Dark Vengeance I: Jungle Goddess

I

Thaemon

Lord Marshal Thaemon stood on the highest spire of the Primarch’s Tower in the city of Xesh, surveying the walled metropolis around him, and the dense jungle that spread out to the west. The air was heavy with moisture, hot and stifling, and Thaemon once more yearned for home. The forests there were cool and peaceful, with green glades and crystal streams, totally unlike the thick, crawling mat of tangled trees, treacherous rivers and bottomless swamps that covered Xesh. Wicked, stinging insects plagued his warriors, and strange exotic birds with unfamiliar plumage and raucous songs filled the air. Deep in the jungle, lurked creatures far more terrifying than anything in the Elvish Isles of Thaemon’s youth. Vengeful jarreks and armed humans, united now in their hatred of the elves, stalked his patrols and cut them down one by one.

It was a strange, frightening land, and now it was Thaemon’s job to keep it pacified. In the end, he knew he would succeed, and that the flawless green banners of elvenkind would triumph from one end of the land to the other, fluttering gently over the graves of the humans and lizard-folk who had once called it home. The elves would destroy all who opposed them, and cleanse the world of the virulent, filthy races who now claimed it.

This Thaemon knew, because Lord Feanor had said so. Lord Feanor and his dragons, and his sorcerers, and his legions of shuffling undead, those bright and shining warriors who would carry civilization to the world, whether the world wanted it or not.

And, Thaemon reflected, Lord Feanor would never lie.

Would he?

All the same, deep in his heart, at the end of his ancient elvish soul, Thaemon wanted only one thing more than anything else.

He wanted to go home.

Livia

“No, dear,” Livia said, with calm authority. “That’s only four. You’ve got one more to go.”

Narisha’s face reflected both excitement and frustration. The crimson-skinned demoness lay on Livia’s bed, naked save for a black leather collar, wrist and ankle bands, each held shut with a small lock. Her shapely face was framed by sweaty blue-black tresses, yellow eyes flashing orange. A long and flexible tongue flashed out briefly to lick her black lips, revealing a flash of ivory incisors.

“Dearest, sweetest mistress,” she said, pleadingly (an odd tone for her, Livia reflected; she usually preferred to give the orders rather than take them). “Please. I want to come again, but I want you to make me come.”

As she spoke, Narisha prized open the dark, gleaming lips of her cunt to reveal the soft, wet depths inside. She ran a black-nailed finger across her swollen clit for effect.

Such a difference, Livia thought, watching her lover writhe with frustrated desire, just as she had so often made Livia do. A faint sheen of perspiration covered her, made worse by the moist tropical air that infiltrated every nook and cranny this close to Xesh. Narisha’s large crimson breasts rose and fell with fevered breathing, nipples swollen and hard. Like her lips and labia, the demoness’ nipples were a rich blue-black, dark contrast to her red skin.

“You agreed to this, my sweet little pet,” Livia replied. “We had a wager, remember? You’re mine to do with as I please.”

“But five times, sweetest?” Narisha’s voice took on a new edge of frustration.

“That’s what I said, little pet,” Livia replied, stepping a little closer. Beside Narisha on the bed lay a black riding crop, one which the demoness had occasionally applied to Livia’s backside. Livia caressed it. “Or do you need some corrective attention?”

Narisha’s eyes widened in mock fright.

“No, I don’t, mistress,” she said meekly. “I’ll make myself come for you.”

“Good.” Livia stepped back and stood once more at the foot of the bed. “Remember to give me a nice good view of it all, too.”

“Oh, gladly, mistress.” Narisha once more spread her labia apart and teased at her clitoris with her index finger. “How is that?”

Livia nodded. “Quite nice, pet. Quite, quite nice.”

As the demon-woman stroked herself, and once more her copious juices began to flow, sopping her fingers and outer lips, Livia considered her position.

Since they’d met, as a result of an unfortunate magical accident between Narisha and Daedora, the demoness had always been the aggressor, the superior, the mistress. Now, however, she was the submissive one, following Livia’s every whim.

I’m usually aggressive with men and submissive with women, Livia thought idly as Narisha’s teeth clenched, and her clit-stroking grew faster. Perhaps I should keep it this way for a while...

“Oh, darling...” Narisha groaned, squeezing her clit between thumb and forefinger. “Oh, sweetest mistress, I’m yours, I’m yours, I belong to you...” She threw her head back, hair flying, eyes rolling upward. “Ah. Sweetheart...”

Livia sighed, feeling a deep upwelling of desire and lust as the demoness came for the fifth time in the past two hours.

“Make yourself come, pet,” she’d told her. “Come five times and I’ll fuck you.”

“Promise?” Narisha said, stroking her breasts and squeezing her nipple, tugging on the silver ring and its black onyx bangle. “Promise to fuck me?”

“Come five times, pet. Five times. I won’t touch you. You have to make yourself come for me.”

Now, at last, the final tremors of Narisha’s fifth orgasm were subsiding, and she lay, a red and black heap of sweaty flesh, gazing at Livia with slitted, yellow eyes, panting, lips moist and trembling.

“Oh, dearest, sweetest mistress,” she sighed. “I worship you. I adore you. I serve your every whim. I came for you, mistress. I came five times for you.”

Livia nodded, feeling slightly smug.

“Yes you did,” she said. “Now you get your reward.”

Narisha’s eyes lit up. “Do I? Will you take me now? Fuck me?”

Livia stepped closer, shedding her white silk robe. Narisha drank her in, breath coming quicker, fingers creeping down toward her sopping cunt once more.

“You like to look at me?” Livia asked.

“I love to look at you, mistress. I love to see you naked, your face, your lips, your breasts, those sweet pink nipples... Oh...”

“You think about me when you play with yourself?”

Narisha nodded, vehemently. “I touch myself and think of you. I make myself come for you, even when you’re not here.”

Livia sighed inwardly. So very satisfying to hear these things... I’ve said them to her often enough...

“Now I get to fuck you,” she said. “Hard.”

“Oh, yes. Fuck me hard. Fuck me as hard as you want, sweet darling mistress.”

Livia felt her own clit begin to throb at the thought.

This domination business is harder than I thought, she mused. Two hours and I haven’t gotten to come once. Well, the pleasure comes from Narisha, I suppose...

“I’ll fuck you,” she said. “Now, get on your hands and knees. Put that beautiful ass of yours in the air for me.”

Wordlessly, Narisha complied, crouching like a near-spent animal, panting, breasts hanging down to touch the sweat-soaked bedclothes beneath her. She leaned forward on her arms, buttocks rising atop columnar thighs, revealing the moist black of her cunt lips, and the puckered orifice above them.

“Don’t look now,” Livia said, reaching beneath the bed, and pulling out a mass of leather straps.

“I won’t,” Narisha promised.

Livia stepped into the harness, and pulled a rigid cylindrical dildo from under the bed. It was soft and slightly yielding, but rigid, like a real cock. She marveled at the craftsmanship some Vendhayan artisan had put into it as she attached it to the harness.

“You going to fuck me now?” Narisha asked excitedly. “Fuck me with a nice, fat cock?”

“You peeked,” Livia said. “I should punish you for that.”

Narisha sighed pleasurably. “I’d love that.”

Rather than replying, Livia stepped up onto the bed and kneeled behind Narisha, stroking the heated, fleshy surface of her buttocks.

“Such a beautiful ass,” she sighed. “I’m going to enjoy fucking it.”

Now Narisha gasped sharply. “You’re going to fuck my ass?”

Livia smiled to herself. “Read my mind, demoness. You’re good at that, aren’t you?”

“I’m too worked up to read anyone’s mind right now,” Narisha said, breathing hard. “However, as you’re now rubbing that massive cock at my nether portal, I’d say that you’re about to do what you say.”

Livia dribbled oil from a vial across the smooth expanse of Narisha’s ass cheeks, watching it drip slowly between them. “I said I’d fuck you, little pet. I didn’t say where.”

“Oh, my dearest mistress,” Narisha sighed. “You do know what pleases me, don’t you?”

Livia slid her cock slowly in the lubricated channel between Narisha’s buttocks, then gently teased at her asshole.

“I thought you’d appreciate it,” she said, “given how you be me I couldn’t take Wulf’s cock up the ass.”

“Mmm...” Narisha sighed and writhed, wriggling her ass against Livia. “You liked it, didn’t you?”

“Oh, I did,” Livia confided. “And now you’ll see just how much.”

With that, she fitted the head of her artificial prick against Narisha’s asshole and began to slowly slip inside.

“Ahhh...” Narisha gasped. “Is that what he felt like? Big and hard and thick?”

“Most certainly,” Livia said, pulling back against Narisha’s initial resistance, then sliding in again, feeling a deliciously hot pressure as the base of the dildo pressed against her clit. “Filled me up completely. Made me want to scream.”

“You... Oh, fuck... You did scream as I recall,” Narisha said. “Oh, that is so sweet, my dearest Livia...”

“Uhhhh... Oh, sweet... oh, love,” Livia said, feeling Narisha’s muscles grip her cock, and sliding firmly between them. The pressure on her clit was even greater now, made even more intense by the fact that she was, for the first time, turning the tables on the woman who had so often done this to her. “I think I’m going to come just by fucking you.”

“I know I’m going to,” Narisha replied, face pressed down into the bedding, turned on its side so she could look back. Her pupils were wide black pits, her lips black and swollen as her cunt, and as slick and moist. “I’ll come from you fucking me up the ass, mistress Livia.”

Oh, gods and goddesses, does she always have to be in command, even when she’s on her knees, begging to be buggered, Livia wondered? What was it about this woman that demanded all fall down and worship her?

“Oh, sweet, sweet mistress,” Narisha gasped. “Now I know what it felt like.” She gritted her teeth, and drove herself backwards against Livia, plunging the thick cock even deeper inside. “If I’d known, I’d have had him fuck me there himself.”

Narisha’s backward thrust jammed the dildo against Livia’s clit, and she felt a burning throb grow, combining with the sensual delight of fucking her lover and listening to her cries, and began a long slow ascent toward the pinnacle of orgasm.

“Play with yourself,” she commanded, breathlessly, and with a final thrust, drove the dildo all the way inside Narisha, to a delightedly strangled cry of pleasure and pain. “Play with your clit while I fuck your ass.”

“Is it all the way in?” Narisha demanded. “Is it all the way up my ass?”

“Yes,” Livia gasped. “It’s pressing against my clit. It presses against my clit every time I shove it inside you.”

“Shove it in,” Narisha continued, stroking herself with one hand and pulling her ass farther apart with the other. “Fuck it hard. Fuck my asshole.”

Livia felt a rush of heat, a demanding, insistent pressure inside her, and seized Narisha’s fleshy buttocks, thrusting her close, then pulling out, watching the massive length of the dildo slide out of her lover’s ass.

“Ohhhhhhhhh, fuck it,” Narisha moaned. “Fuck it harder.”

With a single motion, Livia thrust back inside, and the thick cylinder vanished inside Narisha once more. Livia’s clit throbbed, the pressure inside growing greater, driving her onward.

“Fuck you,” she snarled. “Take it all. Take it all up that beautiful ass...”

With that she pulled out, thrust again, pulled out and thrust, faster and faster, feeling Narisha melt and yield beneath her. Each time the dildo pounded against her swollen clit, sending throbbing vibrations through her entire body.

“Ohhhh, do it,” Narisha gasped, face buried in pillows, sweat sparkling against the crimson flesh of her ass. “I’m gonna come. You’re gonna make me...”

Then Narisha was coming, thrusting wildly against Livia, jamming the dildo against her with still greater force and intensity. Livia remained still, letting her lover set the pace, moving forward and back, forward and back, sliding the massive object inside her again and again.

“I’m...” Livia groaned. “Do it... Do it... Ride it, love... Make me come...”

Then it hit, a firestorm of release, exploding outward from her clit. She dug her fingers into the soft flesh of Narisha’s ass cheeks, thrusting inside her one last time, feeling the insistent pressure against her.

“Yesssss...” gasped the demoness, collapsing beneath her, still more disheveled and sweaty.

“I... love... it...” she gasped, unstrapping the dildo, leaving it thrust into Narisha’s ass, then flopping onto the bed beside her.

“I still feel you inside me,” Narisha sighed, reaching out to caress Livia’s sweat-sheened cheek.

“That’s the nice thing about dildos,” Livia replied, feeling weak but exhilarated. “They stay there even when you can’t.”

 ***

Daedora sat alone at the prow of the Skate, staring across moon-silvered water. She was dressed somberly, in dark violet tunic and trousers. She was barefoot, and her silver hair was bound up in a single long braid. Livia stepped up lightly behind her and touched her shoulder. She didn’t start; it was as if she’d been expecting her.

“What are you thinking?” Livia asked. “We’ve missed you the last few nights.”

“I’m sorry, my love,” she said softly. “I think you can understand that my mind is elsewhere.”

Yes, Livia thought. With your slain family and the monster who destroyed them.

“I’m sure we could have taken your mind off of such things for a while,” she offered, helpfully.

“Once, perhaps,” Daedora replied. “And perhaps again. But I’m not like you or Narisha. Sex only dulls the pain for me. It doesn’t really make me forget it. Especially when Xesh is so close.” She looked back at Livia, her violet eyes pools of deeper darkness. “We’re bound for Xesh to fight the elves’ occupation forces. You’ve heard the same reports that I have. The elves are sailing for Litharna. And Thae’lynn is still building her army. I can’t help but think that we’d be more useful elsewhere.”

“You want to strike back at Thae’lynn directly,” Livia agreed. “I’d feel the same if I were you. Xesh may hold the secret to breaking her hold on the dragons and on the undead. And we’re just one ship full of misfits. This is the best way we can strike back at her.”

Daedora sighed in such a way as to say that she wasn’t truly satisfied with the answer.

“I’m here, Livia, and I owe you my life,” she said. “I know it would be suicidal to sail south against that bitch, but each night I see my mother and my father and the rest of my family, and I feel such anger, such cold rage and desire to make Thae’lynn pay. Gods.”

“If she knew you’d survived your life wouldn’t be worth a bent copper,” Livia said. “Best you stay with us and work to defeat her this way.”

Daedora nodded and wiped away a tear. “I will. But I swear I’ll make her pay for what she did. I swear it.”

“Just wait until tomorrow,” Livia told her. “Then we run the river into Xesh.”

Daedora’s voice grew grim.

“I look forward to it, my love. Very much.”

II

Livia

The verdant coast of Xesh lay off the horizon like a shaggy green carpet. Livia swatted at a needle-fly which had swooped in a little too close and, for at least the tenth time that morning, hoped that her concealment wards would hold against the elf patrol ships. So far they’d seen none, so her spell remained untested; for all she was concerned, it could go untested until the end of time and she would be happy. Hopefully, they were far enough south from the to avoid the worst of the patrols.

Narisha stood beside her, none the worse for the rigors Livia had put her through the night before. She wore her idea of armor — a revealing leather halter studded with metal disks, reinforced vambraces, a long black breechclout and boots. Her hair was tied up in braids, and she wore no helmet. Except for the sword strapped to her side and the round shield on her back, she looked more like a Red Temple exotic dancer than a demoness girded for war. But then, demons’ own flesh was well-armored and as tough at boiled leather, so most of their clothing was for show, in any event. Her muscular thighs, stomach, arms and the twin mounds of her breasts, squeezed together alarmingly by the halter, were all exposed, colored rich crimson. Her tattoos flickered blue-black in thorny, jagged demonic script.

“I’ve informed the crew,” she said. “The elves have put a boom across the River Uxalt and garrisoned it. There may be some small patrol boats, as well, but the bulk of their forces are back in Xesh City. If we can get past the boom, we should have relatively clear sailing until we reach Xuin.”

“I’ll raise a fog to cover our movements,” Livia said. “It doesn’t take too much effort this time of morning in any event. Do we know whether the elves have taken Xuin or not?”

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Narisha said. “In the meantime, care to come to my cabin and pass the time constructively?”

Livia rolled her eyes. “Can you keep your mind off sex for five minutes, Narisha?”

“Not,” Narisha said, spinning with a toss of her hair and a swing of her hips, “while I’m around you, dearest.”

Daevos

A voice spoke in the gloom, muffled by the thick blanket of mist. “This fog stinks of magic. I like it not.”

A second voice replied. “Must you overdramatize everything, Guldor? By the gods, why can’t  you just say it’s foggy?”

“You forget the ways of our people, Daevos,” grumbled the first speaker. “You speak in the manner of the humans.”

“And of course that is unacceptable to our lord and master Feanor and his followers. All things elvish are to be embraced, all things human rejected. He says jump and you reply, ‘yes, my lord! How high? And how long before I can come down?’”

Guldor sighed. He was an old elf, out of favor with Feanor and his cronies, assigned to this backwater garrison to get him out of the way. His troops were all young, headstrong elves with little respect for the old ways.

Then again, Guldor thought, casting a despairing glance at Daevos, perhaps they were right. Reverence for the old ways and the iron-hided conservatism of Feanor and his faction had led his people to disaster. Even now, Feanor sailed north under the unclean domination of the lich Ezikhan and his undead dragons, seeking to strike a crippling blow against the most powerful human nation, Litharna. Thaemon remained in command of elvish occupation forces, charged with maintaining peace in the conquered land.

And as for Guldor, he had been given command of a company of troublemakers and told to guard the River Uxalt against incursion. Not that many were likely to try and force passage down the Uxalt, with most humans dead or in hiding, Jarreks driven back into the jungles, and most of the fighting now taking place far away. This garrison was a dead-end assignment for failures and misfits, and everyone knew it.

“Peace, Daevos,” Guldor said quietly. “We mustn’t fight among ourselves. We must do our duty.”

“Duty?” Daevos rolled his eyes. “Duty to the cursed monster that killed our king a thousand years ago? All my life I’ve been taught that Ezikhan was the greatest traitor who ever lived, and now our glorious leader takes orders from him. Feanor is so infatuated with that empty-headed female that he doesn’t even know what we’re fighting for. He leaves us behind and leaves with his whore and his walking corpse to go kill humans. Why is he killing humans, Guldor? What have they done to us?”

Guldor felt sad. “I cannot say, young one. Neither Feanor nor the Silver Lady heed the councils of those such as us.”

From the boom on the river came a shout of surprise and alarm.

“Come running! Come running! The enemy approaches!”

After staring in mute surprise for a moment, Guldor and Daevos galvanized into action, taking up weapons and sprinting toward the pontoon bridge that floated alongside the great boom. Naedor was there, along with Sonal and a dozen or so others, readying bows or spears.

Guldor stared into the fog. A great pale form was emerging ­ — the prow of a sleek ship, bearing the forms of armed warriors. They were mostly humans, though at the bow he saw the looming figure of a female demon, crimson skinned and fire-eyed, clad in black leather and mail, wielding a two-handed sword. Beside her, bearing a twisted black staff, was a blonde female human in white robes, and as Guldor watched, the telltale sparks of magic began to form around her and coalesce on the staff’s crystal head.

“Summon Maeth!” he shouted, pointing back toward the shore. “We will need countermagic!”

The order proved unnecessary, however, for the garrison’s sorceress was already hastening to the bridge, violet robes swirling around her. The remainder of Guldor’s warriors followed, some still stumbling into their armor.

“Counterspell! Counterspell!” Guldor shouted, pointing toward the oncoming vessel. Crossbow bolts rattled among the boom’s defenders, answered moments later by clothyard shafts from elven longbows, which struck the enemy ship with woody “thunks” or plunged into flesh, sending humans tumbling, screaming, into the water. Guldor scanned his troops. One had taken a minor graze from a bolt, but the rest were unharmed. Without orders, they were forming up in a double line, bows forward, spears behind.

“Prepare to receive!” Guldor shouted, as beside him Maeth began her counterspell. The pale-faced elf made no sound ­ she was a renunciate, sworn to silence, giving up the gift of speech for greater magical ability. Her cult had opposed Feanor’s crusade, but she had accompanied the army out of a sense of duty. Now, unpopular with the new regime, she shared Guldor’s fog-shrouded exile.

More bolts darted among the defenders ­ this time some found their marks, and a handful of elves fell. Most were wounded, but one green-eyed youngster from House Sundragon fell dead, a bolt piercing his chest.

More elven arrows replied, but the humans ducked behind the bulwarks before they struck. The demoness remained on station, however. Guldor saw an arrow strike her exposed crimson flesh and bounce away harmlessly.

Then the sorceress’ spell went off, filling the air with darting, leaping fire-sprites. Some shot at Guldor, others at his troops. The line wavered as elves cried out, batting at the things as they spun and danced, searing flesh, or flinging themselves into faces, seeking to blind their victims.

Cold white light erupted from Maeth’s staff, and particles of living ice sprang forth to extinguish the sprites.

An angry oath echoed from the ship and, sensing the challenge, the human wizardess turned her attentions toward Maeth. Fire sprang from her staff, enveloping the elf woman. Guldor stepped back, shielding his face from the blast. A bubble of the cold light sprang up around Maeth as she chanted, defending herself while preparing retaliation against her foe.

Guldor forcibly turned away from the conflict and saw to his defenders. The ship was almost upon them, and now twin ballistae on board spoke, heavy iron-tipped shafts impaling two of his warriors, killing them instantly. The ship was close only time for one last volley

“Loose and fall back!” Guldor bellowed. “Ready to support the spearmen!”

Dutifully, his young charges shot one final spread of arrows, catching one careless sailor in the neck, sending tumbling to the deck. The humans had dropped their crossbows now, and drew a wicked assortment of hand weapons, ready to storm the bridge.

Guldor unsheathed his sword, despair worrying at his heart. The humans were numerous, and after their initial volley, his warriors had done little to reduce them. The demoness seemed to be the leader, and as the ship struck the boom, its armored prow crunching into the wood, making the bridge sway and tilt, she shouted a fearsome warcry and leaped down among the elves.

The humans followed, a shrieking, bloodthirsty horde. Locked in her death struggle with the human wizardess, Maeth was unable to help, leaving Guldor and his warriors to meet the threat alone.

Setting sword and shield, Guldor was about to plunge into the fray when he beheld a sight that froze his blood.

On the prow of the ship, where the demoness had stood, was a black-skinned figure from his race’s most horrifying nightmares. An exile ­— a dark one.

Guldor’s mind reeled at the thought of his race’s ancient enemies, then rage took him, and he pointed his sword at the ship.

“Dark one!” he bellowed. “Outcast!”

And he plowed into the melee, hewing left and right, fury driving his arms, sending humans scattering.

“Long live the Lady!” he shouted. “Kill the outcast!”

All around him, elves caught sight of the dark one, and charged ahead, heedless of the humans. The madness was their undoing. Intent on the outcast, the elves did not defend themselves, and moments later many had fallen, bloody and wounded or dying.

Guldor did not care. He bounded toward the ship, gathering himself for a spring that would take him on board, where he would sheath his sword in the dark one’s heart. His command had been wiped out, but he did not care. His anger at the sight of the shunned monster was such that nothing else mattered.

When she saw him coming, the dark one reacted with fear, stepping back and unsheathing her own sword. Guldor fixed her with a hate-filled gaze; her eyes locked with his, and he saw

Fear. Sorrow. Contrition. Horror at the bloody scene below.

Guldor faltered. He saw nothing save the wounded gaze of a troubled soul, not the hatred of a wicked thing that he had expected.

He stared.

“What —” he began.

Then the demon woman was on him, sword whirling.

“Care to dance, Sir Elf?” she demanded, a bloody-skinned image of both beauty and horror.

Guldor did not respond, so stunned was he by the dark one’s countenance. He still stared at her, even as the demoness’ blade sliced through his chest, and sent him spinning into the water, his heart pierced.

The elf’s last thoughts were repentant.

Gods and ancestors. I join you now. And I wonder... Could it be that we have been wrong all this time?

Livia

Elvish resistance collapsed at their commander’s death, and the defenders scattered, tumbling into the water or fleeing for the shore.

The sorceress’ concentration wavered for an instant, and Livia had her. The offensive casting shattered the woman’s defensive globe, breaking it into a million glittering shards. Dispatching the elf was almost instinctive, and a moment later she lay, a motionless heap of purple robes, the last of her castings expiring in a cloud of multicolored motes.

“Come on, you mongrels!” Narisha shouted, motioning with her sword. “Let’s get this boom out of the way!”

Teams of sailors began working at the boom with axes, while others fanned out, checking the bodies of fallen elves for valuables.

A shout from Stef took Livia’s attention.

“This one’s still alive! Shall I —” He motioned with his knife.

It was the sorceress.

Livia hesitated. To kill in the heat of battle was one thing, but to dispatch a helpless foe

“No,” she called back. “Bring her on board. She’ll make a useful hostage.”

Narisha cast her a strange look at that, but didn’t interfere, instead joining the sailors in dismantling the boom.

Daedora looked shaken. If she’d had a human complexion, she probably would have been pale. She leaned against the mast, staring blankly.

“Are you all right?” Livia asked, touching her shoulder.

The dark elf shook her head.

“I’ve seen so many horrors over the past year, you’d think I would be used to it by now,” she said softly. “But those down there. They’re our cousins, no matter how much we’ve all been told to hate her. That elf. The commander. He saw me and came at me, but when I looked at him he stopped. He stopped and stared, as if seeing one of the Zhalha’sarr’im as something more than a monster for the first time.”

“He’s been taught to hate, the same as you,” Livia said. “And if he looks at you and sees a helpless victim instead of a drooling beast, he may not want to kill you as much.”

Daedora shrugged. “It’s all moot, in any event. Narisha killed him.”

Livia sighed. “There’s going to be more killing in the future, not less. You may as well accept that.” She looked over at the railing, where the unconscious sorceress was being pulled aboard. “We saved one of them, at least.”

Daedora looked at the sorceress. “She wears the purple,” she observed. “A renunciate.”

“What’s that?”

“She’s taken a vow of silence in exchange for greater magical power. It’s so that they’ll be less likely to betray the order and tell its secrets to others.”

“Seems kind of silly,” Livia said. “Couldn’t they just write it?”

“As with most things our cousins do, it makes little sense,” Daedora replied. “I think that the silence is merely a symbol of a higher vow, one to always defend the renunciate order and serve the Lady.”

Livia rolled her eyes. “A fanatic. Wonderful. Maybe I should have let Stef kill her.”

“No, please.” Daedora looked at her intently, violet eyes troubled. “There’s been enough of that. Perhaps we can prove to her that her cause is wrong. Perhaps she could help us talk to the other high elves.”

Livia watched as the woman was taken below. “Perhaps,” she said. “But I seriously doubt it.”

Maeth

Awareness returned slowly, and when it did, Maeth was unsure whether she truly wanted it. She was in a small room; a ship’s cabin to judge from the rocking and the creak of rigging outside. She was naked, and lay on a small bunk. Beside the bed was a tray of dried fruit, and faint light was cast by a small mageglobe, but there was no one else in the room with her.

Memories of the last fight filtered back to consciousness ­ of the cries of alarm, of the ship, the arrows, the demoness Then, the sorceress, the human, who had matched her spell for spell.

The humans aren’t supposed to wield that kind of power, she thought. My people are masters of magic, and all other races quail before us.

Obviously that particular piece of propaganda had proved false. When Guldor fell, Maeth felt a trace of anger and despair, and that was all the opening the fair-skinned sorceress had needed. Maeth had fallen, consciousness disintegrating, expecting only death.

Now here she was, obviously a prisoner, deprived of staff, clothing, magical icons, and anything else she could use to help her cast spells. She could draw on the ambient magical energy of the ship, the river, and the jungle beyond, of course, but that would prove exhausting and might not have the desired effects.

Maeth realized she was exhausted and hungry. She ate the fruit, thinking that even if she could gather in the energies around her, she lacked the strength to do anything with them.

Best wait and assess the situation. Wait to see what the barbarians will do with you.

From what Maeth knew of humans, it was certain to be unpleasant. Tales of the Runehall’s defenders spoke of the cruelty of the Cold Isle raiders, and when the orcs had come to the isles years before, their human allies had been almost as vicious and sadistic as the greenskins themselves.

The latch of her door rattled, and there was the sound of a drawn bolt and the click of a lock. She hastily drew the bedclothes around her and waited.

Slowly the door opened, and a woman entered cautiously. It was the human sorceress who had defeated her, and now Maeth had an opportunity to look at her more closely. She was slender but strong-looking, with milky-pale skin and light blue eyes that danced and sparkled. Her hair was short, reddish-blonde, and a faint sprinkle of freckles highlighted her short nose. To Maeth’s surprise, she smiled.

“I see you’re awake,” she said. “I apologize for the accommodations. We’re not well-equipped for guests.”

Maeth kept her expression neutral.

“I’m told you’re a renunciate and can’t speak. Is this true?”

Maeth nodded.

“Then I’ll do all the talking. Believe me, I like it that way.” She grinned again. “I’m Livia. This is the corsair Skate, and we’re sailing up the river to learn more about the elves and their occupation of Xesh. You’re our prisoner. I’m sorry we had to kill your friends, but they weren’t likely to let us past that boom without a fight.”

Maeth looked down, feeling a trace of sorrow.

“Now, your captivity can be easy or pleasant, depending on what you do. I’m all for giving you the run of the ship and leaving you be, but my first mate thinks otherwise. She thinks you should be chained on the orlop deck and fed bread crumbs. Mind you, that’s how she treats her friends, so you should count yourself lucky.”

She was trying to cheer Maeth, but it wasn’t working. The elf returned the human’s gaze forlornly.

The sorceress proffered a quill and parchment.

“Give me your name here, and write that you swear by the Twelve and by the Lady that you will not attempt to escape, nor will you do harm to anyone on this ship, nor to anyone we meet, and you’ll be well treated. Otherwise, well, I suppose Narisha will have her way. She does so like chains, the dear. And she likes women in chains even more. Believe me, I know.”

Maeth looked at her quizzically, then took the parchment. After a moment, she did as Livia had requested, and handed the parchment back.

“Maeth,” Livia read. “Such a pretty name. And I see that you reserve the right to fight against the Lady’s enemies once your captivity here is complete. Very sensible.”

Livia rolled up the parchment and secreted it in her sleeve.

“You’re free to go now, Maeth. Just stay aboard the ship.” She paused. “Oh, yes. You’re naked, aren’t you? I’ll have your robes sent down in a few moments.”

Maeth nodded again.

“I’ll leave you now,” Livia said. “We have a ship to run, after all. Busy, busy, busy.”

Then she was gone, leaving Maeth to contemplate what she had done.

The enemy were clearly human raiders ­ corsairs seeking to sail into occupied Xeshite territory and take what they could. To that end, Maeth herself had made peace with devils. The humans, or so Feanor’s faction claimed, were barbaric animals who had overrun and despoiled a world set aside only for the use of elvenkind. Even now, Feanor’s legions marched to exterminate the threat and set the world right once more.

But he marched with the greatest traitor in the history of the elven nation. And beside him flew hideously reanimated corpses of ancient dragons and dragon princes. To call such an act blasphemy was a gross understatement. It was an affront to the Gods themselves, and Maeth had no doubt that someday the gods themselves would demand a reckoning.

In the meantime, however, she served the Lady, and the Lady had bid her accompany Guldor and Thaemon’s occupation force. Now, however, Guldor was dead (she felt a twinge of sadness ­ — she had loved and respected the old warrior), and Thaemon was out of reach in Xesh City.

And she was in the hands of...

Of what, she wondered?

When the door opened again, Maeth saw what she was in the hands of.

“Hello,” said the dark one. “My name is Daedora. Livia says you’re called Maeth, and that you can’t speak. Is that true?”

Maeth’s mind reeled, and she looked away in disgust. She’d forgotten about the dark one, only barely noticing her in the struggle on the boom. Now, the full enormity of the situation came crashing down on her.

“I guess it is, then,” Daedora said, setting Maeth’s robes down on the bed. “I can see that you don’t want me here, so I’ll ­ “

Foul abomination!’ The words shot unbidden from Maeth’s mind, and she could not stop them.

The dark one felt the words, and fell back a step, steadying herself. She glared at Maeth, eyes suddenly brimming with malice.

What have I ever done to you, ‘high one?’ she shot back, the words echoing in Maeth’s head. The last two words were spat out, like an insult. Why must I feel nothing but hatred when one of your kind sees me?

You betrayed our lords, Maeth replied, feeling her anger rising. You destroyed our nation with your treachery.

No. The word was a flat, utter rejection. Some of us betrayed you. Some of us gave bad council. Some of us led your high magi to destroy the world, a thousand years ago. Not all of us, no. Not my house. We were loyal, yet after the disaster, we were banished along with House N’Quy and all the other traitors. We did not want to go, but you drove us from our lands and killed us when we resisted.

Maeth felt a deep surge of contempt. You were all the same. Even though you protested loyalty, you all plotted against us. Your kind are all alike ­ hearts as black as your skin.

How do you know? Daedora demanded. Were you there? Did you see what traitors we were? Or, perhaps you incinerated a Zhalha’sarr’im family when they refused to leave their home. You say we’re all alike, but give us no chance to prove otherwise. What is the human phrase? You tar us all with the same brush.

Tarring is better than you deserve, Maeth snarled, mentally. You and all the black bastards like you.

To Maeth’s surprise, the hostility flowing from the dark one suddenly lessened, and Daedora gazed at her with wide eyes, hurt and confused.

That is what your leader thought, she replied. Until he looked at me and our eyes met. And he paused, as if to wonder whether his hatred was truly just.

And your demon-woman killed him, Maeth said. A killer like all the others.

That was not my doing, renunciate. Believe me. I’ve seen enough death to last me a hundred lifetimes. I fled my lands, you know. My family is dead at the hands of House N’Quy, and now I am here seeking vengeance.

Maeth stumbled mentally upon hearing the other woman’s words. What do you mean, at the hands of House N’Quy? Is there a war in the southlands?

Not any more, elf. Thae’lynn N’Quy rules supreme, and has the emperor by his cock. She commands and he speaks. Even now she uses her agents to goad your kind into a war that they can never win, in hopes that she can step in and take back the Isles when it is all over. Your Lord Feanor has been sent on a fool’s errand, corrupted as part of a scheme by Thae’lynn. She seeks to humble your people, make them like her, and then destroy or enslave them. She and her house have a long memory, and they have not forgotten the injustice done them.

Maeth’s mind whirled. You lie. You lie like all your kind.

Daedora rose. The anger seemed to have gone completely out of her. You know I do not, sorceress. You know I speak the truth. What true elf would declare common cause with the most wicked necromancer in our history? What true elf would ride beside the shambling corpses of his fellow warriors, save under the control of one such as Thae’lynn. If nothing is done, her dark vengeance will be complete, and we will all perish. She gestured at the clothes. There are your robes. You may get dressed and come topside if you wish.

The dark one turned and made to leave.

Wait. Again, the word came unbidden to Maeth’s mind.

Daedora stopped, and looked back at her.

I’m sorry, Maeth felt herself send to the dark one. I... I’m angry about Guldor, and about Feanor, and about Ezikhan. I I’ve always been told to hate your kind, but now... She faltered. Now, I don’t know what to do.

To Maeth’s surprise, Daedora smiled.

The Gods will find a way, she replied. They always do.

III

Daedora

The sun rose, a disk of dark blood, from the steaming jungle. Daedora stood at the Skate’s prow, scanning the dark green waters. Her confrontation with the elf had left her shaken and even a day later, she tried to concentrate on the land around her so she did not have to remember the woman’s hateful thoughts.

The jungle was unlike anything Daedora had ever seen. A dense carpet of green, itself alive and hosting millions of living things. Huge flocks of birds, feathers flashing every color of the rainbow, rose up from the trees. A host of larger creatures ­ crocodiles, tapirs, giant river otters ­ lived along the banks, sliding or leaping into the water as the Skate sailed by.

There were clouds of insects, as well, but they seemed to ignore her as insistently as they annoyed the humans. Perhaps she smelled bad —­ a thought that had never really occurred to Daedora, and it bothered her until she thought that what smelled bad to an insect was not necessarily what smelled bad to anyone else, especially an elf.

And why was she so concerned about elf sensibilities, she wondered, especially since there was only one other elf on board?

Perhaps, Daedora thought sadly, she wanted to give the elf woman as few reasons to hate her as possible.

Ahead of the ship, a pall of smoke rose where the city of Xuin should have been. Livia had hoped to find allies, or even an entire free human city, where they could obtain supplies, crew, and allies. As they drew nearer the city, that hope seemed less and less realistic.

“Up early, are we, lady elf?” said Stef, busily coiling rope on the foredeck. He was an interesting man, a patchwork of scars, all from wounds that were surely deadly. One of his arms was black, and one was white. Whenever she asked him about the scars, the blonde man colored and said that he did not want to discuss it. Daedora obliged, since he was always kind and polite to her.

“I am,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep for the birds screaming. They give me bad dreams.”

“Hm. That’s what the Xeshites say, I think,” Stef replied. “They say that the birds are actually reincarnated spirits of evil sorcerers, and to hear their calls while sleeping is bad luck. I don’t think I agree. I rather them.”

“I’m glad,” Daedora said. “Did Livia say how much farther the city is?”

“We’ll reach it today. Not that any of us are expecting anything but a burned-out wasteland, of course. Damned elves have already been there.” He paused. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to well, you know.”

She almost giggled at his embarrassment. “Don’t worry, Stef. I’m not offended. The only thing that offends me is what our glorious cousins are capable of doing in the name of peace.”

“You and me both, sister,” Stef agreed.

They reached the city near mid-day. It was even more horrific than anyone had expected. The crew stood along the railings as the Skate sailed past Xuin’s outskirts. Daedora stood between Livia and Narisha for protection, and shivered, even though the air was hot and humid. 

*** 

No human lived in the city. Rats, carrion birds, wild dogs, and other creatures ran or flew freely through the streets. All the buildings, those strange whitewashed palaces and public buildings of the decadent Xeshites, built by the labor of countless slaves, stood empty, and many were gutted or burned.

Bodies filled the streets, or at least the remnants of bodies. Scavengers had been here, leaving worried corpses or scattered bones behind. Most horrifying was the waterfront, where someone ­ the elves, Daedora suspected ­ had impaled dozens of victims on tall, sharpened poles. The bodies, suspended in the air at the mercy of the birds, were almost unrecognizable as human.

Of course, the whole place stunk worse than a slaughterhouse. Skate’s crew stood at the railing, staring in mute horror, some covering their noses or making disgusted expressions. Others simply looked grim and angry.

“We need to send out a shore party,” Narisha said, casually. The horrors didn’t seem to affect her, but then she was a demon, and who could say what her true feelings were? “Make sure the bastards didn’t leave anyone alive.”

Livia nodded, and began selecting sailors. Without thinking, Daedora volunteered, and moments later she and a dozen or so sailors were clambering down to the charnel house that had once been Xuin’s docks. Both she and Livia were dressed for fast action, in light tunics and trousers. Livia wore soft boots, while Daedora wore sandals, and carried a short staff. Her spells would be of little use, especially in a place like this, but at least they were there.

The sailors all looked to her for reassurance, as if the presence of two sorceresses would dispel the gloom and horror they felt. Daedora swallowed and tried to look confident.

“Stay together,” Livia warned. “Gods only know what those elven bastards left behind.”

“We’re ready, Captain,” growled Shiika the Tandu. He was a handsome creature, resembling an upright leopard, bearing a wicked flint-tipped spear. Normally, he spoke little and kept to his duties, but now he seemed positively loquacious, and cast a cool-eyed glance at Daedora. Unaccountably, she felt strangely comforted.

As it turned out, the elves hadn’t left much in Xuin. A few bodies, inside buildings or otherwise out of reach of scavengers, bore marks of sword blows or marks of magical attack. There were no elf bodies —­ in all likelihood the high ones had taken them back, not wanting to leave them in a filthy human city.

Otherwise, Xuin was a shell, stripped and burning. There was no immediate danger, either, since scavengers avoided the shore party. A few of the braver dogs bared fangs and snarled, but a few well-placed rocks sent them on their way.

The sun was dropping toward the jungle canopy when Livia finally made a helpless gesture.

“There’s nothing here,” she said. “We should get back ­ “

Her words were abruptly cut off by a scream from one of the sailors toward the rear of the group.

Whirling, Daedora beheld a terrible sight.

A trio of once-human things had emerged from a shadowed doorway and now surrounded the crewman, ripping him with their claw-like hands. They had the look of week-old corpses, and they moved jerkily, and stared with empty, rotting eyes.

Undead, Daedora thought. Zombies. Our cousins have made common cause with the necromancers.

Livia swore foully, her staff snapping into position. Belatedly, Daedora followed suit, and as the other sailors hurried to aid their comrade, drawing swords and clubs, both women muttered incantations.

Livia’s went off first, enveloping the three zombies and their victim in a glittering green sphere. Then the sphere vanished, and two of the zombies collapsed, their unnatural life-force driven off.

Then Daedora’s casting caused her staff to spit red-orange flames, striking down the last zombie. Shouting, the crew descended on the motionless creatures, or hurried to help their victim.

A bald-headed woman (her name was Ontrae, Daedora remembered) kneeled beside the luckless sailor, then looked up, eyes sad.

“Dead,” she said as the other crewmen dragged away the three zombies. “We should torch him so he doesn’t rise tonight.”

Livia nodded. Common wisdom held that victims of zombies rose as zombies themselves, but Daedora didn’t know whether this was true or not. Her household had employed necromancers on occasion, but they had been wild-eyed, babbling individuals, more at home with the dead than the living. She had avoided them as much as possible.

“Pile ‘em up and step back,” Livia said, leveling her staff again. “Then let’s get the fuck out of this hellhole.”

A burst of flame from Livia’s staff, and the four corpses were burning.

“Come on,” Livia urged, motioning back toward the ship. “There may be more of those things.”

“Uhhhh, captain” said Ontrae, hesitantly, “I think there are. Look.”

Emerging from doorways and alleys, crawling down from rooftops, or clambering painfully out of sewers and drains, at least a hundred more of the shambling undead things now filled the street behind them.

“Gods damn it!” Livia shouted. “It was a trap! Back to the ship!”

With that, the entire party turned to flee.

“Daedora!” Livia cried. “Stand with me. Time for a delaying action.”

Not for the first time, Daedora marveled at the human’s suicidal bravery, for as the crew fled and the monsters shambled forward, she looked utterly calm and unperturbed.

“Fire, a wall, a force barrier ­ it doesn’t matter,” Livia said, setting her staff once more and facing the undead horde. “Anything to slow the bastards down.”

Daedora nodded, though her heart hammered and she felt the sick urge to flee, to run anywhere away from the approaching things.

Spell, spell... Her mind whirled. What kind of spell... She forced herself to be calm, and slowly ran through her meager complement of castings until she remembered one.

“Mud,” she said. “Mud in the street. That’ll slow ‘em down.”

Livia nodded. “Good choice.” Then she aimed her staff and shouted an incantation. It was Xeshite or Litharnan ­ Daedora couldn’t tell. All her spells were in her people’s language, and she had little understanding of others’ methods of casting.

Instantly, the street was filled with sticky strands, as if a gigantic spider had suddenly spewed its webbing everywhere. The first zombies to approach the stuff quickly became entangled, but tried to shuffle on nonetheless. A few even managed to win through and continued to advance on the two sorceresses.

Think… think… The words of the incantation came to Daedora’s lips, and she tried to remember the words of Trigon, the first and greatest dark elf mage.

“Shae’bakk Ulam,” she chanted. “Shae’bakk Golthae.”

Dark energy shot from her staff, and a moment later the street was a morass, sucking mud combining with sticky webbing to make it almost totally impassable.

Two zombies continued to shamble along, making horrific rasping sounds, rotting hands reaching out. Suddenly, a flash of spotted, tawny fur erupted, and Shiika was upon them, thrusting with his spear. The zombies defended clumsily, but in a moment they were in pieces, crawling in random directions. Shiika looked up, eyes wild.

“Let’s get out of here!” he snarled.

“Well done!” Livia cried, motioning back toward the ship. “Now come on!”

Their action had delayed one group of undead, but there were others. As they caught up with the sailors, Daedora saw them hewing their way through a dozen or so lurching monstrosities in various stages of decomposition. One of the zombies was that of a small child, crawling along, rotten teeth snapping at ankles and legs.

Livia cast another of her green spheres, and the zombies fell. Shiika slashed and thrust, and more collapsed in twitching heaps.

“Lady, you’re just in time!” cried Ontrae.

“As always, sailor,” Livia replied, holding her staff close and breaking into a run. “Now let’s go. Last one back to the ship is a troll-fucker!”

With that motivation, the group made excellent time down the streets, back toward where the ship lay moored in the gathering dusk. More parties of zombies barred their way, and each time Livia, the sailors, and Shiika’s spear drove them off. Each time, the human woman seemed more tired, and her spells went off slower.

At last Daedora saw something of the human’s style of magic. Her own people, and the high ones, drew their energies from their surroundings, sculpting the mystical energies cast by all living and non-living things into complex patterns that did the caster’s bidding. An elven mage could cast spells indefinitely, so long as the supply of raw magical energy held out. Humans were not so skilled —­ they had to draw from their own life force, and it drained and tired them.

The sun had set more than half way by the time they reached the docks. The place crawled with zombies, now ­ dozens shambled and stumbled along, some bumping into walls, others falling into the water. A horde of them swarmed around the Skate, and the remaining crew hewed at them with swords, spears and pikes.

Wearily, Livia set her staff again and took aim.

“No!” Daedora cried. “You’ll hurt yourself. Let me.”

Livia cast her an exhausted glance. “Go ahead, sweetheart,” she said. “I’m all in. It’s my own fault — if I’d brought my fucking skull wand none of this would have happened.”

Daedora only barely heard Livia’s words, but instead once more racked her brain for near-forgotten incantations. The black, sloshing water of the docks reminded her, and in a moment, the tortured syllables were once more contorting her lips.

“Th’reaka hashama ulaima’eana!”

The water rose up as if writhing in pain. Small tendrils lashed out, smashing piers and the hulks of damaged ships. Where they found zombies, the tendrils whipped around them, yanking the creatures down into the water. In moments, a corridor to the Skate had formed.

“You’ve done it!” Livia shouted, hastening toward the ship. “Now come on!”

With that, the water was once more still, and the tendrils vanished. In seconds, the shore party dashed along the docks, to be helped aboard by the crew. Shiika bounded over the railing, and immediately whirled, standing guard, spear at the ready.

Stef took Daedora’s arm and grinned with relief.

“Lady elf, you’re alive. Is it all right to say I’m glad?”

“More than all right, Stef,” Daedora replied, grinning back. “It was a close thing.”

“Too fucking close,” said Narisha, holding an iron-headed maul and looking grim. “They were waiting for us. Elf bastards.” As the last of the shore party scrambled aboard, she shouted orders. “Cast off! Cut the cables if you have to, but get us out of here!”

In seconds, the Skate was backing water and moving away from the docks. To Daedora’s surprise, she saw the elf-woman Maeth waving her arms and heard her invocation to the wind spirits to push the ship along.

Narisha noticed her staring. “She fought well, the little bitch,” she said ruefully. “I guess now I have to be nice to her, huh?”

Daedora nodded, and felt herself slide to the deck. The docks behind once more swarmed with zombies, but now they were well clear, moving further up the river.

“I suppose we all do,” she replied.

Maeth

The jungle night fell quickly, and with Thystra’s twin moons both mere slivers, the darkness was almost tangible. Skate moved downriver, leaving the horrors of Xuin far behind.

She stood at the rail, occasionally glancing up at the feeble light of the stars, obscured now and then by the deeper darkness of overhanging trees and vines.

What lay out there in the darkness, she wondered? More horrors visited upon the world by Lord Feanor and his armies? More monstrosities from the hand of her race’s greatest traitor, now its staunchest ally?

To the elven view of the cosmos, there was nothing more terrible and unnatural than the undead. Zombies, wraiths, ghosts, vampires — all sought to overcome the will of nature by existing beyond the time allotted them. None could escape it, not even elves. They were not truly immortal - after several thousand years of existence, most simply lost interest in the world and faded, to join with the ancestors and live on as memories for their people. Even the Silver Lady, sacred near-goddess and ruler of her people — even she would someday pass on to the next world.

Soon, perhaps The goddess had been sad and spoken little as Feanor called for his crusade, and now she had drifted even farther away. Someday her attendants would seek her, and find only her empty garments. Only the memory of the ageless queen would remain.

And, Maeth thought, perhaps Feanor and Ezikhan and their dragons were hastening that day.

She thought of the twisted creatures in Xuin that had once been men and shuddered.

Daedora. The thought rose unbidden. Come to me. Please.

Moments later, the dark one appeared, blinking with surprise. She was wrapped in a black dressing gown, and she moved like a deeper shadow across the deck. The moonlight touched briefly on her silver hair, glimmering faintly. A momentary pang at the sight of such beauty touched Maeth, but she suppressed it quickly before Daedora could detect it.

“Did you call to me?” the dark one asked, speaking aloud. “I awoke and heard you in my mind.”

Maeth looked down at the deck.

I called, Daedora, but I do not know why. I was thinking of my people and what they have done. To the humans. To you.

Daedora stood beside her.

“And?” she asked, expectantly.

They are wrong. The words echoed in Maeth’s mind. I’ve know it since Feanor spoke at the council. What he proposed was wrong, and had the Silver Lady been the ruler she once was she would have opposed it. Feanor and his people are traitors to our realm. They have allied with our deadliest foe, and you claim that they dance to the music of your Duchess Thae’lynn.

Daedora met her gaze, and the dark woman’s thoughts rang out.

What will you do?

Maeth stood in silence for a time.

I will help you, she replied at last. I will help you defeat Feanor, and to tell the Silver Lady of his treachery. If we discover proof that Thae’lynn is behind this terrible folly, I will help tell the Lady myself. Perhaps together we can save my people.

Daedora smiled, then her face went blank. She looked out into the darkness.

And what of mine, Lady? What of my people, the ones you shunned and drove out?

For more long moment, Maeth thought.

I don’t know, little one, she said, using an endearment that her mother had once used on her. Perhaps together we can undo that injustice as well.

Livia

“That’s it,” Livia said, swatting at a stingfly. Her white tunic was stained with sweat. “The river’s too shallow. We can’t go any further.”

“Then where do we go?” Narisha asked, irritably. “You hoped to find allies in Xuin, but they’re all dead or worse.”

“We know that the Xeshites and the Jarreks are holding out against the elves in the interior,” Livia replied. “Jarrek territory isn’t far from here.”

“But they’re lizards, Livia. You propose we just march blindly inland in hopes of meeting them and convincing them to help us? What kind of plan is that?”

“A better plan than yours,” Livia replied.

“But I don’t have a plan,” Narisha said.

“My point exactly,” Livia snapped.

Narisha growled. “Shall I equip an expedition?”

Livia nodded. “Please.”

“We can meet tonight and discuss the particulars.”

“Good,” Livia told her. “Daedora has a request of you.”

Narisha looked suspicious but said nothing. 

*** 

“I don’t like it,” Narisha said, rubbing her forehead and fixing Daedora with an irritated gaze. “I don’t trust her.”

“I can communicate with her,” Daedora insisted. “She’s sincere. You can’t lie when you use the soul-speech; it’s simply too easy to detect. She’s seen what Feanor’s people are doing, and now she’s willing to help us.”

Narisha shook her head sadly. “Are you sure you’re pure-blooded dark elf? You seem far too naive and good-natured.”

Daedora smiled at that. “Some of us are that way, sister. We don’t often rise to positions of power.”

“Obviously,” said Livia, sitting at the head of Skate’s conference table and considering the discussion. “Considering Thae’lynn’s managed to kill off or exile everyone who isn’t like her. Narisha, I agree with Daedora. I think we should give Maeth a chance.”

“Truly?” Narisha was astonished. “What in hell can she bring to our expedition?”

“She understands the Jarrek’s speech,” Daedora offered. “She can send their words directly to me and I can pass them on to you.”

“And you’ll take her word that she’s translating accurately? Gods, little girl... How did you survive so long being so damned sweet and innocent?”

“Only sweet and innocent with you, my sweet, sweet demoness,” Daedora shot back, licking her lips. “I know it’s how you like me.”

“Dammit, I’m serious!” Narisha declared. “You’re proposing that we bring one of our sworn enemies along on an expedition into the jungle, searching for a tribe of big lizards in the vain hope that we can persuade them to help us. And she can tell them anything! She could translate ‘Hello, we come in peace’ to ‘Please fondle my bum’ and we’ll be none the wiser!”

“I doubt a Jarrek would understand ‘Please fondle my bum’,” noted Livia. “You and I and Wulf can communicate in our minds, to some extent anyway. You know how hard it is to lie under those circumstances.”

“Fuck, Livia, what we have with Wulf was the result of my inept spell-casting. What Maeth and Daedora have may be completely different.”

“There are other safeguards, sweetheart. The fact is that I have spells of my own which will detect any falsehoods from her ladyship. She knows we’ll be merciless if she plays us false. In fact, if she does, I can test out my theories on how long a naked elf female will survive alone in the jungle.” Livia grinned.

“You wouldn’t do that?” Daedora said, horrified.

“Let her try me, and you’ll both find out,” Livia replied. “We’ve had enough elvish treachery to last a lifetime, but if Maeth is as loyal as she claims, fine. Otherwise...” She drew a thumb across her neck. “Shhhhhk!”

Narisha had to smile. 

*** 

Stef looked a little out of his element. He’d commanded Skate before, but never in such strange circumstances.

“This backwater is sheltered from the rest of the river,” Livia said. “I’ve cast wards that will conceal you from patrols, and keep the miscellaneous river creatures away.”

Stef frowned. “Like what kind of creatures?”

“The usual — crocodiles, insects, blood-fish. You’ll be safe here for at least another three months before the wards start to wear off, though I wouldn’t stray too far from the ship if I were you.”

“We’ll have to send out hunting parties eventually,” Stef said. “We can’t subsist on the food in the ship forever. We can fish, but if your wards keep the fish away...”

“Narisha will give your crew mouse amulets to help with hunting and gathering,” Livia assured him. “They keep you concealed so long as you don’t do anything to draw attention to yourselves. You’ll only have to maintain yourself and six crew, Stef. It shouldn’t be too hard. We’ll try to stay in touch with the speaking crystals as long as we can do it without giving our position away.”

Stef swallowed. “And if you don’t stay in touch?”

“Give us three months,” Livia said. “As I said, you should be able to hold out that long. If we’re not back by then, find Wulf and tell him what happened.”

“With respect, ma’am,” Stef began (he was always so polite, Livia thought), “Wulf is off in dark-elf land dressed as a big cat, and we’re not likely to find him any time soon. Once you’re gone, we’re in big trouble.”

“I trust you, Stef,” Livia said. “I’m the one who put your head back on the last time it got ripped off, right?”

Stef fingered the jagged scar around his neck and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll do as you say, of course. But I’m just worried about you.” He paused, and looked over at Daedora, who was busy loading the skiff with supplies. “And about her, if you must know.”

Livia looked at Stef, her gaze softening.

“You care for her, do you?” she asked.

Stef nodded shyly. “She’s been through a lot, ma’am. I think she needs folks who’ll care for her and be her friends.”

A few years ago, Livia might have laughed at the man’s feelings, but now they touched her.

Oh, Wulf, she thought to herself. What the hell have you done to me?

“You want to come with us, Stef? I’m sure someone else could command here.”

Stef waved a hand. “Oh, no, ma’am. My duty’s to the ship first and foremost. And I know we’re different, she and I. It doesn’t matter to me... I’ll not mind dealing with her eccentricities, any more than I mind dealing with yours and Lady Narisha’s. I figure if you care about someone, you care about the whole person, all the good and bad parts mixed together. Just please, keep her safe. That’s what matters to me.”

To her own distress, Livia turned away, wiping tears from her face.

Where the hell is that bitch-queen I used to be? she wondered.

Damn, but love was strange.

 

IV

Livia

The insects had yet to rise in great numbers, and in the distance jaguars heralded the dawn with deep-throated roars when they set out. Livia was in nominal command, but it was rare that Narisha ceded total authority on anything (and then usually only as a result of losing a wager). Besides, Livia thought as she bent the plants to her will, causing them to bend outward, opening a path, Narisha usually gave good advice, and followed orders when she had to.

The party consisted of the two leaders, Daedora, Maeth (still under Narisha’s watchful and somewhat hostile eye), and a dozen crew from the ship. These were mariners, unused to hiking overland, but none had balked at the prospect. Shiika the Tandu was the sole exception — the leopard-man seemed more at home here than any of them.

Livia reflected on their chances. Since Xuin they’d been at a loss about how to proceed. At last it was decided that the Jarreks were their best chance. Now near Jarrek territory, Livia suggested that they march inland and try to make peaceful contact with the lizard-folk. Narisha had pointed out that after living in Xeshite chains for the past couple of centuries, the Jarreks were unlikely to be friendly, but Livia and the crew had decided to risk it nonetheless. If there was anything that could counteract the Dragon’s Eye and destroy the elves’ undead minions, the Jarreks would know, and would probably be willing to help. The main problem was communication.

Now, if Maeth proved loyal, that problem was solved. All the same, Livia felt an edge of desperation at what she was doing, blundering into trackless jungle in the vague hope they’d find something. In all likelihood, they’d end up dead, stuck full of poison darts or arrows, or torn asunder by the elves’ undead monsters, which Maeth said still stalked in the jungle.

At least, Livia thought, touching the skull wand at her belt for reassurance, she’d not make that mistake again. Any zombies who lurched out of the jungle would have to contend with her necromantic skill as well as the swords and spells of her crew.

“Are you going to be able to maintain that?” Narisha asked, trudging beside her. Much of her own realm was jungle, so this was familiar territory to her. She looked as if she wanted to draw her sword and start hacking.

Livia nodded. “It’s not too difficult. There’s a lot of ambient life energy here. It’s my specialty, after all. You know? Life and death?”

“I thought your specialty was fucking.”

“It’s all related, dear,” Livia said, patiently. “Like the stupid Rexxarans. Take life, then give it back. It’s all a big cycle. Birth, life, sex, death. You know — what all good poetry is about.”

Narisha sighed, ducking as a big tree raised its branches for them, then lowered again after they passed.

“You make things too complicated,” she said. “You and the elves and all the ones like you. The orcs have the right idea, Livia. If it feels good, do it.”

“That’s my philosophy, too,” Livia complained. “I just qualify it better than the orcs. If it feels good, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, do it.”

“Oh, sweetest little one, what fun is that?” Narisha wrinkled her nose. “Sometimes hurting someone is the best part.”

“Yes, but only if they want it. You don’t like hurting people who don’t ask for it.”

“Only if they’re bad,” Narisha grinned. “The occasional orc or elf.” She glanced back at Daedora and Maeth, involved in an unspoken conversation behind them. “Present company excepted, of course.”

“My goodness, dear, you’re sounding almost sympathetic. I’m amazed.”

Narisha shrugged. “Daedora likes her. Besides, if she tries anything stupid I’ve got a number of things I’d like to do to her.”

“I heard that,” Daedora piped up from behind. “She’ll not do anything stupid. I promise.”

Livia laughed. “You can’t get anything by her, can you?”

“Call me soft-hearted,” Narisha said. “I can’t deny her anything. Or you, for that matter. I’m growing far too compassionate. I need to kill something.”

“Don’t worry.” Livia waved at a wall of vines and it parted like a curtain. “You’ll get your chance soon enough.”

Thaemon

Breann was late, but then Lord Thaemon was used to such arrogance from the necromancer. In his former life, Thaemon would have slain the human filth the instant he met the man’s gotch-eyed gaze, but times had changed, and now the legions of the undead marched beside Lord Feanor and his ever-conquering hordes.

Thaemon passed the time by pacing his chambers, occasionally glancing out the window at the lengthening shadows of evening and the fiery descent of the sun over the jungle. Idly, he wondered why the great sphere didn’t set the forest afire, then dismissed the thought as idiotic and childish.

A few more months in this climate and we’ll all be morons, Thaemon thought...

“I have come,” rasped an unpleasant voice, breaking Thaemon’s reverie.

“You’re late, corpse-master,” Thaemon growled, turning to face his repulsive ally of convenience.

Breann had once been a human of sorts, possibly from the White Empire or the Lastlands. Now, he bore considerable resemblance to the zombies he commanded. Tall and almost skeletally thin, the creature moved with an obscene kind of grace, glancing about with mismatched eyes, one brown and one pale blue-white. His skin chalky white, his full lips painted black, and his long black hair framing an elongated face with an oversized, aquiline nose. The necromancer wore tattered black garments that clung to him like claws, revealing swaths of unhealthy pallid skin, embellished here and there with self-inflicted lacerations.

Breann was, Thaemon finally decided, the creature which had lurked under his bed when he was a child. Now, that creature was his friend. Or, at least, his comrade.

“I have much to do,” hissed Breann, his strange eyes darting this way and that. “Your orders must needs wait for the pleasure of my dark masters. They speak to me in dreams, telling me that a goddess walks upon Thystra, and that terrible events are soon to transpire.”

Thaemon suppressed a disgusted sound. “Spare me. What you do on your own time is no concern of mine. Ezikhan and Lord Feanor have both decreed that you follow my orders now.”

“Forgive me, my lord.” Breann bowed slightly. “I regret that other powers take precedence even over Ezikhan and Feanor. Nonetheless, I mean no disrespect.”

Thaemon wasn’t sure if Breann was more repulsive when he was being defiant or being obsequious — both moods had their own unique level of repellence.

“Regardless,” Thaemon continued, “you are here now and I have orders for you.”

Breann chuckled. The sound made Thaemon want to retch. “I await your pleasure, my lord.”

Trying to ignore the unpleasant implications of the necromancers words, Thaemon went on.

“Five days ago, a vessel ran the blockade on the river Uxalt. The ship’s description matches that of the Skate, a mercenary cutter that was involved in the Stormking’s rebellion. Should the individuals on this vessel be working against us, they are likely to pose a significant threat to our occupation.”

“I see. Were they part of the Stormking’s forces?”

Thaemon shook his head. “No. They aided the Sea Griffon fleet in defeating the usurper.”

The necromancer feigned surprise. “If they were your peoples’ allies in the war, what makes you think they oppose you now? After all, does the glorious Lord Feanor not work the will of the Silver Lady?”

“Enough, corpse-master,” Thaemon barked. “I’ve had enough of your sarcasm and insubordination to last me several incarnations. You will take a regiment of elven warriors, as well as any of your own troops you choose, venture into the jungle, find this vessel and its crew, and bring them back to me. Alive if possible.”

Breann chuckled again. “Undead if not?” He stroked his chin. “The walking dead are far more... shall we say, pliable... than the living, and would be quite willing to surrender what information they have.”

“I want them alive first. If they fail to cooperate, then they will be yours to do as you wish.”

The necromancer nodded sadly. “Ah, well. Pleasure delayed is pleasure increased, as Trigon once said.”

Thaemon glared. “You will not mention the dark ones’ master in my presence, lest I forget that we are allies.”

“A thousand apologies, great lord. I did not wish to bring up the name of such a murderous, pitiless scoundrel. After all, he slaughtered innocents and associated with daemons. I would never mention such an individual in association with your great and noble race.”

Thaemon’s hand strayed to his sword hilt.

“You speak a good deal too much, necromancer. You have your orders. Get out. And if the jungle swallows you up and you never return, I will shed no tears.”

Breann backed out of the room, bowing.

“You need not shed tears, my lord. My kind always return. Always.” As he disappeared through the doorway, a final taunt echoed. “You can never get rid of us, no matter how much you may wish to.”

His hands shaking, Thaemon turned away, grabbed a bottle of green liquor and drank.

Gods and ancestors, he thought.

I want to go home. 

*** 

The next day at dawn, a column of soldiers marched from Xesh city. They included a regiment of armored elvish knights, two battalions of elf spearmen, and a horde of shambling things that moved along in no particular order. The elves, under Marshal Yeanne, did their best to ignore their unliving allies, but after a time the smell grew too intense to avoid.

At the column’s head, in command of the expedition and mounted on an emaciated black horse with glowing black eyes, was a robed, skeletally thin human with long black hair and mismatched eyes, one brown and the other pale blue-white.

Those who looked at him — and few dared to — fancied they could see him smiling faintly.

Daedora

In the jungle, one day blurred into the next. Livia’s magic created a path through the undergrowth, and also kept the insects at bay. Occasionally, animals lurked, casting wary glances at them, but they always departed. Shiika, a grizzled, one-eyed Tandu, seemed to possess an innate connection to the jungle, and often a glance from him was enough to ward off hostile predators. He was also the best hunter, often disappearing for hours and returning with a dozen jungle fowl or a young pig.

After his heroism at Xuin, Daedora was determined to make friends, and tried to engage the leopard-man in conversation, but he only growled and looked away. Nevertheless, he always remained close to her, scanning the jungle with his one good eye, spear constantly on guard. She gave up her attempts at conversation, but found herself wondering what the Tandu concealed.

The days were long and hot, and the heat of the day barely seemed to dissipate after sundown. It was as if Xesh held the heat jealously, close to itself, and surrendered only reluctantly. By dawn, when the temperature had finally grown comfortable, the sun rose and the cycle started all over again.

They slept in a variety of accommodations. Shiika slept in a tree, rising periodically to stalk prey, then going back to sleep. Others slept in the open on groundcloths; Daedora preferred the privacy and isolation of a tent.

Tonight, they camped in a clearing that Livia had created. One moon was nearly full, the other half so, and they poured silvery light into the clearing.

Daedora could not sleep. She was sensitive to natural forces — the life energies which Livia used — and tonight they nagged at her like a persistent song running inside her head.

She peeked through the tent flaps to see if anyone else was awake.

Other than Shiika, crouching in his tree with his spear, scanning the horizon, all was still.

The disturbance, the silent music — it only touched her. Not even Livia heard it, and Daedora wondered why. The air was hot and close, still clinging to the heat of the tropic sun.

Silently, she stepped from the tent, walking into the jungle like a panther following a scent. Fear didn’t touch her — she knew instinctively that there was no danger.

Her studies had been just beginning when the world fell apart and her household exterminated. She knew, however, of Trigon’s beliefs in the cyclical nature of magic and existence. All things had a soul, and all souls gave forth energy, and this energy could be sculpted and directed to perform certain tasks. The more energy available, the more powerful the magic. The more destructive the spell, the more hazardous to the caster and those drawn from.

Trigon saw things deeper and differently from human and high elf magi. He saw the harmonies of living things, the two sides of existence that were creation and destruction. There was ice for every fire, earth for every river, life for every death.

Now, Daedora felt the rhythm as the energies ebbed and flowed around her. Something was abroad tonight — something only she could feel.

The song rose in her mind as she walked unafraid through the jungle. Almost unconsciously, she loosened the laces of her tunic, leaving clothing behind as she went. At last she strode naked through the silvery-green wilderness. Ahead, she saw an expanse of moon-touched water, a small pool fed by a single stream that bubbled and danced.

Daedora stood at the water’s edge, an ebon statue kissed by silver moonlight.

There is nothing here that can harm you, said an invisible voice. The powers of the jungle and the eternal light of the ever-changing moons touch and beckon you. Join with them in the still black waters.

Silently, she slipped into the pool, leaving barely a ripple, letting the waters enfold her.

It was cool and welcoming after the stifling heat of the jungle. She dived deep, feeling it touch her like a thousand gentle fingers, then rose to the surface and floated on her back, her face and breasts rising from the water to once more feel the heat of the night air.

We come from water, we return to water, she thought, gently kicking and propelling herself toward the center of the pool.

She floated on her back, and the water caressed her like a lover. Inside her, warmth began to grow, in soft contrast to the coolness that supported her. Gentle sensation crept up her thighs, across her belly, touched at her breasts. Daedora felt her nipples stiffen and her breath grow faster.

Unbidden, her fingers crept between her thighs, stroking at the swelling nub of her clitoris, then slipping between her outer lips and sliding inside. The water was like a soft bed supporting her as she slid another finger into her cunt, and stroked her clit with growing speed. Orgasm came quickly and easily, a soft wave of pleasure shuddering through her, helped along by the gentle fingers of the water.

Near the pool, Daedora heard something move through the undergrowth. She splashed upright, head and shoulders out of the water. A pale figure stood at the pool’s edge on a narrow strip of white river-sand.

You called me? The words echoed in Daedora’s head.

Maeth stood before her, naked, her skin soft and touched with silver. Slender and graceful like all her kind, she was a statue of utter perfection, alabaster skin lit by moonlight, blue eyes reflecting the rippling waters. Her shoulders were strong but round, her breasts pale white hemispheres tipped by the darker flesh of her nipples, swelling in the night air. Her legs rose, gently sculpted, to a soft triangle of golden down, below a slightly curved pale belly.

Daedora gazed at her, confused. I didn’t call, she said. I was swimming by myself.

No. Maeth stepped forward, slipping one foot into the water, then the other. I heard you. A voice called to me in a dream saying “Come to me. Make love to me and heal the terrible pain and hatred of our two peoples. Mend the great rift with love.”’

Daedora swallowed, watching the pale elf-woman slip into the water and swim softly toward her.

It was true. She felt it too. She had not called, but something else far greater than either of them had, and Daedora had no choice but to heed the words.

Besides, she thought, the prospect was not all that unpleasant...

Softly they came together in the water, arms twining about each other’s necks, their lips meeting. Daedora felt Maeth’s lips part and tasted the sweetness of her tongue.

I want you, Daedora felt herself silently whisper. Beneath the moons and stars, in the great green heart of the jungle, I want to love you, to touch you, to become one with you. You’re so very beautiful, Maeth...

The elf woman sighed, and met Daedora’s gaze with wide blue eyes. Her hair was darkened by the water and framed a face that shone with peace and wonder.

What is abroad this night, my lost and beloved sister? she asked, as Daedora slid a hand around the back of her head and drew her once more closer. What power compels us to touch each other so?

I don’t know, Daedora replied, pressing her lips to Maeth’s once more. But I know it is right and good, far more than any of the terrible powers that drove our people apart.

Let us be together then, Maeth said, surrendering to Daedora’s lips and returning her kisses with equal passion. Let us unite together even as our peoples must one day unite.

Softly, as if intended by the endless forces around them, the two women slipped beneath the waters, and its supporting fingers drew them downward, still locked in passionate embrace.

We should drown, Daedora thought. We shouldn’t be able to do this.

Don’t think, don’t worry, don’t question, came Maeth’s reply. I felt them speak to me in my dreams, saying. “Unite with the dark woman amid the life and peace of the jungle, and do not be afraid.”’

Daedora was not afraid, and as they sank deeper into the pool — far deeper than she’d imagined possible, given its dimensions — she felt a warmth creep into her limbs, a motherly and comforting warmth that infused her, heart and soul. Her kisses grew more passionate, tongue thrusting against Maeth’s, biting and sucking at her lips, raining nibbling kisses on her face and neck. The water urged her on, and she felt the sweet, glowing sensation of deep and powerful magic.

Maeth felt it, too, and in a moment, as they fell slowly through the water, spinning and pirouetting in the warm, all-encompassing sensations, she began to kiss and lick at Daedora’s breasts and nipples.

Maeth, my love, my sister, my only one, Daedora said, feeling passions rise that she had never before even guessed at. Let me suckle at you, too.

Moving slowly and deliberately through the water, hair swirling about them like long cloaks, one gold and one silver, the two women moved against each other, and Daedora took one of Maeth’s nipples between her lips even as the elven woman did the same to her, and in a moment they were spiraling through the endless water, tumbling end over end, tongues and mouths pleasuring each other.

Oh, more... Daedora thought, and memories of Livia and Narisha returned to her, of passionate moments on their ship, of hands and breasts, of faces contorted with passion, of fingers touching secret places, and the soft caress of lips and tongue against her clit, of touching and teasing, of the searing passion that seemed to go on forever.

Touch me, she said. Lick at me. Lick my cunt, please. It wants to be touched so badly.

Lick mine, too, came the reply, midway between plea and demand. I want to feel your tongue inside me.

Now they moved to embrace each other once more, heads between thighs, two women spinning slowly, hair trailing, an impassioned swirl of black and white flesh, separate but united, apart yet always together.

Maeth’s thighs tightened around Daedora’s head as she licked, caressing her mons, cleaving the fleshy outer lips and revealing the most and succulent inner reaches of her cunt. She found Maeth’s clitoris and tongued it gently, feeling her shiver and writhe soundlessly.

Maeth’s tongue was busy, too, sliding into Daedora, past the blue-black flesh of her cunt-lips, thrusting like a small finger, filling her, then sliding backwards and teasing at her own throbbing and swelling clit.

All the while they spun through the endless waters, deeper and deeper, and as they did the sensation of being supported by great loving hands grew more and more apparent. They spun in darkness, and Daedora’s eyes were closed in any event, but in her mind she saw an image of the two of them, dark and light elf, transformed into a mystical symbol like twin raindrops chasing each other endlessly, suspended over the vast, cupped hands of a goddess.

The goddess was green like the jungle, vast and bountiful, with great breasts that fed all living things, and a vast, fertile belly, from which all living things sprang. Her eyes were like moonlight, soft and silvery, her face was round and comforting, her lips full and vivacious. Her legs were like the trunks of trees, wound around with vines, and the portal between them was the way to life itself.

And they spun and swirled about in Her comforting arms, licking and suckling at each other, suffused with the ancient power that was the jungle, and was the jungle’s goddess.

They came together, with orgasms that seemingly rose from the endless depths of the pool around them. Daedora would have cried out in a shout that would have awakened the jungle, but she didn’t, instead turning the passion inward, licking and sucking at Maeth even harder and more ardently. Maeth did the same, her energy traveling through Daedora, back to her, and to Daedora again.

It seemed to last forever, an endless cycle of pleasure and release, and they seemed to spin faster in the depths of the pool, whirling around, suspended above the hands of the jungle goddess, until the passion at last began to ebb, and Daedora felt herself rising, eventually breaking the surface, still wrapped in Maeth’s arms, in the moon-kissed gleaming waters.

Sister, Maeth’s voice echoed. Sister, lover. Lover forever. Part of me, united and eternal. We are one with each other, and with the jungle goddess.

It was like the ending of a ritual, of a marriage or alliance, Daedora thought, the words in response rising unbidden to her mind.

Together forever, we serve the goddess, and do her work. Lover, sister, mother, daughter — always together in love and passion.

Then, the final sparks of their union fading, they swam toward the edge of the pool, and lay together for a long time, their minds silence, soaking up the sensations of the jungle night. 

*** 

The jungle arched protectively overhead as the two women walked softly from the pool. Their hair was wet and plastered to their bodies, and droplets of water still glimmered on their skin. Daedora strode beside Maeth, one arm around her shoulder, stroking her skin, pleasantly cool from the water, but not chilled.

What have we done? she whispered silently. Have we done what the voices asked?

I do not know, Maeth replied. All I know is that it wasn’t wrong. Whatever my people may say, or yours. What we did was not wrong.

A guttural sound interrupted them, riveting their attention on the narrow moonlit path in front of them.

A figure stood there, wreathed in shadow.

“Well, my ladies. Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

It was Narisha, standing with her feet spread wide apart, a spear held horizontally in both hands before her. Her eyes glimmered yellow in the darkness.

Daedora began to speak, but stopped short.

“Well?” Narisha demanded. “What’s the matter?”

“I suppose,” Daedora said carefully, stepping forward, letting Maeth fall in behind her, “I would be more alarmed if you weren’t naked.”

Narisha started, as if noticing for the first time. She stood, outlined in moonlight, a vision that was ethereal and diabolic at once, from long and tousled black hair, full heart-shaped face, and powerful, broad-shouldered frame to her heavy breasts, smooth belly and thighs like columns of red porphyry. Her black lips parted, revealing her short fangs and long, flexible tongue.

“I don’t understand,” she said at last, stepping forward until she was within arm’s reach of the other two women. “I felt... I felt something. Something compelled me to come here, to find...” She faltered, looking down.

To find what? Maeth demanded by soulspeech, stepping up beside Daedora. Narisha’s eyes widened. Daedora realized she’d heard the words.

“To find...” Narisha said with sudden force, once more raising up the spear and then as swiftly dropping it down behind the two women’s backs. “To find you.”

With a firm tug, she pulled Maeth and Daedora toward her. Daedora felt the heat of the demoness’ flesh against her own. The spear held them both, along with Narisha’s not-inconsiderable strength.

Narisha whispered fiercely, her lips barely grazing Daedora’s.

“I came to find you. I knew you’d both be here, making love in that pool. I knew I had to come here.”

“Yes,” Daedora hissed back, feeling heat again spreading from her thighs to her belly.

We must, echoed Maeth’s voice. We must complete the circle.

“Then do it,” Narisha commanded, pressing the two women down to their knees. “Show me how you complete the circle.”

The madness swirled inside Daedora again, and she instinctively began to kiss at the warm, soft flesh of Narisha’s breast, feeling the heat grow as she did so. Beside her, Maeth did the same, her tongue grazing the full scarlet flesh.

“Yes,” Narisha whispered. “Be mine, both of you.”

Daedora encircled the demon woman’s swelling nipple with her lips and sucked, feeling its fulsome, yielding sweetness, and hearing Narisha’s quickened breathing.

“That’s right,” the demoness said. “That’s right, my little one. Suck at me. Suck at me, both of you.”

Daedora bit softly, teasing the swollen nub with her teeth and teasing it with her tongue. Faster came the crimson woman’s breathing, and faster still as Maeth’s tongue flickered at Narisha’s other nipple, darker black against silvery-chased crimson.

“Ahhhhh,” Narisha sighed. “More.”

Speak with your mind, Daedora urged. Talk to us silently, sister.

“I’m not your —” Narisha began, then bit off her words as Daedora suckled hard at her nipple.

I’m not your sister, she said, her thoughts echoing.

You’re our sister, surely, countered Maeth, ‘The gods have decreed it.

Your gods, elf, Narisha said. Not mine. I am mistress of my own fate. I do what I wish.

And what do you wish? the words echoed from Daedora’s mind, almost unbidden.

Narisha leaned back, still clutching the spear, pressing the two women against her like oxen on a yoke. Her breasts thrust forward, and Daedora encircled one with her hands, pointing the swollen nipple into her mouth.

I want... Narisha’s thoughts were uncertain. I want... you. I want you both...

As the gods will it, Daedora said.

No, came Narisha’s thoughts. As I will it. I will that you both be mine.

Her thoughts disintegrated into a whirl of images and words. Take me... lick me... play with me... serve me... fuck me... fuck me... fuck me... Then, there were no words left, and Daedora felt the spear fall, and the insistent, dominating pressure of Narisha’s hand, pressing against the back of her head, thrusting her face against the demoness’ heated flesh.

This was different, Daedora thought. Faster, more intense, more brutally passionate. The pool had been a gentle thing, soft and endless. Now, stronger and more urgent appetites called, the demands of immediate, demanding lust.

And so it must be, Daedora thought. We are all three aspects of the goddess as she presented herself. Narisha is a creature of violent passions that must be fulfilled. I give myself up to them.

As do I, Maeth said. We must feel all the passions of the spirit if we are to serve Her.

“What the hell,” Narisha demanded, “are you two talking about?”

Never mind, Daedora said. Just let us fuck you. Then fuck us both.

“Now, that’s language I can understand,” Narisha replied.

Daedora sucked and licked faster, filling her mouth with the warm flesh of the demoness’ breast. Narisha moaned, in both her mind and with her true voice. Beside Daedora, Maeth continued to do the same, driven on by the muscular grasp of Narisha’s hand.

“Oh...” Narisha gasped. “I’ve never... No... I won’t...”

With your mind, urged Maeth, and then began a silent chant, running through Daedora’s mind like a song.

Speak with your mind. Tell us, sister, mother, daughter, lover. Sister you are, and mother, and daughter, and lover. And I am sister to you, and mother, and daughter, and lover. The gods and goddesses of all that live speak to me this night and say I must join with you, and serve you, and touch you, and kiss you, and make love to you, for you are my sister, my mother, my daughter, my lover...

“Ohhhhhhhh,” Narisha’s throaty voice rose higher. “I’ve never... never... felt...”

With your mind, my love, said Daedora, sliding a hand around Narisha, down toward the small of her back and the soft curve of her buttocks.

I’ve never... never felt this way... The words flowed like water. I’ve been with men and women and so many others, and with Livia, and Wulf, and all the others, and I love them all. I love them with all my heart, though I do not tell them as I should, and I love... I love... Oh, gods... Merciful gods, what is happening to me...

Behind her, a great tree bowed down, opening up like a vast hand, held out to welcome her as she lay back, the warmth of the two women pressing upon her.

They lay now, three entwined, in the grasp of the giant tree, and the heartbeat of the jungle was around them, pressing close, surrounding them in a lover’s embrace.

Narisha took Maeth’s head in her hands, tilting her chin up to stare into her eyes. Narisha’s eyes glimmered yellow, and Maeth’s reflected the blue of the moon and sky.

Kiss me, she said, and it was a command. I’ve wanted to kiss you since I first set eyes on you.

I thought you hated me, Maeth replied, teasingly.

Love, hate... Ask Livia, dearest. Sometimes I don’t know the difference. Now get up here and kiss me, you little beast.

Dutifully, Maeth crawled up Narisha, her breasts and hair brushing against her, leaving the demoness’ breasts to Daedora’s attention. The elf’s lips met Narisha’s, and Daedora felt her stiffen. She twined both hands in Maeth’s hair, and Daedora saw her fingers tighten into fists, eliciting a sharp groan from the elf.

Sweet sister, Daedora said, moving to the other breast, feeling Maeth’s hot flesh and her delicious tremors as Narisha’s tongue thrust into the elf woman’s mouth, then again as Maeth thrust back.

It is not our way, Maeth said. Not our way... Passion is forbidden; never have I felt... Never felt this way...

The words echoed Narisha’s of a moment before.

“My little elf,” murmured Narisha against Maeth’s lips. “Dear sweet little elf. Dear little plaything. Serve me, elf. Serve me.”

I serve, Maeth replied. I serve you as I have never served any of my own people.

How do you serve me? Narisha demanded. Show me, my little toy. Show me. And say it. Say you want to fuck me.

I want... Maeth’s silent voice was hesitant. I do... want... to fuck you.

That’s a good girl, Narisha replied, warmly. Now do it.

With that, Maeth began to kiss her way down Narisha’s face, to her neck and shoulders, and for long moments shared the demoness’ nipple with Daedora. Then she began to move her mouth down the crimson woman’s body once more.

This is how I serve, she said. This is how I will fuck you. Watch.

Narisha

The elf-woman’s tongue embraced the soft wetness between Narisha’s thighs. The warmth spread as she lapped at her cunt lips, slipping a finger between them, then lapped at Narisha’s swelling clitoris.

“Ahhhh...” she moaned, feeling Daedora lick and bite and tug at her pierced nipple. “It feels so...”

With your mind, Daedora reminded her. We feel all your pleasure as you feel it, and hear all your thoughts. Is her tongue not soft? Is it not lovely against your sweet, sweet cunt? Doesn’t she lick your cunt well?

Y... Yes... Narisha replied. Yes, she eats it so very, very well.

Then come for her, darling demoness, Daedora said. Come for her as I did, and as I come for you. Join with us, and feel the power that grows in the jungle. Be one with us for all time.

Narisha gasped, not replying, but feeling the deep, overwhelming energy flowing from the other two women. It built inside her, growing to a flood as Daedora’s skillful tongue, lips and teeth played and teased at her nipples, stopping occasionally to embrace Narisha’s own lips, and kiss feverishly, tongues darting, moisture dripping.

Oh, Maeth, she said. Oh, dearest, sweetest little elf, I want to... I want you so.

Then you have me, Maeth said, sliding two fingers into Narisha’s cunt. You have me, heart and body and soul. Come for me, and we three will be joined.

“Ohhhhhh...” Real sound once more came to Narisha’s lips. “OHHHHH, fuck me!”

Get ready, she said, words loud in her mind. I’m going to come all over you...

Let it come, Maeth said. Let it pour out over all of us...

Again, an incoherent wail tore itself from Narisha, and she felt every nerve in her body fire at once, unleashing the pent-up flood inside her. She contracted, pressing Daedora’s lips against her nipple, and feeling a torrent of sweet cunt juices explode out from her, gushing like a river and pouring across Maeth’s pale, lovely face.

Narisha... Maeth cried out in her mind. Sweet, sweet Narisha...

At length, the contractions and the flood of sticky fluid ceased, and Maeth lay between her thighs, face gleaming with moisture, golden hair soaked with Narisha’s come.

So lovely, Maeth said. So beautiful. Make love to me, demoness. Make love to me in the manner of your people, in a way I have never felt before. Give me the hot passions of your people, and... Yes, and FUCK me. Fuck me as hard as you like.

Narisha grinned, baring fangs. I’ll fuck you, she said. I’ll fuck you as you’ve never been fucked before, my sweet little golden elf. But you must make Daedora come while I fuck you.

Maeth smiled. What would you have of me, demoness?

Eat her, Narisha commanded. Get on your hands and knees and bury your face in that sweet dark cunt of hers. Make her come harder than she’s ever come before, and I’ll fuck you.

Maeth nodded, and moments later was in the position Narisha had demanded, her face between Daedora’s thighs, her pale buttocks rising up in the moonlight before the demoness.

Feel this, Narisha said as the soulspeech grew more and more natural. She slid her hands up Maeth’s rounded buttocks as the elf woman licked at Daedora, and the dark elf’s legs crossed behind her gold-tressed head.

Narisha began to lick up Maeth’s thighs, then reached the soft expanse of her buttons and bit, softly at first, then with increasing force.

Ready for me? she demanded, and received an enthusiastic affirmative from both women.

Love me roughly, as my own people never would, Maeth demanded, her thoughts wanton and unrestrained. I long to feel your touch in places where no one has ever touched me before.

Narisha bit harder, sinking fangs into soft flesh. Then she licked, running her tongue repeatedly across the elf woman’s buttocks, then finally between them, pointing her tongue and licking deliberately at the other woman’s asshole.

There, there!’ If she had been able, Narisha was sure Maeth would have cried out. Do it, my sister. Fuck me.

Narisha licked at buttocks and asshole for more long moments, feeling Maeth’s passion grow, and pass on to the writhing dark elf. Daedora lay, legs tense, hands locked behind Maeth’s head, thrusting her against her cunt.

Fuck her, Daedora urged. Fuck her now.

With that, Narisha stroked at Maeth’s anus, then slid her thumb inside, feeling initial resistance melt and fade, and feeling her sink deep inside. Maeth’s silent cries echoed in Narisha’s head, and she pulled her thumb out, then quickly thrust it back in.

Like it? she demanded. Like getting fucked in the ass?

Never... never before... came the reply. I love it, my sister. Harder. Harder, please.

Obligingly, Narisha slipped another finger into the tight recesses of Maeth’s asshole, and again, resistance faded, and she was thrusting in and out. With her other hand, now, she slipped into Maeth’s cunt, feeling it grasp at her, then relax and allow a finger inside, then another, and another.

I’m going to put my whole hand inside her, Narisha said to both of the other woman, and an excited mental gasp from each was her response. I’m going to fuck her cunt and her asshole at the same time.

Three fingers, now, and the space was tight, but after a few moments, Narisha was able to put a fourth finger into Maeth’s tight, wet cunt. She added a third finger to her asshole, now, thrusting faster and faster. The elf responded, rocking back to meet her thrusts, then leaning forward to bury her face between Daedora’s thighs.

You do so well, my lover, Daedora said. She is... licking me... so much... harder...

Narisha slid her thumb into Maeth’s clenched cunt, continuing to slide fingers in and out of her anus. Slowly, she slid her hand inside, and again resistance stopped her, a tightness that held her just short of her goal.

Do it!’ Maeth demanded, thrusting against Daedora. Put it in me! Now!’

Yes, my demanding little pet, Narisha replied, and with one last thrust, cleared the ring of resistance and felt her entire hand slide inside Maeth’s cunt. The mental cries rose even higher, and a strained whimper actually slipped out of the elf’s throat. Narisha clenched her fist, then opened it, feeling the tight hotness of Maeth’s innermost reaches. Her fingers slipped into Maeth’s ass faster and faster now.

There, she said. Now you’re mine. Every bit of you. You belong to me completely, don’t you?

You and her and... and the goddess, Maeth replied. Oh, I want to... I’m going to... I’m going to come again.. It’s never, never, never been like this, except with you and with her... I belong to you. I belong to her. I’m yours. Yours and the goddess’...

Then Maeth’s mind exploded into white-hot sparks, rolling over Narisha, blinding her momentarily, and streaking through her chest and thighs. An instant later, Narisha realized that she, too, was coming, and from Daedora’s moans and mental writhing, she could tell that the dark elf was coming, too.

And it didn’t end. Cycle after cycle of orgasm rolled through the three women, one feeding on the other, passing on, and renewing itself. Narisha had no idea how long it lasted; all she knew was that when it finally subsided, and they lay in a sweaty heap, cradled by the jungle, the moons had set and the sky had begun to lighten in the east. 

*** 

High overhead, on a sturdy ironwood branch, Shiika the Tandu crouched, spear in one hand, scanning the jungle surrounding the three women.

Nothing can touch them, he thought. Nothing can approach them, not so long as I am here. I am the One Who Watches, who gave one eye that the other may see all that is true. I stand guard as the Jungle Goddess awakens.

Tremble, you ones who dwell in darkness. Tonight a goddess is born.

V

Breann

The gibbering gods of unlife and chaos came to him in the night — there was Akanax Daemonlord, master of all diabolic creatures; Zalitar the Wraith, a red-eyed, skeletal being clad in rotting robes and holding out a desiccated hand; Slaerth, Lord of Chaos, and others. They all screamed and babbled at Breann, their voices filled, uncharacteristically, with fear.

“Destroy the goddess!” shrieked Mother Karnibhal, worshipped by the Necrotian witch doctors. “She can end us all!”

“She holds the power of the jungle,” added Slaerth, his face a mass of swirling dark colors.

“She is three and one. She is life. She is life as we are death.”

“Kill her,” rasped Zalitar. “Kill her. Kill.”

“Destroy her or join us,” snarled Akanax, his bestial features contorted and angry. “Join us in eternal torment!”

Breann awoke from slumber, shaking and covered in sweat. Beside him, the animated corpse of a beautiful woman, which had shared his bed the night before, had collapsed into a mass of corruption, his necromantic spells expired.

The dream still echoed in his mind. He staggered from bed and stumbled to a nearby table, where he poured a series of potions into a goblet and drank it in a single gulp.

“Join us in eternal torment...”

It was the fate of all necromancers, sooner or later — at least those who did not achieve undeath. The price he paid for power.

And now a goddess threatened his masters, to the extent that they were afraid, and had to resort to threatening him.

With sudden resolve, Breann knew he would find this goddess, and would destroy her.

He called on his elvish servants to clean up the mess in his bed, then strode out into the hot, misty morning.

Heesh’kra

The circle of Jarrek elders had remained in place, motionless, for nearly sixteen days, guarded by hulking century warriors, watched by a dozen tribes. Dreamsmoke burned, sacred roots were chewed, and the elders gashed themselves with flint and obsidian knives, shedding their blood and waiting for the gods’ wisdom. Either death would take them, or the gods would speak.

At dawn of the seventeenth day, the gods spoke.

Aashkhaam, eldest egg-mother of the Blackscale clan, tilted her head back and began to chant, her voice ululating first high, then low, booming through the forest, sending up flocks of birds into the orange light of morning. Heesh’kra, her high priest, joined in beside her.

Soon they was joined by another elder, then another and another, until seventeen Jarrek voices chanted to the sky.

The Jungle Goddess comes, they chanted. She is three and she is one. She is of our people, but outside them. She is the Avenger, and we shall serve her.

Narisha

Six days in the jungle and still no sign of the Jarreks. Even Narisha, who loved the hot and humid climate, was beginning to tire of it all.

The night by the pool continued to haunt her, as did her strange empathic connection to the other women. Maeth was an elf, and an enemy, yet they had come together in a union that was deeper than mere physicality. Something had happened to all of them, but Narisha was still unsure what it was.

Now even Livia was tired, and as she recovered her magical energies, they advanced in the traditional manner, hacking away undergrowth with machetes, creating their own path through the tangle of vegetation. Livia walked beside her, never complaining, and even joining in to cut and chop with her own curved knife.

“You don’t seem so hostile toward our elf friend now, dearest,” she commented, smiling sweetly.

Narisha grunted. “Things change.”

“Good sex will do that to you.”

Narisha frowned. “How did you know?”

“What are the odds that I would miss something so obvious, my best beloved? Besides, you were screaming like a cat being tortured to death. We all heard it.”

Had Narisha not been crimson colored, she might have blushed.

“I never thought I’d be embarrassed to admit I’d had sex.”

“No need,” Livia said. “It sounded like fun. I was inclined to come join you, but something held me back.”

“Common sense no doubt,” Narisha muttered, cutting away a particularly troublesome vine.

“Do you hear water?” Livia asked.

“I think — ack!” Narisha’s words were cut off as the ground abruptly dropped off ahead of her, sloping down to a wide brown river. Clumsily, she grabbed a vine and stopped herself before she tumbled off into space.

“Crap,” she said. “This isn’t on any of the maps.”

“Very few maps of this region exist in any event,” Livia said. “I was afraid we’d have to cross one eventually.”

Narisha squinted down the slope. It was a combination of tangled undergrowth and rich red-brown loam.

“It’ll be touchy getting down to the bank,” she said. “Can you get us across?”

“I think so,” Livia replied. “My water spells are a little rusty, however.”

“You and Daedora may have to combine forces. Maeth, too,” Narisha said.

“So you admit we need her after all?” Livia asked.

Narisha glanced back at the column, and at Maeth and Daedora, who returned quizzical stares.

We three, the gazes said. We are parts of a greater whole.

“I think I need her more than I’d expected,” she said, simply. 

*** 

Going down the slope was a nightmare; Narisha tried not to think of what it would be like going back up. Three times she stumbled and went sprawling, smearing herself with red mud and covering herself in green leaves and detritus. Narisha’s personal standards of cleanliness were excruciatingly high — she felt uncomfortable if she bathed less than twice a day. Now, of course, she was a filthy, sweaty mess, her skin muddy, her hair a horror of snarls and snags.

The abbreviated costume, normally so enjoyable, didn’t help either. By the time she got to the bottom, Narisha had discarded her flimsy halter and bound her breechcloth between her legs, leaving her almost totally naked. Not that she minded — the climate was suitable for it, but the rest of the party kept staring stupidly. No matter how miserable the weather, humans never seemed to stop thinking about rutting.

Then again, Narisha thought, striding toward the river’s edge without embarrassment, neither do I.

“Well,” she said, “it looks as if we won’t need any magic to get across.”

“Why not?” Livia asked, smiling. She was filthy, too, of course, but she remained decently dressed.

Narisha pointed. A wooden raft lay staked in the shallows, invisible from above.

“It looks as if we weren’t the first to try this particular stunt.”

“And it’s our first sign of anything besides insects and spider monkeys.”

“Come on, you.” Narisha motioned at a couple of gawking crewmen. “Help me get this thing secured.”

“Do you need some clothes, love?” Livia called after her. “It looks like dirty work.”

“Hell no,” Narisha snarled back. “I’m better off without ‘em!”

Daedora

They all fitted on the raft, but it was tight. They rowed across with difficulty, fighting the current.

Daedora saw the water boiling about half way across the river.

“Ware!” she shouted. “There’s something —”

She never finished. A trio of long, sinuous necks reared up from the water, muscular and gleaming wetly, topped with ugly fanged heads.

“Shit!” Narisha roared, pulling her sword free.

The creatures struck with unbelievable speed, toothy maws ravening among the crew. Before Daedora could react or even think, Kujli the dwarf was gone, dragged under the muddy water with scarcely a scream. Narisha swung at the things, but her sword whistled through empty air.

“Back to back!” she ordered. “Casters in the middle! And take care you don’t upset the fucking raft!”

The beasts struck again, and though Ontrae ripped free, she lay on the raft, bleeding and helpless. Once more, neither Narisha nor any of the crew could land a blow.

By now the raft was free, swept along by the current. Daedora frantically racked her brain for a spell, for a word, for anything that might help repel the creatures...

Narisha struck again, a crimson-skinned vision naked save for her sword, and the creatures fell back, but still she failed to do more than hold them off for a moment. They darted in again, and another crewman vanished beneath the water.

Sister... Maeth’s warm and familiar voice rang in her head. Send your strength. Send it to Narisha. We’re united now, and can share our power.

Daedora stared at Maeth for a moment, then realized what she was saying.

I can feel it, she thought. The power... The thing in the jungle... It’s in us now, and...

“Narisha!” she shouted, feeling a spark of blinding force leap from Maeth, to her, to the demoness. For an instant, Narisha was silhouetted in swirling, silver-green light, then the spark jumped from her sword to the three serpents, enveloping them in a silent flash of the same silvery-green luminescence.

Then, all was as it had been before. The river flowed on placidly, but where the beasts had been was only sluggish brown water. Ontrae still lay unconscious, and two crew were gone forever.

Daedora and Maeth exchanged silent glances, then looked at Narisha.

“Don’t look at me,” she protested. “I have no idea what just happened!” 

*** 

Daedora said what healing spells she knew over Ontrae, but it didn’t look good. The woman had lost a large chunk of flesh from one shoulder, and was deep in shock. Daedora’s ministrations stopped the bleeding but did little to repair the damage.

She felt tears well up as she looked at the woman, and thought of the two lost crewmen. She’d spent the past months with these men and women, and thought of them as family. Now, two and possibly three were gone, and she could do nothing to help them.

As the crew continued to pole the raft across the river, Daedora sat, dejectedly looking at the unconscious Ontrae.

“You need not worry,” said a low voice. “The jungle’s powers are yours to command.”

Startled, Daedora looked up, to see Shiika the Tandu, crouched on his haunches, leaning against his upright spear, looking at her intently with his single good eye.

She shook her head. The Tandu had never said two words to her before. Why should he speak so now?

Grimly, she watched the opposite bank draw close and wondered what lay beyond.

Livia

Ontrae wasn’t doing well. In this climate wounds turned septic in a matter of hours, and eager predators smelled blood. They rigged up a sledge to drag her up the bank, but Livia wondered what they would do once they got there. Days in the jungle had drained her magic, even with the constant flow of life energy around her, and her healing skills weren’t up to par even on the best of days. Daedora was trying so hard, it pained Livia to see her so distraught.

A dark elf who hates to see others suffer, she thought. Will wonders never cease? She’s better than any of those pointy-eared bastards off on that damned crusade in Litharna...

Wearily, leaning on her staff and struggling to stay upright, Livia made her way up the slope, the remainder of the crew strung out behind her. Narisha led the way, furiously barreling up the slope without benefit of staff or shoes. Livia stayed focused on the rich curves of her scarlet buttocks moving intently upward, and it seemed to help.

You really loved it when I fucked your ass, didn’t you? Livia smirked inwardly. I’m not the only one who likes it, you red-skinned little tart.

Abruptly, Narisha turned and glared at her, losing her footing and stumbling.

“Stop that!” she barked. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

You loved it. You loved being my slut, didn’t you?

Narisha growled, and trudged up the slope once more.

Livia smiled quietly.

“You love it,” she said, softly. “Admit it.”

The entire experience since entering the river seemed to have reduced Narisha to speechlessness, contrary to her usually smug demeanor. Instead of throwing Livia an obscene retort, she only growled good-naturedly, bared her fangs, and continued up the slope.

Soon, all thirteen crew had reached the top of the bank.

Beyond the bare earth of the ridge, the jungle began once more, as thick and impenetrable as ever.

“Come on,” Livia said, motioning wearily. “Let’s get a move on.”

They had only advanced a few paces when three black-shafted arrows sprouted from the ground ahead of them. Livia started, grabbing for her staff, the image of a spell forming in her mind even as she realized she barely had the strength to cast.

“You are outnumbered!” echoed a voice from the trees. “Halt or be destroyed!”

Several of the crewmen drew swords and began to rush forward. Narisha’s voice stopped them short.

“Hold, idiots! They’re not elves!” She shouted toward the trees. “Who are you? We mean no harm!”

“Put down your weapons!” replied the voice. “You have elves among you! Put down your weapons or you’ll be killed!”

Enemies of the elves, Livia thought. They don’t trust us because Maeth and Daedora are here. We must talk to them.

“Sheath your weapons, everyone,” Narisha ordered, then called to the speaker in the forest. “We won’t abandon our weapons, but we won’t draw them either. These elves are our friends, they’re not with Feanor’s crowd! Come out and we’ll talk!”

There was a moment of silence, then at last a figure appeared, clambering down from a tree. He was clad in a green tunic and trousers, and carried a long bow over one shoulder. He was most definitely human and, by the look of him, Xeshite.

“Who are you?” he demanded, pointing. “We’re friends of neither the elves nor the demons, nor the Tandu! Are you bandits? Corsairs?”

“We’re from the free trader Skate,” Narisha replied. “We’ve here to help fight the elves.”

The man looked unimpressed. “You’re a small enough band for such a big task. And if you’re fighting the elves, why are those two with you?”

Before Narisha could reply, Daedora stepped forward. “I’m no elf, not of the kind you’re speaking about! I’m of the Zhalha’sarr’im, the exiles, and sworn enemy to Feanor and his cronies! I don’t hate my cousins the high elves, but neither do I believe in what they are doing. I am here to help Xesh free itself from their yoke!”

“And what of the pale-faced bitch beside you?” demanded the man. “She is of Feanor’s kind, and her people destroyed Xuin!”

“She cannot speak,” Narisha said. “She’s —”

Daedora interrupted. “She is my bonded sister and my lover. She loves her queen, but hates what her people have done here. She is our friend and ally.”

The man looked alternately surprised and somewhat distasteful at Daedora’s confession.

“Wait here,” he said. “I must speak with my comrades.” And then he vanished back into the jungle.

They waited long moments until the man returned.

“You will come with us,” he said. “We will go to consult with our leaders. You must peace-bond your weapons and swear to obey us without question.”

Narisha hesitated. “So long as you do nothing to harm us,” she said at last, “we agree.”

“There is one more condition,” the man went on. “The two elves are to give up their weapons and be escorted, bound and under guard. This condition is not negotiable.”

The words struck Livia like a blow. A quick glance at Narisha showed that she felt the same way. Livia stepped forward, holding her staff aggressively.

“We will do no such thing,” she shouted. “These are our friends and allies —”

To Livia’s surprise, Daedora and Maeth both stepped in front of her, dropping their weapons to the ground.

“We agree,” Daedora said. “If you guarantee our safety so long as we comply with your demands.”

Narisha glared. “Don’t let them push you around like that,” she growled. “They’ve no right to demand —”

“And we’ve no right to drag you into a fight that will get more of us killed,” said Daedora. “They’ll not hurt us. Not as long as they see us cooperating.”

Livia swallowed hard. “I don’t like it, Daedora,” she said. “But if you are willing...”

“I am,” Daedora said, and beside her Maeth nodded firmly.

“They can help Ontrae,” Daedora said softly.

Reluctantly, Narisha turned back to the Xeshite. “If it were up to me, I’d refuse and tell you to go fuck yourselves,” she shouted, “but my idiotic comrades here don’t want trouble. We agree under protest.”

“Then peacebond your weapons and step forward,” said the man. “We will escort you to our leader.”

“And who,” Livia called back, “is your leader? Where is he?”

“Our leader,” replied the man, “is the Duchess Xylara, leader of Free Xesh. We are taking you to our headquarters, her estate at the Moon Pool!”

“I’ll be damned,” Narisha muttered. “Wulf’s old fuck-buddy.”

“Don’t knock it,” Livia told her as they walked slowly toward the jungle. “It may be our hole card.”

Daedora

And so another trek through jungle began. True to their word, the Xeshites took her weapons and bound her hands behind her back, making her progress slow and painful. They were not cruel, though all of them glared at her with ill-concealed hostility. Uxar, the leader, seemed less harsh than the others, but even he had little use for Maeth.

The elf-woman accepted her treatment without protest. Her silent conversations with Daedora seemed to make the journey less onerous, but all the same both suffered, stumbling and falling often, ending up with bruises and scrapes. The Xeshites did little to help, simply urging them along at spearpoint.

Narisha, Livia and the crew were there, as well, making sure the Xeshites didn’t mistreat them. It wasn’t as horrible as those last days in Lizard Crag, but it was quite unpleasant nonetheless.

There were about thirty Xeshites of various ages, sexes and levels of skill. Born to privilege, now they had to fight, struggling for possession of their homeland against an implacable foe. In the face of such terrible odds, the ancient Xeshite arrogance seemed to drop away, replaced by a grim cynicism that was somehow even more terrifying. Once masters of all, they were now fugitives, forced to see the world from the other end of the spectrum, and see what pain their ancient excesses had caused. The jungle was a bloody cauldron now, one from which few emerged alive or intact.

They spoke quietly of their old homes, of their families, their servants. They spoke of the coming of the elves, and of the desperate battles against Feanor and his dragons. Legions of slaves and mercenaries, traditionally Xesh’s first line of defense, had perished, consumed in dragon-fire or impaled on the wicked points of elven spears. The survivors fled to the jungle, lost, fearful, leaderless. Some were nobles, some were slaves — in the forge of battle, all were equal. Unspoken was the understanding that, should Xesh survive the bloody struggle with the elves, the former slaves would be slaves no longer.

Now they fought together, their old distinctions forgotten in the struggle for survival. Months passed, and at last the dissident Xeshites rallied on the one who remained defiant and who had, so far, managed to hold the elves and their undead allies at bay.

Duchess Xylara. Daedora had heard Wulf speak of her, but he had rarely been complimentary. True, he had served her as a slave, but Daedora wondered why he held her in such disdain. Perhaps a strong woman had bruised Wulf’s ego.

Then again, perhaps not. Wulf had always surrounded himself with strong women (perhaps, Livia had speculated, to make up for the absence of a mother during his own childhood), and his description of Xylara was no more or less strange or perverse than any other woman he had known.

These and other speculations flashed through Daedora’s mind as the march went on. She spoke with Maeth often, their thoughts silently flashing back and forth, building a bridge of trust between two estranged siblings, one black the other white, and drawing them closer together.

That night in the jungle... Yes, something had happened, though Daedora did not hazard to guess what. Shiika the Tandu was part of it, she suspected, considering how protective he was of them, and how closely he watched them as they marched. She felt certain that any Xeshite who tried to mistreat her or Maeth would find Shiika’s spear thrust through his midsection.

When Uxar announced that they would reach the Moon Pool in two day’s march it was like a reprieve. They camped that night near a narrow black stream, and Daedora fell asleep easily, despite her uncomfortably bound wrists.

She dreamed, but did not dream. It was as real as waking, but all around Daedora seemed to bend to her will, to conform to her thoughts. These were dreams, perhaps, but more importantly, it was the touching of minds, a meeting of souls in a place higher and more sublime than the filth and heat of the jungle.

Maeth was there, lying beneath her, legs apart, the sweetness of her cunt revealed. They made love in a world of golden light or velvety darkness. Maeth’s fingers and tongue touched her, stroking and bringing her to orgasm after orgasm. And Narisha, too, fucking them both in her own demanding, passionate way, fingers and fists thrusting, tongue darting and exploring, yellow eyes flaring like an animal’s.

So it was night after night as they marched. From the soulspeech, Daedora knew that the other women dreamed as she dreamed, and that each night, far removed from the others, they made love again and again, under the watchful guardianship of the jungle goddess.

At last, days later, the Xeshites announced that they had reached friendly territory, and the party stood on a rough jungle road, awaiting the approach of Duchess Xylara. Daedora was not afraid, for she knew that she was now joined to the other two women in a way that none could break, and not even the prospect of death at the Xeshites’ hands frightened her.

Livia

A quartet of ogres appeared, bearing a shaded litter draped in gauzy fabric. A dim figure reclined inside, and Daedora fancied she could smell a faint trace of perfume. As the litter drew near, the Xeshites all saluted, raising clenched fists into the air.

“Hail Duchess Xylara!” said Uxar, bowing his head. “We have brought prisoners for your judgment.”

“We’re not prisoners!” declared Narisha. “And we’re not here for anyone’s judgment. We’re here to help you, if you would just fucking well listen!”

A slender hand thrust from the draped litter and pushed the gauze aside. A woman peered out, scanning the naked demoness with evident interest.

“A human, a demon and two flavors of elves, along with an armed war party,” she said. “You don’t seem the sort that I’d expect help from.”

“We’re from the corsair Skate,” Narisha said. “We’re here to help you fight the elves and their allies.”

“With two elves in your party?” Xylara asked incredulously. “Here, you idiots, help me down.”

Instantly two Xeshites hastened to assist Xylara as she dismounted from the litter.

Daedora could not help but stare. Her flesh and hair were both pure, milk white, and she regarded the new arrivals with red-irised eyes. Daedora had only a brief glimpse before Xylara raised the hood of her concealing white garment, shielding herself from the harsh sun’s rays.

“Forgive my reticence,” Xylara said. “As you can see, I’m somewhat fair complexioned. I cannot spend much time in direct sunlight without suffering.”

“This is a bad country for that,” Narisha observed.

“Yes.” Xylara stepped forward, looking Narisha up and down. “But it’s my home, and I’m willing to die defending it. Now, perhaps you could explain to me how enlisting two elves will help me fight the prick-eared bastards and their bony friends?”

Narisha sighed and rolled her eyes, as if weary of giving the same explanation. “Daedora is a dark elf — a Zhalha’sarr’im. As everyone knows, they hate their cousins, the high elves. Maeth has turned against Lord Feanor and his invasion and wants to help fight him, but remains loyal to her queen. Daedora and Maeth are...” The normally confident demoness faltered, looking helplessly back at Daedora. “Oh, gods damn it all... you tell her.”

“We’re lovers,” Daedora said proudly. “Maeth is a renunciate who cannot speak, and we communicate silently. We have declared common cause against the traitor Feanor, who has betrayed his people and leads them in a war they cannot win. My own people are led by Lady Thae’lynn N’Quy, who murdered my family, and whom I have sworn to destroy. We offer our aid as friends and allies.”

Xylara seemed impressed. Her pale eyes sparkled with interest. “Lovers, are you?” she asked, stepping closer. She reached out a hand and touched Daedora’s cheek. “The contrast is remarkable, isn’t it? White and black. I’m even paler than this point-eared one,” she said, indicating Maeth.

“And we’re friends of Wulf,” Livia said. “He said to tell you hello.”

Xylara whirled, fixing the sorceress with a stern gaze. “Wulf? You mean Chuma, that rootless imposter who was my slave a few years ago? You know the bastard?”

Narisha nodded. “We do. You’d be surprised how many people call him that.”

“Where is he now?” Xylara demanded.

“Down south,” Livia said. “Fighting his own war against Lady Thae’lynn.”

“He was very troublesome when he was my slave,” Xylara said, thoughtfully. “Very bad attitude. Took orders very poorly. Pity, really... Nineh and Alrynna were quite fond of him.”

“I hate to interrupt your stroll through memory gardens,” Narisha said in her usual tactful manner, “but our companions are still tied up, we’re still technically prisoners and we have wounded. Care to comment?”

Xylara came alert once more. “You’re free to join us if you like,” she said. “Your elves will be closely watched until I’m assured of their integrity.”

“They’re not to be harmed,” Livia said. “On your honor.”

“That,” said Xylara, remounting her litter, “goes without saying. Now follow us. I regret not being able to walk with you, but even this much sunlight has me feeling dizzy. I’ll have Alrynna see to your needs when we reach the Moon Pool.” 

*** 

The Moon Pool was as Wulf had described it, though it was now far from the isolated outpost he’d remembered. The place bustled with activity, armed Xeshites camping, drilling, training, preparing for battle.

“It’s our only real stronghold,” Xylara said, gesturing from her litter. “The elves lack the strength to fight their way this deep into the jungle. The Jarreks are fighting them tooth and nail — they hate us, but I suppose they hate the elves more.”

“Unsurprising,” Livia said, “since you’ve been killing and enslaving them for hundreds of years. You need to fight the common enemy.”

“Then what?” Xylara demanded. “Either we all die or we throw out the elves, then what? Xeshites and lizards go back to killing and enslaving each other? Gods know... I doubt the scaly bastards would have us as allies in any event.”

The estate consisted of a large central manor with dozens of outbuildings, all spaced around a wide craggy cistern, filled to its depths with crystalline blue and green water. Livia felt the tug of magic from the water.

“The moons charge the water with energy,” Xylara said. “And our sorcerers draw from it. We all draw from it, in fact — it has rejuvenating and health-restoring benefits. You should take a swim in it some time.”

“I’m sure your soldiers would appreciate that,” Livia said, noting the throngs of Xeshites surrounding the place.

“There are remedies to that problem,” Xylara said. She looked Livia up and down appraisingly. “Alrynna will like you, I think.”

Livia looked back at her. “Is that good or bad, your grace?”

Xylara smiled thinly. “You’ll have a chance to find out, I think.”

She looked back at Narisha, still carrying her spear and clad only in her leopard-skin loincloth. The demoness walked protectively beside Daedora and Maeth, and the three seemed enmeshed in silent conversation.

“Your demoness,” Xylara said. “She’s lovers with the other two.”

Livia nodded. “Very observant. And something more, I suspect. Things have been strange since we entered the jungle. Narisha didn’t trust Maeth initially, but something happened in the jungle one night. They won’t talk about it much, but there’s an odd bond between the three of them now.”

Xylara fell silent, gazing at the three women contemplatively.

“An odd bond?” she said softly. “Is it possible...?”

“Is what possible?” Livia asked.

Xylara shook her head abruptly, white hair cascading. “Nothing, sorceress. Just an idle whimsy. I’ll tell you if I suspect more.” She looked back at Livia. “You met Wulf after he left here?”

“Yes. Narisha and I are his... well, his business partners.”

“I hear more in your voice, sorceress. You’re all three involved, aren’t you?”

“You miss little, duchess.”

“It’s my nature. I’ve always been unhealthy and stayed close to my home. You learn to watch and to notice. I let Alrynna and my sister Nineh travel the world for me. I stay and study. Dear Wulf certainly knows how to land himself in tangled relationships, doesn’t he?”

“He claims it’s never his fault, your grace. Says the gods hate him.”

“He’s lovers with you and a strapping demoness with such lovely breasts, and he claims the gods hate him. He’s even more cynical than when I knew him. You say he’s in his lion man form again?”

“He is. He said you very much enjoyed him that way.”

“As often as possible, sorceress, as you may well imagine. I think Nineh misses him.”

“And you?”

Xylara rolled her eyes. “As much as I miss any man, which isn’t saying much. If he were here, however, I imagine I’d fuck him senseless. Just for the sake of old times, mind you.”

Livia’s eyes narrowed. “You prefer women?”

“Prefer, nothing. They’re all I can tolerate. I might make an exception for your lover’s beautiful leonine alter-ego, but that’s about all I’d do.”

“He’d be flattered.”

“He would do well to be flattered, sorceress. Ah. Here we are.”

She dismounted at that, leading the Skate party up the grand steps of her main manor.

“Your crew will be billeted with my troops,” she said. “I’ll have my healers see to your wounded crew-woman; a dip in the Moon Pool and she’ll be good as new.”

Livia bowed her head. “We’re grateful, your grace.”

“You and your officers may stay here. I’d thank you to join me for dinner this evening, at which time we will discuss more particulars on how you are to ‘help’ me.”

Xylara shed cloak and headdress as they entered the main hall, handing them over to a servant, then led the party along, clad in only a brief halter and breech-cloth, leaving considerable amounts of flesh exposed, safe now from the sun. The heat remained oppressive, and Livia actually began to consider following Xylara’s lead in clothing. Narisha strode along, proudly, heedless of her near-total nudity (in fact, Livia thought, rather proud of it); Livia was unsure she’d be able to duplicate such a feat. The crew were escorted to quarters, while the women followed Xylara inside.

They reached a round, vault-ceilinged chamber, and Xylara clapped her hands sharply. A moment later, a curtained doorway stirred and a dark-haired woman emerged.

“Alrynna,” Xylara snapped, imperiously. “Show our guests to their rooms.”

“I obey, mistress,” replied the woman, softly, then turned and surveyed the four women. She had deep brown eyes and a delicate pale skin. Slightly built, she was nevertheless athletic and well-formed, though she wore a shapeless white shift that concealed most of her figure.

Alrynna’s eyes scanned each woman in turn, much as her mistress’ had. Though she seemed impressed at the three non-human women and their exotic coloration, her gaze lingered on Livia the longest.

“My mistress bids you follow me,” she said. “Follow.”

In turn, Alrynna took them to various palatial suites of rooms, each being prepared by a group of servants. The servants, Livia noted, all looked tough and competent, and she wondered idly how long they would tolerate being menials once the war had ended.

Livia was last, and followed Alrynna down a long corridor lit by skylights.

“We have not had guests since before the invasion,” Alrynna said, looking back at Livia. Her eyes were mesmerizing, like a gentle jungle animal, but the rest of her bespoke an experienced, sensual woman. Livia remembered Wulf’s stories.

“I don’t imagine it’s easy to entertain in wartime,” Livia replied. “I hope we aren’t using too much of your mistress’ resources.”

“Hardly a problem, mistress,” Alrynna replied, and Livia noted how she used the honorific for her, but none of the other women. “Here are your rooms. Please remember that I am here to provide you with any comfort you need.” She paused, and her eyes grew steady, voice measured, so as to leave no doubt what she truly meant. “Any need at all.”

Livia nodded. “I appreciate that, Alrynna, and will definitely keep it in mind. In the meantime, I want a bath and to sleep for a week.”

If she was disappointed, Alrynna did not show it, instead bowing, and stepping backwards.

“As my mistress wishes. I hope to see you again soon.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Livia replied, and stepped into the rooms.

The bath was ready, in a deep tub that could have held most of the crew. Livia relaxed for a long time, feeling the tensions and horrors of the journey fade, then ate some fruit from a tray left by the servants. She slept for a time, and awoke just as the sun was setting, remembering that she was to dine with Xylara.

Alrynna

“Mistress, she’s beautiful,” Alrynna said, feeling her voice strain as the first wave of oncoming orgasm spread through her.

“She is, isn’t she?” Xylara replied, contemplatively. The Matriarch sat on a dais above the low couch where the naked Alrynna lay, legs spread to either side, toying with her clitoris while thrusting a thick blue dildo into her cunt.

“Y...esss...” Alrynna’s voice grew tighter. “I want her, mistress. Can I have her? Please? I would like to serve her as I serve... you...”

Xylara nodded. “I think that could be arranged, my dear little slave. You must be ready to share her with me, as well, however.”

“Oh, yes!” the words were heart-felt and enthusiastic. “Yes, I want to... I want to... Ohhh, mistress... I’m thinking about her now... Fucking me... Yessssssss...” Alrynna’s hips rose, her face flushed deep pink as she thrust the big cylinder deeply into her one last time. “I’m... coming...”

Xylara smiled. Some entertainment. It had been far too long...

VI

Heesh’kra

Long files of Jarreks converged into a single column, moving inexorably through the jungle.

Heesh’kra, the Ancient of Ancients, high priest of the Eldest Egg-Mother, whose age was known to none, led the way, his dragonbone staff clutched in powerful, time-blackened claws, chanting the words that were whispered back along the column, passed from jarrek to jarrek until all knew them.

She comes. She comes. The Goddess who is black like the earth, and red like life, and white like death. She rides on white wings across the waves, and she comes to us in a guise that is strange, but is at once familiar. She bears the countenance of our enemies, yet she is our mother. She will strike down the dead who walk, and shall close the Dragon’s Eye. She will restore balance, and bring a new world.

And so, the words were whispered, and that whisper filled the jungle.

She comes.

Breann

Voices whispered, too, in the dreams of the necromancer, Breann. The screams of his unliving masters grew louder, more insistent and demanding. As his column of monstrosities wound deeper into the jungle, the threat of the enemy grew more and more hideous.

And that threat drew him. He dreamed of a place, a place with white buildings and swaying trees, and with a single round lake in its center, a lake filled with the hateful energies of life. His enemy was there, this he knew — and soon he and his minions would find her and destroy her utterly.

Then, at last, the rule of his masters could begin.

Livia

Dinner consisted of a selection of tropical fruits and some small jungle game birds, and was brought by Xylara’s servants. The servants all had a grim, stoic cast to their eyes, and they delivered the meal with none of the submissiveness that Narisha normally associated with slaves.

She commented on it.

“I see that your slaves are now warriors fighting on your side, duchess,” she said. “Do you think that they’ll be willing to remain slaves once the war is over?”

Xylara shook her head. She was still lightly clad, and ate with delicacy. “I keep no slaves. Those who stay with me do so out of loyalty or affection.”

At this, Alrynna glanced adoringly at her mistress, then returned to her dinner.

“I freed all my slaves at the urging of your friend — what was his name? Wulf, was it? I still think of him as Chuma. In any event, he saved my life so I granted his wish.”

“What about the rest of Xesh?” Livia asked. “What if you finally succeed in driving out the elves? Will the slaves happily return to their old lives?”

Xylara shrugged. “I don’t think much beyond the next day, sorceress. When we drive the elves from Xesh, then we’ll decide what kind of a nation we will become.”

For once, Livia felt somewhat unnerved at the attention of other women. As the meal progressed, she felt the weight of Alrynna’s gaze weigh heavier and heavier. The conversation strayed from the war, to the history of Xesh, to their own personal stories, as well as Xylara’s inquiries about Wulf and what had happened to him since he had left Xesh.

“Busy little meddler, isn’t he?” Xylara asked, amused, as they told of the Elf-Orc War and of the Stormking’s rebellion. “He didn’t seem able to keep his nose out of trouble when he was here.”

“It was a very handsome nose, was it not, mistress?” Alrynna asked.

Xylara glared briefly at her. “He was an imposter. The handsome guise concealed a rather ordinary looking man.”

“Bite your tongue, duchess,” Narisha said. “He does happen to be a good friend of ours.”

Xylara spared her a smile. “Nothing personal, of course. My taste in men has been somewhat limited of late.”

“So I’ve been told,” Narisha replied.

Dinner progressed at a leisurely pace, and it seemed to Livia that the duchess had not relaxed or enjoyed herself in a long while. At length, to Livia’s surprise, Narisha, Maeth and Daedora excused themselves and bade the company good night, leaving her with Xylara and Alrynna.

“My slave tells me that she’s quite attracted to you,” Xylara said without preamble. “I’d note that we have little time for pleasure given the war and our remoteness. I admit that I’m quite impressed with you, sorceress, and would ask you to join us in the adjoining chamber. I’d like to see you and Alrynna get to know each other better.”

Livia cast a surprised glance at the duchess and her slave (not truly a slave, she reminded herself — it was more title than actual role, given Wulf’s mission of liberation). Xylara looked at her coolly, and Alrynna with wide-eyed devotion.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever been approached quite so directly, your grace,” she said. “I do appreciate how concerned you are for your slave’s welfare.”

“I try,” Xylara said. “And I promised her. Would you like to join us?”

Livia nodded and rose.

“Certainly. What are we waiting for?” 

*** 

The room was well equipped; obviously, this was where the duchess did some of her more intimate entertaining. And tonight, Livia thought, I’m the entertainment.

Xylara reclined above the fray on a raised dais, watching with interest. Livia remembered that from Wulf’s stories, and had always thought it would be a rather exciting experience. Indeed, it was, though it took her a few minutes to overcome her self-consciousness.

Alrynna lay in the center of the room upon a pile of cushions and silk throws. She was magnificently naked, her skin tanned by the jungle sun, her breasts small but exquisitely sculpted, her belly flat, her thighs muscular and, Livia noted as she spread them apart for her, marvelously flexible.

“My mistress says that I can have you,” Alrynna said softly. “I asked her very nicely. When I saw you I knew that I wanted to serve you.”

“Well said, little one,” Xylara encouraged. “Tell her more.”

Livia approached, feeling her legs shaking slightly as she listened. She’d changed into a short white shift, but she doubted it would stay on for much longer.

“I wanted to kiss you, sweet lady,” Alrynna purred, writhing in the cushions and slowly stroking her thighs. Her pubis was shaved, like Livia’s, and she saw a hint of moisture clinging to her swollen lips. “I wanted to feel your tongue in my mouth, and feel you lick your way down my face, down my shoulders, down to my breasts.”

“And what did you want her to do with your breasts, sweet little slave?” Xylara’s voice echoed. Livia stepped to the edge of the pile of cushions and kneeled down, gazing at Alrynna and letting the words wash across her like ocean waves.

“I want you to lick them, sweet lady,” Alrynna said, taking one hand from her thigh and cupping a breast, offering it to Livia. “I want you to lick my breasts and kiss around my nipples, and watch them get hard. I want you to flick your tongue across them as they swell up, and then feel your lips around them. I want you to suck them, then I want you to bite them. I want you to bite my nipples so hard that I cry out and ask you to stop, but I don’t really want you to stop.”

Seems like a plan, Livia thought, feeling her breath come faster at the words. Again, she was in an unfamiliar role, with a submissive, totally devoted woman (albeit a damned demanding one), ready to be the aggressor.

“Do you want to see me naked?” she asked, reaching down to the hem of her shift. “I can undress for you.”

Alrynna nodded with enthusiasm. “Oh, yes, Lady. I’ve thought about you naked. I wanted to see you naked when you first got here. I thought about you naked when my mistress made love to me, and told me that I could have you. That excites me so much.”

Livia sighed. “Me, too.” Slowly, she lifted up the shift, exposing thighs, hips, her belly, and the rounded curve of her breasts. She cast the shift away and gazed at Alrynna, who returned her stare open-eyed and pout-lipped.

“You’re even more beautiful than I’d imagined Lady,” she whispered. “I so want you to make love to me.”

Livia slowly dropped to all fours and began to crawl forward, feeling her breasts brush softly against the silk beneath her. She fixed Alrynna with a predatory stare.

“You want me to make love to you, little one?” she asked, echoing Xylara’s words. “Is that what you want?”

“Oh, yes, Lady. Yes.”

Livia crawled atop Alrynna, feeling the slave woman writhe in anticipation, feeling her breasts now move across the heated flesh of her thighs, her abdomen, and finally her breasts. Livia stared down at Alrynna, elbows on either side of the slave’s head.

“Then do exactly what you’re told,” Livia whispered. “Do what I tell you, and I’ll make love to you as no one has ever made love to you before.”

Alrynna gasped sharply, and her eyes grew even more pleading.

“Yes, Lady. Anything.”

“Good. Now kiss me.”

Livia moved her lips down to Alrynna’s shapely mouth. Alrynna’s lips parted to the soft caress of Livia’s tongue, and in a moment the two women were tasting each other, tongues thrusting. Livia settled down atop Alrynna, feeling the soft, warm and yielding skin beneath her. Alrynna’s heart beat heavily, thudding against Livia, driving her passion up another notch.

“Well done, Livia,” echoed Xylara’s voice. “Give my slave what she wants, but don’t give it easily.”

Don’t worry, Livia thought, gently biting Alrynna’s soft pink tongue. I’ll make her work for it.

Alrynna moaned against Livia’s mouth, and moved beneath her. Livia felt their nipples touch, and the spark of connection between the two of them.

As Alrynna had requested, Livia began to kiss her way along the other woman’s cheek, then down her neck, to her shoulders.

“Yes, yes,” Alrynna sighed. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about.”

“Good,” Livia whispered, finding the ripe bud of Alrynna’s nipple, already starting to swell. She stroked it with a finger, then lightly flickered at it with her tongue, eliciting another moan.

Livia flicked her tongue across one nipple, then the other for several minutes until she felt the heat of Alrynna’s frustration grow.

“Mmmmm, Lady,” Alrynna whispered. “Please... please...”

“Please what?” Livia asked.

“Please lick my nipples. Please. I’ll do anything if you’ll just lick them and bite them.”

“Happy to oblige,” Livia replied, and encircled one swollen nub with her lips, grazing it lightly with her teeth.

“Bite it,” Alrynna hissed. “I want it. Bite it now.”

Without further preliminaries, Livia sank her teeth into the turgid flesh, feeling it give before her and swell to even greater hardness.

Alrynna gasped loudly, the gasp turning into a cry of pain and pleasure.

“Ohhhhhh.... Lady... Ohhhhhh.... Ohhhh...”

Livia moved to the other breast and gave it similar treatment, squeezing the first nipple between her fingers as she did so.

“Ahhhh... Ahhhh... Yes...” The cries changed in timbre. “Oh, it hurts... Oh, please...”

“Please what?” Livia demanded, and with a single motion flicked her middle fingers hard across each nipple.

“Ah!” Alrynna’s head was flung backwards in a swirl of dark hair. “Oh, please stop. Please don’t...”

“Silence,” Livia ordered, and returned to biting at each nipple in turn. “You love it, don’t you?”

“Oh, Lady... It hurts too much... Please stop...”

It was convincing, but Livia reminded herself of Alrynna’s previous request, and continued to worry and nip at the two hard knobs of flesh.

“Oh! Oh! Pleeeeeaseee...” Alrynna gasped again, and beneath Livia, her body bucked and writhed. “Ohhhhhhhhh!”

Livia left the two nipples battered but intact, and began to kiss her way down Alrynna’s belly.

“Now what would you like?” she asked. “Tell me now.”

Alrynna’s words were incoherent, a mix of gasps, sighs and wordless pleas, but eventually she formed real words.

“Oh, oh... y... y... yessssss... I wanted you... Wanted you to lick me... To lick me... My cunt... Lick... Lick it... Please, I so want to... to come for you...”

“Mmm,” Livia said, thoughtfully, kissing all around Alrynna’s navel. “You want me to lick your cunt, dearest little one?”

“Y...esssss... Yes, lady...”

Livia slipped between Alrynna’s spread thighs and considered the flowing flower of her femininity, soft and vulnerable, gleaming with moisture.

“I did this to you, did I?” Livia asked, stroking Alrynna’s thighs. “I’m flattered.”

“I get like this just thinking about you, Lady,” Alrynna gasped. “Oh, dearest Lady...”

Livia began to stroke Alrynna’s outer lips softly, then flickered her tongue across them, feeling the moist heat, but not actually touching flesh.

“Ohhhhh.” Alrynna’s moans rose in volume. Livia breathed heavily on the other woman’s heaving mons.

“Please, Lady, don’t tease me...” Alrynna said, writhing, fingering her own nipples. “I want your tongue in me so much...”

“Don’t listen to her,” Xylara urged. “She’s not even close to ready. I usually let her come at least three times before I finally give her some tongue.”

Livia took a moment to consider that Alrynna seemed to come without actually being touched by another woman’s tongue, then returned to her work, softly grazing the soft, swollen lips with her tongue, then kissing her thighs and licking all around Alrynna’s mons.

“Ohhhhh.” Alrynna’s moans grew. “Ohhhh, Lady. Just touch my cunt and I’ll come. Just touch it with your sweet, beautiful tongue...”

Livia felt her own excitement rise, and finally could resist the sweetness of Alrynna’s cunt no longer, finally spreading the pink lips apart, revealing the sopping interior, and the swelling prominence of her clitoris.

“Want me to lick that sweet little clit?” Livia asked, lapping up the copious moisture. “Suck on it?”

“Yeeeessss...”

At last, Livia moved to devour the soft pink flesh, rubbing tongue and lips along Alrynna’s overflowing cunt, then circling her clit and sucking, feeling tightness grow in the other woman’s body, finally exploding when she bit it gently, flicking her tongue across it.

“I’m...” Alrynna cried out, voice echoing from the vaulted ceiling. “I’m coming...”

Alrynna’s contractions continued for some time. Livia let them subside, then urged them on again with more pressure from tongue and lips. By the time the other woman had finally collapsed into a panting heap, hair in sweaty disarray, she had come at least three times.

“Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely,” Alrynna babbled, stroking herself softly. “So lovely... I want to make you come, lovely lady. Make you come...”

Livia was about to tell her to go ahead, when a loud knocking sounded at the chamber door.

“Duchess!” came the muffled shout. “Your attention is needed. It’s an emergency.”

“Enter then.” Xylara sat up, pulling a robe around her.

The scarred face of an ogre mercenary appeared out of the gloom.

“Hate to interrupt your fun, ma’am,” growled the creature, “but there’s a buncha guys headed this way. And they don’t look, you know, alive...”

Livia was suddenly bolt upright, as Xylara’s face registered shock, then fatalistic determination.

“It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” the duchess said. “Tell everyone to get ready.”

“What kind of forces have you got here?” Livia demanded, similarly forgetting the passions of a few moments passed and gathering up garments.

“Infantry mostly. Mixed humans, ogres, a few mercenaries of various races. Some cavalry, but not much. Archers.”

“Archers won’t do spit against those bastards,” Livia said. “If there’s undead coming, then there’s a necromancer out there, and we’ll need magic to counteract him.”

“Do you have such magic?” Xylara bound her hair up and strode purposefully from the chamber. Wordlessly, Alrynna followed.

“Ask those fleshless fuckers in Xuin,” Livia said. “I’ve also got my skull wand. That should give our necromantic friend a few surprises.”

Xylara nodded. “Our fate is in your hands, sorceress. I trust you to do your best.”

“Isn’t that what I was just doing?” Livia asked, grinning.

Behind her, Alrynna repressed a grin of her own. 

*** 

As if the crew hadn’t experienced nightmares enough, the worst yet was emerging from the jungle all around the Moon Pool. Where the monstrosities of Xuin had numbered in the dozens, these shambled out of the dusk in the hundreds — moldering corpses in various stages of corruption, from the freshly dead, their flesh greenish and rotting, to ancient skeletal corpses of both humans and jarreks, held together and driven solely by the will of their master.

“Where is the bastard?” Narisha growled, scanning the approaching horde. “I can smell him from here.”

“Necromancers aren’t fools,” Livia said. She was dressed in violet-and-white robes now, and gripped a long white staff topped with a winged griffon. The skull wand hung at her belt. “If we take him out, the rest of his army will collapse. He’ll be staying well out of the action.”

“Cowardly fuck,” Narisha muttered. “Like all his kind.”

“I feel him, too,” said Daedora, a shadow in the gathering gloom save for the gleam of her eyes. “He’s out there. Maeth says she can, too.”

More of that shared sensation, Livia thought, looking at the three disparate women. Xylara and Alrynna seemed impressed, and gazed at the trio with growing admiration.

“It may be true about them,” Xylara said. “If it is, then they’ve come not a moment too soon.”

Livia glared. “You’ve been hinting at something ever since we came here, duchess. Given what we were doing just an hour ago, I think you at least owe me some kind of explanation.”

“And given that the enemy is bearing down on us like death itself, I’ll keep it short,” Xylara said. “The jarreks have always claimed that their goddess would one day send an avatar to Thystra to defeat their greatest enemy, and bring peace between all the races of Xesh. They believe that the avatar will be a tripartite entity, colored black for earth, red for life and white for death. Their color symbolism is all fouled up, of course, but they believe it. Some of the jarreks also claim that their goddess would be of another race altogether, to show the power of the jungle, and to help unite the jarreks with the other races.”

Livia felt herself staring at the three women, and suddenly saw what looked like a faint nimbus of magical energies radiating between them, binding them together like a spider’s web, faint silver in the darkness. She blinked, and it vanished.

“Well,” she said, “if anything can save us now it’s a goddess. Let’s hope the jarreks were right.”

On came the undead. Now, in the distance, emerging from the jungle, came dozens of armored elves, spear-armed, marching in a protective phalanx around a pale figure mounted on an emaciated horse.

“There he is,” said Narisha. “Bold as brass, the fucker.”

Daedora and Maeth nodded.

“Too far off,” Livia said, partly to herself as nearby Xeshite defenders unsheathed weapons and came on guard. “We’d never get to him.”

“Don’t be so sure,” muttered Narisha. “Don’t be so sure.”

Daedora

While Narisha and Livia spoke, a torrent of unspoken words flashed between Daedora and Maeth.

I think his name is Breann, said Maeth. He was one of Ezikhan’s worshippers. He had just arrived when I was sent away.

Can we stop him? Daedora asked, feeling the same sense of gnawing dread that she had felt in Xuin. There are so many of them.

I feel your power, my love, came the comforting reply. And you feel mine. You are black, I am white, and I feel the red, violent energies inside Narisha. If we are all one, united by the jungle, then we can combine our powers and skills and defeat him.

But how? Daedora wondered. They’ll be on us in no time.’

That, Maeth admitted, ‘I haven’t figured out yet.

Breann

She was there, he could feel it. She was there, drawing the hated life-energy from the swollen moons overhead, and from the vile pure water of the Moon Pool. This was the one his masters had sent him to destroy, the one who could thwart all their plans and drive him to the pits of torment. Without Her, the enemy was lost, and his masters’ triumph was assured.

“Advance,” he said, softly, taking up a black rod the length of a man’s arm. “I must destroy the goddess myself. My minions will see to the living defenders.”

The elf commander obeyed wordlessly, and the square of spearmen advanced, three hundred paces behind his shambling vanguard of undead. Moments later, the elvish cavalry emerged from the forest, flanking and somewhat behind the infantry.

“You will all die rather than let me fall,” Breann hissed. “It is my sacred duty, and you will all follow it, or suffer for it.”

All of the elves knew what he meant. Clean death, even in an evil cause, was far preferable to eternity as an undead monster, and every one of his guards prepared to give their lives for his.

On the horde advanced, in grim, dusk-lit silence.

Livia

Despite Livia’s admonitions, the Xeshites poured arrows down on the oncoming zombies. As she had predicted, they had little effect beyond tripping or disabling a handful of the enemy, but even that was better than nothing.

Beside her, Narisha held sword and axe loosely on guard, staring at Daedora and Maeth with a distracted expression. A moment later, she turned and spoke urgently.

“They think they know how we can get to the master,” she said. “You’ll have to use your wand to take control of some of the zombies, though. Get them to clear us a corridor.”

Livia nodded. “Between my wand and our other spells, we might be able to do it. You’ll have to move fast, though.”

“We will. Maeth is channeling the energy from the Moon Pool to give us a push in the right direction. It’s beyond my own knowledge - I ignored most of my magic lessons. I always preferred...”

“Sex?” Livia asked, and received a wicked smile and a nod.

“They’re slow enough,” Narisha continued. “If we’re running faster...”

“I’ll see if the crew wants to go in with you,” Livia said. “I don’t think Xylara can spare any defenders to help, though.”

“We won’t need any Xeshites or mercs,” Narisha said. “But if any of the crew want to volunteer, they’re welcome.”

Livia hefted her staff and glanced at the advancing undead. The moons were shedding enough light now for her to see that they were almost upon the outermost defenders. “Well, if you’re ready, then I think it’s time to start the party. Don’t you agree?”

Narisha turned and went to join Daedora and Maeth. “I do, indeed. Let’s see what you can do for us.”

Livia gestured to the Skate crew, and the motley group moved forward.

“Narisha, Daedora and Maeth are going to drive in at the necromancer,” she said. “Who wants to go with them?”

As one, all the remaining crew, even Ontrae, her wounds still bandaged, stepped forward.

“I will defend the goddess,” said Shiika the tandu. “It is my destiny.”

Livia frowned.

“Does everyone know about this goddess business except me?” she asked, but Shiika only looked stoic.

“Ready then,” she said, hefting her staff and aiming it at the oncoming horde. “For Xesh! For Freedom!”

With that, she bellowed a spell, feeling the energy leap from her to the staff, then blossom out into a dozen white-hot shooting stars, exploding from the staff and plowing into the enemy. Blinding explosions burst where the stars struck, blowing great craters of earth up, and sundering the zombies and skeletons into fragments. At least a dozen had fallen, but more came to take their place.

Now the undead fell on the Xeshites, and the clang of weapons echoed around the outskirts of the Moon Pool. Many of the zombies fell, hacked in half, legs missing, heads cloven, but still they continued clawing and fighting. As Livia watched, gathering up the energy for another spell, she saw a black-haired man fall beneath the onslaught. Moments later, the zombies shuffled forward, the man’s blood staining their hands and faces.

“Again!” she shouted, and another explosion of force burst out from her staff, striking down twenty or more zombies.

It bought more time, and the Xeshites were able to fall back in good order to prepared positions perhaps twenty paces forward of Livia.

To her surprise, Daedora and Maeth joined the casting, sending out their own bursts of magical power, taking down more zombies. But it wasn’t enough. Though the twitching forms of nearly a hundred undead beasts lay scattered, still more came on.

“Save your strength,” Livia warned Maeth. “I’m going to use the wand now.”

Dropping her staff, Livia took up the black, skull-topped cylinder from her belt and held it out, feeling the dread power of the dead coursing through her. It was a dangerous device, one which she used rarely and reluctantly, for fear of becoming a pale, inhuman thing like the necromancer on his skeletal steed.

But now, it was desperate, and with the power flowing from the Moon Pool, Livia was able to feel and, moments later, see, the web of control radiating out from the necromancer to the hundreds of animated corpses around him like slender threads of evil. To reach and break the threads was possible, though it took much concentration and effort. To take control of the threads was even harder, but the wand was designed to help her do just that.

Take this, you pale, fleshless son of a bitch, Livia thought, straining and feeling one thread after the other begin to weaken and break. Let’s see how YOU like it...

Breann

A flutter of surprise, disbelief, and at last, real fear touched at Breann as he realized that someone, someone, was wresting control of his minions from him. Suppressing a cry of alarm, he bent his will to taking them back, only to find that at least a dozen had already been taken, and were now either fighting with their fellows or shuffling back to attack his elves.

“Advance!” Breann screamed. “Attack the humans! Kill them all! There is a sorcerer there and he must be destroyed!”

Breann spurred his mount forward, kicking the beast into a rough gallop, bursting through his bodyguard and driving toward the place where the enemy took away his minions. He would fight them now. They would see the power of a true necromancer...

Livia

There was a stir in the elvish ranks, and the mounted necromancer burst out, galloping through his shambling undead slaves, eyes wild. Now she could see him closer — the white skin, the long face, the black stringy hair and the fearful mismatched eyes. She took a moment to rip away another ten or so zombies, send them to attack, then took up her staff once more and aimed it at the oncoming sorcerer.

“Get ready,” she warned Maeth. “Your time will come in a moment.”

Then she shouted an invocation, her voice dancing through the air, syllables curling round each other to create a new surge of force, black shot with crackling bolts of lightning, a swirling maelstrom of destruction. A moment later, the great sphere of chaos shot from her staff and streaked forward, felling undead and plowing a path across the battlefield toward the necromancer.

“Now, Maeth!” she shouted. “Now!”

Breann

The black sphere bore down on him like the vengeful hand of his masters. Reining in his mount, Breann babbled the syllables of a counterspell, and a shield of darkness sprang up around him. The sphere struck it, and the shield shivered, both forces fighting each other until the enemy’s spell dissipated, shrinking to nothing. The shield faded, and then Breann faced a new threat.

Racing across the corridor of destruction left by the sphere, moving with unnatural swiftness and precision, were three women — an elf, a Zhalha’sarr’im and a demoness — all enveloped in a blue-white net of power, all with eyes fixed on him with ethereal hatred. Behind them, moving more slowly, but with equal determination, came a dozen more, humans and others, led by a spear-armed tandu.

It was Her, he realized. The goddess he had been sent to destroy — or at least her manifestation, a collection of three disparate yet similar women, granted powers by the jungle itself and molded into a single entity in three bodies. Now, it all became clear.

“I am your death, goddess!” he shouted, leaping down from his horse, loosing his sword and preparing for their onslaught. “My masters warned me of your coming, and I will destroy you!”

“Fuck off,” said the crimson-skinned demoness, naked save for a leopard-skin loincloth, and armed with sword and axe.

The other two, the light and dark elves, said nothing, but held back as the demoness advanced menacingly. They were magic, he thought. A spell-casting reserve, two parts of the whole, one light and one dark. It was perfect — symmetry and grace and beauty — all the things that he hated and despised, and all the things his masters feared.

Around them, the undead and the elves moved forward to defend their master, but the goddess’ dozen guards fanned out, intercepting them, forming a circle around Breann and his three foes. The tandu danced and leaped like a wild thing, slashing and stabbing with his stone-tipped spear, sending both elves and zombies falling. The others fought fiercely, and in moments Breann was surrounded by a circle of heaped corpses.

It was just as well, he thought. He would defeat and destroy their goddess single-handedly. He would assure his master’s triumph.

He held his sword to guard and beckoned to the demoness.

“Come, my pretty,” he rasped. “It is time for the dance.”

Narisha

Fine with me, Narisha thought, feeling the swirling power of her two companions in her head as they wove spells and counterspells to aid her and defeat the necromancer.

He was a mess, like most of his kind, with his mismatched eyes and self-inflicted wounds. Yet, there was real danger lurking in his frail frame, for necromancers carried the blessings of gods of death and evil, and were far tougher than they appeared.

She started cautiously, driving Breann back with a flurry of sword- and axe-blows. He defended skillfully, deflecting each attack, but not following them with attacks of his own. He seemed intimidated, somehow hesitant. Perhaps it was the confidence and fatalism inherent in her nudity, or perhaps he truly believed, as so many seemed to, that Narisha was a third-part of a goddess.

Nonetheless, her attacks did little save force the necromancer back a few steps. Then, Maeth and Daedora struck, slinging sharp flakes of crystalline magic at him, distracting him for a moment. A quick counterspell melted the missiles, but it was enough of an opening for Narisha to strike, pounding the necromancer with a double blow.

Breann fell back, barking out in surprise, blood flowing down his face in stark contrast to his milk-white skin. He mumbled more words, and the wound vanished, blood disappearing as it was reabsorbed into his body.

“I know the spells of life and death, demoness,” he said. “You can’t defeat me, even if you are a goddess. I will see you a corpse, then raise you to undeath as my lover.”

“That,” Narisha said, “is probably the most disgusting proposition I’ve ever gotten. And that’s saying a lot.”

Breann did not reply, but instead finally launched his own attack, moving in with blinding speed, sword whirling. The blade crackled and threw black sparks, ringing with a faint, stony echo.

The force of Breann’s blows shivered Narisha’s arms as she caught each with sword or axe. One attack slipped past her and scored her shoulder, sending a trail of black blood down her arm. Her own natural resistance saved her — the blow would have taken a human’s arm completely off.

She fell back, and another volley of spells from her companions kept the necromancer from pursuing. He batted at a cloud of red, stinging sparks, angrily spitting out a counterspell, unable to follow up and exploit his advantage.

Around them, the struggle continued. Several crewmen had fallen, but still the undead and elves held back, either thwarted by the fanatical strength of Narisha’s defenders or intimidated by the closeness of the necromancer. Shiika snarled and hissed, ripping a zombie in two with his claws before grabbing up his spear and trading blows with an elf.

Narisha’s arm ached, but a sudden flow of warmth and comfort from the other two women surged through her, and she felt the wound close and grow whole, much as Breann had healed himself.

“We are on an even footing, you and I,” she said, holding sword forward and axe defensively back. “I’ve my own powers of life and death.”

“They avail you nothing,” Breann shot back. “My masters are greater than you could ever imagine. I will destroy all three of you, and your corpses will share my bed.”

Fighting back nausea at the prospect, Narisha leaped forward again, raining blow after blow down on the sorcerer. The sword was always there, however, blocking each attack, sending painful shocks through Narisha’s arms. After several long minutes of this, she felt herself beginning to tire despite the flow of magical vitality from the other two women.

“I have the power of my dark masters,” Breann hissed, striking back and driving Narisha to her knees. “You have only the weak and meaningless power of the jungle. Before death, all must kneel eventually.”

“Fuck you,” Narisha shot back, parrying a blow with her sword, then counterattacking with her axe. Another shower of sparks sprang from Daedora and Maeth, but Breann ignored it, knocking her axe aside and sending it spinning. Narisha threw up her own blade desperately, feeling a dreadful, mind-numbing shock as black lighting leaped from it, all along her arm, up her shoulder and across her chest. She cried out, losing her grip on the blade.

“No!” Daedora shouted, drawing her dagger and racing toward Breann. Eyes blazing, the necromancer made a casual gesture, and sent the dark elf tumbling, falling to the muddy ground.

“Now,” Breann rasped, drawing back his weapon for a killing blow, “the goddess dies...”

But the blow never landed. Instead, to Narisha’s surprise and puzzlement, a short, red-tufted dart appeared in the necromancer’s shoulder, causing him to stop short, staring down at it in dismay.

Breann’s mismatched eyes clouded with doubt, and he looked around him, searching for his assailant.

“What...” he began.

Then a cacophony of hisses, bellows and ululation echoed across the battlefield and the jungle came alive with dozens... No, Narisha thought, brain fogged and slow... hundreds of scaled, lizard-visaged figures.

“The jarreks!” someone shouted. “The jarreks have come!”

But Narisha was beyond caring. The dark magic of Breann’s sword had drained her, and she felt herself falling forward, the black earth rising to meet her.

Livia

A horde of jarreks was bounding, leaping or shambling from the trees, falling on the elves and the undead with savage, animal fury. They varied in size and age, from small, light-green yearlings to massive black-scaled century warriors more powerful than a troll. The smaller ones moved quickly, darting from zombie to skeleton to elf, stabbing with spears, shooting short bows, or poison blow-guns. The bigger ones were slower and deadlier, crushing squirming foes in their scaly claws, trampling them beneath ancient feet or biting with slavering, jag-toothed maws.

Something had happened, Livia realized, and the battle was theirs to lose.

“Xylara! Advance! Advance! We can drive them off completely!”

The Xeshite woman nodded and shouted to her troops.

“Forward! No prisoners! No pity! Xesh forever!”

With the cry Xesh Forever! the surviving defenders leaped out of trenches or from behind walls and raced forward -- swords, maces, spears and clubs whirled, shattering ancient bones and sundering rotting flesh. Before them, the animated corpses began to collapse as the necromancer’s control slipped away, and soon, only a handful of undead remained, retreating back toward the jungle along with the surviving elves.

Advancing behind them, Livia paused only to deliver the coup de grace to the few remaining zombies and elves who still moved or twitched on the field. Then, as the Xeshites advanced, bearing torches to light the way she saw Narisha lying in an untidy heap among the piled bodies. In an instant, the darkness grew deeper and Livia felt a deep chill despite the still-hot air of Xesh.

“Narisha!” she screamed, racing forward.

But she wasn’t the first one there. Daedora and Maeth knelt beside the demoness even as an ancient, bent jarrek shuffled forward, leaning on a staff, breathing painfully, gazing at them with deep black eyes.

“God..dess,” he intoned in a cracked and barely discernible version of imperial common. “We... come...”

Breann

The jarrek poison swirled inside Breann. Necromancer though he was, his body remained mortal, and the sickness tore at him. The lizard-folk... They had betrayed him, shattered his army, driven him from the field at his moment of ultimate triumph.

Even in his delirium as the surviving elves and the few shambling undead that had not fallen from his control moved through the jungle in retreat, Breann swore vengeance, on both the jungle goddess and on the lizard-folk who had saved her...

Narisha

Faces swirled up out of darkness, and voices echoed. Wulf’s face melted until he was Chuma the lion-man. Livia shouted her name, screaming in fear, then was replaced by the image of the pale sorceress writhing on her back, squeezing her own nipples as Narisha thrust into her with a dildo mounted between her thighs. Daedora wept tears before her, then cried out in the throes of orgasm. Xylara stood over all, staring imperiously, white-skinned, red-eyed. Then all faded back into blackness.

Finally, Narisha was able to focus on a real image, the ancient scaled visage of a jarrek shaman, his head decorated with gold and feathered ornaments, staring down at her with black and alien, yet at the same time warm and compassionate, eyes.

“Hello,” she said, softly. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”

“I... Heesh’kra” replied the jarrek, fitting his mouth and tongue around syllables never meant for a lizard-man to pronounce. “I... shaman... We come... to... find goddesssss... You goddesssss... The black one... the white one... they goddess... You all goddesssss... Death-shaman... he try... kill godesssss... We sssstop him... You almost... you almost die... You not die now.... You goddessss... You bring peace... You help close... Dragon’s Eye...”

Painfully, feeling twinges in places she didn’t even know she had, Narisha rose to a sitting position. Livia, eyes wide and teary with relief, sat beside her, as did Daedora and Maeth, both also gazing at her with a mixture of joy and sorrow.

Above them stood Shiika, holding his spear, motionless save for his head as he scanned the jungle.

“They think you’re their goddess, come to Thystra to save them,” Livia explained. “He received some kind of vision, and led his people here to save us. Maeth says that he knows how to destroy the Dragon’s Eye.”

Narisha looked from face to face, and also at the small cluster of Skate crew, standing bloodied and exhausted nearby. Where there had once been a dozen, only six remained. She felt the uncharacteristic sting of regret.

“Destroy the Dragon’s Eye?” Narisha asked, painfully.

“Yesssss,” hissed Heesh’kra. “Close Dragon’s Eye... Set free our brothers and sisters.... Who were imprissssoned by the golden-ones... Send the dragonsssss back to their ressssst... Destroy the power of the death-shaman and his dark godsssssss...”

Suddenly, Narisha was fully awake, clambering to her feet. Her demon’s physiology was at work, shrugging off the effects of the necromancer’s attack. Blood pounded in her veins, and the lizard-man’s words echoed in her head.

“We can destroy that troll-fucker and his friends?” she demanded, grabbing a fallen spear. “How?”

Daedora’s voice echoed in Narisha’s mind.

They say we must go with them. You, me and Maeth. To their temple. They’ll cast auguries and perform rituals, and bring the power of their goddess here, through us. When She comes, the undead will be driven out of Xesh and the Dragon’s Eye will be closed. The undead dragons that are fighting alongside the elves will all be destroyed, too.

“When do we leave?” Narisha asked, out loud, fixing the jarrek shaman with a fierce gaze.

“Now... goddessssss.... We go now... If you are able...”

“I’m able,” Narisha replied. “Very, very able.”

We must go alone, they say, intoned Maeth’s light and comforting voice inside her. The others must stay here. Only their goddess can set foot in their sacred temple.

Narisha scanned the army of jarreks who had come here to save her life. Normally, she’d trust the scaly beasts as far as she could throw the Skate, but now... Now, the power in her urged Narisha to go, to accompany them, and to complete the circle.

“We go, then. Now.”

A tall form stepped out of the shadows, bearing a spear.

“I go, too,” said Shiika. “My gods spoke to me as well, and said that my destiny was to give my life for the jungle goddess.” He looked at the jarrek priest. “We may call our gods by different names, lizard-man, but they are the same. I cannot turn aside from the will of my gods.”

The jarrek was silent for a moment, as if lost in contemplation, then returned Shiika’s gaze.

“You... come...” he said. “As the godsssss... will it...”

Livia stood quietly as they prepared to leave.

“Wulf is gone,” she said quietly. “He went away and I never realized how much I would miss him. Now you and Daedora are going. Please come back, Narisha. I love you. I love you both. More with each passing day. Please come back. I don’t think I can go on with both you and Wulf gone.”

Narisha nodded, feeling a rush of emotion that she would never have thought possible before knowing Livia.

“I will come back, my little one,” she said, enveloping the blonde woman in her arms. “I promise. I won’t leave you. Ever.”

Daedora joined them. “I promise, too, Livia. We won’t go away.”

Livia nodded, blinking back tears. She kissed Daedora, then Narisha, each one lingering and as passionate as she could manage under the circumstances.

“Besides, I’m sure Xylara will keep you busy,” Narisha said. “You’ve got a victory to celebrate.”

Livia nodded. It was, to be sure, something to keep her mind off things, but it was not a substitute for Narisha or Daedora or Wulf.

“Goodbye,” she whispered. “Goodbye my loves.”

VII

Livia

After they had gone, Livia slept all that night and most of the following day. She awoke to see Alrynna entering her room with a tray of food.

“My mistress bids me convey her gratitude and pledge of eternal friendship and affection,” she said, setting the tray down. “You and your companions saved us all and may have helped to liberate our land from the invaders. You will be remembered.”

Livia nodded. She felt the traces of tears still on her face.

“Thank you, Alrynna. And thank your mistress.”

Alrynna smiled. “She says that you may thank her personally. We will be dining at sunset, and the duchess would like you to join her in her private chambers afterward.”

Livia forced a smile. “Well, as Narisha suggested, she could help me not think about my friends’ absence.”

“I would like to help you, as well, mistress,” Alrynna said, bowing her head. “I have told the duchess of my feelings for you, and she has told me that I can serve you in any way you please.”

Oh, hell, Livia thought, I may as well put off worrying for a while. She took a bite from a chup-fruit and looked out the window.

“When did you say dinner was again?” she asked.

Alrynna smiled cunningly. “Oh, mistress, not for several hours yet. And I think I promised something last time we were together.” 

*** 

Livia smiled quietly to herself, looking down on Alrynna’s helpless form. She’d not done too badly, she thought, noting how the pale naked woman was bound to the bed. Sheets secured her wrists and ankles, and Livia had blindfolded her with a silk napkin from the food tray.

Once more, Livia thought of being bound herself, helpless for Narisha, feeling her lover roam unhindered across her body, toying with her lips, her nipples, her thighs, cunt, asshole... The exhilaration of the experience excited her, and now the thought of passing that exhilaration to another woman enthused her still more.

This is what Narisha feels, she thought. This is what she feels when she takes me and makes me her toy...

Alrynna lay totally passive, arms over her head, causing her small breasts to jut out, nipples swelling. She breathed feverishly through half-open lips, occasionally running a sharp pink tongue over them. Her delicately triangular face was flushed, and for a moment Livia regretted that she could not see Alrynna’s wide brown eyes staring at her.

Not necessary. She’ll look at me soon enough.

“All tied up tight, little one?” Livia asked, echoing Narisha’s familiar address. “All ready for your lover?”

Alrynna nodded, enthusiastically. “I’m ready for you, mistress. Do what you want to me.”

“Hmm.” Livia regarded the food tray contemplatively. It was loaded with bread and, she observed, a variety of tropical fruits. “Yes.”

She took up a ripe chup-fruit, red-orange and swollen. Yes, that looked good.

“Hungry, my pet?” she asked softly, running a finger along Alrynna’s lips. The bound woman desperately tried to take the finger into her mouth, but Livia took it away before she could. “Hungry?

“Yes, mistress. I’m hungry.”

Livia took up a small paring knife from the tray and sliced a piece from the fruit, letting a dribble of juice drip down onto Alrynna’s breasts. Alrynna writhed slightly as the juice ran across her nipples, then down between her breasts.

“Mmmm,” said Livia. “It looks so lovely. Here.”

She stroked the fragment of fruit across Alrynna’s lips, allowing the other woman to lick at it and suck for a moment.

“It’s good, mistress,” she whispered. “I love it.”

Livia toyed with her for a few more moments, before letting Alrynna suck the piece of fruit into her mouth and swallow.

“Good?” she asked.

“Very good,” Alrynna replied, breathlessly. “Not as good as you, though.”

Livia smiled. “Be good and I’ll give you a chance to compare them.”

“Oh, yes, mistress. That would be wonderful.”

“Now shut up and taste this,” Livia said, cutting a piece of star melon and again stroking it across the other woman’s lips. Alrynna moaned in frustration when Livia pulled it away, then jerked and writhed against her bonds as Livia trailed it across her swelling nipples, leaving them glittering with juice.

“Let me get that,” Livia said, and licked the juice away, delving into the valley between Alrynna’s breasts to find the chup-juice. The slave-woman moaned and pulled against her bonds.

Livia once more looked appraisingly at the tray. She wondered if the fruit had been chosen for its various sexual possibilities and, after looking back at Alrynna, panting through wet lips, belly and breasts arching upward, she decided that it probably was.

The star-melon, for example, wasn’t exactly a real melon, but a long, thick fruit with a tough husk and a sweet interior. In cross-section, it was shaped like a fat-armed, five-pointed star, and its dimensions...

Well, Livia thought, its dimensions made its potential use obvious.

She took up a small handful of greenberries and slowly stroked them across Alrynna’s breasts, then down her belly.

“Know what these are?” she asked, softly.

“No, mistress. What are they?”

“You’ll find out in a moment,” Livia replied, then touched the berries to Alrynna’s shaved pubis. “Feel good.”

“Yes, mistress. Very good.”

Slowly and deliberately, Livia held the berries above Alrynna’s mons and crushed them, feeling them resist briefly, then collapse into juice and pulp in her hand. The sweet green juice dripped down copiously, dribbling across Alrynna’s lower belly, thighs, and cunt.

“Ohhhhhhh,” Alrynna groaned. “Are you going to lick it off, mistress?”

“That and more,” Livia replied. The juice was all over her hand and arm and was staining the sheets beneath Alrynna, so she decided it was time to throw caution to the wind. She stripped off her shift and stepped up onto the bed, naked, smearing the pulp and juice across Alrynna’s bare cunt.

“Now,” she whispered, slipping between Alrynna’s thighs. “You’ll like this.”

Instead of licking at the soft pink lips, covered in fruit juice and Alrynna’s own copious moisture, Livia took her own breast in her hand, squeezing the nipple so it swelled, then carefully placed it against the crease of Alrynna’s cunt, and began to stroke.

“What are you...” Alrynna gasped. “Oh, mistress... Are you fucking me with your nipple?”

“I am, little one,” Livia said, feeling the heat rise as she rubbed her breast and its swollen prominence against Alrynna’s clit. “Does it feel good?”

Alrynna nodded. “Oh, mistress... Fuck me with it. Please fuck me.”

Livia dribbled more juice down on Alrynna and stroked faster. She was wet, and the heat of her cunt radiated through Livia’s nipple and breast.

“Ohhhhhh...” Alrynna’s moans rose louder.

Gods, is she going to come? Livia wondered. I’ve never had anyone come like this before.

Sure enough, the other woman’s moans rose to a crescendo and she bucked against Livia’s breast.

“Yes, mistress... I’m coming... Let me come on you. Let me come on your... on your breast, mistress...”

In mid-spasm, however, as Alrynna’s orgasm finally peaked, Livia pulled her breast away, then quickly plunged her mouth into the slave’s sopping cunt, sucking at her clit and licking the sweet cocktail of juices that flowed down her lips.

“OHHHHHHHH! OH, Gods! Yesssss...” It was apparently not what Alrynna had expected, and her cries redoubled in intensity.

Not finished yet, Livia thought to herself, grabbing the star-melon, and stroking it against the other woman’s pubis.

“Mistress, mistress... Oh, I want it so... I’ve wanted you so since you came here.” Alrynna’s words were deep-throated and passionate. “I played with myself while I thought of you and told my mistress that I wanted you... Yesss... Put it in me...”

With that, Livia thrust the long, thick fruit into Alrynna, once more feeling contractions then pushing past initial resistance to completely fill her cunt. She rotated the fruit, and the five short lobes caressed Alrynna’s inner flesh. Again, she pulled out then thrust in, again and again.

“I’m coming again,” Alrynna said in a low, anticipatory voice. “I’m... I’m going to come for you...”

And an instant later another wave of contractions passed through the other woman, her voice cracking, crying out, breasts heaving, belly straining, legs pulling at the sheets which still bound her.

“I wish...” Alrynna gasped. “I wish you had a cock so you could fuck me with it. I wish you had a big, fat hard cock that you could shove into my cunt or up my ass and fuck me as hard as you wanted... Oh, I want you... Oh, I wanted you... Oh, I’m... I’m c... coming again...”

“I’ll fuck you,” Livia promised, remembering Narisha and her dildo. “I’ll get a big fat cock for you and fuck you hard. You have to make me come first, though.”

“Yes, yes!” Alrynna sounded almost desperate. “Anything, mistress, anything. I’ll make you come, then you can fuck me later. Please, I so want you to fuck me, just like my other mistress does. I’ll make you come so hard...”

“Good.” Livia grabbed another chup fruit from the tray, then stepped onto the bed, straddling Alrynna’s face with her thighs. “Here it is, little one. Here’s my cunt for you. Lick me, lick me and make me come. Then, next time, I’ll fuck you.”

Wordlessly, Alrynna began to kiss and lick at Livia’s thighs, then ran her tongue along the blonde woman’s mons. Livia tore the skin off the chup fruit and squeezed, sending a cascade of red-orange juice down her breasts, across her belly, and down her thighs, pouring down where Alrynna licked at her.

“Oh, yes! More, please...” Alrynna’s tongue thrust between Livia’s cunt lips, licking broadly, from her asshole to her clit, licking up cunt- and chup-juice indiscriminately. She lapped at Livia’s clit, and Livia felt the vibrations pass through her, up her thighs, through her belly and to the burning tips of her nipples. She rubbed the fruit across her breasts, then squeezed her nipples, feeling the sensations return, pouring downward toward her thighs and cunt where Alrynna’s tongue and lips were busy.

Alrynna, overwhelmed by the flood of juice and by her enthusiastic work on Livia’s cunt, was reduced to moans, and by her bucking and writhing, Livia wondered if she was coming again. If so, she felt profoundly gratified, but in a moment, the multiple sensations of Alrynna’s mouth, and the flood of sweet juice pouring down her body swept away any but the most immediate thoughts.

“Oh! Good girl, yes...” Livia cried out, leaning backwards, fondling her nipples and rubbing them with the squeezed, pulpy fruit. “Yes, make your mistress come... Make her come and she’ll fuck you...”

Alrynna cried out again, and Livia knew she was coming. It was beautiful, stirring, and Livia’s own heart pounded faster at the thought.

“Make me come, little one. Now. I want to. Fuck me with your tongue. Lick my cunt, lick up all my juices. Suck my clit ‘til I... Til I come...”

Then it came, thundering through her like a blow, and Livia’s entire body convulsed, hair tossing, breasts bobbing, thighs tightening around her lover’s head.

“C... c... coming...”

Alrynna cried out once more, face covered in cunt- and chup-juice, her tongue still busy against Livia’s swollen clit, and another wave of orgasm burst over her. At last she fell forward, sliding down Alrynna in a sticky mix of sweat, fruit and come, laying atop the panting, feverish woman and kissing her, tongue darting.

“I taste it,” she hissed. “I taste my cunt on your tongue. I taste all that lovely sweetness in you, dearest...”

“I taste it, too,” Alrynna replied. “I taste your lovely cunt and all that lovely juice all over you. You taste so good when you come.”

“So do you,” Livia gasped. “So do you.”

Breann

Breann’s masters screamed at him through the fevered haze.

They have escaped you! Your punishment will be endless!

You must pursue! There is still time to stop them!

Kill! Kill all! Leave nothing alive in your wake!

Please stop them before they destroy everything we have worked to achieve!

And on and on. Some raged and threatened, others whimpered and begged. In the end, when the fever finally lifted, Breann was tired, drained and weak, but his mind was racing with plans for vengeance.

“The temple,” he said. “They journey to the jarrek temple. My masters have told me. We must advance. Attack them at the temple and destroy them once and for all. No one will save them now.”

Bending the last of his reserves, Breann raised another mass of mindless undead from the jungle, to the horror and fear of the surviving elves. But he paid them no mind, urging them back into the forest, along ancient paths, following the trail of the goddess and her treacherous jarrek allies.

“Soon,” he muttered to himself. “Soon we will have our vengeance. We will destroy her yet. She is not safe from me or my masters.”

The fearful elves marched on behind him, warily eyeing the undead things that stumbled and shambled in their wake.

Daedora/Maeth/Narisha

The journey had taken days, and none of the three women could say what route they followed — the jungle had merged into a single green entity, vast and alive. Now they stood at their destination — the temple soared above the jungle, a tower of sculpted stone, topped by an elaborately carved crest portraying two jarreks and a trio of gods.

Heesh’kra spoke to Daedora directly, and the words echoed intelligibly to the other two women as she translated.

It is Ukk and Zash’kree, the first true jarreks, receiving wisdom from the gods. The gods rewarded the jarreks with dominion over the jungle, but they grew too arrogant and proud. The gods abandoned the old jarreks. They were struck down, their cities reduced to ruin, and the humans placed over them as lords of the realm. So it has been for a thousand years, but now, at last, a new goddess has come, and once more peace will reign.

You mean to take back Xesh from the humans? Daedora asked.

No. The gods teach kinship of all living things. The ancient ones forgot that and sought to be sole rulers of Xesh. We will share the realm with the humans, and live in peace.

Sounds dull, Narisha commented. Dull but practical.

What must we do? Maeth asked, gazing up the temple. The sun had just risen, casting a shadow along the edge of the steps in the form of a great serpent.

Heesh’kra did not reply immediately.

We do not know, he said at last. We have not entered the temple in decades. You must go alone. You will know what to do.

Narisha shrugged. Sounds as reasonable as anything else that’s happened so far. Come on, ladies. Gods only know what lies up there.

Without further discussion, the three women began to climb the stairs as one.

Livia

“I’d never presume that someone from the outside would be willing to be put through the same paces I put dear Alrynna through,” Xylara said, fixing the blindfold on Livia. “I’m quite flattered that you’re willing to try.”

“Anything to pass the time, duchess,” Livia replied. She was kneeling now, hands bound in front of her with a white silk cord. She was naked, of course, having allowed Alrynna to undress her, and then kneeling for Xylara and submitting to her.

“So a brief stint as my plaything will help you stop fretting about your friends?” Xylara asked, stroking her shoulders.

“Hopefully it will, duchess,” Livia said, trying to force concerns for the other women from her mind and enjoy Xylara’s caresses.

“I’ve an important duty, then,” Xylara said. “After all, the mistress’ duties weigh far more heavily than those of the slave.”

“Mmm,” Livia replied, absently, feeling Xylara’s fingers stroke her shoulders. “I hate to make you work too hard.”

“You won’t, I assure you.”

The invisible fingers moved to Livia’s breasts, stroking softly, spiraling inward.

“You have lovely nipples,” Xylara said, and Livia heard a whisper of excitement in her voice. “So very soft and pink. Like my sister’s?”

“Nineh?” Livia asked. “Wulf told us about her. You two are very... close?”

“You’re discreet, Lady,” Xylara said, and Livia felt the fingers touch her areola. She felt her skin grow taut, and her nipples being to swell. “You react very nicely, dearest.”

Livia sighed, feeling tension growing in her belly. “Glad,” she said, simply, beginning to lose track of words. “Yes, very glad.”

“As I said, you’re very discreet about me and my sister,” Xylara continued, and the pressure on Livia’s nipples grew. “We’re more than close. We fuck like rutting antelope every chance we get. Which isn’t often enough since this damned war.”

“Hope I can help make up for the loss,” Livia said softly. “Where is she now?”

“At her estate, under siege like me. I hope to see her again soon, though war has an unfortunate tendency to interfere with proper fucking. She taught me that word, you know. Fuck?”

“Is that an invitation?” Livia said.

Xylara tweaked her nipples, hard this time, making Livia cry out.

“Yes,” Xylara said. “It is.” 

*** 

Not terribly different from what I just did to Alrynna, Livia thought, feeling rather than seeing Alrynna secure her arms and legs to some sort of rigid frame (she suspected it was the rather prominent four-posted bed in the corner, but she couldn’t be sure), leaving her spread-eagled and helpless.

“All secure now, my little plaything,” Xylara said, a predatory growl in her throat. “Such a sweet, pretty little plaything.” She stroked Livia with her fingertips, listing her features in turn. “Pretty face with pretty little freckles, lovely white shoulders. Beautiful soft breasts. They are perfect dear, did you know that?”

“I’ve been told as much on occasion,” Livia replied.

“Hush, little one, or you will have to do some penance,” Xylara warned.

“Oh really? What kind of penance?”

Livia couldn’t resist. When one is tied, naked, to a bed at the mercy of a somewhat perverse noblewoman, there isn’t a lot to lose by being smart-mouthed.

“Hm. You northerners are all so insubordinate,” Xylara said. “You need some correction.”

Livia didn’t reply, but felt her breath come faster.

“You’re excited, aren’t you?” Xylara asked.

Livia nodded. “I am. What are you going to do?”

Xylara didn’t reply, but moved away, and Livia heard faint jingling.

“Duchess?” Livia said, softly. “What are you going to do?”

“Silence,” Xylara snapped, and then was beside Livia again. Without preliminaries, she squeezed at Livia’s nipples, making them swell.

“Oh,” Livia gasped, feeling a throbbing heat growing in her abdomen and between her thighs. “Oh, duchess...”

Then Livia felt a sharp pinching sensation on one nipple, then the other, and realized that Xylara was applying metal clamps to her. Then she felt a cold length of metal chain between them. They pinched just enough to be short of real pain.

“I’ll make them tighter if you speak without my leave again,” Xylara whispered in her ear. “And I’ve similar items for other parts of the body.”

Livia gasped briefly, imagining the possibilities. Of course, she would simply have to speak without leave.

Xylara pulled at the chain, and Livia felt the metal tug at her nipples, holding them tightly and stretching them out. She cried out again.

“Like it, little one?” Xylara asked. “You do, don’t you?”

“Yesssss,” Livia gasped. “I like it. Harder, please.”

The pressure increased as Xylara tugged on the chain with greater force.

“Ahhhh,” Livia cried. “I can... Oh, yes...”

The clips began to slide off her nipples, digging into her swollen flesh.

“Yesssss. Oh. Oh...”

Suddenly, the clips snapped off painfully, sending ripples of sharp sensation through Livia’s breasts and body.

“Ahhhhh!” It hurt, yes. But that didn’t matter to her terribly.

“Put them back on, duchess. Please put them back on.”

“Mmmm,” Xylara said critically. “I didn’t tell you to speak.”

Livia gasped again. “Going to punish me?”

“I am, indeed,” Xylara replied. “But first I’ll oblige your wishes.”

Moments later, the clips were back on Livia’s nipples, tight and pinching on the exquisite edge of pleasure and pain.

Then Xylara was between her thighs, stroking her mons, sliding a single finger between her swollen cunt lips.

“Here we are. More for you to feel, my dearest.”

More pressure weighed down on Livia’s outer lips, and she felt them opened, exposed, and another harsh clip holding first one side, then the other. Then, Xylara added a third clip, and a fourth. Livia cried out in real pain now, but still could not ask the duchess to stop.

“You have such a pretty cunt,” Xylara whispered. “My sister taught me to say that word, too. Cunt. And your clit... So pink an swollen...”

Livia felt the insistent pressure of a pointed tongue, lapping at her clitoris.

“Oh, duchess...”

“Quiet, little one,” Xylara whispered. “Feel my tongue against you.”

Already thoroughly aroused, Livia felt herself moving swiftly to orgasm, the pressure on her nipples, cunt lips and clitoris growing unbearable.

“Ohhhhh... Oh, duchess... Yessss...”

Xylara lay stretched out between her thighs, and Livia felt her hands cupping her buttocks, drawing her closer to the pointed, agile tongue. Xylara buried her face in Livia’s sopping cunt, licking, thrusting, then breaking off for a moment, letting her excitement build, and at last enveloped her swollen clit, licking and sucking.

“I’m coming, duchess...” Livia said, her words rising in pitch.

“Wait, dearest,” Xylara said, and a pair of probing fingers slipped between her buttocks, seeking out her asshole. “I want you to come with my finger in you.”

“Yes, duchess,” Livia breathed. “Yes.”

First one finger, then the other, lodged in the tight channel, and then Xylara’s insistent licking began again.

“Now, duchess... Yessssss...” Livia strained against her bonds, feeling the oncoming rush of orgasm, sensation streaking from nipple to nipple to clit to asshole and back again.

“Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnn,” she cried through clenched teeth. “Yessssss...”

The hot rush of climax thundered through her, and she felt her cunt clench, contraction following contraction, again and again...

She wasn’t sure how long it went on, only that a few minutes later she lay, sweating, still blindfolded, allowing Xylara to loosen her bonds.

“You’ve done well, little one,” the Xeshite woman said. “Perhaps now you can have your reward.”

“Reward?” Livia asked, weakly. “I doubt I’ve the strength to do this again for a few hours.”

“Oh,” Xylara said, loosening her blindfold, “you may have to. Now sit up and look.”

The blindfold was lifted away, and Livia saw herself sitting on the bed, the naked Xylara beside her, skin milk-white, hair silvery-soft, breasts small, nipples pinkly swollen.

“No, look there,” Xylara said.

Livia looked, and her eyes widened.

At the foot of the bed, in a comfortable chair, sat Alrynna, naked, legs spread and resting on either arm, her soft pink cunt exposed between them. She stared at Livia, eyes wide, lips parted, breast rising and falling with her excited breathing.

“I believe my slave made a request of you,” Xylara said. “Since you came so sweetly, I think I’ll give you the opportunity to fulfill that request.”

Xylara reached to the floor and picked up a familiar-looking cylindrical object amid a tangle of leather straps, and tossed it onto the bed beside Livia. Looking at it, Livia saw a large, thick dildo, realistically crafted, resembling an enormous, erect phallus.

“I think you know what to do,” Xylara said.

Daedora/Maeth/Narisha

The interior of the temple, perched atop the endless steps, looked across the teeming green of the jungle, but inside seemed incongruously vast and echoing. When they entered, the temple grew brighter with a soft green illumination that seemed to come from everywhere at once.

This is the place, then, Daedora said. It looks as if they’ve been expecting us.

Inscribed in the floor, inlaid with precious stones, was a vast triskelion, a swirling knotted pattern of three parts — one white, one red, and one black.

Slowly, wordlessly, each woman was drawn to the pattern, and each took her place on the appropriate color, Maeth on the white, Daedora on the black, Narisha on the red. They did not speak, even in their minds. There was no longer any need to.

The eternal power of the jungle was here, black as earth, red as life, white as death, all encompassed by the rich green of growing things. The power drew them, the power of the ancient jarrek gods, and of the newly born goddess of the jungle.

All three felt the power infuse them, rush through them, through nerve and synapse, through heart and vein, through chest and belly. Still not speaking, the women moved closer, moving along the intricate pattern of the triskelion, each glowing and suffuse with the colors of their goddess.

As they grew closer, each woman reached out her arms until all three stood with fingertips touching, the lambent energies swirling around them intermingling and growing together.

They moved closer still, now moving to a close embrace, three sided, all three colors combined but remaining separate, their minds blending together as one, touched by the power that lay beyond.

Daedora and Narisha kissed, lips and tongue moving together. Then Daedora and Maeth, then Maeth and Daedora, then all three, lips touching, exploring, sharing each other’s warmth and energy.

The colors around them whirled faster and faster, blending into a tricolored spiral, surrounding and enveloping them. In a moment, they were on the floor, together in a tangle of arms and legs, lips seeking lips or fingertips or nipples, hands intertwining, then stroking heated flesh, moving from breast to belly to thigh to cunt and back again. All the while the spiral grew brighter, and spun faster.

Daedora’s lips sought Maeth’s thighs and the soft wetness between them, cleaving swollen cunt lips, exposing the honey-sweet depths beneath. Between her thighs, Narisha was busy also licking and suckling, flicking her tongue across Daedora’s clit, gently sucking at her outer lips, lapping at her innermost reaches. Maeth licked at Narisha in the same way, and within moments, all three women, driven by the overwhelming power around them, and by the throbbing heart of the jungle, tottered on the edge of orgasm, and the inevitable birth of the goddess.

Livia

First Narisha, now Alrynna, Livia thought, feeling Alrynna’s soft buttocks slam against her thighs as the other women rode up and down on the thick-shafted dildo. I could get used to this.

Alrynna had already had two orgasms, and now heaved and gasped her way toward a third, rocking forward and back, sliding along the slick length of the dildo as Livia stayed motionless, watching the heavy cylinder slip in and out, filling Alrynna’s yearning cunt completely.

Xylara was the observer now, sitting in the chair Alrynna had vacated, stroking her clit with one hand and casually squeezing a nipple with the other as the two women coupled on the floor in front of her.

“Yes, she rides that cock very well, doesn’t she?” Xylara asked.

Livia swallowed, feeling the pressure of the dildo’s base on her clit.

“Yes, duchess,” she replied. “She loves the cock you gave me.”

“Let her come one more time then fuck her in the ass,” Xylara ordered. “She loves that, too, don’t you, little one?”

“Yes... Yes, mistress,” Alrynna replied feverishly, hair in her face. “I love it when you fuck me in the ass. I want her to fuck me in the ass, too. I want to come while she fucks my ass.”

Happy to oblige, Livia thought. I seem to be getting the crash course in being dominant. She paused mentally, watching the slave-woman’s firm buttocks pumping forward and back, forward and back. And I’m really beginning to enjoy it.

Breann

The foul jarrek temple lay just ahead, and the necromancer felt the slumbering power within move toward the brink of birth, and the final end of his masters’ power here.

“Attack!” he screamed, motioning with his blade, his voice edged with desperation. “Kill them all! Leave nothing alive! Destroy this place and tear down its stones! Attack!”

Goddess

The explosion of passion between the three women struck all at once, tumbling them all over the brink into ecstasy.

As the tremors of passion faded, the three women were no longer separate beings. Instead, a vast new power dwelled in the temple, a power far greater than the necromancer below could have imagined.

The ring of jarreks slowly contracted around the base of the temple as Breann’s unliving army advanced. The surviving elves held back, forming a cordon around their commander, and gazing with a mixture of horror and resignation at the battle before them.

The jarreks fought mindlessly, never wavering, dying where they stood. The small yearlings slashed with clubs and stone-tipped spears, while the vast century warriors remained immovable, black-clawed fists crushing opponents or jaws ripping them asunder. But even this was not enough, for even though they killed dozens or hundreds, eventually even the century warriors began to tire and flag, and then the crawling skeletal hordes swarmed over them, tearing them to pieces. Within moments, the slain jarreks themselves rose and shambled into battle.

Shiika the one-eyed tandu seemed to be everywhere, darting in and out of combat, smashing weathered skulls with a carved wooden jarrek war-club, leaving piles of shattered, dusty bones in his wake. Again and again, the enemy’s weapons scored against him, but Shiika’s pace did not slacken. Reptile and mammal stood and fought together against an enemy that transcended their most fundamental differences.

Behind the lines, Breann stood. His undead were winning -­ that much was clear. But how much time did he have before the foul, life-giving ceremonies in the temple were complete, before the jungle goddess finally manifested herself, and his work was utterly destroyed?

Soon, decimated many times over but still not surrendering, the jarreks fell back to the temple steps, and the horde of rotting or skeletal monstrosities pushed them backwards.

Breann felt a stirring deep within him. Still, the goddess had not come, and now his minions were within moments of victory.

“Now, my children!” he bellowed, rising in the stirrups and feeling the exultant joy of his masters. “One last push and they are ours!”

But a single voice cried out in defiance, snarling like a jungle cat. It was the contemptible tandu, standing on the temple steps, bloody from dozens of wounds, brandishing spear and club and shouting toward the heavens.

You are undone, death-master! The goddess has come!

Breann’s mismatched eyes gaped at the summit of the temple, wide with fear and the realization that he had failed. The entire structure split and crumbled, as if something titanic inside were struggling to get out.

“No!” he screamed, pulling his own hair, then biting savagely at his fingers. “No, please! Masters! Aid me! Aid your servant!”

But it was too late. The entire crest of the temple crumbled away, and a towering figure rose up. It was a woman, but crafted of the living stuff of the jungle — legs of tree trunks wound with vines, vast belly a nest of leaves and creepers, breasts full and round, covered in grass and rich green growing things. Her face was gentle and merciful, but the two eyes that burned beneath her soft brow were anything but, fixed upon Maeth and his legion of undead as she moved majestically downward, reaching the base of the temple with but two vast steps. The defending jarreks parted for her, and she strode onward, into the midst of the undead. Her very presence shattered and melted those closest, and the remainder wavered, Breann’s power over them ebbing as the goddess drew nearer.

Breann screamed, and inside his head, he heard his masters, the gods of death and evil cry out with fear and rage, gibbering and bellowing, pleading and threatening. He knew that his moment had come at last, and once his life was ended, his masters would take their vengeance upon him.

“No!” he screamed again, leaping from his horse and racing forward, enchanted black sword whirling. “I will kill you myself! You will die!”

It meant nothing. The hated power of life flowed through the very ground beneath his feet. Vines and small trees sprang up, rising from shoot to maturity in seconds, twining and enveloping the legions of undead, swallowing them in a carpet of rich green. In moments, Breann’s monstrous army was no more, and the goddess strode across newly sprouted jungle.

The last of Breann’s forces, the elves, collapsed into quivering heaps, flinging down weapons and sobbing, or stumbling away, screaming, begging forgiveness of their enemies. In a moment, the necromancer was alone, facing the goddess.

Lord Akanax screamed inside Breann’s head, echoed by all the other gods of undeath.

SHE WOULD DRIVE US OUT! BREAK OUR POWER HERE FOREVER! YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR FAILURE!!!

Then, they were gone, fleeing from the land of the goddess, their fell power vanishing like water on sand.

Breann stared upward, trembling. His own power had vanished along with his gods, and now he was nothing but another frail human, contemplating his own death, and the eternal torment that would follow.

The goddess did not kill him, but only fixed him with her blazing gaze.

Go from this place. Tell all that the curse of undeath is lifted from Xesh.

With a frail cry, Breann fell to the ground, then half-crawled, half-ran, back toward the jungle and the triumphant green of life and eternal renewal.

Behind him, the goddess reached out leafy fingers and sank them into the rich earth, and her body began to flow away, vanishing into the soil of Xesh itself. In moments, her body was gone, though her presence remained like distant music, ringing in the hearts of all those present.

Livia

Now, Alrynna rode Livia’s artificial cock once more, but the thick organ, much thicker than the one that had fucked Narisha, now plunged deeply into the puckered orifice of her asshole, sliding in, then out, and in again, thrusting to the hilt, more pressure throbbing against Livia’s clit.

“Oh, my sweet mistress, I’m coming,” Alrynna cried. Her fingers were busy at her clit as she let Livia ass-fuck her. “I’m going to come for you. For both of you...”

This would be orgasm number six, Livia thought, ‘but then, who’s counting?

Alrynna came loudly and violently a moment later, and the pressure on Livia’s clit sent her tumbling over into her own climax. She let Alrynna finish, then unstrapped the dildo, just as she had with Narisha, and slid to the floor beside her. Alrynna collapsed on her face, the thick cylinder still projecting from between her buttocks.

“So nicely done,” Xylara said, smiling, and Livia realized that she had come, too, while watching. “So nice to leave it there for her, too.”

“The nice thing about dildos,” she said, panting, “is that they stay there even when you can’t.”

Daedora

Vision returned slowly, but at last Daedora realized that she was lying, naked, in a tangled heap with Narisha and Maeth. The other two women also moved feebly, sitting up with difficulty, rubbing their eyes, shaking their heads.

Nearby, Shiika stood with a group of jarreks. He was wounded, but still stood proudly. His one eye was bright and she felt it see beyond her body and deep into all that lay beyond.

“My work is done,” he said. “The goddess has returned to Xesh, and you were her vessel. You are yourselves once more, and balance is restored.”

Maeth blinked, and to Daedora’s surprise, spoke with her true voice, melodic as the song of a bird.

“Is it over?” she whispered. “Have we won?”

Narisha nodded. “Yes. We won. Their goddess won.” Then she realized who had spoken. “What the hell are you doing talking? I thought you were a renunciate.”

“I’ve nothing to renounce,” Maeth said. “I carry the power of the Jungle Goddess now. I will speak with my true voice so that all may hear. We will stop Feanor and his cruel campaign, and restore my people’s honor.”

Daedora nodded. “And I’ll help you.”

“I imagine you will,” Narisha said, rising to her feet, and looking at the hundreds of surviving jarreks who surrounded them. A small group of elves sat forlornly amid the lizard-folk. “However, perhaps we should see to Xesh first? I suspect that Xylara will be quite surprise who we bring back to the Moon Pool to be her allies.”

Theamon

The morning sky over Xesh City was strangely clear and calm, and a faint sea breeze caressed the curtains in Theamon’s quarters. For the first time since arriving, the elf-lord felt comfortable.

His comfort did not last long. From the shadows of his doorway, an emaciated figure staggered, moaning softly. It was a human, pale and wasted, clad in rags, his long black hair a matted tangle, his face crisscrossed with cuts and welts. It was not until he saw the human’s mismatched eyes that he realized it as the necromancer Breann.

“Defeat...” spat the human. “I alone survived... The goddess... The goddess...”

Theamon grabbed the sorcerer by the shoulders and shook him.

“What are you talking about, you charlatan? What goddess?”

“I failed, Lord Theamon. I failed. The goddess was born and now her people have risen. They come for you, my lord. They come for me. Please... We must flee...” Breann began to babble. “I am without my powers, Lord. My masters have been driven from Xesh and I can no longer command the undead here. Life rules in Xesh, and undeath is vanquished. I must leave here. I must make amends to my masters, else they will torment me for all eternity for losing Xesh to them. Please, my lord... I beg you to aid me...”

Theamon glared at the fallen necromancer. “You failed, human. And you beg me for aid?”

“Yes, Lord. I will do anything. Anything.”

Disgust rose up in Theamon as he remembered the sorcerer’s arrogance, and the horrors he had visited upon Xuin.

“I will help you, then,” Theamon said, soundlessly drawing his sword. “I will most assuredly help you.” 

*** 

The Xeshite army arrived at the gates of the city later that morning. It was a motley assemblage of humans and jarreks, all marching together in a determined column, ready to liberate their capital from its conquerors. The commander, a deathly pale Xeshite woman, stepped down from her litter as Theamon and a squad of spear-armed guards stepped onto the walls for parlay. Several women stood beside her — a demoness, naked save for a leopard-skin loincloth, a white-robed human sorceress, and...

Thaemon forced himself not to gape at the other two women in shock. There was an outcast there — a dark one dressed in black and violet, and standing beside her, arm protectively around her, was his own sorceress, the renunciate Maeth. Despite his surprise, Thaemon came forward, deliberately approaching the wall without fear.

“I am Lord Thaemon!” he shouted. “I come to parlay!”

“I am Xylara,” replied the Xeshite woman. “My people have chosen me as their primarch, and have asked me to lead our nation. We come now to set our realm free and take back what is ours.”

“Well said. I will parlay, then.” Thaemon reached down and picked up a round object. “And I bring you a gift.” With that, he flung the object so that it tumbled from the wall and landed near Xylara’s feet.

The Xeshite looked down, then looked back at Theamon in surprise.

“It is the head of the necromancer Breann,” he said. “He was the one who slew your city of Xuin, and he was one of the chief servants of the traitor Ezikhan, who has beguiled our people, and now leads them to disaster.”

“It’s a fine gift, elf,” Xylara replied. “What else do you offer us?”

“I offer you your realm,” Theamon said. “I will surrender to you, with but a single condition.”

The human looked thoughtful. “And what is that condition?”

“I will answer for the crimes of my people,” Theamon said. “I will surrender to your justice personally. I ask only that my people be allowed to stay on here in peace, and live as subjects of the realm of Xesh. We cannot go home now, but we swear to serve Xesh well.”

Xylara and the women beside her gaped in surprise. Then there was a long moment of hushed conversation before the duchess once more spoke.

“The authors of those crimes are dead or far away from here,” she said. “There will be a reckoning for those crimes, but you need not suffer for them.” She cleared her throat and addressed both Theamon, his fellow elves, and the army behind her. “I decree all elves in Xesh as free citizens of our realm. Lord Theamon may stay on as their leader, and as their representative in council. I further declare peace between human and jarrek, and forever renounce the practice of conquest and slavery. Those Xeshites who were once slaves fought well and stood as our brothers and sisters, and those who once held slaves now know the evil of the bondage in which they held their fellow humans. I declare a new Xesh, a realm where human, elf and jarrek shall live in peace!”

The words struck Theamon like a blow, and he staggered, feeling a rush of emotion like none he had ever felt before.

“We have learned much in the last years,” Xylara continued. “But more than anything else we have learned mercy and compassion. Do you accept our terms, Lord Theamon?”

The elf lord stepped carefully to the wall, steadying himself on the merlon.

“I do,” he said, in a voice that was soft but which echoed across the land like thunder. “By the gods and by my ancestors, I do.”

Livia

Xylara, Primarch of all Xesh, stood on the docks of Xuin as the Skate sailed majestically downriver.

“Here are your friends,” she said, softly, and Livia could detect a faint trace of regret in her tone. “My messengers found them with their usual dispatch. I am sorry that I could not have gotten to know you all better.”

“Don’t we know each other well enough?” Livia asked, grinning. “Don’t fear, you’ve a kingdom to run and we’ve a war to fight. When it’s all over we will be back, and perhaps we can all take a break from the travails and dangers of daily life. Perhaps you’d like to see Wulf again.”

Xylara rolled her eyes. “Perhaps. And perhaps you can meet my sister, Nineh. She would like you very much.”

“So you tell me,” Livia said, dryly.

“In any event, as you say, we’ve all much to occupy ourselves. Xesh is a new land now, one where humans, jarreks and elves will have to learn to live together. We’ve a new faith, as well. The Jungle Goddess has come, and all are now bowing down to her and proclaiming her the goddess of all Xesh.”

“So many changes,” Livia said. “I’m proud to have been part of them.”

Xylara nodded and lowered her eyes.

“Goodbye, Livia. I will miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too.”

“And tell Wulf...”

Livia waited a moment as the Xeshite seemed to struggle for words. “Yes?”

“Tell him that Alrynna misses him, too.”

Livia smiled. 

*** 

“So what was it like to be a goddess?” Livia asked as Skate moved downriver, leaving behind Xuin, where humans and jarreks labored to bury the dead and rebuild their city.

“A big pain in the ass,” Narisha replied. “I’m glad it’s over. We did well, though, didn’t we?”

“We did,” Livia agreed. “Or rather, you did. I just sat around and got laid most of the time.”

Narisha looked back toward the stern where Daedora stood, looking forlornly upriver.

“Maeth stayed behind,” Narisha said sadly. “Breaking up our triangle. I guess with the goddess gone she felt compelled to stay and help her people.”

“I don’t think the goddess is gone,” Livia said. “She’s all around us here. She’s still alive, and destroyed the power of the undead gods in Xesh. And I think that she’s still in you, and in Daedora.”

Narisha nodded gravely. “I think so. I can feel them both, even though Maeth is far away.”

“Daedora is sad, though. But she has to come with us to fight Thae’lynn, doesn’t she?”

Narisha chuckled. “A few nights in my cabin and she won’t be so sad. And I think that blonde-haired chucklehead Stef has some interest in her, anyway.”

“Now what?” Livia asked. “We’ll be back at sea in another day or two.”

Narisha turned back and stared upriver, toward the sea, toward the elven isles, and toward conflict.

“Xeshite spies say that Conqueror had been sighted in Necrotia. I propose we sail north and find them, so that Theanna can use her influence with the Silver Lady to stop this war. Maybe Skrall and the rest of the crew can help us, too.”

Livia nodded. “I wish we could have stayed for a while. I wish we could have waited.”

“Me too,” Narisha confided. “I’d have liked to see what you found so exciting about that Xylara woman.”

“Perhaps you will one day,” Livia said. “She’s busy now. She went from outcast to queen, and now she probably has a lot on her mind. I’m sorry I never got to meet her sister.”

“When the war is over,” Narisha said, “we should just take a very long, very decadent, very uninhibited vacation at the Moon Pool. I suspect Xylara wouldn’t mind.”

Thoughts of a care-free future, and of limitless pleasure stood in stark contrast to the grim work of war that lay ahead, and Livia sighed.

“It can’t come too soon for me, lover. Not at all.”

Feanor

Lord Feanor stood amid the carnage of battle. Uncounted hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of humans had perished, smashed by elvish cavalry, impaled on elven spears or torn asunder by the elves’ hideous undead allies. The ancient, rotting corpse-dragons and their skeletal riders stood above the battlefield, the sundered bodies of their enemies beneath their claws.

“Most impressive, my lord,” hissed Ezikhan, his skull-like face fixed in a grinning rictus. “Victory once more.”

“Just the first,” Feanor said, grimly. “These are Litharnans. They are not the Xeshites. There are many more of them. This was just one army.”

“Hardly a concern right now, my lord,” the lich replied. “For the moment, let us celebrate our triumph.”

Feanor nodded numbly. All the celebrating he wished to do was to drink himself in to a mindless stupor, fuck Lady Vaenetha, and sleep like the dead.

No, he thought, shuddering, as a squad of shambling skeletons limped by. I do not wish to sleep as those dead sleep.

“Wait!” Ezikhan’s voice was urgent. “Wait! Something is wrong!”

Feanor was suddenly alert. He felt it, too, an uneasy stirring in the air. On the battlefield, pained shrieks issued from the undead dragons, and their zombie riders began to tremble.

“No!” Ezikhan cried. “No! They couldn’t have!”

“Couldn’t have what?” Feanor demanded, eyes darting left and right, desperately scanning for the source of the disturbance.

“They closed it! The Dragon’s Eye! It’s... AHHHH!”

Ezikhan fell to the ground, writhing, and in the distance, the zombie dragons flapped their wings and threw their heads back in agony. As Feanor watched, first one, then another and another undead dragon and its rider collapsed into a heap of moldering bones. Around them, elves began to scream and flee.

“The dragon lords!” Ezikhan screamed, dragging himself to his feet and shambling toward the disintegrating beasts. “They are being drawn back! No!”

It was too late. Within moments, all the undead dragons and the resurrected Lords were gone, and even their bones had vanished into piles of dust, blown away on the evening winds.

Ezikhan screamed again, rage contorting his words.

“They are gone! Gone! Damn their souls to hell!”

Feanor followed after him, part of him despairing at the loss of allies, part of him reveling in the necromancer’s discomfort.

“What will we do?” he asked.

Ezikhan turned, his corpse-light eyes blazing.

“What will we do?” he demanded. “We will show them that we cannot be defied! We will crush them all! They think that depriving us of the dragons will defeat us? They know nothing!”

The lich whirled and lurched into the darkness.

Feanor stood, staring at the place where the dragons had been.

So, he thought. Our enemies still have teeth. But even this will not deter us. The crusade continues, and humanity will tremble before us.

But even as he silently said the words, Feanor felt a terrible sting of fear and doubt. 

— END —