Dark Vengeance III: Elven Twilight

I

Wulf

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I don’t remember who said that, but whoever it was had the right idea. As I walked through the bustle of our horde’s beachhead I remembered that I’d seen it all before, years previously, on a moons-lit night as the horde of orcs and humans (and a reluctant rearguard of dark elves) waded ashore unopposed, bent on conquest and death.

Now it was all happening again, but on a much larger and more frightening scale. Our mixed army of spear-catchers (excuse me, I mean “mercenaries”) had established a sprawling landing zone all along the southern shore of the elven isles, and there was no one and nothing to stop us. Tents, campfires, lean-to’s, rude shelters and the filthy stain of countless races seeking wealth and plunder stretched as far as the eye could see.

On a bluff overlooking the camp, blue-green light flashed and flickered. Thae’lynn, I thought. Thae’lynn and her daemon-lover summoning more chaos warriors and extradimensional beasties. Already, several hulking, monstrous shapes lumbered about, glaring from beneath bony brows, slavering from leech-like mouths, or stalking in the shadow of their own great wings. With a growing sense of dread and fear, I looked away from the bluff.

A small army of four-armed serpentine daemons lurked not far away, under the apparent command of a stunning human-seeming female clad only in verdigris-copper and seashells. I’d heard the other mercs whispering, fearfully referring to the snake-daemons as “serpentai.” I remembered the race — I’d fought a single individual and she’d almost killed me. That was after nearly wiping out the entire n’doro race though sexual vampirism. The fact that I now I wore the shape of a n’doro gave me even less comfort than normal. I had studiously avoided the serpentai camp, hoping to blend in with the rest of Thae’lynn’s army of scum and villainy.

The dark elves themselves had camped out a safe distance away (probably, I reflected, to be free of the stench wafting from our camp), their tents like a rainbow of dark colors, occasionally illuminated by flashes of magical energy or other, less readily identifiable things. Screams both human and inhuman often echoed from the place, along with maniacal laughter, demonic cries, animal howls and sounds best left undescribed. Like the scene on the bluff, I did my best to avoid seeing or hearing anything from Thae’lynn’s side.

A vast, destructive army was camped on the shoreline of the most ancient and mysterious realm in Thystra. The last army to invade had vanished in the interior, never to be heard from again. I knew what had happened to it, of course, but among storytellers and rumor-mongers, the orc warlord Thrazz had fallen victim to the powerful magic of the elves, and had never stood a chance. Only I knew what a near-run thing it had been.

And now, the armored might of the elven nation was off on a fool’s errand, trying to conquer the world and wipe it clean of the “diseased” non-elf races. For all I know, they had succeeded, and the green banner of elfdom flew triumphant from the Wilds to Cold Island. Or Feanor and his fanatics lay slain on some distant battlefield, their bodies used for target practice by Litharnan longbowmen.

It didn’t matter. The dark ones and their minions were here, ready to slice into the heart of the elven realm like a rapier going through an unarmored ratling. Only the most minimal of elven defenders remained — small garrisons, lordlings and their retainers, the Silver Lady’s and the dragon princes’ personal defenders, the White Guard.

The bravery and skill of such elites was legendary, but I knew that they stood no chance against the horde Thae’lynn had gathered. My mercenaries and I were intended only as the first wave, the expendable masses that would absorb casualties, allowing the dark elves, their daemons and chaos warriors to advance with minimal resistance. The way between us and the Silver Tower was virtually open save for a handful of defenders. It would take only a few weeks to advance upon the goddess-queen’s citadel and there at last defeat the dark ones’ cousins, the ones who had shamed and exiled them, driven them to their lives of evil.

Thae’lynn’s dark vengeance would be complete.

Could I stop them, a rootless human adventurer in the guise of a lion-man? At this point, as wan silvery moons-light washed over the camp, and an unholy chorus of screams, laughter, songs and raucous conversation echoed from the camp, I sincerely doubted it.

But I had to try. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but perhaps it had something to do with my realization that despite the body I wore, I was still a human, still Wulf the Freelance, and that if I felt no obligation to the world at large, I at least felt an obligation to my friends, and to those who had aided and befriended me over the years.

Livia, Narisha, Li, Daedora, Tanelin, Rees and Marcus, Herula, Steph, Udo, Squitter, Skrall... Their faces seemed to lurk in the shadows... Their’s and others. Faces that I’d left behind, that I’d never thought of this way before...

No more, I thought. No more. I’ll not let it happen again.

It was almost time, I reflected. My troops were with me, and they were loyal. The least I could do was attempt to slow Thae’lynn’s advance, and to warn the Silver Lady, at least grant her some time to prepare for the arrival of the enemy.

Once we moved out, in a day or so, it would be relatively easy to slip away, to break off from the main body and strike toward the interior. We could travel light and fast, well ahead of the mercenary army, make our way to a settlement, get word out... My mind raced with plans.

The voice disrupted my chain of thought. “Captain Chuma?”

I looked. My n’doro eyes let me see well in the darkness, but the dark elf still seemed to be little more than a shadow.

It was Ta’loren, one of Thae’lynn’s chief toadies. I had seen her berating and ordering him around before, and felt no small amount of sympathy for the poor bastard.

“What is it?” I snapped.

“Captain,” Ta’loren said, his tone bored and frustrated, “the Lady Thae’lynn requests your presence in her tent immediately. She says that she has a matter requiring your personal attention, and skills that only you possess.”

I suppressed a grimace (not that it would have shown on my lions-face, in any event). I knew exactly what that meant.

“How much do you want,” I asked conversationally, “to tell her you couldn’t find me?”

Ta’loren’s tone was surprisingly sympathetic.

“Not,” he said, “for all the dreamweed in Vendhaya.”

I sighed.

“Well you can’t blame me for trying,” I told Ta’loren. “Lead on.”

Livia

Skate cut gracefully through gray water, leading the way for the motley flotilla that followed. Livia held her staff aloft, feeling the energies of wind and sea flow through her, directing them to propel the fleet forward.

Loaded in the ships were thousands of human, ratling, orcish and dwarvish warriors, all united in a bizarre alliance dedicated to the defeat of the dark elves and their daemon allies. That defeating the Zhalha’sarr’im also involved saving the high elves — who had until recently threatened the world with genocidal conquest — only made the alliance even stranger.

As she concentrated on her spells, images and voices crept into Livia’s consciousness, of Wulf and Narisha, of Li and of Daedora. Tenderness, affection, even... yes, that horrific word she so often avoided... even love washed through her, especially at the thought of Wulf, who even now marched with the enemy, disguised in an alien body.

Wulf, never complaining, always faithful, always stalwart... Wulf, whom she had taken for granted, whom she had ignored, and treated as a friend when in reality he was far more... More words echoed in her mind, issuing now from the inhuman, tigerish visage of the Kaitian Shu Li.

I knew there was something buried deep inside you that needed to be shown. Perhaps it’s that soul that you humans are so obsessed with...

Oh, dearest Li, Livia thought. The kindest souls are often housed in the most savage of bodies...

Narisha had been going on lately about using sex to save the world, about how the power of physical love could drive off the evil and pain of the world. She was right, Livia thought, but she only had part of the answer.

There was more to it, yes. And when this was all over, she would find out what it was.

But for now, Livia thought, taking a glance back at the mighty armada that sailed behind Skate, for now there was justice to be done, and vengeance to pursue.

The final reckoning is at hand, she thought, renewing her concentration and bending the elements to her will. And things will never be the same again.

Van Leuter

The prisoner held his head proudly, and his manner was unrepentant.

“You come to me again, human?” Lord Marshal Feanor demanded. “What foul admissions do you demand I make this time?”

Prince Van Leuter sighed. “I expect no admissions from you than you’ve already uttered, elf. By your own words you condemn yourself. All I ask is that you speak to your surviving troops, and tell them to aid us in the coming fight against the dark ones.”

Feanor rolled his eyes. His shining armor and mighty sword were gone, replaced by iron chains and a filthy tunic, but neither seemed to dim the light of fanaticism that still burned in his soul.

“Again you spout children’s tales about the Zhalha’sarr’im and their evil schemes. I know the crude falsehoods of the humans all too well — you seek to plunder our realm, you and your foul half-made allies. You want to turn the might of the elven lands against itself, to pit me and my warriors against our own Silver Lady. How you would laugh if I agreed. How you would revel in my stupidity. But you judge me, human, by your own standards, as if I was as stupid and naive as your race. I will consent to no such thing.”

Van Leuter shook his head. This was a useless endeavor.

“I should tell you that half of your warriors have already come over to our side. We’ve shown them the proof and now they know that your crusade was nothing but a sham, intended to draw your forces away from the home realms while Thae’lynn and her daemons invade. You stubbornly refuse to see the truth, even when it is waved in your face.”

Feanor looked away. “You wave nothing in my face, human. Only your own delusions.”

“You are an impossible member of an impossible race, Feanor. By repentance and cooperation you might have earned mercy for yourself. But now I see that you do not want mercy. You want martyrdom, to be sacrificed by the evil half-races and held up as an example to your race. You call me foolish.” Van Leuter paused. “I call you worse than foolish, elf. I call you pitiable.”

Feanor did not respond.

Van Leuter turned and strode out of the brig.

Lord Zhelig met him. He still looked uncomfortable and out of place in his marshal’s uniform, but Van Leuter had not let him remain a knight despite his protests. He needed all the skilled and brave warriors he could get, and Zhelig was among the bravest.

“Any luck?” Zhelig asked.

Van Leuter shook his head. “The pointy-eared bastard would rather eat his own intestines than admit he might be wrong. We’ll march without his cooperation.”

“Not that we need it,” Zhelig commented. “Only a couple of hundred elves left that still believe in him. We’ll have to keep them in irons until we turn them over to the Lady.”

“Now I regret bringing them at all,” Van Leuter said. They reached the deck. The moons shone down upon the fleet, casting silvery sparks across the water. “We should have left them imprisoned in Litharna.”

“We need them, Your Grace,” Zhelig said. “As a symbol of our good faith and our cooperation with the Lady.”

“You’re right,” Van Leuter admitted. “And please drop that ‘Your Grace’ foolishness. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Not as uncomfortable as I feel when they call me ‘My Lord’,” Zhelig said. He looked out across the ocean, seemingly endless. “Will we win, Johann? Will this all end?”

“I don’t know, Mikal,” Van Leuter replied, slipping easily into the familiar with the man who had served as adjutant, but had become his friend. “But I know that the hope that it will all end is a forlorn one. One war may end, but others will come. Until we all learn better, and we all realize that we’re all the same, regardless of our race and appearance.”

“You’re growing philosophical, Johann.”

“Perhaps I am, Mikal,” Van Leuter said. “But then this is a world that invites philosophizing, wouldn’t you say?”

“I don’t know, Your Grace,” Zhelig said. “I leave philosophy to professors and statesmen.”

“And I’m neither,” Van Leuter mused. “Just a soldier with a duty.”

“Then you’re right,” Zhelig said. “We are the same. At least you and I are.”

Van Leuter nodded. “That pleases me, Mikal. That pleases me very much.”

Li

“As much as I love you, I regret you’re the only male I’ve had in the past few months,” Li said, gripping Tanu’s erect cock in both hands, and delicately licking at its tip. “I feel as if I’m going to be out of practice when I again meet a Kaitian male.”

“You mock me, mistress,” Tanu rumbled, head thrown back, arms and stomach tense. “You know that no other male can make love to you this way.”

Li enveloped the organ and let it slide into her mouth. Again, the absurdity of the image flashed in her mind — a tigerish female Kaitian sucking the cock of a handsome, lupine Wolfen male. Her family would disown her if they ever found out. But then, such things had long since ceased to bother her. Most Kaitian females she knew also preferred wearing clothes instead of going about naked and attracting the lustful stares of both males and females of all races.

“Silly wolf,” she replied, letting him slide out, and stroking the thick organ with her fists. “All males and females make love differently. Of course there’s no one like you.”

“Mmmmm,” Tanu replied.

“And no female is like me,” Li pointed out. “How many will do this for you?”

She slipped the slick organ between her breasts, pressing them together, sliding up and down, feeling the hot shaft against her furred flesh.

“Few,” Tanu admitted. “Few if any.”

Li chuckled. “Oh, my little wolf.” In her mind, the image of her human, the one called Wulf, flickered.

My two wolves, Li mused. What will it be like when they meet again?

“And how many say this?” Li asked, looking straight up at the wolfen, meeting his rich brown eyes with her steady gaze. “Come on my breasts, my love. Spill your seed across them. Splash your hot come across my nipples. Come for me, my wolf. Come for your tigress.”

Tanu moaned. He had once been a tamer, one who could reduce victims to sexual submission and slavery, but since meeting Li he had given up his old trade, and seemed to prefer serving other women as a sexual plaything. From one extreme to another, Li guessed.

“Won’t you tell me you want to come, my strong handsome wolf?” she purred, moving the slick organ faster and faster. “Won’t you tell me.”

“I want to come,” Tanu said. “I want to come on your breasts, my mistress.”

“Then come,” Li said in a commanding voice. “Come now.”

Dutifully the wolfen moaned and then convulsed, his cock spurting hot white semen into the deep white-furred valley of Li’s breasts. She pulled his cock closer and held open her mouth, letting it shoot onto her tongue, then rubbed the hot fluid across her nipples, twisting and squeezing them as she did so.

“Oh, my love,” she sighed. “It tastes so sweet on my tongue.”

“Ohhhhh, my mistress.” The last vestiges of Tanu’s orgasm dripped from his cockhead as Li rubbed it across one nipple, then the other. “You’re like no other female I know.”

“The argument is still sound, my wolf,” Li replied. She released the softening organ and continued to rub herself. “I think that we both need a bath now.”

“Shall I give you one, mistress?” Tanu’s voice was once more dutiful and unwavering.

“No,” Li suggested. “Let’s give one to each other.”

We must take what pleasure we can, Li thought as she prepared to fill her tub with magically-heated water. The war rages on, and we may all yet perish.

She looked over at Tanu, standing beside the tub, his face as noble and handsome as ever. Already, he was starting to get hard again.

Stupid words, woman, Li chided herself. Live for the moment. Do not think of what is to come. All will be reconciled eventually.

As she slid into the bath, and Tanu slid in beside her, Li felt her cares evaporate, replaced only by warmth and sensation.

Tomorrow is the time for worry, she thought. Tomorrow. Now is the time for love. Now and always.

II

Wulf

The dim light and smoke from narcotic incense were fast becoming familiar sensations, especially when I was ushered into Thae’lynn’s presence. It was another one of her set-piece orgies, and it was obvious that she wanted me as the featured entertainment.

The tent was vast, lit with dark violet mageglobes, a haze of smoke in the air. As soon as it hit me, I felt a faint dizziness, and a stirring in my loins. Damn her, she was forcing us to do her bidding…

She was there, of course, naked and glorious, seated crosswise on a large throne, legs thrown across one arm. A small symphony of jangling rings broke out as she waved an arm at me.

“Welcome, my favored performer,” she sighed, voice dark and husky, brimming with barely-suppressed lust and perversity. “I’ve told all my friends of that talented huge cock of yours, and now is the perfect moment for a demonstration of its abilities. Meet my lovers, Chuma.”

I scanned the room. Behind her, his wings barely grazing the tall tent ceiling, was the daemon-lord Mazzor. He was at least three heads taller than me, and was disturbingly naked, his cock hanging limp almost to his knees. I hadn’t ever seen it in action, but I was afraid that I was about to.

I only hoped it wouldn’t be on me.

Two women kneeled at Thae’lynn’s feet. One was a dusky-skinned woman of apparently Vendhayan extraction, clad in a brief leather harness that caused her small breasts to swell outward. I swallowed – this was Sherinya, commander of the Furies. She had apparently fully thrown in with Thae’lynn, submitting herself body and soul to the dark elf. It was a damned common result of meeting Thae’lynn, I thought. What the hell did that woman have that I didn’t?

The second woman was familiar, a hairless, youthful-looking dark elf slave-woman whom I knew as Yawesha’ae. She was almost as heavily pierced as her mistress, and she wore a black leather collar. Her nipples, both pierced with two silver rings, were chained together, and another chain extended from one nipple to a long lead, held casually by Lady Thae’lynn. As I watched, she tugged on the lead, yanking one of Yawesh’s nipples painfully and eliciting a yelp from the woman.

Sexual sadism was an art to Thae’lynn, and I knew she had lovingly arranged this tableau for my benefit. The centerpiece, tied spread-eagled to a low platform in front of me, was a woman I had met before. Blonde, full-bodied, with lush, full lips, richly-padded buttocks and fat, heavy-nippled breasts, her face was vague, eyes blurred with dreamweed and herbsmoke.

“You remember Marshal Emeralis, don’t you?” Thae’lynn asked. “She had you fuck her senseless, then tried to kill you. I approve of such things, but only if they don’t affect morale or rob me of competent officers. She’s very sorry for what she did to you, and a few months in the field brothels has given her a new perspective, hasn’t it, Emeralis?”

Emeralis spoke, her words slurred.

“Yes, mistress. I’m sorry for what I did.”

“Good.” Thae’lynn gestured. “You can see that we’ve been having our fun with her. Look at all that come.”

Thae’lynn was right. Emeralis’ pale skin was streaked with semen, from her face and lips to her breasts, her belly and her thighs. She must have had at least a dozen men before me.

“She’s been having so much fun, hasn’t she?” Thae’lynn asked.

“I have,” Emeralis replied, lazily. “I’ve been getting fucked so very, very hard…”

“But not up the ass yet, have you? We’ve been waiting for that. Waiting for that big, fat lion-man cock, haven’t we?”

Emeralis nodded and looked at me. Her hair was covered in sweat and semen, her eyes wide and unfocused.

“Yes, mistress. I want this fat lion-man cock inside me. I want to show him how sorry I am for trying to kill him.”

Yawesh now looked up at her mistress, her voice plaintive.

“Why does she get to fuck him, mistress? You said I could have him. You said he’d fuck me.

Thae’lynn chuckled softly. “See, Chuma? You are so very popular with my women.” She looked down at Yawesh with a loving gaze. “You’ll get your big fat cock, little one. You just have to earn it first. He’ll fuck little Emeralis, and you can suck my other little girl’s cunt. Sherinya. You want Yawesh’s sweet little tongue in your cunt, don’t you? Lapping up all those sweet juices of yours?”

Sherinya nodded. “I do. I want her to make me come.”

“Good.” Thae’lynn looked at me and nodded toward the bound Emeralis. “Fuck this little slut. Fuck her hard. Take her any way you want. Come on her. In her face. Make her lick it up. We’ll watch, and little Yawesh will make Sherinya come. Then you can fuck Yawesh and Sherinya, if you have anything left. If I recall from our moments together, you can come quite a number of times before you’re finished. Once you’re done, Mazzor can have Emeralis. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Emeralis?”

“I would,” Emeralis said. “I want Mazzor’s cock when Chuma’s done with me. I want them both to come all over me.”

I staggered. The scent of the incense was driving me mad, and I felt a hardness grow between my legs, even though my rational mind didn’t want it.

“Getting that cock hard already, Chuma?” Thae’lynn asked, then giggled. “Watch this, my little ones. His cock is almost as amazing as Mazzor’s.” She fixed me with a harsh glare. “Strip, lion-man. I want you naked now.”

Moving as if in a trance, I complied. My cock was fully erect now… Damn, she must have put some major items into that incense… Rational thought faded, leaving only lust and desire to descend on the bound woman before me, make her scream in pain and ecstasy. I stepped forward.

“Tie back her legs,” Thae’lynn said casually, releasing Yawesh’s chain and directing Sherinya forward. “Give our lion man a nice angle to look at.”

The two women moved forward without a word and unbound Emeralis’ ankles, then pulled them back toward her shoulders, binding them to the same posts as her wrists. Her ass was off the ground now, presented to me. Her thighs were streaked with come, and I suspected I wasn’t the first to have done this.

Still, I stepped forward, driven by the Thae’lynn’s voice, echoing inside my head.

“Fuck her for us, lion-man. Fuck her ass. She loves it so much, we want to see more.”

My cock seemed to move of its own accord, sliding toward the exposed buttocks and the puckered asshole between them. As I stepped closer, Emeralis cried out in a strangled, wanton voice.

“Mistress, he’s so big. I want him in my ass so much.”

“You know what I like to hear, my dear,” Thae’lynn replied. “You want that big cock up your ass, you’ll have it.”

Without fanfare, feeling almost as if I were another being, watching myself, I slid my cock between the bound woman’s buttocks, feeling her give way easily.

“You are so very, very talented,” Thae’lynn sighed. She sat facing us now, and her two female attendants kneeled closer, one nibbling at each breast. Then she looked at me.

“So are you, lion-man.”

I grunted in acknowledgement. Some of me still resisted performing like her personal sex-monkey, and part of me still disliked the idea of violating this woman, even though she’d tried to kill me. But those voices were faint now, and besides, she seemed to be loving every moment of it.

Emeralis writhed beneath me, tugging at her bonds, head thrown back, mouth open, incoherently snarling and shrieking like a caged animal. She was covered in sweat as well as semen, now, hair tossing as she shook her head wildly back and forth; it was about the only free movement she could make, bound as she was.

“Yeah… fuck…. aaaagggghhh… fuck my ass… agggggg…”

I suspected that Thae’lynn had put Emeralis through some pretty extensive preparation before me, for she quite easily and eagerly accepted my thick cock into her ass. She rocked back and forth as far as her bonds would allow her, moving to accept me with each stroke. Her large breasts bounced wildly and, it looked to me, painfully, and sure enough the tenor of her cries increased with each bounce.

“He won’t come in her, will he, mistress?” Yawesh asked, voice a low whisper. “I want his come. You promised.”

“I suspect that he will be able to share his load with all of us,” Thae’lynn replied. “I think he can come for our blonde little slut, then come for you as well. I suspect when he sees what my Mazzor does to the slut he won’t be able to stop.”

“I don’t want her to get all his come, mistress,” Yawesh complained. “I’ll be angry with her if she gets it all.”

“Then you can have her, too,” Thae’lynn said, reasonably. She grabbed a handful of Sherinya’s hair. “You, bitch. You’ve got other work to do.” She yanked Sherinya’s head down and thrust it between her thighs. “Lick. Suck. The way I like it.”

The smoke fogged my brain, and I felt a sudden rush of angry desire. I bore down on Emeralis, fucking her as hard as I could, eliciting even louder cries and wilder exhortations.

“Ahhhhh… Come on me… Please… I want it…”

I kept it up for another minute or two, listening to the wild animal cries grow louder and watching Sherinya’s head bobbing between Thae’lynn’s thighs, and the wicked little hairless Yawesh teasing at her mistresses piercings with her tongue – nipple, ear, lip…

Yawesh turned a burning blue-black gaze on me, smiling sweetly as she gently took the end of Thae’lynn’s nipple bar between her teeth and pulled, stretching out her mistress’ dark flesh.

Something in her expression grabbed at me, and I felt my orgasm coming.

“Come on me! I want it…”

I pulled out and let out jet of semen, hot white across Emeralis’ ass, splattering down onto her heavy breasts and onto her lips. She licked, smiling a drugged smile up at me, speaking lazily.

“Youuuuuuuu pretty pretty kitty,” she sighed. “I think I met you once, didn’t I?”

I nodded.

“Yeah, we’ve met.” I patted her thigh gently. “Don’t work too hard, okay?”

Yawesh looked outraged.

Mistress!” she said. “I thought he was going to come for me!

Thae’lynn looked at the slave coolly, then pulled her chain tight, dragging Yawesh closer by her nipple-ring. The slave cried out and looked fearful.

“It sounds to me as if you’re demanding something,” Thae’lynn said, softly. “We don’t want to be demanding anything of our mistress, do we?”

“No, mistress,” Yawesh said, eyes downcast.

“Look at me when you speak, slut,” Thae’lynn said, then looked down at Sherinya. “I didn’t tell you to stop, did I?”

“No,” Sherinya said, and resumed her duties, head busy at Thae’lynn’s cunt.

“Now, slave,” Thae’lynn hissed, “you know what happens when you disobey?”

Yawesh looked at her, eyes wide. “Yes, mistress.”

“Turn around and bend over.”

“Mistress, please…”

“You heard me, slut. Turn around and bend over.”

“I don’t want to.”

Thae’lynn’s face grew hard. “Last warning. Are you going to do what I say or do I give you to Valla and Mazzor for a while?”

Yawesh’s defiance broke, what little there was of it, and she turned around meekly, then bent down, presenting her naked ass to Thae’lynn.

“That’s better. You’ll get a few more for being such a defiant little bitch,” Thae’lynn said, reaching down and picking up a short scourge – a whip about the length of my forearm with nine separate lashes. “I think we’ll use the Mistress’ Kiss this time. How does that sound?”

“No, mistress.” Yawesh seemed genuinely alarmed. “It hurts too much.”

“That’s not for you to decide… Ohhh…” Thae’lynn convulsed once as Sherinya did something especially enjoyable. “Very good… Yesss…” She lay back for a moment, and another shudder went through her, then looked back up, eyes on Yawesh’s exposed flesh. With a single motion, she brought the whip down hard on her slave’s ass, eliciting an agonized cry, then once more as another contraction shuddered through her.

“Yes,” she gasped. “I love this. Don’t stop, Sherinya. I’m… Yessssss…”

Her eyes rolled back in her head, and Sherinya gripped her thighs head moving forcefully.

“I’m coming, dear… Yes…”

With each wave of orgasm, Yawesh brought the whip down and Yawesh, facing me, cried out in a familiar combination of pain and desire. She fixed me with deep violet eyes, and I saw a spark of something more than simply playing.

I do this for you, lion-man. Words echoed in my head – were they truly from her, or just some horrific-erotic side effect of the dreamsmoke? I wanted you from the moment I saw you. Wanted your cock in me, wanted you to fuck me every way you could. I wanted to be yours, like that tandu woman. I wanted to belong to you as I belong to my mistress.

I stepped back in alarm, feeling my cock go hard again. And still Yawesh’s voice didn’t stop.

I suffer for you. I take this pain from my mistress because I desire you so much, in the hope that she will give me to you and let you have you way with me. I want you to fuck me the way you fucked the human… I want you so…

Then Yawesh’s eyes rolled back in her head and she shuddered, and I felt waves – real or imagined – of orgasm pulsing through her. With one final strike of her mistress’ whip, she collapsed forward, and I could see the swollen stripes crisscrossing her ass.

Thae’lynn was finished, too, and pushed Sherinya away. The woman knelt obediently beside her.

“You’re hard again, lion-man,” Thae’lynn said. “Did you like seeing me punish my little slave?”

I knew what she wanted. I was still Chuma, the renegade n’doro, and I was still expected to say and do certain things. And besides, in a strange way, I was telling the truth.

“Yes,” I said, as deeply and calmly as I could manage. “I did.”

“Would you like to punish her yourself, lion-man? Would you like to entertain me and my friends?”

Yawesh’s eyes, so fearful a moment before, brightened with a sudden emotion that only I could see.

“I would,” I said.

“Then I’ll give her to you,” Thae’lynn said. “But first, she has to watch what you can do. Sherinya.”

“Mistress?” The dusky-skinned woman’s head rose up.

“Give yourself to the lion-man. Let him use you as he wishes. And I will fuck our little Yawesh as he does so.”

“Yes, mistress.”

Yawesh looked both excited and disappointed.

“And Mazzor?”

The daemon emerged from the shadows. His cock was hard, too, but it resembled a Litharnan battleship in both appearance and dimension.

“Yes, my lady?”

“Fuck the blonde slut. Hard.”

Emeralis spoke now, her voice still hushed and excited.

“Thank you, my queen,” she said. “Thank you.”

***

It must have gone on for another hour or more. Sherinya went to me, looking more dutiful than excited, as I pondered the least unpleasant way of giving Thae’lynn her show (even drugged and not entirely myself, a part of me still felt concern for the women under the dark elf’s influence). I suspected that our mutual mistress would have liked nothing better than to see me fling the Furies’ commander down on the ground, slap her silly and rape her, but even in my altered state I knew I would do nothing of the sort. One of the few things that I still felt some shred of pride about was that I had never taken anyone who wasn’t willing, and my guts still churned at the prospect.

As Thae’lynn opened a small black box, I gently urged Sherinya to her knees and presented my cock to her. She was certainly beautiful, with her thick black hair and equally-black eyes, dark lips and angelic face, but she had completely given herself, and the warriors she commanded, to Thae’lynn’s mercies, and that alone made her somewhat suspect.

She accepted my cock without hesitation, stroking it with both hands and running her tongue up and down its underside. Then she flicked her tongue across my glans while rubbing my balls together. I had to admit she had talent.

Then I saw what Thae’lynn was removing from the box and almost lost my erection (thank the gods for that damned n’doro constitution). It looked for all the world like an enormous black penis on long, articulated spider’s legs, and it scuttled around like some nightmare crab, up and down Thae’lynn’s body as she sighed and stroked herself.

“You know your place, little one,” she said, guiding it between her legs. The thing settled there comfortably, legs wrapping about her buttocks and thighs, a short, tail-like arrangement sliding into her ass, and the cock attaching itself at her crotch. She sighed happily as it extended a second, shorter cock-like protuberance, and slipped between her cunt-lips.

She looked over at me.

“Is that a look of horror or lust, lion-man?” she asked. The artificial cock-creature was fully attached now, and it looked for all the world as if it belonged there, and that she was a strange amalgam of male and female. I’d heard of those before (usually in reference to the White Emperor’s secret “Isle of Fun”) but I’d never seen one – and to some extent never hoped to. “A little of both, perhaps?”

She certainly got that right, and as Thae’lynn moved toward Yawesh, who lay on her back, resting on her elbows, thighs spread wide, I felt a rush of guilty desire, and my cock felt even harder.

“Suck,” I demanded, stroking Sherinya’s head. “Suck my cock.”

She didn’t reply, only redoubled her efforts which, so far, had only allowed her to take about a third of my cock into her mouth.

“Suck all of it,” Thae’lynn said, sharply, kneeling down before Yawesh. “Swallow the whole fucking thing, Sherinya. You’ve got so much to learn, little one.”

Sherinya looked up at me, and her former neutral expression had changed. Her eyes were wide, gleaming, ravenous. Carefully, I slipped more of my cock into her mouth. She hesitated, getting used to the feel of it, then slid in more.

Thae’lynn was atop Yawesh now, hips moving slowly, triggering soft gasps from the hairless dark elf. Yawesh bent her head back as far as it would go, making her small breasts stab upward, the chain between them glittering. Framed by delicately pointed ears, Yawesh fixed me with an intense gaze, her face upside down, eyes intense.

From the shadows of the tent, I heard Emeralis howling. Mazzor had simply yanked up the stakes that held her and carried her bodily into the shadows. Given the woman’s obsession with anal sex and huge cocks, I hoped that she was getting what she wanted. From the tenor of her yowls, however, I wasn’t sure.

She’s getting fucked very hard, lion-man. It was Yawesh again, and this time I was almost certain she wasn’t a hallucination. Very, very hard. Mazzor’s fucked me many times. It hurts, but I love it.

I closed my eyes, lost in the sensation of Sherinya’s mouth on my cock, sliding slowly down its entire length, feeling rather than hearing Yawesh’s voice in my head.

Ohhhh, the mistress fucks me… Do you feel it?

Was it the dreamsmoke? The mystical nature of my transformation that made me more sensitive to the souls and passions of others? My own imagination? By the gods, though, I felt it, and for a moment I was in Yawesh’s head, giving myself up completely to the cruel but sensual, wicked but loving, evil but passionate Thae’lynn.

Fuck me, my beloved mistress. Use me like the animal that I am… The artificial cock-thing pounded into me, filling me up completely, then pulled out, leaving me empty and impatient for the next stroke. Then she filled me up again, and I felt a gentle but insistent nibbling at my clit, where the mistress’ strange cock seemed to lick and bite. Each time, I was closer to release, like a vessel of water being filled to overflowing…

You see what she does, lion-man? See how much I want her? And how much I want you?

Then I was back, and Sherinya looked downright smug, having swallowed the entirety of my cock, then slowly let it slide out again.

“Good,” I whispered, stroking her hair. “Goooood…”

“Oh, gods… Fuck my ASS!” Emeralis screamed from the shadows, and I saw the two of them silhouetted against the side of the tent. He was standing, wings out, horned head pumping forward and back, and he held her against his hips, off the ground, pulling her to him, then pushing her away. Her heavy breasts swung painfully forward and back with each stroke, and she held her hands behind her head, steadying herself as best she could. Her words faded into an incoherent shriek as the daemon plunged into her again and again, then at last dropped her unceremoniously to the ground, dragged her up by the hair and stroked himself until a shadowy flood of semen exploded from his engorged cock, splattering all over the woman. She cried out again, the sound bubbling out from her throat against the flood of daemon-come, and then fell down into the shadows where I couldn’t see her. Mazzor’s orgasm continued, spurting more and more masses of semen down onto her. I wondered if she would have to breathe through a hollow tube in the face of such a flood, but moments later I heard her again, semi-coherent if somewhat muffled.

“Come,” she gasped. “Give it all to me… Cover me in it, daemon… Yessssss…”

With that, I felt a rush as Sherinya continued to squeeze my balls and suck, and a moment later, without warning her, I came myself, gushing into her mouth.

It caught Sherinya by surprise and she choked, splattering semen across me, but then she recovered and let me continue, coming straight into her mouth. White fluid dribbled from her lips and down her chin, but she took most of it, letting me go as she cleaned the last off her chin and sucked her fingers clean.

“That was good,” she whispered, kneeling to suck the last dregs from my softening cock. “That was very good.”

Finally, it looked as if Thae’lynn was ready, and a moment later, her eyes flickering and her body convulsing with her own orgasm, she pulled the black cock out of Yawesh and splattered her own load across the slave’s belly. Yawesh grinned happily, rubbing the strange thing’s come into her skin, and across her nipples.

See how she comes, lion-man? I see how you come, too. It is not like Mazzor, but it is better because you are a thing of flesh and blood, not a daemon. I hope you can come for me, because my mistress will now let you fuck me.

I closed my eyes, feeling Sherinya lick me clean, feeling Yawesh’s voice echo in my head.

You shall let me suck you. I am very good – much better than Sherinya. Then you will lick my cunt, and I will feel that great cat-tongue of yours. Then you shall fuck me with that great thick cock and make me come. Then you shall fuck my ass the way you fucked the yellow-haired human. You will fuck me very hard, since that is what I like. Then you will let me suck you until you come and you will fill my mouth with seed, just as you did for Sherinya. I hope you are ready for this, lion-man, for I don’t think I will ever be allowed to do this again.

Again, I was struck by the strangeness of a slave making demands, but then I had some interesting perspectives on the nature of sexual slavery, and knew that Thae’lynn and Yawesh shared the same relationship as my dear Alrynna and her strange mistress, Countess Xylara. Of course, Xylara wasn’t evil.

Or at least not as evil…

***

I felt some relief that her ladyship and her playmates left Yawesh and me alone for a while, grappling where Emeralis had been bound up. I think I saw Emeralis atop Mazzor, pumping his oversized (and evidently tireless) cock in and out of her while Thae’lynn fucked her from behind with her damned spider-dildo while Sherinya licked them both, but it was way more complicated than I cared to consider at that point. Besides, Yawesh was keeping me busy and, amazingly enough, relatively happy.

She didn’t really speak. Her voice continued to echo in my mind, high and musical, happy as a dog getting his belly scratched.

You like me to suck you, master? She wouldn’t have been able to talk in any event, given that she had succeeded in swallowing my cock almost entirely, a feat that few women had achieved (not that I’m bragging, of course… Normally I’m pretty easy to deal with in that respect…).

Yes, I replied, my own words slurred and uncertain, even in the depths of my skull. How do you speak to me?

The dreamsmoke, master, Yawesh replied. It opens up my mind and I can speak to those I am close to. I have never been able to speak to my mistress in this fashion, but I love her all the same.

My cock was hard again, a tribute to the massive body that had kept me alive all these months. She had been intent on it, swallowing a fraction more with each thrust, and now she seemed delighted as I thrust into her mouth and down into her throat. She took it without gagging or, for that matter, any apparent discomfort. Given that she had probably blown that damned daemon (who was now fucking Emeralis from behind while she swallowed Thae’lynn’s nightmarish apparatus) numerous times, I suspected that even my n’doro equipment was no challenge.

Why do you love her? I asked. She’s cruel to you.

That is how she shows her love, Yawesh said simply. She knows no other way. It is the way of our people, and the way of her household, one of the oldest in our realm.

Great, I thought. Politics and sex. Two great dark elven obsessions.

Our obsessions, lion-man. You don’t speak like the barbarian that my mistress thinks you are.

I guess I... I have deeper qualities...

She released me and grinned, rubbing my cock across her lips and face.

Deeper qualities, lion-man? Show me. Fuck my cunt now. Fuck it deeply.

She lay back, grinning playfully, spreading her legs apart. Moisture gleamed on her black cunt-lips and thighs… She’d been fucking more than I had this evening (gods only knew what they’d been up to before Thae’lynn had gotten a wild hare up her ass and decided to call for me), so I suspected she wouldn’t need much preparation.

None at all, lion-man, she said. I’ve gotten so wet thinking of you.

I shrugged mentally and moved atop her, feeling her slender fingers encircle my cock and my testicles, gently urging me forward.

I’ve wanted this cock in me, Yawesh said, and her mental voice had a trace of wistful desire to it. I want it so. Fuck me now. Fuck me as you would fuck the lowest and most humble slave on all of Thystra.

I don’t do that, I said. I’m not like that. I don’t want to fuck you like a slave.

Then, of course, I realized that I’d let my persona slip, the image of the thoughtless sex-mad, wicked, raping barbarian... Gods and daemons, this was difficult...

I knew about you all along, Yawesh said. I see much that I do not tell my mistress.

I paused. My cock was poised against the moistness of her lips, and her every muscle tensed, anticipating my first thrust. Still, I waited.

What do you mean? I asked.

You’ve loved one of my kind before, haven’t you?

I swallowed. Fortunately, my cock remained hard, though the thought that she knew more than I suspected sent a cold shock through my body.

And you intend to betray my mistress.

I didn’t move.

You silly lion-man. I do not care. You leave your cock where it does the least good. Thrust, my darling. Thrust now.

Like an ancient Imperial automaton, I complied, and her soft, wet cunt-flesh melted before me. She stiffened and sighed.

That is what I want... Oh, yes, lion-man... That is the cock I’ve dreamed of.

What were you...? My mind reeled even as Yawesh bucked and writhed beneath me.

I see what’s in your heart. I see so much. Her violet eyes softened, and for a moment she seemed separate from the passion of our coupling.

We serve chaos, lion-man, you and I. And chaos serves conflict. That is what Trigon and our other masters said... Chaos is in our hearts, and chaos fills us... We are the vessels of chaos. And chaos demands that my mistress be betrayed. And you shall do it, my lovely servant of chaos. Now fuck me until I come, and I will be content.

Yawesh’s slender legs wrapped around my hips and pulled me in and I bore down, hands on her soft shoulders, eyes locked.

Why must you serve chaos? I said. The smoke, her words, the disorder that had boiled in my soul for months now, all seemed to drive me on. I loved one like you. I could love you. You do not have to serve.

We serve, all of us. When my mistress is gone, I will serve another. And serve gratefully.

I didn’t really care what she knew, how she knew it, or where she wanted to go. She was here now, and she was mine. I pulled her up into a sitting position and threw my arms around her, crushing her body against mine, and our lips met, tongues intertwining as I pumped my cock in and out of Yawesh’s soft cunt. She cried out against my lips, body tensing and heaving.

I come, my love. I come. You make me come. Spill your seed for me, and make this moment perfect.

I groaned, and felt a hot rush overwhelm me. I came, exploding into the depths of Yawesh’s cunt, as a second and a third orgasm rumbled through her exquisite body.

Thank you, n’doro, came the wordless sigh in my mind. Thank you so very much.

***

“You served us all magnificently,” Thae’lynn said, sipping from the Silver Chalice as Yawesh and Emeralis wiped her body down with damp cloths, clearing away the various fluids we’d all shared over the evening. “There will be a special reward waiting for you when we bring the Silver Lady down from her throne.”

I bowed. “I live to serve, Lady.”

Thae’lynn laughed. “You live for gold and plunder, lion-man. Come to me tomorrow and we will... talk... more.”

As I turned, Yawesh’s violet eyes met mine, and I felt a trace of emotion from her, and the whisper of her soft words.

Farewell, lion-man. We’ll not meet again, not as we are now.

I left, feeling unaccountably sad.

***

Clouds were gathering overhead and a breeze threatened to tear away my cloak as I strode back into camp. My people were there, all looking at me expectantly. They knew something was up... Over the last months we’d developed a mental bond that sometimes seemed uncanny.

Natuk the scarred Wolfen outcast was there, along with Kami the desert lander, her swarthy face covered in ritualistic scars. Austri and Vestri the dwarves looked up from a game where they were fleecing several of their squadmates with loaded dice. Natando the Veldtsman stood stoically, leaning on his spear. Near my tent, Herula/Kitten kneeled submissively, clad in her usual harem outfit with a veil and a spiked leather collar. Tanelin the elf met my gaze evenly, and I could tell he knew what I was going to say. Even Marcus looked more serious than normal.  Fifty others, of a dozen races also sat or stood, looking nervous, but also ready for anything.

It was time, now. If Yawesh could see my thoughts and know what I intended, it was only a matter of time until Thae’lynn herself could do the same. And I didn’t think that I could be with Yawesh again in any event.

We’ll not meet again. Not as we are now.

Then perhaps we’d meet in some other way. But now the time had come.

I cleared my throat.

“We’re going,” I said. “Tonight. Will you all follow me?”

My words were greeted with accepting silence, which after a few long moments was broken by a single voice.

“To the ends of the earth, handsome,” Rees chirped. “To the ends of the earth.”

***

I spoke to Herula as we prepared to move out. She still wore the collar, but had wrapped herself in a heavy cloak — the cold was growing intense, and even I, protected by a heavy pelt and insulating musculature, was beginning to feel it.

“My dear,” I said, “now that we’ve finally turned traitor, maybe it’s time to drop the charade.”

“What charade?” she asked innocently. “I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself.”

I grinned briefly. “So have I. But now I need warriors, not slaves. Time to see whether you fight as well as you make love.”

“I think I’m even better at fighting,” Herula said. “And I’m no slouch in the love department.”

“No,” I agreed, “you’re not. After this is over I might just confine myself to felines permanently.”

She cast me a quizzical look at the remark but said nothing.

“I need you more as Herula the warrior than as Kitten the slave-girl,” I told her. “They’re both part of you, I know. But I want the officer standing beside me, not the slave kneeling at my feet.”

“As much as I love being your obedient little Kitten, I must ask. Is that an order, master?” her voice was outwardly submissive, but I heard steel deep down.

“I’m afraid it is.”

She stood straight suddenly and with a single motion pulled her collar away, handing it to me.

“Take this now,” she said, saluting smartly. “You’ve been a fine master. Now you’ll be a fine commander.”

I returned her salute. “Thank you very much, Marshal.”

She nodded curtly. “Now do we have any armor to spare? I’m freezing to death.”

***

Snow had begun to fall as we moved out into the woods. It had been relatively easy to snag a scouting/foraging duty — no one else especially wanted it. In all likelihood, I told myself, when we didn’t return, Thae’lynn’s commanders would simply assume we’d been ambushed and wiped out.

At least that’s what I hoped. All the same, I wanted to move out quickly enough so that the falling snow would leave no tracks and the dark elves’ tracking beasts would have a hard time following us.

Of course, they might not need to track us down, I thought. The snow was growing thicker, and our breath rose in thick clouds as we labored through the dark forest. My entire plan, I realized, might come to grief out here if we froze to death.

“Tanelin,” I called, motioning to the elf. “Come over here.”

He moved stiffly; the cold was affecting him too.

“What’s it like to be home again?” I asked as he fell into step beside me.

“Can’t say that I like it,” he replied. “I’m a northerner, myself. Did my stint at the Runehall, and I’ve spent the last few decades in the warmer climes. I forgot it could get so cold here.”

I nodded. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. The ones with pelts have it easier, but the others are going to have problems. Can you conjure anything to keep us warm?”

He looked dubious. “I can, but it would be like lighting a beacon for Thae’lynn to follow. Her sorcerers and priests can sniff out anything, and I’d not want to give them the chance. Not until we’re much farther away.”

I had to agree. “I wish we could have done this in better weather, but I don’t think we’ve any choice left.”

“No,” he said. “The army will be moving out in just a couple of days. We need to maintain a lead if we’re going to warn anyone.”

I sighed. “Thanks anyway, Tan. I guess we’ll have to leave things, but I’ll be damned if I let anyone freeze. Keep that spell handy; we may be forced to use it.”

“I understand.”

The night went on and, as I’d feared, it got colder. We slogged over frozen ground, through icy puddles, cold streams, beneath overhanging branches. Most of the snow stayed in the trees, but from time to time one of us would blunder into one in the dark and cause a small avalanche. Austri was buried in one, and it took a few long moments to dig the dwarf out, cursing and sputtering.

By the grace of the gods, we didn’t lose anyone, and by morning no one seemed to have experienced frostbite. The rising sun revealed a white-covered landscape, silent and beautiful. We stopped for a brief rest and breakfast before pressing on. I detailed Natuk and Kami to take the rear, obliterating our tracks with branches as best they could. It didn’t do much good, but it was better than nothing.

Tanelin told me that the nearest settlement was a place called Hae’thelim, a small town known for its horse breeding, but neither of us could tell whether we were going in the right direction. All I could do was urge the group north, and hope against hope that we’d reach a settled area soon. And that they wouldn’t all run for their longbows and feather us like spring game hens.

By the end of the day, we were all too exhausted to go on. We’d made it to a relatively sheltered wood, safe from the wind and the worst of the snow. As the white powder fell in heavier and heavier amounts from the sky, I took some comfort in the notion that it would be erasing any tracks we had left, completing the work that Natuk and Kami had begun.

Tan relented enough to cast a protective spell over the wood, concealing the glow of our cooking fires. We ate decently and were relatively warm when we set watches and bedded down, and as I drifted off to sleep, the notion that we might actually succeed in winning free flitted through my dream-fogged brain.

When I awoke to see Rees and Marcus bound and gagged and several dozen female warriors leveling spanned crossbows at us, however, I was forced to reconsider my optimistic scenario.

“Good morning,” said the leader, a fierce, red-haired woman in leather armor. “It seems that the Furies have captured some deserters. What would Thae’lynn think?”

As I considered grabbing my sword and selling my life dearly, I realized that Thae’lynn was about the last person I wanted to deal with right at this moment.

“Can we make a deal?” I asked at last.

III

Narisha

The Conqueror’s appointments were nothing short of luxurious, and by far the finest Narisha had experienced since their visit to Xesh. The Stormking had been a bastard, but he certainly knew how to keep a decent flagship. Captain Skrall had inherited a damned fine vessel.

Narisha reflected that no one she knew would be surprised that her favorite part of the ship was the staterooms, and in particular the bedrooms. Right now, her own well-furnished room boasted an enormous bed covered in red silk and satins, with a small mountain of pillows. It also served as a temporary conference room, where she and two other women reclined.

Theanna the elf was far more wanton and voluptuous-seeming than her position of princess might have suggested. In her youth, cruel rumors had suggested that she had some human blood, attested to by her good-sized breasts and generously curved hips. Her face shone with the unearthly beauty of her race, but her lips were fuller and more richly-accented than most elves. She was clad in a light white shift that accentuated her curves, and Narisha tried vainly to ignore the faint outline of darker nipples in the center of her lush breasts. Narisha also restrained herself from leaning over and kissing the elf’s lovely lips, concentrating — for the moment at least — on the matter at hand.

“I wish to tell you of my own recent epiphanies,” Narisha said, rolling onto her stomach and regarding her two guests. She herself was fairly minimally clad, in breechcloth and halter, but that was normal for her race. Her crimson skull was still mostly hairless, the result of an unfortunate burst of dragonfire, but a thin coating of soft stubble had begun to grow, making her optimistic that her old raven-tinted tresses would someday return in all their glory. For the moment, she concentrated on hats and wigs to keep her head warm, but some of her admirers had commented that they liked the bald-pated look better.

“Livia suggested that you’d made some interesting self-discoveries,” Daedora commented. The dark elf was as lovely as her light-skinned counterpart, a slender statue carved of purest ebon, with long, shining silver hair and vivid violet eyes. She wore a short silver skirt and brief halter, revealing most of her succulent black flesh. She and Theanna eyed each other with expressions that were not exactly suspicious, but neither were they terribly trusting. Their races had feuded for generations, and now hostility had exploded into open conflict.

“I think,” Narisha said, sipping from a goblet of green Xeshite wine, “that you two embody the terrible conflicts that have torn your realm and your people apart over the generations.”

Theanna and Daedora considered this, then regarded her soberly, blue and violet eyes gazing at Narisha expectantly.

“When we were in Necrotia,” the demoness continued, “I felt a revelation. A breakthrough. A new kind of thinking that had never before occurred to me. My race is driven by the desire for sensation and pleasure, as you well know.”

“As is mine,” Daedora said, and giggled. She took another sip of wine.

“And, if I have any say in the matter, mine,” Theanna added.

“In Shark Harbor I had an experience,” Narisha said. “A moment with several women and men... It was a long story, but it’s the outcome that’s most important. I realized that through the act of love, through the sharing of bodies, we could insulate ourselves from the hatred of the world, and form our own universe of pleasure and mutual enjoyment.” She looked first at one woman, then at the other, her golden eyes lit with the burning fire of inspiration. “In short, through sex, we free ourselves. Through fucking we make our own world, our own peace. In our lives, we seek reconciliation. And isn’t fucking the greatest reconciliation of all? The ultimate acknowledgement of peace and love and coexistence?”

Theanna frowned. “I think I see what you’re getting at, Lady, but I wonder if it...”

“You mean that you want us to make love, Theanna and I, to symbolize and give form to the reconciliation between our peoples?” Daedora asked.

Narisha felt her face break into a grin that was at once wicked and inspired.

“Exactly, my love. How better to make up with an enemy than to make love to her?”

Theanna’s face was frozen, somewhere between disbelief, doubt and enthusiasm.

“You both have loved women before,” Narisha pointed out. “And here we are, sailing to a battle, hoping in the end to see peace and love triumph. Why not prepare for the eventual victory by enjoying yourselves?”

Theanna spoke slowly. “Either, demoness... either you truly have stumbled upon a new philosophy for your life and truly wish to share it... or...”

Narisha raised her eyebrows expectantly. “Or...”

“Or you have come up with the most well-reasoned and plausible-seeming scheme to get us into bed with you.”

Narisha looked back at Theanna through half-closed eyelids.

“I wasn’t thinking of getting to bed with both of you,” she said. “I was thinking of simply witnessing your reconciliation, and of gathering evidence to support my new philosophy.”

Daedora couldn’t suppress a laugh.

“And you expect us to fall into each other’s arms and pleasure each other without inviting you to help? How foolish do you think I am?”

Narisha sat up and raised her hands in mock-surrender.

“I will do whatever you wish,” she said, “but I suppose if you do make love to each other I could be allowed to touch myself while you do so.” She paused. “I take it you both think this is a plausible theory?”

Daedora nodded enthusiastically, then looked over at Theanna. “I’d have done it on my own if you hadn’t suggested it. Remember Xesh and how we all came together as a goddess? I can see that happening again. Princess, I’ve never hated your people. Perhaps this is the best way for me to show my true feelings.”

Now it was Theanna’s turn to chuckle. “How can I resist the lure of a woman who was once a goddess?” She returned Daedora’s gaze. “I will happily demonstrate my love for my fellow beings.” Then she looked back at Narisha. “And you may watch, of course. And, as you seem so experienced in such things, you may also issue instructions. I will set aside my noble birth and put myself at your command.”

Narisha smiled.

“Kiss her,” she said. “Kiss her on the mouth.”

They needed little prompting, as Theanna’s arms snaked around Daedora’s neck and their lips came together. Daedora seemed nervous for a moment, then her mouth opened and their tongues touched.

“Very good, Theanna,” Narisha said. “Does she taste good?”

Theanna and Daedora, intertwined like black and white serpents, replied simultaneously, their voices slightly muffled by lips and tongue.

“Yes.”

Narisha sighed and loosened her halter. Her nipples had begun to tingle already, and a faint heat grew between her thighs. She would be having at least one orgasm this evening, and hopefully several more.

The two elves continued to kiss, and they grew more intense, tongues slipping out to caress lips, cheeks, ears, and finally necks and shoulders.

“Fine, fine work,” Narisha breathed, sliding one breast, then the other from their confinement. She stroked the soft skin, gently squeezing each of her own fleshy orbs. “I’m going to play with my nipples now. Perhaps you should play with each other’s.”

Daedora was the first to expose her breasts, lovely ebony spheres topped with stiffening blue-black nipples.

“Shall I touch them?” Theanna asked playfully. “Touch them? Lick them?”

“Yessss,” Narisha sighed, stroking and squeezing both breasts with increasing enthusiasm. “Yes, touch them, elf. Touch those beautiful black breasts.”

“I don’t think we need too much more guidance, demoness,” Daedora sighed as Theanna began to knead and stroke at her breasts. “Feel free to watch, however.”

Narisha sighed, leaned back and watched.

So lovely... So good to be able to foster universal love and understanding, she thought, fingers moving between her legs.

Theanna knelt on the bed now, Daedora behind her, sharp-nailed black hands encircling her breasts, pressing and stroking. With one hand, Daedora drew Theanna’s head back and kissed her, tongues moving together, lips questing for one another, as the dark elf continued to caress Theanna’s breast. Her fingers twined in Theanna’s hair, holding her close.

The dark one is the aggressor, Narisha thought, feeling the coming waves of orgasm building inside her. She knows what she wants from Theanna.

With a moan, Theanna allowed Daedora to pull her head around, and let herself be kissed from the other side, the dark elf woman’s fingers questing down her belly toward the pale downy skin at the junction of her thighs while holding her other hand tightly around the elf’s chin.

Narisha sighed. Daedora had learned some fine lessons in dark-elf land, and was passing them on as she watched.

Wordlessly now, Daedora released Theanna, and pressed her down to the bed, the pale-skinned woman on hands and knees. Theanna moaned again and writhed as Daedora slipped between her thighs and applied her tongue to the moist pink lips from behind.

“Oh, gods...” the words were strained through clenched teeth. “Gods, what are you doing...?”

She started to rise, looking back at Daedora, but the dark elf pushed her back down to the bed and continued to lavish attention on her overflowing cunt.

Narisha gasped sharply, fingers flying over her swelling clit. Gods, this was far more exciting than she’d imagined it would be...

“You... taste... so... good...” Daedora gasped between licks, her tongue cleaving the tender pink cunt-flesh as her fingers stroked at Theanna’s clit. With the other hand, she held Theanna’s hip tightly, even as the elf woman reached back to stroke it, and looked backward with a toss of her hair, fixing Daedora with a tight, burning stare.

“I want to look at you,” she whispered.

Moments later, Narisha had changed places with the two elves. She lay on her bed, legs apart, toying with herself as Theanna sat in her chair, legs splayed apart and resting on the arms while Daedora continued to lick, caressing thighs and belly as she did so. Daedora kneeled, back to Narisha, giving her a lovely view of the black lips of her cunt, wet to overflowing now. It excited Narisha all the more as she squeezed and petted her clitoris and tugged on her own nipples.

It went on for long minutes, until, panting heavily, her black body sheened with sweat, Daedora turned over onto her back, presenting her heaving breasts, and began to lick between Theanna’s buttocks, as the elf woman, knowing what was expected of her, began to stroke her own clit and pull on her cunt lips.

“Does it feel good?” Narisha gasped.

Theanna nodded emphatically, eyes glazed. “It does, my lovely demoness. Yes, it does...”

“Roll over,” Daedora whispered. “Roll over so I can lick your cunt again.”

Theanna complied, crouching, holding the back of the chair for stability as she spread her thighs apart and rested one knee on either arm of the chair. Daedora now applied her gleaming pink tongue to the elf woman’s labia and clitoris as – Narisha noted with some excitement – Theanna reached between her own buttocks and slid two fingers into her asshole, sliding them in and out as Daedora lapped eagerly at her cunt.

Theanna’s cries rose louder as Daedora’s tongue stroked her with greater and greater pressure. She was tottering on the edge of orgasm, though Narisha felt a pang of guilt on Daedora’s behalf that the dark elf seemed terribly excited, but had yet to receive any satisfaction. Narisha rose silently. She’d see to that deficiency in short order.

“What do you think this is?” Narisha whispered moments later, stroking the head of her thick porcelain dildo against Daedora’s engorged lips.

“It’s a big cock, my love,” Daedora replied. “And you’re going to fuck me with it.”

“That I am, little one. That I am.” With that, Narisha thrust her hips forward, driving the cock home in a single motion. It was clumsy, strapped between her thighs as it was, but it was one of her favorite devices.

Daedora cried out, and redoubled her attention to Theanna’s cunt, as the elf woman continued to thrust fingers into her ass. Narisha didn’t believe in preliminaries, but began to thrust fast and hard immediately, eliciting screams and sighs of pleasure from the dark elf.

Theanna came first, tensing and almost falling off the chair. Her hair flew as her back flexed, and her muscles tautened in the most alluring way. Daedora was next, squealing in a way that made Narisha even more excited. She came last, of course, the pressure of the porcelain dildo against her clit sending her tumbling over the edge.

Later, they all lay together, stroking and kissing lightly.

“You’ll want to do this again in a few minutes, I’m sure,” Narisha said lazily. “But what we’ve done so far has moved common love and understanding between the races and species to an even higher level.”

“Feh,” Daedora said, lightly slapping Narisha’s naked buttock. “You just wanted to watch us and make yourself come.”

“Let’s just say,” Narisha replied, “that I had several different motivations.” She looked at Theanna. “So, do you like having fingers up your ass?”

The elven princess sighed and nodded.

“Well, we’ll just have to see where that particular road takes us, don’t you think?” Narisha asked.

In a few moments, the three women were grappling once more, and soft moans and cries of passion echoed from Narisha’s cabin.

Wulf

The crossbow-wielding woman stepped forward. She was a Lastlander by her look; I’d not dealt with them very often, though the warrior gal in Vosgraad had made life far more pleasant by saving my life then blowing me while she got a tattoo.

This one was much better dressed, with a boiled leather breastplate, greaves, armored boots, and a rich black cloak. She also carried a long sword and obviously knew how to use it.

The other women were likewise grim and well-equipped. The group was as racially diverse as my own, with a couple of elves, a dwarf, a spotted tandu, some wolfen, orcs, and more. Even a couple of ratlings (I was sure they had females, but I had never actually seen one). All female, and all wearing the same spiral badge.

“The Furies,” I said as they approached and rousted my men from their bedrolls. So far no one had seen fit to resist — shows how much I’d taught them, I guess. “You know, I’ve always had the greatest respect for all of you.”

The redhead shrugged. “Makes me no mind,” she said. “We were sent out to track down deserters, and you certainly fit the bill. I don’t really want to think what Her Nibs will do with you when we get back.”

Nearby, Rees made noises through his gag. They ignored him.

“Are you sure that this is what you want to do?” I asked. “I mean, how do you know that we’re not just on an extended foraging patrol? And how long would I have to be your personal slave to persuade you to let us go?”

She looked at me, cocking an eyebrow.

“You’re damned glib for an overgrown housecat,” she said and then, to my surprise, turned and addressed Tanelin, who was climbing from beneath his blankets. “Is he always such a smartass, Tan?”

The elf shrugged. “Not always. Just most of the time. But he’s a loyal companion, and those are in short supply in these dark days.”

The redhead lowered her crossbow and looked back at me. She extended a hand.

“Captain Cheyl,” she said. “Sorry for the subterfuge, but I just couldn’t resist. I’m a fellow conspirator.”

I didn’t take her hand, but gaped at it in astonishment.

“Not too bright, either,” she observed. “Or are you lion-folk unfamiliar with shaking hands?”

I accepted the proffered hand and forced a smile.

“So the Furies are in on it too?” I asked. “I’m surprised any of the bitch-queen’s army is loyal.”

“Not all the Furies,” Cheyl said. “Just most of us. There were those like me who were in on it from the beginning. The rest simply got disgusted when their commander decided to become Thae’lynn’s fuck toy.”

“Not entirely her fault,” Tanelin said. “I’m given to understand that her ladyship has numerous potions and devices for compelling loyalty and sexual passion. Isn’t that right, Chuma?”

I glared at him.

“Oh, yes, you’ve shared the bitch’s bed, haven’t you?” Cheyl looked amused. “And lived to tell the tale.”

“More times than I care to count,” I said. “But I’d rather not dwell on the past right now.”

“Thank you,” declared Rees said as his captors undid his bonds. “Normally when I’m tied up it’s by muscular young men, but you ladies certainly did a decent job yourselves.”

I sighed. “Meet Rees,” I said. “The man who makes me look like an Imperial courtier.”

“I know him by reputation,” Cheyl said. She stepped toward the pair and bowed gracefully. “And the noble Marcus, I presume.”

“The very one.” Marcus bowed slightly.

“So were you in on this hilarity, Tan?” I asked. “I was about ready to grab a weapon and start hacking, damn the consequences.”

Tanelin shook his head. “Cheyl is acting on her own. We’ve been in contact, but I didn’t expect her to take her portion of the Furies out as well.”

“It seems she did, however,” I said, “and not a moment too soon. Are you proposing that we join forces?” I asked in Cheyl’s direction.

“I am,” she replied. “Rather than warning the elves, however, I propose a war of attrition against the advancing horde. Pick away at them from the trees, cut their horse’s traces, burn their supplies. We’ll send scouts to the interior to warn the Lady and her counselors, and if we slow Thae’lynn and her daemons down long enough they might be able to mount a decent defense.”

I considered this. With the addition of the Furies, our force had more than doubled in size. With luck and skill, a hundred and twenty seasoned warriors could stall the advance of thousands. It was risky, but it was better than running.

“All right,” I said. “We should head out for the day, however, and have a council of war tonight. I want to be as far ahead of that bitch as I possibly can.”

Cheyl nodded. “I agree. There’s a way station less than a day’s march north of here. We can take shelter there and actually have some protection from the elements. It’s likely to be slow-going, though — most of our good officers decided to stay with Sherinya. The rest are good, but we need more commanders.”

My unit was fully awake now, packing up weapons and supplies, and chatting brightly with the Furies. I saw Herula nearby, allowing one of the Furies’ ratlings to strap her into a breastplate. A thought occurred to me.

“Cheyl,” I said. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

IV

Livia

What passed for an elven armada was a pathetic handful of swanships, with a few auxiliary vessels obviously pressed into service at the last minute. Nevertheless, the proud sea-dragon banner of the Northwatch fleet flapped at the prow of the Dolphin as the elves moved to intercept the alliance fleet.

“Steady now,” Livia said. “We’ve been unable to communicate with them. For all they know, we’re invaders looking for vengeance.”

“And who would blame us?” Van Leuter asked as he stood beside her on the deck of the Litharnan flagship. “I still feel the fool for sailing to rescue my enemies.”

“From an even greater threat,” Theanna reminded him. “War and violence casts a spell over the minds of elves as surely as over the minds of men. Thae’lynn’s plan was to just give it a push in the right direction.”

“And she almost succeeded,” Livia added. “Now we have to undo the damage she did, and not let our own hatred destroy everything.”

“Feanor’s elves were a simple matter compared to fighting the anger in my own heart,” Van Leuter said. “Forgiveness is a hard thing.”

“It’s easy to hate,” Livia said. “Harder to forgive. Harder still to love. But we’ve got to or all is lost.” She looked back at Theanna, who stood beside Daedora, holding the elven princess’ hand. The dark elf huddled in her cloak, looking afraid and very small.

The wicked Zhalha’sarr’im, Livia thought to herself. If only they could see her, how she trembles and frets, but stands here nonetheless, not knowing if some damned elf sharpshooter is going to pick her off with a longbow, or if a hasty wizard will blast her to cinders. She stands here because she cares and because she wants peace. Wicked dark elf indeed.

“Are you ready?” she asked, and the two elves nodded mutely. With a single movement, Livia shed her cloak, and stood naked on the deck. She intoned the opening syllables to the spell, and the other elves completed them as her voice faded, replaced by the shriek of a seabird. Livia, now a soaring white gull, caught the breeze and swept into the air, flapping toward the Dolphin.

Nae’mitz

“They send forth a white gull, Admiral!” shouted Captain Eraitos. “The ancient sign of parlay! Do they truly know what it means?”

Memory stirred in Admiral Nae’mitz’s mind, and he nodded.

“They do, Captain,” he said. “If they do not, we shall all join our ancestors in the depths.”

Eraitos smiled nervously and swallowed. “Yes, Admiral.”

Nae’mitz watched calmly as the bird descended from the stormy sky and lit upon the deck, transforming instantly into a very familiar nude human female.

“Lady Livia,” Nae’mitz said, politely. “Welcome aboard. Ensign! Fetch the human a robe!”

“My thanks, Admiral,” Livia said. “It’s almost as cold today as the day we first met.”

Nae’mitz nodded. “You helped us that day, sorceress. Now you bring an army to destroy us.”

Livia accepted a dark blue robe and gratefully wrapped herself in it. “No, admiral, I do not,” she said, quickly. “These ships and the soldiers in them come as friends and allies.”

Nae’mitz almost laughed. Almost. “As allies and friends of the nation that almost destroyed them?” he demanded. “I admit that the notion is ironic and almost amusing, but I cannot bring myself to believe it.”

“Believe it, My Lord,” Livia said. “Accept my offer of parlay. I’d remind you that not only am I the ambassador, I am the truce flag. Princess Theanna and Lady Daedora of the dark elves are on my flagship, and they can explain what’s happened. You yourself warned us that things weren’t what they seemed. Between the two of them, they can tell you the truth, that Lady Thae’lynn was behind the war, and it’s all part of her scheme to retake the isles and reduce the world to a playground for her and her daemons.”

Nae’mitz’s eyes widened. “You’ve never played us false, Lady Livia,” he said at last. “And to my experience, you’ve been a true friend to our people. I will meet with the Princess and the da — the Zhalha’sarr’im.”

Relief flooded Livia’s expression. “Thank you, Admiral,” she said simply. “You make turning into a bird almost worthwhile.”

Still, Nae’mitz did not smile.

Livia

The discussion was remarkably brief. Nae’mitz’s respect and near-total devotion to the princess was apparent, and he even treated Daedora with courtesy — icy courtesy, but courtesy nonetheless. It wasn’t perfect, but it was far more than Livia had come to expect.

“I won’t mince words,” the elf said as he prepared to return to Dolphin. “You’ve no reason to play us false. Your fleet would smash ours to kindling, so you’ve no reason to lie. Besides, only a small garrison remains at the Runehall. Any true invader would stop to plunder its riches before sailing south. Lady Myella commands what remains of our northern armies, and I will advise that she join forces with you.”

He gazed to the south, pulling his sea-green cloak closer around him. “The situation is truly grave. An army of dark ones, daemons and mercenaries now ravages the south. The Lady has summoned the White Guard, along with what warriors she can find, but it’s a pitiful group. They will kill ten times their own number as the enemy advances, but still they will fall. You may reach the Silver Tower and find only a burned-out shell.”

“All the more reason to make haste,” Livia said. She reached out and touched his shoulder. Nae’mitz looked surprised at the familiarity but took no offense. “Admiral, it was never my intention to become the defender of the elvish nation, nor to march against chaos as its champion. But I, and the warriors who sail with me — elves, dwarves, orcs, ratlings, humans... all of them — know the truth of what happened, and have chosen to set aside yesterday’s fear and anger, and fight the greater threat. Perhaps your people will see the sacrifice we make, and understand.”

“If they do not,” Nae’mitz replied, a trace of stony determination creeping into his voice, “I will make them see. Or I will serve them no longer.”

He looked at her, eyes harsh. “Good bye, Lady Livia. I hope to meet again, in a place and a time free from strife, where the peace banners fly and our people can stand side by side.” Livia struggled to find words to reply, but could say nothing, only watch as the elf turned and strode toward the bulwarks. Gods grant that it’s true, she thought.

Wulf

Arrows fell among us as we fled for the safety of the trees. Rees yelped and swore as one grazed him, but kept moving. As far as the motley band of wolfen, orcs and humans who pursued us was concerned, we were in full retreat and the game was as good as won. As we dashed into the trees and the mercenaries raced on, howling and shrieking, a flight of black arrows arced up from the trees and plunged into the enemy with deadly accuracy.

A moment later, war whoops and cries erupted and a wave of sword-wielding fighters burst into the open and fell on the mercenaries with savage fury. Not surprising, since they called themselves the Furies, I thought.

There was a new figure among them, too, a lithe cat-like creature with an enticing female shape, swinging a curved scimitar and striking down three of the enemy with as many blows. The women around her were scarcely less ferocious, blades whirling, streaking the snow with crimson until none of our pursuers remained alive.

Herula and Cheyl bounded from the scene of the carnage, looking fresh and delighted amid all the blood and corpses.

“Fourth ambush in a week,” Cheyl said. “This is getting too easy.”

“We’ve killed off about two hundred of the bastards,” Herula grinned savagely, whiskers twitching, green eyes reflecting bloodlust that was just as fierce as her appetite for sex.

“Great,” I growled. “Only 99,800 to go. At this rate, we’ll be done inside a decade.”

“You worry too much,” Cheyl said. “Is he always like this, Herula?”

“Usually,” the tandu woman agreed. “You should let him tie you up sometime, though.”

Cheyl looked askance at this. “I usually do the tying, my dear.”

Herula seemed impressed. “I’ve never been bound up by a woman. Perhaps we can discuss it some time.”

Cheyl looked surprised, then thoughtful. “Hm. I’ve never considered that either. Perhaps we should.”

“All right,” I said irritably. “You can make dates to beat each other some other time. Right now we need to strip the bodies and get moving. The bitch has doubled patrols as the army advances.”

Cheyl’s demeanor changed in an instant. “And we haven’t got much more room to fall back. We’ll be to the open plains soon without any chance at ambush.”

“And the enemy will start moving faster,” Herula agreed. “Change in tactics?”

“I’d say so.” Cheyl looked at me. “We’re all traveling light. You think it’s time to move out and get word to the Lady?”

I nodded. “Tan hasn’t been able to raise her. Someone will have to go in person.”

“You and your people,” Cheyl said. “We’ll stay and hold the bastards for as long as we can.”

I frowned. “I’m not leaving you. We should just send a squad north to the Tower. You need all the people you can get.”

“Don’t argue, Chuma,” Cheyl said. “Your company is exhausted and will need to move in force in case the enemy breaks through. Besides, who are you going to send to warn the Lady? Rees and his solemn friend?”

“I was thinking of Tan,” I said. “He’s in good with Her Majesty and he’s got the right shaped ears.”

“Chuma,” Herula said, “we need to split up. The Lady needs as many troops as she can get, and we need to hold off Thae’lynn. Take your people north. They’ll get food and equipment, and they can help when the big fight finally comes.”

“And you?” I demanded. “Stay here and die? I don’t want to...”

“What are you afraid of?” Herula asked at last. “You’ve fought well, so have your people. Are you afraid we’ll think you’re a coward? Afraid that maybe you are as horrible a person as you thought?”

It hit me hard, I admit. I glared for a moment, then turned away, staring into the blood-stained snow.

“I’ll go,” I said at last. “I care about you. Both. And all the others. I don’t want anyone else to die. I don’t want to let anyone else down.”

“You’d let yourself down if you stayed,” Cheyl said. “You can see the logic. We’ll make it, Chuma. And it will be because of you and everyone like you. We need to hold the line and let you be the hero for once.”

“You’re the heroes, not me,” I replied, still looking away. “I’m just a thief with an overinflated ego.” I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. It was Herula, of course.

“Everyone is a hero, Chuma,” she said. “A hero is someone who faces things that he doesn’t want to face, not because he wants to but because he has to. He does what’s right, even if it’s not what he wants to do.”

“I’m not much of a hero, then,” I said, and laughed. “I rarely do things that I don’t want to do. Maybe that’s my problem.”

We moved out that night under cover of darkness. In the distance we heard the sound of drums and shouting, as if a multitude was camping not far away. The enemy was on our heels, and only the Furies held them back now. Cheyl, Herula and all the other Furies now stood in the breach, and try as I might, I couldn’t banish their faces from my mind. Nor those of Livia, Narisha, Daedora and all my friends.

Or Tatiana, and the burned-out tavern, and the knowledge that perhaps, somewhere, she was still out there, and that one day I’d see her again. I’d learned and discarded so many truths in the past months that I didn’t know which ones were real.

A hero is someone who faces what he doesn’t want to face, not because he wants to but because he has to.

As I’d said, if that was the definition, then I was a piss-poor hero. But then at least I could help the real heroes. And that was something.

“You seem downcast, my friend,” said Rees. His arm was bandaged, but he looked pretty normal otherwise.

“It’s all right,” I said. “Just thinking of Herula and the rest.”

“She is a fine woman,” Rees declared. “And she truly cares for you. What is your secret, my friend? How do you inspire such loyalty?”

Gods.

“I wish I knew, Rees. I really do.”

***

We found the Gods’ Highway early the next morning. Broad, smooth, and perfectly straight, its magic kept it free of snow and ice, and gave us a direct route to the Silver Tower.

And, I reflected grimly as we picked up the pace and marched briskly northward, it was nothing less than an arrow pointed straight at the heart of the Elven kingdom. I prayed we’d make it, and hoped that, just this once, the gods were listening to me.

V

Livia

The hills of the Elven Islands rose around them as they advanced, snow clinging to ancient trees. Mounted on her great black wolf, Li rode beside Livia. Behind them, keeping a respectful distance, rose the shaggy horde of Li’s orcish guards, her wolf-riders.

“This makes me think of home,” the Kaitian said, “of the ancient forests where my sister and I used to hunt. Sometimes my mother would come with us.” She looked wistful and sighed. “One day, the three of us brought down an ancient, ferocious boar with only our claws and teeth. It fed the household for days.”

“You miss your home, don’t you?” Livia asked.

Li sighed. “I do, dear sorceress. I miss my home, I miss my sister. Yet I must wander until I find her. And were I to find her, and return to my home, then…”

Livia waited for a moment.

“Then what, Li?”

“Then I would miss you, and miss my Wolf, and miss the joy of adventure and righteous battle.”

Livia considered this for a moment.

“You would be missed, too, Li,” she said. “By me, by Wulf, by Tanu, by Theanna.” She looked out across the bare, snow-covered trees. “I never thought I’d admit that I needed someone. But I need you, and I need Wulf, and I need Narisha. All of you. We may not be together always, but I need to know that you’ll be there, to be my friends.”

“Lady, you have learned much.”

Livia nodded. “I have.”

They rode on for a few more moments, then Li returned to the moment.

“You had orders, Lady?” she asked.

“Your wolf-riders are our fastest troops,” Livia told her. “We need you to advance to the Silver Tower as quickly as possible to inform the Lady that we’re here and convey any information that she needs. Lady Myella and Theanna say that communications are blocked across the Isles. She says it’s like a black cloud hanging low over her head.”

“The dark elf bitch and her daemons, no doubt,” Li growled. “I cannot wait to get to close grips with her.”

“Me too,” Livia said. “You have no idea how much.”

Li summoned one of her wolf riders, who trotted up, face eager.

“We will ride,” Li said. “Ride day and night ‘til we reach the Silver Tower. And then the dark ones will feel Kaitian steel.”

“Don’t forget orcish iron, lady,” the orc replied. “We’re lookin’ forward to it. If there’s elves to kill, it makes us no never mind if their skin’s white or black.”

“Be still my dog of war,” Li cautioned. “There’s time for vengeance later.”

“Vengeance, my ass,” the orc barked. “I wanna kill something!”

“Time for that, too,” Livia said. “But now you have to ride.”

“Whooooooooo!” bellowed the orc, brandishing his falchion. He urged his wolf back toward the main body of cavalry. “Riiiiiiiiide!”

“See?” Li said. “It doesn’t take much to keep them happy.”

“Yeah,” Livia replied. “A naked woman, a long hard ride and a battle at the end of it.” She paused. “Come to think of it, that sounds pretty good.”

Li chuckled.

“Did I tell you I was growing very fond of you, sorceress?”

“And I of you,” Livia replied. “And not just for what happened on the ship?”

“That didn’t hurt, however,” Li said. “Now perhaps you could kiss me to wish me luck?”

Livia smiled evilly. “Of course.”

With that, leaning across from her horse with practiced ease, she embraced Li and their lips met passionately, tongues intertwining, to the feverish hoots and whistles of the observing wolf-riders, along with intelligent comments like “Yeah, sister!” “How’s her tonsils taste, babe?” and “Me next! Me next!”

“They love you, you know,” Livia murmured against Li’s lips. “I think I do, too.”

“My heart beats a little faster when I hear that, sorceress. I think I feel the same. You’ve been quite generous with your emotions lately, though, haven’t you? Are you afraid that you’ll run out? I have Tanu and Theanna and Wulf, but I seem to keep finding room for others, like you.”

“Not bloody likely,” Livia said, pulling away reluctantly. “I’m beginning to think that I’ve loved everyone for years without knowing it. I’m just letting out what’s been inside all the time.”

“You honor me, Lady,” Li said, gently tapping Blackfang’s flanks and turning away. “I’ll see you when the war is over, but I’ll love you always.”

“And I you,” Livia replied, and watched her ride off, a horde of screaming, whooping orcs trailing behind. All riding behind her, Livia thought. They just want to watch her ass bouncing up and down. Just like an orc... I prefer the front view, myself...

“Glad to hear about your new-found respect for human emotion,” said a voice behind her.

Livia turned to see Narisha, standing like a crimson statue, her newly-grown hair gleaming in a blue-black carpet on her scalp.

“Are you sure there’s enough to go around?”

Livia sighed. “My dear,” she said, “having lived for years thinking that love and loyalty are signs of weakness, my sudden rediscovery has me pretty damned confused. If I’m neglecting the people I really love...”

“Oh, think nothing of it,” Narisha said, her tone anything but conciliatory. “I know that we demons can get boring eventually, what with our insistence of sex without love, and our inability to comprehend such sophisticated concepts as love and romance. All we know how to do is fuck, after all.”

“That’s not true and you know it,” Livia said, feeling a vague irritation. “I’ve never taken your feelings for granted. And I’ve always returned them.”

“Until you discovered that you love the world. Ancestors, Livia. Most people only need to compete with rival lovers. I have to compete with all of creation. It’s a damned difficult job.”

“My feelings haven’t changed,” Livia insisted stubbornly. “This is war. It’s affected us all. It’s made me realize that maybe some things are worth fighting for, and that there’s more than just seeking my own pleasure at the expense of others.”

“I guess that I loved you because there was so much of me in you,” Narisha said. “Love is an odd thing for a demon. You don’t experience it often, but when you do it’s total and complete. And my love included enjoying the fact that you shagged anything that moved, and took your pleasure the same was as I did, like an animal feeding. Now... Hell, dear. Now, you’re starting to talk like some damned priestess or something.”

“Don’t look at me,” Livia said, feeling her anger growing. “You’re the goddess. I’d have thought that being a vessel for the divine might have given you more perspective.”

“I gained more perspective from a single night in a whorehouse than I did from weeks carrying a goddess inside me,” Narisha said. “Perhaps when this is all over I can explain it to you.”

Livia felt her expression soften, and from somewhere tears began to well up. “I do love you, so very much,” she said. “But sometimes I wonder if you believe me.”

Narisha’s expression wavered, but her words were still harsh. “Sometimes,” she replied, “I wonder if you believe it yourself.”

Herula

“They are different somehow,” Herula said, lowering her bow and gazing across the frozen field, scattered with dozens of corpses. “Stronger, faster.”

“More mindless,” Cheyl replied. “Did you see their eyes? Nothing human about them. Not even the orcs.”

Herula grinned humorlessly. “The daemons that the bitch-queen summoned. They’re affecting the enemy now, turning them into slaves.”

“That’s what they had in mind for us,” Cheyl said.

“Gods,” Herula growled. “I hope those bastards at Silver Tower appreciate what we’re doing.”

“I hope so,” Cheyl said, watching as another wave of maddened warriors gathered and began to advance over the corpses of their fellows. “Look sharp, love. Here they come again.”

Herula nocked, drew and released, then saw an advancing warrior fall.

“How much longer can we hold them?” she wondered aloud.

Wulf

The gods only knew how Cheyl and Herula and the other Furies were faring behind us, but for the moment I bent myself to the task at hand. We traveled north on the Gods’ Road for nearly two days without encountering a soul — the war had truly robbed the realm of its best, and now it seemed that the Elven Isles were nothing but deserted wilderness. Soon after dawn of the third day, however, everything changed.

Natuk and Kami were our scouts, marching ahead, off the main road, looking for ambushes or elven troops. Natuk came bounding up to me as the sun crested the horizon, running on all fours, his wolfish face looking both anxious and excited.

“There is a cavalry patrol less than a league north,” he said. “Kami keeps watch on them, but I came back to warn you. They will be here in a few minutes.”

I nodded. I’d been rehearsing this moment for weeks (maybe even months), but now that it was here, my confidence flagged. Gods, they knew an army was on their soil. They were likely to charge first and ask questions later. I grabbed a white cloth that I’d prepared for the moment and tied it to Lawbringer’s hilt.

“Tan!” I motioned and the elf approached. “Are you game for coming with me to meet these folks? You’ll be a familiar face.”

Tanelin nodded curtly. “I return to my people, Chuma. They will listen to me.”

“Good,” I replied. “Now go put on your best cloak.”

***

We were an odd pair, walking nervously along the Gods Road, expecting at any moment to be confronted by a regiment of charging elvish knights. I led, white flag held defensively in front of me, while Tan walked behind me.

“You ready for this?” he asked.

I swallowed. “No, but do we have a choice?”

Tan smiled grimly, then seemed to suddenly think of something.

“Here,” he said, rummaging in his belt pouch and withdrawing a small brooch. “Put this on. It will help.”

I complied.

Tan spoke. “I’m talking in elvish now. Can you understand me?”

“I can,” I said. “I’m glad you remembered. Am I speaking in elvish?”

“Whatever language you wish,” Tan said. “You can keep that. I suspect it will come in handy.”

The clatter of hooves made us jump, and a moment later a dozen or so riders appeared at the top of a shallow rise. They were light cavalry, richly clad in blue and gold, with white plumes sprouting from their conical helms. That was one good thing — scout cav was more likely to shoot and flee than set lances and charge. Still, my heart raced like a dwarven steam engine at the sight of them. I held the flag aloft.

“Parlay!” I shouted, hoping that Tan’s brooch was still working. “Truce! Peace! Comrades! Friends! Not enemies! We love you!”

Well, perhaps that was overstating things a bit, but it seemed to have an effect. I think that they were as nervous as we were — certainly we seemed to surprise them, but at the sight of the flag and the shouts in their native language, they approached cautiously, fanning out, wary of ambush, bows drawn and arrows nocked.

The commander, resplendent in a cloak of shimmering grey-green, trotted forward. She was beautiful, of course, gazing at us with slanted violet-blue eyes, her expression icy yet curious.

I consciously spoke in elvish, hoping that it would come across better than Imperial common filtered through the brooch.

Ch’bori,” I said — a word that Tan told me meant roughly, “Greetings, respected comrade, I come in peace and bear you no ill will. How ‘s the wife and kids?”  Versatile language, elvish.

She stared warily.

Ch’bori,” she replied, glancing at my brooch.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m Chuma, and this is...”

“Your companion is known to me,” she replied, then addressed Tan. “Welcome home, Traveler. Your family has been asking about you.”

“How does my father fare?” Tanelin asked. “I have not seen him in many a year.”

“He is old now, and weary,” the woman said “He wishes to leave, and move on to join the ancients. I think he hesitates because of you.”

Tan bowed his head. “I will see him, and seek forgiveness for my harsh words. Then he can depart in peace.”

That seemed to satisfy the officer. She looked back at me.

“I am Captain Aeuna, of the Hawksbow Scouts. We are the only ones left to patrol this road. Why do you come?”

“To tell you that you’re going to be severely outnumbered in a day or two,” I said. “Thae’lynn of the dark elves is coming, with an army of daemons and mercenaries. Tan recruited me as an agent for the Lady, and we’ve been fighting for the last couple of weeks, trying to slow them down and buy you some time. But time’s about run out and we need to tell the Lady what’s happening.”

Aeuna nodded. “You are a strange creature, such as I have never before seen. If the Traveler speaks for you, then your words are as the truth to me. I will give you an escort to the Silver Tower, where you can speak with the Lady.”

I bowed. “My thanks, Captain. We’ve a somewhat motley unit of mercenaries just down the road. We came alone so as not to alarm you. They can help you with your patrols and fight if need be.”

“Very well,” Aeuna said. “Times are changing here, and if we must accept the help of other peoples, then accept it we shall.” She motioned to her troops. “Advance. We shall meet our new benefactors.”

Tam and I were equipped with spare horses and prepared for the final leg of our journey. My horse, a dappled grey with a silver mane and tail, regarded me with an intelligent, almost amused expression.

“He says that he’s never had a cat ride him before,” Tan told me. “He marvels at the wondrousness of the world.”

“You talk to horses?” I asked, mounting up, and noting that the elven saddle was just a tad small for me.

“Only the intelligent kind,” Tan said.

“Natuk!” I called, and the grizzled Wolfen stepped forward. “Captain Aeuna will be in command, but you will be XO for the unit. Do as she says and assist her in every way you can.”

Natuk saluted sharply. “I shall, Captain.” There’s something very encouraging about an absolutely loyal and obedient subordinate...

I waved to my unit.

“Stay alive, all of you,” I called. “I’ll return as soon as I can!”

A ragged cheer and fierce grins from elven, dwarven, human, wolfen, and other faces was my reply, and I rode off, trotting north with a heavy heart. Two elf scouts rode with us, eyeing me curiously but, to my surprise, without open hostility.

“Every time I go someplace I have fewer companions,” I said. “I’m glad you’re coming with me, Tan.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Tanelin replied. “A boon companion is a valuable thing indeed.”

And on we rode. Behind me both the Furies and my own company faced down the legions of hell, and again I prayed that the gods would smile on us.

Just this once.

***

I had been here before, years ago. The land had been threatened then, but the threat today was far more terrible. The Silver Tower rose majestically from the valley floor, but across the green fields surrounding it, nothing moved. The realms of the elves seemed inhabited only by ghosts, and as the sun set, casting burnt orange rays across the land, it seemed as if the sun was truly setting on the last vestiges of elven glory and conquest.

We dismounted at the base of the tower as night was falling. As we walked on in silence, escorted by our two elven soldiers, I began to hear sounds that suggested the valley was not as dead as I’d thought. Raucous laughter, singing, shouting and — by the gods — the bark and howl of wolves echoed from nearby, and a number of campfires began to flare up, illuminating tusked, apish green faces.

I stopped short, staggered, gaping.

“Orcs?” I demanded of my escort. “What the hell are they doing here?”

The elf looked over at them distastefully.

“They claim to be emissaries, riding ahead of a great army, an army of men and dwarves and orcs and other such, come to save us from the dark ones. The last time their kind came to this place, it was to conquer.”

“Emissaries?” I could barely get my mouth around the word. “Orc emissaries?” I’d never thought I’d use those two words in a single sentence.

Tanelin looked on and sighed. “Strange things must have occurred in the north. Rumor has it that Feanor was defeated and that the alliance that defeated him was moving against the home isles, but this is beyond anything I could have imagined.”

“Their commander is treating with the Silver Lady now,” said our escort. “You are apparently not the first bizarre alien to offer his assistance.”

I thought of an orcish warlord, resplendent in a cowskull helm and covered in tattoos presenting himself to the dainty, sophisticated elves and almost laughed.

“This I’ve got to see,” I said. “Lead the way.”

***

There were others at the pinnacle of the Silver Tower, amid polished marble and wood splendor, with starshine creeping in through the glass ceiling. Several tall, near-emaciated looking elves in pure white armor stood at attention. A crowd of blue-skinned winged ones, white wings rising gracefully from their backs, spoke in soft tones. Nearby were creatures I’d never seen before — the winged ones’ opposites — swarthy bearded beings with sweeping black wings and fierce expressions. Their features were elvish, as with the winged ones, but they were dark-haired, wore leather straps across their chests and bore a range of wicked-looking armor.

“Who are they?” I hissed at one of the elves. “The winged ones’ poor cousins?”

“In a sense,” the elf replied. “They are the Hawklords, the warrior caste who in ancient days defended the winged ones from their enemies. That they have been called up to serve means that this is a grave time indeed.”

I suppressed a grin at the sight of two powerful orc warriors, clad in horned helms and mail, gripping massively-bladed boar spears and standing at attention beside the doors to the throne room. The white-armored elves who stood there were doing a pretty good job of ignoring them.

“Hail,” I said. “I saw your people down below.”

“Yeah,” barked one of the orcs. “We’ve been riding like sonsabitches for days now. We’re just hopin’ to get to shove our spears in someone afore we’re finished, and not just sit around while her grace has tea with that elf queen.”

“I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunity to use those spears.” I was feeling curious, and besides the orcs seemed in a gregarious mood. “What the hell brings you folks down here to help the elves, anyway?”

The orc grunted. “Seems our fearless leader says we gotta ‘fight the greater evil.’ I figure fine, as long as there’s elves to kill.” He looked at my escort. “No offense meant, of course, your lordship.”

The elf, who didn’t speak orcish and didn’t have the benefit of my brooch, didn’t respond.

“Yeah,” the other orc said. “We killed a buncha the prick-eared fucks back in umie territory, but they said we needed to go down here and help those what were left alive, cuz they were... What’d they say? ‘Misled’ and ‘seduced’ by the dark guys. Like Gruk here says, we’re just orcs and we go where we’re told. ‘Specially when we’re bein’ commanded by such a fine, fine babe like Her Grace.”

An orcish queen, I thought? One that was enlightened enough to see that the elves weren’t the real enemy? This was one orc I would have to meet.

“You were in Litharna?” I asked. “What happened? Did we win?”

“Well, fuck me, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t win, would we?” Gruk declared. “We made ‘em bend over and take it without no grease, we did. Dead elves, dead vampires, dead dragons... all dead, dead, dead, and we killed ‘em. Now we’ve decided that the fuckin’ elves’re the good guys and we gotta fight fer their damn queen. Too damn confusin’ if you ask me.”

“‘At’s why we leave the thinkin’ to the babe,” the other orc added. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders. An’ nice tits, too.” He made an obvious gesture. “Really big ‘uns.”

“Don’t forget her ass. ‘At’s pretty good, too.”

“Ah, yer full of it. Her tits are fuckin’ perfect.”

“So’s her ass. Her ass just don’t quit. Ya gotta love that ass.”

“Only if yer into it... I like to think o’ myself as bein’ a man o’ culture an’ sophistication...”

“Hey, fuck... I got yer culture right here...”

I stepped away before the fight escalated and I got drawn into it. Just as the two were about to come to blows, however, the great doors swung silently open, and two women emerged. The first was a tall and ethereal elvish woman, her beauty and grace enhanced to a near divine level, virtually glowing as she glided smoothly across the floor. It was the Silver Lady, and as she approached even the orcs fell silent and went down on one knee. Hastily I joined them, but froze in mid-genuflect when I saw the woman who walked beside her.

How long had it been since I’d seen her? Even so, I knew every contour of her body, every subtlety of her face, every sway of her hips. To anyone with a heart and a mind, she would have been an object of impossible desire, an amalgam of woman and tiger, gliding naked across the marble floor, tail swishing, a thing of soft fur, striped orange and black on her face and back, snow-white down her belly and between her ripe, alluring breasts. She was a vision, true, but a vision made flesh, and flesh that I had thought of and desired almost every day since we had parted.

I was on my feet, unconsciously rising to the scandal of the elves around me.

“Li?” I said softly, and her gaze fell on me, unsure at first.

She blinked her glowing green eyes blinked and looked as perplexed as a kitten trying to cross an angry river. Then realization dawned, and she rushed to me.

“Wolf?” she demanded. “Is it you?”

She knew. I guess Livia and Narisha had been right; my body may have changed, but my soul hadn’t, and it was my soul that she saw now.

“Yes,” I said, holding her close, feeling a warmth such as I had not felt in months, feeling the softness of her, the wild and powerful scent of her filling my nostrils. “Yes, it’s Wulf.”

“They told me you’d changed,” she said, looking up at me, eyes green and gold locked in a gaze that could see no one else. “I had no idea you’d changed so much.”

“I guess I’m more palatable to you now,” I said. “Being a cat and all.”

“I don’t care what body you’re in, my Wolf,” she said, forcefully. “It’s what is inside that I love.” Her gaze intensified. “Yes, it’s you. They can’t change what’s inside, not ever.”

I swallowed, then looked at the Silver Lady, who stood beside us, a slight smile on her face.

“I’m sorry, My Lady,” I said, hastily. “I only... I mean... I’m not who you think...”

“I know,” she replied. “I see the spirit within as easily as this one. You come to us again in our hour of need Wulf. Welcome.”

With enormous reluctance, I released Li and bowed.

“I hope that we have come in time, Lady,” I told her. “But we bring grave news.”

“I know,” the queen said again. “Come and tell me more of it. With your aid and that of this woman’s friends, we may yet see this to its end.”

With that, Tan, Li and I were escorted into the audience chamber.

Now, I thought. Now at last the end is in sight.

***

The Lady’s voice was tired, but her words were as reassuring and comforting as I’d remembered.

“Most of our people are in hiding,” she said. “Those who did not sail off on Feanor’s fool’s errand. “Yet it was not Feanor who was truly responsible for the tragedy, it was me. I could have stopped him but I did not. The grief and weariness of the world had taken root in me, and I was unwilling to even speak against his plan. Now, we hope to make amends and bring all of those who fought together, but it will not be an easy task.”

“Impossible if Thae’lynn gets here,” I said. “She can’t be more than two days distant. It’s not enough time to even organize a defense.”

The Lady’s faint smile was unchanged. “As always seeing the worst, Wulf who is now called Chuma. There are powers here, powers that Thae’lynn cannot imagine. You have met some of them, Wulf.”

“I have,” I said. “But I don’t see Valaron raising an army to save you.”

“Valaron lives still,” the Lady said. “He came to me last night, in a dream. He told me that our people face the final darkness, and that it is the other races, whom we so cruelly slew and enslaved, who are the only ones to save us.”

“Darkness?” I said. “That doesn’t sound terribly good, My Lady.”

“Darkness is not an end. Consider, my short-lived human, the possibility, as the darkness overwhelmed you, that you have already walked past midnight and toward the dawn without knowing it.”

The words hit me squarely and I could only stare. When one has spent too much time in darkness, the notion that morning might be coming can be a difficult one.

“I see,” I said at last. “So you think there’s hope?”

“There is always hope,” the Lady said. “And Valaron told me what we needed to do.”

She stood up from the conference table and stepped to the wall, where a great sword hung. She took it down without apparent effort – it must have weighed as much as a war elephant – then handed it to me.

“Vasha Kultha,” she said “The sword that you won back from Halvarath and gave to me I now give it back to you, and ask that you wield it in the spirit that first forged it.”

I must have looked terribly nervous, for her expression grew softer and her voice more loving.

“You have the strength that Halvarath lacked. You will wield it in the memory of lost friends, and in defense of those still living. “

With a trembling hand, I accepted the weapon. Gods, this was the thing that had almost destroyed the entire elven nation centuries ago, and now I carried it. Lawbringer’s burden was light as a feather in comparison. I handed my own blade back to her.

“Hold it for me, until I return,” I said.

The Lady nodded and handed Lawbringer to one of her White guards.

“Vasha Kultha was forged for a greater purpose, and only now will it be realized,” she said. “And Valaron himself will return again to aid us.”

I rolled my eyes. “So do I have to awaken him again and ‘satisfy’ all his guardians?”

The Lady shook her head.

“No,” she said. “There is another.”

VI

Livia

“We’ve lost enough already,” Livia said as she and Narisha rode, well away from the rest of the column. “I don’t want to lose each other, too.”

“Livia, perhaps I’ve lived away from my people for too long.” Narisha’s tone was soft, softer and more vulnerable than Livia had ever heard. “I never thought that I’d experience jealousy or envy, or desire more from you than just your body and your lust. But ancestors, Livia, I’m losing my grip on my demonhood. Feeling like a… like a human, sometimes.”

Livia sighed. “I don’t think you’ve reason to be jealous or envious, Narisha. I still love you.”

“But you’re not in love with me anymore, are you?”

The words hung in the air like snowflakes, whirling around the two for long moments.

“Narisha,” Livia said, slowly and carefully. “I…”

“So the answer is no,” Narisha finished for her, then looked down dejectedly. “Nothing that takes you so long to reply to can be good.” Then she looked up again, her yellow eyes hard and predatory.

“Very well then,” she said, bitterly. “I’d just as soon never have experienced all those emotions that we demons are supposedly so forlorn without, but now at least I know that I wasn’t missing anything.” She turned her gaze on Livia. “Go ahead and spread this love around all of Thystra, my dear. Find yourself. Discover your inner feelings. And if you ever decide that you just need a good, hard fucking, well, you know where to find me.”

With that, she spurred her horse forward and trotted off into the snowy grey, leaving Livia staring, trying desperately to say what she wanted to say.

“I am in love with you,” she whispered. “Damn you to hell.” She felt a tear run down her face, icy cold in the frigid air.

***

The sun was just vanishing as Livia walked painfully to her tent. It was still early, and there was a time when she would have stayed up, cavorting with her companions, possibly even tottering off to bed with one of them. But now she was tired, and it was a weariness that seemed deeper than any she’d felt before.

She remembered Narisha’s words. Perhaps, she thought bleakly, pulling the tent flap shut behind her and shedding her tunic, I’m just weary of life.

Sleep came quickly, even with the raucous sounds of the camp all around her. And with sleep came dreams. He was a strange creature, like nothing Livia had seen before. He was clad in long, flowing robes, and stood like a man. Of course, no man had clawed reptilian hands, a muscular tail and a crested dragon’s head. He looked something like the lizard-folk of Xesh, but he was obviously far more, his golden eyes shining with wisdom beyond Livia’s ken.

“Are you a dream?” she asked softly.

The great horned head shook slightly. “I am and I am not,” he said, and his voice was soft and cultured. “I am a dream, but I am yet still a being of flesh, bound to this world by my heritage. I slumber and I dream of the world.”

“Who are you?”

“I am Valaron, and I speak to you from my tomb, near the place called the Silver Tower. I was once awakened by one who was very close to you.”

Livia remembered. “Wulf. He awakened you, years ago, when the orcs invaded the Elven Isles.”

“He did. And now once more I slumber, and once more the land is threatened. But now, the threat is greater... Not merely the threat of armies, but the threat of chaos, the threat of extinction. It is time for some things to come to an end, and other things to begin.”

“What things?” Livia felt a touch of dread. “You? The elves?”

Valaron nodded. “This is my children’s twilight.”

Livia felt a shock go through her. “You can’t mean that. The elves won’t die.” Valaron was silent. “Is there anything I can do?”

The dragon-headed creature nodded, and beckoned. As she followed, Livia saw the gray space around her take the form of a low mound with a weathered stone portal.

“My tomb,” Valaron said. “Your friend passed through these portals once, and brought salvation. Now it is your turn.”

Livia looked at the forbidding doors fearfully. “He said that everyone’s experience there is different.”

“Sorceress,” Valaron said, “everyone who comes to my tomb finds a different truth. Only those not of elven blood can enter, for it is they who can still see the truth. You have a truth that you must face.”

“What truth?” Livia’s voice sounded very small and alone.

“The truth of what you fear, human. You must learn what you fear.”

“And then?”

“And as truth sets you free, so will it free me, and with me my people.”

“Free you to do what? To die? To leave the world forever?”

Valaron paused, and Livia wondered if he was laughing.

“Truth is a strange thing, human. What is truth for me is not necessarily truth for you. Remember my words, sorceress. Their truth may be different than what you imagine.”

“I don’t understand.”

Now he truly did smile, baring sharp teeth, a whiff of smoke curling from his lips. “Neither do I,” he said. “But I know that you will learn what you love, and find a greater truth in seeking it. Now awake and be at peace.”

And then the sun was streaming in through the partially-closed tent flap, and the sounds of an awakening army surrounded her.

“I must learn what I fear,” Livia said softly, then painfully rolled out of bed.

Wulf

Night had completely taken over the sky, and the cold stars shone down, Big Sister and Little Sister pursuing each other across the firmament. Below, the valley was dark, save for the huddle of campfires where Li’s orcs camped, still bellowing and laughing.

We walked along a broad promenade that encircled the top floor of the tower. Li was wrapped in a cloak in deference to the cold, but felt deliciously warm and naked against me as I held her.

“The others are all right,” she told me. “They worry about you incessantly, and fear for your safety. Livia’s heart is heavy, since she remembers how you loved her and how she took that love for granted. She hopes that you forgive her.”

I laughed. “Here I’ve been hoping she would forgive me. And that you would, too.”

She snuggled closer, face against my chest, and looked up, eyes glowing with inner light.

“Why should I need to forgive you, my lovely Wolf who now looks like a lion? You’ve done nothing that needs forgiveness.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I feel as if I have. I don’t really know why.”

“Oh, my wolf,” she said, patiently. “I can scarcely wait until you’re a man again, so that I can properly chastise you for such foolishness.”

I felt a stirring of feelings that I hadn’t felt in ages.

“Why can’t you chastise me now?” I asked. “Even if I’m in this damned body, it’s still me inside, missing you and wanting you.”

Li’s face lit up even more than before. “So many things I’ve done and seen since last we met, my brave and noble Wolf. And through it all, I thought of you. I love Theanna, I love Tanu, I even love your foolish Livia.”

My brain ground to a halt.

“What?”

“Later, my love. Later. What I wanted to say was that no matter what I did or where I went or who I loved, I always thought of you, but now I know it was your heart I loved, your soul, and not your body. And now I can be with you – you – no one else, and…” She looked me up and down. “And share something new with you. There is war coming… We’ve both seen far too much of it already. And if the enemy is at the gates, then we may not live to see many more nights like this, my Wolf. And if this is to be the end, Wolf, perhaps we could spend it together.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” I told her, and with a single move swept her up into my arms and lifted her bodily, my lips seeking hers.

“So strong,” she murmured, lips against mine. “I think I like this body.”

“I do too,” I said, “but frankly I can’t wait to get rid of it.”

“Then let us put it to the test before you throw it away,” she suggested. “The Silver Lady has given me private quarters. Take me there, my Wolf. Take me there and let me show how much I have missed you.”

“It will be mutual,” I assured her. “Count on it.”

***

Gods, but she was soft and warm... And willing and non-homicidal, both of which were major points in her favor. The fact that I loved her desperately and hadn’t seen her in years didn’t hurt, either, nor that she was naked and I carried her effortlessly into the chamber prepared for us. Silver light lit the room, illuminating deep blue shadows and the vague but aesthetic lines of elven architecture and furniture.

The bed was broad and soft, round and laid with furs and cushions. I lay beside her, drinking in the sensation of her body against mine.

“My strong lion,” Li purred, her pink tongue caressing my cheek. “I missed you as a man, and now you come to me as a cat. And you name yourself for the Wolf, as well.”

“I guess I represent the entire animal kingdom,” I said. “All in one loveable package.”

Li sighed and snuggled against me.

“You came for your mate, didn’t you, my wolf, my man, my lion.? I’ve learnt much of you and of myself in the time you’ve been away. I’m eager to tell you everything.”

“First thing’s first,” I said, depositing her gently on the bed. “For now, I think we have other matters to attend to.”

“Truly?” Li asked, innocently, looking up at me, and massaging her white-furred breasts. “And what would those be?”

I kneeled beside the bed, and brushed my lips against hers.

“Making up for lost time,” I said, softly. “And we’ve got a lot to make up for.”

“Allow me to begin,” she replied, then her hand was slipping behind my head, twining into my hair, and drawing me down to her lips.

Gods, but there was a warmth in her that I hadn’t felt in, it seemed, months... True, I’d felt closeness with Herula, with Tatiana – Phaedra help me, I’d even felt it with Yawesha’ae. But there was something else here... What was it I wondered?

“I love you,” Li whispered, softly in my ear as her lips and tongue made their way down my face.

Oh, yeah, I thought. That’s it.

“I expected you to change, my Wolf,” she said, moving down to my shoulder, her sharp teeth scoring my flesh, stopping just short of real pain, “but I’d no idea you’d change so very much.”

I sighed, throwing my head back, surrendering to her touch. “But I’m the same Wulf inside,” I whispered, and stroked her hair.

“I know, my love,” she purred, her breath hot and urgent against my chest. She continued down with biting kisses, running a rough tongue over first one nipple, then the other. I stiffened and groaned. “I love the Wolf inside you. I love to feel this strong body against mine, as well.”

“Li,” I sighed. “You don’t know how many times I’ve thought of you.”

“And I of you,” she replied. Her breasts pressed softly against my loins and I felt her soft white belly fur rub against my cock. She continued to kiss her way down my body. “I’ve other lovers. You know that, do you not?”

I nodded. “I’ve had them too. We’ll have to catch up on that later.”

She looked up at me, cat-face grinning, eyes bright.

“You want to regale me with tales of your other conquests, my Lion-wolf? Tell me who you gave this lovely organ that I now feel so warm and hard between my breasts? You want to boast of how you made the females scream and beg for it?”

I frowned. “That wasn’t exactly...”

“And you want to hear my tales, of how many males and females I have loved, how their cocks felt thrusting into me, how their tongues gently stroked my nipples? How I sucked...”

I waved a hand and sighed. “I may have changed, my love, but you’re the same old Li that I remember.”

“The same Li you love and desire, my wolf, my lion, whose lips you have longed to kiss, whose tongue you have wished to taste?”

“The same,” I admitted.

She sighed and wriggled against me. “You’ve lost none of your charm, whatever body you inhabit.” She slid down further, hands sliding around my cock. She gazed at it.

“So much more impressive when you are a lion, my Wolf,” she sighed, then gently ran her tongue along its underside. “But I do not love you for your cock. I love you for your heart.” She looked up at me again, holding my organ upright. “Yet, I would see how well this great, lovely organ fits my mouth. Would my Wolf like that?”

“I would,” I said. “But then, you knew that, didn’t you?”

She unleashed a purr-laden chuckle and licked again.

“Oh, it tastes lovely.”

My head fell backward nervelessly, and I felt her mouth envelop my cock.

“Mmmmmm,” was about all the only vocalization she could make as her lips slid along the smooth flesh. I reached down, stroking her thick red hair as she did so, while her hands crept up my body, stroking at my chest and nipples. She let me go, and looked up again.

“It is big, yes,” she said, the faintest trace of a snarl in her voice. “Much bigger than Tanu’s. But I can take it all. And I want it inside me. Yes. I will take it all, but you must put it in me.”

“I want to,” I replied, my breath coming faster. “I want to put it in you. All the way in you.”

“Then watch.”

With a concerted effort, she once more encircled my cock with her black cat-lips, whiskers twitching as she slipped it down, farther and farther. Her hands tightened on my chest, fingers digging in. I felt her claws slip from their sheaths and prick at my skin as my cock slid the last inch into her mouth. Then she slid it out once more, and the pressure from her hands eased. Then she swallowed me again, and it came back. A groan forced its way from my throat.

“Was that because it is so pleasurable or because I sink my claws into your tender flesh?” she asked after she slid my cock out again.

“Yes,” I replied, and felt the hot wet sensation of her mouth washing over my cock, and spread through my body, whipping my heart faster still.

“Oh, my love,” she said, looking up at me, stricken, rubbing my slick rod between her breasts. “Are you going to come? I so want you to come when your cock is inside me.”

“I can,” I said. “And I can come in your mouth, too.”

Li grinned wickedly. “Such talents this body has. Would you like me to make you come now? Then you can come inside me. Oh, yes... And make me come a few times, too, if it isn’t too much trouble?”

“I think you can count on that.”

“Very well then. Let me return my attention to this beautiful organ.”

And so she did, once more taking my hardness into her mouth, slipping her mouth down to its base, her claws pricking my chest, pulling back, then swallowing my entire length again. I moaned, feeling my cock fill her mouth and slide even further, and the soft prickle of her spiked tongue, her soft lips. She growled, deep in her throat, and I felt her tremble with each stroke, her orange-furred head bobbing up and down, faster, faster...

“Oh, Li...” I could barely choke out the words. “Li, I’m coming...”

She released me, and seized my cock in both hands, pumping furiously.

“Come, my love,” she hissed and her mouth yawned open, tongue extended. “Rrrrwwwlllll...”

Hot come shot from my cock, a heavy stream splashing into Li’s open mouth, onto her tongue, across her lips. She tugged harder, and a second gush of semen splattered onto her.

“Oh, my Wolf,” she whispered, come bubbling from her lips as she squeezed the last drops from my cock and licked them off. “Oh, I love it so...”

I collapsed backwards, panting.

“Li...” I said, softly. “I’ve thought of you so much.”

She crawled atop me, her furred flesh hot against mine.

“I love to taste you,” she whispered. “I love to make you come, my Wolf who is also my lion.”

“And now,” I said, wrapping my arms around her, eliciting a surprised squeak, and holding her tight, “it’s your turn to come.”

***

Li’s legs held me tight as I lapped at the sweetness of her cunt. She twitched and convulsed with each touch, her clit swelling to a hot nub of pleasure. As she writhed, she cupped her breasts, squeezing and stroking with her extended claws.

“Oh, my love... Rrrrrwwwllll. Give me your tongue, yesssss... Give it to meeeee....” Her voice trailed off into a snarl and she shook, pressing the wet and pliant flesh of her vulva against my mouth. I sucked at her swelling clit, flicking it with my tongue, careful not to prick it with the rough surface, and was rewarded with a rush of sweet moisture.

“My Wolf, my lion... Ohhh... Ohhhhhhhhh... Nrrrrrrrrrlllll.... Yrrrrrrrr... I must have you, my sweet lion... Ohhhhhh....” She tensed, back arching. “OHHHHHH...”

I said nothing, but instead pressed against her, my hands holding her thighs open, fingers buried in the white fur. I unsheathed my claws slightly, pricking her flesh as she’d pricked mine.

“Touch me, darling, darling, darling... Ohhhhh... Rrrrrrrr... Mmmfff... I want it so.”

As always, her husky voice, narrating as I licked at her and brought her closer to the edge, stimulated me incredibly. My cock was hard again by now, as if my first orgasm had only been the overture.

“Ahhhh, sweet lion... sweet wolf... I’m coming for you, my darl... my... Oh. RrrrrrrRRRRRRAAAAAA...”

Li’s voice rose to a roar, and her fingers dug into the softness of her breasts. Her hair was in disarray, covering her face, and her hips rose to meet me, pressing hard. I held her up, still licking, not giving her a moment’s respite.

“Make me... Make me... Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.... Ahhhhhhh.... Nnnnnnngggggggg....”

It was my old Li, snarling like a hunting cat, writhing against me, totally enveloped in the pleasure I gave her. She bucked and writhed as first one orgasm, then another struck her.

“Swweeet, sweeeet Wolf,” she sighed, finally collapsing on to the bed, her hands now caressing my mane as the pressure of my tongue eased. Her juices had entirely slathered my face, soaking me, but I didn’t care.

“I’ve more for you,” I said, moving up, lifting and spreading her legs apart. “Much more.”

“Oh, my love...” She was still basking in the afterglow as I rubbed my swollen cockhead against her swollen lips. “Oh, my lion. Are you going to fuck me?”

“I’m going to,” I said. “And you can’t do anything about it.”

“Oh, darling, why would I want to...” Li’s voice was dreamy, floating to my ears like fragments of mist. “I want you all. Now. Please put your beautiful big organ inside me.”

My only response was to, slowly but firmly, slide the thick bulk of my cock past her lips and into the tightness of her cunt. She cried out immediately.

“Ahhhh, my darling...” Her claws sank into my back, and I held her firmly by the shoulders, thrusting between her legs, feeling her writhe and shake each time. Her cunt was a deep, welcoming abyss, hot and wet around me, melting at the feel of my cock.

“I love to fuck you,” I whispered in her ear. “I love to put my cock inside you.”

“You love it?” she whispered back. “You love your mate, my strong lion?”

“I love you,” I said. “I love my Li so much...”

“Make me come, my lion,” she growled, voice going feral and wild. “Rrrrrrrr.... Make me come on that.... Grrrrllllll... That... Yrrrrrwwwwwwwwwww... that beautiful...Ahhhh... cock...”

“I’m coming,” I said, feverishly, feeling the desperate sensations bubble up through my loins and into my belly. “I’m going to come.”

“Oooohhhh.... Rrrrllll... So am I, my sweet... I... I...” Li’s eyes closed suddenly and she threw her head back, howling, the white fur of her chin and breasts silvery-blue in the moonlight. “I come.... Rrrrrrrrrrr...”

“I’m going to...” My words choked off as my orgasm exploded out of me, my cock contracting for a second time and unleashing my pent-up desire inside Li’s throbbing cunt.

“Fill me, my lion,” Li gasped. “Rwwwwwwwrrrrrr... Fill me with your seed.”

I kept pumping, my semen mixing with Li’s sweet juices. Orgasm passed, but the big, heavy organ between my legs stayed hard, sliding in and out of the slick hotness of Li’s naked pink cunt. It flashed through my mind, and not for the first time, that I was a cheat – that this body and its vitality didn’t really belong to me, but I shoved it aside, grabbing Li and holding her tightly against me, then rolling onto my back, carrying her atop me.

She got the idea immediately, and without missing a beat began to ride me, rising up and down, arms behind her, white-furred breasts bouncing up and down, pink hairless nipples hard and excited.

“Fuck me, my lion,” she yowled. “Fuck me as hard as you can.”

Even after coming twice, my libido still didn’t want to go away, and I held her thighs against me, rising to meet her as she slammed down, then pulling out and thrusting upward again. It was as if I was some kind of wild stallion and she my rider, and I was trying to buck her off, but she stubbornly refused to be displaced, her cat-like cries rising in pitch and volume as once more I drove her closer and closer to orgasm.

She looked down at last and grabbed my chest with both hands, her eyes mad with passion, glaring and almost angry, her hair a crimson tangle around her face, her fangs bared, whiskers trembling. She came down on me with terrible deliberateness, and I felt my cock slip deep into her. Her voice was animalistic and wild, but I could make out her words amid the feline cries.

“Make...” Down she came, and my cock was deep inside her. She rose up and came down again.

“Me...” My cock pounded even deeper, and I felt her claws score my chest. Her breasts bounced with what looked like almost painful intensity. Up she rose, held herself for a moment, my cock just touching the tip of her sopping cunt, then she slammed down one last time, her voice rising to new heights.

“COOOOOOOMMMMMMEEEEEEEEE....” She screamed, and fell, clutching me, her body writhing. Her cunt clenched around my cock, and in a moment I was coming, too, once more freeing a rush of semen inside her sweet pussy. I felt a roar build in my throat, and in a moment, our cries had blended into perfect harmony. I wondered how the other elves in the tower felt, but then decided I didn’t care.

“My sweet wolf, my sweet lion, my sweet, sweet man,” Li sighed, lying against me as the last aftershocks of our orgasms wore off. “I’ve missed you so. And now I have you.”

“And I have you.” I said. I thought guiltily of Livia, then wondered why I felt guilty.

“And when you are a man again, I can make love to you anew,” Li sighed. “My sweet man.”

“My sweet tigress.”

She snarled, feebly.

“That,” she said, almost apologetic, “is all I can muster right now.”

***

“I don’t want you to leave again,” Li sighed, head against my chest as outside the moon sank low on the horizon. “I don’t want to lose you again, my Wolf.”

“I wish I could stay,” I said, mournfully. “But it isn’t over yet, Li. There’s a battle coming, and none of us may live to see the end of it.”

“I know,” Li admitted, “but I can wish, can I not?”

“We can all wish,” I said. “I wish I was myself again, and I could be with all of you, and give you all what you want.”

“But you cannot,” Li said, her tone equal parts sadness and resignation. “I know this, my love.” Her eyes met mine. “Yet I live for the time when I can be with my Wolf, and he can be in his own form, and love me as he once did.”

“It can’t happen soon enough for me,” I told her. “Believe me. It can’t.”

Livia

Silently, with something that bordered on respect and awe, the army of the Northern Alliance filed into the valley. Livia stood quietly astride her horse as the troops filed by. The day was cold and a chill mist hung close to the ground. There was no snow this far down, but the sky threatened continuously. Around her, tents and shelters were springing up, and supplies were unloaded as humans, orcs and ratlings mixed with the few elven warriors brave enough to meet their new allies.

A lone wild elf runner streaked across the grassy ground, running as fast as a galloping horse. He was slender, tangle-haired, naked save for a brief loincloth, and covered in tattoos, but when he reached Livia, he spoke in cultured, unaccented Imperial Common.

“Lady Livia,” he said, “the Silver Lady requests your presence at council. There are friends there whom she thinks you would like to meet.”

Livia nodded, then looked wistfully back toward where Narisha was, helping several soldiers move a stuck supply wagon, and cursing like a trooper. She felt a stab of loss and desire, and turned away lest the tears start again.

“I will come,” she said. “I would bring some of my officers as well.”

“The Lady said that you could bring whom you wished. Follow me when you are ready.”

Livia trotted her horse to a nearby tent where Theanna, clad in a utilitarian blue-grey tunic, busily unpacked bedding, torches, utensils and supplies.

“Shall we go see your mother?” Livia asked. “She wishes to see me, and I don’t think she knows you’re here.”

Theanna looked pained.

“Not now,” she said. “Not like this. I can’t face her now, not after everything that’s happened.”

“You will need to eventually,” Livia said. “And perhaps now it’s best to get it over with quickly.”

Theanna paused, hesitating for long seconds.

“Let me find a cloak,” she said at last.

Livia guided her horse after the lithe wild elf. Theanna rode beside her, face unreadable. Skrall trotted behind, mounted up on his burly, black-furred wolf, while Squitter rode behind him, looking eagerly this way and that.

“Jeez, Aunt Chmeek’ll never believe this,” he squeaked. “Me, little old me, Squitter the ratling who was never supposed to amount to anything… Me riding to meet the Silver Lady. Holy shit.”

“Keep it down, rat,” Skrall cautioned. “That woman can burn you down with one look.”

“She’ll do no such thing,” Livia scolded. “You’re both to be on best behavior. We’re representing the alliance, and we’ll act like it.”

There had been no time to call for any of the dwarves – as always, the bandy-legged little so-and-sos were lagging behind the rest of the army, while Tanu, the token Wolfen, was busy being gallant and helping out a couple of female elven warriors who had mislaid their clothes. This trio, she thought, was enough of a representation of the alliance to keep the Lady happy.

Unsurprisingly, the trip up the massive tower was brief – they climbed what seemed like a single flight of shallow stairs, then found themselves on the top floor, ushered through a pair of large doors and into a circular conference room, the ceiling completely transparent to the sky overhead.

The elf woman at the head of the table, flanked by two of her white-armored guardians, could only be the Silver Lady.

She stood when she saw Theanna.

“Daughter?” she asked, quietly.

Theanna stood, face still impassive, but did not approach.

“Mother,” she said flatly. “It has been a long time.”

“It has. I wish you did not have to return in such dark times, my daughter, but know now that I welcome you, and ask that you find the love in your heart that you once felt for me.”

Theanna blinked away tears. “I will try, mother. I will try.”

Livia hardly heard the exchange. As she scanned the table, she saw Li, sitting and grinning happily, and beside her, broad-chested, heavy-shouldered, his noble maned head inclined toward her, his eyes gleaming with what she took to be happiness…

“Wulf!”

And once more the dignity of the Silver Tower was shattered by an emotional reunion. Wulf’s arms encircled her completely and held her so tightly that she feared her ribs would break. And still she held him tighter.

“Wulf,” she sighed. “Wulf, I was afraid I’d never see you again.”

“I felt the same way,” Wulf replied in the unfamiliar, rumbling voice of a lion-man. “There’s so much I need to tell you”

“And so do I,” Livia said. “I mean, I have so much to tell… I mean… You know what I mean, you damned cutpurse, don’t you?”

He nodded. There was a feeling about him now, an indefinable quality that said to Livia that he was different. Different but the same Wulf, no matter how tall and muscular and leonine and different from his human appearance he was.

Just like me, Livia thought as she turned her head up for a kiss. I’ve changed too.

***

Despite the joy they all felt – Livia and Li had a few moments as well, though they’d only been parted for a few days – the mood in the room swiftly grew somber as they discussed the coming battle.

“The enemy will be here tonight,” the Lady said. “We’ve only hours to prepare.”

Livia looked at Wulf, who looked miserable, despite the fact that he sat between her and Li, each holding one hand. He’d had his reunion with Li – Livia was certain of that much. Now, with the enemy coming up fast, there was no time for anything more than a few quick hugs and kisses.

And what if he dies tonight? Or what if I die?

“Valaron has told me something of his plans, but not all,” the Lady continued. “Wulf is to wield Vasha Kultha and defend the tower, while you, Livia, go to Valaron’s tomb and reawaken him.”

Livia sighed. “I know. I saw it in a dream. What is Valaron, and why does he need me so much? But why me, Lady? What have I to offer?”

The Lady seemed undisturbed.

“As for what Valaron is, that is not for us to guess at. It is part of his way, and that of his guardians. They must be fully awakened. When you summoned him, Wulf, he emerged for only a day, and returned to his slumber. Now, at last the time has come for him to emerge and live once more, and for his guardians to be set free.”

That seemed to impress Wulf. “They seemed very lonely,” he said.

“Only the truth can awaken them,” the Lady said. “Only one who sees the truth can be allowed in their presence. And you, Livia, are one who needs to see the truth, and to teach it.”

“Teach it?” Livia’s head was spinning. “To who?”

“To yourself, among others,” the Lady said. “Valaron thinks and lives in all times and places. What we see is only his physical manifestation. Somehow, your learning and teaching the truth will have great consequences in the future, Lady Livia. Perhaps only for you, but perhaps for the world as well. It is your job to awaken the guardians while Wulf, the Northern army, and the others fight Thae’lynn’s daemons.”

Livia shuddered. “So they’ll be having fun bisecting dark elves while I’m crawling around in an ancient tomb? Sounds like a ball.”

“Well,” Wulf began cautiously. “The tomb isn’t quite so…”

“The experience of the tomb is different for everyone,” the Lady warned. “And what you experienced is not what she will experience. She must go there with love and openness in her heart, and be ready to learn what is true.”

“In other words, ‘shut up, cat-boy,’” Wulf said, and grinned. “Don’t worry, I can take a hint.”

Van Leuter

“Bring the prisoner forward!”

Even with his new authority, and the strength of his nation behind him, Prince Van Leuter felt awe and uncertainty in the presence of the legendary Silver Lady. So far, the elven goddess-monarch had treated him with the utmost respect and deference, but the legends about her capriciousness and sheer power still worried him.

Lord General Feanor stepped forward and bowed. He was bound by silver chains, but Van Leuter had allowed him to wear his uniform tunic. He still held himself proudly, as if he had committed no sin, and as if he remained blameless for the horrors committed in his name.

“Lord General,” the Silver Lady said, her voice layered with sorrow, regret, and even a trace of anger. “You return to us.”

“I return wearing the hateful chains of the mortal ones, my queen” Feanor replied. “And I see you treating with them like one conquered.”

Real anger flashed in the goddess-queen’s now.

“If we are conquered, Lord General, it is because of your cruelty and short-sighted hatreds. I did not stop you when I could, Feanor, as I was overcome with grief and doubt, but now I am sorry that I did not. Your violence could have destroyed us all.”

“I fought for you and the memory of our ancient monarchs, lady. You have no right to question me.”

The Silver Lady stood, stabbing a finger at Feanor.

“And you called up the monster, the one who slew my husband. The arch-traitor Ezikhan. You threw in your lot with our greatest foe. You are no elf, Feanor. You are a traitor as black and foul as Ezikhan himself.”

Feanor literally staggered beneath the weight of her words. Then he returned the Lady’s angry star with a hateful glare of his own.

“I am more loyal than you, it seems, Lady! I sought to restore our people to our ancient glories, and you call me a traitor!” He stepped forward, chains clanking. “You are the traitor, Lady! You are no queen of mine!”

Feanor made to rush at the Lady, chains swinging, but Van Leuter was quicker, intercepting the enraged elf before the Lady’s white guards had taken a step, striking him across the face and sending him falling to the polished marble floor.

“Traitor!” he spat, then looked at the Silver Lady. “I am sorry. I’d have restrained him had I known.”

“There is no need, Prince Van Leuter,” the Lady replied. Her guards took Feanor and dragged him from the council chamber. “He will be punished. It is not our way to kill traitors, but he will rue his foolish actions. You, human, show more courage and nobility than my own princes. I weep for the pain that Feanor caused by his actions, and that which I caused by my inaction.”

“It is all in the past, Silver Lady,” Van Leuter replied. “We are here because we look to the future.”

The Lady nodded. “Your knights and soldiers can all call themselves elf-friends, my Prince, and I pray that the bonds formed today will never be broken.”

Van Leuter sighed.

“In all honesty, Lady, I fear that within a year we will all be fighting again, and the brotherhood of this moment will be forgotten. But at least we can remember this time, and remind ourselves that it is possible. For uncounted centuries, we fought because we were different. Now, perhaps, we will fight together because we are the same.”

“Bless you, Prince Van Leuter,” the Lady relied. “May your time on this world be long and prosperous.”

Van Leuter bowed.

“My thanks, Lady. My deepest thanks.”

VII

Thae’lynn

“There is nothing I enjoy more than a soothing cumbath on the eve of battle,” Lady Thae’lynn sighed. This was possibly the most thorough one she’d ever received, with Mazzor splattering semen across her face and shoulders and breasts while her minotaurs came across the rest of her. “Good for the skin.” She looked over at Yawesh, who gazed expectantly, and a little disappointed that her mistress had gotten all the attention.

“Lick me, little one,” Thae’lynn said, and Yawesh’s face lit up. “Lick up all this come.”

It was a daunting task, but the hairless woman was up to it, lapping up the thick white fluid while Thae’lynn abandoned herself to sensation.

“Oh, Mazzor, this little come-slut loves her work. Don’t you, Yawesh?”

“I do.” Yawesh’s face gleamed with come. She gathered up a mass on two fingers and sucked them clean, then rubbed some more across her face and onto her nipples. “I love to serve you.”

A voice issued from the tent flap.

“Lady? It’s Colonel Ta’loren!”

Thae’lynn rolled her eyes. “Isn’t it always? What is it now? You are interrupting my tongue-bath.”

Ta’loren stepped through the flap, averting his eyes from the scene.

“We’ve captured a rebel, Lady. A deserter from our forces.”

“So?” Thae’lynn gasped briefly as Yawesh’s tongue flicked across one pierced nipple, then the other. “Kill the bastard. Feed him to the daemons.”

“Lady, we thought this one might need your personal attention. It is a female tandu.”

Thae’lynn frowned. Yawesh had reached her face and was sucking her cheek clean.

“I think we had a female tandu officer once? Wasn’t she dead?”

“Evidently not, Lady. She was with a band of resistance fighters. We thought it best to bring her to you personally.”

Thae’lynn considered. A female? Tandu? She’d not seen one of the leopard-people fucked before. Perhaps now would be a good time.

“Bring her in, Colonel. And then you’re dismissed. I’m not to be disturbed again unless the camp is on fire. Clear?”

“Clear, Lady,” Ta’loren said with relief. He put his head back outside and gestured, then a pair of mercenary guards brought in the prisoner.

“Oh, my,” Thae’lynn said as they pushed the black-furred cat-woman to her knees. She was clad in armor, but Thae’lynn suspected that that would be gone soon enough. “She’s such a pretty one.”

The tandu looked up, green eyes burning.

“A pretty pet pussy,” Thae’lynn purred. “Mazzor, I think we’ve found another playmate for you.”

“Thank you, Lady,” Mazzor said from the shadows. “I’m sure that she will prove entertaining.”

“You will love this, tandu,” Thae’lynn assured the prisoner. “Mazzor seems to bring out the best in females.”

The Tandu’s eyes wavered slightly.

“What is he going to do to me?” she asked, voice quavering.

“Oh, nothing little one,” Thae’lynn replied, stroking her hair. “He’s just going to give you a bath.”

Herula

Herula’s heart pounded, though she couldn’t be sure whether it was from fear or lust... It was a strange combination, tottering on the razor’s edge, terror on one side, and total surrender and ecstasy on the other. This was no game, either, she realized, not like she played with Chuma. The towering daemon-lord and his perverse mistress, whom she had once served, treated her violation as a deadly serious business.

She was naked now, of course, save for the leather collar that Thae’lynn had placed on her. One of her magical devices, if Herula attempted any rebellion, it would squeeze tight and strangle her. She had no doubt that it was effective; Thae’lynn had never had any problems keeping her slaves in line.

One swipe of the daemon’s mighty claws had torn Herula’s armor and clothing from her; stripping and humiliating his victim was almost an afterthought for the great beast. Now, as Thae’lynn herself held Herula’s wrists harshly behind her back, the daemon stroked a cock that put Chuma’s to shame across her face, letting it caress her lips and cheeks. Deep inside, Herula felt no small amount of excitement, combined with dread and apprehension, and for the moment she wasn’t sure which to follow. And that, oddly enough, made her even more excited. She felt her tongue emerge involuntarily to caress the heavy organ.

“The little slut likes it, Mazzor,” Thae’lynn hissed. “Don’t you, slut?”

“Yes,” Herula replied, and realized that she meant it. “Yes, I like it.”

Thae’lynn laughed. “Such a sweet playmate you are. You traitorous sluts love to get fucked, don’t you? Don’t you?”

“I..” Herula tried to speak, but nothing emerged from her throat as she let the head of the big cock slip past her lips.

“Say it, slut. Say you love to get fucked.”

“I...” Herula swallowed, and when Mazzor withdrew for a moment, the words tumbled out, and for some reason she felt her heart pound as she said them, “I love to get fucked.”

“Good,” she replied, “because I’m going to fuck you, and he’s going to fuck you, and you’re going to love it. Right?”

Herula nodded.

“Say it.”

“Yes, I’m going to love it.”

Thae’lynn grabbed a handful of Herula’s black hair and pulled her head back sharply. The dark elf’s deep violet eyes were sharp as knives.

“You’re going to love it, what?”

“I’m going to love it...” Herula knew what she wanted, but could barely say it. “...Mistress.”

“Excellent.” Thae’lynn looked up at Mazzor. “Now fuck this slut’s mouth.”

And then the big daemon cock was slipping past Herula’s lips and into her mouth. She choked on it, briefly, then let it press its way in, filling her with hot, heavy flesh. “Lovely. Lovely.” Thae’lynn’s voice was quiet, taut with fierce lust. “You’ll take it and like it. And you’ll take me.”

Herula felt Thae’lynn bind her wrists with thin leather thongs, pulling them tight, then binding her elbows together, holding them painfully behind her. She kneeled precariously, unable to right herself, then felt Thae’lynn push, and she fell forward, face down onto the carpeted surface of the tent. Her buttocks and tail were still pushed up into the air, exposed to Thae’lynn and the daemon’s gaze and touch.

“Lovely sight, isn’t she, Mazzor?” Thae’lynn asked, and for a moment, there was silence as the two stood, admiring, and Herula’s heart raced, wondering what was next in store for her, and thinking that perhaps she might even want it. “She’s a sweet little animal who wants to please us, isn’t she? A little, innocent pet for us to play with.” She paused. “I so love animals, tandu. Will you be my animal?”

“Yes, mistress.” Herula again felt the words form almost without volition. “I want to be your animal.”

A pressure teased at her cunt from behind, and looking back, Herula saw that it was Thae’lynn, naked now, jingling silver rings sprouting from nipples, navel, ears, face, and other places, and what looked like a heavy black cock sprouting from between her legs. Herula’s eyes widened in surprise and she could not suppress a cry of surprise.

“Isn’t it the most beautiful cock you’ve ever seen?” Thae’lynn asked, brightly. “Besides Mazzor’s, of course.”

Herula swallowed. “It’s... it’s so...”

“Big? Mother of Pleasure, Tandu, you’ve had Mazzor in your mouth and you think this is big? What a foolish little kitty you are.” She stepped forward, a silver-studded ebon statue, an amalgam of male and female, lust and fear.

“No,” Herula said. “It’s just that... Mistress, I’ve never been with a woman before.”

That elicited a laugh from Thae’lynn and a deep chuckle from the daemon.

“Oh, little kitty,” Thae’lynn said. “It’s just like being with a man, only... only, well... softer, I suppose.” She looked down at Herula, arms bound, thighs and buttocks thrust into the air. “Shall I give it to you in the ass or the cunt?”

“I don’t care.” Herula felt her heart race faster. “Whatever my mistress wishes.”

“So agreeable. Isn’t she, Mazzor?”

“Very much so, my love,” the daemon replied.

“I’ll be easy on you, dearest pet,” Thae’lynn said, positioning herself between Herula’s black-furred buttocks. “That cunt looks quite sweet. I’ll save your ass for another day.” She slipped the head of her black cock-thing against Herula’s cunt lips. “But knowing Mazzor he may want it for himself later. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, my little kitty?”

Herula felt another lurch of anticipation and fear in equal amounts at the thought of the great daemon violating her in such a fashion.

“I would, mistress,” she whispered. “I would.”

“Oh, she is a slut, isn’t she Mazzor?” Thae’lynn seemed quite delighted. “Now what would you like your mistress to do?”

“Fuck me,” Herula said, and to her own surprise, realized that she was sincere. “Fuck me with your big black cock.”

“Ahhhhhhh,” Thae’lynn sighed, and the thick organ slid into Herula’s channel tightly. “So nice. You play so well, my new little pet.” The thing slipped inside, filling Herula completely, making her groan and growl restlessly. “Oh, you like this, just wait until Mazzor fills you up with his organ... Oh, Tandu...”

The thick artificial thing seemed to move about like a living thing inside Herula, and as Thae’lynn’s pace grew faster, Herula felt herself moving backwards to meet it, her buttocks slamming with ever-increasing force against Thae’lynn’s hips. Her tail lashed in the air, waving madly back and forth, and she looked with growing lust at Mazzor, who stood watching, his wings above him like a vast awning.

“Come, master daemon,” Herula gasped. “Give me more of that cock.”

“Oh, I so love uppity slaves,” Thae’lynn exclaimed. “They’re so much fun to break. Oh, you little bitch... You are so very tight. I can feel it through this, you know.” She thrust again. “Give her cock, Mazzor. She wants it so.”

Herula’s hands were helpless, bound behind her, so she merely opened her mouth and extended her tongue, eying Mazzor’s slick cock hungrily. Could she take it again? She wondered. As Mazzor fed the thick shaft into her mouth, she felt it slide in as if lubricated, and to her surprise, it seemed to lengthen and grow slimmer to fit her mouth.

“Oh, take that big animal cock in your mouth, bitch,” Thae’lynn gasped, and slapped Herula’s buttocks, making her yelp. “Fuck it with your tongue, bitch.” She thrust in and out again, and Herula heard her rings and bars jingle musically. “He’s going to give you such a lovely bath later. I’ll enjoy watching that. Then we’ll have Yawesh clean you up. Won’t we, darling?”

“We shall, my love,” Mazzor said, and Herula braced herself, feeling the huge cock slide deeper into her mouth, and into the upper reaches of her throat. Then it was out again, and she could take a quick breath before he thrust into her once more.

“Suck him, bitch,” Thae’lynn commanded, pushing her cock into the tandu’s cunt with increasing speed and fervor. “Suck his fucking cock, you little animal. Suck it.”

The words were like spurs, urging Herula faster, and as she sucked at Mazzor’s increasingly hot organ, she moved backward with even greater enthusiasm, taking the entirety of Thae’lynn’s black cock into her cunt, then letting it slide out, and slamming backwards to take it in yet again.

I’m their plaything, she thought. Their toy, their pet, their slave... And I want it.

Yet Herula’s rational mind hadn’t surrendered yet, and the thought of escape wasn’t completely out of the question.

If I please them they’ll keep me alive, she told herself. And as long as I’m alive I can escape and make it to safety.

But what safety was there in this war-torn land? she thought.

Then the hardest thrust from Thae’lynn so far drove such thoughts from Herula’s mind.

“I think it’s time,” Thae’lynn said, feverishly. Yes, the strange cock-thing seemed to have a real connection to her, for she was sweaty, her eyes unfocused, and her voice brimmed with desire. “Come on, Mazzor. Let’s come on her together.”

Mazzor chuckled, and withdrew from Herula’s mouth. She felt a trace of regret that the great cock was gone, but also some relief that she could finally breath normally.

The daemon rolled her onto her back and now Herula saw the two organs above her, one black, one deep green. Thae’lynn reached over and began to stroke at Mazzor, even though her hand didn’t go all the way around his cock. With her other hand she stroked herself.

Herula had a moment to consider the act with some wonderment – that the thing was so integrated with her body now that she could actually derive pleasure through it...

“Coming, my love?” Thae’lynn asked. “Coming for me?”

The daemon groaned and threw back his dragon’s head, and his cock unleashed a massive gush of hot semen, flooding across Herula’s face like a tidal wave. She opened her mouth to let it run down her tongue and throat, feeling its hotness soak into her soft fur and dribble down onto the floor beneath her.

“So much come, my love,” Thae’lynn sighed, smearing the thick fluid across her own cock, up her belly and across her breasts. “I love to bathe in it. Don’t you, little pet?”

Herula licked some of the congealed fluid from her face and nodded.

“Yes, mistress. I love it.” She looked at the black cock-thing, engorged and tight in Thae’lynn’s hands. “Do you come, too?”

Thae’lynn smiled and licked a finger, trailing daemon come across her lips. “Watch.”

The dark elf woman groaned deeply, then unleashed another spurt of hot fluid from the cock-thing, spattering Herula’s face and hair and breasts, joining with the mass of semen already left behind by her daemon lover. Herula felt her excitement redouble as she opened her mouth once more for the second explosion.

“Ahhh, mistress,” she sighed. “Mistress...”

“She already knows her place, Mazzor,” Thae’lynn said, delightedly as the black cock deflated slowly, dripping the last of its come onto Herula’s shoulders. “Such a pretty little pet she is.”

Mazzor nodded. “A pretty pet for you, my love.”

“Would you like to fuck her now?”

“I would, my love. Would you like to watch?”

“Yes, I would.” Thae’lynn looked down at Herula. “Now, you’re his plaything. Enjoy.”

***

The daemon was an amazing creature, its cock a tireless fucking machine, capable of changing its dimensions to fit whatever orifice it entered. Now, Herula thought, she knew why Thae’lynn seemed so excited about being fucked in the ass.

Mazzor held her up, his mighty arms moving her up and down on his thick cock. Groans and cries of pleasure and pain echoed from Herula’s throat as he did so, but it was mostly pleasure, a sensation that she had never experienced before, not even with Chuma, her favorite master and lover.

Then Mazzor was on his back, and she was rising and falling on his cock, feeling it fill her completely, throbbing and stretching out to meet her. Herula’s arms were still tied behind her, but she kept her balance, gazing down at the broad scaled chest of the creature, and his strangely appealing visage.

“My daemon,” she gasped. “My lovely daemon.”

Then she felt a gentle touch between her buttocks and realized that Thae’lynn was there, stroking the daemon’s cock as it slid in and out of her asshole.

“You are getting fucked in the ass by a very large cock, my little pet,” the dark elf said. “And I’m watching it.”

The words excited Herula even more, and she redoubled her motion, feeling herself melt at the touch of the strange, daemon cock, and in a moment, all resistance had gone. She bounced up and down, up and down, and Mazzor’s cock seemed to meld with her, become part of her, spreading warmth and energy throughout her body.

“I think he’s going to come again,” Thae’lynn said, and Herula felt the dark elf’s fingers teasing at the opening of her anus as the daemon continued to fuck her. Thae’lynn was naked, and the black cock was nowhere to be seen. “I think I’d like to see his come all over your ass.”

“Yes, mistress,” Herula gasped. “Make him come on my ass.”

And with that Thae’lynn’s hands encircled the great cock and tugged on it, pulling it free from Herula’s ass, and pumping at it until another geyser of semen burst forth, splashing across Herula’s buttocks, soaking her thighs and running between them, hot and exquisitely stringent.

Thae’lynn grinned, looking at the explosion of come.

“To hell with Yawesha’ae,” she said. “I want this myself. Clear off, Mazzor. I’ve some licking to do.”

For long minutes, Herula abandoned herself to the touch of Thae’lynn’s tongue as she bit, kissed and licked at her buttocks, her thighs, cunt and asshole, lapping up the splattered semen that Mazzor had left behind. At last, she rolled Herula onto her back, and looked down at her lovingly. Her face was slick with sweat, spit and come, and her rings shone bright silver against her jet black skin.

“You’re a fine, lovely pet, my little tandu.” She looked up at Mazzor. “I like her very much, my love.” Mazzor nodded gravely. “Yet, she is a traitorous little bitch and needs correction. And I must be firm with traitors. Rules are rules.”

Thae’lynn stood, wrapping herself in a black silk robe embroidered with silver dragons and griffons.

“Yes, you’re sweet, you little animal,” she said, and wistfully looked toward the tent’s opening. “But I’m still not sure what to do with you.” She gazed over at the daemon. “Mazzor, tie her up outside. Let her spend the night thinking over her crimes. We’ve a battle to fight tomorrow, and I’ll have to think of something suitable before then.”

Herula was still reeling from the fucking she’d received, and looked back apprehensively as Mazzor carried her from the tent.

“I’m so sorry, my pet,” Thae’lynn said, sounding almost sincere in her apology. “But rules are rules.”

Livia

It was quiet here – peaceful and tranquil, in sharp contrast to the bloody battle soon to rage nearby.

Or was it raging already? Livia wondered. She’d had her fill of blood and war over the past year, now perhaps she’d be able to help end it all, for good or ill.

To her surprise, the entrance to the tomb, simple and colonnaded and flanked by carved griffons, lay open, the great portal yawning darkness before her. Two ancient oaks flanked the mound where the entrance lay, rising from the earth like gnarled old hands.

Livia took a deep breath and released it slowly, gathering her thoughts and strength. She muttered a brief incantation, and the head of her staff glowed with warm yellow light. Slowly, and not without deep reservations, she stepped into the tomb.

Stairs led down into the peaceful depths. At the bottom a narrow corridor stretched on, ending in a simple, iron-bound door.

Livia sighed.

“Well, it’s not as if I have any choice.”

The door was unlocked and swung inward at a touch. Heart pounding, Livia stepped through.

Wulf

The army exuded an air of determined resignation that was almost thick enough to cut. We were a motley assemblage, probably the strangest army ever to fight on Thystran soil. The hard-faced elves of the Lady’s White Guard stood apart, surrounded by lesser elven warriors — bow-armed scout cavalry, scale-mailed spearmen, lightly armored swordsmen, all mere shadows of their former numbers. A few of Feanor’s army had been allowed to return; these were easy to recognize from their hollow faces and haunted expressions. Feanor had shown them the dark side of their own souls, and I suspected few would ever fully recover. All the same, they shared our determination to fight and sell their lives dearly.

The other troops milled together, mixing easily, their differences wiped away in the ferocious crucible of battle. Dwarves sat drinking with ratlings, humans sang and drank alongside orcs, wolves sat tolerantly beside creatures that would have been their prey just months before, or frisked happily in the green grass. I sighed. It was an image I thought I would never see, but I wasn’t so naive to think that it would last. Hopefully, even when we were back to our usual state of Thystran conflict, we would remember this day, however, and perhaps in future peace would be easier to attain.

These weren’t the only ones in our varied army. The winged ones, those possessed of their amazing (and amazingly enjoyable) healing skills, had at last called upon their dark-winged, swarthy-faced cousins, the hawk lords, and a hundred or so of these fearsome flying warriors stood apart from the rest, cradling weapons and glaring with dark eyes toward the horizon.

That’s where the enemy was, and we all knew it. These were the last moments we could grab for ourselves before being caught up in the nightmare of battle.

Over near the orcs I saw a familiar figure, crouching down and tossing dice with some humans and dwarves. The dwarves kept recounting their coins.

“Skrall!” I shouted, making for the place. He looked up curiously.

“Izzat Wulf?” he asked. “The gals told me you was incognito.”

“It’s me,” I replied. “I’m kind of hoping to get back to my old self soon however.”

“Why?” Skrall demanded. “Narisha says you’ve got a heluva cock. Not that I’d care about it, o’ course, but, well, we gotta take what we get, you know?”

“A big cock doesn’t compensate for the loss of my heart and soul,” I replied, eliciting another puzzled stare. Orcs have little appreciation for subtleties and philosophizing.

“Hey, I got someone’ll wanna see ya,” Skrall said suddenly. “Hey, Squit! Wulf’s here!”

“Wulf!” squeaked a familiar voice. “I’ll be buggered by a troll! I thought you’d be dead by now! I’m comin’, cap’n.”

A well-used ball of tatty fur erupted from the gathered warriors and scuttled toward us.

“Hey, Wulf!” he bellowed. “I gotta...” He stopped short at the sight of me and recoiled in horror. “Holy SHIT!”

Squitter scrambled up Skrall’s back and tried to perch on his head, chittering wildly.

“I hate to disappoint ya, cap’n, but that AIN’T Wulf!” he exclaimed. “He’s way too tall, fer one! I think he’s an imposter!” He glared at me. “Okay, fucker, it’s a great disguise yer wearin’, and ya may be foolin’ everyone else, but I see through it! Whatcha done with our Wulf? You eat him or somethin’?”

“I’m Wulf,” I said, evenly. “I’m just in another body.”

“Another body, hell! You could be his twin brother! It’s only my keen ratling observation skills that keep me from bein’ fooled like poor cap’n Skrall here! Give it up, traitor! Where’s the real Wulf?”

I sighed and rubbed my forehead. “Squit,” I said, “it’s nice to know that some things never change. I’m Wulf. Really.”

“Yeah? Well, you do look kinda catty, come to think of it. Nothin’ like that Li babe... rowrrrrrr... I mean, I think she’s hot and I’m a damn ratling! Anyway, if you’re Wulf, tell me something only Wulf would know. Gwan. Anything.”

“You like rotten vegetables?” I asked.

“Yay! It’s him!” Squit leaped down from the long-suffering Skrall and extended a paw. It disappeared into my hand as I shook it. “Confidentially, I knew it was you all along, boss... Butcha can’t be too cautious, ya know. Not these days.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” I said. “How’s the rest of the crew? Tanu? Udo? Shardin?”

“Tanu’s fine,” Skrall growled. “Bastard’s got a thing for me, though. I can tell.”

“Udo and Shardinn snuffed it, though,” Squit said matter-of-factly. “Both fought like fuckin’ minotaurs, though. Udo saved Li’s ass, and Shardinn won the whole fuckin’ battle for us.”

I swallowed, feeling a hole suddenly grow in my chest. Li hadn’t said anything about Udo. I suspected she hadn’t wanted to upset me.

“Both of them?” I said. “Gods.”

“Yeah,” Skrall said, with as much sorrow as an orc can muster. “Both scrappers. Shardinn saved us with that damned magic of his. Took control of the dragons from that dark elf bitch. They turned on the enemy at the last minute, and they died for it. Shardinn, too. Damn.”

Shardinn. I’d gotten him into all of this. All he’d wanted to do was prove he wasn’t a coward. I guessed that he had succeeded.

And Udo... He’d never grope another barmaid or drink another tun of ale in one gulp. He’d been my responsibility, as well... I sighed.

“Don’t be too down, Wulf,” Skrall said, slapping me on the back. “They’re up with Grunk now, fightin’ and drinkin’ and wenchin’. Not too many non-orcs allowed to do that, either. ‘Specially dwarves. But that Udo, he was a heller. Even if he did kill my cook by accident.”

I moved on toward my unit, lamenting the fact that this might be the last time I’d see any of these people.

As I approached my unit, I saw Rees and Marcus, sitting on the ground looking far more dejected than normal. Marcus took a swig from a bottle and sighed heavily.

Rees looked up when he saw me. “Hail, Chuma. My companion and I were here reflecting upon the unfairness of existence.”

“I’ve done the same many times,” I admitted.

“Marcus claims that the gods are essentially indifferent creatures, content to watch us from afar and take little interest in either our suffering or our triumphs. I, on the other hand, believed that the gods actively seek to interfere in our lives, creating obstacles and barriers simply for their own amusement, as a child might toy with a captive insect.” He tugged at Marcus’ shoulder and for once the bigger man handed his bottle over. Rees drank and handed it back. “After a time, I realized that neither of our worldviews was especially encouraging, and that in the end it makes little difference to us whether the gods are distant and uncaring, or actively hostile to us. The end result is the same — we live, we work, we love, we die... Unknown and unheralded.” He heaved his own sigh, higher and more delicate than Marcus’. “Ah, Chuma, we live in darkness, without even the benefit of a candle.”

I struggled to think of the kind of response Valaron or the Silver Lady would give, then finally fell back on my own.

“It’s dark,” I admitted. “Dark and cold and cruel. But I see candles burning everywhere.” I gestured at the warriors around us. “I guess it’s our job to make sure they don’t go out, because if they do, we’re truly fucked.”

Rees smiled wanly. “Well said, my friend. You may have the body of a big yellow cat but you have the heart of a gentleman.”

Marcus chuckled at that, and raised his bottle to me.

“Here’s to the future,” he said. “And here’s to dying well.”

I left them and took my place in line. The air was alive with tension; the enemy was near. My troops were nervously checking weapons and glancing about. Nearby I saw the Furies moving into position, and strained to see Herula. I looked in vain — she never appeared. I felt frustrated and fearful.

Where the hell was she?

VIII

Thae’lynn

It was damned chilly for this outfit, Thae’lynn thought, stepping from her command tent and draining the Silver Chalice of its contents. Still, she had a reputation to maintain and if her people expected her to come out clad in next to nothing, then that’s what they should have. Someone in her position had to keep up appearances, especially when on the verge of her greatest triumph.

Beside her tent was a wooden framework, and tied to it, arms outstretched, was the tandu deserter they’d captured a few days before. She’d been out here all night, and somewhat worse for the wear, but when she looked up at Thae’lynn, it was with a curious combination of fear, defiance, and admiration. It excited Thae’lynn for what it symbolized, a fierce soul who nevertheless feared her and knew, deep in her heart of hearts, that she would never be more than the absolute property of another, to be used and cast aside as her mistress chose.

“Oh, my, such a lovely kitty,” Thae’lynn said, chucking the tandu under the chin. “Are we thirsty this morning?”

With that she dribbled the last few droplets of wine onto the tandu’s face. The female opened her mouth and let the droplets roll down her tongue, then looked at Thae’lynn with renewed gratitude. The fear and defiance were still there, standing a respectable distance away, but Thae’lynn was relatively sure she could break both of them, and replace them with sad-eyed obedience, the expression she most liked among her servants.

“Cold last night?” she said. “I wouldn’t know. I was wrapped in furs and sleeping with a wolf and my slaves. Very, very warm. Perhaps you’d like to try that some time, little one. It depends on how well you perform. I’m willing to forgive traitors, so long as they prove themselves useful.”

She strode around the framework, stroking the tandu’s cold fur.

“You’ll serve well, I think. I have a task for you.” Thae’lynn indicated the frame. “My army needs a standard. A symbol to advance at its vanguard. I think you’ll do nicely — a defiant servant reduced to humility and obedience through the lash and the rope and the chain. Such a fine, lovely symbol for my warriors. There you will be, bound and naked and helpless, reduced from proud rebel to symbol of my triumph. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? To ride before my army and show the world my real power? And if you serve well, my pretty, pretty standard, I will make you one of my slaves. It’s not a bad life – ask Yawesha’ae. You’ll be fucked for my enjoyment, and I’ll take my pleasure of you whenever I choose. Of course, if you fail in the duties I’ve assigned you, I’ll give you to Mazzor and his daemons. Your last moments would be pleasurable, but you’d not survive. Of course, I’m not asking all that much so I doubt you’ll fail. You can kneel at my feet as we watch the Silver Lady take your place as my battle standard.” Thae’lynn laughed. “Would you like that, my pet? Really and truly?”

The tandu swallowed, and looked at Thae’lynn with glowing green eyes. The defiance burned briefly, then faded, replaced by absolute submission.

“Yes, mistress, I would,” she replied.

“Oh, my sweet little toy,” Thae’lynn sighed. “You’ll make such a lovely addition.”

Wulf

As we stood in anticipatory silence, awaiting the arrival of the enemy, my thoughts went back to Udo and Shardin, and all the others I’d left behind. This was for them, I told myself. Not for me. All these years, I’d whined and complained and bemoaned my fate, wondering why the gods saw fit to punish me. But now, as I saw my life laid out before me like a tapestry of lost chances and foolish decisions, I saw that it didn’t matter.

For decades now I had kept telling myself that things had to change. That the world had to change. But the world can’t change, not at the behest of one prideful individual. I was the only one who could change.

Me, not the world.

For all of them. For Liv, for Li, for Squit, Skrall, Rees, Marcus, Tanelin... All of these and more. And the ones who were gone now, or those I hadn’t yet seen and whom I might never see again. For Narisha, for Udo, for Shardinn, for the distant and beloved Ushandra and the slain Sarra. For them, and for others. And for one other, one whom I had sent away with selfish words. Tatiana.

How much had I hurt her, I wondered? If I’d stayed would she really have wanted me? How long would it have lasted, a pirate disguised as a cat and a barmaid in a city of the damned? Was it cruelty or kindness that I’d shown her? Where was she now? Was she even alive?

I sighed. I didn’t know. I had no notion of what was to come, or if I’d ever see my loved ones again. Now, there was only the coming of battle, and the struggle against the darkness.

As if on cue, Vasha Kultha began to shudder and hum at my hip. On the horizon, a dark cloud spread, and beneath it a dark horde advanced. They were here now, as we knew they would be, and with strength borne of desperation, courage borne of fear, we began to move, drawing weapons, forming up in lines, preparing to meet their onslaught.

Now it ends, I thought. For good or ill.

Livia

“I am Onyx.”

“I am Opal.”

“I am Jade.”

“I am Sapphire.”

“I am Ruby.”

“I am Diamond.”

“I am Amethyst.”

“I am Topaz.”

Livia let her staff fall to the floor, staring in awe. The last thing she’d expected was to see the statues of eight beautiful, naked elf women coming to life and reciting their names.

Dear Wulf had been rather circumspect about his own experiences in the tomb, Livia recalled, and now she knew why, gods damn it. He probably wanted to keep the place to himself.

Too late now, Livia thought, as the eight women approached, their pace slow and languid. I know about it now, you bastard. She grinned, despite the fear and apprehension she felt.

The one called Onyx, a voluptuous female sculpted of jet black, sauntered closer and reached out a hand, stroking Livia’s cheek.

“You seek to enter this sacred place?” she said.

Livia felt her grin waver, but she responded as calmly as she could.

“Yes,” she said, her voice sounding small and weak in the vast chamber. “I come for Valaron.”

Opal stepped forward. Her skin was a rich yellow-gold, and her eyes glowed from within.

“Are you of the blood?” she asked.

“No,” Livia replied, feeling as the statue-turned-elf stroked her other cheek. “I’m not of the blood. I come at the behest of the Silver Lady.”

Now Jade came forward, her pendulous breasts topped with sizeable nipples of darker, white-veined green.

“Do you come in peace?”

Livia felt a moment of guilt at the blood she had shed, but squared her shoulders and replied.

“I do.”

Sapphire was pale, lucent blue, with small but well-rounded breasts and wide hips.

“Do you come with love in your heart?”

“Yes.”

“Do you come to awaken the First One?” asked Amethyst, of rich violet skin, with rich purple nipples and lips.

“Yes, I come for Valaron.”

“Are you worthy to awaken Lord Valaron?” asked Topaz. Her skin was lighter than Opal’s, a yellowish amber.

Livia thought. “I don’t know,” she replied. “But I think I’m the only one who can.”

Ruby’s body was taut and muscular, with good-sized breasts, fiery hair and eyes.

“Are you strong of heart and body?”

“I’m not strong,” Livia replied, honestly. “I never have been. But I’m willing to be strong now.”

Diamond was translucent, eyes pale blue, her body a living statue of faceted crystal.

“Then show your strength, and face your fear.”

“What fear must I face?” Livia asked, feeling desperately uncertain. It occurred that she had felt this way before, but had never been able to show it. Always, always, she had hidden her fear beneath a facade of confidence and even, yes, she thought... even arrogance. No more.

Behind her Livia felt the touch of gentle fingers, and heard Onyx’s voice whispering in her ear.

“You fear what all humans fear,” she said. “Let us show you.”

Livia looked back at the gleaming black figure. The black eyes met hers with absolute sincerity.

“Show me?” Livia looked from Onyx to the other women. “Show me how?”

Then Onyx’s lips were on hers, and Livia felt the warm thrust of her tongue.

“Gods,” she muttered, disengaging, and stepping back. “All eight of you?”

“Your friend Wulf did it,” replied Onyx.

“I’m sure he did,” Livia replied, rolling her eyes. “Now why do I have to?”

Gods, you stupid bitch, Livia thought. A year ago you’d have jumped at the chance and had them lining up... What the hell has happened?

“Our challenge depends on the challenger,” Onyx replied. “You and your Wulf are closer than you know. Your secrets and fears lie locked deep inside you, but the passion we offer can reach them and make you see.”

Livia sighed. “I don’t really see how your interrogating me like an Orlanist confessor is going to help us awaken Valaron.”

“All things are part of all other things,” said Diamond. “Our time with Wulf leads to our time with you, and through you the world will change. Our challenge is to make you face your fears, and it is only through passion that your fears can be faced. Once you have learned of yourself, and taken the next step to your destiny, Valaron will awaken.”

“Now hurry,” said Sapphire. “Time is of the essence. The enemy comes.”

Onyx and Ruby didn’t bother to wait for Livia’s reply, but already began to loosen Livia’s tunic lacings. Slowly, heart pounding, and desire that she hadn’t felt in months building inside her, Livia allowed the guardians to strip her and bear her gently to the floor.

Gods, she thought, feeling their hands begin to stroke her, the things I do for Thystra.

Wulf

Thae’lynn’s mercenaries led the way, the horde that I had once belonged to. But they were fearsomely changed. Their eyes glowed with unnatural fire, their faces were twisted into hideous expressions, fangs and horns sprouted where there had been none. Above them, hellish in both beauty and ugliness, rose the daemons — winged humanoids, slithering blobs, tentacled nightmares — all urging their warriors forward with whips, with swords, or with shouts. This was what Thae’lynn intended for us... our souls and bodies enslaved to her damnable daemonic allies.

“Steady!” I shouted, drawing Vasha Kultha and holding it on guard. “There’ll be spells!”

I must have triggered it, for a moment later my head spun, and I saw an image of capering, naked dark elves dancing around a bonfire, slashing themselves with bone knives and shrieking with pain and exultation. And from them radiated terrible cold, deeper than I had ever felt, sweeping across our battle front like a horrid storm. The cold jabbed at me like icy daggers and I stumbled, feeling frost covering me. Around me, the line staggered as well, frost growing to a sheath of crystalline ice. Fighting it, I saw Marcus go down, then Natuk... Then the ice grew heavy, and I fell to my knees, feeling it shoot through my body, infiltrating every corner...

And then a faint tingling in my sword hand grew to a strong vibration, and heat began to radiate from Vasha Kultha’s grip through my body. I felt the ice melt and vanish as the heat grew, and I forced myself to my feet, breaking away great chunks of ice.

Vasha Kultha’s heat grew and spread, radiating out from me to those around me, driving off the cold, melting the ice like a bright flame. In moments we were back on our feet and moving back into position. Less than a hundred paces distant, the enemy halted, staring in surprise as we shook off the spell. The daemons exhorted their troops, whipping or beating or screaming, but still they hesitated, seeing their leaders’ mighty magic driven off by the power of my sword.

Now, I thought. While they’re confused.

“Skirmishers!” I shouted. “Get some arrows in the air!”

Our archers were on their feet, painfully nocking arrows and bending their bows. A flight of arrows rose, landing among the massed mercenaries. Several fell, others hesitated, looking uncertainly up at the angry daemons.

“For the Lady!” I bellowed, pointing forward. “For freedom! Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

Gods only know where I picked that crap up, but it had the desired effect. With a ferocious cry, my troops surged forward, racing toward an enemy who outnumbered us by at least four-fold. Then the rest of our line was moving forward, following our lead.

I swung Vasha Kultha at a beast that might once have been a dwarf, but was now a bulge-eyed, froglike creature.

Now, I thought. Feel our vengeance...

Thae’lynn

Mazzor’s horned draconic face normally revealed little emotion. Now he seemed perplexed.

“The enemy has held against our vanguard, Lady,” he reported. “Your priests have sent conjurations, but the proximity to the Silver Lady’s power makes them easy to dispel. We outnumber the enemy by at least three to one, yet, they continue to fight.”

Thae’lynn gulped from her chalice and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “What do they fight for, Mazzor? Their cause is lost.”

“I think they know that, yet they fight on nonetheless. It will take longer to defeat them than I anticipated.”

“We cannot delay!” Thae’lynn’s voice was sharp. “The time comes soon. The moons must be right, the time must be perfect! How do your summonings go?”

“Well, Lady. We have called up three daemon-lords and their retinues. More will come.”

Thae’lynn laughed. “Three daemon-lords! Each one worth five armies. Send them into battle then, my love, my sweet. March with them and destroy the enemy. The others will only strengthen us more.”

Mazzor drew himself up to full height. Since the summonings had begun, he had regained some of his original daemonic stature — he was taller now, his wings broader, his eyes glowed with even more ferocious hellish power than before.

“It shall be done,” he said. “And tonight we shall make love on the piled corpses of our enemies.”

“Oh, Mazzor,” Thae’lynn sighed. “You do know how to talk to a woman.”

“I try, lady.” He turned to leave.

“Wait!” Thae’lynn pointed to the wooden framework where the tandu still lay bound, spread eagled and pinned at wrists and ankles. “Take this one. Let her be your battle standard. Let all see my power, and see what fate awaits the Silver Lady when she is my prisoner.”

Mazzor grinned. Now he exuded emotion again — confidence, joy and bloodlust all in equal portions. With a single hand he snatched up the frame and its captive.

“She shall be my standard, Lady. Count on it.”

And then he was gone, striding away, the tandu looking back at Thae’lynn in utter despair.

Lovely, Thae’lynn thought. So very lovely. Maybe she would let Mazzor have her anyway, so long as she could watch. The tandu’s death would make a lovely prelude to an evening spent being buggered senseless upon the bodies of the slain.

Soon now. Soon Thae’lynn’s dark vengeance would be complete.

IX

Livia

“What do you fear?” Onyx asked, her tongue darting between Livia’s thighs, stroking her already-sopping cunt, then teasing at her swelling clitoris.

“I don’t know...” Livia gasped. All eight were busy with her. Topaz and Amethyst nibbled at her fingers, one on each hand. Ruby and Diamond each had one breast, and were stroking, squeezing, licking, sending shocks up and down Livia’s body. Onyx and Opal were between her legs, one licking at her clit, then the other. Now, as Onyx licked her, Opal’s fingers slid into the tightening depths of Livia’s cunt. Jade and Sapphire each licked at Livia’s toes and legs, sensations running upward to join with all the others.

“What do you fear?” Opal asked. “Tell us and all will be released.”

“You know that you are loved, that you are desired,” said Ruby, kissing and biting gently at Livia’s swollen nipple. “You love, yet you deny it. You hesitate and do now see what your heart sees. You don’t allow those who love you to be close, to touch you as they wish.”

Onyx looked up, wide blue-black eyes probing, Livia’s juices dripping from her lips and chin.

“What do you fear?”

“You love, yet you cannot love,” Diamond said. “Why do you fear loving so?”

Livia felt desire and oncoming release rise inside her, and words came unbidden to her lips.

“I fear... I fear that... That if I love them, If I let them love me...” She gasped, feeling Onyx’s lips encircle her clit and suck, tongue lapping.

“...That I’ll lose them. That if they’re my friends they’ll stay, but... if they’re... Gods... If they’re lovers, they’ll leave.” The sensations of all eight guardians, touching, stroking, licking and sucking all came together like the facets of a cut jewel, meeting in Livia’s belly, twisting into a burning knot of pent-up energy.

“If I let myself... If I let myself love Wulf the way I want to... If I let myself... Then something terrible will...” She cried out, feeling a brush of oncoming orgasm. “Something terrible will happen, and I’ll lose him forever... I want him... as a... friend... as a... brother, and a... an ally... I don’t... want... to... lose... him... and I’m afraid... that if I let myself... love him... he’ll leave... leave me...”

“Listen to yourself,” said Jade, rubbing Livia’s toes against her large, soft breasts. “You deny yourself love because of your fear.”

“I can’t...” Livia gasped and writhed, but the women held her, overwhelming her with their caresses. “The fire... the fire that burns... twice as bright... burns... half as long... I can’t let my love... for Wulf... I can’t let it burn away...”

“Then add your own fire,” Ruby said, her skin flickering like a torch. Her touch was hot as fire. “Two flames burn as long, but twice as bright.”

“And three even longer,” said Jade. “My people all burn with the same flame, and it is only together that we burn the brightest. Our flames go out if we burn alone. You must join your life with others to burn truly brightly.”

“How... How can I?” Livia demanded. Was she coming? Had she already come? She didn’t know, and didn’t care, images of her past streaming through her mind, fueled by the passionate touch of the eight elf women. “What if something terrible happens? What if we can’t be lovers, and Wulf decides he hates me?”

“Look to his heart,” said Amethyst. “He will love you always, no matter what.”

“We saw his heart,” said Opal. “He cannot fail you. Even now he feels love for you that will never falter or grow less. It is a love that is made stronger by his love for others.”

Oh, Wulf, Livia thought, pictures of Wulf swirling in her mind, from the waterfall to the Skate and back again. Of moments when they fought together, laughed together, made love... Oh, gods, I do love you...

“What about Narisha?” Livia asked, stroking Onyx’s hair, then Opal’s as the fire-skinned elf moved to share the moistness of her cunt with the black woman. “She loved me, and now she doesn’t want me anymore. I gave her my love, and it failed.”

“The failure is not yours,” said Sapphire. “She follows her heart along a different path.”

“One day,” said Diamond, voice muffled by the pale softness of Livia’s breast, “She will remember, and one day that road will lead back to your door. Your task is to see that your door is open when she does.”

“A life without passion is not worth living,” said Jade. “And you cannot let love lie idle. Express it, Lady. Express it, share it, burn bright, and share your flame with those you love. Your soul will grow and be enriched.”

“Share your fire,” said Ruby, and her eyes danced like yellow flames. “Share it as we share our fire with you.”

Livia cried out, back arching, and at last release came, racing through her like endless bolts of lightning, an amalgam of sensations from pleasure to pain. The images in her mind came faster and faster, and then she knew... She knew what she feared...

I fear myself, she thought, orgasms racking her, twisting her body and exploding through her brain. I fear my own passions. I cannot fear them anymore...

Livia clenched her eyes shut, screaming with each pulse of orgasm, and the swirling colors of the elf guardians transformed into a fantastic rainbow of power, spinning and dancing...

“Gods...” she gasped, and collapsed, the colors fading into darkness.

Wulf

There’s a misconception common among armchair generals and those who play with toy soldiers that battles are about something beside slaughter. Having been in the middle of several, I’m here to tell you that that’s all a bunch of goblin turds. Battles are about slaughter, plain and simple, and once swords are crossed any semblance of strategy, tactics, or intelligence goes right over the side. I fought now only for survival, feeling the humming vibration of Vasha Kultha grow to a moan, then a shriek as I cut through foe after foe. Leaving the frog-dwarf behind me, I contended with an boar-daemon with glowing green eyes and slashing tusks. It scored several hits on me before I lopped its head from its body, Vasha Kultha flashing blue and yellow, its shriek rising up over the clash of arms and the screams of the wounded.

It seized my heart and soul in an iron grip, as rainbow colors flashed across its blade, looking uncomfortably like the chaos blade that had tried to kill me. But after a moment, I didn’t care, and waded into the enemy, my warriors racing behind me. I hewed left and right, killing two three or four foes with each blow. Severed heads, arms, legs and torsos lay in my wake, and within a few moments the enemy was wavering against us, and then at last fled, their daemonic overseers screaming in frustration, urging or threatening, until they too fell to our onslaught, overwhelmed and chopped to pieces.

Up and down the line, our troops were victorious, pushing back the enemy, breaking him, then cutting down his daemon-officers. Thae’lynn’s entire front line collapsed into thousands of fearful individuals, dashing back toward the dubious safety of the main dark elf force.

As if empowered by the foul flesh it had cleaved, Vasha Kultha now glowed as if white-hot, and its nimbus of shining energy surrounded me as well. The shriek was almost a comprehensible voice, speaking directly to me, urging me on and on.

“Forward!” I shouted. “Don’t let ‘em rest!”

And with renewed fury, we moved up again, after the fleeing troops.

Then I saw them, emerging from the shadows surrounding Thae’lynn’s army. Four hulking, terrifying shapes attended by dozens of smaller ones. As they emerged into the light I realized that what we had just faced was only the beginning, and that now at last we began to see the real enemy.

Daemon lords. Four of them. The first was like a great iron statue of a naked man with glowing yellow-red eyes. Around it swarmed small, black-skinned goblinish creatures with curved, wickedly barbed weapons. The second was a towering amalgam of scorpion and mantis, attended by clacking, scuttling insectoid creatures. The third was a mound of slimy flesh like a great, multi-limbed octopus, drawing itself along on writhing tentacles, and accompanied by a host of hopping, flapping things that were midway between man, frog and fish. And the fourth...

The fourth I recognized. Its attendants were a mixture of creatures, drawn from a hundred different nightmares. Its horned dragon-head darted about, searching for a foe, and its great wings cast deeper shadows beneath it. The thing advanced, a huge flaming, double-headed axe in one hand and in the other...

With horror, I saw that it bore a short pole, and lashed to the top was a wooden “X” shaped cross. And bound to the cross, naked and helpless, but clearly alive...

“Herula!” I cried, and felt a moment of despair.

But I knew this beast. I had seen it before. And I had seen it kill...

And Vasha Kultha knew it, too, for its shriek rose even higher, finally emerging as a single word, uttered through my throat, roaring across the battlefield.

Mazzor!” I cried, feeling the sword drag me forward, toward the winged horror and its daemons. I gave throat to the Sholanti battle-cry, then, my voice rising up to a volume greater than I’d ever managed before.

“USUUUUTUUUUUUU!”

Mazzor

The daemon-lord hesitated. The army before him was not quivering in fear, falling to its knees or flinging down weapons and fleeing. No, by the great bloody sword, they were advancing. Flinging themselves against gods, the little mortals were actually attacking!

Mazzor chuckled, and was about to order the advance when the voice echoed inside his mind.

Mazzor! Betrayer! Your time has come!”

The voice was familiar, from long, long ago. Mazzor could not quite place it, but for some reason it frightened him.

No. He was Mazzor Daemon-Lord, and in a few moments his old power would be restored, and victory would belong to him and his dark elven lover. Advance. Advance now.

Livia

When she finally opened her eyes, Livia beheld a wonder – a tall, elegant figure clad in elaborate robes floated a few feet off the ground. Its visage was that of an ancient horned dragon, and great wings rose from its back. It regarded her with a mixture of friendly respect and gratitude, and when she met its eyes, Livia felt at peace.

The eight ex-statues flanked the creature, four on either side, looking from it to Livia with eyes that now blazed brightly with inhuman, unearthly lights.

“I am Valaron,” the dragon-man said in a deep voice like distant thunder. “Again my children are threatened, and again I am awakened.”

“I’m Livia. A sorceress. I’m here because –“

“Because you were requested by my beloved child, the one called the Silver Lady. I know. I once carried her aloft to gaze upon her realm. She was but a child then. How she laughed.”

“The dark elves are coming with an army of daemons,” Livia continued. “They fight – “

“Above us. Yes, I know.”

Livia felt a flash of annoyance.

“Lord Valaron, I don’t care if you are a god, but finishing people’s sentences for them is damned irritating!

The guardians smiled and tittered at that, and Valaron inclined his head indulgently.

“You speak your mind, sorceress. It is good, and it speaks well of your people.”

“Thanks.” Livia realized that she was as naked as the guardians, her garments scattered all around the chamber, but the dragon-god seemed unconcerned. “Now, not to seem pushy or anything, but I suspect that your children and their new allies could use a little assistance.”

“And that they shall receive,” Valaron said. “Long may they remember that it was the free people, whom my children once held in such contempt, who came in their hour of need and shed their blood in defense of elvish soil.”

Valaron looked left, then right, scanning his guardians with a deep, wise gaze.

“It is well, my guardians. I choose now to end your servitude. Go forth, and save my children, then return to your places in the world beyond.”

As one, the guardians turned their gazes back toward Livia, and the flashing colors in their eyes grew to almost blinding intensity.

“Farewell, sorceress,” said Diamond.

“Yours shall be the last mortal pleasure we enjoyed,” said Onyx.

“And long will the memory of your sweetness burn in our memory,” said Opal.

“Like fire,” said Ruby.

“Like dragon’s fire,” said Amethyst.

“Now behold,” said Jade.

“See what no mortal has been privileged to see,” said Topaz.

“See us as we truly are,” said Sapphire.

And Livia fell to her knees, staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed as wonder and terror unfolded before her.

Wulf

As one, filled with courage and vengeful anger, we charged at the daemons and their retinues. Vasha Kultha drew me along, now writhing and shimmering in a dark rainbow. It was even more like that blade...

No.

Hail Chaos!

It was the chaos blade. I held it in my hand, and now at last I was its master.

I am vengeance, echoed a voice in my head. I am the spirit of those slain and those betrayed. I was the chaos unleashed by Vasha Kultha, set loose in the world. You have beaten me, and now I serve you. Be my instrument of vengeance, and cleanse the world.

Then we were among the enemy, and the tide of daemons fell back before me. Vasha Kultha smashed through any weapons or armor that it could, effortlessly smashing down daemon after daemon. And again, my troops rushed behind me, hacking and slaying in their own right.

I shouted then, but my words were twisted by the thing inside my head, an amalgam of myself and...

...and someone else.

Mazzor! Betrayer! Your time has come!”

Above me towered the green-scaled figure of Mazzor, gazing down, eyes sharing wonder and anger.

“I remember now,” he rumbled. “You are Halvarath the Slayer, whom I promised vengeance.”

“Yes!” I shouted back, the words from my throat but not my own. “I sought vengeance against my brother for slaying our parents. Yet had I known the price of my revenge, I would have embraced my brother and forgiven him all his sins. Anything but the torrent of death and blood that followed!”

Mazzor was amused. “You prayed to me, elf. You demanded vengeance. You pledged your soul, and I gave you a weapon to take vengeance.”

“And my vengeance begat madness! I turned my vengeance against all who I felt had aided evil! All who fell short of perfection! You made me all that I hated, daemon!”

“And taught you a valuable lesson, little elf. Now, I shall teach you another.”

All around us the fighting paused as the combatants watched our confrontation and listened to us talk. The spirit of Halvarath was strong inside me, urging me onward, but the part of me that was both Wulf and Chuma gazed up at the battle standard that the daemon carried, and at the helpless naked figure of Herula. Halvarath burned for vengeance, but now so did I. Together we would defeat this one, but could we do it without killing Herula?

The daemon rumbled another question. “How is it that you speak from the body of a beast-man?”

“This warrior defeated the essence of chaos that lived on after I perished! He took the sword from me years ago and set my spirit free to roam. I sought vengeance against him, as well, until he defeated me once more, and showed me the futility of endless struggle! Your curse is defeated, daemon! Spirit I may be, but I am now free! And now at last I bring vengeance to the one who truly deserves it!”

Mazzor laughed. “So it shall be, then. I knew that someday I would face you again, and that someday I would send your soul to hell at last. Come now, Halvarath. Come now, beast-man. See whether your little sword can defeat me.”

And with that, he flung Herula down. The frame tumbled toward the ground, flying through space, too far for me to reach. I cried out in despair, but suddenly a powerful black clad form and a slender, golden-haired figure appeared beneath the tumbling frame. The wooden cross smashed into the pair, then fell to the ground, Herula still bound, but her chest rose and fell with frantic breaths as her saviors moved to cut her bonds.

“Lady Herula!” shouted Rees, slashing the ropes that held her as Marcus unfastened her chains. Then he glared at Mazzor. “Your time is at hand, daemon! Your war ends now, for good or ill.”

I turned, sword in hand. Mazzor had drawn a great whip and was cocking his arm to strike.

“Halvarath!” I shouted, charging forward. “Doleath! USUTU!”

And the sound of our meeting echoed like thunder across the battlefield.

Livia

The tremor rocked the tomb. Mortar and bits of stone fell from the ceiling.

“What was that?” Livia demanded, still on her knees, staring at the swirling masses of color that the women had become.

“It is of no matter,” Valaron said. “What will be will be.”

“We go now,” said the guardians, speaking with one voice. “And let our enemies tremble.”

Watching as the eight women’s transformations unfolded before her, Livia herself trembled. And she wasn’t even their enemy.

She hoped...

Wulf

I was Chuma, I was Wulf, I was Halvarath, and in some strange way I was everyone whom Vasha Kultha had slain, all screaming for vengeance against the towering daemon-lord whose curse had caused so much death. Rage and desire for retribution filled me so completely that my Wulf side barely had a chance to wonder at the irony of seeking vengeance, when it was the quest for vengeance that had caused all this trouble in the first place.

But I was in no mood for reflection or philosophy as Mazzor’s whip scored my flesh with a thousand pinpoints of agony, and his flaming axe shivered against Vasha Kultha, sending seismic disruptions through my body. My stature seemed to have grown as the power of Vasha Kultha filled me, but I was still at least a couple of paces shorter than the monster, and even with the weapon’s unnatural vitality filling me, he was still stronger.

The battle around me was still paused as we clashed. Beyond, the others still fought the daemon-lords, and to my limited viewpoint, our side was losing badly. Daemons ripped through our troops with claws and swords, and the bodies had begun to pile up. Still we didn’t break, but I was afraid we wouldn’t last much longer.

Where the hell were the elves? And where was Livia and our promised deliverance?

I returned to the attack on Mazzor, my determination renewed by the violence around me. Vasha Kultha met Mazzor’s flaming axe-head with an ear-splitting clang. Neither blade gave way, and the strength of the angry souls inside me kept the daemon-lord from overbearing me. Multicolored sparks exploded from the two weapons, surrounding us in a cloud of angry magic.

Mazzor’s whip snaked around my ankles, and he pulled it tight, yanking me off my feet, sending me crashing to the ground.

I struggled to free myself from the entangling whip, but it clung to me with supernatural vitality, binding me like a Xeshite python. I flung Vasha Kultha up to defend, but Mazzor batted it away, then raised his axe for the killing blow.

Out of nowhere, a spinning axe — dwarfed by Mazzor’s heavy, enchanted weapon — sailed through space, striking the daemon squarely between the eyes, making him stagger backwards, spoiling his death blow.

“Not so fast, daemon,” snarled Rees, stepping forward. Beside him, Marcus drew a second throwing axe from his belt. “You want the lion-man, you go through all of us.”

“All of us,” said another voice, and there was Herula, somewhat more decent in a torn tunic, a sword in one hand. Beside her stood Tanelin, looking coolly at the daemon, brandishing twin swords.

“Happy to oblige,” Mazzor said, turning his attention to the mismatched quartet.

Not again, I thought. Not this time...

I rolled toward Mazzor, and rose to my feet just beneath his menacing axe.

Only an instant, while he was distracted...

With all the strength I could muster, I swung Vasha Kultha, cutting with a meaty smack into the daemon-lord’s thigh. Daemon-strengthened armor shattered, and beneath it flesh gave way to the sound of a horrific howl of agony as Mazzor looked down, eyes mad with rage, drawing back his axe for another blow at me. Vasha Kultha was stuck fast, the daemon’s life force drawn away by the mad, grief-filled souls within. Mazzor’s blow would finish me unless...

A blue sphere of energy struck the daemon’s head, flashing sparks. It staggered as Tanelin unleashed another spell, orange flames this time, enveloping the monster’s chest. Mazzor screamed, and this time the scream held a note of fear.

Then Herula was on him, swinging her improvised weapon at his shoulder — as high as she could reach. Normally, he’d have shrugged off the blow, but now, with his strength fading, and his confidence receding, the blow scored, opening a deep gash, causing Mazzor to drop the terrible whip.

Behind him, Marcus swung his cutlass, chopping deep into Mazzor’s flesh, driving the daemon to his knees. He lashed out with his axe, leaving a trail of flames and almost decapitating Rees, but the blonde man danced away from the blade, laughing and taunting the daemon.

“Not near fast enough, My Lord!” He stabbed with his rapier, slicing Mazzor’s wing.

Mazzor roared in pain and anger and lashed out at Rees again, but another bolt from Tanelin made him recoil. I struck at his weapon arm, feeling Vasha Kultha bite, and feeling a great indrawing of strength. The souls of Mazzor’s victims cried out in triumph, and at last the daemon’s composure broke and he rose painfully to his feet, spreading his wings.

“Thae’lynn, my love!” he cried. “Save me!”

For a moment, Mazzor rose into the air, but Marcus, Herula and I leaped after him, latching onto his dangling legs, pulling him down. One damaged wing collapsed, snapping like a broken ship’s mast, and the monster fell to the sward. I scrambled up onto his chest and gazed into the hooded daemon-eyes, bright now with terror.

“For the fallen, I strike!” I cried — and that sure as hell wasn’t a line I would have come up with.

A sword-shaped mass of writhing multicolored light, Vasha Kultha drove point-first into the daemon lord’s throat, piercing his scaly flesh, stabbing into him and emerging on the other side, fixing the mighty daemon like a butterfly on corkboard.

Mazzor struggled and screamed, but what passed for lifeblood was spilling out, burning the sweet green grass around us.

“Damn you all!” the daemon shrieked. “Damn your souls to...”

I pulled the sword free and with a final blow struck Mazzor’s head from his body. The great horned sphere flew, blood geysering, and bounced across the grass to land at Rees’s feet. He kicked it and flashed a grin at me.

“Well done, my friend! Well done indeed!”

In my hand, the shimmering mass of energies that was Vasha Kultha began slowly to fade, and suspended in the air above us were two figures — slender elven warriors in ancient blue and silver armor.

“I am Halvarath,” said the first.

“I am Doleath,” said the second.

“We are free, along with the souls of our victims, and our betrayer is destroyed,” said Halvarath.

“My sins have been forgiven and I may live in glory with the spirits of the departed,” said Doleath. “I thought myself damned, but I know now that no transgression is so great that it cannot be redeemed by love.”

“Our thanks, Chuma, who is also Wulf. May you live long and always be known as elf-friend.”

And with that the two figures faded, and I felt a vague tingling deep inside me. As they disappeared, it grew to a painful jangling of nerves and organs, finally manifesting itself as a bright, shimmering cloud of magical energy all around me.

I’d felt this before. The heroic stature and power that I’d gained was vanishing, and along with it my lion-man form. The transformation that was both my blessing and my curse, overwhelmed by the magic around it, was at last coming to an end.

I cried out in pain as the light grew to blinding intensity, and I fell from Mazzor’s titanic corpse. It glimmered and glowed, too, then vanished in a swirl of mana-sparks.

I fell to the ground, feeling my body shrink and contract, feeling unfamiliar human flesh replace my tawny n’doro hide, and my mane transform until it was an unruly tangle of normal human hair. I was tired, dirty, sore, unshaven and wild-haired. I was also naked, as my armor had also managed to vanish along with the sword, but that didn’t bother me too much.

My companions stood in an awestruck semi-circle around me, staring.

“Chuma!” Rees cried in wide-eyed wonder. “You’re... you’re... normal!”

“Chuma?” Herula asked in a weak but determined voice. “Is it you?”

“The name,” I said, clambering painfully to my feet and looking around for some kind of improvised garments or weapons (there were more than enough of both, I noted), “is Wulf.”

X

Thae’lynn

Mazzor’s death struck like a blow... They had been so close for so long that Thae’lynn knew — knew with dread certainty — that her lover was slain. Sorrow, loss, rage, despair — unfamiliar emotions all — surged through her as she struggled to stay on Valla, her black unicorn.

All around her, the dark elven army stood ready. Swordsmen in black mail waited in silent ranks. Loose lines of skirmishing crossbowmen were prepared to advance. Wizards of House Uthiam, bat-riders of House Voale, lizard cavalry with the banners of many houses, grim-faced assassins of house Inytas, armored knights of house M’non, Thae’lynn’s own bodyguards, all waited in terrible anticipation, awaiting her command to send them at last into battle.

“Mazzor...” She whispered to herself. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she resisted the urge to throw herself to the ground and wail.

What were these feelings? she wondered. How long since she had felt them? And what good were they?

“Advance!” she shouted, spurring Valla forward. “Advance and kill! Leave nothing alive! Nothing! Wipe the foul stain of the light elves from the face of Thystra!”

Eagerly, fired by the anger that surged through their leader, the dark ones advanced.

“No prisoners! No quarter! Kill until the land is awash in their blood!”

And at last, the army of the dark elves moved into battle.

Wulf

The fight between the alliance and the daemons still raged around us, and I wasn’t sure what to do. We were spent, all of us, with perhaps twenty badly beaten survivors. And their commander, the proud, invincible lion-god, was now a semi-naked, somewhat ratty-looking, unshaven human with a borrowed sword. I stood, exhausted, answering my friends’ questions as I could.

“No, I’m not a lion-man,” I said. “It was a disguise. A damned good disguise, I’ll admit, but it wasn’t really me. Or it was only part of me. Or there’s some lion-man inside me and I just brought him to the surface. Or something. I don’t know. I really don’t. My real name is Wulf, and I’m just an untalented sneak thief.”

Tanelin seemed downright pleased at being fooled so completely.

“A magnificent bit of sorcery, that,” he said. “I’d love to meet the wizard who did it.”

“You may,” I said. “If we all survive. But given what she’s likely to do to you, you may regret making that request.”

Tanelin smiled.

“I think,” Herula said carefully, “that I care for the being in the body, rather than the body itself. And you all saved me from the daemon lord, so it doesn’t matter a bit what you may look like.”

“Glad you feel that way,” I said. “And I’m grateful that you’re not the first to say that to me. The first time this happened, I ended up rejected because I wasn’t really a lion-man.”

“Foolish people,” Herula said.

“I’m glad you’re alive,” I said. “I was afraid we’d lost you.”

“It could have gone differently,” she admitted. “But my people are resilient. Thae’lynn’s games were troublesome.”

I gulped. “I don’t think I want to know about it.”

Herula grinned. “She did give me some ideas. The thought of being one of her concubines was starting to sound appealing.”

I shuddered. Some of us walked the fine line between light and darkness. I suspected Herula was one of those.

Now what? A few moments of peace before the storm hit. In the distance, I saw the bulk of Thae’lynn’s army advancing, preceded by a screen of bats, both normal-sized and gigantic, the latter ridden by dark-clad warriors. Above them, on silent wings, more dark elves rode on giant white owls.

“I think we’ve finally reached the end-game,” Rees exclaimed.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Myella

Lady General Myella, commander of what remained of the Silver Lady’s armies, stood motionless astride her charger, the ancient warhorse Fleethoof. They had lived and fought as one for a millennium, and now at last it seemed that they faced their final battle.

“The true enemy is at hand, my friend,” echoed the Lady’s voice. “You are to advance with all speed and engage them. May the Twelve ride with you, and may Valaron bless our undertaking.”

Ethriam saluted.

“So you command, so it shall be done.” She turned left, then right, surveying the arrow-straight ranks of warriors on either side, the final defenders of his ancient land. “In the name of the Lady and The Twelve,” she said, “advance.”

And on they came. Spear and sword marched in the center, moving with a soft clash of elven metal, weapons at guard, sun gleaming from blue or green or silver armor. Knights rode to either flank, resplendent in armor, horses brightly caparisoned, trotting with absolute obedience to their riders. Overhead, the hawklords flew, black wings unfurled, swooping into battle for the first time in centuries. Open ranks of light cavalry and bow-armed skirmishers preceded the advance.

Once, Myella thought, our dragons filled the skies and our armies stretched from horizon to horizon. Now, all we have is this brave handful, the last defenders of what was.

Even after a thousand years, Myella realized that she could be moved, and, blinking back tears she urged Fleethoof into a trot. Ahead, the enemy had engaged the alliance forces. The brave humans, dwarves, orcs and ratlings were being pushed inexorably back, pressed by the deadly pressure of the surviving daemon-lords and the fresh, ferocious might of the dark elven army.

May they dwell in paradise, Myella thought. May the tale of their sacrifice live forever.

And with that Myella saw, perhaps for the first time in her long life, how very much her people shared with those lesser races that fought and died in the distance.

Perhaps, she thought, we all go to our deaths. But we go to our deaths having gained a great and terrible wisdom, and in the final realization of how wrong we have been.

“For the Lady!” She shouted again, and her voice rose above the clash of arms and the screams of the dying. “For the Alliance! Charge!”

Squitter

The ratlings leaped and scuttled among the dark elves, darting in and stabbing, then racing out of harm’s way. Sometimes, the elves’ weapons impaled a ratling, other times the black-armored warriors fell, hamstrung and overwhelmed.

Squitter and Skeek kept close, hacking and stabbing, slashing and ducking. Skeek’s pike maintained their formation longer than any other ratling unit, but within minutes of first contact with the dark ones, they had reverted to traditional tactics, harrying the dark ones’ advance.

“Fuckin’ fun, huh?” Squit shouted with little enthusiasm, dodging a swinging broadsword.

“Swords and glory, cousin!” Skeek replied, swinging his light blade with a flourish, slashing a dark elf’s face. “‘Tis the way of the warrior!”

“Aw, fuck the way of the warrior. I wanna kill something!”

Nearby, Skrall tore into the dark horde with his heavy axe. He caught a dark elf swordsman on the helmet, hewing the unfortunate warrior in twain with a spray of black blood.

Squit looked at the remains, impressed.

“How ‘bout that, boss?” he said, grinning up at Skrall. “A half-elf!”

Li

Dwarf warriors, at last to close grips with the dark ones who had brought such evil, and with their daemon allies, closed ranks and chopped with axes or hewed with hammers. The lighter-armed dark elves wavered, but their numbers were greater, and soon the fight degenerated into a bloody melee in which neither side could make headway.

Li leaped from fight to fight, a lithe image of unleashed savagery. Her twin swords whirled, leaving trails of blood and writhing foes.

“For the Lady Li!” shouted a dwarf. “For Udo! Axes of the dwarves!”

From over a nearby crest, Li saw a band of dark elven horsemen, purple and black cloaks swirling. They formed into a line, drawing spanned crossbows.

“There!” she shouted. “Look to the flanks! ‘Ware cavalry!”

Twenty or so uncommitted dwarves moved to intercept the riders, but they trundled with their usual appalling slowness. Impatient, Livia raced ahead of them. A flight of silver bolts sprang from the crossbows, but she sprang into the air, and they fell harmlessly to the sward. With a sweep of one blade, she cut a horse across the face, making it rear and throw its rider, then opened the thigh of a second foe, causing him to scream and flee.

Then the dwarves were onto the riders, axes flashing, blood geysering. In a moment, the riders had fled and the threat to the flank was ended.

“On, my brothers!” Li shouted, racing back toward the infantry melee. “For the Lady! For the light!”

And behind her, with iron hearts and iron souls, and the shouts of heroes, her dwarves followed.

We can kill them, Li thought, but they are so many. We cannot kill them all.

Desperately, she prayed for deliverance and for the coming of the elves.

Livia

Livia stumbled up the steps, with Valaron following sedately behind. She had wrapped herself in her tunic, but she was still barely decent. Of course, she reflected, most people seemed to like her that way...

The cyclones of color that had once been the guardians rose up from the earth of the tomb, moving into the sky, changing, growing solid, and finally resolving themselves into the forms of...

“Gods,” Livia gasped, watching with fear and wonder. “Gods be good.”

“So it was written,” Valaron said, and from him radiated a confusion of sensations, from joy and love to violence and vengeance. “And so it is done.”

Wulf

After our brief respite, the blood was back, and now it was more ferocious and terrible than ever before. The daemon-lords had seen their brother fall, and now they fought with renewed ferocity, slaughtering dozens of our warriors in mere moments. Then the dark elf bat-riders began to swoop down, loosing crossbow bolts and spells. The hawklords fell upon them, and soon the sky overhead was a confused mass of wheeling winged elves and flying beasts.

The main bulk of the Zhalha’sarr’im lay only a few hundred paces distant, a seemingly unbreakable wall of black armor and fury.

We had fought as no Thystran army had fought before, and stood against the legions of hell itself. But now it was too much. We wavered, staggered back, and finally broke — men, orcs, dwarves and ratlings falling back. Some died where they stood. Others stood doggedly and had to be forced back step by step. Still others, lost totally to despair, flung down their weapons and fled headlong. My surviving warriors, less than a dozen now — me, Tanelin, Rees and Marcus, Herula, Natuk, Kami, Natando the Veldtlander and Austri the dwarf, his brother slain, fell back, keeping the enemy at bay and buying time for the others. Soon it would be over, I thought... Not even the Silver Lady could save us now.

I thought of Livia, and wondered if she had succeeded.

Maybe that was all she needed, for from behind us, I felt a great rush of air, and turning saw eight bright shafts of light emerging from Valaron’s distant tomb. And riding each shaft, wings like the painted sails of ships, eyes like fire, claws like spears, tails like impossibly huge serpents...

...came the dragons...

Each gleamed with different colors, and as they emerged, their voices thundered across the battlefield.

“I am Onyx.”

“I am Opal.”

“I am Jade.”

“I am Sapphire.”

“I am Amethyst.”

“I am Topaz.”

“I am Ruby.”

“I am Diamond.”

My head spun, as the voices came back to me through the corridors of memory. I’d touched them, made love to them, seen them make love to each other. And they’d been dragons all along. I felt a shudder of both nausea and self-satisfaction.

I’d sexually satisfied eight female dragons...

And lived.

Wow.

Freed from servitude, the guardians now they bore down upon the enemy, a tide of utter destruction. Our retreat stopped and we reformed, standing in rough ranks against the suddenly hesitant and fearful daemons and their servitors. Onyx and Jade soared overhead, the dark clouds parting before them, sunlight reflecting off polished scales, and a rush of clean hot wind battering us. We cheered then, shouting with sudden renewal of hope.

The daemon-lords fell first. The octopoid thing tried to flee, but was swept up in Amethyst’s jaws, and torn apart between her and Diamond. His remains fell, twitching, to be incinerated by a blast from Topaz. The insect daemon took to the air on filmy wings and engaged Opal, seizing her by the neck and tearing at her with thorn-studded pincers, but he couldn’t penetrate the gold-colored dragon’s scaly hide. Opal plummeted to the ground, landing with a thunderous crash, shattering the daemon lord’s armor, then ripping it apart. The great statue fell to twin blasts from Sapphire and Jade, its little servants broke and fled, and now it was our turn to advance again, swooping down on the fleeing enemy, cutting them to pieces. They didn’t even fight, but I felt no pity or sorrow at their destruction.

Scarcely pausing, the dragons flew on. The bat- and owl-riders fled before them like leaves before a gale, and now the neat, armored lines of dark elves began to shatter and flee, panic sweeping through their ranks.

Thae’lynn

A line of fiery explosions erupted all along the dark elven front, blasting a third of Thae’lynn’s army to perdition in an instant. Even this far back, the rush of heat washed over her, and Valla stumbled, then reared, screaming, tumbling her to the ground. Thae’lynn’s clothes swirled about her, catching in her piercings, and with a cry of pain, she felt one of the rings in her lip rip loose, and tasted the steely tang of blood. Her arm went numb, and refused to move.

The sight of eight ancient dragons, all unleashing their power at once, would terrify even gods, and its effect on the army was instantaneous. One moment, they had been advancing, determined to strike the final deathblow against their ancient enemies. The next, Thae’lynn’s legions had almost literally ceased to exist.

Burned warriors lay moaning, wounded daemons limped along, staring about helplessly. A cluster of serpentai, gathered around their human-seeming leader, the daemoness Angylique, seemed unhurt, but as Thae’lynn watched, they flickered and vanished from sight, whether retreating from battle or slipping back to their home plane, she could not tell.

A harsh cloud of ash washed over her, the remnants of her warriors. The gray stuff adhered to her skin, hair and clothes as she drew herself up, staring in horror as the dragons swooped overhead, spouting fire, blasting huddles of survivors, or picking up dark elves in mighty claws, and dropping or rending them to pieces.

Valla went mad, dancing and bucking, shrieking, eyes rolling. The silver chalice bounced wildly against his saddle, along with whips, weapons, and various other of Thae’lynn’s possessions. Desperately, she tried to grab his bridle and steady him, but he tore free and fled. Then a gigantic fanged maw at the end of a scaled, blue serpentine neck swept down to envelop him, and Thae’lynn’s beloved black unicorn was gone, the Silver Chalice along with him.

A few survivors ran from the field, but where could they run? They were deep in enemy country, surrounded by foes, and hunted by monsters of legend. Frantically, Thae’lynn fumbled through her clothes with her good hand, her piercings catching and pulling, searching for the talisman that she thought she would never need to use.

“Stop there, Lady,” said a voice that nagged at Thae’lynn’s memory. It was not angry or vengeful, only weary and sick-sounding.

She looked up. A small knot of warriors approached her — humans, an elf, a wolfen and a bedraggled female tandu... Was she, Thae’lynn wondered, that little bitch who had so recently served as Mazzor’s battle flag? The thought of Mazzor tugged at her, but she harshly suppressed it. What good was sorrow now?

The leader of the group was a human male, his face haggard, his eyes deep-set and tired.

And she recognized him...

“My little Wulf,” she said, mustering as much of her old fire as she could. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Wulf

“I think you knew me as Chuma,” I said. “I was in disguise when I shared your bed, Thae’lynn. Now I’m myself again, and we’re here to finish this.”

Thae’lynn’s eyes widened in surprise. “That was you? Mother of Pleasure, you were magnificent. Why do you go back to this... this... repulsive shell now?”

“Because I prefer it,” I said. “I’m a man and always have been. Strength is in the heart, not the body.”

To my astonishment, she laughed. Covered in soot and mud, her hair wild, her clothing torn, blood streaming down her face where a couple of her rings had been ripped out, she actually laughed.

“Oh, my Wulf. It is so good to see you, here at the end of all things. I admit I’ve missed you. We’re really very much alike, you and I.”

That did it. All my anger and indignation finally rose to the surface.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I demanded. “I’m nothing like you. We have nothing in common! I’m good, you’re evil. I’m male, you’re female. I’m human, and you’re I don’t know what the fuck. How different could two people  be?” I threw up my hands. “Why do you people always do that? You’re cornered, your schemes have all collapsed, you’re standing in the middle of all the death and despair you’ve created and you have the gall to say that we’re very much alike? Did you people all go to the same university or something?”

“Oh, dear.” Thae’lynn tittered. Behind us the sun was setting, and carrion crows flapped down to feast on the bodies. This was getting downright surreal. “You have always amused me, my Wulf. Sometimes I’m even sorry that I tried to kill you so often. Sometimes.”

I brandished my borrowed sword and advanced.

“So are you going to come quietly, or do we have to kill you?” I asked. “Personally, I’m holding out for option number two.”

“Wait,” Thae’lynn said, holding up one hand, and looking deadly serious. “There is something you must know.”

I frowned. “Quit fucking with me, Thae’lynn,” I said. “The whole world has had enough of your idiocies.”

“No, truly. There is something that I must tell you.”

I sighed. “All right. What?”

She paused, took a deep breath, and spoke.

“Wulf, I am your mother.”

I stepped back, staring in shock.

“Really?” I gasped. Hell, I’d slept with this creature...

Thae’lynn shrugged. “Well, no. Not really. I can’t back that up.”

“Oh, fuck,” I snapped and strode forward, sword coming on guard again. “Come on, you damned harpy...”

Thae’lynn didn’t respond immediately, but instead fixed her gaze on a point beyond my shoulder.

“I believe, my dear Wulf,” she said, “that retribution is coming for me in a far swifter form than you imagine, and I suppose I shouldn’t say this but...” she paused, then screamed at the top of her lungs, “Duck!”

I whirled and beheld a fearsome sight. Ruby, rays of the setting sun glinting off her shiny red scales, bore down on us from above, wings spread out, spitting flames. A straight-edge of fire sprang up beneath her, an arrow of burning death aimed directly at us.

I didn’t stop to wonder at Thae’lynn’s sudden magnanimity, but instead threw myself out of the line of fire, scattering along with my companions as the dragon rushed down, a universe of yellow-eyed, fang-mawed terror, fire gouting from jaws big enough to swallow a galleon whole.

I tumbled, feeling the singed air surrounding me as the fire swept across the ground, just where I had been standing. But Thae’lynn did not move, gazing up at the onrushing nightmare, face serene, her myriad rings reflecting red-orange, stark and hot-looking against her cold black skin. She spread her arms as if to embrace the dragon, and then was enshrouded in flames. Above us, Onyx and Sapphire joined Ruby, adding their flames to those of their sister. A firestorm raged where Thae’lynn had stood, and we fled headlong away from the place, stumbling and falling at last a safe distance away.

“Gods, Chuma... I mean, Wulf,” Rees shouted. “She certainly did go up, didn’t she.” He paused. “She was a very... handsome woman though, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Why would you care?” grumbled Marcus.

“I know she was,” I replied, panting heavily. “But I think that’s all over now.”

Overhead, the eight dragons swept up into the darkening sky, each shimmering with its respective color, and flew in a great circle, each chasing the other with a rush of wings and gouts of multihued flame. Faster and faster they flew, their forms blurring into each other’s, forming at last a vast ring of shimmering color, growing brighter and brighter until it rivaled the vanished sun, and at last vanishing in a rush of blinding white light.

I looked away, feeling the rush of souls in transit, as if ancient and wise things were at last leaving a world that they had long grown weary of.

Then it was over, and we stood alone in the growing dusk.

The sun sank beneath the horizon and the sisters shone down on a place of death, despair... and of victory, as well. We stumbled back toward the Silver Lady’s camp, to join the dead, the dying, and the living.

There were no victors in a battle like this, I thought. Only survivors.

And, by all the gods, we were among them.

Livia

“Are they gone?” Livia asked. “Forever?”

Valaron nodded. “Their children live on in this world, but the last of the ancients has passed. This world was theirs once, but now it belongs to all living things. The children of angels and of dragons. The last ancients have given the gift of life, so that my children can live.”

Livia blinked and looked at Valaron in confusion.

“I don’t understand. You said that this was the twilight of your people.”

Valaron smiled. “Twilight,” he says, “comes both before sunset and before dawn. It was up to you to determine which this was. Fortunately for the world, you chose correctly.”

Livia stood, open-mouthed, unable to reply.

Wulf

I don’t remember how we passed the night. I probably just threw myself down anywhere and slept. When I awoke, I found myself curled up like a dog, an untidy ball of fur nestled comfortably in my arms. Squit and I woke up at the same moment, and gazed briefly, into each other’s horrified eyes.

“Where’s your tail?” I asked, apprehensively.

“Between two pillows,” Squit replied.

“Those aren’t pillows!”

We were on our feet in an instant, stretching and striding about.

“G’mornin’, chief!” Squit said with far too much enthusiasm. “How ‘bout them Cold Island berserkers, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said, making my voice as rough and manly as I could. “That was a heluva battle, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah!” grunted Squit.

“Yeah!” I grunted back.

Rah!” Squit snarled.

“RAH!” I snarled back.

Squitter looked at me curiously. “Ya look different, boss,” he said. “Are you combin’ your hair different or what?”

I sighed. “Let’s just say I’m trying a new look.”

“Good idea. You were lookin’ like the bottom of an old tea kettle for a while there.”

“Thanks,” I said. No sense in confusing the poor little beast.

Around us, the survivors began to stir. Like us, most of them had simply fallen and slept where they lay, but in doing so they had intermingled with all the armies, and now awoke alongside the strangest of bedfellows. And to my surprise, it didn’t seem to matter. The crucible of battle had forged a new vision, and now all seemed willing to share the same space with races that had once been deadly enemies. Again, I wasn’t sure how long it would last, but as I walked past a mixed group of dwarves, ratlings and orcs, warming food over a campfire, grinning at me and raising mismatched tankards and drinking horns to my health, I was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

I spied two figures picking their way through the chaos. One was human, pale-blonde haired and freckled, clad in a white gown. The other was a Kaitian, female and unselfconsciously naked. I hastened toward them.

Li and Liv both looked up and recognized me. In a moment, we were a delirious amalgam of embraces, kisses, sighs and laughter.

“You’re yourself again,” Livia said. “Not that Chuma didn’t have his good points, of course...”

“Only one that I’d even bother to mention,” Li said. “I much prefer you this way regardless.”

I was happy beyond words, though there were still absent friends.

“We need to all get together tonight,” I said. “Us and Narisha and Tanu and Skrall and the rest of the crew.”

Livia nodded. “We need it. We’ve all been apart too long. And we’ve all missed you.”

There was warmth in those words that I’d never heard before.

“You really mean that, don’t you?” I said, looking first at her, then at Li.

“She does, my Wolf,” Li said. “She is not the same woman you left so long ago.”

“And I’m not the same man,” I said. “It’s been an enlightening experience.”

“I imagine,” Livia said. “For all of us. Oh, Wulf,” she broke off, looking away, and I saw tears. “I’ve treated you so badly. I’ve treated everyone badly, but you worst of all. You were the only one who’s loved me all this time, the only one whose faith in me never wavered. And how did I pay you back? By ignoring you and pretending I didn’t care.” She looked back at me, blue eyes bright. “It’s not true. I did care, all the time. I couldn’t say it. I don’t know why, I just couldn’t. Or even if I said it, my actions didn’t match my words. That’s what happened to poor Narisha.”

“Narisha!” I exclaimed. “Is she here?”

Livia nodded. “I haven’t seen her. I think that we’re no longer the lovers we once were, Wulf, and I think it was my fault.”

The words saddened me. “I’m sorry, Liv. I know you meant a lot to each other.”

“We still do, Wulf. I just think that my way of loving doesn’t mesh with hers as it once did.”

“Things change,” Li observed. “They grow and mature... When we stop changing we begin to die. And I’m not ready to die for quite some time yet.”

“Neither am I,” I said. “And I know that better than I ever have.”

Li made a pleasurable, purring sound and lashed her tail. “We’ve had our time together, my wolf,” she said. “Even if you were in that other body of yours. But,” she shot a somewhat lascivious glance at Livia, “I think that you two need time as well. I will happily make excuses for you, should you wish to slip away for a while tonight.”

I looked at Livia, and saw an unfamiliar expression. It took me a few moments to realize what it was...

By all the gods, it was love. It was the thing I’d looked at her with for so long, but had so rarely seen. Now it flowed from her like a river in flood.

Kybor’s testicles, how the hell had that happened?

“I would like that very much, Li,” she said. “Thank you for your consideration.”

Words I never thought I would hear issuing from Livia’s mouth.

Maybe the gods didn’t always spit on me, after all.

“No need,” Li assured her. “What greater joy is there than seeing one you love receiving pleasure?”

“One you love?” I asked, looking back and forth between them. “You two?”

“I told you, Wulf,” Li said. “I think I’ve discovered this female’s finer qualities. Ancestors, if I return to Kaitia I may never lie with my own kind again, so badly have you two spoiled me.”

I had to laugh.

The Silver Tower rose before us, and as we moved slowly to consciousness in the early morning sunshine, a pair of heralds appeared on a balcony, and blew blasts on trumpets, seizing our attention, and causing all the many conversations to fall silent.

A moment later, serene and peaceful, her face free of the pain and doubt I had seen before, the Silver Lady appeared on the balcony.

There was silence for a moment, and then, softly at first, then with growing strength and enthusiasm, cheers and applause spread from all those watching. Gods — even the orcs shouted and waved weapons, and the ratlings shrieked like banshees. The dwarves clashed axes on shields and chanted. The humans roared and waved and shook their fists in triumph and joy at the sight of the last ruler of the elves.

A deep and respectful silence now descended, and the Silver Lady’s voice rang out across the battlefield. I suspected that for even for the elves, it was the first time many had ever heard the goddess-ruler’s voice.

“My people,” she said, “the enemy is driven from the field, and once more we are victorious. But it is a hollow victory, for many have died, and our people will never be what they once were. Our hour of greatness has passed, and this is the twilight of our kind.”

I looked around. All watched with rapt attention, each feeling the sorrow implicit in the Lady’s words.

“But as dawn follows night,” she went on, “so shall our people be reborn, not as rulers, not as masters, not as oppressors. Look, my children. All around you are the free peoples of this world, who came to our aid in our hour of greatest need. They did not have to. For countless generations, we have flaunted our superiority, believed ourselves to be the greatest and most perfect race on Thystra, and seen all other races as less than ourselves.” She paused, scanning the gathered folk below. Her eyes passed over me, and I felt her touch, deep inside, and I knew she recognized me. “Today, I tell you that those times are past, and from this moment onward, we will live as equals to all other Thystran races. This is my last wish as your ruler, and I ask in the name of the love you bear me, and that which I bear you, that you obey it.”

The words took a few moments to sink in, but around me, the watching elves stared with growing disbelief.

“For I am leaving this world, passing on to join with the Twelve in eternal perfection and paradise. I am weary of waking existence, and wish now only to live on in dreams. Goodbye, my people. Remember me as I remember you, with both love and sorrow.”

No voices were raised in protest, but the elves stared up stoically, bowed their heads in grief, or wept silently.

“From the south comes a great fleet of refugees. They are the Zhalha’sarr’im, our exiled brothers and sisters, as well as humans and other races from their lands. It is my decree that their exile is at an end, and that they be welcomed to our lands with open hearts and open arms. It was me, in my grief, who exiled them, and now it is me who says, at long last, that I was wrong, and that in sadness and anger I did the Zhalha’sarr’im a terrible injustice. I ask that my people help me right that wrong, and reunite our peoples.”

She stepped back, spreading her arms wide.

“Bless you all, my children. And bless those of the other races who came to aid us. We committed terrible wrongs against you, as well, lost in our arrogance and anger. Though it will be long before you can find it in your hearts to forgive my people, please know now that those days are at an end, and that now my dragon princes, aided by my daughter Theanna, shall rule in peace and cooperation with the outside world.”

I stared, as a familiar, golden-haired figure stepped onto the balcony alongside her mother. Theanna, the spoiled elven princess, now risen to accept her heritage and fulfill her destiny. And I’d slept with her.

Damn.

“Theanna shall serve as crown princess, and the princes as regents. Valaron shall return to his slumber, and return should the realm need him. Theanna may serve as queen if she wishes, or may decree that others rule. It is for her, and my dragon princes to decide.”

The crowd now raised its voices in cheers, though the cheers were, for the elves anyway, quite bittersweet.

“Hail the Silver Lady!” they cried. “Long live the dragon princes! Long live Princess Theanna!”

Livia stepped close to me, looking up with the same wondering expression as me.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” she said.

“Things change,” I replied. “Just as we’ve learned ourselves.”

“True,” Livia said. “But I hope they don’t change too much. I don’t feel like learning any more new languages.”

“Me either.”

“I depart now,” the Silver Lady said, then kissed Theanna on the cheek. “Farewell daughter. Serve your people well.”

“I will, my mother,” Theanna replied, then addressed the crowd. “Let none feel sorrow at my mother’s departure. She goes to join the Twelve in peace and beauty for eternity. As I believe all who are good of heart and kind of spirit shall. We will all meet again one day, all sins forgotten and all transgressions forgiven. So let it be.”

And then they were gone, disappearing from the balcony to the cheers of the assembled masses.

“Will we see her again?” I asked Livia.

“Not in this life,” Livia replied. “But perhaps someday. Maybe Theanna’s right.”

“I hope so,” I replied. “I do hope so.”

XI

Thae’lynn

Manipulating the amulet had been difficult with one hand, particularly when in the middle of a cloud of dragon-fire. But she’d done it, and she had to admit that it was a good trick. As far as those fools were concerned, she was a handful of ash blown on the winds, destroyed by vengeful dragons.

Her last catastrophic experience in the isles had prompted her to create the amulet — the pacts she had sworn with the other outer powers seemed small enough payment for the assurance of a quick return home if things turned bad. Now, as she hurtled down a dark corridor, flung through the swirling chaos of the planes back toward Arwensland and safety, she knew that it was all worth it.

The swirling colors receded, and Thae’lynn stood – naked, wounded and bloody, her arm hanging limply as it throbbed — in her summoning chamber, at the center of a great hexagram, surrounded by glowing magical symbols, etched into the stone floor. With some distress, she noted that her piercings were all gone. Damn. The dragon-fire that had spared her had melted them away. Her flesh seemed relatively intact for all the abuse, however.

So, she thought, I’ve lost everything again. But vengeance was never intended to be cheap. She would rise again, and once more the world would tremble.

She paused. This was her summoning room, yes, but it was somehow different. All the furniture had been removed — chairs, tables, her bed and torture rack. The dark tapestries that had once hung from the walls were gone, as were the racks of robes and filmy clothing that she wore after summoning, or when entertaining lovers. Save for the hexagram, the last vestiges of magic fading from its runic symbols, the room was bare.

“Who is responsible for this?” she shouted, angrily. “My summoning room was not to be entered! Where is Prince Tyreth? I will have someone’s...”

But even as she shouted, Thae’lynn’s words trailed off, for three of the room’s six doors opened suddenly, and through it came a dozen or more unfamiliar figures. Tall, finely muscled — males and females — crimson-skinned, horned, with angry yellow eyes. They were all clad in revealing costumes, and bore a variety of wicked weapons.

Demons, Thae’lynn realized. Demons were in her summoning chamber. And if they were in her summoning chamber...

The lead demon, a handsome male with sharp white teeth and black lips, drew a shimmering sword that mumbled and groaned as he did so, and pointed it directly at Thae’lynn’s throat.

“Lady,” he said. “You are our prisoner.”

Mother of Pleasure, Thae’lynn thought as the others crowded around her, weapons drawn, faces grinning in sadistic joy. Isn’t this a fine how-do-you-do?

Yawesha’ae

The battlefield was such a sad place, Yawesh thought, picking her way past sundered bodies of men, elves and horses. Why had her mistress chosen to create such carnage? Yawesh ran a hand across the smooth expanse of her scalp, and hoped that the victors would be magnanimous, especially if they captured a non-combatant whose only role had been to entertain their arch-enemy sexually.

A movement caught Yawesh’s eye in the gathering gloom. As she watched, a scuttling, spider-like creature darted behind a fallen body, as if trying to hide from her. Upon closer inspection, Yawesh saw that it was her mistress’ living dildo-creature, a cock and testicles on articulated legs, darting from body to body, lost without a sex orgy to participate in.

“Poor little thing,” Yawesh said, softly, holding out a hand. “Come here, little one.”

Hesitantly, the construct approached her, and finally darted up her hand and into her arms.

“Don’t worry,” Yawesh whispered. “I’ll take good care of you.”

“Dark elf!” A harsh voice barked nearby. “Surrender or die!”

Yawesh rose and turned slowly, cradling the dildo-beast tenderly. Two Litharnan knights stood nearby, swords in hand.

“Hello,” Yawesh said, matter-of-factly. “Are you going to rape me, then kill me? Or rape me, then take me prisoner? If I have a choice, I would prefer the second.”

The first knight, a blonde man of perhaps twenty winters or so, pleasant-looking save for an ugly scar on his forehead, looked nonplussed.

“We don’t... I mean, good lady... You are obviously not...” He scanned her up and down. “Obviously not... the kind that we need fear... And we are knights, sworn to defend the innocent, so...”

“So you are just going to take me prisoner and not rape me?” Yawesh asked, and smiled. Sometimes it was good to be an attractive, naked dark elf woman. “That is good. I did not want to be raped. Such is not an act of kindness.”

The blonde man straightened. “Very well. Sir Dreiser at your service, lady. Would you do us the pleasure of accompanying us?”

Yawesh nodded. “I would, sir knight. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Rain began to fall as they trudged toward the Silver Tower and the alliance encampment.

I think, Yawesh mused, that life is about to get much more interesting.

Wulf

I wasn’t sure whether I’d spent these years hoping for a moment like this or dreading it, but now at last here was Livia, alone, naked and desiring me. The chamber in the Silver Tower that had seen my night with Li was now seeing another reunion, and at this point I wasn’t sure if I could survive any more.

She was as beautiful as she had been the day I’d left... If possible, more so. Perhaps her encounter with Valaron and the dragons had affected her in some fundamental way. Then again, maybe she’d done that herself.

“I hardly know what to do,” I said, softly, feeling the warmth of her flesh against mine.

“Don’t think,” she whispered, and turned her face up to gaze at me. Her eyes were gray in the moons-light, her face a pale blue. I could barely make out the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. “Just be here with me.”

“All right,” I said, and kissed her. My arms snaked around her, and I held her tight, feeling her lips part and her tongue meet mine. She moaned softly, our mouths slipping softly against one another.

I nuzzled at her neck, feeling warm flesh beneath my lips, then kissed my way down her shoulders, sliding to my knees, stroking her breasts, feeling her nipples harden at my touch.

“Kiss me there, Wulf,” she sighed. “Suck at my nipples. I’ve always loved the way you do that.”

I teased at them with my tongue, tasting the tenderness of her flesh, licking first one, then the other.

“I love how you touch me,” she said. “You’re so gentle.”

I’d wanted nothing more than to be gentle with someone ever since leaving the Skate. I’d had a chance with Li, now I had another one. And in my mind I felt a moment of indecision.

Did I love one of them more than the other, I wondered? Did I love them equally? And how why hell wasn’t my life simple anymore?

And I also realized that it didn’t really matter. Not now.

Then Livia was on the bed, legs over the edge and I was pressing my face between her thighs, hands encircling the firmness of her buttocks, drawing her to me.

“Lick me,” she said. “Lick my cunt, my sweet man.”

I gently nuzzled her thighs, kissing closer to her center, then softly kissed the outer lips of her cunt.

“You’ve shaved,” I murmured.

“I like it better that way, dear,” Livia said, with a trace of her old self. “Friction is my friend.”

I laughed and fingered open her lips, gently stroking the inner reaches of her cunt with a pointed tongue.

“Oh, yes,” she gasped, and her hands encircled her own breasts, pressing them together.

I remembered Li doing the same thing. Had she learned it from Livia, I wondered?

And suddenly, the thought of Liv and Li together made me very excited. I licked harder.

“Yes, Wulf. That’s it.”

I felt a flood of sweetness in my mouth as she opened up for me, and I licked harder, feeling the hardening nub of her clit against my tongue.

“I’m so wet for you.”

I encircled her clit with my lips, sucking and licking, biting gently.

“My sweet.”

I ran my tongue up and down the length of her lips, feeling her wetness grow.

“My love.”

I slid a finger inside her and began to stroke.

“My darling...”

Two fingers now, and Livia’s words grew into incoherent moans and sighs.

“Ohhh... Ohhhhhhh... Yes, Wulf... Oh, please... Ohhhhhh...”

Her hands dug into the softness of her own breasts, squeezing her nipples so hard they must have hurt.

“I’m coming, Wulf. Please don’t stop.” Her tone was soft and insistent. “I wanted to... to come for you so... so bad...”

I kept licking at her clit, sliding my two fingers into her, feeling the tightness grow.

“I’m going to come Wulf. Please make me come.” She looked down at me, eyes wild. “Just for you, darling. Not for anyone else. I love you, Wulf.”

I hoped that my expression said that I loved her too, because I wasn’t about to stop licking at her. It must have worked, for her thighs suddenly closed around my head and her back arched. She clutched her breasts in a deathgrip and groaned with agonizing ferocity.

“Ohhhhh, yesssssssssssssss...”

I kept licking, even as she strained, apparently trying to rise up off the mattress.

“Again... oh...” Livia’s entire body flushed and shuddered. “Oh, again...”

I licked more, feeling a gush of fluid from between her engorged lips.

“Oh, I keep coming and coming and coming...” Livia moaned, another wave shivering through her body.

At last she collapsed, her thighs finally releasing me. She looked down at me, and her expression was calmer. Determined.

“Now,” she said, “it’s your turn.”

***

“You like it when I suck your cock?” she demanded, licking the tip of my organ and fixing me with a harsh, demanding gaze. “You like to fuck my mouth with your cock?”

“Always,” I replied. “Always.”

“Oh, I know you do,” she shot back, and with a single motion swallowed my entire shaft, plunging it into the hot wetness of her throat. “No one knows how to suck cock as well as I do.”

I wasn’t in any position to argue. Not as Livia systematically pumped her head up and down, sucking at me, hollow-cheeked. Her mouth was as limitless as a wilderness, but as intimate as a kiss, and as she sucked me, a million memories flooded back. Of Livia under the waterfall, of hiding in her closet as she fucked her big, stupid friend; of moments with her and Narisha; of feeling alienated and abandoned, but also of being loved and cherished...

I’d never felt more loved by a woman, or more maltreated. Here she was, I thought, whore and goddess in a single perfect body. And now she finally admitted that she loved me.

She released my cock, trailing spittle, and looked at me fiercely.

“Now I want you to fuck me,” she hissed. “Fuck me as hard as you can, then come in my cunt.

She had a way with words, my sweet Livia. I let her lie back on the bed and slipped on top of her, bracing her legs against my shoulders, sliding my cock between the slickness of her thighs. I was inside her before I even knew what was happening.

“Ohhhh, your cock feels so good,” Livia whispered, and threw her arms around my neck, breasts bobbing and quivering. “Fuck me with it, Wulf. Fuck your Livia with your big, hard cock.”

I plunged into her, then pulled back and plunged in again. She melted around me like Lord Matrius’ army at the Battle of Raccoon Ridge, moaning and writhing.

Now I pulled her legs down to my hips and thrust, pulling her hips against me.

“You like my cunt, Wulf? You like to fuck it?”

“Yes,” I whispered, fervently. “I love to fuck your cunt.”

“Mmmmm...” Livia squeezed her breasts, then pressed one up so that she could lick at one nipple with a dexterous pink tongue. “You like it when I do this?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling my heart pound and my lungs begin to ache. Sweat popped out on my forehead as I drove my cock into her again and again. “Yeah, I like it.”

“Like me to lick my tits, sweetheart? Like to watch my long, pink tongue lick at my sweet pink nipples?”

“Oh, yes.” She was teasing me again, I knew it. Teasing me all the way to orgasm, by the sound of her.

“I love to be fucked like this.” Livia’s voice was high and sweet, a delicate combination of the innocent and the jaded. “I love to feel a cock in my cunt and lick my titties. Yes, Wulf. Fuck me. Fuck me.” I thrust hard and she squeaked. Her fingers found her clit and stroked as I thrust. “Fuck me with that big, fat cock...”

I groaned.

“Come, Wulf,” Livia cried, and I heard an edge of oncoming release in her voice as well. Her fingers flew across her clit. “Come inside me, like the sweet, sweet man you are...”

“Livia...” I hovered on the edge of final ecstasy.

“I love you, Wulf,” Livia said, her voice calm and matter-of-fact. “I’ve always loved you.”

And yes, I came, my cock contracting with almost painful intensity, exploding inside the sweetness of Livia’s cunt. She kept stroking herself as I came, and an instant later, she cried out herself and bucked against me.

“I’m coming, too,” she gasped. “For you, Wulf. Yessssssssss...”

And at last it was over and I lay against her, my cock softening inside her, our sweaty flesh stuck together, neither of us having the strength to move.

“I meant it,” Livia whispered softly in my ear. “I love you, Wulf.”

“I love you, too,” I replied, feeling a desperate desire to hold her tightly and never let her go. “I love you, Livia.”

Herula

“You seem to have recovered nicely from your ordeal,” Cheyl commented as she reclined on cushions and accepted a goblet of wine from a barely-clad Fury with short green hair and a saucy expression.

Herula nodded. “I suspect that Thae’lynn didn’t realize my darker desires. I think that her daemon lover succeeded in freeing me of some of my own demons while trying to terrorize me.”

“Turn the enemy’s schemes against him, that is the way of the Furies,” Cheyl agreed.

The tent was full of women warriors, lounging on cushions and couches, drinking, smoking dreamweed, kissing and embracing one another, or paying close attention to the few males lucky enough to have secured an invitation. Herula noted that the tiger-woman was here, along with her wolfen lover, Tanu, who was busy entertaining a trio of adoring females. Herula considered going and joining them, but decided to wait for the moment.

“We’ve been talking, we Furies,” Cheyl said. “It seems that our former commander is among the missing. She was lost to that bitch Thae’lynn, and we’d have rid ourselves of her in any event.”

“So you’re without a leader?” Herula took a sip of wine. She was clad in the harem outfit that she’d worn while she was Chuma’s slave; for some reason, in the sensual, smoky atmosphere of the great tent it seemed appropriate. For the moment, Herula resisted the urge to slip out of the costume and lie naked on the soft cushions.

“We are,” Cheyl said. “And it seems that the other Furies feel that you would make an excellent replacement.”

Herula couldn’t keep a look of astonishment off her face.

“You want me to command?  You want to turn command of the best female mercenaries on Thystra to a large black cat?”

“You sell yourself cheaply, tandu. You were the best fighter on the field during the retreat, and you stood up to Thae’lynn and her daemon without batting an eye. You’ve more experience than most of our officers and... And, well, you’re probably the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.”

Herula smiled, feeling the warmth of the wine spread throughout her body.

“I’d never thought that was a criteria for command, but I accept the compliment gladly.”

Cheyl smiled wickedly. “Perhaps you’d accept more than just compliments?”

Herula felt herself wriggle with pleasure like a kitten at the other woman’s lustful gaze.

Perhaps she would get out of this costume after all.

Squitter

“Ah, Skeek, you are such a damned pretty boy,” Squitter told his cousin as the other ratling groomed himself and gazed into a hand mirror.

“You must look good to be good, cousin.” Skeek straightened his red, gold-buttoned tunic. “My pikemen have distinguished themselves and will be officially recognized by Princess Theanna and her court.”

“Congrats, cuz,” Squitter said. “But count me out. I can’t stand still that long.”

“So what’s next for you, my noble, if uncouth, relative? My pikemen and I will be going to Litharna as honor guard to this Van Leuter fellow. He seems decent enough, for a hairless ape.”

“Hah.” Squitter gazed out the tent flap at the throng of varied races surrounding them. “Them shaved monkeys ain’t so bad once you get to know ‘em. Me, I’m stayin’ with Cap’n Skrall. I guess the sea’s in my blood. Or somethin’ like that.”

“You’re welcome to come back with me, as always. There will ever be a place in our noble company for those as brave and selfless as you.”

Squit rolled his eyes, then nodded.

“No prob, cuz. I’ll keep you in mind.”

XII

Wulf

Narisha didn’t seem herself. I had kind of expected another passionate reunion — she’d been the one to start this mess so many years ago with her love/lust spells and her compelling me into stealing the Demon Crown and all that, and it was just typical of her to want to leap into bed first and ask questions later.

That wasn’t how she was now, and I have to admit it disturbed me.

She certainly looked different, with her close-cropped hair, now perhaps as long as the first joint on my little finger. I had to admit that it actually made her look more exotic.

“I missed you,” I said after we’d exchanged the requisite hugs and kisses

“I missed you too,” she replied, a surprising statement in itself. “You’ll have to tell me all about it.”

She paused. “Things aren’t so good between me and Livia.”

“So I gather. What happened?”

She shrugged, setting her magnificent breasts to bouncing. “We went in different directions, I suppose. Sometimes I think, Wulf... Sometimes I wonder whether you were what held us together. That without you to balance us out we couldn’t find any middle ground.”

I gulped. “I’m flattered. I didn’t realize I was so important to you.”

“More than you imagine.” Narisha grinned flashing her lovely white fangs. “Everyone we come in contact with tells me that we’ve changed them, made them see different things. Maybe that was happening to me, too, and I didn’t realize it.”

“So what are you going to do?”

She looked contemplative. “I had a revelation in Necrotia, Wulf. What would you say I was truly good at?”

“Lots of things. Fighting, leadership, telling stories... Sex.”

“Well, it’s that last one that I thought of.” She stood and gazed up at the twin moons overhead. “Did you ever notice that when you’re having truly good sex, when you’re really making love that the world just seems to go away? That there’s nothing outside of you and your lovers?”

I smiled. “I’ve felt that on occasion.”

“Don’t you think that if everyone felt that, all the time, the world might be a better place?”

I hadn’t considered anything like that. Trust Narisha to come up with a plan for peace that involved everyone fucking all the time.

“It’s an interesting theory.”

“I’m planning on testing it. I’ll be putting in for a Red Temple franchise and spreading the word across Thystra.”

“Very worthy,” I admitted. “Care to make a new convert?”

She shook her head and chuckled. “Let’s talk first.”

Narisha wanted to talk, not fuck. Now that was a switch. I sat down beside her, ready to regale her with my adventures, and to hear of hers.

We talked for a long time.

When we were done, I unbuckled my sword belt and handed her Lawbringer.

“Here,” I said. “It belongs to your family. And it was only a loan. I think it’s best in the hands of its rightful owners.”

She accepted the weapon solemnly, and kissed my cheek.

“I love you, Wulf. And that may be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say.”

I kissed her back.

“I love you, too. ‘Til we meet again?”

She nodded, and I saw tears.

“’Til we meet again.”

***

We spent a few days in the valley, camped around the Silver Tower as our leaders debated the next move. As I was no longer one of these, I spent my time doing nothing and thinking vaguely about the future. There were feasts, revels, rewards, speeches and exhortations to always remember this moment and know that Thystra would not fall to the dark so long as the free peoples stood together. Princess Theanna herself rewarded me generously, kissed me and told me that I would always have a friend in the Elven Isles. I shed some tears after that, then distributed the gold she’d given me among my troops. Of course, I kept a bag or two for myself, but I didn’t really want to be bogged down too much.

After one last great revel and round of speeches, it was decided that the Alliance forces would depart, back to their homes and their pressing concerns. The Isles were to be opened for trade and cultural exchanges, while the southern lands, largely depopulated by the war, were granted to the dark elf refugees and their human hangers-on. I spent the last night before departure with Livia.

“So where are you going?” I asked as I held her close against me, the light of the two moons streaming through a high window in the Silver Tower.

“I need time,” she replied. “I’ve been keeping Sula Khan’s old tower maintained and ready for occupancy for years now. Remember that place? I’ll be staying there for a while, working on magic, writing, thinking.” She looked up at me, pale blue eyes reflecting moonlight. “You know that it’s not because I don’t love you, Wulf? I do love you. More than anyone. I’d even ask you to come stay with me there, but I know that you still need to wander, to find things about yourself. I’ll always be there for you, though.”

I sighed. “I understand. I was hoping you’d be willing to keep adventuring with me on Skate for a while, but I know what you’re saying. I feel bad for not being willing to settle down yet. “

She shook her head. “It’s not you, Wulf, it’s me. You wouldn’t be happy stuck in a lonely tower out in the middle of the ocean. You need to travel to explore, to find things. Someday I might join you again, but I need to see what the world is like when I’m not racing everywhere or frantically searching for things I can’t find.”

“You need to find them in yourself, don’t you?”

She nodded. “Wulf, the guardians told me something. Or maybe I told them. I don’t really know which, and it doesn’t matter. What I learned is that I’ve loved you all this time. I’ve loved Narisha, too, but that’s a different story. She’ll find her own way and, well don’t ask me how I know, but I know she’ll come back to me someday. But you, Wulf, I’ve loved you, but held you at arm’s length because I have so much to lose if you go away. I value all my lovers, Wulf, even if I don’t show it. And if any of them decided they didn’t love me, and had to go away and not see me anymore, I’d be sad.” She paused, looking away, biting her lower lip. “But I could live with it. I would mourn, but I’d move on. But you, Wulf. You mean so much to me, Wulf, that I don’t think I could live with you hating me.”

I held her close.

“Gods, Livia. Don’t even think that. I’d never hate you. No matter what. Friends, lovers, partners... It doesn’t matter to me. You matter to me, Livia. Your heart, your soul. Yes, I’d prefer to be your lover. Yes, I love to touch you and kiss you and make love to you, but being your friend is more important than any of that. If it was a choice between being your lover for a year and never seeing you, or being your friend forever, there’s no doubt in my mind which one I’d pick.”

Livia looked up, and I saw tears in her eyes.

“I hope I never force you to make that choice.”

“You won’t darling. It was purely hypothetical.”

Livia smiled at that. “I need to take some time alone, Wulf. But I’ll think about you every moment. You need to wander, and I understand that. By the way, you can have the Skate.”

I must have looked dumbfounded.

“I’m not kidding, silly,” she said. “I won’t need it. It’s yours. Consider it a long-term loan.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Just say thanks.”

“Thanks. A million times over.”

“That works for me.” She snuggled closer. She was very warm.

“So Theanna is staying to help run the realm,” I said. “Daedora is refounding her household here in the isles and trying to help her people settle. Narisha is founding her own Red Temple branch. Skrall and Squit are heading out on the Conqueror for more hellraising. Hm. Looks as if the old gang is going its separate ways.”

“What about Li?” Livia asked. “I haven’t had much chance to talk to her.”

“The quest for her sister continues. I’m seriously thinking of asking to join her.”

“You and that horny puppy dog?” Liv frowned. “You’ll wear her out.”

“I think that you of all people should know that’s impossible. Far more likely she’ll kill us both.”

“How are you going to deal with sharing her with the wolf? He and that orc... My goodness, what a night that was...”

I sighed. “Obviously, dear, I don’t mind sharing. I just haven’t had to share with a man before. I think that this is a good opportunity to exercise my new-found enlightenment. After dealing with you and Narisha, I could probably deal with anything.”

“I’m sorry. That wasn’t really fair of us, was it?”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not going to worry about it.” I stroked her hair. “Times like this make it all worthwhile.”

She seemed to appreciate that.

***

Li was delighted, Tanu was stoic, and I was at least happy that I knew where my life would be going. I sat with my back against a tree, watching the armies march away as Tanu silently stood guard and Li did some very alluring stretching exercises.

“So that is how it shall be,” Li said, happily, bending backwards, hands on the ground, looking at me upside-down. “Shu Li and her two wolves.” She stood up and fixed me with a stern gaze. “So long as the wolves do not fight.”

I shrugged. “Hardly a problem, dear. I think we’ll be a good team.”

“So we shall,” she said, and somersaulted, rolling to Tanu’s feet and gazing up at him. “So we shall.”

My life had always been full of goodbyes, but this time I was sincerely hoping that they were only farewells. Conqueror was moored to the north, so Skrall and his crew were marching off with the rest. Livia, without any further need for her ship, had blinked over to her new tower, with aid from the elves, earlier that morning. We chose not to have a drawn-out farewell, since we had both sworn to see each other regularly until I decided to settle down or she decided to start adventuring again. There were other partings, all emotional, and all sincere — too many to count.

Two of my most prominent companions, however, were going to be with us for a while longer.

“Observe, my friend!” Rees had declared, jerking a thumb at his backpack which, upon inspection, proved packed with gemstones. “It seems that our efforts have been worthwhile, after all.”

I nodded approvingly. “The Silver Lady?”

Rees laughed. “It seems that someone in authority reported our good deeds to the Lady herself, and she left orders to reward us amply. Whoever it was has our eternal love and gratitude.”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m sure whoever it was would be happy to hear that.”

So they were heading south, too. As our next destination was probably the Wild, we had decided to depart from Vaelthym, and Livia had directed the Skate to meet us there. It just so happened that Vaelthym was also the primary debarkation point of the dark elven and human refugees, so the place would be a madhouse. Perfect for Rees and Marcus, of course, though Li, Tanu and I might have a hard time of it.

As we prepared to leave, Rees jabbered endlessly, while Marcus just looked patient.

“I think,” Tanu confided, “that I prefer the dark one. He speaks little.”

I patted Tanu on the shoulder.

“You’d be surprised how many people say that,” I said.

***

Vaelthym was everything I had feared and more. Light and dark elves were crammed into close proximity, learning brotherhood and tolerance the hard way. Arguments, fights, and even a few murders had taken place, but overall things were as calm as could be expected under the circumstances. Vessels of every nationality crammed the harbor, carrying refugees (whom the captains had squeezed for every copper, I suspected), and the docks were crowded with incoming humans and dark elves.

We bribed innkeepers with gold and dreamweed, finally obtaining lodging of sorts while we waited for Skate. She arrived three days after we did, her sleek white hull contrasting with the shadowy shapes of dark elf ships and the towering merchant vessels of the humans.

It was early morning and the place was still bustling. As I prepared to leave, Rees and Marcus said their farewells. Rees struggled to find something appropriate to say.

“Together we’ve braved the worst, my brother,” he began, “and all I can say is...” He faltered, dabbing at his eyes. “I have to... confess... to, shall I say... feelings for you that go well beyond the... well, beyond the merely physical...

“It’s okay,” I assured him, slapping him on the shoulder. “I love you too, Rees.”

Marcus was more straightforward, his single eye fixing me with an intent gaze.

“Leave slowly, Wulf. And come back quickly.”

“I will,” I said. “Promise.”

Tanu, Li and I threaded our way through the crowd, watching the two vanish amid the throng. Even in this exotic atmosphere, where unfamiliar races rubbed elbows and ancient enemies were forced to be friends, Li attracted attention, naked and nubile and catlike as she was, but no one got within a handspan of Tanu’s bared fangs.

Skate lay ahead, berthed and ready for us. As we approached, however, I caught a glimpse of a crowd of human refugees in tattered clothes, their expressions variously hopeful, uncertain or fearful. Among them, I saw someone and my heart skipped a beat.

“You two go ahead,” I told Li. “I’ll join you on board in a few minutes.”

Li looked curious, but proceeded without question, and Tanu followed.

I found her among the throng.

“Hello,” I said, knowing as I said it that she wouldn’t recognize me. I’d been a different person the last time we’d met. But then, Li had recognized a familiar soul in a strange body. Perhaps others could, too.

She looked up, and to my surprise there was a glint of recognition in her eyes.

“I think I know you,” she said, softly. She held a baby in her arms and a man stood protectively beside her.

“I looked a little different then,” I admitted. “I’ve lost a lot of weight.”

I was again surprised to see her smile.

“You might not remember, but we parted under less than perfect circumstances,” I said. “I just want you to know that I’m sorry.”

She looked down for a moment, then back up at me. I couldn’t say whether she knew that I was Chuma or not, but I think that she did. Don’t ask me how.

“I’m sorry, too.”

And suddenly, the anger and regret inside me seemed to melt. A single word, sincerely uttered, could defeat an army of sorrows.

I looked down at the baby.

“Yours?” I asked, then abruptly felt silly. “Sorry. Of course he is.”

She nodded and smiled. “Born on the ship on the way here.” She glanced up at the man standing behind her, hands on her shoulders. “This is Kalam.”

I smiled and took his hand. “I’m Wulf. It’s a long story.”

He seemed to accept that.

“I have to go,” I said. “I hope you have a good life here.”

“Thanks.” Her eyes were bright again, but I could tell there were fears behind the brave face.

I fumbled at my belt, pulled out a bag of coins and handed it to her.

“This should take care of you for a while.” I paused, and grinned. “And no strings attached.”

She accepted the bag and stared as it sat in her palm, as if it might vanish at any moment.

“Keep it safe,” I said. “Lots of disreputable characters around here.”

I turned. The money would be more than enough to buy some land and even a small home.

From behind me, I heard a voice.

“Goodbye, Chuma.”

I looked back and waved at the woman, her man and her child.

“Goodbye,” I replied. “Goodbye, Tatiana.”

***

The sea stretched out around us, as far as the eye could see in any direction. The sky was gray with oncoming dawn as Skate cut through the water. I smiled when I saw dolphins dancing in our bow wake.

Captain Gaffe stood on deck, scanning the vessel with a critical eye. He was a no-nonsense sailor, the best that Livia could afford. And now he was paid for another year in advance, guiding my ship in heavy seas and calm water, through weather fair and foul. The crew busied themselves about the ship, splicing rope, inspecting the rigging, cleaning the deck — all those “sailor” things. I kind of missed Steph, but he had decided to opt out of this voyage, concerned (with some justification) that he’d come back, if at all, with even more mismatched body parts. No, they were all new to me, and it would take some time to get used to them.

Li and Tanu, however, weren’t new, and even now they joined me at the railing, gazing out across the sunlit sea.

“Back to sea and in your own body,” Li observed. “It must feel good.”

“You’re no idea,” I replied. “I think Chuma won’t be coming back. Not for a long time, anyway.”

“You learned much on your journey,” Tanu said.

“I did. Maybe more than I wanted to. But I did finally decide that life is worth living, and that sometimes the gods can be kind. Not often, but sometimes.”

“A worthy conclusion.”

“Where to now?” Li asked. “My sister’s trail had grown cold in Murvane.”

“Dulak the Slaver works out of Devil’s Hollow these days,” I said. “If he’s been home visiting any time in the last year or two, we’ll be finding out. We’ll find your sister, Li. No matter what.”

“I concur,” Tanu rumbled. “And let her captors tremble at our approach.”

I sighed. We’d fought a war, and helped turn the world upside-down. And now, at last, things were starting to return to normal.

And, I thought, looking down at my distorted reflection in the water and thinking about absent friends, not a moment too soon.

Ahead of us, the sun crested the horizon, and twilight gave way to dawn.

— END —