Shackles of Hate. Chapter 24: The Pieces are Moving

With the finely embroidered hood of her cloak pulled up over her head, Lelthina looked just another Elven noble come to secretly indulge in the pleasures of the Rose and Jasmine. It seemed to be growing in popularity the past little while among the newly established court of Driftafay.

Lelthina had her suspicions as to why. Sometimes she questioned whether she should make a stand against this growing trend despite that it would cost her a contact to the enemy. Her ambitions and need to see House Winterstone growing powerful once more however, made her embrace this change.

The more she looked into it the more this cult of Morkate would prove to be useful.

As she made her way to the stairs that would bring her to Belinda’s personal chambers, she saw a door opening. An Elven woman, low born but well off judging by the fine clothes of dark green she wore, emerged from the chamber. With a thumb the woman was dragging a small spot of blood from her chin, and licking it clean.

Turning she noted Lelthina, and smirked without any shame or concern that she would be identified. Lelthina recognized the woman; the Captain of the Rose Wolf company, Sienna Blackwood. With only a small glance the captain continued down the hall as Lelthina paused and pondered the implications.

“Captain,” she finally said, making Sienna stop. She turned, with a look of annoyance on her features that turned to surprise as Lelthina lowered her hood.

“My Lady, I didn’t expect one of your station to be slumming it with us low born folk,” she said, surprise turning to a smirk.

“Call it curiosity captain. Whispers of a dark Goddess. Elven patrons turning their spirits towards her. It wouldn’t do not to know what was happening to my people.”

“Not stop it my lady? Doesn’t seem to me like Eletha would be pleased with that.”

“Seems to me you don’t care what the scrolls of Eletha say, or her priestesses.”

At those words Sienna moved closer. Almost touching the noblewoman. The captain’s tongue slithered along her lips as she leaned inwards. Their breasts grazing. For a heartbeat Lelthina was shocked that this woman could be so brazen.

“No, I don’t my lady. But then, you wouldn’t be here if you did,” Sienna purred. Lelthina watched her a moment. Studied her. Through it Sienna’s arrogant smirk never faded.

“You forget your place captain,” Lelthina said, refusing to give ground despite the utter inappropriateness of Sienna’s actions. The response only made the captain’s lips curl.

“Have I?” she said, shuffling just a bit closer. Their breasts starting to crush together. Lelthina could feel the other woman’s stiff nipples through their garments. She couldn’t let this stand, and without any guards it was in her own hands to reaffirm the duties of this captain.

Snapping her hand upwards she grasped Sienna’s neck. The captain didn’t react, her smile unfaltering. The governess let her nails dig into the other woman’s flesh, and began to push. Sienna was strong, and resisted for just a moment, before letting herself be pushed back. There was respect in her gaze, as if Lelthina had passed some private test.

Shuffling to keep her footing, Sienna was soon at arms length from the noble.

“Apologies my lady,” she said, though she had not let the smirk fall from her features. Only then did Lelthina drop her hand. She wiped her hand off on the skirts of her dress, and pondered the captain. She should be punished, but there was something about her that had piqued Lelthina’s interest.

“Meet me in my chambers at nightfall. I have a proposal for you captain. Do not, keep me waiting,” Lelthina said and saw the first cracks in the captain’s confidence. Another look of surprise, but also a hint of concern.

“Of course my lady,” she said, giving the slightest of bows before turning and walking off. She had not been formally dismissed, but was smart enough to see one for what it was.

Quite possibly a most useful ally. Or merely a dangerous pawn. Time would tell with her.

Lelthina watched the captain leave, not moving until Sienna was around the corner. Let her believe that she was here for the pleasures of flesh. If she turned out to have too loose of lips, then it would be easy to sweep that under the rug. It seemed it wasn’t exactly an unpopular vice among her kind.

The captain out of sight, the envoy turned Governess moved up the stairs to Belinda’s chamber. Reaching the stop of the stairs she let her knuckles rap firmly against the door standing in her way. After only a moment of hesitation the Madame’s voice called out to her, tinged with annoyance.

“Come in then.”

Pulling the door outward, Lelthina stepped within, seeing the woman pulling a wrought iron kettle from her hearth. A glance towards the elf noblewoman was marred by a frown as she made her way towards the table with her slight limp.

“A bit later than I expected. I had the kettle put on when I was told you were approaching,” Belinda said, pouring two clay cups of steaming water before adding the bags of tea. From the scent of it, from somewhere in the south. How the woman managed to have any kind of supply to share in times such as these, Lelthina wasn’t sure.

That bothered her nearly as much as Belinda’s words.

“Spying on my now?” Lelthina said as she took a seat.

“Don’t be so dull. You know full well I’ve been spying on you since you first came in here. Just as you’ve been spying on me. Though, I am curious what kept you.”

“A conversation. Surprisingly fruitful.”

“The captain then. Subtlety is not her forte. I am surprised she’s not been discovered by you folk thus far,” Belinda shrugged, holding her cup close. Letting the steam waft over her face, breathing in the scent.

For her part, Lelthina let her fingertips run along the rim of the cup, watching the other woman. Waiting to see if more information was forthcoming. When it wasn’t, the envoy held in a sigh. The Madame had still tipped more information, though it was likely the woman had fully intended Lelthina to know.

As a threat? As an olive branch? Difficult to tell, as she could see herself pulling both moves and even disguising one as the other.

Lelthina smiled, keeping the sigh down.

“Perhaps not. Though I am more curious why you asked to see me. A touch bold to have one of your girls seek me out,” she said.

“Less bold than going to see you myself. A girl dressed as a servant is easily overlooked. The arrogance of Elves often serves me well,” Belinda said, and Lelthina raised an eyebrow. The only sign of impatience she would let show. Belinda smirked, catching it though.

“I’ve heard from Volgras. Baroness Lillium has agreed to a meeting. Two nights from now at an abandoned farmstead one hour ride north of Innisgar. Be there two hours before midnight,” Belinda said and she smirked. Likely at the look of surprise on Lelthina’s face.

“You may bring a guard of five. She will have two companions with her,” the Madame continued and Lelthina thought over the meaning of the gesture. Lillium was certainly powerful enough that should she wish violence then a mere five guards would not be enough. And it also brought to mind, who exactly she could trust enough to bring.

Two days wasn’t much time. Not to build trust, and very little to actually find someone. Inadvertantly, Lillium had thrown Lelthina for a big disadvantage. Or perhaps she knew well what she was doing. Lelthina had to admit, she didn’t care for how little she knew of Lillium’s abilities with politics and subterfuge.

“Tell her I agree to the terms,” Lelthina said and Belinda laughed, the sound and expression deepening some of the lines on her face.

“I don’t tell her anything. She’s the harbinger, I’m a mere pawn in this great game of Gods and Demonic conquerors.”

“There is no game of Gods. Only ambitions. Gods are pieces to play for those who know how to,” Lelthina said, and Belinda smirked.

“Tell me something governess. Nobles often must keep up the appearance of devoutness. Why are you so quick to throw your dice upon Morkate?”

“Morkate is a new piece. I’m eager to add it to my side of the board. Besides, how better to wrest control away from your enemies and ensure loyalty then with a God?”

“I like you governess, despite being an Elf, so I’ll give you this warning. Be very careful. Your wish has been granted and you’re now dealing with someone much more dangerous than any of your political pieces.”

Taking a slow sip of her tea, Lelthina studied Belinda.

“She’s your harbinger. Shouldn’t you be revering her?”

“One blindly reveres Lillium when they don’t value their own freedom any longer. Beware you don’t fall into her snares.”

Rising from her seat, Lelthina carefully set her cup down. She studied the Madame a moment, who merely looked back at her. Cup of tea steaming in her hands, expression entirely neutral.

“Of course. Should you falter… it’s one step closer for the Elves,” Belinda said, and only then let the corner of her lips curl upwards. Lelthina didn’t bother to ask what they would be getting closer to.

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Sitting on the cold stone floor, her back against the wall, Sarya stared at the small hole opposite her. Her chains were longer now, giving her some movement around the cell, and a bed of straw in burlap had been given to her. It wasn’t comfortable, but at least it kept her off the chill floor. Aela had at least kept her word thus far.

Food had edible, and delivered with some regularity. But she was still a prisoner, and she did not expect good treatment. So days passed, counted only by the evening visits from Aela and the arrival of breakfast. Given as a bowl of gruel by a bored looking Helot who didn’t speak to her save a few grunts. Likely annoyed he didn’t get to ravage her like the other prisoners. Sarya had heard the screams from various other cells. Worse, eventually screams turned to moans.

But the dungeons were silent today. She played with a small stone, rolling it around under the pad of her finger as she stared, unsure of what she would do when Lillium arrived. She would eventually, Aela had promised it more than once through their multiple conversations.

Conversations and very near sexual pleasures. But Aela always left without fulfilling Sarya’s needs. The last time she had left her mewling and whimpering, gasping for pleasures from tongue, fingers, toys, cock… anything. But she hadn’t gotten it. Still the former Centurion revelled in it. Felt herself growing closer to a Goddess that many thought gone. And now… now saw a new rise in her enemies.

“Are they enemies though?” Sarya asked to the empty cell if only to hear something that wasn’t a droplet of water striking stone. She leaned her head back against the stone wall, bringing her eyes to the stone roof. Just for a change in cracked stone.

Stone. Stone. So much fucking stone. Putting the heels of her palms to her forehead she rubbed and let out an annoyed grunt.

About to stand, the sudden clicking footsteps caught her attention, and stilled the movement before it began. Tapping across the floor as they moved closer, slow and deliberate. They stopped just outside the door to Sarya’s cell. Silence for a few heartbeats, and Sarya knew she was being toyed with. Knew who was unlocking the door as the centurion listened to the clicking metal. She stared, waiting to see the Baroness of Volgras.

As the door opened, Sarya could only see the vague silhouette of her captor in the shadows of the hallway. Red eyes near glowing as they stared at the naked Centurion on the floor.

“I’ve been waiting days. A few more moments isn’t going to terrify me,” Sarya said to the figure, earning herself a low laugh that seemed lacking any real mirth.

Lillium stepped into the room, the black leather of her garments glinting in the light of the cell’s single torch. As her heels of bone clicked against the stone, Sarya felt a chill crawling up her spine. Shuffling closer towards the wall she suddenly did feel nervousness. Flashes of the battlefield where she’d nearly slain this creature slipping across her mind.

“I doubt much could terrify you,” the vampiric succubus’s voice like black silk. Slowly she strode across the cell, and Sarya was reminded of a cat, toying with its prey. “Me least of all, you did after all nearly snuff out my existence.”

Looking up at the warrior turned demon, Sarya steeled herself. Waiting for whatever was to come next. Kneeling, Lillium ran the tips of her claws along Sarya’s outer thigh, working upwards towards her ribs.

“You failed of course, and now you’re at my mercies. I’ve been advised to bring you into my court of course. It seems you’ve made an impression while I was gone,” Lillium said, her lips now inches from Sarya’s ear. Her claws having now reached her neck. Tracing along her jugular. The succubus was calm, not a hint of anger or even arousal despite the sensual teasing.

That had Sarya’s heart pounding, her eyes widening as she stared ahead again. Felt the tip of Lillium’s tongue trailing along her cheek. The saliva quickly cooling as she blew on it, her fingers leaving from Sarya’s throat.

“They tell me you already worship Morkate. Back when her name was recalled in cults in the Goldulin Empire. Secret basements… and the Empress’s chambers,” she said, her hand grasping at Sarya’s knee. Claws digging into the skin around it, forcing her thighs open.

“Is that why you hated me so?” Lillium continued, her fingertips toying with the scars of the bite on the Centurion’s inner thigh.

“Yes,” Sarya admitted, and Lillium grinned, baring her fangs to the woman. Leaning in, letting them graze along Sarya’s neck. Making her gasp softly as finger crept higher up her thigh.

“My people were weak. Yours complacent. Between the Kazdruk and the Coalition, humanity will be crushed into dust. Forgotten amongst the annals of history. So me and you, will give up our own humanity to carve a new empire from the rubble of this war,” Lillium said, shifting herself behind Sarya.

“An empire of your own. Quite the ambition,” Sarya made herself say, even as fingers dragged now towards the entrance of her sex. Teasing at wet folds as arousal pushed fear entirely to the side. As Sarya came to realize what a creature she had once set herself against.

“Far too lofty for my tastes. No, that’s where you come in my dear Centurion. Not just to train my soldiers. But to shatter the cage that holds your empress,” Lillium said, and Sarya’s head snapped to the side to regard the succubus, before a moan burst out from her lips as fingers drove themselves up inside her cunt. Her back arched, and she felt a breast pressing firmly into the palm of her captor.

“Oh yes Sarya she lives. In the bowels of the Spire. The Empress Nera. The Cozlak clan is gone, Goldulin is nothing more than embers. We will build something new for her to rule. Forged from the failures of our forebears,” the succubus continued, now thrusting into Sarya, pulling moans from her former enemy. The woman writhing in Lillium’s clutches.

“Darkness is where we’ll find not just survival. It’s where we’ll find victory,” Lillium purred, and bit down into Sarya’s shoulder. Fangs sinking deep into flesh. Blood blossoming into her lips as she feasted, listening to Sarya’s moans of approval. A trickle of crimson running down towards her untouched breast.

“Then, my sword is yours. Baroness,” Sarya managed through her moans, her head leaning back, her hand reaching to clutch in Lillium’s locks. Her hips starting to thrust as she gave herself to the very woman she had fought so hard against. In that moment she felt all her atrocities were justified. She felt like she had emerged through a web of lies to see clarity for the first time since Goldulin had fallen.

Lillium pulled her fangs free. Crimson dripping from the pearl tips, smeared across black lips. Her fingers though didn’t stop, working Sarya higher into sexual bliss. She had never asked, she had taken. But Sarya had given anyway.

Licking at the wound she had made, knowing Sarya would have another small set of scars in the future, the succubus tasted at her new follower’s life. Another piece moved upon the board. Taken from her foes to be set against them.

“I will take your humanity Sarya. You will serve Morkate, and the Empress.”

The centurion’s only reply was the deep moan as her orgasm had her eyes rolling back and toes curling as heels dragged across the floor. Lillium licked her lips of blood. In two days she would meet this Lelthina.

The time was nearly upon them, and her own revenge was near at hand.

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Looking down at the map in the table, Mikel watched as one of his lieutenants jammed a knife into a place in their northern fortifications. He struggled to think of the clan that held that portion of the Wall. He had gotten the reports of the Kazdruk that had appeared from a green mist. Now they were making their own barricades and crude fortifications. Some new unit… or Talon as they seemingly called themselves.

Mersax. That was the clan.

Rubbing at his beard, absently thinking that he needed a shave soon, Mikel tried to think. This development was deeply concerning. Rubbing at his forehead, feeling greasy hair against his palm, he studied the drawings that indicated the front fortifications.

“Why are we bothering holding this land if they can just… appear where ever they want? How do we fight that?” a captain of the Gunnskal clan was saying, thumbing the blade of the axe hanging at her hip.

“Because we have to. If the Kazdruk get full control of this coast, then they can ferry in as many soldiers as they need to storm through our lands. Here, at least they can’t get as many numbers against us,” another captain, Eadlax clan, said with arms crossed over his chest.

“Well, seems they can just ignore that now. We’ve lost our advantage,” the Gunnskal captain replied.

“Not so sure we have,” Mikel said, and the others looked upwards to him. Some with confusion, some with hope. He’d led them through so much so far. He’d only wished the elves would send him some more damn reinforcements. Some parts of the line were getting far too thin on manpower.

“Commander? What exactly are you talking about?” the Gunskal captain asked.

“The Kazdruk appeared in front of the fortifications. That means they can’t just land them where ever they want. Whether it’s an open field, or observers or both, I don’t know. But they have limitations,” Mikel said, and turned to his head engineer. He was busy cleaning grit from under his fingernails with a thin knife. A small slip had him wincing and sucking on the edge of his thumb as it bled. Until he noticed everyone was staring at him.

“Are the second line fortifications ready?”

“Aye sir. And the miners have reported they got their tunnels dug and the barrels of pig fat are stored away.”

Looks of confusion crossed everyone’s features, as Mikel turned back to them. He jammed his finger onto the map.

“This is the plan. We fall back to the second line here in the tree line. Leave a skeleton guard up on the walls, try and get the Kazdruk’s attention. Lure them into an attack. Then have them pull back as well and be ready to defend yourselves. The engineers all have their instructions,” Mikel said, using his finger to indicate movements.

The Gunskal captain was smirking, though the other lieutenants seemed lost.

“The woods should help prevent them from appearing amidst us, if my theory is correct. If I’m wrong, we’ll be far too dead to care,” Mikel said, and there was some chuckling from his officers. Leaning now on the table, he looked at them. Watched their faces, looking for doubt. Instead there was just some confusion.

That was alright. The common soldier didn’t need to know. Best to keep this close to the chest, in case someone preferred the Kazdruk leash.

“Step up the patrols. Our supply lines have been getting raided by the Helots from Volgras, and others that have managed to set up camps behind out lines. I don’t need them calling in a proper army behind us. Stay vigilant, stay strong out there. And pray to Oan, that we get out of this one,” he said, and the officers all nodded at him before slipping out from the tent.

One they were gone, Mikel looked to his chief engineer. “How long for those walls and towers to collapse?”

“Minutes,” the engineer replied and Mikel nodded.

“It’ll be time soon enough. Get your men ready.” Mikel said, getting a gesture of affirmation before he left the tent himself. Breathing in the fresh air, savouring it after the musk of all the unbathed officers that had been crowded in his tent, he watched the last glow of the sun on the horizon.

“Oan please let as many of these soldiers get out of this as you can. Let me be your hand in that at least,” he said, before bowing his head.

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The sun was starting to peak above the horizon, and the mists still clung to the land. Miles north of their camp at Thorlgruz, the ten strong Scytar hunting party kept low as they moved through the trees searching for food.

It had been days since the battle. The freed slaves still needed help, but the warriors were becoming restless. The Shaman wanted to stay and help, but the Serok was pushing for them to move on. It wasn’t good to see the two at odds, and Layli had wanted to stay in case the Serok became too pushy.

However, reports of a small spot of strange green mist that had appeared and vanished the day before had given the Shaman cause to send Layli out to investigate. So here she was, wearing a hide vest and leather pants as she moved between the trees. It was unfamiliar terrain for most of the Scytarran hunters. It reminded Layli of the Zelkathorn jungles though, and she felt comfortable in the shadows of the large trees and the concealment of the undergrowth. Though at least the danger here was from enemies, and less so the wildlife.

So she hoped anyway.

Following the padded down vegetation of an animal’s trail, the hunters moved in silence. Communicating only with hand signals, each message had to be relayed to those out of view. Towards the rear, Layli watched as the lead hunter’s hand went up for all to stop. Lifting herself slightly from her crouch, she saw the man drawing the string of his bow back, and arrow nocked.

Ahead of him, four deer. Three of them gently grazing, the other looking towards them, not quite realizing what was happening. In the utter silence, Layli could hear her own heart. Slow and steady in her chest, until she noted the deer looking upwards. Her own gaze followed.

In the boughs of the mighty trees towering above them, where only flickers of the morning sunlight could get through to light the way, she saw something odd. A shadow, moving against the light. As if watching them. Then it leapt down. It was living.

“Above,” she shouted, the deer spooking and tearing off, the loosed arrow from the hunter missing.

The shadow crashed into him, pinning him to the ground. vague wing like shapes slicing forward. Blood sprayed outwards as a second hunter’s head was taken from her shoulders. The lead hunter was gurgling, blood bubbling at his lips and foaming around something that had pierced his back.

Nocking an arrow, Layli drew and loosed towards the shape, only to watch it snap and fall to the ground. Other arrows snapped against those shadowy wings, the sound of steel hitting steel sounding in the forest. Then the creature lunged forward. A nearby hunter, tried to lunge away, only to get her arm severed just below the shoulder.

As she clutched at the stump she screamed in pain. Blood gushed around her fingers as the shade moved past her to another hunter. What might have been an arm shot out, and pierced into the next victim’s chest. He coughed twice, blinking in shock as others tried to shoot the creature.

“Aim away from the wings,” someone shouted, his voice tense, on the verge of panic.

Soundless the creature moved again. Low to the ground the wings scythed beside it. The speaker screamed out as his legs were cut free at the knees, before shadow burst out through his chest.

“Pull back towards the wagons. We need to get into the light,” another man called out as he loosed another arrow that pinged uselessly off steel.

Taking a quick look, Layli counted only five still standing. She gritted her teeth, and watched the shadow, arrow nocked. It moved so fast, pausing only when it took down a hunter. Only then could she start to make out that vague humanoid shape of it.

Shuffling to the side, she moved partially behind a tree. The other hunters doing much the same. The creature twisted in the centre of the five standing Scytarrans. Searching amongst them. For a moment, Layli saw it’s eyes. Red amidst the shadows. A quick flash gone before her mind had fully registered its existence.

Had it recognized her?

It sprung off again, launching itself towards another hunter. Now that she had some idea of its shape, it’s movements, she could aim. As its wings swiped, bark snapped off the tree the monster’s target hid behind. The man fell back, eyes wide with terror.

Layli loosed. Her arrow flew through the air, and she was rewarded with a screech of pain. A very feminine screech as the shadows rolled over the creature. Giving glimpses of flesh and metal and leather. Blood seeped and dripped from its calf as it spun and glared at Layli. There were hints of a face that might have been beautiful.

“Now,” Layli called to the others that still stood. Peaking out from behind trees, they loosed their own arrows.

The shade managed to deflect two of them. Hints of metal showed on the wings as the arrows hit them. But one embedded itself into the attacker’s lower back, and another hit her shoulder. She screeched in pain. Driving one hunter to his knees as he clutched at his ears.

Her own ears ringing, Layli nocked another arrow, this time aiming for the shade’s face. Despite her wounds though, it lunged off to the side, making Layli’s shot go wide. The hunter it grasped hadn’t been expecting the attack as claws dug into his neck. She pulled his throat out in a gush of torn flesh and blood. The wings scissored, and split the man in two.

As the two halves fell into a messy pile of spilled entrails, Layli loosed one last arrow, this one lodging itself into the woman’s shoulder blade. Another ear grating screech filled the forest. But, Layli noted how her wing drooped. Useless. The shadows peeling back more, showing raw unhealed flesh. The stench of rot reaching her nose.

Another arrow nocked and drawn, but now the creature was lunging at Layli. Seemingly flying just above the ground. One wing swiped towards Layli, who dived to the side. Felt the sweep of metal just above her head. But now the thing was above her, crouched and using it’s injured wing as a shield while the others loosed their own arrows at it.

“If you come willingly, I will let these others live. The mistress wanted you alive, there was no need for you to have all your limbs,” the creature said, her voice far more sensual than Layli expected for such a monstrosity.

“Stop,” Layli shouted to the others. They all paused as they were, two of them with bows drawn. They stared at the scene before them. The bleeding creature of metal fused into raw flesh, towering above the shawrapaht.

Slowly, Layli uncurled her fingers from her bow, and held up her hands in a sign of submission. In the corners of her vision she saw draw strings relaxing, the surviving hunters unsure of what to make of what was happening.

“Wise, most wise,” the creature said, reaching downwards and grasping Layli’s vest. She pulled, lifting the shawrapaht from the ground.

“This time. For it certainly was not so wise to challenge my mistress so,” the creature said, grinning down at her captive, showing the glint of metal fangs. “So pretty too… elf blood even.”

Eyes moved to the opened cleavage, to the pointed ears. Slowly savouring the view. Then it pulled Layli sharply upwards, showing surprising strength. Lifting the Scytar warrior clear off the ground until their faces were inches apart.

“Oh you foolish humans. Why fight? The end is inevitable. Denying yourselves the pleasures to be enthralled by our betters. To become, better,” the creature said, her wings protecting her from the others. “How do you taste, I wonder.”

The monster’s face leaned in, surprisingly soft lips pressing to Layli’s own. The shawrapaht thrust her tongue forward, deepening the kiss immediately. She earned herself a muffled moan of surprise. The tang of blood was on the creature’s lips and tongue. The coldness of metal from her fangs.

Fingers grasping the hilt of her knife, Layli drove it upwards into the creature’s gut. Felt her steel piercing flesh, until she curved upwards and felt the scrape of bone. Another screech filled the air, and the creature released Layli, trying to stand upwards, away from the knife. Having the blade hooked on her ribs though only pulled her downwards, steel grating on bone, opening her lung, as Layli’s back struck the forest floor once more.

Fury filled her eyes, and Layli snapped her other hand upwards, grasping at the creature’s throat. Felt claws digging into her forearm. Blood coursed over her hand, her fingers pushed against the very wound she made as she dug the knife deeper.

With another screech of agony, perhaps even knowing she was to die, the creature swung her one working wing around. Ready to carve into Layli’s form.

Four arrows sank into her now unguarded flesh. The creature’s eyes went wide as strength slipped further from her, falling to her knees. Layli managed to push her to side side, where she fell to her back. Snapping the arrows and driving them deeper. Blood began to bubble at her lips.

Getting to her own feet, listening to their attacker desperately drawing for breath that could not fill her collapsing lung, Layli held her knife before her. She had no witty words this time. Instead kneeling on the creature’s naked chest, and driving her knife upwards under her chin.

As the blade punched through the roof of her mouth, the creature’s eyes glazed over in death. Yanking the blade free, Layli stayed crouched above her fallen foe.

“These Kazdruk. They are more wicked than we had been led to believe. This was once a human woman,” Layli said, using her bloodied knife to indicate the wings. The other hunters had started to gather their own fallen.

“We bring her corpse back to show the Shaman and Serok. That they may know what horrors we could find in the north,” Layli said.

“Whenever we go north,” one of the other hunters said.

“Yes. Whenever we go north,” Layli said, and bent forward, pressing the edge of her blade to the skin above the creature’s ear.

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The journey back to the camp was quiet. While Layli hadn’t known any of the hunters, they had all known each other. Been friends, and seemingly from the tears that one pretended didn’t mark his face, some lovers as well. Leaving behind the seemingly normal world that was the forest at the edge of Kazdruk corrupted territory was worse now after losing half their party.

Into the swirling ash and crimson sands. Under the skies that ever looked of dusk and swirling energies. The Kazdruk corruption had conquered not just the people here, but the spirits of earth. And cut away the gaze of the Gods.

And after one corrupted through bolted metal and twisted flesh, Layli felt only a deeply burning anger. An eagerness to wet her sword in their blood.

Sentries and scouts at the edge of the sprawling War Host camp saw them approaching of course. No horns were blown, but as the party grew closer, the curious gathered to see what meat had been brought back into camp.

By the time the party was close enough to see faces the curiosity was gone. Concern, worry, on their faces. Slowly twisting into sorrow as they registered the smaller numbers. Ten had gone out, five returned. Layli noted one young woman cupping her hands to her mouth, tears welling in her eyes. Before anyone could stop her, she had run off into the depths of the camp.

Whispers carried amongst the throngs that had gathered as they took in the blood smeared hunters that walked along the pathways towards the centre of the camp. Towards the tents of the Serok and the Shaman. They looked at the carefully wrapped bundles in the back of the horse drawn cart, the cloth a damp crimson in spots to show violent ends. They looked at the less carefully wrapped and contorted bundle at the bottom. Tossed on without care.

Of course, they all saw the long locks of hair flap of bloody skin tied to Layli’s belt. There were whispers about the scalp, and wonders why there was only one.

Word had moved through the camp quickly. Between runners and the spreading whispers of the watching crowds. By the time the cart had reached the centre, the Serok and Shaman were both waiting for the party of hunters. Warriors gathered around, and a hush settled over the crowd. Layli glanced to the side, noting Enwa standing just beside Behdin. Her eyes wide as she looked from Layli to the cart.

No words were spoken as the Scytar dead were removed carefully from the cart. Laid off to the side that the Shaman and his Sagird could perform the proper rites upon them. Those watching bowed their heads, pressing their right fist to left shoulder. With no moutains for miles, the bodies would be laid out upon small mounds for the spirits to reclaim their flesh, and the Gods to take their spirits.

Then, slowly, eyes turned towards Layli as she moved to the back of the cart. Without the care displayed to their own dead, she grasped the misshapen corpse that remained and hauled it off, letting ti slam heavily into the ground at the feet of the Shaman and Serok. Without waiting on comment, she pulled the canvas from the corrupted creature that had attacked them in the forest.

Out in the open, to show metal bolted into flesh. A once beautiful woman turned into a mockery of her people. It looked more grotesque from the wounds of battle, and the gleaming skull were once silken locks had hung.

All that could see stared in horror. Layli looked up at Behdin, watching the aging man’s reactions. For a moment he was still, before he bent down, taking two handfuls of earth. When he stood he looked to the sky. To the Gods above. When his eyes dropped back to the people, there was fury there.

“The Kazdruk have soiled the skies with their unnatural practices. They have tainted the earth with their perversions. And now, it seems they will also corrupt our flesh with their wickedness,” he began, and people nodded.

“As many of you know, I wanted to remain here. To aid those that have tasted the lash of these demons. That we might cleanse the lands. But I was wrong. The Kazdruk must not be left alone. Their lives cannot continue. I bow to the Serok in this now. And will follow him north to war,” Behdin said, letting the sand he had picked up drift through his fingers. He turned then, and gave a small bow to the Serok. “Serok Serikbek. The Gods and Spirits need their realms cleaned.”

Serikbek stepped ahead and drew his sword holding it high into the air. He spoke, letting his voice carry across the camp.

“We wash this world with the blood of the Kazdruk, and the blood of the corrupted. Let none say we sat idly by as the world was consumed. So sharpen your blades, and string your bows. We march again. Flesh to blood!”

“Bone to dust,” the many thousands of warriors cried out, sorrow turning to a burning rage. A blood lust rising amongst them. Layli felt herself swept up in it, spittle on her lips as she shouted out. Eager to once more bury her arrows into the invader.

The Serok’s sword came down, and severed the corrupted woman’s head. Holding it high, Serikbek looked over his people. The Scytarran war host chanted their battle cries, those not warriors pumping their fists into the air.

Death was coming to the north.

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For Lelthina, the two days given by Lillium had gone by startlingly fast. A rush to find to trust enough to take with her. Though trust was not the right word. It was a word that tasted strange on her tongue and didn’t feel comfortable in her mind. No, she had been looking for those she would know would not betray her.

Captain Sienna had been her first choice, as she needed Pharno back in Driftafay.

It was with some surprise though, at how easy Sienna had been convinced. The woman was not a subtle woman by Elven standards, but her joys of carnal pleasures and bloodshed had been easy enough to sway her. She had even brought along four of her own soldiers that she trusted.

How an Elf in any position of authority could so easily use that word was still beyond Lelthina.

After departing during the day with Lelthina telling the collected nobles of Driftifay that she intended to see what remained of the farmland, it had been easy to bring along a bodyguard of soldiers. Night had fallen, and Lelthina had a story of hiding from Kazdruk patrols ready to sell to explain her lateness.

So here they were at the indicated farmstead, with a small dwelling, a well and a barn with too large of gaps between the boards. The fields had been untended for sometime, and the garden off to the side was overgrown with weeds.

The wind wasn’t strong, but it was enough to snap a loose window frame open and closed. She looked around, as her horse nervously whinnied. The farmstead did indeed look abandoned, for there was no sign of Lillium or her companions. No horses, no lights, no shapes waiting in the shadows.

“Perhaps we are early,” one of the soldiers said, keeping a firm grip on his horse’s reins, keeping the mount from moving too much. Lelthina glanced back to him, then to Sienna, who wore her typical smirk as she looked about.

“No. She is here. The horses know. We are being watched,” the captain said, returning Lelthina’s gaze.

The governess dismounted then, walking her own mare close to the barn. Thankful to be out of the saddle, for her rear was already getting sore. She handed the reins off to one of the soldiers, ignoring his raised eyebrow as he tied his and her own mounts to a horizontal post.

Not fully sure what was expected of her, Lelthina began towards the front door of the cottage, Sienna falling in behind her. The others spread out, hands never straying far from their weapons.

Ten paces from the cottage the door swung open. A blonde elf peered out from the darkness within, though her skin was so pale. And her clothing little more than strips of leather wrapped around her form. Despite her breasts and groin being covered, Lelthina could not call the garb modest.

“Mistress awaits within,” she said, stepping aside from the door and gesturing. Sienna whispered something to her soldiers then, and with perfect discipline they moved to guard the entrance. Their eyes watching as Sienna entered with Lelthina.

It was dark inside, but vague shapes of gray were starting to form, just barely letting the two elven women navigate within. A much larger shape moved, the hint of wings in the shadows. Before either could react, flint was struck. The spark almost blinding after such darkness. A long thin stick was lit, the small little flame struggling to push back darkness.

Lelthina could see clawed pale hands moving, carrying the flame towards candles arrayed upon the table. Slowly, with each one lit, Lillium was revealed. White skinned, clad in leather skirts and corset. Cleavage and the muscle of an experienced warrior on display. She was beautiful, and terrible at once. The curl of her lips not quite a smile, even as it hinted at the tip of a fang.

“Lelthina of the House Winterstone. What a surprise to hear you wanted to talk,” she said, her accent certainly from the human clans to the south of here. But there was a silken touch to it that made it foreign, enticing. She lifted her fingers and put out the small flame on her stick, leaving the four candles of the table to give some light to their conversation.

“I have had some revelations made clear to me. Of your loyalties,” Lelthina replied, noting the shape of the leather clad elf, and another figure, standing in the shadows behind the succubus. She was happy to know as well that Sienna had back up a few steps, putting herself on equal footing.

“Which whisper drives you to seek your enemy? That I plan to betray the Kazdruk? That I will save the Coalition? That I might even bow before the elves again?”

“That you seek to burn the coalition and drive out the Kazdruk.”

Lillium smiled properly now, nodding her head slowly. “A good whisper then. There are pieces missing from your picture, but you know enough of the puzzle. But I wonder, what of your puzzle. What brings you to me, knowing I seek your end?”

“A common foe. And a willingness to burn down what has clearly failed. The Coalition is too rooted in blood lines and old feuds. Better to let it break. Yet… that is but part of the picture,” Lelthina said, giving the succubus her own smile.

“You know how to speak, I’ll grant you that. Elves, ever ambitious. You want the crown, and need help with the inevitable civil war of house Winterstone,” Lillium said, and Lelthina had to guess the succubus was merely making an educated guess. The corrupted warrior was leaning forward now, her claws slowly sinking into the top of the table, and Lelthina couldn’t help but feel her eyes drawn to Lilium’s cleavage. The succubus just smiled.

“Clever. Though I wonder if that means the Kazdruk chose well… or poorly? You speak the truth of it, but I have more. A truce. No raiding or attacks upon Driftafay, and your forces may enter and leave the city freely. Trade can start again,” Lelthina said, and reached upwards, running a finger along the dipping neckline of her dress. Deepening, showing more of the smooth skin of her breasts. The succubus let her eyes slowly dip. It was far from a mere stolen glance. Despite herself, Lelthina felt herself attracted to this creature of darkness. She started to see why so many followed her.

“In return. We aid your patrols against Coalition forces. And, I give you Princess Telva Winterstone to do as you will.”

Lillium’s fingers clenched harder at the mention of that name. Cracks spreading from her claws in the wood. Something close to a snarl lifted a lip.

“There is one more thing I require,” Lillium said, a thread of fury in her voice. She stood then, the table lifting slightly and clattering against the floor as she pulled her fingers free. Lelthina paused, a bit surprised that the woman’s rage to Telva wasn’t enough. She had overestimated Lillium’s need for vengeance.

“When the time comes. It may be weeks, it may be months, but I will occupy Driftafay for a time. Not permanently, but it is the most fitting place for my plans,” she said, moving around the table, her claws dragging along the wooden top. Furrows dug themselves into the wood. She moved until she was standing just beside Lelthina, making the elf have to turn to regard the warrior that stood above her.

“Agreed,” Lelthina said, and held out her hand, knowing better than to question what hidden motives Lillium had.

The succubus grasped that hand and pulled Lelthina close. Their bodies touching, silk against leather. Warm breath cascading over the cool skin of the vampiric creature that towered above her. Sienna was silent in the shadows, but Lelthina could feel the elf captain’s eyes boring into the scene. To see this harbinger of her new Goddess.

It was now, in this moment, feeling her dress being pulled off, feeling physically helpless, that she understood the draw of Morkate. Her heart pounding as she let herself be exposed to her enemy’s eyes. As a hand grasped her rear, squeezing tight, she felt herself pushed back. Naked skin on the gouged table as Lillium hovered over her. Long dark hair trailing over bared skin. Lillium bent her head downwards, those starkly black lips wrapping around a nipple. Letting her tongue tease it.

Lelthina looked down at the display, a soft moan spilling from her lips as she remember Belinda’s warning. But couldn’t find it in herself to act against Lillium. Instead finding her legs wrapping over her hips, crossing at the back of the succubus’s thighs. Feeling her skin rubbing against the coarse leather of the succubus’s skirts as Lillium began to grind firmly against the Elven noble. Feeling leather now against the slickness of her cunt.

Slowly, Lillium tilted her head upwards. To see the lust in Lelthina’s eyes. Lelthina herself surprised by how badly she needed this. Her fingers digging into the shoulder straps of Lillium’s corset. The succubus smiled, her tongue slowly running in circles around an engorged nipple. A slick trail in its wake.

She lowered her head slightly, until her fangs pressed against soft flesh. Lelthina bit her lip, something between fear and arousal in her mind. She felt anticipation, but wondered how she was going to come back from this moment.

Lillium bit down, and Lelthina screamed. Lost on the knife’s edge of pleasure and pain as she felt fangs piercing into her breast. Hot blood flowing out for the harbinger to sup upon her essence. Her eyes rolled back, Lillium’s hands gliding down the elf’s sides to rest at her waist. Pulling down to increase the friction of leather against the wet folds of her cunt.

Moans filled the cottage as the deal with the shadows was made. Tongue dragging over crimson slick skin.

When she pulled back, Lillium let her tongue slither once more. Moving across the holes she had made in the governess’s breast. Soft trickles of blood ran from the wounds, and Lelthina panted, near desperate. Then came the hand at her throat. Pressing into her windpipe, making breathing difficult as she was pulled up. Her breasts now also against leather. The bite stinging as the edges ran along the stitching running along the edges of the cups.

Lips found lips, and Lelthina could taste the almost metallic tang of her own blood. Her tongue eagerly seeking entrance, before the succubus trapped her lower lip between her teeth, letting it fold in front of her fangs. Lelthina groaned, then felt herself pushed back onto the table. Claws between her breasts as she panted.

Lillium stood above her, eyes closed, tongue running over her lips. A soft sound of enjoyment sounding in her throat, then she glared down at Lelthina.

“Bring Telva to Volgras. Then, we can finish what we started here,” Lillium promised, her two concubines gliding through the shadows and leaving the cottage. Sienna might have struck then, ended this threat. But the captain didn’t move, and Lelthina was breathless as she stared upwards.

Claws dragged across the elf’s chest, threatening to break skin and leaving dark red trails between Lelthina’s breasts. Then Lillium turned, her wings whistling in the air before she slipped out from the cottage and into the night, leaving both elves in silence.

Her heart pounding, breasts rising and falling heavily, loins aching, Lelthina couldn’t bring herself to get dressed just yet. She had let Lillium leave with the advantage. Had let her set the theme for their future meetings. She understood the warning that Belinda had given her now. Truly understood. Worse, she wasn’t sure she could fight it.

“Captain. Remember when I told you that you had forgotten your place?”

“Quite clearly my lady,” Sienna said, even her voice carrying that smirk that couldn’t be seen in the shadows.

“I changed my mind.”

The response was the sound of armour buckles being undone.

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