The Red and the Green

I think that most males harbor a number of dark secrets. One is a love for curvy women despite our cultural obsession with huge-chested Barbie dolls. The other (and I guess this really isn’t THAT big a secret) is that we all love evil girls. The notion of an exotic, utterly amoral, heartlessly cruel and infinitely perverted woman is pretty much irresistible, and there’s probably more than one guy out there who would die happy if it was in the arms of someone like Duchess Thae’Lynn N’Quy.

The Red and the Green was an attempt to do a slightly more epic, sprawling Wulf tale, a tendency that would lead to longer, multipart sagas such as Stormking and Dark Vengeance, and in the end it would pretty much burn me out. At this point, however, I was content to combine my fondness for Tolkien, sex and Warhammer Fantasy Battles into a single story, with all the blood and thunder that I could manage.

And what’s an epic without an epic villain? And in our common D&D/Warhammer/World of Warcraft milieu, what race is more villainous than the ubiquitous dark elves? The fact is that dark elves have a latent aura of perverse sexuality and exotic beauty that few fanboys and -girls can resist. The burgeoning punk/goth/alternative sex scene that inspired Jungle Moons also provided impetus for Thae’Lynn’s endless fascination with demons and animals, her multiple body piercings, dominant sexuality and of course her ravenously bisexual nature.

(I’ll probably comment on this last element in a later volume, since I’m fully aware of the disparate nature of my stories in which most of the women are hot bi chicks while most of the guys are pretty much straight, but I’ll table that particular discussion for the moment.)

I took some things that I’d only suggested in the previous two stories — such as Thae’lynn’s bestiality — and put them right out on the table. That’s another cool thing about a villainess like Thae’lynn: she can engage in taboo acts like zoophilia and demon cumbaths while at the same time avoiding any suggestion that I might advocate such behavior. She’s evil, right? Of course evil people do sick, perverse things, and those who want to can get off on them without feeling especially guilty in doing so.

Anyway, The Red and the Green is mostly a sprawling war story with a large cast, massive battles and (hopefully) cool characters. I further indulged in my new habit of mixing first- and third-person narrative, to what I hoped was good effect. This tale also features Wulf’s first truly tragic love affair, as well as interesting suggestions about what dark elf women do with unicorn horns. Many of the seeds planted in this particular tale bear fruit later, specifically in Stormking and Dark Vengeance, while in addition to loving and losing a hot elf druidess, Wulf also encounters the most violent love/hate relationship in his life, on which at press time remains unresolved. Enjoy the blood and kinky sex, folks. It’s a gift from me to you. 

Wulf

Historians claim that the so-called Great War between the orcs and the elven isles was a clash of mighty empires, a struggle to the death between green-skinned barbarians and pale, noble warriors of an ancient and decadent civilization. It is said that the gods themselves watched over the conflict, as the fate of entire races hung in the balance.

Well, I saw a good portion of the conflict, and I’m here to tell you that the historians are full of troll dung. The Great War was a huge joke, the result of goblinish stupidity on one hand, and arrogant elven intransigence on the other. In the middle were thousands of innocent civilians who never gave a foul fuck who ran the show, but who got to bear the brunt of the territorial ambitions of a bunch of goblin and orc warlords, and the stupid pride and rigid traditionalism of the elf-lords.

Exactly how I, a knockabout human freelance thief, got involved in this particular spat, is a long and somewhat involved story. Suffice to say that I was trying to get back to civilized — that is, human — territory after participating in an ill-advised White Empire assault on the Veldt Lands. Sole survivor of the army of idiots and misfits which had been put out of its misery by the local tribesmen known as the Sholanti, I managed to make my way to Xesh, by way of a lusty Sholanti amazon, a vampiric daemoness, and a perverse Xeshite noblewoman. Oh, yes — most of this time I was in the form of a lion-man, the result of a bad joke played on me by a Sholanti sorcerer. In my varied and acrobatic tussles with the aforementioned Xeshite woman (actually with her masochistic and relatively insatiable female slave, but that’s a long story), and in the palace coup which had nearly killed her, I’d managed to regain my human form, and was as a result cut loose with a full purse and nowhere to go.

Xesh is one of the oldest human nations, with the possible exception of the White Empire, which has gone through so many changes and permutations that no one knows what the hell it is, and is isolated from the other human islands. Between there and the relative safety of Litharna, Stoneburg, the Empire, and various other human nations, lie the zombie-masters of Necrotia, wolfen slavers, Kaitian dragon ships, bandit chieftains, the swamp-lords and all manner of dangerous characters.

And, of course, the Elven Isles.

Perhaps a few words about elves are in order here. Physically, they resemble humans, though they are somewhat taller and more slender, but remain as strong as or stronger than the human average. They are enormously long-lived (some appear to be immortal, while others number their life-spans in millennia). As a rule, elves are both beautiful and graceful — and they know it, too, which is my major problem with the manky little gits.

The fact is that most elves are arrogant snots. Elves are long-lived, beautiful, intelligent, skilled in magic, capable of producing amazing works of art and astonishing architecture, terrifying in war, and — as most outsiders note immediately upon meeting them — deeply and sincerely convinced that all non-elves are pond scum. Humans are short-lived, vulgar little monkeys; dwarves are diminutive, ugly, dirt-grubbers; wolfen are animals; orcs and goblins are lower than cockroaches, and just as deserving of quick extermination; Kaitians are pretty but stupid; centaurs are freaks, though they can be useful as allies; nymen, throgs, ogres, jarreks, and all the other races are hulking mutants, cursed by the gods, and living in utter misery since they can’t be just like the elves.

After all, who wouldn’t want to be an elf, possessed of endless capacity for joy and sorrow, graced with ethereal beauty, and beloved of the great gods themselves? An elf is (at least in his own opinion) the living embodiment of beauty, grace, intelligence, and mystical knowledge. All other races are at best only pale shadows, and at worst, enemies to be crushed, conquered or exterminated.

Not that the elves were especially united against the nasty creatures of the world. Though they supposedly controlled an empire, under the undying rulership of their queen, the Silver Lady, their realm was periodically fractured by petty rivalries, intrigue, and outright wars between their various lords, who fought each other on the thinnest of pretexts. I think, in fact, that they enjoyed fighting each other more than they enjoyed fighting humans, dwarves, orcs, nymen, and all the others. Although the elves generally considered themselves at war with the world, their most insidious and dangerous foe was themselves.

Gods, those bastards annoyed me. And, little did I know, I was on a collision course with the pointy-eared little twerps.

Upon departure from Countess Xylara’s estate, she’d provided me with a bag of coins and a small one-man felucca, which we’d christened Alrynna for Xylara’s most submissive little slave-cupcake. She was in good condition, and after saying quiet (and depressingly non-carnal) goodbyes to Alrynna, Xylara, and her sister Nineh (hot piece, that — see my previous memoir), I shoved off into the crystal-blue waters of the Middle Sea..

I wasn’t sorry to turn my rudder toward Xesh and see the realm vanish off my stern as a stiff breeze propelled me due east. The Veldt Lands had been difficult, but at least the dangers I faced were concrete and real. Xesh, on the other hand, was an old nation, where no one was what they seemed, and new conspiracies lurked around every ornate, carved alabaster corner. It might have been a good place for me to hide under other circumstances, but I was weary of intrigue and conspiracy, and just wanted to get back to a pleasant little pallet over a bustling tavern, sleep all day, roam all night, make passes at women, and try to teach the roaches a few rudimentary dance steps. Gods — maybe three weeks away. I could almost taste the ale.

Once more, however, nothing went the way I hoped. If it did, I suppose I wouldn’t have much of a story to tell you, so from the reader’s vantage point, all my misfortune and misery is for the best. Hope you enjoy it.

***

For the first ten days, things went well. The weather was generally good, though I had to weather a squall about four days out of Xesh, lashed to Alrynna by a new rope (I wasn’t about to stake my life on a spliced line), feeling the small vessel pitch and roll, climbing sickeningly up one swell then plunging down another.

I was getting thoroughly tired of fish, though in this area they were kind enough to actually fling themselves into the boat, thus saving me the tedious task of actually catching them. I was determined to maintain some vestige of gracious living, and grilled my fish each morning and evening on a small brazier, lit with a minor cantrip, one of the few I’d managed to retain before washing out of the Magic Academy several years previously, and husbanded a small stock of radishes, carrots, oranges and chup-fruit, consuming enough to spruce up my dull meals, and to ward off scurvy.

Sharks followed me constantly, and I made deals with them to the effect that if I threw them enough scraps, they wouldn’t bother eating me if I ever fell in. I frankly didn’t believe their assurances of agreement, and suspected they were trying to lull me into a false sense of security.

There was a bad moment when a massive creature with a back-pattern like an elves-and-dragons board scraped along just beneath the surface, scratching itself on my keel. It didn’t seem terribly hostile, but its affections threatened to inadvertently swamp me. I was grateful when the big lummox chose to move along.

I’d also had the presence of mind to purchase a set of up-to-date nautical charts, and had debated whether or not to skirt the elven isles. Though the elves weren’t known for their hospitality toward lone travelers, it was probably safer than the various bandit holds that lay to the west or the goblin realms to the north. I was still debating exactly what course to take when it happened.

For several days I’d been experiencing thick morning sea-fogs. They actually proved quite pleasant, sealing me in a humid blanket, turning the sun into a pale disk, and making me feel as if I wasn’t really alone amid trackless ocean. It was cold, but I’d brought oilskins, furs and blankets treated with water-repellent magic, so I remained bundled up during the morning hours, listening to the creak of the rigging and the gentle slap of the water. So long as a fog was up, I was also assured that the weather wouldn’t be turning inclement, so it provided me with additional security.

This morning proved no exception. I sat amidships, swaddled in blankets, waiting for the fog to dissipate so that I could take a sun-sighting, and possibly make breakfast (a dozen more of those stupid winged fish had managed to strand themselves on the boat the night before). As I listened idly to the familiar sounds of my vessel, I realized that I heard something else. Off in the distance, muffled by the fog, but still plain, sounded the creak of another vessel’s rigging, and the rhythmic splash of oars. And they were getting steadily louder.

I leaped out of my cocoon of furs and blankets just in time to see a dark shape bearing down on me out of the fog. I flung myself against the rudder, sending Alrynna veering off to port, heeling heavily to one side, nearly capsizing, then surging up and down in the bow-wash of the gigantic vessel which now slid ponderously past me, oars moving like the legs of a giant spider. One of them came down heavily across Alrynna’s bow, and she broke deep, water pouring over her gunwales.

I pulled away, shaking with relief as the bow popped up above the waves, only to feel the entire vessel lurch sideways yet again as the wake struck me. This time, poor Alrynna wasn’t equal to the task, and the ungracefully turned turtle, spilling me, my meager collection of fruits and vegetables, my blankets and furs, the little brazier, and the dozen or so dead flying fish into the foaming water.

I struggled to retain my composure as I watched my boat slip beneath the waves, then bob up only to be stove in by another descending oar. With a curse, I saw one of the oars coming down like a sweeping scythe, smashing down upon me before I could splash out of the way. Gods, you’ve done it to me again, I thought as I slipped beneath the cold waves...

***

My first thought upon waking was wonderment at still being alive. Then I opened my eyes and wished that I wasn’t. I was on the quarterdeck of a ship, black sails billowing overhead, was being held roughly upright, sagging in the grip of two grim-looking individuals in black leather armor, and was the object of attention for a small crowd of similar beings. Outwardly, they looked human enough, save for their wicked-looking armor and distant, somewhat cold expressions. It was their skin which I noticed first, then their hair.

They were all jet-black. Not meaning negroid, like the Veldtlanders, mind you — I mean actually black, the color of polished obsidian. Their hair was silver, in shining contrast, kept in long braids, elaborate coifs, or hanging loose below their shoulders. There were both males and females, staring at me with dark blue, violet or black eyes. The ears were the final piece of the puzzle — pointed as a Necrotian obelisk.

Dark elves. I’d fallen in with the bright elves’ ebon-skinned cousins, a pack of deviants just as evil and perverse as their blonde-haired relatives were arrogant and obnoxious.

“Uhhh,” I began, but was interrupted by one of the male elves stalking forward, grabbing my hair and yanking my head back roughly.

“Speak only when spoken to, grubber,” he hissed, using a common pejorative for humans. “Or you will die much, much sooner.”

With that kind of incentive, I was only too happy to obey. I kept my mouth shut and listened sullenly as the dark elf began to speak, pacing back and forth in front of me. He was a particularly cruel-looking specimen, face disfigured by a long, ugly scar, his dark-eyed glare further emphasized by the black dragon-helm which crouched on his brow. His armor was studded with brass discs, bearing various runes and icons, and a curved sword, bristling with barbs and spikes, rode at his belt.

“Tell us what you are doing here, human,” he said at last. “And tell the truth, or it will go badly for you.”

“I’m a traveler bound for Litharna or Stoneburg,” I said. “I just happened to run into your ship —”

“Liar!” he bellowed, slapping me across the face. He hit pretty hard, too — for an elf, anyway. “You’re in the pay of the Silver Lady, sent to count our ships and spy on us! Admit it!”

“No!” I replied, seeing visions of my skin being removed, an inch at a time, while the dark elves laughed and roasted lizards on my funeral pyre. “I was sailing from Xesh —”

“LIAR!” the elf repeated, pulling out his sword and holding it to my throat. “I know a spy when I see one! Admit it, grubber! You’re here to spy on our invasion fleet!”

I looked at him mildly. “Oh, you have an invasion fleet?”

I thought he was going to explode at that, eyes bugging, ebon face actually taking on a little bit of color. He drew the sword back with an incoherent shriek. Gods, I thought, this is it...

“Stop, captain,” said a mild, obviously feminine voice from nearby, and my would-be killer dropped his sword and fell to one knee as if he’d been sapped by a gnome kneebiter, instantly followed by the rest of the crew..

The crowd of dark elves parted, and a tall figure glided smoothly through them. It was swathed in a dark purple cloak, hooded, face lost in shadows and obscured by an embroidered black veil. Two eyes, lambent violet, all that was visible through the mask, regarded me with interest.

“Admiral!” barked the captain, eyes averted. “We captured this spy —”

“I’ll be the judge of whether he’s a spy or not,” the admiral replied, standing before me like a graveyard specter, face invisible, body hidden in dark purple folds. “Clap him in irons and bring him to my quarters. I will interrogate him.”

The captain sprang to his feet, crossed his hands across his chest. “I obey,” he said, and motioned at the two dark elf guards who still held me. “You heard the admiral! Chain him and get him to her quarters. Be quick about it!”

As the guards manacled my wrists, then hustled me off the deck, back toward the aft cabins, I realized that I’d been saved once more, by a hairsbreadth. Of course, what awaited me might be much worse, since I had always heard that dark elf females are far more creative and sadistic than their male counterparts.

We passed close to the railing, and I risked a peek over the side to see if, by some miracle, we were close to land, and I got another unpleasant shock. We were in the midst of a great armada of black- or red-hulled vessels. They were built in a variety of styles — most were goblin battle-praus, but there was a scattering of other vessels as well — human corsair sloops, dark elf slave-galleys like the one I was on, Slaerthist droges towed behind squirming teams of sea-wyrms, and several others I didn’t recognize. They all bore dark banners or sails embroidered with evil images, and several bustled with activity — not everyone in this armada disliked the open sun. I ducked back down, my heart racing.

What did they intend? From the look of them, they weren’t planning on attending a Saint Orlan’s Day picnic with the local Kyborist temple — this was an invasion fleet or I was a Nymen lint-merchant.

And it was no internecine squabble between goblin chieftains, either. With this kind of assemblage, including the unpredictable but deadly followers of Slaerth, human reavers, orcs and goblins, it was obviously a major undertaking, and it was plain as a pikestaff where they were headed. The presence of the dark elf vessels was the clincher — they wouldn’t participate in anything unless it involved taking vengeance upon their arrogant cousins, the white elves. In my indecision about sailing through elven waters I’d managed to land smack in the middle of an invading goblin horde and their various perverse allies.

And here I was in the clutches of the dark elf admiral.

Fucked again.

***

Her cabin was a roomy chamber at the stern of the vessel, one entire wall crafted of what appeared to be smoked glass, giving a panoramic view of the ocean behind us. The sun was up, but the glass cut its glare, keeping the room in the perpetual shadow that the dark elves favored. The remainder of the cabin was done up in somber shades — purple, black, midnight blue, dark red. A long table covered in charts and parchment documents occupied one side while her massive round bed, surrounded by cut glass lamps emitting dark blue light, occupied the other, with comfortable padded chairs scattered in various locations.

She had the guards wait outside, and ushered me in, all politeness and friendship (enough to make me damned nervous, let me tell you).

“Sit.” She indicated a padded chair, and I situated myself in it as comfortably as my chained hands would allow.

She sat in a chair facing me, and threw back her hood, unleashing a cascade of silver-white hair, smooth and plentiful. Her mask remained on, concealing everything save her eyes, which gazed at me coolly, like the White Emperor regarding one of the caged creatures in his menagerie.

“I am Admiral Thae’lynn N’Quy,” she said, “Keeper of the Black Ring, Duchess of Darkoak Hill, and Mistress of the Thirty-three Secrets.”

I cleared my throat. “My name’s Wulf, now-penniless traveler with no impressive titles to speak of. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to divulge any of those thirty-three secrets, would you?”

A muffled chuckle. “Perhaps if you’re fortunate, human. Now, as my captain so was so crudely trying to extract from you, why are you here?”

I sighed. “I’ll tell you what I told him. I’m a traveler, bound from Xesh to the White Empire, or possibly Stoneburg. Maybe even Litharna, assuming I suddenly develop a taste for wearing doublet and hose. The fact that my boat was crushed by your damned leviathan is no fault of mine. I didn’t know I was going to run into your armada on the way to the Elven Isles —”

“Ah!” she interrupted me, raising a hand from the folds of her cloak. It was long and graceful, covered with an embroidered black glove. “So you know where we’re going, do you?”

Damn my stupid intuition... I tried to recover. “It doesn’t take a grand wizard to figure out where you’re going. The Elven Isles are the only target for an armada this big, and if your kind are involved in anything, it must involve doing mischief to your goody-goody cousins.”

The eyes hardened. “My kind? What do you mean?”

“I mean da--” I bit off my reply, and racked my memory. “I mean,” I said at last, “the Zhalha’sarr’im.” This was the dark elves’ name for themselves — the common term was considered a pejorative, and would probably have landed me in the water, in small pieces.

“Hm.” The harsh look softened, but did not vanish entirely. “You sound sincere, mortal one.”

Now, THAT was a pejorative for humans, referring to the fact that we’re relatively short-lived; mind you, dark elves are not, in contrast, immortal, but they do live a mucking long time. I’ve always wondered why elves, both light and dark, have such long lives, but continue to have so little sense. It puzzles me to this day.

Thae’lynn slowly pulled off one of her gloves, revealing a jet black hand with sharp, silvered nails.

“I’m going to make sure you’re telling the truth, Wulf,” she said. “Now don’t move, or I’ll have my guards kill you.”

That was always a great motivator for me — I sat stock-still as her ungloved hand reached out, fingers gently brushing my forehead.

They say that dark elves enjoy inflicting pain. If that is the case, the admiral must have enjoyed my torment immensely, for a network of magical energy lanced through my body, followed instantly by searing, hot pain, as if my very being had been packed with hot coals. Despite her admonition, I jerked back, crying out in agony, and fell to the floor, panting heavily as the pain receded, and the robed, masked dark elf gazed mildly down at me.

“Hm,” she repeated, and again I’d swear she gazed at me as if I were a monkey in a cage. “Your thoughts are interesting. Primitive but interesting. You weren’t lying, were you?”

I cast a black glance up at her. “What the hell are you asking for? You obviously just saw it.” I felt as if she’d just turned me inside-out and gazed at my insides.

She nodded. “I think I managed to get a good notion of what makes you tick. There’s plenty of dishonesty in you, Wulf — that is your name, isn’t it? — but you seem to be telling the truth about the current matter.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, struggling back into the chair, my heart slowly returning to its normal pace. “So can I go now?”

“Oh, dear,” she said in mock-distress. “I’m afraid not, Wulf. You have seen our fleet, after all, and you do know where we’re bound. I’m certain you’ve surmised that I command the naval end of the goblins’ little enterprise. You’re a human, and by definition rather dull, but you must know that our lovely, golden-haired cousins would probably reward you richly if you told them about us.”

The fact is that the notion hadn’t even crossed my mind — I was more interested in getting home, but as I was discovering, once an elf decides on something, it is virtually impossible to get her (or him, for that matter) to change course.

“So what’s going to happen to me?” I asked, fearful of the reply.

“Hm.” There was that sound again. “I’ll consider that in more detail later. We’re certainly always short of galley slaves, and if you row well you might earn yourself a promotion to house slave.”

I’d had more than enough of being a slave lately, thanks very much, but I bit my tongue and looked sullen.

“Oh, poor thing...” She sounded about as solicitous as an ogre sitting down to a meal of live dwarf. “Well, perhaps there are alternatives.”

With that she rose, and turned to face the stern windows. Her back was to me, silver hair set against the dark purple of her robe. Off in the distance I saw a goblin battle-barge trundling along like a great, mutated turtle.

“As you may have noted, Wulf,” Thae’lynn began, “the males of my species are a particularly tiresome lot. In terms of physical companionship, they’re as apt to prefer each other’s company to those of their own women, and when they do deign to join us in our beds they are rarely worth the effort.”

She spread her arms, holding out the dark cloak like wings, then turned to face me.

“So, do you like what you see?” she asked.

I gaped. A response was probably unnecessary. Beneath the cloak, she was naked, save for a long, black loincloth hanging from a studded belt which rode above her hips. I suppose “naked” isn’t entirely accurate, since she was dressed in a number of items, not the least of which was her mask, which still concealed her features. Her body was slender and lean, but still clearly feminine, sculpted of pure jet. An elaborate necklace encircled her neck, hung with bright silver spangles and black and purple gems. Her breasts were small, with prominent, knobbed, dark purple nipples, each of which was pierced by a straight silver bar, with a tiny ball on each end. A small silver ring was set in her navel, like a tiny star in the midst of the flat black expanse of her abdomen.

“Enjoy the view, human,” she whispered. “Not many are privileged enough to see what you are about to see.”

With that, she let the robe fall to the floor, and removed her mask with her one still-gloved hand. Her face was delicate and oval, lips silvery-purple, cheeks rounded and soft-looking. That wasn’t really what I noticed, however — her face bore a number of other small rings, set in her flesh at various locations. Her eyebrows were the same white as her hair, but each was studded with a dozen rings. Five more decorated her nose — two in each nostril, and one large one in the center, and her mouth bore three more, a single ring at one corner, and two at the other.

“Uhh,” I said, dumbly. “You’re — uhhh — beautiful... Looks kind of painful, though.”

She laughed, purple-black lips stretching into a rictus of mirth. “Humans,” she said, half endearment, half contempt. “You can be such foolish animals.”

She glided smoothly toward me, reaching out her gloved hand to touch my cheek.

“As I said,” she continued, “I find the males of my own kind tiresome. Of course, there are always the women, who are willing to oblige me in whatever debaucheries I can imagine, but I fear that I’m hopelessly fond of the diversions males provide.”

“Seems like a sad dilemma,” I agreed, uncomfortably trying to avoid sexual excitement, and failing miserably. Like most other men, my organ seemed to have a mind of its own (albeit a very small, one-tracked one) and was growing rigid.

Thae’lynn nodded. She stroked herself with her ungloved hand, pricking at her nipple with a sharp forefinger. “So what is a noblewoman to do? I’ve found that though males give me what I desire, they need not be males of my own species.”

Uh-oh, I thought, a bloody xenophile.

“I’ve shared moments with males of many different kinds — orcs, ogres, wolfen, Kaitians... even some of the more intelligent male animals — wolves, tigers, leopards... My, my, they are so varied. I like an occasional human, as well. You have such... mmm... primitive enthusiasm, especially when you’re well motivated.”

“You mean motivated as in ‘trying to keep themselves alive or out of the mines’?” I asked.

“And such a quaint sense of humor,” she continued, dropping to her knees before me. “I sometimes think that you humans are actually animals yourselves. Perhaps an especially clever species of monkey. Maybe that’s why you excite me so.”

Ha. In the clutches of a perverted dark elf admiral who’s turned on by animals. I wondered if grunting a little would help. As it turned out, it didn’t matter.

She tugged at my breeches and yanked them down, spilling me onto the floor in the process. I landed on my chained wrists and yelped in pain.

“Ah, yes,” she said, lying between my knees, holding my erect cock in her gloved hand, stroking a sharp silver nail beneath it with the other. “This is so lovely. It could use a ring or two, however.”

Why my erection didn’t collapse in fear at that point, I can’t say. Perhaps it was the fact that the delicate touch of her fingers drove out any thought save the most basic sensation — the slick silken touch of her glove, coupled with the sharp, nearly painful scoring of her fingernail.

“So nice,” she said, pouting purple lips set with gleaming silver rings only an inch or so from my straining, rapidly heating flesh. “It takes so much to get our males to respond. You humans spring into action without so much as a look... I find it so captivating.”

A dark purple tongue slithered out from between rows of sharp white teeth and flicked against my glans, tracing its outline, sliding slowly down the back of my cock. I jumped slightly when I saw that it, too, was pierced, with a long silver barbel, but my apprehension melted as I felt it run along the underside of my prick, sensation arcing outward.

Underneath me I felt my hands tingle, probably due to the fact that most of my blood was needed elsewhere. I barely suppressed a moan — Gods dammit, this woman was contemplating sending me to die in the slave galleys, and I was letting her fuck me like an animal...

At that point I realized my irrational (that is to say, sex-crazy) mind had pretty much taken over, and I didn’t care if the woman licking my cock was the Devil-Empress herself — I wanted her all the same, and wasn’t concerned about the consequences.

“You probably wonder why I have all the rings and bars in my flesh,” she said, conversationally, licking and slurping at my cock, pausing periodically to slide it into her wet, blue-black mouth. “I suppose it’s all psychological. Perhaps I do it to punish myself for denying my own kind’s males, turning instead to animals and inferior races. It’s like dream-smoke, you know — it’s an addiction. When I got my first one, I just wanted more.” She took a hearty swallow at that, and the entirety of my cock vanished between her lips. She held it for several long seconds, running her tongue up and down, alternately sucking and biting down gently.

“It was my nipple,” she continued, letting me go and stroking with her hands again. “My friends Yawesha’ae got one, and I had to get one, too. It was all the rage among my friends, you know.” She increased the pressure, squeezing hard until it was almost painful. “Oh, you like that? You must be popular with the ladies.” She squeezed again, and I moaned. “I like it when males do that. It makes everything seem so basic and savage, as if you’re overcome by instinct and can’t help yourself. Such an animal you are, Wulf. Such an animal.”

She toyed with me for several minutes, stroking me with firm fingers, then suckling with increasing enthusiasm, and continued her narrative.

“We all got our nipples pierced, you see. It drove our parents crazy. Such doctrinaire old fools they were. They just didn’t understand that our desire to pierce our bodies and inflict pain on ourselves was simply a reflection of the pain and hopelessness we felt in our bleak underground world, where no one cared, and life was a long, endless series of mindless drudgeries.”

Yeah, right, I thought. Poor, misbegotten dark elves. Forced to live in endless luxury, waited on by slaves, their every whim satisfied. No wonder elves acted like spoiled children of noblemen. Oh, well, her life of pain and suffering had provided her with sufficient skills...

“Yawesha’ae and I had a contest going, you see,” she went on, still alternating between masturbating and fellating me. “We wanted to see who could get the most piercings. We’d get together every week or so, and show each other our new ones.” She ran an enthusiastic, dripping tongue down my cock one last time, and then held it before her like a stick of candy. “Oh, my, I think you’re ready for the next stage, aren’t you?”

She moved astride me. I couldn’t even feel my hands anymore, so the pain didn’t really matter.

“Want to know who won the contest?” she asked, fumbling with the belt that held up her long black loincloth. She found the catch and pulled it aside, now completely naked save for her single black glove. “Look.”

I looked, and was suddenly torn between repulsion and deep, deep lust. Her cunt was entirely free of pubic hair — whether this was by choice or by nature, I didn’t know. Soft, purplish lips protruded, distended between her thighs, and they were set with another set of rings, at least a dozen each side. Above them, where her clitoris nestled like a black pearl, was another, large ring, bearing another round, silver ball.

My eyes must have widened, for she laughed again, silver hair shaking.

“I won,” she said, musical laughter ringing in my ears. “Poor Yawesh’ couldn’t bear to have anyone touch her pure little cunt. Me, I loved it. It was wonderful. Yawesh’ ended up my pet later anyway — a present to our household from hers. So much pain, so much pleasure. I love my rings, little human. I love them so, and you’ll find out why.”

I’d been expecting this. I was well beyond replying in words, and my bound hands prevented me from doing much besides what she allowed me to do, so I simply waited, panting, heart hammering, for her to make the next move.

She didn’t wait long, moving up my chest, squeezing me with her thighs, bending down and presenting her small breasts before me, tiny metal barbels gleaming in dim blue light.

“Bite!” she whispered. “Bite hard! Pull on it, human!”

I complied, sinking my teeth into the soft, tender flesh, feeling the bar between my teeth, grasped it and tugged, tossing my head.

“Oh!” Thae’lynn went incoherent, but only for a moment. “I’ve found...” she managed, between clenched teeth, as I alternated from breast to breast, licking, sucking, biting and tugging, “...I’ve found that the... Ohhhh... sensations can be so much more... intense... Oh, yessss... Ohhh... Yawesh’ simply couldn’t understand... I think she did it... because everyone else was doing it... Ahhhhh... Ohhhh... I did it... Ahhh... because I wanted to...”

This went on for a few minutes, with her continuing to tell me about her life and her stupid dark elf friends, and me continuing to give her nipples the rough treatment. Her thighs clenched me tighter and tighter, and I felt heat radiating from her cunt where it touched me, rings shining, moistness gleaming.

Eventually, she had had enough, and practically leapt forward, moving astride my head, thighs on either side of my face, ring-studded cunt just out of reach.

“Oh, you fucking animal,” she growled, more than a touch of the bestial in her own words. “You hot, fucking animal. You want to suck this?”

“Yes,” I replied (I can be very straightforward when I need to be).

“Then suck it. Bite it.” She plunged forward, trapping my head between her legs and frantically humping herself against my face. I struggled to maintain composure (I wasn’t able to breathe at first), then managed to get my tongue out and started licking, feeling the hard surfaces of the rings next to the soft and slippery flesh of her lips.

“Oh, yes. Fuck me,” she gasped, proving once more that, although we are of many races and many species, and we may all look different, we all want basically the same thing. “Fuck me with your hot animal mouth.”

Gods... The things some people say in the heat of passion... I ignored her banter and licked harder, at last finding the ring-and-ball arrangement at her clit. I slipped my tongue into the ring and pulled, feeling her tense and cry out, then bit down, holding the tiny ball between my teeth and pulling harder.

“Oh, pull it...” She was lost in passion, now, and didn’t seem interested in relating any more details of her social life. “Suck my clit... Yes, you animal, make me... make me...”

I had a pretty good idea what the next word was going to be, but she had a hard time getting it out, so I continued to work on her, struggling to breathe all the while, but still determined to push her over the top.

She didn’t quite reach the summit, but instead pulled back.

“No,” she said, panting and heaving, nipples swelling and straining against their silver piercings. “No, not yet. I want you inside me.”

Thae’lynn positioned herself astride my hips, taking my cock in her hands and stroking her cunt-juices up and down its length.

“Get it all wet, my little animal,” she whispered. “Get this nice animal cock all wet, and let it fuck me... Yesss...”

I was largely beyond participation by now, and began to feel as if I was being used for my body, rather than my mind and personality.

Damn, but I felt so cheap...

At last, she slipped down, my cock sliding between the pouting, ring-set purplish cunt-lips, and into what a Litharnan romance writer would probably call her “uttermost depths.”

And she began to pump up and down, plunging me in and out of her. Her conversation continued in a most interesting manner.

“Ohhh... Trigon claimed... Yessss... claimed that sex was the one hundredth transformational... oh, fuck me... one hundredth transformational modality... Are you familiar with Trigon’s... Ahhh... Trigon’s works on the ninety-nine transformational modalities... Oh... by any chance? No, of course not, you’re a hairless... ape... Ahhh...”

At that point, I didn’t give a damn who Trigon was, or what the hell she meant by “transformational modalities” (it sounded familiar, though, from my days in the Magic Academy), so in lieu of responding, I pounded away harder, rising up with her as she continued to buck and writhe atop me.

This suited her fine, for her moans and sighs grew in intensity, and she abandoned her impromptu discussion of obscure dark elf philosophers, but instead repeatedly urged, “fuck me like an animal...” and eventually — at least to the best of my knowledge — coming to a heavy, numbing orgasm. She kept going, though racked by deep contractions, jaws locked, teeth clenched, still screaming, only barely comprehensibly, about how much of a fucking animal I was. I came, too, a moment later, hips rising from the floor, exploding hotly, body arcing (and wrenching my shoulders in the process, might I add), grunting like the animal Thae’lynn seemed to want.

She lay against me, panting, for a few minutes, my cock still inside her, then sat up and disengaged, stroking my collapsed cock and squeezing the last bit of semen from its tip. She licked it away with that bizarre, blue-black, studded tongue, then stood up.

“You’re very sweet,” she said, slipping on a black satin robe and putting her mask back on. “You’d make the loveliest pet.” She turned toward the cabin door. “But I fear we have a war to fight, and I can’t afford to keep a pet. Sergeant!”

As the door opened and three dark elf warriors barreled through, I struggled to my feet.

“Wait a minute!” I cried. “You said you’d let me go!”

“Poor little pet,” she replied. “I said that there might be alternatives. This is one of them.” She addressed the lead elf-thug. “Take the prisoner and throw him over the side. He seems far too willful to be a rower.”

I was far too weak and confused to put up much of a fight; besides, my arms were numb and useless. I evaded the guards for a few moments, but they eventually chased me down, and dragged me from the cabin.

“Farewell, little Wulf,” Thae’lynn said, waving jauntily. “At least be thankful that your last moments were pleasant.”

“Fuck you,” I spat back.

“Too late.” She laughed, musically. “We already did.”

“At least unchain me... give me a weapon... Gods, please...!”

“Oh, don’t make such a fuss, Wulf,” I heard Thae’lynn’s voice fade as she returned to her cabin. “It simply isn’t becoming...”

They dragged me off to the laughter of other crew members, despite my bellowed threats, pleas and dire threats, and unceremoniously tossed me over the stern railing.

The smoked glass windows of Thae’lynn’s cabin flashed past, and an instant later I plunged beneath the waves, struggling futilely against the chains which still held my wrists, feeling them drag me down, and watching the warm sunlight above me recede into cloudy shafts of bright water, then finally vanish into darkness.

I held my breath as long as I could; gods only know why — I knew that nothing could possibly save me, and when my lungs could stand it no longer and I finally surrendered the last of my air into shining, silvery bubbles, it was almost a relief.

Over at last, I thought. Unnoticed and unmourned. Over at last...

***

Of course, it wasn’t over, unless I’m dictating this story via table-rapping. I have only the vaguest recollections of what followed, unfortunately — dark shadow s sliding around me, cold water washing over my limp body, strong arms encircling me...

A moment later, I felt my body spasm as my battered lungs abruptly began working again, sucking in a deep breath of...

Air...?

No, it wasn’t air. It was thick as Murvane stout, and filled my lungs uncomfortably, but I could breathe it. I was alive...

I opened my eyes. Once more, I was assailed by the alien, the inexplicable, the impossible, the unlikely...

Well, let’s just say what I saw was unusual, okay?

My chains were gone, and I rested on a sandy seabed, surrounded by waving sea-grass. The sun was little more than a tiny golden coin far overhead, separated from me by fathoms of blue-green water. Rocky walls rose around me, and a school of silvery fish darted past, several feet away.

By Phaedra’s Supple Breasts (I made that one up; like it?), I was still underwater. But I was alive... Gods, could this be the Aquarium of the Damned?

Before I could follow that thought much further, a motion nearby riveted my attention. The sea-grass in front of me parted, revealing a creature which up to that time I’d only read about.

It was a living, breathing, honest-to-goodness mermaid.

I could easily understand why lonely mariners fall in love with such creatures — this one had the sort of face and body which I had dreamed of as I sailed from Xesh. She gazed at me with light, sea-green eyes, peering from a gentle, pale-skinned face, surrounded by a cloud of black hair which hung still in the water.

Otherwise, she was much like the traditional mermaid. Her torso was that of a naked woman, with slender white arms, full breasts, pale nipples, and a flat belly, subtly shading to a green-scaled fish tail. She wore only a necklace of seashells.

Looking down, I saw that I, too wore a similar necklace, and I felt a faint pulse of magic radiating from it. I’m not completely dim, and I did actually sit through one or two classes at the Magic Academy — it was obvious that the necklace was the only thing keeping me alive. I looked up in surprise, an inquiring look on my face.

“Don’t worry, two-legs,” she said, mildly. She didn’t exactly speak, however — it wasn’t really the kind of mind-speech that the snake-daemoness had used in the Alabaster Temple, it was more of a vibrating modulation of the water around me, possibly translated from her native language by the seashell amulet.

“You’re alive,” she continued, floating closer to me. “I saw the greenskins throw you overboard. I decided that any enemy of that group might be worth saving.”

“Thanks,” I said. I spoke carefully, feeling my words vibrate through the water in the same manner as the mermaid’s. “It wasn’t the goblins who threw me over, it was the dark elves.”

“Even worse,” she replied. “I saw you floating down, and put the amulet on you. That’s what allows you to breathe down here.”

“I thought so,” I said. “I’m Wulf, and thanks again.”

She smiled. “Pearl.”

“Good name for a mermaid.”

“Glad you approve. So why did the dark ones try to kill you? Were you an uppity slave or something similar?”

“Afraid not. Just an unlucky mariner whose boat got swamped by that dark elf tub. Their admiral decided I wouldn’t make a good slave rower, so over I went.”

Pearl floated up and took my arm. “Come with me,” she said. “It’s safer up the cliff.”

I swam along clumsily. I had lost pretty much all my clothing, save my breeches, which were still down around my ankles. I belatedly pulled them up and laced them, then swam, with clumsy human strokes, after Pearl, as she propelled herself gracefully toward the cliffs with powerful sweeps of her tail.

“What’s going on up there?” she asked, looking back at me as I bounded from rock to rock, trying to remember how to breast stroke. “I’ve never seen so many ships in one place.”

“Invasion fleet,” I replied, panting (and panting water is quite a chore, let me tell you). “They’re planning to attack the Elven Isles.”

That alarmed her. “Great Sea Mother!” she exclaimed. “Do the elves know?”

I shrugged. “If they don’t now, they will soon. That armada isn’t something they can ignore.”

She reached the dark opening of a cave, and ushered me through.

“It will be too late by then,” she said, urgently. “The elves have to be warned.”

I sighed. “Why bother? Those gobs won’t last five minutes on elvish soil, even with the dark elves and the Slaerthists aiding them.”

She made a foul noise, then turned back to me, a couple of raw fish in her hands.

“Here,” she said, “eat these. You’ll need your strength.”

I looked askance at the fish, but then realized I was ravenously hungry, and took large mouthfuls out of them. Perhaps the magical amulet had changed my palate as well, for they actually tasted fine.

“Need my strength?” I asked. “For what?”

(I know what you’re expecting, by the way... I was half-expecting it myself, but it was not to be.)

“You’ve got to go warn the elves,” she said. “They’re my people’s allies, but there’s no way I can get onto land and tell them, and it would take days to find one of their ships. You’ve got to go and warn them of the invasion.”

I balked at this. “Sorry, sister,” I said, “but the elves probably wouldn’t make much distinction between me and those green skinned freaks up there. You know how much the elves hate people whose ears aren’t pointy.”

Pearl shook her head at that, sending her hair up in a billowing black cloud, and I saw that she, herself, had graceful, pointed ears.

“Oops,” I said. “Present company excepted, of course. No wonder you people are friends with them. You look kind of like an elf with a fish-tail.”

“If that’s flattery, it’s accepted,” Pearl replied. “In any event, I think that since I rescued you from a watery grave, as you people would say, you at least owe me that. We have an obligation to help the elves. While you go warn them, I’ll rally my own people, and we’ll try and raise some havoc with that fleet. Please, Wulf. I’m not demanding, I’m asking.”

I was lost, of course. Rogue, thief, deserter, coward — I may be all those things, but deep down inside I think I retain a small sense of honor and just behavior, and Pearl was right. She had saved me. I owed her. And if my task was to go warn the pointy-boys that the greenies were coming to kick their asses, it was incumbent upon me to do so with good grace.

I nodded. “You’re right. I’d better get going.”

She smiled at that, and kissed me gently on the cheek.

“There’s not time for more, Wulf,” she said. “My friends tell me I’m a good judge of character. You’re a better man than you think you are, Wulf. Perhaps we can both find out together someday.”

I had to smile at that. “Unlikely,” I replied, “but a nice thing to think about on lonely nights.”

She ushered me to the cave entrance, then emitted a strange, warbling whistle. To my surprise, out of the gloom, a great gray finned shape appeared, long and streamlined, a great dorsal fin rising from its back, a bestial face sporting blank black eyes and wicked triangular teeth. I started back in fear; it was the biggest damned shark I had ever seen.

“Don’t worry,” Pearl said. “This is Karl. He’ll take you to the elven isles.”

I grimaced. “He looks more like he’s considering me as an appetizer.”

“Don’t be silly. You wouldn’t hurt this nice man, would you Karl?”

Karl looked at her with what I can only describe as the adoration of a beloved dog, then nuzzled me with his sharp snout.

“See? He likes you!”

I didn’t have much choice to concur, and so positioned myself gingerly behind Karl’s massive dorsal fin, and held on against the rough, gritty skin.

“There,” Pearl said, then addressed Karl, who listened attentively. “Now take this nice man to the big island. Let him off in the shallows. Don’t stop to eat seals or chase fish, and be a good boy, right?”

Karl undulated with apparent delight.

“Good bye, Wulf,” Pearl said, and kissed me briefly on the lips. “I hope we meet again.”

“Good bye,” I replied. “I do t-- Waaaaaahhhhhh...!”

This last was uttered as Karl took off at a high rate of speed, racing through the water like an arrow from an elvish longbow.

***

Disappointed that I didn’t have sex with the mermaid? Well, sorry, friends — contrary to popular belief, I do NOT have sex with every female I meet. Besides, after being fished out of the raging sea, practically raped by a dark elf admiral with two pounds of metal stuck through her, thrown overboard and practically drowned, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get it up if my life depended on it. I wasn’t unaware of Pearl’s beauty and grace, however, and wouldn’t have thrown her out of bed for eating sardines — I still wasn’t sure how mermaids even HAD sex, or, for that matter, whether they had it at all, so I wasn’t terribly concerned.

The seascape flew by, murky blue or cloudy green. Below me, sea-palms waved, rocky crags soared, and flashing, darting schools of fish floated magically. Here and there I saw stranger things — a pair of merfolk towing a net, spearing fish with tridents, a scaly humanoid riding in a chariot towed behind twin porpoises; an imposing pod of gigantic whales, suspended in the water, emitting eerie cries; a creature which might have been a manta ray, but for its enormous size — bigger than a Xeshite dreadnaught, it seemed to me — and its glowing red eyes, which watched me and my toothy mount swim past with an inscrutable, but undeniably intelligent gaze.

There were other things — distant towers that might have been cities, the broken hulks of ships, toppled ruins made eons ago by gods-know-who — but I had little time to look closely. Karl was indefatigable, however, carrying me on steadily, stopping neither to eat, rest nor sightsee. Eventually, far overhead, the sun vanished and all grew dark. I could barely see the black bulks of ships, oars and tow-beasts churning the water. Once or twice we came close to the surface, and I saw it pitted with rain and tossed by wind.

Thae’lynn was taking a terrible risk — using a storm to mask the armada’s approach to the elven isles. Even as we passed beneath that dreadful assemblage of vessels, I saw an ungainly goblin warship break deep and slip beneath the waves, timbers twisting and splintering, dozens of black figures slipping down, struggling against the pull of the water, finally giving up and vanishing into the chill darkness. Gods only knew how many of the armada had perished in this manner — damned goblin vessels are about as seaworthy as rocks once the water gets choppy. All the same, there were so blasted many, even the losses caused by the storm would scarcely scratch the surface.

Karl sped on. Despite Thae’lynn’s audacity, her tactics had slowed the armada to a crawl, and we passed them by easily. Unfortunately, we made landfall less than an hour later, indicating that the invaders were on their final approach to the isles. When Karl finally broke the surface in about six feet of water, I moved from one world to another, and he sent me on my way with a quick buffet of his tail. As I struggled toward shallower water, he rose up one last time, cast a single black eye in my direction, then was gone in a rush of water.

He hadn’t left me in a terribly comfortable position. As soon as it hit the air, Pearl’s amulet disintegrated into chalky fragments, immediately washed away by the heaving waters around me. With the magic gone, my lungs (not surprisingly) immediately rebelled at being full of water, and I immediately heaved, spitting up great mouthfuls of brine, all the while struggling to keep afloat. Still heaving and choking, I caught a breaker, and rode it in toward shore, fighting against the pull as the tide tugged at me, trying to drag me back into the surf. At last I fell to my knees, crawling, vomiting water, and finally heaving myself up on a vast, white sand beach, the last remnants of the crashing, foamy breakers lapping feebly around me.

Though I felt as if I’d just been chained up, thrown off a ship, nearly drowned, and then carried at breakneck pace to shore by a giant shark, I was vaguely aware of my surroundings.

The slate-gray sky overhead gave forth an icy drizzle, and a brisk wind blew foam up and down the beach. Beyond the sand rose stand after stand of shaggy green conifers, dark and ancient-looking, cold and uninviting. The breeze howled in my ears, and I shivered, feeling my extremities growing numb and blue.

Gods, this was it — the Elven Isles, where the Silver Lady ruled and humans were decidedly unwelcome. All it looked like was a cold, lonely beach and a cold, unfriendly forest.

I glanced back out to see and got a whack of rain in my face as a reward, but dashing the water from my eyes, I strained to look out across the tossing gray and white expanse, looking for some sign of the invaders.

I took a breath and shivered. No sign yet. I might still be able to warn someone. I staggered to my feet, making for the trees, desperate for some shelter from the wind. My first problem was how to avoid death by exposure, my second to find someone who might listen to me, rather than gut me because my ears were round and I was destined to live less than 1,000 years or so.

The trees closed in around me like a dark blanket; soft sand underfoot became loamy soil, strewn with pine needles, uncomfortable without shoes. Virtually at random I chose a direction, moving through the trees parallel to the beach, sheltered from the wind, but with the sea still in sight.

I didn’t even know what time it was. The gathering gloom might be from the storm, which increased in intensity as I went on, great cold drops of rain splashing down through the trees, or cutting at me, driven on the lances of wind which slipped between the great shaggy boles, or it might be from oncoming dusk. After an hour or so, I came to the inescapable conclusion that night was falling, and I would either have to find shelter soon or spend a night out in the open. My wilderness skills were minimal, and I doubted whether I could start a fire without flint. Dying of exposure in the heart of the elven realms was not a fate I looked forward to.

I was about to give in to despair when I caught a glimpse of warm lights ahead, twinkling through the close-growing trees. I stumbled forward, closer and closer, as more lights came out, lit in the oncoming light. At last I emerged from the trees along the banks of a river, black in the gloom. A gleaming white bridge spanned the rushing waters, and on the far end rose a wondrous structure. A harmonious collection of round towers, some tall and slender, some short and squat, some elaborately decorated in shallow relief, wound about with vines and abstract latticework patterns, others plain and seamless. All were the same white as the bridge, shining in the dusk, as if reflecting pure moonlight. Torches on walls, in towers, or along walkways, and here and there white-clad figures moved with calm serenity.

I approached, staring in awe, only to discover that not everyone at this place was calmly serene.

“Chae’qua!” barked a voice from the darkness. “Vlichana et vu kammna!”

A pair of armored guards hustled over the bridge toward me. I instantly knew I’d come to the right place — they were classical elves — tall, blonde, clad in long, silver scaled armor, and wore high, conical helms emblazoned with golden suns at the brow. They carried long, wicked spears with red shafts, and broadswords at their belts. Making them angry seemed like a very poor idea.

“Chae’qua!” repeated the first, thrusting his spear at me aggressively. “Huvah chanima’a!”

The second looked at me curiously. “Umani?” he asked his companion, holding his spear in one hand and pointing at me.

The first frowned, then nodded. “Umani!” he barked. “Come! Now!”

I came forward, hands raised, and allowed them to urge me over the bridge with none-too-subtle shoves of their spears. My mastery of elvish was limited, which is to say non-existent — I was expelled from the academy before I progressed beyond the basic human languages. I did surmise, however, that umani was elvish for “dirty human,” and allowed them to goad me along without protest.

The immediate vicinity of the palace was much better lit by warm yellow torches and lanterns. The ground was flagged with slate, cut into intricate geometric shapes and fitted painstakingly together. A slightly lighter path led to a great, dark wood gate, its portals writhing with carved dragons and unicorns. The gate opened to my guards pounding, and I was ushered inside.

I won’t bore you with a long description of what I saw inside; I wasn’t really in much of a mood to look in any event, as hungry, tired, cold and nearly dead as I was, but what I did see was remarkable. Great, wide corridors made up of endless gothic arches, vaulted ceilings, fluted columns of white, black, red and green marble, floors inlaid with complex knot-patterns and magical sigils (my minimal magical skills detected some highly potent protective spells active in the palace), foliated murals, hanging lanterns that emitted magical light, ornately carved doors, cloisters, colonnades, pergola, and numerous other things which I don’t know the words for.

There were elves there, as well — all male, as far as I could see, and most in some form of military gear. There were a few elves in white robes going about various maintenance and artistic tasks, but the others were clad variously in coats of mail like my escort or in pieces of white leather armor. They carried red-shafted spears, white lacquered longbows, iron-headed axes, or grim-looking broadswords, and all looked at me as if I were something which they scraped off the bottom of their pointy little elf-shoes (well, they actually wore high leather boots, but I couldn’t resist the image).

Our destination was a roomy marble chamber, where several other elves, all looking rather self-important and annoyed at being disturbed, sat at a long table, delicately eating various exotic-looking elven dishes from gleaming white tableware.

My lead guard stepped forward and babbled in elvish for several minutes, to skeptical stares from the assembled elven notables, until at last the elf at the head of the table stood, staring directly at me. They were plainly very old (elves get thin and weak-looking as they age), and all wore elaborate robes in many different colors. Once more, they were all males.

He was a dangerous-looking character, clad in long blue robes embroidered with stars and moons, trimmed with a bright band of yellow and red. He was lean, almost skeletal, his skin pale even for an elf, his eyes sunken in his head, but bright and alert. His blonde hair was slightly thin on top, but hung down below his shoulders, and around his neck he wore a simple crescent of silver metal on a black chain.

He spoke in elvish, a deep and vibrant tone, surprising from one so frail. I strained to even recognize a single word, but was unable to, and stared uncomprehendingly.

An annoyed expression flickered across the old elf’s features; he waved a hand and muttered some strange syllables.

My ears suddenly rang, and I felt a wave of dizziness. I staggered backward a step, earning a poke from one of my guard’s spears.

“Watch it, ear-boy,” I snapped, steadying myself.

“Shut up, human,” the guard replied in what sounded to me like perfect Imperial Common. “Consider yourself lucky we didn’t gut you on sight.”

“Silence, Imral,” said the old elf, and the guard lapsed into contrite silence.

“Nice spell, venerable one,” I said, using the honorific we most often replied to elven instructors at the academy. “It’s good to be understood.”

“I would curb the insolence, mortal,” the old one replied. “My impetuous guardsman speaks correctly, if somewhat gracelessly.”

“I’m sorry, my lord,” I said, bowing my head. “I simply don’t respond well to being threatened when I come bearing important news for your queen and your people.”

“I see,” the old one said. “I am Lord Thavaen, by the way — High Commander of the White Guard and Master of Chalice Citadel.”

I bowed again. “Wulf,” I said. “No titles — only Wulf. I am a man and no more.”

It seemed to impress him, and for a long moment it looked as if he might crack a smile. Finally, he spoke.

“Tell me your news, Wulf. It must be grave news indeed for you to risk your life by setting foot on elven soil, which we have sworn on our lives and souls would never feel the tread of an invader.”

“I’m no invader,” I said, “but I bring word that an invader is coming.” Briefly I told him my story, leaving out the frenzied sex with Miss Cunt-Ring the dark elf. “I’m not certain how large the armada was, Lord Thavaen, but I saw at least a dozen orcish warships, and several others. The goblins appear to have brought together all the powers who lust after your riches, or seek vengeance against your race.”

The room was instantly in tumult, all the varied elves standing, shouting, imploring, condemning, cursing, gesturing, demanding. Some denounced me as a liar, a spy or a madman, and called for my death. Others insisted that the Silver Lady be notified, while still others counseled caution and suggested a scouting mission to check out my story.

I tried to raise my own voice in all this, to tell them that they didn’t have the luxury of argument, since I estimated the fleet was probably making landfall even as we spoke, but Imral prodded me with his spear again, shouting at me to hold my tongue.

I’d had enough. I turned on Imral and grabbed his spear.

“Dammit, you stupid elf bastard!” I shouted. “Those fucking goblins and their slimy allies are probably landing on your beaches right now, and if you don’t —”

I really didn’t get much of a chance to finish, as a look of utter rage passed over Imral’s face, and he butt-stroked me with his spear, connecting solidly with my jaw, and sending me crashing to the marble floor. I struggled to rise, and he struck me again, savagely on the back of the head, and I collapsed, falling into cold darkness.

***

I dreamed that I was back in Xesh, and that Xylara and Ushandra were fighting a duel over me, armed with custard tarts instead of swords. Alrynna, Nineh, the lion-women, and various other ex-lovers were in the audience, along with some of my favorite enemies, such as snake-woman, Thorvaz, Chuk the slave-taker, Malkoth the Necromancer, and company. It ended with both women completely slathered in custard, falling into each other’s arms, ignoring me completely, and starting to lick each other —

“You fool, Wulf!” shouted Malkoth. “Don’t you realize that all thoughts are relative, and that life is but an illusion?”

“Don’t listen to him!” Chuk screamed. “Life is pleasure, and the avoidance of discomfort! That alone makes it all worthwhile.”

I was about to respond, when the entire messy affair was interrupted.

“Wake up, human!” The words rang in my skull like the sound of a dwarven timekeeper hammering on the hour-gongs at Iron Mountain.

I sat suddenly rigidly upright, my delicious imaginings dissolving into harsh light and the images of a half-dozen elven guardsman standing around me, as I lay on a small cot. The speaker was none other than my favorite elf, Imral.

Memory returned in a sudden flood, and I launched myself at him, hand seeking his scrawny little throat.

“You fucking elvish homunculus!” I roared. “I come here trying to help and you fucking cold-cock me? I’ll fucking kill you —”

The other elves dragged me off and held me down; I struggled against them, but it was to no avail.

Imral looked at me coldly, with an expression similar to Thae’lynn’s when she regarded me like a monkey in a menagerie.

“Lord Thavaen has told me to apologize to you, human,” he said, lips tight, voice carefully modulated. “Your information has proved correct — our scouts report a landing in force by a large number of goblins, orcs, humans, and dark ones. We have been ordered to engage in a reconnaissance in force, and you are to accompany us.”

“You got me out of bed to tell me that?” I asked, but the joke was lost on Mister Personality, who continued to regard me with distant, blue eyes. “Whatever. Your apology is accepted in the same spirit in which it is given.”

Imral relaxed. “You’re to be issued weapons and armor,” he told me. “It is a great honor, human.”

“One which I can well do without,” I told him. I was fully awake now. My hosts had dressed me in a white tunic, but I still felt miserable; the pounding in my head simply made it worse. “My task was to warn you. I’ve fulfilled it. I brought warning of an invasion and was treated like some kind of sneak thief.” Mind you, that’s what I truly was, but I wasn’t about to tell them that. “Arrested, insulted, attacked. As far as I’m concerned, the goblins can have you.” I started to stride out of the room, but Imral stepped in front of me.

“I have been ordered to bring you with us, human,” he said in a low, deadly voice. “And, by all my ancestors, and by all the gods, you will come with us. You’ve fouled this place enough with your very presence, now don’t foul it farther with your cowardice. If you try to leave human, orders or no orders, I swear I will kill you where you stand.”

“Killing an unarmed human, Imral?” I asked, trying to quiet my pounding heart. “Very brave, noble elf. Very brave.”

His calling me a coward didn’t bother me especially. I’ve survived more scraps through creative cowardice than I can count, so calls to honor rarely distress me. It was his damned elvish arrogance which made my blood boil — the notion that simply because I was a human, I profaned his precious palace.

Our gazes remained locked for several long moments. I knew I was bound to lose a stare-down with an elf — living for centuries gives them enormous patience. I finally backed away, maintaining eye contact.

“I’ll wear your armor, elf,” I said at last. “If you don’t think my very presence will profane it.”

Imral didn’t reply. I was outfitted in elven scale and given a sword. It was a second-line model, I suspected; all the same, it was a far superior weapon to any human blade I’d ever carried — holding it in my bare hand, I felt a faint vibration of magical energy.

We left the palace, accompanied by a company of archers, dressed in mottled green, carrying longbows as tall as they were. It was night, and the storm still lashed the land, blowing rain, mixed with razor-sharp sleet, into our faces.

“Stay close, human,” Imral said over the roar of wind. “I also have orders to kill you should you attempt to escape or aid our enemies.”

“And I’ll do the same to you,” I shot back.

Again, Imral glowered in silence.

We followed the archers through the darkness, down one of the slate-paved roads which led along the river, back toward the beach. Eventually, we moved off the main road and followed a narrow forest trail for nearly an hour, until one of the archers motioned for quiet. We crept forward as quietly as we could in our armor (though the howl of the wind masked most of the noise we made), and as we approached the beach, we heard a cacophony of voices, clashing metal, animal noises and heavy footfalls, carried toward us on the breeze.

We peered toward the beach and the elven road that ended there. The elves around me gaped in amazement, but I was forced to strain to see through the gloom, and in the face of the whipping wind. Dozens of prows rose from the surf, and I could see the shadowy bulks of dozens more out to sea. The beach, which should have been a pale strip, even under the fitful light of the cloud-hung moons, was thick with bodies. Skittering forms of goblins ran this way and that, and the more ponderous and bulky forms of orcs in dark-colored armor moved slowly from their vessels. There were humans, too — rough and ready types in varied armor, carrying a motley assortment of weapons, illuminating their way with hooded lanterns, unable to see in the dark, as the orcs and the goblins did.

Horses, riding lizards, and other, less familiar mounts crowded the beach, snorting or hissing, occasionally slashing or biting at each other despite the best efforts of their handlers. The towering forms of ogres unloaded great crates of supplies from the ships, and everywhere sergeants and officers issued weapons and bellowed orders.

Of the dark elves there was no sign — I assumed that Thae’lynn was content to let the humans and orcs take the brunt of the initial assault, then land her forces at leisure. Not that the landing force had much to worry about; they’d reached elven shores undetected, and now prepared for the march inland. I didn’t see any Slaerthists in their fanciful armor, either, but I knew they were there.

Other creatures also waded ashore — this was truly a disparate assembly of evil forces. Griffins and wyverns, griping and snarling at being forced to wade through the surf, and unable to fly because of the raging winds, were goaded ashore and chained up by harried tenders. I saw minotaurs, throgs, and a handful of wolfen (renegades or outcasts, I supposed, serving for loot and the joy of pillaging), as well as other creatures unfamiliar or indistinguishable in the darkness.

“At least ten thousand on the beach,” I hissed to Imral. “Looks like at least another ten thousand at sea. I think Lord Thavaen had better send for help.”

He looked at me contemptuously. “We do not need help,” he spat. “We are the Guardians of the Chalice. We will fight these ourselves.”

I suppressed a curse. Damn all elves and their arrogant pride, anyway. The palace had little in the way of real defenses that I’d seen, and there were easily enough ill-tempered creatures here to wipe it off the map in a matter of hours.

“Then withdraw,” I said. “Fall back. That palace won’t hold them.”

“We will not abandon the Chalice,” Imral hissed cryptically. “It stays in the citadel.”

Gods...

I would have argued further, but I was interrupted by a hiss, a fleshy “thunk” and a cry of pain from one of the armored elves, who fell, an arrow sprouting from his neck.

I spun, drawing my weapon, to see at least a dozen orcs, all in black leather armor, wet and shiny from the rain, racing through the forest at us, yelling at the tops of their lungs. I ducked just as one particularly nasty specimen, his eyes glowing red in the darkness, loosed an arrow at me, then threw his bow aside and charged, drawing a crooked, wickedly barbed sword.

We were screwed, of course. The orcs had slipped in behind us, so that we had to either go through them or retreat back to the beach, into the heart of the enemy army. The elves realized this, and charged forward to engage. The archers scattered into the woods, evading the clumsy, armored orcs, and taking opportunity shots from their longbows — hazardous at best in a dark, storm-tossed forest.

My orc took a slash at me, and I was only barely able to parry. I attacked back; he ignored it, taking a slash on the shoulder and counter-attacking. Only the elven armor saved me, for his blow bruised and nearly stunned me, but it did not penetrate the shining silver scales.

I’d had enough. Orcs were nasty customers in close combat, so the only way to deal with them is to fight the same way they do. That is to say, fight dirty.

I grabbed a handful of loam and threw it deliberately into my opponent’s face. He spat and sputtered, trying to clear his eyes, and I ran him through, giving his body a few extra slashes, since orcs also tend to get up again after the most grievous injuries, and ask you why you didn’t do it right the first time.

The rest of our force was faring relatively well. Two or three elves lay dead, but twice that number of orcs had bought it. We pressed forward through them, our mission largely forgotten. We’d managed to accomplish what we’d come here for, that is to get some idea of the force which faced Lord Thavaen and his suicidal Guardsmen, and now we had to get that information back to him.

I managed to kill another orc, taking numerous hits which would have killed me had I not been wearing the armor, then prepared to make a break for the road and head back toward the palace. Then I saw Imral.

He was on the bad end of a large, black-skinned orc with twin scimitars. He parried skillfully, but the orc’s second weapon knocked his sword away, and the great brute leaped onto his chest, overbearing him, drawing back his weapons for a killing blow...

Yes, he was an asshole, and yes, I could have left him. But I didn’t. I hurried forward and jabbed my sword into the back of the orc’s neck.

He turned around at that, flinging himself on me in a fury. I was only barely able to hack him apart (and hope to Phaedra that the pieces didn’t come after me), then help Imral to his feet.

“You owe me one, dickweed,” I said, staring straight at him. “Now let’s get the hell out of here.”

We ran back along the road, as fast as our heavy armor would allow. The surviving archers covered our retreat, but no one really bothered to pursue. Imral nursed a bad cut at the side of his head, and alternated casting miserable glances at me, and looking shamefully down at the road.

We reached the citadel an hour or so later, and Imral led us back to the presence of Lord Thavaen.

The old elf sat in a carved hardwood chair in a vaulted chamber hung with dozens of colorful banners. He was now clad in silvery scale armor much like ours, and sat with a scabbarded sword across his knees. He listened gravely.

“The human spoke the truth, my lord,” Imral said (give the point-eared bastard credit for honesty, at least). “Countless orcs, goblins and humans have come ashore near the mouth of the Lirandir. They attacked us as we watched them. Talvan, Mulhanrir and Shael died; six more are wounded.”

“Including yourself, I see,” Thavaen said. “You should have that wound seen to.”

“I am shamed, my lord,” Imral replied. “The human saved me from death. I do not deserve to live.”

I glared, and could stay silent no longer. “You mean because you got yourself wounded, or because you were saved by a dirty human?” I addressed Lord Thavaen. “When will your people realize that other races have honor, too? I’m no hero, lord, but I will help a companion, even if he has expressed nothing but hatred and contempt for me.”

Thavaen waved a gauntleted hand. “Enough of this bickering, both of you. How long do we have before the enemy attacks?”

I shrugged. “They didn’t seem well organized. It took us over an hour to get here from the beach, and they didn’t seem to be pursuing. At best I imagine that by dawn you’ll have orcs all over your walls. This place won’t stand an hour against them, Lord Thavaen, unless you have some hefty magical defenses I don’t know about. You’ll have to call for reinforcements or abandon this position.”

Imral looked at me angrily. “The White Guard needs no aid, and we will never leave this place.”

“What is he talking about, Lord?” I demanded. “This place is no strongpoint! You don’t even have walls! If you stay all you’ll accomplish is get your entire command wiped out.”

Thavaen looked at me contemplatively. “It is probably difficult for those of your race to understand,” he said. “No insult is intended. I am simply saying that the elven race is different from yours. We of the guard have taken an oath never to abandon this place, and to defend it with our lives.”

“And we need no aid to defend it!” Imral declared. “We are the White Guard! We are invincible!”

Thavaen’s mouth bent into a thin smile, the first I’d seen from him. “Powerful and brave my warriors are, Imral, yourself included. But scarcely invincible. We will alert the Silver Lady to our plight, and send to the Winged Ones for aid. Perhaps if the muster goes quickly and the Dragon Kings forget their petty squabbles for a time we can stop this invasion before it has begun.” He fixed me with another one of his deadly gazes. “You will come with me, human. You’ve done well, and you at least deserve an explanation.”

Imral looked distraught. “You can’t mean to take him to see the chalice!” he cried. “My Lord, I must protest...”

“You will protest, young Imral,” Thavaen said in a voice low and deadly enough to break a poleaxe in half, “when you have earned the right to do so. You, too, have fought bravely, but you have treated this man with ill grace and unseemly insults. He may well have saved our land from untold tragedy. If you cannot extend him respect for that, at least hold your tongue and do nothing more to stain our nation’s honor.”

Imral cringed like a flower in a furnace. “My Lord, I request reassignment for duty,” he said at last, voice distant and hollow.

“Granted,” Thavaen said. “Now go with my thanks.”

Imral departed quickly, leaving us alone.

“Now,” Thavaen said, “come with me, and perhaps you will understand.”

Thae’lynn

“Careful, you clumsy fools!” Thae’lynn bellowed, gesturing angrily. “You harm him and I’ll feed you to the griffins!”

The team of human slaves carrying the cage which contained Yalvar, her favorite tiger, responded sluggishly, lifting the cage higher to keep it clear of the churning surf. Thae’lynn made a mental note to cut back the dosage of black mushrooms in their next meal — too much of that damned stuff and their desired servility degenerated into simple lethargy.

Thae’lynn herself relied on a sturdy team of minotaurs to convey her sedan chair, in which she now sat, supervising the debarkation of her own forces. The orcs and goblins had already fanned out into the woods nearby, scouting out their landing site. The night was dark and stormy, lashing uncomfortably at her despite the protection of a magical weather-bubble, but the landings had thus far gone well.

A pair of orc scouts approached her, bowing fearfully. These were regular line-orcs, muscular and heavy-browed, yellowish fangs protruding from their lantern-jaws, their eyes small and reddish. They wore a motley assortment of scavenged armor and carried curved swords.

“Lady,” grumbled one, “His Majesty King Thrazz requests your presence in his command tent to discuss strategy.”

Thae’lynn sighed. The so-called orcish monarch usually used these “strategy sessions” to ogle and attempt to grope her. Though she did maintain a passion for animals and lesser species (such as that enthusiastic human they’d collected on the way here — almost a pity she’d had to kill him, but no matter...), orcs were beneath even her.

“Tell His Majesty I will be there presently,” she replied. “I have a few matters of my own to attend to.”

The orcs bowed and scurried off. Thae’lynn prodded the lead minotaur.

“Take me to the road where the circle is inscribed,” she said, unable to keep a loving tone out of her voice (she loved her minotaurs dearly, and for obvious reasons), and held tight as her bull-headed bearers lurched unsteadily over the sand.

Some away, out of sight from the rest of the army, where the elven road cut into the beach and vanished beneath the waves, three thin, mad-eyed male dark elves in black robes kneeled under a flickering blue dome of magical energy. The first painstakingly inscribed complex lines and patterns on the stone with charcoal, while the second and third followed behind, carefully sculpting the design into the road surface with hammer and chisel.

“How does it go?” Thae’lynn called down to them.

The first looked up, eyes wide, darting first one way, then the other.

“The circle will be finished before dawn, Dark Lady,” he replied. “The elves shall soon feel the lash of the Red Monk and touch the Rain of Blood —”

“I’m sure they will,” Thae’lynn broke in, interrupting what was apparently going to be a long speech. “Just make certain it’s done before sunrise.”

“We obey, Dark Lady,” replied the lead chiseler. “We serve you as we serve the Lords of the Seventeenth Circle, and when you speak we hear the voice of the Gods!”

Thae’lynn nodded, gingerly goading her minotaurs and ordering them away. Priests always made her uncomfortable, and these two were worse than most. On the other hand, the work they performed was vital to the invasion, and to her long-term ambitions, so she allowed them their eccentricities.

The idle thought occurred to her that she should add at least one new ring to her collection for every elven city the army sacked, then realized that she would soon run out of room. She’d have to think of some other way to commemorate the coming victories. She glanced down the beach, to where her slaves had finally managed to wrestle Yalvar’s cage to shore, and were now trying to calm the great cat.

Beneath her mask, Thae’lynn smiled. She’d think of something, she was sure.

Thrazz

The orc king was in an ebullient mood. Thrazz sat on a great wooden throne, carefully transported from his palace and setup by goblin slaves, swathed in furs and cushions. He was a huge orc, heavy-jawed, thick-browed, with an enormous belly. He wore specially-made armor and was festooned with amulets, charms, chains, brooches and other sparkly bits of jewelry, and wore a great, black helm adorned with four sweeping horns, like those of a bull.

“Ha! Dark Lady!” he bellowed, taking a long swig from his favorite drinking vessel, a goblet crafted from a dwarven skull. “How ya doin’? We shore as hell caught ‘em with their pants down, didn’t we?” He set the goblet down. He was something of an eclectic, and had a large collection of mugs, jacks, goblets, cups and other drinking vessels, which he insisted on transporting with him everywhere.

“Don’t celebrate yet, Majesty,” Thae’lynn replied, arranging herself in a seat as far from Thrazz as possible, and looking at his planning table, covered with maps, charts and parchments. “An unopposed landing is one thing, an actual victory over the elves is quite another. If they hit us while we’re still debarking, the entire invasion could be in peril.”

“Not likely, sweetheart,” Thrazz roared back, then belched. “This storm’s keepin’ their flyin’ horses down, and we should be able to get well inland afore they notice.”

“I heard your scouts encountered some archers,” she said, looking over the maps. “This map says that there is an elven fortress nearby. They are probably from there.”

“Don’t worry yer pretty little head, lady. My scouts are movin’ up the road right now. Should be there in less’n an hour, and the rest of the army right behind.”

“Just hope they haven’t sent word to the Silver Tower,” she replied. “If the Lady finds out about this, she could muster all the Dragon Kings against us.”

“Haw! Got that ‘un covered, too, cutie.” Thrazz took another pull on his mug. Damn, Thae’lynn thought, he’s drunk already. “Mah shamans ‘r pumpin’ out so much magical shit that even if they try to call for help no one’ll hear ‘em. We’re not as dumb as you think we are, lady.”

No, she thought, I’d say you were a damn sight dumber. In any event, Thrazz had covered one of her chief concerns. If the elves got wind of the invasion too quickly, they’d have a major fight on their hands before the army was adequately prepared. If the orcish shamans were sending out interference, the citadel would be completely isolated and unable to call for help.

“And keep your troops clear of the area where my priests are working,” Thae’lynn continued, as emotionlessly as possible. “The magic there could harm them.”

Thrazz nodded, put down the goblet, sloshing smelly black beer all over his furs, then took up a great joint of meat of uncertain origin, and took a huge mouthful.

“Shit, woman,” he grumbled, mouth stuffed with half-chewed meat, “you can’t trust us to piss in a pot, can you?”

She ignored the retort. “That should cover things for now,” she said, starting to rise. “I assume we’re still on schedule for a dawn attack, so I’ll take my leave. Good evening.”

Thrazz looked disappointed. “Nah, nah, lady,” he bleated, dropping his meat and reaching out a corpulent, ring-studded green hand for her. “Feel free to stay awhile. You ‘n me, we really should be closer friends, ya know...”

“No, I do not know, King Thrazz,” Thae’lynn shot back coldly. “Please listen to me, and note that I speak with all appropriate respect for your office and dignity. If you lay a hand on me, Majesty, I will cut it off. If you try to force your attentions on me, Majesty, I will kill you. And believe me, I can do it, even if it costs me my own life. We are allies, King Thrazz. Allies and no more. I will leave now.”

She turned, ignoring Thrazz’s angry bellows.

“So, I’m not good enough for ya, ya point-eared bitch?” he shrieked. “Ya’ll fuck anything ‘at moves, but not an orc, huh? Fuck you, ya cunt! Fuck you and all yer fuckin’ point-eared mother-fuckin’...” The voice was swallowed by the wind.

Thae’lynn resumed her sedan chair and urged her minotaurs on. She shook with anger. The only thing which kept her rage in check was the knowledge that soon, soon, the motherless swine would be unnecessary.

Very soon.

Wulf

We walked for several minutes, going deeper and deeper into the citadel, past numerous well-guarded portals. Lord Thavaen’s presence gave us free passage, though many of the guards stared at me, their expressions baffled or openly hostile. At last we came to a chamber which I reckoned was near the exact center of the palace.

It was a tall, cylindrical room, columned and groin-vaulted, lit by eight mage-globes, set in sconces and evenly spaced around the walls. A single elven warrior stood beneath each of the globes. They wore black scaled armor and black dragon-helms, and carried black-shafted spears. The elite of the elite, I suspected, for the object they guarded rested on a circular marble platform in the exact center of the room.

“The Silver Chalice,” Thavaen said, simply.

I gazed intently at the object. It was indeed a chalice, and it was huge — the size of my head. As expected, it was crafted of brightly-shining silver without a trace of tarnish, with a ring of cabochon-cut rubies around its brim. It glowed red, apparently of its own magical light, and I felt a sense of wonder as I looked, as if I was in the presence of an object far more ancient and powerful than its actual appearance suggested.

“One of the nine Great Treasures,” Thavaen told me. “It was made countless millennia ago by Veyalla the Smith, one of the greatest artisans in our history. Whoever drinks from the chalice becomes greater for it, all his best qualities heightened and perfected. It also heals all wounds, strengthens the heart and soul, and grants peace and clarity of vision.”

“Not bad,” I replied. “Why doesn’t everyone drink from it?”

“Oh, in the past the chalice passed through our lands, healing the sick and granting wisdom and insight to all. But its powers have a dark side, as so many such powers do. While it heightens one’s strengths, it also heightens weaknesses, bringing out both the good and evil which live in everyone’s hearts. Too many drinks from it, and the user goes mad, torn apart by the forces that war within him. The chalice caused a great war to rend our lands over three thousand years ago, and once the war was over, it was placed here under my guardianship. Now, it is only used by the Silver Lady herself, who drinks from it once every year, and gains the wisdom and powers of sorcery she needs to rule our lands.”

“Three thousand —” I bit off the words, turning to stare, this time at Thavaen himself. “That means you’re —”

He nodded. “Ancient, even by elven standards. I have commanded the White Guard for three millennia, human, and in that time no enemy has ever set foot within this citadel. Now, it seems, my service is about to end.”

My mind raced. “Lord,” I urged, desperately, “you can’t possibly hold the citadel! I saw their army! You’ve got to take the chalice and get out of here.”

“Impossible.” There was no place in the word for compromise or retreat. “The Chalice cannot leave this place, or it would do irreparable harm to our realm. If the enemy takes this citadel, it will be my task to destroy the chalice, and die with it.”

“Gods.”

“Yes, Gods. I wedded my mortality to this chalice, thirty centuries ago. So wedded, I alone have the power to destroy it. Nothing else save the flames of dragons can harm the chalice. I’m weary now, and another would have had to take my place soon, for I know my days on this world are ending. Perhaps it is best that I die in battle, and destroy the chalice as my last act.”

I nodded. Something in his eyes said that there was no changing his mind.

“I hope you get help in time.”

We were to be disappointed in that, as well, for as we returned to Thavaen’s audience chamber, a pair of elves in white robes approached us, their expressions troubled.

“My Lord,” said one, “we tried to reach the Silver Tower, but the ether is filled with magical dross. We were unable to contact the Lady.”

“The Winged Ones are closer, though,” said the other. “Princess Nymassa said that she would send warriors to aid us, and would try to get through to the Silver Lady on our behalf.”

Thavaen’s expression did not change, but his words were laced with deep weariness.

“Then we must fight on alone, and hope the Winged Ones arrive in time,” he said. “Summon my war-leaders. We must defend the citadel.”

At that point, I desperately wished that I was somewhere else, but realized that I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Fighting the urge to strip off my armor, throw down my weapon, and run like a scared gremlin, I followed Thavaen to the walls, and prepared to fight.

Behind us, the sky lightened with approaching dawn. Phaedra’s Flaming Tits, was I about to follow the pointy-eared little creeps into oblivion?

At this point, I thought with a sinking heart, the odds were pretty good that I was.

Thae’lynn

Moans tore their way out of Thae’lynn’s throat, moans which she hoped were inaudible over the wind which still roared and thundered outside, even as the sky around her lightened. Yalvar the tiger crouched above her, his great, heavily furred paws on either side of her head, his massive fanged muzzle staring down at her, mouth parted, lips distended, pink tongue hanging down as he panted heavily.

Thae’lynn’s slender, black legs encircled the tiger’s torso as the muscular beast drove into her, its long, slender cock penetrating her again and again with the persistence of pure instinct.

Yalvar snarled and growled deeply, its razor-sharp fangs inches from her throat. Of course, she’d treated it with herbs and spells so that it was virtually impossible for the great beast to harm or kill her, but even the illusion of danger, so close to the bare edge of total ecstasy, drove her pounding heartbeat and deep, gasping breaths faster and higher.

This was what she craved — a passionate male without the intelligence to demand more than an extra helping of meat after they were finished. Intelligent males — and, with some reluctance, she included humans in this category — were so demanding...

Thae’lynn cried out again, feeling the muscles beneath the tiger’s tawny pelt tense and feeling the sheer weight of his great paws on her shoulders. The great mouth enveloped her face, slapping its slobbery tongue across her, its spines catching briefly on her various rings, sending tingles of pain through her, scraping her flesh, causing her to moan again, mid-way between pain and pleasure (generally speaking, the place she most enjoyed being). Orgasm seized her, racing through her heaving body like lightning. Her moans trailed off as her throat closed up, her back arched, lifting even the enormous beast atop her. She felt muscles pull painfully and realized she’d be sore for days, but it was worth it.

Yalvar seemed to sense her excitement, and thrust away even harder, a deep growl growing in his throat. His long penis plunged deeper into her, and she felt another orgasm clench at her from inside. She cried out again, loudly, feeling moisture all across her thighs as the tiger continued onward, tongue stroking her, hot breath in her face.

The tiger didn’t seem inclined to stop at this point, but a tiny part of Thae’lynn realized that she had other business to attend to. She whispered a few arcane syllables, and without further delay, Yalvar clambered off of her, ambled to the corner of her tent, curled up and went to sleep.

That was the other thing she liked about animals, Thae’lynn reflected, wiping her face clean with a towel. Once you were done, you could simply send them away. No whining about not being finished, or not being able to come, or being “unsatisfied.” Hell and daemons, what were men good for, anyway, besides as convenient orgasm-hasteners? Yalvar was so much more agreeable, and easily controllable by magic.

A voice sounded outside her tent.

“Dark Lady! The priests report that they are finished!”

Thae’lynn hastened to clean herself up, step into her robes, don her mask and gloves. Outside, two obsequious male warriors in black scale stood, heads bowed.

“Thank you,” she said, absently, clapping her hands for her minotaurs. “Dismissed.”

The four minotaurs hastily conveyed Thae’lynn to the place where the priests had been working. They stood proudly beside their creation, a complex circular pattern of interlinked leaves, runic script, and protective inscriptions.

“The work is done, Great Lady!” panted the first.

“Your enemies shall tremble before the power of the Red Monk!” drooled the second.

“They shall worship you!” bawled the third.

“Thanks,” she said, dismounting and approaching the circle. “You’re certain that you’ve made no mistakes?”

The priests looked offended. “Great Dark Lady!” exclaimed the first. “We are priests of the Seventeenth Circle, trusted companions of the Five Black Hierophants, Guardians of the Mad Mother and First Brethren of the —”

“Yes, yes,” she said, hastily. “Sorry. Can we begin now?”

The priests nodded. “Indeed. It is imperative we begin soon, for dawn is nigh and with it the end of all dark magicks!”

Without further comment, Thae’lynn and the three priests positioned themselves around the outside of the circle, raised their arms toward the stormy heavens, and began to intone garbled, ritualistic syllables.

“Great Lord Mazzor, hear us!” shouted the first priest. “Mazzor n’gath f’thala kirruk!”

“Aid us in our time of need!” bellowed the second. “Mazzor n’gath savali thrikk!”

“Smite our enemies with your hellish rage!” continued the third. “Zimm Mazzor n’gath!”

“Hear us, Great Lord Mazzor!” Thae’lynn continued, feeling the wind whip her robes up and open, but not caring. Besides, these priests had no interest in seeing anyone naked, let alone a female. “Mazzor n’gath kufur shirr v’kal!”

They continued in this manner for some minutes, even as the eastern sky grew paler with approaching dawn.

At last the three frenzied cries combined into a single shout, and a great shaft of flickering red light sprang up from the circle, like the shadows of a distant fire. Into the circle, as if rising up from the ground itself, appeared a towering, muscular figure, as green as if carved form jade, wreathed in flames, casting dark shadows.

It had a handsome, face somewhere between human and dragon — heavy jawed and browed, with long, black hair and a pair of graceful, shiny black horns. Its eyes were yellow and slitted, and when its black lips parted, needle-sharp teeth and a long and flexible tongue was visible. Huge, bat-like wings sprouted from his back, his arms were powerful and muscular, ending in black talons. Beneath a hard, rigidly-muscled abdomen, the being stood on black-furred goatlike legs, between which hung a massive penis, the size of a man’s forearm (Thae’lynn regarded this particular feature with interest).

“Who summons me?” the daemon asked, its voice a low rumble.

“We summon the Great Lord Mazzor!” cried one of the priests in a frenzy of ecstasy. “We offer ourselves to you!” With that, he leapt into the circle, to stand without fear before the dreadful figure.

Mazzor did not speak, but instead seized the dark elf in a single taloned hand, breaking his neck instantly, then raising the still-twitching corpse to his mouth and chewing upon it like a piece of candy.

“Mmmm,” he boomed. “I’ve had better, but it’ll do. What do you want?”

“Help us, Lord,” Thae’lynn said. “We march against the light elves, and beseech your assistance.”

Mazzor laughed. “Ah, always at it, aren’t you? You’re a choice piece, dark elf.”

Thae’lynn realized uncomfortably that her robe was still open, but she did not move to conceal herself. “This body is yours for pleasure if you like it, Dark Lord,” she said. “We ask that you help us against the light ones.”

Mazzor nodded. “Tempting offer. Perhaps we can talk later. Raising havoc with those snotty blonde bastards appeals to me right now, and besides, your priest was relatively satisfying. I’ll need more, of course.”

“Are orcs and goblins to your liking?” Thae’lynn asked.

“Occasionally. I’d like a few of those elves, as well.”

“Oh, that goes without saying. Have we your aid, then, Dark Lord?”

“You do. I will aid your endeavor for so long as it suits me, and not work to hinder you, so long as I am provided with blood and souls.”

“Blood and souls,” replied one of the surviving priests, while his fellow rolled and writhed on the ground, shrieking and foaming at the mouth. “All your Lordship can contain and more!”

Mazzor jerked a thumb at the jabbering dark elf. “What’s his problem, anyway?”

Wulf

They came at us with the rising sun in their eyes. Forget that bullshit about goblins and orcs not being able to stand the sunlight. They prefer the dark, true, but they do just fine in the light. Prolonged exposure makes them uncomfortable and gives them headaches, but this probably just makes them nastier and more irritable. These certainly didn’t have much problem with the daylight as they swept toward us in an untidy mass, like millions of black ants converging on a sugar cube.

The river was our first line of defense. Naturally, they swarmed for the bridge, a screaming tide, with little in the way of unit cohesion or command control. They carried ladders and grappling hooks, probably planning to take the walls through sheer weight of numbers. Behind them trundled battering rams, towed by ogres, and several far more well-disciplined regiments of human warriors in red and black armor. Of the dark elves there was no sign; either they didn’t have a land contingent (unlikely) or Thae’lynn was keeping them back, hoping to come in after the major fighting was over (far more likely).

At least two hundred had managed to get over the bridge when, from a nearby battlement, Lord Thavaen looked grave and nodded, pointing a long finger down at the river. Light leapt from his finger, lancing down, shattering the bridge, sending dozens of shrieking orcs and smaller, spindlier goblins falling down into the river below which, swollen by the rains, was now a raging flood.

Below us, sally ports opened, disgorging ranks of mailed horsemen, armed with long white lances, thundering forward into the packed mass of orcs and goblins trapped on our side of the river. The fight was furious but brief, with the elven lancers cutting into the milling orcs, impaling many on lances, then hewing about with swords and axes. For their part, the orcs fought well, but in the end were forced back into the river and slain to the last (I was going to say “to a man” but it just didn’t seem appropriate). A dozen or more elven riders lay dead by the river, however, and the goblins on the opposite bank rained arrows down on the survivors as they tried to retrieve their comrades’ bodies and fall back on the citadel.

Behind the goblin archers, who were finally forming up into ranks that seemed to loosely correspond to regiments, a circle of feather-and-bone bedecked orcs chanted and screamed, sending colored puffs of smoke up into the crisp morning air. Thavaen gestured, sending another bolt of magic at them, but it fell short, fading into nothingness before it reached them. The shamans’ spell reached a crescendo, and with that a chill blue fog spread out from them, and where it touched the river, the raging flood slowed, ceased, and finally turned to contorted white ice.

Now it was the elves’ turn to rain arrows down on their enemies, as the goblins and orcs formed up and marched with surprising precision, across the frozen cataract. They moved gingerly, some slipped, others fell, sprouting white-feathered elven arrows, but their numbers were great, and they crossed over easily.

More magic shot down from Thavaen’s extended arms, and more orcs fell, black and smoldering. Some regiments broke and fled, but more came in to fill the gaps. Behind them came the humans, and ogres with their battering rams. Once they reached the gates, I thought, it was only a matter of time.

But I hadn’t reckoned with the elves’ magical defenses, for a coruscating barrier of blue flame sprang up in the teeth of the orcish advance, incinerating more of them, sending survivors scurrying back. Ballistae and springals launched volleys of machine-driven bolts at the enemy, killing still more. The shamans battled back — individually they were far less powerful than the ancient Thavaen, but together they may well have equaled him in power, for they were able, through sheer brute magical force, to punch gaping holes in the blue flame barrier, allowing the orcs to scramble through, looking up, screaming, bestial faces contorted and taut with anticipation.

I was startled when the air nearby me was rent, and a thin bolt of lightning lanced down from above, striking the masonry nearby, sending a couple of elves falling, burned and screaming. I looked up — rain still lashed us and the wind remained stiff, but it wasn’t enough to keep the orcs’ flyers down. At least six griffins soared overhead, along with the writhing form of a wyvern. A human in wizard’s robes floated there, as well, without benefit of a mount, sending bolts of lightning down at us.

Momentarily distracted, Thavaen turned his attention toward the roiling sky, directing a stream of blue-white energy upward, striking the enemy wizard, sending him whirling off in a miniature cyclone, vanishing into the clouds. More arrows rattled down around him, and elven missiles spoke in reply.

It was enough to relieve the pressure on the advancing orcs below, however, and they came forward once more, grappling hooks whirling, ladders poised. In a moment, the ropes and ladders were in place, black with orcs and goblins scaling precariously upward. Many ropes were sliced with swords, and ladders toppled, their occupants sent crashing down to earth to lie, screaming or still, at the foot of the walls. Once more, however, there were too many. At least ten orcs climbed the walls for every defender, and with the elves’ attention turned toward them, the ogres were able to move forward with their battering rams, relatively unmolested.

Only a matter of time now, I thought grimly, loosing my sword.

Thae’lynn

Thae’lynn stood somewhat back, in the cover of the trees, watching as the orcs and goblins did the lion’s share of fighting and dying. Behind her, the dark elf force — two thousand infantry and five hundred lizard-riders, as well as numerous priests, wizards, seers, scouts and others, stood expectantly. Davalkar and Zurm, the surviving priests, stood beside her, as did Mazzor, wings slowly folding and unfolding as he watched the carnage.

On the walls, tiny figures struggled, and an old, robed elf unleashed a powerful stream of magic, which physically lifted ten or twenty goblins, and flung them over the parapets.

“He is powerful,” said Mazzor. “He has an old soul.”

“You want him?” Thae’lynn asked. “Your first sacrifice?”

Mazzor chuckled. “I will take him, Dark Lady.” With that, his great wings unfurled fully, and he shot into the air, flying toward the walls.

Wulf

My section of the walls had yet to be breached, but below, mailed elf fighters swung broadswords at hulking orcs or leaping, darting goblins. So far, we held them, but there were so many...

Thavaen cast another spell, sending goblins flying off the walls.

Suddenly, a deep dread grasped me, as if I knew the moment of my own death was at hand. I looked up and saw a terrible figure, a winged, green figure swept up from the woods nearby, casting a tangible gloom over us as it passed. It was at least twice the height of a man, and flew at us with tangible hostility.

Gods, I thought, daemon...

That’s all I had time for, since the urge to turn and flee caught me in its jaws, and I fell back crouching in terror against the wall. All around me, the elves were also cringing and crying out in fear.

Only Thavaen stood against the thing as it swooped down on him like a hawk upon a rabbit. He drew his sword, which glowed violet and crackled with energy, and struck at the thing, catching one of its great wings, tearing flesh. The daemon shrieked, and then was on Thavaen, wrapping him up in its powerful arms, biting and slashing.

Then Thavaen was on his feet, falling back, blood running freely over his lean face. He brandished his sword, and for an instant the two faced each other, Thavaen fearlessly on guard, his sword sparking and glowing, the daemon standing in a crouch nearby, wings flapping, claws extended.

A moment later they clashed together. A rod of red energy sprang from the daemon’s hand, and it clashed with the elf’s enchanted blade, sending balls of white-hot force bouncing off the walls. Thavaen attacked, but the daemon defended, then counter-attacked, driving his force-rode into Thavaen’s midsection. Thavaen gave ground, his proud silver armor blackened and twisted. He attacked again, nicking the daemon’s shoulder, but again the green-skinned thing drove him back.

All around me the fighting stopped as the two drove at each other. Orcs and elves stared up at the battle, each silently urging on his chosen representative.

A great shout went up from the orcs when the daemon’s force-rod finally connected solidly with Thavaen’s neck. The old elf gasped and fell, desperately throwing up his sword to defend himself, but the daemon batted it away, and plunged its weapon into his throat. The elf died silently, face serene, then the daemon seized his body and took a huge bite from it, and screamed in triumph.

Despair seized the defenders, but still they fought. The day was lost, I knew it. And, with horror, I further realized that with Thavaen dead, the Chalice could not be destroyed. Before I could think further, at least four goblins appeared, flinging themselves at me with shrieks and maddened grins.

I fought as best I could, killing two before the third slipped in and jabbed with his dagger. My mail stopped the brunt of the blow, but as I defended myself, the last goblin leaped onto my back, short sword flashing. I felt my flesh part, blood gush...

Gods, not now... Gods... I fell, feeling the goblins surge over me, knives stabbing.

Then one of them screamed and fell, two arrows piercing its brain. The last one tried to run, but he, too fell, an arrow in his neck.

I looked up. Imral stood before me, casting me a sad, brooding look beneath the brow of his high helm. He lowered his longbow.

“We’re even, human,” he said, then turned and flung himself back into battle. A moment later, his corpse, streaming blood, armor rent in a dozen places, went flying from the battlements to land at the foot of the Citadel’s walls.

Perhaps we were even, but the gobs had managed to slice me up a treat. Red blood ran down my neck, staining my armor and the stone floor beneath me, and I felt weak and light-headed. Gods... I staggered to my feet, but could barely stay upright.

Suddenly, one of the griffins fell ponderously past me, bouncing off a battlement, and crashing to the earth below. Looking up once more I saw a wondrous sight.

Hundreds of slender, winged forms flew in the air overhead. Elves, by the look of them, but pale blue-skinned, their backs sprouting white, downy wings. They dressed in light leather harnesses and carried white bows and slim black swords; they swooped down upon the orcs, slashing or dragging them from the battlements. Others seized elven defenders, pulling them to safety.

It was the Winged Ones which Lord Thavaen had spoken of, but they were too late. The Citadel had clearly fallen. Below, the gates were smashed in and a black tide raced inside. All the flyers could do was rescue as many survivors as they could.

I stumbled and fell, a wave of dizziness passing over me. Would they see me, I wondered? Did it matter? Perhaps I should just sleep... Did it matter, really...?

When strong hands grabbed me beneath my arms, and I unexpectedly took to the air, the fallen citadel tilting wildly and receding behind me, however, I thought that, perhaps, it did matter...

Thae’lynn

The triumphant orcs celebrated late into the night, burning, looting, singing, drinking, smashing things, and generally doing what orcs do. The humans, reavers and Slaerthists, were a bit more restrained, but seemed to enjoy the victory as well.

“We did it! We did it!” exulted King Thrazz, parading past Thae’lynn, who sat, quiet and reserved, on her sedan chair. The orc chieftain carried handfuls of loot — jewels, chains, robes, and, clutched in one massive paw, a huge silver chalice, intricately wrought and set with rubies. “Lookie this, love! Perfect fer my collection!”

Thrazz paused, and cast Thae’lynn a glance which might actually have contained some gratitude. “And thanks for that monster of yours,” he said. “It sure as hell sent those elf-boys runnin’!”

“Don’t mention it,” Thae’lynn replied. Mazzor had thanked her profusely for the old elf’s soul, which he said was one of the most ancient he’d ever taken, then vanished back into the circle, promising to return the following dawn. For her part, Thae’lynn hoped the daemon was good to his word, for she had other tasks to request of him.

Hoping for further response, Thrazz looked disappointed (probably as disappointed as he’d been when informed that the citadel contained no elven maidens for him to ravish), and continued on his revel, eventually joining an untidy crowd of orcs an ogres, singing incoherently.

Thae’lynn drew a deep breath. The day’s carnage had been truly stimulating. Her brief interlude with Yalvar now seemed little more than the curtain-raiser, and wilder debaucheries now lay before her, smoldering darkly in her imagination.

She poked the lead minotaur with her goad.

“Rak,” she said, and the great bull-head swiveled to look at her. “In the mood for some entertainment?”

“Mmmmm,” grunted the minotaur. “We serve our mistress...”

Thae’lynn smiled.

***

The minotaurs were named Rak, the largest and most impressive of the bunch — Thae’lynn’s favorite, not surprisingly — Thag, Gshar, and Nur. Thae’lynn often confused them with each other (except Rak, of course), but it really didn’t matter that much. All had the requisite enthusiasm, and were well equipped for their duties, namely carrying Thae’lynn everywhere without protest, and pleasuring her as roughly as they could manage.

This they were now engaged in doing, and Thae’lynn, fired by the bloodshed at the citadel, and excited at the coming of Mazzor, was certainly in the mood for rough pleasuring.

Currently, she was on her knees, emitting sounds midway between yelps and groans as behind her, Rak fitted his thick cock into the soft envelope between her thighs and thrust inside. His first thrust drove her down onto her forearms, hands balled into fists.

Rak’s organ was not terribly long (though it certainly had the average dark elf male beaten by several imperial leagues), but it was thick. Thae’lynn reflected that she preferred it this way, feeling her cunt expand and stretch to accommodate it, then the sudden moment of relief as he pulled out, only to plunge in yet again.

That wasn’t all that made Rak’s organ so enjoyable. True to form, Thae’lynn had had no less than eight large metal rings set along the underside of the minotaur’s cock, and she felt them drag along the soft tissue of her cunt as Rak’s impassioned, feverish fucking continued.

“Oh, yes...” Coherent words were very difficult to form as Rak drove in and out, hotly slick now with the uncontrolled flow of Thae’lynn’s pussy. “Thag. I want to suck you...”

Obediently, the second minotaur shambled forward, his blackly-shining bull’s eyes inscrutable, but his mouth open and panting with excitement. She eagerly lapped at the tumescent organ before her. This one was set with four rings around its circumference, and though the minotaur bore numerous bovine features, the organ itself was thick and knobbed at one end, like that of an elf or human. The smooth, heated flesh rapidly grew wetter and harder beneath the ministrations of her tongue, and Thae’lynn was so far gone that she did not object when the great beast finally seized her head in two oversized hands, and drove his great cock straight into her mouth.

Sucking hard, feeling her tongue-bar click against the minotaur’s rings, Thae’lynn reached a hand back to stroke and tug at her ring-set clit, feeling sensations redouble, then redouble again, as her fingers rubbed and squeezed repeatedly. Oh, yes... it was coming... yes...

Thae’lynn pulled down hard on her clit-ring, and unleashed a torrential orgasm, contractions racing through her body, further intensified by Rak’s continuing thrusts, and the hard, unyielding sensation of his eight rings against her sensitive flesh.

“Ohh... mmm...” she released Thag for a moment to take in a deep gulp of air, then sucked more. Rak continued to fuck her, thrusting almost directly downward into her cunt even as she squeezed and bucked beneath him. Then he bellowed in a strange amalgam of human and bull, and released the contents of his pendulous balls, flooding Thae’lynn with hot semen, then pulling out, trailing hot white streamers across the black flesh of her ass and thighs.

Rak knew what to do — he slunk back into the shadows, leaving the mistress to his remaining three fellows. Gshar, seeing Rak bow out, moved into position behind Thae’lynn, prepared to continue where he had left off. His cock was longer, thinner, and smooth, devoid of piercings, but Thae’lynn enjoyed the varied sensations regardless.

“Wait, Gshar,” she hissed, urgently. “Lie on your back.”

As Gshar positioned himself beneath her, long cock standing straight, a glistening tower for her to conquer and envelop, and Thag once more moved in front of her, cock available for her mouth, Thae’lynn fumbled beside the bed and dragged forth a handful of fine chains, each about the length of her forearm, set with clasps at either end.

“Oh, you know what I want, don’t you, Thag?” she breathed heavily, stroking the thick, spit-slick organ. She attached four chains to the minotaur’s cock, one to each ring, then clasped the opposite ends to her own face, two each to lip-rings and earrings. “Careful, beloved pet,” she whispered. “You could do untold damage to either of us if you don’t control yourself.”

“Mmmmm... Mistress good,” grumbled Thag, then placed his cock back between Thae’lynn’s lips and began to once more slip it into her mouth.

Thae’lynn grunted hungrily, swallowing the minotaur-cock, feeling the chains run along the soft skin of her lips, tug at her rings... Gods...

Now, she reached down and stroked Gshar’s cock against her swollen cunt-lips, across her studded clit, then finally allowed it to enter her. She cried out, muffled by the smooth minotaur organ now sliding down her throat, and began to rise and fall, eagerly riding Gshar as Thag’s cock, bound to her now by chains, thrust with increasing speed and animal enthusiasm.

Gshar came first, bellowing and roaring, long cock pumping a flood of semen into the moist, lubricated depths of her pussy. She kept him inside her, feeling the hot liquid leak out as she sucked Thag harder, finally feeling him tense with coming orgasm. She braced herself for his onslaught, then felt the hot, salty come explode into her mouth, covering tongue and lips, sliding down her throat as she swallowed hard.

Stay in me, darling, Thae’lynn thought. Keep that beautiful animal cock in my mouth... Don’t pull out now, dearest, or you’ll do us both considerable harm. You more than me, might I add...

At last, Thag’s convulsions subsided, and he slowly slid out, his erection softening. She fumbled with the cock, slick with spittle and semen, unfastening the clasps, and allowing Thag to finally remove himself. She disengaged herself from Gshar, who was half-asleep anyway, and unceremoniously kicked him off her bed.

She glanced over at Nur, her last minotaur, who sat, looking rather peeved, at the foot of the bed.

“Oh, darling pet,” she sighed, wiping her face clean with a small towel. “So sorry. I’ll see to you next time. Now get out, all of you.”

Bowing and snorting, the minotaurs obeyed, leaving Thae’lynn to lounge, in her naked, temporarily sated splendor, amid the cushions, silks and furs of her bed.

Thrazz

His Majesty, King Thrazz, one hundred and thirteenth Lord of the Iron Gate, slayer of Sir Murris the Red, Master of Nine Tribes, and owner of one of the most extensive collection of mugs in all the orcish realms, admired his latest addition.

It was old, and obviously of elvish manufacture, but Thrazz figured he’d keep it anyway. In fact, given the fact that the pointy-eared little fuckers seemed to really treasure such things, it would probably royally piss them off to see him keeping it and drinking from it like a favorite ale-cup.

“BEER!” he bellowed, sending his goblin slaves scurrying. “BRING ME BEEEEEERR!”

Three goblins tottered into Thrazz’s tent, straining under the weight of a massive beer cask. Three more goblins attempted to help them, succeeded only in tripping up their fellows, and the keg fell to the floor, rolling along, to stop, thankfully still intact and sealed, at the foot of Thrazz’s throne.

“Oooohhh...” moaned one of the goblins, nursing a bruised head where the barrel had fallen on it.

Thrazz ignored the goblins as they scrambled back to their places outside his tent, then with a single blow from his mighty, ring-studded fist, stove in the top of the barrel and dipped the elf-goblet into its foaming contents.

A tingle passed through Thrazz’s arm, and he was suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to drink from the goblet. Hastily, he pressed it to his lips and drank in deep, gulping swallows.

Great Grunk’s flaming prick, it was good... He hadn’t remembered this vintage being so tasty, so satisfying, so very, very...

“Delightful,” Thrazz muttered. “Most delightful. A virtual feast for the palate.”

Thrazz frowned. What the hell... How did he know those words...?

He took another swallow. If the first drink had been good, this one was nothing short of ethereal. The liquid slid luxuriantly down his throat and reached out warm, gentle tentacles throughout Thrazz’s body.

A wonder... a song issuing from unseen orchestras... the fluttering touch of angels...

Thrazz shook his head, and carefully set the goblet down. Damn! He searched for parchment and a pen.

Thrazz, Great Orc Chieftain, whose hoard back in his palace-cavern contained the skulls of over one hundred rivals, and who had journeyed to these shores in search of plunder, pillage and rapine, suddenly wanted to write a poem.

Thae’lynn

She felt refreshed, renewed, and generally fucked senseless — a state to which she felt near-addicted. Hm, where could she put another ring, she wondered?

With her minotaurs out of action temporarily (let them rest, poor things), Thae’lynn walked alone down the elf-road, toward the magic circle. She carried sufficient magical protection to detect and strike down any lurking elves who might want to take a shot at her, but she was unconcerned. Thrazz’s warriors, as well as the bloodthirsty human Slaerthists in their glowing red or bilious green armor had hunted down virtually every living thing within a day’s march of the Chalice Citadel. Goblin and ogre work crews labored to fell trees, building great siege towers, ballistae, trebuchets, battering rams, and other war engines. They also slashed down the ancient trees and burned them simply for the fun of it, and to enrage the elves.

Ahead of her, deep in the shadows of approaching evening, the magic circle still flickered and smoldered.

“Mazzor!” she shouted. “I summon you!”

The daemon-lord rose from the circle, smiling thinly. “Who are you to summon me, woman?” he asked. “I serve with you of my own free will, not because of your puny magicks.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Thae’lynn shot back. “The army will be moving out soon, and we want you to accompany us.”

Mazzor nodded. “If there are more such as the elf-lord in these isles, I will come.”

“Perhaps we will give you the Silver Lady herself,” Thae’lynn said. “Of course, I have my own plans for her... You can have her when I and Thrazz’s orcs have finished with her.”

“It matters little,” Mazzor replied. “I sense that you have a further request of me.”

Thae’lynn nodded. “I do not wish conquest here, daemon-lord. I wish carnage. I wish to see the elven realms so thoroughly devastated that they will never rise up again. I wish to see the high elves exterminated, or reduced to utter savagery, so that my people can take their place.”

“With you as their queen, I suppose?”

“More than queen, daemon-lord. I want absolute power.”

“Power comes with a price, dark elf.”

Thae’lynn rolled her eyes. “Stop talking like a character in a bad opera, Mazzor. I know the consequences of my actions. I’m simply asking you to help me kill as many elves as possible.”

“That’s what I’m here to do.”

She shook her head. “No. I want more. That gate was created to summon you, and allow you access to your realm. I want it opened fully, and I want the creatures of your realm to emerge. I want them to run rampant through the elven isles, killing and destroying everything in their path.”

A rumbling laugh echoed in Mazzor’s deep chest. “Do you know what you’re asking, woman?”

“Of course I do. Once the gate is open, the creatures of hell have unlimited access to this world. But you can control them, Mazzor. And I want to keep you as my ally.”

“What do you offer me in return?”

Thae’lynn considered this. “Whatever is in my power to give, Mazzor. Anything, short of my own soul and freedom.”

The daemon smiled darkly. “Your body?”

“Gladly,” Thae’lynn replied. “That has always been available to your lordship, though you know I generally prefer males who lack the power of speech and reason.”

“I can certainly be an animal, if that is what gives you pleasure,” Mazzor boomed. “I like you, dark elf. I like you very much. We think alike in many ways.”

“Thank you, Dark Lord.” Thae’lynn bowed her head slightly. “I hope our alliance is long and fruitful to both of us.”

“Time will tell, Dark Lady,” Mazzor replied, fading from sight, his voice echoing. “Time will tell.”

Thae’lynn turned back toward her encampment, heart racing with both renewed sexual excitement, and the anticipation of coming carnage. Her black soul soared to join with the Mother of Pleasure, and the other Lords of the Dusk as she thought of Mazzor’s hellspawn emerging to ravage and kill, and her throat tightened with lust at the notion of so much elvish blood being shed. Soon, she thought. Soon the red banners would march against the green, and the Silver Lady would fall.

Soon, too, Thae’lynn, Keeper of the Black Ring, Duchess of Darkoak Hill, and Mistress of the Thirty-three Secrets, would be undisputed ruler of the Elven Isles, with both orcs and elves as her eager slaves.

Very soon.

Wulf

I crawled back to consciousness with all the enthusiasm of a starving Idrianic cenobite climbing to the top of Mount Thunder. I finally began to think about dragging my eyelids open, when a gentle touch on my shoulders brought me to full alertness.

I was in a round, domed chamber, lit with a soft, pale white light. I lay on a low platform, covered in a soft white blanket, but the room was otherwise featureless.

The individual touching me was what grabbed my attention, however. She was tall, slender, her skin a pale blue, her hair snow-white. Her face was finely-chiseled, with light blue eyes and thin, strong lips. She was clad in a light white half-tunic which hung down just below her small breasts, leaving her midriff bare, a soft expanse of subtle blue. A long white loincloth, embroidered with a blue design, hung down between her muscular thighs, one of which was encircled by a jeweled silver band. She touched me with delicate, unnaturally long fingers, but none of these were her most remarkable feature.

It was the wings. A pair of great, white-feathered wings, like those of the angels in those damnable Kyborist murals of the dull pleasures of paradise, rose gracefully from her back. They were huge and soft-seeming, and gazing at them, the last moments of the battle at the citadel returned to me.

“Winged One...” I said, weakly, feeling a wave of darkness sweep over me as I did so. Gods, how much blood had I lost...

“Peace on you,” she replied, putting one of her long, thin fingers against my lips. “You are badly wounded. I am Nyss, of the sky elves. You are human, yet you wore elven armor, and fought beside the high ones. I took you from the battlements, and brought you to or mountains. Other wounded fighters are here, and we must heal them.”

“Wulf. Pleased to meet you.” I nodded, thinking a long convalescence lay ahead of me, but feeling that, if Nyss was to be my nurse, it would be a relatively pleasant one.

As usual, I figured wrong, though the results were more pleasant than I could have imagined. Nyss stepped to the foot of my bed-platform, and tugged the sheet off, revealing my pale, naked body beneath. I was too weak to protest, but stared at her curiously.

She met my gaze. “You do not know our ways. My people heal by sharing the force of our souls with the wounded and sick. We take your hurt on ourselves and expel it.”

I was wondering exactly how they went about sharing the force of their souls, when she answered my question by sliding her long fingers up my thighs to cradle my shrunken cock. The awful truth began to dawn on me.

Despite the fact that I was about to protest that my battered body wasn’t about to rise to the occasion, I felt a wave of warmth through me as Nyss touched me, and felt my cock stir. Damn. It seemed to be working...

“Ahhhh,” I sighed. “Is this really how you make healing magic?”

“It is the most basic of interactions between male and female,” Nyss replied, stroking gently, watching with approval as my organ slowly rose to prominence. “Sharing of bodies involves the sharing of souls, after all.”

I’d never thought of it that way, but upon reflection, I realized she was probably correct.

“They never taught this kind of healing at the Magic Academy,” I commented. “Then again, I can’t really say for sure... It might have been second-year stuff.”

She didn’t reply, but instead stepped up onto the platform, slipping between my legs, and continuing to stroke, encircling my now-tumescent organ with her hand. The warmth continued to build inside me, and I felt pain and weariness begin to recede. Gods, if they taught this technique outside the Elven Isles, people would be lining up to get wounded...

“It’s good to see a patient so responsive to treatment,” she said softly, then lowered her head and gently grazed her blue-black lips across my now-erect cock. I felt a sudden wave of lust, as well as an increase in my overall outlook.

“Yes,” I said. “That feels very good.”

“It should,” she replied. “And this should feel even better.” With that, she placed her lips around my glans, tongue flicking at the opening, and slowly sucked me into her mouth.

The sensations were amazing, a combination of the satisfaction derived from a good meal, a terrific sleep, and a hard fuck, all at once. And she was just getting started. I couldn’t help but smile as she sucked, licked, released me, pulled at my cock with long, delicate fingers, and then sucked me some more, saliva slickening my tight, hot skin. Above us, her wings spread like a canopy, waving and shaking slightly as she swallowed me once more.

She stopped and pulled off her shift — laced and cut in such a way that she could remove it without interfering with her wings, and strode up my chest, on her knees, presenting a pair of small, pale blue breasts for my attention.

“Though we are motivated by a desire to help others,” she said, “we like to enjoy our work as well. Apply yourself to these, Wulf.”

“Gladly,” I replied, reaching up with new born vitality, stroking the small, soft prominences, poking her dark blue nipples with my tongue, watching with satisfaction as they hardened into swollen nodules nearly the length of my first knuckle.

“Like it?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said back, voice soft and inviting. “You make my work much more enjoyable.”

“I can do even better,” I said. “Want my tongue elsewhere?”

“It certainly can’t hurt,” she said. “You seem to be regaining your strength with great efficiency.”

“Just watch me.”

She raised up her long breechclout, and I saw that her white-haired mons was exposed beneath it.

“Let me lick you,” I said.

“You don’t have to ask that twice,” she replied, placing her knees on either side of my head, and lowering herself to my mouth.

I encircled her buttocks with my hands, and pulled her cunt to my mouth. My tongue sought out clit and cunt-lips, and tasted sweet moisture. I stroked her from perineum to clitoris, then slid a finger into her.

“Very good, Wulf,” Nyss said. “Very, very good.”

As I licked, tongue cleaving her pussy, teasing clit, then thrusting fingers inside her, she began to move, rhythmically pressing herself against my mouth, her hands caressing my hair. I reached up and pinched her distended nipples, applying pressure until I heard her moan wordlessly.

I licked harder, then gently nibbled at her clit, pressing my teeth against it softly as it swelled and throbbed. Her cunt pressed down on my fingers, her thighs squeezed together against me.

“I’m...” she gasped. “Wulf, I’m...”

I didn’t need to hear the next word, for she suddenly tensed, grinding her cunt against my face, thrusting down onto my engulfed fingers.

“Coming... Commmmmingggg.....” She cried out, then fell forward against me. I stroked her back gently, whispering to her.

She accepted my caresses for a few moments, then rose up, a determined look in her eyes.

“We finish, now,” she said. “You’ve recovered well, but I must finish, or the healing won’t last.”

I didn’t object as she moved astride my hip, holding my still-erect cock, and fitting it against her cunt.

“Now, in the name of the gods,” she said, I assumed ceremonially, “I heal you, and send away your pain.”

With that, she dropped onto me, my cock plunging into her cunt, still sopping from her orgasm and the attentions of my tongue.

Again, the warm sense of healing and serenity, mixed with passion and desire, raced through me. She was tight, and her cunt held me firmly, stroking me like a dozen warm tongues. She rose up, and my cock stood in the air, then vanished into her cunt once more. She was magnificent, a pale blue angel, white hair tossing, great wings rearing up like marble arches, face flushed with exertion, eyes locked on mine, urging me onward, thighs gripping me, cunt tight against my cock...

With my returning vitality, and the excitement of making Nyss come still fresh in my mind, it wasn’t long before a hot explosion built up inside me. I looked at her small, knob-nippled breasts, and her face, lips parted and panting, moist with saliva, eyes half shut with passion, and that was it.

I groaned. “Nyss...” I grunted through clenched teeth. “You’re making me... Making me come...”

Then it happened, my cock contracting, gushing come inside Nyss. She emitted a single, short cry of exultation, whether it was her own pleasure, or satisfaction at mine, I couldn’t tell, but my own orgasm went on for several seconds, finally subsiding into quiet aftershocks.

“Sleep now,” she said, gently. “Sleep and let our healing do its work.”

“Thank you.” Sleep tugged at me. “You’re so beautiful... Thank you.”

“No,” she said as I crossed the barrier into slumber. “No, thank you, Wulf. I haven’t enjoyed a healing this much in many months.”

I was glad.

Thae’lynn

The magic circle glowed with a flickering, fiery light. Mazzor waved his taloned hands over it, summoning shadows, which drew themselves forth and coalesced on the hard surface of the elf road. There, they grew solid and transformed into a throng of gibbering, malformed creatures — winged, tentacled, taloned, with gaping maws, clashing fangs, glaring eyes, and all manner of hideous appendages.

“My horde comes forth,” Mazzor said, infernal joy laced with each syllable. “They shall do great harm to the land of the elves, and aid you in your endeavors.”

Thae’lynn watched with satisfaction as Mazzor waved a great, muscular arm, and the horde scattered, bounding, crawling, flapping, galloping, or running, into the forests, their malign intent made manifest in their screams and howls of bloodlust. The minotaurs held her platform motionless, and seemed entirely unmoved by the frightening spectacle.

She smiled. “Well done, Dark Lord. I think our alliance is definitely off on the right foot.”

Mazzor nodded. “I have not done battle in the mortal realms for many years. It is good that you brought me here.”

Thae’lynn’s eyes narrowed, and her smile grew wider, and thinner, like a scimitar.

“The Citadel has fallen, Great Lord,” she purred. “It will be another day or so before the army is on the move.”

“Yes?” The question hovered, expectantly, though Thae’lynn suspected that the daemon lord knew what she intended.

“Join me at the Citadel, My Lord. I will wait for you there, naked. I want you to come to me, and take my body for your pleasure.”

“Hm-hm.” It might have been laughter. “The prospect pleases me, Dark Lady. Your body is indeed sweet, and I would taste it with great enthusiasm.”

Her heart suddenly raced, and she felt her hand tremble as she reached out to touch the daemon-lord’s shoulder.

“Give me any pleasure you desire,” she whispered. “I will beg for it, and accept it gladly. I ask only that you do no permanent harm.”

“That,” replied Mazzor, “is not likely. I wish you to remain as you are, and wish to remain your ally for a very long time.”

“So it shall be, Dark Lord. I will be waiting for you. You!” She kicked Rak and urged him forward. “To the citadel, and be quick!”

The minotaurs dutifully bore her down the road, toward the fallen citadel. Thae’lynn could barely restrain her excitement, but she knew that pleasure delayed was pleasure increased, and was willing to let her desire age and intensify, like a cask of expensive wine.

Oh, how she wanted him. And soon, soon (but not too soon, she told herself), she would have him.

Wulf

Nyss was there when I awoke once more, watching me quietly as I stretched and marveled at my overall feeling of health and well-being. Of course, getting screwed silly often improves my outlook, but this had been a truly healing experience — to my own astonishment, I saw that I lacked even scars.

She noted my reaction.

“Our healing magic is very ancient,” she said. “As well as both effective and enjoyable.”

“Probably the best healing I’ve ever gotten,” I agreed. “So what’s next for me?”

“The survivors from the Citadel are to be transported to the Silver Tower. We’ve tried to contact the Lady, but the enemy is interfering with our magical communications. We’ll be flying to speak with her directly, and taking the survivors with us.”

I nodded. “I’m not really a combatant. I’m just a human traveler caught in the middle. I get the impression that a lot of your people don’t even want me here despoiling your fair soil.”

“Not my people,” she said, scornfully. “The high ones of the land are an arrogant and insular bunch. Some of them don’t even think the sky folk should be here, despite the fact that we are related.”

“Related? How?”

“No one knows for certain. The legend is that the last survivors of a destroyed elven nation prayed for deliverance and were granted wings by the gods, so that they could escape. It’s a good story. Might even be true.”

I let it pass. “So when do we leave?”

“That’s what I came to tell you — we leave as soon as possible.”

“Meaning now?”

“Meaning now.” She handed over a bundle of clothing — a tunic, trousers, boots and traveling cloak. “Get dressed and come with me.”

I complied, rising, feeling rested, refreshed, and totally without fatigue from my terrible ordeal. “Will I see you again?” I asked.

She smiled. “We get that request quite a bit. I’m not adverse to the suggestion, but I see myself as a healer, rather than a lover. What I did was an act of mercy, not of love.”

“But you can’t see it that way,” I complained, pulling on my tunic and belting it. The craftsmanship was exquisite — it was light and comfortable, but also tough and warm, a mottled green color. “You must feel some affection for the people you heal.”

“I do,” she replied, “but it’s the affection of a healer toward those she heals, rather than that of a lover for her love. I don’t discount the possibility, mind you. If you live through all this, perhaps I will see you again.”

I shrugged. I’d heard that line before. “Perhaps.”

She led me down a smooth, white corridor, past several vast-looking chambers, and finally through an open door and outside, to a long, narrow shelf of rock.

My heart lurched. A chill wind raked us. The shelf was at least a half mile long, with similar doors all along its length. Above us rose vast granite ramparts, snow-capped and forbidding, while below, the shelf dropped off into a sickeningly sheer descent, down into misty distances.

Nyss shook her head at my discomfiture. “Land dwellers,” she said, a touch of scorn in her voice. “They always react this way.”

“It’s natural for us,” I said, still glancing nervously down the drop-off.

Other sky-elves emerged from the remaining doors, accompanied by wingless elves in garments similar to mine. Unhesitating, the pairs sprang from the cliff, dropping off into the void, then soaring up, dwindling away in the distance.

“We’re going to do that?” I demanded. “Are you sure I can’t just climb down to...”

My words trailed off into a scream when, without further ceremony, Nyss grabbed me under the arms and leaped from the rock shelf, carrying us both off into empty space.

I kept screaming as we plunged sharply down, cold wind ripping at me, the fractured granite wall flashing past. I felt the wind catch at Nyss’ great, feathered wings, and she suddenly swung violently upward, her strong arms holding me close despite the insistent pull of gravity, and we soared, toward the stormy gray of the sky, and away from the Winged Ones’ mountains.

“There,” she said, solicitously, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“Yes it was!” I shot back. “You could have at least warned me!”

“But it’s no fun that way!”

I shut up and we flew onward.

The storm still raged overhead. Wind and rain lashed at us, but Nyss’ powerful wings kept us aloft. The cold granite foothills merged into rolling hills, thick with shaggy evergreens.

“How far is it?” I asked.

“Bored already?” she replied, still jovial. “Another couple of hours flying time. Get comfortable.”

I sighed. Her arms held me tight, and her wings beat strongly, keeping us aloft with broad strokes, rushing loudly over the wind. I was somewhat cold, but the elven cloak kept out most of the chill. My legs hung down into space, a sensation which I tried to ignore, but my natural fear of heights continued to trouble me.

We went on like this for the better part of an hour before Wulf’s luck once more screwed us over.

Nyss saw something below us. “What the hell are those?”

Casting wild glances around me, I finally saw a cloud of winged forms rising up from the forest below.

“Nothing I’ve ever seen,” I replied, and meant it. These were wildly various creatures. Some were like spindly red humans with webby bat-wings; others resembled animals with thin, translucent wings like dragonflies; still others were indescribably insect-like creatures that spun and darted alarmingly.

“Gods,” Nyss muttered. Her wings beat faster, trying to outdistance the things, which had caught sight of us and were moving our way in an untidy swarm.

“Anything I can do?” I asked.

“Yes! Hold still!” I complied, heart pounding.

Perhaps she could have outdistanced the things if she hadn’t been burdened with a sizable human male. As it was, the swarm was on us in a moment. A winged wolf-like thing snapped at me, jaws clamping onto my leg. Pain lanced through me once more, and with growing alarm I saw an insect-creature lash out with a long stinger, striking Nyss between her graceful white wings.

Nyss spun in the air, crying out in pain. Her grip on me weakened, and I felt myself falling.

“Wulf!” Her voice was wild and full of concern, but there was little she could do. An instant later, I slipped from her grasp, and tumbled through open air, the beautiful sky-elf dwindling as I fell.

I plunged downward into the unwelcoming arms of the shaggy firs, grabbing branches, slowing my descent. The small branches beneath me cracked and snapped, until at last I pitched up against a heavy branch that supported my weight.

I hugged the rough trunk for long minutes, until my heart finally slowed and my breath came easier. At last, I eased myself down from branch to branch, finally dropping down the last ten feet to land, heavily, on the needle-strewn loam below.

Thae’lynn

The Citadel was little more than a gutted shell in most areas, but Thae’lynn made certain that the commander’s living quarters were left alone by the rampaging orcs. She had her own plans for the spacious bedchamber. She had lit it dimly with pale blue lamps, but otherwise left it intact, with its huge, soft bed in the center, beneath a soaring, groin-vaulted ceiling.

She lay, naked, legs slightly spread, fingers busy between them, alternately tugging at her clit-ring and stroking the swollen nub itself, occasionally touching the dozen rings which decorated her labia. She’d put an extra-large ring on her clitoris this time, easily large enough to put an entire finger through and pull. Outside, she heard footsteps approaching, and her pulse quickened.

“Enter, My Lord,” she said, breathily, as a towering, winged shadow filled the doorway.

Mazzor the Daemonlord bent low to enter the chamber, and stepped through. He rose above her, a statue cast of dark jade, his vast wings like a black cape behind him.

“Ah,” she sighed, writhing slightly. The demon was naked, and his thick, knob-headed organ rose erect from his loins, easily the length of a man’s forearm, darkening to nearly black at its tip. She wasn’t about to consider how to get that damned thing inside her at this point, but she’d figure something out eventually.

“I see you have prepared yourself,” Mazzor rumbled. “Females usually fear me.”

“With good reason, considering that polearm you carry between your legs,” Thae’lynn replied, sitting up, holding her arms tightly together so that her breasts bulged out, nipple-bars gleaming blue and silver. “You like what I have to offer?”

He nodded. “I do, indeed, Dark Lady. If you wish an alliance of flesh as well as cause, I am only too willing to cooperate.”

“I think,” Thae’lynn replied, “that it would be obvious by this time.” Her gaze wandered over him, taking in horned head, bestial features, and richly muscled physique. “I told you — I want you for my lover, Dark Lord.”

Mazzor chuckled again. “It might discomfort you.”

“So long as I emerge intact, I don’t care. I like some forms of discomfort.”

“Hm. No surprise there, lady.” He held out his organ, still as massive and prominent as a battering ram. “Don’t worry. My dimensions are somewhat... changeable.”

“Ah, I see. You expand or contract to fit the required dimensions.”

Mazzor approached the bed, producing a rushing sound as his wings passed through the air. “In a sense, yes. The fit is usually rather tight regardless. Would you like to experiment?”

“Oh, yes,” Thae’lynn said, unable to keep the excitement out of her voice as she rose to her knees and moved eagerly toward the demon. “I would, indeed.”

She took the great member between her hands; it was long enough for both her hands and more, and so thick that her fingers did not meet on the other side. It was hot — so hot as to be nearly uncomfortable, and it exuded a light, slick sheen, so that her hands slipped easily along its length as she stroked, eying it hungrily.

“Mmmm,” murmured the demon. His cock throbbed and sprang out another inch.

“Goddess of Pleasure,” she whispered, and flicked her tongue across the hot surface of his glans. To her surprise, she discovered that, as the demon’s prick lengthened, it grew somewhat thinner, though her fingers still did not completely encircle the massive shaft.

“Try your mouth, Dark One,” Mazzor suggested. “See what happens.”

“I’ll try, lover,” she replied. “I guarantee nothing...”

With that, she opened her mouth as far as she could, and applied it to the straining head of the demon cock. It was hot, almost burning, slick with whatever bizarre secretion the demon produced, and she was further astonished when it suddenly thinned and lengthened simultaneously, bulging into her mouth.

“Mmff,” she grunted, voice muffled. Now, though it filled her mouth completely, Mazzor’s cock fit tightly between her lips, and she slowly began to work her way down its length.

“See, Lady?” Mazzor asked. “It fits when I want it to. Of course, if it’s still too big for you...”

“Mmm!” Thae’lynn said, sharply, shaking her head, casting her dark eyes up to where Mazzor towered over her like a statue. She continued, sliding her lips down the ever-lengthening shaft of burning flesh. The daemon’s secretions were sweet and intoxicating, filling her mouth, mixing with her own saliva. She felt light-headed, and her throat opened up to accommodate Mazzor. Two great hands clamped onto the back of her head, holding her close, sending the slick cock still deeper.

The great shaft filled Thae’lynn’s throat. She feared it might choke her, but nothing happened, and it continued down. What a death it would be, she reflected, sensations whirling, feeling drunk and excited — choked to death by the sweetest, most succulent cock in the universe.

At last she reached the end of the thing, face tight against Mazzor’s loins, hands firmly holding her. She could do very little save tease the segment of his cock that remained in her mouth, stroking her tongue-bar and its hard little ball against its underside. He released her then, and let her pull back, cock sliding out, bar still held along its soft, burning length.

“It’s good,” Mazzor grunted. “You perform well, Dark One.”

She took the compliment with good grace, assaulting the organ with renewed enthusiasm, lightly biting down, feeling her teeth glide along the slickened flesh. She pressed her tongue harder, as well, applying pressure from both sides and received a sudden increase in temperature and secretion for her efforts.

“No,” said Mazzor, pulling back, cock slipping from her lips, trailing a rope of spittle, then returning to its original length. “Not yet, woman. Not yet.”

“I should hope not,” Thae’lynn told him, gently stroking the dark fur of his legs. “I’d like to feel this in a few other places first.”

“Oh, you will,” Mazzor said, pushing her backwards onto the bed. She fell back without resistance, head still spinning. Memories of her first herb-smoke party washed over her, of the men and women she had lain with that night, and of Chamzzir, her first panther... What a sweet kitty he had been...

She allowed Mazzor to spread her legs apart, feeling her countless labia-rings jingle and click together, slick with her hot juices. His long, snakelike tongue flicked out, touching her studded clit, curling around her ring, sliding along her lips, already wet with anticipation. She moaned, and the pressure increased, the tongue probing with greater insistence. Mazzor pulled open her dark cunt-lips with large fingers, then stroked at the glittering lip-rings, and finally slid his long tongue inside her, as moisture poured down her thighs.

“Yessss...” She sighed and grunted deeply. Yes, this is what she wanted. The perfect amalgam of man and animal. Hands, strong arms, a beautiful tongue and cock, and the primal instinct to use them. Of course, he was quite intelligent, but she could forgive that considering his other good qualities. “Fuck me with your tongue, you beautiful animal...”

“You ask so politely, Lady.” He obliged, the tongue literally writhing inside her, then pulling back to lap at her clit. With a gasp, she felt it loop around her clit-ring and tug gently.

Prehensile tongue, she thought. Never read about that in the literature. Trigon would have been so jealous...

“Harder,” she hissed, straining against him. “Pull harder.”

“Not good enough,” he said, his voice a threatening snarl. “Ask again!”

“Oh, yes!” she gasped. “Yes, pull on my clit harder! Please, my sweet animal... Please!”

“That’s better.” The insistent tug on her clit grew stronger, and she felt herself swell, ripen, overflow. Her vision exploded into multicolored fireworks. Shock after shock ripped through her from the throbbing center, where the burning daemon-tongue stroked and pulled, and sharp daemon-teeth pricked at her now-erect clitoris, fingers touched and toyed with the rings which pierced her wet cunt-lips.

As orgasm continued to rack her body and she cried out, uncontrollably, and largely unintelligibly (the most understandable words were, not surprisingly, “fuck” and “animal”), Mazzor seized her and effortlessly turned her over onto her stomach, then roughly pulled her up onto her knees.

“Where do you want my cock?” he demanded, rubbing its engorged head against her buttocks and thighs. “Where do you want me to fuck you?”

Trick question, she thought, but she played along anyway.

“My pussy... my cunt... please,” she said, purposely pitching her words with a tone of neediness and begging. “Fuck my cunt.”

“Not yet,” he replied, as she had hoped he would. “I’m going to fuck your ass...”

“Yes!” she said, unable to restrain her enthusiasm. “Yes, please...”

That probably wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but he didn’t let it stop him. He ran a finger over her asshole, then slowly slipped it inside.

“Want to get fucked there?” he asked. “Want my cock inside you?”

“Yes! You fucking animal, I want it now!” She was getting impatient and, though under other circumstances ordering a daemon-lord around was probably a bad idea, she didn’t really care. “Fuck my ass right now!”

“Louder. Say it louder.”

“Fuck me!” she cried. “Fuck my ass NOW!” She looked back at him, eyes wide. “I’m begging you. Please.”

“Happy to oblige, once more.” With that, he placed the head of his cock between her buttocks, rubbed it against her asshole for lubrication, and thrust, gently but insistently, into her.

“Uhhh.” The sensation was indescribable. She felt herself stretch to accommodate him, and felt him narrow slightly to fit, though she was still filled to the limit. She reached a hand down to stimulate herself as he began to thrust in and out. Feverish heat spread out from his cock, and she felt desperately thirsty. She stroked and pulled at her clit, and in a few moments fell over the edge into another colossal orgasm.

“Uhhhhh, yes... Uhhhh.” She was well beyond articulate speech, even such simple words as “beast” and “fuck.” She felt as if the thick daemon-cock filled her entire being, and the pain it caused was tiny compared to the mind-numbing pleasure which pulsed and throbbed inside her.

“Good,” Mazzor whispered. “Very good, little elf.”

She let him fuck her for several more minutes, feeling his cock stretch out her asshole, fill her completely. He pulled all the way out, and the pressure eased, then he thrust in once more, and the terrible but sweet sensations soared and swelled again. She felt one with the daemon, entirely submissive, totally possessed.

“Uhhhh...” She pulled down on her clit-ring. Yes. Again... again... Hot... Unbearable...

“I’m coming!” she cried, forming intelligible words with enormous difficulty. The pressure of the enormous daemon-cock inside her combined with violent, jaw-clenching contractions from her cunt. Flashes of black alternated with the dim light before her eyes, and she struggled to stay conscious against the burning intensity of her orgasm. “I’m coming for you... Oh, fuck my ass, you fucking animal...”

At last she could take it no longer.

“Fuck me now!” she barked. “Fuck me like an animal! I want it!”

“Since you ask so nicely...” The demon seemed quite cooperative at this point, and withdrew from her ass, stroking himself several times to clean his cock off (more of the slick exudate left the green-black organ shiny and wet-looking), then rubbed it against her moist cunt-lips.

“Inside me, now!” Thae’lynn was getting downright dictatorial with this creature, she realized, but he didn’t seem to be particularly bothered. “Put that fucking prick inside me now!”

“So demanding,” Mazzor said. “Such a demanding plaything you are...”

It was beautiful, exquisite, breathtaking. Here she was, fucking the greatest and most virile animal imaginable, ordering him to do as she chose, while at the same time feeling like his helpless toy — such a delicious combination. And he had the intelligence to listen — it was something of an improvement. Thae’lynn’s only regret was that she might have to actually talk to him later, but everyone had their burdens to bear...

Such thoughts were driven out when the massive cock finally thrust into her without preliminaries, thinning enough for access, then plowing straight into her cunt from behind, filling vagina and cervix and beyond, sending her into another series of soul-jarring orgasms.

“Oh, darling... Oh, you animal...” she husked and gasped. “It’s never... Never been so good... Oh, fuck me... Oh, my daemon... My beautiful master...”

Mazzor was pretty much intent on his rhythmic task, and didn’t respond, but continued to pump away, sending her into countless more orgasms before pulling out, turning her onto her back and standing over her, cock once more at its full thickness, glistening and pulsating.

“Now, little pet,” he said, “my turn. Make me come now.”

“I obey gladly,” she replied, breathless. “Very gladly.”

She seized the organ, still sizzling hot and rock-hard. She had the interesting notion that she was jacking off a gargoyle statue, or something similarly artistic, and memories of Trigon’s Transformational Modalities once more nagged her. This was not the Hundredth Modality, not by a long way... Had she possibly discovered the Hundred-and-First? Were the harmonic resonances produced by dark elf and daemon souls a unique variation? Could it be that Trigon was wrong, after all...?

Oh, fuck it all... I want him to come...

“I want you to come,” she said, pulling on Mazzor’s organ as if it were some kind of particularly recalcitrant root-crop. “I want you to come.”

“How much?” Mazzor demanded. “How much does my little elf want me to come?”

“A great deal,” she gasped, tugging, then running her tongue along the black member’s underside. “I want you to come a very great deal.”

He smiled. “Good. I come a very great deal.”

She got the joke. “Yesssss...” Her heart began to race again. “I want you to come all over me.” She released him, hooked her fingers into her nipple rings and pulled as hard as she dared, feeling sensations jar through her, pleasure and pain mixing until they were indistinguishable. “Make yourself come all over me.”

“I can control that, too,” Mazzor said. Though he obviously tried for a matter-of-fact tone, he was obviously approaching his own explosion. “I can give you as much as you want...”

“I want it all!” she said, loudly and sincerely. “I want to swim in it. I want to drown in it... Give it all to me! Now!” She encircled his cockhead with her lips and sucked on its very tip as Mazzor stroked himself with black-taloned fingers.

“Very well, then,” he said. “Take it now...”

With that, the pent-up cock gushed forth a truly torrential flood of hot semen. Mazzor hadn’t exaggerated; the explosion quickly overflowed her mouth and shot across her face. He pulled out, continuing to stroke himself, hot and sticky fluid splashing forth over her shoulders and breasts, rolling off her sides in wet masses, quickly soaking the bedclothes even as the endless rain of come continued.

“Ohhhhhh.” Far from being repulsed, Thae’lynn felt heightened excitement at the burning white cascade, swallowing the load in her mouth, while at the same time rubbing it across her breasts, belly and thighs.

Still, he continued, shooting more across thighs her thighs and abdomen. She rubbed it into her skin like a rich lotion, feeling its warmth. It didn’t grow cold like normal semen, but remained hot and almost steaming, white against her black flesh. It tingled on her skin, searing into her, sending a wave of lethargy washing over her. Her movements grew slower and more languorous until at last she lay, moving only feebly, in a massive pool of sticky daemon-come, gasping gently.

“Oh, daemon,” she whispered, semen bubbling from her lips. “Oh, yes. I love... I love how it... feels...” Then her eyelids flickered shut and she drifted into satisfied partial slumber.

Mazzor stood and looked down at her where she lay, black skin gleaming, patches of white still adhering to her. Nine parts in ten of her were asleep, and she gazed at him with half-shut violet eyes.

“You perform well, Lady,” he said, politely. “Consider our alliance sealed.”

“Yesssssss...” Thae’lynn said, with great effort, then finally drifted into complete unconsciousness.

Wulf

I sat at the base of the tree for almost an hour, wondering what to do. I didn’t know whether Nyss was alive or dead, or whether she would remember where she dropped me even if she survived assault by the aerial daemons. Odds were that I was stranded here, without the slightest notion as to which way the Silver Tower was. Deep in the woods, there was no way of taking a sun sight, and I wasn’t certain what direction Nyss had been flying in anyway.

My survival skills are mostly geared toward urban areas, so in the forest I was largely screwed. I had neither weapons nor shelter. I decided that my best bet was to strike out in a likely direction, and hope to find a road or a river which I could follow to civilization. Of course, if my good friend Imral was a typical elf, I was as likely to get an arrow in the gut as shelter and a decent meal for my troubles.

Finally deciding that Nyss was unlikely to return, I stood and began walking.

I kept walking for an hour, then another, then another. The woods seemed endless, and completely unchanging — long stretches of reddish, needle-covered soil crowded with grim and ancient gray tree trunks, beneath the tangled, black branches above, which let in very little sunlight, leaving me in perpetual gloom. Occasionally, the landscape would rise or fall, and once I saw a small green glade, dappled by afternoon sunlight, but though it was restful and pleasant, there was no one there.

Afternoon passed, and the gloom deepened. Night was coming, and hunger gnawed at me. I had no rations, no bow, no knife, no snare wire, and I hadn’t seen anything in the undergrowth or the glade that looked edible. I had hoped to come upon some wild berries or something like them, but so far the dice had come up losers.

I had just about despaired of getting anything to eat, and had begun to wonder how cold it got in this part of the isles when I saw a clearing up ahead, through the trees.

Hastening forward, I saw yet another verdant glade, only this one had a number of interesting features. A green knoll rose near the center of the clearing, surmounted by a circle of standing stones. A small stream also ran through the glade, and beside it I saw something which made my heart leap — blackberry bushes, ripe with fruit.

Gods, maybe things did go my way from time to time. I dashed into the clearing, feet whisking through tangled grass, splashed through the stream, and immediately began to pick blackberries and gorge myself.

They were unworldly — fat and ripe, heavy with juice, just the right blend of sweet and tart. It wasn’t exactly the most exotic or luxurious meal I’d ever had, but it was certainly one of the most satisfying. By the time I finished, I was filthy, of course, hands and face smeared with berry juice, but some vestiges of my civilized upbringing remained, for after I finished, stuffed to capacity with juicy blackberries, I crawled over to the stream, washed myself off in the cold water, and drank my fill.

Night approached, and it was sure to get chilly, so I decided to gather up branches and pine boughs for warmth and sleep in the clearing. The suffuse light of early evening made the glade shadowy and dusky, and as I rose to leave, a sudden sense of ominous dread swept over me. My eyes darted from bush to tree to shrub, then up to the knoll, where the standing stones began to sink into darkness.

Dread became fear, and fear panic. I didn’t know why at that moment, but my mind and body abruptly wished to flee the clearing, run like hell and never look back, and I wasn’t about to argue.

I splashed into the stream, intent on the trees, whose dark embrace now seemed welcome, all-concealing and safe. Behind me I felt, rather than saw, the standing stones, and imagined them coming to life, turning into gray, daemonic creatures, reaching out rocky fingers to grab me and crush the life out of me. I had intruded upon them, I realized. I had eaten and drunk from a sacred place, and now the sacred place was angry.

I ran desperately, but I knew it was too late. Low mounds of earth sprang up all around the perimeter of the clearing, and with horror I watched them split open and aged, brittle, skeletal hands reach out. From the mounds clambered tall, spindly skeletons, their features fine and inhuman — the elven dead, rising up to take vengeance on me for my violation. They moved stiffly, and dark blue fire burned in their dead sockets. Some wore remnants of old armor, or carried rusted weapons.

Even in the best of times, I’m not a terribly brave man, and this was anything but the best of times. I screamed, then turned away from the monstrous things which blocked my escape, back toward the standing stones, only to see an even greater horror rising up there. From the center of the ring of menhirs, another skeleton rose. But this was no mere elven skeleton, as frightening as those were. This was a vast, monstrous thing , animated and glowing, driven by ancient, angry magic. Its head was broad, beaked and crested, atop a long neck and heavy body, with the pinions of long-vanished wings rising up above it, and a lashing, bony tail behind. It had once been a dragon of great size and power, and now it was an engine of retribution, ready to take me and destroy me utterly, both body and soul.

I knew it was up, then. Shambling elf-skeletons behind me, a withered, maddened dragon skeleton before. Why I didn’t curl up and squeal feebly as they finished me I can’t say. Fear (or in this case, stark staring terror) makes a man do strange things, and what I did certainly qualified. Rather than turning back into the welcoming arms of the dozen or so skeletal elves behind me, I pounded forward, splashing through the stream, past the spine-covered blackberry bushes, and straight up the hill into the jaws of the undead dragon.

I dodged around a standing stone, letting the great head strike down at me, then dashed desperately between its two front legs, ducking low beneath its axe-sharp breastbone, and bounded across the altar stone. The lashing bony tail buffeted me, sending me sprawling and tumbling down the other side of the hill, but now I was clear. I dashed for the safety of the opposite end of the clearing, mercifully free of skeletal guardians.

My heart sank, however, as I saw another dozen mounds rising up in the near total-night, their fleshless occupants climbing out to shamble toward me.

I cried out in despair, stopping and dithering, uncertain what to do. I was unarmed, outmatched by enemies who obviously wanted me dead — or possibly recruited into their withered ranks. I most assuredly did not want to die... not yet, anyway.

An undead elf took a swipe at me with a rusty sword. I ducked easily, but there were too many of them. Another came at me, moving more steadily this time. It was surrounded by a faint blue nimbus, and its armor was clean and free of rust. It held a slender black sword that glowed and shouldered with lambent violet runes.

Great, now I had to fight some kind of undead warrior-hero. I might just as well give up right this minute...

Blue fire flashed in the clearing, striking the undead champion, sending the sword spinning as he burst into charred fragments. Again, I wasn’t going to question a miracle, but picked up the fallen blade and struck out with it myself. Where it struck, my foes were blasted apart, collapsing into inert bones and twisted metal.

The way to the trees was open now, and there stood a slender figure wreathed in flickering blue flames.

“Come on, idiot!” shouted a voice. “We can’t hold the dragon off! Get out of there!”

Keeping the sword in a death grip, I made for the trees, cutting down a couple more skeletons in the process.

I caught sight of my benefactor, and almost stopped short. She was beautiful, like most elves, so that came as no surprise. But there was more to her. It was an indescribable quality — a strength measured in the depths of her soft brown eyes and dark, red-gold hair, a firmness in the curve of her lips — I don’t know. The fact is that I was smitten almost instantly.

“Quit gawking, and get a move on!” she ordered, gesturing with a gnarled wooden staff. She was dressed in buckskin tunic and trousers tight enough to be her own skin, and wore soft leather boots. Her belt was hung with various pouches, and her clothing was intricately decorated with fanciful beadwork. I obeyed, quit gawking, and fled into the woods.

She followed, and in a few moments, called a halt.

“It’s all right,” she said, breathing hard. “That thing can’t go far from its circle. It won’t pursue.”

I looked at her. “You’re certain?”

“Damn right I’m certain, round-ears!” she shot back. “Who lives around here, you or me?”

I shrugged. “Can’t argue with that. I’m Wulf. Human traveler caught in the little fracas between the dark elves and their cousins.”

“Ah. The war is bringing out all sorts of monsters, isn’t it?”

How nice. Another tolerant elf.

“Personally,” I replied, “I’ve seen enough of both sides that I don’t much care who wins the war. I suppose I should thank you for helping me, however.”

She made a noncommittal noise. “Gods only know why I did it, human. Anyone stupid enough to violate one of the dark barrows deserves everything he gets.”

“Have you considered that I’m not here voluntarily, and that I don’t learn all the rules of existence on the Elven Isles by osmosis? I’m not any happier to be here than you are to have me, elf.”

“My name is Sarra, druid of the ninth rank,” she replied, coldly. “I’m protector of these woods, and I’ve had my hands full dealing with a rash of daemons and other monstrosities over the last couple of days. I’ve little enough time for saving uninvited humans.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied, and I meant it. “It’s probably been hard on you.”

She nodded. “That it has. The orcs and the dark elves are still days distant, but they seem to have sent a wave of abominations to prepare the way for their advance.” She fixed me with a stare that was overtly hostile, though I detected a trace of genuine concern. “I saved you, and I’ll help you get where you’re going. But you’ve got to help me in the meantime.”

I agreed. “You’re my only friend right now,” I said, “though you don’t seem too keen on the idea. I’ll help you.”

“All right, human. It’s getting darker, and I have no idea what’s abroad tonight. You’d better come with me.”

“I will. But call me Wulf, please.”

She did not respond, but instead led me through a twisting route through the forest, to a large-boled tree. She tapped her staff against the tree’s base, and a series of projections sprang out from the rough bark, forming a ladder up into the higher branches.

“Follow,” she said, and, stowing her staff crosswise in her backpack, began to climb.

I climbed after the druidess as best I could, pausing frequently, clinging close to the bark, in the dim light of Sarra’s staff.

At length, high above the forest floor, the branches of several different trees grew together, thickened and strengthened (through druidic magic, I suspected), and supported a wooden, organic-looking cabin. Its roof was made of pine needles, soft and curved, and the graceful walls sported several round windows, with leaded glass panes in the shape of spiderwebs. Sarra opened a round door and ushered me inside.

“Welcome,” she said, following me, “to my home. Come quickly, and leave slowly.”

“I accept your welcome,” I replied, formally. “I stay happily, and leave sadly.”

She didn’t expect that. She stared in astonishment.

“I didn’t realize that you knew our ways.”

I smiled. I’d read it in a book once, but this seemed like a good time to use it. “I’m full of surprises, Sarra. I’m genuinely happy to be here.”

She turned away without a word and began to light tapers.

Well, I thought, looking around, taking in the light polished wood and graceful curves of the house around me, here I am, safe.

At least for the moment.

***

Given the day’s exertions, I slept surprisingly fitfully that night, troubled by dreams of a tall, pale-haired elf warrior in a suit of elaborate black scaled armor and a high, pointed helm. He strode through flames and pointed a long, thin finger at me.

“You carry the Sword of Ages,” he said. “You will become the avenger.”

I awoke with a start, looking about in confusion. Around me was the darkened sitting room of Sarra’s house, its curved, natural-looking furniture casting strange shadows in the dappled moonlight which shone through the spiderweb-windows.

Still partly asleep, I arose from the couch where Sarra had left me, and wandered about, uncertain and clumsy in the darkness. I found my way through a tall, oval portal, and walked down a round hallway, polished wood beneath my bare feet, occasional doors appearing on either side. At length, I reached a door at the end of the hall, and without thinking reached out my hand, and touched its burnished brass latch.

To my surprise, the door opened, swinging silently inward, and I walked through it, my feet moving almost of their own accord.

Inside was another chamber, with curved walls and a single window, through which the moon cast silvery light. In the center of the room stood an empty suit of armor, surmounted by a graceful conical helm. A circle of eish stones surrounded the armor on the floor, gleaming slightly with the light they’d absorbed during the day.

On the wall opposite me I saw a tall, life-sized portrait of a slender, pale-haired elf, dressed in a long purple tunic. With a start, I realized that it was the elf from my dream, and that he had been wearing the armor.

“What are you doing?” a voice exploded from behind me, making me jump and whirl in alarm.

Sarra stood there, dressed in a simple white shift, her hair bound up on her head. Her gentle features were contorted with anger.

“I’m sorry...” I babbled. “I couldn’t sleep, and...”

“Get the hell out!” she roared. “Get the hell out of my house, you human bastard!”

I was left with the general impression that I’d blown it.

I exited the room, still trying to explain myself. She followed me into the sitting room, a black cloud of pure anger.

“I didn’t mean any harm,” I said. “I was half-asleep. I had a strange dream and was just wandering —”

“Wandering? Damned convenient wandering, human. You heard me — get out of here. Find your own way to the Silver Tower, and be damned!”

“Please,” I said, “if I’ve upset you, I’m sorry.” As usual, I was grossly understating the obvious. Far from being merely upset, Sarra looked as infuriated as a Kyborist Patriarch who had discovered a Red Temple orgy going on in his confessional, and then discovered that he hadn’t been invited.

“Get out,” she hissed.

“No!” I shot back. “The elf in the portrait! I saw him in my dream, dammit! That’s why I went there!”

Sarra’s tantrum suddenly collapsed like a wall under Litharnan siege-bombards. Her eyes suddenly widened, and she looked up at me, tears gleaming in the faint moonlight.

“What?” she said, voice faint and feeble. “What did you say?”

“I saw the guy in the portrait. I dreamed about him. He was wearing the armor, and he told me that I would be the avenger.”

“You’re lying!” she said, sharply, a trace of the rage returning.

“How the hell would I come up with a lie like that?” I said. “How was I to know it would get your attention? If I were lying, I’d have come up with a better lie than that.” It was true — I’m one hell of a liar when I’ve a mind to be.

I think that got to her. She walked unsteadily to a chair and fell into it, head sinking down onto her knees. A moment later, her shoulders heaved, and I heard sobs.

“Sarra?” I said, uncertain what to do. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

“You bastard,” she husked, voice brimming with sorrow and anger. “You had no right... No right at all...”

The elf in the armor... That had to be it...

“Who was he, Sarra?” I asked. “Who was the one wearing the armor?”

A deep sigh. She looked up, face now streaked with bitter tears.

“His name is — was — Raven. He was my husband.”

It hit hard. Now it made sense.

“I dreamed of him. He spoke to me. I saw him and you didn’t.”

She nodded. “Why didn’t he speak to me? Why? Goddess, I miss him so...”

I felt suddenly uncomfortable, as if witnessing a moment which was hers and hers alone.

“Do you want me to go?” I asked. “I’ll leave now if you want.”

“No. Stay. I believe you.” She leaned back trying to compose herself, but the grief came over her in waves. “He died only ten years ago. It’s so hard for me to think of him...”

I frowned. “How old are you, Sarra?”

“Ninety-five,” she replied. “Ninety-five cycles — thirty with him, and the last ten without.”

Gods. “You’ve lived three of my lifetimes,” I said, in astonishment. “Ten years is an eternity for humans, but for you it’s like —”

“Like yesterday,” she replied. “It was like yesterday. It will always be like yesterday.”

“How did he die?”

“Raiders. Humans from the Cold Islands. They tried to sack the Runehall. Claimed that one of their ancestral weapons was there. Raven was summoned by the Silver Lady, and left to fight them. He was a very well-known warrior. He rode Galewing, a black pegasus, and joined the battle in time to help turn the raiders back. Their shaman struck him down with a waterspout. He fell into the sea. They recovered his body the next day, and sent his armor to me. Galewing’s corpse was never found.”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. “I guess I can understand why humans aren’t your favorite people.”

“Have you ever lost someone you loved, human?” she asked. “Yes, I imagine you have. Everyone has. But we live so much longer than you do... Your people think that it’s a blessing, don’t they?”

I didn’t reply.

“Well, they’re wrong. Long life is a curse. Every day we spend in this world of tears and pain is an eternity. Every moment of existence away from the Goddess is torment. Perhaps we live longer, human, but our sorrows are far, far deeper. I cannot forget Raven, no matter how hard I try. And now, he has come to you, called out to you — a human. Not to the woman he loved — to a mortal one.”

“But that proves that he still exists somewhere,” I said. “And it proves that you’ll be together again someday.”

“Not too soon for me, human,” she said, sadly. “Not too soon for me. Now go back to sleep, and if Raven calls you again, ignore him. I will see you in the morning.”

I allowed her to retire, but lay awake for a long time, listening to soft sobs emanating from Sarra’s chamber.

Thrazz

The army was on the march. Endless dark red banners rose above the black tide as it moved inexorably along the elf-road. Hordes of scouts preceded the army, searching for enemy forces, foraging, killing and pillaging just for the fun of it.

Thrazz was well pleased. His mind was so clear now — perhaps it was the sheer joy of conquest, the clarity of unrestrained violence. This is what an orc lives for, he thought. This is why I was born. Perhaps I’ll write a song about it.

A squad of elite armored black orc dragons walked by, shouting and chanting. They waved fists and clutched weapons at him as he gazed down from a low hillside. He was mounted on his favorite wolf, who regarded his master’s changed personality with a mixture of fear and bemusement.

“On my children!” Thrazz bellowed, hefting Brainsquasher, his favorite heavy mace, over his head. “Raise the red banners and carry them to the elvish heartland! Show no mercy! Burn and slay, my children, and the gods shall laugh! The red shall devour the green, and all shall serve the great war-god, Grallik the Unjust! Go, my children, and slay! Slay! Slay!”

They cheered at that. Thrazz smiled to himself, impressed at his own creativity. Damn, this was fun.

Thae’lynn

Mazzor stood beside Thae’lynn, watching as the orcish host passed in review before King Thrazz. Behind them stood the black-armored ranks of dark elves — infantry, berserks, lizard-riders, wizards — well back the van, as usual.

“The old pervert’s in good form today,” Thae’lynn said bitterly. She stood on her own, now, her minotaur bearers at attention nearby. She held Yalvar on a chain, and the great cat lazed at her feet, idly licking one enormous paw.

“Given your tastes, I’d have thought you’d adore King Thrazz, Dark Lady,” Mazzor said. “No offense meant, but he is more animal than rational being.”

“Yes,” Thae’lynn agreed, “and he combines the worst features of both. I like my animals virile and clean, and my males quiet and good-mannered — present company excepted, of course, Lord Mazzor. Thrazz is none of those things.”

“Besides, he stands in your path to power, does he not?

“Indeed, he does, daemon lord. And with your help I will remove him. Are you ready to put our plan into effect?

Mazzor nodded. “Tonight, Lady.”

“I’m very glad that you don’t share my repulsion for the foul little creature, Mazzor,” she said.

The daemon grunted noncommittally. “I will use all means at my disposal for temporal power. If that means impersonating you and having sex with a rutting orc lord, it is of little concern to me.”

“Mm. That,” Thae’lynn said, scanning the endless black ranks of orcs, goblins and assorted creatures, “is one of the good things about partnerships. One partner will do what the other finds distasteful.”

“An enlightened observation, Dark Lady,” Mazzor replied.

Wulf

The previous night’s incident was largely ignored as we sat down to a hearty breakfast of nuts and berries (damned druid cuisine — I’d have given anything for a nice flank steak).

“I got up early this morning,” she said (in reality, I suspect that she hadn’t slept at all the night before), “and did a little research. That sword you got from the skeleton seems to be quite a weapon. According to the runes, it’s called ‘Vasha Kultha’ — the Sword of Ages. Leaskang’s History of the Fifth Cycle Dragon Kings discusses the weapon in considerable detail.”

“So what’s the story?”

“It was forged by the hero Halvarath as an instrument of vengeance against his brother Doleath, who had killed their parents and tried to kill him.”

“Very un-elven behavior,” I pointed out. “I thought you guys were always noble and good and honorable.”

“That’s the face we like to show to the outside world. The fact is that living forever makes us even more treacherous and scheming than anything you humans could imagine. Some elves have hatched plots that took centuries, or even millennia, to come to fruition.”

“That’s no problem for me,” I said. “By the time any elf’s schemes against me came to pass, I’d have been in the ground for several lifetimes.”

“Good point. In any event, Halvarath made Vasha Kultha to utterly destroy his brother, body and soul. It worked too well. He slew Doleath, but kept the sword, using it to avenge every crime he knew of. Eventually, he started to avenge crimes that he only thought existed. In the end, he felt that mortal existence was so sinful and imperfect that all should die. He led an army of fanatics against the Silver Tower, and almost destroyed it. He was defeated, and his army scattered, but his body was never recovered.”

“Do you think that was him in the glade?” I asked, somewhat horrified.

“I think so. He was never without his dragon, Scarclaw. I’d say that that undead dragon fits with the legend.”

“Will they all die now, finally?” I asked. “We’ve got the sword.”

“Let’s hope so. It’s doubly imperative now that we get to the Silver Tower. The Lady must be given that sword so that she can destroy it, or put it where it can never be used again.”

I put my head in my hands. “First the damned Chalice, now the Sword,” I said. “Why do you make these damned things if they do so much harm?”

“I don’t know, Wulf. I suppose it’s our nature to tamper with the limits of temporal existence. Longevity can also be boring, after all.”

“I’d never thought of it that way.”

She rose, and gazed out a nearby window. The sun shone down through the branches overhead, silhouetting her in soft, yellow-green light. The outline of her body showed through her shift, and I had to swallow hard and suppress my usual lustful thoughts. She was a widow, after all, and still in mourning. Of course, elven mourning apparently lasts a couple of centuries, so she was likely to be this way for quite some time.

“We’ll need flying mounts,” she said at last. “It will take days or weeks to get to the Tower on foot. Flameharrow is the nearest city, and I suppose we could get transportation from there, but even that’s at least four days’ hard travel. Besides, we might get there and find it under siege.”

I nodded. “What’s your plan?”

“I’ll make a summoning circle,” she said. “At my grove. It will call out to any large flying creatures nearby. It will take at least a day to be effective, however, but no more than three. We’ll have mounts and be airborne in less than the time it would take to get to Flameharrow.”

“Makes sense. But air travel might be difficult.” I told her about the winged things that had attacked Nyss.

“It’s a risk we’ll have to take. And besides, they’ll find that two mounted, armed warriors are a much harder target than a sky-woman burdened with a human passenger.”

I’d never really considered myself a “warrior” (“cheese eating coward” is a far more apt description), but I let it pass.

“How far is your circle?” I asked.

“If we leave now, we can get there by afternoon,” she replied. “We’ll have to camp there, but I can weave some protective spells to keep the beasties away.”

“All right,” I agreed. “Got some traveling clothes?”

Thrazz

Orcdom spread its green and slobbering tentacles across the verdant elven realm. Lord Thrazz looked on with pride, anticipation, and several emotions which he had never experienced before. He walked around camp, dozens of unfamiliar sensations fighting each other. He had never, he decided, been more an orc, more a warlord, more a monarch. But there was something else... Other things which slumbered deep inside him, whose awakening he both feared and welcomed.

“BEEEEEEEERRRR!” he bellowed for effect, and instantly, his goblins came tottering forward, pouring beer from the ever-present cask into the silver chalice he had taken from the elves. He grabbed it sloppily and took a deep draught.

Instantly, the Lord of the Iron Gate felt more at ease, more self-assured, more confident, more...

Well, more orcish, anyway.

Night shadows spread over the elven forests, and over the advancing tide of Thrazz’s army. This was the time for the weak-willed humans to stop, make camp, relax, eat, sing songs, and (where appropriate) engage in random pillage and rapine. For the orcs and goblins, however, this was their time, and their armies advanced with renewed enthusiasm. They did not follow a rigid sleep schedule, but nodded off whenever they were tired, regardless of the hour. Now, fired by the prospect of bloodshed, and emboldened by their easy victory at the Citadel, they moved swiftly, bearing down upon the elvish settlements and fortresses that were certain to lie ahead. For their part, the dark elves remained well behind, acting as a rear guard and, as Thrazz contemptuously noted, keeping themselves well out of any real danger.

As for Thrazz, he felt a need for calm reflection and contemplation of his battle plan. Finishing his beer with a final huge gulp, and returning the chalice to its now-customary place, hanging from his belt, he threw back his cloak, and strode into his command tent.

“I thought you’d never get here,” said a soft voice from the shadows.

Thrazz jumped, hand darting for his falchion, until he realized that the voice was familiar. Staring in astonishment, he saw none other than Lady Thae’lynn of the dark elves, stepping into the light.

Thrazz gawked like a confused bird. She was still masked, but wore a long, lacy black robe, unbelted and open in the front, revealing the lean contours of her body, vanishing into tantalizing darkness between her loins.

“I’ve considered your offer, Lord Thrazz,” she said, voice now deep and honeyed, “and I wish to apologize for my former reticence. I believe our alliance can be further strengthened by a closer union between the two of us.”

There was a time in his life when the sight of a nearly naked elven woman, dark or light, would have been the signal for Thrazz to drop trou, shout “Sausage Time!” and start plunging. Now, however, the deeper things stirred inside him, and he chose to talk.

“Why are you doing this, Dark Lady?” he asked. “The last time you met, you said that I repulsed you.”

Thae’lynn blinked, apparently astonished that such subtlety could originate in an orcish mind.

“As I said, Great Lord, I consider my former views to be overly hasty, and have since recanted. I apologize if I gave insult.”

“Hm.” A thought occurred to Thrazz. “Perhaps, Lady,” he said, “your well-known predilection for animals has caused you to think more favorably of me.” He paused, fixing Thae’lynn with an intense stare. “My people have been called animals for millennia, Lady. Some of us even believe it, and our actions are accordingly savage. But, Lady, if we orcs are animals, we are animals because the world made us that way, not because we willingly chose such a role.”

Thae’lynn drew closer. The hidden and shadowy parts of her body became clearer — her small breasts, pierced with gleaming metal, her flat stomach, black as ebony, the neat silvery triangle at the junction of her thighs. To his own astonishment, Lord Thrazz remained unmoved.

“Great Lord,” she said, urgently, “I meant no harm. I do not consider you an animal.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not, Dark Lady. The fact remains that I do not at this time welcome your attentions.”

“But, Great Lord,” Thae’lynn, voice tight and intense, “I want you.” She fell to her knees, pulling her robe open, fully exposing breasts, shoulders, belly. “I must have you, Great Lord Thrazz.”

Thrazz looked down coolly. “If you want me so badly, Dark Lady, perhaps you should take the time to get to know me. If you now believe that the mere sight of your naked body will cause me to throw myself upon you and ravish you like a beast, you are sadly mistaken. I am not that kind of orc.”

Astonishment, anger, puzzlement, and other expressions appeared and vanished in the space of an instant in Thae’lynn’s deep violet eyes. Without another word, she rose, pulled her robe shut, and strode angrily from the tent.

Thrazz stood blinking for several minutes after that, marveling at his own restraint. Once, even a few days ago, he would not have hesitated, and by now the dark elf bitch would be begging for mercy as his rock-hard organ thrust mercilessly inside her (that, he thought, was how orcish males tended to think of sex — somewhat limited and scarcely civilized). But now...

Now...

What?

“BEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRR!” Thrazz bellowed.

Wulf

Sarra led me on a twisting path through the forest. I was dressed in green elven garments — soft and light, but incredibly sturdy, and carried bow and broadsword. The Avenger sword, which I had taken from the skeleton-warrior, remained behind, in the shrine with Raven’s armor.

We had had differences over exactly what to do with the weapon. Given its dangerous nature, we were in agreement that I shouldn’t continue to actually use it. I, however, favored keeping the weapon with us and taking it directly to the Tower, while Sarra felt that its very presence was a hazard, and that its evil qualities might disturb her spellcasting when we reached the grove. In the end, she prevailed, though I expressed concerns over leaving such a deadly item unguarded.

“The orcs won’t find this place,” she said. “It has so many concealment spells on it that no one can ever find it that I don’t want to.”

I finally agreed, albeit with great reluctance, and we set off for the grove.

The forest was as thick and difficult as I remembered, but Sarra knew many secret ways, and we made good time.

We talked softly as we went, and she told me more of her life, and her life together with Raven.

“He was a widower, himself, you see,” he said. “His own wife had died in battle, and he had mourned over her for a century. We’re like that, you see — we never do anything by halves.”

“So you figure that since you’ve got several millennia to live, you have the luxury of wallowing in emotion.”

“Crudely put, but yes. How long did it take you to forget the last woman you loved?”

“Which one?” I asked. There were several to choose from, even in the past year or so — Ushandra, the veldt warrioress, Alrynna the not-so-submissive slave-woman, even her mistress Xylara, and Xylara’s overly enthusiastic sister Nineh... Dammit, the fact was that I loved them all, to some extent, even if the feelings weren’t always mutual — the Xeshite women were crazy for me when I was a lion-man, but that cooled a bit when I became human and my cock got shorter (I still think Xylara harbored some genuine affection, but that’s as may be).

“I don’t think I ever forget them,” I said at last. “I just learned to live without them. Everyone who goes away, whether they die or just part company with you, everyone leaves a hole behind. I’ve managed to work around the holes. It gets kind of difficult after a while, though, if there are too many holes to work around.”

“Perhaps we’re not so different, after all. We, too, have holes in our hearts when a loved one leaves, but we have longer to learn how to work around them. Maybe your kind knows best. With less time to live, you have less time to mourn, and you don’t let it disfigure you and destroy your life.”

“Oh, it does that, too,” I said, “but as you said, we humans have considerably less than a century apiece. We can’t afford to mourn too long. Or to celebrate, either.”

“Interesting.”

I began to reply, but she stopped me with a raised hand, and instantly dropped to a crouch, pulling her bow out of its sheath and stringing it in a single motion. I clumsily followed suit, fumbling with bow and bowstring. At last, I got the damned thing strung and nocked an arrow.

“Something up ahead,” she whispered in a tone only scarcely louder than the rushing of branches above us.

I frowned and squinted in the direction she pointed. There was something there, all right, a large bulk of darker shadows beneath the trees. It stirred, and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t seen it before.

“What — “ I began.

I never finished. With an unearthly shriek, the thing exploded upon us, scattering trees before it like toothpicks.

It was horrific — a monstrous amalgam of a half-dozen different animals. It had a head like a naked, hairless bear, flesh moist pink and glistening. Its body was that of a lizard, but moldering and leprous-looking; its legs like those of a raptor-bird. Three long, barb-tipped tails lashed and wove from its haunches.

I stood, paralyzed for a moment. Sarra didn’t hesitate, but let fly with an arrow, striking the thing in the neck, causing it to rear up, screaming.

It broke my paralysis, and I, too, loosed a missile, which landed in the monster’s neck. Sarra had time to nock and draw once more before it was on us, then drew her sword.

“Take it in the flank, Wulf!” she shouted, swinging at it as the great, unclean bear-head struck down at her. She dodged, and the beast got a mouthful of needle-strewn loam.

I complied, racing at the monster, sword whirling. I connected, blade slashing across its ribs. Black blood erupted, but before I could exult at my success, one of the barbed tails struck, stabbing at my neck. It grazed me, but I felt hot venom splash, searing my skin and scorching my clothes.

At that moment, it turned its attention back to me, slimy, foul-smelling mouth yawning and roaring, its jagged yellow teeth snapping on the air. I dropped and rolled, but a giant bird-talon raked me. I cried out then, feeling blood on my back.

Then I looked up and saw that Sarra had leaped astride the monster. She held her sword in two hands and drove it down hard, directly into where the beast’s spinal column should have been.

It went mad, rolling and screaming. Sarra went flying, avoiding another slash from the envenomed tail, and I scrambled away from its frenzied death throes. It lashed out, felling another tree with a deafening crash, then flopped on one side and died, blood streaming from its body. The black liquid steamed and bubbled, and where it touched the ground, rock melted and trees died, collapsing as if instantly consumed by a million boring beetles.

When the creature’s twitchings finally subsided, we emerged to take stock of it and ourselves.

“Another one of those hell-beasts,” she said, breathing heavily. I saw that she had taken some hits herself, and that a messy wound on her side bled heavily. “They’re everywhere — the orcs must have brought them.”

I shook my head. “The orcs didn’t bring anything like this,” I said. “They’d never have been able to control it. This was summoned from somewhere.” I had a sudden thought. “Just like those things that attacked Nyss. Dammit!”

“What’s wrong?” she asked. I saw her looking at my wounds with concern, but we’d deal with them later.

“They’ve opened a gate,” I said. “A dimensional portal to some kind of fucking daemon-plane, and these things are coming through. I suspect it was the work of the daemon who killed Lord Thavaen.”

Sarra looked horror-stricken. “How do you know about such things?”

“I learned a little magic a long time ago — thaumaturgy, sorcery, a little alchemy. It’s probably different from your kind of magic. Not much, but enough to recognize an extra-planar monster when I see it.”

“They’ll overrun the isles,” she whispered.

I nodded. “Eventually, nothing will be able to stand against them. The gate has to be closed, or your bickering elven realms are doomed.”

We each managed to summon up enough energy to cast some healing enchantments, and Sarra said what blessings she could over the monster’s corpse. As it was, the thing’s body had poisoned the immediate area, and she told me it would remain blighted for years or decades to come.

“Even in death, they’re causing untold destruction,” she said, sadly. “There are dead places all across where the orcs advance.”

With grim determination, we continued on toward Sarra’s grove. I hoped that it, too, hadn’t been defiled.

We got there around sunset, and were both relieved to see that it was untouched.

I had to admit that it was a place of unbelievable beauty, similar to the glade where I’d been attacked, but without the atmosphere of evil and death. In the fading rays of the sun, I saw a broad, grassy clearing, with a small stream running through it. In the center, where the menhirs had stood in the evil glade, was a circle of silver-barked deciduous trees, rich and green with leaves.

“My grove,” Sarra said. “Come freely, and partake of its bounty.”

“I come gladly,” I replied. “I will share of myself.”

I impressed her again, but she said nothing as she led me into the clearing.

We made camp near the actual grove, and Sarra explained what she would do as we ate in the gathering dusk.

“I must make my invocation after moons-rise,” she said. “I will call out to any flying creatures nearby. It will take at least another day to summon something large enough to carry us, but once the invocation is begun, the summoning continues until I stop it.”

I nodded. “Can I watch? This sounds interesting.”

“More interesting than you imagine,” she replied. “You’ll see.”

Thae’lynn

The dark elven admiral stared at Mazzor in consternation.

“What do you mean, he rejected you?” she demanded. “You said your disguise was perfect!”

“My disguise was not at fault, Dark Lady,” the daemon replied. “Thrazz was simply not receptive. He said that he was not that kind of orc.”

“Well, by all the Eight Lords of Transformation, he was fucking well receptive enough a week ago! What the hell happened in the meantime?”

“I don’t know, Dark Lady. All I can tell you is that he isn’t what he used to be.”

“And why, by the Mother of Pleasure’s Little Pearl, isn’t he what he used to be, great daemon-lord Mazzor?” Thae’lynn’s voice was both angry and sarcastic.

“Again, Dark Lady, I do not know. Simply rephrasing a question will not get you the answer you desire.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up, you arrogant hellbeast.”

Mazzor seemed unperturbed. “I will look into the matter, Dark Lady. Our plan will succeed.”

“Making Thrazz my helpless sex-slave was part of the plan, Mazzor. Without that particular element, I suspect our plans will founder.”

“I could simply kill him, Lady. That would be easy enough.”

“Kill him, and the orcs will be leaderless. They’ll turn on each other, and on us, should they ever find out what happened to their beloved leader. I wanted to control Thrazz, not kill him. Now, you claim he has transformed from a drooling, sex-crazed orc, into some kind of intellectual snob.”

“As I said, I will look into the matter. I will leave now.”

“Do so, Mazzor. I’m not angry at you, really. I’m angry at that idiot Thrazz, for developing a brain at such an inconvenient time.”

“I understand, Dark Lady. Goodbye.”

Thae’lynn sighed. The daemon’s polite good nature was completely at odds with the traditional conception of such creatures, though his bestial sexuality was certainly agreeable. She reflected that she actually felt some affection for the creature. In fact, she thought, more than mere affection...

She shook her head to clear it. She had better things to do than get sentimental over some green-skinned gargoyle.

Her eyes narrowed. Yesterday, the orcs had brought her a present — a unicorn, one of the few creatures which they had captured and left alive. Presently, the beast remained imprisoned in the dark elven stable-tent, tied down and pacified with drugs and magic.

Thae’lynn had special plans for the beast. Severed unicorn horns were favored playthings of dark elven women — Thae’lynn had often pleasured herself with such an object, slipping the smoothed broad end or, when she felt daring, the thin, somewhat dangerous sharp end, into her moist cunt, or rubbing it against her clit. The Zhalha’sarr’im did such things partially to infuriate their high elven cousins, who venerated and adored unicorns, the nasty little creatures. To slay a unicorn and use its horn as a sex toy was a very dark elven act, one which caused Thae’lynn considerable amusement, as well as stimulation.

But the Duchess of Darkoak Hill had far more in mind than simply mutilating the captive unicorn and masturbating with its horn. In one of her oldest and most treasured books of spells, she had found a particularly diabolical enchantment, one which she intended to use upon the unicorn. She mused idly that, though it was rather risky, its potential rewards, both sexual and otherwise, were worth the peril.

Davalkar and Zurm, Thae’lynn’s mad priests were busy concocting the herbs and ointments required for the spell, and they claimed, in between feverish rantings, that they would be ready by the following night. She sighed deeply in anticipation.

Tomorrow night, she thought. An event which would make up for her disappointment at Thrazz. She took a deep breath, and wondered if she should have her slaves bring in Yalvar, then thought better of it.

She should save her strength, she thought, for tomorrow night.

Wulf

I watched in fascination as Sarra inscribed her summoning circle in the center of the grove, chanting softly as she did so. She set small fires at each compass point, and sketched runic inscriptions around the outside of the circle. Then, at last, as the moons rose above the trees — one near-full, the other half-gone — she fixed me with an odd look and, to my surprise, began to shed her clothes.

I remained silent, realizing that any question at this point would simply sound stupid. I was familiar enough with druidic nature-magic to know that several major rituals had to be performed “sky-clad” or, to those of us less in tune with such tree-hugging gobbledegook, naked. Several professors had mentioned it, though most thought it was primarily psychological, and had little to do with the actual manipulation of magical energies.

For my part, I didn’t really care about the theological and magical subtleties of the ritual, but was content to watch with a mind that was part analytical, part lustful.

First, the lustful part — up to this point I hadn’t bothered to envision Sarra naked, assuming that I was unlikely to see her in such a condition. Now, seeing her without prior expectations, I was impressed. Her red-gold hair hung down, unbraided and unrestrained, to the middle of her back. Her face was possessed of a calm, powerful expression, eyes closed, mouth pursed, head tilted back. She spread her arms out, and stood expectantly.

I couldn’t help but admire. She was somewhat shorter than me, her body tight and muscular. Her shoulders were corded and firm, showing a rigid tension despite the placidity of her expression. Her breasts were well-formed, nipples stiffening in the cold, her stomach was strong but slightly rounded, her thighs and calves as lean and strong as the rest of her, pubic hair dark gold and soft-seeming in the flicker of her fires.

She chanted softly, and a faint glow surrounded her. Then a single strand of light rose up toward the starry sky, and I heard a faint flapping of wings. A dark flock of birds appeared from the surrounding trees, drawn toward Sarra like water pouring down a funnel. They circled the grove, cawing and chirping — dozens of different species, all flocking indiscriminately together.

Sarra waved her arms in a gesture of dismissal, and the birds departed, flapping back to their roosts. Now a host of bats appeared, their sharp chirps vanishing into the inaudible as they circumnavigated Sarra’s grove. Once more, she waved her arms, and the bats were gone.

Then, insects swarmed around us, and Sarra dismissed them as well. Finally, long minutes passed with no more flying creatures offering their services; Sarra’s arms fell to her side, and she sat heavily upon the ground.

“You can come in now,” she said, words weary and heavy. “There’s nothing close enough. Anything that offers itself over the next few days will come and wait until we choose it or release it. That’s all I can do.”

I hastened to her side, and sat down beside her. On impulse, I put an arm around her shoulders.

“Want your clothes?” I asked.

She shook her head, then looked up at me.

“No,” she whispered. “I don’t.”

Though I’m normally pretty thorough in writing my recollections, I am forced to admit that I don’t entirely remember what happened next. The fact is that I found myself pressing my lips against hers and, after a moment’s hesitation, I felt her mouth open, and the sweet insistence of her tongue upon mine.

“Sarra,” I whispered. “We don’t have to...”

“We do,” she replied, lips touching mine. “I want to. I know you do. You do want me, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” I said without hesitation. “I want you more than anything else right now, but I don’t want to...”

“Don’t want to what?”

“I don’t want to hurt you, or take advantage of you...”

“You’re a fool, Wulf,” she said, smiling. “A kind fool, but a fool nonetheless. Help me now. Help me put Raven to rest. Help me learn to live now. Show me.”

Hm. If she needed help in putting her ghosts to rest, I decided that I was willing to help. I finally let our lips touch, and tasted her deeply.

***

My tunic vanished pretty much right off the bat, and in a moment, we were standing face to face, lips entwined, tongues touching. She was warm and supple against me, and her hands slid gently but firmly up and down my back, sending ripples of sensation throughout my body.

Many people claim that sex itself has magical qualities, and even produces magical energies (my beloved Narisha claims that she managed to ensnare me using sex magic, but I’m still not sure whether I believe her). Whatever one’s opinion of this theory — and it certainly makes sense to me — I don’t think there can be any disagreement that there was real magic in the air that night.

Perhaps it was an effect of her spell, or perhaps it was simply the enchanted ambiance of the place, but regardless of cause, we were surrounded by hundreds of darting and weaving fireflies, who blinked with pale blue light like stars come to earth.

We kissed for what seemed like hours, feeling our bodies growing warmer against each other, conforming to each other’s contours, hands exploring, tongues thrusting. Against Sarra’s soft, yielding abdomen, my cock grew stiff and solid, and raced with sensations as Sarra’s hands sought it out and encircled it.

“I’ve not touched a man like this since Raven,” she whispered. “I’ve not wanted anyone until you.”

A warm rush of feeling swept over me — the desire to hold and protect this frail creature, coupled with a burning need to feel her soft body beneath me, and feel my erect cock penetrate her deepest, most secret places.

A gasp escaped my lips as she slid down to her knees, kissing her way moistly down my chest, biting briefly at my nipples, licking down my abdomen, and finally reaching my thighs, where she cradled my cock in pale, strong hands.

“You’re so hard,” she whispered. “You’re so hard for me.”

Moist pink lips parted, and a wet red tongue caressed the underside of my cock, following its tracery of veins, slipping around its head, flicking across its opening. Then she let my hardened rod slide between her eager, shining lips and into her waiting mouth.

I’ve read some crude pornography (yeah, yeah — I can hear you laughing now; by the gods, I may write pornography, but it sure as hell isn’t crude; besides, it’s all true...) about blowjobs from pointy-eared elven babes. These are generally written by horny hacks who’ve never even seen an elf, let alone gotten to touch one, and are cranked out by the thousands by the White Empire and Litharnan printing houses. Let me tell you, fantasy simply doesn’t compare to the real thing.

Not that she was substantially different from the various other races of women with whom I’ve shared intimate moments, but her beauteous appearance, the magical setting, where the fireflies danced ever faster and in ever greater numbers around us, made it more than the sum of its parts. In silence, she fucked me with her mouth, stroking my thighs and chest and nipples as she did so. I stroked her hair and ears as she continued to suck at me, bringing me to the edge a half dozen times and then letting me down once more at precisely the right moment (was that some kind of elven instinct we’ve never heard of before, I wondered?).

At last, I could stand it no longer, and pulled her head away from my organ. I held her chin and turned her head up to look at me.

“That’s enough of that,” I said, softly. “Your turn now.”

With that I kneeled in front of her and urged her onto her back, white skin in stark contrast to the now-black grass beneath her. I gazed at her for a moment before I began. Gods, but she was beautiful. My heart beat faster as my gaze moved from her oval, wide-eyed face and blonde hair in disarray, her rounded shoulders, small but firm breasts, flat belly and shapely, columnar thighs, now drawing apart as I stroked them, hands moving to the hidden warmth of her cunt-lips.

“Taste me, Wulf.” Enthusiasm and desire in equal parts filled her voice. “Taste me.”

I ran my tongue down her belly, along the tops of her thighs, where they joined her abdomen, down and down to the sweet, moist furrow between them. I grazed the flesh of her cunt-lips, feeling growing heat and wetness against me, tasting juices as sweet as honey, spreading the soft outer lips, stroking the swelling nub of her clitoris with my fingers, feeling her writhe languidly and hearing her sighs and moans grow deeper and louder.

“Ahhhh.” It was an anticipatory sound, like the creak of a dam about to burst. It grew in volume and desperation as I slipped my middle finger inside her and teased her clitoris with a pointed tongue. Slowly, I moved my finger in and out, feeling tightness and wetness growing. She gasped.

I added another finger, at first against hard muscular resistance, then increased the pace, lapping at her now-erect clit with my entire tongue, opening my mouth wider to take in more of her delicate flesh. Faster, now...

It was as if the glade itself was attuned to its mistress, for the fireflies danced in wild patterns, spinning faster and faster, whirling around us. A warm breeze sprang up, rushing over our naked bodies, caressing our skin like soft fingers. I felt my own excitement build along with Sarra’s as her voice faded into wordless, soundless passion, she arched upward, then violently seized my head and rode against me, cunt tightening around my probing fingers, relaxing, then clamping down once more with even greater force.

“Fuck me...” she managed to gasp out in between contractions. “Please, fuck me now...”

Damme, I thought, I never knew elves talked like that. Then, I was in passion’s grip once more, moving astride her, fitting my cock against the slick flesh of her pussy and sliding in, feeling her contractions, which had been fading, suddenly return with renewed vigor, closing on my organ, driving her once more into a frenzy of orgasmic convulsions.

Then I was atop her, holding her close, feeling her taut, muscular body against mine, thrusting in and out of the moist sweetness of her cunt, feeling her own muscles squeeze and draw passion from me with craving, eager tugs. My cock was surrounded by her, and she seemed determined never to let me go, dragging against me as I withdrew, crying out through clenched teeth, looking at me with wild eyes as I plunged back inside.

Her hands raced up and down me, and I felt nails rake my back, my chest, my shoulders and nipples. I fixed my mouth to hers, and it was as if we had become a single entity, lost in endless thrusts and counter-thrusts, surrounded by warm breezes, held aloft by thousands of glimmering points of light, tongues moving in unison, cock and cunt blending, separating, then falling together once more, faster, harder and deeper each time.

Orgasm barreled down on me with the inevitability of a cavalry charge. Even as she cried out, strained and arched against me, hot waves of lust exploding outward from where my cock still pistoned in and out of her slathering cunt, I felt an involuntary moan build to a near-scream, then at last, the accumulated hunger of the previous hour came together in a single point and gushed forth, spewing out of my body and into Sarra’s, as her passionate cries melted into ringing, silvery laughter, mouth open and delighted, eyes bright, fixed upon mine.

All in all, it had been one hell of a night, and as we drifted off to sleep, with whispered endearments, small kisses and caresses, I wondered how it would all end.

If only I’d known...

***

Morning found us lying in the middle of Sarra’s grove, wrapped in each other’s arms. Light shone in my eyes, and I awoke to see the verdant glen awakening. Birds twittered gently, the stream bubbled, a warm breeze caressed us. I stroked Sarra’s hair softly, and she awoke, looking down at me with deep brown eyes.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Actually,” I replied, “it is. Nice night, too.”

She smiled and kissed me briefly, then rose, wrapping herself in a discarded cloak.

“So,” I called after her, “what exactly did we do last night?”

She looked back, raising her eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

I took a breath. “Was that just a one-time thing to banish unpleasant memories, or is could there be any future in it?”

She didn’t reply immediately, but began to pick berries and fruits from nearby bushes and trees. I was just beginning to wonder if she’d heard me when she turned and came back, a pale-skinned vision inadequately covered by my cloak, arms loaded with bounty.

“All I can say is that I don’t know yet, Wulf,” she said. “My ghosts were vanquished quite adequately for the moment, but they’re still there. I’m not one of those elves who despises the sight of a human —”

“Obviously,” I interrupted.

“But then again, there are distinct disadvantages to taking a human lover.”

“Such as?”

“Such as staying young while you grow old. Such as us being from entirely different worlds and cultures. Such as whether you come and live here and deal with my race’s prejudices, or whether I have to go and live with yours. Such as —”

“Yeah, I get the idea,” I said, interrupting again. “Are you saying we’re just good friends?”

She sighed and shook her head (a universal gesture among humanoids, I’m beginning to suspect). “You blasted humans... You always want to know now, now, now, don’t you?”

I tried to look sagacious when I replied. “The fact is that we can’t afford to wait too long for an answer, or we get too old to care. When your life is short, you tend to demand quick answers.”

“Point taken. You know it’s a terrible stigma among my people to love a human. Only a few steps above loving an orc, some would say.”

“Such a loving, tolerant people, elves.”

“We’re no worse than anyone else, Wulf.”

“Yes, I know, Sarra. The problem is that most of you think you’re much better.”

“Again, we’re no different from you. My point is that I feel something for you, but I don’t know if I should inflict it on you.”

Grrr... “I understand.” Maybe I did, at that. “Shall we just wait and see what develops?”

She relaxed. “That sounds reasonable.”

Mind you, reason and rationality rarely involved themselves in the affairs of the heart, but I was willing to wait. Her arguments were solid — we were very different, she and I, and perhaps an intimate (or even non-intimate) friendship would be less dangerous than something more serious. Then again, part of me wanted to stay here with her, and never let her go, even if it meant growing old and wasting away as she remained young, beautiful and vital. Time would tell, I thought.

We spent two more days in the grove, waiting with growing impatience, for the arrival of a flying beast large enough to carry us to the Silver Tower. Several intriguing beasties showed up — a man-sized butterfly, a winged cat, and something that looked like a small, aerial manta ray — but none of these were large enough, and Sarra dismissed them all. In between the arrival of the various creatures, we sat and talked, discussed our lives (I was perhaps too frank in descriptions of my past adventures, but it didn’t seem to bother her too much), and made love each night. It was sweet and unhurried, for though we knew that time was of the essence, we also knew that there was damned little we could do to hurry things up.

Most people view elves as ice-cold and distant, as alien as their damned art and music, and as passionless in love as they are in daily life. Well, most people have never enjoyed a naked gallop with a hot-blooded elven druidess who has just discovered that she can still enjoy sex. Dear old Raven must have been quite the swordsman, because her appetite grew with each kiss, caress, and touch of my fingers or tongue. That bloody grove must have been magic, since I was able to put in a performance worthy of my old lion-man self and his iron-bound sexual constitution.

Revealing the ravening appetite hidden within my little pointy-eared lover was like pulling aside the habit of a staid Kyborist aesthete-nun and finding inside a Red Temple couch-mistress. And, might I add, a couch-mistress who had been denied her sacred sexual rites for a year or so, and was itching to get back in the good graces of the Mothers of Pleasure...

Sarra rode astride my cock, writhing up and down with shrill cries; she rolled and heaved beneath me, nails scoring my flesh; she drove pale white buttocks against me with unbridled passion as I took her from behind; she relished the feel of my mouth, tongue and fingers, against the fragrant moistness of her cunt and clit; she made me come with slender fingers, and a touch like soft down, or in the warm, velvety depths of her mouth, swallowing my semen with grinning enthusiasm, then urging me to hardness again and leaping on board like an imperial cavalryman. Gods, the randy little trollop was liable to wear me out, and I found myself wondering if there was any danger of us exhausting whatever naturalistic energy powered the grove — it was a damned sure fact that I’d never have been able to perform like this normally.

It was on the night of the third day, when we both had begun to debate what to do if no appropriate creature appeared, that everything went to hell.

Rather than declining with familiarity, the sex had built to such a fever pitch that I doubted we could go any further. I must have come three times in as many hours, and her orgasms had been beyond counting (again, I do not take personal credit for my performance — I’d always heard that druidic magic had a strong sexual element; this simply proved it). I think we’d managed to rub off several layers of skin before we drifted off to exhausted sleep, covered in scrapes and grass-stains, and dreams of more excitement to come.

She awakened me some time later, shaking my shoulder gently.

“Wulf!” she hissed. “Someone’s here!” She was up, had pulled on leggings and a tunic, and strung her bow. With my usual clumsiness, I did the same, all the while scanning our surroundings for movement.

The grove was deep in darkness, lit overhead by twin moons. Silvery light cast long shadows and in a single, frightening instant, I saw one of them move, and caught sight of glowing red eyes.

I focused on the shape. It was small, humanoid, and nasty-looking. I quickly scanned elsewhere, and saw more.

“Goblins!” I whispered. “They’re all around us.”

“I know,” Sarra replied. “They shouldn’t even have found this place — it’s got illusions and wards everywhere.”

“Magic has been acting strangely since the invasion began,” I said, nocking an arrow, and taking aim on a moving, red-eyed shadow. “I was afraid that sword wouldn’t be safe.”

“Don’t gloat, human,” Sarra replied, “or I might change my mind about you.”

I snorted, and waited as the goblins crept closer. They definitely saw us; I heard them jabbering, and glimpsed the gleam of weapons. The first to enter the grove died with one of Sarra’s arrows through his throat, the second fell, squealing. Then they charged.

There were dozens of them. More died, or fell wounded, sprouting arrows, and more fell to our blades. They were small, and not terribly skilled, but they kept on coming, virtually fearless. They screamed, and swung at us with small, curved swords. I managed to parry most of the blows, but a few got through, nicking and gouging me, draining my strength. Beside me, Sarra was also hard-pressed, hewing with her broadsword, bringing it back stained with goblin blood, then striking again.

At last, the goblins fell back, leaving us exhausted, panting, barely able to raise our weapons. Around the outside of the grove, there was activity, and goblin archers came forward, armed with short bows. In a moment, a torrent of goblin arrows rained down upon us. I cried out in pain when one struck me in the shoulder, drawing blood, and I heard Sarra shriek.

I turned and saw, with horror, that she lay on the sward, writhing, with two arrows in her — one in her shoulder, and the second low in her gut. My heart sank...

“Sarra, we’ve got to get out of here,” I said. “If I can get you to a city...”

“Not enough time,” she gasped, face contorted. “I’m done for.”

Oh, gods... Not now...

“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “I know some healing spells. Let me try...”

“Not enough time,” she repeated. “You know what they’ll do with me...”

I glanced back and forth between the stricken elf woman and the slowly creeping shadows, who moved steadily closer, with growing confidence as they saw we were not shooting in response.

“Wulf...” Sarra’s voice was tight with pain. “Please... Don’t let them...”

I knew what she wanted. My stomach twisted as I gazed down at her.

“Sarra, please...” I said. “I can’t...”

“Wulf...” Her eyes pleaded with me. “I love you...”

Finally, the dreaded words... I squeezed my eyes shut to ward off tears, then looked down at her as tenderly as I could.

“I love you, too, Sarra,” I said. “Speak well of me to your ancestors. Tell them I did you honor.”

It was an elven farewell, and she nodded in response. “I will, Wulf. Now, please...”

I have no idea to this day how I managed what I did next, but I braced myself, held my sword tightly in two hands, and swung down at Sarra’s neck. The gods were at least merciful enough to let me kill her with one blow.

Then I felt myself overborne by black goblin bodies. I tried desperately to throw them off, hack at them with my sword, die alongside the woman I’d pledged my future to, but I was denied that mercy. While his fellows held me down, a goblin pounded on my head with a large rock until I at last fell into unconsciousness.

Love is worth the pain, someone once told me.

Bullshit.

***

“Dearest Wulf-pet!” The voice dragged me back from darkness. I recognized it, and by the time I managed to open my blood-encrusted eyes, I knew damned well who I would see.

“Lady Thae’lynn,” I said, groggy and scratchy, the horrible memories of Sarra’s death returning in a flood. I realized that I was naked, and bound with leather thongs to a large x-shaped frame. “Forgive me for not standing up.”

“Still so amusing, dearest little Wulf,” Thae’lynn replied. “I am unaccountably happy that I failed to kill you the last time.” She was masked, dressed in a lacy black robe, tied shut with a sash. We occupied a large, roomy tent with no furnishings save a pair of dark elven mage-globes, which lit the scene in a dim purple light. It was a sturdily-built affair, constructed on a heavy wood frame. A tangle of straps, ropes and metal rings hung from one crossbeam — their purpose I couldn’t guess at, but knowing Thae’lynn, it was probably something sick and twisted. At one end of the tent crouched two wild-eyed, wild-haired dark elf males, dressed in black robes embroidered with arcane symbols. Otherwise, we were alone.

“How the hell did I get here?” I asked.

“Oh, my allies brought me another gift. Whenever they find something novel, or something they don’t understand, they either kill it, or bring it to me. You’re lucky enough to have been in the last category twice now. The goblins said that you fought like a daemon in that grove. I’m afraid that your companion didn’t make it.”

“I know,” I said. “I killed her rather than let the goblins take her.”

“Very noble.” She saw the look in my eyes, and looked suddenly contrite. “Oh, dear, Wulf. Were you fond of her? I’m so sorry. If I had known, I’d have let you both die together.”

“Fuck you,” I said. It was about all I had the strength for.

“Very unimaginative, Wulf. I expected better of you.” She turned away. “I brought you here to participate in a very exciting event.” She addressed the two mad-faced robe-wearers. “Bring the unicorn!”

The two scurried off, jabbering wildly about death and torture and various other dark elven family entertainments.

“My priests,” she said. “Only marginally sane, but they have their uses.”

“Opening gates to hell, for example?” I asked, and was rewarded by a slight widening of Thae’lynn’s eyes, and intake of breath. “Ah, hit a nerve, did I?”

“No,” Thae’lynn replied, grimly, “but I will. Just wait. You’re an important part of our festivities. And to answer your question, yes, they helped to open the gate. Even sacrificed one of their number to the thing we summoned. Fine, strapping animal he was, too.”

As I took in the full meaning of Thae’lynn’s words, the two priests returned, leading a dopey-eyed unicorn. The creature had obviously been ill-used; its fur was matted, its stance and manner weary.

Thae’lynn’s eyes lit up. With a grand gesture, she swept off both mask and robe, and stood naked before me. She was as perversely beautiful as I remembered, her ebon skin accentuated by bars and rings, her breasts rising and falling with what I took to be great excitement. I looked at the unfortunate unicorn with growing comprehension.

“Ah, you see what I intend,” Thae’lynn said. “Well, you’ve probably only guessed part of the story.” She approached me, and reached out a hand, cradling my limp cock. Unsurprisingly, I did not react — my body had simply taken too much punishment. “You see, I found a spell that enables me to transform an ordinary, goody-goody elven unicorn into a black, hellish beast possessed of amazing intelligence, and completely loyal to its mistress. Of course, it’s a dangerous spell. The spell caster must be female, and has to endure penetration by the unicorn’s horn, a sharp and hazardous object. Mind you, the enchantment itself is supposed to protect the caster, but the danger is still there. Of course, I’ve always found that potential death or injury during sex is very stimulating to me. Also, as soon as the spell is complete, the black unicorn must drink elven or human blood, or it will die.”

“That, I take it, is where I come in?” I asked.

She nodded. “The orcs have left us no living elven captives, and I’m loathe to use one of my own warriors. I have human slaves, so I was going to use one of them, but good slaves are valuable. Then, of course, my goblin friends brought you, and my problem was solved. I’m simply finishing a job which I started some days ago. By the way, how did you manage to escape?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Thae’lynn shrugged. “It’s of no matter. Trigon says it’s foolish to defy one’s fate, and all we’re doing is setting the universe to rights. In any event, Wulf, prepare yourself. And watch.”

I frowned, and considered looking away. On the other hand, if this was going to be my last mortal experience, I really should sit back and enjoy it.

“Despite his original position regarding destiny, Trigon’s work on transformations contrarily suggest that an individual’s fate is mutable, and can be changed by magic and various other experiences,” she said, sounding like one of my instructors at the academy. My frown deepened, torn between revulsion and excitement, and I realized that my cock — supposedly exhausted beyond redemption — had actually started to stir. “This spell is, I think, a final confirmation of Trigon’s theories. Taking a creature of such innate purity as a unicorn, and turning it to a path so radically different, it is transformed into another form of life altogether.”

The two priests were busy, securing the unicorn’s head in a complex bridle, holding it steady by means of a number of reins. As I said, the poor thing appeared drugged, and didn’t seem in the mood to resist.

Thae’lynn approached the beast’s great head, reached out a hand and caressed the silver horn.

“The spell, as if you care, involves the chanting of several invocations, while the caster allows the beast’s horn to penetrate all three of her major orifices. The order of penetration is not really important, but the precise repetition of the invocation is. Now, watch.”

She began to chant. Thavaen’s spell apparently didn’t cover all elven languages, for her words emerged as a stream of mellifluous, but somehow dark and twisted syllables, and I decided that it would be next to impossible for me to duplicate them.

As Thae’lynn chanted, one of the priests left off holding the unicorn, and fetched a small earthen jar, which he respectfully proffered to Thae’lynn. She reached in, still chanting, and began to apply a shiny substance to the horn, a substance that glittered and flashed. I felt the sting of magical energy in the air, and surmised that this substance was involved in Thae’lynn’s protective enchantments.

I was pretty certain that I was incapable of disrupting Thae’lynn’s spell. On the other hand, if I concentrated, I might be able to tap enough of the energy she was using to do a little casting on my own. The leather thongs that bound me were the obvious target — organic material, highly vulnerable to magical corruption. It might take a while, however...

Thae’lynn was busy with her own business, and it was obvious that her work excited her. She breathed heavily, moving like a sleek, black, silver-haired shadow, as she stroked the magical stuff onto the unicorn’s horn. Then, she stopped chanting and carefully slipped the sharp horn between her dark lips. The priests continued her chanting, and the glimmer of magic that covered the horn slowly spread across the unicorn’s dirty white hide.

Moans of ecstasy escaped Thae’lynn’s throat as the horn slid past her lips and down her throat. The glimmer extended across Thae’lynn as well, covering her head and shoulders, sending tiny strands down across her breasts. Sparks flashed from the bars through her nipples, and I saw her convulse as they did so. My guess was that the energy being created was stimulating her like millions of tiny fingers, and as the sparkling glow spread down her belly, covering the smooth black skin of her buttocks and thighs, then touched the juncture between them, her moans suddenly increased in pitch and intensity.

She continued to suck at the horn, and then slid it out of her mouth. The glimmer had increased to a bright glow, which rose in intensity as she slipped her lips down its length once more. I heard a buzzing hum, which seemed to grow along with the increasing light from the horn.

I endeavored to concentrate on the energy which now tangibly filled the air. It was a tough job, considering that my cock had sprung back to life, and jutted uncomfortably from my loins. Not that Thae’lynn and the priests noticed; their attention was fully fixed upon the unfortunate unicorn. I softly pronounced my own magical syllables, inaudible over the priests’ frenzied chanting, and the steadily-growing hum.

Thae’lynn swallowed the great horn several more times (I guessed that her enchantment was working, since she had taken the entire thing without apparent harm), then released it. Both she, the unicorn and the horn had all absorbed the magical lambency.

“We continue,” she breathed, partially to herself, partially to me. “The first modality is complete, now we move to the next stage.”

As she spoke, the two priests were busy with the tangle of straps. They fastened a hammock-like harness beneath her, and long straps to her wrists, and her legs just above the knees. I kept muttering my syllables as discreetly as I could, watching with horrified fascination as Thae’lynn lay back luxuriantly in her leather swing, stroking her thighs and drawing them apart, displaying the blue-black lips of her swollen and moist cunt, and the gleaming rings which studded her labia.

“Now, priests,” she said, then, to my surprise, addressed the unicorn. “Worry not, my pet. Your precious horn is your route to salvation. The doorway is my cunt, my sweet, wet cunt... Put your horn in me, my pet. Fuck me...”

The priests tugged on the reins, pulling the unicorn forward. It did not resist, even when they gently pressed its head down, and aimed the silver horn at the Thae’lynn’s slit, where her clit-ring shone and glimmered with the magical energy.

“Now...” Thae’lynn said, voice straining as if on the verge of orgasm. “Put it in me now...”

With a lurch, the unicorn stepped abruptly forward, and the shining silver horn thrust into Thae’lynn. She cried out, writhing in the straps, fingers tugging and rubbing at her clit. She was coming, quite clearly, and as she did so, body heaving, sweat gleaming across her breasts, she swung backwards and then suddenly forward again, the horn sinking to its base in the hot depths of her cunt.

“Ohhhhhhhhh!” It was a loud, incoherent sound, that of multiple orgasms, layered atop one another, enhanced by the raging magic which now sparked and flashed from the horn, playing across her skin, sending off hot blue-white motes from her nipple-bars, the rings piercing her labia, her nose, her ears, her lips... Each time a spark struck, she writhed again — she was coming like a firestorm, and the motes began to coalesce around both her and the unicorn, forming a fiery blue-white nimbus.

I gritted my teeth and continued my spell, even as Thae’lynn rocked forward and back, the silver horn — now glowing hot white like molten metal — thrusting in and out of her, slick with her juices, sparks flying from her cunt-rings. I felt the thongs at my wrist begin to loosen.

“Now! Now!” Thae’lynn ordered urgently, and the priests stepped forward once more, unstrapping her, then allowing her to turn over, strapping her face-down into the contraption, her smooth black buttocks displayed for the unicorn’s attentions. I saw that a red glow had started building in the unicorn’s eyes, and it actually moved with eagerness as the priests applied more of the glowing stuff to the horn, and directed it toward the puckered recesses of her asshole.

I chanted faster, pulled hard against my bonds, but my fascination was unabated. Thae’lynn cried out again as the sharp horn penetrated her asshole, then emitted a single, long howl as, of its own accord, the unicorn tossed its head, plunging the horn deeply inside her. More sparks flew, and in a moment, the two were completely cocooned in a web of flying, glowing motes.

“Do it now!” Thae’lynn’s voice echoed from the blinding sphere. “Fuck my ass, you beautiful animal...”

An explosion of magical energy washed over all of us, bowling the priests over, and obscuring Thae’lynn completely. It cleared an instant later, and I saw the dark elf woman, hanging from the straps, exhausted, but quite alive. The tattered, weary-looking unicorn was not there anymore, however. In its place stood a leanly muscled, slavering monster, like a unicorn save that it was heavily muscled, glossy night-black, and its eyes glowed an evil red. Its horn was still silver, but it glowed with a frightening vitality.

“Ohhhhh,” moaned Thae’lynn, weakly allowing her priests to unstrap her and help her down from her sex-swing. “Darling, darling unicorn...” Her sleepy gaze wandered toward me. “Kill him, sweetheart. He’s yours.”

I dragged desperately at the thongs, and with some relief, felt that one or two of them were ready to break. Unfortunately, it seemed a day late and a groat short, since the newly-born black unicorn swept me with a contemptuous, burning red gaze, lowered its head and charged, its glimmering silver horn aimed directly at my heart.

Imminent death makes people do strange things. With a gigantic heave, utilizing reserves of strength I didn’t even know I had, I managed to wrench one hand free, the leather splitting and breaking and, throwing in everything I had left, lashed out desperately, striking the smooth horn, and diverting it from its intended target, to plunge violently into the wooden cross immediately above my left shoulder.

The unicorn screamed in rage and frustration, its hot breath searing me, its jagged teeth gnashing. With a crash, the entire cross heeled over, landing us both on the floor. The unicorn continued to scream, and finally wrenched its horn loose. As it did so, the horn described a short arc and — gods only knew how — managed to graze the thongs holding my left wrist. I pulled again, and they came loose as the unicorn disengaged itself from the fallen cross.

Well, my feet were still bound, but the unicorn seemed to have temporarily forgotten me, turning its attention on Thae’lynn and her two priests. After all, she had said elf or human blood was sufficient, and the room’s sole human occupant had proved frustrating to kill. As I fumbled for the knots (finding them inconveniently located behind the frame itself), the black unicorn snorted, whinnied, and reared, hooves striking the great wooden center post. The tent swayed, but did not fall, even as the unicorn launched itself at Thae’lynn, who crouched, exhausted and terrified, in the arms of her mad priests.

Vengeance would have been sweet at this point, but it was not to be. With a wild cry, one of the priests launched himself at the charging beast.

“Take me, Dark Ones!” he cried, then screamed in a combination of agony and near-sexual ecstasy as the horn thrust through his chest, sending a splatter of dark blood spraying over Thae’lynn and the surviving priest. The horn was far less gentle with the priest than it had been with Thae’lynn’s various openings, and the dark elf died quickly. As I managed to free myself from the last of the thongs, the black unicorn began to drink and eat with enormous relish from the still-twitching corpse.

“Stop him!” Thae’lynn shouted, recovering nicely, pointing at me. The surviving priest snapped to obey, drawing a curved black dagger and leaping at me.

My eyes locked on the center post, splintered and tottering from the unicorn’s assault. I leaped at it, kicking as hard as I could, and was rewarded with a renewed splintering, as the post bent and broke, sending crossbeams falling.

The priest looked up, dumbfounded, as a crossbeam landed squarely on his white-haired head. I didn’t wait around to see the results, but instead scrambled out of the falling tent, listening to Thae’lynn’s screams of rage fade in the distance.

How I got out of the dark elf encampment, I cannot say. Perhaps the guards were distracted by the ruckus at Thae’lynn’s. Perhaps the gods did favor me, after all. Whatever the cause, I ran unmolested and unchallenged, back into the dark forest.

***

Naked, unarmed, and pretty thoroughly humiliated by the past night’s debaucheries, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I was easy prey for the orcs, their allies, and the various hellbeasts stalking these woods, and my mind had been pretty thoroughly blasted by Sarra’s death and the violent sexual drama I’d just escaped. So it was that, when the glowing, shimmery form of a tall elven male appeared before me, bearing a familiar suit of mail and holding a familiar weapon, I evinced very little surprise.

“Raven, is it?” I asked. “I’m sorry, but I seem to have made a bit of a hash of things.”

“Fear not, mortal,” boomed the ghost, melodramatically. “Your destiny is set, and your path unchangeable. You shall take up this weapon, and wear this mail, and you shall be the avenger.”

I sank to my knees, wearily.

“You,” I said, “have got to be fucking kidding, you pretentious, point-eared git.”

I’d never seen a ghost do a double-take before (actually, I’d seen damned few ghosts, period, but that’s as may be), but the specter seemed to stop short and stare at me in perplexity.

“You’re not supposed to say that,” he said, plaintively.

“Oh, shit, elf-boy, I am so far beyond sticking to your fucking stupid script it isn’t even funny.” I glared at him. “So I rogered your girlfriend and now she’s dead, and I’m supposed to take up the Sword of Justice and avenge her, huh? Well find yourself another chump, buddy...”

As you can see, I was way too tired and disgusted to be especially fearful. Raven didn’t take it well.

“You ignore the call to vengeance, mortal?” he demanded. “Our shades shall haunt you forever, dogging your every step, invading your dreams, filling your every waking hour with —”

“Oh, I’m shaking,” I said. “I so fuckin’ scared of the scary elf-ghost. Don’t you think we have exorcists back home, numbskull? The Orlanists would love to banish you to some nether dimension. So lay off, will you?”

Raven frowned. “Are you saying you won’t avenge me or Sarra?”

“You win a cookie,” I said. “I just want to go home, get drunk and get laid, in that order. Fuck off.”

He took a new tack. “What if I ask you nicely?”

“No dice,” I said, but I think my expression gave me away.

Raven’s ghost dropped the sword and mail, and fell to his knees, hands held out beseechingly. “Please?”

I glared. “No.”

He spread his arms out, as if he was about to be nailed to a wall by a fanatical Kyborist witch-hunter. “Pleeeeeeeease?”

“NO!” This was getting bloody annoying.

“PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE??????”

“Gods damn it!” I roared. “I’ll avenge you, you pasty-faced bastard! Just shut the fuck up!”

Raven returned to his former, calm state. “Take up sword and mail,” he intoned, all seriousness once more. “Avenge me. Avenge my land. Avenge my people.”

“Dammit, I asked you to shut up!”

Not wanting to press his luck, Raven vanished, leaving me with both mail, which I donned, along with the arming coat which he had thoughtfully provided, and sword, which I buckled on. Okay, okay, I was the fucking avenger of everything that was right and good.

Now what?

***

Again, I don’t know how I did what I did. I walked purposefully through the forest, ready to fight anything which opposed me. Nothing did, and by evening, bereft of sleep, food, and rest, I arrived at Sarra’s grove. Her body was gone, whether torn asunder by the goblins or reclaimed by her forest, I did not know. It didn’t matter. It was her soul I was supposed to avenge, not her body.

In the center of the grove stood a great, winged horse, black and sleek, gazing at me mildly, as if it had always known me. It was Galewing, of course, Raven’s black pegasus, returned to carry his avenger into battle. That fucking ghost had thought of everything...

I mounted the beast as if I had been doing so for years, and we took to the skies with a sweep of mighty wings. Nothing opposed us as we flew, either. The forests and rivers fled beneath us. We passed a great city set afire by the orcs, probably Flameharrow. Its walls were breached, and smoke rose in great clouds. The orcs and their allies ran riot through the city, pillaging, looting, killing and raping. The sound of harsh orcish laughter and the high screams of elven torment echoed up to the skies.

By nightfall, the forests had transformed into rolling green plains, interrupted here and there with ranches and farmsteads, crisscrossed by elven roads. From the middle of this pastoral land rose a great circular wall of seamless, gleaming white, and in the center, a slender silver tower, rearing up far higher than any human dwelling, higher than logic dictated it should have.

It was the Silver Tower. I guided Galewing lower, heading toward the pinnacle of the tower, and my destiny.

Damn you, Raven, I thought, you’ve made me as fucking pretentious as you are...

Thrazz

The Lord of the Iron Gate exulted, howling along with his great wolf-mount, as the great elven city rose up in flames. He took another drink from his chalice, and the love of carnage raced through his veins like boiling lead.

Elven pride and arrogance had been their downfall. Meeting him outside the gates of the city, the elf nobles had each commanded a separate contingent of warriors, with no one in overall command. Even as the nobles bickered and argued about who was in charge, Thrazz’s goblins were upon them, closing in under cover of a storm of arrows, attacking, inflicting damage, then falling back, heedless of the huge piles of their own corpses they left behind.

Thrazz found it simple to isolate, chase down and destroy the individual elven units as they advanced without plan or real order. True, the elves were awesome warriors — their infantry resplendent in black or silver scale, clutching ancient spears with hardwood shafts and enchanted heads, their knights and lesser cavalry fearless and terrifying in the charge — but even the greatest of armies was helpless without a leader, and the elves were under the separate and independent command of a dozen competing nobles.

Infantry were shot to pieces by goblins, or wolf-mounted archers. Cavalry was avoided, allowed to charge, then attacked by armored human Slaerthists, or elite black orcs, pulled from their saddles, and hacked to death by countless foes. It mattered not a whit to Thrazz that for every elf who fell, a dozen orcs, goblins and humans died; he had twenty or more to every elf, so he remained ahead of the game.

Banner after green elven banner fell, its last defender slain, as the blood-red flag of Thrazz advanced, victorious, all across the field. One of the last to fall was an elven wizardess mounted on a silver and white unicorn. Her spells alone felled more than the rest of the elven force combined, but in the end, armored human riders thundered down on her, sending her fleeing, into the waiting arms of a horde of goblins, who eagerly swarmed over her, chattering and screaming, cutting her to pieces, while taking the better part of two hours to finally put the unicorn out of its misery (Lady Thae’lynn sent word that she wanted the horn, but given her recent behavior, and the fact that her dark elves once more remained discreetly out of the fight, Thrazz was not inclined to respond quickly).

Thrazz guided his wolf across the grassy sward, gazing with awe and joy at the endless piles of elven corpses. His orcs and humans systematically stripped the bodies, salvaging what armor and weapons they could, while the goblins laughed and capered, dancing on bodies, trying on oversized elf-helms, fighting mock battles, and generally making obnoxious little fools of themselves.

Thrazz sighed. Let the little nonentities have their fun. They had little role in the destiny which he planned.

For Thrazz did, indeed, see visions of a greater destiny. Conquest, death, and destruction were all well and good — in fact, they were basic orcish principals. But there was more, now. So much more. Soon, his legions would stand at the gates of the Silver Tower itself. The Lady would have the choice of surrender or death. Her choice mattered not at all — either way, Thrazz would be the next ruler of the Elven Isles.

The riches of the realm glittered in Thrazz’s imagination. So many orcish chieftains had tried, and so many had failed. They rose and fell like swells of the ocean, conquest and victory followed by overextension, internal bickering, and eventual fall. It was said that the orcs would conquer the world, if they ever stopped fighting each other.

Well, it was Thrazz’s plan to end all that. He would make a new realm here, with his orcs as its rulers. His old realm could fall back into strife and anarchy, his relatives fighting for supremacy. The Elven Isles would be Thrazz’s new home. He would elevate the more intelligent and capable orcish and human minions to positions as nobles. He would enslave all the surviving elves, and force them to serve him, creating invincible weapons and powerful magics, and the new realm would be supreme in the world. The human realms would be next — Litharna, or the White Empire. With such realms under his control, nothing could stop him. The dwarves, the jarreks, the Xeshites, even the red-skinned demons of the south — none would stand against him. Conquest was within Thrazz’s grasp.

Or so it seemed to him, as he took another deep draught from the chalice, and screamed for more.

Thae’lynn

The Duchess of Darkoak Hill had forsaken her minotaur bearers and now rode her new black unicorn mount, whom she’d christened Valla. The minotaurs seemed somewhat nonplussed that Thae’lynn had given up their attentions for the moment — Mazzor more than satisfied her, though she had increasingly exciting thoughts about Valla.

She and Mazzor stood on a low rise, taking in the carnage, and the destruction of the ancient city of Flameharrow.

“King Thrazz is upset that your warriors still haven’t fought,” Mazzor said.

“Fuck him,” Thae’lynn said, even more contemptuous than usual. She was irritable, nursing bruises from the previous night’s fiasco. “We’re his gods-damned reserve, and I’m not fighting unless I have to. We provided him with naval transport, and he is expected to do the rest.”

Valla snorted, and cast Thae’lynn a loving, if wicked, glance.

She sighed, stroking the beast’s black mane. “Oh, Valla,” she said, affectionately, “I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at that orcish tinhorn and his sudden intellectual development.”

“Any other plans for his lordship?” Mazzor asked. “For my part, I’m rather upset that his goblins didn’t save that elven wizardess for me.”

“Thrazz would probably tell you that if we stayed closer to the front, instead of lurking in reserve, we’d have more chance at such things, but I’m finished paying any attention to him. And the answer is yes, I am working on a new plan for Thrazz. It’s somewhat less subtle than the last one, but I’m rapidly running out of patience. Don’t worry, my beloved daemon. We’ll rule these lands. Together.”

Mazzor nodded. “Together. My Lady, I must admit that you have stirred feelings in me that I have not felt in centuries.”

“Really?” Thae’lynn was intrigued. “And who was the last woman to stir such feelings?”

The daemon scratched his chin. “Hmmm. Her name escapes me.”

“What happened to her?”

“I ate her. But don’t worry, Lady. I was sorry immediately afterward.”

“Try it and you’ll pay, daemon. Just think you won’t.”

Mazzor chuckled. “I believe you, Lady.”

Wulf

I strode down the long, gleaming white hallway that led to the Silver Lady’s audience chamber. When I had guided Galewing down to a platform at the top of the tower, the guards had gazed at me in wonderment, then stood aside, recognizing the mount, the armor, and the weapon I carried. They didn’t realize that I was human for several long moments, since my hair was bound up and my ears covered by my helm, but even when they saw I was not one of their stuck-up lot, they still allowed me to pass, apparently impressed by some quality beyond my mere physical presence.

I seemed to know instinctively which way to go — that bastard Raven might have been guiding me, but I wasn’t certain. Black wood gates opened before me of their own accord, ushering me into the great, vault-roofed chamber, where sat the white-robed queen of the elven lands.

When I came into the presence of the Silver Lady, however, my determination wavered, my anger at Raven and the stupid mess he’d talked me into abated. Staring at her like a rube watching his first barn burn down, I never felt more inadequate, imperfect, and unfinished. Beside her, I was a crude manikin of clay, barely distinguishable as a living being. Here, my mind told me as I fell to my knees, gazing in adoration, was true perfection, and beauty which could not exist outside of paradise.

And yet, here she was, sitting upon a high white throne, flanked by elven knights in silver mail and helms with white horsehair crests. Though seated, it was obvious that she was unnaturally tall and slender, her face an impossible collection of curves and angles, longer and more delicate than any human. Her hair was long and golden, her eyes deepest blue, reflecting a soul that was breathtakingly beautiful, yet terribly far from anything I would call human. Though physically she retained a familiar form, I realized that I was in the presence of something very, very old, and something that existed in this world only partially.

“Majesty...” I began, croaking in a cracked and ugly voice.

“You are known to us,” she intoned, lips barely moving. “You are called Wulf, though you have many names, and many bodies, and have lived many lives. You come to us seeking vengeance.”

“Well,” I began, the old Wulf suddenly reasserting itself, “I was kind of persuaded by a whining elf ghost named Raven, but, yes, I’m to seek vengeance. “ I indicated the sword. “The druidess Sarra told me that this sword would have to be given to you for safekeeping. I have one boon to ask of you before I return it, however. As requested by the spirit of the warrior, Raven, I wish to use this sword to destroy those who killed Sarra.”

The queen did not reply immediately, and when she did it was not what I expected. “Many things killed Sarra, Master Wulf. Greed killed her — the greed of the goblins, true, but the greed of my people as well. You see, we are a selfish race, arrogant and insular. We consider ourselves greater than all other races, and keep our lands jealously to ourselves as a consequence. The goblins come seeking our riches, and we fight them, as we fight the humans, and the dwarves, and each other. Pride killed your lover, as well — the pride of an ancient people who refuse to ask for help even when it was needed, the pride of a brash young race bent on conquest. Anger killed her — the anger of the goblins who feel that the world hates them, and the anger of the elves, who feel the world was stolen from them.” She paused again, for long moments. “If you would take vengeance upon Sarra’s killers, you must take vengeance upon us all. That is the curse of the blade you carry.”

Her words struck me heavily. Despite the fact that I had been manipulated and cajoled into accepting this mission, I felt the tug of the sword, and that of bloody vengeance. If given leave to avenge Sarra and Raven, I suddenly realized that I would not rest until every goblin and orc, every human and dark elf on the isles was slain. Then what? Would I turn on the elves whose arrogance and overconfidence caused her death? Would I then take revenge against an entire world for the pain and sorrow it created? Who then? The gods, who put us here, and laughed at our pain? The universe itself? Where would it end?

I realized, with a sinking heart, that I didn’t know the answer.

“I don’t think Raven knew what he was asking when he selected you as the instrument of his revenge,” the queen said. “He was always a rash and thoughtless warrior.”

Hm. The tug of the sword was as yet light, but I knew it would grow irresistible if I unsheathed it, and drew blood. Now was the time to stop; if I waited, I might never be able to.

I unbuckled the sword and laid it on the floor in front of me. The anger I had felt drained away, replaced by sadness at Sarra’s death, and even a trace of understanding of Raven’s demands. I was still pissed off at him, though...

“Take it, majesty,” I said. “In my hands it would only bring suffering and pain.”

She smiled, and it was as if the sun had come from behind a cloud.

“You do your race honor, Wulf,” she said. “We will take the sword. And you may also serve us in another way, if you so desire.”

I bowed my head. “How would that be, majesty?”

“Warlord Thrazz has drunk of the Silver Chalice, and even now marches upon this tower with strength and intelligence borne of wrath and desire. The madness of the Chalice will consume him, but not before all our realms lie in ruins, and our people dead at his feet. The daemon-lord Mazzor rides beside the dark elven duchess Thae’lynn, and by his will and power, holds open a gate to his infernal realm, through which come horrors beyond imagining. The city of Flameharrow has been burned to a cinder, its citizens slain.”

I listened with growing horror, as the queen continued. “In the face of this disaster, the nobles of the realms have finally set aside their differences, and I have issued my command to muster. Outside these walls, as we speak, a mighty army gathers. We will make our stand ten leagues to the south, at Valaron’s Tomb.”

The two knights standing guard hadn’t moved a muscle since I’d entered (I found myself wondering if they were still alive), but when the queen mentioned Valaron’s Tomb, I heard a rustle of armored scales and saw one of them blink, a brief look of astonishment flashing across his face.

“That is where you can help us, Wulf,” the queen said. “Valaron’s Tomb is the final resting place of the great dragon-mage, who is said to be the progenitor of our entire race.”

“Dragon-mage?” I asked.

“Few know the descent of the elven race, human. We are the children of dragons. Valaron was a mighty dragon-elf creature who created these lands, protected them, and fashioned the ancestors of the elves who live today.”

“Ah, I see. So you’re descended from dragons, and the dwarves are from giants. What the hell are we the descended from, anyway?”

Our eyes met, and her next words resonated deeply in the hall. “From gods, human. You are of the heavens.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll say no more of it, human. Your task lies with us, and time is wasting.”

I reluctantly left the queen’s cryptic comments behind, and continued to listen.

“Valaron’s great prophecy, delivered on his deathbed, states that he would return again when the isles were in peril, but that he could only be awakened by one who was not of the blood.”

“You mean non-elvish?”

“Yes. No elf can enter his tomb.”

I frowned. More of that strange elven mumbo-jumbo. “Why the hell not?”

She made a vague gesture. “Who are we to question prophecy?”

It was what I’d expected. “I take it you want me to enter the tomb and awaken this Valaron guy?”

“We do. Valaron said that one would come before us who was not of the blood, who wished vengeance, yet shunned its instrument, and in doing so would himself become the land’s savior.”

“And that would be me?”

“You know the answer.”

“Yes, I do. That’s why I asked rhetorically.”

She didn’t smile, but she seemed at least vaguely amused.

“You must enter his tomb, overcome its guardians, and awaken Valaron. He can cast magics sufficient to close the daemon’s gate, and defeat much of Thrazz’s army. Do you accept?” she asked.

I hesitated. What guardians? The elves looked at me expectantly, however, and I was in no position to refuse. I nodded. “Nothing better to do. If it beats the orcs, I imagine Sarra will be suitably avenged.”

“She will.”

“And that whining Raven creep will leave me the hell alone, like I wanted.”

She remained silent. At last, I stood up once more and stared the most ancient being in mortal realms straight in the face.

“When do I leave?” I asked.

***

The Lady had the good grace to cast a few healing spells on me, so I left the hall, armed and armored, the evil sword still in her possession, heading past staring elf courtiers toward the platform where Galewing awaited.

As I went, I noticed a group of blue-skinned sky elves, and with enormous relief, saw a familiar face.

It was Nyss, standing casually near an archway. She’d looked better — her hair was wild, her eyes haggard, and one arm was in a sling, but she was definitely alive. I hastened toward her.

“Nyss!” I exclaimed, relief flooding through me. “You’re alive!”

She saw me, and her tired face broke into a smile. “Wulf! It’s you! I was afraid I’d never see you again.”

“Same here,” I replied. “Gods, what happened?”

“Without you weighing me down, I was able to outdistance those creatures. I tried to come back and look for you, but there were too many of them. Besides, I was wounded.”

I frowned. “Can’t you people heal each other?”

She shook her head. “It’s a gift we can only share with outsiders.”

Hm. It had crossed my mind that the sky elves could always masturbate to heal minor injuries themselves; pity it didn’t work.

“So you have to heal naturally?”

“We do,” Nyss said, nodding. “What happened to you?”

I explained, giving her the short form, since I suspected time was of the essence.

She was impressed. “I wish you luck, Wulf. I would fly with you, but my wings are badly worn.”

“No,” I said. “The Lady told me I had to do this alone. In any event, I have to go. Is there any chance I’ll see you again?”

“There’s always a chance, Wulf. Remember that there is always a chance.”

“I’ll keep my calendar open, then,” I said. I bowed, took her good hand and kissed it. “Goodbye for now, then, Nyss.”

She smiled again. “Goodbye, Wulf.”

Thrazz

“My lord,” hissed the Slaerthist scout, “your foes are deploying around a burial mound perhaps a day’s march distant.” The scout’s lips were twisted and disfigured by ritualistic scarification, and cabalistic chaos-symbols had been inscribed all over his body. He was nearly naked, save for a breechclout, carried a compound bow and a quiver of arrows, their tips smeared black with poison, and he twitched and capered uncontrollably.

“Good,” Thrazz replied. The human filled him with a certain level of disgust. He knew that his followers didn’t fear death, but these freaks seemed to welcome it, as if the pain of this world was only a minor curtain-raiser to the endless pain and suffering of eternity in the jaws of Slaerth and the other chaos-gods.

He sighed and snorted. “Get me information on their dispositions, human. With luck we can finish the bastards once and for all.”

The scout whooped loudly, then bounded away across the sea of green grass.

Thrazz watched him go philosophically. The Slaerthists served their purpose, and almost never retreated, even when butchered to the last man. They were useful, certainly, but he saw little place for them in his future realm.

He was glad to get the damnable forests behind him. Here was land where his wolf-riders could move, where his goblins could dance and leap freely, where his orc warriors could plod along without hindrance.

And so they did, leaving leagues of trampled grasses behind. Scouts and goblin wolf-riders moved in the van, seeking out and engaging the enemy. Goblin archers came next, screening his great mass of orcish infantry and riders, supported by heavily-armored Slaerthists and human corsairs. As usual, the dark elves took up the rear.

Thrazz growled. The damned weak-kneed dark ones had yet to take a single casualty, or launch a single volley of arrows at the enemy. The fucking daemon which Thae’lynn — gods rot her — had summoned from the planes had done his share, true — killing that elvish warlord at the Citadel, but overall the dark elves had proven a huge disappointment. By all the gods, he’d see that they fought their fair share in the coming conflict. Thrazz was too good a commander to be overconfident; he’d need every able-bodied fighter he had to overcome the elves, now that they were united and well-led.

Oh, what carnage there would be, he thought. What bloodshed, and what glory. The new realm of the orcs was about to be born!

Thrazz decided he needed a drink, and reached for his chalice.

Thae’lynn

“Word’s come back,” Thae’lynn told Mazzor, who walked ponderously beside her, wings sweeping restlessly, as she guided Valla across the grassy landscape, crushed and pitted by the orcs in the van, “the elves have drawn up around a barrow near the Silver Tower. We should have a battle by tonight.”

“It’s good,” Mazzor said. “You say that you can handle Thrazz yourself?”

“I can and will,” Thae’lynn replied. “You’re free to inflict whatever carnage you want upon the elves. And that martinet has ‘demanded’ to use his word, that I stop keeping my troops in the rear, come forward and, as he says ‘fight like orcs.’ The mother-loving bastard!”

“Hmhm.” The sound was a deep booming that might have been laughter. “Your Lord Thrazz will surprised what aid the dark elves bring. I’ve summoned those of my hellspawn close enough to reach us in time. The daemons will fight alongside the orcs and humans this night.”

“Well done, lover,” Thae’lynn said. “We’ll make good rulers when this is over.” A squad of black-armored cavalry trotted by, tack and metal jingling. “I’ve ordered several contingents forward to fight in any event. I may even get into armor myself. It’s been too long since we’ve had a good scrap.”

Mazzor’s horned head swiveled to gaze at her with intense yellow eyes.

“Keep yourself safe, Dark Lady,” he said. “I wish you to be alive when this foolishness is over.”

Unfamiliar emotions stirred within Thae’lynn as the daemon-lord took to the air and swept skyward. She realized that she, too, wished to be alive for Mazzor.

Gods, she thought, talk about mixed marriages...

Wulf

Galewing set me down near the tomb. For an elven construct, it was a surprisingly simple affair — a low grassy mound with a single wooden door, flanked by weathered columns, fluted and surmounted by crouching dragons. Though I wore a suit of elven scale, and carried both sword and spear given me by the queen herself, there was little that could relieve the gnawing apprehension I felt. I dismounted and approached the doors, then looked back at the elven army.

The sun sank low over the field. They’d have to fight in the enemy’s element — night. Elven high mages were even now casting spells to increase the ambient light of the moon and stars, but it would still be far from perfect.

Endless ranks of elven pikemen and swordsmen stood still in the center, a mere half-mile distant. On either flank stood hundreds of armored elf-knights, holding long white or red lances, wearing tall, silver or bronze helms, feathered plumes waving in the light breeze. Wild elf horse archers were deployed in a loose cloud around the knights, and overhead I saw giant eagles, hippogriffs, and, to my wonder and astonishment, three great dragons, wings beating, scales gleaming in the late afternoon sun, wheeling and diving against the blue sky.

Dragons, I knew, were rare, and difficult to awaken. Needless to say, this was a crisis which threatened all the realms, and was more than sufficient to require awakening the dragons, but I felt a touch of sadness that only three had responded. All the same, these would be a potent force for the elves.

In the distance, I saw a black stain, covering the plains. It was the orcs, come at last. Above them, wyverns and griffins flew, easily a match for the elven eagle-riders, and enough to at least keep the dragons from intervening in the struggle on the ground below until the orcs had broken through and slaughtered the Silver Lady’s army.

I swallowed heavily, and pushed open the door of the tomb.

Thrazz

“Send the archers forward!” Thrazz bellowed at Grofim, his adjutant. “They won’t do much damage, but they’ll keep the point-eared scum’s heads down! We’ll move up the infantry using the archers for cover to keep the elves’ center pinned, then feint with the goblin wolf-riders, hit their knights with our mounted orcs, and finish them off with the human knights and dark elves! Double envelopment, see?”

Grofim looked at him in puzzlement. “Double what, boss? Shouldn’t we just attack and kill ‘em all?”

Thrazz rolled his eyes. Damn all subordinates, anyway...

“Just do what I tell you, Grofim, and there’ll be lots of elves for you to torture tomorrow, all right?”

Grofim grinned crookedly. “You got it, boss!” He spurred his wolf forward and bounded away.

When we take over, Thrazz thought idly, there are some of us we’ll have to get rid of...

Wulf

A rude stairway led down into the earth. I took a deep breath, heavy with age and the scent of ancient soil, loosed my sword, and proceeded. The stairs vanished into darkness below, and I pulled out a short wand, given me by the queen, which lit my way with a hard, white illumination.

The stairs ended about fifty feet beneath the surface, and turned into a long, stone corridor. The weight of the earth above me pressed down, absorbing sounds, making me even more nervous.

The guardians, I wondered — where were the guardians? And what the hell were the guardians? The queen had been of little use in that regard, telling me only that such things existed, and that I would have to overcome them. As to their exact nature, and precisely how I was expected to overcome them, she had no idea.

The passage ended in a simple door. I knew in my heart and soul that my goal lay on the other side. Steeling myself, and making sure I was still armed (my sword arm felt downright numb), I pushed through the door.

The interior was as awe-inspiring as the outside had been ordinary. The wand was no longer necessary, for all was lit by a soft white glow. A long, colonnaded hallway led to a raised dais at one end, perhaps fifty paces distant, upon which lay a gigantic stone sarcophagus. In between the columns stood pairs of statues, eight in all — life-sized carvings of nude elven women, each of a different material. Their height and build differed; some had small breasts, some larger, some had wide hips and a heavier frame, while others were lean to the point of being almost bony, but they all clearly shared a common elven physique — serene, fine-featured faces, pointed ears, and long hair, ranging from shoulder- to back-length. They had been carved in postures of repose, standing relaxed, eyes closed, hands at their sides. Some wore modest jewelry — tiaras, bracelets, necklaces — but in the main, they were entirely naked, and quite stimulating to look at.

Were those the guardians, I wondered, taking a step into the room? As I did so, my question was answered in the affirmative; as a single individual, the statues’ eyes flickered open, and they came to life, stepping into the corridor, blocking my way.

I stopped, heart racing, but they did not attack. Instead, they spoke.

“I am Onyx,” said the first, carved of gleaming black material, gazing upon me with dark eyes.

“I am Opal,” said the second, golden-red, statue. The recitation continued down the hall, with each statue speaking in a deep, feminine voice, identifying herself and her material.

“I am Jade.”

“I am Sapphire.”

“I am Amethyst.”

“I am Topaz.”

“I am Ruby.”

“I am Diamond.”

Silence stretched out after Diamond spoke, and I began to feel silly.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Wulf.” Another long pause. “Nice to meet you.”

“You would enter this sacred place?” Onyx asked.

“Sure,” I replied, “if you don’t mind?”

“Are you of the blood?” asked Opal.

“No, I’m not,” I replied. “I’m just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill human.”

“Do you come in peace?” asked Jade.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you come with love in your heart?” asked Sapphire.

“I do.”

And so it went, each statue asking me a question, and me responding.

“Do you come to awaken the First One?” asked Amethyst.

“Yes.”

“Are you worthy to awaken the First One?” asked Topaz.

“I hope so.”

“Are you strong of heart and body?” asked Ruby.

“I hope so.”

“Then you must show your worthiness,” said Diamond.

I frowned. “How must I show my worthiness?” I was beginning to get worried.

“Take us all,” explained Onyx, stepping forward. “We must all be satisfied. Once we have all been pleasured, you may awaken the First One.”

I think my eyes went wide as bucklers at that point.

“Phaedra’s Tits!” I bellowed. “You mean I have to fucking fuck every one of you???”

“The challenge,” explained Onyx, gleaming black fingers reaching out to touch my cheek, “is geared to the challenger. Had you been a mighty warrior, you’d have had to fight us all. Had you been a great wizard, you’d have had to match your sorcery against ours.”

I didn’t much like the sound of that, but I didn’t press the matter further. Onyx’s fingers touched me. They were warm and pliant, not cold and hard as I’d expected. She was tall, well-sculpted, with large breasts and heavy lips — somewhat un-elflike, but I didn’t mind. Magic had transformed icy stone into soft flesh, and it was having the desired effect on me.

So I’d come here expecting a fight, and gotten myself an orgy. At this point, I wasn’t going to argue, but the prospect of taking on eight of them didn’t fill me with confidence. One or two... three tops... The most I’d ever done was five, and I wasn’t even human then (back in my lion-man days on the plains). I suddenly longed for the invigorating sex-magic of Sarra’s grove.

Well, I’d cross that ford when I came to it. At the moment, I had Onyx to deal with.

Then again, she was dealing with me. These insidious creatures probably saw in my mind what I most enjoyed (or perhaps they just knew what men like in general), and Onyx began matters, by helping me out of my armor, then kneeling gracefully, taking my cock — still surprisingly soft at this point, probably due to my extreme level of anxiety — in her hands, and running her tongue (as black as the rest of her), up its underside, while fixing me with a piercing stare from her black-in-white eyes.

“Mm, the outsider seems to enjoy your attentions, sister,” said Opal, stepping forward, slipping an arm around my shoulder. “I will assist you.”

Yes, she was indeed Opal-colored, and gleamed like polished gemwork, but she radiated heat like a Litharnan glass-furnace, and I sprang to full sail when her lips joined Onyx’s at my cock.

I think this was the test to weed out the weak-willed or those prone to premature ejaculation. The two alternated for some minutes, with Onyx taking my entire shaft into her mouth, Opal licking at my balls, or stroking my shaft as Onyx slid it out again, then with the roles reversed, Opal sucking and Onyx licking and making various other annoying sensations.

How I managed to hold out, I can’t say. The fact was that if I came, the entire elven empire would collapse, and the orcs and daemons would run rampant, and possibly conquer the world. The notion that the future of civilization, and avoiding the triumph of the forces of darkness and chaos, is riding on holding back your orgasm can be a potent motivator.

I gave them their few moments, watching them lick and suck at my tumescent rod, occasionally breaking off to kiss and tease each other (they weren’t entirely automata, I decided), then finally pulled back and addressed Onyx.

“I think the idea is for me to take you on, not the other way around,” I said. “Now lie back and think of Elfland.”

Onyx got the idea, lying down on the cold marble (which I did my best to avoid), allowing me to move between her shining black thighs, and lick her pussy several times. She enjoyed it, and I would have continued, but there were seven more statues to do.

“Sorry for the rush,” I said, moving forward, holding my cock against her cunt, then sliding it inside, “but I’m afraid that the future of all I hold dear depends upon me finishing this with all due dispatch.”

“Ohhhh...” Onyx replied. “Point well taken, though it’s quite a... shame...”

Her breasts heaved as she gasped, nipples hardening. Hands encircled my buttocks, pulling me into her. She grew steadily hotter and wetter, and I felt my cock wet with her juices. She had probably been standing there for a few millennia, I realized, so getting her off might be easier than it seemed at first.

Of course, I’d have to hold out, too, and when Opal moved behind me, and pressed her warm body against my back, breasts pressing me, heat radiating from her mouth and cunt, I wondered if I’d last much beyond the first of my challenges.

Fortunately for me, Onyx chose that moment to come noisily, bucking and writhing, nails scratching at my back.

“Oh, yes!” she cried. “Oh, yes! Take Opal now! Take her, and hurry!”

Not the most exciting of love-talk I’d ever heard, but I took her at her word, pulling out, kissing her briefly (I really try to be considerate, even in the most difficult of situations), then moving to where Opal had positioned herself, kneeling expectantly, cunt presented to me between slender thighs, beneath rounded ass-cheeks and puckered asshole. I rubbed her lips briefly, slicking them up with my own saliva, then found she was already more than sufficiently lubricated.

“So,” I said, fitting my cock to her sweet folds of flesh, “what are you women doing here, and why do I have to do all this?”

“It’s...” she began, then gasped. “It’s a little complex...”

“Never mind,” I replied. “Just enjoy.”

“Oh... yes... That’s what I’m here for... Yes... Lovely shaft you have, and you’re not even an elf...”

Overwhelm me with enthusiasm, ear-girl, I thought, plunging away, feeling the second cunt tighten and moisten around me.

I was still fighting oncoming orgasm. I kept an image of Professor Bugswallow from the Academy in my mind — he was the most unpleasant, ugly and unattractive individual on the faculty, and probably would be outraged if he knew I used him as a means of staving off sexual passion. Of course, thinking about him too much would probably make me never want to have sex again, so I had to moderate.

Opal moved faster and faster; obviously I was having the desired effect. After a moment, I didn’t need to thrust at all, but remained still, hands firmly holding her soft, cushiony buttocks, as she pistoned forward and backward, my cock racing, slick and hard, in and out of her, until she too came, crying wildly.

“Jade now, darling man,” she said, crawling over to snuggle against Onyx, and both of us watched me continue my by-now desperate quest.

Jade was tall and thin, with very small breasts, but prominent nipples, and a typically elven face, elongated and serene, clearly not human. She lay silently as I pressed her thighs apart, touched her dark green cunt-lips, moistening them with more spittle. This one, I feared, was going to be a bit more of a challenge.

Though time remained of the essence (and I couldn’t guarantee my erection would remain healthy, though it was still hard and uncomfortable as a rod of granite projecting from my thighs), I took a slower pace with Jade, licking at her large nipples, watching them harden, then stroking her clit with two fingers before finally considering getting down to real fucking.

Again, I think I did the right thing, for though she still did not speak, she moved with growing passion, hips rotating, hands seeking out her own nipples, then reaching up to slip between my lips. I sucked in her fingers, feeling them against tongue and teeth, and bit down, gently at first, then harder as it seemed to excite her even more.

Finally, I put my cock in her, as well, pushing into her tight, hot recesses. I drove hard, and she writhed in response. I touched her clit, rubbing it as I fucked, and felt her tense and come for me.

“Thanks, Jade,” I said. “I’d love to stay and chat but —”

I was cut off by the assault of Sapphire, the pale blue one (she reminded me of Nyss, as a matter of fact), who pushed me down onto my back, grabbed my cock aggressively, and shoved it into her mouth.

“Very good,” she said, releasing my slick shaft and glaring at me. “You’ve dealt with my sisters very well, but now I want you.”

“Well,” I said, “you’ve got me, but —”

“But nothing! I’ve been without this for centuries, and I’m not about to waste my opportunity, no matter what is happening above!”

She moved swiftly astride me, rubbing cockhead to cunt-lips. I saw moisture dripping down her thighs, and felt an almost painful heat, which only increased when she plunged down onto me.

“That’s what I want!” she said. “Hard cock inside me... That’s it...”

She rode me like a knight of Saint Orlan, rising and falling, breasts bouncing, face rapt and tight.

“Fuck me!” she cried (I guess elves do talk like that quite a bit). “Fuck me hard!”

“Oh, sister,” said Diamond, standing nearby with a bored expression, “save some for the rest of us!”

“Piss off! I want him! Make me come!”

I started to thrust up at her, and she responded with redoubled enthusiasm.

That was almost it for me. Four out of eight — I’d challenge even the most jaded Xeshite pleasure-muffin to do better. Unfortunately, I’d been fighting a losing battle against coming since the beginning, and now Sapphire had me on the brink.

“Sapphire,” I said, desperately, “please...”

Then she came, literally screaming, tearing at her breasts, hair flying. I came an instant later, pumping feverishly, feeling pleasure, but also the desperate realization that I’d failed.

Sapphire moved off me, my come dripping from her sopping cunt-lips.

“Sorry,” she said, looking down at my rather sad cock, now collapsed and lying, slick and gleaming. “I really needed that. Mind you,” she continued, looking at me with sympathy, “the rules are that we all must be satisfied. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do it with your cock, or that you have to do it at all.”

Of course. Once more, I had been an idiot, and it took the calm intellect of a female to point it out to me. I stood, shakily, and approached the last four “women,” who sat nearby, in a loose group, arms round each other.

“Uhhh, ladies,” I began, “if Sapphire is correct, then I’m not finished yet.”

“No, you’re not,” said Amethyst. “You’d better not be.”

“We’ve been deprived of your erect manhood,” continued Topaz, “but there are alternatives.”

“Hm,” said Ruby. “Perhaps you have a suggestion?”

“I think he does,” Diamond said to her, ignoring me entirely.

“I’m equal to the task of two more, I think, though my jaw might lock up,” I said. “Any chance I can persuade the other two to amuse each other?”

“By Thyra, he’s got it!” declared Ruby, throwing her arms around Diamond.

“Our thanks, round-ears,” replied Diamond. “We couldn’t do this until you asked.”

“Done it before?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Ruby, before engulfing Diamond’s face with kisses. “The two of us aren’t terribly fond of men to begin with.”

At another time, I might have felt slighted (then again, maybe not; some of my best friends were women who preferred other women — it has its advantages, believe me), but now I was downright relieved. As Ruby and Diamond slipped into passion’s embrace, I moved between Amethyst and Topaz, and put my arms around the shoulders of each.

“Ladies,” I said, “care to play?”

“Indeed,” Amethyst said.

“Definitely,” said Topaz.

Topaz was a golden-skinned creature with dark red hair, lips and nipples. I applied fingers and tongue to one nipple, teasing the other with my fingers. An instant later, I felt Amethyst’s tongue licking at my finger, then saw her engulf both my fingers and Topaz’s nipple with her purple-black lips. Well, maybe I didn’t have too much work left, after all.

Nearby, Diamond and Ruby’s breathing grew heavier, shading imperceptibly into soft moans as they began kissing, then moved on to nibbling and licking at each other’s breasts. Ruby was, not surprisingly, entirely glossy red, while Diamond was probably the most interesting of the bunch — a translucent white, the faint light gleaming on her softly rounded flanks, thighs and shoulders.

I moved down to Topaz’s loins, leaving her breasts to Amethyst’s tender mercies. I realized that a battle raged above our heads, and that the sooner I finished the better, but I suppose the call of passion can be stronger than that of survival sometimes. I licked gently at Topaz’s lips, thick with dark red hair, pressing them open with my tongue, and touching the tiny bud of her clitoris.

As I felt the gratifying motion of Topaz’s hips, and listened to her rapidly-increasing indrawn breath, I was surprised when my lips and tongue were joined by Amethyst’s, and in a moment we were quite happily sharing her soft and succulent, delicate cunt-flesh.

Mind you, I’ve seen portrayals of this very act in such diverse places as Xeshite sex manuals and Kaitian pillow-books, and believe me, it isn’t as easy as it looks. There’s really only room for one person’s head between a woman’s thighs, and you have to get into some rather tortuous positions in order to keep everyone happy. We ended up pretty well situated, with me below, nibbling on Topaz’s dark, sensitive labia, while Amethyst concentrated on the swollen prominence of her clitoris. Eventually, each of us slid a finger into Topaz’s moist cunt, sending her into new paroxysms of ecstasy.

I’d have loved to stay and continue for a bit, but Topaz, like most of the other women, seemed to have built up her horniness over the centuries, and it wasn’t long before she was in the throes of gut-wrenching orgasm, crying out, pressing both of our heads against her straining mons, cunt clamping down on our fingers with sufficient strength, it seemed, to crush a small dwarf.

I rose, face still moist with her juices, and felt Amethyst’s lips seeking mine.

“She’s had her fun,” she whispered. “Perhaps now, I can be taken care of.”

I was about to move my mouth to her clit and pussy as well, when I realized that, miracle of miracles, I’d managed to scrape together the resources for another erection. I smiled.

“I think that can be arranged,” I said, pushing her down to the marble floor and positioning myself over her.

“Oh, yes!” Amethyst said, quite delighted at my resurrected state, and yelped happily as I penetrated her (normally, as noted, I’d have had time for more foreplay, but this was special).

Ruby and Diamond, with a fine disregard for the rest of us, were now in a silent, extremely intent sixty-nine position, heads buried between each other’s thighs, moving only slightly as they licked and sucked. I continued to plunge in and out of the gratified Amethyst, I hazarded a look over at them, just in the interest of scientific observation (coupled with the fact that watching two women eat each other out makes me unbelievably horny), and saw Diamond slip a finger between Ruby’s buttocks, teasing her asshole, and finally sliding it inside; an instant later, Ruby suddenly convulsed, back arching, breasts bobbing, a thin wail escaping her lips as she came. Then she returned to Diamond’s pussy, and a few moments later, the pale statue-woman was in the throes of her own climax.

“Yes,” I said, looking down at Amethyst. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Uhhhhhh,” she replied. “Ahhhhh...”

And so it went. In a few moments she was over the cliff, her voice going completely inaudible, face tight, purple eyes clenched shut.

“Yesssss,” she breathed as I pulled out, my cock still rather on the hard side. “Perhaps now it can be your turn.”

“Oh, no,” I began, “I’ve already... I mean, there’s this battle, see... and... uhhh... dragon-mage...”

My words trailed into a meaningless babble as Amethyst and Sapphire (who looked a little contrite for being the object of my previous orgasm) kneeled beside me, and began to lick up my cock shaft, toward the head, one on each side. Sapphire began to pump at it with her fist as Amethyst’s dark purple-black tongue flicked at the tip and across the glans, and I felt the surging wave of another orgasm, gathering strength before crashing down onto the beach of my consciousness (great metaphor, eh?).

Then Sapphire’s lips embraced my steadily-warming flesh, slid down, then out again, her warmth combining with mine, seeping through me, reaching fingers to my brain, urging me to let go.

Amethyst was jacking me off while Sapphire tongued my cockhead when the explosion came. I’d already come once, so my reservoir was low, but I managed to pump out a small amount of fluid, which the two elf/statue/women (or whatever the hell they were) accepted gratefully, swallowing and licking.

“Well done, traveler,” said Sapphire. “I hope that our next caller is as entertaining.”

I for one, painfully rising to my feet, gathering up my gear, and stumbling toward the dragon-mage’s sarcophagus, sincerely hoped that the next caller actually survived his encounter. It had sure as hell almost killed me.

Thae’lynn

The Duchess of Darkoak Hill always thought that she cut quite a figure in armor — of course, the black chain which she wore, with tasteful leather straps and shoulder pieces, was intended primarily for show, since she had no great interest in combat. All the same, resplendent in her dark panoply, carried along by her four minotaurs, now armored themselves, she inspired her troops to greater efforts, especially those individual warriors who might think they stood a chance of getting her into bed after the battle.

Valla stood nearby, noisily cropping grass. Ahead of her, the battle swirled in the stark light of the moons and stars, now glaringly bright and annoying, thanks to the damned elves’ magic. The goblin archers hadn’t really amounted to much, shot to pieces and driven back by stern, mail-clad elven bowmen. They’d served their purpose admirably, however, providing cover as Thrazz’s heavily armored orcs moved up, then flung themselves with suicidal and hateful fury, at the elves’ front line.

Thae’lynn frowned. She wasn’t a skilled military observer, but it seemed to her that the combat in the center had degenerated into a stalemate, while the elvish cavalry and the orc wolf-riders kept each other busy on the flanks, and the flying mounts dove and wheeled overhead, one or two occasionally dropping to earth with a crash and a puff of dust.

The dragon-riders were near-invincible, but there were only three. As Thae’lynn watched, a great wyrm flapped across the face of the moon, wreathed in flames, pursuing an orcish wyvern.

Now, even Thae’lynn’s troops were involved, pressing in on one elvish flank. So far, the battle could go either way, but with a quiet smile, Thae’lynn knew that her hole card had yet to be played. Soon, Mazzor and his daemons would enter the fray.

It was time to put her other plan into effect. She whistled sharply, and in a moment, several dark figures melted out of the shadows around her. They were tall, thin dark elves, clad in dark cloaks.

“You know the plan, my assassins,” she said softly. “You are to kill King Thrazz, and leave evidence behind that the culprits are high elf scouts. You are to plant Thrazz’s last will and testament, leaving command of his army to me. Do this now.”

The lead assassin bowed. “We obey, Dark Lady.” Then the figures were gone.

Thrazz

King Thrazz was impatient, eager to see the battle resolve itself. The elves fought well, he had to admit. Then again, they had reason to — their entire nation was at stake. A victory here, Thrazz thought, would bring his orcs to the very gates of the Silver Tower, where the Lady herself would know his strength.

And strength it was! he thought. Not like those idiot orcs who served under him, or those savage goblins, effete dark elves, or slovenly humans. No! Thrazz the Conqueror (for this is what he intended to call himself) alone knew what greatness and strength were. Soon, all the world would know it, as well!

But here he stood, impotent and unable to effect the battle. Almost all of his reserves were committed, but the elves still held. The outcome of the fight was out of his hands, and entirely in the hands of his warriors. But, Thrazz wondered, were they good hands in which to place such a precious destiny? They were orcs, and goblins, and weak-willed humans, after all...

At that moment, Thrazz realized that he was no longer what he had once been. He hated his own people, now, despised them for their weakness and primitive lack of civilization. He felt, and in heart and soul he knew, dammit, that he was far more than a mere orc, now.

But, he thought, if he was not an orc, what was he?

A great shout went up from the orcish warriors ahead of him. He looked across the shadowed plains, and saw something amazing and terrifying.

Mazzor, Thae’lynn’s damned daemonic pet, waded through the elvish line, wielding a great sword of lightning, picking up elves, gutting or decapitating them, screaming horribly, wings spreading out like a great black-green cloak. Dozens of creatures scurried around him — malformed humanoid things with extra arms or heads, tails and talons; amorphous storms of eyes and teeth which reached out with black tentacles; ravening beasts with gnashing jaws and smoldering red eyes.

The elves gave way before Mazzor’s assault. Sensing the danger, one of the elven dragon riders swooped low, violet-glowing sword whirling. Mazzor exulted, and took to the sky, grappling with the dragon, wrestling it to the ground with a thunderous crash, strangling it, trading blows with its rider, and finally killing the elf, as well.

Mazzor threw his arms up to the sky and cried out in pure daemonic joy.

Up and down the line, the elves seemed seized by fear, and fell back, either slowly and deliberately, fighting all the way, or in complete panic and despair. Sensing their moment, the orcs pursued.

“Yes!” Thrazz cried, silently. “Yes! Kill the bastards! Send them running!”

He prepared to spur his wolf forward, when a movement nearby caught his eye.

Thrazz’s senses were instantly on alert. He had not survived and prospered this long by being a fool, and he was not about to begin being one now.

“Guards!” he shouted. “Guards! To me!”

But nothing happened. Instead, several shadowy forms materialized out of the darkness. The nearest one spoke.

“Your guards are gone, Great King,” it said, high and melodious, its tone almost playful. “We killed them, you see. You are next, Thrazz. Yessss.”

Thrazz didn’t hesitate. He leaped from the back of his wolf, throwing himself with maddened fury at the speaker, whirling Brainsquasher with all his considerable might. To his amazement, he realized that it was a dark elf assassin, staring in consternation at the prodigious leap, then lashing out with a dagger. Thrazz dodged, amazing himself with his agility, and struck back, cutting down the smarmy little worm in a shower of blood and skull fragments. He roared in triumph, and the surviving assassins looked downright terrified.

His wolf was busy, as well. It had taken a couple of dagger hits, but finished off a second dark elf, and leaped at a third.

“So the Dark Lady couldn’t be my subordinate, could she?” Thrazz demanded, racing after the next assassin. “Sent her snot-nosed little minions after me? Well, fuck off, you pointy-eared little puddles of slime mold!”

The next assassin died, as well. The last survivor stared in abject horror, then turned and tried to run. The wolf didn’t let him, but took him down with a shove, and indelicately ripped his throat out, amid geysering dark blood.

Thrazz screamed. Anger thundered through his veins. After making certain the assassins were all dead, he remounted the wolf, and rode pell-mell toward a regiment of black orc dragons who stood not far away, one of the last of Thrazz’s reserve.

“The dark elf bitch!” he bellowed at the colonel, who gaped in amazement. “She tried to have me killed! Fuck her! Go back and cut out her black heart, and show it to her before she dies, gods damn it! Do this now!”

“Your Majesty —”

“DO IT NOW!”

“Yes, sir!” The colonel turned to his troops and began to roar orders. Instantly, the black orcs broke ranks, and began to run back, readying weapons, preparing to attack Thae’lynn.

Thrazz continued to rage and bellow, even after the orcs had departed.

The fucking bitch! How dare she! She’d wanted this from the beginning, he knew. Always keeping her troops back, trying to seduce him... Fuck her, the bitch!

He was sorry he wasn’t accompanying the troops to attack her, but he had to keep an eye on the battle. Gritting his teeth and pushing Thae’lynn’s treachery to the back of his mind, Thrazz urged his mount forward, to where the battle still raged, and the elves fell back, their unshakable morale finally wavering.

Wulf

I walked forward, stopping occasionally to put my armor back on. Around me, the statue-women lay in various poses, breathing deeply, some moaning. As I thought to myself that I couldn’t really take credit for their satiation, I wondered whether they were truly statues, or (a hell of a lot more likely) elven women who had volunteered to serve as the tomb’s guardians. One by one, they returned to their niches and grew still, becoming statues once more.

Before me, Valaron’s sarcophagus began to glow, emitting a hot yellow light through the cracks beneath its lid. As I watched, the lid flew off, flung high into the dim shadows overhead, then landed with a crash behind the coffin, shattering into fragments.

The glow rose from the now-open sarcophagus, a shaft of yellow light. In it rose a towering figure, at least twice my height. It was clad in long, green and blue robes, and though its overall form was humanoid, its head was that of a great, crested dragon, and as it rose into the air, I saw a muscular, finned tail hanging down below its feet. Tall wings rose up from its back — they were folded now, but when unfurled they would be huge.

“Lord Valaron?” I said. “Father of the elven race?”

“I am,” it said, voice deep and rumbling, part human, part thunder. “But I am both father and mother. You come to awaken me.”

“I do. Your children are in peril.”

Valaron nodded, its magnificent head bobbing up and down majestically. “This is known to me. The green-skinned ones do great harm to my children, as my children did harm to them countless generations ago.”

“The Silver Lady asks your assistance.”

Valaron looked contemplative. “That I will give, though in many ways my children displease me. They are haughty and arrogant, and sought to impose their will on the world in ages past. Today, they reap the violence which they sowed long ago.” He paused. “You are of the race of men.”

“Yes. I’m called Wulf. I come here at the behest of the Silver Lady, who told me that no one of the blood could enter your tomb.”

“So it is, man. It was my final expression of disappointment in the race I’d helped to create. Your kind is different. You are arrogant, but you are also humble. You are violent, but you are also gentle. You are foolish, but you are also wise. Every sentiment and passion of mortality is yours, and you express them all, even in your short lives. The god who made you must have been wise, indeed.”

I was flattered, but we were getting off the subject. “There’s a daemon,” I said.

“Yes. He brings his minions to this world, and draws his power from a great gate. This must not be. The planes are sacrosanct, and must never be open to each other, lest all be destroyed. I will close the gate, and I will fight the daemon. Come.”

“Uhhhhh, your grace?” I asked, not sure what form of address to use. “One more item — your, uh, guardians,” I said, indicating the elf-statues, now back in their place, silent and stony, “seemed rather lonely after their long wait. Have you considered setting them free one of these days?”

Valaron looked at me with a strange expression, which might have been the dragon equivalent of amusement.

“I see your heart, man. You feel for my guardians, and wish them peace and the freedom of worldly desires. Fear not. The future is uncertain and clouded, but I see that their servitude will not last much longer. Does this please you?”

“Other than the fact that I’ll probably be long dead by the time you free them, yes,” I replied.

“Perhaps. But their freedom may come sooner than you imagine.” With that, the great dragon-man floated down from his sarcophagus, across the floor, and through the door. As he did so, his aspect changed. His robes transformed into elaborate silver armor, and a long, gnarled black staff tipped with a violet-glowing gem appeared in his hand.

I stumbled after, lacing up my mail coat, grabbing my spear, and strapping on my sword. If there was a fight coming, I was pretty sure the damned dragon-freak would request my aid, and I wasn’t really about to deny him anything.

When we reached the entrance to the tomb, and emerged under the open sky, I received a terrible shock. Galewing remained loyally where I’d left him, but even he seemed overwhelmed by the horror unfolding before us.

The elves were in retreat everywhere, falling back, hard pressed by goblins, orcs and humans. In the center, however, was the most terrifying thing. Mazzor, the daemon, stood in the midst of a horde of winged, clawed, tentacled, or crawling hell-things, chasing down elf after elf, tearing them limb from limb, or plucking them from horses and rending their bodies. He was less than a mile distant — I may have actually heard the screams of his victims, or perhaps I imagined them.

Valaron tilted his crested head backwards and emitted a terrible scream, which echoed across the battlefield. Then he spread his wings and rose aloft, purple and white light exploding from his staff and streaming into the air around him.

“Follow, man! The elves will rally on us!”

Gods dammit, I thought, hastening over to Galewing and hurriedly mounting up. What sin have I committed, what crime am I guilty of that keeps landing me in the middle of the shitstorm? All I’d wanted to do was sail my stupid little vessel to Stoneburg or Litharna, set up shop as a professional burglar, pay off a few guards, and live a life of ease. However, here I was — dressed up like a fucking ear-boy, mounted on a winged horse and following some demented draconian demigod into desperate battle with daemons.

Good work if you can get it, huh?

Thae’lynn

A pair of dark elf warriors hastened back to where Thae’lynn stood expectantly on her platform, watching the battle progress.

“Dark Lady!” cried one. “Treachery! The orcs are attacking us!”

She stood, mind whirling, suddenly alarmed. “What?” she demanded. “How many?”

“A regiment at least, Lady. They are calling for your head as they fight!”

“Then stop them, dammit! You know your job!”

“I’m sorry, Lady,” the warrior said, apologetically. “Most of our warriors have been committed to battle. We’ve less than a regiment remaining ourselves.”

Thae’lynn made an angry, snarling sound. That fucking orcling had discovered her plans, and had turned on her! What to do now? She could withdraw her troops from battle, but that might cause the elves to rally and destroy the orcs. She could flee, but to where? Perhaps...

“Tell my soldiers to hold for the moment!” she ordered, bounding down from her platform, and striding over to Valla. The proud black unicorn stood stock still, eyes glowing, as if he sensed the threat to his mistress. “I will aid them myself!”

“Yes, lady!” The warriors dashed off. Thae’lynn turned to her minotaurs.

“Did you hear?” she asked them, grabbing a handful of Valla’s mane and pulling herself onto the beast’s broad back.

“Yes,” rumbled Rak. “We will fight for our Lady.” The three others grunted in assent.

“Get your weapons and follow me, then!” Thae’lynn ordered, then paused, and turned, addressing Nur. “You! Go unleash Yalvar and bring him! We’ll need all the help we can get!”

“I obey,” Nur said, and ambled off.

“Come!” Thae’lynn shouted. “We’ll take these orcish bastards! There’ll be the sweetest rewards you can imagine after the battle!” She meant it, too. The notion of a lovely little set-piece orgy with tiger, unicorn, minotaurs, and her lovely, huge-pricked daemon set Thae’lynn’s heart to racing, and her blood-lust swelled to bursting. Oh, yessss, she thought, just wait...

The minotaurs howled and bellowed lustily as the followed her.

Wulf

A great shout went up from below as the elves saw us overhead. Beside us, the two surviving dragon riders took up position — the first was an ancient elf warrior in silver armor, riding a glittering green mount, whose wings beat with a deafening roar; the second was a stern female, clad in black plate, blonde hair streaming behind her, one hand clutching a long lance, whose blade seemed made of trapped lightning.

“Lord Valaron!” shouted the male. “We ride with you!”

“Ride, children!” Valaron cried back, his own wings creating a storm of wind that buffeted me and Galewing. Light leaped from his staff. “I summon the energies to banish the daemons!”

I felt my hair stir and begin to stand up, and felt a crackling lambency in the air. I knew enough to realize that, yes, Valaron was drawing in about every spare scrap of magic on the battlefield, and concentrating it in his staff. What would happen when he released it didn’t bear thinking about.

The daemon was below us, surrounded by his nightmare host. He paused in tearing the head off a riven elf-corpse, and looked up at us with a shriek of rage.

“Now, daemon!” thundered Valaron, swooping low, with me and the two dragon-riders close behind. “Now is your time!”

Thae’lynn

The black orc strike force was unprepared for Thae’lynn’s spirited countercharge. Though the dark elves had been driven back, the sudden appearance of the duchess, mounted on her ferocious black unicorn, followed closely by a ravening tiger and four minotaurs, each armed with a great battleaxe, stunned the orcs, giving the dark elves breathing space.

Thae’lynn bent low, swinging her sword and taking an orc in the throat, even as Valla speared a second on his horn, paused momentarily to rip mouthfuls of flesh from the twitching body, then charged forward. A squad of dark elf lizard riders formed around her, driving a wedge into the attacking orcs, who held for a moment, then broke and ran, scattering across the plains.

“Enough!” Thae’lynn cried, swinging her sword overhead. “To Thrazz’s tent! We’ll end this now!”

With a shout, the surviving dark elves followed the black unicorn and its rider, pounding across the sward, toward Thrazz’s headquarters.

Damn his eyes, Thae’lynn thought, we’ll see who leads this army come daybreak!

Thrazz

The orc king’s rage at the dark elves’ treachery was soon overshadowed by his shock at the change in the battle. It was all at the limits of his vision, now, but his scouts reported that just as the elves were in full route, a great blast of light had exploded from the barrow which they defended, and a terrible monster had emerged, taken to the sky, and rallied the elves to him.

Now, Thrazz saw — it was a tall, winged shape, somewhat like the daemon Mazzor, accompanied by a winged horse and the last two dragon-riders. He screamed in anger as he saw the improvised force swoop down upon Mazzor, where the mighty daemon and his minions still held the orcish center, scattering elves before him, and slaughtering them.

“Gods damn you!” he roared and raged. “Shamans! To me! FUCKING SHAMANS GET HERE, RIGHT NOW!” He paused, grabbed his chalice, and cried out one more time,“BEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRR!”

At that moment, however, everything fell to pieces. A rabble of orcs burst into his camp.

“The dark elves!” one shouted. “They’re coming!”

It was not much of a warning. A heartbeat later, dozens of dark elf warriors followed, hewing and slicing. Then, Thrazz’s bodyguard — fifty mighty black orcs chosen for their loyalty and ability to follow orders — counterattacked, and the orc king’s tent and camp was a bloody melee filled with shouts, screams and frantic movement.

Thrazz dropped Brainsquasher, and drew a great falchion — bigger, and better suited to this kind of work. The fucking dark elves had been a drag on the operation from the beginning! He’d finish them now!

A bellowing minotaur threw itself at him. He finished it with a single sword-stroke, slicing its throat cleanly. Then a mighty tiger attacked, roaring, claws slashing. The tiger took Thrazz a few moments to dispatch, but he did so with little trouble, and advanced grimly, searching for the one he knew would be here.

A wild, screaming, near-naked figure rose from the shadows, knife in hand. Thrazz stepped back, and the knife slashed empty air. He struck, nearly cutting the dark elf priest in half. He chuckled to himself. The bitch had a real fondness for her priests, and he’d just killed one.

Then he saw her. It was that hateful little cunt, Thae’lynn, mounted on her black unicorn, hacking at his bodyguard.

“ELF BITCH!” Thrazz screamed. The hatred and anger, the exultation and joy of the past weeks flowed through him in that moment, and he raced forward, heedless of his bodyguards’ cries to wait for them. “I’ll fucking kill you!”

Valla, the unicorn, saw him, turned, lowered its head and charged. Thrazz didn’t care. He was The Conqueror! He was invincible! No mortal weapon could harm him now! He would kill this usurper bitch, and become lord of all! Now...

Thrazz’s plans did not extend much beyond the next instant, for as he watched in sudden dismay, Valla’s glowing silver horn pierced his chest, thrust through, and emerged in a spray of black blood on the other side. Before Thrazz could even utter a dying curse, Thae’lynn cocked her arm backwards and swung, sending his head flying across the plains, splattering gore.

So died His Majesty, King Thrazz, one hundred and thirteenth Lord of the Iron Gate, slayer of Sir Murris the Red, Master of Nine Tribes, near-conqueror of the Elven Isles, and owner of one of the most extensive collection of mugs in all the orcish realms.

“Fuck you, too,” Thae’lynn spat, as Valla rent the orc lord’s corpse and swallowed huge, gory chunks of his flesh.

Thae’lynn

With the death of their warlord, the orcs went wild, throwing themselves at her dark elves with suicidal frenzy. In a few moments, the encampment was a charnel house, with dozens of slain orcs and dark elves scattered everywhere. Thae’lynn looked about and realized that she and Valla were the sole survivors of the fight. Yalvar, and her four beloved minotaurs also lay dead.

She jumped lightly down from Valla, to gaze down at Thrazz’s mutilated body. Of its own accord, her hand reached down to touch the silver and ruby chalice which hung at the orc king’s belt. Magic... She felt it. She took up the chalice, and held it close.

Sadness touched her for a moment — sadness at the death, and the loss of her lovers — then Thae’lynn realized that her plans had finally come to fruition. The battle was as good as won, and in the morning she’d take control of the invaders, and lead them to total victory. With Mazzor at her side...

In the distance, a terrible yellow light bloomed, and she heard daemonic cries of pain and despair. Mazzor!

Shock and terror raced through her, as she felt her daemon-lover’s fear. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

With a cry, she urged Valla forward, across the field, to where Mazzor and his daemons fought.

Wulf

“Begone foul things!” Valaron shouted, and a suddenly-exploding bubble of light expanded from him and his staff, lighting the plains like the light of the sun for an instant.

When my vision cleared, the daemon-things around Mazzor had vanished, and he himself looked downright tatty, his scales and wings torn and battered, his deep yellow eyes filled with fear and indecisiveness.

“It should have banished them all!” Valaron said to me in astonishment. “Something must be holding the daemon’s spirit here!”

“It matters not!” cried the female dragon-rider. “We’ll finish the bastard ourselves! Thravana Khula!” The dragon lashed forward, jaws flashing, claws reaching out for the confused and suddenly fearful daemon-lord.

But Mazzor had a few tricks left. Fire burst from his eyes, engulfing the dragon, sending it crashing to the sward, its rider tumbling from her saddle.

Valaron himself strode forward, seeming to grow in stature, and violet-blue flames wreathed him as he did so.

“Death comes for you daemon!” he shouted, raising his staff. “Beware!”

Mazzor looked up then, real terror in his alien face. A gout of violet fire burst from Valaron’s staff, obscuring the daemon for a moment.

Then it was over, the flames gone. Mazzor was nowhere to be seen.

“Did you kill him?” I asked, quietly.

Valaron’s reptilian brows knit in vexation. “I do not think so,” he said. “I think he teleported himself before I attacked.”

“Gods.”

The last dragon grounded heavily nearby, and its rider dismounted to help the black-armored woman. She and her dragon were still alive, but seemed stunned, moving feebly.

“Don’t worry, man,” Valaron said. “The daemon lost almost all his power when I closed the gate. He’ll be no threat now, and has no way of returning to his realm.”

I nodded. “Then we’ve won?”

“Perhaps,” Valaron said, scanning the battlefield. The orcs were now in retreat, though some fought gamely. The elves pressed forward, however, and it seemed that, despite appalling casualties, the good guys had managed to win one. “Perhaps.”

Across the plains, I saw a flash of light. Mazzor, I thought, on the other end of his teleport. With a shout, and without stopping to consult with Valaron or the dragon-riders, I spurred Galewing into the air, and guided him to the place.

Thae’lynn

A bubble of dark light formed in Valla’s path, causing the unicorn to draw up short, rearing and snorting in sudden surprise. Then Thae’lynn saw Mazzor’s battered form, standing in front of her. He was not the daemon he had once been — blood ran from wounds, his wings had several ragged holes, his overall demeanor was one of exhaustion and defeat.

“I am banished, Lady,” he said. “The gate to my home is closed, and it will take centuries to find it again.”

Thae’lynn gasped, staring in disbelief. “Are we defeated, then?”

“The battle is lost, Lady. We must flee before the dragon mage finds me. He will destroy me utterly.”

“Where can we go?”

“I have enough power to teleport us from the islands, at least a short distance — where they cannot find us. We will decide what to do then.”

Thae’lynn gritted her teeth. Her triumph had been so close, then it had been snatched away in a single explosion of light... Damn these elves and their foolish allies... And damn those unreliable orcs...

“Let us go then,” she said, softly. “Can you bring Valla?”

“I think so, Lady. Prepare yourself, my love.”

She stared. “What did you call me?”

“My love, Lady.” Mazzor looked suddenly sadder. “I once rejected mortal love. I may have been a man once, or perhaps an elf, or a dragon — I don’t remember. Whatever my past, I have not felt love in millennia. I do now, Lady. I love you.”

Oh, perfect, Thae’lynn thought. A daemon lord, following me around like a puppy...

Then she realized what he had said, and she slumped heavily against Valla’s neck.

“I love you, too Mazzor,” she said. “Let us stay together.”

“We shall, my love.” Mazzor’s voice was strong, but very, very tired. “Now prepare yourself.”

Thae’lynn clutched Valla close. A cry from overhead broke her concentration. She looked up to see a silver-mailed figure mounted upon a black, winged horse, diving down upon her, lance set, aimed at her chest.

“Thae’lynn!” the warrior cried. “I’m still not dead!”

It was the damned human, the one called Wulf. Hatred, mixed with a certain amount of admiration and even a trace of desire, raced through her as the lance raced toward her heart, but then Mazzor’s spell took effect, and Wulf, his winged mount, the battered and bloody plains, and the elven realms themselves, vanished into a blur of green light.

A sense of falling gripped her. Valla screamed in fear.

“We are gone now, Lady,” Mazzor’s voice echoed in her head. “We are safe.”

Wulf

Green light jumped from the tatter-winged daemon, surrounding Thae’lynn and her mount. An instant later, my lance swept through the air where she had once been, and Galewing crashed to the ground, sending me flying.

Damn you, I thought as I felt myself rushing toward the ground. Damn you, you fucking dark elf bitch...

Then again, I thought, as the ground raced up to smite me, she was kind of cute...

WHAM!!!

***

At length, I awoke, as I knew I would. The sky overhead was brilliant blue, and clouds chased each other around the bright, warm sun. I raised myself to a sitting position, momentarily disoriented, and realized with a start that I lay in the middle of Sarra’s grove. Then, I realized I was naked.

“Our thanks, Wulf the Freelance,” said a voice, echoing in the still air. It was the Silver Lady, but I could not see her. “There is one who wishes to see you.”

The air before me shimmered, and a figure appeared. My heart lurched; it was Sarra. She gazed at me with wide brown eyes, and was dressed in a long white shift.

“Hello, Wulf,” she said. “Raven said that it was all right for me to come back to you. For a while, anyway.”

I blinked back tears, and felt my heart race with another, more basic emotion.

“Make love to me, Wulf,” Sarra said, stepping close, pulling her shift up over her head, and standing naked before me. “Before I go back.”

I won’t go into detail as to exactly what we did — you’ve gotten enough explicit boinking already in this story. For once, I’d like to keep my carnal activities private. Suffice to say, it was a combination of sweaty, animalistic fucking, and tender affection. When at last we finished, lying together beneath a pure blue sky, I realized how I truly felt.

“I love you, Sarra,” I whispered.

Sarra’s tear-filled eyes gazed back at me as she grew faint, indistinct, transparent, then vanished altogether.

“I’m with Raven again now,” her voice echoed, “but I love you, and I’ll never forget you.”

Then I was alone in the grove, torn between joy and sadness.

The Silver Lady’s voice echoed once more.

“She is back in the eternal realms,” she said, “and we are forever grateful to you for saving this land.”

I sighed, not terribly impressed. “Grateful doesn’t pay the rent, your majesty. With all due respect, that is.”

The still-invisible Lady’s tone was sympathetic. “You’ve done much for little reward, Freelance. I can offer you what you first wanted when you came to our realm, however. I will send you wherever you desire.”

Big deal, I thought bitterly. I took one look around me at my beloved Sarra’s most sacred place, and at the elven realm which contained it.

Nope, I didn’t mind leaving.

“I’ll accept your offer,” I said, “on the condition that you provide me with some clothing and protection when I get there.”

“We will do that and more. Where do you wish to go?”

Well, that was the hundredweight gold question, wasn’t it? The White Empire contained too many bad memories, and besides, I’d joined the imperial army to get away from various police warrants. Litharna had possibilities, but they were a bit too hard on sorcerers, and I had a hankering to cast some spells. The other human realms didn’t really hold much appeal for me either, though one place stood out in my mind. The Veldt Lands, I wondered; back to my beloved Ushandra the Guardswoman? Of all the women I’d known in the past year, she and Sarra were the ones for which I felt the most love and admiration, but like Sarra, Ushandra was from a different world. My weary heart and soul longed for thick walls, crowded streets, real human food, and warm companionship. I hoped I’d see Ushandra again someday, but for now I wanted to go someplace where I could truly be at home.

Yes, that was it. Stoneburg, the Free City. One of the most populous, powerful and corrupt city-states in the realms. A place with a Thieves’ Quarter that took up half the city. A place where the guards were even less trustworthy than the criminals, and where everything was available if you had the money. In short, the perfect place for a petty little cutpurse like me, where I could drown myself in civilized decadence, and forget all about the last year’s travails.

“Stoneburg,” I said. “I want to go to Stoneburg.”

“So it shall be done,” the Lady said. “But always know that I will remember you, though my people may not. Now, we depart...”

Sarra’s grove spun dizzyingly, whirling into a blue-green pinwheel, then faded into blackness, replaced suddenly with gray. The motion stopped, and I found myself standing before towering, battlemented walls, beside a road bustling with wagons, carts, horses, and foot traffic. Stoneburg the Eternal, I thought. I’m really here.

“I will remember, Wulf the Freelance,” echoed the Lady’s voice. “I will remember you.”

True to her word, the Lady had gifted me with a finely-made tunic and trousers, leather boots, an elvish sword, and a backpack full of provisions. At my belt hung a pouch, heavy with jingling coins.

With a silent thanks to the Lady, and bittersweet memories of cherished Ushandra, the tireless lion-women, evil snake woman, perverse Lady Xylara, slave-woman Alrynna, hot-blooded Nineh, golden Sarra, and even a vaguely fond warmth mixed with hatred for the wicked Thae’lynn, I shouldered my pack, and joined the throngs tramping eagerly through the gates of Stoneburg.

Thae’lynn

A chill wind tore at Thae’lynn, Valla, and Mazzor as the trio clung tenaciously to a tiny spur of rock amid the crashing surf. Foam and icy spray drenched them periodically, but Thae’lynn refused to complain.

“How long until your people arrive?” Mazzor demanded, lowering his human-dragon head against the wind. “We’ve been here for hours!”

“Soon now, that’s all I can tell you!” she shot back irritably. “I sent a message to my cousins, and they dispatched a galley to get us. It could take hours, it could take days!”

“We won’t last days, Thae’lynn,” Mazzor growled. “We’ll freeze to death first.”

“Not liking mortal existence so much now, are we, Lord Mazzor?” Thae’lynn said, hugging close to Valla’s sopping flank. “We’ll live, don’t you fret! Just stop complaining!”

Mazzor dutifully shut up, and wrapped his wings around himself and his two companions as best he could.

They’d be here soon, Thae’lynn thought, and then she’d make for a nice, warm cabin, and sleep for a week. Then she’d return to Darkoak Hill and enjoy civilized comforts for a time, before embarking on her next venture.

The Silver Chalice was safe at her side — she knew it contained powerful elven magic, and was eager to probe its secrets. And Lord Mazzor, despite the fact that his powers were at low ebb, and he would be marooned in this world for centuries, was still a potent ally. Besides, he loved her, and remained the most exciting animal she had ever bedded. Then, of course, there was Valla. No one in the dark elven realms had anything like him!

She suppressed a chuckle. A few more hours of discomfort, she thought, then we go home.

Then, she thought, mind growing suddenly darker, we think of what we will do to Wulf the Freelance, and how we will take vengeance on the elven realms.

The future was beginning to look interesting.

— END —