The Creators: Book Two, Chapter 5
Chapter Five: Daughter
The cold metal was soothing on my flesh, the dim light was calming on my eyes. I no longer felt the tortuous need of my sister’s ailment, but only a thrumming desire between my legs. It had been a horrible night, but it had been made bearable by the distraction of conversation. I hadn’t wanted to tell Julia my story, but a few coercing caresses of her fingers had loosened my lips. She’d remained silent as I spilled myself to her, only asking for me to clarify something once or twice. By the time I finished my tale, the morning sun was dimly glowing through the basement window.
“Now that you know the truth, what will you do with it?” I asked her. Julia didn’t respond. She sat cross-legged and naked in her corner of the room, studying me.
“You think I’m a monster, don’t you?” I whispered.
“No, I understand.” Julia got up and walked over to me, then sat beside my head, “I’ve also fallen prey to the seduction of power. You think that by commanding others, you can find some control of yourself, but it’s not so. It’s an addiction.”
“But power doesn’t keep you warm at night, or bring you joy in the morning. You sold your daughter for power, and only afterward did you realize you’d sold her cheaply.”
“Yes.” I whispered again. Julia nodded empathetically, and looked out the basement window.
“I am going to seek atonement this morning.” She said, “Tonight, you will do the same.”
Julia leaned until her face hovered over mine, her kindly emerald eyes tinged with the hint of something dark. She touched a single finger against my exposed belly, and I twisted in ardent reaction.
“Tera’s poison is still in you, Flora.” Julia sighed, “It will take at least half a day to be rid of it. I’ll have to leave you like this for the duration, for your own good.”
“How, Julia?” I hissed, “How can I atone?”
“You have to undo what you’ve done.” Julia replied, “You sold Willowbud into slavery, now you must buy her freedom.”
“At what cost?”
Julia smiled ruefully at me. “I’ve been asking the Holy Mother that all my life. The answer is always ‘more.’”
Part One: Martyr
“You know you don’t have to do this.” Lucilla said softly. The tunnel was immense, dark except for the morning light that glared at its end. Normally, the light would be a welcome sight in such cavernous blackness, but now, it only filled me with dread.
“Yes, I do.” I whispered. My hands were clasped before me, my ankles were clasped beneath me, and I was completely naked, save for the crescent symbol that hung between my breasts.
“I forgave you.” Lucilla hissed.
“I need more than just your forgiveness.”
“There are those that will never forgive you.” Lucilla said, molding herself to the crook of me.
“I need to forgive me.” I said, offering her a sad smile.
“You can’t do that, Julia.” Lucilla returned the smile with equal sadness, “You never could.” She pressed her lips to mine, and I tasted her worry in the kiss. I broke from the embrace with a shallow gasp, and saw fear in her sapphire eyes. It was oddly comforting; at least I wasn’t alone in my terror. I turned from her, took a breath, and stepped forward. The light of the tunnel grew brighter with each successive footfall, and a low rumble became audible to me. The rumble became a growl, and soon, it was a roar. It was like continuous thunder, and the noise beat at my body like the wind, making me cringe against it, but still, I walked. The thunder grew louder, the terror grew hotter, but every time I thought to retreat, I forced an image of Diamond’s black eyes, of Lucilla’s blank eyes, and of my mother’s dead eyes. I stepped beneath the threshold, the cold stone beneath my feet turned to hot sand, and the blinding sunlight consumed me. The monster roared my entrance, and I walked willingly into its mouth.
The Pit seemed much larger from the sands than it had from the outside. The stands rose a hundred feet all around me, the risers stretching back, every space filled with the writhing, screaming blur of sixty-thousand people. Their heinous roar was of hatred, of laughter, of amusement at seeing a god so humbled. This beast of the masses did not even know the word ‘mercy.’ It only wanted more, only wanted worse, and I would give it to them. I took a deep breath, held my head high, and walked to the platform at the center of the sand. From across the arena, I could see Brandon and Night Eyes in their booth. I felt the hunger in my lungs, and I gritted my teeth to suppress it. My desire for Corruption had become a dependency sometime in the night, and it was only getting worse. I needed something terrible to distract my mind.
I hoped Julia couldn’t hear the things they were saying about her. They screamed their insults from the stands above us, threw refuse onto the arena, and jeered Julia as she stepped to the platform. As individuals, people were generally good, but get them in a crowd, and they’re just shit.
“It’s because fear is what makes people ‘good,’” Willowbud said beside me after I’d vocalized the thought, “and when cattle are in a herd, they no longer fear the wolf.”
“That’s cynical.” I snorted, “How very typical of you.”
Willowbud grinned beside me on the couch, and Corruption grinned with her. I pulled Willowbud’s head to my chest so that I wouldn’t have to see those white eyes burning into me, and I tried vainly to ignore the strands of black hair that mingled with Willowbud’s stark white. The two of them didn’t move as one anymore. Diamond had noticed it too, and as their meld grew weaker, Corruption became more obvious to me. It wasn’t just the visual change, but the behavioral change as well. When Willowbud came to my bed last night, she didn’t pounce on me in the heat of passion, but simply stared at me from the foot of the bed. I couldn’t see anything of Willowbud but her silhouette, but I could see Corruption’s white irises wide and alight, and her teeth shining from that broad, hungry grin. When Willowbud finally crawled into bed next to me, I didn’t feel much like sleeping anymore.
“Why aren’t you with Julia?” I asked, “Isn’t this at least half your fault?”
“Sister Julia’s taking one for the team.” Willowbud chuckled, “She’s doing this for you too, Brandon.”
“I didn’t fucking do anything.” I growled.
“Do you think they care?” Willowbud gestured to the tented canopy of our box, the translucent lavender revealing the churning masses that stretched above and behind us, “They’re about ready to blow. If Sister Julia can’t release the pressure here, we’ll have to do things my way.”
“I thought you loved the rabble?”
“I’ve made a habit of killing the things I love.” Willowbud answered softly. I would’ve vastly preferred her sardonic chuckle. At the center of the sands, Tera was chaining Julia’s cuffs to the cross bars of a squared frame, displaying the god’s beautiful, spread nakedness for all to see. The voluptuous succubus looked oddly lonely by herself on stage.
“I take it you didn’t want the main event to be spoiled?” I said, glancing at the statue of Astrid looming in the distance.
“She’s not suited for this kind of thing anyway; it’s usually her in chains, not the other way around.” Willowbud sighed, “I just hope this little display doesn’t take the wind out of the championship’s sails.”
“Oh, I don’t think Julia could ever do that.” I chuckled, “We might have our temples, but this place is Astrid’s cathedral, and there’s only one god of the arena.”
Step right, duck, fly up four meters, slice, drop three meters, slide with the parry, feign high, swing low, spin, extend the elbow, duck again, feign a stab, and… punch the bitch in the twat. Ladies and gentlemen, your new champion of the Pit: Astrid Skyborne! Jade Tao stumbled back, clutching her crotch, dropping her wooden practice sword to the floor of Mistress’s atrium. The Pussy Palace was eerily quiet this morning after most of its occupants had fled, but I didn’t mind. I needed the space to practice without distraction.
“That isn’t something they taught on the peaks.” Jade gasped.
“No, that was something Tera taught me.” I chuckled, “And I bet that area’s oh-so tender after being Julia’s High Guard for two days.”
“You duel without honor!” Jade cried, collapsing to her knees.
“The Pit isn’t a place for honor, High Guard Tao.” I said, kicking her sword into my hand, “Duels there aren’t fought to submission or to disarm like on the peaks.” I stepped over to Jade, and laid her own sword against the back of her neck. She held up two fingers in surrender, and I let her wooden weapon clatter to the floor. “That’s five to zero, High Guard; I’m disappointed.”
“I am sorry.” Jade said, dusting off her robes, and getting to wobbly feet, “I am distracted. Mistr-Her Holiness- is putting herself in grave danger, and I feel absolutely helpless!”
“She ordered you to stay away from it.” I said, getting in my stance, “She also ordered you to help me, and your constant failure is a betrayal of her wishes.”
“Why aren’t you with Her Eminence, Tera Autumnsong right now?” Jade grunted, hoisting herself to her feet, “Don’t you live for displays like this?” Jade gestured toward the outline of The Pit in the distance.
“Mistress doesn’t want me seen until I walk onto the sands,” I replied, twirling my weapon, “and I’m no sadist.”
“How many people have you killed in that arena?” Jade smiled that polite, yet teasing smile.
“One-hundred and eighty-two in fifteen matches, but I never let them suffer.” I said, circling for a better angle, “Tera, however, would make sure her foes lingered if they’d given her too much trouble. She is an… expert on the body.”
“So you’re the merciful one, Avenging Angel?” Jade said, shifting her stance.
“I showed mercy once.” I frowned, adjusted my stance in turn, and with a battle cry, I charged Jade.
“Cold morning, huh, Your Holiness?” I chuckled, trying at levity as I chained the terrified and naked god to the frame. By her scowl, I guessed my dick joke wasn’t appreciated. It occurred to me that the only other time I’d spoken to Julia was when I had my knife to her daughter’s throat, and now I was going to sexually torture her in front of sixty-thousand people. I suspected small-talk wasn’t something we’d be doing. Well, that was probably for the best, considering what I knew. My eyes caught the crescent symbol dangling between Julia’s full, pale breasts, and I sighed. Mostly because her tits were fantastic, but also because I felt guilty. I’d been up all night mulling-over Angela’s theory about the Holy Mother, and the more I thought of it, the more it made sense. I’d never seen evidence of God before, not a perfect, omnipotent one, anyway. The only gods I knew were just extremely powerful mortals, and they were also extremely flawed; Julia maybe more than the other two. Still, she did have a great rack, holy shit. And that ass! Oh, I was going to have fun ruining this woman. I’d been waiting to sink my proverbial (or literal) teeth into her since I first saw her, and now she was delivering herself to me in the best way possible. I’d practically skipped to The Pit when I’d gotten her request from Jade. “Her Holiness needs someone experienced in public displays of punishment, someone the people of Drastin are familiar with, someone that can act as their will.” Drastin was a stinking, rotten, corrupt, amoral center of the worst kind of humanity, and I’d make sure their will was enacted to the letter.
“What’s that?” Julia gasped.
“That…” I said, slipping the instrument down her length, “is a cock-ring. When I get you hard, this is going to be nice and snug.”
“And that?” Julia hissed.
“This is for your anus.” I said, showing her the metallic prongs, and slowly separating them to demonstrate their use. Julia’s eyes went wide.
“And that?” Julia whispered, her voice barely coming from her.
“Nipple chain; doesn’t it look familiar?”
“Ah, yes.” Julia mumbled, then glanced at the table beside me, where two-dozen more of my personal toys were laid out, “Are you going to use all of them on me?”
“That’s up to you, Your Holiness.” I said, taking her chin between my thumb and forefinger, “This is your party, after all.”
Julia gulped, seeming to steel herself. “Do your worst, Tera.”
“I don’t think you want that.” I chuckled.
“But I need it.” Julia said, dropping her head, looking resigned and hopeless. As beautiful as she was with her arms chained and spread above her, and her legs in a similar situation below her, I did feel for the girl.
“With just a touch, I can make everything wonderful.” I said softly, “I brought astral gemstones with me; no one will know.”
“No.” Julia said firmly, regaining some of her spirit, “This isn’t for me, or for you, or for them; this is for God. I have strayed from her path, and I need to atone. I have tortured and raped, so I must bear my sins in turn. I must bear them for all to see.”
“Well, you say it’s not for me,” I smiled as I took a feather, and gently teased her left nipple out, “but truth be told, Your Holiness, I couldn’t think of a better way to start my day.” Then I pierced that nipple with the needle in my other hand, and Julia screamed. Her body wrenched forward, her arms and legs straining and straightening behind her, the chains growing taught from her shackles. The crowd erupted around us, and I withdrew the needle. The wound was instantly cauterized by the hot metal, which made me cognizant of who I was dealing with. If I went too far, Julia might not be able to control her own fire. I waited until her scream ebbed, then I gave her a questioning look. She nodded weakly, and I punctured the right nipple. I would’ve put a gag in her mouth to give her something to bite on, but the people in the back needed to hear what they couldn’t see, so Julia’s shrill scream rose high and true from her red lips. Her body arched, jutting her chest forward, and I took the opportunity to link the loops through her piercings, and dangle the chain between them. Julia’s scream devolved into a whimper before she regained control of herself.
“You’re doing great!” I smiled to her, “Just a couple more things, then we can start.”
“We can start?!” Julia cried, her red hair in strands over her pale face, “Tera, I-”
“Shhh.” I said, putting a gloved finger to her red lips, “I’m not ‘Tera’ anymore, and you’re not ‘Your Holiness.’ You’re not even ‘Julia.’ From this moment, until we’re done, you are ‘Dog.’ You will obey without question, you will submit without resistance, and you will wag that sexy little ass and smile when I offer you a treat. Understood?”
I could almost feel Julia’s glare of pure hatred.
“If you can’t comply, Dog, then I will let you go, and you can find a new master.” I whispered onto those red lips as I ran my finger across them, indenting the glistening flesh, “Now, give your master a ‘woof-woof.’”
Julia’s eyes narrowed, then relaxed. She dropped her head, and under her breath, I heard a soft, “woof-woof.” I smiled to myself. Religious girls were always so easy to submit; they’d been doing it their whole lives. My little Justina scorned religion, but personally, I loved it. Religion filled women with shame, and nothing begot kinkier sex than shame. The Maternal Path was a cesspool of sadomasochism and ritualistic orgies, and while Dark-Julia leaned towards the Holy Mother’s judgmental side, I’d seen firsthand normal-Julia’s proclivities for the sacrificial side. What a wonderful little martyr she was.
“Good girl.” I chuckled, and placed a headband atop her crimson mane, giving my new pet the dog ears to match her title. I turned her face upward, and dotted her nose with black ink, giving her the semblance of a snout. She crinkled her nose at the touch, and I giggled. I drew little whiskers on her sparkling, apple cheeks, and clasped a tight collar around her neck with ‘bitch’ written on the tag. I stepped back to let Drastin see what I’d done to the god. Cruel laughter mingled with jeers and whistles, and Julia’s face turned the color of her hair. She cringed, trying to fold herself inward to hide from the humiliation, but she was trapped in her vertical spread-eagle. I couldn’t help but admire my work. From the chin up, she looked like an adorable little ginger girl who just got her face painted at the fair, but from the chin down, she was a twin-gendered slave-whore in chains, sporting augmented breasts and an oversized cock. The duality of her, both physically and spiritually, aroused me in a very unique way. There was just one thing missing. My eyes fell upon a bushy tail, with a cone-headed metallic plug at the end. I picked it up and sucked it as I strutted around Julia, one of my hands anchoring dainty fingers on her shoulder. I stopped behind her, slid my fingers down her back, grabbed a succulent glute, and spread.
“You might enjoy this now, but you’re going to hate me for it later.” I whispered, and slowly pushed the plug into her ass. The people jeered as Julia moaned, and I watched her pink rim dilate around the tip’s expanding girth, then suck the metal cone into her with ease, tightening greedily before the base. I left a kiss on the nape of her neck, and the memory of my pressing body to tease her exposed back.
“You will find that I am a fair master, Dog.” I pontificated as I ran my fingers over my tools, “I will reward good behavior, and punish bad behavior.” I gave her a little smirk, “And you’ve been a very bad doggy. Before we do anything, I’m going to have to housebreak you.” And I grabbed the cattle-prod, put the business end against Julia’s chain, and pulled the trigger. She screamed again, high and shrill, her biceps flexing, her head rearing back, her feet stomping against the ground. The crowd roared, and I upped the voltage, causing Julia’s fists to shake in their white-knuckled balls. I waited until her scream sputtered out, then I released the trigger, and Julia collapsed, dangling from her arms, breathing heavily, her pale skin glistening with exertion. The crowd’s cheering turned to uproarious laughter, and when Julia realized why, her face turned two shades darker. Between Julia’s quivering legs, her cock was standing full and proud, swelling around the too-snug ring that centered it. Nerves were just electrical signalers after all, and with the metallic plug and cock-ring, I’d created a current between her prostate, and her dick.
“It is useful to have a scientist in the family.” I chuckled, running my fingers along the underside of Julia’s cock, and grinning as the ample organ twitched and frothed, “Justina had this idea written in her notebook. She thought it would be best implemented on a grand scale, a factory-farm of human males reduced to cattle. The ethics got in the way of implementation, I imagine, but we don’t have to worry about such petty things here, do we, Dog?”
Julia gritted her teeth, and whined a loud, pleading tone as my fingers caressed her. The crowd laughed even more, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
“Why the embarrassment, Dog?” I whispered as I pet her, “You walk naked for everyone to see, yet you turn like a beet now?” I leaned forward, and Julia turned her face away. That wouldn’t do at all. I grabbed her cock, squeezed, and twisted. Julia howled, trying to back away from the pain, but only managing to fall backward in her chains, her arms straightened out before her. The crowd erupted, and Julia closed her eyes tightly, like a child without object permanence.
“Look at me, Dog.” I hissed in her pointed ear, and delivered a shock to the apex of her thighs. Julia’s eyes flashed open, her hands turned to claws, her back turned to an arch, and she bellowed her agony to the sky. I waited until those wide, quivering eyes stared at me, then I released the trigger. “Good girl.” I grinned, “Now, speak!”
“Words are for people, Dog.” I growled, pushing the prod high between her legs, “When I say ‘speak,’ you say…”
“…woof-woof.” Julia muttered, eyes fixed on my trigger-finger, bottom lip trembling.
“Good girl.” I smiled, and pulled the prod away, much to the disappointment of the crowd. Then I picked up a wooden paddle with grooved metal studs, and their approval filled my ears.
“But you said I was a good girl!” Julia cried.
“Didn’t I just tell you ‘words are for people?’” I sneered, rounding the woman as she thrashed in her binds, “That was a test, and you failed it miserably. Clearly, you’re not housebroken yet.” I ran my hands across her perfect ass, squeezing one glute, then the other, admiring the supple texture, the way they formed in my hand, then jiggled back onto their gravity-defying perches. I tugged her tail, and heard her moaning gasp. That didn’t sound right. Curious, I trailed my fingers down her crack, down her taint, and through her petals. She hissed, barely stopping herself from swaying her hips. I withdrew my gloved hand, and examined the viscous nectar stringing between my fingers.
“You’re enjoying this too much, Dog.” I whispered under my breath.
“Woof-woof.” Julia moaned under hers.
“Woof-woof!” Julia’s cry echoed through the arena. Tera reared back, and brought the paddle down again. The smack sounded, the crowd cheered, and Julia screamed another ‘woof-woof’ this one shriller and more desperate than before. I had to admire Tera’s ability to not only humiliate Julia, but to make her actively participate in her own humiliation. If I ever again delved into sadomasochism, I’d make sure to take some pointers from her. She was quite simply, a master of all things debauched.
Unlike Willowbud and Brandon’s box, ours was not canopied with a cloth, but with a hard roof, and for good reason. It sounded like it was raining on us, but it was just all the shit the enraged citizens had decided to throw at Lucilla and me. A troop of Breytans surrounded our box, standing like statues ready to kill just in case someone was stupid enough to rush us. They still wore the blasphemous robes from yesterday, which I found concerning. I thought Julia would immediately make her warriors discard them the moment she was better, but it seemed Julia had not abandoned establishing her offshoot of the Maternal Path. She was getting worse, but I understood. I still felt Corruption’s affects lingering within me, tickling my darkness, influencing my actions. Sara and a dozen of her elves stood at the entrance to our box with their swords unsheathed, and I sat next to Lucilla with my own weapon in hand.
“Stop that!” Lucilla growled at me from her side of the couch.
“What?” I asked her innocently, my head resting on the furniture’s arm, my pelvis pointed toward the princess.
“That is not your penis!” Lucilla said, slapping my stroking hand, “Quit jacking-off with it!”
“Diamond said she didn’t care what I did with her body, just as long as it was all in one piece when she came back for it.” I said snidely.
“If you had any decency, you’d refrain from test-driving her sex parts!” Lucilla snapped.
“I don’t have any decency.” I grinned, then sucked my forefinger, sprawled my legs, and pushed my finger up my ass to the bottom knuckle. Lucilla slapped me hard across the cheek. I yelped, my head whipping to the side, my scarlet curls bouncing in coils about my face. I grinned. “Woof-woof.” I whispered, and Lucilla punched me so hard, I felt some of Diamond’s molars loosen.
“Do you think this is funny?” Lucilla snarled in my face, “Julia is out there being humiliated in front of the entire world, and you’re desecrating her daughter’s body?”
“What, should I have let her do it instead?” I snapped, wiping blood from my lip. I knew my wit had outrun my judgement, and I barely put my hands up in time to catch Lucilla’s next punch. Without thinking, I twisted around her, wrapped my legs in a hold, and pinned her face-first into the couch, with my hands holding her wrists against the small of her back, and my thighs locked about her hips. Huh, I mused, I guess I brought back Diamond’s fighting skills the last time I went to her astral garden. Fancy that. Lucilla struggled beneath me, squirming vainly to get out of the hold I had her in. Her porcelain back flexed, her shoulder-blades protruded, her supple ass clapped beneath the thin silk of her dress, which draped perfectly between her cheeks. I giggled when she tried to kick me with her the backs of her heels, and I nestled my hard length into her silken-covered crack. She stopped, and went suddenly very still.
“Oh, do you like that?” I chuckled, reaching behind me, and grabbing the hem of her dress.
“You wouldn’t.” Lucilla hissed.
“You sure?” I asked, sliding her skirt up her thighs.
“You’re not a rapist.” Lucilla insisted.
“No, but you haven’t told me to stop yet.” I said, exposing her ass, “Do you want me to stop?” And I grabbed a succulent handful of Lucilla’s patterned globes, and squeezed with covetous fingers.
“No.” Lucilla whispered with a quivering breath. I gently parted her cheeks with my grabbing hand, and nestled my cock between them. She visibly relaxed from the skin-to-skin contact, a satisfied shudder running through her. Lucilla’s feelings toward me were complicated, I knew, but I suspected they were more favorable than not. We shared an odd bond after our ordeal yesterday, one of unspoken understanding. I understood what she needed now; I could feel her need radiating from her.
“You didn’t go to Julia’s bed?” I asked, running my cock through her petals, down her taint, and across her rim
“She wasn’t there when I got back.” Lucilla whispered into the cushion, her body relaxing more with every pass of my shaft.
“After all that denial yesterday, this must be unbearable…” I mused, my cock growing wet with Lucilla’s secretion. I tentatively let go of her wrists, and her hands slid limply down her side, gripped the fat of her ass, and spread herself for me. Her face turned, and I saw a single sapphire eye beneath a knitted brow, it’s glint pleading above her parted, pink lips. The patterns that covered her body covered all of her body, and they formed a fiery circle about her rim, a bowing line down the ribbon of her taint, and a highlighting outline around the dripping lips of her sex. I slid my tip to her blushing folds, and pushed into her wet heat.
God, I needed it. Angela’s cock radiated inside me, parting my petals, rubbing against my spot, pushing as deep as she could go. I moaned and molded my ass against her crotch, perking it up with elevated hips to bring her even deeper. I felt her thumb run along my taint, tracing the line that was there, then I felt it follow that line around my anus, circling, teasing, the touch reminiscent of the torture she’d made me endure yesterday. Unwanted memories flooded into my mind, memories of two pairs of black eyes staring cruelly from the faces of those I loved. Panic swelled in me, and I suddenly felt trapped beneath Angela, violated by her penetration. She pushed her thumb into my ass, and I cried out, but not in pleasure. I bucked like a crazed animal, thrashed with hands and feet, wrenched my back this way and that. I felt Angela’s weight press to my back, and I tried desperately to roll us off the couch. I opened my mouth to scream for Sara, but I was met with a pair of unexpected lips. Angela offered Serenity to me, and I greedily took the dose. Panic washed from me, the world clarified, and my mind became a reservoir of peace.
Holy shit, are you alright? Angela asked mentally. She pulled out of me cautiously, and rolled my skirt back over my butt.
“I think I just had a panic attack.” I replied verbally once our kiss had broken.
“I think you might need a therapist.” Angela said, helping me back into a sitting position.
“Perhaps.” I mused. I was feeling rather indifferent about the whole ordeal, actually. Everything was just perfect the way it was. Any alterations to the present would be an affront to the eternal ‘now.’
“You need to breathe it out, Lucilla, or you’ll become addicted to it.” Angela frowned, “I’m still feeling Corruption’s affects, and this isn’t even my body.” Angela gave me a guilty look, “I’m sorry about what I just did. Corruption isn’t an excuse to be a total cunt.”
“No, you do that just fine one your own.” I grimaced as I reluctantly blew Serenity out of me. Angela chuckled at that.
“I wish we’d met under better circumstances, Princess.” Angela smiled, “I think we would’ve gotten along very well.”
“I have a bad habit of fucking people first, then making introductions.” I sighed.
“I think it leaves a great first impression.” Angela grinned. I relented a little smile, and turned my attention to the display in the arena. Tera had changed the paddle to a whip, though not the crude instrument Julia had used on me. This one had many tails, and left only stimulating red marks where it met flesh, causing pain, but not agony. Not what Julia had done to me. I touched a finger to my breast, feeling the flesh through the silk of my dress. Brandon had healed me, but the memory of the pain was still there. It was a grim reminder, but a necessary one. It kept me focused on what I had to do.
Unlike my mother, I did not like being the center of attention. From a neutral, psychological viewpoint, I knew my aversion to attention was a symptom of my sheltered upbringing, but knowing the reason for a feeling didn’t make the feeling go away. I was dressed in a slutty doctor’s outfit (one of many outfits I had that could be prefixed with ‘slutty’) that included a white skirt, white fishnet stockings, and a white apron that left very little to the imagination. It was horrendously conservative for me, but I had to play my part. I was the veterinarian, and I had to inspect my mother’s new pet. The crowd cheered and whistled as I made my way to the platform, and I focused very hard on not tripping over my own tail. I missed the final step, and awkwardly recovered, exposing my ass to the entire world. That didn’t bother me in the least, but the stumble itself left my face burning.
“Did you get into Willowbud’s wine stores this morning?” Mom chuckled as she added a fifth weight to Julia’s nipple chain, stretching the Heat Bringer’s breasts into ovals, the fresh piercings extending to ovoid cutouts in the pink cones. Julia sobbed, her legs shaking beneath her, her cock drooling a string of cum, her pussy wetting her succulent, pale thighs. Her drawn-on whiskers were blurred with her exerted tears, but she still had her dotted nose, her tail, and her cute ears.
“I guess I just didn’t inherit your natural grace, Mother.” I replied, inspecting her lineup of tools.
“That almost sounded like back-talk.” Mom grinned, “There’s room for you on this frame if you’re feeling uppity.”
“It would be wasted on me.” I sighed, pulling the metal prongs off the table, “I can’t get off on humiliation, if I can’t be sexually shamed. If you really wanted to embarrass me, you’d sign me up for a track meet.”
“I keep telling you, you’re a natural athlete, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.” Mom replied in a lecturing voice, and dropped a sixth weight onto Julia’s chain, prompting a pained growl from the woman.
“Let’s pretend that I am, unbeknownst to me, a world-class athlete.” I said as I walked around Julia’s splayed figure, “What would I do with those skills? I hate sports, and I hate exercise, unless double-penetration counts as exercise.”
“I think it does.” Mom mused, tapping her lips, “I’m always a sweaty mess afterward, so I must’ve been burning some calories, right? What do you think, Dog?”
“Woof-woof.” Julia replied weakly.
“Good girl.” Mom grinned, and dropped a seventh weight on the chain. Julia whined and shimmied her hips, trying to dance the pain away.
“And let’s be honest, Mom.” I said as I grabbed Julia’s tail, and pulled it out, “Your athleticism comes from your nymph heritage, of which I inherited exactly zero alleles. Succubi only beget more succubi, and evolutionary bottleneck is avoided by the paternal contribution alone. Who was my father again? Some drunk baker?”
“He was a blacksmith.” Mom sighed wistfully, “He had the prettiest penis you’d ever seen; it was like a work of art. Once I saw that dick, Justina, I knew it would be your daddy.”
“And people say our kind can’t be romantic.” I chuckled, then sucked Julia’s ass from her plug, and examining the puckered, pink coil of her anus. I raised my instrument over my head to show the crowd what I was about to do, then I pressed the cold metal of the prongs to Julia’s rim. I heard her stifle a scream, and saw her stiffen. I pushed the prongs forward, marveling at the way her tender flesh indented, her pelvic floor bowed inward, and her rim dilated. Julia growled, and her pussy began to blush. The prongs slowly pushed inside, the pliable, pink meat of her exit sucking around the invasion, leaving only the metallic lengths visible, then the handle. Julia’s growl rose in pitch, her vacant pussy dripping, her constricted cock flexing wantonly. I began to open the prongs, and Julia screamed. I giggled, absolutely delighted by the way her dirty entrance gaped cylindrically down the shaft of the prongs, giving me an excellent view into the ruby, moist depths of her. I pried wider, stretching her rim to a ruinous oval until I was sure she would tear if I pulled a millimeter more. Julia was sobbing in agony, but the flow of her lust down her legs had only increased.
“Well, doctor?” Mom grinned at me as she pet Julia’s hair, “What’s your diagnosis?”
“When was the last time you took your pet to a proctologist?” I asked, taking a deep inhale of Julia’s sinful depths, and feeling my mouth water.
“I just pulled this bitch off the streets.” Mom chuckled, grabbing Julia’s chain, and pulling down. Not only did I hear Julia’s reaction, but I saw it through the violent convulsions of her moist depths.
“It appears she’s in need of a rectal examination.” I said, “I hope you don’t mind if I abstain from using gloves; they’re so intrusive.” I raised my hand above me, and curled it into a fist. The crowd egged me on as I slowly neared the gaping exit, and guided my hand inside. Julia actually sighed when I entered her, which wasn’t a surprise given what I’d heard about her. My knuckles pressed against her smooth walls, each graze of them causing her cavern to tremor, then relax, as though her rectal nerves were testing my invasion, and found it a welcome one. My hand passed the end of the prongs, and I pushed against the fleshy spiral of the woman. She opened for me willingly, her sphincter uncoiling, and embracing me as I moved through it, the tender flesh sucking warmly against each knuckle, then the wrist.
“My, my,” I chuckled, “someone’s enjoying their doctor’s visit.” Julia moaned pathetically, shifting her weight as best she could to push her ass harder against me, wordlessly begging me to go deeper. I was already near to the elbow.
“I know I am.” Mom chuckled, running two fingers along the underside of Julia’s cock. The organ was engorged and reddened, bulging around the ring that choked it halfway down its length, causing the precum at her tip to dribble down. Julia groaned, her arousal causing her pain, which in turn, only begot greater arousal. Mom mercilessly caressed the god, her touch undeniable, making Julia’s cock bounce in flexion. Mom continued her two-fingered torture until Julia’s calls were shrill with desperation, then Mom snaked her tongue out, wrapped it thrice around Julia’s shaft, and took every inch of the divine canine down her throat. Julia’s relieved sigh sung from her throat, and the crowd roared their approval as Mom slowly withdrew her mouth, the suction pulling her cheeks gaunt, her violet eyes smirking up at the captive god. I felt Julia’s prostate pulsing with the imminence of her ascension, and I encouraged her climax with the press of my thumb. Her head flung back, her dog ears flopping with her flailing hair, and she blew. Her anal organ spasmed and quaked, her cock bulged and reddened, and Mom pulled her purple lips away just as Julia’s tip leaked. With the metal ring around her shaft, Julia’s release was reduced to a dribbling flow of cum, increasing the pressure, heightening the pain, and ratcheting the ecstasy. She whined and yipped like the dog she was, and Mom collected Julia’s nectar in a wine glass, then screwed the tap shut. Julia’s hips bucked violently in reaction, her cock bounced furiously, and she stomped on the ground as her orgasm was held inside her. Her member swelled even more, no longer wagging from her pelvis, but standing painfully erect, looking near to bursting.
“I’d like a more thorough examination, Doctor.” Mom grinned from me, to Julia, “It appears there’s something wrong with her.”
I raised my other hand high, splayed my fingers, and heard the approval of the mob. I slid that hand down my bicep, to the underside of my elbow, and pressed it to the stretched seal of Julia Gendian. I pushed my other hand inside. The sound that came from Julia was almost a howl. She wrenched, heedless of the tortuous stretching of her breasts, and she came. She came in a tremble so violent I felt it in the floorboards. Her rectum squeezed my forearms together, her prostate convulsed against the back of my wrist, and her vaginal floor tremored from the other side. She shrieked high, a sound different than I’d heard before. It was filled with joy, humiliation and pain, and the crowd loved it. Laughter sounded from all around, cheers for more sounded after, and I took the opportunity to push the rest of my second forearm inside her.
The humiliation was terrible, but I wanted it. The pressure inside me was agonizing, but I begged for it. The stiffness of my cock was tortuous, but I thrusted toward Tera nonetheless. I was a dog, a beast to be used and degraded, beaten and abused. Oh, Good Mother did I deserve it, and oh, how I reveled in it. Splayed and outturned, exposed and violated. Everything was laid out for the world to see, to judge, to slander, to heap scorn and shame upon. Oh, how I coveted it.
“Are you ready, Dog?” Tera whispered. I nodded, my eyes begging, my lips pouting subserviently, and she chuckled low and raspy into my ear, “I did something like this to Lucilla the other day, but not with two hands. It’s Justina’s first time trying it, so let’s see how she does.”
Justina’s balled her hands inside me, knuckles pressing into the stretched, tender walls of my rectum, the channel hugging every curve of her invasion. I held by breath, clamped my eyes shut, and bit down on my lip, counting down the seconds until it happened. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousaAAAAAAH! Justina’s hands slowly pulled out, the wrists pressing against the inside of my exit, dilating it, stretching it, searing horrible, wonderful pain deep into me. I was beyond screaming, beyond crying for mercy. I just whined a high, almost inaudible sound with the hissing air through my clenched teeth. She pulled, and pulled, and pulled out. I lurched forward as if I’d just been cut from some great weight, and I found my scream. It came loud and true from me, as joyous as it was terrible. My insides flowed from my hole, coiling into a mass of glistening pink at my exit, a ball of anal nerves that sung their heinous euphoria through my synapses. The crowd gasped, then cheered, then applauded, and for a moment, I felt a little of how Astrid must’ve felt on these very sands. Through tear-blurred eyes, I looked upon the adulating masses, and a wide smile spread across my cheeks. My vision was filled with Tera’s sneering face, and my smile disappeared, but my excitement only elevated.
“Well, Justina,” Tera prompted, “what’s your professional opinion? Should I keep this mutt?”
“I just have one more test.” Justina giggled, and squeezed my prolapse. I sucked in a shuddering breath, my legs quivered, and I clenched my anal muscles, trying to force every last inch of me outside of my body. Justina’s delicate, slender fingers kneaded the petals of my rose, tickled the ovule, and massaged the bud, coercing electric pleasure into my nethers, growing more intense with each subtle movement until I dangled helplessly from the chains, my legs giving out beneath me. She giggled again, a girlish sound, and I felt her tongue, and… oh… oh, Good Mother. I barely registered the lecherous cheer of the crowd. My mind was hinging on every soft, tickling motion of Justina’s forked invasion, and the suction of her plush lips. She wrapped her mouth around my protrusion, and sucked softly, the spit leaking around my bud as her tongue danced through my folds, then found my ovule, and dove in.
“It’s like heaven isn’t it?” Tera chuckled, petting my hair possessively, “You’ve been such a good girl, Dog. Do you like your master’s reward?”
“Woof-woof!” I whined, the pleasure making my voice sound pained, giving my eyes a pleading, desperate look.
“You see, Dog,” Tera pontificated as she hooked her fingers into my stretched piercings, “the real way to break someone sexually, isn’t to deny them release. It’s to give it to them. Over, and over, and over, each time better than the last, until they’re nothing but the need for more.” Tera unhooked the loops, and my tortured breasts sprung back to their positions, filling with feeling, releasing the strain that had been mounting. It pushed me over. The pleasure of Justina’s mouth combined with the sudden influx in my bosom, winding a cord of nerves that stretched from my anus to my nipples. The tension grew tighter, the euphoria more intense, building and building until it broke with an explosion, and I was crying out through sobbing breaths, and thrashing to the dance of my depravity. My pussy gushed, my constricted cock leaked, and my outturned anus winked and budded into Justina’s still-sucking mouth. The crowd roared with me, laughing and jeering, whistling and hooting as I exalted for their favor.
“Then,” Tera whispered, her long, reptilian tongue licking my panting lips, “when their minds are empty and receptive, they will give themselves willingly to you, and you can mold them as you wish. It’s a trick, you see. First you show them hell, then you let them taste heaven, but you never free them from damnation. Soon, they won’t be able to tell the difference between paradise and perdition.” Tera levelled her gaze with me, those violet eyes studying mine, “And you are a damaged soul, Dog. You long for an escape from this reality. Let me give it to you.”
“Woof-woof.” I whispered hoarsely. Set me free.
“A dog begs,” Tera breathed on my parted mouth, her hands running up my belly, “and a dog barks,” her fingers gripped my breasts, “but I wonder, does a dog milk?” And Tera squeezed my sensitive breasts, her fingers disappearing in the succulence. A shock of intense pleasure shot into my chest, and I spurted milk from my tortured nipples, spraying Tera’s bronze complexion in white. She laughed delightedly, wrapped her tongue around one lactating node, and pulled it into her sucking, purple mouth. Once again, it was too much. My overloaded breast tissue screamed with glee, and I screamed in turn as I bucked and heaved in the throes of another orgasm. This one took me more violently, compelled me to undulate through my hips and breasts like a belly dancer, my belly flattening to a pale expanse with the exaggerated arch of my back.
“Oh, you’re delicious.” Tera groaned between greedy pulls from my breast. She seemed reluctant to stop suckling from me, and eyed my nipples with longing as she drew herself upward, tilting my chin to meet her rising gaze. “If it were just the three of us, Dog, Justina and I would take our time eating you, but alas, we have an audience, and I need to socialize my new pet.”
Tera snapped her fingers, and the crowd erupted again. I couldn’t see what they were cheering, but Tera’s words gave me an idea of what was to come. Justina sucked me with a final slurping pull, then released my budded anus with a satisfied smack of her lips. Tera hooked a leash to my collar, and Justina undid the shackles on my wrists and ankles. I collapsed on all fours, my limbs feeling like rubber, but I found the strength to stay on my hands and knees. Tera tugged the leash, and I crawled dutifully after my master. When we got to the edge of the platform, I saw what the crowd had been so excited by. Scores of men were on all fours as I was, their eyes all Tera’s violet, their necks collared and tied to leashes held by the very whores I’d ordered raped just yesterday. The women stared at me with hatred, the men stared at me with wild lust, and I stared back with big excited puppy eyes. I sat on my haunches next to my master’s feet, and wagged my ass excitedly.
“Ooo, aren’t we feeling friendly?” Tera crinkled her nose down at me, “Is my little bitch in heat? I’m surprised the vet didn’t notice.”
“Woof-woof!” I exclaimed, my tongue lolling from my gaping lips, my breaths excited pants.
“This is an off-leash park, but I still don’t trust you.” Tera snickered as she tied my leash to the pole at the corner of the platform, “A mutt like you doesn’t even deserve to mingle with those purebreds, but since you’ve been such a good dog, I decided to give you a treat.” Tera planted a kiss on my lips, and it was threatening, promising, and seductive all at once. She left its heat to burn in my mouth, and trailed a stroking hand through my hair when she walked away. I turned around to see the whores walking their studs toward me, and I panted with my tongue out like the friendly little bitch I was.
I was grabbed and torn at by rough hands. They pulled my hair, choked me, yanked my leash, squeezed me, spread me, and forced me down. The roar of the crowd played in the background as my ears were filled with the cruel retribution of the whores, and my holes were filled with the brutal desires of the men. I was fucked like a dog on all fours, held up and made a bridge of, forced on my face and driven into the ground from above. While the men used my femininity, the whores used my masculinity, riding my face and cock, sneering at me, making sure I knew what a low piece of fuck I was. I bore their insults with glee, and apologized with the motions of my hips, lips and tongue until I was coated with their orgasms, and battered with their hatred. My throat became an open entrance for free use, my pussy stretched to a ruin of leaking, swollen petals, my ass gaped to a ruby ring that prolapsed on command, and my cock leaked endlessly. I was passed from man to man and woman to woman, used by each master in a unique way, delighting in each woman’s hue of sadism. And I came. I came continuously, my body seeming to grow more reactive with each round of brutal lust. I didn’t know which orgasm finally took my mind, but through the haze of it all, a single constant of consciousness remained. A hunger in my lungs, burning for sweet blackness.
“…I’m tasting…” Justina smacked her lips thoughtfully as she lowered the wine glass, “…elf and dwarf, obviously. The elf is the dominant gene, the dwarf is recessive. I’m getting just a hint of nymph, but not any breed I recognize.”
“That would be Passion.” I said, holding my own wine glass beneath my nostrils, and taking a deep whiff, “But… there’s something else here, and I can’t quite pinpoint it.”
“Something else from Passion?” Justina asked, sniffing her glass, then taking another sip of Julia.
“It’s not nymph…” I pondered, testing the taste again, “I don’t think it comes from Passion’s augmentations. You know what? I don’t think Julia is an honest bright-elf.”
“What then?” Justina frowned, “I can’t taste anything different.”
“There’s a touch of…” I took another whiff, “…incubus.”
“Incubi can’t breed with elves.” Justina frowned.
“No, but incubi can breed with dwarves.” I replied.
“You, my dearest mother, are full of shit.” Justina grinned, “There is no way you can taste a recessive trait of Arbitrus Gen’s ancestor.”
“As a sommelier, it is poor manners to discredit your peer’s proclamations!” I said indignantly, “The proper form is to agree with me even if you know I’m full of shit, after which, you make an even more outrageous claim. You’ll never do well in high society if you can’t follow good etiquette.”
“When were you ever in high society?” Justina laughed.
“I’ll have you know I was the escort for the Steward of Grundinar during a masked ball.” I smiled.
“…which you promptly turned into a classy orgy.” Justina snickered.
“Believe me, daughter,” I chuckled as I took another taste of Julia, “there was nothing ‘classy’ about what I made those people do to each other.”
The crowd had cleared once the noon sun had risen high in the sky, leaving only sparse pockets of people in the stands. The Breytans circled the perimeter of the arena, keeping those who wanted to come down after the show from doing so. They did let Lucilla and Diamond (Angela) pass through though.
“You turned my girlfriend into a glazed doughnut.” Lucilla frowned as she ascended the steps. I glanced at the woman Justina and I had been using as a cum dispenser, and confessed that Lucilla’s deion was a good one. Julia Gendian was covered from head to toe, leaking white from every orifice, and gaping between her legs. Her face was a portrait of mindless bliss, a goofy smile stretched across her red lips, her eyes unfocused and distant. I grabbed her still-hard cock, loosened the ring around it, and poured myself another glass as Julia’s thighs quivered in stupid reaction. God, she was backed up. I had to hold her pelvis down to keep her from bucking in the throes of orgasm, and spraying her delicious ejaculate all over the boards.
“Are you a connoisseur of the finer things in life?” I asked Lucilla, offering her my glass. She gave me a level look, and I smirked, and took a sip. More for me.
“What the hell is wrong with her?” Angela asked, squatting next to Julia’s face. The action caused Angela’s skirt to ride up her thighs, and her cock to fall from it. Julia’s unfocused eyes suddenly clarified, and zeroed-in on her daughter’s tool. She weakly shifted on the boards, rolled over, and crawled to the prize that had been accidentally presented to her.
“I have convinced your mother that she is a dog.” I replied, wiping white from my lips, then sucking my finger, “And you just showed her your treat. You can make her do all kinds of tricks for it if you want.”
“No, Diamond.” Lucilla growled, grabbing Julia’s leash and yanking. Julia yelped, scurried over to Lucilla, then sat on her haunches, and stared up at her new master with adoring puppy-eyes.
“Wow.” Angela gasped, looking at me with considerable admiration. I gave her a little wink, and she gave me a look that said her face would be my chair later today.
“How long is this going to last?” Lucilla asked, scowling at the beautiful hermaphrodite panting like a friendly mutt at her feet.
“At least four more hours.” I said into my wine glass, then noticed the concern on Lucilla’s face, “She’s still Julia, you understand. I didn’t break her down; I just gave her mind an outlet. Kind of like what vampires do with the power of suggestion.”
“Woof-woof.” Julia concurred with a resolute nod.
“Is that all you can say right now?” Lucilla frowned at Julia.
“Woof-woof.” Julia answered, beaming up at her lover. She rubbed her cheek against Lucilla’s thigh, then rolled herself into a ball at her feet, and attempted autofellatio.
“Holy shit.” Lucilla sighed, hoisting her new pet back to her hands and knees, “I’ve got to get her out of here before Willowbud finds her like this, and does God-knows-what. I’ll meet you three later for our…” Lucilla glanced down at Julia, who had cocked her head inquisitively, her dog ears flopping to the side, “…wine and gossip session.” Lucilla finished. Julia narrowed her eyes, but didn’t voice her obvious incredulity. Lucilla called for a Breytan escort, and the two elves were lifted into the sky, and flown back to their temple.
Interlude One: Guilt
“You are my daughter, my first of another, and you will be my joy in this world.” Passion’s voice whispered a memory in my mind. They were the first words I’d ever heard, and they came to me unbidden, and unwelcomed. I could’ve saved her, but I didn’t. I could’ve stopped Mom, but I didn’t. And when she died, I wasn’t even sorry; I even fucked the woman who killed her. I shook the thoughts from my head, and looked around.
I was deep underground, it appeared, as evidenced by the beam of grey light emitting from a circular opening high, high above me. I glanced to the sides, but all I saw was blackness. I glanced behind me, where the wrought-iron door opened to a universe of chaos and randomness. I had followed Corruption’s steps through the astral plane, literally tracing her footprints to avoid careening into the nonsensical void between realms. In this repressive blackness, part of me wanted to dare the journey back, but there was no going back. I let go of the door knob, and the door creaked on its hinges, before momentum carried it into a screech of metal, and a deafening slam. The metallic explosion echoed through the void, each iteration growing deeper, and deeper, until its final call was an inaudible boom that I could feel in my chest. Then, silence. The circle of light above shined a dust-speckled beam to the floor below, creating a three-meter wide circle on the stones. I stepped beneath it, and looked up. The astral sun shined directly above me, colorless, burning white around its black eclipse.
“A thousand years they are as one, like conjoined twins of the sun, and when they set with rattling breath, their torn apart by the hands of death.” Another unbidden memory, and another shot of guilt. I could’ve helped Hatred. I could’ve done more than just leave her there; I could’ve tried harder to change her back! I should never have gone past Greed’s realm. She was happy when she was Greed. It was my fault she turned to Hatred. All my fault. Again, I had to force the invasive thoughts from my mind. It was unnatural. It had been given to me.
“Chaos, Corruption… Guilt? What the heck?” I whispered. This didn’t make any sense. If Angela’s theory was right, Corruption was just as old as Hatred, and judging by Hatred’s story, Corruption was either ‘Corruption’ or possibly ‘Chaos’ when Hatred knew her. This place was the antithesis of Corruption. This place was her very weakness. I looked up, considering the circular hole high above me. What was this, a literal ‘pit of guilt?’ Where was everything?
“Hello!” I yelled, and heard my voice yell back to me, growing lower in pitch until it was a distorted, monstrous sound.
“Hello.” A voice said directly into my left ear. I jolted, spinning around, my hair standing from my prickling flesh. It was a ball of dim light, and it hovered next to my ear, barely visible in the brighter chromatic sunlight.
“What are you?” I hissed, my heart thundering in my chest.
“I am a sunlight astral being, but you can call me ‘Orb.’” Orb said, it’s voice genderless and emotionless.
“What is this place?” I asked, regaining myself.
“I cannot answer that.” Orb said, “I can make introductory statements, and state my designed purpose.”
“What is your designed purpose?”
“I was created by the Holy Mother to be a light in the darkness. In the physical plane, I can be melded to a gemstone to create an astral sunbeam. Here, I am attracted to places of darkness. It is my nature to illuminate.”
“You were created by the Holy Mother?” I asked.
“I cannot answer that. I can make introductory statements, and state my designed purpose.” Orb replied. Why was it that everything in the astral plane had a holy purpose? Who exactly was the Holy Mother? I thought Angela’s theory was feasible, but I didn’t agree with the idea that she was ‘just’ some woman who birthed triplet gods. She had to have been powerful to pass on such power; maybe even more powerful than the Creators themselves. There was a connection between the Maternal Path, Creationism, and the astral plane, and I was beginning to believe the Holy Mother was that connection.
“Can you show me the center of this place?” I asked Orb. Again, Orb gave me his predetermined answer. I sighed, and looked into the expansive nothing. This was obviously the very edge of the realm, so if I walked straight in one direction, it made sense that I’d reach the center. I’d at least reach the median line, but who knew how large this place was? If Angela was wrong about her theory, and Corruption was actually much older than Hatred, then for all I knew, this realm could be thousands of miles! Thousands of miles of darkness. Well, every journey begins with a step. I walked into the blackness, and Orb hovered with me, illuminating the smooth, unchanging surface of the stone floor. The padding of bare feet echoed through the darkness, bouncing off unseen objects, and growing lower with every iteration. Orb’s light was as chromatically cold as the astral sun outside, and it bathed my small, visible world in blacks and whites. It shined a small radius around me, allowing me to see what was right behind me and before me, but nothing else. There was nothing to see anyway. There was only the flat, smooth floor, the sunbeam growing distant behind me, and Willowbud Autumnsong right in front of my face. I skidded to halt, yelped, and punched the Earth Former in the eye. A shot of pain lanced up my ethereal fist, and I realized with a groan that I had just punched a statue. A very angry-looking statue. In fact, on closer inspection, I realized Willowbud’s face was manic, her lips peeled, her nose snarling, and her cheeks lined with tear tracks.
“What the heck?” I whispered, and stepped forward to examine the statue, only to run into another one. This wasn’t of Willowbud, but of an older male nymph. His eyes were wide in horror, his head was tilted awkwardly to the side, and there was a gash in his neck.
“This is… this is new!” I hissed, and walked forward with more speed, narrowly avoiding another statue, this one of Willowbud riding the male nymph, her body arching back in the heat of passion. I past statue after statue, some twisted and disfigured as though constructed from an addled mind, some as perfect as anything the greatest sculptor in the world could make. There were none of Corruption herself, just Willowbud and the man, over and over. Sometimes Willowbud was a little girl, and she was holding the man’s hand. Sometimes she was a teenager, and wrapping her legs around him. It didn’t take much conjecture to figure out who the man was, and what this place represented. But this was new. This was only a year old! Why was a doorway to Hatred’s realm here, if this memory was only a year old? Did the door move on its own? This didn’t make any- I ran face-first into a wall.
“Ow!” I exclaimed, rubbing my forehead. When the pain had dissipated, I looked up. The wall curved inward as it ascended, like a great dome. And at the center of that dome, was the beam of light I’d first seen. I had gone from the center, to the edge in a matter of minutes. This realm was tiny, maybe a mile wide at the most. But what was it? Had Corruption become ‘Guilt’ during her divorce from Willowbud? Had she actually changed, then changed back?
“And more importantly, how the heck do I get out of here?” I asked myself, putting my hands on my hips. My eyes fell to the sunbeam again, it’s source impossibly high. “If this is a realm unto itself, then there must be a door at the center.” I mused, “But where are the signs of her transformation? Sorrow had her poems, Greed had the statues, but Guilt…” had her memories. I finished the thought, and walked to the center. Orb followed me silently, keeping me from running into anymore statues, then he disappeared once again under the stronger astral sun. I stood in the circle of light, then sat cross-legged, closed my eyes, and let the horrible thoughts take me. You let your mother die. You let her memories wilt away. You left Justina without even a look back. You threw Angela in the path of your unstable mother. You left Aunt Lucilla all alone with people she was afraid of. You left Mom all alone with a devil that will break her. You left the world at the mercy of someone who believes a dead woman gave her a divine purpose. The world will burn, and it’s all your fault.
I opened my eyes with a gasp, my heart sinking in my chest, my vision blurred with tears. The grey light focused, and the scene before me spread out. It was a city. A city of derelict towers that stretched to points in the clear sky, unending in their heights. Each tower was miles from the other, but each tower’s base was an immense uplift of rock, like the foot of a mountain that spawned a spire instead of a peak, and that spire reached to infinity. The landscape was treacherous, the plateaus between the towers cracked and crumbling, cut with fissures that dove to limitless blackness, and ending with sudden cliffs whose bottoms could not be seen. The realm stretched forever. As I squinted, I saw that the spires formed rows, creating hallways of towering columns, narrowing in the distance until they seemed to coalesce to a single, infinite line. I could see no obvious center, nor an obvious end to the realm. I turned every-which way, but could not see a wall, or a gate, or even a discernable difference in the landscape. Just infinite rows of towers that rose to infinity, and infinite cliffs and fissures whose depths balanced the dizzying heights. I looked down. I was standing beside a circular hole in the ground, and leading right to that hole, was a set of black footprints. I wiped the tears from my face, set my jaw, and began my journey through the realm of Corruption.
Part Two: Woof-Woof
The fork clattered onto the table. My fingers trembled, my stomach knotted, my head felt like it was splitting. Oh fuck. Why now? I didn’t do anything, you dumb bitch! Memories flashed before my eyes. Painful memories. Agonizing memories. And I felt each one. Each transgression, each horrible choice, each evil indulgence. They were mine, and mine alone. I had done them with glee. I felt the earth beneath the bare soles of my feet, the bedrock, the hollows and caves where water traveled in black oceans beneath the crust. My fists balled, my teeth ground, my jaw felt like it would snap.
“Willowbud?!” Brandon’s voice screamed. And it was done. Whatever had almost torn Corruption from me had passed, or she’d at least decided it wasn’t worth it. I opened my eyes to see twenty Ofanian blades within an inch of my throat.
“I’m going to pretend you all just offered to shave my cunt.” I said, catching my breath, “And now, I’m going to politely refuse your generosity.” I glared up at Bianca Blackwing, and she nodded, and Brandon’s honor guard sheathed their weapons. Across the table of the vegan restaurant (which I was shocked actually existed), Brandon was pale as snow.
“You told them about me, huh?” I said, picking up my fork, and continuing my meal.
“They had to know.” Brandon said quietly, “If they found out on their own, they would’ve tried to kill you.”
“Probably.” I nodded, “And I would’ve put Ofan in the history books, so I guess you were right.”
“What just happened?” Brandon asked.
“Why don’t you tell me?” I smirked, and saw Brandon’s face pale a little more. “What?” I chuckled, “Did you think I didn’t notice your change in behavior? You can see her now, can’t you?”
“Yeah.” Brandon muttered.
“Well…” I beckoned him with a twirl of my fork. Brandon shifted uneasily, struggling to maintain eye-contact with me. Strangely, I didn’t feel that bad about it.
“She looks worried.” Brandon said, “She keeps looking from me, to the sun. I think she’s looking into the astral plane.”
“And what does she see?”
“I don’t know.” Brandon shook his head, “I can’t see into it. The only reason I can see Corruption, is because you two are separating.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.” Brandon leaned forward, putting his chin in his palms, studying me, “Even before people knew you were a god, I could literally see your reputation preceding you. People scrambled out of your way like there was something physical that compelled them. You killed your former gang on suspicion alone. You robbed banks and left no witnesses to point the finger, then walked out the front for everyone to see anyway. You killed every member of every syndicate in this city, and now, you won’t even touch twenty women with blades to your throat.”
“You think I’m becoming soft?” I smirked.
“I think you’re becoming Willowbud.” Brandon said, then put his hand atop mine. I frowned. Usually, I would turn my palm over, and link fingers with the man. Now, his touch was barely pleasant; it was almost annoying. Brandon smiled ruefully, and withdrew his hand.
“It’s just a phase, you know.” I grumbled, “Sister Julia and I stopped our game. I’ll be better soon.”
“Do you want to be ‘better?’” Brandon asked.
“I don’t want to be her again, Brandon.” I replied, stabbing a cucumber with my fork, “I’d rather die.” We ate in silence for a while, but it wasn’t the comfortable, understanding quietness that usually hung between us. It was a forced, unnatural silence filled with things that weren’t said. Our eyes shifted together, then moved away after a few seconds of contact, and we both became way too interested in our food. For some strange reason, my mind wandered to Astrid.
“Woof-woof.” Julia said, smiling up at me as I ran my fingers through her wet hair, washing what she used to call ‘sin’ from her strands. Hell, it used to be Julia washing the cum out of my hair, and gazing down with concern at me. What was even stranger than the role-reversal, was that I enjoyed being the caregiver. I enjoyed tending to her, touching her platonically, grooming her. She’d doted on me my entire life, and not once had I thought it was any more than her duty, possibly her burden. I never thought it would be a privilege.
“Woof-woof!” Julia grinned again, and blew bubbles into the air. I smiled back, and cupped my palm over her forehead as I poured water through her soapy, crimson strands, directing the stream away from her face as she had done so many times with me. I lathered the suds back into her mane, and giggled when she purred like a cat, and sank blissfully into the tub.
“Woof-woof…” she groaned, and rested her head on the tub’s edge as my fingers kneaded her scalp.
“Oh, you like that, huh?” I chuckled.
“Woof-woof.” Julia whispered contentedly. I scrubbed behind her ears, rubbed along the column of her neck, then grabbed a sponge, and began blotting her shoulders. I worked my way over her collar, across the top of her chest, then stopped. Her breasts were floating in the soapy water, glistening pale domes adorned with pink nipples. This had been it; the first time we’d kissed. Julia had leaned forward to wash my breasts, and I, full of lust and wine, had kissed her. She’d broken from the kiss in a panic, and had to steel herself with heavy breaths just to keep from blowing up. Would that woman even recognize this girl in the tub? Were they even the same person anymore?
“Woof-woof.” Julia said softly, and looked up at me from the tops of her eyes, those same emeralds I’d seen in that little ginger girl’s face over a decade ago. This was my Julia; different, but still her. Julia smiled those red lips, and tilted her head back. She knew the situation. I grinned, and leaned forward, my platinum hair forming a curtain around her face, the strands tickling her chin. Our smiles connected, our mouths opened, and our tongues moved inside. Emeralds corrupted with blackness, no mercy in their pits, only cruelty, only hunger. They reflect my screaming face, and they grow hungrier with each desperate wail I sound. Those red lips quirk below them, revealing rows of white teeth bared in a predatory grin. No mercy, no hope, no love. Only pain. I flung backward, falling on my ass, water splashing around me. Julia darted upright, the bath steaming with her alarm, and I scrambled to my feet, backing away, my heart pounding.
“Woof-woof?” she asked, turning to get out of the tub. My mind painted her eyes black, and carved a merciless smile across her mouth.
“Stay back!” I screamed, backing toward the door. I knew the hurt on Julia’s face would break my heart later, but in that moment my heart was too gripped with panic to care. She gazed after me with slightly-parted lips, and eyes filled with regret, but that evil mask strobed across her portrait, and the coward in me took over. I turned on my heel, and I sprinted out of the room, a pathetic ‘woof-woof’ sounding after me. I rounded a corner, my stomach knotting, my body clammy with fear, searching for some secluded place to finish freaking out in peace. I dove into a nearby closet, slammed the metal door, and sat for a moment in perfect, sanguine darkness. My breathing decelerated, my heart fell in time, and I managed to keep from puking breakfast onto my lap. I tried to remember the feeling of Serenity inside me, but there was no substitute for the Sentient gift, and my lungs ached for it. Angela was right; it was addictive. The door opened, and any semblance of peace I had was spurred from my body, the panic surging back.
“Princess?” Sara asked from the doorway.
“I’m fine.” I replied breathily. Sara extended her hand, I grasped it, and she hauled me up with unexpected strength, the momentum propelling me against her.
“You’re not fine.” Sara whispered, studying me, “You’re anything but ‘fine.’” Sara brushed my hair behind my ears, and went about straightening my dress, “You need to hold it together for just one day, Princess, then you can have your narcissistic break down.”
“You’re a wealth of sympathy.” I growled.
“Yesterday was the worst day of your life, I get it,” Sara said as she tidied me, “but that would’ve just been ‘Wednesday’ for me back at the palace. Put it behind you.” Sara looked over her shoulder, and an elf down the hallway nodded. So, it was conspiring time.
“How are you doing for supplies?” I asked.
“We paid the apothecaries to empty Brandon’s poppy fields.” Sara replied in a low voice, “They gave us ingestible opium. If Julia goes, we’ll put it in the Breytan’s dinner before the fight.”
“She’s going.” I sighed, “I thought after her and Willowbud put a hiatus on their ‘temptation game’ Julia would be glad not to go, but she’s doing it anyway.”
“It’s a contingency we planned for.” Sara frowned, then looked up at me, “I guess that means you’re going too.”
“There’s no way I’m leaving her alone with Willowbud again.”
“Let’s just hope Freydis is as good a shot as her reputation suggests.” Sara sighed, “If she misses, I doubt she’ll get another chance. If Willowbud captures her…”
“…she’ll kill herself first.” I answered. Sara just nodded.
“It’s a good plan. Simple. When will Freydis make her move?”
“We’ll meet with her at five on the northwest balcony, and we’ll plan it out.” I replied, “From what she said earlier, she’ll probably take her shot during the fight.”
“And if Willowbud doesn’t present a good target?”
“She will.” I said, hoping more than believing, “From what it sounds like, Astrid and Tera are overwhelming favorites to win. Willowbud will want to be seen with her victors.”
“Killed on the podium.” Sara chuckled, “Poor Astrid is going to be absolutely devastated.”
“You think that’s funny?”
“A little.” Sara smiled with a shrug of her shoulders, then took me by the arm, “I believe you have an appointment with Tera Autumnsong.” Sara eyed me as she escorted me down the hall, “Does she suspect anything?”
“She thinks I’m just a victim.” I said, touching a finger to the astral gemstone in my ear. I guess I’d lost the other one. I’d gotten them for Tera and me so that she could fill me in on any new developments. From the sound of things, Angela had just come back with something new.
“And what do you think of her and Diamond’s… theories?” Sara asked carefully.
“It’s mostly guesswork, but there is something there. I want to explore it and see if Diamond can glean anything useful.”
“But does it change anything?” Sara asked. I paused, and thought about it. I could accept that Corruption had been an Earth Former, I could accept that she knew Hatred, and I could accept that she loved the Life Giver. There was evidence for all these things. But I could not -I would not- accept the theory about The Holy Mother and the divine triplets. Even if the theories were compelling, they were based on nothing. The errant use of a possessive pronoun by an insane Sentient was not enough evidence to say the greatest religion in the world was started by a Creator. Creationism and the Maternal Path were separate; they’d been at odds with each other since the beginning of history. Maybe that was why Corruption made Julia think she was a prophet; maybe corrupted-Julia wanted to reconcile the difference. Diamond had made great discoveries, but they were still too cryptic, too open to interpretation, and none of them were useful.
“No.” I muttered, “It doesn’t change anything. They have a lot of ideas, but no plan.” I frowned, “But If Willowbud dies, Corruption goes back to her realm. I’ll try to expedite things with them today. We need Diamond out before we can proceed.”
“We can still tell Julia.” Sara returned my frown, “If she knows her daughter is in Corruption’s realm, she might be compelled to kill Corruption for Diamond’s safety.”
“In case you didn’t notice, Julia’s not exactly stable right now.” I sighed, “We can’t trust her, Sara. We need to keep her in the dark for her own good.”
“…OK, as much as I don’t like it, we have to operate under the assumption that there is such a thing as a ‘soul.’” I said, placing the word on the bulletin board in Mom’s safehouse, “Tethered Ones, like Angela, have this ‘soul’ which links consciousness to the idea of ‘self.’ Sentients have the cognizance, but not the soul, so they replace all the complex characteristics of a soul with a single theme. Wrath, Sorrow, Greed, Hatred, Corruption, Chaos, and now…” I slapped another name into Corruption’s column, “Guilt? Goddamn, that throws everything off.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Angela said, lying nakedly with my mother.
“What do you mean?” Mom asked.
“It’s simple,” Angela said, “Willowbud changed Corruption to Guilt. That’s why there is a new, but very small realm within the larger one.”
“But why is Hatred’s door in Guilt’s realm then?” I asked, “If Corruption changed Hatred before recorded history, why is the bridge between them a year old?”
“Because that’s where she moved it, probably.” Mom shrugged, “Do you think it’s important?”
“We don’t know what’s important!” I lamented, “We don’t even know what to do with the information we have!”
There was a patterned knock on the door, and Mom let Lucilla into the room. Behind her, Sara gave Mom a cordial nod, then disappeared behind the shutting door. Lucilla seemed paler than usual, which was quite the feat considering her complexion, but whatever haunted her didn’t stop her from giving me a sharp glare. I averted my gaze, then cursed myself for doing so. It wasn’t my fault Diamond ran off to the astral plane, but I was terrible with confrontation. Chalk that up to being raised in isolation. The pile of social ineptitudes caused by my upbringing is getting larger with every day I spend in society. But I mustn’t blame Mom; she did her best. I was a little perturbed that Angela seemed to get a free pass from Lucilla, when it was her fault if it was anyone’s, but I didn’t vocalize my opinion. Mostly because I didn’t want the confrontation. Maybe that was why Lucilla wasn’t a bitch to Angela; because Angela actually had a fucking backbone. God, I am a pussy.
“But why didn’t Corruption stay as Guilt?” Lucilla asked after she was brought up to speed.
“Maybe Corruption tore herself away before the change became permanent.” Angela answered, “It seemed that the only thing in Guilt’s realm was Willowbud’s exorcism, so perhaps Guilt didn’t have time to develop.”
“That makes sense, but it doesn’t answer the question about the door.” I insisted, “Why was Hatred’s door in Guilt’s realm, if Guilt formed temporarily and incompletely just one year ago?”
“There are a lot of questions we can’t answer, Justina.” Mom sighed, “But we have something now. The reason Corruption can’t stand her host feeling guilt, is because the emotion transforms the Sentient herself. Two days ago, when we first learned about Sentient evolution, we decided that the pertinent question was: ‘how and why do Sentients change?’ Well, now we have our answer. Greed changed to Sorrow because her host was consumed with sadness. Corruption turned to Guilt because her host was consumed with guilt. The change breaks the meld.”
“Julia’s been trying to guilt-trip Willowbud for days, and it hasn’t worked.” Lucilla frowned, “Willowbud is acting weird, but she’s still ‘Night Eyes.’”
“Who’s to say Guilt is all Corruption can turn to?” Angela asked.
“I think their evolution must be predesignated.” I answered, “Willowbud has undoubtedly felt a litany of emotions while under the influence of Corruption, but none of them effect Corruption but guilt. ‘Guilt’ must be the next natural step for Corruption to take, but she’s resisting.”
“Probably because she thinks she’s been preordained by the Holy Mother to be ‘Corruption.’” Angela replied, then added, “By which I mean, her mother.”
“Let’s stick with the facts, Angela.” Lucilla insisted.
“It fits too well.” Mom said, pulling out the notes she and I had jotted all last night. “Why do the Creators always return on the same night? Because they’re triplets. Why is their cycle irregular? Because incubus impregnation causes irregular pregnancy lengths. Why are they different species? Once again, incubus DNA at work. It might remain dormant, but all of your offspring will carry it if you do, as my wonderful sister found out the hard way.”
“Matching the biblical deion of Satan with an incubus is easy, and when you consider the wording of Hatred’s poetry, Corruption’s obsession with Brandon and Willowbud, and the strange connection the astral plane has with Creators and the Maternal Path, you have to concede there is something.” I said. Lucilla shook her head.
“There are coincidences, not connections.” Lucilla said, “And let’s pretend that the Holy Mother really was just the mother of the first Creators. Explain to me how that happens? How is a cycle of gods created from the mutant birth of incubus offspring?”
“Diamond thinks the Holy Mother wasn’t just some lady.” Angela answered, “She thinks the Holy Mother was a god just like the Creators; maybe the first Creator herself. Not omnipotent like it says in the bible, but limitlessly powerful. She bound with Satan, and she created the Earth Former, Life Giver, and Heat Bringer.”
“And what, the Creator gene is just a dormant trait passed through the generations?” Lucilla scoffed, “That’s it? That’s the secret to the Creators? Where do they get their power from then, huh?”
“Diamond thinks there’s a connection between the Holy Mother, Creators, and the astral plane.” Angela shrugged, “Maybe they pull it from there.”
“That makes sense.” I nodded. I liked that theory a lot. Not just because it came from Diamond, but because it threw away all the religious magic of the Maternal Path, and offered a rational explanation. There was no ‘God’ and there was no ‘afterlife,’ unless you counted being Sentient or tethered. The ‘soul’ was a mystery, but it was quantifiable, it had to be. Everything was quantifiable. Thoughts were quantifiable, emotions were quantifiable, and even cognizance itself could be calculated. The astral plane was a dimension of reality that ran parallel to ours, where sentience was made tangible. Sometimes, those thoughts moved back into our plane.
“Astral beings.” I muttered, the idea beginning to form in my mind. I looked up at Lucilla, “Diamond talked to an astral being in Corruption’s realm. It was an astral sunbeam, like this one.” I pointed to the lantern glowing dimly beside the bed, “What are astral beings? Just really powerful thoughts. So powerful, in fact, that they become tangible in this world. Elves and nymphs can meld with them to become mages, and project their power from their own minds. The rest of us can capture them in gemstones, and use their power for all kinds of affects. What are the three most rudimentary thoughts there are?” I asked, “Life,” I gestured to all of us, “earth,” I tapped my foot against the stone floor, “and fire.” I gestured to the sun above, blazing through Mom’s broken sunroof. “These thoughts are pervasive in our minds, and we send them to the astral plane with every waking moment of our lives.”
“So, what?” Lucilla asked, “Clairvoyants have a connection to the astral plane, and we don’t call them gods.”
“Clairvoyants are rare, but they’re not unheard of.” I said, “One in every ten thousand people can see into the astral plane, but Creators can pull from it. They’re the conduits between realms.”
“This is just postulation, Justina.” Lucilla shook her head, “It’s nice and all, but we’re not researching for your fucking dissertation. Now I came here because Tera told me the four of you were hatching a plan, and I have yet to hear one single strategy.”
“We can’t form a strategy without all the information.” I scowled.
“We are running out of time!” Lucilla snapped back, and the ferocity of her outburst gave me pause. She looked nearly manic for a moment, before she collected herself with a deep breath. “We need to act today. I will not wait one more night for Julia to become infected with Corruption. No more deciphering cryptic messages from the astral plane, and no more guess-work! We use the information we have, we get Diamond out, and we act NOW!”
Angela and I were about to object, but Mom held up her hand. “She’s right.” Mom said softly, “We’ve been playing detective for too long. We need to make a plan.”
“But we’re not ready!” I insisted, “We need more information! We’re still missing something!”
“Nothing ever falls perfectly into place, Justina.” Mom said, putting a hand on my shoulder, “I never once worked a job where I had all the information I needed. Sometimes, you just need to do it.”
“OK,” Lucilla nodded, “so, what’s the plan then?”
“We want to knock Corruption out of Willowbud.” Mom said, “And the way to do that, is to make her start turning into Guilt.”
“But if we try to make Willowbud do it, she’ll go fucking berserk.” Angela frowned, “It would be the same as trying what Julia is doing, and we all see how that’s turning out.”
“We need to make Corruption do it herself.” Mom said, tapping her lips as she reviewed the bulletin board, “These things retain the smallest pieces of their former selves. Wrath has a painting of Gloria in his center, and Hatred has a painting of Joy in hers. There are vestiges of what Corruption once was in her center. The bible doesn’t matter; it’s just the lie these things tell themselves. It’s the paintings we need, because the paintings will tell us who Corruption was, and why she is.” Mom moved the names around on the bulletin board, until the names ‘Satan’ and ‘The Holy Mother’ sat above ‘Black’ and ‘Joy.’
“Whatever Corruption was before, whether it be Chaos, or Black, or whatever, one thing is for certain…” Mom placed the name ‘Hatred’ beneath ‘Joy.’ “…she hated her sister, and why?”
Mom tapped the empty space she’d left between the names ‘Black’ and ‘Joy.’ “Because she loved her brother, and something happened between the three of them.”
Mom tapped the name ‘Guilt.’ “And though she blames her sister, she also blames herself. Chaos becomes Corruption becomes Guilt. It’s her natural evolution.”
“But how?” Lucilla asked, barely containing her impatience.
“We need a name.” Angela said quietly, “When I first met Corruption, she almost left Willowbud out of simple curiosity. There was this look in her eyes, this… recognition. Corruption has forgotten who she was, and she seeks to remember despite herself. It’s like she’s naturally becoming Guilt, but she’s trying everything to stop the evolution. We need a name. We need his name.”
“Her Life Giver, her brother.” Mom said, staring at the empty space on the board.
“Her Brandon.” Angela said under her breath.
Interlude Two: Joy
The monochromatic light of Corruption’s realm was strange. Though everything else was in greys, my own body seemed to glow with color. I followed the black footprints Corruption had burned into her hardpan earth, passing the fifth spire since I’d emerged from the unfinished realm of Guilt. If Angela, Justina and Tera were right, that realm was the fetal stage of Corruption’s evolution, and they were going to try forcing her back into it. I navigated the great upheaval at the base of a sixth spire, and stopped. What were these things? They sloped like the foot of a mountain, then turned to immense, spiraling towers that went to infinity. What was the symbolism? Why did this mean ‘Corruption?’ I looked down at the footprints beneath my feet, and saw that their path led through the valleys between spires. I could understand why she’d take the path of least resistance if this weren’t her realm, but it was, which meant distance was a nonfactor for her. Why did she walk at all, and why never up the slopes? What was she avoiding? I glanced up the slope to my left, and considered. I needed to find the secrets at Corruption’s center, but as far as I could tell, this realm was unending. There were obviously limits to it, Corruption had a finite mind, but it could take me days to find the center, and it would only take me an hour to climb to one of the spires. I set my jaw, and made my ascent.
I was sweating profusely by the time I made it to the summit. I had greatly underestimated the gradient of the upheaval, and my legs were screaming from the tortuous climb. I hobbled toward the base of the spire, and stopped. The great structure was a cylinder that broke through the heavens, contoured with spiraling stone that could only have been made by an Earth Former. And at its base, was an iron door.
“What the heck?” I hissed, and looked around. Did all of these towers have doors? Did they all lead to different realms?!
“Do I even want to know?” I asked myself, but of course I did. I reached out, grabbed the door, and pulled it open. A pair of black footprints were burned into the stone just past the threshold. I peeked through the door, and all I saw was an empty room, surrounded by cylindrical walls that stretched to a white dot high above me. I stepped forward, and fell. I fell, and fell, and fell. I had enough time to shake myself from my shock, and realize that this much falling certainly meant death at the end. I screamed. I screamed in manic terror, clutching for anything and everything, looking up at the false floor above me, where Corruption’s footprints turned to specs floating on nothing. I screamed until the light of the doorway dwindled to a dot, then I stopped screaming. I was on my feet, perfectly fine, standing in pitch blackness.
“This was once a warmer place, of kind eyes on morning’s face, I remember the song of birds, and the joy in my holy mother’s words.” An unbidden memory came to me, and another foreign pang of guilt. I could’ve helped Hatred, but I didn’t. I could’ve turned her back to Greed, where she was happy, but I didn’t. I could’ve… stop.
“Guilt.” I whispered into the darkness, “Every one of these spires is a doorway to Guilt.”
“Hello.” A familiar voice said. I turned around to see a spec of light zooming toward me. Orb illuminated the darkness as he approached, and what he showed gave me pause. This realm was just as small as the other one, barely big enough to fit a single memory, but there were no statues, nor even paintings that I could see. There was nothing. I waited until Orb illuminated me, then I turned around, and-
“Hi!” a little elf girl smiled up at me, and I screamed again. The little girl beamed up at me as I recoiled in terror, waiting expectantly like she was used to people freaking out at her.
“What the heck! What the flipping heck?!” I gasped, clutching my chest, “Don’t just sneak up on me like that!”
“Hey, do you wanna hear a story?” the little blonde elf asked.
“Hold on a second.” I said, gathering my bearings, “Who are you? What are you? Are you untethered?”
“I wrote it last night.” The elf grinned, “I know I was supposed to be asleep, but I was just so excited to write!”
“That’s not what I asked…” I trailed off. This elf girl wasn’t real. She was a memory, and I had the sickening feeling that I knew exactly who she was. Her irises were sapphire like Aunt Lucilla’s, and her sclera bore the same hue, but the orb of her eye was separated from the backdrop by a ring of white.
“Eh-em.” Joy cleared her throat, then stood up straight, “To my Mommy and Daddy, the bestest two people in the whole wide world.” Joy paused to grin coyly at me, shrugging her shoulders with childlike insecurity. Then, she began, “There once was a little girl, who found a ruby and a pearl, she put them in her little box, and turned the key on her little lock.” Joy grinned up at me, the slightest glint of avarice in her sapphire eye, “She really liked shiny stuff, a little diamond in the rough, but they didn’t give her the kind of glee, that she got from her family.” Joy smiled again, this time with an expression full of love, “We are all in this together, love entwined, bound and tethered, nothing will pull us apart, because nothing’s stronger than the heart!” Joy finished with a little bounce of her toes, then bowed grandly, her platinum hair flopping over her face. I stared at her, stunned and confused, then began to clap. Joy flipped her head upright, and showed a red face twisted in hatred, white eyes burning from white sclera, rimmed with black.
“You killed her.” Hatred whispered to me, her voice low and wavering, “You killed her, you killed her, you killed her, YOU KILLED HER, YOU KILLED HER, YOU KILLED HER!” I stumbled backward, and she advanced, her steps purposeful and threatening, her stride impossibly fast. “YOU KILLED HER, YOU KILLED HER, YOU KILLED HER!” And Hatred collapsed, turning into a wretched being of jagged glass, then one of steel, then of silver, and finally, she rose as the golden figure of Greed. She stopped for a moment, looking around confusedly, not seeing me at all. She touched a hand to her face, and I noticed there were black fingerprints on her cheek. It looked like Corruption had laid a gentle hand on Greed’s face, but by the unrecognizing expression in Greed’s eyes, it appeared that Greed didn’t retain any of the memories Hatred seemed to have for her sister.
“Who did Corruption kill?” I asked, knowing Greed couldn’t answer me. It was just a memory, after all, an abstraction like the paintings in Wrath and Hatred’s centers. This was another of Guilt’s realms, and this memory was the only thing in it. Greed turned to Sorrow before my eyes, her blue face slack in unrecognizing confusion. I guess it was that expression that haunted Guilt, that look of unknowing. Maybe it was better for her if her sister hated her, than if she didn’t remember her.
“Did you kill Joy, Corruption?” I asked the void as Sorrow receded into the darkness, “Or did you kill your mother?”
“Did you, Diamond?” an unwanted emotion teased in my mind. I sighed, and looked up. There was only one way out of here, and it meant making me feel like a total piece of shit. But, there was no way around it. I took a deep breath, and let the guilt wash over me. When I was well-past suicidal, I found myself standing on Corruption’s footprints at the entrance to the spire. I stepped back into Corruption’s realm, and considered the landscape. The spires became the foothills of mountains, which dipped into valleys and plateaus. But the valleys and plateaus were lined with treacherous fissures, and ended abruptly into cliffs. It seemed that the flatter the land became, the thinner it was, and the more fragile. This realm was crumbling. It was like a sheet of paper barely holding its form as holes and rips broke the connecting fibers. Beneath this plane, was the endless abyss of Guilt. Corruption had managed to contain it into separate wells in her plane, but like a sheet of paper, the more holes you punch in it, the weaker it gets. Soon, the little holes become bigger holes, which become even bigger holes. Soon, there’s nothing but the hole. I narrowed my eyes. Was the landscape more fractured than before?
Part Three: Reconciliation
For all intents and purposes, I was a slave. I enjoyed being a slave. I enjoyed being dressed for display, being commanded, and being used. But every once in a while, I enjoyed my master’s doting. We were in Mistress’s bedroom, and I was lying on my stomach, a moan of contentment filtering from my mouth. Jade Tao had landed quite a few blows on me after she’d stopped dueling like a Valkyrie, and started fighting like a gladiator. As Mistress’s hand grazed my bruised ribs, I wondered if it was wise to teach Jade my tricks.
“How’s that?” Mistress asked me, her fingers kneading the gnarled muscles of my back.
“Perfect.” I purred. I knew Mistress just wanted me in the best shape possible before my match, but I liked to pretend she was doing it because she liked me. All I could do was pretend with Mistress, because if I thought about reality for too long, I felt that old me I’d buried trying to crawl back. There was no need to be that woman anymore. Honor and chivalry were stupid, childish things. Hedonism and glory were pursuits of worth. My pleasure, my fame, and my legacy were the only things that mattered. Keep telling yourself that.
“Do you like fighting in The Pit?” Mistress asked. It was a strange question for her to ask, but I wasn’t too worried about it with the way she ran her palms down the length of my spine.
“Of course.” I groaned into the pillow.
“You don’t feel guilty about the people you kill?”
“They must’ve been suicidal to step on the sand across from me. I did them a favor.” I answered, expecting Mistress’s concurring chuckle. I didn’t hear it. There was a silence that hung between us, and the odd tension behind it seemed to wind tighter with each second that passed without words.
“Why hasn’t Iona come yet?” Mistress finally asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied into the pillow, “Mother should’ve come when Breyta and Ofan did.”
“Do you want them to come?” Mistress asked.
“No.” I replied, cursing my inability to lie.
“Why not?” Mistress pressed. I steeled myself, realizing there was no way to avoid the answer.
“I do not want them to suffer my fate.” I said quietly. I expected punishment, but Mistress only paused her massage for a moment, before continuing it.
“Do you think I’d turn them all into you?” Mistress asked. Her voice sounded odd; there wasn’t any of the threat, or cruel mirth in it. It put me on edge. I’d learned Mistress’s behavioral patterns, and I knew when to anticipate her sadism, but this calmness was different. I didn’t know what to expect, and that terrified me.
“Yes.” I replied cautiously.
“Do you like what I turned you into?” Mistress asked, her hands stopping their movements. I carefully turned over, folding my wings beneath me as I rolled onto my back. Mistress was watching me with uncharacteristic trepidation, averting her eyes before I did. What test was this? What games was she playing now?
“You have turned me into me.” I said, gesturing to my tattooed and pierced body, “This is me without pretense. I am your whore, your slave, and your toy, and I am freer than I’ve ever been.”
“You don’t regret it?” Mistress asked, running the back of her hand softly over my tattooed belly. There was genuine gentleness behind that touch, not just sensual tenderness. It was purposefully unthreatening; the back of her hand couldn’t grab me, or pinch me, or scratch me.
“My regrets grow quieter by the day.” I said softly, “They hardly speak to me anymore.”
“Mine seem to be coming back to me.” Mistress smiled ruefully, “It’s like they’re waiting for me on the other side.” Mistress abruptly stopped her caressing, and stared blankly down, as though she was looking through me. Her mouth fell open, and her pupils slowly constricted.
“Mistress?” I asked. She didn’t respond. Her hand was trembling against my belly, the knuckles wavering ever-so-slightly. Then I felt the vibrations in my bed, coming from the stones that it rested upon. A single drop of blood rolled from Mistress’s nostril.
“Mistress?!” I asked with more concern. The entire temple trembled, the sound of glass shattering over the low rumbles of shifting stone. The blood began to run freely from Mistress’s nose, her eyes were staring blankly, wide, horrified. They rolled into her head, leaving only blacks that saw nothing. There was a deafening crack, and I looked up to see a fissure forming in the ceiling above us, rubble cascading from its birth.
“Mistress!” I screamed, pulling her to me and folding my wings around us as the rocks began to shower down. A great crash sounded beside us, and splinters of rock peppered my winged shell, blasting holes through feathers and flesh. I screamed in pain, looking in horror at the blood-soaked wounds that rendered me flightless. The only use they were now, was as vain protection from a collapsing building. The crashes became more frequent, louder, the pieces that struck me became heavier, punching jagged, horrific holes into my span. I held Mistress close to me as the world fell around us, trying vainly to keep her safe in the comfort of my bosom.
“Willowbud, please.” I whispered without thinking. It stopped. The great tremors quelled, the rolling thunder of destruction dwindled, leaving only the sound of wind whistling through open cracks to fill my ears. I looked down at the horned head of white hair in my chest, and I cautiously pulled it away. Her eyes were lighter than they’d been before, dark grey instead of black. They stared confusedly up at me, like I was a riddle she didn’t understand.
“Willowbud?” I asked, the name barely coming from me. Mistress’s eyes turned suddenly black. Her hand was on my throat, her weight was atop me, and she was pressing me into the bed, her foot pushing onto my belly.
“I told you, if you ever called me that again, I would brand that little ass with a hot iron!” Mistress growled, her face twisted in rage, “I told you I would…” she trailed off, her eyes growing distant again. She reached behind herself, and touched the small of her back where Julia had branded her just the day before. She cocked her head, and considered the cracked ceiling above us. Then she looked at my terrified face, my splayed nudity, and my destroyed wings. She sighed, and rolled off me. With a tap of her foot, the temple righted itself to a chorus of shifting rock and grumbling foundation.
“C’mon, Astrid.” Mistress extended her hand to me, “Let’s get Brandon to fix you. I can’t have you seen like that; people would get the wrong idea about me.” Mistress chuckled her signature chuckle, but it sounded forced.
“…this throws everything we know out the window.” Justina scowled.
“No, it doesn’t.” Angela said, “It just means that our theory needs some correction.”
“If every one of the spires in Corruption’s realm is just an emotional elevator to Guilt, then it means that Corruption is simultaneously existing in two realms.” Justina said.
“Or perhaps she’s just self-aware enough to know how to keep from changing.” Angela suggested, “Maybe she makes these miniature realms to alleviate the strain before it consumes her. There are thousands of spires; I doubt each of them is a guilty memory. I bet most of them are empty, waiting to capture her future guilt.”
“Conjecture, Angela.” Justina frowned.
“Well, should Diamond check each one then?” Angela shot back.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” Lucilla said into my astral gemstone.
“What?” I mentally replied as Angela and Justina bickered.
“If each of those spires leads to Guilt, then why was the place Diamond emerged from just a hole in the ground? Why no spire?”
I vocalized Lucilla’s question, which mercifully stopped the argument Angela and Justina were having.
“The only logical explanation, is that I’m right.” Justina said with a smug smirk to Angela, “The newest version of Guilt is still under construction in Corruption’s realm. Right now, it’s just a hole, but give it time, and it will be a spire. These things are made from experience, Angela; they don’t design their own realms.”
“Ask your know-it-all daughter why there’s a spire if Guilt’s realm is beneath Corruption?”
“That’s… hmm.” Justina pondered after I relayed the message. She walked over to the bulletin board, and regarded the names in Corruption’s column. “If Guilt is the next step in Corruption’s evolution,” Justina said, touching a finger to Guilt’s name, then Corruption’s, “and we’re assuming Corruption was just the next step in Chaos’s evolution,” Justina ran her finger to the top name, “then maybe…” Justina took out a pen, and drew arrows between each of the names, “…maybe those spires are just the holes in Chaos’s realm. There’s no spire for the new guilty memory because it occurred after Chaos had wholly become Corruption.”
“Why is her evolution so different than Hatred’s?” Lucilla asked.
“Because she’s fighting it, and its tearing her realm to pieces.” I answered, pursing my lips as I regarded the board. I turned to Justina and Angela. “I think Angela’s right, Justina. Corruption knows her way around the astral plane like no one else. She must know that she’s changing, and she’s doing everything she can to avoid it.”
“And if these spires lead to Chaos,” Angela said, stepping beside me, “then Corruption’s final center won’t be in this realm,” Angela touched Corruption’s name, “but this one.” Angela touched Chaos’s.
“She needs to go up.” Lucilla muttered.
I felt a slight release of tension. Even if Diamond found nothing in Chaos’s realm, she would at least be out of Corruption’s realm. Sentients couldn’t go backward in their evolution, not unless they were forced to. Diamond would be safe from Corruption once the Sentient returned to her realm. She’d just have to find the exit, and she’d be golden. Speaking of golden…
“…and you just let her do it?” I asked Jade, my hands on my hips.
“It is an honor to be marked as such.” Jade said without irony.
“I guess you share that honorific with the lamp, the wall, the dresser, and now…” I watched as Julia lifted her leg, and pissed on the bedpost, “…the bed. Congratulations, High Guard.”
“Thank you, Bound One.” Jade smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back. Jade wasn’t an evil woman, she was just whatever Julia wanted her to be. If that meant being the priestess of a death-cult, that’s who she’d be. If it meant being a fire-hydrant, she’d gladly be that as well. I told her to clean herself up, then I stepped into the room, closed the door, and walked over to Julia. I stopped when she turned to me. My mind painted that horrific mask on her face once again, but I managed to push the thought away. Julia looked at me like a guilty pup. She gave me a comically rueful expression, bowed her head, dropped her ass in a submissive squat, then crawled over to me with her proverbial tail between her legs. She stopped at my feet, then laid on her stomach, and began licking my toes.
“Holy shit, Julia.” I sighed. She looked up at me, emeralds brimming with love, tears welling at their corners.
“Woof-woof.” She said, conveying deep regret.
“I told you I forgave you.” I replied.
“Look…” I sighed, crouching to her level, “I’m not going to lie to you and say I’m fine. I’m not. What you did wasn’t your fault, but it still happened. I just need some time.”
“Woof-woof.” Understanding. She whined like a distressed canine, then crawled away in the most pitiful way possible, her head drooping beneath her hunched shoulders, her knees sliding on the floor, her cock dangling sadly between her thick thighs. If I didn’t know Julia better, I’d say she was trying to guilt-trip me. Her display was so pathetic it was endearing. I couldn’t help it; I giggled. Julia perked up, tilted her head in canine confusion, and squinted her eyes at me. I just laughed harder. She woofed an alarmed inquisition, and I was on the ground, rolling in a hysteric fit. This was the woman who hard tortured me, who had methodically arranged and ordered the rape of hundreds of women, who had planned to rule the world as the prophet of a vengeful god, and now she thought she was a fucking dog. And I loved her more than anything. The laughter poured from me, high and manic, stealing my breath, cramping my belly. I felt strands of hair tickling my face, and a dutiful tongue lapping the ecstatic tears that came from my eyes. I laughed until sound wasn’t coming from my mouth, but only breathless expirations shot from my emptied lungs. Julia yipped and barked with frantic concern, seeming to think I was choking. She scrambled around me on all fours, calling her canine alarm for someone to help her incapacitated master. I finally caught my breath with a deep, hoarse intake, and she scrambled to my side, licking my cheeks in the overjoyed relief that her master was acting normally. I giggled as her tongue tickled me, then I took her head in my hand, and brought our mouths together. She licked my gums and teeth like a grooming mutt, but then my tongue found hers, and the motions of her mouth became much more elven. Our lips locked, our smiles curved, and our wetted cheeks pressed together. She kissed me in the way only she could, and I didn’t feel any of the terror I’d felt before. This was her, this was my Julia.
“Woof-woof.” Julia whispered when we parted, her emeralds full of love.
“Woof-woof!” I grinned, touching the tips of our noses.
“Woof-woof?” Julia asked, her eyes shifting down my body.
“Woof-woof.” I shook my head. I wasn’t ready for that yet.
“Woof-woof.” Julia nodded solemnly. Then she tilted her head, drew an excited smile across her face, and scrambled on all fours to the bed. She grabbed Tera’s collar and leash, put it between her teeth, and sat on her haunches, wagging her ass hopefully at me.
“You want to go for a walk, girl?” I laughed.
“Woof-woof!” Julia nodded excitedly.
The silence that hung between us was tortuous. Bianca, usually happy to take advantage of Astrid’s vulnerability, instead just stared at the Ionan’s ruined wings with an expression of abject horror. Astrid kept her face fixed on my floor as I examined her, and Willowbud was burning through cigarettes like the air was poison. She stared out my office window, regarding the bioluminescent landscape as Corruption regarded me. Love, hatred, longing, loathing; the Sentient couldn’t make up her mind with me. I dared a sneer at her, and she flashed a smile so horrifically predatory, that I pissed a little. Alright, no more teasing the evil spirits.
“I suppose you’re not going to tell me what happened?” I asked Astrid. She shook her head. It was obvious what happened, but the why was a mystery. Had she pissed off Willowbud that bad, or was this something else? I examined the wounds, cringing at the grotesque shapes of the punctures.
“I want her perfect, Brandon.” Willowbud said. The coldness in her voice was incredibly unnerving. There was an implied “or else” behind the statement, and it wasn’t the tongue-in-cheek kind of threat Willowbud usually gave me.
“She’ll be just like she was.”
“No.” Willowbud answered softly, “Make her better.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, closing a jagged hole in Astrid’s span.
“Nothing.” Willowbud whispered. Corruption clasped a hand to her forehead and began kneading the flesh as though suffering an acute headache. She gritted her teeth against the pain, and began dancing back and forth within her host. Willowbud was staring impassively at Astrid, but I thought I saw the slightest glisten in her black eyes. She swallowed, then looked back out the window, and Corruption abruptly snapped back into place. Both Sentient and Creator grinned broadly, and I craned my neck to see why.
“Julia, what are we doing here?” Lucilla asked I lead her across the grass of Brandon’s arboretum, Jade following at a respectable distance.
“Woof-woof.” I replied. I worry that the fear I’ve instilled in you will become permanent if we let it settle. Sex is such a part of your identity, and I hate to see it ruined for you. I know it’s not a wound I can heal, but maybe Brandon can.
“Can you say anything else?” Lucilla frowned, “C’mon, Julia; your knees are scraped, and your hands are green with grass stains. Let’s stop this.”
“Woof-woof.” Simple words cannot express the profound love I have for you, Lucilla. I would wear my knees to the caps if it would make you smile.
“Yeah, woof-woof to you too.” Lucilla sighed, “God, if I knew you were going to keep this dog persona up for so long I would’ve-”
“WOOF-WOOF!” THERE’S A RABBIT! I wanna-kill-it, I-wanna-kill-it, I-wanna-kill-it, I wanna-kill-it! Oh please, Lucilla, please let me kill the rabbit! Oh… it got away. Shucks.
“Good fucking Mother!” Lucilla cried, yanking on my leash as I bellowed and yipped at the escaping rodent, “Down girl, down!”
“Woof-woof.” I whined, and got back on my haunches. I looked up at Lucilla’s angry face, and pouted my lips in deep apology.
A couple of Ofanians looked inquisitively at me as I lead Lucilla, the slack on my leash noticeably shorter. I crawled up the spiraling steps of Brandon’s Great Maple, then scratched at his office door. It opened, and there was Night Eyes, grinning down at me. I heard Lucilla suck in air behind me, but I just yipped happily, and panted with my tongue out. Kiss me! Give me Corruption! Just a taste. I can handle a taste. Oh, I-need-it, I-need-it, I-need-it, I-need-it!
“Well hello, Lassie!” Night Eyes chuckled, and scratched behind my ear.
“Woof-woof!” I yipped, climbing on my haunches and dangling my hands from my bent arms. My lungs burn for it! Please, just a taste!
“Don’t fucking touch her, Willowbud.” Lucilla hissed behind me.
“Didn’t you hear? We’re done playing our game.” Night Eyes smirked at Lucilla, then looked down at me, “Aren’t we, girl?” Night Eyes winked.
“Woof-woof!” I whined, rubbing my cheek against Night Eyes’s thigh. She crouched down to my level, ran her hand through my hair, and smiled into my eyes.
“I know what you want, Sister, but I won’t give it to you. The game’s over.” Night Eyes whispered.
“Woof-woof.” I growled. We both know the game’s not over. We’re just playing it on another level.
“It’s funny how easy it is to read you.” Night Eyes smirked, “You don’t even need to say words for me to understand.”
“Woof-woof.” I’ve got your mother locked in my basement. Did you get that?
“Ooo, that sounded hostile.” Night Eyes chuckled.
“Woof-woof.” I’ll show you hostile, Night Eyes. The game’s over, right? Well, that means there aren’t any rules. I shouldered past her as best I could on my hands and knees, and made my way across the room. Astrid was sitting on a table, Bianca was frowning at me with her arms crossed, and Brandon was sitting at his desk, wearing his usual expression of slight bewilderment. That expression slowly changed as my hips began to rock behind me, my shoulders hunched, and my head lowered into a stalking stoop. I watched him from the tops of ravenous eyes, and I licked my lips.
“Are you sure you want to do that, Sister?” Night Eyes said behind me. I turned to see her rolling a coin across her knuckles, and inclining her head toward Lucilla. Jade inched her hand toward her katana, and I gave her a look that told her to stand down. There was something off about Night Eyes. I’d noticed it last night, and I noticed it even more now. I could see uncharacteristic apprehension in her eyes, and the foreign timidity in her stance. Was it her who had changed, or was it me? Had she finally realized the monster she’d become, or was it the monster she made that gave her pause? Either way, I knew she wouldn’t touch Lucilla. I turned from her, and continued my lecherous advance toward Brandon.
“I’m not fucking around, Sister!” Night Eyes called after me. I turned over my shoulder, and blew her a kiss. What are you going to do about it, Night Eyes? My smile teased. Nothing. Her indecisive face seemed to answer. I was actually disappointed in her, but that didn’t stop me. I was certainly attracted to Brandon, but what really turned me on was the idea of taking him from Night Eyes while she watched. I wanted her to feel powerless. I wanted her to know I was better, that I could take from her as I pleased. If she was going to deny me, then I was going to humiliate her. Not exactly the way of the Maternal Path, Julia. But I’d already done my penance for the day. Now, I would sin. Good Mother, what has happened to me? I turned back to Brandon. He was looking from me, to Night Eyes, but something told me he wasn’t seeing just one woman there. His eyes narrowed when they looked at his girlfriend, then they scanned down to me, then moved back over to her, as though studying her reaction. Astrid tentatively eased herself out of my path, but Bianca stood firmly before me. Brandon guided her away by the shoulder, and I saw the combination of objection and jealousy mingle across her face, but she didn’t vocalize it.
“Sister!” Night Eyes growled a warning, but it was dispirited at best. I didn’t even look back. I crawled to the sitting Life Giver, and sat expectantly at his feet. He reached forward, watching Night Eyes, and placed a gentle hand atop my head. He pet me slowly, and I growled a low tone of approval, and rested my chin on his knees. His hand trailed through my hair, touched the point of my ear, then rested fingertips on the nape of my neck. He traced my collar, then grabbed the leash connected to it, spread his legs, and guided me between them.
Corruption was absolutely fuming, but Willowbud seemed to be stuck between confusion and concern. Actually, she seemed to be confused and concerned about why she wasn’t fuming. Julia squatted expectantly before me, her pale ass level with her heels, her leash dangling between my fingers. She wouldn’t touch me, I knew. She would go this far, but I would have to initiate.
“I thought you two were done playing games.” I said softly to Julia.
“Woof-woof.” Julia smirked back, licking those red lips, hinting at their supple texture with the indentation of her tongue. Her emerald eyes stared hungrily up at me, her breasts swelled with her deep, anticipatory breaths. I glanced at Willowbud again. She rolled the coin across her knuckles, watching Julia intently, but not with the rage her meld expressed. I took one of Julia’s hands, appreciating the delicate lengths of her fingers. I guided that hand to the inseam of my pants, and she undid the button on my fly.
“WE ARE LEAVING!” Bianca announced loudly, then grabbed Astrid, and dragged the Ionan through the threshold, where Jade was watching curiously. The three Valkyries disappeared behind a slamming door, leaving only the unsure Lucilla, and the even more unsure Willowbud in the room with me and Julia. I felt cool fingers brush my shaft. I felt them wrap around me, and I felt them squeeze covetously. I let out a wanting breath, and dared a look at my girlfriend. Her posture had relaxed, stooping into a combination of laziness and defeat. It was like she only cared enough to object when Julia neared the proverbial line in the sand, but once she’d crossed it, Willowbud gave up. She just watched Julia with a curious expression, as though simply interested in what would happen next. Beneath her, Corruption was watching me with a look of utter betrayal.
“Woof-woof?” Julia whispered as she pulled out my cock. Her eyes widened when they filled with my length, a ravenous glint shining from them. “Good Mother, Brandon.” Julia gasped.
“No more ‘woof-woof?’” I smirked.
“I can still be your bitch if you want me to.” Julia smirked back, and it was almost enough to make me blow right there.
“Who is this woman, and what did she do with the good Sister Julia?” I growled as her thumb pressed the underside of my crease, forcing a bubble of precum from my apex.
“Your girlfriend has a way of bringing out the worst in me.” Julia’s little breaths caressed my scrotum, “I hope you don’t mind.” And Julia slid her hands beneath me, hoisted me up on the chair, parted my glutes with her thumb and finger, then pillowed her red, luscious lips around my rim. I started upward in surprise, then immediately collapsed into languid acceptance when I felt her tongue slip wetly through my coiled resistance, and navigate its way inside. My balls quaked on her nose, my cock curved backward to face me, and I groaned in pure bliss. Julia made it quite clear that she was in control, and I didn’t mind in the least. I let her penetrate me, let her taste my filth, let her explore me with her curious tongue. Its probing warmth invaded me deeply, each caress of her tip causing the sensitive flesh to convulse appreciatively. Her lips created a ring of suction about my exit, and I felt them drawing softly from me, turning my rim into a swollen coil of nerves. When my cock was pulsing on its own, and my balls were contracting atop Julia’s face, she slid out, and smiled up at me with an expression of lechery only Tera could match.
“You and I share the same weakness, I see.” Julia chuckled, sliding a single index finger back and forth along my taint, pressing it, massaging my prostate from the outside. I felt my pelvic floor spasm in anticipation, and saw Julia’s grin broaden. She slowly pushed her finger up my ass, collected my balls into her mouth, and squeezed my cock until precum leaked down it. The sensations turned me into a spineless mess, and I slouched down the chair, sliding my backend over the edge for better access. She watched me from ravenous eyes as her tongue lathered my sensitive orbs, her lips sucked my loose scrotal flesh into her voracious mouth, and her finger pressed against my organ, massaging it back and forth. She separated my balls into her cheeks, and traced her wet member along the underside of my sack, moving it in congruence with the covetous motions of her penetrating digit.
“You know I don’t like being used.” I groaned. Julia pursed her lips around my sack in response, looking up at me with an expression of big-eyed faux-innocence. “I’m not just a fucking pawn on your board.” I growled, forming fists in her hair. Julia’s pursed lips smirked, and drew them outward, stretching my sack, and letting my balls plop individually from her slurping mouth. Her red tongue flattened against my scrotum, then drew upward along my length, her open mouth grinning wider as my face fell. She had me, and she knew it.
“If it makes you feel better, Brandon,” Julia whispered on my tip, “you’re at least a rook, maybe even the queen.” And she took me in, her emerald eyes staring up as her red lips worked down, pulling with gentle suction, leading the way for her mouth, then her throat. She pillowed wetly against my pelvis, her moist heat constricting around the length of me that bulged in her elegant neck. She held me there, slurping avariciously, constricting her throat around me, watching me from calculating eyes as her finger twisted and pressed inside me, knowing just what to do. Her other hand gently massaged by balls, rolling them against her thumb, savoring every little contraction and clench I gave with the pleasure she brought. Through my haze of pleasure, I almost forgot why Julia was doing this to me. My eyes darted up, and I saw Willowbud lounging in on the patient’s couch, smoking a cigarette, and pushing her free hand down her pants.
“Willowbud?” I asked through a hoarse voice. She looked up at me like she just remembered I was there.
“What?” Willowbud smiled, and it was a companionable smile, like we were buddies. It wasn’t the lecherous smile, or the sardonic smile, or even the threatening smile.
“Do you want to join?” I asked.
“Naw, I’m good.” Willowbud said. She didn’t seem to care about at me at all. She just watched Julia with obvious arousal and interest, but with noticeable trepidation, like she was viewing a lioness from a safe distance, and didn’t dare to get closer. Within her, Corruption was flabbergasted. She looked down at Willowbud with an appalled expression, then situated herself back into position, trying vainly to mimic the actions of the horned woman. I glanced down at Julia, and she gave me a little wink. I wondered if she knew just how close she was.
I knew Julia was doing this to stab at Willowbud, but Willowbud didn’t seem to care. In fact, Willowbud seemed content to just chill on the couch, and flick the bean. Cuckholding didn’t seem like something she’d go for, especially not with Julia. What was I missing? I squinted at Willowbud’s eyes. Were they lighter, or was that just my imagination? I leaned toward her to make sure, and suddenly the greens of her eyes were staring back.
“You spying on me, Princess?” Willowbud giggled. Not a chuckle, or a cackle, but a fucking giggle.
“Yes.” I answered simply.
“Well, why don’t you do it from right here?” Willowbud asked, patting the spot next to her with her cigarette hand.
“Yeah…” I scoffed at her, “I think I’m good over here.”
“You sure?” Willowbud glanced at the wooden dresser I was leaning on, “You know I won’t touch you, Princess.” Willowbud inclined her head to my sucking girlfriend, “Wouldn’t want to get the missus angry, now would we?”
“You think I’m falling for that shit?” I snorted.
“Have I ever deceived you before?” Willowbud retorted, then shrugged her shoulders, and continued her observation. I studied her closer. There was something different about her. The way she sat wasn’t quite the arrogant sprawl she usually presented, the way she smoked didn’t have the easy confidence, and the way she talked sounded downright wrong. I took a tentative step toward her. Then another, then another. I cautiously eased myself on the couch, watching her, waiting for the shoe to drop. Willowbud glanced at me, then reached for the table beside her. There was a coin on that table. I was ninety-nine percent certain that she was going to casually murder me, right up until the moment I was presented with a half-finished pack of cigarettes.
“No, thank you.” I muttered. Willowbud tossed the pack back on the table, and recommenced touching herself. Across the room, Julia was situated in a wide squat, her feminine juices dripping from her slit, and pooling to the floor between her protruding domes. The length of her back was a slight arch, and her head moved back and forth, sucking with an expertise I did not know she had. I’d seen her take Diamond before, but Brandon was a whole different thing, and she didn’t even gag. I was impressed, and a little jealous. Just a little. I mean, I was really good at giving head; everyone knew that. It was a point of pride for me. I was the best cock-sucker in the elven empire, but Astrid was apparently the queen of blowjobs here, and judging by Brandon’s expression, Julia was making a run for that crown. Julia fucked better than me, got fucked better than me, and apparently, now she also sucked better than me. Holy fuck, Lucilla. Are you really that worried about it?
“God, she’s good.” Willowbud marveled next to me.
“I taught her how to do that.” I mumbled.
“Did you?” Willowbud looked curiously at me.
“I mean…” I felt myself blushing, “Passion did most of the work, but you know… I… helped.”
“You’re all depth, and no technique, Princess.” Willowbud teased, “I remember your little magic trick.”
“I was possessed by Tera then; you weren’t getting the real me.” I retorted.
“I’m all about giving second chances.” Willowbud grinned broadly at me.
“Keep it in your pants, bitch.” I snorted.
“You can try putting it back if it offends you so much.” Willowbud smiled, grew her cock, then pulled it from the top of her waistband. Her caramel length was long and smooth, touched with veins along the underside, and circumcised. It wasn’t Julia’s cock; not the cock that I’d gained so much joy from. Not the cock that tortured me. No, Willowbud had never touched me. She’d threatened me, she’d terrified me, but she hadn’t laid a single finger on me.
“You know,” Willowbud pontificated, “the first time Astrid and I made love, she was in a pond.” Willowbud’s expression grew distant, but her cock grew even harder, “She was bathing nakedly, tossing herself around like a fucking dancer. Then she saw me packing heat, and she folded herself away all shy-like.” Willowbud smiled wistfully, “I asked what she was doing in her wing-shell, and she got so embarrassed.” Willowbud laughed, “She was touching herself looking at me, trying to be discrete, but you know Valkyries. I asked her if she wanted to join me, and she got all flustered, so I started jacking it.” Willowbud began stroking herself, “And eventually, she just couldn’t resist.”
Willowbud stared at the ceiling, her hand making long passes over her cock, her eyes glazed with memory. They were lighter now, it was obvious. Julia’s method was working. As was Willowbud’s, if I was being honest. My eyes were drawn inexorably to the smooth piece of man engorged in her hand, and the slut in me licked her lips from a watering mouth. I’d never been one to let something as trivial as feelings get in the way of a good time. I’d fucked people I didn’t know, I’d fucked people I didn’t like, and I’d fucked people who I downright detested. Fucking someone I hated didn’t seem like such a stretch. Fucking someone you’re going to kill seems like a bit of one, however.
“What happened next?” I asked softly, pulling up my skirt, and sliding my hand between my legs.
“I ate her out; she sucked me off.” Willowbud said to the ceiling, her voice a low growl, “Then she fucked me cowgirl, and I blew inside.”
“You have such a talent for storytelling.” I frowned.
“Did it end too soon?” Willowbud grinned at me, “Sorry Princess, I have a bad habit of doing that.”
“Well,” I sighed, making my decision, and rolling over to her, “you can always kick bad habits.”
“And you can always start them.” Willowbud chuckled, and released her cock, letting it stand proudly from her pelvis. She didn’t reach for me, or gesture for me. She just waited. I tentatively touched her hand, and felt her cringe just a little. She glanced worriedly at Julia, then back at me.
“It’s OK.” I said softly. I couldn’t believe this conversation was happening. I couldn’t believe I was doing what I was doing. I took her hand in mine, noting how tiny it was. Willowbud always seemed bigger than she actually was, but now, she somehow seemed smaller. I placed her hand on the strap of my dress, then I guided the strap down with her hand, and exposed my breasts to her. She stared at them, then ran her eyes down the patterns of my body, following them as they narrowed into my pelvis.
“They’re so beautiful.” Willowbud whispered reverently.
“Thank you.” I said softly. I didn’t know what else to say. I eased myself closer to her, confused by the tentative way with which she regarded me. I was pressed to her side, and yet, she refused to initiate contact. I finally just took her hand, and put it against my ass, “Squeeze it, Willowbud.” I said flatly, and she did. I rolled atop her, my thicker thighs straddling her thinner ones, her cock sliding up the flat of my pelvis. I took her other hand, guided it to my other cheek, and prompted her to squeeze that one too.
“You know we’re about to have sex, right?” I snickered, my hair touching her face, “You’re literally going to be inside me; you don’t need to treat me like your mother’s china.”
“You sure? Because if I could, I’d break everything that bitch owned.” Willowbud grinned, and our lips connected. My tongue snaked into her mouth, and her tongue came out to play. Our mouths smacked and sucked as we explored each other, and Willowbud’s grip on my ass tightened. I smiled against her, lifted my pelvis, and touched her tip to my swollen folds. I gasped into her mouth, waiting for the panic to take me, but it didn’t. I waited for another second, then I eased myself down. Her hard heat slid into my depths, pressing against all sides of me, separating me nearly to my limit. All of yesterday’s pent-up lust came surging to the forefront of my mind, but strangely, none of the horror followed. I felt… good. A sensation crept into me, and it whispered of endless hedonism, of enjoying myself without restraint, of living a life of splendor and lust without a care for anything else. I suddenly realized with an odd fascination that Corruption had just offered me her gift, and I’d just unknowingly accepted it. I separated from our kiss, and studied Willowbud’s horror-stricken face.
“I didn’t mean to.” Willowbud whispered frantically, “She did it on her own. Don’t tell Julia! Please don’t!”
All I had to do was turn around. All I had to do was get Julia’s attention, then breathe out was in my lungs, and she’d do it. She’d turn Sentient and Creator to ash, and it would all be over. Corruption had gambled, and overplayed her hand. Corruption didn’t know I had practice with Sentients already, that I could control how much I took in. I turned back to Willowbud, and ran my eyes over her features, trying to find the lie, but it wasn’t there. There was only terror, only the plea for mercy in her grey eyes. She was innocent. Willowbud Autumnsong was innocent, and I was going to have her killed. Or was I? I still had time. I could give Julia a chance, or Diamond a chance, or Angela, Tera, and Justina a chance. I could give Willowbud a chance.
“I won’t tell.” I whispered, pushing Corruption out through my nostrils. The relief that washed over Willowbud’s face painted a smile across mine.
“You’re a fucking idiot, Princess.” Willowbud snickered, pulling me across her lap with her squeezing hands.
“I just spared your life, and you’re making fun of me? What the fuck is wrong with you?” I giggled on her lips, undulating my vaginal muscles along her length.
“I’ve got issues.” Willowbud smiled back, and our mouths connected as we moved together, moaning and gasping. She never once tried to take control. She let me ride her, let me find myself again, let me heal the wounds that Julia had made. That Corruption had made, but not Willowbud.
I crawled up Brandon’s body, enjoying the smell of him, the taste of him in my mouth, the heat of him against my flesh. My tongue caressed his pelvis, his navel, his nipples, his chin, then his lips. He grabbed me by the ass, his fingers lost in the succulence, and he hoisted me straddling against him, my back arching to press my torso deeply into his masculine warmth. My pussy leaked its hunger, my anus cried its vacancy, and my cock throbbed between us. Brandon didn’t care at all about my organ, but I guessed his time with Night Eyes eased him of any phobias. He let it squish and pulse against the warmth of his own member as we explored each other’s mouths. As our tongues moved in contest, and we gaged the uniqueness of the other’s sexuality, I realized that I wasn’t sure how I wanted this man. There was a part of me that wanted to find out if I was bisexual in both genders, but I doubted I could convince Brandon to help me with that discovery. Still, I was curious. Very curious. What better way to humiliate Night Eyes, than to fuck her boyfriend in the ass?
I shifted our bodies, rolling our embrace until he was atop me, suppressing me with his weight and strength. I wanted him to feel he had the power, the control, the choice. I spread my legs wide for him, moaned needfully into his mouth, gyrated my pathetic dance against the back of the chair. I pressed my cock against him, moving it up and down against his. He parted from the kiss, eyes staring inquisitively down at me. I bit my lip and stared up, baring my request openly. He looked down at our pressing manhoods, then drew his eyes along my more feminine features, up my silky belly, along my protruding breasts, to my needful, pouting lips and big, hopeful eyes. I kept our gaze locked as I slowly eased myself down, watching him from the tops of curious, playful eyes as my cock slid down his pelvis, between his sack and thighs, then popped freely behind him. I raised a questioning brow, gently grabbed two handfuls of firm, muscular glute, and slid myself between him.
“This never leaves the room.” Brandon whispered.
“We’ll never tell a soul.” I assured him.
“No way!” I squealed. Jade sprang upward from her cunilingus.
“Great Creators!” Jade gasped. We were high in Brandon’s canopy, concealed by the shadows of the Great Maple’s branches. From our vantage point, we could see right through Brandon’s open office window. Of course Jade and I weren’t going to miss the divine orgy for the world, Bianca be damned. We’d touched ourselves as we watched from our secluded branch, then we wondered why we weren’t touching each other, so we did that instead. Jade’s wings draped over us, her beige, muscular body undulated atop mine, moving with slow, purposeful motions as she grinded the crack of her ass into my consuming face. I moved in a similar manner beneath her, matching my bodily wave with the cadence of hers so that our curves stayed locked. She tasted my anus and pussy interchangeably, and I did the same with her, taking my time with both holes, and enjoying the flavor of each. It was sensual, almost like we were grooming each other, but it was violently interrupted when I saw Brandon pop a squat on Julia’s cock.
“Holy shit, I have to find Bianca!” I cackled, wiggling myself out from beneath Jade. I leapt from the branch to begin my search, and abruptly ended it two seconds later. Bianca was hiding in the shadows of another branch, her dark skin blending her well into the shadows, but the gilded streaks in her wings betraying her. Her pants were around her ankles, her shirt was pulled to her neck, and she was wearing the most shameful expression I’d ever seen as she looked at me with her hands between her legs.
“Well, well, well…” I smiled, landing on her branch, “All that talk about ‘respecting your god’s privacy’ and you just wanted an excuse to be a peeping tom. Does Brandon know you’ve been spying on him from up here? How long have you been doing it, Bianca? Since the very first day?”
Bianca gulped, not willing to say. That meant ‘yes’ in Valkyrie.
“High Guard Blackwing, how terribly hypocritical of you!” Jade tittered as she landed beside me.
“Do you think Brandon would like to know what his High Guard’s been up to?” I asked Jade.
“I think he’d be terribly mortified if he knew she saw him in such a compromising position.” Jade said beside me as we advanced on the terrified woman.
“It seems your god is a bit of a bisexual.” I grinned wickedly at Bianca, “And it seems you appreciate that side of him. How wonderfully open-minded you are.”
“Who would’ve known High Guard Blackwing was so forward-thinking?” Jade said, sliding herself languidly next to the rigid woman.
“Ofanians are usually so conservative, but I guess their leader is a bleeding heart.” I chuckled, easing myself on Bianca’s other side.
“I will not be blackmailed!” Bianca hissed.
“But we would love to be black-femaled.” I chuckled, placing two fingers north of Bianca’s knee, and slowly walking them up her thigh.
“We are so terrible at speaking untruths.” Jade giggled, walking her fingers up Bianca’s other leg, “The only way for us to deceive, is to keep our mouths shut.”
“But our kind are such terrible gossipers.” I nuzzled my face into the impossible length of Bianca’s neck, “I don’t think I can keep my mouth shut, Bianca; I think you’re going to have to give me something to fill it with.”
“I’ve always wondered what color an Ofanian’s sex is.” Jade whispered, looking between Bianca’s legs.
“Pink like everyone else’s.” I whispered into Bianca’s ear.
“You’re very pretty, High Guard Blackwing.” Jade said softly, her walking fingers stopping just south of Bianca’s curly mound.
“Absolutely gorgeous.” I concurred, my fingers stopping in a similar position. I filled my eyes with Bianca’s dark, voluptuous body, then drew them up the column of her neck, the quivering outline of her luscious lips, the severe jut of her cheekbones, the broad bridge of her nose, then the wide, fearful depths of her brown eyes. She pleaded silently with me, and I denied her with a wide smile, and a lick of my lips. Her head fell back against the tree, and she let out a shuddering breath of resignation.
“This is rape.” Bianca whispered, “You are forcing me to give up my body to defend the mental wellbeing of my charge.”
“We are such terrible women; what are you to do?” I sniggered as my fingers continued their walk, stepping through Bianca’s black pubes.
“You are trapped, and left with only one honorable option.” Jade giggled, her fingers marching in time.
“What a noble sacrifice you’re making, Bianca Blackwing.” I hissed as my fingers entered her slit, and her eyes bulged, “The bards will sing songs of your martyrdom.”
“They’ll leave out the part where you moaned and screamed like a harlot.” Jade whispered on Bianca’s lips as she traced her finger through Bianca’s oozing petals, and slid them down her taint, “But we’ll know. It was just your body betraying you, though; your honor was never in question.”
“Such an honorable woman you are.” I breathed covetously of Bianca’s scent as I felt her wrench in reaction to Jade’s anal penetration. Bianca kept her lips sealed for a commendable time, but the invasive kneading of our fingers soon compelled her mouth to open, and her moans to sing forth. She kept her posture stiff for an even longer period, but once Jade and I discovered the secret places within her, she became butter between our pressing bodies. She kept her honor for even longer, but then my practiced thumb found the combination of her clit, and her eyes fell to a drooping splendor, and her open mouth beckoned for the taste of me. I kissed her, wet and sensual like I kissed Jade, promising nothing but pleasure and tenderness with the motions of my tongue, and Bianca’s trepidation eased from her. Her impossibly-full lips fed rapaciously of my kiss, her tongue wrapped and entwined with mine, and her nose breathed alongside mine, expressing the pleasure of her body with the short expirations of her lungs. She broke from our consumption to share her mouth with Jade, and with her appetizer fresh in my mouth, I decided to sate my palate with the main course. I tasted her nipples, her belly and her pelvis, and I felt her shiver in reaction to each brush. I opened her flushed petals with my forking fingers, and admired the way her bright pink folds contrasted her dark complexion. I pressed my watering mouth to her, snaked my tongue into her taught depths, and tasted the sweet love she had to offer. I heard her little cries muffle into Jade’s mouth, then I heard them clearly when the Breytan commenced her own journey. I linked fingers with my friend between Binaca’s legs, and felt her entrance by the sudden reaction of Bianca’s insides.
“Oh, Great Giver!” Bianca moaned in wonderous revelation, and I could tell Jade was grinning proudly from her debauched meal. We touched tongues along the decadent division of Bianca’s holes, then explored curiously into her depths. Bianca’s strong hands found our heads, and she pushed us firmly against her, squishing her tender parts against our tender lips. She gyrated back and forth in a dance of depravity, her wings blanketing our bodies, her legs parting to ease our access. Jade and I reached for each other, and pushed our fingers into each other’s slits as we slurped and tasted, sucked and lathered. My nose was filled with Bianca’s rich arousal, my tongue was saturated with her flavor, and my muzzle was sheened with her thanks. She bucked and heaved, growled and swore, and we ate gluttonously, sloppily rotating our faces and humming in pure depravity, writhing together in a gentler wave than Bianca’s, but with the same cadence. We made Bianca come, and her ascension was a fountain that poured down my mouth, and dripped down my chin. Her wings spread behind her arching back, and her gaping lips sung a beautiful, high sound. Jade and I finished each other with our hands, then slid our slick bodies up the slicker length of Bianca’s. We encased her in our squishing warmth, and breathed from contented smiles on her beautiful breasts.
“Must you use me as furniture?” Bianca groaned dispiritedly.
“Do you want us to leave?” I grinned into Bianca’s satisfied eyes. She sealed her lips, unwilling to speak the truth.
“We’re cuddle-raping her.” Jade giggled, nestling her head into the crook of Bianca’s arm, “She can’t be blamed; we’re forcing her to do it.”
“Of course.” I laughed, poking Bianca’s erect nipple with my tongue, “What an honorable woman.”
“So honorable, in fact, that she’ll sacrifice herself again later tonight.” Jade’s brown irises topped her smiling, almond eyes, “Does one-thirty work for you?”
“Two would be better.” Bianca mumbled, then added, “You rapist whores.”
“Fuck her, Brandon. Fuck her like she wants it.” Julia’s voice dripped in my ear, her body pressed to my back; breasts pillowing against my shoulders, belly molding to my spine, pelvis pushed against my glutes, and cock buried in my ass. I wish I could say I took Julia like a power-bottom, but she gently made me her bitch in about two thrusts. Unlike Willowbud however, Julia didn’t laud her obvious sexual superiority over me, or take advantage of my vulnerability. She encased me in her arms, holding me from behind like a woman hugging her man, resting her cheek on my back, and joining her hands around my curved-back cock. She didn’t emasculate me, but empowered me with the gentle kisses on my neck, and the tender tones of her moaning mouth. She moved her hips slowly, carefully, pulling out and thrusting with the most gradual of motions, seeping every shift of our sex in sensuality. Her heat radiated pleasantly within me, throbbing against my anal organ, pushing deeply into me.
“Fuck her like the sinning whore she is.” Julia whispered again, the content of her words contrasting the sweetness of her voice. Before me, Willowbud was bent over, staring back over her shoulder with big eyes. Grey eyes. Lucilla watched me from behind Willowbud, her pale lips slightly agape, her porcelain flesh shining with her patterns, her supple legs wrapped around Willowbud’s waist, and Willowbud’s cock stretching her pink pussy thin. Willowbud never let me fuck her ass, and she certainly never let me fuck her while she was male, but I guessed it was Corruption who had put such shackles on Willowbud’s sexuality. Corruption was just along for the ride now. She stared back at me, hate and love, fear and confusion. She couldn’t seem to get herself wholly in Willowbud anymore. She outlined her meld, but didn’t blend into her.
“Give it to her.” Julia whispered again, then guided my hips forward with her own. I could hardly deny the dominant Heat Bringer. I grabbed Willowbud’s little ass, my fingers indenting the caramel flesh, and I watched her bite her lip in submissive anticipation, her big eyes pleading for it. Julia lined my cock up, and pressed it to Willowbud’s winking, pink sphincter. Willowbud’s shoulders hunched, her head tilted back, her expression turned to the sluttiest face I’d ever seen her dawn. So much vulnerability, so much weakness, so much need. Julia sucked gently on my neck as she pushed her cock into me, and I pushed my cock into Willowbud. Willowbud moaned a low tone, then it rose, and rose, until it was a high whine of uncontainable pleasure. Her shoulders pinched, her back collapsed into a concave arch, and she fucked Lucilla to the same depth I fucked her. All four of us sung in harmony as we shifted in congruence. Lucilla’s head dropped back to yield her satisfaction, and she and Willowbud shared a sloppy kiss seeped in hedonism as I provided the power, and Julia anchored the end. I drove on my own accord, sliding my ass along Julia’s length, fucking Willowbud as I fucked myself. Julia moved with me, never driving on her own, but letting me do it, letting me have the control. She moaned her feminine tones in my ear, whispered her thankful pleasure, and let her cock stand static from her body as I gave her what she needed. In front of me, I smashed Willowbud into Lucilla, bouncing her caramel ass against my crotch, burying myself into her tight filth. She broke from her kiss to stare back at me, heavy-lidded eyes seeped in gratitude, whorish moans escalating from her parted lips. Lucilla squealed her delight in harmony, keeping her ankles locked at the small of Willowbud’s back, her pussy leaking viscous nectar down her taint, her winking asshole revealed with each wet clap of her patterned glutes.
“Take me, Brandon.” Willowbud moaned, her voice breathy and raspy, “Please!”
I gave it to her like she wanted, harder and harder, turning her caramel ass rosy with the impacts of my thrusts. But it was getting to me. I reamed myself with Julia’s girth, impaled myself with her length. She moaned and cried into my ear, her womanly body still squishing against my back, but her manly organ doing its worst in me, making my legs weak. She stopped standing statically, and instead attached herself to me, moving as I moved, keeping her depth and retaining her sensuality. I turned my head, and we locked lips and exchanged tongues, breathing sharply through our noses, humming louder tones as I felt her throbbing inside me. She suddenly went very still, and our kiss broke. She dropped her chin on my shoulder, closed her eyes tightly, and let out strained hiss of air. I felt her quivering statically behind me, forcing herself to be still as she came. I felt my anal organ quaking, pulsing in a pleasure that almost made me drop. She filled me, sputtering and gasping, but not moving, and when the ecstasy finally set her free, she pulled slowly out, kissed her way down my back, then wrapped her lips around me, and sucked out what she’d poured in. The moment secluded us from Willowbud and Lucilla, and the Earth Former took the opportunity to fuck herself on my static cock as she railed into Lucilla, their bodies locked by the hold of Lucilla’s thighs. Willowbud’s pink sheath bunched outside of her rim with each thrust, causing her straightened arms to quiver with her straightened legs. It didn’t stop her. She ravaged herself willingly on my pole, ruining her anus, sullying my shaft, fucking with male rage and female fervency in time, growling and crying out, taken by the duality that owned her. Corruption moaned with her, but watched me, only me. Hatred, love, confusion and fear.
“Make me come!” Lucilla screamed, and in a blur of ferocious, suicidal thrusts, Willowbud did. Lucilla’s hand clawed for purchase on Willowbud’s arching back, and Willowbud’s straightened arms gave out in the heat of her anal violation. She collapsed atop Lucilla, simultaneously driving into the woman while pressing and grinding her ass on me. All the while, Julia cleaned my ass with her tongue, planting affectionate kisses along its rim. Lucilla’s scream of release sounded, and Willowbud’s shithole clamped on me like a vice. My knees buckled, and I heaved forward, falling off to the side. Willowbud pulled out as I spun her around, and I landed ass-first on the couch next Lucilla with Willowbud in my lap. The princess writhed in orgasm, her sapphire eyes glazed in the fugue state of her euphoria. Atop me, Willowbud wrenched in a similar fashion, her cock twitching as it spurted her lust across her body, splashing her belly, breasts and face. She turned her face to share her kiss with me, and I tasted her cum on her lips. I squeezed her marred breasts with covetous fingers, and she hummed her lecherous approval into my mouth, and undulated against me, grinding her ass deeper into my crotch. Through the slits of my eyes, I saw Julia approaching, her manhood in a half-hard state, but inflating when she saw that Willowbud had changed back to being completely female. She parted the Earth Former’s slender legs, but a patterned, porcelain hand stopped her.
“Are you sure?” Julia asked me, emerald eyes filled with hope.
“I’m sure.” I whispered. I gently grasped her dirtied cock, brought it to my lips, and took it in. It was foul with Brandon’s flavor, but the filth was decadent in my state of mind, and I slurped it greedily until her shaft was clean. I watched her from the tops of my eyes as the arousal brimmed for her eyes, as she grew rock-hard in my throat. I held her all the way inside me, my nose pressing into her pelvis, and I swallowed around her. The surrendered look on her face was priceless, and I reached between her legs, and did my worst with my fingers. When she was gasping with wide eyes, and pushing me forward by the back of my head, and I eased the suction, and let her pull out. Then I took her shaft, and pressed her tip to Willowbud’s bald pussy.
“But I thought-” Julia started.
“I want to watch this.” I said, easing myself to corner of the couch, “I want to watch the gods fuck each other, then I want them all to fuck me.”
I could feel myself growing weaker. The entity called Night Eyes, the thing that held Willowbud at bay, was slowly thinning away. Sister Julia pushed into my pussy, Brandon pushed into my ass. My neck striated with tension as it tilted to yield my ecstatic cry, but I didn’t reach out to grab and pull, scratch and bite. I held Sister Julia by the hips and guided her thrusts. I oscillated against Brandon, curving in a passionate wave that pressed my ass to his crotch while distending my belly, then squished my back to his abdomen while jutting forth my breasts. Sister Julia’s weight suppressed me, her breasts flattened and consumed my own, and her crimson hair surrounded my vision, which centered upon a face filled with challenge. A challenge I no longer felt. She fucked me like she had an agenda, and I moaned and cried my reaction to her ardency, but I did not return her vitriol. I just made love to her.
“Give it to me, Night Eyes.” Sister Julia whispered in my ear.
“No.” I replied through a breathy moan.
“Stop fucking around, and give it to me!” Sister Julia snarled, grabbing my breasts and squeezing. I laughed delightedly, and grinded fervently in response, smiling at her confused face.
“What?” I giggled.
“Your eyes.” Sister Julia whispered, staring into them intently.
“Are they lighter?” I giggled through a moan.
“Yes.” Julia gasped, “Are you… is this… am I talking to Willowbud right now?”
“No,” I tittered, “I don’t know who I am right now, but it’s not her.” Julia’s astonishment turned to panic in a second.
“Just give me a taste!” Julia hissed, her big emeralds pleading, “Just a taste before you go!”
“I’m sorry, Sister, but I won’t.” I moaned, driving my hips down, clenching in sweet euphoria as I was impaled simultaneously. Sister Julia let out a frustrated whine, and railed into me, her vengeance, my pleasure. Beneath me, Brandon matched her cadence, ruining my ass like he’d done so well before, stretching my taint between them, driving against Sister Julia from the other side. I squealed and gasped, writhing between their dual assaults, hoping beyond hope that Corruption would come back to me before Willowbud lived again.
Why don’t you love me? It was a soothing voice, one with a drawl that almost sounded like my prairie accent. It was so faint that I wouldn’t have discerned it, were I not seeing Corruption’s lips moving. Willowbud’s face was lost in a curtain of Julia’s hair, but Corruption’s was staring at me, love-stricken black eyes and hatred-filled white irises. You used to. Corruption said again. Her mouth made no sound, but her voice whispered in the back of my mind, You used to hold me. You used to want me. Why do you no longer? What did I do? What did I forget? I knew I could only hear her because her meld was breaking. I could feel Willowbud changing atop me, feel her transformation in the way she moved. The violence of her gave way to sensuality, the cruelty gave way to playfulness. I actually heard her giggling while I fucked her ass, the innocent mirth cut with whispers as she communicated her lust to Julia.
I never loved you, Corruption. I said mentally to the Sentient.
That’s not my name, Life Giver. Corruption replied sadly, You used to whisper my name in the morning, when the birds were singing and the suns were shining. Have you forgotten it? I have. I just remember the feeling.
I hate you.
You don’t know hatred like I do, Corruption grinned, but I guess you never did. It was me who changed her. When the suns broke, and the worlds split, I found her. I saw what she was becoming.
You always were so good at pretending. Corruption sniggered, Playing the fool was easy for you. You never had to see their faces. I see them. I see them EVERY, FUCKING, SECOND! Corruption shot upright, her entire upper half exiting from Willowbud. She put her hands against her head, and screamed. It sounded high and tormented in the back of my mind, and for whatever reason, it compelled me to fuck Willowbud harder. And harder. And harder. I rammed into her with a desperation, lifting both her and Julia up with my thrusts, sending the Earth Former into a squirming mess of delighted screams and giggles. She yelped and cackled, then moaned and shifted sensually with my violence, moving like liquid between the gods ravaging her. Corruption’s scream finally waned, and she fell back into her host, her disheveled black hair mixing with Willowbud’s white.
The Untethered One digs at my mind! Corruption groaned, her voice sounding ragged.
She doesn’t know what she’s doing! Corruption cried, grabbing at her hair, I don’t want to remember! I don’t want to know! Tell the Destroyer that if she doesn’t recall her daughter, I will go back, and I will rape Diamond’s soul until she is nothing but a hole!
I don’t know what you’re talking about! What is Diamond doing? I mentally growled as Willowbud tossed her head from side to side, compelled to by the ecstasy that owned her.
Stop acting the fool, boy! Corruption snarled, her head twisting unnaturally on her neck, Your sister revealed herself just yesterday. I know you’re involved!
Angela? I hissed, grabbing for Corruption’s neck, and only getting Willowbud’s hair, Where is she?!
Silence, not Angela. Corruption grinned cruelly at me, She will never be Angela again.
Where is she?! I almost bellowed the words aloud. Corruption cocked her head confusedly at me, then a wide grin stretched across her face.
How many players are playing different games on the same board? Corruption’s soothing drawl returned to her, and her grin curled behind fever-bright eyes, The Destroyer wants to kill me, Silence wants to change me, and you want to pretend I’m not here. The Untethered One seeks answers, the Bound One seeks murder, and the melded one seeks apathy. You all move in the same direction, but you’re not moving together. Secrets have made you blind to each other, and instead of walking the same paths, you accelerate toward collision.
Please, tell me about Angela.
Why don’t you ask the Untethered One? Corruption grinned, She is supposed to rendezvous with you tonight, is she not? She is as full of answers as she is of questions. Of course, she hasn’t been herself lately. Corruption chuckled to herself, and receded back into her host, I see the dream in your tree, Life Giver. It was a lie all those years ago, and it is a lie now. You are the deceiver of us all. Corruption wouldn’t answer me when I called for her again.
I watched Willowbud arch from Brandon and into Julia, and I saw the unbridled ecstasy burn across her eyes. They were even lighter than before, more white than black. She called her orgasm to the ceiling, her song punctuated by high, joyous laughs. She connected lips with Brandon, and the kiss was oddly cordial. Then Julia swooped in for her turn, and Willowbud turned her cheek, much to the amusement of everyone but Julia. She squawked angrily, then shoved Willowbud off Brandon, squatted down, and took every inch of the Life Giver into her ass. I could tell by both their expressions, that neither had expected what they felt. Julia’s eyes rolled back, and she sighed decadently as she collapsed into a languid sprawl atop Brandon. Brandon had to grit his teeth before a purpling face to keep from coming. He regained himself just as Willowbud grew her cock back, and shyly stepped between Julia’s legs.
“What are you waiting for?” Julia moaned at her, spreading her legs to reveal her dripping pussy, and the defilement that was occurring beneath it.
“You to say ‘please.’” Willowbud giggled, biting her thumb and shifting from hip to hip. Julia predictably grabbed Willowbud by the ass, and forced the Earth Former’s hips forward. Willowbud fought through a fit of giggles as she submitted to her role, each laugh interrupted by a lascivious moan. Soon she was pressing to Julia, thrusting with long, sensual passes, drinking of her breasts and undulating to the impassioned cadence of the surrounded redhead. It contrasted the brutal drives Brandon delivered, creating a dichotomy of fluid lust from the front, and vicious sodomy from behind. Julia melted in it, reacted beautifully as she always did, locking her legs around Willowbud to engage in the amorous winds of their lust as she grinded her ass with uncouth perversion into Brandon’s crotch. When she came, Julia sung the duet of her orgasms, screaming for Brandon and moaning breathily for Willowbud. They pulled out of her, leaving her vacant and swollen, and then all three of them looked at me.
They all took their turns in each of my holes, moving from my pussy, to my ass, then to my mouth. They showed me the different sides of their sexuality. Brandon and Julia turned me into a bridge, the goal of their thrusts seeming to be to force me screaming into the ceiling. Then Willowbud and Julia pressed me between them on the couch, the Earth Former holding her cock statically in my ass as I made love to my woman, sharing my lips and the flavors we’d collected between us, smiling lazily between half-lidded eyes drooping in pleasure. Then my nose was pressing into the soft folds of Willowbud’s pussy, and I was inhaling her scent as I licked her insides, my lips crying into her depths as Brandon and Julia traded off behind me. The pushed my bent-over body forward, smooshing my muzzle into the moist folds of her, causing me to deform the pink petals with my sloppy devouring, my eyes staring their hunger. Then Willowbud did the same to me, watching me from her grey and green lenses as she did things with her mouth no other had done before. My fingertips brushed my astonished lips, and trailed splendidly down my form to rest on the horned head of the Earth Former, and pull her deeper. She studied my reactions, found my secrets, and turned me into a puddle of languor. I shifted mindlessly between pressing bodies, tasted thoughtlessly of mouths and man, licked playfully upon lips of the face and lips of the sex. They finished inside me, pouring into my stretched ass, leaking into my defiled sanctity, and dribbling from my marred, smiling lips. We ended up in a pile on the middle of the floor, the afternoon sun shining an azure tint through Brandon’s canopy. We didn’t speak, but enjoyed the warmth of each other, the fluids drying upon our forms, between our legs. I think we all knew we were standing at the precipice. We just didn’t know what. I looked in Willowbud’s greying eyes, and she stared back with only a hint of malice. Just a touch, but it was overwhelmed with a friendliness and a confusion that I hadn’t seen before. In that hot and humid room, with the sounds of breath exhaling and the whispers of love, I made the decision to spare her life. I just hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
Interlude Three: The Window
I stared at myself in the reflection of a mirror. It was the only thing in this hole of Guilt’s memory, a large pane of glass floating in a gilded frame above the stone floor, lit by the beam of chromatic light that shined from above. I’d tried to go up one of the spires, but the moment I stepped through the door, I’d fallen just like I had before. Now I was trapped in Guilt again, but at least I was afforded a moment of vanity. Of course, someone else’s face suddenly showed in the reflection of the mirror, and I was squawking in fright, trying not to piss myself. It was Joy again, this time older than she’d been in the last memory. She looked to be twenty-something, but she didn’t look too joyful. She stared distantly through the glass, her brow knitted in confusion, her mouth parted. Her blue sclera and irises dimly reflected my face, then she faded from view. This wasn’t a mirror, it was a window, but to what?
“Where do they go?” A man’s voice said from behind me. I turned to see a horned man sitting with his tail between his legs. Even though his face was twisted in grief, he was incredibly handsome. Satan, Corruption’s father. “Why do they go?”
I turned around, but there was no one there. Like before, I was Corruption in this memory, or this nightmare, it was hard to tell. Satan dragged himself to his feet, and walked beside me. His face looked to have been carved by a master sculptor, his body was sinuous and corded with muscle, his hair was pure white, and his green eyes had reptilian slits for pupils that narrowed when he looked out the window. Judging by the way he put his arm around me, Corruption’s relationship with her father was more than paternal. I wondered just how much incest had occurred between the divine triplets, the Holy Mother, and Satan. Find out about the Life Giver. Angela’s request echoed in my mind. One of these holes probably had a memory of Corruption’s brother. Heck, one of them probably had a memory of the fabled Holy Mother herself, but I didn’t have time to jump down every hole to find out. The answer to why Corruption existed would be in Chaos’s center, and Angela would weaponize that information to deliver the knockout blow to Corruption. I just needed to figure out how to get up the spire.
“What have we done?” Satan whispered, pulling me from my contemplation. I turned to see what he was looking at, and gasped. They were endless. Face after face streamed past the window, expressions of bewilderment showing back at me. They seemed to float in the void, then they disappeared back into it. Satan dropped his head against the window, and closed his eyes. “We can fix this.” He said, his breath fogging the glass, “We can forget this.” He said, and it sounded like a plea.
“What?” I asked, knowing it was futile, “What can you fix? What happened? Who are these people?”
“Where do they go?” Satan just lamented, staring with existential horror at the scene out the window, “Do they know, or are they lost?” Satan looked right at me, “What’s waiting for her on the other side?” Then Satan dropped to the ground, blood spurting from a gash in his neck, his eyes wide and frantic. He thrashed, clutching at his wound, kicking at the ground desperately as though trying to get away, but the mortal wound had already been dealt. A knife clattered to the stone beside me, and I looked at my hands to see there was blood on them. Satan’s thrashing grew weak, and his face relaxed into surrendered acceptance. He stared sightlessly at the beam of light that circled his splayed form, then he stared at nothing at all. I knelt before him, trying to decipher the meaning behind it all. What had Corruption said in the spaces between his words? What had prompted her to kill her father? I looked at the window, frowning as the faces swam past the glass. Satan’s face appeared, that bewildered expression strewn across his portrait. He looked at me, then he faded away to give space for another face.
“What’s waiting for her on the other side?” I echoed Satan’s words softly. Joy had died, and I’d seen her face in the window. Satan had died, and I saw his face just after. Was this a window to death? Or was this just the addled memory of an insane thought, twisted into something that never happened? Corruption at least thought it happened, and the memory burned a hole into her realm. But Corruption hadn’t yet been ‘Corruption’ when this memory occurred, had she? Corruption is the filter between Chaos and Guilt. That why there’s no center in Corruption’s realm; she’s a construct of Chaos meant to stop her evolution. She’s an artificial Sentient, which is why her realm is crumbling. I relayed the theory back to my garden, wondering what good it would do for Angela, Tera, Justina, and apparently, now Aunt Lucilla. I would’ve preferred that Aunt Lucilla not have been involved. One way or the other, Aunt Lucilla always got what she wanted, and I doubted she was hinging everything on what I could find here.
I stepped beneath the beam of light, and closed my eyes. I let the guilt wash over me again. I punished myself for every misstep, and magnified every mistake until it became the whole of my being, then I stood on Corruption’s level, an open iron door exposing the dead landscape of shattered plateaus and foothills leading to spires. There was a new canyon in Corruption’s realm, running jaggedly though the plateau I had walked upon to get here. I looked up at the dot of white high above me. If feeling Guilt gets me out of Guilt’s realm, than feeling Corruption must get me out of Corruption’s realm, but how do I feel Corruption?
“Well, that’s simple, Diamond.” I said to myself, “If Corruption really is just the filter between Chaos and Guilt, then what is her purpose? To take away the Guilt. And how does Corruption do that? By perverting it.”
I closed my eyes. Passion was an old cunt who got what was coming to her. Mom should have tortured her for longer before she killed her. Greed was an opulent slut who didn’t deserve to exist. I should’ve dragged her to Hatred by her cunt hairs. I hope Mom swallows Corruption whole. I hope she burns this shit pile of a world to a crisp. I hope she breaks Aunt Lucilla into the twisted wretch she truly is. I’ll stand with my mother, watching the horizons smolder under the ash-falling sky, and I’ll giggle. Then I’ll get on my knees and spread myself for her, and we can revel on the corpse of earth.
I felt something cold and metal in my hand. I took a moment to let the horrid thoughts wash from me, then I opened my eyes, and saw that I was in front of an iron door. I looked down, and saw that I was standing on nothing. A great height of tunneled stone stretched below me into blackness, and my feet rested upon the air above it. I fought the vertigo, took a deep breath, and opened the door. I immediately shielded my eyes from the sudden blinding light. I took no steps, yet my soles felt damp soil that squished between my toes. I waited until my eyes adjusted, then I lowered my forearm to reveal the realm of Chaos. My heart jumped into my throat, my breath caught. I turned around and lunged for the door, but it was shut and locked, as immovable as a boulder.
“Angela! Arbitrus!” I screamed, but it was futile. No one could hear me. I wasn’t even transmitting back to my realm anymore. But of course, I wasn’t. I turned to my left, and saw the thought I’d just had form against the wall. I gulped, and turned back around. Immense, black clouds were illuminated by streaks of golden light, the rays bursting through the puffy reaches of storms, and casting over distant sheets of rain. The red, orange and yellow sky painted a dramatic ceiling over the endless landscape. Mountains jutted defiantly from the earth, fjords cut violently through it, and rolling hills contoured it between the extremes. Great rivers traversed the gashes in the landscape, before snaking to more gentler terrains, and emptying into bays. An ocean reflected the spectacular sky, its surface like glass, the storms to the east not touching it. A single marlin disturbed the medium, flew in an arc, then splashed silently back into the water. Great forests blanketed the hills, grasslands covered the plains, eagles glided through the fjords to catch fish in the streams below. Chaos wasn’t a Sentient. Chaos was tethered. Chaos was alive.
Part Four: At the Precipice
A lone high-elf stood on the balcony of the northwest tower, but even from a mile away, I could tell it was not the Bound One. It was the one called ‘Sara,’ the one who had ordered my violation, the one who the Bound One had promised I could kill when this was all over. Honor demanded that she die, but I had to admit, I would find satisfaction in her end. I debated whether I should accept her invitation. I knew why she was there. Sara was made of treachery, but she was pragmatic, and the Bound One was less so. I’d known the Bound One to be hard when hardness was necessary, but I also knew she’d only act as such after all perceived easier routes had been exhausted. The fact that Sara was standing alone on the balcony fifteen minutes after the Bound One was supposed to arrive told me that the Bound One thought she’d found an easier route, and Sara had corrected her. I sighed, unfurled my wings, and launched myself from the steeple I’d been stooped upon. It was time to rescue the Bound One, and have my vengeance. Justice. I corrected myself.
I’d painted silver streaks in my span, and dawned one of the ridiculous robes Julia made her Breytans wear. The cowl covered my hair and face well enough, and from a distance, any exposed skin wouldn’t be easily discerned from the beige complexion of the oriental samurai. Still, I was wary of every Breytan that glanced up at me, and I cringed to think what I’d have to do if they confronted me. Luckily, none did.
“Freydis?” Sara asked. I drew back my hood, and scowled at the little elf. She didn’t even flinch, which was a testament to her bravery, I supposed. It was better to kill brave warriors than cowards.
“Where is the Bound One, bitch?” I asked her.
“Is that my name now?” Sara smiled, “I like it.”
“Speak quickly.” I replied, drawing my axe.
Sara stepped right into my killing range, and stopped, “I’ve got her tied up and gagged in a closet.”
“Traitor.” I hissed.
“To Princess Flitari, sure.” Sara shrugged, “But I don’t serve her. Her Holiness is convinced that she’s at the precipice of fixing Willowbud, but I’ve seen the damage her repairs have caused. Mercy can be seductive, and I was worried the princess had been ensnared by that seduction. Have you?”
I stared at her silently, wondering if I should decapitate her now, or later. “Have all the arrangements been made?” I asked instead.
“The Breytans won’t be a problem, but the princess couldn’t convince Her Holiness not to attend. She will be there.”
“Will Her Holiness inquire after the Bound One’s whereabouts?”
“Her Holiness asked the princess not to come with, much to the princess’s objection. I’ve taken the role of intermediary between quarrelling lovers, and have informed Her Holiness that the princess has begrudgingly decided to honor her request.”
“So, everything is set in place?” I asked. Sara nodded. I noticed the subtle way in which her arms dangled straight from her body, as though something rigid were hidden in her sleeves. She noticed that I noticed, and her smile grew a little wider. I snorted, and turned around.
“When this is done, I will track you down, and I will kill you.” I said as I stepped to the balcony’s edge.
“I look forward to it, High Guard.” Sara chuckled.
“I am no High Guard.” I took a deep breath, “The name ‘Freydis Skyborne’ will be a curse on every Ionan tongue until it is forgotten. When the deed is done, the Bound One will talk, and we will both be at the mercy of the Heat Bringer. I just hope I get to you before she does.”
“She’s just… gone.” I muttered.
“What do you mean?!” Justina insisted for a third time.
“Her memories just stopped coming.” I frowned, “The moment she went through Chaos’s door, she stopped sending them back.”
“Fuck.” Tera sighed, pulling me out of her pussy.
“What do we do?” Justina said, her voice high with panic. She’d been getting more frantic with every minute we neared out deadline.
“We work with what we have.” Tera scowled, and pulled a gemstone out of her ear, “Fucking communicator must be broken. I’ll need to tell Lucilla about this.”
“Don’t!” Justina yelled, “Can’t you see she doesn’t trust us? If we tell her we lost Diamond, she’s going to tell Julia!”
“Let’s hold off on that, Tera.” I said, “We’ll tell Lucilla afterward. This doesn’t change anything. Diamond is safe in Chaos’s realm, and-”
“Safe?!” Justina hissed, “Angela, we don’t know what Diamond found on the other side!”
“Only Julia can kill Diamond as she is.” Tera said, “So we at least know Diamond’s alive.” Tera looked at me, “From what Lucilla told me, Corruption is barely hanging on to Willowbud as it is. We need to strike now before Corruption has a chance to strengthen the meld.”
“We still don’t have enough information!” Justina looked near to losing her mind, “We can’t just barge head-first into an operation blindly, with no idea what we’re actually doing! We could make things worse! We could… Mom, what are you- no, stop! Stop! Stop… stop… don’t stop… keep going… yessssss…” And Justina undulated happily against her mother, her violet eyes closing, her teeth biting her smiling, purple lips. Her slender body twisted along her abdomen, her gyrating hips dancing to the music her mother’s fingers played inside of her. She dropped her head on Tera’s shoulder when Tera pushed her tail up her daughter’s ass, and she moaned as her thighs quivered above her bent knees, which dug into the bedding with every shift of weight. Tera sweetly kissed her daughter’s cheek, her violet eyes brimming with affection, then they hardened when she looked at me. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah.” I nodded.
“Let’s go over it step-by-step.” Tera said, easing Justina to a bent over position.
“I go with Julia and Lucilla to The Pit fight.” I said, reciting everything that Justina, Tera, Lucilla and I had planned, “Lucilla will find a reason to get Julia out of the booth. That’s when I kiss Willowbud. Corruption may or may not try to corrupt me, it doesn’t matter. I tell her about Joy and Satan. Hopefully, that’s enough guilt to make her change, if only temporarily.”
“We only need a moment. Once she’s Guilt, the meld breaks. I don’t give a fuck if she changes back afterward, she just needs to be out of Willowbud.”
“What about that window?” I asked.
“I think Justina’s right; it’s an abstraction. Her memories aren’t pure memories, more like the guilt-ridden perceptions of them. They’re like if you tried to visualize the emotions you felt when you remembered something.” Tera replied, her fingers causing Justina to collapse into a twitching sprawl on the bedding.
“So many fucking variables.” I frowned, “Justina’s right about that too. We don’t even know what’s important. We still don’t have the name of her Life Giver, and that was supposed to be our ace in the hole.”
“Stick with the plan.” Tera replied, “Maybe we don’t need her to remember the Life Giver. Maybe we have enough.” Tera frowned, “No, there’s no ‘maybe’ about it; we’ve got enough, Angela. It’s going to work.” Tera forced a smile on her face, “I can feel it! You got this, Angela!”
“You’re absolutely inspiring.” I snorted.
“I’m sorry.” Tera sighed, “I’ve been a solo act my whole life. If you want a rousing pre-battle speech, maybe you should ask Astrid.”
“Speaking of which…” I checked my wristwatch, “…you better get going.”
“I almost forgot.” Tera replied, and withdrew from her satisfied daughter. She nonchalantly sucked her fingers, then began pulling her boots on like she was about to go out for a night on the town, instead of fight for her life before the entire city.
“Aren’t you scared?” I asked.
“Terrified,” Tera smiled, walking to the bench, and collecting her knife belt, “but fear is just the first obstacle you must hurdle toward success. Once you leap it, the path to the finish line becomes much clearer.” Tera clipped her belt, then walked over to Justina, and kissed her intoxicated daughter on the lips.
“Good luck, Mommy.” Justina whispered, her lust-drunk eyes staring their adoration. Tera pet her daughter’s hair, smiled fondly, then shared her lips with me, and left. I cuddled with Justina on the bed, trying to find a way to hurdle my own fear. I didn’t know why it was so strong. I was risking absolutely nothing in this operation. Maybe that was it. Julia had taken her soul to the brink, Tera had risked her life every night on The Pit sands, Diamond had risked her spirit in the astral plane, Lucilla had sacrificed her body, Justina had sacrificed her mind, and Astrid had sacrificed her honor. I’d sacrificed nothing, yet if I failed, everyone else’s sacrifices would be in vain. Corruption would never be this weak again. I took a shuddering inhale of Justina’s hair, trying to find courage in her touch, but Justina didn’t offer that kind of comfort. She was a great friend, but she wasn’t who I needed. Of course, I couldn’t have who I needed. Not yet.
A booming knock on the door sent me jolting upright, but Justina just giggled on the bed. The familiar rap-rap-rap, pound, rap-rap-rap of Lucilla’s secret knock sounded, and I breathed a sigh of relief, and opened the door for her. My first reaction was that Lucilla looked slightly different. My second reaction, was that there were ten Lucillas. Then I realized it was just Sara and nine of her elves, and the hair started standing up on my arms. Why was she here without Lucilla, and why had she brought friends? Tera had left a blade by the door, and my hand crept slowly to it. I had Diamond’s combat skills, but I didn’t know if I had her killer instinct. I prayed that I wouldn’t need to find out.
“Hi Angela.” Sara said with a smirk.
“Lucilla’s got a big mouth.” I frowned.
“And an even deeper throat, but I guess you know that, don’t you?” Sara grinned.
“I’ve never actually had the pleasure,” I said, my fingers grasping the handle of the sword, “but I’d love to know how deep you run.”
“We can stay here all night, and I’ll show you.” Sara’s grin broadened. “Or you can pull out that sword, and we can make it a gangbang right now.”
“I’d rather do each of you one at a time, right here in this doorway.” I replied, testing the weapon’s weight.
“You don’t have the stamina for that.” Sara’s bangs dropped below her deepening brow, and she put her hand on her hilt, “Or the balls.”
“I’m not the one who’s pulling out like its prom night.” I dragged the sword into view, and got into a stance, “Why is Lucilla bailing?”
“The princess isn’t satisfied with your progress; she’s decided to go a different route. Now, put the sword down, and I won’t have to poke holes in you.”
“Julia wouldn’t be too happy if you did that.”
“Her Holiness’s safety is my only concern. Besides, Brandon can fix any mess I make.”
“He won’t fix you, I’ll make sure of that.” I hissed, and all ten elves drew their swords. They didn’t advance, but stayed in defensive stances outside of the door. I doubted Lucilla wanted me hurt, but it was clear she didn’t want me to leave. I understood; I’d wanted to kill Willowbud for a month, but why was Lucilla bailing at the last second, when she herself told us that Willowbud was getting better? She’s been playing both angles until she could no longer, then she made a choice. Can you blame her for not taking the risk? No, but it hurts that she has such little faith in me after I’d proven myself yesterday. I looked to the sky, sighed, and dropped my sword.
“Let me have a chance, Sara. Please.”
“Sorry, Angela,” Sara said, stepping forward as I stepped backward into the house, “but I don’t take any chances.” If Sara had chanced a look upward, she would’ve seen Bianca plummeting toward her like a golden missile, but Sara didn’t see Bianca until the Valkyrie crashed into the middle of Sara’s squad, the wind of her wings sending all ten of them sprawling. Bianca drew her sword as I picked up mine, and when the elves got to their feet, I had my blade against Sara’s throat.
“Stop!” I barked before Bianca turned the lot of them into meat. I pressed myself against Sara, feeling the sashes and belts she had beneath her cloak. And I thought Tera had a ridiculous number of knives. This woman was a walking cutlery set. “Keep your hands in front of you Sara, or I’ll show you your voice box.” I hissed.
“Did you practice that line in the mirror?” Sara hissed back.
“I practice all my lines in the mirror, that’s why they’re so fucking good.” I growled.
“Your Eminence, what is going on?” Bianca asked, eyeing the elves surrounding her.
“Me and Sara just had a little disagreement, but we’ve worked it out, haven’t we Sara?”
“No.” Sara replied flatly.
“Yes, we have.” I whispered against her pointed ear, “I’m going to try my way, and if it doesn’t work, then we’re going to try Lucilla’s way.”
“I don’t fucking believe you.” Sara hissed back.
“We could always try Death Kiss’s way: no witnesses, only carcasses.” I licked Sara’s ear, “Look at Bianca. Do you honestly think ten of you have a chance against her? If I wanted you dead, I wouldn’t bother lying to you first. All I want is my brother to be safe. If I can’t help Willowbud, then she can’t be helped, you get me?” Sara slowly nodded. “Now, I’m going to let you go, and you’re going to babysit Justina for me, and make sure she doesn’t blow this whole thing up. Can you do that?” Again, Sara nodded. “Be nice to her Sara; she might be losing a cousin tonight.” And I pulled my sword away from Sara’s throat. She stepped a safe distance from me, then nodded to her troops. They sheathed their swords, and followed their captain into Tera’s safehouse.
“‘A little disagreement?’” Bianca looked down at me, “I would hate to see how you deal with normal disagreements, Your Eminence.”
“Why are you here?” I asked Bianca.
“His Holiness requested your presence.” Bianca said offering me her hand, “He said you were supposed to meet with him during the match, but since you’ve changed your plans, he’d like to meet with you now.”
“Ah, shit.” I hissed. That’s right; as Diamond, I was supposed to be looking for Angela. Brandon had been waiting for two days, and I hadn’t even given him a plausible lie. Mostly because I was avoiding him. I had the unfortunate compulsion to jump on his crotch every time I saw him. “Alright,” I sighed, “let’s get this over with.” I managed to concoct a half-decent lie as Bianca flew me to the arboretum. In the distance, the lights of The Pit shined a blazing circle at the center of Drastin.
I didn’t know how Sara knew I’d changed my mind. I sure as shit hadn’t told her; I wasn’t that stupid. Had she just gleaned it somehow, or was she always planning on locking me in a closet just in case? When it came to bondage, the elves didn’t fuck around. I meant real bondage, not the fun kind. The ropes that bound me wrapped thirty times around my body from ankle to shoulder, and the gag that silenced me was held in place by a belt cinched tight enough to make my jaw ache. I flopped like a fish on the ground, screaming muffled wrath that no one would ever hear. If I hadn’t gotten in that argument with Julia, none of this would have happened. I didn’t know why she didn’t want me to come with her to the fight, but it didn’t really matter now, did it? Freydis was going to kill Willowbud, and I wasn’t there to stop it. All of Julia’s sacrifices would go to waste because I didn’t have faith in her. I only believed her when I saw Willowbud change with my own two eyes, but it was too late. Too late. Were there a sadder couple of words than ‘too late?’ I thrashed and screamed, writhed and heaved on the floor, trying to fight ‘too late’ trying to deny it, but I couldn’t. ‘Too late’ was now. I screeched, tears running down my cheeks, and I drove my forehead into the floor in frustration. Then I screeched it pain. Something sharp had imbedded itself into my brow. It tinkled against the metal floor like a tiny bell, then glinted in the crack of light that beamed from the closed door. My lost astral communicator. I yelped in glee, my heart racing high in my chest. Fuck ‘too late.’ It was never too late.
I’d put in cosmetic astral melds to make my eyes black. I was going out in public, and I had an image to protect. Oddly, the desire to protect that image wasn’t very strong anymore. I guessed it wasn’t that odd. Corruption was breaking away for some reason. I hadn’t done anything, but it was happening nonetheless. It terrified me, but I didn’t let that terror show. I had an image to protect.
“Good Mother, you are beautiful, Astrid.” Sister Julia proclaimed, looking over the winged-warrior. I’d gotten her special armor for tonight’s occasion. It was white leather, and it molded perfectly to her every curve, exposed her at the midriff and thighs, and highlighted her assets with gilded plates. A circlet shined from her stoic brow, and golden earrings dangled from her ears.
“Yes,” I said quietly, inspecting the woman, “you are.”
“Thank you, Mistress.” Astrid replied, staring fixedly ahead, not seeming to see the reflection staring back. We were in the preparation room, and the rumble of the stands above us was growing louder with each passing minute. It wouldn’t be long until it was that familiar roar, but it didn’t excite me like it should have. All of Drastin would see my champion crowned today, yet I didn’t really care.
“The way these straps hug your ass,” Sister Julia said covetously as she squeezed Astrid’s exposed cheeks, “Good Mother, Astrid, it makes me want to push my face in it.” Something about the way Sister Julia treated Astrid bothered me. Like Astrid was a possession that could be turned on at her leisure. Of course, Astrid was visibly aroused by Sister Julia’s touch, but that wasn’t the point. Astrid was a champion, a celebrity, a warrior of the highest renowned; she deserved respect. Holy shit, what is wrong with me?
“Sister Julia, could you leave us?” I asked her, “I need a minute alone with my champion.”
“I can leave…” Sister Julia pouted her lips, “…if you give me a taste first.”
“Never again, Sister.” I said, but not with the playfulness I had before. I meant it, but Sister Julia seemed to think we were still playing the game. Anger flashed across her face, then she reassembled her smile.
“I’ll go see if Death Kiss needs any… assistance.” Sister Julia giggled with a wink, then left, her steps exaggerated in their confidence. Holy shit, what is wrong with her? But I knew the answers to both questions.
“Do you like it?” I asked Astrid.
“Yes, Mistress.” Astrid said softly. I walked around her, reaching compulsively to squeeze her leather-strapped ass, then pulling my hand away.
“Are you ready?” I asked. I was sure I should be saying inspiring words, but I couldn’t find them.
“Yes, Mistress.” Astrid said again. The rumble of The Pit became a steady growl, and I could see the light beginning to burn behind Astrid’s eyes.
“Does it excite you?” I asked her.
“More.” Astrid breathed, “Words don’t describe what I’m feeling, Mistress.” Astrid’s knuckles cracked into fists, “It’s like life, elevated. It’s better than the greatest ecstasy, it’s more exhilarating than flying through a hurricane, it’s” Astrid looked down at me, her eyes shining, “Thank you, Mistress. Thank you for this moment.”
Why would you ever thank me, Astrid Skyborne? I’ve destroyed you. “You’re welcome.” I mumbled. Astrid looked inquisitively at me, and I had to forcibly keep myself from cringing away. I knew Corruption was probably writhing inside me, and I knew if I didn’t have my melds in, Astrid would’ve seen the change. I didn’t know why I didn’t just show her. Because Willowbud is a coward, and you are becoming Willowbud. “I’ll uh… I’ll be rooting for you.” I said, and began to shuffle for the door.
“Is that how you will leave me, Mistress?” Astrid called. I turned on my heel, and saw her hopeful smile, and it almost killed me. Don’t give me that look. I don’t deserve it. She strutted over me, as Astrid only walked with a strut now, and she knelt until she was beneath me. She reached for my pants, “Just for good luck,” she whispered, licking her lips. I couldn’t let her do it. I took her face in my hands, and I kissed her. I poured my regret, my self-hatred, and my guilt into her mouth, then I stormed out of the room, leaving her wide-eyed and touching her lips.
Bianca’s neckline was lower than it had been this morning, I noticed, and she noticed that I noticed, but she didn’t abruptly turn around and walk stiffly away. No, she just blushed a little, and smiled with a set of sparkling whites that seemed to shine from her. Well, that was weird. Speaking of weird, here was Diamond, the limitless-libido hermaphrodite who seemed always on the verge of jumping on my crotch. Bianca closed my office door behind her, leaving me alone with the Heat Bringer’s daughter.
“I take it you didn’t find Angela?” I asked.
“She’s in the astral plane.” Diamond shrugged, not looking at me.
“So… you did find her?”
“She’s in her realm. She has a realm, you know. It’s pretty sweet. It’s got rivers and houses and… shit.” Diamond mumbled.
“I don’t really know what a ‘realm’ is, Diamond.” I said, gesturing for her to sit down. I’d made sure to keep a desk between us, just in case Diamond’s lascivious nature got the better of her.
“You know that the astral plane is where thoughts are made real, right?” Diamond asked. I nodded, “Well, things tied to the astral plane, like Sentients, Tethered Ones, and Untethered Ones have realms in the astral plane. They sort of… make homes of a single thought. Passion, Wrath, Sorrow, Corruption; get it?”
“And you’re untethered.” I said. Diamond nodded. “So, Diamond, if you don’t mind me asking, what the fuck have you been doing in Corruption’s realm?” Diamond straightened like she’d just had a rod shoved up her ass.
“How did you?” Diamond squinted at me, “Have you been talking to Corruption, Brandon?”
“You know, the only way to talk to her is if part of you is inside Willowbud.” Diamond’s eyes narrowed even more, “Did you enjoy your conversation with her? Was she just a wonderful… conversationalist?”
“Holy shit, was that jealousy?” I laughed, “Diamond, you have got the wrong idea. You and me,” I gestured to her, then me, “it ain’t gonna happen. Mama bear does not fuck around, and I’ve got enough psychotic bitches to deal with.”
“Funny how all the women around you seem to be psychos, huh?” Diamond sneered, “But I guess it’s just your bad luck; there’s certainly not a common denominator.”
“I’ve noticed you’re avoiding the question.” I said, leaning back in my chair, and folding my hands behind my head, “What are you doing in Corruption’s realm?”
“Trying to break up her and Willowbud, of course.” Diamond kept her sneer, “But I’m sure you’ll make an excellent rebound meld for the most ancient one, you slut.”
“What did I ever do to you?” I snapped at her, “One second you want to fuck me, the next you’re trying to roast me? Goddamn, you’re batshit!”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Diamond purred, licking her red lips.
“OK, you know what?” I threw up my hands, “I’m sorry I asked. You, Corruption, Willowbud and Julia can all hatefuck each other until the world ends. I just want to know about my sister.” I leveled my gaze on Diamond like I was looking through her, and her sneer faded.
“She’s fine.” Diamond answered, her voice soft, “She’s waiting for things to settle down here before she sees you again.”
“And when will that be?”
“Soon.” Diamond shrugged. Goddamn this woman.
“Can you talk to her right now?” I asked, “Like, can we communicate through you?”
“I can only visit the astral plane if a succubus enslaves me,” Diamond replied, “but she can see my memories, so if you have a message for her, just say it.”
I paused, and studied Diamond. Yeah, she was a rage-inducing lunatic, but for whatever reason, I trusted her. “Can she see the things you see?” I asked her. Diamond nodded. I stood up, and walked to the tree, “Come on,” I said, “I’ve got to show you something.”
When Mom’s lust had faded from me, I became dimly aware that there were more people in her safehouse than there were supposed to be. Then I became very aware of it. Ten high-elves were lounging around in various stages of undress. There was a bulletin board full of groundbreaking research, unique books older than empires, and theological studies that would turn a priest’s head inside-out, but the women seemed much more interested in Mom’s dildo collection than any of that. I didn’t blame them.
“Justina,” Sara asked me beside the bed, “how does this work?” She held up one of my own inventions. I noticed the woman had forsaken her cloak, and was naked save for crisscrossing sashes and belts that held enough knives to arm a battalion. Mom would approve.
“You press the button, and twist the knob.” I replied. They hadn’t even chained me up. I guessed they thought I wasn’t enough of a threat, and it hurt to realize that they were right. The worst I could have done was tag two or three of them before the others had blades inside me, and even if there were only two or three of them, I doubted I would’ve tried anyway. I was a coward, plain and simple. I had none of my mother’s courage or skill to fight my way out of a situation, nor did I have her cunning and silver tongue to talk my way out of it. I was the situation’s bitch. Sara pressed the button and twisted the knob, and a double-ended contraption sprang outward, and began revving to rotate the penetrating and lubed lengths. Sara looked like I just showed her the cure for cancer (and I had to admit a certain amount of pride) and she squatted to immediately test the device.
“So, Lucilla betrayed us.” I muttered.
“Don’t feel too bad.” Sara gasped as she violated herself, “It’s a soft betrayal at worst. We did most of the work. God this thing is great! Have you patented this yet?”
“It’s pending.” I grumbled. Some of the women had gotten into my personal collection, which I wasn’t too happy about. They fucked each other with my strap-ons, filled themselves with my plugs, and doused themselves with my lube. I’d have to wash every single one of those insertions in boiling water just to clean the bitch off them. Who was I kidding? I was going to suck them spotless.
“Where’s Mom and Diamond?” I asked.
“You mean ‘Mom and Angela?’” Sara offered a shit-eating grinned. I sighed and nodded. I was not amused. “Tera’s getting ready to fight in The Pit, I’m sure, and Angela’s off trying to save Willowbud.” Sara answered.
“‘Trying’ is the operative word here.” Sara chuckled breathily, “Once she’s out of Ofanian eyeshot, we’re bagging her, and dragging her back here.”
“Why?” I was even more insulted that Sara thought me so unthreatening she could reveal her treacherous plans.
“That’s on a need-to-know basis, Your Eminence.” Sara groaned, “I hope you understand.”
I nodded, and rolled over on the bed. Nothing I could do. Angela would at least fight, but I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. You fucking pussy. Everyone else is risking something, and you’re just lying down and taking it. I wanted to just pull a pillow over my head, and pretend it wasn’t happening. So, I did, and when I did, an astral gemstone rolled right onto my chin. My heart suddenly rose. If Mom had the other one, then… no, there was the other one too. Shit. But, why was it signaling? Who was… Lucilla! That fucking bitch! Maybe I’d roll over and take it, but I wouldn’t do it without complaint! I. WOULD. COMPLAIN! I actually smiled as I put the gemstone in my ear.
“You listen here, you worthless sack of shit! I’ll have you know that-”
“Shut the fuck up and put Tera on the line!”
“Yes ma’am.” I replied immediately, and actually looked for my Mom, before I remembered the situation. If I had a knife, I would’ve slit my wrists in pure self-disappointment. I managed to numbly replied to Lucilla with, “Mom’s not here, but Sara is. Do you want to talk to her?”
“Shit.” Lucilla sighed. There was a long pause in which I thought I heard the sound of weeping, before Lucilla came back with, “Is Tera OK?”
“If by ‘OK’ you mean ‘fighting in a gladiatorial match.’”
“But Sara doesn’t have her?”
“You would know.”
“I wouldn’t, actually, but I can see why you’d think that.” Now I could clearly hear the weeping, “I’m sorry, Justina. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I just wanted to… it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. Too late. Too, fucking, late. I let fear control me, and now I’m bound and gagged like a fucking bdsm piñata. I should’ve been brave like you.”
The irony wasn’t lost on me, and neither was the implication. “Lucilla, what’s happening?” And Lucilla tearfully ran through everything she’d planned. When she was done, I laid in silence, trying to process it.
“I’m sorry, Justina. I’m so fucking sorry.”
“You just did what you thought was best.” I didn’t know why I was consoling her; this was all her fault.
“I guess we just have to hope Angela makes it.”
“No!” I said so firmly I surprised myself, “No more waiting for someone else to rescue me! I will not be the victim again! I am sick of being someone’s coddled daughter, or someone’s slave, or someone’s fucking captive!”
“That’s wonderfully cathartic, but -and I mean this in the best way possible- what the fuck are you going to do about it?”
I looked at the elves, all of them laughing and moaning, thrusting and spreading, and I grinned. “I am seduction incarnate. I am carnality and sensuality, sin and debauchery. I am sex!”
“Go get ‘em, tiger.” Lucilla sighed. She didn’t sound convinced, but I’d show her. I’d show everyone. I’d show me.
I’d been pretty nervous sitting alone in my prep room. Thankfully, Julia decided she wanted a little revenge for this morning, and now I felt absolutely splendid, if not a little sore between the legs. I recalled the things she did to me, and the things she made me do to her, and I couldn’t stop from smiling to myself.
“Something funny, Tera?” Astrid asked from across the dugout. I almost didn’t hear her over the roar of the crowd.
“Nope.” I grinned. Astrid frowned, and went back to work polishing her blade. As she moved stone across steel, I noticed a light tugging on her lips. “Something funny, Astrid?”
“Nope.” Astrid said, biting her lip. I stared at her until she could no longer pretend I wasn’t, then she looked up with a radiant smile across her face, “Oh, it’s nothing. Just… Mistress kissed me is all.”
“Mistress kisses you every day, everywhere.” I laughed confusedly.
“Yeah,” Astrid shrugged her shoulders, “but this one was… it was different. It was like how she kissed me before.” Astrid was almost blushing, “I always hoped that if I won the championship, Mistress would feel different about me. I’ve done everything she wanted, I’ve become everything she wanted, but nothing worked. I thought she’d never care about me, but maybe… just maybe…”
“Astrid, we’ve had this talk.” I frowned, putting my hand on her knee, “Mistress is incapable of loving you. It’s Willowbud who cared about you. You need to-”
“What the fuck do you know about love, Tera?!” Astrid snapped at me. I withdrew my hand. I was going to tell Astrid that Willowbud was still there, and that ‘she’d be back sooner than you think; don’t give up hope!’ but apparently, she didn’t want that pep-talk anymore, even if it was truer now than any other time I’d said it. If Astrid wanted to live in a fantasy, I wasn’t going to stop her. Not now, not when I needed her this desperately. The standing Pit champion was a human man who went by the moniker ‘Skull,’ which was just charming. It was the first time Astrid and I would outnumber an opponent, which made me even more warry.
“If Mistress can love Brandon, then Mistress can love me. I know what I felt.” Astrid reaffirmed, “Jade was right; I should embrace Corruption. She’s a part of Mistress now. She’s the guiding truth.”
You picked a great time to turn heel, Astrid. I thought with a sigh. I suspected Astrid was just trying to force herself into accepting reality. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that by the end of her match, Mistress might be dead and gone, and Willowbud would be there instead. And Willowbud will need you, Astrid. She’ll need you desperately to tell her that you forgive her. Though Astrid didn’t look like she needed forgiveness. Corruption and Mistress had done their work well. The Pit horn sounded, and I felt my pulse quicken. Astrid only grinned.
“Half an hour.” Astrid said in a hushed voice, the mania starting to play behind her usually-steely eyes. I didn’t know why I was so skittish. All I had to do was sit back, and let Astrid have her glory.
Brandon touched his hand to the shelf of his dresser, and the wooden piece dissolved into the bark. It left an empty space along the subtle curve of his Great Maple, and he traced a single finger down one of the paths the bark yielded. The entire tree seemed to groan, and then the bark opened. Blue light struck my corneas, leaving after images on my lenses. When I opened my eyes, I was staring at a mirror. That was my first reaction, anyway. My brain hadn’t yet made the realization that my face -my face, not Diamond’s- was staring sightlessly back at me. Then it hit me. Light blue eyes, pale skin, strawberry-blonde hair, a smattering of freckles across a pointed nose, and a pronounced chin. My face. I looked down at my body, at the generous swell of my chest, the soft flat of my abdomen, the widening of my hips, and the supple domes they bore. I was beautiful. Vines glowing with blue energy were attached to my neck, sternum, and abdominal vitals, the tendrils pulsing with the cadence of my heartbeat. My heartbeat. Mine.
“Not the freakshow in Gloria’s coffin, huh, Diamond?” Brandon laughed, “I don’t know why making people is so much harder than everything else. I can just will any animal into existence, but people take time. And of course, I can’t make a person, only a body, and just creating an empty husk takes the entire lifeforce of a Great Maple.”
“She’s beautiful.” I whispered. I was vaguely aware that I was crying.
“Well, I’ll admit to taking some artistic licenses.” Brandon chuckled, “I didn’t have Angela to model for me, so I needed to go by memory, and my memory made things… bigger.”
“She’s perfect.” My voice was air.
“You think so?” Brandon asked, happy with my review, “Angela’s projection is just her perception of herself, so if I fucked up, I’ll never hear the end of it, believe me.”
“You’re wrong.” I said, keeping my face obscured with my hair, “Angela’s projection is your perception of her.”
“What are you talking about?” Brandon laughed incredulously.
“She’s just an idea you kept alive.” My eyes were blurring, “She’s just a feeling you couldn’t lose.”
“Diamond, are you alright?”
“She’s your serenity.” I whispered.
Brandon was quiet for a moment. “Serenity.” He finally said in a low voice, “That’s a good word for her.”
“It’s a name.” I muttered. I wanted to turn around and tell him. Every fiber of my being urged me to, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. If I did, then it would all be lost. I would sacrifice everything just to feel his breath on my lips. I turned away from Brandon and myself, and I walked wordlessly away, my footsteps echoing in the cavernous trunk. A pair of calloused hands clasped my shoulders. I tried to keep walking. They held me fast. I tried to wiggle free. They turned me around. I tried not to look. They tilted my face upward. I opened my eyes. There he was, his astonished face peering into mine as if he was seeing me for the first time.
“I thought that what Gloria did was just a twisting of my perception. I was afraid that once I made you physical, I’d realize I could do everything but save you. But I see you now, clothed in another woman, and it’s just you, Angela.” Brandon’s breath was hot and panting on my lips, “It’s just you I want.”
“It’s not me.” I blubbered, “I’m Diamond. You’re wrong!”
“I don’t know Diamond at all,” Brandon’s hand brushed down my neck, “but I know you. I know every part of you.”
“Don’t be fucking stupid.” I hissed, molding my body to his, breathing his breath.
“We both know I can’t do that.” Brandon smiled against my lips, and I knew I couldn’t stop myself. The moment his breath caressed my tongue, I was drunk with him. The world could go to hell.
Interlude Four: Chaos
I journeyed along the outer wall of Chaos’s realm, trying to find its exit, hoping that if I did, it would be open for me. But Chaos’s realm seemed as endless as Corruption’s, and all the thresholds I found only bore the iron door that lead back to the monochromatic basement below, and they were all locked and sealed. Throughout my astral trek, every thought and feeling I experienced manifested itself physically. Usually as a plant with the theme of my emotion and memory, but sometimes as a stone representation, leaving a trail of cerebral breadcrumbs behind me. I walked through fields of golden wheat, through youthful forests of pine, and through swamps of peat and muck. The woodlands grew denser, the trees grew larger, and the world became darker with the thickening canopy. The creatures of Chaos’s realm watched me, staring blankly from black eyes at the intruder in their midst. Deer scuttled in the brush, squirrels chirped their warnings, and the low growls of more dangerous beasts sounded on the wind, prickling the hair on my neck.
“Oh, crap.” I sighed, and my exclamation formed physically beside me as a swirling stone turd. I glanced down the length of the rock wall, watching it disappear into the foliage. I’d stumbled upon a collection of houses in a clearing, their windows shuttered and their doors hanging from creaking hinges. There were a few towns in Chaos’s realm, but they were all vacant, save for spiders and rats. They looked like they’d never been lived in. Though the desolate townships were eerie when I walked through them, they were pleasant to look at from a distance. They were nestled into the hillsides, strewn delightfully along valleys, and perched atop ridges. They’d been placed with great care, and upon closer inspection, I noticed they’d been furnished. They were all overgrown with the wilderness now, and the reclamation of time had greened their facades and rotted their shingles. But why? Why was Chaos’s realm so… real? The only abstractions in Chaos’s realm were my own memories; I didn’t find one of her own. This place was her mind, but it felt like the physical realm. There were several times where I had to look up at the astral sun just to make sure I hadn’t somehow crossed over.
I plodded along the wall, whistling to keep my sanity, glancing nervously into the dark hovels of the old growth. The trees were mostly oaks now, thick and twisted with age, their branches reaching like arthritic limbs. A heavy fog filled the gaps between them, blinding the world beyond their trunks. The fog grew thicker as I walked. My footsteps stopped meeting grass and soil, but creaked along overlapping roots. Soon, the entire forest floor was nothing but the snarling lengths of oak roots, strangling each other for room. The fog grew thicker. Only the black lengths of trunks could be discerned between the hazy voids, and I had to keep my hand against the wall or I’d lose it. The fog grew thicker. I couldn’t see where my own feet stepped, nor the outlines of the oaks. I reached out to keep from walking into something, my hand waving in front of me like a blind old woman. I stopped. My ears perked. My footsteps echoed against the unseen trees, the sound muffled and damp in the humid air. It dissipated, then went silent.
“You’re not being followed.” I said to myself, “It’s just your mind messing with you.”
It’s just your mind messing with you. It’s just your mind messing with you. It’s just your mind messing with you. This was once a warmer place, of kind eyes on morning’s face. A thousand years they are as one, like conjoined twins of the sun. I remember the song of birds, and the joy in my holy mother’s words. And when they set with rattling breath, they’re torn apart by the hands of death. You killed her. You killed her. You killed her. What have we done? We can fix this. We can fix this. We can fix this. We can forget this. Where do they go? You are my daughter, my first of another, and you will be my joy in this world. My joy in this world. My joy in this world. My joy. Joy. Joy. Joy.
“Stop.” I whispered, quelling the madness of my mind. The silence came back to me, and I turned around, and there she was. Hatred.
“Why did you follow me?” I hissed, but she just smiled frozenly back. It was a statue of my consciousness, formed in my moment of mania, but why? I shook my head, took a deep breath, and walked blindly through the fog. My feet touched stone, and I looked down. Footprints. I followed them, and they turned away from the wall. I kept my arm outstretched until my fingers barely grazed the stone barrier, then I stopped. My fingertips caressed the cold metal of wrought iron. I looked to my left, and there was a gate. It was supported by wood beams overgrown with moss, and adorned with carvings of wooden orbs. I pushed it, and it creaked open. There was a stone path on the other side, and it led to another gate twenty yards away. Corruption’s gate. It was the same wrought iron, but it was supported by crumbling stone pillars baring horrific statues. Beyond that gate was yet another stone path, and it led to a third gate. This was amorphous and simple, like the impression of a gate. Guilt’s gate, not yet formed. I knew they would all be open to me. Corruption wanted me out. There was Arbitrus Gen, sixty yards away. He was standing in front of Sorrow’s gate, looking at his pocket watch and smoking his pipe. He couldn’t see me, but I knew I could reach him. I could traverse sixty yards in as many steps, I could skip through the infinity of three realms, and be safe in my own in no time at all, but there was a reason Corruption wanted me gone. There was something she didn’t want me to know. Or something she didn’t want to know. I came to the realization then. Nothing I discovered here would help Angela. Everything I saw, Corruption saw. I trudged through the memories she’d buried in Guilt, and I’d awoken each one for her to see and remember anew. Then I’d gone to the surface and seen the fresh scars on her monochromatic plain, and I’d wondered why. My revelations were her revelations, and each one I made weakened her. I turned away from the gate, and looked down at the blackened footsteps beneath my feet. They were bigger than mine, human, and they led into the fog. I took a deep breath, and walked into the white void.
Part Five: Over the Edge
I didn’t have the charisma to become the alpha female of a lesbian orgy. Mom certainly had that gift, but I was better suited for… well, the beta bitch role. I was just a pitiful succubus girl, scared and held prisoner in a house full of strangers, what was I to do? Oh, don’t worry Sara, I’m much too frightened to try anything rash; I just can’t help my urges. I’m so pathetic. You’re all my enemies, and yet, I can’t stop myself from looking at you with big, innocent, hopeful eyes. Will you… oh gosh, this is so embarrassing… will you be my mistresses? Yes, you can bind my hands and feet together; I want you to. Gag me? If you insist, but then you won’t be able to see how long my tongue is. What was that? Why yes, Mistress, I would love to eat your ass. Let me show you how far I can slide my tongue up it. Of course, Mistress, I would love to eat your pussy, how rude of me to neglect you. Obviously, I deserve to be triply-anally-penetrated by your strap-ons, Mistresses. Gosh that sure is a tight fit, do you think I can fit one more? Holy cow, that feels good, but if you start thrusting I’ll… oh no. Oh god, don’t stop! Stretch me until I fucking tear! I’m just your anal fuck-toy! Rape my shithole until I fucking die! Oh my fucking GOD! Oh, oh wow. Oh golly. Look what you did to me; I’ll never close again! Thank you, Mistresses. Did you say you want me to deep-throat them? Why, they were just in my ass, and that seems so unsanitary, but if you insist…. GLUG-GLUG-GLUG-GLUG. Thank you, Mistresses. Who would’ve known my ass tasted so delicious? You’re teaching me so many new things. Please, I know I’m underserving, but please fuck my little pussy. Do I think I can fit three of you? Do I have a choice? Of course not. That’s it… now you push in next to her… hold on, it’s so tight! Stop. you’re going to break me opeaaaaAAAAH! Fuck me like you hate me! Oh, god! Harder! Harder! HARDER! Turn me into a fucking gash! Is that all you got?! I said fuck me! Fuck me! FUUUUUCK MEEEEE! Oh, wow. Thank you, Mistresses. Yes, I am a pathetic little whore. Why yes, I love it when you spit on me. Pull my hair, scratch me, squeeze me, bite me. Everyone touch me at once, and… bingo.
“Master?” ten voices said in unison. They all looked up at me with unconditional love in their violet eyes, and I was very tempted to continue our escapades for just a few more minutes, but time was of the essence. My hands and feet were untied, and my holes were regretfully evacuated.
“Sweet Mother, you’ve got a mouth on you, little lady.” Lucilla said into my astral gemstone.
“Tell me where you are.”
“In Julia’s cathedral, but you don’t have time to search for me.” Lucilla insisted, “Get Angela, and get to The Pit!”
This was supposed to be my master stroke. I would disengage from Sister Julia, leave her floundering without a purpose, then I’d give her what she craved when she could no longer bear it, and let her destroy herself. Only, I didn’t want to do that to her anymore. In fact, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t even want to be there. The roar of the crowd was usually an exciting thing for me, but tonight, it was only intimidating. I stepped into my box, the canopy drawn upward so that all could see me, and I wanted to shrink beneath the table that held champagne for Astrid’s inevitable victory. The people feared me, and they exalted their fear like a call of worship, and it was a terrible sound. Sister Julia stepped beside me, naked and beaming, and the crowd only roared louder. They had accepted this morning’s apology, and now revered her with the same fear they felt for me, but with love as well. She’d played her cards right.
“Where’s Jade?” I asked Sister Julia. Instead of the proud Breytan warriors guarding the box, the elves stood watch around us.
“A sickness is running through the Breytan quarters.” Sister Julia yelled over the crowd, “I had them all quarantined until Brandon can help them.”
“They all got sick at once?” I yelled back. Sister Julia shrugged. Well, I wasn’t that fucking stupid. I formed a stone canopy over our box, leaving only a window at the front open from which to view the match.
“Is it supposed to rain?” Julia looked confusedly at me.
“Maybe.” I scanned the vantage points of The Pit, “But it’s always better to bring an umbrella and not need it.”
“I never knew you to be a cautious woman, Night Eyes.” Sister Julia smirked at me.
“Funny how people change.”
“It is.” Sister Julia’s emerald eyes filled my vision, her hands grasped my hips, her breath filled my nostrils, “Give it to me, Night Eyes. Just a taste.”
“No.” I said, pulling my face away from hers. Her hands shot to the sides of my head, pressed against my jaw, and yanked my face to hers. I breathed in as she did, not daring Corruption the chance. Sister Julia tried to coerce me with the needful press of her lips, and the playful caresses of her tongue, but I did not reciprocate. I felt her grow agitated. Then I felt her grow angry. Her palms heated up against the sides of my head, and both Willowbud and Corruption seized in terror. Then Sister Julia parted with a pleasant smile on her face, and she wiped the sheen of spit she’d left on my lower lip, and sucked it off her finger. She giggled a hum around her lecherous suggestion, then she strutted to the table, and poured herself a glass of champagne. I guessed she was feeling victorious already, but for what, I couldn’t imagine.
“Not that way, Master.” Sara whispered, “There are fifty of us over there.”
“Well, where can I go then?!” I hissed. Sara and I were plastered to the side of a house, peeking over the corner as a troop of blonde elves walked past us. The mall between the temples had at least a hundred of them, and the streets that wound around the once-brothel-district were patrolled by hundreds more. From the temple to The Pit, Sara’s elves were making sure no one interfered with the assassination. Angela wore the only cosmetic astral gemstones I owned, so Sara’s violet eyes shined obviously from her sockets.
“Her Holiness’s temple is unguarded.” Sara whispered, “Only the sedated Breytans are there to protect it.”
“That’s the opposite of where we need to go!”
“If you try to contact the Ofanians, my sisters will see you, and they will use lethal force.” Sara replied, “Diamond is the only one they will not harm. They will kill Brandon himself if he tries to interfere.”
“I didn’t sanction that, just so you know.” Lucilla said in my mind.
“And if they see Diamond leave Branon’s temple?” I asked Sara.
“Everyone has orders to detain Diamond when she is seen.”
“I did sanction that, though. I didn’t want Angela fucking everything up.”
“Will they try to take her if she has an Ofanian escort?” I asked Sara.
“But that’s suicide!”
“Our lives were never our own, Master. Not since we were children.” Sara replied simply.
“I’ve lost sympathy. Any word on Angela?” Lucilla asked.
“She still hasn’t come out of Brandon’s temple.”
“Maybe it’s better if she stays in there.”
“What about Corruption?”
“Corruption won’t matter if Freydis takes that shot. Right now, we need to save Willowbud’s life, not her soul. Ask Sara who knows about her little coup.”
“Me and my captains.” Sara inclined her head to the safehouse.
“That means everyone thinks I’m still in charge. You need to get over here and cut me loose.”
“Shit.” I whispered. A stone canopy had formed over Willowbud’s box. I had the shot, but I’d hesitated, and now I was paying for it. I put away my bow, leapt from the tower I’d been perched on, and slid down the shingled roof. I swore as my calf scraped against a roofing nail, then I grunted as I collided into a chimney. Traversing urban terrain was simple for a Valkyrie, but I couldn’t take flight and risk exposing myself. With the stone canopy covering the box, my options had become incredibly limited. I couldn’t just stand on the rooftops anymore. If I wanted a shot, I’d have to go into the stadium itself. I looked at the street below, where ticket scalpers shouted their prices, whores solicited their assets, and drug dealers stood in corners. I glanced up, and saw the top of the stadium. It was adorned with gargoyles of various breeds, one of which was of Astrid herself. From a distance, I would be hard to distinguish from the stone effigies. Getting up there would be problematic, however. The street was wide and heavily populated, and it would take quite a distraction to- a great horn blasted from within the stadium. The roar that swelled after it seemed to have a wind of its own, and it swept the citizenry below into a fervor. Betting windows slammed shut, people crowded and pressed to the entry ways, others stood on shoulders to peer through the small windows the stadium lent to the street. I leapt from the rooftop, unfurled my wings, and glided across. Not a single voice raised the alarm. I slowly climbed between the statues, moving like molasses, and I painstakingly drew my bow. The window of Willowbud’s box didn’t lend much. Sometimes a shoulder, sometimes a leg, sometimes a hand. I couldn’t tell whose limbs they were, but I could see something, and I knew I would have my chance. She would come to the window eventually. I would wait.
Astrid grinned beside me as the gate to our dugout opened. I’d never heard The Pit this loud before. The whole stadium trembled with the teaming masses, their unifying roar as physical as it was audible. Drums boomed, horns blared, and the stands sung their harmony of sixty-thousand voices, its pitch higher and more excited than it had ever been. Massive astral sunbeams illuminated the sands, creating an ethereal glow over the stadium that dulled the starry sky above. Astrid stepped reverently through the threshold, and the great beast exalted the appearance of its favorite daughter. She beamed at all of them, her face turned upward, a look of utter bliss painted across it. Her blue eyes glinted in the astral light, swimming with the emotions that swelled her chest. She reached back, tore her sword from its scabbard, and raised it high. The crowd was her orchestra, she was the conductor, and her blade was the baton that directed them. They rose in a tremendous crescendo, and her grin broadened.
My head was full of sound, each rising decibel seeming to beat against my skull. It was terrible, but she seemed to endure it well. Astrid waved the symbol of our homeland over her head like a cheap trophy, presenting it to the underserving wretches of this horrific metropolis. Willowbud had made her do it, obviously. Astrid would never willingly besmirch the pride of our people, nor step on the sands of this place, nor kill for the pleasure of others. Not willingly. Astrid held the great honor of accepting dishonor for a higher cause, but… why was Astrid smiling so? Why was she raising her arms to bask in the favor of these debased revelers? Was is it an act? But Valkyries cannot deceive, Valkyries cannot hide their nature, so why was Astrid smiling when she was scarred with ink, pierced profanely, and costumed like a whore before the entire world? Because Astrid wasn’t enduring the torments of a corrupted god. Astrid was reveling in them. Astrid was not stoically accepting her dishonor. Astrid had thrown her honor away with both hands. Astrid hadn’t become the protector of the Earth Former. Astrid had become her whore. Astrid had betrayed us all, and it tore me to pieces.
The crowd quieted, but the tension built. Tera moved behind me, ready to get into Slingshot formation, while across the arena, the reigning champion sat cross-legged on the sand. Skull appeared to be an unassuming human in his mid-forties. He was bald, short, and kind of fat, but I could see the mastery in him; I could see it in the way his shoulders were set, the way his elbows flared slightly, and the way his heels pressed subtly into the sand. He had a longsword laid across his lap, with one hand resting casually on the hilt. With the other hand, he drew a prayer to the Life Giver in the sand, then got to his feet with a simple flexing of his legs. He let his sword trail tip-first through the sand, and in the quiet, I could hear the steel scraping softly against the grains. Then he brought it upright with lightning swiftness, and the ring of it sung metallically against the walls.
“Finally,” I smiled back at Tera, “someone worth our time.”
Skull and I moved toward each other, our stances changing in reaction to the subtle changes of the other. Most battles were won before steel even clashed, and this battle was no different. Skull matched my positioning motion for motion, not revealing a single weakness in each technique we changed to. We neared each other as Tera circled around to flank him, and I watched his foot carefully, waiting for the toes to point to her, and betray his counterattack. They never did. Skull let the succubus get around him until she was standing twenty feet behind him. She stopped, I stopped, and he stopped. The net was closed. I had speed, reach and strength, not to mention flight, and Tera had an open attack from behind. Why had he let it happen? I exchanged a look with Tera, and in the brief moment I broke eye contact, Skull was on me. I barely blocked the attack that would have taken my head off, and stumbled backward to avoid the swipe that would have split my knee. The crowd gasped, shocked to see me put on the defensive, then they cheered the name ‘Skull.’ I growled, ducked a swipe, twirled for a leg sweep, then rolled away as another unexpected strike nearly impaled me. The crowd cheered louder, the name ‘Skull’ on their lips. The man himself didn’t seem to care that he’d gained the favor of the thing I loved. His face was a mask of neutrality, but his body was a whirlwind. He moved inhumanly fast, his speed matching my own, his fluidity even better. He changed techniques with ease, anticipated my attacks like I’d telegraphed them, and counterattacked with such graceful ferocity, that I was caught between desperately defending myself, and studying his novel footwork.
“Where did you train?” I managed to ask through an exchange of blows. He didn’t even acknowledge my question. He swung overhand, and I blocked it, he slid his blade down mine, and I caught it on the crossguard, he ducked my stab, moved his edge along my hilt, and almost cut my fingers off before I rapidly disengaged. The crowd roared again, and I felt the anger swell in me. They were supposed to be mine! Tera made a moved to strike at Skull’s supposedly open flank, but I saw the way his shoulder rotated beneath his shirt, and I had to lunge forward to keep his attention divided. Skull sidestepped my attack, blindly parried Tera, and jumped over my sword sweep, flipping behind the succubus, and forcing her to tumble forward, one of her knifes left in the dust. She came out of her roll awkwardly, and I noticed the purple blood dribbling from a long, but shallow cut down her back.
Fuck, that hurt. Not since the incident with the centaurs had I felt the touch of a blade on these sands. But because Astrid and I ‘had this match in the fucking bag,’ we didn’t have Brandon here to heal any mortal wounds. We were on our own, and I was incredibly outmatched. Even Astrid was having a hard time with Skull.
“Why don’t you just fly at him?” I asked as I got into Slingshot position behind Astrid.
“He’s too fast.” Astrid said, rapidly shifting through stances as Skull did the same, the two of them circling each other once again, “If I commit to a flighted charge, he’ll cut me to pieces.”
“So, no Slingshot?” I said.
“No, we’ll do Needle.” Astrid replied. I disengaged from the Slingshot position, and stepped into a wider radius than Astrid and Skull were in, making sure I stayed within striking distance of Astrid in case Skull tried to isolate me. Astrid and Skull neared each other, doing a dance of footwork, their eyes locked. I slowly moved to the side, waiting for Astrid to make her move. Once she engaged, I’d strike the flank, anticipating Skull to suddenly disengage from Astrid to finish me. I’d bluff the charge, throw my dagger, then Astrid would deliver the killing blow when Skull was stuck between committing and blocking. He was placing himself in prime position for the move, which made me warry. Once again, he exposed an entire side of himself to me, seemingly committed to Astrid. Astrid circled out to make his shoulders rotate toward her, and away from me. I slowly stepped forward, watching his back foot carefully. One shift of the heel, and I’d bail on the attack. Astrid screamed her war cry, and hurled herself at Skull. He kept his feet planted, blocked her overhead strike, ducked her following slice, then counterattacked with a stab. The motion left him extended, his shoulders high in their cuffs, his back angled above his hips. His heel stayed planted; he was wide open. I rushed him, saw his foot shift, rolled back, pivoted, threw my dagger, and my hand was gone. The wind caressed my stump of an arm, and I stared disbelievingly at the bloodless, smooth cut of meat. Then there was a flash of white, an impact, and I was thrown backward by the wind of Astrid’s wings just as Skull’s blade sliced the place my neck at been. I hit the ground, tumbled again, and staggered to the wall. Then the blood came, and with it, the pain. Then the horror.
The crowd erupted as Tera struggled away, a trail of purple blood left behind her in the sand. Her hand was kicked away so that Astrid could plant her foot, and deliver a series of strikes that Skull caught easily on his blade.
“Good Mother!” Sister Julia gasped beside me. She rushed to the window, exposing herself to the crowd, but they hardly cared. Death Kiss had been bested, and Angel was on the defensive. It was something they’d never seen before, and they hinged on every sword strike with bated breath, waiting to explode. I needed to help. Night Eyes would’ve sat back and let Astrid and Tera face their end, because Night Eyes would never deny the masses their due, but I couldn’t just let Astrid and Tera die. I could be subtle. I just needed to create a small crest for one of Skull’s feet to trip on, and Astrid would take full and immediate advantage. My foot touched the stone floor, and I felt the rock beneath it, traveling uninterrupted to the arena before me. Sand. Fucking sand. I couldn’t get a clear picture of the combatants, and I wouldn’t dare make my move with the risk of inadvertently tripping Astrid. So, subtlety wasn’t an option. Time to shut down the match.
“Astrid would never forgive you if you intervened.” Sister Julia said as if she was reading my mind. Her hands were planted on the windowsill, her arms straightened in tension, her posture conveying rapt attention. “You were right, Night Eyes,” I heard her say in an excited whisper, “this is fun.”
My knuckles were white, my breath was short, my eyes were wide and glued to the arena. Every sing of metal, every shifting stance, every dodge and parry was a feast to behold. I understood now why this place was the heart of Drastin. This was life at its most desperate, at its brightest, at its closest to death. Any second could bring the killing blow, and so every second was an eternity. I understood why so many gladiators gave thanks to the Holy Mother. In such struggle, in such rage, it made sense for the survivors to think they’d been blessed, but this was the devil’s show, and it was captivating.
I was rooting for Astrid to die. I knew that if Astrid died on these sands, if she was cut to pieces before the crowd she so adored, that it would be the final straw. Night Eyes would die with Astrid. I was so close, and the closer I got, the stronger I felt the hunger. It was raging within me, cajoling my darkness forward, making me need it more with every second I was denied. It was like Corruption was still inside me, pulling my strings, trying desperately to make me stop my conquest. If Willowbud cast Corruption out, I would never again have a taste. I was ashamed at how close the options weighed in my mind, but I stayed the course. It was my holy purpose. Diamond, Lucilla, God.
Tera tried to make herself small against the wall. She looked pleadingly up at me, but I just shook my head. I can’t help you, Tera. If it’s your life or Willowbud’s, it’s no choice at all. The Holy Mother has given me this purpose, I am sorry. You’re a succubus whore, a twisted spawn of Satan, and I hope you die screaming. I turned my attention back to the action, trying to pretend the thought hadn’t occurred. Astrid ducked a swipe, laid her sword across her back to block the downward strike, then twisted as she brought her arms around, throwing Skull’s sword-arm to the side, and leaving the bald, unassuming man wide open. She thrust, and he fell backward, his body parallel to the ground at the knees, one hand planted in the sand to keep him level. Astrid brought her sword across, and Skull pushed off with his plant hand, spun in the air, and landed out of range of her backhanded strike. The crowd cheered, and Astrid’s brow deepened. Her steely eyes were locked onto Skull, not an ounce of fear in them. It was disappointing; I wanted to see her terror.
The closet door burst open, and Justina’s slender silhouette appeared. Sara’s more curvaceous form slid behind her, and between the two of them, they managed to saw through the coil of ropes that held me fast. My arms and legs were like jelly when they were finally free, filling with feeling as the blood rushed warmly into them. I barely found the strength to get to my feet, and punch Sara in face. In my weakened state, the punch was hardly an aggressive graze, and in her enslaved state, she only thought it was a sexy little game. She giggled, got on her knees, and presented her other cheek with a hopeful smile. I knocked the bitch out.
“We could’ve used her.” Justina scowled at the splayed elf.
“Doubtful. She told you everything she knew, and she’d be no use as a slave.” I said as I shook the pain of my hand. I was getting good at punching people.
“I go to The Pit, and stop Freydis.”
“Stay with the Breytans,” I replied, “their all drugged up to their eyeballs, but you’ll be safe with them.” I took a few stumbling steps forward before I was confident with my footing. I made to run, but stopped, and turned around. “Thank you, Justina.” I said to her, “I’m sorry I’ve been such a bitch to you.”
“You were just being yourself.” Justina shrugged with a smile. I offered her one in return, then sprinted away.
Step right, pivot left, jump, feign the stab, block the slice, duck the jab, parry the strike, dodge left, bluff right, swing left, feet forward, blade down, blade up, duck, jump, and roll away.
“Shit.” I breathed. The crowd roared my retreat, and Skull advanced slowly. There was no flaw in his technique, not a single chink in his armor. Sweat stung in my eyes and wetted my limbs, my muscles were on fire, but my mind was steady. I watched him position himself, square his shoulders, and ready his blade. His face was a mask of impassivity, not a single drop of sweat glistening from his shiny pate. I had reach, strength and flight, but he had conditioning. If this was going to be a fight of attrition, I would lose. I planted my foot in the sand, digging my toes down, resting my weight on the balls of my feet. Skull advanced methodically, matching the stance changes I offered, calling all the bluffs and anticipating every angle. His positioning mirrored mine perfectly, each technique countering the one I offered. He came into my kill range, and I struck. He blocked the swipe that would’ve decapitated him, let the blades glide down each other, then stepped right into my radius. We were open to each other for just a moment, then we both attacked, grinding our blades to break free and strike the exposed body. I was stronger. I had him. My blade pushed his backward, the steel shearing and screeching, forcing his arm outward, leaving him hopelessly exposed. I just had to get my edge off his, and I’d cut him in half before he had a chance to right himself. He suddenly disengaged, rolled left, and blocked the downward strike I delivered mid-roll. It was an impossible move. Then he countered with a sudden shot upward, launching himself from a squat, and flinging my sword-hand skyward. I was wide open, and I flapped backward as the point of his weapon sung beneath my breasts. The wind of my wings buffeted him, and he made himself thin against the force, the point of his blade acting as a break for the driving medium. The crowd erupted in applause at our performance, the cheers for both names sounding clearly in the night.
We circled each other again, the crowd growing tensely silent, sixty-thousand breaths held in as many chests. We stepped in time like dancers, then moved together. He lunged for a stab, and I sidestepped him, bluffing a parry, and risking his blade at my ribs to deliver an overhand. His weapon stayed right where it was, but he moved around it like a wheel about an axis. My sword struck the sand where’d he’d been, but his sword stayed, and I grunted as I felt his twisting blade dig into my leather armor. I summersaulted away, feeling hot wetness under my left arm, and when I landed, there was crimson splattered against my pristine white bodice. The crowd gasped again, having never seen my blood before, and the cheer for ‘Skull’ grew louder still. I set myself, and winced. I was hobbled, and I couldn’t conceal it. Skull rounded on my left side, not letting me put my right shoulder first, making sure I had to face him squarely. He jabbed, and I blocked it, then he swiped, and I stumbled, then he sliced, and I rolled away. He came at me again. Stab, stab, slice. I barely blocked his attacks before I was forced backward again. Slice, stab, cut. I grunted, dropped, and flapped backward, buffeting him with my wings again. I’d taken the first two strikes on my crossguard, but the third, I’d taken to my thigh. Pink muscle shown clearly beneath cloven flesh, then the blood began to run. The crowd grew louder as Skull approached, and I retreated, not able to match his stances anymore, but limping backward. Across the arena, Tera was clutching her stump of a hand, looking hopelessly at me. When Skull killed me, she’d be next. If the man knew his victory was imminent, he didn’t show it. His face stayed dead, as dead as his moniker as he advanced. No grandstanding, or showmanship, or passion; he would kill me with the same emotionless efficiency as he’d fought me, and I didn’t doubt that afterward, he would stand as still as a stone before the adulation of his triumph. What meant everything to me, seemed to mean nothing to him.
“Fly, Astrid!” A little voice yelled. I looked up, and there was Mistress, looking directly down at me from her booth, “Fly away!” She cried, but the idea of flying away never occurred to me. I would rather die in failure than live as one. I smiled up at her, my god, my unrequited love, and I saw the worry in her face. It was real, and that gave me comfort before the end. I set myself a final time, unfurled my span, and charged. He knew it was coming; he’d seen the last prideful catharsis of the defeated before. He adjusted his stance perfectly, leveled his sword just right, angled his shoulders, and then suddenly went rigid. Tera’s knife was in his back, then my sword was in his gut. His once-expressionless face looked comically surprised, then it rolled off his shoulders with my backhanded swipe, and bounced into the sand. Tera and I stared at each other over the spurting neck between us. She’d been working the edge of the arena, limping as though on the verge of succumbing to blood loss, then she’d waltzed up to Skull while I did my suicidal charge, and stabbed him in the back. It was so absurdly easy that I could hardly believe it happened, nor could the crowd, and nor could Tera herself. She stared wide-eyed at the headless corpse between us, then she giggled, then I giggled, and the stadium erupted.
“Yes! Yes! YES!” I laughed, jumping up and down in my booth. Sister Julia smiled thinly at me, obviously disappointed in the outcome. I whooped and hollered in her face, pelvic thrusted at her, grabbed my nuts and gave them a taunting squeeze. “Suck on that, bitch!”
“Congratulations.” Sister Julia replied, trying to conceal her irritation. Why she wanted Astrid to lose was beyond me, but the fact that she’d been foiled only made the victory sweeter. The roar of the crowd swelled all around us, filling the night air with its thunder. On the sands of the arena, Astrid held her sword high. Her face shined with joy, her eyes glistened with it, and she laughed and smiled wondrously at the stands stretching above. She turned toward me, and levelled her sword in salute. I blew her a kiss, and she caught it, and placed it against her own lips. My champion, basking in her moment of glory, and she wanted to share it with me.
“Go to her, Willowbud.” Sister Julia said softly. In the moment, I didn’t even register that it was the first time she’d called me by my name. I rushed out of the box, scrambled down the hall, flung open the prep room door, and nearly collided with a serving girl in my haste. I hurriedly said my apologies, sprinted for the dugout door, then stopped. I turned around, and my blood went cold.
“Hey, Willow.” Mom smiled.
“Astrid, get down!” Tera’s voice screamed. I barely had a second to turn around before I was hurled off my feet, and plowed into the sand. Gravel cut at my cheek, my arm twisted beneath my weight, my sword shot from my hand, and my mother’s face showed inches from my own, twisted in rage.
“I will not desecrate my flesh, for it the armor of which I was born.” Freydis growled, delivering a vicious punch to my wounded ribs. I coughed my pain and shock into her face, my eyes wide, not believing what I was seeing.
“I will kill only when needed, and will do so without passion, for death is a joyless thing.” Another growl, and another shot to the ribs. Reality was starting to focus in my mind; the gasps of the crowd, the sand on my face, my mother’s breath in my nostrils, and her fist in my side.
“I will not seek glory, for it is not mine to have.” Freydis growled again, her fist raising, “These are the codes of my-” I grabbed my mother about the waist, pivoted my heels into the dirt, and spun us over. She lashed out at me, and I deftly leaned back to dodge the fist that would’ve dislocated my jaw. She took the opportunity to plant her feet against my chest, and kicked. I shot backward, caught the wind in my wings, and landed on my feet as Freydis climbed to hers.
“Mother?” I gasped, instinctively squaring my shoulders, “What are you doing here?!”
“Correcting my mistake.” Freydis spat, knees bending and fists raising.
“Mother,” I said, matching her steps and circling with her, not giving her an opening, “if you’ll listen to me, I can explain-”
“I know all about Willowbud,” Freydis snarled, “I know about her, and you, and Corruption.”
I stuttered to a stop, dropping my defenses and staring at her in disbelief.
“If you know about that,” I said, letting her circle to my flank, “then you must know why I’m doing this. How can you blame me for serving my god? How can you blame me for breaking my oaths, when I’m beholden to the laws of a higher power?”
“I don’t blame you for breaking your oaths,” Freydis growled, circling behind me, “I blame you for breaking them with such relish. When I heard what you’d been forced to do, I assumed you must be suffering greatly. Never had it crossed my mind that you’d be so happy to cast your honor away!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I snarled back.
“Oh, I don’t?” Freydis yelled, “You came from my womb, Astrid. You were always so eager to be the best, to prove yourself right, to seek your own glory. You gave our oaths the lip-service you felt they deserved, and then broke them the moment they inconvenienced you.”
“You don’t know me half as well as you think, Mother,” I spat, hot anger simmering in my belly, “if you did, then this sword would still be on your back!”
“That sword you so contemptuously wave in the air?” Freydis yelled, “The symbol of a people you’ve disgraced?”
“The symbol of my victory over you,” I smiled, “the symbol of a defeat you couldn’t stomach.”
“There’s that pride,” Freydis laughed, lips curling in a sneer, “that arrogance that kept you from becoming High Guard, even after you’d earned the title. Is that why you flew away, Astrid? Because you felt you deserved something that wasn’t given to you? Because you were too impatient to learn patience?!”
“I flew away,” I growled, feeling my fists clench, “because I was tired of listening to the prattle of an old bitch who couldn’t accept that her time was done.”
“Ha!” Freydis laughed again, posture leaning forward, wings flexing threateningly, “And where did that get you, you insolent, little girl?”
“The highest honor a winged-warrior can gain!” I shot back, matching my mother’s gait, “Protector of our matron god, while you wilt away in obscurity where you belong.”
“Protector?” Freydis screamed, “You’re her whore!”
“I am so far above you, old woman.” I laughed, red thumping in my eyes, “If I am the whore of a Creator, then you are the dirt beneath my heel.”
“You have forsaken everything I’ve given you,” Mother said, her voice strained, “I always knew you were ambitious, but I never believed you were traitorous.”
“All I hear from you is jealousy.” I snarled, my lips peeling back, my teeth barred.
“All I feel for you is pity.” Mother replied, reaching for her axe.
“You will feel pain.”
Freydis had her axe out a second after I’d picked up the sword. She was getting slower. I launched forward, folding my wings around me and corkscrewing through the air, my body spinning like a rifled shot, with the blade acting as the tip. I aimed for Freydis’s hilt, attempting to sever the axe from the shaft, but she smacked the attack away and delivered an elbow to the crown of my head. It dazed me for a moment, and I careened into the ground, feeling every sharp rock and piece of gravel scraping against my exposed thighs. The crowd roared their approval at my failure, and I felt my wrath grow from a simmer, to a boil. She would not take them from me, not after what I’d done to win them! I flipped onto my feet just in time to hear Mother’s axe sing past me, and bury into the sand where my head had been. There was a still moment where our eyes connected; mine wide with shock, hers narrowed in grim determination. Mother wasn’t dueling; Mother was fighting to kill.
She approached me cautiously, one foot in line with the other, her hands held before her like I was a wild beast. She was greener than I remembered, her hair a deeper shade of turquois, and her horns so large they seemed to weigh on her neck. She stopped right in front of me, her pine-green eyes level with mine, staring without fear into the black depths of my own.
“You’re a woman now.” Mom laughed, “Great Giver, you’re a beauty.” She dared a touch on my cheek, and I let her fingers outline the bow of it.
“Why?” I asked, my voice a low, cold sound.
“That’s a very open-ended question, Willow.” Mom laughed again.
“Why are you here?”
“Julia asked me to come,” Mom said softly, playing her hand through my hair, “but that’s not why I did it.”
Mom continued to run her hands through my hair, her fingers sliding against my scalp, the tips brushing gently along the roots. I remembered that feeling. I remembered her voice in my ear, soft and beautiful, singing wordless lullabies that echoed pleasantly in my mind. Safety and love. Mom hummed those soft melodies now, those caresses for my soul, and I sought the primal comfort of her. My head found the swell of her breast, my arms surrounded her, and I made myself small in her embrace. She rested her chin atop my head, ran her fingers through my hair, and pulled me closer, rocking back and forth on her heels.
“Please tell me why you’re here.” I said softly.
“Because you need me.” Mom answered with equal softness.
“I needed you a long time ago.” I whispered.
“I know,” Mom whispered back, “but I’m here now, Willow.”
“Why didn’t you want me?” I asked into her bosom. Mom stroked my hair, easing us down into a chair. I lifted my legs and brought my knees to my chest, balling myself into her lap, confused as to why it didn’t feel like it should. Because I was a woman now, of course. Willowbud remembered being small enough to fit here, but Night Eyes had no recollection of growing too large for it. Or too old for it. This was still Willowbud’s Mommy, just like Dad had still been her Daddy. I knew why Sister Julia had brought her to me, and I hated her for it. She would pay.
“I wanted you.” Mom finally whispered, her voice choking with tears, “I loved you more than anything, and that’s why I had to let you go.”
“You thought I was a freak.”
“I was angry,” Mom’s breath shuddered against my crown, “but not at you; for you. I was supposed to be pure of my father’s filth, but Passion had missed a piece of him lurking in me. It’s our hair, Willow; it’s incubus hair. But that’s not why I sent you away.” Mom swallowed hard, her heart was beating chaotically against my cheek, “My mother was infertile. She told no one, as infertility denies the right to matronage. She carried an incubus’s seed because it was the only kind that would sprout in her womb. When I was older, I came to realize that I had inherited her curse. But I wouldn’t need to take an incubus to bed; I’d already been promised a child.” Mom’s tears wet my cheeks, her breaths were heavy, her heart was a drum against my temple, “She came to me when I was young,” Mom’s voice was barely air, “and she told me she would give me you, Willow. She told me I could only have one child, but that child would be a god.” Mom pulled me close against her breast, her arms squeezing my head near to pain, “You lived as an idea in my mind hundreds of years before you nursed from my breast, and I loved that idea of you. When I saw that expectation had not been realized, I was enraged. You were supposed to be perfect.”
“What are you saying?” I looked up at my mother, her face wet, her eyes red.
“I was promised you and Arbortus, and for that promise, I had to make one in exchange.” Mom’s breath was raspy, “I had to give you to her.”
I rounded on Freydis, sweeping for her legs, twirling with the momentum, blocking her axe behind my back, and then cutting diagonally with the next strike, bringing the sword across my body. Freydis’s motions matched my fluidity, each strike flowing to the next, each arc of her axe a continuation of the last. Our blades sung their collisions and exploded their sparks as our bodies spun in a dizzying dance, wings unfurling to catch the air, allowing us to move with inhuman speed. I swept at Freydis’s legs, anticipated her jump, then I spun, caught another attack behind my back, and stabbed instead of sliced. Freydis caught my blade under the crook of her own, twirled her body about the two-handed hold of her axe, and flung the weapon from my hands. My gauntleted fist met her face, and I felt teeth cracking beneath my knuckles as I followed through. She staggered back, blood spilling from her mouth, axe sweeping defensively about her feet. I spread my wings and darted across the arena, clasped my hand about the sword that swayed in its stuck position, and reeled around with it just in time to catch Mother’s strike. She recoiled from the blow, and I shouldered her in the chest, sending her sprawling. Her wings unfurled before she hit the ground, and she righted herself, letting her feet slide as her momentum carried her across the sand to a grinding stop. She breathed heavy, sputtering breaths as I passed calm air through my clenched teeth. The old cunt didn’t have much longer.
“Corruption is your god!” Freydis yelled, “You are no protector of our matron; you’re the servant of a Sentient!”
“Corruption has shown my god the true path,” I screamed back, “your archaic oaths are worthless! The gods decide what is just, and my god has been enlightened with the truth of Sentients!”
“They tell nothing but lies!” Freydis yelled, positioning her axe.
“I embrace her lies over your truth, you relic!” I laughed, “I will kill because it pleases me, I will fuck because I desire it, and I will live my life in glory, free of the chain you would have bind me!”
“Do you moan when the men ravage you?” Freydis jeered, “Do you beg for more when they’re done?”
“I do,” I grinned, displaying manic mirth, “and I will hear you beg before this is done.”
“You gave me to Corruption?” I asked her. I didn’t know what I was feeling. It was an aching in my chest, like my heart was too heavy to rest in the cavity.
“She gave me you.” Mom smiled tearfully, “But when I had to pay her, I couldn’t do it.” Mom cupped my wet cheek, “So I sent you away. Passion told me that Corruption would only seek you if you were the heir to power, so I disowned you, and banished you. Then your boat sank, and I nearly threw myself from the canopy. I was made arch-matriarch, I was given the kingdom I’d sought, but none of it mattered. You were dead. And then, you weren’t.”
“But I am, Mom.” I said quietly, “I died on that boat to Tentigo, and then I died a little more on the streets of Drastin. I died little by little, day by day, until Corruption finally had her corpse.”
“No.” Mom whispered, running her hand to my temple, “You’re still in there,” she pulled off my astral meld, revealing the true color of my eyes, “and you’re fighting to get out. You just need a little help.”
“You can’t help me.”
“I can try.” Mom tilted my chin upward, eyes glimmering into mine, “I should’ve taken your father, and left Arbortus with you. We could’ve lived together in Tentigo, and we could’ve fought her together when she came. I failed you, but I’m here now. Tell me what I need to do to help you.”
I actually giggled. My face was wet with tears, my chest was laden with grief, but it was funny. I’d been predestined by Corruption hundreds of years before I was born. In a way, she was more my mother than Mom was. All my life I’d blamed Flora Autumnsong for what had happened to me, but even then, I hadn’t been giving her enough credit. Mom didn’t inquire about my mirthful outburst, but just kept running her hand through my hair, pulling it behind my ears. I rotated in her lap, shifting slowly, staring into her eyes. I touched my foot to the stones between my mother’s leg, and I listened to the tremors of the rock. Sister Julia was on the other side of the door, her ear pressed to the panel. I knew what she wanted me to do, and I was going to do it. But not for her; for me.
“Daddy already tried to help me.” I grinned up at Mom.
“What?!” Mom hissed, suddenly growing tense.
“He found me out here in the wild,” I grinned, sliding my hands down her legs, “but I wasn’t his little girl anymore.” I grabbed my mother’s knees, and forced them apart.
I spread my wings and launched head-first, and Mother did the same. Her axe swung like a pendulum beneath her, and my sword sheered along its head, skipped down the handle, and cut deeply into her forearm. I heard her grunt of pain fade as we flew past each other, and saw the droplets of blood trailing on the sand behind her. I whirled around, arcing through the air like a stalking eagle, and spotted Freydis soaring above me in a curved pattern, only one hand clutching her axe. I searched her face for a sign of fear, for acknowledgment that she knew she was bested, but I didn’t find it, and it enraged me. This bitch would never give me the credit I deserved, even when I’d carved it from her own flesh! I gritted my teeth and launched after her, and she dove to meet me, axe raised above her, mouth screaming her war cry. She had the right angle, she had the better reach, she had the downward momentum, but it didn’t matter. I was an arrow fired from the depths of hell, and she was a falling leaf; old, fragile, and slow, drifting from the sky in the autumn of her life. Her scream became louder and higher as she dove, her axe head glinted in the moonlight, her wrath was painted across her face. I narrowed my eyes against the rushing wind, closed my wings against my body, and spiraled upward, accelerating faster than Freydis could react. Her scream cut in her throat, her chest met the hilt of my blade with a thud, her eyes widened, and her fingers loosened, dropping the axe behind her. We hung in the air for a static moment where my eyes met hers, and the enormity of what I’d just done hit me.
“Mother?” I gasped. She mouthed silently, her bulging eyes trembling and bloodshot, welling with tears. Blood dripped from her lips, a gurgle crawled from her throat, and we fell. My sword slid from her, leaving a floating trail in her wake that splashed my face as I pursued her. She wasn’t dead yet; Brandon could still save her! I reached for her, caught her shoulder strap, and opened my wings. I caught the wind, her strap snapped in my hand, and she plummeted beneath me. She screamed something as she fell, but the rushing wind stole her last words from my ears. Her wings spread to their full span, the brilliant white catching the pale moonlight, and she hit the sand with a sickening thud. A ring of dust rippled from her broken form, and she lay still, her eyes staring up at me, then up at nothing. I glided into the stadium after her, my ears filling with a chorus of the monster’s song, sung higher and louder than it ever had before. What a show, what a show. It’s all for you. Everything for you.
I gawked at what I saw. Freydis was dead on the sand, Astrid was standing over her, and Tera was missing a hand, and the one she still had was pressed to her mouth above wide, disbelieving eyes. The crowd stood above me and around me, cheering a performance that would live in legend, but Astrid didn’t seem to care for their adulation. She just stood over her broken mother, and stared, silent tears running down her cheeks. This was my fault. I’d put this in motion, and when I’d finally come to reason, it was too late. Too late.
I pushed through the crowd, past the line of elvish guards who stood confusedly in front of Willowbud’s box. They raised their hands in objection, but one look from me put their objections to rest. The box was empty when I got to it. There was a half-finished champagne bottle, and only one used glass. I guessed Julia wasn’t in a celebratory mood. I didn’t know why she’d come here at all, or why she’d insisted that I not come. If only I had pressed harder, Freydis might still be alive. Too late.
“Where have they gone?” I asked a nearby elf. She inclined her head toward the door at the back of the box. I took one last look over my shoulder. Astrid had picked her mother off the ground, and was walking mechanically toward the tunnel. Her head was bowed, her wings drooped, and her feet dragged along the sand. The crowd tossed rose petals upon the slouched shoulders of their champion, and she disappeared into the darkness without an upward glance. Tera looked up at me from the center of the arena, a question in her violet eyes. The question slowly turned to realization, then to accusation. I just nodded. There was no use denying it. I turned away from them, and walked into the dim halls beneath the stands. I heard the faint sounds of cries. As I walked, the sound grew louder, more distinct, but no more recognizable. It was a woman’s voice, as tortured as it was ecstatic, crying out a combination of protest and euphoria. It brought back memories of yesterday, and a chill crept up my spine. I set my jaw and continued.
Julia was resting against a door, holding one hand over her mouth as she pushed the other between her legs. Her bent knees rubbed together below her pressing thighs, her cock stood proud and leaking from her crotch, and her face was turned sideways to lend one ear to the door. A single emerald eye caught me, and her face whipped around.
What are you doing here? Julia mouthed at me.
Freydis? I mouthed back. Julia cocked her head in confusion. She didn’t know. Who’s in there? I mouthed.
Night Eyes. Julia mouthed back.
No shit. Who else?
Julia just shook her head, and tried to shoo me away. “Too dangerous!” she hissed, “Go back!” A scream sounded from behind the door, and there was no pleasure in it now. Only pain.
“Julia, what the fuck is going on?” I whispered, closing the distance between us.
“It’s none of your business, Lucilla!” Julia growled. I cringed back at her ferocity, and Julia looked away, pressing her ear to the door. There was a horrific screech, a wet sound, and then the low cackle of Willowbud’s laughter. Julia bit her lip, her eyes rolled up, and she began stroking herself, using her juices as lubricant. She undulated against the door like there was a man behind her, and began gasping sensually with each tortured shriek of the woman on the other side. No… no, not again. Julia didn’t even have black in her eyes. I marched toward the door, watching Julia’s gaze turn from lust to alarm in a second. She blocked my way, and slapped my hand when I reached for the knob. A shrill sob cut through the air, followed by the bleating aftershocks of pain. My eyes fixed on Julia’s, and hers fixed on mine.
“Is that Flora in there?” I asked levelly. Julia nodded. Another scream sounded, and another laugh.
“It needs to happen, Lucilla.” Julia said flatly.
“She’s killing her!” I hissed. Willowbud’s laughter was almost as tortured as the screeches of her mother.
“She knew the risks.” Julia said, her grip on my wrist tightening, “Now go back; you don’t belong here.”
“Do you think this is what God wants?” I growled, trying to shoulder past her.
“God wants what I want.” Julia said quietly, keeping herself pinned between me and the door, “I am her will, Lucilla. I can’t expect you to understand. Now, go back.” There was a metallic thud, a sickening crack, and another shriek, this one so terrible it made my blood go cold.
“You can’t stop me from going through this door, Julia.” I said, clasping my hand over hers, and pulling, “I was always stronger than you.”
“Don’t make me-”
“What the fuck are you going to do, burn me?” I sneered, my clasping hand prying her fingers away, “I’m the one bitch you can’t do that to.”
“Lucilla, don’t!” Julia yelled as I pulled her hand away. I dug my shoulder into the paneling, pried it between her body and the door, and squeezed the knob. “Stop!” Julia’s eyes were panicked, but I was done listening to her, and I was done being the victim of her little games. “Lucilla, please! I’m so close!” Julia pleaded, struggling with all her might to keep the door shut. Flora bellowed again, her scream distorted with agony.
“Willowbud’s not worth this, Julia.” I hissed into those pleading emeralds, “And neither are you.” I turned the handle, walked into the room, and stopped. I was vaguely aware that something was incredibly wrong, but I couldn’t pinpoint what. Something was just… off. In that moment, that final moment of my life, I was just confused.
Lucilla collapsed into a heap on the floor, the wall behind her, the mirror behind her, and the god behind her all painted with her brains. Sister Julia stood still in the crosshairs of my fingers, her expression telling me that she hadn’t yet grasped what had just happened. Flora Autumnsong wheezed her final breath beside me, but I didn’t look. The pictures of what I’d done to her were burned into my mind, and as the moment dissipated, they began to play behind my lenses. It was over. I could feel Corruption’s agony, despair, and surrender, and I could feel her wonderful apathy dissipating from my mind. She was leaving me, but she’d made sure that Night Eyes delivered one final defiant atrocity before she left. And there it was, the dimming patterns of porcelain flesh, a sight that burned itself right next to the horrific images of my tortured mother. These memories would haunt Willowbud for the rest of her very short life, but I wasn’t her just yet.
“Congratulations, Sister.” I whispered, my eyes glazed with tears, “You won.”
And the floor collapsed beneath me, giving way to a tunnel that dug down, down, down; down into the darkness beneath the bedrock, down where the light never reached, down where I could bury Night Eyes one last time.
Night Eyes’s eyes went white right before she disappeared. I had done it; I had won. She said so herself. I had fulfilled the Holy Mother’s purpose. Now, I just had to get Lucilla’s brains back in her head, and bring her to Brandon.
“I told you not to go through the door,” I sighed, crouching down, and gently pulling her upright, “but Good Mother knows you’ve always been so boneheaded.” I chuckled to myself as I picked a piece of skull off the ground, and frowned when I couldn’t find a perfect fit in the back of Lucilla’s head.
“After we get you fixed up, I think the whole family should go to the dwarven princedoms, what do you think?” I wiped the blood away that ran like rivers from her nostrils, “After that we can see the Droktin Pass, then I’ll go to Droktinar by myself, since I know you don’t want to go.” I sniggered to Lucilla, and she stared back sightlessly, her eyes filmed over with red.
“We sure could use a vacation.” I nodded, “We’ve been so stressed out, always at each other’s throats,” I cupped her cheek, and smiled, “but it’s better now, Lucilla. We made it.” I frowned at the pink debris that littered the floor and the wall. I scooped some of it into my hand, tilted Lucilla’s head forward, and pushed it into the hole. She’d need it, I was sure. Those were her memories.
“You and I can find a place to settle down.” I said softly, “We’ll have to get married by a heathen preacher, since the Maternal Path forbids our love, but I think the Holy Mother can forgive that blasphemy after what I did for her.” I winked at Lucilla, and a heavy tear splashed onto my cheek. Where had that come from?
“I was thinking the hills of Grundinar. They have isolated monasteries there from the days of the Highland Kingdom. I could open a little parish, something modest, mind you.” Why was I crying? “We could raise Diamond there until she wants to go off on her own.” Why was my voice cracking? “We could grow old together in a quiet place, where I would never have to light another fire again.” Why did my chest hurt? “And when one of us passes from this world, it will only be after we’ve built a lifetime of memories between us, and we’re only taking a short break, before we meet again.”
I looked at my hands, covered with Lucilla’s memories, and they were shaking for some reason.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I laughed tearfully, “That’s what I told myself when things got rough. I always knew you’d be there for me, so I always knew I’d come out alright.” I smiled at Lucilla, but she didn’t return the smile. My smile faded. The patterns that I’d burned into her with my love were dimming, the light evaporating from her, coalescing beautifully in the air, then floating into my chest.
“No.” I whispered, “No, go back to her. She needs you. Go back. Please go back.” But the light just moved into me until there was none of it left on her. My whole body was trembling. My heart was throbbing in my chest, my limbs were shooting with spasms, my belly was turning over, churning, burning with bile. I drove my face into Lucilla’s chest, and pulled her against me. She was too cold. Why was she so cold? I needed to make her warm. Warmer. Warmer. Warmer. The light that came from her swelled in my chest, too great to hold inside. I needed it to make her warm. I was screaming. I was screaming, and holding her, but there was nothing left to hold. Where had she gone? Why was my fire blue? That wasn’t right. Maybe I just needed to push all the blue out, and the white would come back. Maybe I just needed to push all the fire out of me. Every. Last. Flame. I evacuated myself, the energy bursting from me in a sapphire orb that grew larger and larger, expanding, consuming, burning. For a moment, there was a second sun. It shined where Drastin used to be, then went out. Forever they will live as one, like two lovers of the sun, shining from creation’s birth, to hold a tether to the earth.
Postlude: The Center
I stood before a city. It was magnificent. Towers that narrowed into the sky, endless spires of gleaming metal, exquisitely built. It looked like the city of crumbling spires in Corruption’s realm. In fact, it was the same city, only this one was… right. But it was empty, and as I walked its streets, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss. A great architect of the mind had made this place, but it was barren and unused. I felt like I was one of two people who had ever witnessed this miracle, and the other one was insane. The towers spread out like spokes from a single point at the center of the metropolis. A house on a hill. A quaint cottage of brick and wood, standing in stark contrast to the deific structures that surrounded it. I walked up the stairs, and noticed that the footprints I’d been following turned from stone, to moss when I did so. I stopped at the door. It was an iron door. I took a deep breath, prayed to any god that would listen, and clasped the knob. I turned it, and it clicked.
Chaos’s center was a single room. A cozy armchair was placed in the corner by a fireplace, which sported a mantle above the hearth. A body-length mirror stood in the corner, a cradle was in the other, and a bed occupied the last corner. There were no paintings. I stepped into the room, and looked around. Everything seemed so normal, like this was just the place she lived, but I could feel the wrongness of it. I examined the bed, and saw the bloodstain on the sheets. I studied the cradle, and saw the fire-scorched pillow. I studied the mirror, and there was Aunt Lucilla. She stared confusedly at me, then pressed her hand against the glass. I raised mine, the fingers trembling, and laid them over hers. She smiled, mouthed ‘Sparkles,’ then faded away. There was another face, then another, then another. There were thousands of them. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. They floated in the void as one massive collection, looking around with the same confusion that Aunt Lucilla had. That Joy had. That Satan had. I stumbled back, my hand touching my lips, the horror coming to me. This was no mirror. This was a window. This was the window, and I knew exactly what it meant. I knew what had happened. I dropped to my knees, my tears splattering the floorboards, my suppressed sobs singing gently from me, contrasting the violent heaves of my diaphragm. I collapsed into the armchair, and hit my head on something hard. A bible. The Maternal Path.
“Alright you bitch, let’s see what lies you’ve told yourself!” I tore open the bible and flipped to the first day. It was the same as any bible. Every page was. This was just a normal fucking bible.
“It’s not the lie I told myself.” A drawling voice said from behind me. I twisted, my heart accelerating, my mouth going dry. She stood in the doorway, black skin, black hair, white irises burning from black depths. She stepped forward, and a woman of white hair, peach skin, and burning, white eyes was exposed to the firelight.
“It’s the lie I told the world.” She said softly, “I am the Holy Mother.”