Dark Vengeance II: Gates of Steel

Preface: Well of Solitude

Gates of Steel was the fourth story of the Dark Vengeance saga. It was begun with the best of intentions, at the best of times, and completed just as my great retreat began with my flight to Los Angeles, leaving a broken marriage and shattered friendships in my wake. The bitterness of my experiences was manifest in the original tale, and the present version has been somewhat modified as I myself recovered from loneliness and depression. Mark of the Zombie followed, and I remember very little about writing it -- only that the rather unpleasant encounter between Livia and Raleph, and Narisha’s subsequent torment of Raleph, was written in reaction to the unpleasant nature of modern pornography and my desire to see some of its male participants treated to the same abuse and disdain that they themselves practice.

The long sex scene with Narisha and the whores was written separately as Narisha’s Night, intended as a kind of literary “wall to wall” sex tale, but I restored it chronologically to Mark of the Zombie, despite the fact that it jarringly interrupts the story for pages and pages of rather intense fucking. The volume and nature of the sex in the Dark Vengeance stories surprises me today -- I think it was a reaction to the bad things that were happening to me at the time. Not that I object to hot, sweaty, drawn out sex scenes; I’m just somewhat astonished at my capacity for writing them.

Of all the Wulf stories that I have assembled for the current revival, Gates of Steel presents the most changes. I find the explanations for the changes slightly embarrassing, but I entered into this project with the intention of full disclosure, so I’ll be as frank as I can be without betraying confidences. One character, based on a friend, has been entirely excised since she added nothing to the story and I frankly find recollection of our friendship to be a little bit depressing. Another character, also based on my interpretation of reality, has been changed significantly, because my original portrayal was angry and unfair. In the end, I feel a hell of a lot better about this version, and I think it works much better.

The biggest and most prominent change is the removal of the characters Jae and Violent Bahb, and their replacement with the far more appropriate sidekicks Rees and Marcus, who actually ended up taking on lives of their own, and may end up getting their own series someday. For those who didn’t know, Jae and Bahb were my own versions of director Kevin Smith’s comedy pair Jay and Silent Bob, featured in several movies beginning with the classic Clerks.

I got rid of them because I found myself cringing when I reread the books. In my own defense I can only say that I wasn’t entirely in my right mind when I wrote this series, and the inclusion such totally incongruous and inappropriate characters is pretty much inexcusable. Maybe it was just me being a Kevin Smith fanboy -- I certainly have no problems with the man himself or his work, but if I’m ever going to pay homage to creators that I admire again, I’ll do it in a slightly less excessive way.

In LA I dipped very deeply into a well and found it to be nearly bottomless. Though I was there with a roommate and tried to make friends, all I felt was an abiding sense of solitude, made no better by the bright sunshine and stimulating surroundings. After six months circumstances had proven too much for me, and I was eager to return home to old friends and familiarity, and to possibilities that I had too long neglected.


Gates of Steel

I

Khordelis was getting, if possible, even more depressing. The cloud cover hung lower, the rain beat down with an even greater chill insistence, and my own prospects never seemed better.

Of course, the prospects were for continuing to be a sexual plaything for Lady Thae’lynn’s perverted female officers, and for getting shipped out to die in some futile battle as spear-fodder for her beloved dark elven legions. Frankly, that would be enough to depress anyone.

My name is Wulf, though these days I was feeling distinctly un-wolfish. Downright catlike, in fact, since I was in my alter-ego of Chuma the lion man. Chuma had a number of advantages that Wulf did not, among them strength, stamina, endurance, charisma and a boundless sexual appetite. And oh, yeah a manhood like a battering ram. Though I’m sure many individuals might have wanted to trade places with me, I found myself wishing that I was my old, cowardly, unskilled, normally-endowed self.

I was masquerading as one of a lone handful of male officers in the mercenary army of the deviant Thae’lynn, dark elf bitch queen supreme, whose latest plan for world domination seemed to be right on schedule. The dark elves’ overly-attractive cousins, the high elves, were busy trying to conquer Litharna with the aid of a horde of undead dragons and such, leaving their homeland woefully understaffed, a plum ripe for Thae’lynn to pluck. Presently, she bided her time, waiting for news of the war. If the elves lost, she would simply sail on the Elven Isles, slay the Silver Lady, and rule elvenkind forever. If they won, then she would do the same thing, but then would defeat the exhausted elven armies and (you guessed it) rule all of Thystra. Neither prospect was terribly enticing, since Thae’lynn was the kind of woman who considered flensing to be a spectator sport, and numbered among her lovers a daemon, a black unicorn, and a horde of well-hung minotaurs.

Right now I was doing my best to avoid thinking about the oft-pierced evil one, since my job was to gather a unit of troops to command. That meant I had the pick of fifty or so trainees from the city’s most wretched hive of scum and villainy, the main barracks.

I had a couple of prospects already — my plan was to create a unit that would be loyal to me, not to Thae’lynn and not to the dark elven cause. I suspected that this wouldn’t be too hard.

I found Marcus sitting, glowering in a tavern, a mug of something dark sitting in front of him. The unconscious bodies of an orc and a dwarf lay on the floor, and I suspected that they had recently tried to displace Marcus from his prime corner spot.

“Marcus,” I said, receiving a curt nod in reply.

“Chuma,” he growled, holding up his mug. “Drink?”

I shook my head. “I need to talk to you two. Where’s Rees?”

Marcus scowled even more deeply and pointed upstairs.

“Where the hell else?” he asked.

In addition to his other qualities, Rees wasn’t terribly security conscious — his door wasn’t even unlocked and when I stepped surreptitiously into the room I spied my wayward swordsman sound asleep, comfortably sandwiched between a slender male elf and a bearded Cold Islander who looked as if he’s have been more at home burning down a village.

Rees leaped out of bed with a yelp when I poked him, awakening his two new friends, who stared at me with sleepy, hungover gazes.

“Chuma!” Rees exclaimed, frantically pulling on a pair of breeches. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Come on downstairs, you damned wanton,” I said. “We’ve got business to discuss.”

The elf sighed and smiled.

“Thanks for a lovely evening, whoever you are,” he said dreamily.

The Cold Islander, on the other hand, didn’t look terribly happy at the sight of his bed partners.

“Hey! What the fuck!” he demanded of Rees. “You told me you were an elf. And a virgin.” He paused, trying to recall details. “And a girl!

“Life is full of rude awakenings, my burly friend,” Rees said, scooping up boots and cloak and following me out. “Consider this a valuable lesson.”

Marcus was still scowling when we got downstairs.

“Did you have fun?” he asked, not kindly.

“Oh, wipe that frown off your face, you hulking lummox,” Rees replied, seating himself heavily beside Marcus and gesturing at the barkeep. “Another one of what he’s having, please!”

“How can you spend your time in bed cavorting with naïve boys when we’re on the way to our deaths?” Marcus demanded, taking another swig and wiping off his moustache with the back of his hand. “You never cease to amaze me.”

“Tut, tut, my friend... I ‘cavort’ as you so crudely put it exactly because we may be bound for our deaths. In any event, our feline friend,” here, he slapped me on the shoulder, “advised that I come down as he had something important to ask us.”

Marcus raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning on deserting?”
“Just the opposite,” I said. “I’ve been given a command.”

Rees frowned. “I thought her ladyship only wanted female officers.”

“Apparently I have a strong feminine side,” I said. “I’ve been told that I can hand-pick fifty troops, so immediately I thought of you two.”

Rees grinned brightly at that, and even the grim Marcus favored me with a wan smile.

“At least you won’t get your skin flayed off for insubordination,” I said. “And I need your help picking the rest of the unit.” I lowered my voice. “Hopefully you’ve had some time to meet your fellow recruits. I want troops who will be loyal to me, not to Thae’lynn and her cronies. Given what I think is coming, we’re going to need to stick together.”

Rees nodded curtly. “We hear and obey.” His beer arrived, delivered by a harried-looking goblin. “When do we start?”

I drew a deep breath. There was no turning back now.

“As soon as possible,” I said. 

*** 

I recruited for the rest of the day. Sometimes I followed Rees’ suggestions, and other times I simply looked to Marcus, who would either nod or shake his head. In the end, I had fifty prime warriors, all of whom were at least marginally trustworthy. I promoted a number to sergeant, reluctantly including my two friends, but telling them they were my adjutants just so they wouldn’t do anything too stupid.

My other sergeants were grim, competent looking veterans. I dispatched an outcast Wolfen named Natuk to see to getting the unit armed and armored, then headed back toward my quarters. I flung myself on my bed, but sleep eluded me.

The events of the past days came back to me. I knew we had an early day coming, but remaining in my quarters was simply not appealing. Tarnith and her battery of female officers and their “interview” process was exhausting me physically, and making my mind and soul feel absolutely filthy afterwards. A dozen alternatives flickered through my brain, starting with suicide and ending with desertion and flight back to the Skate and the welcoming arms of my lovers, wherever they were.

In the end, I compromised. I still had a mission, but that didn’t mean I had to pretend to like it. I dressed and stalked out of bed, knowing exactly where I was going.

The inn was even more crowded than normal. I guess word of our impending departure had gotten out, and Thae’lynn’s mercenary horde was determined to get wasted one last time.

Tatiana was busy hoisting a huge tray of empty mugs when she saw me. I hailed her across the room, feeling like the hero in a bad Litharnan romance novel.

When she saw me, she came up short and broke into a smile that lifted my gloom only slightly.

“We’re shipping out tomorrow,” I said simply.

Tatiana’s smile faded in an instant and she suddenly looked as miserable as I was. She didn’t reply.

“Can we discuss this upstairs?” I asked, starting to feel nervous and uncertain. “It’s damnably noisy in here.”

She nodded, set down her tray to the angry recriminations of the customers around her, and wordlessly led me up the stairs and back to her room, where we’d so recently writhed in passion’s embrace. Or something like that.

I sat down beside her on the bed.

“I’m leaving,” I said. “I’m in command of a training battalion. Fifty or so warriors. I’m also stuck servicing Tarnith and her friends, apparently.”

Tatiana wrinkled her nose. “I’m sorry Chuma.” She paused. “I guess I kind of expected this conversation, but I didn’t expect it so soon.”

“I didn’t either,” I said. “I’m sorry. Those other women... they’re not like you, any of them. I can’t deal with this situation much longer, not without someone real to care about. I need you, Tatiana. Would you come with me?”

It was as if I’d struck her. She looked away.

“Chuma.” Her voice soft and quite unhappy. “How can you ask me something like that? I... I have a life here. It’s not much of a life, and it’s not much of a job, but it keeps me alive. I just...” Now her voice broke and I heard the edge of a sob. “I can’t drop everything for someone I just met. Not even you. Not even after what we did last night.” She looked at me, tears coursing down her face. “I’ve been thinking about you all day, waiting to see you again, and the first thing you do is tell me that you’re leaving, and that you want to drag me away into the Darkhold with an army of... Oh... an army of gods only know what, and... Gods, Chuma, do you have any idea how insane that sounds?”

Now it was my turn to look away and feel the sting of tears.

“You’re right,” I whispered. “I’m... I’m just not in my right mind now, Tatiana. It’s been so very hard. I’ve seen so much that I can’t explain that I can’t understand. I look to the future and I just see more darkness and I just... I just wanted someone there who could help.”

She touched my cheek and stroked me. “I wish I could help, my love,” she said, still weeping and miserable. “If you stayed maybe you’d be someone I could... I mean, when I look at you I feel something... Something different, but I can’t be sure. I can’t leave this, no matter how I feel about you.”

She was still crying when I left. Beneath my heavy lion’s brows, I was crying too, but no one could see it. 

*** 

We shipped out on schedule the next day, marching in column toward the heart of Arwensland and Council Spire, the dark elven empire’s shag nasty central. I marched quietly along with my troops, letting Rees’ constant blather wash over me like a healing rain.

I didn’t share my experience with Tatiana, but Marcus seemed to sense that something was wrong, and shared the contents of his hipflask, a burning liquor that warmed me against the cold wind.

The terrain grew more dismal as we went on, a grey expanse of blasted rock with occasional patches of vegetation, increasingly dark and foreboding with the passing of leagues. I lost a private to a springing, catlike thing which I later learned was called a crag lion. We were joined by a supply train, consisting of gigantic snails with panniers. These creatures, disgusting as they were, moved about as fast as a man walking, and were overseen by bored-looking dark elf drovers. Occasionally, in the sky overhead, a great bat or owl would flap by, sometimes with a cloaked rider.

I sank further into a pit of malaise, issuing orders, managing my troops, occasionally getting drunk with Rees and Marcus, but communicating little. Tatiana’s words continued to haunt me, along with a nagging sense of self-loathing, and the realization that I had been only thinking of myself, not of her, when I’d ask Tatiana to come with me.

What kind of bastard was I, I wondered? It probably would have been less painful if I had just vanished into the wilderness and never spoken to her again. I tried, with at best mixed success, not to wander into the rift of self-pity, but ended up getting maudlin drunk and sad nonetheless.

I think it was Tarnith that heralded that final break.

It was the day before we were to arrive at Council Spire for our final training. The vast black mass of humanoids and animals inched along; now the sky was dark violet, almost purple, illuminated now and then by flickers of lightning. The wind howled, and sometimes random splatters of hail battered us.

Tarnith had just completed a review of my troops and we walked together toward her tent.

“We arrive tomorrow, Chuma,” she said. She was as darkly beautiful as ever, her striped hair now in shadow, her purple tattoos decorating the left side of her body like elaborate calligraphy. She wore an abbreviated outfit of red leather, a big sword strapped to one hip.

“A relief after the long march,” I said. “The troops can use a rest.”

“Not likely to get one,” she replied, matter-of-factly. “Rumor has it that her nibs wants us whipped into shape quickly. We may be marching to a real war soon.”

My heart sank. I was no closer to learning anything useful than I’d been a season ago. I didn’t reply.

“A courier came today with a message. All officers are to attend a reception at Council Spire tomorrow. I expect you to be there and to make me look good, since you’re my protégé.”

I sighed. “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll do my best.”

“And if any of Thae’lynn’s female commanders want your... services... Be sure and keep that cock hard and ready for action.”

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I swallowed hard and nodded.

“Very well,” she said. “Come by later, and we’ll give it a workout, shall we?”

I nodded again, trying to conceal my revulsion.

“I’ll call for you,” she continued. “Be ready.”

With that she vanished into her tent, a sizeable pavilion lit from the inside by warm yellow lamps.

I walked deliberately into the darkness, oblivious to the growing racket of the encampment. By the time I reached my tent, I was in a fine lather — angry at myself and my situation, frustrated, depressed, feeling a deep and abiding sense of rage at Tarnith and her petty orders. My sorrow over my parting with Tatiana was still strong, despite my best efforts to ignore it.

I didn’t bother to enter my tent. With a brief snort, I spun on my heel and strode back toward Tarnith’s pavilion. 

*** 

Tarnith looked up, surprised, as I strode into her tent. She had changed into a silk dressing gown.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded, harshly. “I didn’t call for you.”

“I called for you,” I replied, striding up to her and seizing her by the shoulders. “I thought this time we’d do it the way I wanted to.”

Tarnith stared back at me blankly for a moment, then softened and purred sweetly.

“And just what do you want to do, lover?” she asked.

“I don’t do anything,” I replied, yanking down her robe and exposing her breasts. The dark purple tattoos formed a pattern of deeper shadows across her pale skin. “You do what I say. And I say suck my cock. Now.”

“Well...” Her voice was breathless and excited, as if she’d never been treated in this fashion before. Given her authority and her attitude toward the men under her command, I wasn’t a bit surprised.

I didn’t wait for her response, but pulled her from her chair and thrust her down on her knees. My cock was hard already, straining against the fabric of my breech cloth.

“Mmmm...” she sighed, looking up at me, eyes wide and surprisingly vulnerable. “You want me to suck that?

I pulled my breechcloth away and presented my stiff member to her.

‘Yes,” I said. “Suck it until I come.”

“Oh, my,” she gasped, grabbing me with both hands. “I don’t know if I can...”

“You can and you will,” I shot back, taking her head in my hands and pressing it forward. “Now get busy.”

She’d sucked me before, and with great enthusiasm. But this time, Tarnith seemed possessed, slipping the knobby end of my cock into her mouth and teasing at it with her tongue. Her hands crept up my thighs and began to tickle my balls as she slid her lips down, distended by the size of the shaft. I felt her steel finger stroke my testicles, gently prodding them.

“Suck it,” I told her. “Suck it hard.”

Her eyes were huge, gaping up at me with what might be devotion. Her zebra-striped strip of hair was totally down now, hanging down around her face, framing it with black and white silk strands. My cock vanished into her distended lips, glistening with her saliva. Then she slid it out again, and began to run a tongue-tip around its swollen head.

“Mmmm,” she whispered. “It’s never been like this. You’ve never been like this.”

“I’ve wanted to be,” I snapped back. “Now keep sucking that cock.”

“Mmmm,” she said again and sucked at me several more times, then let off to lick again.

“Just come,” she said. “Just come in my mouth, then slap me across the face and walk out. Like you don’t care at all. Just slap me and go.”

She was asking for that kind of treatment? Even angry and driven as I was, it puzzled me. But it was what she wanted, and it excited me, too.

“I’ll come,” I growled. “I’ll come in that slutty mouth of yours, then I’ll slap you across the face and push you down and leave.”

“Like a bitch,” she hissed, baring teeth angrily. “Treat me like the bitch that I am, you fucker. Like a slutty little bitch whore.”

Well, I suppose a life of evil will leave its mark. I was using this woman for all I was worth, and she loved it. Why fight it, I wondered?

I seized her silky black and white hair and drove my cock into her mouth, heedless of her helpless yelps as I thrust past deeply down her throat, then pulled out and thrust in again.

“Oh, stop...” she gasped briefly, tearing her mouth away. “Too fast... too big...”

I didn’t know whether this was part of the game she was playing with me, but I didn’t care, and grabbed her hair again, shoving my cock back into her mouth. She didn’t resist, and I began to thrust inside again, pushing forward with my hips, bending my knees, and taking full strokes in and out of her slippery, humid mouth.

“You... bitch...” I snarled, rewarded by a new, muffled but excited cry from her. “You... little... bitch... whore...”

I still rationalized, knowing that this was what she wanted, but excited nevertheless, crying out obscenities and abuse in an angry, domineering voice.

“Fuck... my... cock... with that... slutty... mouth...” I growled, feeling the heat rising inside me. “Fuck... it... hard...”

“Mmm...” she replied, luxuriantly slipping my whole organ down her throat then out again. I hadn’t seen such control since Livia.

“I’m going... to... come...” The burning urgency of climax swept over me, and I felt myself swing over the mountain peak, to slide inexorably down the other side.

“Take it,” I said. “Take it, bitch...” Then I came, an explosion of semen bursting from me and into Tarnith’s mouth. She let go of me while I was still ejaculating, and streams of white sperm splashed across her cheeks and smiling face.

“Such a slut,” she whispered, come bubbling from the corner of her mouth. “Such a bitchy little come-sucking slut I am...”

I’m not sure if I slapped her because I wanted to, or because she’d told me to, but my blow sent her spinning to the floor.

She looked up at me, semen still dripping from her lips, and grinned.

“I love it,” she growled. “I love it, you big, ugly, cocksucking bastard.”

I’d had enough. I slapped her again, knocking her onto her back, then fell on her, snarling and snapping my jaws. I didn’t care that she’d asked me to just leave. I was in a mood for more.

“Yes, do it,” she hissed, eyes alight. “Do it hard.”

Was it rage or frustration, sorrow or lust, arrogance or self-loathing? I don’t know. I felt some combination of them all as I unsheathed my claws and shredded Tarnith’s clothing, ripping it from her body, leaving a few bloody slashes, red against the purple of her tattoos and the pale white of her flesh. She writhed, and tossed her head, hair flying.

“Do you wanna fuck me?” she demanded as I lay against her, pinning her wrists to the floor. “Do it, fucker. Fuck me.”

I felt my cock growing hard again; it was that leonine physique that I hadn’t earned, but it was what I wanted at that moment. I moved astride her, hardening cock tight against her breasts, and slapped her across the face again. She cried out again, baring her teeth and shouting at me.

“Do it, you fucker! Slap me! Make me take it! Shove that cock into my cunt! Fuck me hard! Slap me! Hurt me!”

I obliged, slapping her across the face again, then seizing her thighs and thrusting them apart, spreading the hairless pink flesh, wet and alive for me, radiating warmth.

“Now!” she screamed, slashing at me with her fingers; I felt the metal finger score my flesh. “Shove that cock in me! Now!”

I drove in, cock cleaving the wet pink cunt-flesh, leaning against her thighs, jamming them back toward her head, pounding in and out fiercely, my cock now grown once more to full hardness, Tarnith’s cries a burning counterpoint to my own onrushing pleasure.

“I’m coming...” she cried. “C... coming for you...”

And then I came, fresh semen gushing from my cock, filling the heaving vessel of Tarnith’s cunt. I let the contractions subside, then pulled out and stood, looking down at her in contempt.

She smiled up at me through strands of black and white hair.

“You loved it, didn’t you?” she whispered.

I slapped her again, and turned to stride from the room.

“Don’t forget the reception.” Tarnith’s voice sounded from behind me. “Your presence has been specifically requested!”

I still felt disgusted with myself. 

*** 

We arrived at what I could only guess was dawn the following day. The towering prominence of Council Spire reached up toward the troubled sky, and we made camp on the bleak plain nearby. A huddle of buildings clustered near the spire — I supposed that this was where the servants and others who worked at the Spire lived. For now, it would be our only source of entertainment.

Except, perhaps, the reception.

“I’ll be gone tonight,” I told Rees as we watched our troops set up tents and haul supplies. “It seems our fearless leader will be meeting with her officers and select non-coms.”

“Pity we’re not invited,” Rees lamented. “Knowing them it’s likely to degenerate into an orgy. I’ve seen one or two rankers I’d love to spend some time with.”

Marcus grunted, sharpening his sword with a stone.

“Don’t you start,” Rees snapped. “I’ve seen plenty of those bitchy little officer girls casting longing glances your way. If you wanted to you’d be up to your elbows in naked females.”

Marcus grunted and continued to polish his sword.

“Well, at least tell us all the sordid details when you return, Chuma,” Rees said. “If you return at all, of course.”

“That’s the spirit, friend,” Marcus growled. “Give him all the encouragement you can.”

II

Council Spire grew as I approached. The main building yawned before me, its great gates crafted of solid enchanted steel. A crowd of warriors shuffled through. Most were women, but there was a handful of other male officers, as well as a horde of preening boytoys, lovers or slaves of the female commanders.

The interior was a wonderland of solid stone and metal, all carved or sculpted into fantastic shapes, from organic-looking hallways to soaring arches and ornate doors. A number of dark elves, male and female, politely guided us to a large ballroom, its floor seemingly made of a huge sheet of polished moss agate, where the guests were gathering. The room was full of tables, chairs, couches, cushions and gauzy hangings, and already I caught a whiff of dreamsmoke.

I was polite, though after about a half hour of mind-numbing introductions and idiotic small-talk, I began to drink whatever was handed me. A half-hour later, I’d smoked a few substances as well. It wasn’t my normal way, but my spirits were low, and I didn’t really feel terribly civilized.

After a couple of hours, the reception had pretty much degenerated into debauchery, with various folks grappling in dark corners, amid more clouds of dreamsmoke and other intoxicants. I sat unmoved, brooding in my chair, nursing a mug of something that tasted like mud and stung like wasps going down. I didn’t really care.

I was near the bottom now, and I knew it. Perhaps it was the proximity to such profound perversity and evil. Perhaps it was my isolation from the people I cared about. Perhaps it was lingering sadness and self-deprecation over my parting with Tatiana. Whatever — circumstances combined to drive me into a deep, abiding funk from which I saw scant hope of recovery.

I was acting unlike myself, I knew... witness my treatment of Tarnith. Of course, she’d tried to kill me and my friends and now engaged in a bizarre and degrading relationship with me, so I had few compunctions about my behavior — I hadn’t forced her in any way; gods help me, she’d actually enjoyed it, but even so it was not the way I usually behaved. My attempts to find a real, caring person in this morass of darkness and deviancy had ended in a storm of irrational recrimination and almost psychotic anger, leaving me with only those women who seemed to favor more outré and violent passions. Just the same, my behavior toward Tarnith cemented my reputation as a grim and domineering outcast lion-man eager for promotion.

Very well, I thought. My slightly inebriated mind was leaping to conclusions that weren’t necessarily factual. If a domineering outcast lion-man is what they wanted, then a domineering outcast lion-man is what they would get.

As if on cue, a shadow passed across the feeble lamplight over my head, and two heavy bodies blundered into me. They fell, apparently intent on my chair, but not noticing that it was occupied.

I had a glimpse of them — both women, locked in a rather sloppy embrace. One was strongly-built, with short black hair and dark eyes. The other was fleshier, with straight red hair and prominent breasts spilling out of her low-cut dress. Then, they were on me, using me like the chair I sat on (a strangely apt comparison, the sober region of my mind thought).

“Oh, excuse us,” whispered the dark-haired one, noticing that I was there. “We were looking for a nice quiet corner.”

“Well,” I said, watching the two kiss passionately, lips tangling together, tongues darting in the dim light, “I’d say you found one. Mind if I stay?”

“Mmm,” said the dark one. “Do you mind if he stays, my dear?”

The redhead, far gone to alcohol and other things, cast me a bleary glance, and nodded.

“He’s nice. He can stay.”

“All right,” said the first, obviously more aggressive of the pair. I decided to call her “Black,” and the other one “Red.”

And so Black and Red continued where they had left off, largely ignoring me (another familiar position, I noted). Black pulled down Red’s gown, exposing fleshy white shoulders and two large, pale breasts, then immediately began stroking and biting at them.

“Mmmm,” she said, softly. “I love it. I’m going to eat you out, you know.”

“Mmmm,” Red replied, throwing her head back, casting hair in my face. “You wanna eat me?”

“Yeah,” husked Black.

I decided that now was the best time to start aiding Black in her quest, and I encircled Red’s substantial torso with my arms, moving my hands to encircle her breasts.

“Oh!” Red squeaked, noticing me again. “Who are you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “It’s a long story, anyway.”

“Oh,” Red said, surrendering herself to Black’s attentions once more. “Okay.”

I squeezed the vast and soft mounds, pointing her nipples toward Black.

“Here you go,” I said. “I’ll hold them for you.”

Black smiled wickedly. She was plowed, too, but somewhat less than her victim.

“Hmm,” she said, extending a long tongue to tease one of Red’s nipples. “Thanks so much. You want to help us?”

“Nothing,” I said, evenly, feeling myself getting hard as Red’s big, soft buttocks ground against my crotch, “would make me happier.”

“Mmmf,” Red said. “He’s getting really hard, you know.”

“At last,” said Black. “A man who likes girls. You like him?”

“I think so,” Red said, “but I like you more.”

“That’s all right,” Black said, tugging her dress down farther, letting her breasts swing freely. “You can fuck him. I’ll just eat you. Hold those tits steady for me, lion-man.”

Again, I was happy to oblige. I squeezed hard, feeling the soft flesh yield, and Black’s lips and tongue flick across my fingers as they caressed Red’s nipples.

“Ohhh, yes,” Red moaned, writhing, purposely grinding her hips against my steadily hardening cock. “Do it. I’m yours. I’m your slave. I’m your slave.” Her words were slurred by her various intoxicants, and my customary disinclination to take advantage of the inebriated nagged at me.

But only for a second. I moved my hands from her breasts to her shoulders and wrenched her head around to face me.

“You’re our slave?” I hissed, and kissed her, hard, thrusting my tongue into her mouth.

“Yes,” she replied. “Do anything you want with me.”

I turned her back to face Black.

“She says she’s our slave,” I told her. “Then I guess she should do whatever we tell her to.”

“Yes,” said Black, grinning. “She should.”

I whispered into Red’s ear. “Then strip. Everything. Let her eat you.”

“Yes,” Black replied, yanking Red’s dress down further, freeing her arms and then pulling the garment down over her wide hips. Red lifted slightly to let Black finish stripping her, then lay against me, naked and radiating heat.

I sat up, letting red slide to the floor, a marvelous wilderness of flushed pink flesh, then took her arms, holding each by the wrist, pulling them back. She lay between my legs, back against my cock, which had by now slipped out of my breeches. Grinning madly, Black freed her own breasts from her bodice, and slid down Red’s body, lavishly rubbing herself against the other woman.

“I’m going to eat you,” she whispered, and Red groaned, straining against me, weakly resisting my grasp of her wrists. “I’m going to eat you now.”

“Then,” I hissed in Red’s ear, “I’m going to fuck you.”

This seemed to make Red happy, because she cried out again, and flashed a brief smile, then threw her head back, hair once more flipping into my face, and groaned loudly.

Black had gleefully managed to free herself from her own garments, and now, a strongly-built, muscular woman more handsome than beautiful, she lowered her face between Red’s heavy thighs, tongue lapping. Red tensed, then sighed, and relaxed.

“Mmm, eat me,” she whispered. “Eat me, please.”

I released Red’s wrists, and she immediately moved them to the back of Black’s head, stroking and pressing Black’s mouth against her cunt. My hands encircled Red’s breasts, feeling the hot flesh overflow them. I stroked and tweaked her nipples, making her twitch and writhe more, and I watched as Black’s tongue clove Red’s swollen cunt. The dark woman pursed her lips and sucked at Red’s clit, then lapped it with a stiffened tongue.

Red groaned again, stroking Black’s short hair, pressing her breasts against my hands, then slid back up atop me, twisting her head back, lips seeking mine. I moved to meet them; she had moved like a contortionist, impressive for a woman of her size, and now we kissed deeply as she nibbled and bit at my lips, and shuddered at the touch of my rough-surfaced tongue.

“Mmmmm,” she cried against my mouth. “Ohhh, I’m... Mmmm... Oh, yes...”

She rose up, pressing against my hands, but I held her down, our mouths intertwined, tongues thrusting. Black lapped still faster, and I saw that she had at least two fingers inside Red, pulling in and out rapidly.

I bit at Red’s neck and squeezed her breasts harder. Black broke off licking at Red for a moment, then delved beneath us, fingers encircling my hard cock, pulling it out from under Red’s plump buttocks. Then she ran a tongue up and down it and sucked it rapidly.

“What’s she doing?” Red demanded irritably, lips touching mine. “She stopped eating me.”

“She’s sucking my cock,” I told her, growling. “You know? The cock I’m going to fuck you with later.”

“Ahhh,” she breathed. “Keeping you hard so you can fuck me?”

“That’s it,” I said. “So I can fuck you later.”

In a few moments, Black returned to Red’s neglected cunt. Red tensed and rose up again, then cried out as Black slid two, then three fingers into her.

“I’m coming,” Red hissed. “I’m going to come... Ohhh...”

Her pale flesh flushed pink, her heart hammered beneath my hands. Her thighs scissored together, holding Black’s head between them as the other woman continued to suck and lick, and thrust her fingers. After a few moments, Red’s convulsions subsided, and she lay against me, a hot sweaty mass of soft flesh.

“Mmmmm,” Red moaned. “Oh, gods...”

But Black wasn’t about to let her rest. She fell back on her haunches and freed herself from her garments. She sat before us both, her own skin sheened with sweat, legs apart, gleaming with moisture. She was muscular and tough-looking but attractive, with broad shoulders and corded arms. Her breasts were small, sitting high on her wide rib cage, and her stomach was flat, decorated with a couple of scars that bore witness to the violence of our mutual profession.

“Now come on,” Black said, commandingly. “Your turn. Eat me. And he’ll fuck you from behind.” She looked up at me. “That okay with you?”

I nodded and with sudden resolve sat up, pushing Red forward onto her hands and knees so that she landed between Black’s thighs.

“Mmm,” said Black. “You know just what to do, don’t you, cat-man?”

I nodded, moving behind Red, seizing her hips and feeling the soft, hot flesh of her buttocks beneath my hands. I guided my cock toward her sopping cunt lips, still gleaming from Black’s attentions.

“Eat her,” I said, stroking my cock against her. “Eat her now.”

“Mmm, yes,” Black urged, stroking Red’s hair. “Eat me now while he fucks you.”

“I will,” Red replied, words still slurred but excited. “I’ll eat you really good.”

With that, Red wrapped her hands around Black’s thighs and buried her face between them, eliciting a loud cry. Black threw her head back, and grabbed her own breasts, squeezing her nipples between her fingers.

I slipped my cock between Red’s thighs, fitting its knobby head into the sweet, hot opening there. Then I thrust inside, pulling her hips against me, feeling the hot flesh of her ass slam into me. She cried out loudly, fingers digging into Black’s thighs.

I pulled out and thrust in again, harder this time, holding tight against the sweat-slick flesh.

I looked up, and noted that over the past several minutes, we’d gathered an audience. A crowd was staring, variously fascinated, repelled or excited. Most prominently, I glimpsed a strapping woman in a black gown, watching me with half-open lips and wide eyes. As I watched, she slipped a hand under her garment and began massaging one breast.

Great. I supposed I’d have to give her what she wanted, being the generous person that I was. I tightened my grip and thrust harder, feeling Red’s cunt tighten, as if resisting my cock’s insistent pressure. Black crossed her legs behind Red’s head, holding her close. The red-tressed head continued to bob as Black threw her head back and groaned urgently.

They both seemed to come at the same time, with Red crying out, voice muffled by the hot flesh held tightly against it, and Black tensing violently, grinding against Red, then at last falling back, a look of dreamy satisfaction on her face.

But she still wasn’t finished. After a moment, as I continued to thrust into Red’s sopping cunt, she grabbed the other woman under the arms and yanked her forward, leaving my cock suspended in the air. I stared in annoyance, but watched as Black roughly pulled Red to her knees, then spun her around to face me. She was flushed, her hair almost black from sweat, her eyes half-closed and glassy.

“Now suck him,” Black ordered, pushing Red down onto her knees. “Suck him while I play with you.”

“Mmm, yes,” Red slurred then looked up at me. “Want me to suck you?”

“I do,” I said, then took her head and pressed it down onto my cock. “Now do it.”

Red’s lips enfolded my cock, still wet from her cunt, and slid down it, taking almost half its length on her first try.

Behind her, Black crouched and toyed with her between the thighs and buttocks. Red shuddered as Black thrust two fingers into her cunt, and swallowed my thick cock to the hilt. I was impressed.

“Watch this,” Black whispered. “I’ll bet this will make you come.”

She held up the two fingers she’d put inside Red, slick with her juices, then added a third and a fourth. Then she thrust them into Red, triggering another moan and a cry, and Red began to suck at me faster, teasing me with her tongue and applying a light touch of her teeth to my hardened flesh.

Then Black held up her hand and pressed all her fingers together. As soon as Red felt the five fingers at the opening of her cunt, she cried out again.

“Oh, yes,” she gasped. “Oh, yes. Put it all in.”

As Black worked at Red’s cunt, slowly slipping her hand inside her, I watched our audience. Several were busily grappling with each other, while others, like the big blonde woman, were actively masturbating. The blonde woman had hiked her gown up, and now had spread her hairless cunt lips apart and was stroking herself. She caught my eye with a smoldering gaze and licked her lips luxuriantly.

By now, Black had her entire hand inside Red up to the wrist. Then she looked at me again and held up a finger on her other hand, then licked it. She slid the slick finger between Red’s ass cheeks, and Red’s cries grew even greater in intensity as Black penetrated her asshole.

I felt the urge to come rising up in me, and I stroked Red’s hair.

“I’m going to come,” I said. “You want me to come?”

Red nodded, mouth still filled with cock, and I thrust with near-terminal urgency.

Then Black held up three fingers and once more licked them, then thrust all three into Red’s tight asshole.

“Mmmmm, yeah...” Red gasped, holding my cock against her open lips. “I’m gonna come. Come in my mouth now.”

“Come in her mouth,” Black urged. “Make her swallow it all.”

And again Red sucked me down, orgasmic cries exploding from her throat as Black continued to pound her fingers into her two rear orifices.

It rose quickly, bubbling up like lava, and I felt contractions race through me, my hot come gushing into Red’s mouth. She was still groaning with multiple orgasms, and much of it dribbled out of her mouth, slick and hot. At last, exhausted and overcome, she collapsed forward, falling between my legs. Black waited a moment, then collapsed atop her, gazing up at me through slitted eyes.

“Very good,” she whispered. “Very good, lion man.”

III

I was surrounded by people who succeeded by using each other, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I started doing the same. Having slaked my lusts, at least for the moment, I left Black and Red to their own devices; they crawled into a dark corner and continued with their antics, though for the moment it held no real interest to me. Given my body’s tireless constitution, it was likely that I’d be able to keep this kind of thing up all night, but right now I wasn’t terribly motivated.

Wandering out of the herbsmoke-filled room, I stepped into the corridor, avoiding a few entwined couples and triples on the way. I supposed that my performance really wasn’t all that unusual for a party of this nature, but I still felt more than a little tainted by the whole thing. And another part of me didn’t mind being tainted all that much — reveled in it, in fact.

A commotion in the main room grabbed my attention, and I stepped back inside to see what was going on. The double doors had opened, and the various groups moved swiftly aside, disengaging and rising to their feet, then swiftly bowing when they saw who had entered.

My jaw dropped and I felt my heart start to hammer with suppressed rage and fear. Coming through the door, accompanied by an entourage of chained and collared attendants, was my arch-nemesis, Lady Thae’lynn N’Quy.

I’d lost track of the number of times she’d tried to kill me, either directly or indirectly. In the intervening years she’d lost none of her venomous beauty; in fact, as I watched her sensuously glide into the room, clad in a long violet gown that exposed her ebon thighs, and a low bodice that exposed her breasts and pierced nipples, I felt a troubling stirring in my loins, as if my libido had declared independence from my common sense, and wanted to fall on and ravish the woman, despite how much my conscious mind hated and feared her.

She looked around, scanning the frantically decoupling revelers, and smiled. The rings in her lips glittered.

“No, no, my friends!” she declared, waving a hand, making her breasts bounce alluringly. “Please don’t stop on my account! This is no dull state occasion. I’m here to see my subjects enjoying themselves.” Her eyes narrowed and her voice grew harsh. “So enjoy yourselves!”

Of course the unspoken words were “On pain of death,” but this only seemed to excite the party-goers more, and in a few moments, the orgiastic excesses resumed with even greater intensity. Being uncoupled myself, I began to feel vulnerable, since the last thing I wanted at this point was to attract her nibs’ attention. Feeling my lust for the dark elf soaring along with my cock, I cast about frantically, trying to locate a dark corner where I could at least feign ecstasy.

To my surprise, my gaze locked with a pair of dark eyes, brooding below the brow of the big blonde woman I’d been admiring. Two male companions, apparently human, looked at her in dismay as she took a step toward me, gliding forward like a panther closing in on its prey. They hastened to follow, but she dismissed them with a wave of her hand, and they fell back, looking distinctly unhappy.

I had a chance now to take a closer look at her. She was pretty disheveled, and her black gown was soaked with sweat and various other liquids, making me wonder why she wore it at all. It had been pulled down to expose two fat, pink-nippled breasts, and my new admirer didn’t seem to want to bother covering them up again. Her blonde mane was in disarray, her eyes wide, her lips parted, her skin flushed. As she approached, I caught the whiff of dreamsmoke and saw that her pupils were staring black pits, though in sober moments her eyes were probably green.

“I saw how you handled those two sluts,” she said, voice surprisingly steady for someone who was obviously far gone on intoxicants. “Care to take on another?”

I spared Thae’lynn a glance. She was busy with one of her slaves, a hairless dark elf woman. Naked save for leash and collar, the slave was on her knees, fellating a wolfen while Thae’lynn urged her on with a firm hand behind her head. Her grace was busy for the moment; if I took this woman up on her offer I might be safe from her attention for the moment. Besides, the woman’s offer seemed more and more tempting, as dreamsmoke and my returning lusts began to work on my mind.

“I certainly would,” I said. “I’m Chuma. You are...?”

“Horny,” she replied. “But my name is Emeralis. I happened to get a glimpse of that lovely thing between your legs, Chuma. You seem to know how to treat a woman.”

I frowned. “And how do you like to be treated?” I asked, almost dreading the answer.

“Rough and hard,” she grinned. “Slap my ass until it’s red then fuck it with that big cock of yours. That’s what I like. Big, strong men with lots of muscles and big, big cocks.”

I looked over at her companions, who cast me black glances. The first was slender and wiry, with a long grizzled face and black hair to his shoulders. The second was broader and shorter, his chiseled face framed by curly blonde locks. Neither looked as if they liked me in the least.

“What about your friends?” I asked, pointing.

Emeralis waved a hand dismissively. “Losers. Hung like goblins, both of them. No idea how I like to be treated, either of them. The best they can do is warm me up for you. You’re the one I really want.”

Thae’lynn was on the prowl again, and I still wasn’t ready to deal with her. Emeralis offered me a way out, albeit a rather unconventional one. I nodded curtly, remembering the role I had played with Tarnith and Herula. It was coming to me more easily now.

I reached out and grabbed a handful of hair. She gasped sharply and looked at me with burning eyes.

“What do you want again?” I asked. “Tell me. Don’t leave anything out.”

She leaned forward and whispered hotly in my ear for several moments. I felt my eyebrows rise involuntarily, but after this long behind enemy lines, nothing should have shocked me. I fixed her with what I hoped was a domineering stare.

“Very well. Tell your friends to come watch.” I took her by the hair and led her out of the room, using it as a leash. “You’ll get all you want and more.”

The party and Thae’lynn vanished behind us. I suppose at that point I could have simply dropped Emeralis’ hair, told her companions to give it to her long and hard, and vanished into the night, but my mind was again spinning with thoughts and frustrations, and the desire to simply satisfy my own desires at someone else’s expense. It wasn’t pretty, to be sure, but it was the way of things here, and I was for the moment willing to indulge in it.

I apparently wasn’t the only one. As we walked down the hall, Emeralis’ two companions following a few steps behind and glowering, she glanced back at me.

“That’s such a big cock you have there,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Think you can get it hard again?”

I’d forgotten that I was still naked; alcohol will do that to you. Past experience suggested that I could probably keep going most of the night and still recover enough for another orgy the following day. All I did was growl.

“That depends on who’s getting it hard,” I replied. “Think you can do it?”

She smiled. “I can guarantee it, cat-man. All you have to do is think about reaming me up my tight asshole.”

My mood combined with the alcohol to make her comment appealing. As she looked at me, I felt my cock begin to stir.

“Well, this shouldn’t be too difficult,” she said, then looked back at her two escorts. “You should see this, you two. This cock makes you both look like hamsters.”

They took it in silence, but I could tell they were pissed. Had I been sober, I might have suspected that there was more going on here than met the eye, but at that moment, with lust beginning to rear its ugly head and my cock rapidly returning to its excited state, I didn’t spare much thought to anything else.

“I’ll bet he knows how to use it, too, unlike certain men I know,” she continued, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “He knows exactly where to put it and how hard to shove it in.” She looked back at me. “Don’t you, Chuma?”

“Well, I think you’re about to find out,” was all I could manage as we stopped outside an ornate door.

“My quarters,” Emeralis explained, fumbling with a key. “Keep that lovely fuck-stick hard, won’t you, love? I’ve got a perfect place to put it.”

Idly I wondered if she talked like that when she was sober and unaltered by dreamsmoke, but my intellect was definitely taking a back seat this evening. We stumbled through the doorway into another dark, globe-lit room that reeked of incense. Emeralis’ two boytoys followed.

Now, Emeralis disengaged her hair from my hand and turned, deftly unclasping her gown and letting what little remained of her modesty slide to the floor. She was a marvel to behold, I had to admit. She reminded me somewhat of Nineh, Countess Xylara’s sister, but I had a hunch that Nineh was a much cannier individual. Her back was to me, a pale expanse of flesh, flaring into two overripe buttocks and plump but well-muscled legs. Her words had fired me up, and now my cock was growing to full rigidity once more at the prospect of cleaving those sweet mounts and pounding into her tightest of orifices. I stepped forward, heedless of the still-hostile stares of the other two men.

“Gods, but you’re huge,” she whispered, looking back over her shoulder.

She turned to face me. Her breasts swung free, pillowy white mounts capped with pink, nipples growing hard as I watched her. She stepped forward and slid to her knees

“Stay right where you are, you bastard,” she whispered. “I want to get this cock as hard as possible. I’m just thinking of how it’ll feel slamming into my ass.” She glanced up. “You like that? Like it when I talk like that?”

I nodded. “Tell me what you want me to do.”

“I’ll tell you,” she agreed, “but first I need to tell these two idiots what to do.”

She fixed a steady gaze on the first human, a swarthy man with a lean face.

“Watch him, both of you,” she said. “This is one who knows how to really fuck a woman. Maybe you can learn something.”

The dark man began to step forward, but she stopped him with a curt gesture.

“No, Hamal,” she said. “You wait. I have to get him hard first. Then you can fuck me while he watches. Get me ready for this big cock. Then you’ll see what a real man can do.”

Dutifully, but still casting the evil eye at me, the dark man stepped forward and began to stroke at Emeralis’ softly rounded ass cheeks.

Deep down inside my mind, I was beginning to have my doubts about the entire affair, given that Emeralis obviously seemed intent on utterly humiliating her two companions, and I was never one to be party to the wanton destruction of another intelligent being’s ego. Mine’s been destroyed far too many times for me to enjoy it myself. Still, my drunken mind was in control, and as Emeralis enveloped my cock with her hot lips, I suddenly forgot the empathy which I was beginning to feel for the two men.

Moaning deeply, Emeralis took all of my cock that she could into her mouth, then released me and licked its underside, stroking at my balls with her fingertips.

“Oh, he’s so huge,” she said in mock-awe. “So much bigger than either of you. I’ll bet he fucks better, too.” She looked over at the darker man, who looked both angry and forlorn. “Oh, all right, Hamal, you can come lick my ass. Get it ready for him. Maybe I’ll let you come on my ass if you’re good.” She looked up at me, my cock halfway down her throat. She stroked my shaft with light fingers, then released me.

“Hold this, won’t you?” she asked, smiling sweetly. She pointed toward a low chaise. “And go sit there. Keep this fucking monstrosity hard for me, or I’ll be very disappointed. I think I’ll take both of these fools first, then I’ll let them see what you can do to me.”

Wordlessly, I stepped back and sat down on the couch, head still spinning. Fortunately, my n’doro body still hadn’t let me down, and my cock remained hard as an alabaster column.

Emeralis threw a come-hither glance at the blonde man. “Fuck my mouth, Helmar. Shove your cock in my face and see how hard it gets him.”

She glided to her hands and knees and the two men moved with practiced ease, as if this was something they’d done hundreds of times. They probably had, I reflected, watching Helmar present his erect cock to her lips while Hamal began to lovingly stroke, then lick and bite at the pale mounds of her buttocks. She started to moan as Hamal licked between her ass cheeks and began to stroke at her mons. She swayed forward and backward, her breasts swinging pendulously, grazing the carpeted floor. Neither of the men looked to be hung like goblins; I wondered if this was a game she played with them often, and how they truly felt about it.

She rubbed Helmar’s stiff organ across her face, smearing her own thick saliva, whispering urgently.

“You just don’t know what to do, either of you. Oh, you can fuck, all right, but you’ve got nothing, nothing... Just wait until he puts his big, ugly cock in me and makes me come; then you’ll see what a real man can do.”

I was starting to get tired of Emeralis’ attitude, especially putting myself in Helmar and Hamal’s positions, and thinking of being compelled to pleasure a woman who constantly compared you, unfavorably, to others. I was seriously considering getting up and leaving when Hamal at last slipped his cock against Emeralis’ cunt-lips and thrust inside, eliciting a yelp and a moan. Emeralis redoubled her sucking at Helmar, using one hand to hold his organ tightly by the base, then slipping it out and lapping enthusiastically around the head.

“Oh, they have their uses,” she gasped, sparing a glance at me. “But they don’t know anything about really taking care of me. Ohhhh...”

She seemed well taken care of as Hamal, a look of grim determination on his face, seized Emeralis’ well-cushioned hips and pulled her back onto his cock. Despite her apparent disdain for her companions, Emeralis didn’t seem to mind the attention, her groans rising with each thrust, her juices leaving the flesh of Hamal’s cock slick and shining.

Emeralis tensed and squealed, pitching forward, breasts pressing into the floor and bulging alarmingly, her mouth sliding down, swallowing Helmar to the hilt.

With what looked to me like practiced ease, Hamal slipped his cock out of Emeralis as she still writhed with orgasm, then slid it between her buttocks and, with surprisingly little resistance, thrust into her nethermost orifice.

It seemed to redouble her climax, and I saw that now she was fingering her clit with her free hand as Hamal slid his cock in and out of her ass.

With a grunt and a gasp, Helmar grabbed Emeralis hair and dragged her down onto his cock, his muscles straining. He cried out and came as, still orgasming herself, Emeralis sucked harder, swallowing his come.

Moments later, Hamal unleashed his own orgasmic groan, pulling out of Emeralis’ ass and splashing white come across her. He fell to his knees and collapsed, gasping, as Hamal’s slick, deflating cock slipped out from between Emeralis’ lips.

Weakly, Emeralis waved the two men away.

“Go,” she said. “Go keep yourself entertained. I want him now.” She rolled onto her side, squeezing her breasts between her upper arms, nipples pink and swollen, gazing at me with drugged, hungry eyes. “You,” she said, huskily. “Your turn. Don’t disappoint me, now.”

With that, she rolled onto hands and knees, presenting her sweat and semen streaked buttocks to me.

I still felt light-headed, though some of my normal rational mind was beginning to reassert itself as I stepped toward Emeralis. Her pale buttocks were thrust into the air, the puckered rosebud of her anus exposed. Her breath came in short, excited gasps.

That pretty much banished my returning rationality for the moment, for my cock had once more swollen to painful prominence, and as I moved into position behind her, Emeralis cried out.

“Do it, damn you,” she snarled, turning to look at me with a swirl of blonde hair. “Fuck that asshole. Shove it in as hard as you can!”

“Your wish is my command,” I replied.

I pressed my cock between her ass-cheeks then pressed it against her tight orifice.

“Do it. Hard.”

I think Hamal had done his job well, for there was virtually no resistance, and my cock moved into Emeralis smoothly and quickly, triggering a loud, drawn-out gasp.

“Oh, yes!” she cried, tossing her hair, and pressing against me, driving my cock deep inside her. “I’ve never... Oh, gods... Never had one that big... Oh, gods...”

I’d encountered women who enjoyed this sort of thing before (dear Alrynna and Livia of course), but I’d never seen one so utterly entranced. We moved in harmony, me thrusting, her bucking backwards, enveloping my cock and pulling out again, feeling the heat rising inside her with each thrust.

Abruptly, I sat backwards, pulling her along with me. She yelped again, falling backwards on top of me. Now I reclined on the floor, and she rose and fell atop me, legs spread, buttocks tensing. I grabbed her and pulled her down, hands encircling her breasts, feeling her pound harder and harder onto my cock, her cries rising in pitch. She wasn’t touching herself, but instead seemed bound for orgasm from anal penetration alone. I suppose it takes all kinds...

My own tension increased as I pounded toward orgasm, and I clutched at her breasts more tightly, feeling my claws unsheathe involuntarily, stabbing into her flesh. She cried out again at that.

“Yes! Oh, gods, yes! Hurt me... Please... make it hurt...”

I felt blood trickle from where my claws had pierced her, and again felt an animal urge rising in me to simply savage her, rending flesh as I took my pleasure. The blood lust came on me sometimes in my lion-man’s body, and it was only through force of will that I overcame it. Finally, I resheathed my claws, leaving her breasts streaked with blood, but by now she had reached her own orgasm and didn’t care.

“Oh, jam that huge fuck-stick into me, jam it, jam it, jam it... Fuck that asshole... Fuck it hard....” Then she convulsed violently, shuddering and quivering, and then lay still, sliding off me, my still-erect shaft slipping out of her.

“Use me,” she gasped, heavily, plastered with sweat, semen and blood. “Jack yourself off and come on me... Use me, please.”

I was within seconds of coming myself, and now the animal still raged, though I’d managed to cage it with difficulty. I moved astride her, cock in hand, and stroked myself to orgasm, splashing her face and breasts with semen, then stepping away myself to sit, chest heaving, beside her, my own good sense and better judgment screaming that I was an idiot and should just have become a blacksmith.

“Now,” Emeralis sighed, rolling onto her back, blood still trickling from her breasts, “that’s how to fuck a woman.” She cast her gaze over at her two friends who had at some point gotten dressed and strapped on rapiers. “Do you see how it’s done, you two?”

I’d forgotten about them in the rush of wild sexual abandon. Hamal and Helmar nodded wordlessly, expressions sullen.

“Are you going to give me what I need from now on and not whine and complain?”

They nodded again.

“Good boys,” she said and grinned. “All right, you can kill him now.”

It took several long moments for me to comprehend what she had said, and in those moments Hamal and Helmar strode toward me, looking angry and determined, rapiers drawn.

I spared Emeralis a single, burning glare then dropped painfully into a fighting crouch, letting Helmar make the first attack. They were both tired, mad and, like me, trying to overcome the effects of drink. I still had most of my n’doro abilities, and was faster and stronger.

Helmar took a swing; I ducked away, avoiding the blow and danced aside as he thrust at me, rapier point gleaming. I lashed out with a clawed hand, locking onto Helmar’s wrist and yanking him toward me.

A human would never have managed such a move, but my n’doro body rose to the occasion. I hammered the ball of my free hand under Helmar’s chin, snapping his head back then swung his body at Hamal, who was closing in on my flank. Hamal dodged, but Helmar’s limp body fell against him, sending him sprawling.

In an instant I was on Hamal, yanking him to his feet and slamming a fist into his gut, then his face. He went flying, smashing into the locked chamber door.

The door splintered beneath the weight of Hamal’s body and exploded into the corridor beyond. That berserk rage I’d felt in Xesh was back, fired by the anger and frustration that I’d been feeling for months. I bounded after him on all fours, snarling savagely.

Shaken but still somewhat lucid, Hamal scrambled out of the way, crying out in fear. I unsheathed my claws and prepared for a disemboweling blow...

And fell backwards myself, reeling from a hammer blow to the middle of my chest. I struck the wall and slid to the floor, my head spinning. Through a distorted lens I saw a cluster of figures in the hallway, and the telltale sparks of a freshly-cast spell.

“What the hell is going on here, Emeralis?” demanded a hatefully familiar voice. “This isn’t the first brawl you’ve started lately, is it?”

A disheveled Emeralis stood in the doorway, eyes wide with shock and fear. She had wrapped herself in a white robe, and there was a spot of crimson from her still-bleeding breasts.

“Lady, I... I’m sorry... I had no idea it would come to this...”

Thae’lynn stepped forward, waving a hand at the carnage and at Hamal, who lay moaning on the floor nearby.

“You’ve got to stop humiliating your lovers in this fashion. If you’re going to pick up well-hung soldiers and let them fuck you just to make these two jealous, you need to make sure that they’re not going to start a brawl afterwards and upset my reception.”

Emeralis wilted, tears gleaming in her eyes.

“I’m sorry... I’m sorry, lady. It... It won’t happen again.”

“I’ll say it won’t.” Thae’lynn turned to her companions, a pair of armored dark elf males. “This one is demoted to private for one week. She’ll serve brothel duty, I think.”

Emeralis looked as if she’d just received the death sentence.

“I’m sorry, my love,” said Thae’lynn, sounding truly sympathetic. “It’s all well and good for the enlisted men to fight like the animals that they are, but I really can’t tolerate this kind of gaucherie at my personal affairs. A week or so as a whore in the field brothel will do you good.” She smiled. “Besides, I know of many well-endowed soldiers who would simply love to give your ass a good fucking. In a week, perhaps you’ll have learned to be more discreet.”

Emeralis blanched as the two elves grabbed her arms and dragged her down the hallway.

“Please,” she begged, plaintively. “It won’t happen again. I promise.”

I had a hard time generating any sympathy for her... I suspected the punishments for male officers were more severe.

Thae’lynn looked down at Hamal and summoned two more guards. “Take him away. Labor duty for one month.”

“There’s another one in the room,” said one of the armored elves. “Looks pretty beaten up.”

Thae’lynn spared me an admiring glance. “Same for him. Take him away, patch him up and put him to work building roads.”

Now, as the two semi-conscious humans were dragged off after their mistress, Thae’lynn’s violet-eyed gaze fell on me. My heart skipped a beat as I remembered the first time I’d seen her on board a warship bound for the elven isles. A host of images, a fearsome amalgam of lust, fear and horror, flitted through my mind... Thae’lynn sucking my cock and muttering of what a magnificent animal I was... Thae’lynn being fucked by a unicorn’s horn... Thae’lynn fleeing from me as I swooped down, my lance aimed at her heart...

Fortunately, she didn’t recognize me (not that I really expected her to). She did, however, react in a characteristic manner.

“Oh, my...” she whispered softly, kneeling beside me and stroking my thigh with a long-fingered hand. The rings in her lips and ears and nose glittered darkly. “A lion-man. I didn’t know we had such in our army.”

“The only one, lady,” said a toady from the shadows. “A fine officer, I’m told.”

“If he’s a man and made officer, then he must be,” Thae’lynn replied, moving her hand up my chest. I was still paralyzed, but despite this I felt my cock stir once more.

“Oh, look at that,” she said, looking down. “He’s been fucking like a machine all night and he can still get it up.” Her head snapped up, and she addressed yet a third pair of sentries, this time two orcs in chain mail. “Collar him,” she snapped. “Collar him and take him to my chambers. We’ll have fun yet this evening.”

The horror must have shown on my face.

“Oh, don’t worry, you magnificent, lovely beast,” Thae’lynn said. “If you do die, at least you’ll die happy.”

I wasn’t reassured. 

*** 

The paralysis grew deeper as the orcs carried me away. When I regained feeling in my extremities, I noted that I was upright, my arms held above my head, my legs spread apart and immobile. I opened my eyes and, not for the last time in my life, wished I hadn’t.

It was another one of Thae’lynn’s ill-lit, smoke-filled love nests, this one hung with violet silk and streamers, the floor covered with cushions and rugs. Dreamsmoke curled into my nostrils, intoxicating me despite my resistance.

I was naked, of course, arms and legs securely chained in padded manacles. To my own inner disgust, I had grown a huge erection, which stood out, thrusting like a knob-headed mace.

“Awake at last,” purred Thae’lynn, gliding toward me out of smoke-filled shadow. She was a black, ghostly figure shrouded in diaphanous scarves, accented by the glittering silver of her piercings and the white swirl of her hair.

I bit back the urge to ask whether she’d added any new holes to her body since we’d last met, and only glowered in silence.

“Ohhhhhh,” she said, mock-sympathetic. “Don’t be such a frowny little kitty. We’re here to have fun, aren’t we?”

“Not my notion of fun,” I replied, glancing at my chains.

“Well, you’re chained to the wall. Your opinion doesn’t count.” She kneeled down in front of me and began to stroke at my erect member. Once more, my body betrayed me and I felt myself growing excited.

“Mmmmmmm.” Her voice was admiring. “Such a firm, impressive manhood you, have my lion man. Your antics at the party didn’t escape my notice, and neither did your disappearance with that slut Emeralis. I’m the one who piqued her interest in taking it up the ass, you know.”

That came as no surprise to me. I growled.

“Mmmm, growl away, my sweet pussycat. You’re mine now, no one else’s, no matter that you fucked those two at the party and slammed this big piece of meat into Emeralis. Tell me, was she good?”

I felt myself nod. “Very good.”

“Did she like taking this up the ass? She’s been on a quest for the biggest cock possible ever since she started. I’m quite proud of her. And don’t worry. A week in the brothels is probably a dream come true for that little whore.”

“And what of me?” I asked.

“And what of you?” Thae’lynn cast her burning violet gaze up and me and licked her lips, revealing a row of three silver balls lining her tongue. She’d added two in the past years, I thought. “Well, that all depends. I know you’ve had such a hard time, what with fucking that fat-titted redhead and reaming Emeralis’ asshole, but you’ve got a bit more work to do this evening before returning to your duties.”

She squeezed my cock with a little more force and I grunted in surprise.

“Of course, it looks as if you’re up to the job. How would you like to come in my mouth?”

I said nothing, but breathed hard nonetheless.

“Oh, I can see you’d like that. How about coming on my tits? Would you like that? Hot jism splashing all over this lovely black skin of mine? I’ve always liked the contrast, myself. Very aesthetic. Of course, my daemon Mazzor comes like a flood, but he’s not from this world. I expect superhuman effort from such as him.” She looked down at my cock. “Hm. You might think that I couldn’t get that thing in my mouth, but of course I’ve sucked off a unicorn. And a dragon, too, but that’s another story.”

The first part of the story I was well familiar with, though I didn’t exactly recall her sucking off the dragon in question. What she’d done since then was anyone’s guess, of course. As to the dragon, I admit I was curious.

“So this bit, thick, hot shaft of cum-filled flesh shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, eh?”

She looked at me again. “Oh, you like that, don’t you? You like your whores to talk filthy while they fuck you?”

“What,” I panted, feeling my heart pound and my hands begin to go numb from blood loss, “do you think?”

“I think,” she replied, taking my cock in both hands and teasing its head with her tongue, “that you have a big, fat, ugly cock and that you love to slam it hard into a woman’s hot little cunt. The smaller the better, right? You like to make them scream, don’t you? Hurt them and pleasure them at the same time?”

Well, not really, but that was my role.

“Unchain me and you can find out.”

“Oh, no,” Thae’lynn said, and ran her tongue along the underside of my cock, taking care to let the hard round nodules of her tongue bars run hard along the slick flesh. “Not yet. You’ve got a few gallons of come to unleash on me first. Did you know I love to have a man come on me?”

“It doesn’t...” I swallowed hard. “It doesn’t surprise me, lady.”

“Cum baths are good for the skin, or so I’m told. They’ve certainly never done me any harm. Hmmm... What’s it feel like to shove that into a squealing, begging little slut, my lion man? You’ve done it many times, haven’t you?”

“A few.” My words were growing breathy and clipped.

“Ahhh, a few.” She enveloped my cockhead with her lips and licked its opening with a pointed tongue. Then she released me, leaving me wet with her spittle. “I’m sure it was very enlightening. I love getting reamed by the biggest cock possible. Preferably attached to a male of low or no intelligence whatsoever. You certainly look stupid, lion-man. Are you?”

“As stupid as you want me to be.”

“Smart answer,” she observed. “Hardly what I’d expect. But then men get stupider as they approach orgasm, don’t they? Here. Let me lower your intelligence.”

With that, she once more encircled my cock with her lips and then commenced to slide it into her mouth. It got about half way before she released it, a string of saliva trailing off its tip.

“This is going to be a challenge, isn’t it?” she asked rhetorically. “Does it hurt to be this hard? Don’t you just want to shove it into something tight and hot and wet?”

I didn’t answer. She stepped back, shedding the veils, and standing before me, clad only in her silvery rings and bars.

“I used to cover my face,” she said. “That was the fashion when I was a girl. We could show our breasts and our cunts and our asses, but the face had to stay covered. That’s changed. Covering one’s face interferes with giving head.”

She kneeled down again, took a deep breath, and with a determined expression, once more sucked my cock into her mouth. Down she went, lips distended and moist, the veiny dark surface of my cock sliding into her, well past the point that most women would have gagged. I remembered Livia taking it all, then letting me fuck her ass. I felt a strange pang of homesickness.

“Mmmmm,” Thae’lynn sighed, releasing me. “Choke me with this fat cock, you animal, you fucking big hot animal. Shove it in me until you come. Drown me in your cum, you fucker. Drown me in it.”

“I’ll do that,” I said, bravely saying what was on my mind. “Just keep sucking.”

“Still giving orders. I like that. Not that I’d normally tolerate such things, but I like to be mistreated by my lovers on occasion.” She looked down at me again, licking her lips. “Call me names while I suck you. Call me the filthiest, most wicked names you can think of. I like that, lion-man. Just what I need to keep me going.”

Then once more Thae’lynn enveloped me, my cock vanishing into the hot depths of her mouth.

“Cunt,” I said, straining. “Fucking cunt. Fucking little cunt slut whore.”

“That’s it,” she whispered, rubbing my wet organ against her lips and cheek. “Call me a whore. I’ll make you come.”

“Suck that cock, you cheap little fucking whore,” I repeated, warming to the task. My dislike of the woman was such that I actually meant most of it. “Let me down and I’ll fuck you. I’ll spread your legs apart and shove my cock into you so hard you scream. I’ll turn you over and fuck your ass. Hard, like I did to Emeralis. I’ll fuck you so hard... I’ll slap your ass and your face and pull on your nipples until you beg me to stop, but I won’t stop you fucking whore. Fuck my cock. Fuck it with your mouth, you bitch...”

Well, it was quite a litany, and quite different from what I normally say (unless suitably requested, of course), but she liked it, sucking with increasing speed, my big cock sliding effortlessly into her willing mouth, down her throat and inside her. Faster and faster now, her violet eyes fixed on mine, the hard balls of her tongue piercing riding along the soft underside of my cock. Yes...

“I’m going to come,” I growled. “I’m going to come in your mouth and all over you, whore. Fuck me with your mouth. Fuck me harder...”

She released me just at the right moment as I unleashed my third orgasm of the night. The quantity didn’t seem to have declined at all, splashing hot streamers across her face, into her open mouth, across her shoulders and down her tight-nippled breasts. She grinned madly.

“Oh, that’s a right little animal,” she said happily. “Fuck me hard and call me a whore. I love it. I love it so much.”

That, said a voice in the back of my head as I sagged in the chains, the last of my semen dribbling down onto Thae’lynn’s outstretched hand, is Thae’lynn. Nothing is ever going to change her. 

*** 

She wasn’t finished with me, not by a long shot. She unchained me and let me slump to the floor.

“You may not have noticed,” she said, “but you’re wearing a collar. It’s magical, of course, and detects any hostile intentions. If you try to harm me in any way that I don’t like, it will strangle you. So don’t get any ideas and we’ll get on fine, eh, lion-man?”

I lacked the strength to attack her even if I felt suicidal enough to try. I lay on the cushions, panting, knowing that I’d be expected to rise to the occasion one last time. I’d promised some exquisite torments while she was sucking me, after all.

I reached up to touch my neck. Sure enough, I was collared, and metal spikes brushed against my fingertips. Hell and damnation...

“You have enough sense to understand that, don’t you, you great stupid animal?” She rolled atop me, bending a shapely thigh over my hip. As she smiled down at me, I saw streaks of my semen still decorating her face and breasts. “I hope you’ve got a few rounds left in that fine weapon, my beast. Otherwise, you may be joining Emeralis’ playmates on the rock pile.”

“Give me a moment,” I said.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she said, with even mocker sympathy. “Did the mean ol’ women tire the kitty out?”

I grumbled.

She plucked a silver goblet off a shelf and poured dark purple wine into it from a carafe. I stared, frowning. The goblet looked familiar...

With a sudden rush of horror, I realized that it was the Silver Chalice, the elven artifact that we’d thought lost when Chalice Citadel fell. The artifact that enhanced the user’s personality, increasing what they already had, and eventually turning them into power-made maniacs.

What, I thought, a chill running up my spine, if the owner already was a power-mad maniac?

She drained the cup and placed it back on the shelf, and I quickly tried to return to my neutral expression, revealing no surprise or horror at the sight of the vessel.

“Well, my sweet li’l pussy cat still has a few duties to perform.” She smiled. “Planning to rule the world through coordinated extradimensional portal spawning is terribly demanding work.” She paused. “Oh, you don’t even understand what I’m saying, do you? Big, strong handsome, stupid male.” She slid fully atop me, seeming feather-light, but warm and willing. “Oh, I’ve so much planned for you, for your comrades. I don’t just want our old homeland back, you know. I want so much, much more than that.”

I made what I hoped was a stupid-sounding noise, and began to stroke her buttocks, full and firm, with a light sheen of sweat from our recent cavorting.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, but I must brag,” she continued, kissing me, then biting her way down my chest. “My lover Mazzor, you see. He has found a way back to his home dimension, but he plans more than a simple return to his realm. He loves me far too much to leave me, more the fool he. I don’t exactly love him, myself. Well, perhaps I do. The same way I love Valla and my other pets. Maybe more. I don’t know what Trigon would think of this, but I may have discovered a route past the weaknesses of the flesh, through pure indulgence of course. To free yourself from fleshly pleasures, you engage in them to excess, you see...” She paused. “Where was I? Oh, yes. Mazzor...”

She bit and kissed my chest, stopping to lavish attention on my nipples. As when I was a human, this affected me enormously, and my erection began to grow yet again.

“Mazzor,” she said between bites, “wishes to open all the old gates that the elves created so many millennia ago. They’re all over Thystra, you know, but no one remembers that. These were gates to other worlds. Thystra is at the center of some kind of mystic nexus, not that transdimensionalism was ever my specialty, of course. In any event, Mazzor is going to open one here. Unleash his hellish hordes on an unsuspecting world...”

Thae’lynn paused and giggled, jiggling and jingling as she did so. “And of course, they’ll help our invasion. Daemons and chaos warriors and monstrosities of all kind. Under our control, all of them. Once we conquer the Elven Isles, we can open all the other gates, all over Thystra. The remainder of the world will be Mazzor’s domain. Daemons, devils, flames, hideous flesh-eating beasts... A hell on Thystra, if you will.” She stopped again, aware that my cock was hard. “Oh, it will be glorious, won’t it?”

Why my erection didn’t wilt at her fell words, I can’t say... The lion-man body hadn’t failed me yet. Instead of running, screaming from the room, desperate to warn the world of her mad scheme, I grabbed her by the shoulders and rolled atop her.

“You’re all wet, aren’t you?” I demanded, fitting my cock against her cunt lips and rubbing, feeling the hard surface of her rings. “You just want to be fucked, don’t you?”

“Oh, with that cock, yes,” she demanded, grabbing me with one hand and guiding me into her cunt. “With that big fat cock that has savaged many a begging, pleading virgin, and ravished many a sweet innocent little blonde prisoner. You’ve done your share of pillage and rapine, haven’t you my animal lover?”

I nodded. “Of course.” A lie, but she didn’t seem aware of it.

She slid me in and I began to thrust, feeling her tightness melt before me. She kept on in the same vein.

“Oh, yes, you shoved that cock into many a sweet, innocent pussy, didn’t you? You took them, didn’t you, as they begged and pleaded and cried for you to stop, but you didn’t, did you? Oh, I so love a savage animal that takes his pleasure whenever and wherever he wants. Let me be your little captive, your sweet little innocent slave... Pleasure me with that huge, fat cock. Harder, damn you!”

I obliged, swinging her legs around my neck and biting down on her ankle, eliciting a cry of pain and delight.

“Oh, you fucking animal! You magnificent, beautiful, hot animal! Ahhhhhhh....”

She came quite easily the first time, and I continued to thrust, feeling her cunt clamp down around me. The second climax came hard on the heels of the first, then the third, and the fourth. Within a few moments, Thae’lynn was coming pretty much continuously, hair wet with sweat and saliva, lips swollen, breasts heaving, belly contorting, legs locked around me, dragging me in and pushing me out.

“OH! OH! FUCK me, you animal! FUCK me so hard I can’t walk! YESSSSS....”

After all those orgasms, I was pretty well desensitized, but my erection didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I kept pushing on, feeling climax after climax shiver through her exquisite, black-skinned body.

Finally, my primitive brain had pretty much taken over. I was still angry and frustrated, and the horror of what she’d said still crawled in my brain, but now I wanted to give it to her the same way I’d given it to Emeralis. Deep down inside, what remained of my rational mind hoped that Thae’lynn wouldn’t also have her minions kill me.

I pulled out, and she cried out in frustration, but I grabbed her roughly by the hips, rolling her over onto her belly. She yelped as I yanked her ass into the air, then gasped in anticipation as I fitted my cock between her cheeks, against the dark rosebud of her anus.

“Yes!” she cried. “Just like you fucked her! Hard! Hard! Don’t stop!”

I didn’t. My cock was slick from her juices, she was bathed in sweat, and I suspected that she took it like this on a regular basis — regardless, I slid into her asshole with little resistance, and in a moment was deep inside her, listening to her desperate, pleasure filled cries.

“I’m coming,” she screamed. “Oh, I haven’t stopped coming yet... Oh, yes, you fucking animal bastard... Yesssssss....”

She bucked against me, moving on her own, pulling out then plunging me back into her ass. My own climax finally approached, building with greater and greater intensity. I pulled out, knowing that I had only seconds, and rolled her onto her back again. I stroked myself for a moment, then unleashed a final rush of semen, cascading across her belly and thighs, joining the dried cum which still clung to her nipples and face.

“Oh, fuck,” she gasped, blue-black lips pursed into an “O” of pleasure. “Oh, you fucking animal.... come all over me... Fuck you, come for me, you fucker... Come...”

Then, at last it was spent, and I collapsed onto my hands and knees above her, panting heavily.

“You fucking animal,” Thae’lynn breathed, gaping at me through slitted eyes. “You big, ugly animal. You fuck so well... You fuck so well... I’ll make you my special servant when we go back home, and when the daemons take Thystra...”

The words echoed in my mind, and I was barely aware when she at last dismissed me, and I handed my collar over to a guard, then made my way down the endless corridors of Council Spire, back toward the gloom of oncoming morning.

Interlude

Prince Otto the Shrewd (known to his enemies as “Otto the Imbecile,” “Otto the Incompetent,” “Otto the Big Fat Ugly Pervert” and a dozen other monikers) stared intently at the parchment map that lay unrolled on his conference table.

“Baron Prussen has managed to escape from the Pinewood with most of his forces intact,” said Fieldmarshal Blauther. “Unfortunately, poor Henrich van Leuter died with his army.”

“He was a fool for making a stand there,” said Otto, dismissively. “He got what he deserved. We can take comfort that he only took a relatively small force down with him.”

Blauther suppressed a scowl at his liege’s callousness, and waved a gauntleted hand over the map. “Our forces are moving south from Vosgraad, here, and should make contact with Prussen within a few days. Our cavalry forces have been supplemented by Nordskap horse archers and spearmen, so we can send them out as a flying column to harass the elves as they advance. I propose a staged defensive strategy, falling back from strong point to strong point while allowing the Nordskappers to raid the enemy’s rear and disrupt their supply lines. By the time they reach Vosgraad, winter will have set in and they will be utterly exhausted.”

Otto stared at Blauther as if he had suddenly transformed into a goblin. “Reach Vosgraad, Fieldmarshal? I should think not. We will stop and utterly destroy them well before they can get anywhere near our beloved capital!”

Blauther stopped short, staring blankly at the Prince.

“My Liege,” he said, “the other fieldmarshals and I have crafted this strategy quite carefully, taking into account...”

“You take into account far too much, Fridech,” Otto said, confidently thrusting a pudgy finger at the map. “We will fight them toe-to-toe. Send them shrieking back into the sea. None of this ‘falling back from strong point to strong point’ nonsense, Fieldmarshal. We are a martial people, and our warriors demand action. Not this namby-pamby defensive strategy of yours. Look, here. The Anvil Plain. They must cross this region in order to reach Vosgraad, must they not?”

“Yes, sir,” explained Blauther, “but there are few if any defensible features in that entire region.”

“Ah, that is where you are wrong, Fieldmarshal. Look here. Skull Hill. A single outcropping that commands the north-south route across the plain. Draw our armies in a circle of steel around that ring, and watch the enemy crash uselessly against us, as impotent as waves trying to pull down a sea cliff.”

“My Liege,” protested Blauther, “Skull Hill is far from any base of supply, and is not as large as this map suggests. It’s more of a swelling in the ground than a true hill. They would attack us like waves, true, but we would collapse like a child’s sand castle, beset on all sides.”

Otto sniffed at this. “Defeatism, Fieldmarshal? Is that what our proud, unbending martial spirit has come to? We won’t be there alone. Patriarch Ruthvaar has sent a full complement of warrior-priests to aid in the struggle, and he himself will be calling down miracles to smash the pagan elves to pieces. They won’t stand long against our cannon, either. The prick-ears think they can waltz into our realm and take it from us... They will learn a harsh lesson at Skull Hill, mark my words.”

“Prince Otto,” Blauther said, voice calm with forced rationality, “I and the other Fieldmarshals cannot endorse such a strategy.”

“Well, you and the other fieldmarshals have no say in the matter,” Otto replied. “As prince, I am grand commander of all Litharnan armies, and you will follow the strategy I dictate, or find yourself selling vegetables from a cart. Now, do you wish to accompany us and aid me in leading Litharna to its greatest victory? Or are you a coward who would prefer to stay home and hide under the bed, terrified of the big, nasty elves?”

Blauther glared. “I will do my duty, My Liege. As always.”

Otto smiled brightly. “Well, that’s settled then. Now, I need a complete order of battle if I’m to complete this plan by tomorrow.” 

*** 

The Dwarf-lord Tjorkill Hillcleaver sat brooding upon his stone throne, deep in the Rodtskaal Mountains.

“The elves, our people’s most ancient and dangerous enemies, march upon the Litharnans,” said his advisor, Svengi. “And if the humans are defeated, it is only a matter of time before the high ones come for us.”

“You speak the truth,” Tjorkill replied. “The time for cowering in our mountains is long past. Summon the clan lords and all those who owe us obeisance and tell them that the dwarves will march to the aid of Litharna.”

“That will take some time, My Lord,” said Svengi. “In the meantime, the humans are marching to battle on Anvil Plain.”

“Fools,” grumbled Tjorkill. “They will be slaughtered.”

“Yet, with our aid they may yet win the day,” Svengi noted. “While we call the clan lords, we can send a force of volunteers to shore up the Litharnans defenses.”

“And so we shall,” Tjorkill agreed. “Tell my people that there is glory to be won, and many elven heads for the taking. Those who fall in battle will sit at the right hand of Great Thallaz and Davra, and dwell in splendor for eternity. Clan Hillcleaver shall once more go to battle, and let our enemies tremble.”

Svengi bowed curtly. “So you command, so it shall be done, My Lord.”

IV

Dawn over Council Spire isn’t a hell of a lot different from midnight, except I suppose for the fact that the clouds become a slightly lighter shade of violet. I was literally stumbling as I left the citadel, through the steel demons-maw gates, and walked painfully toward the encampment. The sentries eyed me warily and passed me through, just as my sergeants were busily barking orders and rousting my troops from their tents. A haggard looking Rees and Marcus were just crawling out themselves, looking as if they’d just bedded down five minutes previously.

I guess I looked worse than they did.

“Long night?” Rees demanded. “You look the wrong end of a troll.”

“Thanks,” I grumbled. “That’s just the image I need.”

“So how was the party?”

I looked at him with tired, haggard eyes. Rees took the hint.

“Oh, dear. It seems we missed the social event of the year, Marcus.” Rees sighed. “Always a bridesmaid...”

“If anyone asks for me,” I said as I stepped through the flap, intent on the welcoming embrace of my bedroll, “kill them. Okay?”

Rees grinned. “Don’t worry your pretty head about it, my friend. Rees and Marcus are on the job.”

I slept most of the day, and didn’t dream. What I’d just learned was as bad as any nightmare. 

*** 

Thae’lynn’s overconfidence and fondness for bestial partners had served her badly, delivering details of her plans into the hands of her worst enemy. Now that I knew what she was up to, it was probably time to decamp, and to warn the Silver Lady so that perhaps the elves could erect some kind of defense against Thae’lynn’s daemonically-powered army. I’d had my fill of Arwensland and its grim darkness, but in this isolated, rocky wilderness, there seemed no place to run, and no way to escape. If I were to disappear, Thae’lynn’s hunters would be on me in a moment, and it was unlikely that I could survive in the wasteland anyway. I didn’t dare contact Livia or Narisha, for fear that one of her nibs’ agents would intercept my message and expose me.

As I lay awake in my tent, staring up at nothing, my options seemed less and less promising. Perhaps I would be part of Thae’lynn’s vanguard after all, unwillingly bringing pillage and rapine to the peaceful elven isles for the second time in a decade.

No, I told myself. I would leave before then. In the worst of cases, I might be able to slip away while the army was in transit, fake my death, transform back into Wulf — anything. I would simply have to bide my time and wait for the right moment. I was not without resources or friends.

And, as I was to discover, friends are sometimes found in the strangest of places. 

*** 

The next day was dedicated to endless sword-drill. My stolen physique was easily equal to the task, and I demonstrated combat techniques with a long line of unwilling students. We fought with blunted weapons, but I knew people could really be killed in such circumstances, and was careful.

I’d just finished battering a goblin named Spizzit, whom I suspected would probably end up as a file clerk instead of a warrior. I turned my back as he lay on the ground, intending to explain to the circle of recruits what the little creep had done wrong. With a shriek, Spizzit rose to his feet, snarling, eyes mad and glowing yellow.

“Feel the wrath of Chaos,” he growled, and I saw to my horror that he held the rainbow-coruscating chaos-sword that had plagued me since my arrival.

“Crap!” I barked, waving the other troops back. “Stay clear! It’s me he wants.”

Normally, even with my blunted sword, it would have been an uneven contest, pitting a huge lion-man against a small angry goblin. Now, however, the unfortunate Spizzit was possessed by some kind of murderous chaos-spirit that wanted me dead. I ducked, parrying as the goblin leaped at me with superhuman strength, the glowing sword grazing my head and shearing a few strands from my mane. I batted the back of Spizzit’s head as he streaked past, sending him sprawling.

Instantly, he rolled into a ball and was back on his feet, sword flashing.

“Only a matter of time,” said the distorted, inhuman voice. “You will be mine.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied, striking at the goblin’s head, only to have my practice sword bend alarmingly. Spizzit struck again, and I danced backwards, barely avoiding disembowelment.

The other fighters were standing back, watching. A few seemed concerned, and made moves toward Spizzit, but I urged them back again.

“It’s a chaos blade!” I said. “A daemon! Don’t touch it!”

My sword was a mess, but to his credit I saw Natuk the Wolfen grab a proper sword and throw it to me. I discarded the practice blade and scooped up the new weapon just in time to parry another unnaturally strong blow from Spizzit. I struck again, scoring the little creature’s neck with a blow that normally would have killed him. As it was, I opened a huge gash, but still he came on, swinging the sword as if it was a toothpick.

“Die, mortal!” The voice was distorted and metallic. “Die!”

I tried to attack again, but Spizzit batted my blow away, darting underneath me and stabbing upward. The blade caught my arm and cut flesh, and I felt a terrible burning sensation, far worse than a normal sword blow. I cried out, stumbling. I blocked another blow, but then I felt my arm go numb as my sword slipped from my fingers... Spizzit closed in for the kill, teeth bared, eyes flaring...

...And staggered backwards, three arrows sprouting from his chest. The terrible chaos-light faded, dying like an extinguished candle, and he collapsed onto his back, the blade falling to the ground.

Shaking off the creeping numbness and fatigue, I crawled toward the corpse, only to see the sword once more melting away and vanishing into the earth itself.

Several of my team hastened forward. Natuk tore away my tunic to inspect my wound, while an orc named Karx checked my pulse and my forehead. Mind you, I suspected that neither of them had the slightest idea what a normal lion-man’s pulse or temperature felt like but I was gratified nonetheless.

“I’m all right,” I said. “Help me up. I need to walk this off.”

“Hardly,” said a voice. “One does not merely walk off wounds from a daemon-blade.”

I looked toward the voice, to view my rescuer. He was a high elf, tall and distinguished-looking, clad in a hooded blue cloak, a gigantic longbow grasped in one hand, a white-shafted arrow in the other.

“Thanks,” I said, panting heavily. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure...?”

“Tanelin,” said the elf. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” 

*** 

The numbness in my arm was being replaced by a dull, unhealthy ache by the time I collapsed on my cot.

Tanelin busied himself in his pack, rummaging around until he found a buckskin pouch.

“We must hurry,” he said, pouring wine from the skin at his side into a small goblet. “The wound will kill you soon if we do not.”

Now that was encouraging, I thought, falling backward and feeling my arm ache. Damned chaos blades...

The elf now pulled out a handful of dried leaves and crushed them, sprinkling them over the wine.

“Drink,” he said, handing me the goblet. “Quickly.”

In other circumstances I might have been suspicious, but the icy pain which now spread from my arm through my chest compelled me to do as he said. I downed the stuff in a single gulp, scarcely concerned for the bitter taste. Within moments, a warm glow suffused my chest and began to drive off the pain.

“Gods,” I rumbled. “What is that?”

“Ancient elvish secret,” Tanelin replied cryptically. “One of the few things that will cure the bite of a chaos blade.”

“What is that fucking thing?” I demanded, rolling onto one elbow and staring at the elf. “It’s been trying to kill me since I got here.”

“It was bound to a chaos warrior,” he replied. “You must have killed one. The blade now must continue to possess victims until it kills you, and makes you its new wielder. If you die as a result of its wounds, you will become a mindless automaton, slave to the sword and to the will of chaos.”

“This trip is getting better and better,” I said. “How do we get rid of it?”

“Only a greater daemon of Law can destroy a chaos blade. Or perhaps a demigod. Do you know any?”

“I’ve met one or two,” I admitted. “How about your Silver Lady?”

Tanelin looked suddenly wary. “Do not speak of her here.”

I fell silent. A renegade elf working with his race’s arch enemies wasn’t likely to want to talk about his goddess-queen. I decided that Tanelin had probably been one of the Stormking’s cabin boys, and that this gods-forsaken corner of creation was his last refuge. For that, I was grateful, even if I’d played an instrumental role in his downfall.

“You call yourself Chuma?” he asked, casually.

I nodded, noting his words. “That’s my name.”

“Very well,” Tanelin said, replacing his paraphernalia in the backpack. “I have a message for you.”

I sat up, though pain still gnawed at my shoulder, and I felt my ears swivel to face him.

“A message? From who?”

“From a friend. She says she misses you and remembers the waterfall.”

My head spun. Livia!

All the same, I was cautious.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“She says that the search for the Conqueror goes on without success.”

I swallowed. If Tanelin knew this much, he knew who I truly was, and there wasn’t any point in perpetuating the illusion.

“All right,” I said. “If you’re going to use that information against me, you may as well do it now. Otherwise, I’m listening.”

Tanelin relaxed slightly. “I’m glad I finally found you,” he said. “I was afraid you’d been killed or were lost forever in this damned evil place.”

“Evil indeed,” I said, thinking to the night before. “Evil enough to almost suck me down and not let me out.”

I was about to go on when Tanelin raised a gauntleted hand, waving a finger cautiously. I fell silent as he once more rummaged through his pack, finally withdrawing a blue crystalline pyramid about the size of his fist. He whispered a few words, then set it on the ground, where it began to glow.

“There,” he said. “Now we can talk in safety.”

“Won’t Thae’lynn’s goons detect that thing?” I asked, cautiously.

“Not unless they’re specifically looking for it,” he replied, “and I hope that is unlikely.”

“It’s probably the best we can get,” I said. “So who sent you, and what’s going on out in the world?”

“I’m a freelance like you,” Tanelin said. “I have been known to work on my people’s behalf from time to time ­ I’m acquainted with Admiral Nae’mitz and some loyalist counselors, all of whom oppose Lord Feanor and his mad plans of conquest. The Admiral sent me to find your friends, and to gather information about Thae’lynn and what she’s up to. I found your sorceress and your demoness, and they sent me to find you.”

“Are they all right?”

“They were last I checked. And their dark elf friend, too. Unlike my people I harbor no special prejudices against the dark ones, though your Lady Thae’lynn certainly deserves it.”

“And then some,” I agreed. “I just spent most of the night with her.”

Tanelin cocked an eyebrow at me and looked dubious.

“And she put me in one of her damned collars of obedience so I couldn’t hurt her.”

“I see. Had a constructive evening, did we?”

Relief flooded me at word that my friends were safe, but I pressed on. “More than you can imagine. What else is going on?”

He nodded curtly and got back to business. “The elves have been driven from Xesh, and their undead legions seriously weakened by the Jarreks. A faction of elves has chosen to remain in Xesh and live there, cutting all ties to the Lady and Feanor. Feanor himself has allied with the liche Ezikhan, and now they march on Litharna. There have been several battles, and the humans have been defeated in most of them. Cold weather is coming early in the north, however, and the armies are being forced into winter quarters. Rumor has it that Ezikhan is taking the time to call upon the chaos gods for aid, and if he succeeds it will be a bloody spring in Litharna.”

“Gods. They’re really doing it, aren’t they?”

“I’m afraid they are, despite opposition from such as you, me and the admiral. All we can do is gather what we can about Thae’lynn and hope that we are believed.”

“You haven’t heard the half of it,” I said, then proceeded to tell him what I’d learned from my multiply-pierced tormentor.

When I finished, I looked at Tanelin, who had grown pale, even for an elf.

“Now, if you’re one of Thae’lynn’s tame elves, you know everything I know, and you can go ahead and kill me.”

He shook his head. “You’re suspicious. That’s a good thing in this place, but I assure you that I am who I say I am. Fortunately, some renegade elves have joined this motley collection of thieves and rogues, so I have fit in fairly well. On the other hand, there will always be some question of my loyalties.”

I drew a deep breath. “Well, then. It looks as if we’ve both found allies.”

“I hope we have. Your words fill me with terror. They may herald yet another great catastrophe, one from which I fear Thystra may never recover.”

“Then I guess my plan is a sound one. Get the hell out of here and warn someone.”

“Easier said than done. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we are in the middle of one of the most deadly regions in the world. We would be hard-pressed to escape from this place by ourselves.”

“Well, we may be all we’ve got. My unit might be loyal, though. I’ve nearly a hundred competent warriors.”

“Thus guaranteeing pursuit,” Tanelin observed. “Thae’lynn would notice the defection of an entire company.”

“Well what are your thoughts on the matter?” I was open to suggestion at this point.

“This army won’t sit at council spire forever. It will move out eventually. Once we’re closer to a port or a decent jumping-off place, we can make our escape more easily.”

“And maybe only a few hours ahead of Thae’lynn. Damn.”

Tanelin paused, contemplating the glowing pyramid.

“Patience is required. Unfortunately, it’s a luxury we may not be able to afford.” 

*** 

Days faded into weeks, and I did my best to maintain appearances. I drilled the troops, marking those whom I considered trustworthy, and likely to stand beside me if things fell apart. Despite his outcast status, Natuk retained the loyalty that makes his race so impressive. He cared little for serving under an elf, and a female elf at that, and saw me as his pack leader. Dwarven brothers Austri and Vestri were equally unenthusiastic about taking orders from elves, and there was little love lost between their race and the dark ones. Natando was a Veldt Lands warrior who told me that his tribe had often fought alongside the n’doro, against my old friends the Sholanti. All of them seemed to consider me and our unit their highest allegiance, and I suspected that they would be willing to follow me if I chose to strike out on my own. Those who didn’t usually found themselves transferred.

I spent time with Tarnith, rogering the little bitch to within an inch of her life to keep her happy, but still feeling somewhat soiled afterwards.

The long stretched of drilling beneath the darkling sky, the endless training and marching left me with much time to think about my life and what I’d done with it.

To Tarnith I was nothing but an object, an individual who fulfilled her basic desires. It was worse with Thae’lynn — I was just an animal to her, someone to whom she could confidently babble her secret plans without fear of betrayal. The rest of her officers were as twisted and treacherous as she was.

I shook my head. The world was full of unstable, untrustworthy people. Tarnith, Thae’lynn, Emeralis... I’d met their like before and probably would again. Right now I missed Tatiana even more than I missed Livia and Narisha.

Not that either of them were the perfect companions either, but I always tried to treat them with consideration. When they wanted to go hump like weasels, or bring their other lovers aboard, I found things to keep me busy. Of course, they didn’t mind when I brought my lovers aboard as well, but sometimes I felt as if the balance was somewhat inequitable.

I tried to understand. Livia had had a difficult life, and learning to do exotic things like truly love and appreciate others was relatively new territory for her. Narisha was from a culture that didn’t even practice love as we knew it, but coupled with wild abandon, slaking the lusts of the moment and not worrying about the consequences. Neither one was a likely candidate for “Most Considerate Lover of the Age” prize. I was probably lucky that they’d grown as much as they had in the last couple of years.

I suppose that seeing the dark underbelly of life made me more appreciative of the other side. It also made me more aware of where things could be improved. I found myself wondering if the war would ever end, and if I could ever set things right.

Unfortunately, crisis once more interrupted my reveries.

I arrived at my tent one night to find Tanelin waiting, the blue pyramid glowing happily on my bunk. From this and his grim expression, I could tell something was up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did we get our marching orders?”

He shook his head. “No. We must get into Council Spire tonight.”

It caught me short. I stared at him.

“I had hoped to keep this from you,” Tanelin continued. “We have other allies here, but I do not want them to know about each other, in case any of us is ever captured.”

I nodded, catching his drift. “I take it one of those allies has been captured?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Gods. On what charge?”

“Does it matter? She’ll be interrogated, and the dark ones are especially good at ferreting out secrets.”

I remembered my going-over by lovely Thae’lynn aboard her ship.

“Gods.” I repeated.

He’d said “she.” I had visions of riding to rescue yet another damsel in distress only to have her stab me in the back once more.

“We must go tonight,” Tanelin said. “I don’t know how we’re to get into that place, but we’ve no choice.”

I sighed. “I suppose we don’t. Perhaps we should just run like rabbits and hope to get out of here alive.”

“Not an option,” Tanelin said sadly. “Among other things, I’m not about to abandon one of my people to that bitch’s tender mercies.”

I was about to reluctantly agree, then stopped abruptly, raising my hand. I’d heard something outside the tent. I could tell that my companion had heard it, too. Tanelin took a quick glance at his blue pyramid, and frowned in puzzlement.

“Keep talking,” he hissed, easing his sword from its scabbard.

I did my best to maintain the conversation without giving anything else away, and followed Tanelin as he sidled toward the tent flap. My n’doro senses, far keener than any human’s, heard and felt the presence of at least one being on the other side of the door. Heavy breathing almost roared in my ears, and the scent....

With a sudden rush of movement, I leaped through tent flap, claws unsheathed, Tanelin an instant behind me, sword flashing.

“My goodness, what a lovely elf-boy! And you like to play rough. I adore that!”

Rees lay on his back, Tanelin pinning him, sword point at his throat. Marcus looked at me apologetically and shrugged.

I sighed. “It’s all right. They’re mine, I’m sorry to say.”

Tanelin looked at me, eyebrows raised.

“It’s true, sorry to say,” I said.

He reluctantly released Rees, who clambered to his feet.

“We, uh... Well, my friend here expressed some concern for your relative well-being. Said that you’d been a bit, well, under the weather since leaving Khordelis. I suggested we keep an eye on you to make sure that nothing happened to you, and, well...” He cast a warm glance at Tanelin. “We had no idea you were keeping such gracious company!”

Marcus rolled his eyes and looked contrite.

“So,” Tanelin said, as we went back into my tent. “The conspiracy widens.” He looked from Rees to Marcus and back again. “You’re as obsessed with rutting as every other human, Rees. Should we simply kill them, Chuma?”

I shook my head. “They have their uses.” I looked over at the pyramid. It still glowed a happy blue. “I thought that thing was supposed to keep out eavesdroppers.”

“Only ones with hostile intent,” Tanelin admitted. “It does have its limitations.”

“Well,” I said, fixing Rees with my own evil eye, “at least we know they’re not hostile.”

“Oh, we’re true-blue, Chuma,” Rees assured me in a hurt tone. “We heard about your friend in the spire, Tanelin. Need any assistance? We’re good at such things. Marcus has even managed to get his hands on a detailed map of the Spire.”

Marcus shrugged.

“And exactly how did you come into possession of such an item?” Tanelin asked, skeptical.

Rees looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, as our supply of, uh... potables had run a bit low, we were looking for other, uh... stimulants, you see. Some Xeshites offered us some of that strange betel-nut they chew in the jungle, but it just gave me sore gums. They passed out on it, though, and when we, uh... performed an inventory of their possessions, we found the map. Show them, Marcus.”

The dark-haired man rummaged around in a leather bag, withdrew a rolled piece of parchment and unfurled it on the table.

It was exactly what Rees had said it was — a detailed schematic of the Spire, its defenses and inner chambers.

“Mind you I can’t vouch for its accuracy,” Rees explained. “For all we know it could be hundreds of years old.”

“Or a forgery,” Tanelin pointed out.

I sighed. “Yes, it could be either. But for now it’s all we’ve got.” I scanned the others’ faces. “Unless I’m mistaken, time is of the essence, is it not?” I looked through the tent flap. “Now it’s almost dark, so I suggest we get moving.”

Moments later we were moving out into the evening gloom. 

*** 

Council Spire rose above our heads, a dagger thrust at the heart of Thystra. The steel-clad gates were closed, and the exterior was about as inviting as a gigantic block of ice. It didn’t look encouraging.

We trudged painfully up the rocky prominence beside the edifice, and when we reached the top, Tanelin looked toward the wall, where a small gate stood.

“A sally port?” he asked.

Rees nodded, looking at the parchment. “A key weakness. It appears to be entirely unguarded.”

“Yes,” I muttered as we cautiously crept up to it, “but is it locked?”

“Of course it is,” Tanelin said sourly. “The dark ones are infamous for their fanatical concern for secrecy. It is probably locked, barred from the inside and warded to alert the entire fortress if anyone...”

Rees reached out, grabbed the rusty latch and pulled. With a brief groan of protest the ancient door opened.

Tanelin stared in amazement for a moment as Rees stood aside, gesturing like a doorman.

“After you, milord?” he asked, grinning. 

*** 

I took a moment as we entered to thank Phaedra for the dark elves’ lax security. The interior was dusty and covered in cobwebs, and obviously hadn’t been used in decades. It was as good a place to start as any.

“I’m afraid,” I said softly, “that this isn’t a part of the fortress I’m familiar with.” I turned to Rees. “Show me the map.”

Tanelin cast a minor witchlight spell and in its wan glow I pointed at the map.

“It looks as if we’re here, if that’s the correct sally port. There should be a door and a passage to the lower levels nearby. You know where your friend is being held?”

Tanelin shook his head. “The dark ones aren’t known for being terribly well organized. They probably just pitched her into whatever cell was available.”

Tanelin led the way, his enhanced vision cutting through the gloom. At length we reached an ancient rust-covered door.

“Barred from this side,” Tanelin observed. “By whom I wonder?”

“And where are they now, I wonder?” I said. “Let’s get out of here before we find out. Help me, Marcus.”

Together we wrenched the bar from its brackets — in fact we wrenched off the brackets themselves, as the entire affair was welded together with rust.

A still-dark but somewhat cleaner corridor ran by outside, and we slipped out as silently as possible.

“That way,” Tanelin hissed. I envied him his memory and followed, making certain that Lawbringer would come freely out of its scabbard if the need arose.

I heard shouts and laughter from above, and hoped that we’d arrived at meal time. The clash of crockery and a couple of feminine screams suggested I was right.

A stone spiral staircase rose overhead, and descended into darkness below. We crouched beneath it, hiding in shadows (as if that would have helped against those cat-eyed bastards, I thought). Tanelin motioned for us to wait, then glided down the stairs. He returned a moment later.

“Two guards,” he hissed. “Awake and well-armed. We’ll have to deal with them quickly.” He reached to his belt pouch and pulled out a pair of glass spheres with swirling green mist inside. “This should knock them out for a bit. They’ll not remember a thing.”

Tanelin moved silently again, pitching the two spheres down the stairs, where they cracked, sending up a billow of green smoke.

“Back!” he urged. “I can’t afford to knock any of you out!”

We stepped back and waited several long minutes until the gas dissipated. The sounds of revelry continued unabated. I just hoped that Thae’lynn didn’t come tottering down the stairs on the arm of her evening’s fuck-buddy. Knowing my luck, it wasn’t totally unlikely.

“Come on!” Tanelin whispered, and we followed him down the stairs.

Two male dark elves slept peacefully outside the heavy door that led to the cell block. Tanelin relieved one of his keys, then mumbled some incantations before unlocking the door.

“Best to remove any wards, as well,” he said. “Just unlocking a door often isn’t enough.”

We moved again, now into a dank region of iron-bound doors, a damp, straw-covered floor and a stench that would make a troll want to vomit.

“Smells as if something crawled in here and died,” Rees said, wrinkling his nose. He produced a silk handkerchief and pressed it to his face.

“I suspect that something did,” Tanelin said, gazing into barred windows. I didn’t dare look myself for fear of what might be lurking behind those doors... I regretted that we couldn’t save everyone here, but we were searching for one particular prisoner.

“Here!” Tanelin said, abruptly, then fumbled for the keys. “She’s in here!”

“Tanelin?” said a weak voice as the elf entered, his witchlight following. I went in myself, and the moment I did, my jaw dropped and my eyes widened.

“Chuma?” The voice was familiar, but the last time I’d heard it, it had been wailing in ecstasy.

I gaped. There, clad only in rags, her fur matted and ugly, chains at her wrists and her neck, was the Tandu-ri female who liked to be spanked.

“Marshal Herula,” I said, recovering my wits as quickly as I could. “Fancy meeting you here.”

-- END --