before, her skin paler and less healthy.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m tired, distracted. I dreamed something last night, but I can’t...” she faltered. “I can’t remember it at all.”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling another rush of weariness. “I had a weird dream, too.” I struggled to recall details. “I think there was a woman, and...” Now I paused.

“You don’t remember either.”

I nodded. “I think something’s going on. Something bad. We’d better — “

A shout of triumph from Havaenol, that echoed off the tiled floor and the sculpted walls interrupted me.

“This one!” the elf declared, gesturing at the third door from the left. The portal glimmered with silvery sparks. “The glaive is this way! I can feel it!”

“Rogue!” barked Svignar. “Check the door for traps! We’re on the move!”

Reluctantly, I left Lilywinter and hurried past Vendra, who sat nearby, her expression unreadable, and Beldrin, who stared at me with wide and hollow eyes.

The door still shimmered. I recognized the spell from my academy days, and also Professor Fimbagel’s caution that it could easily be misled by false, worthless magical items. I said nothing, but instead bent myself to inspecting the door.

Nothing unusual that I could see... Of course, since it was a thing of daemonic chaos, I couldn’t be sure. I squinted at the latch and probed it with a lockpick. Was that something...

My instincts exploded into action. I sprang backwards as a spray of vile liquid shot from the latch, splashing onto the gleaming tile floor. Acrid smoke and pulverized marble rose up where the liquid landed.

“Damn!” Svignar exclaimed. “Acid! Good work, rogue.”

I crouched nearby, panting heavily. I’d barely missed a rather painful death or at least a tragic scarring (my looks were about all I had back then, after all), and wasn’t in the mood for complements. Without another word, I crept back to the door and began my inspection again.

“Seems clear now,” I said, putting my lockpick away. “Who wants to go first?”

“I think you should, rogue,” Thantanus said sourly. “I remember what happened the last time you thought something ‘seemed’ safe.”

I snorted and shrugged. “Oh well. A short life but a merry one.”

With that, I edged the door open.

***

“How long is this damned corridor?” Svignar demanded, huffing and puffing loudly. “It seems we’ve been walking it for days.”

“It’s only been two hours,” said Beldrin. “I realize that the sheer monotony of the corridor makes it seem — ”

“Oh, for the sake of decency, will you please shut up!” Thantanus exploded. The fighter had seemed increasingly distracted as the seemingly-endless, featureless corridor had stretched on. “I’m sick of you and your attitude!”

Beldrin looked hurt, but fell silent and shuffled along like a shy dog.

I said nothing. A sense of fear and claustrophobia was growing in my mind, aided by brief snatches of last night’s dream, and the increasing need to warn my companions of the doom that I felt fast approaching. Still, I remained silent and followed, hoping that the waking nightmare would end soon.

It ended with surprising abruptness with the appearance of a grim, iron-bound portal directly in front of us. We all gazed at it uneasily, noting that it was cast in the form of a snarling daemon’s face. A rusty iron ring hung down, inviting us to pull it.

“Rogue?” Svignar said, softly.

“Yeah, yeah,” I replied, shuffling forward, each step an agony.

“There’s no magic I can detect,” Havaenol said, helpfully. “But I feel something potent behind it.”

“That’s encouraging,” I said, scanning the fearsome portal. My usual routine yielded nothing, and at length I carefully lifted the heavy iron ring and pulled inward.

Silently, with neither a groan nor a squeak, the door slid open.

A wave of heat rolled out as if I’d just opened a hot oven. Beyond lay shadow, faintly lit by an orange, flickering luminance.

“Gods, what a stink!” exclaimed Svignar.

“Brimstone,” I said. “I think we’re close to our goal.”

At least I hoped we were.

No one else seemed willing to step through the portal. I cast a contemptuous glance backward and entered.

***

They spread out behind me. Beldrin and Vendra held lit torches, adding a feeble yellow glow to the ominous orange light.

The room was a vast dome that echoed metallically as we stepped in. The ceiling was set with heavy rivets, and there was another portal, also cast in the form of a daemonic face, at the opposite end. The walls themselves seemed to burn, casting the dark orange light.

We stood on a wide metal bridge that extended the length of the room between the two doors. I glanced down and abruptly wished I hadn’t, for about 20 feet below us was a sea of molten metal, pooling and eddying like a burning ocean, yellow-orange light glowing up through numerous cracks and fissures, then fading to brown and black as the metal cooled and sank.

“Gods,” I muttered. Behind me, the others whispered among themselves as well. Nervously, weapons slid from sheaths and the spellcasters began to quietly chant the opening incantations of protective spells.

It was just as well that they did, for as we advanced, a swarm of yellow-orange sparks swirled up from the molten ocean below, spinning like a metallic cyclone, and swiftly forming itself into a humanoid shape, three times the height of a man.

“Ware!” shouted Havaenol. “A fire-daemon!”

Frankly, I didn’t need the warning. I was already throwing myself flat and rolling across the metal bridge, hoping to avoid any preemptive attacks from the materializing creature.

A moment later, the beast had fully formed, a tall monstrosity with a bestial, horned head, vast wings and twin sabers, seemingly formed out of glowing metal.

“Intruders,” it rumbled. “Long has it been since my blades have fed.”

Oh, shut up, I thought to myself, drawing a brace of daggers and positioning myself behind the daemon, as the rest of the party spread out, each taking his or her long-rehearsed roles. Thantanus and Svignar advanced, weapons at the ready. The human’s longsword shimmered with an icy sheen. Nearby, Vendra opened her scroll case and readied her bow, Havaenol began to conjure up an offensive spell, and Lilywinter and Beldrin held back in reserve. Lilywinter quickly knocked back a couple of potions and as I watched the air around her glow briefly — the potions were protective, and given the nature of our opponent, I thought it was a pretty sensible move on her part. Scrad the goblin was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t blame him a bit.

It came on us with all the subtlety of a charging elephant. The twin swords clashed together, striking sparks, then swung up in a vast, deadly arc aimed at Thantanus. Havaenol shouted and gestured, and a jagged black bolt of energy sprang from his fingertips, striking the beast square in its armored chest.

The daemon didn’t even slow down. The blades descended, but Thantanus moved deftly aside, and struck out with his longsword, hacking at the thing’s exposed arm.

To my surprise, he connected, and a flash of cold blue energy sparked from where he struck. The daemon recoiled, and a bellow of rage exploded, echoing from the iron walls of the chamber.

“By Thallaz’s Beard!” Svignar thundered. “And for Queen Davra’s honor!” The dwarf’s blade flashed, and he swung double-handed at the daemon’s ankle.

This time we weren’t so lucky. The blade — tempered dwarven steel, razor-sharp and chased with runes — bounded off without effect, and the daemon back-stroked one of his blades, striking Svignar with a clang and sending him sprawling. The burning saber swept upward again.

“Die, dwarven weakling!” the daemon snarled, and the weapon began its fearsome downward arc once more.

Furiously, I slung two daggers in quick succession at the behemoth’s wrist. One of the daggers hit home, burying itself to the hilt, but the saber’s descent scarcely wavered... Then two arrows suddenly sprouted from the daemon’s shoulder and it hesitated, once more bellowing with rage, its horned head twisting one way, then the other, to find the source of its pain.

Vendra was just nocking another arrow when the daemon, still shouting and snorting, lowered its head and charged at her like an enraged bull.

“Fuck!” she snapped, dropping her weapon, and fleeing... It was about the only thing she could have done — the thing was huge and she had only her sexy-but-mostly-useless-against-daemons studded leather armor.

Thantanus hurried to intercept the charging daemon as Beldrin rushed to Svignar’s side, quickly kneeling, muttering and laying his hands on the dwarf’s wounds. I drew two more daggers and moved out behind Thantanus.

The spellcasters scattered as the daemon charged, still intent on Vendra. As she ran, I saw her yanking a scroll from her case, and — still on the move, mind you — unrolled it, then skidded to a halt, reading the scroll out loud.

“Let your form be cursed as your soul,” she cried, and the scroll began to glow and shimmer. “Let your shape be damned, and your heart be filled with dread.”

A cloud of shimmering motes sprang from the scroll and swirled around the daemon, darting and bobbing. The monster stopped his headlong charge, waving at the sparks with his swords and snarling with annoyance.

After a second, the motes vanished and the daemon stood there, apparently unaffected, but Vendra’s wasted spell (some kind of shape-change enchantment, I noted — mostly wasted on a creature with such powerful inherent magical qualities) had allowed Thantanus to catch up. I lobbed two more daggers as the fighter swung his sword at the daemon’s unprotected back. He struck again, opening an icy gash in the creature’s flesh, and it turned on him, screaming and lashing out with one sword, then the other.

Thantanus dodged again, but one of the burning sabers caught him in the shoulder, and he fell to his knees, throwing up his shield to block the daemon’s second blow.

Now fully enraged, the demon gestured, and arcane syllables emerged tortuously from its throat. With a start, I recognized the words.

“Thantanus!” I shouted. “Get the hell out of the...”

Too late... A massive explosion of fire burst from the daemon, sweeping over Thantanus and bearing down on Havaenol, who stood behind, preparing another spell from a scroll.

Thantanus screamed and rolled away — flames enveloped him, but it looked as if his armor had spared him the worst of it. Havaenol wasn’t so lucky — at the last moment, he looked up in horror and saw the fireball bearing down on him. Then he was gone, a blackened, dancing figure all alight and surrounded by deadly flames. When the fireball swept past and dissipated, it left Haveanol’s corpse behind, a smoldering blackened husk. Beldrin cried out in distress and left Svignar, who rose to his feet, hefted his axe and made after the demon. The priest rushed over to what was left of Havaenol, but he and all the rest of us knew there wasn’t anything he could do.

Gods... I threw my last two daggers, hoping to distract the daemon from Thantanus, and one jabbed into its massive bull-neck... Now it looked at me, and spun, racing toward me with the same fury it had recently used on Vendra.

Now, I’ve always understood the better part of valor — I fled, hoping desperately that I could outrun the thing, and that one of my companions would find a way to slow it down.

Thantanus was getting back to his feet, extinguishing the last of the flames and looking a little worse for the wear, and Svignar was far back, hurrying forward on bandy dwarf-legs. Neither one of them would be able to help...

“Wulf! Take this!” Vendra tossed a potion bottle toward me and I paused for only an instant to catch it, then began to run again, yanking out the stopper and gulping down the contents.

I was suddenly filled with energy and — gods help me — strength. Unfortunately, I also felt incredibly reckless, and spun to face the advancing monster, drawing my mighty short sword and shouting my idea of a warcry.

“Wulf! No!” Vendra cried out in distress. “You’re supposed to run not fight!”

Well, I had pretty much blown that plan. I held out my shortsword to block the daemon’s blow, but as it swung my common sense reasserted itself, and I realized what a bad idea this was. I ducked, but too late. I felt the weapon strike my shoulder, felt flesh give and felt flames catch. The pain was so intense that it wasn’t really pain — it was more of a body-wide clenching along with a numbing blow like a hammer...

“Shit...” I grunted through clenched teeth. The potion had indeed made me stronger (and presumably faster) but it wasn’t doing much to keep me alive. Before the beast could finish me off, however, Thantanus and Svignar finally caught up with it, leaping over me and going at it with axe and sword. I didn’t see much. I was a bit too agonized.

Then I felt a rush of cool comfort as my wounds suddenly seemed to vanish, the agony melting away. Lilywinter knelt beside me, pale gentle hands touching me, her face a mask of concentration, as if she was feeling some of my pain.

“Gods...” I muttered. “Gods, Lily...”

“Peace,” she said, her voice tight. “Peace, human. Let the magic do its work.”

Nearby I heard the clash of weapons, then heard Thantanus cry out and the clang of metal as he fell. I rolled away from Lilywinter...

Thantanus lay on the ground, a massive wound across his chest, his face contorted with pain. Svignar tried to distract the daemon, but it was intent on its prey, and raised a saber for the killing blow.

“NO!”

It was Beldrin. The priest leaped into the gap, his body between Thantanus and the monster. He held his symbol of Kybor aloft and shouted with absolute conviction.

“Return to the darkness, evil one! In Kybor’s name, I rebuke you!”

Impressive. Too bad it didn’t work. The weapons came down, and suddenly the gentle, naïve priest’s body flew in separate directions, blood splattering.

The daemon screamed in triumph, but the cry turned into a shout of pain as, simultaneously, Svignar’s axe cleaved its spine and Thantanus’ icy sword plunged into its chest. The daemon stumbled back, black blood cascading from the wounds, steaming where it touched the iron bridge, then with a fearsome crash, it fell, and lay still.

“Gods,” I whispered. “Gods, what the hell are we doing?”

***

I sat for a long time on the iron bridge, staring without thought or action at the carnage around me.

They never think about what it’s really like, do they? I thought. It’s all fight, fight, fight, cast spells, monster’s dead, let’s gather up the bodies and take ‘em back to town for resurrection. Everyone thinks it’s so simple.

As I looked over the mangled corpses of Beldrin and Havaenol, and watched Svignar bandaging Thantanus’ ribs as the human winced and grunted, the desperation of our situation began to sink in. Thantanus drank one of Svignar’s precious healing potions as Lilywinter stood beside me, staring with a blank, emotionless expression.

It was always like this. I’d seen it before — not as often as some, of course, but enough to know that I hated it. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the life I’d chosen.

Svignar gazed down at Havaenol’s smoldering remains.

“Well, he’s out of it. We’ll have to collect him on the way out and see if the priests at the Runehall can do anything for him.”

Lilywinter snorted. “They have little sympathy for those of us who choose to adventure in the outside world,” she said. “I imagine the most he could hope for is a quiet burial somewhere on his family’s estate.”

“Hm.” Svignar made a disgusted sound. “We dwarves always do all we can for the dead, regardless of where they came from.”

Thantanus made a quick appraisal of what was left of Beldrin. He had been messily transformed into about four chunks.

“I think there’s enough,” the fighter said. The potion seemed to have remedied the worst of his wounds, but he still moved stiffly and hesitantly. “We’ll get the remains back to the temple in Godshome and they’ll fix him up.”

“Better pack him in salt,” Vendra observed. “He’ll be pretty rank by the time we get him home.”

“Enough of that,” Svignar snapped, ever the practical one. “We just lost our healer.” He glared at Lilywinter. “How’s your complement of healing spells, druid?”

“It’s been better,” Lilywinter admitted, “but I can clean some of you up.”

“How’s the stock of potions?”

“We’ve enough for the moment,” Thantanus said, looking wistfully at the two bottles he had emptied of their contents. “But we won’t make it through another fight like that one.”

“And gods only know how close we are to our goal,” I said softly. “Perhaps I’m being defeatist, but I’d like to point out that our map has proved inaccurate, our healer is gone along with our best spellcaster and we have no idea where we are.” I paused and stood. “We do, however, know the way out.”

Svignar looked outraged. “Are you suggesting we retreat, boy? What kind of dungeoneer are you?”

“The sensible kind,” I replied. “And I’m not suggesting retreat. I’m suggesting that we discuss it.”

“Hell no,” Svignar barked. “A Hillcleaver doesn’t go this far just to turn around and run like a whiney little goblin — no offense, Scrad — when the going gets tough. We go on. We’ve been in worse spots than this.”

For the first time, Thantanus looked dubious. “Svignar, I know how you are, and I understand. But Beldrin... Gods, he was a friend of mine. And since he found out what we were going to do with the glaive, well he’d been so damned quiet. I feel as if...” The big man hesitated.

“As if what?” Svignar said impatiently. “As if we’d betrayed him? Misled him? Used him?” He spat. “So what if we did? He came into this with both eyes open. If he wanted to think that we were going to give the glaive to his church, then so be it. He could have asked us. But he preferred his fantasies to harsh reality. It’s not my fault the little priestling was naïve.”

Thantanus seemed taken aback at this. He paused for a moment, as if searching for words. “Svig... I don’t know...” He looked away. “I thought he was your friend too. How can you talk about him like that?”

The dwarf snorted. “Friend? Dwarves don’t have friends. The only things we can depend on is gold and iron. And other dwarves, as long as they don’t take what isn’t theirs. Hell, I’m on this for the same thing you are... I want the goods. I want to go back to my clan with chests full of gold and gems and make them see that I’m worthy. Hell, human... You’re all alike... You can’t make up your minds about what you want, and by the time you do, you’re too old for it to matter.”

With that, Svignar spun on his heel and strode down the bridge, past the towering corpse of the daemon, still smoking and reeking.

“Now if you lot are determined to leave, like mister sneak-thief here wants, go right ahead. Myself, I’m going through that door.”

Thantanus looked shocked, Vendra amused and Lilywinter as unreadable as ever, but all three began to move after him, Scrad the goblin hopping along behind them.

I swallowed hard. As far as I could tell, they’d all but told me I could leave if I wanted to. Yet, if I did, what would it accomplish? I’d be leaving them in the lurch for certain — none of them could manage locked doors or intricate mechanical traps. And besides, gods only knew what other menaces still lurked in the corridors — traps unsprung, monsters still leashed.

What to do?

In the depths of my mind I heard a faint voice.

Go, yes. It was Malifa’s voice, from my dream. Go on. Follow. Bring me chaos and blood and see how I reward you.

I shook my head. Had I heard it? What had she said?

My gaze wandered to Lilywinter, then to Vendra.

They will be yours if you wish it.

Gods... What was that?

With a sigh of resignation, I trudged after the dispirited party.

***

Wulf busied himself at the locked iron door as Vendra watched. She had been troubled all the day, ever since the previous night’s dreams. Yet at the same time she could not remember them. When she looked at Wulf and Lilywinter, some memories stirred, some deep sense of anger, longing, resentment...

Wulf swore as one of his lockpicks broke off.

Give in to your rage, your lust, your desire.

It was a faint voice, far-off and indistinct, yet it echoed with insistent clarity in the depths of Vendra’s consciousness. And as it did, memories of her dream came flooding back...

***

She hates you. She fears you. She envies how the men are attracted to you, how you as a thin-blooded human, can do what she cannot. She schemes against you. She would kill you if she could. You can show her — show her who is truly in command, humble her and make her beg for your mercy... Come with me, join me, and it can be so...

The chamber was familiar to her. It was the private hall of Baron Kriegsmort in Litharna, where he had entertained her several times. His notions of entertainment differed from many others, of course, but Vendra had always found her sessions with him to be quite stimulating. Unfortunately, they never seemed to end with the satisfying penetration and violent intercourse she so enjoyed — he appeared to derive his own pleasure from simply giving pain to others, so Vendra was usually forced to take care of her own needs, or allow Kriegsmort to violate her with some artificial device or other — not as good as the real thing in her opinion, but usually more than adequate. And Kriegsmort seemed to enjoy denying her that until the last possible moment, when she was sure she would faint from frustrated desire.

Yes, Kriegsmort was an odd man... Yet he provided her with enjoyment that few others could.

And now she was here, and in the position normally occupied by her Litharnan lover. It was a round stone chamber, softly lit by mageglobes, its walls lined with Kriegsmort’s various implements, its floor occupied by the various racks, tables, platforms and frames that her lover used to entertain his guests.

Vendra was clad differently as well. She felt the soft suppleness of leather embracing her legs and abdomen, broad bands encircling her, leaving swaths of pale flesh exposed between them, on her thighs, her belly, her shoulders. Her breasts were bare, supported by the leather straps surrounding them, and a thick black collar encircled her neck. In one hand she gripped a multi-stranded leather flogger, in the other a cylindrical shaft crafted from polished bloodwood in the shape of a massive thick-headed penis.

Damn. She’d been in such positions before, with both men and women, but never with such a feeling of assurance and power. She was far from anyone else, utterly alone, and utterly confident that she could do anything she desired.

Well, perhaps she was not alone. Before her, bound face-down to a great X-shaped wooden cross, was a naked woman, pale-skinned and sharp-eared, her blonde hair in disarray, her violet eyes wide with fear and apprehension. As Vendra fixed her gaze upon her victim, the woman’s lips began to tremble uncontrollably, and she writhed helplessly in her bonds, breasts pressed against the hard wood of the cross. With a start, and a sudden rush of anger, Vendra realized that it was Lilywinter, the elf druidess.

She looked as if she’d had a rough time of it. Her hair was a swamp of drenched strands pasted to her terrified face and neck. Her wrists and ankles were chafed and raw from the straps that held her, drawn just tight enough not to cut off circulation, but sufficient to cause discomfort. As she walked around the frame, gazing at her rival with an approving eye, she saw that the elf woman’s back, thighs and buttocks were criss-crossed with red weals and dark bruises. She’d plainly been abused for some time before Vendra’s arrival.

“So, you’ve been prepared for me,” Vendra said, softly, surprised at the venom in her own voice. “You’ve felt some pain, but the greater is yet to come.”

Lilywinter whimpered slightly, but did not reply. Moving back to face her victim, Vendra saw that the elf woman’s eyes were tightly closed, as if she was trying to imagine herself in another place, or to desperately wake up from a terrible dream.

This is a dream, said a voice in Vendra’s head. A dream that you can make reality. Enjoy it, and learn what you can do.

“Open your eyes,” Vendra snapped. “Open them and look at me, bitch!”

Slowly, reluctantly, Lilywinter complied, but her gaze was that of a trapped animal, a victim who knew there was no escape.

“You always hated me, didn’t you?” Vendra whispered, walking closer, then caressing Lilywinter’s sweat-covered face with a single finger. “You were always envious of me, hated the way men loved me, wanted to be like me. You wanted me dead, didn’t you? Didn’t you, bitch?”

Lilywinter shook her head frantically.

“No,” she whimpered. “No, mistress. Never.”

Vendra smiled. “You at least know how to address me. That’s good. But it won’t get you out of this. No.” She strode behind the frame, shaking the whip as she did so, gazing upon the elf-woman’s nakedness, and the many marks and wounds she bore.

“It won’t help you,” she said. “You’ve done far too much, thought far too many wrong thoughts, been far too hateful and jealous of me for me to show you any mercy now.”

“I didn’t,” Lilywinter protested. “I didn’t feel that way. You misjudge me. I’ll do anything for you.” Her voice took on a frantic, terror-filled quality. “I’ll be your slave. I’ll serve you. I’ll be your whore, your plaything. You can fuck me any way you want. Give me to your men to do with as they please. Violate me. Keep me in chains.” A sob racked her body. “But please don’t hurt me anymore.”

It is music to your ears, isn’t it? The voice asked. The sobs and pleas of a rival, of one who hates you? Is that not what vengeance is?

“Shut up,” Vendra said, whether to Lilywinter or to the voice she could not say. A surge of anger filled her again, though she didn’t know why. With a cry, she raised the cat and brought it down with all the force she could muster, upon Lilywinter’s weal-covered buttocks.

The elf-woman’s scream was satisfying, though part of Vendra’s mind protested, that this was not how she had done such things in the past, that to violate one who had not consented was somehow wrong and twisted... The kind of behavior one would expect from...

From a daemon? Oh yes, a daemon. Daemon’s live for the suffering of others and for the unleashing of chaos. It is our way, and our law. Go on, little one. Make her suffer. Take your pleasure from her. Become like us. Perhaps if you perform well, we will allow you to join us in our endless revelry, in our love of chaos and carnage. Strike again, human. Strike the elf. For every scream you wrest from her is pure pleasure to me. I think I will come just listening to her.

The compulsion was too great, and Vendra unleashed a flurry of strokes across Lilywinter’s tortured ass and thighs. The screams merged together into a single deep wail of pain and horror, and it struck Vendra’s heart like a hammer upon a bell. The reverberations of the cry thundered through her, the same combination of pleasure and pain that she had felt at the hands of Baron Kriegsmort, yet now it was different, because the pain she caused was from an innocent victim, from one toward whom she felt real rage and anger... Part of her rebelled and hated it, but another part loved it, and was even more enchanted by the fact that it was wrong, that it went against her nature. She was violating Lilywinter, yes... But the truth was that Vendra was violating herself as well.

“Gods, please.” Lilywinter’s voice was ragged, weary, on the verge of complete hysteria. “Please stop.”

It only drove Vendra onward, and she laid into the elf woman with renewed fury. How many blows? A hundred? Two hundred? A thousand? She couldn’t say. She only knew that by the time she finished, Lilywinter’s buttocks and thighs were bright red, crisscrossed by countless slashes, and blood oozed from the worst of them.

“Not done, no,” Vendra muttered. “No. You haven’t paid nearly enough.”

She stepped forward, thrusting her body against Lilywinter’s bruised and battered form, pressing her breasts against the elf woman’s back.

“You think you’ve suffered?” she whispered hotly into the elf’s ear. “You’ve only just begun. You’ll never leave here. You’ll live forever in a world of pain for what you’ve done.”

With that, she bit down on the elf’s ear, until she elicited another scream of pain. It was inarticulate now, without words or reason.

Roughly, Vendra slid the polished wooden phallus up Lilywinter’s thigh.

“Feel that, bitch?” she whispered. “It’s huge and I’m going to fuck you with it. Fuck you until you scream so loud that the walls will tumble. But no one can hear. No one can help. You’re mine, do you understand? Mine.”

The tip of the phallus touched Lilywinter’s mons and Vendra stroked it against her cunt lips.

“You’re wet,” she said in amazement. “Soaking wet. Gods help me.” She looked at Lilywinter in astonishment. “You love this, don’t you?”

Lilywinter’s head turned, her tear-streaked cheek pressed against the hard wood, and met her with melting violet eyes.

“Yes,” the elf said. “Yes, I love it. I want it. I want you to hurt me and never let me go free.”

Vendra felt another flash of rage, and with a single stroke thrust the phallus between the elf-woman’s lips and deep into her. Another scream echoed against the wooden walls, as loud and agonized as Vendra had hoped for, yet even then she fancied she could hear a trace of pleasure and longing.

Now it seemed different, as if all the pain and suffering she had caused was only a prelude, something that Lilywinter had indeed wanted, something she indeed desired, but could not bring herself to admit.

“Again?” Vendra asked.

To her continued shock, she saw Lilywinter nod, lips tight, face contorted with pain.

“Yes. Again.”

Vendra withdrew and thrust in again. She wondered how the elf woman could contain such a huge member, yet she opened and allowed it access to her innermost recesses. In a moment, her juices began to run down the phallus and cover Vendra’s hand.

“Yes.” Now it was Lilywinter who seemed to be issuing commands. “Yes, mistress. Fuck me. Punish me. I’ve been so wrong. I so deserve this. I want to pay for what I’ve done. I want you to fuck me and hurt me and make me pay.”

Now rage and desire seemed to merge in Vendra’s soul, and she began to methodically and rhythmically slam the thick tool inside Lilywinter, spurred on by the cries of pain, pleasure, fear and longing that issued from the elf-woman’s throat.

“Again, mistress. Again, my love. Yessss... Yessssssss.... Oh, gods...”

Lilywinter went rigid, and her teeth clacked together. She strained against her bonds, and Vendra saw blood on her wrists as she tugged. The chains and leather held fast, the harsh rigidity of the wood pressed against Lilywinter’s breasts and thighs, and her high-pitched wails rose and fell.

She contorted herself for a long time, pressing against the hard wooden phallus and bucking against Vendra’s body. The bard felt the heat and sweat from Lilywinter’s flesh, and the racking convulsions of orgasm as they went on and on...

Then at last, she collapsed and lay limp in her bonds, gasping and moaning softly. Vendra stepped back, a thousand conflicting thoughts whirling in her mind.

Lilywinter was a mass of wounds, with blood running freely from her wrists and whip-weals, bruises forming all across her body, a thin stream of saliva trailing from her battered lips. Yet even then, she turned her head, fixing Vendra with the devoted gaze of an abused but still loyal pet.

“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you, mistress.”

***

Vendra abruptly jolted back to the present, staring at Wulf as he at last overcame the locked door. Involuntarily, she took a step back, feeling her legs wobble unsteadily. With a complex of emotions ranging from contrition to embarrassment, she looked over at Lilywinter. The elf-woman met her gaze, though Vendra could not tell what her expression meant.

And what did any of it mean, she wondered? A dream? Yes, a dream, but so vivid and explicit that she could not now get it out of her mind.

What did it mean? Did Lilywinter hate her? Did she plot against her? Or did her antipathy really signal a deeper connection, that she wanted more than she knew?

Merciful gods...

And to have such revelations deep in the bowels of a daemon-haunted dungeon... No, she could not think of it now. Not now, not here, not was Wulf threw open the last lock and the great iron portal cycled open...

Darkness rolled forth from the open gate, enveloping them in an instant, choking out the party’s confused cries...

Now, said the voice, familiar and fearful, from her dream. Now you are mine!

Vendra tried to cry out, to respond, to warn her companions, but she seemed frozen, as immobile and helpless as Lilywinter had been in her dream-vision.

It is time, continued the daemon-voice. Time to play.

***

“Gods damn it!” barked the fighter. “Don’t end it there.”

“Oh, it’s not over,” I assured him, grinning and upending my empty ale mug. “It’s just that I’m getting thirsty again.”

 

III

“So, you’ve had your ale,” grumbled the thief. “Now, what happened after you opened the door?”

I yawned and stretched. “Darkness, son. Just darkness. Rolling out like a wave...”

***

The darkness rolled out like a wave, engulfing me before I could even turn to flee — though where I could have fled to at that point wasn’t entirely certain.

I felt my knees hit the iron floor, and I felt myself face-planting with an unpleasant clang. Then, to my horror, the floor itself seemed to give way, opening like a trapdoor, and I fell into space. I remembered the molten slag beneath the bridge, and prepared myself for its burning embrace.

Dearest Phaedra, I’m really sorry for all the crap I’ve pulled and all the times I ignored you and your dicta, but you’re the goddess of thieves after all, and I would imagine that you’re willing to overlook the occasional lapse among your followers... After all, I’m basically a faithful worshipper, and hell, no other gods seem terribly interested in helping me; for the most part they seem to actively dislike me. Well, that’s the gods for you, always butting in where they’re least welcome and ignoring you when you need them...

Wait a moment... I wasn’t dead yet. I was still suspended in darkness, but I didn’t seem to be falling anymore.

“Wulf.” A voice echoed out of the darkness. “Are you there? Can you hear me?”

I grunted. “Yes. Who are you? Do you work for Phaedra? Are you taking me to paradise or hell? Because if it’s hell, you know where you can stick — “

“Peace, Wulf.” The voice was soft and comforting. “Let yourself go. Hear my words. Listen with your soul and you will see me.”

I relaxed. Slowly the darkness around me coalesced into a warm glow of yellow light. And in the center of it, peacefully sitting cross-legged and regarding me with a deep, wise gaze...

“Scrad??” I barked in sudden surprise. “Scrad the goblin henchman?”

“The same,” Scrad replied. He was dressed differently — in my vision (perhaps, I reminded myself, these were the last delusions of my mortal mind as I sank into molten slag) he wore simple gray robes, tied with a brown rope, looking for all the world like a penniless Kyborist monk passing wisdom on to a disciple.

“I am the one you call Scrad,” the goblin continued. “I have only a few moments to speak with you, so I must be brief.”

My mind still whirled in confusion. “But you... you’re the cook... the porter...”

Scrad smiled. “There is great honor and wisdom to be found in the service of others. And there is no shame when there is no pride. I have spent many years in service, struggling against my own pride and against my own baser nature... Indeed, I do not know whether I have truly succeeded or not... Only the universe and eternity can judge me. For now, we can only do our best.”

“You don’t talk like a goblin,” I noted.

“You don’t know many goblins,” Scrad replied. “I have wandered long and long, seen much, heard much. I came to this place because I felt a great evil stirring, and saw that Thantanus and his people would set it free unless I helped them.”

“So far it looks as if those idiots are right on schedule. Is there still a chance?”

“There is always a chance. All things are mutable, because nothing truly exists.”

“You’re sounding more and more like some kind of Idrian mystic,” I said. “Where did you go to school?”

“I hoped that I could find someone within the party who could aid me,” Scrad continued, ignoring my feeble jest. “At first I thought Beldrin was the one. Now, unfortunately, he has moved on to his next existence.”

“And I’m all you have left?”

“No, you are the one whom the universe has called upon. The others still retain some goodness, deep down inside, but more and more they are corrupted by the daemonic powers that dwell in this place. Thantanus is driven by ambition, Svignar by pride and greed, Vendra by lust and Lilywinter by rage. Soon, all these things will burst forth, and all will be lost. You are different, Wulf. There is darkness in you, but it lives in harmony with the light, and together they make you resistant to the lure of the daemons. You were offered something, yes?”

I nodded. “Yes, I was.”

“You were offered the pleasures of the flesh. No, do not protest. They are no different than the other worldly pleasures that all must face and accept. All have desires. We desire love, safety, acceptance, peace. But we do not truly understand what we want.”

“What do you mean?” Heavy philosophizing from a diminutive, bald green imp was only the most recent of many weird things that had happened over the past few days, so I was growing slightly jaded.

“When we say we want peace, we mean that we want wars to cease, violence to end, and our lives to be safe.” Scrad looked away, his face oddly contemplative. “Peace is so much more and less complex than we imagine. Peace can never be, not the peace that we so desire, unless that peace begins inside us. We must be at peace with ourselves before we can be at peace with others.”

I didn’t reply, but stared in astonishment.

“The daemons know this,” Scrad continued. “They prey upon the turmoil in our hearts and souls, and they know that if that turmoil can be perpetuated, then there will never be peace. The wars, the hatred, the jealousy, the sadness, the chaos will continue unabated. They derive their sustenance from this chaos, and the more terrible it is, the more they derive. They feed on fear, on rage, on violence. That is why the daemoness seeks to tear us apart, set us at each other. She gives us glimpses of what we desire, and creeps into our very souls.”

“What did she show you?” I asked.

Scrad smiled faintly. “Nothing,” he said. “She showed me nothing. For that is what I desire.”

I swallowed hard. “Have you considered getting a teaching position somewhere?”

“I am not worthy to teach others,” Scrad replied. “I am still but a student myself.” He paused. “Time is short. We must act quickly.”

“What can I do? It looks as if the big dark has already swallowed us.”

“Not yet it has not. It has you in its clutches, true. But I have spoken to you, and now you know what it intends. You have the power to fight it. I have some skills to hold the darkness at bay for a time and prevent it from fully consuming you all, transforming you into creatures of rage and passion. But you are the warrior, Wulf — ”

“Well, I’m not really a warrior, strictly speaking. My training is primarily in stealth and speed, with a smattering of spellcasting — ”

Scrad waved a hand. “It is no matter. The daemoness fears you, for now you know her for what she truly is. The others are lost in their dreams and slaves to their fears. You must find them and rescue them before it is too late. If the darkness takes them, then all will be lost... The powers locked in this place will break free and another daemon war will begin. This time, there may be nothing to stop them.”

“Great,” I muttered. “Fine job of encouraging me you’re doing, goblin.”

“Sorry,” Scrad said. “I am running out of time now, Wulf. Remember what I said. Find the peace in yourself. Find the others. Save whoever you can. It is not too late.”

Then the light faded, and the darkness closed in again. At last my fall resumed and I felt myself tumble painfully onto a floor of solid rock. A single guttering torch provided flickering yellow illumination.

I lay there panting and groaning for a time, making sure nothing was broken. Then at last, painfully, I rose to my feet. I was all alone in a small stone chamber with a single wooden door. My next move seemed pretty obvious.

I walked toward the door, checking to make sure my various weapons and implements of destruction were still intact. Though the door now...

But after the door, then what?

Unfortunately for all of us, I had absolutely no idea.

***

Thantanus shook his head, trying to drive away the darkness that fogged his vision and his thoughts. He was no longer falling, that was certain, and there was solid stone beneath him, where he crouched on hands and knees.

“By the gods, I’ll have your head, daemon!” he roared, feeling the floor around him for some trace of his sword. His fingers closed around a familiar hilt and in an instant the human was on his feet, slashing randomly at the shadows around him.

“Come out and fight, daemon! See how you fare ‘gainst enchanted steel!”

His voice echoed hollowly, and as Thantanus listened for some sign of his foes, his vision began to clear, as if the light around him was growing brighter.

He was in a vast round stone chamber, whose far side vanished into shadow. In the center of the chamber was a wide round pit. Rising from the center of the pit was a cylinder of solid rock, rising at least fifty paces above Thantanus’ head. Four stone bridges spiraled down from the top of the cylinder, spanning the pit and connecting it to the room.

From this distance, Thantanus could see a bright illumination coming from the top of the tall cylinder; this is what seemed to light the room, though he could not see its source. It was easily a hundred paces to the nearest of the bridges, but with barely a thought, Thantanus sheathed his sword and began to jog toward the cylinder. Perhaps, he thought, this is the end. Perhaps the object of my quest lies atop that platform...

As he jogged closer, Thantanus grew more and more convinced that the mysterious glaive did indeed lie atop the cylinder at the junction of the four bridges. He began to pant heavily — the exertions of the last few days had taken much out of him, but still he bore onward, the great stone span growing closer and closer.

“Thantanus!” shouted a familiar voice, bringing the human up short. Nearby, also making for one of the stone bridges was the dwarf Svignar, looking tired but none the worse for wear, his axe clutched eagerly in his steel-gauntleted hands.

“Gods!” Thantanus barked in surprise. “You’re alive! I’d thought the daemon had had its way with you!”

“I’d thought the same of you,” said the dwarf, with a surprising edge of wariness in his tone. “How did you manage to avoid them?”

Thantanus shrugged and his armor clanked. “I’ve no idea, dwarf.” He felt a note of indignation creep into his own voice and wondered idly where it had come from. “The darkness swept over us, then I was here, looking up at that thing.” He gestured at the great stone cylinder, now towering ominously over their heads.

“Didn’t bother to look for the others?” Svignar asked. “Made straight for the treasure, didn’t you?”

“As did you, dwarf,” Thantanus snapped. “As did you. But I suppose that’s to be expected of your kind.”

Svignar glared blackly. “I looked for the others. They’re gone; I thought I could see farther from the top of that tower.”

Thantanus nodded, though he remained skeptical. “Let’s get up there, then,” he said. “Gods know, that’s probably the glaive’s resting place, and we may need each other yet.”

The dwarf grunted and began to stride purposefully toward the nearest ramped bridge.

Thantanus followed, though for some reason he felt his hand straying toward his sword hilt.

Damned greedy dwarf, he thought. The little money-grubber’s bound to try to take it from me.

***

Vendra’s knees ached and her hands were skinned — she’d landed hard, but hoped that her possessions were intact, though she could not feel her precious lute. The room was dimly lit, but she could see the vague outlines of furnishings. She reached for her backpack, hoping to find a torch or a magelight...

Her hand stubbornly refused to move. As consciousness returned fully, Vendra’s heart began to race, as she realized that her wrists, ankles and neck were all solidly secured. She could not even turn her head, but was able to see from the corner of her eye that she was manacled to a heavy X-shaped hardwood cross, arms raised above her head, legs spread apart...

The light suddenly grew slightly brighter, from a pair of small mageglobes nearby, and she gasped suddenly. The body that she beheld, bound to the cross, was not hers... It was smaller, slenderer, finer-boned, and... Gods... The flesh was paler, and a wisp of blonde hair trailed down one shoulder, curling around the white swelling of her naked breast...

I’m... I’m not Vendra... I’m...

“Welcome back to the world of the living, Lady Lilywinter,” said a voice, riveting Vendra’s attention.

Before her, now distinct in the growing light, was a bed, strewn with pillows, silks and furs. And there, legs drawn up, bare skin glowing gently in the magelight...

No. Gods, no. Vendra’s mind rebelled.

It was as if she was gazing into a mirror — Vendra herself sat there, naked and all too real, her shoulders round and soft, her large breasts held tantalizingly between her upper arms, nipples swelling and growing hard before Vendra’s own eyes. Her fingers were interlaced, clutching her knees, which were pulled up in a strange and unconvincing show of modesty, while two vivid green eyes smoldered at her with a look midway between amusement and hatred.

“Behold the druid Lilywinter,” she whispered, and Vendra’s mind whirled. “But wait. She’s not Lilywinter, is she? She thinks she’s Vendra, the bard, and is baffled to see her own body, speaking to her in her own voice.” She paused and giggled, making her breasts quiver. She stroked at one nipple with long fingers. “Someone has taken Vendra’s body, it seems. And who could it be?” She paused again. “Of course, you know it’s Lilywinter herself, and now at last you will see things as Lilywinter saw them.”

Vendra forced herself to speak, ignoring the high musical sound of her elven voice. “What are you talking about, Lilywinter?” she demanded. “What’s happened to us?”

“It’s as the daemons promised,” replied Lilywinter-in-Vendra’s-body. “They said that they would give me justice, and now they have. Now you will see.”

“See what?” Vendra shouted. “Justice for what? What offense have I perpetrated that requires justice, Lilywinter? Gods, listen to yourself!”

“That is the very problem.” Lilywinter smiled, a sick parody of Vendra’s own favorite expression. “I have not listened to myself. Now I can hear myself very clearly, thank you.” The face grew harsh and hateful. “As for your offenses, the fact that you are so blissfully unaware is condemnation enough. You have taken from me, Vendra, taken men, taken pride, taken happiness. That night that you took my bed for your senseless human rutting, those who would have seen me as beautiful, given me what I desire — you took them away without a thought or qualm. You didn’t see what pain it caused me.”

“Lilywinter, I’m sorry,” Vendra protested. “I’m not the kind of person who thinks that way! I don’t... I didn’t mean to hurt you. I act on impulse, Lilywinter. I don’t think things through like your people do...”

“My people, human?” Lilywinter laughed, then shifted position, cradling and squeezing her breasts in her hands. “Your people now. You’re the gentle, caring elf now and I am the beautiful, desirable human. Watch, Lilywinter. See what I saw...”

Vendra’s vision shifted, as if a wave of water has passed. Now the naked form of her own body was splayed out on the bed, gloriously and joyfully naked, thighs apart, fingers busy at the moist pink flesh between them. Her breasts heaved and shook, nipples swollen. Her lips parted slightly, pink tongue darting between them.

“See it now, elf. Watch, for you have no choice.”

From the shadows around the bed emerged three figures — their features were indistinct, as if they were drawn from the darkness itself, but all were exaggeratedly male — tall, strongly muscled, with oversized genitals, growing erect as they advanced on the bed, each looking almost dangerous in its thickness and menace.

“Oh, see what they have for Vendra,” Lilywinter whispered hotly, gliding to hands and knees, large breasts hanging down to rest on the silken coverlet beneath her. The nearest of the shadow-men approached, and she reached out a hand to touch the thick organ that projected from between its thighs. Its upper torso and face were indistinct and unreadable...

...Like so many of the men that Vendra had been with, she realized. Faceless, nameless... Gods, now she began to understand...

“It’s warm,” Lilywinter exclaimed in surprise, fingers encircling the organ, stroking and petting. Her other hand tickled at the massive scrotum that hung beneath it. “So warm... Mmm...” She turned to look at Vendra, the green eyes burning brighter still. “I’m going to put it in my mouth now,” she whispered. “I want to see how much of it I can swallow. And you have to watch — watch this huge cock slide down my throat... Mmmm...”

With that, Lilywinter began to explore the surface of the thing’s cock with the tip of her — no, Vendra’s — tongue, flicking it along its glans, then down its long shaft, tracing the throbbing contours of its veins.

“It tastes go good, doesn’t it?” she asked. “You know how good a man’s cock tastes, don’t you?” She encircled the cock’s broad head with her lips. “Mmmm... mmmph...” Her groans of ecstasy faded into muffled grunts as the cock slid into her mouth.

The full horror of the situation began to dawn on Vendra, even as the pace of Lilywinter-in-Vendra’s-body increased, and the cock slid in and out, glistening with her saliva. Meanwhile, the other two shadow-men were exploring the rest of the stolen body, hands and cocks probing at her heaving breasts, pinching nipples, and stroking at the outer lips of her cunt.

“Lilywinter!” Vendra cried. “It’s not real! We’ve been trapped here! It’s some kind of nightmare that the daemons are sending us. They want us to be like this! Letting our hatred and fear destroy us! You’ve got to stop and think!”

Even as she shouted, Vendra felt the old tug of lust and desire plaguing her. There was an edge of excitement in her belly, spreading to her thighs and chest, even in this cast-off body, this elvish form that seemed so strange to her...

You are helpless, little one, whispered a seductive voice in her head. Enjoy it. There is more to come for you. Much, much more...

***

At this point, I was busy wandering the corridors like the last survivor of a disaster, which in a sense I was. My companions were out there somewhere — this much I knew, and that bizarre little goblin had gifted me with enough self-awareness to at least have a fighting chance at overcoming the daemons’ temptations. But as you probably know by now, I’ve never been one to resist temptation. And I was younger back then, too.

In retrospect, it was as if I was wandering in a dream, and indeed I probably was — certainly, I was under the influence of the monstrosities that controlled this realm, and, in case you haven’t guessed already, they were manipulating the hell out of me.

The place was a mindless maze of featureless stone corridors, intersections, zigzags, right-angle turns, dead ends and nary a door in sight. If I was going to save my companions — as much as they didn’t deserve it — like the philosophical goblin had suggested, I would at least have to reach a door some time...

And as if I’d willed it — possibly because I had willed it — I finally reached the end of the corridor and was confronted by a grim, iron-bound door. And, by the gods, it was locked.

Well, by the gods, it was about time that the rogue started showing his worth. I fumbled with my lockpicks for a few minutes before finally overcoming the damned thing. That would show that idiot Thantanus, I thought as I pushed the door open. I was a good rogue, dammit.

The chamber was small, dimly lit like the rest of the dungeon by some kind of indirect magical means. It was almost as featureless as the corridors, but its single feature was certainly striking.

On the far wall, about a half-dozen paces from the door, her manacled wrists pulled painfully far over her head, slumped a motionless figure. Her head was slumped forward, a cascade of lustrous red hair hanging down and concealing her face and torso. She was clad in the remnants of a battered, flimsy shift, but her most prominent feature was the pair of white feathered wings that projected from her back, and now lay askew on either side of her amid a few fallen feathers.

As I entered, she stirred and moaned, raising her head and gazing at me. Her face was... Well, it was angelic — rounded, pouting lips atremble, eyes huge and vivid green, face streaked with tears.

“What torment do you visit on me now, daemons?” she demanded. Her voice rang like soft bells. “I can tell you nothing more.”

***

“Oh, gods,” groaned the fighter, no fool he. “Don’t tell me. She was one of the daemons in disguise.”

“You didn’t fall for it, did you, Wulf?” demanded the young cleric. “They’d been manipulating you the whole time... You were wise to them, weren’t you?”

I hesitated and took a swig of ale.

“Of course,” I replied. “I wasn’t fooled for a moment.”

***

“There,” I said, unfastening the fetters. “You’re free.”

With a sigh, the angelic creature slumped to the floor. “Thank you, mortal,” she said, softly. “I’d not have endured much longer, given the daemons’ torments.”

“I’m not sure how much help this is going to be,” I admitted. “I can’t guarantee I can get you out of here, since I’m just as lost as you are.”

“It is providence, mortal,” she said. “We will endure as fate wills it.” She reached up to me imploringly. Where her shift was intact, it was all but transparent. Beneath it her body was delicate and softly curved, her two breasts small but shapely, nipples pressing against gauzy fabric. I reached down to help her up.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as she took my hand and pulled herself to her feet. “I’m Wulf.”

“Sanalya,” she replied, syllables sliding from her lips like liquid. Then she stumbled, and fell against me. My arms went around her reflexively, and her eyes locked with mine.

“Sanalya,” I whispered, awash in a sudden wave of desire.

“Both of us may not live much longer,” she said sadly, and I felt her fingers slip behind my head and stroke my hair. “I would share my last moments with you, mortal.”

Her lips found mine, and I felt the insistent thrust of her tongue. I felt a nagging sense of misgiving, but the rush of sensation overwhelmed me, and I swept her up in my arms, lowering her gently to the stone floor. Her wings spread out like a blanket beneath us.

“Take me, mortal,” she whispered. “Let us feel joy before the end.”

Now that’s the kind of love-talk that really gets me going...

I reached down to pull aside her flimsy garment, but she was ahead of me, sliding the remains of the shift away, her pale and tender body now naked beneath me. Her fingers were busy with the buckles of my armor; I flung aside my shoulder guard and vambraces and let her pull open my arming coat.

You know, being overwhelmed by passion while you’re wearing armor is hell of a challenge? By the time you’ve got it all off, there’s a faint but very distinct possibility that your interest may have waned, and you’ll have to start all over again...

Fortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. By the time I’d kicked off my boots and greaves, and she’d pulled my breeches down, my erection was still there and more insistent than ever. Her soft fingers encircled my cock and she looked up at me, green eyes deep as the sea and filled with sorrow and lust.

“One last time, mortal,” she murmured. “One final time before...”

“I think you should stop talking like that if you want to go any further,” I told her. “I’d just as soon focus on the moment.”

Sanalya smiled then, as if she was keeping a secret from me, and looked down, then began to stroke my cock, gently at first, then with increasing intensity. I groaned, and began to stroke her face. Her lips brushed my fingertips, then encircled a finger, biting and sucking lightly. She grinned, eyes now wide and fully alive; the sorrow seemed to be losing out to the lust. Her hair was spread out, coppery red against the white feathers of her wings.

I began to kiss along her jaw, then down to her neck.

“Lower,” she said. “Lower. My breasts. Please.”

I kissed lower, then stroked a breast, and teased at her nipple with my tongue. She sighed and stroked her other nipple with her left hand, as the fingers of her right curled more tightly around my cock, pressing it against her, and rolling it along the warm flesh of her thigh.

Her lilting whisper echoed in my head once more.

“Lower still. Kiss my belly, my thighs.”

I kissed my way along her ribs as her chest began to rise and fall faster, then down the soft, downy-haired surface of her belly. I stroked her breasts as I did, squeezing and stroking. She released my cock, and her hands joined mine, guiding my fingers across her swollen nubs of her nipples.

Her thighs were soft and pale, and I kissed each in turn. Between them was a soft spray of red hair, with only a faint sheen of down across her labia. I kissed her soft outer lips, and she writhed, thighs sliding open. The wet pink flesh of her inner lips opened beneath my tongue, and I licked at it, tasting their moist sweetness.

Sanalya’s sighs grew into groans, then into loud, almost desperate cries. Now her fingers gripped my head, twining painfully in my hair, and with surprising strength, she pulled me against her, back arching, legs scissoring against me.

“Harder,” she begged; her voice was different in timber now — deeper, more insistent, almost commanding. “Harder!”

I licked, thrusting my tongue inside her, then lapping at the swelling nub of her clitoris. She was wet now, my face slathered in her juices. I released her breasts and cupped her buttocks, pulling her closer.

“Ah! Yes!” She groaned loudly, and a deep shudder passed through her body. Her wings thrashed, slapping against the floor, and her fists reflexively grabbed my hair as she ground her mons against my face. I kept licking, and another wave rolled through her.

“Now,” she cried, urgently, yanking my head up. She looked down at me, eyes dancing with green fire. “Fuck me, now.”

At that point I didn’t pause to marvel at the idea of a celestial saying “fuck me,” but instead slung her legs over my shoulder and slipped my cock between them, feeling her moist inner flesh give way before me.

Sanalya heaved against me, slamming her hips forward, face contorted, eyes burning. Her red hair flew as she moved, and her wings slapped harder and harder against the floor.

“Again,” she cried. “Again.” Either she meant she was coming again, or she wanted me to thrust into her again, but in the present circumstances, both explanations worked fine for me. I pressed forward until her hips were well up off the floor, her spine curved up, her legs nearly horizontal, and I thrust down into her.

Her cries slid into incoherence, and she shook violently.

“Come for me,” she gasped, hands behind my head again, holding it tightly, looking straight into my eyes with a gaze that threatened to set me on fire. “Come in me.”

“Gods,” I whispered, and continued to thrust down, feeling the moist hotness envelop me, watching Sanalya’s breasts shake and quiver, her belly heave, and her lips move as she continued to murmur to me, urging me on.

“Fuck me. Come for me. Fuck me. Come for me...” The words, repeated over and over seemed to lose all meaning, even less so as they were pronounced by such an angelic creature...

“I’m coming...” I groaned and felt the rush that had been building in my loins build and finally release. “Gods...”

“You’re coming,” she gasped, and her smile was almost cruel. “You’re coming inside me.”

“Gods...” I repeated, unleashing a gush of hot semen into her waiting cunt. “I’m coming for you.”

“Mmmm,” she said and sighed again as my contractions ceased and we both collapsed onto the floor.
She rolled atop me, wings spreading out picturesquely, and her eyes were still alight, green and glowing.

“Now we both have our desires, mortal,” she said, and I heard a strange, familiar edge in her voice.

A faint tickle in the back of my mind still nagged at me; and for an instant I heard Scrad’s voice.

That is why the daemoness seeks to tear us apart, set us at each other. She gives us glimpses of what we desire, and creeps into our very souls.

It was as if a gauzy curtain between me and Sanalya had been torn away. Suddenly, the angelic being beside me was no longer what I’d seen, and my mind was once more my own. The daemoness, Malifa returned my gaze with a snarl. I lashed out, pushing her off of me. She struck the wall and fell.

“You see your desires, human,” she hissed, springing to her feet. She was every bit as beautiful as she had been as Sanalya, but this was a dark and dangerous beauty, filled with violence and fear. But beautiful, nonetheless.

I rolled to one side, grabbing my discarded baldric and yanking free my shortsword (no, the other one...). I wasn’t exactly armored for combat, but I wasn’t about to face my fate entirely naked.

She didn’t seem inclined to fight. Possibly because she was already pretty much in charge of things, or possibly because she didn’t care. She just stood there, hands on hips, looking at me with what an expression that looked more like amusement than anything else. Her naked body was charged with dark sensuality.

“You look silly,” she said, and grinned, then looked down. I was still hard as a rock, even though I’d come just a few seconds before. What can I say? I was younger then.

“Put down the sword,” she said. “Come over here. We can pick up where we left off. And I don’t have to maintain that tedious persona that you seemed so fond of.”

“It’s not going to work this time,” I replied, trying to stay on guard despite the fact that I was painfully aware of my still-excited state. “I see through you. I know what you’re doing.”

Malifa sighed. “So it’s to be like that, is it? Come, Wulf, you’re the only one of your bunch to show any spirit at all. Those others are so easy...”

“What have you done to them?” I demanded.

“Nothing at all, Wulf,” she said. “All of their injuries are self-inflicted. I only helped them to see their true selves.”

With that, she waved a hand, and in the air between us, images formed. In one, Thantanus and Svignar glared at each other, weapons drawn, while in the other one...

Oh, gods...

Lilywinter... poor, confused Lilywinter... was bound to an ugly X-shaped cross, and two shadowy male forms stood near her head. As I watched one of them took her hair and pulled her face toward his tumescent cock, while between her legs...

Oh, gods...

There was Vendra, red-haired Vendra, hands pressing on Lilywinter’s thighs, her tongue busy between them. As I watched, Vendra drew away and a third male approached, then began rubbing the knobby head of his thick organ along the pink lips of her cunt...

In the other image, Thantanus and Svignar began to trade blows...

I turned, face contorted with anger, and snarled at the daemoness.

“Where are they, you bitch?”

Malifa’s grin widened. “Oh, yes, human. Show anger. Show the power of chaos. Come to me, and take me...”

A wave of hot red rage passed through me and I raced at her, stabbing with my sword, driving its point up under the daemoness’ ribs. Her expression was suddenly transformed, but not into one of pain... Rather, she gazed at me with an overwhelming, nearly orgasmic expression of ecstasy.

“Yes, human,” she sighed. “Yes, it is all the same to us... Join us, human... Unleash the powers of chaos...”

I snarled again, yanking out my sword and swinging at her. The daemoness’ head sprang from her shoulders and tumbled to the floor, followed a moment later by the rest of her body. The last echo of her voice faded from the chamber, and all around me the walls shimmered and vanished. A single broad corridor yawned before me, from which I heard the echo of my companions’ voices.

The images of my companions vanished as well, and with an oath I swiftly gathered up my discarded clothing and raced down the corridor.

***

“Damn you, dwarf!” growled Thantanus. “The glaive is mine! No greedy dwarven fingers will touch it!”

“In your dreams, human,” the dwarf shot back. “My people shall wield this weapon, or no one shall!”

The ancient weapon floated in a column of light at the pinnacle of the stone cylinder, but neither had yet laid hands on it.

“Stand aside, short one,” the human shouted. “This is your only warning.”

The dwarf hefted his axe. “And you have already had yours, human. Come ahead and we shall settle this once and for all.”

With a shout, Thantanus launched himself at Svignar, and the dwarf moved to block the blow.

***

What should I even call myself? Who am I? Vendra’s mind spun in confusion. I am Vendra the bard, yet I am in the body of Lilywinter the druid... As she is in mine, and in thrall to the daemons who rule this place...

And those daemons were keeping Lilywinter marvelously entertained, as she bucked and writhed on the bed nearby, the three shadow-men busy at her pale, red-haired human’s body... she lay atop the first, letting his cock slide heavily between the hot, swollen lips of her cunt, while from behind a second had pressed his oversized organ between her buttocks, filling her orifice tightly. She cried out, red hair flying, as the third shadow-man slid his prick between her lips and down her throat. Vendra watched as it vanished almost to the hilt, then emerged, trailing streamers of saliva...

I was always good at that, wasn’t I? She reflected. Why am I thinking such things? I must escape from this place... Yet...

Lilywinter heaved and moaned with Vendra’s voice as orgasm shuddered through her. That was the fifth or sixth one she had had so far...

I can come like that, can’t I? Men always liked that. Women, too. A butterfly would make me come...

A shout of warning faded into Vendra’s unconsciousness as a wave of lust and desire swept through her, watching her own body shake and convulse with waves of pleasure.

I want that... Gods help me, I want it...

Vendra pulled at the shackles that held her to the frame. Unfamiliar sensations echoed through her elf-body... Gods, was this how they felt pleasure? Every sense was multiplied, almost to the point of pain... She felt the throb at her thighs grow more and more intense and insistent...

“Lilywinter...” she gasped. “Lilywinter, please...” It was the elf’s voice, tight with desire and frustration. “I want it, please. Please. I want to be fucked like that.”

At first, Lilywinter did not respond, only writhed and moaned as the last vestiges of orgasm subsided. Then she paused and with a wave of her hand, the shadow-men withdrew and stood nearby, all features save their oversized cocks indistinct.

“You want to be fucked, little elf?” she asked, rising to a sitting position. Vendra felt another wave of lust at the sight of her own body, covered in sweat, large breasts rising and falling with her labored breathing, nipples hard with desire. “Just like me?”

Vendra nodded feverishly. Her misgivings and fears were tiny now, almost forgotten, washed away in a river of desire and intense longing.

“Please. Fuck me. Use me. I want it so much.”

“Use you?” she asked, lightly, swaying slightly uncertainly to her feet. The body was graceful, with heavy breasts and hips and a delicately-curved belly, downy and almost invisible hair between her thighs. The green-eyed gaze was cruel and tender in equal parts, and Vendra was not sure which of the two she preferred.

“Yes,” she begged, straining at the shackles. “Use me. Let them fuck me any way you like. I don’t care. I just want to be fucked.”

Lilywinter stepped closer, between Vendra’s splayed, shackled ankles now, striding to the junction of the cross where her splayed thighs lay open and exposed. She stroked between them, and an almost painful shock shot through Vendra’s — or was it Lilywinter’s? — body.

“So very nice,” Lilywinter whispered. “You’ve made love to women, haven’t you? Have you ever wondered what an elf felt like? How your touch would set her afire?”

“Yes,” Vendra breathed. “Yes, I’ve wanted it. I wanted you, but I never told you.”

Lilywinter stopped short at that, staring. “You did?”

“I wanted to,” Vendra replied, her body shaking as Lilywinter’s — or were they her own? — fingers continued to gently stroke at her mons. “I wanted you. That night you watched us... I knew you were there. I wanted you to come. To watch you make love to those men... To share you with them... That beautiful pale body in their arms...”

The touch of Lilywinter’s fingers quickened. “You thought me beautiful?”

“Of course I did. Look at yourself now, Lilywinter. Look at your own body. Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t it excite you to see me here, helpless before you?”

Lilywinter nodded, and her fingers deftly stroked between the lips of Vendra’s — Lilywinter’s? — cunt.

“Lick me,” Vendra whispered. “Lick my cunt, just as I wanted to do to you.”

Lilywinter slid silently to her knees, her hands stroking at Vendra’s thighs — they are so slender, so delicate... the sensations are so different — then gently began to press her tongue against the soft pink lips that had once been her own, but were not Vendra’s.

“Oh,” Vendra gasped. It was as if a thousand delicate tongues had touched her in the closest and most intimate fashion. She sighed as she felt the other woman’s tongue cleave between them, lapping at the overflowing moisture, then gently encircling her clitoris, sucking and teasing.

“I want more,” Vendra gasped. “I want to be your slave, your toy, your plaything... Let them use me now...”

The shadowy figures appeared around Vendra now, cocks heavy and erect. She tilted her head back to allow one, then the other, to slide between her lips and into her mouth...

Her mouth is so much smaller... They fill it up so...

Behind Lilywinter, the third shadow-image appeared — this time its cock seemed even larger and more imposing, and she gasped as two hands seized her buttocks, pulling them towards them, sliding the massive prick inside her. Yet she did not falter, and the pace of her licking grew more and more intense. Delicate fingers explored the recesses of Vendra’s — Lilywinter’s — cunt; first one, then two...

Vendra moaned and wanted to beg for more fingers, but first one cock filled her mouth, then the other. They filled her mouth, sliding down her throat, and she choked, but then allowed them to slide deeper, emerging slick and seemingly even harder and more massive.

Lilywinter didn’t need to hear Vendra’s entreaties, for a moment later, she had four fingers inside her, tongue and lips still busy at her clit... As Vendra felt the entire length of Lilywinter’s hand slip into her cunt, she felt the first traces of oncoming orgasm... It was a tight fit... this was the small and delicate cunt that had belonged to Lilywinter. But in a moment she had melted, and Lilywinter/Vendra’s hand slipped completely inside her, then balled into a fist, filling her womb completely.

Vendra could not hold back. She suckled at the two cocks intensely as orgasm crashed through the diminutive elf-body, and a screaming moan tore itself from her throat, muffled by cock but still intense. She bucked and pulled against the restraints, feeling them bite into the flesh of her wrists and ankles as another wave and another passed through her. Lilywinter pressed her face against Vendra’s cunt, hand filling her, tongue busy, the third cock slamming into her from behind.

At last the waves subsided, and Vendra sagged against the restraints, exhausted, her fears and concerns all but vanquished from her mind.

I’ll stay here, she thought. Stay in this body and make love to Lilywinter and the shadow-cocks forever...

Then she looked up to see Lilywinter standing over her, the three shadow-things beside her. She was gloriously naked still, her body slick with sweat, red hair in disarray, eyes wide and almost drunken-looking.

“You still want to be used, don’t you, little elf-slut?” she whispered.

“Yes,” Vendra hissed. “Yes, I want it. Use me now, like a slut, like a toy.”

One after the other, the thick shadow cocks began to slide into Vendra’s mouth, filling her throat, making her gag. Again and again they came, and soon it was nothing more than an endless cycle... She had no idea how much time had passed, for as soon as one cock left her, another slipped in. Lilywinter stood close, stroking Vendra’s sweat- and spit-slick face with one hand, stroking one of the unoccupied cocks with the other.

“This is how we will use each other,” she said. “For all time, for the daemons’ amusement...”

And oddly enough, Vendra did not care.

The pace of the shadow-cocks’ thrusts grew faster and more intense. At last, Lilywinter stood beside Vendra, massaging one of the cocks, aiming it at Vendra’s face.

“Get ready, my little plaything,” she whispered. “Take it now.”

The cock burst forth, shooting a thick stream of hot white semen across Vendra’s face. She opened her mouth, thrusting her tongue forth, feeling the hot seed splatter across her, slipping down her tongue and dripping from her chin.

“Another now,” Lilywinter whispered, stroking a second cock to orgasm. Another mass of come exploded onto Vendra’s flesh, splashing down one cheek. Vendra swallowed, and stuck her tongue out again, catching another burst of hot semen.

“More,” she begged. “I want more.”

Vendra — no, Lilywinter — No, Vendra... Gods, who am I? — nodded, and stroked a third cock to orgasm, splashing come across Vendra’s neck and breasts.

“Gods,” both women breathed. The room spun wildly, and for an instant, Vendra saw through her own eyes, gazing down at the bound body of the elf-woman, her face, breasts and neck glistening with white streaks of semen.

“I want that,” she whispered, and began to lick the hot fluid from Lilywinter’s — No, Vendra’s — Gods... Did it matter? — face. She slipped down to her breasts, stroking a nipple with her tongue, sucking away the splashed semen, then swallowing, then biting and suckling at the steadily-hardening nipple.

“I want you,” Vendra whispered. “I want to make love to you again.”

Time ceased to have meaning after that...

***

“Vendra!” I bellowed, stepping into the room, sword drawn. “What the hell are you doing?”

The tableau broke the instant I spoke. The male-forms dissipated like smoke, leaving the two women gaping at me, eyes glassy, expressions vacant.

A shock of anger coursed through me; my instincts tugged at me, telling me to rush forward, to swing my sword, to punish Vendra’s transgressions...

Again, the voice echoed in my mind...

Peace can never, not the peace that we so desire, unless that peace begins inside us. We must be at peace with ourselves before we can be at peace with others.

No. Not now. It’s not them...

Even without the fraudulent male stud farm, the scene was an untidy mess. Both of the women looked exhausted, plastered with sweat and various other fluids. Vendra kneeled beside the cross, hand still on Lilywinter’s breast, and the elf gaped at me uncomprehendingly, her face glazed with gods only knew what.

“Listen to me, both of you,” I said, as calmly as I could manage. The rage still tore at me, but now it was directed at the daemons and their horrific schemes. “They’ve been toying with us. Giving us what we want, or what we think we want... This isn’t you. Not really.”

Vendra spoke then, and her voice seemed strange.

“Yes it is, Wulf,” she said. “I understand that now. This is what we want. These are unbridled passions that we all feel. I see them, and I understand them. They exist in all of us.”

Then Lilywinter spoke up, her voice also odd.

“If passions run unchecked, there is only chaos and mindless surrender to desire. I understand that now.”

Then, an odd thing happened. Both of the women blinked simultaneously, and I felt the same sense of clarity that I’d felt when I’d seen Malifa’s disguise vanish.

Now the women gazed at me, their eyes clear and lucid. Then they looked at each other.

***

Vendra looked down at Lilywinter, bound naked to the cross.

Thank the gods. I’m back where I belong.

“Here,” she said. “Let me help you out of that thing.”

***

Lilywinter felt the stiffness and exhaustion of her own body again, and painfully moved from the cross as Wulf and Vendra unbound her.

She looked first at Vendra, then at Wulf.

“I understand now,” she said again.

Wulf returned her gaze with puzzlement.

“What the hell happened to you two?” he asked.

“It’s a long story,” Vendra replied. “We’ll explain later.”

“Good,” Wulf said. “We need to go keep Thantanus and Svignar from killing each other.” He looked around the chamber. “Are your clothes around anywhere? I think you’ll be needing them.”

***

“Soft-skinned human,” Svignar snarled, hefting his axe, his breath heavy and labored. He was covered in sweat, his armor dented in a dozen places. “You can’t create anything yourselves... You only take what you want.”

Thantanus’ breath was just as painful as the dwarf’s. He’d lost his helm in the fight and his shoulder armor was rent by Svignar’s axe. Blood stained his breastplate, but he held his sword defiantly, ready to throw himself back into the fight.

“You’re a liar, like all your kind,” he said, softly. “All you care for is wealth — you cheat, you steal, you rob... And then you complain when honest folk try to take it back.” He gestured at the great glaive, rotating slowly in a column of light behind them. “That is not yours, dwarf! It belongs to my people, yet you claim it as your own and will kill to take it for yourself!”

Svignar glared. “All you humans are alike. Talk, talk, talk and never listen.” He drew the axe back over his shoulder. “Enough talk, weakling. Let us finish this.”

Without a word, Thantanus launched himself at the dwarf, sword spinning. The axe came down, clanging against Thantanus’ blade, sending it down into the stone floor. Thantanus cursed as Svignar backhanded the axe, sending the blade up toward his head. Thantanus jerked his head to the side, and the flat of the axe smashed into his jaw, crunching bone and sending him tumbling.

Svignar shouted in triumph, swinging the axe back for his final blow and throwing himself toward the fallen human. At the last moment, Thantanus, blood streaming from his torn lip and broken teeth, lashed out with his foot, catching the dwarf’s ankle. Svignar stumbled, losing his grip on the axe, and Thantanus stabbed desperately, catching the dwarf under the chin, stabbing up and into Svignar’s skull. The dwarf gaped for an instant, then slowly fell, wrenching the sword from Thantanus’ grip.

Painfully, Thantanus pulled himself to his feet. His jaw was broken, and he’d lost several teeth. He’d lost a lot of blood from the wound in his shoulder, and his sword was firmly embedded in Svignar’s thick skull.

But he had won. He, Thantanus, would claim the ancient weapon, and lead his people. He strode toward the weapon, now standing unguarded, slowly rotating in the beam of light.

“Mine,” he muttered, and his own voice sounded twisted and unfamiliar. He reached out for the glaive.

***

The scene before us was one of bloody chaos. Svignar lay in a widening pool of blood, Thantanus’ sword projecting from under his bearded chin. Thantanus himself, battered and bruised, had limped over to the weapon and was just extending his gauntleted hand to retrieve it.

“Thantanus!” I shouted. “Stop!”

He turned, and his face wasn’t as I’d remembered it. He’d taken a serious wound to the jaw, but there was a strange light in his eyes; after a moment, I realized that it was the same thing I’d seen in the eyes of the daemon we’d fought.

We must have looked a sight. We were all disheveled, sweat-stained and tired-looking, our clothes donned hastily and carelessly. I idly wondered if he thought we’d been up to something. But he was well beyond any such mundane thoughts.

“So you’re alive, are you, thief?” His voice was low and distorted. “You and the two sluts. I should have known.”

“It was the daemons,” Vendra said. She’d retrieved her lute, but most of her buckles were undone or buttons in the wrong buttonholes. Her hair was, unsurprisingly, a matted mess. “They’ve been twisting us, toying with us. Changing how we see things. They made you kill Svignar. You’ve got to believe us.”

“This place is evil, Thantanus,” Lilywinter implored. “The glaive is evil. I can feel it. Don’t take it, Thantanus. Leave this place with us.”

Thantanus spat blood and I saw a tooth bounce off the ground. “Fools! The greedy little bastard tried to kill me and take the glaive for himself. You were all in league with him, weren’t you? Scheming behind my back to kill me and take it for yourselves.” He turned, still speaking, as much to himself as to us. “You won’t have it. It’s mine; I suffered for it... And now...”

I started forward, nocking an arrow... Beside me, Vendra drew her rapier, and I heard Lilywinter begin to mutter a spell.

Thantanus’ hand closed around the glaive, and he pulled it from the column of light, then turned on me, the daemon-fire blazing in his eyes.

“You want it?” he rasped. “Come and take it!”

Thantanus seemed to grow in stature, and now gazed down at me. Hell, this was probably the end, but what chance did I have of running away?

Besides, I reminded myself as Vendra strode up beside me, and I heard the crackling hum of a spell as, behind us, Lilywinter prepared to cast, I couldn’t leave the two women stranded.

“The daemons spoke to me,” Thantanus rumbled. His skin was darkening, his frame growing thicker and more muscular. His armor broke and fell away, clanging to the floor. “I will be their new champion. Lead them in a new war of conquest.”

“Yeah, right,” I said. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

Thantanus paused. He was all-daemon now, horns curling from his head, wings sprouting from his back, the glaive still clutched in his huge hands.

“You’re not terrified?” he asked, looking somewhat puzzled.

“No, I’m not fucking terrified,” I replied. “I’m just tired of being jerked around and manipulated.” I gestured at the two women. “And so are they. So either kill us or let us get the hell out of this place.”

“You could serve me,” Thantanus offered. “Be my willing minions or something. Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“Are you kidding?” Vendra demanded. “Follow you? Look at us! We got here by following you, you stupid asshole! You were always a fucking idiot, Thantanus, and now you’re a daemon you want us to become your fucking minions! I’d rather die right here.”

Thantanus grinned. “Okay, Vendra. You get your wish.”

I didn’t wait. I loosed at the bastard, aiming between his burning yellow eyes.

I got lucky; the shaft struck home, embedding itself in Thantanus’ skull. He yelped, then glared.

“Gods, I hate you thieves,” he snarled. “Always taking things that don’t belong to you!”

“That pretty much defines a thief, doesn’t it?” I replied. “Only a complete moron would say something that stupid.”

He ignored me, and gestured at the arrow, still firmly stuck between his eyes. “That fucking HURT! I was always against bringing you in on this party, rogue, did you know that?”

“Big surprise,” I muttered, nocking another arrow. Behind me, Lilywinter unleashed her spell, and a storm of sparkling ice daggers. They struck Thantanus squarely in the chest, and the newly-born daemon staggered backward. Sensing her opportunity, Vendra raced forward, stabbing with her rapier. Thantanus screamed as she thrust through his calf, then he struck out with the glaive. Vendra ducked and the blade missed, but the shaft struck her head, sending her flying. She landed squarely on her back, and I saw her beloved lute shatter, strings and broken wood flying.

Thantanus didn’t waste a moment, but came lumbering toward me. His feet were now ugly black hooves, thudding down on the stone floor, shaking the entire chamber. The glaive whirled up, blade glittering, and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to avoid it...

Suddenly, a swarm of black insects enveloped Thantanus’ head, and he stumbled, swearing bitterly.

I looked back — Lilywinter stood there, just as disheveled as me and Vendra. She looked utterly wasted, and I knew that she was almost out of energy, her spells expended.

Gods... Vendra was out, Lilywinter was spent, and I was just a low-end rogue facing a newly-born daemon-lord. Well, it looked like the deamons were going to win this one...

***

“I’m really having a hard time buying this one,” the rogue snapped. “We’ve spent a fortune on this old reprobate and he’s spun a complete fantasy.”

“I don’t know,” said the cleric. “He knew about the map.”

“Gods, stop your damned bickering,” growled the fighter. “I want to know how he got out of this.”

***

Thantanus swung the glaive and I threw my shortsword up in a desperate attempt to block it. The impact shivered through my arm and my sword shattered into sparkling fragments. Shit... The damned thing had cost me over a thousand crowns.

I fumbled for a dagger. I’d be damned if I left the mortal world unarmed. Thantanus snarled, and swung the glaive again; I rolled away and the blade struck the floor a handspan from my head, showering me with blue sparks. I rolled to my feet and faced Thantanus, panting, dagger on guard.

“Come on, you stupid fuck,” I said, breath ragged. “End it.”

Thantanus smiled, revealing ugly yellow tusks, and stepped forward.

Then a figure stepped between us, arms spread.

“Stop, Thantanus.” Gods. It was Lilywinter. “They have toyed with you. Transformed you into something you hate. Think, Thantanus. This is not you. Not truly.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of Thantanus left, and even as I shouted a warning, and tried to grab Lilywinter, Thantanus swung the glaive... I seized Lilywinter’s shoulders, trying to pull her away from the weapon. Time seemed to slow... Gods, the weapon would cut us both in half...

An explosion of light enveloped the daemon, and the glaive went spinning away. He staggered backward, falling to his knees.

“Wulf!” A voice echoed. “Run! Now!”

There was another flash of light as Thantanus struggled to rise, shaking his massive horned head back and forth, blinking desperately.

I looked. There, surrounded in a nimbus of glittering light, stood Scrad the goblin. He glanced over at me.

“Go, Wulf,” he said. “I will stay. I can contain the evil.”

I swallowed. Thantanus was still dazed, unsteadily trying to regain his feet. He wouldn’t stay that way for long.

“You can’t stop them, Wulf,” Scrad continued, voice quiet. “This is my destiny. It is why I came here.”

“Gods, Scrad,” I mumbled. “I can’t...”

To my infinite surprise, the goblin smiled. “It is all as it must be, Wulf. I know peace, and it is inside me. There will be peace because of the sacrifices made here. Go now, and go in peace.”

Lilywinter tugged at my arm. “Wulf, we must go. Help me with Vendra.”

I took one final look at Scrad as he advanced on the demon-lord. A sphere of silvery light rose to surround them both.

Lilywinter and I helped Vendra to her feet. The bard was stunned, and I could tell her arm was broken, but she was conscious and managed to move along under her own power, with Lilywinter on one side and me on the other.

Behind us, the silvery glow grew brighter and brighter. A yawning archway lay in front of us, and through it we fled. The floor beneath us began to vibrate and shake.

“Gods, how are we going to get out of here?” I said. “This place is a maze.”

Neither woman replied, and I suddenly realized that we were in the checkerboard marble floored corridor that we had first walked down when we’d entered the place. Had it all been an illusion?

Certainly, there was no massive stone blocking the entrance — the gate lay open, revealing sunlit rolling grassy hills beyond. In a moment we were out, as behind us cliff face trembled. As I watched, a small torrent of pebbles fell down across the entrance, followed a moment later by a rush of larger stones, and finally boulders, tumbling down in an avalanche of granite.

“Keep running,” I said. “We can’t get caught in that.”

So we ran. We stopped a hundred or so paces distant, and looked back to see a cloud of dust enshrouding the old entrance, now completely buried beneath tons of rock.

“Gods,” I said, panting heavily. “We’re lucky today, aren’t we?”

The two women didn’t seem to be listening all that much. I suspected that they’d never been terribly close to their adventuring companions to begin with. Now, I noted, they only had eyes for each other.

“I understand so much now,” Lilywinter said. “I’ve seen through your eyes. I want to know more.”

“I see too,” Vendra replied. “Let’s go see what this all means.”

I sighed. “And what about me, pray tell?”

They turned to look at me.

“I suppose you deserve some consideration for saving our lives and getting us out of there,” Vendra said. “What do you think, Lilywinter?”

The elf woman nodded sagely.

“We should see a healer about your arm first, though.”

***

After losing my expensive shortsword, paying a greedy cleric for all the healing we’d needed, and paying for the inn, the remains of the party was in what an Imperial accountant-priest would call a “negative cash flow situation,” but that was a matter for the next morning. Right now Vendra seemed quite eager to use her newly-healed arm, while I sat in a chair and watched her and Lilywinter as they lay together on the bed.

They’d held hands all the way back from the healers, staring intensely into each other’s eyes, and occasionally back at me. While their gazes didn’t suggest that I was the fifth wheel on the cart, I also realized that this was my reward for getting them out of the dungeon alive and sane, and I wasn’t going to play much role in their long-term relationship plans.

I didn’t mind terribly. I’d decided that they were both a little bit mad anyway -- but then again, insanity is pretty much the norm for dungeon crawlers.

Vendra was on her back, legs spread, her shoulders propped up on pillows, while Lily winter crouched beside her, stroking the delicate pink flesh between her thighs. Oh yes -- they were both naked. Did I forget to mention that?

The redhaired woman let the elf stroke her for long minutes, sighing and groaning softly, breasts rising and falling faster and faster as she did so. After a while she cast a burning gaze at Lilywinter, a gaze that they held for several seconds before they finally pressed their lips together, tongues intertwining. Lilywinter kept stroking at Vendra’s pussy as they kissed, and Vendra’s hips began to rise off the bed, rhythmically moving up and down  as Lilywinter slipped a finger inside her.

“There,” Vendra whispered. “Kiss me there.”

Lilywinter moved gracefully and kissed her way down Vendra’s belly toward her lips as her finger continued sliding in and out, slick now with juice.

Vendra sighed and groaned again as Lilywinter’s tongue flicked out, pointed, lapping studiously at her swelling clitoris.

The bard laughed and gasped again. “Gods, elf. I can’t believe I’ve wanted this for so long and never told you.”

“You desired me?” Lilywinter’s voice was like a soft rush of wind. “You desired to touch and be touched, like those men touched you?”

“More than that, darling. Oh gods. So much more.”

Lilywinter slid two slender fingers into Vendra now. The pace and intensity of her licking grew, faster and faster, slick moisture covering her face and Vendra’s pale thighs. She stopped licking for a moment and stroked Vendra’s clit with her thumb, triggering another deep groan. Vendra’s hips began to grind forward, her thighs and belly grew tense.

“Darling,” she whispered. “Oh darling. When I saw the vision of you I knew. I knew.”

I knew too -- I knew better than to say anything at this point, even though my cock was threatening to split my breeches open. As quietly as I could I loosened my belt.

Lilywinter continued, alternately caressing Vendra’s clitoris with her tongue and her thumb, until at last the red-haired bard’s body convulsed and she groaned out one orgasm, then another, and another. A spurt of fluid dribbled from between her pussy lips, and Lilywinter lapped it up eagerly.

“You are sweet to the taste, my bard,” she whispered. Her face was slick and shining with fluids. “So sweet on my tongue.”

Gods. I felt my cock twitch and tried to think about orcish squat-ball.

Now Lilywinter was on her hands and knees on the bed, and Vendra was stroking her, pressing her soft breasts against Lilywinter’s buttocks, stroking her thighs with light finger-touches. The elf woman moaned the way she had when we’d made love in the forest, and stiffened as Vendra pressed a finger inside her. Then her moans grew even louder as Vendra’s tongue licked at her asshole.

“Yes, my love.” Lilywinter’s voice was tight and almost pained. “That is where we rutted, Wulf and I. That is where he put his member when we coupled in the forest, rutting like beasts.”

“Oh?” Vendra shot me a lustful gaze, her tongue still busy between Lilywinter’s cheeks. “Oh, you like that do you? How as she, Wulf? Did she like getting her asshole fucked?”

“I think so, yes,” I said. I’d lost my shirt and breeches by now and my cock was hard as a rock. I wasn’t entirely sure how long I’d hold out if they decided to pay closer attention to me, but I was willing to find out.

“Oh, my.” Vendra’s voice was low and wicked. “Perhaps you’ll demonstrate how you fucked her ass, Wulf.”

“If you like.”

“Come over here first. Bring that cock over here and let me suck it.”

It didn’t take very long for me to be beside Vendra, on my knees letting her lick and suck at my organ as she continued to finger-fuck Lilywinter’s pussy, while sliding her thumb into the elf-woman’s asshole.

She was like I remembered in the inn, her mouth eager, tight and moist, sliding my cock in and out, trailing long strings of saliva that dribbled down onto her breasts and shoulders.

Eventually Lilywinter came, crying out and falling face-down on the bed. Vendra didn’t let her rest however, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her up onto her knees.

“Suck his cock, little one. I sucked him, now I want to watch you.”

“Hold me,” Lilywinter whispered. Her eyes were wide, staring at Vendra worshipfully. “Hold me tight and make him take me. Make him fuck my mouth like he fucked yours. Make me your animal, like you did in the dungeon. Or did I do it to you? Which of us was animal and which master, Vendra? Do you remember?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Vendra knelt behind Lilywinter, holding the elf woman’s head in her hands and drew me closer.

“Fuck her throat, rogue. Fuck her throat hard for me. Make her gag. Rut with her like a beast.”

Lilywinter’s eyes seemed to beg for my touch, and when I slipped my cock between her lips she swallowed eagerly, half-way down my shaft, then three-quarters, then all the way, her spittle mixing with Vendra’s.

Vendra pressed the back of Lilywinter’s head, holding her in place, my cock filling her mouth and throat.

“Hold it there, little one. Hold it for me. Let his cock rest inside you. Take it all. Take it, my little pet, my little animal...”

Lillywinter choked and my cock slid out, thick with spittle, a large gobbet slipping off its tip and onto her breast.

“Gooood,” whispered Vendra. “My turn now. Hold me like I held you. Make me fuck him with my mouth.” Lilywinter slid behind her, pressing a hand on either side of the bard’s face. “Make me his whore.”

Vendra took my shaft without choking, then I slid it in again and again, feeling the warmth of her mouth and throat surrounding me. Vendra moaned and made garbled, inarticulate sounds as Lilywinter’s grip on her head grew harsh, holding her tightly as she swallowed my cock.

This went on for long minutes until they spontaneously changed position. I was still on my knees, and Vendra lay under me, her tongue licking at my balls and the slick underside of my cock while Lilywinter knelt and slid my shaft in and out of her mouth. Now she swallowed the whole shaft as easily as Vendra had. Periodically they broke off to kiss, strings of saliva trailing between their lips and tongues.

“Fuck her,” Vendra whispered. “Fuck her now. I want it. I want you to fuck her like an animal. I want you to make her come all over your cock.”

“No.” Lilywinter’s whisper was fierce. “I want you to fuck her, my Wulf. Fuck this slut before you fuck me.”

Eventually they sorted out the disagreement. Vendra lay on her back and Lilywinter lay on top of her and they continued to kiss and whisper softly but ferociously to each other as I fucked one, then the other.

“How does his cock feel, my sweet bard?” Lilywinter asked, whispering and licking at Vendra’s ear. “Is it hard and big? Is it what you want?”

“Yesssss,” Vendra replied then, as I moved my cock into Lilywinter. “You feel how hard it is now, little one? Feel it in your pussy?”

“Oh. Oh. Oh, yes. Gods, yes...”

Vendra whispered so that I could barely hear her words. “It’s what I want now, my little darling, but it’s not what I truly want. I want you, sweetness. I want your body, your breasts, your lips, your cunt, your ass, your belly, your fingers buried deep in my cunt, your lips on mine, the taste of your juices on my tongue....”

“Oh. Oh... Oh, my...” Lilywinter shook, orgasm shooting through her.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to how things evolved from there, and the next thing I knew the two women had changed position again, Vendra atop Lilywinter, licking at her pussy as I fucked her from behind and Lilywinter’s tongue flicked across my balls and cock shaft.

“Fuck her, Wulf. Fuck her.” Lilywinter seemed to almost be chanting the words like an incantation. “That’s what you call it, isn’t it? Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck her cunt. Fuck her pussy. Fuck it so I can see it.”

Vendra groaned, muffled by the softness of Lilywinter’s cunt. She convulsed and I could tell she was orgasming again.

Lilywinter pulled my cock free and licked at it, then at Vendra’s pussy, then at my cock again.

“Rut with her, Wulf. Rut with her the way we rutted in the forest. Rut so that I can see it.”

Vendra groaned. “Yes. Fuck me like you fucked her, Wulf. Fuck my ass. Fuck it.”

She was already slick and ready, and my cock slid easily between her ass cheeks, pressing against the tightness of her asshole. Slowly I slid inside as Lilywinter continued to suck and lick at Vendra’s clit below.

“Oh gods.” Vendra sounded as if she was crying out through clenched teeth. “Oh, fuck. Don’t stop, Wulf. Gods.”

Soon I was all the way inside her, and began to press in and out, feeling her tight around my cock.

“Fuck her like you fucked me, Wulf. Fuck her like you fucked me.” Lilywinter licked and nibbled at Vendra’s pussy and clit, whispering all the while. I wondered whether she was talking to me, herself, or Vendra, or maybe all three.

“Ahhh...” Vendra shook and quivered. “Coming, Wulf... Gods...”

I felt it too, cascading over me with irresistible force. I pulled my cock free and stroked it until the final release shuddered through my body, white semen splashing across Vendra’s thighs and dripping down into Lilywinter’s open mouth.

It took a long time to return to anything resembling coherent thought. I was pretty much beyond exhaustion of course, the bed was a wreck and I was scratched and bruised from stem to stern. The women lay on either side of me, their sweaty naked bodies held close, surveying their handiwork.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever been with two women,” I said. It was a lie, but I wanted them to feel special.

“Well, keep up the good work and it won’t be your last,” Vendra replied.

***

“So you said your goodbyes and went your separate ways?” the cleric demanded. “What happened to the map?”

“Vendra took it off Svignar’s corpse while I was talking to Thantanus,” I said. “She gave it to me as a memento. I was going to destroy it, but I figured I should go find the bastard who sold it to us and take it out of his hide.”

***

The one-eyed man was knocking back ales in a Stoneburg tavern when I found him. His pet crow was perched on his shoulder, gazing at me with enlightened indifference. The barkeep told me he was known as One-Eyed Willie and had been there for a couple of days.

“You sold this fucking map to a human and a dwarf?” I demanded, shaking it at him.

He returned my gaze mildly with his one good eye. He was pretty much into his cups, but obviously recognized the map.

“Gods,” he said. “I never thought I’d see that damned thing again.”

“It led to the deaths of four good adventurers,” I told him. “I just wondered what you had to say about that.”

Willie thought about it for a few moments. “Well, I could buy it back,” he said. “How’s fifty gold sound?”

I shrugged. “Make it an even hundred and we’ve got a deal.”

***

I drained my last mug of ale and set it down on the table. I’d held the unfortunate adventurers spellbound for several hours, and now they gazed at me with expressions varying from skeptical to admiring.

“So it’s a fraud,” the wizard said, the cast an angry glance at the map and then at the fighter. “I told you not to waste our money on the damned thing.”

“We’ve only got his word on it,” the fighter said defensively. “It could be genuine.”

“Take my advice,” I said. “Don’t risk it. The place is buried under tons of rubble and you wouldn’t like what’s inside, believe me. There’s a very nice low-end dungeon about five leagues east of here. It’s occupied by a band of goblins and bandits. I hear they’ve amassed a nice haul of loot, just waiting to be plundered. Go there instead. Much safer.”

They thought about it for a while, and in the end the fighter — who seemed to be looking for a way out anyway — nodded.

“It’s settled then. The dungeon east of town.” He looked at the parchment, still unrolled on the table. “But what do we do with this damned thing?”

I sighed. “I’ll buy it from you,” I said. “It’s got sentimental value. I’ll give you five gold for it. Give back some of the money you spent on my ale.”

The fighter shrugged. “Make it an even ten and we’ve got a deal.”

***

It had been a long day. Storytelling wears me out, but the rewards are worth it. As I wended my way home I whistled a sea shanty to myself and reflected on the past few decades. Those poor benighted adventurers in the tavern could have been me once upon a time.

And despite all my complaints about the unfairness of the cosmos and the cruelty of the gods, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s.

My home is small but comfortable and not terribly ostentatious. To look at it you wouldn’t know that the owner is also master of a fine mercenary sea vessel and its crew of cut-throats, or that he sometimes lazes around at an old wizard’s tower that lies hidden in the middle of the ocean. And that was fine with me. As a semi-retired freelancer, I really don’t want to draw too much attention to myself.

Right now, I prefer to play the part of the modest ex-adventurer who had to retire after taking an arrow in the knee. And the fact is that I enjoy sharing a home with the woman I love and reminiscing about a long and eventful life.

As I stepped through the door I smelled jasmine flowers and looked down. A trail of soft petals led from the doorway toward the bedroom. I smiled.

“Honey,” I called out, following the trail toward its pleasant end, “I’m home.”

— END —